Where the imagination runs free
Tex, Dylan Dog and Mister No. For millions of Italians, these are not just the names of a longstanding series of comics. They are characters they have grown up with. Heroes whose fates and adventures they continue to follow, month after month.
The ‘dream factory’ where these characters are created is comic publishing company Sergio Bonelli Editore, which is now located at Via Buonarroti 38 in Milan.
Our visit to the publishers is an initially overwhelming experience. The company’s Managing Director Davide Bonelli welcomes us personally in the lobby and leads us through a number of rooms where people are discussing and gesticulating animatedly. They are apparently producing next month’s new comics, next month’s new dreams and fantasies. The offices are spectacular, to say the least. The walls are literally covered, not only with bookshelves and hundreds of comics, but with everything from exclusive art, antique weapons and African tribal masks to portraits of rock stars and Italian football posters. All in an incomprehensible but charming mix.
As Davide guides us through to the meeting room (which contains two fantastic jukeboxes, amongst a lot of other things), he says slightly apologetically:
“My father Sergio was an inveterate collector. He lived in a large apartment above here, and when he passed away, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get rid of all these things. The office has therefore become a bit of a museum, but we like it like this.”
Davide is part of the third generation of publishers in the Bonelli family. The business was founded in the 1940s by his grandmother and grandfather. In the 1960s, the publishing company was taken over by Davide’s father, Sergio Bonelli, whose successes such as Zagor, Mister No, Dylan Dog, Ken Parker and Martin Mystère made him a legend in the comic book world, both as a publisher and author.
Following Sergio Bonelli’s death in 2011, it was his son Davide who took over the reins.
“I’m essentially an administrator, not so much a creator like my father. However, a lot of the old employees still work for the company, so the creative tradition most definitely lives on,” he says.
Thick comic books
One of those traditions is to create really thick comics, almost like adventure books in comic form. It was in the late 1950s that what came to be known as the Bonelli format was first launched: 96 pages measuring 5¼ x 8¾ inches with a soft cover and printed in black & white. The Bonelli format quickly became a standard in the industry and Italian readers have certainly embraced these thick, book-like comics. The range of formats has since expanded, but the focus is still on long stories, often lasting considerably more than 96 pages. And the black & white print has continued to be a distinctive feature of the Bonelli comics.
Circulation in the millions
Today, Sergio Bonelli Editore produces around 20 different comics per month, with a total of 10 million copies sold per year. Occasionally, they also publish some of the most popular comics as special supplements in leading newspapers. Tex, for example, ran for just over four years as a supplement in La Repubblica, amounting to a total circulation of 27 million copies.
Almost all the comics that Sergio Bonelli Editore publishes are printed by Rotolito Lombarda and Holmen Paper is the sole supplier of the paper. The preferred paper is usually Holmen BOOK Cream 70 g.
We’re keen to use paper that provides good print quality and that makes the comics sturdy, so they can be read many times over. We know that many of our readers keep them for a long, long time.
Backed by strong characters such as western hero Tex, adventurer Mister No and crime fighter Dylan Dog, Davide Bonelli feels confident about the future, despite the Italian publishing world sometimes appearing almost as dramatic as the comic book world. The financial crisis has seen circulations drop significantly, but the Bonelli family’s ‘dream factory’ remains committed to producing new heroes and even more terrible villains who can attract new purchasers to the newspaper kiosks.
“The business is built on a really strong foundation, with a dozen or so big sellers that have a faithful following. The strategy is to launch a couple of successful new titles each year, and things have gone quite well so far. It looks like new magazines such as Le Storie, Dragonero, Orfani and Lukas have reached out to new readerships, for example,” states Davide Bonelli.
No major changes therefore appear to be on the cards when it comes to the family company’s successful strategy. Nevertheless, marketing man Davide Bonelli will be working even more closely with the supermarket chains rather than just the newspaper kiosks. And the company will be printing more comics in colour to reach new customer groups.
“This family has a real love of paper and printing, so we’re going to stick with that. It’s in our DNA,” says Davide Bonelli with a broad smile.