Massimo Bellardinelli was not just a good comic artist, he had that extra something.
He had the divine spark. I first recall this from his work for me on “Rat Pack”, a Dirty Dozen story for Battle, where he brought a coolness, excitement and modern sophistication generally missing from so many war comic artists at the time. I saw it again with his astonishing “Death Game 1999” version for Action (some of which had to be heavily censored, alas!), his genius alien Biogs for “Dan Dare” and, finally, his early Slaines. In every case there was a beauty, an imagination and an elegant savagery that no one could surpass.
His warp-spasm on Slaine was particularly superb — I would never have introduced that raging fury into the story but for the knowledge that he would draw it. But like many creators who have the divine spark, they need nurturing , directing, developing and accepting in a way that is common in Europe but is not always feasible in the “oven ready” world of Anglo-American comics.
Thus to my dismay, although mainstream readers loved his Slaine, purist comic fans (who were then a small minority on 2000AD) were less than enthusiastic and Massimo’s divine spark was entirely lost on them. Despite their small numbers, they had become the dominant voice on 2000AD and critical acclaim was more important than mere reader popularity and commercial success at the box office. Hence why Massimo’s work on Slaine was never albumised by Titan Books, the leading fan forum, despite my constant pleas to the publisher that “regular” readers adored his work and his books would sell big-time.
As a result of the negative feedback from purists, other artists had to take over on “Slaine”. Looking back, I wish I’d tried harder to find a way to either work with Massimo to accommodate the purists or — perhaps — I should just have ignored them. Not for the first time fandom has taken a different path from mainstream 2000AD readers.
To be blunt, I think we failed Massimo on 2000AD. I certainly did. I should have tried harder with him on “Slaine”. I should have gone over to Rome, sat down with him for a week and found a way to develop and resolve some anatomical shortfalls and built a classic comic book character with him. Instead, we gave him stories that were always popular with the readers, we played to his strengths, for example on “Ace Trucking”, but we never found him a serial and a way to develop that would ensure he had the lasting international recognition and security he truly deserved. So when the purists became the majority of 2000AD readers, his career on the comic sadly came to an end.
It is also worth stressing his real devotion and loyalty to 2000AD. He was not working for 2000AD as a portfolio piece before he headed off to Marvel or Vertigo; in working on the comic he had arrived. It was where he chose to be. I can relate to that.
As one 2000AD reader, Steve Earles, put it to me today, he was: “A true one-off. In this day of cookie-cutter clone artists we will not see his like again.” I concur, his work had a European eccentricity about it that mainstream readers and professionals loved, admired and even took for granted as part of 2000AD‘s unique and very British identity. The danger is, to adapt a line from Sin City, without artists like Massimo, comic artists will become like electric shavers – they will all look the same.
You had the divine spark, Massimo. I’m sure you have it still.
Pat Mills, April 2007
Massimo Belardinelli, born 5th June 1938 , died 31st March 2007, Italy