Zerocalcare is the nickname of Italian comic book artist and blogger Michele Rech (Cortona, Italy, 1983), and also the name of his most popular character and the eponymous blog where his stories are collected. As the description implies, Zerocalcare's stories are mostly autobiographical, with several embellishments when not outright mixed with fantastic elements.
Rech started his career in high school by drawing a story about the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, and by drawing fanzines, posters and record jackets for several punk rock and hardcore punk local bands. While most of his body of work is political in nature and thus only known to specific circles, he became known to the mainstream when he opened his "comics blog" in late 2011, a genre virtually unheard of in Italy. Word of mouth quickly spread and his humorous musings on life became incredibly popular thanks to the power of social networks.
This sudden popularity led him to make a contract with an important Italian comic book publisher, who published eight books so far (two of which are collections of strips from the blog plus some new content), all meeting critical success in his home country. It also led to a few problems since he still needs to get used to this newfound fame.
In 2014 Rech himself made a post about The Movie of his first book La profezia dell'armadillo being made, with him as one of the scriptwriters. However, the years passed with no other news about it, so most people assumed it had been cancelled. Then in late 2017 it was apparently Saved from Development Hell, and it eventually came out in September 2018, but with no further comments by Rech who apparently disassociated himself from the project. It was probably for the best, since it was critically panned for being formulaic, badly acted and not even trying to adapt the comic medium to the big screen, with some embarrassing missteps (such as the Armadillo being portrayed by a guy in a poorly-done costume).
At the end of 2020 Netflix unveiled the teaser trailer for an animated series called Strappare lungo i bordi, which is going to be written and directed by Rech himself and will feature Zero, the Armadillo and all the main characters from his comic strips.
- Bibliography (only published works):
- La profezia dell'armadillo
- Un polpo alla gola
- Ogni maledetto lunedì su due (strip collection)
- Dimentica il mio nome
- L'elenco telefonico degli accolli (strip collection)
- Kobane Calling
- Macerie Prime and its sequel Macerie Prime - sei mesi dopo
- La scuola di pizze in faccia del professor Calcare (strip collection)
- A babbo morto. Una storia di Natale
The author and his works provide examples of:
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: His Author Avatar has enormous bushy ones. Thankfully his brows in real life aren't quite as thick.
- Darkness Equals Death: Every time the background of a panel (or of the entire page) becomes black, you know things are going to go south.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In his early autobiographical stories he didn't have the habit of turning people into funny animals or pop culture characters, so for example his father was represented as he probably actually was in real life. Now he always draws him as Mr. Ping from Kung Fu Panda.
- French Belgian Comic Books: His works are heavily influenced by French comic books (much more so than American comic books or other Italian fumetti), also because of his French heritage by part of his mother.
- Funny Animal: Given that he often depicts people as popular culture characters (see Reference Overdosed below), it's almost inevitable. One of them who doesn't seem to be inspired by anything is his friend "Cinghiale" ("Boar"), represented, well, as a boar, since he appears to be a particularly slovenly, rude and sex-obsessed person.
- Imaginary Friend: The Armadillo, Zero's long-time buddy who lends his name to his first book (translated: The Armadillo Prophecy). He's more of a cartoon creature than a real armadillo, but then again he's fictional anyway. Once the Armadillo met another imaginary friend: a hulking, monstrous, silent creature. It was actually the representation of Zero's friend Camille's eating disorders, that tragically led her to an early death.
- Another notable imaginary friend is the Pisolone in Dimentica il Mio Nome, a bear-shaped sleeping bag representing Zero's desire for security. Turns out he's the Big Bad, an embodiement of a legal system that, under the pretense of "security", strips people of privacy and suppresses anyone considered unacceptable or uncontrollable.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The second part of "Macerie prime" came out six months after the first one (as the subtitle states), which is also the amount of time that has passed in-story. The liner notes state that you shouldn't go and read again the first part, in order to share the characters' status of confusion and uncertainty.
- Left Hanging: One of the short stories had Zero find Denver's corpse. However that plot point was almost immediately dropped. To this day, fans still ask him what happened to Denver every now and then.
- Limited Wardrobe: In the strips Zero is always dressed in blue jeans and a black T-shirt with a stylized skull on it.
- Line-of-Sight Name: The name "Zerocalcare" holds no particular significance. When he was young he needed a handle to register to an internet forum and he chose this nickname in reference to the ads of a then-popular descaling product. The name stuck and the rest is history.
- Occidental Otaku:
- Zero in his youth had shades of this. He went to a cultural centre to learn Japanese language and culture because he said he liked Japanese girls and people, and half-jokingly said that ninjas and Godzilla were an integral part of his culture. Anime are also a fairly large part of the many, many references he makes.
- Massimo AKA "Paturnia" from Scheletri is a much darker example. A psychotic thug and drug dealer, "Paturnia" is seemingly obsessed with Japan's culture: he has lots of tattoos, sings anime openings, quotes the Bushido and is said to have murdered someone with a katana.
- Orphaned Series: Caldaje, a webcomic he made together with another famous italian artist, Giacomo "Keison" Bevilacqua. Only three chapters were uploaded, then it just stopped updating altogether.
- Pun-Based Title: "Macerie prime" is a wordplay between "materie prime" (raw materials) and "macerie" (rubble, wreckage) since half of the story is set in a metaphorical post-apocalyptic world and the narration reflects on what are the most basic things that make us human.
- Reference Overdosed: Every one of his strips is packed with references to famous icons of 80s and 90s popular culture. It's not just to show his knowledge of nerd culture, but he uses the references to immediately denote his characters and abstract feelings without the need to give too many explanations, while also to avoid using their real likenesses. Example: he always draws Zero's mother as Lady Kluck from Robin Hood to signify she's maternal but also tough and strong-willed. Likewise, negative feelings take the form of Freddy Krueger, Darth Vader and other villains from popular culture.
- Self-Deprecation: His mainstream strips often depict him/Zero as a wimpy, unlucky nerd. That's probably what makes him so endearing to the readers.
- He also is shown to be very critical of his younger self. In particular, he comments with contempt the red crest he used to have every single time he draws it.
- Splash of Color: Dimentica il mio nome is in black and white like all of Rech's work, but the foxes are colored orange. And so is the hair of the humans they turned into, to help the reader identify them and their relatives including Zero's mom, and also to signify they are not a part of normal society.
- The Stinger: In many of his books so far.
- La profezia dell'armadillo: A shot of all the main characters when they were young, discussing their future.
- Un polpo alla gola: The skull's origins.
- Ogni maledetto lunedì su due: A shot of Zero and Armadillo listening to music.
- Dodici: How Zero was injured.
- Dimentica il mio nome: Who's the animal little Zero and his grandma brought chicken every week. He's not only a fox, but Zero's grandfather.
- Macerie prime: The fate of their friend "Lemur", often mentioned by Zero and his circle of friends but never actually appearing. They even joked that she joined ISIS. She actually just found a very time-consuming job.
- Translation Convention: In the notes for Kobane Calling, the diary of his real-life trip to the war-torn Syrian regions, he says that he couldn't speak the natives' language and always had to rely on interpreters, but drew Zero being able to speak to everyone for the reader's sake.
- Zombie Apocalypse: He is fond of drawing zombies, and Dodici is a Zombie Apocalypse story set in the real-life places where he is currently living.