Massimo Gamberi is the creative talent behind the stunning and phestive Christmas-themed cover for Frew's 2017 Christmas Special, currently on sale on newsstands around Australia and winging it's way around the world.
Massimo is considered a "future art comic superstar" by the prominent Phantom artist Sal Velluto, and it is a real coup for Frew to have him join their stable of cover artists.
Friend of the ChronicleChamber, Anthony Gillies, has been kind enough to chat with Massimo on our behalf and share a written interview with the Italian artist for the benefit of phans around the world. Anthony and Massimo have worked hard to overcome the language barrier, and between them provided a wonderful read for us all.
Thanks Anthony for your great work!!
I wish to thank interpreter Annarita Guarnieri for her sterling assistance.
Anthony Gillies: Where were you born?
Massimo Gamberi: I was born on March 10th 1973 in Florence, but I presently live in Vallata del Mugello... the “green heart” of Tuscany.
AG: How old were you when you first developed an interest in drawing, and what influenced you to draw?
MG: Actually, I have been drawing since I was a child. . . it is an innate passion. I still remember my first drawing, at school: a nice Superman, complete with his shining yellow belt. I’ve always been fascinated by heroes in tights.
AG: Who encouraged your interest in drawing?
MG: Sadly enough, my parents never actively encouraged my interest in drawing. Comic books were always sort of frowned upon. As a “grown-up”, however, my wife Laura and my son Gabriele have been fundamental in supporting me and my passion.
AG: Do you have any formal art training? Art school? Design course?
MG: I attended an Art School in Florence (high-school). I have fond, enthusiastic memories of those years. . . those who, like me, wanted to create comic books were highly motivated: special, unique years indeed.
AG: Has any artist influenced your style? Who? How?
MG: What I really appreciate are true-to-life drawings, which means that the artists who mostly influenced me are those belonging to the American school of old: first and foremost, Raymond and Foster, Dan and Sy Barry, but also Starr, Drake. . . Williamson. I liked Dave Stevens very much and I’m very interested in the drawings of Mark Schultz. The author I feel most connected to, however, is Roberto Raviola, known as Magnus in the comic books world: I learned to read on his Alan Ford comic books, which are caricatural, though.
AG: Your faces remind me a little of Reuben Moreira. Is that a fair observation?
MG: Do you think so? I know Moreira for his work on Tarzan and his comic books, but I do not think he influenced me.
AG: Do you draw pencil and ink? If so, type of pencil ink? Type of ink, brush ink pen? Type of pen?
MG: I’m rather old-fashioned, which means my way of drawing is “analogical”: pencil, usually 2H and HB. As for the ink, I use many types of drawing pens, both with a graded point and brush point. Recently I found some Japanese drawing pens that make for a very flowing stroke.
AG: Do you use a computer program to draw?
MG: My drawing technique is still that of 1936, a time when computers did not exist yet. (LOL)
AG: For those not familiar with Italian comics, what work have you had published and in what comics or magazines?
MG: In the last few years I mostly worked with Anafi (Associazione Nazionale Amici del Fumetto e dell'Illustrazione) and Allagalla (a Turin publishing house). I drew magazine and book covers, and comic books, of course, for Anafi. I drew mostly western books covers for Allagalla.
AG: How long does it take you to pencil and ink a FREW-sized comic book page?
MG: I tend to take my time: one week. You must keep in mind, however, that I have a day job, too.
AG: So, what do you do for your day job?
MG: I work in the field of doors and windows manufacture (doors, handles, locks, etc.). I started drawing “seriously” only a few years ago. I usually spend 5 hours a day drawing, which means I’m not exceedingly fast. For now, I’m OK with this.
AG: Do you collect comics? If so, what? What comics did you read when you were a child and teenager?
MG: I’ve always loved comic books very much, which means I always read and collected them. I’ve always preferred the so-called “classics”, and as a child I was already fascinated by characters such as Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Rip Kirby and, of course, The Phantom. Let’s say I grew up reading the greatest U.S. authors and copying their drawings. My present tastes are still the same, more or less. In front of my drawing table I have some original strips by Al Williamson, Alex Raymond, Dan Barry, Warren Tufts. . .
AG: When were you first exposed to the Phantom? Any favourite stories? Favourite artists? What is the appeal of the Phantom to you?
