Guido Crepax was an Italian comic artist and illustrator, known for his depictions of elaborate and aesthetic erotic fantasies. Nicknamed the "Raphael of Comics", his stories featured heroines such as Belinda, Bianca, Emmanuele and, his signature character, Valentina (1965-1995). Their dreamlike adventures balance between reality and fantasy, and are filled with graphic scenes of hetero-, homo- and bisexuality, sadomasochism, bondage and bestiality. They, however, also offer an insight into their author's intellectual luggage; many Crepax stories contain literary, political and philosophical references. This culminated in Crepax's erotic comic adaptations of classic literature later in his career. A staple of the Italian alternative magazines Linus, Alter Alter and Corto Maltese, Guido Crepax was an innovator of Italian comics in general, and of erotic art specifically.

Early life and background
He was born in 1933 as Guido Crepas in Milan, Lombardy. While the official spelling of his last name is Crepas, most family members are known under the name Crepax. Guido picked up drawing from an early age. As a teen in the mid-1940s, he already drew his own comics versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde' ('Il Dottor Jekill') - published as a comic book in 1972 - and H.G. Wells' 'The Invisible Man' ('L'Uomo Invisibile'). 

Music also played an important role in the Crepas household. Father Gilberto Crepax (1890-1970) was a prominent cello player, who had toured the USA with the Scala orchestra, and became a professor at the Milanese Conservatory later in life. Guido's brother Franco Crepax (1928) became a music producer and was director of the GGD-CBS record company until the mid-1980s. His upbringing gave Guido a lifelong passion for jazz, classical music and opera, which he often referred to in his later comics.


Drawing for his 1957 Shell campaign.

Commercial artist
Unsurprisingly, Guido Crepax' first professional artistic endeavours were related to the music industry. By the early 1950s he was designing covers for jazz records on the VOX, Mercury and Music labels, the first known being the 1951 VOX release of George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' by the Pro Musica orchestra. Other notable works were illustrations for the 'Piccola Bibliotheca Ricordi' library with New Orleans compositions and traditional jazz, and the original single release of Domenico Modugno's signature hit 'Nel blu dipinto di blu' (popularly known as 'Volare'), the Italian submission to the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest. Crepax also made cover drawings for the Italian editions of the digest-sized 'Galaxy Science Fiction' magazine series, and faithfully provided the medical periodical Tempo Medico with cover illustrations from its start in 1958 until the mid-1980s. The self-taught commercial artist was also active in the field of advertising. He won a Palme d'Or for his 1957 advertising campaign with racing cars for Shell Oil. He developed the advertising character Terry for Rhodiatoce, an Italian company specialized in synthetic fiber, and did campaigns for Campari, Biraghi Dunlop and Fujica. Guido Crepax graduated in Architecture from Milan University in 1958, but aside from designing some stands for the Fiera di Milano in that year, he never worked in this profession.

Influences
Among Guido Crepax's early graphic influences were the American record cover designer David Stone Martin, the social-realism of Ben Shahn and the Wagner illustrations of Arthur Rackham. Later in life, Crepax was inspired by Max Ernst's surrealism and the symbolism of the French painter Odilon Redon and the Belgian graphic artist Félicien Rops. In terms of comic art, Crepax admired the Italian masters Dino Battaglia and Hugo Pratt, as well as, internationally, Charles Schulz, Jules Feiffer, Philippe Druillet and Enric Siò. The work of Guido Crepax is also indebted to the fine art of Pablo Picasso, the French literary eroticism of the Marquis De Sade and Octave Mirbeau, the communist ideals of Leon Trotski and the pop art movement.


'Valentina Pirata'.

Valentina
Guido Crepax made his first comics in 1965, when he began an enduring association with the new, alternative comics monthly Linus. His first contribution was the fantasy detective serial 'Neutron' (May 1965), about art critic Philip Rembrandt and his secret superhero persona Neutron. Fighting crime, Neutron is able to paralyze people and pause time with his gaze. His girlfriend, the photographer Valentina Rosselli, was a mere side character in the first story 'La Curva di Lesmo', but quickly took center stage. With her thick, black bob hair, big eyes and sensual body, Crepax based the looks of his heroine on the silent movie actress Louise Brooks (1906-1985). Over the course of his career, Crepax made a great many longer and shorter stories with Valentina. Originally a staple in Linus, the series later appeared in Corto Maltese and Comic Art, but also became popular abroad. Between 1970 and 1982 Valentina was a regular in the French monthly Charlie Mensuel. Italian book collections appeared at Milano Libri Edizioni.


