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Fans Gather for Fantasy, Human Connections at Lucca Comics & Games

A celebration of Donald Duck’s 85th birthday, a sneak peek at the Keanu Reeves-starring futuristic videogame “Cyberpunk 2077” and the first look at Netflix’s “The Witcher” are among the highlights of Lucca Comics & Games, Europe’s biggest geek meet.

This immersive cross-media event dedicated to pop culture, cosplay and comics is held within the medieval Tuscan town’s stone walls and constantly looks to renew itself. This year, a key aspect is the theme “Becoming Human.”

“At a time when [pop] culture is increasingly being channeled by the mediasphere through devices, the dimension of a real festival puts humanity back at the center of live relationships,” says Lucca Comics chief Emanuele Vietina, who is trumpeting his “post-humanist” philosophy as a mantra of sorts for the more than 250,000 fans that flock to the annual gathering.

Vietina is particularly pleased that comics artist Don Rosa, who created nearly a hundred Donald Duck stories — building on the tradition established by the legendary Carl Barks — is coming to the Lucca event because he “gave ducks a human dimension.”

The Becoming Human message is all the more powerful, Vietina says, given that the festival connects contemporary mythologies such as Hollywood tentpole superhero movies, video games, fantasy books and TV series, with the medieval town’s walled fortifications, grassy embankments, bastions and dungeons.

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Lucca will host the largest Dungeons & Dragons tournament in Europe, with participants running around its cobblestone streets seeking clues and then confronting a devil in a real dungeon: the recently reopened underground chambers of the 16th-century San Colombano bastion.

“True Blood” star Joe Manganiello is coming to Lucca to play D&D live for fans in Italy and around the world via a live-stream on Twitch.

The Continent, which is the name of the iconic land where “The Witcher” is set, is being re-created in another dungeon below the San Paolino bastion on the town’s southwest side. Even before the show drops, sometime later this year, Netflix is promising it will provide festgoers a fully immersive experience into its world. “The Witcher” release date likely will be announced in its first full trailer, premiering on Oct. 31 at Lucca and tubthumped by a large delegation comprising stars Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan, producer and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, and Andrzej Sapkowski, author of the bestselling book series on which the series is based. Sapkowski is a longtime Lucca aficionado,

Netflix’s “Money Heist” (aka “La Casa de Papel”), the streamer’s best-performing non-English language series, will occupy one of Lucca’s main squares, the Piazza Anfiteatro, with a dedicated pavilion.

Science-fiction author Bruce Sterling, one of the fathers of the cyberpunk movement, will be in Lucca to discuss the future impact of new technologies with Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Under the name James S.A. Corey, they write the popular science-fiction book franchise “The Expanse,” which was adapted into series first by Syfy and now by Amazon.

Cross-mediality is what “distinguishes Lucca from traditional conventions like San Diego’s Comic-Con,” says Vietina. Encapsulating this cross-media aspect, Amazon will be at Lucca in full force in its various permutations (Prime Video, Audible, Alexa, books and toys) with a massive pavilion called Amazon Box of Passions where, among various activities, they will pay homage to the late Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee.

Cross-media considerations aside, Lucca “is increasingly positioning itself as one of the top events in Europe to launch content from streamers, broadcasters and movie studios,” says Giovanni Cova, head of Milan-based entertainment marketing company QMI, which runs Lucca’s film and television section.

The Italian premiere of “Terminator: Dark Fate” will open the fest, while “Zombieland: Double Tap” will bow amid a Zombie Walk event that will feature an undead invasion of the ancient town.

As Cova puts it: “Lucca is not just a festival, but a big human experience.”

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