|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH "BIG NATE" CREATOR, CARTOONIST LINCOLN PEIRCE||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT PIAZZA,OF "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" AND JERSEY BOYS" FAME||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH "HEART OF THE CITY" CREATOR, CARTOONIST, MARK TATULLI||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GUY GILCHRIST, CARTOONIST, OF "NANCY" AND " THE MUPPETS" FAME||no comments|
|June 15, 2014||Book Expo America 2014 Part 1: The Italian presence…||no comments|
|June 15, 2014||Book Expo America 2014 Part 2: The Authors Speak…||no comments|
|February 18, 2014||Interview to author Tony Napoli.||no comments|
|April 06, 2014||The Tenor, A Novel by Peter Danish, revisits Maria Callas wartime years||no comments|
|February 09, 2014||"Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing"||no comments|
|January 29, 2014||CAN LOVE FOR BOOKS AND OPERA KEEP YOU YOUNG?||no comments|
The Evolution of BIG NATE From Comic strips to Novels to Musical: An interview with Lincoln Peirce
Lincoln Peirce (pronounced “Purse”) is an American cartoonist, best known as the creator of the Big Nate comic strip. Peirce was born in Iowa, grew up in Durham, New Hampshire and attended Colby College in Maine. He earned a graduate degree from Brooklyn College and studied at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He taught art and coached baseball at Xavier High School, a boys’ high school in New York City, for three years before moving to Maine in 1992. Big Nate debuted in 1991 and appears in 300 newspapers in the US and online daily at www.gocomics.com, and is featured on the website Poptropica, www.poptropica.com. A fan and collector of classic country music, Peirce also hosts a local radio show devoted to Honky Tonk and Western Swing music on local station WMPG. In addition to the Big Nate comic strip, Peirce is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Big Nate novel series. His Big Nate books have been featured on “Good Morning America” and in the “Boston Globe,” the “Los Angeles Times,” “USA Today,” and “The Washington Post.”
L’IDEA: Lincoln, was being a cartoonist always your aspiration? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I became very interested in comics, particularly newspaper comic strips, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. That’s not unusual; lots of kids like comics at that age. But only a handful of those kids take the next step and begin creating comics of their own. Once I began experimenting with inventing my own stories and characters, I started to consider the possibility of making cartooning my profession. When I look back on my trajectory, though, it’s clear to me that I didn’t devote as much time to developing my drawing skills as some of my peers did. I didn’t have the patience or the self-discipline to really practice my drawing; I just wanted to be able to draw well enough to tell the types of stories I was starting to write. If you split cartooning into a writing part and a drawing part, it’s always been the writing that’s come easier to me.
L’IDEA: How did the comic strip Big Nate came about and where does the name come from?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: First, the name: it’s the nickname I gave my brother, Jonathan, when we were boys. I’ve always liked the name Nate. The strip itself evolved from an earlier idea called “Neighborhood Comix.” It was a strip that was based on the little neighborhood in New Hampshire where I grew up, and it featured a large cast of characters, including two brothers, Nate and Marty. Nate was the quiet straight man and Marty, the younger brother, was the jokester. Their relationship was reminiscent of the one my brother and I shared as boys. I submitted “Neighborhood Comix” to all the major syndicates and got some very nice feedback from Sarah Gillespie, the comics editor at United Media. She was to become my first editor. Her suggestion was that I choose one character and make that character the focal point of the strip. Well, I wanted to somehow keep both Nate AND Marty. So I kept the name Nate, but gave him a personality more like Marty’s – energetic, wisecracking, and occasionally troublemaking. And because Nate was now clearly the star, I renamed the strip “Big Nate.”
L’IDEA: Could you tell our readers about the Longest Cartoon Strip by a Team World Record that Big Nate has just set?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: That was an idea proposed by HarperCollins, the publisher of the Big Nate novels. A lot of kids have discovered Big Nate in recent years through those novels, and they learn only later that Big Nate has been a comic strip character for 23 years. With Nate’s comic strip roots, it seemed that trying to break the world record for the Longest Comic Strip by a Team was a great fit. HarperCollins reached out to schools via the Big Nate website and invited them to create individual panels for what would be a record-setting comic strip based on the first two Big Nate novels. And it worked beautifully. We assembled all the panels on the “Today” show in New York City in April, and the completed strip was something like 4,000 feet long. It was a great way to involve a lot of Big Nate readers in the process, and now kids all around the world can say they were part of setting a world record.
L’IDEA: Besides the continuous appearance of Big Nate strip on newspapers since 1991 and a series of its collections as books, you also have published six New York Times bestselling novels with him as the main character. What made you go into novel writing? How different is for you the process of creation of one (the novel) versus the other (the strip)?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: For many years, Big Nate was what I’d call a moderate success as a comic strip. It was in about two hundred newspapers and it had a small, loyal readership. But it wasn’t widely known. I always thought that if I could just find a way to reach more readers, especially young readers, they’d like Big Nate. But I never considered writing novels; I was just looking for ways to get my comic strip into more newspapers. Then Jeff Kinney started writing his “Wimpy Kid” books, and suddenly every publisher in the world was looking for books that combined text and comics. Well, Jeff and I have known each other for many years, and he was kind enough to open some doors for me in the publishing world. I submitted proposals to about eight publishing houses, I guess, and HarperCollins made the best offer. I’d never written a novel, but since I’d been doing the comic strip for almost twenty years at that point, I felt confident that I could create longer stories for those same characters. I just had to get used to the pacing. A 4-panel comic strip has a real rhythm to it, and I’m very accustomed to writing jokes and dialogue that correspond to that rhythm. But a 216-page book has a completely different rhythm, obviously. I had to figure out when and where the story needed to speed up or slow down. I had to make sure I was timing everything correctly, so that all the story threads would be resolved by the end of the book. And, of course, I had to write a lot of text instead of just putting everything in speech bubbles. It took a lot of getting used to, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed writing novels.
L’IDEA: Nate Wright, the protagonist of your strip, is also an aspiring cartoonist. Did you somewhat model him on yourself and your early experiences as cartoonist?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Oh, of course. Nate isn’t based on me – he’s not an autobiographical character, in other words – but he shares many of my enthusiasms, obsessions, and pet peeves. And, as you mentioned, he’s a cartoonist. Some of Nate’s cartoon inventions, like “Doctor Cesspool,” are actually characters I created myself when I was a child. Drawing Nate’s comics enable me to indulge that part of my sensibility that’s still firmly planted in middle school. I get to draw the way a 6th grader would draw, and write the kind of jokes a 6th grader might write.
L’IDEA: Do any of the characters in Big Nate carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: There are plenty of connections. Nate’s pal, Francis, is based on a student I had when I was a high school art teacher. The dog next door, Spitsy, is a dead ringer for the dog that belonged to my best friend when we were growing up. Other characters are amalgams: Coach John looks a bit like my high school gym teacher and acts a lot like a baseball coach I played for. Mr. Rosa is a combination of several teachers I had over the years – guys whose hearts were in the right place, but who were starting to get burned out after spending 10 or 20 or 30 years in the classroom. There have only been one or two times when I’ve made a concerted effort to create a character who looks like a real life counterpart. The most successful was a substitute teacher who was modeled on my friend and fellow cartoonist, Corey Pandolph. It actually looked quite a bit like him. But I’m no caricaturist.
