Maurizio Bovarini was a quite extraordinary and highly prolific illustrator. He was also, at least on the surface, indifferent to the myriad tricks of the publishing trade that make it possible for an author or an artist to ensure that their name will go down in history. Since he makes only the rarest of appearances in the canonical history of cartoons and illustration, the task of reconstructing his biography necessitated the collating of information supplied first-hand by his family: his wife Adele and his children, Andrea and Alessandra. Family is a story, but also an archive – in this case, a comprehensive archive that reveals what the illustrator was all about. Indeed, his bountiful output encapsulated thousands of illustrations; sketches, pencil drawings, drawings both large and small on poster board; works in fountain pen and marker; torn photographs around which he built images; cartoon panels and comic strips. Maurizio Bovarini was born in Bergamo, in the time-honoured quarters of the lower part of the town, on 31 July 1934. He lived in Piazza Pontida, the only square in Bergamo to have its own self-proclaimed Duke, and the backdrop to the annual “rasgamènt de la ègia”, a legacy of the pagan past, complete with bonfires lit half-way through Lent.
He was the last of six children, with an older brother being followed by four sisters. His father was a veteran of the First World War, his mother a teacher. He attended primary school between 1940 and 1945. This gives us some idea of his childhood. At home, studying was the name of the game. Maurizio’s schooling was frequently interrupted and ended up being incomplete. This turbulence was resolved only when, in the early 1950s, he attended the courses in drawing and painting that had just got up and running at the Carrara Academy. He immediately immersed himself in the world of publishing. Just a stone’s throw from his house was the headquarters of the so-called Italian Institute of Graphic Arts – a rather pompous title for what was really a printing press, but it was also a publishing house, established in the late nineteenth century and built on that site due to the presence of the roggia seriana, the channel for the water that powered the printing machines prior to electrification. Those streets came alive when one shift ended and the next began. Only in the 1960s did the printworks move out to the periphery, with a view of the motorway, so as to cope more easily with the print run of Topolino, which itself was in the millions, as well as a considerable chunk of all the periodicals published in Italy. His brother, who was ten years older, wrote school books and then packaged them up. It was him who introduced Maurizio to the publishing sector, where the younger sibling then worked hard to understand the mechanisms – which at the time were relatively complex and labyrinthine – involved in getting a book onto the shelves. He paid his dues on anthologies and atlases, sticking his early illustrations here and there. In the late 1950s, he started to publish musical-themed humorous illustrations in a weekly magazine called Le Ore.
From the outset, music was one of his central passions. In 1950s Bergamo, there was a vibrant jazz scene, and the bars in the town centre were more than happy to let local groups perform on their stages.
At the end of the decade, he felt ready to expand his horizons and he duly submitted a portfolio to the Mondadori offices in Milan. He was taken on as a graphic designer and illustrator, and became part of the editorial team of Arianna.
The early 1960s found him sharing a room with a colleague in Milan, and he would return to Bergamo at the weekends. He got to know Adele in this period, and they were married in 1964.
He notched up a couple of years of solid experience in the publishing industry. For weekly children’s magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli, he even illustrated Mutiny on the Bounty, accompanied by Tolomei’s words. Working in the publishing world not only as a graphic designer but also as an illustrator, he shifted consummately between styles, interpreting the context in order to deploy the right medium of expression. His propensity towards the grotesque could start to be glimpsed in his work from this period.
There was no space for personal projects in Italy. The titles worth imitating came from Paris, the European cultural capital, where the industry was flourishing.
Maurizio therefore ended his collaboration with Mondadori and moved to France. He spent the first two months of 1962 trying to submit his work to the various publishers. He hoped that he could stay in France, where the jazz scene, too, was effervescent. He was profoundly struck by a performance by John Coltrane that he saw there.
Things did not go as he had hoped. He returned to Milan, but the trip had not been entirely in vain, as he had built up a network of contacts. There were other illustrators ready to experiment with different paths, and there were also left-field publishers prepared to give them a try. His drawings began to appear that year in France in Siné Massacre and Bizare. He also illustrated for Adam and then for Hara Kiri, before appearing in L’Enragé in 1968.
In Milan, meanwhile, he served as art director for the titles Auto Italiana and Amica, moving between the Editoriale Domus publisher, Corriere della Sera and Selezione dal Reader’s Digest. He also produced illustrations for Cucina Italiana.
In 1964 he won the L’Unità Prize and, from then on, he published illustrations for the stories featured on the culture pages of L’Unità. In 1967, in Tolentino, he won first prize at the 4th Biennale of Humour in Art and he staged a solo show at the subsequent festival, in 1969.
