TRAX was founded after a brain-storming, actually a meeting in a coffee bar one afternoon while attending a new wave festival, between Piermario Ciani (who thought up the name TRAX and the main guidelines, hence he was TRAX Unit 01), me (Unit 02) and Massimo Giacon (Unit 03). We lived in different towns with hundreds of kilometres between us, so we were mostly “networking” through the mail and phone, meeting only a couple of times a year. We met through exchanges of our ‘zines and fortuitous contacts in the musical underground. Then there were a dozen other TRAX Central Units (persons who produced at least one TRAX item) and approximately five hundred TRAX Peripheral Units in seven years (persons who participated to at least one TRAX project). Piermario (sadly deceased from cancer in 2006) was helping out in the family business at the time, a small bakery, by delivering the bread early in the morning and taking care of the administration. He was also working as a freelance professional photographer and graphic artist mainly for local rock bands (collectively known as The Great Complotto), so his home in Bertiolo, a very small village in the country near Udine, was always an intersection of interesting creative people: punks, comics artists, etc. He was behind many underground projects, fanzines, festivals and exhibitions, plus the conceptual band Mind Invaders. Massimo, a few years younger than me and Piermario, was still a student at the time, just starting his career as a professional comics artist (on the pages of national magazines like Il Mago, Alter, Frigidaire) and playing with his own band Spirocheta Pergoli (later I Nipoti del Faraone) weird songs, a la Residents, that were a stable presence in TRAX products. Giacon turned out to be the more successful of us three, in his artistic career: he still publishes comics and illustrations (in fact, I just reviewed his last graphic novel Boy Rocket), but he has worked a lot as a “neo-Pop” gallery artist and as a graphic designer of objects for top studios and firms like Memphis, Swatch, Alessi.
Since we're discussing Massimo's comics work, I'm interested in the role comics played in the TRAX releases- this seems to be a fairly unique feature when compared with other cassette releases of the time, or other 'mini multi-media' offerings (actually I can think of few 'indie' labels, period, who have released comics-and-music packages.)
Even before I learned to read, I was an avid consumer of comics, and I never really stopped, it is a form of verbo-visual expression that fits perfectly with my own range of tastes, just like rock music or horror movies. Rock and comics both represent, for people born in the Fifties like me (but also for later generations) a form of intrinsic and instinctive revolt to official culture: the perfect media to express dissent and to explore or create new languages. Massimo Giacon was of course a big comics fan, to a lesser degree also Ciani and other TRAX collaborators, so when the TRAX project took shape, it seemed very natural and obvious to include Giacon’s comics in most audio-visual products (as well as his music.) In addition to single short stories and illustrations also by other comics authors (like Johnny Grieco or Davide Toffolo), we created a serialized “long story” of the adventures of the superhero Traxman. With Giacon’s drawings and my own scripts, this appeared in various TRAX booklets and catalogues in a black and white version.
Later, we perfected this story in a re-drawn colour version, that was serialized in the pages of Tempi Supplementari, a nationally distributed magazine published as a supplement to the trend-setting Frigidaire (a magazine that in the early Eighties revolutionized the Italian comics scene, introducing to a large audience new authors like Pazienza, Tamburini, Liberatore, Mattioli, etc.) The Traxman adventures were a sort of spoof thriller-sci-fi epic that both parodied the stereotypes of characters like Spirit or Superman and included the main TRAX players (me, Ciani, Ciullini, Ayers, etc.) in fictionalized form. It was a meta-comic that assumed whole new meanings if you read it knowing the history of the various TRAX members... Unfortunately, just when the Traxman adventures were ready to be collected in book format, Frigidaire found itself financially in bad waters, so the project was shelved.
I do not think anyway that TRAX was the only tape label interested in comics, there were many in DDAA’s French Illusion Production, Charles Burns designing the graphics for early Sub Pop items also comes to mind (when Sub Pop was still a small zine releasing cassettes!), I’m sure there are many other examples. Actually, in 1984 with materials from my collection I curated for the town art museum of Forte dei Marmi the exhibition Nuvole Rotolanti (“rolling clouds”, the comics’ balloon being nicknamed “cloud” in Italy) that was a wide exploration of all kinds of interferences between rock and comics. Massimo Giacon was one of the guests performing at the show, the Spirocheta Pergoli 12” EP TRAX 0784 - Fuzzi Bugsi tumpa il bongo! was published as “catalogue” of the event, and the record was based on a story that Giacon had just published in the monthly comics magazine Alter. I was very disappointed by the book by Ian Shirley Can Rock & Roll Save the World? - An Illustrated History of Music and Comics (SAF, 2005), because it failed to even mention Giacon, Igort, Carpinteri, Archer Prewitt, a whole load of artists/musicians that produced an incredible wealth of work on the thin line between comics and music.
Vittore Baroni, 2009
Vittore Baroni, 2009