Walter Molino was an Italian comic artist and illustrator, notorious for his sensational cover paintings for Domenica del Corriere, that depicted mayhem and disaster in everyday situations. His illustrations for the women's weekly Grand Hotel popularized the "cineromanzi" genre, in which the lead characters in picture stories were based on popular film stars. Prior to this, he worked for Italy's pre-war comic magazines, most notably co-creating 'Virus, il Mago della Foresta Morta' (1939-1940) and 'Captain l'Audace' (1939) with writer Federico Pedrocchi.

Early life and career
Molino was born in 1915 in Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy. He inherited his lifelong passion for painting from his father. At age 15, the family moved to Milan, where Walter enrolled in the Liceo Classico Berchet. Among his fellow students were the future film directors Luciano Emmer and Dino Risi. In 1934, Molino's satirical-political drawings in the student newspaper Libro e Moschetto were noted by Benito Mussolini. The young cartoonist was invited to make satirical drawings for Il Popolo d'Italia, the newspaper of the fascist party, as well. In the following year, his art first appeared in the comic magazines published by Domenico and Cino Del Duca's Casa Editrice Universo: Il Monello, Intrepido and Il Giovinetto.

Universo magazines
The weekly Intrepido ran Molino's serials 'Il Cavaliere delle Nevi' ("The Knight of the Snow", 1935), 'Il Mozzo' ("The Hub", 1936), 'Il Piccolo Ammiraglio' ("The Little Admiral", 1937) and 'L'Affondatore degli Oceani' ("The Sinker of the Oceans", 1938). Simultaneously, he illustrated 'Giovinetto Eroico' ("Heroic Little Giovanni", 1935-1936), 'Il Piccolo Dubat' ("The Little Dubat", 1936) and 'Il Piccolo Patriota' ("The Little Patriot", 1936) in Il Monello. The latter story was continued in Del Duca's short-lived magazine Il Giovinetto in 1936-1937. Molino also supplied the Del Duca magazines with cover and interior illustrations.


'Zorro della Metropoli'.

Comics and cartoons in the 1930s
Walter Molino's workload quickly expanded and in the second half of the 1930s, he worked on advertisements, illustrations and satirical cartoons as well. His illustrations appeared in Modellina, the children's supplement of Modella magazine, the short-lived news weekly Il Milione (1939) and the satirical humor magazine Marc'Aurelio. Between 1936 and 1941, he made saucy cartoons with provocative pin-ups for the humor magazine Bertoldo (1936-1943) of the Rizzoli publishing house. In 1936-1937 his art appeared in the children's magazine Il Saladino, the first magazine declaring itself entirely Italian. Enrico De Seta's Argentovivo! (1936-1937), a supplement of the Roman weekly La Tribuna Illlustrata, also opened its pages exclusively to Italian creators. In 1937, Molino contributed the serials 'Dove svolazza il farfallefante' ("Where the butterfly flutters"), 'Terra ardente' ("Burning earth"), 'Tarzan' and 'Buddy Ebsen'. Mussolini's ban on American comics (except 'Mickey Mouse') in 1938 meant even more opportunities for domestic authors.


'La Compagnia dei Sette'.

Mondadori serials
In 1937, Walter Molino began his collaboration with the publisher Arnoldo Mondadori, then still operating under the banner Anonima Periodici Italiana (API). His first serial was 'Zorro della Metropoli' ("Metropolis Zorro", 1937), about a masked vigilante who leads a revolt against a vicious landowner in a small western village. It was serialized in Paperino, Mondadori's new magazine named after Walt Disney's Donald Duck, although it must be said that this Zorro predates the Disney version and was not related to the American pulp hero. The scriptwriter was Cesare Zavattini, with whom Molino also made 'La Compagnia dei Sette' ("The Company of the Seven", 1938-1939), published in the 1938 and 1939 volumes of the Almanaccco Topolino. This feature about an adventurous gang of kids was concluded in a third episode, written by Federico Pedrocchi and drawn by Raffaele Paparella for Topolino magazine in 1948. A novel series with the same characters by Pedrocchi and illustrated by Carlo Cossio was published by Carroccio in 1945.

