Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte in the graphic novel “The zero machine” (Solferino) recall the Olivetti technician who developed the Elea 9003 computer, the first computer made with transistors
Adriano Olivetti convinced him to return to Italy by giving him an appointment at his shop on Park Avenue, then considered the most elegant in New York, back in 1954. And if he hadn’t ended up victim of an accident on the Turin-Milan motorway in the following November 1961, the Chinese-born engineer Mario Tchou it would surely become
an icon of innovation made in Italy. In part it has already been so, at only 37 years old, for the key role he played in Adriano’s Olivetti and in the development of the Elea 9003 computer, the first entirely made with transistors. Those were the times of the pioneers of electronics and also of an incredible season in which American giants like IBM feared and carefully monitored the Italian competition.
The extraordinary human and entrepreneurial adventure of the engineer Tchou returns to current events 60 years after his untimely death thanks to the release of The zero machine (Solferino), a graphic novel by Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte who, with the new volume, close a trilogy focused on the history of the first Chinese arrived in Italy, which began with the graphic essay Springs and Autumns, dedicated to the biography of Matteo’s grandfather, Wu Lishan, and continued with Chinamen. A triple tribute to the sacrifices and spirit of adventure of cosmopolitan and fearless men and also the wish for a lasting friendship between the two peoples, written this time with a pencil. «Writing a book – Rocchi notes – means forgetting oneself and becoming someone else. With drawing it happens even more. To portray someone in his multiple expressions means to enter him. The details, shades, areas of light and shadow. Drawing someone is equivalent to feeling their presence, finding them next to them ».
Son of a Chinese diplomat based in Rome and originally from Hangzhou (land of silk processing) Mario Tchou was born in the Eternal City, he studied at the Tasso high school and then at the La Sapienza university and had even Alfredo Reichlin as football companions. , Luigi Pintor and Arminio Savioli. During his university studies Mario had had the opportunity to meet Edoardo Amaldi and the opportunity to meet the boys of Via Panisperna, who under the guidance of Enrico Fermi were working on the first nuclear experiment. The best youth of the thirties, we would say. The desire to understand the world would later lead Mario first to Washington and then to New York where, as proof of a family tradition in which merit and sacrifice traveled together, he also alternated his studies with work as an electrician on ships anchored in the port. Then he had not been able to resist the charm and invitation of Adriano Olivetti (150,000 lire of salary and two years of contract) and perhaps, Demonte suggests, also to a certain nostalgia for Italy.
Reading about the commitment of Tchou and another extraordinary team, the guys who in the small town of Barbaricina on the outskirts of Pisa designed a machine that was avant-garde in all respects, from the logical conception to the construction technology to finish the design, not it can only generate admiration and perhaps regret in a season in which manufacturing still speaks Italian and innovation much less. We are in a long parenthesis of national history in which, rather than attracting talents from abroad, the peninsula risks losing its own, because it pays them little and keeps them too long on the bench. Those of Tchou, on the other hand, were still the years in which the thirty-year-olds also in Italy “made history”, able to give the best of themselves in the laboratory, to experience international scientific competition as protagonists and perhaps to swim in the sea, like their peers, during their lunch break. «I remember the evenings – says Franco Filippazzi, one of the boys from Barbaricina – spent chatting with Mario and his wife Elena Montessori, who was an established painter. To her I owe my nickname Flip, which was an abbreviation of my surname but also a well-known Walt Disney character of the time ».
But how much Italian and how much Chinese was there in the rich personality of the engineer Tchou? The authors of the comic have chosen with a pencil to underline the Asian component. «We also tried to remain faithful to the Chinese part of Mario, not so much in bilingualism – writes Rocchi – as in the imagination, using ideograms as a graphic representation of his thought and not of his voice. The research on Chinese onomatopoeias that we have hidden inside the tables also goes in this sense. They serve to remind us that Mario spoke and dressed like an Italian, but inside himself he thought in Chinese, he could imagine certain things and try them only in Chinese “
October 24, 2021 (change October 24, 2021 | 20:13)