L’IDEA: Has Nate Wright changed his physical appearance from his first entrance into the world of comics?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: All comic strip characters change over time, because the cartoonist’s drawing style inevitably evolves as the years roll by. In my case, I couldn’t draw very well when I started the comic strip in 1991. At the time, I didn’t realize how weak my drawing skills were, but now it’s difficult for me to look at the strips I did in the early and mid 90’s without feeling kind of embarrassed. In 1991, Nate was skinnier and lankier than he is now. Over the years, without really realizing that I was doing it, I gradually made him shorter and more compact. I’m much happier with the way he looks now – he’s more expressive, and I can draw him more consistently – but height-wise, he’s not as tall as a sixth-grader would be in real life. He looks younger than he is. But I can live with it.
L’IDEA: Did your experience as a teacher help you a lot in creating the school environment in which this cartoon strip thrives?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m sure it didn’t hurt. But I taught in an all-boys high school, so the students were several years older than Nate and his classmates. I rely much more on my own memories of sixth grade than on my experiences as a teacher. For whatever reason, I have almost total recall of events that happened when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember those times more vividly than I do my teens or my twenties. Schools are funny places, and middle schools – which where I grew up meant 6th, 7th, and 8th grade – are especially hilarious. Nate’s in 6th grade, which is a time of major transition. As a 5th grader, you have only one teacher, you hang your coat and put your lunch box in a little cubbyhole…you’re in a sort of bubble. Then you go to 6th grade, and you’ve got a different teacher for each subject. You’re sharing a locker with some kid you don’t even know. You’re surrounded by 7th and 8th graders who, in many cases, are much bigger and stronger than you are. You go to school dances. You play intramural sports. Each and every day, there’s the possibility of experiencing soaring triumphs or crushing humiliations. There’s a lot of comedic fodder there.
L’IDEA: Nate’s father is a divorced, single parent. Where is Nate’s mother? Has she appeared in any strip at all? Do you believe that her obvious absence from his everyday life influencing his behavior? Would he be any different if he lived in a two parents’ household?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Nate’s mother has never appeared in the strip. When I launched the strip in 1991, I made a couple of early references to the fact that Nate’s parents were divorced. I envisioned the strip as a “domestic humor” strip when I started it, and I imagined that at some point I’d bring Nate’s mom in as a character. But very early on, I realized that the stories and jokes I enjoyed the most all revolved around Nate’s school life, his classmates, his teachers, and so on. With Nate’s dad and sister assuming somewhat diminished roles, I decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to introduce an estranged mom character. I can’t say how it might change Nate’s behavior to be living with two parents. Nate’s dad is somewhat hapless at times, and it’s hard to imagine Nate’s mother being equally inept as a parent. So the dynamic would change, even if I didn’t intend it to. That’s why I have no plans to bring Nate’s mom into the strip, or to create a “significant other” for Nate’s father.
L’IDEA: What is the next project involving Big Nate? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m working on the seventh novel right now. It’s going to be called Big Nate Lives It Up. All the writing is done, and I’m doing the finished drawings. There’s also a Big Nate musical that will be touring this fall. The show was originally staged at Adventure Theater in Glen Echo Maryland in the spring of 2013, and it was so well received that a touring company is being assembled. There are occasional rumblings about a Big Nate TV show or movie, but nothing has come together yet. And that’s fine with me. I’m very content with the way things are.
L’IDEA: You have been publishing Big Nate for over 23 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I still haven’t run into a prolonged case of writer’s cramp on the comic strip, but there’s no doubt that the novels are becoming more challenging. There are only so many themes involving a 6th grade boy that are substantial enough to carry a whole book. When you write a book series, it’s a real challenge not to repeat yourself. Your readers, who are kids, expect certain elements. There’s got to be conflict, either with teachers or with other kids, because conflict is what makes a story interesting. There’s got to be a lot of physical humor, because slapstick is a huge part of comic storytelling. And there’s got to be a happy ending. I’m finding it increasingly challenging to meet those criteria in a fresh way in each book.
L’IDEA: You created animated shorts for the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. What was the subject? How different is that process from your strip creation? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I wrote three shorts under the title “Uncle Gus” featuring a cast of eccentric characters: a middle-aged loser, his loyal horse, his overly theatrical nephew, and a mysterious tiny con man named Ali Ali. In retrospect, I think they worked much better as long-format comic books than as animation. I also wrote a short called “Super John Doe Jr.,” about a kid who’s the son of a famous superhero but who’s inherited none of his father’s super powers. The best shorts I wrote were a series of 2-minute pieces for a short-lived Cartoon Network show, “Sunday Pants.” They were called “The Brothers Pistov.” They were two very angry Russian dogs. Gregor was completely deadpan but very passive-aggressive. The other, Anton, was insanely volatile and violent. Writing for TV is a completely different style of writing from what I usually do. Think about your basic 3- or 4-panel comic strip. It might be extremely funny on the page, but it can become much less funny if you read it out loud, or try to act it out. I thought the first “Uncle Gus” short I wrote was hilarious on the page, but it just didn’t translate to animation the way I hoped it would.
L’IDEA: In 2003, “Big Nate” the musical debuted, with great success. Was that your idea? How involved were you in that project?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Adventure Theater, one of the oldest and most respected children’s theaters in the country, approached us and inquired about the stage rights to Big Nate. I was initially skeptical, simply because so many things can go wrong when you put something you’ve created in someone else’s hands. I’d never collaborated on Big Nate before; I don’t have a partner or an assistant, I don’t buy jokes from free-lance gag writers. So I had to get used to the idea. But once the writers submitted their story synopsis to me, I was on board. There was a good story there. I was grateful to the writers, because they let me re-write most of the dialogue. I didn’t touch the songs, except to suggest that one song needed to be more upbeat. But it was important to me that when the characters spoke, they sounded like the characters I’ve been writing for all these years. My family and I went to the premiere last spring, and it was wonderful. They did a great job.
L’IDEA: You were a pen pal with Jeff Kinney, the author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” How did that come about?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Jeff was an undergraduate – and an aspiring cartoonist – at the University of Maryland. He read “Big Nate” in the Washington Post and enjoyed it, so he sent me what I guess you’d call fan mail. He had a lot of questions about cartooning, syndication, etc., and he sent me examples of the strip he did for his college paper. It was called “Igdoof.” He was clearly very talented, earnest, and ambitious. I wrote him back – this was before the days of email, so we really were pen pals in the old-fashioned sense – and we kept a correspondence going for a couple of years. We lost touch after he graduated, but found each other again after his first “Wimpy Kid” book was published. I read about his success, tracked him down to congratulate him, and as I mentioned in one of my earlier answers, he’s been enormously helpful to me.
L’IDEA: Are you working on any projects not involving Big Nate?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: At some point, I am definitely planning to write other books for kids that are not Big Nate-related. But there’s still one more novel to write after the one I’m working on now. That will make a total of 8 Big Nate novels, and at that point I’ll be ready to try some other things.
