Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 15, 2015

Poem Strip

Including An Explanation of The Afterlife

by Dino Buzzati (1969) – trans. Marina Harss (NYRB – 2009)

Here’s one of those random discoveries I mentioned in my last post. I don’t know why I noticed it, or why I was skimming through the B’s in the fiction stacks at the library in the first place. This “pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s” by an Italian author, in it’s pretty NYRB packaging, was definitely coming home with me though.

It’s such a weird book, folks. I like how the reviewer at The A.V. Club put it back in 2009 when the book was finally released in English – “Comics have been described as movies on paper, and this one reads like a rock ’n’ roll-sexploitation-fantasy-occult midnight cult favorite.” Truth.

It is Buzzati’s impression of the Orpheus and Eurudice story, set in a skewy version of 1960s Milan. A singer watches his girlfriend disappear into the mysterious house across the street, then learns the next day that she has died. Unconvinced, he ventures into the house where he last saw her, and begins a bizarre journey, guided by a demon who is…well, an empty jacket…and helped and hindered by a slew of mostly naked women.

Parts of the story are very disturbing (sexuality is one thing, sexual torture is another entirely) and the objectification of women throughout bothered me. Balancing that though was my delight in Buzzati’s images. I like his line work, and the lyrical combination of text and trippy visuals fascinated me.

Some of it is quite beautiful, and the part where the dead gather to hear Orfi sing about the life they’ve left behind is haunting. As I’m flipping through the book again I feel compelled to reread it, despite the fact that my initial perusal left me with a puzzled face and a shrugging “Well, that’s something, anyway” reaction.

The piece is connected to so many other things, influenced by myth, and the music, art, and films of the time. It is a rich thing, if a strange one. This review from PopMatters does a decent job of delving into the book and it’s maze. Anyone with an interest in the history and development of comics and the graphic novel form should find something in Buzzati’s Poem Strip to intrigue.

I’m interested in reading Buzzati’s most famous book, The Tartar Steppe, and want to find his book for children as well – The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily – the English version of which has an intro by Lemony Snicket. Curiouser and curiouser!


  1. A curious book indeed. It’s not my favorite by Buzzati by a long shot, but it helps display the great variety and range of his work. In addition to The Tartar Steppe and The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, you might also try some of his short stories – there are a couple of good selections in English translated by Lawrence Venuti.

    • It seems like he did a bit of everything! Interesting fellow. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post, its a great review!! Buzzati is ny favourite writer ever and I agree that this one in particular stands out in its strangeness…I definitely recommend his short stories, as I believe they bring out his talents more than anything

    • I was just thinking about this book again! The imagery has stuck in my head. Definitely still need to check out his other work!

  3. His short stories in English can be hard to find but a pop up online here and there!! I found one online called Seven Floors, it’s brilliant if you get a chance to read it you can find it here:

    • Thanks!

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