A Comic Book Character Seeks Sexual Empowerment in Postwar Italy

Posted by: Kevin Coyle

This post was curated from an article written by Lucia De Stefani for Hyperallergic.com

We’ve entered Valentina’s life so many times. In her room, glancing at her sensual frame as she carelessly lays on an undone bed, aloof, wrapped in a heavy haze of thoughts. We’ve seen her in a washroom, skeptically peeking at her own reflection in the mirror, loose words and feelings filling the air around her. We’ve tried reading her enigmatic expression while lingering on her curves, and witnessed her aging graciously in the dream-like dimension she inhabits, immersed in a 1960s industrial Milan that has been dwarfed by the bigotry of the middle class.

Inspired by American silent screen star Louise Brooks, Valentina Rosselli is the heroine of illustrious Italian comic book artist and graphic novelist Guido Crepax, who started drawing the famous character in 1965. Through his outstanding technique, cinematic compositions, and subtle use of ink and line, Crepax created an introspective and consciously sensual character, a photographer living in the midst of a feminist revolution, that would become his trademark. Through Valentina, Crepax unhinged the sexual taboos of Italian society dominated by the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The exhibit Guido Crepax: Valentina e Amici at the Scott Eder Gallery in New York is the first to bring the artist’s works to the public in the United States. The space, which has been involved in comic book art for two decades, showcases approximately 50 of his drawings along with works by 10 international artists in homage to his legacy. And in conjunction, Fantagraphics published the deluxe collection The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Other Horror Stories, the first of 10 forthcoming volumes.

Displayed in three rooms, the exhibit presents Crepax’s work over the years, with Valentina’s adventures from the ’60s and ’70s, and excerpts from the comic book L’Uomo di Harlem (The Man from Harlem), Crepax’s first attempt with the noir genre, where the story of an Afro-American jazz musician unintentionally involved in a gangster’s plot addresses topics such as race, love, revenge, criminality, and music.

In Alla Ricerca dei Vestiti Perduti di Krizia (In Search of the Lost Dresses by Krizia) (1995), a detective helps an unclothed Valentina find the dresses she has been robbed of. A tribute to the Italian fashion designer Krizia, the story takes place in a dream-like version of New York. The drawing of a half-naked Valentina chasing two statuary models and reclaiming her clothes — with the Empire State building and the Chrysler as a backdrop — was chosen for the poster advertising the exhibition.

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