Tuesday 30 March 2010

The Cabinet of Renzo Calegari - War Is Hell Dept. Take 4

Well perhaps not a cabinet but I do recall at the age of sixteen or so, when I should have been hanging around coffee bars, chasing skirt and making some modest concessions to at least trying to acquire a degree of cool, I was still pouring over comics and becoming aware of the transient nature of everything, trying to ward off the as I perceived it, imminent deterioration of my comics collection.

Crikey!!! They were actually out on a set of open bookshelves, exposed to dust and even worse ...  sunlight, so for a while I stored all my pocket libraries in a drop down cabinet until I eventually acquired a set of bookshelves with sliding doors. Problem solved apart from the friggin' staples whose tendency to rust presented yet another archivist's nightmare.

My pocket library collection in those days was primarily War, Battle, Air Ace and Commando, with War Picture Library as my primary interest and aside from the truly stunning covers by the likes of Giorgio De Gaspari, Allesandro Biffignandi and Pino De Lorco, there was some truly super scripts, which when accompanied by stunning artwork (Three - Two - One - Zero WPL No. 43, Crash Call WPL No. 54, Broken Wings WPL No. 49, Battle Drop WPL. No. 67, Enemy Engaged WPL No. 68) made for an unforgettable comics read.

Top of my list of favourite artists along with Gino D'Antonio was another Italian artist by name of Renzo Calegari, who if you'll recall the earlier posting was also working at the D'Ami studio in Milan, in fact by the time that D'Antonio was head hunted by studio boss Roy D'Ami in 1955, Calegari who was some five years D'Antonio's junior had already served a two year apprenticeship and was now undertaking work for a wide variety of clients including the U.K.s Amalgamated Press (later Fleetway, later I.P.C. etc, etc).

Calegari and D"Antonio over the subsequent years got on well together, sharing an affinity for many of the artists whose work they admired and Calegari whose admiration for the elder man showed in the way that he absorbed so much of D'Antonio's approach to drawing to the extent that they started collaborating on artwork, most notably an epic history of the Wild West Storia del West (History of the West) as seen through the eyes of two families.

Shortly after this series was published Calegari left the field of comics for the best part of a decade to devote his energies to working for the Italian Communist Party returning to the field in 1977 to draw the series "Welcome To Springville" scripted by Giancarlo Berardi.

More information on the fascinating war pocket libraries can be found in The War Libraries: v. 1: The Fleetway Picture Library Index which is published by Book Palace Books who are engaged in some very exciting publishing projects (more on these shortly). And talking of the Book Palace, they have an excellent gallery of early covers of all the pocket libraries mentioned as well as some of the comics themselves on sale.

In the meantime here's some examples of Calegari's earliest War Picture Library work from "The Gallant Few" WPL No. 4 and "Combined Operation" WPL No. 14 followed by the opening chapter W.P.L. No. 251 "Red Devils Don't Die", where the increasing maturity and assuredness of his style is plainly evident.


  1. Was too young to ever notice who drew the Commando and other pocket collections I got but the stuff here is typical of the fantastic art that was in them. The top panel of page 11 is brilliant I wish I was half as good as these guys. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Some fascinating insights as ever Peter. D'Antonio was already one of my favourite European artists - particularly his colour work for titles like Tell Me Why, World of Wonder and Eagle - but I'm afraid I knew very little about Calegari before now. Clearly I'll have to do something about that!

    Funnily enough I bought a bundle of early WPLs at the NEC this weekend for just 50p each, including no.199 from 1963 which features 'The Shield of Auray' with art by Calegari and a script by Ken Bulmer. As far as I can tell this must be one of the very first British examples of a war story where the action is split between two different eras that linked by some kind of legend or artifact so that the artist is able to devote the first chapter to scenes of medieval warfare before jumping forward to World War Two (of course this device now turns up quite regularly in the pages of DC Thomson's Commando).

    Although there are an increasing number of reprints of this material now being made available I find I prefer the original printings as the rendering invariably has an extra richness that second-hand copies can never quite capture. Luckily, early numbers of the Fleetway War Libraries can still be found at very reasonable prices, whereas the equivalent Commandos now seem to sell for extraordinary amounts (which is odd as I generally preferred the former anyway).

    On a related note, other titles I picked up on Saturday were several issues of the unusually formatted Giant War Picture Library (with their dramatically elongated covers), and the 1964 War Picture Library Holiday Special. This last item is especially attractive in that it not only showcases the work of D'Antonio and Calegari, but also Hugo Pratt and Willie ('Wrath of the Gods') Patterson - and all within a brand-new wraparound cover by the amazing Jordi Penalva!

  3. I'm very much with you James in my unstinting devotion to the artistry of many of these guys,there's a lot more that's really worth looking at just in terms of the way these artists handled staging, lighting and character development which is to the fore in the Calegari extract shown here, with the foreground face at the top of page 16 as a perfect example of great storytelling - I mean the guy exhibits classic signs of combat fatigue and world weariness all at the same time. This is what makes a great comic artist - storytelling every time.

    Phil, interestingly "The Shield of Auray" was by the time it appeared following a grand tradition of War Picture Library and Battle Picture Library for that matter stories which would open with a historical setting, often involving an act of shame or betrayal, or a curse which would then be resolved on a world war two battlefield. Of the top of my head "McMain's Marauders" WPL 83, "Roll of Honour WPL 106,"The Ranks of the Damned" WPL 113, "Debt of Honour" WPL 130, "The Island of Guilt' BPL 4, "Fighting Blood" BPL 20 would be examples but there was a lot more. It often provided a nice opportunity for exploring earlier conflicts and contextualizing more recent events.

    Commando's are expensive because they are simply harder to find and always in demand with collectors. The covers and the graphics of the early issues are just fantastic and although I agree that by and large they are not quite as consistently as good a read as the Fleetway publications they are nevertheless highly desirable amongst collectors.

    Great tribute to Ken Barr really who created so many of those very early and very "pulp" style covers along with the distinctive dagger logo and panoramic cover format.

    Love War Picture Library 1964, really fabulous cover - Jordi Penalva at his best. The only downside to these collections is that all the stories come edited with a page count down from 64 per story to 56, but they are lovely items none the less.

    Giant War Picture Libraries in nice condition are really scarce as they just never stored well. Fun items though.

  4. Come to think of it DC's Bob Kanigher got quite a bit of mileage out of that 'two wars' trick as well.

    One thing that intrigues me about Ken Barr is the way in which he made his mark on both sides of the Atlantic - going on to draw the very first Losers story for Our Fighting Forces as well as providing so many of those classic Commando covers. Of course his wasn't the only example of intercontinental drift in the war libraries as John Severin (one of his successors on the Losers as well as being an EC veteran) had also famously moonlighted for an early issue of Battle. What's more, Wally Wood reportedly modeled some of his work for Warren's Blazing Combat on copies of British War Libraries brought over by one of his assistants.

  5. makes me happy to read this article where it talks about Renzo Calegari. I met Renzo in the school of comic that I attended. is a great artist. one of my favorite artists. congratulations on the article.