Zerocalcare is the pen name of Italian cartoonist Michel Rech. His second animated series This World Won’t Make Me Evil started streaming on Netflix on June 9, 2023, in the United States and 190 countries around the world, following his successful first series Tear Along the Dotted Line, which debuted internationally on November 17, 2021, after its premiere at the Rome Film Festival on October 17.
Very popular in Italy, the author delighted his fans by answering questions at the Best Movie Comics and Games event in Milan on Saturday, June 10. The self-effacing 39-year-old confessed with his trademark sense of humor: “During the past few months I understood that I am a workaholic. If I slow down I go into a crisis of withdrawal, I fill holes with work. At some point, I will collapse. Either I will have a child or get a dog, more likely a dog.”
A Zerocalcare-themed amusement park was set up in Rome to launch the new series, and thousands of fans lined up to see attractions like “The Cabinet of Horrors of Doctor Calcare.” A teaser trailer was unveiled at the Sanremo music festival on February 9. An exhibit of his original artwork titled “After the Bang” was displayed at Fabbrica del vapore in Milan from December 17, 2022, to April 23, 2023.
The autobiographical world of Zerocalcare and his working-class neighborhood of Rebibbia on the outskirts of Rome was established in his first graphic novel The Armadillo Prophecy (2011). The author explained the title: «any optimistic prediction based on irrational and subjective elements presented as logical and objective, destined to foment delusion, frustration, and regrets,” and the giant armadillo who lives with Zero: “he is my imaginary friend, my rational side, who facilitates my understanding of my convoluted thoughts.”
During the COVID lockdown in 2020, Zerocalcare self-produced his first animated cartoon Rebibbia Quarantine broadcast on the TV channel La7. He tested the limits of what he could do by himself and realized he needed the help of collaborators to create a more cinematic program, which resulted in the first series Tear Along the Dotted Line, six 15-minute interconnected episodes that tell the story of Zero and his best friends Secco and Sarah traveling to Biella for the funeral of their mutual friend Alice.
The author explained in an interview for Best Movie in 2021: «I have a big sense of belonging to my tribe, I am very attached to the world that I come from, which are the social centers and the punk scene in Rome, and everything that takes me outside of that scares me. However, in my stories I never put homophobic, sexist, or racist stuff, unless it comes out of the mouth of a negative character.”
The current series This World Won’t Make Me Evil, six interconnected episodes of 30 minutes each, is also set in Rebibbia, where Zero hangs out with his usual friends: Secco, a laid-back guy who always wants to go get ice cream, and Sarah, a smart woman who Zero considers his moral compass, like a lighthouse that guides him through a stormy sea. A third friend is added, Cesare, who comes back to live in his mother’s house after 20 years in a rehab center, and joins a neo-Nazi group, that is violently opposed to a center housing 30 refugees.
Zerocalcare admitted to Best Streaming in June 2023: “The themes are more complex and certainly more divisive. As for my values, I have certain cardinal points, but I don’t like them to be ideological. It seems more honest intellectually to also talk about my doubts and contradictions.”
Zerocalcare had already dealt with political issues in two of his graphic novels: Kobane Calling: Greetings from Northern Syria (2016) about a trip to support the Kurdish resistance in the city of Kobani near the Turkish border, and No Sleep till Shengal (2022) focusing on the persecution of Yazidis Kurds in Iraq.
It is interesting to see how the scapegoating of immigrants and ethnic communities is a universal theme around the world, and how this politically aware Italian artist has been exploring them with compassion and humor.