Diabolik is a fictional character, an anti-hero featured in Italian comics. He was created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani in 1962. His stories appear in monthly black and white digest-sized booklets. The character was inspired by several previous characters from Italian and French pulp fiction.
Creation and development
Diabolik was born from seeing commuters every day. Creator Angela Giussani, who lived near Milano Cadorna Railway Station, thought of making comics in a format designed for travelling and carrying in one’s pocket. To better understand the tastes of her potential readers, Angela made a survey of the market, from which she concluded that many commuters read mystery novels; another version of the story claims that the very idea came from her finding a Fantomas novel abandoned in a train. Thus was born the “Diabolik format” (a small 12 x 17 cm (7 in) book), which proved popular with other publications in the same genre. The pocketbook format contributed, in fact, to the success of the character.
Diabolik is a ruthless master thief. He typically steals from criminals (and has no issue with killing them if need be, but rarely, if ever, kills the innocent or the police), and has a set of lifelike masks which he uses to fool his opponents, assuming every identity at his will. He seems to have a deep knowledge in many scientific fields, including chemistry, mechanics and computers. In his first appearances, Diabolik was a more straightforward villain who did not hesitate to murder anyone in order to accomplish his deeds. He was later given a more “Robin Hood”-like persona and was shown stealing essentially from criminals, in order to soften the series’ violence and amorality.
He was raised as an orphan on a secret island hideout of a criminal combine, where he learned all his criminal skills, including developing his special masks, before killing the head of the combine. Diabolik’s true name had never been revealed in the series, and he doesn’t know it himself. Diabolik took his name from a dangerous black panther that the head of the combine killed on the secret island. From issue #3 of the series, Diabolik is aided by his “moll,” Eva Kant, who has gained an increasing role as his partner and lover.
Diabolik and Eva Kant portrayed by Sergio Zaniboni.
Diabolik always drives a black 1961 Jaguar E-type. Graphically inspired by the actor Robert Taylor, he usually wears a skintight black body suit that leaves only his eyes and eyebrows (very distinctive ones) exposed when going “into action.” Diabolik does not use firearms: his main weapons are the daggers he throws with uncanny ability, as well as a small dart gun with knockout darts. Eva drives a white Jaguar, and unusually goes into action wearing a heavy sweater and pants, no mask and no revealing clothing. The stories are set in a fictional town, Clerville, loosely inspired by Geneva, Switzerland.
Diabolik’s main opponent is Inspector Ginko, known only by his surname, a fierce police officer who is always thwarted by astute tricks devised by Diabolik. The only other recurring character is the noblewoman Altea, Ginko’s fiancee.
Many of the Diabolik stories are set in the fictional city of Clerville, which is located in a state also named Clerville. However, in the first issues of the series, Diabolik carried out his heists in Marseilles, but the authors decided to invent a new city, so as to avoid having to do continual documentation on the city.
It is clear that Clerville is in Europe, since in 2002, it adopted the Euro as its currency; the city’s previous currency had never been named, but had the same value as the Italian lira.
The state of Clerville also includes other cities, such as Ghenf, the second most important city in the state which is situated on the sea (Clerville, the city, is located in the interior and is crossed by a river).
Diabolik first appeared in print on November 1, 1962 with the title Il Re del Terrore (in English: “The King of Terror”). Since 1997 a series of annual books with more complex stories has been released. The Giussani sisters wrote many of the stories until 1980s, passing them gradually to Patricia Martinelli’s – and others’ – hands. The main bulk of the artwork is executed by Sergio Zaniboni, who has been drawing Diabolik since 1969 (currently sharing the role withGiorgio Montorio). Other artists working on the series include Brenno Fiumali, Franco Paludetti, Enzo Facciolo and Lino Jeva.
Some American reprints have appeared. Pacific Comics Club published 2 digest-size issues in 1986. Most recently, Scorpion started to publish digests in 2000 and did 6 issues before stopping.
Italian filmmaker Mario Bava adapted the story for a 1968 feature film, Danger: Diabolik, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and starring John Phillip Law.
The film was used in the final episode of the long-running television series, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
On January 1, 2000, an animated series, produced by Saban International, premiered in Europe on Fox Kids, and lasted for 36 episodes, before ending on January 1, 2001. The series featured Diabolik and his companion Eva, as they fought and gradually exposed the Brotherhood and Dane, while evading detective Ginko. It was directed by Jean Luc Ayach with Paul Diamond and Larry Brody as head writers.
Diabolik: The Original Sin is a 2009 video game developed by Artematica and published by Black Bean Games for Wii, PlayStation Portable, PC, Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2 systems.
The popularity of Diabolik spurred a long series of characters directly or indirectly inspired to him, generally noticeable by the “criminalizing K” in their name. Some of them are a kind of satire.
In real life, Matteo Messina Denaro, a prominent figure in the Sicilian Mafia considered to be a candidate to become the next capo di tutti capi, is nicknamed “Diabolik”, after the comic book character.