Robert Gring’s Wits-Sharpening Fun

« We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. » — G. Stanley Hall

Despite the ubiquity of his work over several decades, very little is known of Robert Gring, at least online. Ah, but thankfully, ‘one reads books‘… and so I turned to Richard Medioni‘s indispensable ouvrage on the history of Mon camarade, Vaillant and Pif Gadget, L’histoire complète 1901-1994. About Mr. Gring (likely born in 1922 and died in 1995), we discover that he was for several years a press illustrator for centrist daily newspaper France-Soir, that he spent some time in a work camp during WW2, that, post-war, his work appeared in L’Almanach Vermot, Paris Match, Télé 7 Jours, La vie parisienne… and so forth.

That he was a reserved, bashful man who treasured his work above all else. And most admirably, that he was a man of great personal integrity and principles, as evidenced by the following anecdote, recounted by Mr. Medioni: « In parallel to his intensive work with (Pif-Vaillant), he occasionally works for Le journal de Mickey, but it ends on a sour note! In 1980, it is gently brought to his notice that his collaboration to a periodical associated with the French communist party is incompatible with his presence within the pages of Mickey. He must choose! Gring, who does not appreciate this type of pressure and has lofty ideas of honour, does not dither the slightest bit: he opts for fidelity. » I’m strongly reminded of Howard Prince’s valiant words to the House Un-American Activities Committee in The Front (1976).

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Francs-Jeux was a long-lived kids’ magazine published from 1946 to 1979… 777 issues!), and Gring provided a number of its covers and several interior illustrations and strips. This is Francs-Jeux no. 390 (Sept. 15, 1962). See: even then, you had a couple of kids in black hoodies skulking to class.
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This is Francs-Jeux no. 393 (Nov. 1st, 1962). The title feature, Le coucou qui ne voulait plus dire ‘coucou’ is the touching tale of a clock birdie who decides to make a dash for freedom, only to discover that life on the outside is intolerably uncertain and perilous. This is a France straight out of Jacques Tati‘s Mon oncle.
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Another Gring specialty: Le jeu des bulles, wherein errant word balloons must be restored to their proper speaker. If you must know: 1-g, 2-j, 3-a, 4-f, 5-i, 6-d, 7-b, 8-e, 9-k, 10-c, 11-h; Published in Pif gadget no. 33 (Oct. 1969, Vaillant). Plots from the fables of Jean de la Fontaine, script by Roger Dal.
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Gring could always be counted on to compose and depict complex but lucid crowd settings, and this is a fine example. It’s also a 5-in-1 game: 1) Find the five anomalies; 2) Find the hidden umbrella; 3) Spot the five differences between the nearly-identical Durant Père and Durant Fils boutiques; 4) Four objects appear three times apiece. Find them; and 5) To whom does the stopwatch on the pavement belong? Published in Pif gadget no. 71 (June 1970, Vaillant); game conceived by Odette-Aimée Grandjean.
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No customers! « The café is deserted and the barman leans forlornly on his bar counter. This is abnormal, of course, but certains things are even more abnormal. » During our current state of all-around home confinement, it seemed sadly à propos. From Pif gadget no 143 (Nov. 1971, Vaillant).
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From Pif gadget no. 185 (Sept. 1972, Vaillant). You wouldn’t see this sort of thing in an American kids’ publication, that’s for certain. The object of the game: find the anomalies.
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« But he would attain fame in most unexpected fashion. In order to enliven the austere pages of the Méthode Assimil, he is called upon to illustrate a variety of idioms for the manuals. Not only does his drawing prove itself effective for the learning of English, German or Spanish, but it makes these volumes funny and user-friendly. » This undated gouache illustration Gring created for Assimil is scanned from the original, a prized part of my collection.

Here, then, are some excerpts from a couple of Assimil guides from my shelves:

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1) « No smoking is allowed in here. » 2) « Personally, I’m really not hungry at all. » 3) « I love him, he loves me, and that’s what matters most. » 4) « All streets are exactly alike in these parts. » 5) « We’d always rather be where we’re not. » — from Le russe sans peine (1971, Assimil) and 6) « We’re headed to Dubrovnik by way of Zagreb. » — from Le serbo-croate sans peine (1972, Assimil). Thanks to Darko Macan for confirming that last translation!

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Gring was also a regular contributor to Ludo, Le journal des amateurs d’énigmes. If you can read this, here’s the solution, which I’m afraid requires prior knowledge of Paris in the 1970s: « Pendant sa crise, le bonhomme a sans doute marché jusqu’aux studios de Boulogne. La scène qu’il a surprise se déroulait dans les décors de cinéma. » Incidentally, a quality hardbound collection of this material was published in 2013 by Les Éditions Taupinambour. under the title of Les énigmes de Snark & autres mystères.
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In the 1960s, Gring illustrated a popular series of keychains for Norman dairy company Virlux, featuring the signs of the Zodiac. I’m still missing Taurus, Aquarius, and Cancer (thanks, Matt!) as you can see.
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A rare photograph of Monsieur Gring (left), and one of his writing partner, Roger ‘Dal’ Dalméras, date unknown.

-RG

 

2 thoughts on “Robert Gring’s Wits-Sharpening Fun

  1. Matt Brunson March 28, 2020 / 17:06

    I’m a Scorpio, so that keychain image greatly amuses me.

    Also missing Cancer, it seems?

    Like

    • gasp65 March 28, 2020 / 18:27

      And little wonder at that: I forgot to include it in my checklist. Observant as ever, Matt. Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

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