As Boardwalk Empire Meets its Final Season, Vincent Piazza Shines as Lucky Luciano
HBO recently announced that it was closing down Boardwalk Empire, its tribute to Prohibition-era Atlantic City, making this upcoming fifth season its last; the show will be sorely missed by its fans. Vincent Piazza, who is a series regular on Boardwalk Empire as real life Italian mobster Charlie Lucky Luciano, has kindly agreed on an interview with our magazine. Vincent Piazza was born and raised in Queens, New York. His father is Italian, having immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1960s. Piazza played Division I ice hockey for Villanova University in Pennsylvania, until a shoulder injury forced him to quit playing and leave the university. His ending in hockey brought him to a career in acting.
He appeared in various New York Off Broadway productions (Baby Steps, A Match Made in Manhattan and Much Ado About Nothing among them), after which he made his feature film debut in 2006 with Stephanie Daley, followed by a series of successful movies (Rocket Science, Goodbye Baby, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, Apology, Assassination of a High School President). Piazza has appeared in three episodes of the television series The Sopranos, as well as guest-starring in an episode of Law & Order, before he landed the recurring role of Tony in Rescue Me’s fourth season. In 2013 Piazza took the role of Tommy DeVito, one of the founding members of the band The Four Seasons, in the Clint Eastwood directed adaptation of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys.
L’IDEA: You have recently played two very different Italian Americans roles: the singer Tommy DeVito from The Four Seasons in the movie Jersey Boys, and Lucky Luciano in Boardwalk Empire. How much did your own New Yorker and Italian American background help you in portraying these characters?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I think some of my own heritage, along with growing up a New Yorker, was a big help in understanding where these characters might be coming from. I grew up around a number of people from Italy that searched for an identity here in the United States. These characters just went about it in very different ways.
L’IDEA: Being that you were the only actor in the movie version of Jersey Boys who was not an original member of the Broadway cast, was preparing for this movie a big challenge?
VINCENT PIAZZA:It was a great challenge to overcome. I had to work hard on the singing, dancing and guitar so I could get to a place where I could fit in with the guys. Ultimately I was in great hands, so they gave me a lot of confidence in the process.
L’IDEA: You worked with the legendary Clint Eastwood; how was it? VINCENT PIAZZA:It was an experience I’ll always have with me. I learned quite a bit working with him and hope to carry that forward throughout my career. He’s a very generous man.
L’IDEA: Did you get to meet the remaining members of the Four Seasons? If so, how were they? VINCENT PIAZZA:Of the original Four Seasons, I only met Mr. Valli on the set of Jersey Boys. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with him. He has a great sense of humor, so we had fun.
L’IDEA: Boardwalk Empire is starting a new season and you are back with the infamous Charles Lucky Luciano. His history within Cosa Nostra was unmatched, even by Al Capone, and he is considered the father of modern crime in United States, an ominous title. How do you feel about this character? Has it been hard to characterize such an important personality of the crime world?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I’ve always felt fortunate to get to portray such a famous historical figure. He obviously was involved in plenty of criminal activity but I was really interested in his hunger. He ran a marathon where most of these guys sprinted. It definitely has been a fun challenge to work on in the world of Boardwalk Empire.
L’IDEA: Could you describe the difference in experience in working on Boardwalk Empire versus The Sopranos?
VINCENT PIAZZA:Very different experiences for me as an actor. The characters are worlds apart. When I was lucky enough to be a guest on The Sopranos, it was well into its run and it really felt like stepping into the Soprano’s home. With Boardwalk, I’ve been on it from the beginning so I’ve gotten to know many of the people quite well. Sad to see it end in that way.
L’IDEA: Will this season of Boardwalk Empire bring forth new shocks? VINCENT PIAZZA:Yes! I think there’s so much happening in this final season. And now that it’s ending, each episode feels like a finale in some ways.
L’IDEA: How is it working with Steve Buscemi? Is he as great as a guy as everyone says? Did he mentor you at all?
VINCENT PIAZZA:He’s a wonderful guy and a great leader on the show! Every time I get to work with him it’s always fun. We have some good laughs.
L’IDEA: You have appeared in many TV series, besides Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, and in quite a few movies. In your opinion, how dissimilar and alike are these two worlds?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I think TV and film are as different as they are similar. As an actor, TV requires a different kind of patience, trust and endurance. Because movies tell a finite story, in some ways (the preparation being one) it may have more in common with the theatre.
L’IDEA: Do you have any new projects in the making for the near future?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I’m spending most of my free time now writing a few ideas that I hope to see come to life in the future. It’s been a bountiful few years so when Boardwalk winds down, I’ll take some time to digest.
Mark Tatulli: Successful animator, illustrator, writer, artist, filmmaker, producer… and of course, cartoonist. An Exclusive interview.
Mark Tatulli is an internationally syndicated cartoonist. He was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Newspaper Comic Strip award in 2008 for Lio, after three nominations, and is also known for his popular comic strip Heart of the City, both syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate. Mark is also an animator and television producer, known for his work on the cable reality television series Trading Spaces and A Wedding Story, for which he has won three Emmy Awards. His dark humor is confirmed in a cover for a Lio collection, as described by Washington Post’s Michael Cavna: “The front cover features Lio excavating a “Calvin” skull while his pet cephalopod examines a stuffed Hobbes. The back cover features a photo (taken by the creator’s son) of Tatulli mimicking the iconic Watterson image — one of the very few publicity stills of Watterson actually known to exist.” In the same article, Tatulli comments on his cover creation: “Well, “Calvin and Hobbes” is sort of this sacred cow among comic strips that others dare not touch — although you do see spoofs online…but print people tend to stay away. And there’s nothing I like skewering more than a sacred cow. It’s a perversity that harks back to my childhood … knowing I shouldn’t do something makes me want to do it all the more.” Although traveling, he kindly consented to an interview with L’Idea Magazine, which follows…
L’IDEA: You stated on “Humor Times” that you were “always a cartoonist.” Could you explain that statement to our readers?
MARK TATULLI: I drew comics for all my school newspapers: elementary school, middle school, and high school. I always was a huge fan of cartoons, animated and printed, since I was a little kid. But it was studying Disney that taught me that, in addition to being funny, cartoons could have deep, believable characters and stories with real emotional depth.
L’IDEA: Which are the comic strips that had the biggest influence on you personally and on your work?
MARK TATULLI: Gosh, there are so many. I would probably say BLOOM COUNTY, DOONESBURY, MAD Magazine, and CALVIN AND HOBBES influenced me most as a writer. Artwork-wise, I took something from all the cartoonists that I’ve examined at length over the years.
L’IDEA: “Bent Halos” was your first syndicated comic strip. What was it about? Do you plan to ever revive it?
MARK TATULLI: It was a strip about two ne’er-do-well guardian angels, doing the best to positively influence their human wards and rarely succeeding. I have no plans to revive it.
L’IDEA: “Heart of the City” debuted in 1998 and has been a success from day one. The main character is Heart, a resolute, fun-loving, precocious young girl who makes Philadelphia her world of adventures, mostly lived with her friend Dean. Did you have any references for your characters in that strip, that is people who you knew and modeled the characters after, or are they completely a creation of your mind?