MG: As I said, the Phantom has always been one of my favorite characters, also because of a TV program of the Seventies, which offered, among others, the adventures of the heroes created by Lee Falk. It was called Supergulp: my generation grew up with those wonderful shows. The Phantom’s first stories were those that most caught my imagination. . . “The Sky Band” and the whole period up to the Forties: Ray Moore is still unmatched. In later years, though, I’ve been quite impressed by Sy Barry, whose Phantom still is, in my opinion, the “final” one. Recently I’ve come to appreciate very much Sal Velluto’s interpretation of this masked hero. To me the Phantom is the very essence of ADVENTURE. . . I think this is what draws me the most, because he remained true to himself through the decades.
AG: How popular is the Phantom in Italy? Is The Phantom currently published in Italy?
MG: Here in Italy the Phantom is also called The Masked Man. He is very well known here and has been published almost continuously from the Thirties to the Nineties. In recent years he sporadically appeared on the market again. At the moment Editoriale Cosmo is publishing quite elegant hard cover volumes containing the Phantom’s Sunday strips from the Forties. . . wonderful.
AG: How did you come to FREW's notice?
MG: I’ve always been fascinated by comic book heroes of the golden age, and I always dreamed of drawing a color Sunday strip like the American ones. My chance came about one year ago, thanks to Fumetto magazine. I involved in this adventure the comic books historian Alberto Becattini, who wrote the script, and Luca Giorgi, who colored the strip “in the old style”. The page topper is taken by the retro sci-fi series Mandhro, while the remaining two thirds are devoted to the main character, The Mind, inspired to the masked heroes in the pulp novels of the early Thirties. Thanks to Sal Velluto’s praiseworthy mediation – I’ll never be able to thank him enough for this – those pages came to the attention of Frew’s editor, Glenn Ford, who immediately offered me the Phantom job.
AG: To my eyes you have the classic Phantom style. What is your inspiration when you draw the Phantom?
MG: My main source of inspiration when drawing the Phantom is Sy Barry. His Phantom is quite perfect: well-muscled, strong, but definitely not a body-builder. My intention is never to betray the character: I’m totally in the service of Lee Falk’s creation.
AG: You are currently drawing a Planetman story for FREW. You are working from a script by Christopher Sequeira. Is it a full script or are you working "Marvel style"? What input did you have into the design of Planetman's helmet and uniform?
MG: Right. . . since the Phantom’s script wasn’t ready yet, Glenn asked me to work on Planetman first, a superhero from the Fifties, and I accepted with pleasure. Christopher Sequeira’s script is very detailed and well written. . . he managed to put a lot of pathos in it. I mean, it’s not just the usual superheroes story. Chris already had a clear idea of what to do, he did not want just a retro story in the Buck Rogers style. Of course, I was quite ready to realize a Buck Rogers story (LOL). Joking aside, I worked on the character’s looks, because he had to look like the Planetman of the Fifties and at the same time have a modern look. The hero’s symbol has been suggested by Chris and digitally realized by Luca Giorgi, who also helped me with all the special effects. You will soon be able to see the results with your own eyes.
AG: Your Christmas cover will appeal to older phans for nostalgic reasons and should appeal to young phans if they can be dragged away from their computer games. What was your inspiration for the cover? Were you given any instructions in drawing the covers? Roughly how many hours did you spend on the cover before it was coloured?
MG: That cover was really important for me: it was going to be my calling card with the Australian readers and it was also my first experience with the Phantom. Sal Velluto was extremely helpful while I was drawing that cover, assisting me with advice and suggestions: it was his idea that I should submit a double cover. Glenn Ford told me it would be a good idea to have the Phantom dressed as Santa, a suggestion I followed. It was a long job because I realized many sketches, most of all for the part to be published on the back cover. The same goes for the digital coloring: Luca Giorgi had a long job on his hands. . .
AG: You are doing a 32 page Phantom story for FREW. Is this something you can talk about?
MG: I asked Glenn to allow me to work on the Phantom set in the Thirties, possibly with a story that drew its inspiration from the adventure movies of the time. Glenn contacted the scriptwriter Pidde Andersson who got on it and realized not just one episode but two. The working title is The Kiss of the Devil.
Massive thanks again to Anthony for his initiative and to Massimo for his time. We cannot wait to see the Andersson/Gamberi collaboration, and the Planetman story too!