Mister No

Mister No

Mister No is the nickname of Jerry Drake, a North American pilot who has his adventures in Manaus, Amazonia, during the 1950s. He owns a small Piper plane of the type generally designed for tourism, which he uses to transport passengers "where other planes can't get to": more or less to any city or village of Brazil and the surrounding countries, but above all into the territory covered by the immense Amazon forest. Since he is a highly skillful pilot and his plane is extremely maneuverable, he can land practically anywhere in the jungle, that great wilderness where there are still vast tracts of virtually unexplored land.

But if he has to go to parts that can't be reached by plane, then Mister No travels up the river, along the intricate web of channels that constitute the Amazon basin, on motor pirogues called "voadors", or simply by marching through the damp dark forest, where dangers threaten every step of adventurous explorers.Over almost thirty years of life in print, and in more than three hundred published albums, Mister No has often also spoken of his earlier years, while chatting with friends at the tavern or answering the questions of some enemy who's pointing a gun at him. The stories that make up this "biography" of  the character constitute an almost autonomous series within the "regular" series, and in recent years they have been published in "Specials", "Almanacs" and "Maxis", even without the framework of Mister No telling a story. Jerry Drake's first "public" appearance dates back to 1936, when we find our young anti-hero, about fourteen years old at the time, living in New York with his father, Jerome senior, a professor.

Nothing at all is known about his mother. Jerry has an aunt, Martha, his father's sister, and an uncle, Joe Wallace, a police officer with rather harsh methods, who is later found to be a bent cop. Jerry is entrusted to their care as his father goes off to fight in the Spanish War in 1937, after enlisting in the International Brigades. During this period, our Hero undergoes his apprenticeship on the streets of the Big Apple, under the "guidance" of Frankie "Messacantata" Nigro, a mob 'godfather', "Treno" Kowalesky, a boxer who fights in illegal boxing  matches, and the boxer's manager Strother. Later his father, upon his return from Spain, is accused of the murder of Logan Sinclair, a journalist and a friend of the Drakes. Jerome senior lets himself be clapped into jail and refuses to give any explanation of what happened, either to the jury during the trial or to his son. This leads to a complete breakdown of relations between father and son, a split that lasts over twenty years - until, that is, Jerome senior is released from prison and finally tells his son the truth about Sinclair, which turns out to be linked to a sordid story of the theft of huge quantities of gold during the Spanish War. Following these events, young Jerry decides to leave New York.

He departs in 1938, and hops onto a train that takes him westwards. The first stop on his journey is in the vicinity of Des Moines, in Iowa. His journey then takes him on to California, where we find him on 17 September 1940, when, with the air of a young drifter carrying a backpack on his shoulders, he ends up at the small airfield of Caniff Field, near San Franciso, in search of work.

Here the young guy meets the pilot Bat Bartington, who becomes his flying instructor and also his "adventure mentor". During the period from March to September 1941, Jerry and Bat enlist in the "Tigri Volanti", the American volunteer pilots who are fighting in the Far East alongside the Chinese against the Japanese invaders.In this context, the pair end up in Burma and China, where they have a series of hair-raising adventures. After a whole series of events, Jerry Drake is nicknamed Mister No by one of his adversaries, the cruel Japanese Saiko, on account of his proud and obstinate refusal to obey the orders Saiko harshly and scornfully metes out.

But Mister No gets caught up in other events as well: he saves the Chinese "Generalissimo" Chiang Kai Shek from a Japanese attempt on his life, he gets accused of "desertion" by the Americans because he has failed to comply when he was called up for the draft and then he is forcibly enrolled in the US Air Force. Mister No is thus assigned to the 59th Formation, at the quiet base of San Manuel in the Philippines. In December of the same year 1941, the Japanese attack on the US base of Pearl Harbour marks the "official" beginning of the war for the Americans. Lieutenant Pilot Drake takes part in a number of air battles above the Gulf of Lingayen, distinguishing himself by his skill and bravery. But Mister No has an aversion for discipline: following a quarrel with a high-ranking officer he is reprimanded and expelled with a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force and forced to enlist... in the infantry! As a conscript in the 31^ Division, 3° Battalion, Company C, in the period between January and March 1942 soldier Drake takes part in the Bataan retreat, which turns out be a particularly dramatic event for him. Captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese, our Hero is deported to a work camp in Burma, where he remains from April to July 1942. He stages a highly adventurous escape from the camp, returning there a few days later guiding a commando of saboteurs. The only thanks he gets for his heroic enterprise is that of being sent back to his old company, where he meets up again with his fellow soldiers Phil Mulligan, Alan Chambers and Steve Mallory.

