War Picture Library 22 SNIP

Comic Book Masters: Cover Artist Giorgio De Gaspari

Giorgio De Gaspari's original art for War Picture Library Issue 14, which was adapted by the publisher for final publication
Giorgio De Gaspari’s original art for War Picture Library Issue 14, which was adapted by the publisher for final publication

Italian artist Giorgio De Gaspari may be an artist unfamiliar to many downthetubes readers, but throughout the 1960s his cover art thrilled many a young comic reader of British digest titles such as Thriller Picture Library and War Picture Library.

De Gaspari’s work was highly innovative, characterised by bold juxtapositions of colour, and dramatic compositions that played with perspective. He would often experiment with materials, tools and techniques, introducing gritty textures, sometimes scratching surfaces, layering materials or including sand in his images.

Born in Milan in 1927, De Gaspari’s father was a draughtsman from whom the young Giorgio De Gaspari learnt to draw. Accepted into the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, his first job after graduating was to fill in for the popular cartoonist and illustrator, Walter Molino, whenever Molino was unable to complete a commission.

Gaspari’s first illustration was published in 1947 for the Sunday paper, La Domenica del Corrierea paper well known for its illustrations, some illustrating grim stories from the news from around the world. De Gaspari’s output was prodigious, producing more than 1000 illustrations for the paper, contributing until 1970.

Work for the Sunday paper, La Domenica del Corriere and La Scienza Illustrata by Giorgio De Gaspari. For La Domenica del Corriere, Gaspati illustrates "a tragicomic visit" when a lioness escaped from her cage during the interval of a show Palm Springs, and ignoring the audience went into the kitchen of a nearby restaurant causing panic, fainting and a stampede until the tamers managed to bring the docile beast back to the theatre. The cover for La Scienza Illustrata, published in June 1956, celebrates the impending arrival of colour television in Italy.
Work for the Sunday paper, La Domenica del Corriere and La Scienza Illustrata by Giorgio De Gaspari. For La Domenica del Corriere, Gaspati illustrates “a tragicomic visit” when a lioness escaped from her cage during the interval of a show Palm Springs, and ignoring the audience went into the kitchen of a nearby restaurant causing panic, fainting and a stampede until the tamers managed to bring the docile beast back to the theatre. The cover for La Scienza Illustrata, published in June 1956, celebrates the impending arrival of colour television in Italy.
La Domenica del Corriere covers by Giorgio de Gaspari
La Domenica del Corriere covers by Giorgio de Gaspari

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s De Gaspari was commissioned to produce illustrations for children’s books, working for Italian publishers Valladri, Agostoni, Lucchi and Fabbri.  His work included illustrating some classic titles, such as Pinocchio, Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and various fairy tale collections.

The cover of "From Heart to Heart” by Guido Fabiani, art by Giorgio De Gaspari, published by Horizon Publishing House Milan in 1948
The cover of “From Heart to Heart” by Guido Fabiani, art by Giorgio De Gaspari, published by Horizon Publishing House Milan in 1948

De Gaspari also worked as part of the D’Ami studio in Milan, receiving regular commissions from English clients, among them Fleetway Publications. For Fleetway he produced a number of covers for the Sexton Blake Picture Library, one of many “pocket libraries” of the time, of which only DC Thomson’s Commando is the survivor on the British new s stand today.

He also provided covers for Cowboy Picture Library (30 covers, between 1958-60), Thriller Picture Library (39 covers, 1958-60) and Super Detective Library (four covers, 1960).

Giorgio de Gaspari's cover for Thrilling Picture Library 266, a "Spy 13" story
Giorgio de Gaspari’s cover for Thrilling Picture Library 266, a “Spy 13” story
Cover art by Giorgio de Gaspari for War Picture Library 11
Cover art by Giorgio de Gaspari for War Picture Library 11
Cover art by Giorgio de Gaspari for War Picture Library 22
Cover art by Giorgio de Gaspari for War Picture Library 22

He’s perhaps best known for his work on  War Picture Library, illustrating 32 of the first 48 covers between 1958 and 1960, but he also painted covers for numerous paperbacks, including at least one Tarzan cover for Four Square, Tarzan and the Castaways, in 1966).

Cover artwork for the War Picture Library 18, an adaptation of the 1941 film released in the United States under the same title, and originally in Great Britain as “Dangerous Moonlight”. It tells the story of a fictional Polish fighter pilot and pianist Stefan Radecki.
Cover artwork for the War Picture Library 18, an adaptation of the 1941 film released in the United States under the same title, and originally in Great Britain as “Dangerous Moonlight”. It tells the story of a fictional Polish fighter pilot and pianist Stefan Radecki.

“His artwork was simply stunning,” enthuses artist and writer Peter Richardson of his Picture Library covers.

“It was one of those rare moments when an artist receives a brief that he was born to fulfil and while De Gaspari’s earlier work had been seriously good the paintings that he created for AP/ Fleetway totally eclipsed his previous output (well, OK, those that I have seen).

“These were scenes that you could totally immerse yourself in well before you felt impelled to start reading the contents of the comic.”

In 1966 he dropped out of the publishing world. Abandoning his career to travel the world, including the Far East, he eventually returned to Italy where he made Venice his home, constructing a floating studio from salvaged materials off the small island of Pellestrina in the Venetian lagoon, eking out a living by painting portraits of tourists in Saint Mark’s square.

To make ends meet, he drew portraits of tourists, giving them only copies, never the originals, signing his work as also known as “El Foresto”, the Venetian word for “The Stranger”.

Buster Adventure Library Issue 23
Cover art by Giorgio de Gaspari

He resisted offers of work by former colleagues, who regarded him as a master of his form, and rejected approaches by influential figures from the art and design world keen to stage solo exhibitions of his work.

Giorgio de Gaspari born 30th January 1927, died 15th October 2012 in Venice

• The Lever Gallery at 153 -157 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7HD exhibits work by Giorgio De Gaspari | More information here 

WEB LINKS

The final cover of War Picture Library 14, the background amended by the publisher. Art by Giorgio de Gaspari
The final cover of War Picture Library 14, the background amended by the publisher. Art by Giorgio de Gaspari

• There is a tribute here to Giorgio de Gaspari on the Italian site Nova, and a follow up of memories of the artist by fellow artists and friends here, and images from a 2013 exhibition of his work here

• Giorgio Foresto: le opere segrete di Giorgio De Gaspari, by Giovanni Scarpa features many of the artist’s “secret” works – art created in later life as private commissions – is available here

• Giorgio de Caspari is one of several Italian war artists whose work is celebrated in the  Illustrators British War Comics Special – Studio Dami and the Italian Artists (Limited Edition) is available to order here from Book Palace |  Subscribe to Illustrators here on Book Palace and check out the index of published issue here

Peter Richardson has a terrific feature on Giorgio’s work here on Cloud 109

Steve Holland features a couple of his Picture Library covers alongside the original art here on Bear Alley

• The illustration Art Gallery has numerous works by Giorgio de Gaspari for sale here

Giorgio De Gaspari’s work features in David Roach’s books featuring much war picture library cover art

With thanks to Mario Benenati for prompting this article a couple of weeks ago. Giorgi de Gaspari should not be confused with the similar-sounding comic strip artist “G. De Gaspari”

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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