For most people who know the work of the Italian artist Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, he is ‘the master of the ass’, his highly successful Druuna series featuring the well-endowed and frequently naked eponymous heroine having sold more than a million books in twelve languages.
Serpieri grew up in Venice, moving to Rome as a teenager. He studied architecture and painting at the Accademia Belle Arti (Fine Arts Academy) in Rome under Renato Guttuso, and began his career as a painter in 1966, but in 1975 shifted his focus to comics, working for the Italian comics magazine Lanciostory. A devotee of the American Old West, Serpieri co-created L’Histoire du Far-West (The Story of the West), with writer Raffaele Ambrosio. From 1980 Serpieri also worked on collections including Découvrir la Bible (Discovering the Bible), as well as short stories for magazines such as L’Eternauta, Il Fumetto and Orient Express.
As one blogger explains, ‘For both his reputation and his reward, Serpieri is the creator of the most concupiscent, carnal, hedonistic, lascivious and voluptuous woman that has ever been drawn – Druuna, a character that he created in the mid-1980s that catapulted him to fame. Something similar to what also happened to Manara has ended up happening to Serpieri, an extraordinary cartoonist who has to a large extent ended up being a victim of his enviable qualities for drawing beautiful women, and become caught in a web of commerciality that is all too tempting at every level.’
Serpieri tells how his heroine came into existence: ‘Druuna was born when I wanted to draw a more conventional woman than the Druuna we know today. I wanted to tell the very erotic story of a luscious woman, full of curves and make it a short story. Going to the beach at Ostia one day when it was deserted, I saw a woman emerging naked from the waves. Her body was dripping with golden droplets that shone in the sun. The woman I had been looking for for a long time was there in front of me, naked, in all her glory. A few hours later, I went to see the film La femme publique (The Public Woman) starring Valérie Kaprisky. Her character, very pretty, with slightly short but shapely legs, slightly small breasts, loose black hair, walks at night in a Paris of lights and shadows. The magic moment is when she looks in the mirror and dances. She climbs on a chair, the camera revolves around her. She is naked. She arches her back so as to bring out her ass and the hair that falls on her shoulders. I thought, “That’s the sort of woman I like! I would like to draw this kind of woman”.’
Here is part of an interview with Serpieri by Didier Pasamonik from May 2003:
How would you describe the world of Druuna?
It’s a futuristic story with current references wrapped in a certain humour, which is somewhat paradoxical when one describes such an apocalyptic universe, such a pessimistic vision of the future of humanity. The real interest comes from the psychology of the character of Druuna, the only truly human being in the story. Druuna helps me to describe what humans are, tormented beings of course, but who have values. Druuna is not a heroine. She is a complex woman, an ordinary woman, a woman of today.
At the same time she is a naked woman in a decomposing world.
That was my intention, emphasising the contrast between a very ordinary character in a tormented context. It’s meant to accentuate the symbolism of purity represented by Druuna.
So woman is the future of man?
Physiologically a woman carries the future, that’s for sure, but for me she also represents the carnal, erotic dimension of women, the lifeforce that drives us. I wouldn’t be able to convey this depth of feeling If I had to draw a man in the same circumstances.
There seems to be an Italian tradition of eroticism that goes from Crepax to Manara. Where does this sensual tradition of Italian creativity come from?
I prefer the reference to Crepax rather than Manara – his character of Valentina also evolves with humour in a sophisticated graphic atmosphere. There is also an intellectual refinement in Crepax, a moral dimension that doesn’t really interest me. His eroticism is much more cerebral; Druuna emphasises the animal, visceral, carnal nature of eroticism.
Are there countries where Druuna is particularly successful?
She’s a woman with a Latin temperament that we find more in Brazil, though it seems that her breasts are the most appealing to the Americans. In terms of sales and notoriety, however, France comes out top.
How does your partner view your daily life with Druuna? She accepts this cohabitation without problem?
Sometimes it bothers her, though quite a number of my drawings are inspired by my wife!