Alan Ford (comics)
Alan Ford issue #1 (1969)
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Alan Ford is an Italian comic book created by Max Bunker (Luciano Secchi) and Magnus (Roberto Raviola), in print since 1969. The comic book is a satirical take on classic secret agents laden with surreal and black humour, sardonic references to aspects of the contemporary Italian and Western society.
Although it became widely popular in Italy shortly after its introduction, Alan Ford remained relatively unknown outside Italy. The French, Danish and Brazilian editions soon failed but the only other foreign edition, in SFR Yugoslavia, was a huge success, becoming and remaining one of the most popular comic books in the former country and its successors.
Although the initial plot in the first few episodes develops around an agent called Alan Ford, he is later just one of the central group of characters: Group TNT is an assembly of misfit secret agents, who operate from a flower shop in New York City, USA, which they use as a front for their secret headquarters. They are incompetent and lazy, yet intelligent and cunning, especially when it suits their own personal interests. Their outlandish biographies are dwarfed by that of their iron-fisted and shrewd leader, the wheelchair-ridden Number One, a Methusalem character who embezzles the millions paid to the group by American government or city fathers for secret missions, while paying a pittance to his agents.
The comic book ridicules aspects of American society, including capitalism and racism. There were also direct references to local Italian reality, whose social ills were often satirized by Magnus & Bunker, as well as terms in Milanese dialect.
Alan Ford is published monthly by Max Bunker Press in Italy. There are also editions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia (at least 4 different editions, as of 2008), Serbia and Slovenia. Republic of Macedonia edition was also available for a while, and the Serbian editions are now imported into Macedonia and Montenegro, still remaining hugely popular. The comic book has been adapted to animated film and theater plays, as well as used as a source of inspiration in books and movies.
Three years before the comic book was published in May 1969, Max Bunker, along with illustrator Magnus, had the idea to create a satire of James Bond (they had previously created a serious spy character, Dennis Cobb). The initial script was written in August 1967 and the dialog revised in April 1968. The script included six main characters (Alan Ford, Bob Rock, Sir Oliver, The Boss, Jeremiah and Grunf), but the creators decided to omit Sir Oliver in the ultimate revision (July 1968), for fear of overwhelming readers with characters in the first issue. Raviola decided to base the drawing of Alan Ford on Irish actor Peter O'Toole.
According to Max Bunker, he wanted to create a comic book which did not fall into either of the then predefined categories of adventures and dark comics, like Satanik or Kriminal (both by Bunker and Raviola), or traditionally funny comics, like Mickey Mouse.
The first issue of the comic book, entitled "Group TNT", was received mildly by its audience. The second issue, entitled "The Rotten Tooth" appeared in June 1968, introduced the Sir Oliver character, and was overshadowed by the first issue's lack of success. The reputation of Alan Ford grew with subsequent issues.
The character of Number One was introduced later into the series, in the 11th issue named "The Number One". Cirano first appeared in the 18th issue ("Dog For Million Dollars"), when he was adopted by Bob Rock, albeit unwillingly.
Magnus drew the first 75 issues, after which he was replaced by Paolo Piffarerio in 1975. In 1983, when the comic book moved to another publisher, Max Bunker Press, Raffaele della Monica and Giuliano Piccinnino replaced Piffarerio.
Alan Ford was only translated into French, Serbo-Croatian, Danish, Portuguese and in the 1990s subsequent Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian and Slovenian editions appeared. The French and Macedonian editions only saw twelve issues before they got dropped due to poor sales. The Portuguese edition only saw about three issues. It was also translated into Albanian in Kosovo which saw only five issues before getting dropped, also due to poor sales.
Alan Ford achieved great success in the areas formerly comprising Yugoslavia, since its introduction in 1972. It survived the dissolution of the country and in 2005 it was still one of the best selling comic books in the area.
