Éric et Artimon: Some Choice Bubblegum!

« Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don’t swallow it. » — Hank Ketcham

Going way back: When I was a wee lad (still in the single digits), my mother would accompany me to our area’s oldest and finest bookstore (Chicoutimi’s long-gone Librairie régionale). At the time, I had been purchasing bound collections of Belgian bédé publisher’s Spirou, the earlier the better. Even at that tender age, I held the conviction that things had already peaked.

A friendly employee ushered us into the restricted area of the bookstore’s top floor, a vast warehouse I never got a tour of… but it was immense! I was led to an aisle where, high above, dozens of older Spirou collections were kept, dating all the way back to 1962. I can afford to be specific, because I bought the oldest issue they had on hand (Album Spirou no. 84). At ten dollars a pop, they were reasonably-priced, but still costly for a child with a 1970s-scale allowance. For my parents, a reliable source of ideal birthday and Christmas gifts, however!

It was in their pages (no. 90, see below!) that, along with the established Spirou magazine series (Spirou et Fantasio, Boule et Bill, Buck Danny, Benoît Brisefer, Tif et Tondu, Gil Jourdan…), I encountered scads of unfamiliar entries. Of these, an early album caught mid-tale one that truly stuck with me through decades and therefore is the object of today’s post.

This is Album Spirou no. 90 (Sept. 1963, Dupuis), collecting the bédé weekly’s issues n° 1316 to 1328. Cover by André Franquin, depicting a scene from a Spirou adventure, the troubled production that was QRN sur Bretzelburg (under its original title, QRM sur Bretzelburg).

I’d be squandering time and space to retrace Belgian master Willy ‘Will’ Maltaite‘s biography, as Lambiek covers the topic in great detail and with the requisite visual profusion.

In short, though, here’s what’s relevant in this case: from 1949 to 1987 (with a pause between ’59 and ’63), Will illustrated the adventures of Tif et Tondu, characters owned by Éditions Dupuis, its publisher. Still, he longed to draw characters of his own, which wasn’t an idle whim, given that most of his colleagues and collaborators did just that, enjoying more latitude and far greater financial rewards. In 1962, he got the chance to try his hand at an original series, Éric et Artimon, conceived with versatile scripter-cartoonist Raymond Antoine, alias Vicq. And the result was outstandingly charming, light-hearted and hilarious.

The 1976 (and only, so far) edition of Toute la gomme. Still, I'm grateful for its existence: I was finally able to read the whole story, though without colour.
The 1976 (and only, so far) edition of Toute la gomme. Still, I’m grateful for its existence: I was finally able to read the whole story, though without colour.

A mere two long adventures (44 pages each) were produced (Le tyran en acier chromé, 1962, and Toute la gomme, 1963, plus a six-pager, Et mine de rien, in 1967), and Dupuis never bothered to collect or reprint them. Instead, well down the pike, two separate, smaller publishers licensed the rights and issued small black and white runs of, respectively, Toute la gomme (Espace Édition, 1976) and Le tyran… (Magic Strip, 1983).

Candy aficionado Éric visits his main supplier, loveable eccentric Monsieur Grosoison, at his confiserie ‘Au bambin vorace’ (‘The Voracious Toddler’). The old man, also a brilliant inventor, shows off his new creation to his best and most loyal customer. The stuff’s not only downright magical, it’s also exquisitely delicious.
« Such lungs! Bravo! You are a great artist! »
However, Tarquin doesn’t like his good-natured fun interrupted.
The back cover of Espace’s Toute la gomme, wherein Éric employs ingenious means to escape a rooftop.
The opening page to the short concluding episode of the boy and the captain’s adventures, Et mine de rien (Spirou n° 1506, 1967).
And here’s the fancy 1983 edition of Le tyran en acier chromé, scarce and fairly pricey nowadays, unlike Toute la gomme.
Thankfully, Éric et Artimon haven’t been entirely forgotten, despite the shabby treatment they received at the hands of their original publisher. Here’s a signed lithograph produced in the early 1990s by Belgian bookstore Chic-Bull. Note the fancy silver ink on the statue. Mine’s number 48!

I’ll be spotlighting Will’s other creator-owned series, Isabelle, at some point during this year’s Hallowe’en Countdown!

-RG

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