Valentina - The Force of Gravity (1967), from Charlie Mensuel #20.

Up until the early 1970s, the stories are mostly genre-based, constructed around fantasy and science fiction plots. They introduced a subterranean population ('I Sotterranei', 1965), an alien robot ('Valentina con gli stivali', 1970) and Baba Yaga, a witch from the underworld (1971's 'Baba Yaga' and subsequent stories), among other things. The real time events are alternated with flashbacks, fantasies and nightmare sequences, mostly filled with graphic eroticism. As the characters gradually became more and more realistic, fantastic elements like Philip's supernatural powers were dropped in favour of Valentina's emotional life. Still, the stories follow an ongoing narrative, as the author regularly referred to previous chapters. For instance, one of Valentina's dreams in 'Il Bambino di Valentina' ("Valentina's Child", 1969) wasn't explained until five episodes later, in the story 'Annette' (1972). Valentina and Philip age over the course of the stories (although not in real time), making the reader a voyeuristic witness of how their relationship develops from their first meeting to their marriage and the birth of their daughter Mattia.

Adaptations
'Valentina' inspired a 1973 movie adaptation, 'Baba Yaga', written and directed by Corrado Farina with Isabelle de Funès in the lead role. The film had poor box-office results due to bad distribution in Italy. In 1989-1990 a TV series of 13 episodes based on Crepax' comic stories was released for RAI television by Mediaset, with Demetra Hampton portraying Valentina.


'La Calata di Mac Similiano'.

Stand-alone stories
Like the original Valentina stories, other early comics by Guido Crepax had weird fantasy and sci-fi plots as well. 'L'Astronave Pirata' ("The Pirate Spaceship"), published in book format by Rizzoli in 1968, was a space opera about a group of sympathetic pirates, whose old-fashioned Renaissance clothing were in bizarre contrast with their advanced technology. The war story 'La Calata di Mac Similiano' ("The Fall of Mac Similiano", 1969) was a 16th-century allegory on the American intervention in Vietnam, and the first showcase of Crepax' social engagement.


'Bianca's Travels'.

Other heroines
Most of Crepax' stories were however centered around sensual females. Shortly after introducing Valentina, Crepax created 'Belinda', a rock 'n' roll heroine on a motorcycle, armed with a bicycle chain. The pop art-inspired 'Belinda contro i Mangiadischi' ("Belinda against the Record Eaters', 1967) was described as a "sci-fi musical in beat time", and serialized in the daily Giovani. In 1982, Crepax drew a second installment, which was published directly in book format. Bianca debuted in 1969 and had a more durable career. First appearing in the story 'La Casa Matta' ("The Mad House", 1969) in the New Kent monthly, the boarding school girl Bianca is constantly thrown from one sadomasochistic adventure into the other. Just like Valentina, events in the Bianca stories are an ongoing mix of reality, nightmare and fantasy. More short stories followed until the standout serial 'I Viaggi di Bianca' ("Bianca's Travels", 1984) appeared in Alter Alter. This story featured the sexy girl in a free interpretation of Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels'. Later Bianca stories were published in Il Grifo magazine in 1991.


'Giulietta'.

The main character of 'Anita, una storia possibile' (Persona/Ennio Ciscato Editore, 1972) shared her looks with Anita Ekberg, the lead actress in Federico Fellini's 1960 film 'La Dolce Vita'. In the comic book, Crepax criticized the power of mass media through a weird erotic dream of a girl who has a sexual relationship with her television set. Some installments were serialized in the magazine Eureka. The red-heared Giuletta (Juliette) also ends up in a stream of erotic escapades, both with her lover Romeo and with a horde of female companions. The adventures of 'Giulietta e Romeo' (1990-1991) were serialized in Comic Art, and loosely referred to Shakespeare's tragic love story and the nymphomaniac protagonist of the Marquis de Sade's 1797 'Juliette' novel. Crepax' final female protagonist, Francesca (1991), on the other hand, was a teenage girl who appeared in non-erotic stories in Lupo Alberto Magazine.


Valentina - 'Viva Trotsky' (Charlie Mensuel #72).