MARK TATULLI: All of my characters are a reflection of my collective experience over the years. I had little kids at home when I starting writing HEART, so it was just a matter of listening to them to get ideas for stories and gags. It’s a bit harder now, 15 years later, to continue to come up with new stories and situations. But I know these characters so well, it sort of writes itself.
L’IDEA: Your comic strip “Lio” has been a major accomplishment in your field, receiving positive responses for both its daily strips and its book collections, besides the National Cartoonists Society’s divisional award for Best Newspaper Strip in 2008. What do you think is the reason for its success?
MARK TATULLI: If I could answer that, I would rule the world. I have no idea how to achieve success in comics. It’s hit or miss. With LIO, I wanted to create something like nothing else on the current comics page. As long as you write honestly and from your heart, you can maintain a comic strip for years to come. Success and acceptance is completely in the hands of the readers. The cartoonist must entertainment himself first, and hopefully readers will like what you do.
L’IDEA: Both your characters Heart and Lio live in a fantasy world, although Lio definitely beats Heart hands down with its imaginary view of the world. What other similarities and differences these two characters have?
MARK TATULLI: HEART’s humor is primarily script driven, and LIO (being a wordless “pantomime” strip) is almost entirely physical humor. It makes it easier to separate the two worlds, which is essential.
L’IDEA: Your new book “Desmond Pucket and the Mountain Full of Monsters” is going on sale on August 5th and it carries with it a lot of surprises; there is, for example, a dedicated website with downloadable assets, such as teachers’ guides, printable posters, activities, and much more. The children will surely appreciate all these extras that your book offers. This is the second adventure for Desmond (the first was in the book Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic and it had a great success) and both contain monsters. Why this topic? What are the main traits of Desmond? Do you believe kids identify with the main character?
MARK TATULLI: The first rule of any writing: write what you know. Desmond is a lot like I was in Jr. High…I loved monsters and special effects and monster makeup and haunted house rides. It seemed logical to give these traits to Desmond, though he takes more chances than I ever did. Desmond’s world is more settled in reality than my comics, and I think this makes him relatable for kids. At least I hope so!
L’IDEA: Do you expect to continue with Desmond’s adventures in more books? MARK TATULLI: As long as kids want to keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them!
NOTE: Children can meet Desmond Pucket on its dedicated web site (www.desmondpucket.com), where they can find comments about the main character, news and reviews by readers, various activities and games, and a blog by the author!
L’IDEA: You also are an accomplished filmmaker and animator, and you have received three Emmy Awards for your work. Could you tell us more about that? (the programs, what you did, etcetera)
MARK TATULLI: I was the creative director at a Philadelphia video post-production facility. I designed, art directed and produced animated opens and graphic packages. We did a lot of TV shows and commercials. I won three Emmys for Production design on three different TV shows that are no longer on the air. My last job was supervising a graphics department with 10 animators. In addition to that, I did a lot of design and storyboards. As of August 2013, I’ve been a cartoonist/author full time. But I did graphics and animation for 31 years professionally.
L’IDEA: You are an illustrator, a writer, an artist, a filmmaker, a producer… how did you get involved in so many different activities?
MARK TATULLI: I like all those jobs for different reasons. I miss the post-production business now that I do comics/books full time. Doing TV can be exhausting, but was always exciting to me to start a new challenge, especially of we have a limited budget. That’s when the real creativity has to kick in. I look at work in all these fields as building creative muscles. The more you work, the stronger you get. I still watch TV commercials and wonder how they did something and how can I replicate it. It’s a hard habit to break!
L’IDEA: If, hypothetically, you could be working in any job position in the world, what would you be and why?
MARK TATULLI: I’m doing exactly what I want to do. Making comics and books is a lonely occupation, but it’s a control freak’s dream. I am totally in charge of the worlds I’ve created and that’s just the way I like it!
GUY GILCHRIST: FROM THE MUPPETS TO NANCY, A SUCCESS STORY.
Guy Gilchrist is a renowned writer and illustrator of children’s books (42 titles to his name, of which the acclaimed“Night Lights & Pillow Fights” also appears in comics and games versions) and a celebrated, syndicated cartoonist, with strips such as “Mudpie,” “Screams,” “The Poetry Guy,” “The Rock Channel,” “Today’s Dogg,” and, since 1995, the classic “Nancy.” Guy won the prestigious Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in the Best Book Illustrator category in both 1998 and 1999, and 3 Children’s Choice Awards by the International Reading Council for best books of the year. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the globe and is permanently preserved at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In 1981 he created the daily comic strip “The Muppets” with his brother Brad Gilchrist, which was printed worldwide in over 660 newspapers from 1981 to 1986. In 1997, Guy founded his own international publishing company, Gilchrist Publishing.
L’IDEA: Guy, you have been drawing “Nancy” for 19 years now; it has probably become part of you, almost as if you created it, although the strip appeared for the first time in 1938 and the Nancy as a character was first drawn in 1933. How different is the experience of creating a strip from scratch, creating a strip based on someone else’s characters, as you did for “The Muppets,” and drawing a strip that has been around already so many years, as “Nancy” is?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy really has become a part of my life and a part of my heart; you know, writing and drawing something for 19 years, every single day of your life, has that effect. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I began or anywhere in the middle. And I look back now at 19 years and can see the effects of the different things that were going on in my life at the time. When I was writing and drawing for Jim Henson and the Muppets I was trying to please Jim. Also, I was very scared; I was just a kid starting out and I was given a worldwide stage to either succeed on or fail. No pressure, you know. The Muppets definitely all had incredibly wonderful personalities, which were already very well evolved. Basically, my job was to take these wonderful, crazy characters with all of this life and color and music and warmth and try to find a way to translate that into a daily comic strip. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to get a 100 piece orchestra into a phone booth! When you’re doing your own comic strip, characters that you’ve created all by yourself, then it really is a totally different thing. You truly are like an eagle flying endless skies with no barriers to your creativity but your own mind and talents.
These days, of course, I have the little panel, Today’s Dogg, which is very fun and free, but also, after 19 years really and truly Nancy and Aunt Fritzi and the entire group are really and truly mine. Now, the characters will always be the creations of the great Ernie Bushmiller, and he is always my inspiration, it’s really important for me to be honest and funny in my own way in the comic strip each day. The best way to honor Ernie Bushmiller and his wonderful characters is to keep them alive and romping through the newspapers and the Internet for as long as it is my blessing to do so!
L’IDEA: Do you believe that the continuing success of classic strips, such as “Blondie,” Gasoline Alley” and “Nancy,” which seem to live well beyond their expected natural life, is tied to the “nostalgia” factor, with its simpler times and situations?
GUY GILCHRIST: I believe it is a combination of two things. I believe that nostalgia of course is extremely important in our continuing success. Many of our readers have been Nancy Fans their entire lives, since this trip is been around for over 80 years! They may remember it from when they were children, and now as parents they are reading it to their children! There has always been the Stasia, that longing to touch something from my past that has touched our hearts. My job as the Cartoonist is really twofold. I want to present our readers with a product that will please them and remind them of the characters that they so loved when they were children, but also breathe life into these characters and make them viable and entertaining and engaging to today’s generation!