The comic book's publishing was started in 1972 by the state-owned company Vjesnik from Zagreb. This edition is still a popular collectors' item. First dozen issues didn't produce much success, however, the appearance in issue #25 of antagonist Superciuk (translated as Superhik) 'who steals from the poor and gives it to the rich' proved a hit with Yugoslav readership. Also, a lot of the comic book's success in Yugoslavia is due to Nenad Brixy's (born 1924 in Varaždinske Toplice) distinctive translation, rich in obscure, baroque-sounding Croatisms. A writer himself who penned several comedic novels about the clumsy detective character called Timothy Tacher, Brixy approached the job of translating Alan Ford in a free form and the resulting witty adaptation and imaginative text soon won him many admirers across the country.
Some of Vjesnik's editions were occasionally censored by the publisher. For example, in issue #16, "Don't vote for Notax", a line making fun of American racism, reading "Firstly, I promise that we will get rid of the Blacks. ... This is a country of the white race, and who doesn't think that way will get punished..." was changed to "Firstly, I promise that we will get rid of our enemy. This is our country and who doesn't think that way will..." Certain pictures from the book were removed or repainted in some editions, while in some other editions those very same pictures appeared in original version.
There is a fake comic in circulation which features Yugoslav lifetime president Josip Broz Tito in a story line in one of the issues. Tito is portrayed as Number One's old acquaintance who often engaged in shady activities. The entire issue was allegedly banned from publishing in Yugoslavia. The fake issue was published decades later after the country disintegrated. However, apart from decent drawing of fake characters, and borrowed dialogue from various issues, giveaway is the issue number (#39), which in fact is a comic called Belle Epoque.
Brixy passed away in 1984, marking in many ways the end of an era for Alan Ford in Yugoslavia. Even the comic book's creator Max Bunker acknowledged Brixy's contributions to its popularity in Yugoslavia, praising him as "one of the rare translators who successfully depicted the black satire of the Alan Ford's story and drawings". The edition continued after Brixy's death, eventually ending in 1992 with the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Borgis picked up the publishing rights for the Croatian market, keeping the original series title Alan Ford Superstrip. Maverick from Kraljevo initially started publishing for the Serbian market, and the comic was in 2003 picked up by Color Press Group from Novi Sad. In the 2000s, the original episodes in Brixy's translation have been republished by Strip-agent in Croatia, under the title Alan Ford Klasik, again with great success and high circulation. Strip-agent is also publishing Alan Ford Extra (new Italian episodes), and Priče broja 1 (Number One's Stories).
In the mid-1990s, a theater play titled Alan Ford was staged at Teatar T in Belgrade. The play was an original story with most of the characters present, largely based on issue #30 ("The Bearded Gang"), but with numerous references to other episodes and characters. The play was performed in Croatian dialect, as used by Brixy.
In France, the comic book debuted in 1975 published by Sagédition and lasted for only twelve issues. As Magnus became better known in France, this edition became a collectors' item.
In 2003, a small independent publisher, Taupinambour, started another edition with new issues.
In Brazil, the comic book also debuted in 1975, published by Editora Vecchi, and only lasted for about five issues.
- The Number One (Il Numero Uno), a very old disabled man (he has memories from Ancient Greece and claims to have met characters such as Homer and Robespierre), is the supreme leader of group TNT. He treats the other agents severely. He has lots of connections, including a pocket-sized "black book" containing the indiscretions of everyone in the world. The NYPD often turns to him for help. He lives in a secret shelter away from the flower shop.
- Alan Ford is a naïve, shy and modest young man. He appears to be the only person in the group to display anything resembling moral values. He's in love with an attractive spy, Margot, whom he met in the 1970s as one of the group's enemies. He grew up in a grim Catholic orphanage.
- Minuette Macon, a beautiful French girl who since 2005 lives with Alan.
- Bob Rock, a short-tempered but very clever agent, is frustrated about his looks (he is very short, with a very large nose, graphically inspired by Magnus). An orphan like Alan, his twin brothers became bank robbers.
