« I believe that the Belgians do possess some surrealistic gene. » — Eddy de Clercq
I’m afraid we’re back into surrealism territory, folks. Our focus today is on a single piece by polymath Maurice Rosy (1927-2013, Fontaine-l’Évêque, Belgium), published in bédé weekly Spirou in 1966, in the midst of Rosy’s tenure as the magazine’s co-art director (with Yvan Delporte) and boundless idea generator (1956-73, for the record… the period widely hailed as Spirou’s golden age).
As for the story in question… it was, shall we say, ahead of its time. And still is.
Nonetheless, its value was recognized almost immediately (less than one year on, for the record) by connaisseurs Jacques Sternberg, Michael Caen (co-founder of the epochal Midi-minuit fantastique) and Jacques Lob‘s essential Les trésors de la bande dessinée (1967, Éditions Planète), wherein they wrote:
Intrigued by oriental philosophies and General Semantics*, jazz pianist in the modern idiom, art director of the publishing house that produces Spirou, hilarious storyteller, Rosy has had drawings published in Paris-Match and Adam, all the while crafting (with Pol Deliège) tales of Bobo. He is also the author of the most bizarre story ever to appear in a kids’ magazine, which earned its publisher and author an especially venomous stream of insulting letters. Geniuses are always unsung.
Rosy has the sharp smile of a Steve McQueen and a picturesque language all his own.
And now, the item in question:
When Rosy was interviewed for a deluxe, 16-volume reprinting (begun in 2007) of the adventures of Tif et Tondu (with Will as illustrator, Rosy served as writer/metteur en scène on the feature for many of its glory years, 1954-67), the notorious one-shot was touched upon:
In 1966, you created a strip with an unreadable, and therefore unpronounceable name, which even made it onto the magazine’s cover: are we deep into Herriman* territory?
Rosy: That’s weird, people say that, but at the time, there was no such conscious homage. It was rather a reflection of the state of mind that I was in. I was increasingly bearing the marks of (and anguished by) the absurdity of certain facets of life.
**In the same way that people with an insufficient frame of reference wrongly compare every musician they hear to The Beatles, the under-informed tend to ascribe any sign of whimsy or absurdity in the comics medium to Krazy Kat progenitor George Herriman. Yes, both were deeply influential, but come on, there are limits. In Rosy’s case, I’d posit that, if there was influence at work there, it was more likely that of the mighty Saul Steinberg.