Comic panel by Federico Fellini
'The Book of Dreams', from Rolling Stone Magazine.

Federico Fellini was one of Italy's most famous film directors, widely considered one of the most influential directors of the 20th century. Fellini is best known for classic pictures like 'La Strada' (1954), 'La Dolce Vita' (1960), '8 1/2' (1963), 'Fellini: Satyricon' (1969) and 'Amarcord' (1973). His highly autobiographical work often borders to the sensational and surreal. Recurring themes are Rome, the Catholic Church, the circus and clowns, huge women, love for cinema, scenes of decadence and people with unusual physical appearances. His very recognizable and eccentric style inspired the eponym "Fellinesque". Little is known that before his cinematic career, Fellini was also a busy comics artist, drawing humoristic series for the Italian magazine Marc'Aurelio. Later in life he collaborated with Milo Manara and still kept sketching comics and cartoons before each new movie project.

Early life
Federico Fellini was born in 1920 in Rimini. As a child he loved going to the cinema, praising Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers as much as Luis Buñuel, Roberto Rossellini and Sergei Eisenstein. He also lost himself at the circus and devoured numerous novels, fairy tales and comics. His favorite magazine was Il Corriere dei Piccoli, which published both local "fumetti" as well as translations of U.S. titles. He was particularly mezmerized by Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse', George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father', Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan', Lyman Young's 'Tim Tyler's Luck', Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' and Lee Falk's 'Mandrake the Magician' and 'The Phantom'. All these forms of entertainment inspired his own outlook on life, which often mixed realism with fantasy.

Comics career
Showing a talent for drawing and caricaturing, Fellini became a cartoonist and portrait painter. Between 1938 and 1942 he contributed to weeklies like the Florentine magazine 420 and wrote for the bi-weekly humor magazine Marc'Aurelio. When Mussolini banned the import of all U.S. comics, such as 'Flash Gordon', Giove Toppi continued the series by imitating Alex Raymond's graphic style, while Fellini wrote new stories. However, fumetti expert Leonardo Gori has cast doubt over this often-repeated story, claiming that the Italian versions of 'Flash Gordon' weren't drawn by Toppi - who passed away in 1942 - but by Guido Fantoni. In his opinion, the scripts lack Fellini's characteristic style and it's a known fact that the director often twisted personal anecdotes into more fantastic stories. What is certain is that Fellini contributed to the comics series 'Giacomino' and 'Cico e Pallina', both published in Marc'Aurelio. He also drew the strip 'Geppi La Bimba Atomica'.

Comic by Federico Fellini
'Geppi La Bimba Atomica' (1940).

Film directing and recognition
After World War II, Fellini abandoned comics in favor of directing films. He worked as a screenwriter and assistant director for Roberto Rossellini before making his own films in the 1950s. In the decades that followed he directed such classics as 'I Vitelloni' (1953), 'La Strada' (1954), 'La Dolce Vita' (1959), '8½' (1963), 'Fellini: Satyricon' (1969), 'Roma' (1972), 'Amarcord' (1973), 'Il Casanova di Fellini' (1976), 'Prova d'Orchestra' (1978) and 'E La Nave Va' (1983). 

Style
Fellini is praised for his magical-realistic style and visual inventiveness. He observed the world with an eye for wonder. His trademark are disturbing scenes of decadence, accompanied by the dreamy and frenetic soundtracks of his home composer Nino Rota. From '8 1/2' (1963) on, his films got increasingly more extravagant and surreal. Fellini portrayed society in a satirical way, where everyone looks, talks and/or acts bizarre. He often cast people with odd personal appearances and gave them prosthetics and make-up to make their faces even more unusual. Soon his pictures were filled with clowns, nuns, priests, dwarfs, giants, hermaphrodites, hunchbacks, androgyns, transvestites, physically handicapped people, obese people, big-breasted women... His approach drew controversy, particularly his not-too-flattering depictions of high society and the Roman Catholic church. Critics often accused him of depicting people as walking caricatures. Terry Gilliam defended the often heard accusation that Fellini's characters were too grotesque, odd and bizarre: "Fellini was a cartoonist, I was a cartoonist. We both came from the same background. Which means you look at the world and you stretch it, you pull it, you distort it."

Artwork by Federico Fellini

Influence of comics on his films
Whatever the case, Fellini's comics background was obvious from the start. His second film, 'Lo Sceicco Bianco' ('The White Sheik', 1952), was a satire of popular photo comics aimed at female readers. The character of Gesolmina in 'La Strada' (1954) was inspired by the hobo character 'Happy Hooligan' by Frederick Burr Opper. Fellini even claimed that Charlie Chaplin had inspired his Tramp character on Opper's creation too. When Fellini made the film 'Giulietta degli Spiriti' ('Juliet of the Spiritis', 1965) he was inspired by the costumes and backgrounds in the comics of Antonio Rubino. In preparation for his nostalgic film 'Amarcord' (1973) Fellini studied the look of several 1930s comics. Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo' was a direct influence on 'La Città Delle Donne' ('City of Women', 1980), where a man encounters all kinds of dream-like women. In 'Intervista' (1986) Marcello Mastroianni plays the comic strip character Mandrake the Magician. Film producer Dino De Laurentiis considered Fellini as his first choice for directing a movie version of 'Flash Gordon' (1980), but the job eventually went to Mike Hodges, because the maestro wasn't a fan of literal comic book adaptations. As Fellini once said: "Comics and the ghostly fascination of those paper people, paralysed in time, marionets without strings, unmoving, cannot be transposed to film, whose allure is motion, rhythm, dynamic. It is a radically different means of addressing the eye, a different mode of expression."

