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17 September 2023

Zerocalcare and Italian comics at Palazzo Farnese. Interview with Vincent Raynaud.

Paolo Grossi

Born in 1971, with a degree in economics and commerce, Vincent Raynaud is an editor, literary translator and novelist. In charge of Italian literature at Gallimard from 2005 to 2017, he has edited books by Elena Ferrante, Erri De Luca, Alessandro Baricco and Roberto Saviano. Since October 2022, he has been attached to the Embassy of France in Rome – Institut français – Italie, where he is in charge of books and publishing.


How long have you been working at the Institut français – Italie and what is your role?

I am a translator, editor and writer. This is my first assignment abroad, at the French Institute – Italie (Embassy of France), where I take care of books and publishing. The aim of my work is to promote French books by encouraging their translation into Italian, awarding grants, organizing events and disseminating information to French and Italian publishers. At Palazzo Farnese and our other venues in Italy, we invite authors, journalists, academics and politicians to discuss current issues, from the war in Ukraine to the 2024 Paris Olympics and 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.


What projects have you completed in this first year and what events are planned for 2023-2024?

On March 15, the first of a series of meetings on the future of books between France and Italy, Farnese à la page, was held at Palazzo Farnese, with guests from all over Europe and four round tables devoted to the major structural changes in the sector, to the translations by Annie Ernaux, Nobel Prize in Literature, the development of literary salons and festivals, and film and television rights. Among the speakers, Teresa Cremisi (Adelphi), Elisabetta Sgarbi, founder of La Nave di Teseo, and many others. This meeting was organized in preparation for the 2023 edition of the Paris Book Festival, of which Italy was the guest of honor last April and which was a great success for the Italian authors invited. On October 4, a second event will take place, with the participation of Michele Rech, aka Zerocalcare.


Can you tell us about the presence of Zerocalcare?

Zerocalcare will be in dialogue with Catherine Meurisse, a leading French illustrator and long-time Charlie Hebdo contributor. With them, we want to explore two dimensions: one intimate (how they talk about themselves, their life and their experience through their work) and the other broader, I would say geopolitical (how they talk about the world, war, the great changes we are going through). Zerocalcare will talk about his life in Rebibbia, his French mother, his friends, his daily life, but also his experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he has travelled several times: a fascinating first-person account. Catherine Meurisse will also talk about her childhood in an unconventional family, her memories, her readings and her drawings for the press (Charlie Hebdo but not only) with which she approaches current events with great originality.


Why are children’s literature, comics, graphic novels and manga important?

These are the books that, even before the pandemic, are driving the market. They are also very creative genres that attract young readers, that is, those of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The France has a long tradition in this field, with historical figures who have had enormous success (Asterix, Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe). It also has a number of companies, groups, publishing houses, specialized bookstores, festivals… and many Italian illustrators and cartoonists work in France, including Lorenzo Mattotti, Tanino Liberatore and many others. Until a few years ago, the Italian edition was not as well equipped, not least because it is a different market, if we remember that comics were and are still sold in newsstands. Things are changing and, in addition to independents (Bao Publishing, Coconino Press), even the big names in the sector now have specialized brands. La Nave di Teseo, for example, owns Oblomov, who published Jean-Marc Jancovici and Christophe Blain’s graphic novel on climate change, a great success that is being debated in France.


How can France and Italy work together in this area?

If we leave aside possible acquisitions between publishing houses and stay in the institutional field, there is already a close dialogue on these issues with AIE (Association of Italian Publishers), which has its own commission dedicated to comics. We also want to work with French and Italian illustration schools and think in terms of training and professional opportunities. The book industry in general, and the comics industry in particular, are real professions, with their own status, income and prospects. This is a major development, and we’ll be talking about it in the spring, during the second edition of Farnese à la page which we’re organising on the subject of publishing and the book trade.