Comics fans from Italy, a large portion of the Balkans and Turkey have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of Zagor comics series, which for decades has been one of the most popular in the region.
The first episode featuring Zagor was published on June 15, 1961 by the Italian publishing company Sergio Bonelli Editore. The comics was made by Sergio Bonelli (1932-2011) who then used the pseudonym Guido Nolitta, and the illustrator Gallieno Ferri.
Over the years the comics of the series were created by dozens of other writers and artists. Similar to Marvel Universe, the virtual world of Zagor expanded and intertwined with crossovers with other Bonelli series, such as Martin Mystery and Dragonero.
Ferri later drew majority of the front pages of the comics series, which had at least one edition per month, and become legend among the fan community. His death in 2016 incited widespread expressions of mourning online. In the following tweet, a fan shows that Zagor’s weapon, the stone hatchet, was added to his funeral wreath.
— Alessandro Di Nocera (@AlexDiNocera) April 6, 2016
Main characters of the comics are the American strongman Zagor, whose nickname is short form from an native American name name “Za-Gor Te-Nay”, whose fictional meaning is “The Spirit with the Hatchet”, and his inseparable sidekick the Mexican comic relief Chico, whose full name is Felipe Cayetano Lopez Martinez y Gonzales. Zagor’s given name, Patrick Wilding, has been mentioned sparingly in only several episodes, and in commemorative articles such as this one.
The comics was initially created as a Western, with the basic location of the adventures taking place in the first half of the 19th century in the imaginary region of Darkwood, somewhere between Pennsylvania and Michigan in today’s USA.
However, the series quickly surpassed genre boundaries, which possibly contributed to its longevity. Many of the storylines deal with science fiction – steampunk, horror, epic phantasy, as well as detective plots, comedy and parody. They are often inspired by literary or film classics – from Cervantes to J. F. Cooper to Bram Stoker to J. R. R. Tolkien.
Zagor stories sometimes reference historical developments and events also, but without strict obligation for accuracy of the historical details. For instance, most of the firearms depicted in the comics, such as revolvers using fixed cartridges and repeating rifles, have been invented several decades after the nominal time period.
The character of Zagor is a kind of superhero, wearing a characteristic costume featuring red sleeveless shirt and yellow and black emblem, but without supernatural powers besides extreme fitness and dexterity. He is closer to Lee Falk’s Phantom, Tarzan, and Batman than Superman or Spiderman. His life mission is fight for justice and defense of innocents.
While originally targeting young adult/teenage audiences, over time the series increasingly featured more serious themes which in mid-20th century were confined to comics for adults, such as standing up to racism and slavery, consequences of colonial genocides, different forms of violence including rape.
The first Zagor comics in Yugoslavia was published in 1968 and soon become one of the most popular pulp fiction publications, a flagship of Novi Sad-based Dnevnik publishing company, and their imprints Zlatna serija (Golden Series), Lunov Magnus Strip (Lun’s Magnus Comics) and Strip zabavnik (Comics Entertainment Magazine).
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, several local publishers in succeeding states continued publishing Zagor’s adventures, the most durable being Veseli Četvrtak from Serbia and Ludens from Croatia. After 2000, attempts to publish Zagor comics took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Agarthi Comics with 3 episodes, two short-lived editions in Albanian language in Kosovo, and three publishing endeavors in North Macedonia.
Macedonian editions of Zagor were published by Mega press 33 with 25 episodes in 2005, and Varm Comics with about ten episodes in 2009. The latest Macedonian publisher of Bonelli comics is M-Comics from Skopje, which published around twenty issues between 2014 and 2018.
Besides Italy and Yugoslavia, Zagor was published in Greece, Israel and Austria.
During the 1960s and 1970s the comics series was so popular in Turkey that domestic filmmakers made two feature films about him: Zagor kara bela (Zagor’s Dark Trouble) and Zagor kara korsan’in hazineleri (Zagor and Black Pirate’s Treasure). Both are available online.
In recent years, there were attempts to promote Zagor at the US market. One of his recent crossovers is with DC’s superhero Flash.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary, Bonelli publishing company has been publishing a range of special editions of classic and new Zagor episodes during June 2021.