Frequently Asked Questions
Sergio Bonelli replies to your questions
DOES ZAGOR'S INDIAN NAME, "ZA-GOR-TE-NAY", REALLY MEAN "THE SPIRIT WITH THE HATCHET" IN ALGONKIAN?
No, this was my invention. I said that "Za-Gor-Te-Nay" meant "The spirit with the hatchet" knowing full well that, in reality, it meant absolutely nothing! If I had to invent a name now I would be more scrupulous and try to be more sensible by perhaps creating a name with words that really exist in the Navajos' vocabulary or in the language of other Indian tribes. But at the time - this was in 1961 - I was much less uncompromising and less of a fanatic than I am now and I invented everything from start to finish. What's more, comics were more naïve and imaginative at that time, and definitely far less documented than today, and that is how the readers liked it. Why did that name come to mind? I remember cudgeling my brains for ages. I was driving down the freeway "Autostrada del Sole" and, even though I had already outlined the characteristics of the protagonist, I still did not know what to call him. When I arrived in Milan I had created a name that I liked a lot: Aiax. Then I realized that there was already a soap powder by this name! I went back to racking my brain and it took ages to arrive at the name "Zagor": I thought it needed to have a "Z" which would seem like a great bolt of lightning for the cover page. As for "Aiax", maybe a trace has been left in the characteristic shout of the "The spirit with the hatchet", "Aayaaak".
ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING INVENTIONS REGARDING THE ZAGOR UNIVERSE IS DARKWOOD FOREST: A PLACE OF THE FANTASTIC WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER MORE CLASSIC AND TRADITIONAL WESTERN SCENES. HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THIS BACKDROP COME ABOUT?
Darkwood was an intuitive decision: from the moment I decided to write imaginative stories that were not linked to precise historical and geographic schemes as in Tex, it seemed right to invent a fantastic and unreal world, a little like Flash Gordon in the thirties and Conan now. I think it is very important for a script-writer to have an imaginary world in which he can do anything he wants, without having to always explain why the scene has changed so quickly, having them all at his disposition. I wanted Zagor to have his own kingdom, like Robin Hood and like Tarzan, a mysterious forest. So I thought of Darkwood, an immense region, rich in adventurous "environments" (particularly the forest, but also the marshes, the mountains, the prairies, the frontier cities). Darkwood is situated in the world of fantasy and not in the real world. I endowed my fantasy-world character with an equally fantastic environment. What's more, explorers in the world of adventure would have difficulty in tracing precise maps regarding the scenes in which many of the other comics heroes move. For example the Phantom: Skull Cave, where he usually lives, can be found in the Bandar pigmy forest, in Bengal. In the geographic atlas, Bengal is in the Indian subcontinent. Besides tigers and Rajahs, the Phantom meets lions, black tribes and Bedouins. So, is it India or Africa? It is clear that the Bengal of the Phantom can only be found in atlases of fantasy. For another magic comic of the thirties, Flash Gordon, Alex Raymond even invented a planet, Mongo, where he created a kingdom of forests, flying kingdoms and adventurous landscapes for his hero. After all, why limit oneself to creating a character, when you can create a universe? As long as the rules of logic, good taste, and narrative tension are respected, geographic precision can become "elastic" at the discretion of the author and the story's requirements. In this overpopulated planet of ours, where there is nowhere left to explore, the door to fantasy that gives on to the extraordinary and the unknown is still open.
NEVERTHELESS, NOT EVERYTHING IN DARKWOOD IS THE FRUIT OF IMAGINATION. THE FOREST HAS TO A CERTAIN EXTENT A PRECISE GEOGRAPHIC POSITION, AND IN THE COURSE OF TIME THE BORDERS HAVE BECOME MORE CLEARLY OUTLINED AND THE EXCESSIVELY FANTASTIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ENVIRONMENT HAVE BEEN ROUNDED OFF. SO WHERE IS DARKWOOD, THEN? AND WHAT IS REAL ABOUT THE TOPOGRAPHY OF THE REGION DESCRIBED IN THE ZAGORIAN SAGA?
Darkwood is an imaginary region, but many references are real. Firstly, the Indian tribes, but also several geographic names of hills, rivers and valleys. I have tried, of course, to find a balance between truth and fantasy, exploring the infinite kingdom of the "possible" and the "plausible". For example, Fort Henry (one of the military outposts in which Zagor ends up frequently) really existed. It lay on the River Wheeling and today in its place lies the city which is called Wheeling. So where is Darkwood, then? More or less, in the North-East of the United States. In the region immediately south of the Great Lakes, between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Here is the first inconsistency: Darkwood forest is tropical, it even has creepers, while its position would suggest a Nordic vegetation (such as conifer forests). Fantasy, however, has its geographic "diversity" that is not at the mercy of climatic laws, but only to those, that are more varied, of adventure. Changing times, changes in readers' taste and narrative techniques, and finally the alternation among scripts, some of whom are more scrupulous about documentation, means that today the creepers are less in evidence and the names of places and their characteristics are increasingly probable, without however renouncing the original layout. I myself today would be inhibited if I had to write a new character and I would find myself consulting entire libraries. When Zagor was created, however, it was fine to find alligators in the Darkwood marshes and the result was fresh, imaginative and for this reason a winner.