- Sir Oliver (Il Conte Oliver), is a financially strapped English nobleman who left his homeland in disgrace after being sought by police for various large scale theft offenses. A very skilled and stylish orator, he takes full advantage of his perceived high-society stature to rob his unsuspecting victims. He also exhibits behaviour characteristic for individuals suffering from kleptomania, often engaging in shoplifting and petty theft. He could be described as a gentleman thief.
- The Boss (Cariatide, i.e. the Caryatid), who in theory works as Number One's right hand, is in practice a very lazy agent who strives to avoid work at all costs and sleeps all day in the flower shop. His real name is Gervasius De Statuis.
- Jeremiah (Geremia aka Geremia Lettiga, i.e. "Jeremiah Stretcher") is a hypochondriac, decrepit old man, whose duty usually is to guard the flower shop. An Italian immigrant, his bad health has been caused by his former job of street vendor and his destitute life (he used to sleep outdoors).
- Grunf, a naturalized German-born inventor, changed his name from Grunt to Grunf on leaving his native country. His inventions are usually half-baked. His real name is Otto Grunt, and he fought in the First and Second World war as an incompetent Luftwaffe mechanic.
- Cirano, Bob Rock's dog, often participates in the group's missions. He is a smart dog, though easily bribed with food.
- Clodoveo (Clovis), a rather intelligent talking parrot, lives with Number One and helps brainstorm the group's missions, even though normally he quarrels with his master. His first appearance was in #100 "Black Mountains of South Dakota".
- Squitty is The Boss' hamster. He is always fed good, and that's why he is very fat, just like The Boss. Cirano is the one who always wants to eat him, but always fails. His first appearance was in #21 "Bombafobia".
Many of the TNT Group members have disappeared from most recent issues, and the group currently consists of Alan, Minuette and Clodoveo, under the name "Investigation agency T.N.T at low cost".
- Superciuk (pronounced "Superchook", meaning-wise communicating something like "Superdrunk"). Real name: Ezechiele Bluff, in Vjesnik version translated as Milogled Bluff. Superciuk is the most prominent villain of the series, sometimes being the main subject of the plot. He steals from poor people and gives to rich, like an anti-Robin Hood of sorts. His main weapon is his deadly breath, alimented with poor quality Barbera and onion tomatoes; in Italian «chook» sounds like «ciucco», i.e. "very drunk". In his normal life Superciuk is a street-sweeper who is constantly vexed by his companion, Beppa Giosef.
- Gommaflex was created for the television adaptation of the comic book. This character has a rubber face which can assume the lineaments of anybody, using this capability for criminal intents. His name is based on his powers, because "Gomma" means "Rubber" in Italian and "Flex" is intended as short for "flexibility". He is, in a way, similar to the Spider-Man villain, Chameleon.
- Anten Man is perhaps inspired by Silvio Berlusconi when he was simply a TV and publishing industry man. He tries to achieve a monopoly in broadcasting by obscurating the transmissions of other companies. "Anten" refers to "antenna".
Other enemies, whose names are normally puns in Italian, are Katodik, the two killers Frit and Frut, Mr. Tromb, the mobster boss "Il Grande Cesare", Wurdalak the vampire (coming from the pages of Satanik), the scientist Aseptik, the quick-change Arsenico Lupon (pun of Arsène Lupin), the mobster families, the Mangia's masonry, ghost gangster Baby Kate, masked Conspirator, magnate mr. Fitzgerald and witch Witchcraft.
Alan Ford was also transposed in 1988 into a low-budget, straight-to-video 30 minutes animated short called "Alan Ford e il Gruppo TNT contro SuperCiuk" ("Alan Ford and the TNT Group vs. SuperCiuk"). It was produced by Max Bunker Press and was based on the SuperCiuk story already published in the comic series.
