Mario Gentilini pushed the envelope of invention in the world of comic publishing. The former director of Topolino magazine, he had an artistic, captivating, and tireless personality, which he infused into the popular Italian publication. Under his leadership, the Mickey Mouse-starring Topolino transformed from a monthly into a weekly publication and featured original Disney stories by classically trained Italian artists. As former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company Roy E. Disney recalled, “Mario was a great pioneer in the comic field.”
Born July 8, 1909, in Luzzara, Italy, Mario studied art at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and, in time, became a well-known figurative painter. His work was featured in exhibitions in Paris and Rome.
Mario taught at a local high school until 1936 when he was offered the opportunity to fill in for an artist on leave from Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. While at the prestigious publishing firm, Mario learned of Topolino magazine, which the company had recently acquired the rights to publish. He became enchanted by Disney’s little mouse star and, as a result, quit teaching to began a new career in publishing. He started by retouching drawings for Topolino and, nine years later, Mario was promoted to its editor.
At that time, only Disney stories from the U.S. were typically translated and published in the magazine.
Mario, however, transformed the publication from a monthly into a weekly and, as a result, initiated original Disney stories by Italian artists to help fill Topolino’s estimated 3,500 published pages per year. The artists he recruited were from top Italian schools, such as Scarpa in Venezia.
Mario’s other contributions include I Classici di Walt Disney, a monthly magazine that featured only the best stories of Topolino. First published in 1958, the magazine was a huge success selling two million copies in seven languages per issue. Ten years later, Mario published the first of a successful series of Disney-themed handbooks for the Italian boy scouts called Manuale dell Giovani Marmotte.
In addition to his publishing genius, Mario was a clever marketer; in 1960, he founded the Topolino Ski Trophy for children ages 6 to 12, the first sports program of its kind in Europe. He also developed Il Club di Topolino for readers of Topolino, who collected and traded special stamps that were published in the magazine. Founded in 1954, the club grew to more than 500,000 members by the late 1960s.
After 35 years with Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Mario retired in 1980. Future fellow Disney Legend Gaudenzio Capelli assumed his responsibilities as director of Topolino.
Mario Gentilini passed away in February 1988, in Milan.