Jean Cézard and Arthur le fantôme

Writer-Artist-Colourist Jean Cézard ( Jean César), born March 23, 1924 in the small French village of Membray, saw a ghost in his room when he was ten years old. In the morning light, the spectre turned out to be naught but one of his mom’s blouses, but the seed was sown: the incident would inspire his most famous creation, Arthur le fantôme justicier.

Arthur first manifested himself (though still invisible!) in issue 449 of comics weekly Vaillant (December 20, 1953). The editorial team realizing the character’s vast potential and charm, Arthur then returned with issue 451 (January 3, 1954), this time fully visible (when he so desired) and he was set for the afterlife. After his creator’s 1977 passing, Arthur’s adventures continued for a time in lesser hands, but really, Cézard was irreplaceable.

Arthur was Cézard’s favourite series to work on, because he could set the little revenant’s* adventures anywhere and any when, and he certainly did.

Arthur2A
It’s all but impossible to single out an absolute favourite Cézard page, but then again, I’m not held to such arbitrary limitations. Here’s the closing page of Un fameux coup de tabac, from Pif Gadget no. 33 (i.e. Vaillant no. 1271, October, 1969) Those colours!
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And here we have a true splash by Jean Cézard. I wanted to showcase his astonishing aptitude for rendering castles (haunted or otherwise), not to mention complex action scenes. Arthur le fantôme et les nuisances was published in Pif Gadget no. 113 (Vaillant no. 1350, April, 1971).
Arthur1A
La naissance d’une ville fantôme (“Birth of a Ghost Town”), set of course in the American West (ah, ces Français et leur ‘Far West’) ran in issue 155 of Vaillant’s successor Pif Gadget in February, 1972.
ArthurBainA
Dans le bain… (“In the Bath…”) ran in Pif Gadget no. 212 (March, 1973). By this point, at its peak, with a print run of 540,000 copies, Pif Gadget sold more than its three main competitors (Pilote, Tintin and Spirou) … combined. Then somebody got greedy, with the usual results.
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Should anyone wonder whether Cézard could also handle a less crowded, sparer layout, his covers for Arthur Poche should settle the issue. This is Arthur Poche no. 9 (July, 1966).
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While Cézard was quite a fast worker (in a given month, he could produce around 20 pages, which means, in his case, writing, pencilling, inking, lettering *and* colouring), when it came to the half-comics, half games pocket-sized quarterly Arthur Poche, he merely provided covers. The Arthur material therein was the work of Cézar-trained Michel-Paul Giroud. This is Arthur Poche no. 11 (January, 1967).
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This is Arthur Poche no. 12 (April, 1967).
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This is Arthur Poche no. 23 (January, 1970)

Les Éditions Toth, an ambitious Parisian publisher, set out to restore and reprint the works, but after five volumes (2002-2006), the enterprise seems to have stalled. However, another specialty publisher, Éditions du Taupinambour, picked up the gauntlet and published all of Cézard’s Pif Gadget Arthur stories (1969-77) in 13 volumes. That leaves, it seems, a gap of five years or so.

In closing, an anecdote about the loneliness of the long-distance cartoonist, told by Pif’s finest editor in chief Richard Medioni (1947-2016) in his definitive chronicle of Vaillant’s rise and fall, Mon camarade, Vaillant, Pif Gadget : l’histoire complète, 1901-1994 (2012, Vaillant Collector): « So I begin to read the episode that Jean has brought — when an author hands me his new pages, I necessarily read them in his presence, because I’m eager to read them, of course, but also out of respect for the work accomplished — and I admire it.

As I read on, Cézard comments here and there… when I laugh, he smiles. Sometimes, he points out a detail in the drawing that I missed… he never ceases to observe me and appears satisfied when I react as he had hoped.

Suddenly, it dawns upon me just how important such a session is to him. I bring up the notion and he explains:

“I spend days at my drawing table, alone, without a soul to appreciate my toil. And it’s a lot of time. No-one to give me a sense of what works and what doesn’t, what will bring a laugh and what will fall flat. So, when I come here, in seeing your response, I get that indispensable connection with my audience…” »

-RG

*Arthur, unlike, say, Casper, isn’t the shade of some dead child: his parents made him the old-fashioned way.

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