Diabolik is a cult Italian comic book that narrates the story of an astute, highly intelligent thief who has been an anti-hero for many years. Born in the 1960s, Diabolik was conceived as a refreshing evening read for passengers of Milanese evening commuter trains—and has remained popular ever since.
The series’ main characters are thief Diabolik; Eva, his girlfriend; Inspector Ginko, the main antagonist; and lastly, Diabolik’s Jaguar E-type, considered the fourth main character of the series. Taking place in the fictional European town of Clerville, the stories of the Diabolik series are numerous, and all show Diabolik’s skill in investigation, robbery, assassination—and evading the law.
To understand how a uniquely Italian master thief came to use a Jaguar E-Type as his getaway car, and why the series has been such an influence on modern culture, I met with the CEO of Diabolik, Mario Gomboli.
Jacopo Villa: How did Diabolik come to life?
Mario Gomboli: Diabolik was born in 1962 from the mind of Angela Giussani, one of the two sisters who wrote and drew the series. She was an avid reader of French feuilletons like Arsène Lupin, Fantômas, and Rocambole, she had the idea of transferring the same kind of adventures from 19th Century Paris to a modern context, in order to create a new illustrated comic book whose main character is for the first time, a winning villain.
Diabolik is an astute thief and an assassin: the complete opposite to what people was used to at that time. It was also one of the first comic books made for an adult audience rather than kids. At that time, she was married to editor Gino Sansoni, and was working as a secretary for him. Sansoni did not believe that two women could create successful comic books, so she immediately resigned her position and founded the publishing house Astorina. The first issues were published once every two months, but success came with the third publication of the series.
JV: How did you meet Angela Giussani and how was it like to work with her and her sister, Luciana Giussani?
MG: I started writing stories for them in 1966, when I was in my last year of high school and always worked for them, even during university and difficult times. They were incredible women, very intelligent and very brave: in a time where women were still poorly considered, Angela was one of the first women to obtain both a driver’s and pilot’s license! I remember well when I had my first white hair: I took a ride in her Mini Cooper and she drove like crazy on the highway!
Diabolik is a reflection of the Giussani sisters’ attitude. It’s a non-conforming series; just think how Diabolik dresses: a tight black suit as he operates during the night, the opposite to the clothing of most comic book protagonists, who prefer a more flamboyant style. Think also about his partner Eva Kant and her classic chignon hair style: in the ‘60s, only Grandma Duck had it and now it is a symbol of elegance and style!
JV: So, why does Diabolik drive a Jaguar?
MG: The Jaguar E-Type was chosen by Angela for purely aesthetic reasons, as she really liked the car when it came out. The Giussanis didn’t know much about cars, but both the E-Type, and Inspector Ginko’s Citröen DS were chosen at first because they looked good.
JV: Did Jaguar appreciate that you used the E-Type as the main ride for Diabolik?
MG: No, not at all! In fact, they once told us to stop calling the car “Jaguar” as it was perceived as a “thief’s car”, an unwanted image that the company thought would turn customers away! What’s funny is that in 1991 for the E-Type 30th anniversary, they asked us to use some of our drawings for the commemorative book! Happily, from then on, the car was universally known as the “Diabolik’s Jaguar.”
JV: Tell me more about the kind of trickery the car has to evade the police.
MG: Of course, the car has its own tricks. It’s been modified with almost any kind of trickery imaginable. The car has had everything: an integrated motorcycle in the back, extendable wheels, flotation, ejection seats, and many other things a thief needs to evade capture.
JV: How is Diabolik different from James Bond and other similar characters?
MG: Diabolik and the other characters are very interesting and complex. Diabolik himself is rich in psychological perspectives: he is an astute thief with a very articulate personality and has his own elegance, finesse and moral values. He is ferocious, brutal, and a cold calculator when needed, but he’s never sadistic or obsessive. He is also a lover who protects and looks after Eva. Thanks to this psychological complexity we were able to create more than 850 different stories over the years.
JV: Was Diabolik inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels?
MG: No, it wasn’t. The idea of an heavily modified car was independent and not inspired by James Bond novels. Angela and Luciana did not know the existence of 007, so it was completely their idea.
With our time together drawing to a close, I wish Gomboli well and go on my way to the Cadorna train station, holding the copy of Diabolik given to me after the interview. Like many commuters before me, it’s time to see how Diabolik is able to evade Inspector Ginko.