“If you eat enough, it’s easier to learn. And the more you learn, the greater your chances of having a better future…and of achieving your dream when you grow up!” says the schoolboy in this scene from the new Topolino comic. (Courtesy Disney Italia)
Mickey Mouse is called Topolino in Italy and he gives his name to one of the country’s longest-running and best-loved comic books for kids. A new edition of Topolino, celebrating World Food Day and featuring a story inspired by WFP, went on sale at news stands on October 12.
ROME -- In the new edition of Topolino, Mickey Mouse’s nephews, Morty and Ferdie, discover the importance of food aid as part of humanitarian work. The story is set in a place called Torodoro, where they have an adventure involving WFP (called GLAB in the story), school meals programmes and, of course, some real ‘baddies’.
Valentina De Poli, the dynamic editor of the Italian comic book, tells us how she ended up publishing a story about food aid.
It’s a tradition at Topolino to deal with important social issues. We were already exploring environmental issues well before it became a hot topic. Topolino is aimed primarily at the 8-12 age group but in actual fact it is read by the whole family. Our readers are keen to get involved – they want to do something. When I met with WFP, I was struck by the importance of the humanitarian work that it does and by its school meals programmes. I thought it was important to draw some attention to this world. That’s how we came up with the story ‘Morty and Ferdie: Operation Red Cup’, which among other things, involves the return of two important characters in the Disney family, Mickey Mouse’s nephews Morty and Ferdie (Tip and Tap in Italian).
Generations of Italians grew up with Topolino. But now it has to find its place in a world which has been transformed by new digital media, with its 3-D images and video games. Does Topolino still have what it takes to be a reference point for youngsters today?
Oh yes, absolutely. I’d say the narrative force and appeal has actually increased. Sure, our writers and scriptwriters have had to learn about new narrative techniques. The world moves faster. Even for kids born in the digital age there are lot more stimuli and things to think about. But the desire to understand, get involved, to do something concrete is as strong as ever.
So you think that with its stories, Topolino can help his young readers become well-informed citizens who are aware of the many challenges facing the world, including hunger?
Apart from the story itself, it’s very important to make people feel involved, to show that you can do something. Once our readers have understood the problem, they respond enthusiastically. They write, they send pictures, they ask what they can do. We saw this when we focused on ecological issues, or when we looked at the future of Italy around the time of the 150th anniversary of the nation’s unification. What counts is the desire to be there and to be part of something.
Topolino celebrates World Food Day in a world in which there are 925 million hungry people. What are you and your staff hoping for on this day?
I’m hoping that what happened to me when I met with WFP and found out about its school meals programmes will happen to everyone. What struck me most was how important food is when it comes to studying and going to school, and how a simple cup of rice can ensure a better future both for individuals and a nation. That’s what I wanted to tell people about and I would be very happy if others could discover these things thanks to Mickey Mouse and this story about the red cup.
Photo bottom right: Valentina De Poli (Courtesy of Valentina De Poli)