Intellectualism
To the average reader, Crepax's stories might be difficult to follow, and the eroticism seems random. His work however hides many deeper layers and cultural references. First of all, the 'Valentina' stories are interrelated; non-chronological reading might raise questions. Erotic fantasies and dreams often have a symbolic meaning, and the way Crepax used Valentina's dreams and memories reveals the author's interest in psychoanalysis and the subconsciousness. His characters are well-read. Their bookshelves show literature by Franz Kafka, De Sade and Günther Grass. Besides literature, Crepax let his characters enjoy poems, fine art and films. Sometimes a piece of art served as the inspiration for an entire story. Crepax once explained that the Wagner opera 'Siegfried' formed the basis for his early 'Bianca' stories, collected in 'Bianca - Una Storia Eccessiva' (1972). The 'Valentina' episode 'Storia di una storia' ("Story of a Story", 1982) was a reinterpretation of Georges Bataille's scandalous novella 'Storia dell'occhio' (1928).


'LUomo Di Pskov'.

Politics were also a recurring motive in his work. Crepax was a self-proclaimed communist, and more specifically a Trotskyist. Valentina and Philip were also followers of the Marxist ideals. The author's strong anti-fascist stance was evident in the 'Valentina' episodes with the subterranean people. Their society is divided into a totalitarian military regime on one side and a city of rebels on the other. Crepax added many allusions to the national-socialist rituals and symbolism. His wife Luisa, a linguist, crafted the subterraneans' own language, which was based on ancient Gothic. His stand-alone and non-erotic contributions to the collection 'Un Uomo Un'Avventura' of Editorial Cepim are also showcases of his political and cultural background. The historical 'LUomo Di Pskov' ("The Man from Pskov", 1977) portrayed the regime of the Russian tsars and their followers as decadent and lascivious. 'L'Uomo di Harlem' ("The Man from Harlem", 1979) on the other hand delved into the jazz culture of New York City.

Literary adaptations
Graphic novels based on classic literature formed an important part of Guido Crepax' career, especially in its later stages. Already in the 1960s, Crepax created comic stories based on the gothic literature of Edgar Allan Poe. Linus ran his adaptations of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' ('Il Duplice Delitto della Via Morgue', 1968) and 'The Mystery of Marie Rogêt' ('Poe, Il Mistero di Marie Roget', 1971), followed by an adaptation of 'The Purloined Letter' ('La Lettera Rubata', 1992) in Il Grifo.


'Justine'.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Crepax focused on faithful adaptations of erotic literature. The first one based on the 1954 novel 'Histoire d'O' by Pauline Réage, which had love, dominance and submission as its main themes. Crepax' adaptation was published in 1975 by Franco Maria Ricci Editore. Then came a comics biography of the 18th-century Venetian libertine Casanova (Franco Maria Ricci, 1977), made in collaboration with Beppe Madaudo, and an adaptation of Emmanuelle Arsan's 1967 erotic novel 'Emmanuelle' (Olympia Press, 1978). With his versions of 'Justine' (Olympia Press, 1979) and 'Venus in Furs' ('Venere in Pelliccia', 1984), Crepax adapted the authors whose names had inspired the terms sadism (Marquis De Sade) and masochism (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch).


'Dr. Jekyll e Mr. Hide'.

Crepax then returned to adapting horror or fantastic literature to comics. Corto Maltese magazine serialized his sensual rendition of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' in 1983. Then, just like in his childhood, he adapted Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide' (1987), this time published by Rizzoli-Milano Libri. With 'Giro di Vite' (Olympia Press, 1989), he created a more explicit version of the 1898 morbid novella 'Turn of the Screw' by Henry James. In 1991, this story was serialized in the new comic magazine Il Grifo. Later that decade came his rendition of Franz Kafka's 'The Trial' ('Il Processo', 1999), followed by a modern reinterpretation of the biblical tale about Salome, called 'Eroine alla fine: Salomé' (Lizard Edizioni, 2000). It was made in cooperation with scriptwriter Paolo Scheriani, who also turned it into a stage play in Milan around the same time. Guido Crepax' final comic story was an adaptation of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', published by Grifo Edizioni in 2002.