A registered journalist from 1965 onwards, he was delighted to pass the exam, viewing it as a personal triumph after his challenging time at school.
From 1967, he edited the monthly men’s magazine Kent, a fascinating experiment based on the Playboy formula with high-profile collaborators from the worlds of culture and journalism. Kent also afforded him space to illustrate with a very free layout.
In September 1968, he edited an Italian edition of Hara Kiri, rechristened Kara Kiri – although faithful to the French original, the Italian version only lasted for nine issues.
In 1969 came the weekly Cronaca Vera, published by Garassini, the same publisher as the two previous titles. Maurizio was responsible for the graphic design, which remained unchanged over the years. It was a highly original magazine within the firmament of Italian publishing. After a slow start, it reached peaks of 600,000 copies. He ended up as editor-in-chief. Accompanied by Antonio Perria, a Sardinian journalist and writer, he would work on this weekly for the rest of his life.
Jazz found a home beside Milan’s canals with the birth of the Capolinea venue, where the staged played host to the world’s leading jazz musicians. Maurizio became a fixture on the scene, and he produced a rich array of drawings, portraits and posters, focusing particularly on Afro-American music.
1971 saw him working on Ca balà magazine, which ushered in a new season of Italian satire. In 1972 he contributed to L’Arcibraccio, another satirical publication, put together by Luca Aurelio Staletti, an agent of the most transgressive transalpine illustrators.
The monthly magazine Linus, which until then had preferred to feature American, British and French cartoons, underwent a change of ownership and management, with Oreste del Buono taking over at the helm from Giovanni Gandini. The new editor opened the doors wide to Italian authors and artists, and from 1973 Maurizio’s cartoons appeared frequently in the annual almanacs and the supplements to the magazine.
In the same period, he also worked on a parody of the famous Bernardo Bertolucci film, entitled Ultimo Tango a fumetti [Last Tango as a Cartoon] which, just like the original movie, was seized by the authorities.
His comic strip Lessico Familiare [Familiar Sayings] appeared in Epoca, a weekly current affairs periodical, in 1974.
In 1975, he published his book on the twenty-year Fascist period, entitled Eia Eia trallallà, featuring elements of satire, illustration and cartoons.
Thus began his partnership with the Quipos agency, run by Marcelo and Coleta Ravoni, which represented him together with the leading Argentinian names in cartoons and illustrated humour, who in those years, following the coup d'état of General Videla, had decided to take shelter in Milan.
Through this channel, he received the commissions for a chapter in a collectively authored book on Casanova (to which Dino Battaglia, Lorenzo Mattotti, Enric Sió, Altan, Oski and Guido Crepax all participated) and a story in Eureka with words by Max Bunker.
He then worked on the satirical magazine I quaderni del Sale, edited by Pino Zac, until it closed, giving birth in the process to the weekly periodical Il Male, to which Maurizio, however, did not contribute. In 1978, Altan supplied the words while Maurizio perfected the character of Morgan on the pages of Alter Alter.
In the meantime, his comic strips appeared in various humorous periodicals, including La Bancarella and Humor Graphic, as well as satirical magazine Cane Caldo, and on the mailbag pages of Linus.
In 1980, Editiemme published his book La dinastia dei Miller, recycling a story published in 1973, Philadelphia Miller, il Mancino, and adding a second chapter to it, Il figlio di Philadelphia Miller. His collaboration with the publisher Dario Mogno, thanks in part to the support of Luigi F. Bona, continued over the subsequent years, with him serving as illustrator for various titles in the medical sector, and specifically for Tempo medico and The Practitioner edizione italiana.
Again in 1980, he worked on the story Solo chi cade può risorgere: Lo scandalo dei danni di guerra, published as part of the Storie d’Italia (a fumetti): di scandalo in scandalo, an unusual project for the weekly news magazine Panorama.
Schizzofrenia, from 1982, compiled the comic strips he had drawn in the late ’70s and early ’80s. His satirical work continued through partnerships with the re-born Il Sale and with Pino Zac’s off-kilter L’anamorfico in 1984.
Once more for Editiemme, having been commissioned by Janssen Farmaceutica, his illustrations for health-awareness and dietary information campaigns were compiled in a dedicated book. Up until his death, he was responsible for the cartoon section entitled Fffortissimo in Musica Jazz, for which he also designed album covers.
He died unexpectedly during the night of 12 July 1987, at the age of fifty-three, and was buried in the cemetery in Bergamo.