“Every drawing owns a story that ends in itself.” Paolo di Orazio
Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Italian writer-artist Paolo di Orazio to my blog. Paolo and I didn’t meet at Stokercon, although we should have (it’s a long story!).
Paolo, you’re a horror writer and artist. This seems very unfair to me ‒ that some people can be extremely talented in more than one area. So, which came first for you, writing or art?
Thank you so much for these kind words, Lee.
Since a little child, I have been hypnotised by comics and illustrated books of fairy tales. My fascination was strong for both writing and art, and that pushed me to draw and copy the comics I read. Now, I could say writing comes first, because currently I’m engaged in several novel projects. Writing is one kinda love: to build and move characters with words as if I were a movie director. My writing work is building – like painting. And the history that I’m writing down is perfect only when the events and characters move themselves with their own life.
Drawing is another way of building, but much harder for me. I draw less than I write, so at times my hand does not follow my ideas as I would like. Recently, I illustrated the Bram Stoker Award winning poetry book Eden Underground by Alessandro Manzetti. And our collaborative anthology The Monster, the Bad and the Ugly which we were signing at StokerCon 2016 ‒ that contains a short graphic novel illustrated by me. Up until 1997, I drew regularly. Now, if I want to elicit my best artwork, I must have a true project, a concrete destination. If I have no stress, I have no desire, no power to draw. If someone asks me to draw, I do it.
Instead, writing is just an addiction. A road that never stops.
Does one discipline feed into the other? Does your writing inspire your art and vice versa, or does your inspiration for the two art forms come from different places?
Art and writing are separated fields in my soul, in a certain sense. They exist with no mutual connections. The illustrations can be isolated from any story I might write.
Every drawing owns a story that ends in itself.” — Paolo di Orazio
My latest novel (released only in Italian) and entitled Debbi La Strana (Cut Up Publishing, 2014), is richly illustrated with images I made to accompany the script. This arose because the editor in chief, Stefano Fantelli, asked me to produce a straight crossover between the novel form and art. Sometimes, I’ll sketch a figure on black paper that will act like a fire-starter for my writing. Or maybe I’ll have in my mind an image from another artist through which I will find an inspirational portal for (and from) a new story.
Still, the memory or image of something or someone I saw somewhere can help me to tease out a theme or a character to create a new story.
In a deeper sense, I make images with my writing. In this way, I can say that my action of creating images comes before the real writing performance (and without wasting paper and colours).
Do you have any particular media you prefer to work with? (Please don’t say the blood of children!)
Ah ah ah. No blood, no. I can’t stand watching somebody bleeding or suffering. Only writing. When I write a story that makes my readers happy, well, then I’m sure I’ve produced my best work.
And what made you gravitate to horror? Were you the sort to pull the wings off flies as a child?
In my family, I grew up with books and Marvel and DC Warren comics all around me. Above all, I was influenced by illustrated books of human anatomy. The skulls and viscera were realized in primary colours ‒ red, yellow and blue – just like the 70’s Marvel Fantastic Four Jack Kirby version, and sometimes in green like The Hulk. So, I was attracted by every book or comic book that showed a skeleton on the cover. Plus, in the early 70’s in Italy, we experienced the first wave of horror cinema advertising. Giant street posters were displayed throughout the cities: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, The Omen, beside Dario Argento’s first films through to Deep Red and all the scary mondo-cane movies. My eyes took in this horror-in-images and it filled my soul forever. The final seduction came about through the original LP scores that my elder sister brought home after going to the cinema, and which we played daily on our record player.
So, up until now, my wings have taken flight of their own accord, towards instant images in my mind. These are the frames that I put together and connect one by one to create the pavement for a story, useful bricks of lights for my written show.
So often we associate Italy with pasta, Vespas and impeccably tailored suits. But it seems Italy has a dark underbelly, too. Would you say your country has its own unique brand of horror?
I think that every place in the world, every country, possesses a dark vein. All around the world, human beings have a need for stories about good and evil. For sure, the Italian mainstream publishing houses are no longer interested in horror (resulting in a poorer culture for the masses), but I can say that ever since Dante’s Inferno Italian readers are strongly fascinated by cruel and amazing stories. Other literary masters have weighed in on our decadent and controversial society: Pier Paolo Pasolini made this point in a dry realistic way, Dino Buzzati did the same using fantasy-pop. All of this is not so distant from decadent Baudelaire’s poetry. Only Buzzati talked about strange creatures, weird stories, quite like his almost-contemporary Lovecraft.
As I mentioned earlier, during the 70’s in Italy, horror books, cinema and comics made a big market trend, creating a massive fever throughout the nation. It was a good time to be in the horror business. It confirmed a deep ‘nature-in-dark’ amongst Italian audiences. With the coming of Stephen King’s Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining (discovered on screen first and later through books), we also saw a rise in the success of comic books dedicated to horror culture, success which lasted throughout the 80’s and into the mid-90’s. I was one of the creators of the last cult comic book, named «Splatter» (1989-’91), for which we were accused of inciting people to murder by our then parliament (along with my first collection – now My Early Crimes by Raven’s Head Press). That was a big deal for me!
You have released several books, including some with your colleague Alessandro Manzetti, although not all of them have been translated into English (which is sad for us!). How important is it to get the right translator for your work, and how difficult is it to achieve?
I am so lucky to have met my friend Alessandro. For so long, he’s dreamed of introducing me to the anglo-american world of professional horror writers, making me join the HWA after 30 years in the Italian horror market. Working with him, is our current editor, Jodi Renée Lester, who does a a fantastic job editing our stories from text translated by Alessandro. Only two of my twelve books have been released in English: My Early Crimes and The Monster, The Bad and The Ugly. Plus, I have a little ebook anthology called Dark Gates, which I did with Alessandro. I rediscovered myself in the English form. It was like being born again. Thanks to Alessandro’s and Jodi’s work (including on My Early Crimes, which was translated by editor Michael Hudson). I’m not Dante, for sure, but I think it is important that translation has preserved the images I’ve drawn with my words, with my unique voice. My team did it. Because if they can amaze me with my own words, the same may happen for my readers.
Of all the stories in the world, which one would you most like to illustrate?
I’d like to illustrate Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and The Damnation Game, and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, too. Books that influenced me in a ‘hurting’ way.
You’re overnighting in a crypt with only one candle. Which book will you take with you?
The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell!
Can you name some Italian masters of the dark arts whose work we should check out?
Wow, that is some incredible work. Thank you for those links and for sharing some of your own gorgeous artwork with us. So what’s coming up? Any new projects? What are you working on now?
Right now I am writing an apocalyptic novel for release in November. Next, for Italian market, I am about to release a massive anthology of short tales which I published between 1992-2014 called Nero Metafisico. Horror, of course.
Thank you so much, Paolo, for stopping in and sharing your insights with us. And the latest news from Italy is that, swept up in the excitement of Alessandro Manzetti’s Bram Stoker win, the Italian arm of the Horror Writers’ Association has teamed up with Horror Magazine as its media partner, so we can expect to see some incredible work from that quarter.