For Paperino, Molino additionally made a comics serial based on the Italian war drama film 'Luciano Serra, Pilot' (1938), directed by Goffredo Alessandrini. The adaptation was supervised by film critic and producer Vittorio Mussolini (the second son of the dictator). 'Il Corsaro Nero' (1939) was another adaptation by Molino, based on the Salgari novel 'The Black Corsair'.


'Virus, il Mago della Foresta Morta'

Virus
For L'Audace (1939) and then Topolino (1939-1940), Molino co-created his best-known comic, the sci-fi adventure serial 'Virus, il Mago della Foresta Morta' ("Virus, the Wizard of the Dead Forest", 1939-1940). Written by Federico Pedrocchi, the serial stars the engineer Roberto and his nephew Piero as opponents of the mad scientist Virus. Working with his Indian servant Tirmud in a sinister lab in a petrified forest, Virus uses telepatic communication and futuristic technology in his quest for world domination. He has a teleportation machine, and is able to bring ancient Egyptians back to life. The boy Piero was a symbol for Italian persistence and the fascist ideology. Molino made another episode with Pedrocchi, called 'Il Polo V' ("Pole V"); a third story was made under the title 'Il Signore del Buio' ("The Lord of the Dark") for Topolino in 1946-1947, but this time drawn by Antonio Canale. 'Virus' is one of the best-remembered serials of the so-called "Golden Age" of Italian adventure comics, but its popularity hardly crossed the country borders, except for a publication in the French magazine Hardi les Gars. In Italy, on the other hand, it has been reprinted on several occasions, for instance in the Albi d'Oro collection and the magazines L'Avventuroso (1973) and Comic Art.

Capitan L'Audace & Kit Carson
Another Mondadori character created by Walter Molino and Federico Pedrocchi was the 16th-century swashbuckler 'Capitan L'Audace' (1939), whose adventures appeared in both L'Audace and Paperino. With his faithful sidekicks Spaccateste and Barbanera, the heroic swordslinger fights the greedy baron Armando di Torrerossa, who is determined to marry Countess Vera in order to get his hands of her father's conspicuous wealth. Molino and Pedrocchi additionally collaborated on 'Lo Squadrone dei Cento' and 'L'Amazzone Bianca', the final two comic book adventures of the famous 19th-century trapper 'Kit Carson', previously drawn by Rino Albertarelli.

Domenica del Corriere
In 1941 Molino succeeded Achille Beltrame as the cover painter of the Domenica del Corriere, the Sunday magazine of the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera. Since its launch in 1899, the Dominica reported about the joys and tragedies of the Italian population. The sensational covers reflected that mission, although emphasized on the tragedies. Molino served as the cover illustrator for 25 years. With their illustrative graphic style, Molino's paintings can be compared to the ones made by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post. But where Rockwell gave picture perfect portrayals of an idealized American society, Molino did the exact opposite. Based on actual news events, his depictions of everyday life take place right before things go awfully wrong. People falling from windows, gruesome traffic accidents, prams on the loose... Molino presented them with such an elaborate flair, that one has to look twice before the horror truly sinks in. For both the Domineca's cover and interiors pages, Molino also made politically oriented illustrations. Other drawings are of dystopian futures with advanced technology. In 2020, Molino's drawing for a December 1962 article gained online attention. The crowded street filled with one-seater vehicles seemed almost prophetic of that year's social distancing measurements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also in 1941, Molino was present in the Corriere dei Piccoli, the separately sold children's supplement of the Corriere della Sera, making comical strips with 'Pin Focoso' and illustrations for serialized novels. In 1942, he additionally made illustrations for Il Romanzo Mensile, a monthly magazine published by the Corriere della Sera. Walter Molino left the Domenica del Corriere in 1966, after which Averardo Ciriello became the new cover illustrator.