L’IDEA: Do you feel that the messages and the humor in “Nancy” are as valid today as they were in 1938? Has she been modernized, both in thinking and/or communicating, or is she still the same mischievous 8 year old? GUY GILCHRIST: That’s really my job, isn’t it?! I certainly hope I’m doing that! While the cars and machines and electronics around Nancy and her gang have changed, she really hasn’t! She may live in a slightly smaller town then perhaps she did early on in the 1930s, since her author these days lives in a slightly smaller town… but that is probably about it. I think the small-town feeling of Nancy is one of the things that make her so successful around the world. You know, little children still pretty much act and react the same way that little children acted in the decades before. They are both angels and brats. One moment you want to scold them, the next moment you want to hug them and hold on for dear life! These are the fundamentals of human emotions. They will never change.
L’IDEA: I used to read “Nancy” when I was a little kid (I read it in Italian as “Arturo e Zoe,” which appeared as full stories in the comics magazines “Il Monello” and “L’Intrepido”), and I am sure most of our readers have been exposed to it one way or the other. What do you feel are the most appealing characteristics of this strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy is still very popular not only in America but all around the world. Our COM X are read in over 80 different countries and by 57 million people. That’s a pretty scary thought. It makes me want to check my spelling a hundred times before I send things out. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake in front of that many people in that many languages! Honestly, what I have always tried to do is keep Nancy’s wants and desires and her daily life simple. By that I mean that if you read the comic strip for a little while you will realize that the characters never do anything that would be expensive. They do things that really don’t cost any money. They go for walks they play in the park they climb trees they ride bicycles and skateboards. The most expensive things they ever buy are ice cream cones and comic books. They spend a lot of time outside, playing. They have television sets and computers, but I don’t have the children sitting in front of them all that much. I keep them also away from too many video games. I do this because no matter what generation you are from, and where you are in this world, these are common things that we all can enjoy and can remember. I was poor growing up and the comics were something that were a thrill for me. When I would see those two or three pages each day of the funnies, they were really a treasure to me! I want the same feeling for children who cannot afford much around the world, that if they see the funnies in the paper with Nancy and Sluggo in them, they will be able to identify with them and to smile.
L’IDEA: If you had any suggestions for Nancy, the little girl who is main character of that strip, what would it be?
GUY GILCHRIST: She wouldn’t listen to be! I’m a grown-up! Believe me, I’ve had daughters and a granddaughter and I know! That’s what’s so much fun about Nancy! We see our own children in her and her friends!
L’IDEA: When you started drawing “Nancy,” the person in charge of the stories was your brother Brad, and that went on until last year. What made you take over completely the strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: When I started drawing Nancy, my brother Brad and I shared the writing duties; after about seven or eight years, my brother Brad began to work on another project. He’s always been very involved with the environment, recycling and ecology; that is his passion. It was then that Brad backed away from the Nancy comic and I began to work on it on my own. And so, I have actually been writing and drawing the strip on my own for quite a few years. I consider myself a writer first, And an illustrator second, so the transition was not a difficult one for me. Brad’s name had been left on the byline by the publishers! That was okay with me and still is! A terrific way to honor my brother!
L’IDEA: What is the illustration work you are the most proud of and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: That is a really difficult question. You know, I’ve had a very long and very blessed career. My favorite project is always the exact thing that I am working on at this moment. That is the way you must always be as a writer and artist. You don’t look toward the future and you do not look toward the past. You concentrate all you have on that scary blank white piece of paper in front of you and pray you have something to offer! In regard to highlights of my career, certainly the artwork that I did for Pres. Reagan and the White House back in 1984 that was preserved in the Smithsonian would be a blessing. I have been so blessed also to have met many people who have been touched by my story books as well as my comics. And when they share with me how much a certain book or a certain character meant to them, that becomes a very important work for me. I thank my Father in heaven every single day for the blessing that He has given me to be a writer and an artist and to be able to reach out to people in the ways that I am privileged to do so.
L’IDEA: You are also a popular children’s book’s author and illustrator. Are your books all independent of each other, as stories and characters go, or do they carry common themes, locations and characters? Which one is the character of your stories that you like the most and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: There have been common themes and common characters throughout many of my books. However, each book can be read independently and enjoyed on its own, apart from whatever series it may be a part of. The Tiny Dinos Series with Warner Books still seems to be very popular with many, many people. My Mudpie character Has been published by several different publishing houses and was also of course a comic strip. Then there are the Night Lights and Pillow Fights and Just Imagine books . Those were full of poems and pictures and brand-new little fairytales that I concocted! I’ve written so many, and each one of them is a wonderful memory!
L’IDEA: Were you always interested to be an illustrator? How did you get to where you are now? If, hypothetically, you could be working in any job position in the world, what would you be?
GUY GILCHRIST: I don’t consider myself to be an illustrator. I consider myself first to be a writer. You see, whether it is a storybook, a comic book, a comic strip, or a song or a speech… the idea and the story always comes first. Even as a little child when I was drawing cartoons, while I was copying Superman and Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker and Popeye, I was making up stories for them! How did I get to be where I am now? First you have to tell me where that is! I hope I’m still right in the middle of a wonderful adventure! I hope I’m not near the end! I hope I’m right in the middle. I feel like I’m learning every single day. I certainly feel like the comic strip and the songs and the stories that I am writing now are the best of my career. Really, the success that I have had is not based on talent. I know that there have always been more talented artist and writers than me applying for the projects that I’ve had over the years. I believe that the secret to success is to stick to it. To never quit and always keep your promises. Be a person of your word who can be counted on to get the project finished. If you stay busy, you will eventually get better and better and better at everything that you do. Repetition helps to pull the genius out of you and put it down on paper! It also helps if you remember that you are a professional, and therefore it is your job. A mortgage and a lovely spouse and children are wonderful igniters for your muse!!! And never forget the power of prayer. Don’t ever forget to thank God every single day for all that you have. Oh, and hypothetically, if I could have any job in the world, I’ve got it!
L’IDEA: You founded the Guy Gilchrist Studios, and opened also a branch in Tokyo. What is their function?
GUY GILCHRIST: Back in the early 1990s, I was exploring the market for my cartoons and writing in Tokyo. We opened a branch office at that time and were quite successful with it! We were able to produce some Japanese versions of some of my children’s books and also work with the Japanese baseball clubs and the national soccer league on some cartoon mascot projects! My agent over there, Maseo Maruyama, keeps a desk there for me, although I have not been back in quite a few years. This now Nashville cat is looking forward to getting back over to Tokyo sometime soon.
