J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Long-Running Revolutionary War Comic

Today is Free Comic Book Day, so I’m featuring another Revolutionary War comic, brought to my attention by Boston 1775 reader Judith Cataldo. This series appeared at different rates from 1966 to 2000—in Italy, of all places.

Il Comandante Mark seems to have been the Italian fumetti version of DC Comics’s Tomahawk, a frontier warrior. Here is a website devoted to him—in Italian, naturally.

This is the most detailed description of the comic I could find in English. The translation mixes up our Revolutionary War with our Civil War, but then Comandante Mark’s costume mixes up the centuries as well. (And the American Revolution was a civil war.) The story begins in 1966:

Pietro Sartoris, Dario Guzzon and Giovanni Sinchetto, or better known has the EsseGesse trio, proposed to Sergio Bonelli a project regarding...a leader of a valiant group of patriots: the Comandante Mark (Commander Mark).

Mark is a French nobleman, as a child he was shipwrecked thanks to the English, but survived when a patriot saved him; he was than raised by a tribe of Native American Indians. His adoptive father teaches him fighting and fencing, as well as the values of liberty, loyalty and defending those oppressed. Following his father’s hanging, Mark becomes the leader of a group of patriots: the Lupi dell’Ontario (Ontario’s Wolves). They fight against the hated Giubbe Rosse (Red Coats) in an idealistic universe that’s severely split into good and bad guys.
The facts that there would have been no distinction between “the English” and “a patriot” when Mark was a shipwrecked child, and that Ontario remained British throughout the war and for decades afterward, might give us pause about this comic’s historical accuracy.
Mark also has two inseparable stooges, the often main characters of comic relief: Mister Bluff and Gufo Triste. The first is an always happy individual from a mysterious past, the second, is an Indian who’s always intent in predicting misfortune and fighting against Flok, Mister Bluff’s dog. Mark also has a fiancée, the blond Betty who he’ll eventually marry...
The fumetti covers indicate that Mark he took time away from redcoats to fight a samurai, a tiger, and ghosts. I would, too, if I were saddled with “inseparable stooges.”

Here are entries on Comandante Mark at the Italian version of Wikipedia and Cartoni Online. In 1971 the comic inspired a Turkish movie called Captain Swing.


WCB said...

Dear Mr.Bell,
I respectfully submit that this blog remain in the historical context of examinating eary Boston and the Revolution.This comic book analysis seems unnecessary and weird to say the least.Highlighting a publishers distorted views of the subject accomplishes nothing.Folk's time would be better spent reading a real historical account unless of course ,the reader is six years old.

J. L. Bell said...

Popular historical fiction, whether in the form of prose, comics, theater, or cinema, is one way we’re all exposed to history. And the younger we are when we see such material, the more widely distributed it is, the more influence it has. As such, I think it’s not only entertaining but valuable to look at how all forms of popular fiction portray the past.

I find it especially interesting that Italians have been reading stories, however silly and inaccurate, of the U.S. of A.’s founding, yet very few Americans would be able to say when most of the Italian peninsula was united into a single nation. (I know I’d have to look it up.)

FABIO729 said...

Dear Mr Bell,
My name is Fabio and I am writing to you from Italy. It’s me who manages the site on Captain Mark. I was very impressed by the fact that you mentioned my site in your important blog and I thank you for that. I am writing to underline some points. I assure you there is no confusion: the comic strip deals with the American Revolution and not with the Civil War (they are both subject of study in Italian schools!). The sinking of the french ship Mark is travelling on as an infant, occurs during the Seven Years' War fought by French and English on the American soil. His adoptive father is a French philosopher who is later to become a patriot. Mark is nearly twenty years when the Revolution breaks out. I urge you, if you like, to read on my site "Biografia non autorizzata" how some authors, basing on fragmented information from these stories (about 300), have traced a brief chronology of the major events narrated and of the chief character’s life, trying, wherever possible, to link them to real history. In this game we also report those particular books which allow us to read in this logical sequence. Maybe everything will seem a little clearer to you! (I verify a mistake: the beginning of Revolution in 1776 instead of 1775, but it was reported so in the book!) If we talk about historical accuracy, well, I agree with you on this point: there are certainly several inaccuracies. In order to excuse the three authors I can only say that Mark was “created” in the 60s taking inspiration from some books and some films imported in those years from the United States. Anyway, I remind you that we are talking about a comic and not of a grave historical essay. I think that a few mistakes can be forgiven ... ..! Besides, for us young readers, everything was fine! There were a lot of us who dreamed of visiting places like Lake Ontario, and I assure you that, though several years have passed, nothing has changed and many have succeeded in ...! Over the years, its authors have arranged for Mark to meet excellent personalities like Paul Revere, Lafayette, General Horatio Gates and even George Washington. The covers of the books can be deceiving: Mark has to deal not only with the RCMP, with Samurai Fakirs Indians , tigers (with two legs, in the sense of pirates!) primitive men and immortal men, but not with ghosts! In any case, before judging these stories as “foolish” it would be correct to read some of them, don’t you think? I want to underline that you have not to wonder at the interest of the Italians for the U.S. comics in various genres, especially in the Western. For example, in the current comic book heroes are in most cases U.S. (especially in the comics by Sergio Bonelli Editore ). That's all!
One last aspect: I find it very ungenerous and not of good sense what WCB says; it’s a bit like saying that rather than reading Spider-Man (to quote an American comic strip) it would be better to read a treatise on spiders ...!
Regards Fabio P.
PS: For your information: the unification of Italy was ratified on March 17, 1861

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the message from Italy! And on our Independence Day, no less.

On this webpage there are two mentions of “the Civil War.” Although the Revolutionary War was a civil war, we reserved the capitalized “Civil War” for the one fought in 1861-65. That’s why I thought the page was mixing the two conflicts.

On Boston 1775 I’ve also featured DC’s Tomahawk, a Revolutionary-era adventure comic that eventually showed its hero fighting dinosaurs and monsters. So I’m certainly not upset by comics that don’t stick exactly to historical or scientific accuracy. As popular literature, I think they give insight into how we view the past and ourselves. And they can be great fun.