Together they fight at Guadalcanal in September 1942, and then on the Pacific islands in the following months. They are also entrusted with a special  mission to be performed behind enemy lines: to track down Professor Leon Kaplan, a physicist who has fled together with his Japanese wife and two children, leaving his studies on a powerful new weapon incomplete. In September 1942, during a flight,  our Hero crashes in the vicinity of New Guinea and is taken prisoner by a tribe of Papua cannibals guided by a German "King" who seems to be inspired by the characters of Joseph Conrad.

After this adventure, Mister No begins to work for the OSS, the American Secret Services. During a mission he makes the acquaintance of the Dutch partisan Pieter Bogghendal, who is acting as the head of a group of Papuas engaged in anti-Japanese guerilla warfare on the island of Rabaul, and Mister No stays in the area for a couple of months. At the end of 1943, Jerry Drake is transferred from the Pacific to Italy, after an episode in which he witnesses  the ritual suicide of a group of Japanese in a bunker and prevents one of them from committing the act. Subsequently, precisely for the latter reason, Ishikawa - that's the name of the Japanese sole survivor - creates a whole load of trouble for our Jerry, wreaking havoc in his life in Manaus and forcing him into a duel with no holds barred in New York. Mister No's first appearance on the European front is on board the plane "Rigoletto", which is taking him to Campania. The plane is involved in a clash with German enemies. After the death of the pilot, it is actually Mister No himself who brings the plane  safely in to land at the airport of Naples. On 20 January 1944, infantryman Drake takes part in the Fiume Rapido battle, in Campania, together with his fellow soldiers of the 36^ Division, 141° Regiment. On 5 June he is among the troups that take part in the liberation of Rome. In the Eternal City he meets Laura, a girl with whom he has a short-lived but intense love story. He is destined to meet her again years later in Cuba. During the same year 1944 he is stationed in upper Lazio, in the service of Captain Stafford, and here he fights against a mysterious "Etruscan Demon" that later turns out to be a Nazi spy.

At the end of 1944, he is transferred to the Ardennes, where he has his last wartime  adventure, and is wounded in the stomach during an exchange of fire with the Germans. Repatriated at the beginning of 1945, we then find our hero in hospital at Atlantic City. This is effectively the prologue of the adventure described in Special Album #9, in which Mister No crosses the States from Atlantic City right over to Albuquerque in New Mexico, a trip which marks the start of his life as a veteran who finds it really hard to settle down in American society. He stays in New Mexico (more specifically, on the Apache reservation) until the death of  a Native American friend, Monty, who'd been wounded in the war. To keep a promise made to Monty, Jerry sets out for Mexico, where he scatters the ashes of his deceased friend from the summit of a sacred mountain. 1947 finds him back in California, where he joins a group of bikers, the "Hell's Angels". After this story there is a huge "gap" in the biography of our character, which stretches up to September of 1948, when the young Mister No is launched into a series of "Italian adventures". For the moment we only know about the first one, which occurred between Positano and Capri with the participation of FBI agent Steve Mallory, a former buddy of Mister No's when they were soldiers together at the time of Guadalcanal. Fall 1949: Mister No is back in the USA and lives in Greenwich Village, New York. He clashes with the "New Barbarians", a gang of bikers headed by a really nasty piece of work, Jackie. And then, on the advice of his friend Phil Mulligan, he moves to Aspen, where Alan Chambers, the third of his great wartime buddies, is working as a ranger. Spring 1950: after returning to New York, there is a show-down between Mister No, Jackie, and the crime boss Jackie works for, the gangster Masulli. After these unpleasant developments, our Hero decides to leave New York once more, and sets out to go west. During a stop-over at a ranch in Arizona he has a really strange adventure involving Indians, cowboys and animatronic "dinosaurs", perhaps a colossal "hoax" or possibly an "imaginary" story. At the end of his journey,  he presumably gets to San Francisco, where he joins the early beatnik groups. From here he starts off again in an eastwards direction and, in the Nevada desert, he comes across an unlucky veteran, Jonathan Eden, who's turned into a highwayman-cum-armed robber. It's Eden who, on his deathbed, talks to Jerry about Brazil. Mister No is thus an "unwilling hero" who, upon his return to the United States after the end of the Second World War, hasn't managed to fit in with the American way of life. And so he moves to Amazonia to live his life his own way: what some people call the last frontier of civilization is perhaps the only place where a free spirit like his can roam unshackled. So, he wanted to live in peace and quiet, doing his own thing, but it seems that trouble comes looking for him. His departure for the South American continent takes place in the second half of 1950, from New York, the city where the travel agency "Coen & Brother" through which he bought his ticket is located. We know he bought the Piper at Belém, that he met Esse-Esse at São Luis do Maranhao, and that he subsequently traveled with Esse-Esse to Manaus, where he settled in early 1951. There he underwent a short apprenticeship as an Amazon tour guide, his instructor being another veteran, Boris Zarkoff, known as Zar, who dies in Jerry's arms in the Amazon jungle, pierced by an arrow from the Araro Indios. But above all we know that Mister No is really a brave and honest man, always ready to side with the weaker party, without striking a pose as a hero who can move mountains.

