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"Dan Dare" from 2000 AD, 1977

Massimo Belardinelli was born in Rome on 5 June 1938. He joined Sergio Rosi's studio as a background artist for animated films, inspired by the Disney film Fantasia, before switching to comics, again initially drawing backgrounds. His first solo comics were the erotic series Messalina and Jacula, and the German comics Perry Rodan and Altan.

When Jesús Blasco quit drawing "The Steel Claw" in Valiant, a team of artists from the Rosi studio took over - Giorgio Cambiotti on pencils, Belardinelli on backgrounds, and Rosi himself on inks - until 1969, when Carlos Cruz became the strip's artist. The same year, Belardinelli switched agencies, to the Giolitti Studio, who found him work in the UK, Germany, the USA and Italy. He collaborated with Alberto Giolitti on Gold Key's Star Trek series in the USA, with Giolitti drawing the characters and Belardinelli the spaceships.

In the mid-70s he drew "Rat Pack" for Battle Picture Weekly and "Death Game 1999" and "Green's Grudge War" for Action. When 2000 AD was in preparation in 1977, he tried out for the revamped "Dan Dare" and got the gig - and the rare honour (in those days) of a byline. While his take on the hero was not popular with fans of the original, his episodes were distinguished by his bizarre imaginings of alien creatures, landscapes and spaceships. Within a year he switched strips with Dave Gibbons, drawing the "Harlem Heroes" sequel "Inferno" while Gibbons took over "Dare". Belardinelli then drew the second series of "Flesh", in which the time-travelling meat-farmers moved into the prehistoric oceans, in 1978-9.

He drew "The Angry Planet", a sci-fi serial set on colonised Mars, written by Alan Hebden, for Tornado in 1979, and then took over "Blackhawk", Gerry Finley-Day's strip about a Nubian slave who became a Roman centurion, when Tornado merged into 2000 AD later in the year. The strip was given a sci-fi twist by new writers Alan Grant and Kelvin Gosnell, with the hero being abducted by aliens and forced to fight in a galactic arena. It was nonsense, but Belardinelli had fun drawing the alien gladiators. "Meltdown Man" followed in 1980-81, a year-long cliffhanger serial written by Alen Hebden, and a perfect showcase for Belardinelli's talents: set in a future world with little mechanical technology where animals had been engineered into humanoid form to work as slaves, its beast-men gave free range to his fantastic imagination, while its setting let him go to town on lush, organic backgrounds.

In 1981 writers John Wagner and Alan Grant created a new series for him, again featuring lots of different aliens, inspired by the brief craze for CB radio: "Ace Trucking Co.", a space haulage comedy starring inept alien trucker Ace Garp and his crew speaking in lightly futurised CB jargon. It ran on and off until 1988, even surviving the writers' attempts to kill off the main character. In between stints, Belardinelli drew several storylines of Pat Mills' Celtic barbarian strip Sláine in 1983-84, visualising the hero's body-distorting "warp spasm" and enjoying the opportunity the ancient setting allowed him to draw nature. His visualisation of the hero, however, was not popular, because whatever his artistic merits, he was never very good at drawing macho men. Although his strips were popular with the general readership, the fan audience never really took to him, and his "Sláine" stories were not collected by Titan Books, who concentrated on Mike McMahon's episodes.

His last great 2000 AD strip was "The Dead", written by Peter Milligan, in 1987, a philosophical yet psychedelic series set in a future where an evolved human race thinks it has conquered death, until demons start erupting from their bodies, and the hero, Fludd, has to travel to the land of the dead to save mankind. He also drew violent future sport series "Mean Team" (1985, 1987) and space opera "Moon Runners" (1988-89) for 2000 AD, and "Joe Alien" for short-lived younger-readers sci-fi comic Wildcat, in 1988. Among his last comic work in the UK was for Fleetway's Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles comic in the early 1990s.

He stopped working in the UK in 1993 after his agent, Alberto Giolitti, died. He was engaged by a businessman from Singapore to create characters for a medieval fantasy theme park, but the project was never completed. Belardinelli's wife committed suicide, leaving him to bring up their daughter alone. In the early 21st century rumours of his own death circulated online, but were scotched in 2005 when a British fan, Rob Cox, made contact with him, finding him retired, painting landscapes but with a dicky heart, and an interview was published in the Italian fanzine Ink in 2006. However, he died on 31 March 2007 after a long illness.


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