Leo Pays a Spanking Tribute

01 Leo

The name’s Pulp… Leo Pulp.

Leo’s an inept private eye who prowls the mean streets of Los Angeles in the middle of the last century. He was created in 2001 by the veteran Italian writer-cartoonist Claudio Nizzi, and his adventures ran until 2007; in 2011 they were republished in a handsome three-volume collected edition. Nizzi wrote the scripts, and the drawings were the work of Massimo Bonfatti, seen here with Leo himself:

Massimo Bonfatti

The series is a witty spoof of the 1940s hardboiled detective genre, full of clever allusions to classics ranging from Raymond Chandler to Dashiell Hammett to Dick Tracy. Leo’s girl is the curvaceous Norma, owner of his local diner, seen here offering him ‘the usual’:

Leo Pulp and Norma

In 2015, long after the series had ended and become legendary, Norma got something that wasn’t usual. It happened when Massimo Bonfatti was asked to contribute to an online tribute to one of his major influences, the comic strip artist Will Eisner. When the request came, he knew at once exactly what he wanted to offer. Here it is:

Massimo Bonfatti Leo Pulp & Norma

‘I’m usually very patient with Norma… but this time she really went too far!’ reads the top caption. Norma is saying, ‘Forgive me, Leo! I thought that guy was you, in a mask!’ And then: ‘Sigh! I had to figure it out! Your nose is much bigger!’

It is, of course, a Leo Pulp version of one of Eisner’s favorite pieces of his own work: the December 1940 splash page showing the Spirit spanking his admirer Ellen Dolan. And as you can see, it’s a very close redrawing of the original:

SplashLeo spanks

The artwork hung in Eisner’s studio for many years: he felt it humanised the Spirit as a hero who could be ‘involved in a web of mediocrity’. Not everyone shared his opinion: his fellow comic book artist Bob Powell, best known for his work on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, despised the image and said that it was ‘hardly worthy of a crimefighter’. But Bonfatti had always admired it as a piece of pin-up art – and if ever a crimefighter could be said to be utterly caught up in a web of mediocrity, that crimefighter is surely Leo Pulp!

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