L’IDEA: What are your projects for the near future? And for the long run? GUY GILCHRIST: We’ve got some fantastic projects going right now! By the way, everything that I’m working on and I can show you is over at www.NancyandSluggo.com. For instance the brand-new Nancy comic book that we just published! It’s the first brand-new Nancy book in 20 years! We plan on putting out an entire line of all of the cartoons that I have done I’ve Nancy over the last 19 years. Also there’s a figurine line called Bearly Angels. They are sweet little statuettes of angel bears that have sayings to motivate you and to fill you with God’s love. We are working on a set of children’s books featuring these characters. We also have a Nancy Broadway show and a project with Dreamworks in development. It’s a very exciting time! My incredible wife, Teresa, is my partner in Nancy Entertainment LLC. I have a full engagement calendar as a touring Motivational speaker. Traveling all over this country and being able to connect with people of all ages is probably my favorite thing to do! It is such an incredible joy to be able to share stories of my life with the Muppets and Nancy and all the cartoon characters that I have worked on, as well as tell the personal side of my life and how I started out as a poor child without a college education and eventually wound up as a guest of honor at the White House and beyond. It is always a great honor and blessing to be able to speak in front of audiences and connect that way. I am so, so lucky; so, so blessed. I’m hoping for a very long run.
Originally Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena for L'Idea Magazine
Book Expo America 2014 has brought a wave of foreign authors, either in the original language or in translation, and among them a few Italians. Italian American authors, instead, were present in large numbers. At the Rizzoli booth, large, luxurious and full of beautiful books but void as usual of any promotions (other than their catalogs) and samples for librarians and press, the visitors walked through slightly puzzled, attempting to figure out whether this publisher was there to impress or really do some work; like I said, beautiful but disappointing.
A surprise the presence of author and publisher Adolph Caso who, among the books of his Branden Publishing Company products, displayed many Italian books in translation and, gem of it all, the only translation of Pirandello’s Tales of Madness. Kudos for his work and his attempt to keep alive the name of our Italian authors in the USA.
The official Italian booth, run by the Italian Trade Agency ICE, had many titles and publishers, as always interesting, but also void of any promotional materials from the individual companies. Thank God the Italian Trade Agency had beautiful brochures and free paper bags at the entrance, bringing some attention to the area. A signing by known author Marco Malvaldi, present with his book Game for Five, turned out to be a great choice, bringing a lot of visitors, and the author Cosimo Scarpello, with his tome Stressbook brought attention to the booth by describing the content of his book to all visitors. You may see and hear both of these authors and Adolph Caso speaking about their work at the following link:
Originally Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena for L'Idea Magazine
Javits Center was the center of attention for all American book lovers for four days at the end of May, with a series of events, lectures, seminars and a ton of exhibitors at the annual Book Expo America. Our staff collected books for reviews, filmed authors’ comments, took a thousand pictures, but most of all enjoyed the company of famous and little known authors who autographed their books and posed for our photographers, in a climate of friendship and love for learning for which this show is renown for.
After visiting the Italian booths (see Part One of this article), we ventured at the signing booths, where we filmed some of the authors’ comments on their own work. We hope our readers will enjoy them as much as we did.
In Part Three of Book America we’ll show the marvels of the show: magic tricks, special products, special guests, etc… Here is the video with some of the authors…:
L’Idea: What made you decide to write this book?
Tony Napoli: I decided to write this book with the encouragement from my mother and other family member’s when I was 26 years old; that was 52 years ago. As I got older, I gathered more and more material and I outlived most of the characters mentioned in my book. When I decided I had enough material, I hired a co-writer to help me put all my excerpts of about a 1,000 pages, into story form. My book was released on Sept.18th 2008, when I was 73 years old.
L’Idea: When you were seventeen, you were approached by the Boston Braves to play in the summer time for one of their Minor League Clubs. Your mother said “No way” because she did not want you far from home. You also were training for the US Air Force boxing team and there were talks about participating to the 1956 Olympics. This time it was your father who intervened and said “No”; and that was it. This is all recorded in the chapter titled “The road not taken”. Do you feel regrets for not pursuing those dreams? Were you ever even tempted to disobey or at least try to convince your parents? Do you believe your parents were justified in their requests? If so, why?
Tony Napoli: My father never said NO to my boxing as an Amateur in the Golden Gloves and on the Air Force boxing team. He said NO after I was Honorably Discharged from the US Air Force and I wanted to turn Pro as a Boxer. He said I was management material, and he only wanted me to learn the art of self-defense to protect myself in the streets of Brooklyn. He also felt that a strong mind needs a strong body to accomplish and get things done the right way. I continuously disobeyed my parents when they tried to make decisions for my future. I loved my mother dearly and I listened to her when she asked me not to travel with the Boston Braves Minor league Baseball team in the summer time when school was out, because I was only 17 years old and I didn’t want her to worry about me traveling across the country on a broken down bus.
L’Idea: You name quite a few entertainers who you had the opportunity to meet, for good or bad reasons. Who was the one who impressed you the most and why?
Tony Napoli: The entertainer I was most impressed with was Frank Sinatra. I liked the way he hired former athletes to travel with him. He made them earn a living in an honest way by putting them on his payroll and use it as a tax write-off. They traveled all over the world with him, not only as bodyguards, but mostly as close friends who had no other way of making a living due to their lack of education. I became Sinatra’s drinking partner on many occasions, especially when he entertained at Caesar’s Palace, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was a Casino Host in charge of entertainment at the time. Frank was very generous with people he was close to. He never wanted to get close to strangers. He was very rude to those who tried to overpower him with autographs. He had his men get the names and address of his fans who wanted his autographed picture. He’d rather mail them a picture with his autograph when he spent time alone in his room. He always traveled with a bookkeeper. As a matter of fact the last wife he was married to, Barbara Marx, was also his bookkeeper before he married her. Frank was also an Amateur boxer before he became a singing star.
L’Idea: What was, in your opinion, the difference in style between Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Roselli?
Tony Napoli: Frank Sinatra, whose birth name was Francis Sinestra, was flamboyant, with great magnetism in public and on the stage. Jimmy Roselli, whose birth name was Michael Roselli, first worked for me when I was 24 years old. My father bought me a night club in Union City, New Jersey in 1959. The name of the club was “The Club Rag Doll.” I paid him $300.00 to sing on weekends. His very first song was “I’m Alone Because I Love You.” I was supposed to go to contract with him and be his manager. My father put a stop to that immediately when Roselli asked for a loan to cover his part of the deal. Before Roselli died, he called me from his home in Clearwater, Florida. He read my book, I mentioned him in Chapter 17. He remembered the night I was locked up after working over that crooked cop; Roselli was singing on my stage the night it happened. He complimented me for pulling no punches and giving the reader everything in detail the way it happened. Roselli was very independent when it came to promoting himself. He never reached the level of stardom like Sinatra because he wouldn’t cooperate with the Wise guys; and, in those days you had to deal with the Wise guys, to get anyplace in show business. The Wise guys were behind all the top clubs and were very influential with Hollywood Producers, The Wise guys controlled the union (SAG) Screen Actors Guild. If you wanted to get high paid jobs as an entertainer, you had better cooperated with the Big Guys.
L’Idea: Why was your father’s nickname “The torpedo?”
Tony Napoli: When my Father was a young teenager, he was the leader of a neighborhood gang called “The Lorimer Street Boys” In those days there was a Gang in almost every Italian and Irish neighborhood, in the Brooklyn area. The Lorimer Street Gang was located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. To be the leader of a gang you had to fight and beat up the leaders of the other gangs. About three nights a week, boxing trainers used to put on boxing shows at the old Military Armories that were built during World War One for Military training. Folding chairs were used for seating arrangements. They would hold up to 1,000 people in the Armories. The gang leaders would fight against each other. If one gang didn’t like the decision, they would throw the folding chairs into the air to show their disagreement with the official scorer (the referee). When my Father (Jimmy Nap) fought, he always knocked his opponent out with a straight right hand. That’s how he got the nickname “Torpedo.”
