The Italian Almanac

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Valentina

Valentina and the Art of Crepax

There's more to the respected cartoonist Guido Crepax than his famous sultry heroine Valentina, according to the Royal Palace of Milan. Now 10 of the most beautiful rooms inside the palace-turned-exhibition center are devoted to the full array of his work, from advertisements, and album artwork to book covers, journals and set designs.

The exhibition, Guido Crepax: Portrait of an Artist, covers some 90 displays, with each room devoted to its own theme. One touches on his relationship with his hometown of Milan, for instance, the setting for many of Valentina's adventures. Another focuses on 'Valentina and the Others', from his most iconic femme fatal to the lesser-known Bianca, Anita, Belinda, Giulietta and his last character before his death in 2003, Francesca. There is also a room devoted to his eye for the times, as revealed in his wardrobe choices in his comics that reflected contemporary fashion.

Crepax was born on July 15, 1933, in Milan. His big break came in 1965 when he joined legendary Italian comic book Linus, where he invented his trademark character almost by accident. "He started with a strip about an art-critic investigator called Rembrandt whose girlfriend was Valentina," according to the magazine's founder Giovanni Gandini. "A few months later we gave the heroine a strip of her own. She quickly became a big success for Crepax both in Italy and abroad. He fully deserved it".

Valentina, famed for her distinctive bob hair style, slender figure and fleshy, sensuous lips, was inspired by American silent film actress Louise Brooks, who Crepax adored. She is a sophisticated Milanese photographer who lives in a confusing world of dark forces and erotic fanatasies. She is pursued by a variety of relentless villains, including Nazis, astronauts, pirates and leather-booted Cossacks, all of whom are determined to have sadomasochistic sex with her.

Given the nature of the subject matter, Valentina shocked many when she first appeared in Italy's news stands. Despite being an emancipated modern woman, she nevertheless angered feminists who objected to the way she was portrayed either as a damsel in distress or an object for men's sexual gratification. But Crepax insisted that, although his comics were undoubtedly daring, they never exploited graphic violence or sank to the level of cheap pornography.

The show in Milan was made possible by the City of Milan and the Crepax Archive.