A special program by Davide Giurlando
When reading again L’ora dei miraggi (2017), a partial but enlightening catalogue of the body of works by illustrator Manuele Fior (born in 1975 in Cesena from a Friulan family, who graduated in Venice and since then a wanderer travelling to Northern Europe, Paris, Berlin and back to Venice), we get the impression of flipping through an album where architecture projects are sketched in a lucid dream. Logically organised perspectives recur in realistic arrangements, devoid of other authors’ tributes (Fior, as he stated himself during an interview for Fumettologica in June 2022, would prefer not to be self-referential, usually a common feature of the comic environments). However, surrealistic glimpses burst into his works every now and then: in a book cover drawn in 2014 for Linus, after the Bataclan attack in Paris, a couple of lovers in mid-air, unconcerned about the police assault teams. Omens and dreamlike landscapes reoccur: Charon depicted among deadly looking mountains for Repubblica (2014); Monica Vitti in as a “beauty full of wind and smoke”; the sneering cat Behemoth, illustration drawn for a Feltrinelli’s edition of The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.
Neither quotes, as previously said, nor references to comics and illustrations masters’ works but rather explorations or visits to other artistic fields or mythical landscapes that Fior evokes in his works. The skull-mountain, for example, suggests an interest for symbolism, which the author also recalls in one of the short stories from the collection I giorni della merla (2016), in which he describes one of Arnold Bocklin’s visits to Ischia. Nevertheless, links to the myth of Icarus that Fior had specifically intertwined with the life events of an hallucinated alter ego, had emerged long before: an architect obsessed with the Crete labyrinth in Rosso oltremare (2006), a graphic novel awarded with the Attilio Michelozzo Prize and produced after his first appointments as illustrator and cover artist for magazines such as Ny Tid in Norway.
Visually, in Rosso oltremare the characters stand out from the boards through the juxtaposition of minimal shapes made up solely of red, white and black stains — a graphic style that reminds the reader of some of the most important steps in the modern graphic novel genre, as for instance the American magazine Rubber Blanket (1991-1993) founded by David Muzzecchelli. Fior moulds the page into a stage of multicoloured shadows; this approach will be further developed in his following work, La signorina Else (2009), a graphic adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novel. Inspired by Munch’s and Spillaert’s works (as Fior stated: “drawing is nurtured by pain and turns it into something visible, as all the other arts do”), the graphic novel is set in a specific social sphere: the Viennese middle-class at the beginning of the 20th century, characterised by hypocrisy and cynicism, but in any case discussing timeless, ‘eternal’, themes, such as sexual taboos. As the story unfolds, the characters, interact in a hypnotically developed setting, where the author faithfully abides with to Schnitzler’s text (every page of the novel corresponds to one page of the comics), the features change their colours together with the backgrounds surrounding them (the main character is purple during St. Martin’s night, yellow inside the hotel she books and so on). Fior constantly re-organises the text using balloons, captions, words in italics, splitting the pictures so that Schnitzler’s inner monologue becomes a visual stream of consciousness. The intimate dimension of La signorina Else recurs as well in the delicate Cinquemila chilometri al secondo (2010), awarded with the Gran Guinigi Prize at Lucca Comics and with the Fauve d’Or Prize as the best comics at Angouleme Festival. The protagonists are involved in a love triangle and the events are narrated through time jumps, which show their progressive and mutual detachment (both emotional and geographical), followed by an attempt of reconciliation. The style of the graphic novel evolves as the characters progressively grow older: in the first part the teenagers are drawn in a minimal, dynamic — almost electric — way, then they progressively gain depth and three-dimensionality during their coming of age, up to becoming real middle-aged adults at the end, especially thanks to the strokes that outline them.
For Cinquemila chilometri al secondo, Fior got inspired by the dynamism of Truffaut’s films. Perhaps the French Wave — Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard in particular — played a specific role even when planning L’Intervista (2013), his first chance of experimenting with the sci-fi genre. Awarded at the Neapolitan Comicon and at BD Festival in Montreal, this work is set in a futuristic Udine still very similar to the actual one and tells the story of a psychotherapist involved in a series of UFO sightings. Although it is his most sci-fi work, the visual approach is one of his most realistic ones: a black and white bruise, even three-dimensional at times, in which alien objects remind the readers of either origamis or unfathomable crystals, similar to some of Kandinskij’s geometric structures. The physical features of the main characters are as well inspired by previous sci-fi characters (such as Dora, who resembles Matsumoto Leiji’s princesses) but in Fior’s graphic novel they are lowered into reality and gain substance and concreteness.
After Le variazioni d’Orsay (2015), a work that the author himself considered an exercise in style and a surprise visit to the life and backgrounds of the impressionist milieu, Fior circles back to the fantasy genre with Celestia (2019); Dora, the main character in L’intervista, is the second leading character in a post-apocalyptic Venice, which creatively evokes Conan by Miyazaki and Venezia Celesta by Moebius. The novel is studded with inexplicable castles that resemble a concrete version of Mondrian’s canvas or a melancholic Pierrot wearing a conical bamboo hat. Although the particular architecture of this world is precisely conceived and coherent, the author freely inserts nonexistent buildings or never actually erected projects. However, the boundaries of ‘realness’ are stretched and pushed into transformation: in a notable sequence, the skyline becomes progressively abstract as the sun sets, to the point of recalling the sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the spaceship speeds up through the outer space. Eventually, in 2022, Fior published his latest graphic novel Hypericon, the sensual story of a couple set between Berlin in the 90s and the Valley of Kings in Egypt in 1922. It looks like an illustrated ‘film’ (his first work designed from a storyboard) whose climax consists in a tragically recognizable picture of the early 2000s, which will not be revealed.