Monday, January 28, 2008


Gabbia d'oro (Golden Cage) is a pre-war Italian jungle perils comics album published in 1938 by Nerbini which is of interest due to both the name behind it and also for its disreputable content.
Both the art and the story are credited to Giove Toppi (1888-1942). Toppi was initially an illustrator for the Florence-based publisher Nerbini. When Nerbini started publishing comics, Toppi joined in the staff of this craft as well. He single-handedly earned his name a permanent place in the history of European comics by making a gag-comics featuring Mickey Mouse for the cover of the first issue of Nerbini's Topolino comics weekly in 1932:
However, Topolino had been started without license from Disney and from the 3rd issue onwards, Mickey Mouse proper would have to be dropped from the magazine upon Disney's legal intervention until Nerbini would get the rights of Disney comics for the Italian market. In the meantime, Toppi made gag-comics featuring another (non-Mickey) mouse for Topolino:
When Nerbini became the legal publisher of Disney material, it would be Toppi who would illustrate most of the covers of the first series Italian Disney comics albums in 1935, such as the below cover:

Another retrospectively interesting episode in Toppi's career came when he collaborated with Federico Fellini in the comics field! In 1937, long before he would embark on a famed career in cinema, then 17 years-old Fellini had moved to Florence and began working for Nerbini as a writer. When Italy's fascist government banned the import of American comics in 1938, Nerbini would begin producing local-made versions of these popular comics and Fellini was among the script writers of this obligatory fad with Toppi at the art chores. The fruits of the collaboration between Fellini and Toppi reportedly include one Flash Gordon comics.

Gabbia d'oro, on the other hand is a solo effort by Toppi. It was published in Turkey as no. 22 (Oct. 1941) of 1001 Roman's monthly special issues. The Turkish edition might be slightly abridged as there are some unresolved sub-plots. Nevertheless, the main plot appears complete in its essentials. The hero is an Italian named Mario who is accompanying a British archeolog and his daughter Alice in an expedition in black Africa. Despite Mario's objections, Alice secretly joins a research party to locate the treasures of a "savage" tribe and eventually gets captured. The natives see in her the return of their divine Daughter of the Sun (Alice had landed in an aeroplane). She demands to be released, even calling the natives' chief as an "ape-man". The chief says that the "civilization has made her rebellious", but that he "knows how to tame her." Consequently, she is locked up in a golden cage to stay there "till her nerves calm down." Mario saves her by massacring the whole tribe with a machine gun and the archeolog confiscates the natives' treasure, including the golden cage. The comics end by Mario warning Alice that he will lock her up in the golden cage whenever she makes him angry and she submissively replies as "understood, love".
The obvious colonialist trajectory of Gabbia d'oro need no elaboration as it is apparent from the above plot summary. It suffices to add that the portrayal of one non-savage black character, "a faithful servant", is also very derogotary as his 'foolish' amazent at the westerners' technology such as aeroplanes and radio is depicted as a matter of ridicule, as in the below panel:

And yet, it shouldn't be missed that this colonialist/white-supremacist context also serves as a background for another dynamic in Gabbio d'oro, that is the fantasy for the subordination of 'rebellious' women. It is ironic that in that case, the 'savages' serve as a double for Mario himself.


'Women in cages' is an iconic image in sado-erotic imaginary and it is naturally very recurrent in exploitation cinema as well. It is also a matter of fact that comics in general has served as inspiration for many filmmakers. Jesus (Jess) Franco is one prominent European exploitation filmmaker with a professed devotion to comics. Franco has made several 'women in cages' films, but one of his more obscure movies include one episode which apparently has some semblance to Gabbia d'oro in particular. Franco's Sex Charade (1970) feature one scene where a white woman is held in a cage in what appears to be a jungle setting (see above still). Though the natives holding her captive are not African but Indian and the cage is not golden, the concomittance of 'woman in cage' and jungle natives tentatively reminds Gabbia d'oro, esp. given the fact that Franco is known to be well versed in European comics. Franco would later be involved (as assistant director) in another movie titled Une cage doree (1976) without any natives but with a golden cage holding captive women.

The Films of Federico Fellini by Peter E. Bondanella
'Manacoa Files' by Alain Petit in Cine Zine Zone

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