CAN WE TALK ABOUT ZAGOR AS A WESTERN COMIC?
In reality, given that we find ourselves in the North-East, the Zagorian saga is not a "western" but, let's say, an "eastern"! The background I have in mind is the old frontier, the kind one sees in scenes from the "The Last of the Mohicans", rather than the south-west frontier filmed by John Ford in "Stagecoach" or "Fort Apache". I intentionally differentiated the series from the schemes used in Tex and many other Western characters which were the most popular at that time. Therefore, the Indian tribes that Zagor finds himself dealing with are those of the north-east regions of the States and not of the west: in other words, Algonquians and Iroquois more than Apaches and Navajos. This also places Zagor in an earlier era than the typical setting of more traditional westerns. You can detect the desire to make Zagor different from the usual western character by the inclusion of elements and hints from fantasy and horror genres: these elements are never just occasional mentions but instead are always used quite systematically, especially since all the traditional themes of the western era had already been widely exploited. Therefore, the Spirit with the Hatchet goes beyond a precise genre, it becomes contaminated by influences from many of the different sources, and if we really want to find a definition, I prefer to talk more generically about "adventure" comics.
WHAT IS THE TEMPORAL SETTING OF ZAGOR, AND WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THIS CHOICE?
The Spirit with the Hatchet is in action in the first half of the nineteenth century (allowing for anachronism and poetic license), while Tex and many other heroes of the westerns live their adventures in the second half of the century. This is another important reason why Zagor is different. At the time of Zagor's creation, the theme of the Old West was still reigning triumphant, but I felt that the whole concept had by this time become too hackneyed and too narrow for a character I wanted to be as imaginative as possible. That's why I preferred to shift the temporal setting of the stories back to a previous era, albeit poorly defined, but certainly earlier as compared to the western genre that is so chronologically determined. I turned to an era in which the brutal offence represented by the advance of the new conquering and colonizing civilizations against the uncontaminated Native Americans could be felt more sharply, through the experience of Zagor. This choice allowed me to portray the tribes in a period long before their corruption and extermination by the white man, when the Indians could still consider themselves masters of their territory and their destinies. In any case, both I myself and the other script-writers also constructed adventures based on historical events, such as the war against the Seminoles.
WITH REGARDS TO THE "CONTAMINATION" OF ZAGOR BY DIFFERENT GENRES, AN INFLUENCE DERIVED FROM MORE CLASSICAL AND TRADITIONAL HORROR CINEMA CAN BE PERCEIVED. WHERE DOES THIS PREFERENCE COME FROM?
Naturally it comes from my genuine passion for cinema. Not just cinema written with a capital "C": but also, and maybe above all, that of the old B-movies, of the so-called "scary", horror, mystery and supernatural movies. My love for the supernatural is something I've had for a very long time. It dates back to when I was a child, to when I went to the cinema to see the Frankenstein movies, or movies about the werewolf and all the characters that populated the horror celluloid universe in the forties and fifties. I remember that the image of Boris Karloff, gruesome with all that ghastly make-up, terrified me for many a night, as did the shadow of Bela Lugosi's cloak that seemed to appear, suddenly, on the wall of my bedroom. Apart from the fear, I really had a good time because - and I am not alone in saying this - fright and fun, at the cinema or on the printed page, go hand in hand and form a indissoluble marriage. A professional interest sprang from this enjoyment: when I began to write scripts with the nom-de-plume Guido Nolitta, my cinematographic myths were all there, available to me, on the imaginary shelf of my memory. I did not need to do anything more than create the opportunity, a context, to bring them to life on the page of a comic and Zagor gave me the first opportunity to express my predisposition. In Zagor, Nolitta created a mad scientist who only rarely found himself involved in gallant situations with the fair sex, even if he didn't disdain the odd love affair. What was behind this decision? The reasons are mainly generational, not only mine (as the author) but also of readers. More importantly, when Zagor was created I was thinking of a younger public than that of Tex, and so I didn't feel that this public would have any interest in Zagor kissing a woman and wasting three pages over it. It was not a question of any "moral" hesitations or fear that it would not go down well: more simply, I found (in agreement with my father and with almost all the scripts of the time) that in the period when I was writing readers tended to buy comics to read good adventures, and they might have been merely bored by romantic digression. Today things have changed. The public expects realistic characters like Nick Raider or Dylan Dog to have a love life; consequently, since other aspects of his character are shown, I've started to round out the picture with the aspects concerning his relationship with women. Zagor still remains faithful to the original project, but over time he has had more and more to do with female characters. I myself, for the first time, gave the Spirit with the Hatchet his first love-story with the beautiful Frida, and when the two exchanged their first kiss, his readers concurred.