It often seems that Mister No gets embroiled in terribly dangerous situations more or less despite himself, but it might very well be himself looking for trouble, following his generous and rebel nature. His constant saying "no" to what he does not like: "no" to the Japanese officer that interrogates him to grab from him the 'Flying Tigers' secrets; "no" to the dull military hyierarchy and the crazy violence of all wars; "no" to hypocrisy and conformism of the so-called civil society; "no" to the arrogance of the strong towards the weak, in any part of the world is his most characterizing aspect and also the Leitmotiv of many of his adventures.
Often Jerry Drake says "no" also when he is offered dangerous jobs, when somebody wants to involve him in some risky business, even when some victim asks for his help.

Mister No does not want trouble (or says he does not) he knows wht risking ne's life means... But those refusals are never definitive: inevitably something happens that forces him to reconsider his attitude and go help other people. Mister No is impulsive and passionate, his actions are almost always driven by the pressure of emotion, but underneath his rage there's always a moral impulse. Mister No can't accept the injustices of this world, even when they correspond to "the logic of things". 
He has a lively and quite light-hearted temperament. He likes to spend his evenings at the tavern with friends, gulping down gallons of booze (especially whisky and bourbon, but in Brazil he often has to be content with cachaça, the typical local liqueur made by fermenting sugar cane) and smoking one cigarette after another without too much concern for his health, which is excellent anyway. He likes to go out with a different girl every time and often he takes girls dancing, especially to dance the samba, but also boogie woogie and rock'n'roll, which originate from his home country and characterize the era of his adventures. He is extremely keen on jazz: "Body and Soul" is the sound track of his romantic moments, and when he's in a good mood he hums "When the Saints Go Marchin' in" to himself. 

Mister No's "present" is set in the late 1950s; we have already told you about his past. But there are still innumerable mysteries in the biography of Jerry Drake, which will be revealed in the future. Mister No returns to New York towards the end of the 1950s, in pursuit of the Japanese crime boss Ishikawa who has had some of his friends murdered. After defeating this dangerous opponent, Mister No stays in the North American city for a while, where he meets up with old friends and makes new ones: the Irish bartender Harvey Fenner, the music impresario Max Culver, private detective Phil Mulligan, his old friends Patricia and Delia. This round of New York stories constitutes a separate chapter in the adventurous saga of our pilot, and they are distinguished by their tough tone and brooding atmospheres. Mister No also plunges into adventures of a "hard-boiled" type, and meets historic figures such as the writer Jack Kerouac and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. And he gets embroiled in the nasty scenes of juvenile gangs, as well as being caught up in mobster shoot-outs and CIA intrigue. This New York cycle of Mister No stories, preceded by an adventurous journey through rural America, covers thirty or so episodes. And whilst we're on the subject of adventures set against the background of the Big Apple, it's worth mentioning a curiosity: alongside the "official" Jerry Drake there also exists an "imaginary" Jerry Drake.The latter is the private detective appearing as the protagonist of a series of detective stories written by the "real" detective Phil Mulligan, who draws his inspiration from the figure of his friend Mister No.  

So, make-believe within make-believe. These adventures are set in New York and perhaps they tell the story of what could have been the life of Mister No if he hadn't forsaken the smog and chaotic life of the big city to go and live in Amazonia. The "detective Jerry Drake" stories, written in the over-the-top style and loaded with all the "glamour" of the old pulp-magazines, appear not only in a few episodes of the monthly series, but also gathered together in two small albums of   thirty-two plates each, enclosed with the Specials 12 and 13. Mister No's first client arrives at the end of 1951 (you can re-read this story in TuttoMister No n. 1) … And the rest is history. In fact, an "ocean" of history whose stories are still continuing and will never cease to amaze you!