BENITO JACOVITTI – Illustrator, Cartoonist

(Termoli, CB, 1923 – Rome, 1997)

Born on March 19, 1923 in Termoli, in the province of Campobasso, Benito Jacovitti left his home town at age eight to move to Ortona a Mare; when he turned eleven he moved to Macerata, and at age sixteen moved to Florence where he attended the Art Academy High School and had as his schoolmates Franco Zeffirelli and Federico Fellini. It was at the Florence Art School that he was given the nickname “Lisca di pesce” (fish bone) because he was tall and skinny. This is the reason why he signed all of his works with a red fish bone under his name. Jacovitti debuted while still very young in the world of publishing, as a comic strips contributor to the weekly magazine “Il Brivido” (the thrill). In October of 1940 when he was only 17 he was called to collaborate to “Il Vittorioso” (The victorious) and created the trio of characters called the 3 P: Pippo, Pertica and Palla, that very quickly became one of the main features of the popular catholic weekly magazine. A very prolific author, Jacovitti created a large number of characters both for the pages of the “Vittorioso” magazine (like the 3P, the arch-policeman Cip and his assistant Gallina (chicken), the very shrewd Mrs. Charlemagne and the basset hound Kilometer, Mandrago the Magician and the Honourable Tarzan), and for those of “Il giorno dei ragazzi” (the day of boys and girls), a weekly supplement to the magazine published from 1956 to 1967, (from the extremely popular Cocco Bill “the chamomile flavored cowboy”, to the science fiction character Gionni Galassia to the Journalist Tom Ficcanaso (Busybody Tom). He created a myriad of funny characters: Gamba di Quaglia (Quail Leg) the Pirate, Baby Tarallo (Baby Bagel), the martian Microciccio Spaccamento (Micro-fatty Jaw-breaker), Pape, Satan and Aleppe – three nonsensical big devils [note: after an obscure verse of Dante, by alliteration with his verse from the Inferno]. For the “Corriere dei Piccoli” he created Zorry Kid, a parody of the famous character Zorro, and Jack Mandolino, an unfortunate and clumsy criminal.
He published the “Diario Vitt” school diary which became a real cult item especially for young students of the 1950s and 60s. In 1943 Jacovitti illustrated Pinocchio by Collodi during the war years, and that edition was published by the Schools of Brescia and had a great success and was reprinted several times. He married Floriana Jodice in 1949 and had a daughter named Silvia. After a career of rare intensity, Jacovitti died on December 3, 1997, but not before dictating with a joke his own epitaph for his tombstone: “I was, I am and I will be a clown”. In 1998 the Piedmont Region devoted a rich retrospective exhibit to him. His illustration tables were filled up to an unimaginable level, besides with the character of a story, with things as feet, hair combs, salami, worms, almost as if for a psychiatric terror of void.
Animated feet that walk by themselves deciding to go on foot, worms wearing a top hat that walk around without fear in a world crossed by gunshots, flying fists and kicking feet and punching hands, pieces of salami that show the sliced out sides as if it was a face and walk around wiggling a tail, fingers that come out of smoking pipes showing the opposite of the gesture that would consist in pressing down tobacco; this and much more fills the rich repertoire of the eccentric iconography of Jacovitti, made up of unmistakable and unforgettable almost obsessive images.
Jacovitti worked a lot also for advertising starting from the first half of the 1950s. We remember among the most significant campaigns illustrated by him the El Dorado Ice Cream with Cocco Bill (his character which was animated by the Pagor Brothers and later by Pierluigi De Mas); Formaggini Mio (Mio spreadable little cheeses) with the Maramiau cat; Teodora Oil with Zorry Kid; Lanerossi Vicenza with Pecor Bill, and Fiorucci Cold Cuts, with the unmistakable salami that they walk.
It is for in the field of advertising that Jacovitti’s encounter with the world of pasta took place: besides the unforgettable spaghetti bowls that Jacovitti inserted in all of his cartoons as the favorite food of Trottalemme (note: the name is a pun on the words trotting and Methuselah), the horse of Cocco Bill, we cannot miss to mention some of the delightful illustration plates he drew in the 1983 for the Braibanti glorious pasta factory of Parma that in 1987 was absorbed by the Barilla Group.
The plates represented chefs and waiters carrying overflowing trays of pasta and had been drawn with a colored frame to contain recopy cards and inserted in a special promotional publication of the pasta company, and are now kept at the Barilla Historical Archives. Jacovitti also worked for this brand drawing the 1968 brilliant Galletto (rooster) with a ribbon cockade which was used to advertise the newly born Barilla Rusk Bread from 1968 to 1970.

Giancarlo Gonizzi