Fake names and dark secrets


Tabu (Ausgabe I/2021)

“Are you going to pass it on?” asks one of the young men smoking hash at dawn on the rocky riviera of Rimini. Guido, Grisù, Katango and Tamigi have escaped the tedium of their village and are indulging themselves in the Adriatic tourist town. At some point Guido has to throw up. But something is wrong. His best friend Grisù stands in front of him, reaches his hand into his throat and pulls out a huge black bird. It is followed by a whole flock that rises into the sky of the approaching morning and flies away.

What is this? A metaphor for the ambivalent feelings that swirl around Guido, like all teenagers? Or a sign of the depravity of the overall society he is growing up in and whose hostility he has swallowed with his mother's milk? Over more than 50 pages of the comic strip “Spit three times”, the author Davide Reviati does not answer this question. It becomes clear, however, that this mysterious image is utterly befitting of this stirring and obstinate story.

A toddler on the back of a panther descending into the ocean of world history. Weightless, the text also flows, and the child floats on the back of the black predatory cat over the mirror-smooth surface of the sea.

When chocolate disappears at Guido's grandmother's house, she blames “the gypsies”. 

In this comic epic, the Italian cartoonist Reviati tells of his childhood and youth in the 1960s. At that time, the war still cast its long shadows over the land where the lemons bloom. The broken doll heads and dented cartridge cases that the children collect in the “Field of Miracles” tell only a small part of it. The much larger one, which might surface from the depths of the fields in the form of a revolver or a skull, is kept quiet. “All our lives we dodge it,” Reviati's first-person narrator says at one point. By remembering and sorting, Guido confronts guilt - his own and that of the collective silence.

On the outskirts of the village where Guido grew up lived a Roma family whose mysterious daughter Loretta attracted first the pity of the village women and later the greedy glances of the men. Despite her intrigue, she always remained a mystery to the narrator and his friends. She had a look “as if she expected nothing more,” he now recalls, “an aged child, that's how she seemed.” Above all, Loretta was an outcast child. Guido and Grisù are guilty of hurting, teasing and lying. In doing so, they unconsciously adopt the xenophobic patterns they experience day after day. When chocolate disappears at Guido's grandmother's house, she blames “the gypsies.” As the years go by, the stories of disappearing things and strange events pile up, hardening the prejudices about gypsies among the narrator and his friends.

For seven years, Davide Reviati matched the tales he picked up as a child with his own memories and what the history books say. “Spit Three Times” is the impressive result of this meticulous self-interrogation, for which he delves deep into the spoken and unspoken secrets of a close-knit village community and tells of escaping to find greater freedom.

Guido pays with his innocence when he repeatedly grudgingly overlooks the various ways in which Loretta and her brothers are excluded.

The plot spans several years, jumping back and forth between the main characters' childhood and adolescence. In the process, the childhood narrative is closely linked to the provinces, the search for role models (which Guido makes up in the heroes of Italo-Westerns) and the widespread bias against Sinti and Roma. The adolescent years tell of sex, alcohol and drugs, the longing for freedom and the inner emancipation from the village structure. But more freedom also leads to less stability and insecurity. Guido and his peers want to belong. But that comes at a cost. Guido pays with his innocence when he repeatedly grudgingly overlooks the various ways in which Loretta and her brothers are excluded.

One senses how uncomfortable he is when he, as narrator, tries to embellish the story. His listener - a Sinto - then rules him to stop acting like a man of letters and stick to the unpalatable truth. In this openness to his own weaknesses, Reviati's work takes on the character of a confession about man's universal susceptibility to resentment.

Reviati does not tell his story in a linear way. The plot of this coming-of-age narrative is no more than a thread onto which he strings very different pearls into a necklace. The story is made up of memories and flashes of insight that may lack a sense of order, but which come together to form a whole. This is a whole that also allows for ambivalence and ambiguity, leaving room for the unspoken secrets of life.

For the often ambiguous and ambivalent moments, Reviati finds images as dreamlike as they are nightmarish to make fears, anxieties and hopes visually tangible.

Reviati's characters have fake names and dark secrets. They make this epic a humanistic manifesto in which brutality and sensitivity form two sides of the same coin. Visually, the author works with narrative similes that express the emotions of his characters. The comic is drawn in somber strokes, radiating something rough, immediate and threatening. For the often ambiguous and ambivalent moments, Reviati finds images as dreamlike as they are nightmarish to make fears, anxieties and hopes visually tangible. At the same time, his somber and wild strokes makes the story vague and give it a sense of immediate urgency. This artifice evokes the eerie feeling that something is not right here. Doom looms over the entire story and it doesn't take much to push it into the abyss.

It opens up in a historical foray into the genocide committed by the National Socialists against the Sinti and Roma. It deals with the Germans' racial hygienic research and the invention of the genetic migratory instinct to justify the final solution to the gypsy question, and recalls the concentration camps in Italy where thousands of Roma starved, froze to death or were tortured to death. 

At a time when xenophobic violence is on the rise worldwide, Reviati's stunning comic casts light on people who were cast out in the ocean of oblivion and restores some of their dignity. These memories are powerfully conveyed.

Translated by Jess Smee

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