L’Idea: You present your father as a perfect gentleman, a great father and at the same time an assassin and a made man. How do you feel that can be possible and how does a person involved in such a complicated life manages to retain his human side?
Tony Napoli: When my father was a young man, at between 16 and 20 years old, he wanted to be like the guys who were always dressed up in suits and ties, wearing Fedora hats. He didn’t want to work as a bricklayer like his father was. As he grew older, he managed to get involved with the Wise guys by being one of their collectors and becoming a strike buster to discourage laborers not to strike by using bats and crowbars to beat them with. He worked for the companies who didn’t want to have their men striking. It was at a young age when he was considered an assassin and a bully. After getting out of jail in 1945, when he was 34 years old, he came back to my mother and turned over a new leaf. My mother took him back because he showed her a sense of responsibility to support the family. He got involved in the Numbers racket, which in those days was considered non-violent as a business. She saw him get respect from clean-cut-looking men; some he met in jail. My mother was only concerned about keeping the family together. She allowed my father to travel all over the country to do his business for all five organized crime families in the New York Area. My mother was not familiar with that part of my father’s life. She only saw in him a business man earning money, and lots of it, for people he called investors. At 34 years old my father was considered by those men in his way of life a standup guy with respect, integrity, dignity and honor. A man they could count on to give them a fair shake from their investments in his gambling enterprises all over the country. My father changed his ways from being a bully and Assassin for love of his immediate family and a great love for my mother, like I changed my ways from being a bully and Alcoholic when I found Sobriety.
L’Idea: In one of your chapters you seem to show a lot of anger at Giuliani. Could you explain why it is so?
Tony Napoli: In Chapter 27 of my book, I denounce Rudy Giuliani as a hypocrite. He tried to get me to talk against my father in the way he makes a living, knowing that his Uncle was Mob connected. Giuliani convinced President Reagan to send him to the New York Area as a US Marshall to infiltrate into the five Organized Crime families. By doing so, he was to be considered a crime buster, when all the while Giuliani was politically minded. He wanted to show the Government he would even lock up his own mother and father if he had to, and gain recognition as a future GOP candidate for a high elective office, with the backing of the Republic party, and gain the NY votes when he finally decided the right time to run for Mayor. Giuliani is Sicilian, and most of his relatives came from the Sicilian Mafia in Sicily. When I was indicted in 1985 on the RICO act and Giuliani was the US Attorney, the key witness against me in court told the jury that he was one of the gang that shot and killed a federal judge in Texas. He was sentenced to life in prison in Lewisburg Penitentiary, in Pennsylvania. He said that Rudy Giuliani offered him $30,000.00 to testify against me and he would get a reduced sentence. I was finally acquitted and when I was walking out of the courtroom, Giuliani said to me “I’ll get you the next time, Napoli” I thought how can he possibly make such an outrageous deal with a scumbag who killed a federal Judge just to put me away for gambling. I was facing 25 years in jail before I was acquitted.
L’Idea: There is a movie being produced on your book. Could you tell us something about that?
Tony Napoli: The movie you talk about is called a 20 minute short. About 50 hours of shooting 32 scenes. This pilot was made by me, I paid all expenses so I can present it to the film people in the Film Festivals all over the country. It shows the Highlights of my story played out with real actors who play the main characters in my book. It will also be presented to potential investors leading up to a feature film or TV series. The filmmaker I hired is Hussain Ahmed, from Iraq. He’s also the Director and makes his home in Louisville, Kentucky.
L’Idea: You now have a lot of activities, which you defined as “giving back to society”. Could you tell us what they are?
Tony Napoli: For the past 19 years I’ve been a Veterans Advocate, helping disabled veterans with compensation for their service-connected injuries. I’m also a recovering alcoholic helping other alcoholics find sobriety like I did nineteen years ago, when I left the Mob life behind me. I also help indigent boxers with their medications, when they can’t afford it because they retired from boxing with brain and physical injuries and unable to work to support their selves. The spirit of my father lives on through me.
A novel by Peter Danish
Based partially on a true episode of Maria Callas’ life, The Tenor is the riveting story of a young Italian man with a spectacular knack for music and a voice to match, who saved the famed singer’s life under daunting circumstances during WWII. The chronicle embraces a long historical period, starting from the pre-war years, continuing through the war, and ending in 1964.
Peter Danish is effective in conveying the proper feelings of those pre-war years in Italy, charged with promises of a better society and eventually delivering only chaos and destruction. The narrative is well-paced and full of all the necessary flavors that allow it to portray this young man’s growing years, ripe with twists in the rather dynamic existence of Nino, the main character, and of the surrounding residents of his wonderful little town in the Emilian Apennines, bursting with delightful descriptions of regional culinary treats as well as operatic references, satisfying music enthusiasts while explaining every one of the passages for the untrained readers. The balanced usage of all these elements and the sapient inclusion of many Italian expressions, just as in Marianna Randazzo’s book Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing, make this book more than palatable, offering the reader an experience that only few authors are capable of generating. Whether one likes opera or the Italian landscape, history or entertainment, The Tenor presents such a sensible, realistic account that it is bound to please.
Pino is a pleasant and gifted young tenor who will mesmerize the readers with his formidable determination, his understandable expectations and his early successes, and will move them with his wartime misadventures as a soldier of the Italian invading army in Greece during the war years. His love of music is the main impetus of his life, directing all his actions and thoughts, keeping him sane in a world which had lost its sense of decency, bringing all the ingredients that define his encounter with the then-unknown but already brilliant soprano, keeping his soul alive even through tragedy.
All the characters are well-developed, with a profound analysis of their thoughts and desires and a detailed physical description that allows the reader to visualize them and get involved in their ventures; the locations are the clear product of a thorough research that will impress any reader who has visited Northern Italy and Greece.
Although the central theme is music and the climax seems to be the episode that involves Pino with Maria Callas, there are many topics in the narrative that will capture the readers’ attention, ranging from the Duce’s betrayal of his early promises to his nation to the Nazi-backed Final Solution, from the interaction of the Italian and German armies to the suffering of the invaded Greek population, and from the development of NYC’s Little Italy to the glamorous life of Maria Callas, but most of all the continuous adoration of Pino for the soprano that brings a second chance of a meeting with her and a surprise ending.
There is no repose or standstill in Peter’s smooth and untiring prose and the final effect is a novel which fascinates and engages the reader.
Click to see a book presentation by Peter Danish.
To purchase the paperback: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tenor-Peter-Danish/dp/0991099346/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1396923512&sr=8-2&keywords=peter danish
To purchase the Kindle version: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tenor-Peter-Danish-ebook/dp/B00ILT68L2/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1396923512&sr=8-4&keywords=peter danish
"Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing"
Sicily, 1935: Sarina, a young woman with three children, gives up her young daughter Tina to her aunt Vittoria, who lives in a different town, with no apparent explanation. The child, just four, at first is intrigued by the move, which she believes to be a summer vacation, but slowly reality settles in and her journey into abandonment begins.
"Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing" is the chronicle of a lost childhood, written with a tight, journalistic style, reminiscent of a diary; and of the diary it also has the structure, having 97 chapters that are but glimpses into particular events of Tina's life from kindergarten to adolescence to her final trip to America at sixteen, as a promised bride. This division into small chapters, which normally would irritate the reader, is actually successful in portraying the developments of her life seen almost as snapshots or frames from a movie. I laud the author, Marianna Randazzo, for such an unusual choice.
The constant throughout the book is the feeling of being rejected and the deprivations that living with the aunt are every day's norm. The arrival of the war certainly does not bring any more comforts and Tina realizes that her stay with Vittoria is a stable one. The aunt loves her deeply, just as she loved her mom Sarina, and uses every occasion to show her, so she is not shortchanged in that aspect, but the awareness of being left behind by her own family and the resentment of not knowing why, always double guessing the reasons behind such a dramatic move, permeate the book. The brutish attitude of Tina’s uncle, who constantly physically abuses his wife, adds ever more to the internal struggle that Tina undergoes.
The war is also a protagonist and Ms. Randazzo does justice to the atmosphere that surrounds such events, introducing various episodes with charm and a perfect rhythm, allowing the reader to be aware of it without being distracted by the real tragedy of this story: the unexplained desertion of the child by her loving family.
The tragedy unfolds in a well-paced narration and it is both heart wrenching and interesting, bringing images from a time gone by but not forgotten, a time when children had no rights and the world was upside down, a time that many did not survive and that left a mark on those who did.
Marianna Randazzo was able to capture the feelings that this little girl experienced in such a masterful way that at times one forgets that this is not an autobiography but a novel based on true events. The reader will live Tina’s struggles, experience her shattered expectations, her fears, her deep melancholy, her want for her family and her disappointment at her American aunt in first person thanks to the ability of the author to portray Tina’s emotions so vividly.
"Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing" deserves the attention of the public for its accurate and sensitive description of the life of a child “given away” and seemingly forgotten for a long time. Obviously, the story is seen through the eyes of the victim and it is seen subjectively, but the author does not pretend to have all the answers to the reasons of the triggering of this tragedy; she does, however, offer all the information necessary for the readers to make their mind up on their own.
Available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Given-Away-Upbringing-Marianna-Randazzo/dp/0989481921/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391984223&sr=1-2&keywords=given away a sicilian upbringing by marianna randazzo
and on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Given-Sicilian-Upbringing-Marianna-Randazzo-ebook/dp/B00DH2ZIJ6/ref=sr_1_2_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391984223&sr=1-2&keywords=given away a sicilian upbringing by marianna randazzo
CAN LOVE FOR BOOKS AND OPERA KEEP YOU YOUNG?
In 1912 Italians won the war against the Ottoman Empire, a forecast of the underlying colonialism that brought the Great War, the Titanic revealed itself not to be unsinkable and vitamins were first identified. It was a year of turmoil and of great hopes, with Woodrow Wilson taking the presidency, a fanatic attempting to kill Theodore Roosevelt, China becoming a republic, and stainless steel making its debut.
Many famous and infamous historic characters were born that year: Hitler’s companion Eva Braun, the artist Jackson Pollock, the entertainer Danny Thomas, Italian movie director Michelangelo Antonioni, and Pope John Paul I; among the not-so-famous, on January 25th of that year, a Yonkers denizen, Teresa Mautone-Tortora. The father Eugene and the mother Grace (Grazia) Gatto-Mautone were both born in the province of Salerno, Italy. Grace was brought to USA when she was two years old, while Eugene emigrated at twenty-one, in 1905.
Teresa loved opera since she was a little girl, and her parents, who only spoke English and their original dialect, hired a tutor for her to learn Italian, so that she could reads librettos and enjoy the operas at the most. Her love for classical music was enhanced even more by her family’s activities: her Aunt Louise Gatto-Creston was a famous dancer with the Martha Graham’s Dance Company and owned a dance studio, and the Uncle Paul Creston (Giuseppe Guttoveggio) was a famous classical composer.
Apart from a four-year period spent in Brooklyn, Teresa has been a lifetime resident of Yonkers. Her recollection of how this city was when she was young is charming and her descriptions are like postcards from the past. Yonkers was a very friendly town, where everyone greeted you and it was safe to walk even at night. The CrossCountyShopping Center was a swamp upon where she used to ice skate in the winter and she hiked every weekend to White Plains by way of the Bronx River Parkway walking path (18 miles total). Kimball Avenue was in a golf course and she used to sleigh ride from its hills in the winter. It was all clean fun!!!
From left: Teresa Mautone-Tortora with two friend and her husband Vincent, circa 1952
Teresa lived in South West Yonkers, on top of a hill overlooking Mount Vernon, where she walked to when she needed to shop for food; only after WWII a bus line was established for the local residents. Her original house was one of two buildings in her street and it took 4 years for the workers from the WPA (brainchild of FDR and part of his New Deal) to remove all the heavy stones so that it could be paved. There was a well and a cesspool, but neither indoor piping nor electricity, and as a toilet, just an outhouse. Her father built the house in which she now lives over the week ends in the early 1930s, with the assistance of Saunders HS boys, so they could have all modern luxuries (running water, toilet, electricity and sewage service).
She worked at FARAND, a bomb-sights factory in Mount Vernon, during WWII and went back to her job during the Korean War, a “Rosy the Riveter” of her won; she then worked ten years at Litton, an electronic firm, always in Mount Vernon.
Teresa married Vincent Tortora, who passed away in 1976, and has two sons, Eugene and Mark, now 75 and 67 years old respectively.
Teresa travelled through United States and she is an avid reader; as a matter of fact she believes reading made her different from a lot of her contemporaries, more tolerant and somehow out of the ordinary in the way she envisioned the world. She owns more than two hundred books and the entire collections of fifty tomes of Western stories written by Zane Gray. She read the Bible few times over because she was always fascinated by the stories in it, the struggles of those early people and their daily lives. Teresa believes strongly that her life would have been quite different without books.
She confesses that there are no good reasons for her longevity, genetics apart, since she lived a normal life; certainly it helped a bit not to be a drinker or a smoker, but that is all.
She misses attending the opera performances, although she believes that nowadays they are too formal; she recollects when the people used to holler and stood up cheering whenever the performers sang well. “They were more relaxed and fun times, then…,” she declares with a soft but firm voice that does not betray her age, “people are too ambitious now and money has become too important. People forget that good times and good friends do not come with a tab, but are free.”
She believes that American ingenuity in improving products is what made it competitive and that is the direction we have to take again, since relying on China for just about everything is destroying the texture of this country.
Teresa Tortora is a happy, smart and alert 102-years-old lady who knows what she is talking about! Was opera or her exposure to literature the reason for her longevity? We'll never know, but for sure they kept her brain young and flexible...
Mark and Teresa Tortora
Tiziano Thomas Dossena with Teresa Tortora