Grand Hotel
After the war, Walter Molino renewed his collaboration with the Del Duca brothers, who were about to launch their brand new women's weekly Grand Hotel (1946). Using the pseudonyms J.W. Symes and Sten, Molino was among the main illustrators until 1985, along with Giulio Bertoletti and Alvaro Mairani. Molino designed the stylish header, and contributed many romantic half-tone covers, as well as melodramatic picture stories ("cineromanzi") in ink wash, starring popular stars from the big screen. Famous cover drawings by Walter Molino dealt with the birth of television (1954), the death of cycling champion Fausto Coppi (1960) and the Russians in space (1965). Grand Hotel was at first heavily condemned by the Catholic church for its morally corrupt content, but to this day it remains one of the most popular news magazines in Italy. In France, Molino's art appeared in Nous Deux, Grand Hotel's sister magazine, also published by Del Duca. From 1956 on, Molino's lavishly painted black-and-white strips were reprinted in the British magazine Titbits as well.

Other post-war work
While his fame as an illustrator grew, Molino continued to work on comic strips. He made new adventure serials, for instance the title feature of the short-lived magazine Dinamite (1945), published by Casa Editrice Primula. The stories were written by Luciano Pedrocchi (not to be confused with Federico Pedrocchi), and later published in French small-format comic books like Super Dynamite and Plutos. For Dinamite, Molino also made a comic adaptation of the Emilio Salgari novel 'Tom il Vendicatore' (1945) with scriptwriter M. Caroli. Between 1946 and 1949, Molino adapted more Salgari stories to the comics format for the weekly Salgari. Molino's Salgari adaptations found their way to a French audience through translations in Hardi les Gars (1945), Les Contes du Far-West (1946-1947), Gong (1950) and Targa (1951). New satirical cartoons by Walter Molino appeared in Rizzoli's Candido from 1945 on.

In the early 1950s, Molino returned to the pages of Universo's Intrepido, succeeding Alvaro Mairani on the serial 'Il Cavaliere Ideale' ("The Ideal Knight"), before passing the pencil himself to Aldo Torchio. In 1952, he was one of the artists who completed the illustrations for the 1955 edition of Giovanni Biccaccio's story collection 'The Decameron' by Edizioni D'Arte, after the death of the original illustrator, Gino Boccasile.

Caricaturist
During the 1960s and 1970s, Molino made caricatures for the section 'Così li vede WM' in the magazines Intrepido and Il Monello. For this work , he was awarded at the 1960 International Festival of the Humor of Bordighera. His caricature collection '60 Caricature dal Video' won the Palme d'Or at the 1967 edition of that same festival. The Turin-based publishing house Lo Scarabeo released another caricature collection in 2004: 'Quando la tv era in bianco e nero'.

Retirement and death
The veteran illustrator devoted his final years to painting, exhibiting his work throughout Europe. One of his best-known paintings was the wax engraving 'Pulcinella, Arlecchino e Colombella' (1986). In 1995, the Milanese gallery Agrifoglio organized a career overview exposition under the title 'Walter Molino tra cronaca e arte'. Graziano Origa compiled the accompanying catalogue. Two years later, Walter Molino died in Milan, at the age of 82.


"Cineromanzi" for Grand Hotel.

Legacy
Despite his fascist associations, Walter Molino is still remembered as a major illustrator of the epic and melodramatic adventure serials that dominated the Italian pre-war boys magazines. Among the other artists in this genre were Kurt Caesar, Antonio Canale, Giovanni Scolari, Rino Albertarelli and Carlo Cossio. But most of all, he goes down in history as one of Italy's most legendary cover illustrators. His terrifying drawings for the Domenica del Corriere gained cult following during the internet era, and remain popular to this day. His ink wash drawings for Grand Hotel have inspired many artists after him. Walter Molino's influence can be traced back in the work of the Italian comic authors Alberto Giolitti, Guido Buzzelli and Gian Luigi Bonelli, as well as the Frenchman Raymond Poïvet.

Artistic relatives
Walter's brother Sergio Molino was active as a comic book artist during the 1940s and 1950s. His daughter Marina Molino also became a painter and caricaturist, and his son Pippo Molino (1947) gained fame as a musician/composer. The illustrator Roberto Molino (1941-2004) was Walter Molino's nephew.

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