Zorro in Old California

By Nedaud & Carlo Marcello (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-0-91303-513-9 (HB) 978-0-91303-512-2 (Album PB)

Here’s a fabulous old classic that’s still generally available, but which really needs to relative immortality of a digital edition as well as simple revival. Let’s hope current license holders Dynamite Entertainment agree…

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite El Zorro, The Fox. He was originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’: debuting and running in All-Story Weekly from August 6th to 6th September. The tale was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co., and Tor, respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the tale in All-Story Weekly whilst on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, so New York based McCulley re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation. The Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider as well as later comics champions such as Mandrake and the Phantom.

Rouben Mamoulian’s filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the World’s psyche, and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957, the comics series was redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various regions of the world. This classy tome collects half of the dozen stories produced for a French iteration which originally ran in Le Journal de Mickey by veteran Italian artist Raphaël Carlo Marcello and relative enigma Nedaud, of whom I sadly know very little.

The celebrated and supremely stylish Marcello (1929-2007) moved to Paris in 1948 and began his long and prestigious career drawing Loana et le Masque Chinois in Aventures de Paris-Jeunes and Nick Silver for Collection Victoire. He then switched to newspaper strips for Opera Mundi in 1950, illustrating La Découverte du Monde and L’Histoire de Parisbefore adapting Ben Hur, Jane Eyre and the Bible.

In 1952, he joined Héroic, working on Oliver Twist, Gil Blas and Bug Jargal, then began a 15-year run (1955-1970) on Le Cavalier Inconnu in Pépito. He maintained ties to newspapers throughout and continued general interest literary adaptations for Mondial-Presse.

In 1956, he contributed Bob Franck to Bugs Bunny magazine and numerous strips to Lisette, Monty, Mireille, L’Intrépide/Hurrah and Rintintin. In 1970 he moved to Pif Gadget, collaborating on his signature series Docteur Justicewith prolific scenarist/writer Jean Ollivier as well as Amicalement Vôtre (a TV adaptation scripted Spanish by the legendary Victor Mora), Taranis (scripts by Ollivier & Mora), Tarao (by Roger Lécureux) and La Guerre du Feu.

Barely stopping for breath, Marcello illustrated John Parade, Patrouilleur de l’Espace, in Le Journal des Pieds Nickelés, the Larousse series L’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées, La Découverte du Mond and L’Histoire du Far West until 1985 when he joined Le Journal de Mickey to render Le Regard du Tigre, Le Club des Cinq and the subject of this collection.

Solidly based on the 1950s TV series, Zorro ran for a year (1985-1986): 12 rousing swashbuckling romps, the first half of which are collected in this slim, full colour European-format album. After these thundering epics, Marcello carried on improving, drawing sci fi extravaganza Cristal, epigrammatic short stories Voulez-vous de Nos Nouvelles?, Michael Jackson, Wayne Thunder, L’Épopée du Paris Saint-Germain and mature-reader series Nuit Barbare and Amok.

In 1991 he returned to his hometown of Vintimille where he ended his days drawing episodes of iconic Italian series Tex and Zagor for Il Giornalino and Bonelli publishing.

Here and now, however, Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a noble house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession. He used the masked persona of Zorro the Fox to right wrongs, defend the weak and champion the oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – gleefully thwarting the schemes of Capitan Monastario, his bumbling sergeant Garcia and the despicable Governor who were determined to milk the populace for all they had.

In his crusade Diego was aided by Bernardo (the “deaf-mute” manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and the good will of the overwhelmed and overtaxed people of Los Angeles.

Whenever Zorro appeared, he left his mark – a bold letter “Z” – carved into walls, doors, curtains, but never, ever, faces…

Written for an all-ages audience, these stories, each around 10 pages long, play out an exotic eternal, riotous game of tag, beginning with ‘Wanted!’ as a huge reward galvanises the town to hunt the Fox… until Zorro turns the tables by capturing the Capitan and ransoming him back, thereby emptying the military coffers.

In ‘The Assassins’, bandits posing as patriotic rebels capture the masked hero as part of their plan to murder the Governor and loot the ever-growing township, whilst ‘Double Agent’ sees Monastario blackmail a girl into betraying the wily avenger, but once again misjudges Zorro’s ability to connect with the downtrodden Californios…

‘The Scarecrow’ sees the hero thwart a plot to discredit the Fox’s reputation as the unscrupulous Capitan employs a murderous masked impostor, after which ‘Tight as a Noose’ sees Monastario arrest Diego’s father Don Alejandro for treason to entrap the mysterious vigilante, before this rip-roaring rollercoaster ride concludes with ‘The Winds of Rebellion’ as the latest illegal tax rouses the town council against the Capitan and Zorro gets involved to prevent bloodshed and potentially appalling state reprisals…

Full-bodied, all-action and beautifully realised, these classy adventures of a global icon are long overdue for a comprehensive and complete re-release, but until then at least this terrific tome is still readily available in both hardback and softcover through many online retailers.
® and © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.