As an adult Fellini often praised comics artists during interviews, like Guy Peellaert's 'Les Aventures de Jodelle', which he called "literature of intelligence, fantasy and romanticism." The cineast also considered Moebius more important than Gustave Doré: "(...) He's a unique talent endowed with an extraordinary visionary imagination that's constantly renewed and never vulgar. Moebius disturbs and consoles. He has the ability to transport us into unknown worlds where we encounter unsettling characters. My admiration for him is total. I consider him a great artist, as great as Picasso and Matisse." During the 1963 Academy Awards Fellini visited Disneyland in the presence of Walt Disney. Years later he also met Stan Lee and told him how much he adored his work.

Fellini and Manara
Sketches by Fellini and Manara for 'Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna'.

Collaborations with comics artists
Fellini collaborated with some iconic comics artists as well. He hired Roland Topor to draw the illustrations for the magic lantern scene in his film 'Il Casanova Di Fellini' (1976). In 1981 Fellini wrote the foreword to a reprint of Nick Meglin's classic book 'The Art of Humorous Illustration'. Milo Manara, whose comic strip, 'HP et Giuseppe Bergman' was directly inspired by Fellini's films, drew a comic strip called 'Untitled' (1983) , which was a complete homage to the maestro's works, down to Marcello Mastroianni being used as a main character. Fellini read 'Untitled' and was flattered. The two men met and worked together on two graphic novels 'Viaggio a Tulun' (1989) and 'Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna' (1992). 'Viaggio a Tulun' was originally meant as an adaptation of the works of cult novelist Carlos Castaneda, but the project fell through and was published as a comic strip in Corriere della Sera instead. 'Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna' was another life long project of Fellini that never came to be, because a magician had warned him that if he ever filmed it he would die soon afterwards. So Fellini and Manara made it a comic book instead, published in Il Griffo. In 2011 the collaboration between the two iconic Italian artists inspired Laura Maggiore's book, 'Fellini e Manara', as well as Tiahoga Ruge's film 'Soñando con Tulum' (2012), based on Fellini and Castaneda's preparations for 'Viaggio a Tulun'.

Drawing by Federico Fellini
Self-portrait by Fellini from 1991, depicting himself and his wife, actress Giulietta Masina.

Artistic film design
Even though he was more preoccupied with film making, Fellini never left his crayons, pencils and water paint alone for long. He sketched his own film posters, before handing them to more professional artists. Two of the more notable were Jacques Tardi, who designed the poster of Fellini's 'E La Nave Va' (1983), and Milo Manara who designed the posters for 'Intervista' (1987) and 'La Voce della Luna' (1990). Fellini also sketched the kind of characters and actors he needed for each project. His wife, Giulietta Masina, said that whenever he drew a small figure with a round, oval head she knew that he was going to cast her. Following the advice of a psychiatrist, Fellini made many drawings of his dreams, some in comic book form. A two-page story was published in Rolling Stone in the 1970s and collected and published posthumously in 'The Book of Dreams' in 2008. In 1982 sixty-three of his drawings were exhibited in Paris, New York and Brussels. He also published 350 more under the title 'I disegni di Fellini'.

Recognition
Fellini still holds the record for winning the most Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, namely four. He received them for 'La Strada', 'La Notti di Cabiria', '8½' and 'Amarcord'. In 1985 he also won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Festival of Venice and at the Academy Awards in 1993. In 1990 the Japanese prince Hitachi handed him a Praemium Imperale award for his contributions to the world of art. In 1960 an asteroid was named after Fellini. 

Death
Federico Fellini passed away in 1993. His funeral was an extravagant event, comparable to a scene from his movies. Among the celebrities who paid him a salute were fellow film directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Franco Zeffirelli, Alberto Lattuada, Luigi Magni and Lina Wertmüller, actors Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Vittorio Gasman and Philippe Noiret, and Italian Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, also attended the memorial service and passed away half a year later. 

Legacy and influence
Fellini inspired fellow film makers Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Marco Ferreri, Lina Wertmüller, Ettore Scola, Juan Antonio Bardem, Emir Kusturica, Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam. After watching Fellini's film 'Giulietta degli Spiriti' ('Juliet of the Spirits', 1965) on LSD, S. Clay Wilson came up with his character 'The Checkered Demon' (1968). The Roman orgy scene in the 'Astérix' story 'Astérix chez les Helvètes' ('Asterix in Switzerland', 1970) by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo is a direct reference to a similar scene in 'Fellini: Satyricon' (1969). Sylvain Chomet (of 'Belleville Rendez-vous' fame) plans a film, 'The Thousand Miles', based on Fellini's unpublished drawings and writings. Other celebrity fans of Fellini are Georges Simenon, Lana del Rey, Matt Groening and Madonna.

Federico Fellini
Federico Fellini at his drawing board.

Articla about Fellini and comics at www.comicom.it

Series and books by Federico Fellini in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.