- In Emir Kusturica's movie Black Cat, White Cat, a character (one of Dadan Karambolo's cronies) reads Alan Ford throughout the film. Also most of the transport contraptions used by another character in the movie are directly inspired by Grunf's inventions.
- Prljavo Kazalište, a Croatian rock band was named after the translated line in Alan Ford's issue called "Broadway".
- Pero Defformero, a Serbian heavy metal band, was named after one of the characters.
- Popcycle, a Serbian britpop band, was initially called Gervasius Twinkleminkleson after one of the characters.
- Superhiks, a Macedonian rock band, was named after one of the villains in Alan Ford, Superciuk.
- In the song "Za tebe" by Croatian punk rock band KUD Idijoti, one of the verses is "Kad srce radi bi-bam ba-bam" ("When a heart goes bi-bam ba-bam"), the title of the 32nd issue of Alan Ford in Vjesnik's translation. Another song by the same band is called "Daj, daj, daj", the title of 5th issue of Alan Ford in Vjesnik's translation.
- Pipi Kola, a Serbian experimental band, was named from one frame in which appears a character with sign "Pipi Kola" (number 87).
- Numerous lines and catchphrases from Alan Ford entered Croatian and Serbian slang. Number One, the name of an ageless terrible leader of TNT group, is sometimes used when jokingly referring to any old and crotchey person. Similarly, the name of main villain Superciuk (Superhik in Croatian) who has a notorious alcohol problem is sometimes used when joking about any drunkard, and Jeremija (Croatian name for Geremia) is often used for someone sickly or easily hurt. Sir Oliver's entering line, which he used in almost every episode when he would call his pawnbroker Bing to sell him some stolen goods, "Hello, Bing, how's the brother?", also became a sort of catchphrase amongst numerous Alan Ford fans in Croatia and Serbia. Sir Oliver's line "Cijena, prava sitnica" (Price? A bargain!) is now commonplace for "it's too expensive".
- One of the weapons in the game Serious Sam II, created by the Croatian software house Croteam, is a bomb-carrying parrot named "Clawdovic" or "Klodovik". Klodovik was also the name of the parrot Clodoveo in the Croatian editions of the comic book.
- The Department for Electronics of the University of Belgrade's Electrical Engineering School website (tnt.etf.rs) is named after TNT Group.
- "If you want to win you must not lose" – Number One
- "The one who flies is worthy. The one who is worthy flies. The one who doesn't fly isn't worthy" – motto on Grunf's pilot T-shirt (possibly the original Italian sentence is a Fascist slogan devised by Italo Balbo)
- "To get the end, you must go back to the start" - Grandmother Yelsh
- "Better to wear down your feet running than to die with unworn feet." - another motto from Grunf's T-shirt
- "Forgot to breathe" - inscription on a tombstone
- "Beaten by mosquitoes cal. 7,62" - inscription on a tombstone
- "Better to live hundred years as a millionaire, than one week in poverty!" - Bob Rock
- "Easiest way to turn defeat into a victory is to put on the enemy's uniform" - Number One
- "Drugs make you feel you are in heaven, when in fact you are in hell" - Number One
- "Better strategic retreat than dishonorable defeat" - Number One
- "My dear Methuselah, you are young and strong while I am weak and old" - Number One (talking to the biblical Methuselah)
- "Buy flowers for the beloved woman, but don't forget your own [woman]" - Ad on the flower shop
- Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Magnus".
- "Alan Ford: Big in the Balkans". Libellus.
- (Italian)"Alan Ford: il più amato dagli slavi (Alan Ford: The Favorite of the Slavs)". uBCfumetti.com. 2006-10-27.
- Belgrade Alan Ford Page. "Tekstovi" (in Serbian).
- "Kaniš li pobijediti, ne smiješ izgubiti": 40 godina "Alana Forda" na Balkanu;Blic, 10 June 2012
- Tito in Alan Ford
- Tito in Alan Ford