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A Life Less Ordinary: Diabolik and Eva Kant

An exhibition currently on in Rome celebrates comic book anti-hero Diabolik, analysing the impact the character had on art, culture and society.

A thief, a murderer, and a criminal mastermind, this is how Diabolik, one of the most famous comic book characters ever created in Italy could be defined. Yet for journalist Vincenzo Mollica, curator of the exhibition “Diabolik - Eva Kant: Una Vita Vissuta Diabolicamente” (Diabolik - Eva Kant: A Life Lived Diabolically), currently on at Rome’s Palazzo Incontro, Diabolik has become throughout the years a sort of friend, almost a relative, for many of his fans. The comic book became popular abroad also thanks to Mario Bava’s quintessential 60's film 'Danger Diabolik' and even inspired women and men’s wear collections to fashion designers.

Divided in six themes, the exhibition takes the visitors through drawings, memorabilia, statues and scale models of weapons and cars, allowing them to discover how the comic book was first created and the huge impact the character had on Italian society. Created in 1962 by two elegant and well-read sisters, Angela and Luciana Giussani who came up with the idea after re-reading a Fantômas book and thinking about a publication that commuters could be able to read while on their way to work, Diabolik spawned an entirely new genre suspended between thriller, horror and noir. Often censored for its violence, criticised by prissy moralists for the relationship the main character lived with his sensual partner Eva Kant and once even banned for showing a girl in a bikini on the cover, Diabolik still remains one of the most popular Italian comics.

Dazed Digital: What inspired this exhibition?
Vincenzo Mollica: A while back I did a few exhibitions dedicated to comics at Rome’s Vittoriano and when I was given the chance of doing an event at Palazzo Incontro I felt the time had come to pay homage to Diabolik, the iconic protagonist of a genre that I would define as “sketched literature”. Chatting with Mario Gomboli, director of the Astorina publishing house and Diabolik current Art Director, we decided to put together an exhibition that quickly turned into the biggest and most important event ever dedicated to this character. This is also the first exhibition that looks not only at the more arty side of Diabolik, but also at the impact it had on society when it first came out.

DD: According to you, what fascinates Diabolik’s readers?
Vincenzo Mollica: It’s definitely not the plot since it’s more or less always the same and features Diabolik who spots something to steal and plans how to steal it with Eva while inspector Ginko tries to stop them. What fascinates us all is how Diabolik puts into practice his plans and his modus operandi, that’s what keeps the readers glued to the page. Besides I think that we are also fascinated by the fact that this anti-hero can do everything we would like to do but we can’t do, like putting on a mask and going out to steal amazing diamonds and then trying to run away from the police and living in secret hides with a beautiful partner, in a nutshell living a fantastically unthinkable life.

DD: Do you think that Diabolik could be defined as a Pop Art icon?
Vincenzo Mollica: Diabolik is actually a perfect Pop Art icon. I think that if Roy Lichtenstein were alive he would definitely do a series of paintings that featured Diabolik, in the same way as Jeff Koons recently did the “Popeye Series”. One of my dreams is actually to select one story from the back catalogue and blow up each cartoon and then do a huge exhibition dedicated to Diabolik’s cartoonists.

DD: What’s your favourite part of this exhibition and what surprised you about the feedback you got so far?
Vincenzo Mollica: I like the fact that once you get in, you get lost in the different corridors and rooms of the Palazzo and you almost end up getting the impression you may see Diabolik popping up around a corner. I love the part about the evolution of the character that also mirrors in a way the evolution of Italian society in the 60's. But I also like a lot the rooms dedicated to the reproductions of weapons, cars, traps and accessories created taking inspiration from the comic book pages. Genuine fans will also be able to see the first ten original pages taken from the first Diabolik issue that were taken out from the Astorina publishing house archives specifically for this event. They are very important since they show how the character was born and how the halftone screens were used at the time. One of the things that surprised me was that even Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano dedicated to this event half a page. It was as if the Holy Ghost suddenly took an interest in Satan, but it shows that Diabolik is in fact a great popular hero who has entered our hearts, souls and lives.
DD: Diabolik became famous abroad also thanks to Mario Bava’s film 'Danger Diabolik': what do you like about this film and who would you like to see directing the sequel?
Vincenzo Mollica: Bava was a great director and shot Danger Diabolik with his own precise and unmistakable style. He had already understood in the 60's the potential that films taken from comic books had. I absolutely love Bava’s film and I think it’s not a B-movie at all, as some people say, in fact it has a unique freshness about it and that’s what I really like about it. I would love to see Tim Burton directing a sequel to Bava’s film. I would cast Johnny Depp as Diabolik, since he would be able to give this character a healthy dose of irony, and Italian actress Claudia Gerini as Eva Kant, she starred a while back in a music video by an Italian band in the same role and she was absolutely perfect.

“Diabolik - Eva Kant: Una vita vissuta diabolicamente” is at Palazzo Incontro, Via dei Prefetti 22, Rome, until 13th September 2009