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Tex the birth of a timeless hero
It was September 30th 1948 when the Tex comic strip appeared for the first time on the Italian newsstands, in a format today unknown to the younger generation.
Tex, a character written and created by Giovanni Luigi Bonelli, grew and was molded in the hands of his son – Sergio Bonelli – who shaped his character over time, giving him the aura of a legend and making him a comic icon both in Italy and worldwide.
Finally gifted with a personality and a key archetype that characterized his work, Tex was still lacking a face, a feature, a physicality on paper. And this is when the mind and pencil of Aurelio Galeppini took over, the first of a long line of illustrators and artists who have had the honor of putting their creativity and artistic inspiration at the service of a pivotal character in the history of comics, together with just as many authors who have ventured into giving him new life with ever more compelling stories.
The first Tex publications and formats
The world of Tex made its debut on the market in comic strip format, but it was the next step that allowed the “Tex phenomenon” to explode: a whole new format closer in size to a book, almost an heirloom of pop culture to collect and reread, much loved by fans perhaps also for its “depth” which was not only cultural. And it is thanks to the fans who – as you know – are the supreme judges of the industry and cultural consumption, that the Tex comic acquired value and from a simple pastime for the younger ones, rose to the role of entertainment for adults reaching the present day.
Striscia – Tex
Revolutionary in every aspect, the Tex we know today not only changed the characteristics of the comic of its time, capturing what the sociologist and philosopher Morin called the Spirit of Time, but has also become part of the collective imagination thanks to its ability to renew itself and the market by adapting to its target: grateful for the success obtained thanks to its readers, Tex (and its visionary authors) chose not to abandon them, but to grow and update themselves with an adaptive capacity and a Zeitgeist not only for unique themes.
Tex – Formato Bonelli
The so called “Bonelli Format” greatly contributed to the entire publishing industry giving it a new look and changing the entire comic sector of those times.
An Italian ranger on the streets of America
The invincible ranger with his yellow shirt has been the trademark of Italian comics throughout the world for all these years. In his horseback adventures through the boundless lands of the Wild West, where law and social order are questionable entities, Tex cannot trust anyone nor respect any rules with exception of the one dictated by the only possible authority: the “BANG” ! “Of his Colt.
Rules: none. Objective one only: to defend the weak from injustice.
And under the aegis of this memento, Tex continues to move towards the conquest of the heart of his audience, which is increasingly larger and heterogeneous from a generational point of view. A true passion handed down from father to son.
The strength of contradiction: a hero – anti-hero
There is no doubt that the twentieth century and then early twenty-first century saw a protest in the narrative of Tex’s character references. The ranger, a typical strict and convex character much loved by past generations, was nevertheless able to remain true to himself despite the shockwaves experienced by the cartoon scene, making his being anachronistic by now a further plus that made him – if possible – even more loved: protagonist with increasingly rare characteristics in a universe like the current one in which constantly receptive and passive, convex characters keep popping up – to put it in the words of Paolo Giovannetti – who tragically abandon any hope of attacking problems head on, as they, instead, prefer to put up with them, allowing themselves to be permeated into a willing and pensive position that makes them much closer to the current reader, but in contrast too real for those wishing to venture on the streets of the Wild West.
In fact, part of Tex’s popularity is down to the avant-garde component that is independent of the era in which he is living, but evolves over time, showing aspects that are different from time to time.
According to the Genoese scholar Enrico Testa, the romantic way of representing reality studied in Heroes and minor figures have given the novel back to the reader through characters who do nothing to hide their personality and vocation to be identified with the reader so opposed by structuralism. A theory that could appear contradictory given the premises of the previous paragraph; however, it is precisely the dichotomy that gives energy to Tex: his ephemeral introspection psychology, his temperament to pragmatism and to the “act” rather than to thought, his mission as executioner and spokesman of good, coexist well even though in contradiction with the propensity to be a-political (or rather to place themselves above politics), with its weaknesses repeatedly encountered in the fight against the antagonists and the mishaps often inserted in the narrative and in its Bildung, also this time, static and dynamic at the same time, useful to allow the character to evolve even though he is always the same and true to himself.
Contradictions, those just mentioned, which make Tex human, a hero so similar and so different, but for this much loved by readers.
Tex is an atypical timeless ranger, guarding the streets of a golden west, and as such requires respect for the law by staying away from politics, regardless of legal trappings or choices driven by common sense: what counts is the victory of good over evil.
The goal justifies the means.
In Tex different roles coexist that of character of effect, operator or algorithm, fantastically linked by the intertwining, cause and effect, hero and antagonist because the configuration of the Texan ego arises from continuously standing up to someone or something, that is a ” protantagonist “. This “disjunctive algorithm” – Testa declares – gradually places itself at the center of the “expressive and narrative” machine of the comic strip (in the descriptions
of the characters, in the interpretations of events and in the reflections of the protagonist) completely engulfing the reader.
The Italian Indians
Tex can be defined from different points of view as a narrative figure, as well as contradictory, as we have seen above: ranger (archetype of the law that governs by day and regulates society) and Eagle by night, as chief of the Navajo tribe, coexist in the same man.
Another semiotic aspect are the Indians who, with their culture, contribute greatly to the definition of the character.
In fact, there are many adventures that see Tex struggling with the defense of the Native Americans, for better or for worse. Because the main goal for Tex, as we have said, is justice and it doesn’t matter if violating it is an enemy or a brother: the nemesis is relentless, and cathartic. Because that’s how Tex’s adventures end. Justice. Whatever it takes.
The last key point of Tex’s success is the ability to understand and interpret the laws of the market. In a historical period where the charm of the exotic becomes dominant, love also declines according to public expectations. And so it will be that Tex marries an Indian woman from the Navajo tribe and from this union Kit Willer is born.
His friendship with the Native Americans made it possible to discover and deepen the knowledge of many American Indian customs with careful philological transposition in both design and terminology.
A childhood hero of many youngsters who have now become ex-young, the world of the West has today surpassed the golden age of the superhero era, but in the early 1950s it was also popular thanks to Hollywood cinema and the blockbusters which brought the deeds of the protagonists to the screen.
Although today the exotic idea of the West is largely overcome except in its most dystopian forms (as in the successful Westworld tv-serie), Tex still holds his place of honor among the Bonelli characters, a bit like the forefather of a generation founded on the simplest values, values that widely satisfy our deep desires of justice and order, of which, in today’s complex world, we sometimes all feel the need.
A gift for all the fans
Confirming his status of hero which has made him a legend, is the news of a few weeks ago that a new series is coming out dedicated to Tex telling of his adventures as a youngster, to enrich his past with new stories and add more pieces to this huge Western puzzle.
For his 70 year anniversary in Milan there will be an exhibition at the Museo della Permanente where you will be able to retrace the entire history of this cartoon character, so, everyone get on your horse to discover the old West with the sun in your face and your own loaded Colt in your belt to discover that good can still win and never ends to fascinate us. Because, after all, shut in our offices and bottled up in the increasingly insecure streets of our 3.0 cities, how can we not feel the desire to chase the fantasy of one of the true champions of justice that we can rely on?