What is a Nightmare Investigator? A psychoanalyst expert in bad dreams would probably answer Groucho, «the assistant, friend and personal pain in the ass» of Dylan Dog, a character created by Tiziano Sclavi in 1986, the leading hero of the Sergio Bonelli Editore comics. Translated and also published abroad, brought to the big screen several times, he will soon be the protagonist of an international television series, confirming his extraordinary, we could say almost supernatural, success. Dylan Dog, an ex-alcoholic and ex-cop, is an investigator specializing in investigations that apparently have nothing rational, but in the end revealing themselves simply human cases, sometimes all too human. In fact, the monsters that populate his stories – werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches and various ghosts – are almost always just victims, whose only fault is not wanting to conform to the dominant narrative.
Resembling the actor Rupert Everett, Dylan Dog always wears a black jacket over his red shirt, with jeans and Clarks completing a scruffy outfit to rack up an endless string of conquests that, to his chagrin, rarely last more than one night. Abandoned almost ten years ago by its creator in the hands of Roberto Recchioni, the character Dylan Dog has just been revived under the wing of Tiziano Sclavi, evidently dissatisfied with the changes made by the new curator. In fact, it seems that readers did not appreciate, judging by the drop in sales, the yielding to new politically correct fashions. The anti-technological Dylan, in the version managed by Recchioni, even acquires a cell phone and has to face the replacement of Inspector Bloch and agent Jenkins, surreptitiously retired, with a Muslim policeman and a policewoman and in a ridiculously paradoxical register, Groucho and Dylan Dog celebrate a surreal wedding, and so on with changes which, by dint of distorting the character, have caused the collapse, together with the universe of the investigator of the nightmare, even the copies purchased on newsstands. Many loyal fans preferred to stop reading a comic that no longer corresponded to their tastes, or switched to substitutes, such as the bimonthly Old Boy, which kept the old Dylan alive and Inspector Bloch in service. Now, with a trilogy whose first two episodes have already been released on newsstands, Dylan Dog goes back to his origins: in fact, it seems that these ten years have only been a misunderstanding, or rather, a nightmare from which we readers will wake up, finding with register no. 437 the old and dear investigator of the supernatural as we had known him, without any more winks at the fluid or colorful fashions of the moment, perhaps without a cell phone and with the reappearance of Inspector Bloch and his trusted Jenkins.
Making us appreciate even more what we hope will be a true return to the origins is The philosophy of Dylan Dog and other nightmares, by Giulio Giorello (Mimesis, 122 pages, 12 euros, in bookstores from 27 January). The well-known philosopher of science who died a year and a half ago was a passionate reader of comics and among his favourites, alongside Mickey Mouse and Tex, was Dylan Dog himself, regardless of the apparent contradiction between those who, like him, taught the scientific method and who, like the nightmare investigator, relies on his “fifth sense and a half” to solve the most difficult cases. Philosophy, writes Giorello, serves to live and to get used to thinking, and when Dylan Dog reminds us that the world is a chessboard, and our life is a game with death, he plays with the philosophy we studied at school, turning it around with his typical disenchanted taste for irony, making the pages of the ponderous manuals that bored us as boys become interesting.
And Giorello, as his students and all those who had the good fortune and pleasure of knowing and frequenting him well know, loved irony and nonconformism, and did not disdain mixing the sacred with the profane, using comics even during his university courses. After all, he used to say to his students, «the purpose of science is to explain the known, and not the unknown …». Facing the mystery and the irrational with the mental openness and emotional intelligence that characterize the detective of the supernatural – Giorello reiterated – always helps to cultivate doubt, the main tool available to anyone who wants to question the meaning of the world and the meaning of life. Don’t take anything for granted, don’t surrender to the prevailing conformism, live the modern world with discomfort, follow the anomaly, appreciate diversity: this is what Dylan Dog teaches us, at least in the traditional version of him. However always remembering, as the ineffable Groucho says, that “life is just like a movie… that they ruin you by immediately telling you that, in the end, the protagonist dies!”.