Style
While Guido Crepax' work has been criticized for its explicit eroticism, his oeuvre can hardly be called vulgar pornography. Crepax surely portrays a fair share of nudity, sadomasochistic and other sexual acts with a knack for bondage. Yet, especially in the 'Valentina' stories, the sex sequences have a symbolic meaning as part the overall storyline. Still, some stories are solely erotic fantasies, such as Valentina's 'Lanterna Magica' ('The Magic Lantern', 1979), others are more explicit, such as his literary adaptations. But all is crafted with the artist's elegant, baroque linework, which subtly explores the boundaries of dream and reality. Graphically, Crepax was a perfectionist with a keen eye for detail. In his alienating erotic dreams, characters often dressed in classic Renaissance clothing, while undergoing strange S&M acts in the most inventive contraptions. Panel lay-outs were in full service of the story, and transformed along with the narrative. Dialogue was of minor importance, and speech balloons were often placed sideways within the panels. An important aspect of Crepax' eroticism were the expressions of his characters. Sometimes he drew just the eyes, nose and mouth, and leaving out most of the outlines or the rest of the face. The result was a form of aesthetic pornography with a focus on emotion instead of the actual act. In a late 1970s interview with Adriana Lobelia, Crepax expressed he didn't see himself as part of Italy's more vulgar erotic culture. Instead, he felt more related to the intellectual eroticism of classic French authors like the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire.


Valentina - 'The Magic Lantern'.

Other activities
In his spare time, he enjoyed designing war games and paper toy soldier figurines. Some of his strategy games were published in magazines, making them among the first mainstream war games in his home country. Corriere dei Piccoli published 'La Battaglia di Trafalgar' ("The Battle of Trafalgar") in 1964, while Linus published 'La Battaglia di Waterloo' ("The Battle of Waterloo", 1965), 'La Battaglia di Pavia' ("The Battle of Pavia", 1967) and 'La Battaglia del Lago Ghiacciato - Alexandr Nevsky' ("The Battle of the Frozen Lake - Alexandr Nevsky", 1972). In 1970 he branched out into animation, designing a series of animated cartoons for Italian television. He also continued to work as an illustrator and designer for magazines, as well as clothing and furniture. Crepax has also done storyboard work for the 1967 thriller film 'Deadly Sweet' by director Tinto Brass.

Death
Guido Crepax passed away on 31 July 2003 in his hometown Milan, after suffering from multiple sclerosis for several years. He had just turned 70 earlier that month.


'Valentina's Baby'.

Recognition
As early as 1970, director Corrado Farina made the short documentary film 'Freud a fumetti' (1970), which explored the comics of Guido Crepax. In 1972, Crepax was awarded the Anafi at the Trieste Science Fiction Festival. In that same year, he received the prestigious Yellow Kid Award for "Best Italian Author" at the Lucca Comics Festival, as well as the Swedish Prix Adamson for his entire body of work. In 2001 he was the last author to be inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame as part of the American Harvey Awards. Crepax was the second Italian author to receive this honor, after his genre colleague Milo Manara. The Italian singer Anna Tatangelo took inspiration from the looks and atmosphere of the 'Valentina' comics for the music video of her 2015 single 'Inafferrabile'.

International success
Guido Crepax goes down in history as one of the prime representatives of Italian erotic comics, along with Milo ManaraPaolo Eleuteri Serpieri and Tanino Liberatore. His comics have appeared in translation in France (in Hara-Kiri and Charlie Mensuel, and in books by Losfeld, Glénat, Dargaud, Futuropolis and Albin Michel), Brazil (L&PM and Conrad Editora), Spain (in Tótem magazine), Germany (Berner Lukianos Verlag, Bahia Verlag), the Netherlands (Delfia Press, Centripress), Japan (Kawade Shobo Shinsha), the United States (Catalan Communications, NBM's Eurotica imprint), Finland, Sweden (Horst Schröder) and Greece. In 2016, Seattle-based publishing house Fantagraphics launched 'The Complete Crepax' series, which collects the author's entire body of work in thematical volumes.

Legacy
As a true innovator of European erotic comics, Guido Crepax, has been an inspiration to many other artists. In Europe, Philippe Berthet, Christian Cailleaux, Eric Lambé, Jean-Claude Denis, Walter Minus, Miles Hyman, François Avril, Frank Pé and Jacques de Loustal can be ranked among his followers. Overseas, he was an influence on Jim Steranko, Frank Miller, Paul Pope and Chris Ware. But cinematographers have been inspired by Crepax' visualizations too, most notably Jésus Franco from Spain and Jean Rollin from France.

comic art by Guido Crepax

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