Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 15

« Get ready for the future: it is murder. » — Leonard Cohen

Since Hallowe’en isn’t as widely celebrated in Europe — Ireland and the rest of the U.K. aside, obviously — as it is in North America, it’s not always evident and easy to keep the countdown truly international. No worries: in such a situation, I’m no stickler — I’ll take the spirit of the law over its letter.

The first (and until now, only) time I posted about Thomas Ott, I wound up with a contender for least-popular post in this blog’s history. Have I learned my lesson? Heavens, no. I live, perhaps naïvely, in the belief that our audience has grown in the interim, and that said audience is ever more attuned and receptive to our quirks.

Here, then, is some gallows humour from Mr. Ott. Don’t try this at home, unless…

Top: The Night Porter, anyone?
Er… Top: Deadly Weapons, anyone?
Originally published in Tales of Error (Oct. 1989, Edition moderne, Switzerland). Yes, a book in English by a German-speaker from a Swiss publisher with a French name.
The Exit collection (Sept. 1997, Delcourt) gathers the essential bits of Ott’s first three albums (Tales of Error, Greetings from Hellville and Dead End), as well as some new pieces.

For more poisoned goodies from Mr. Ott, just plod your carcass over to his official website.

-RG

Niso Ramponi: He’s not a Pervert, He’s… Kremos!

« By 1948, the Italians had begun to pull themselves together, demonstrating once more their astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is so perfectly balanced by their absolute inability to deal with success. » — Gore Vidal

The accomplished Italian graphic designer, animator and illustrator Niso Ramponi (1924-2002), is perhaps most renowned (it’s all relative, but not to actual merit!) under his pinup cartooning nom de plume of “Kremos”.

Ramponi champion Joseph V. Procopio sheds some light on the genesis of this alias:

« Ramponi’s pen name, Kremos, was born of necessity: Like many of his generation, after the war Ramponi was conscripted into the Italian army for a year of service. Loath to abandon his budding cartooning and illustration career but barred by military regulations from working as a freelancer, Ramponi conspired with a friend named Sandro Cremo, who acted as his intermediary to secure and deliver freelance art assignments on Ramponi’s behalf. To maintain the ruse, Ramponi signed his work Kremos, a pseudonym that stuck even after his discharge from military duty. »

My own initial exposure to Ramponi/Kremos’ work came through Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth’s splendid, but woefully short-lived Best Cartoons From Abroad collections (1955-60), which contrasted favourably against the genteel contemporary American humour anthologies. Fortuitously, Signor Procopio eventually assembled, circa 2015, twin collections of Ramponi’s finest cartoon work, ‘Kremos: The Lost Art of Niso Ramponi‘, volumes 1 (b&w) and 2 (colour). Grab ’em while you can!

Here’s a mixed even dozen of my favourite Kremos cartoons. Buon appetito!

From Travasissimo no. 41 (Jan. 1951).
Worry not: she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. From Travasissimo no. 50 (Oct. 1951). I see much kinship between Ramponi and Jack Cole‘s pinup styles, don’t you?
Ah, yes, when one ate fruit and vegetables only when they were in season. I miss that; it seems more honest, less decadent and wasteful. From Travasissimo no. 57 (May 1952). For the strangest reason, this doesn’t leave me craving peaches, but rather… aubergine.
From Il Travaso (Jan. 18, 1953).
From Travasissimo no. 76 (Dec. 1953). I do believe that this is an encore appearance from the previous cartoon’s exam taker.
From Travasissimo no. 85 (Sept. 1954); translated version from Best Cartoons From Abroad 1955, my inaugural, unforgettable brush with the Kremos aesthetic.
From Travasissimo no. 88 (Dec. 1954). The caption was completely rewritten for the cartoon’s English-language appearance in Best Cartoons From Abroad 1955, edited by Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth. The original gag went: Husband: “You know, dear… I took some swimming lessons from the lifeguard because I wanted to surprise you…
Wife: “Now?”
Husband: “No, in April!
From Il Travaso –“The overflow” for you English speakers (May 26, 1958).
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 3, edited by Lariar and Roth.
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; also reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 3.
From Il Travaso, circa 1958; again reprinted from Best Cartoons From Abroad 3. Those American editors loved their Kremos. I love the word “pappagallo” which, in Italian slang, means a wolf… autrement dit, a randy ragazzo.
From Il Travaso, circa 1959; reprinted in Best Cartoons From Abroad 1959, edited by Messrs. Lariar and Roth.

-RG

Jean Gourmelin: Tenants of the Void

« It’s true that Gourmelin’s world has everything to unsettle the general public: it contains as much horror as black humour, as much morbidness as sombre poetry. But to classify his drawings in a well-defined genre is a hopeless enterprise, and we well know how our times need clear, idiotic and exact labels. This relegates Gourmelin to some fuzzy area, a sort of no man’s land where one can find anything — even fanatics — but never a thing to eat or to drink. » — from the artist’s presentation in the anthology Les chefs-d’œuvre du dessin d’humour* (1965, Les éditions Planète; ).

While France’s Jean Gourmelin (1920-2011) started out as a painter and practiced — and often mastered — scores of artistic techniques and media (etching, technical drawing, sculpture, stained glass, wallpaper design, and so on…), he’s more commonly remembered for his stark black and white, wordless pen and ink drawings. Even as they remain open to interpretation, their power and eloquence are undeniable.

While his earliest drawings appeared in print sporadically from 1951, his crucial turning point was his 1961 encounter with Belgian writer-historian Jacques Sternberg, who encouraged Gourmelin to emphasise, in his work, idea over form. This canny shift in approach soon landed his newly-galvanised work in the pages of Planète, crucially, but also those, just as notable, of Bizarre, Midi-minuit Fantastique, Pariscope, Hara-Kiri… with occasional forays into other media, for instance some striking production design for a 1967 TV adaptation of Gustav Meyrink‘s classic novel, The Golem. Here’s an unexpected (and fine!) article in English about Gourmelin’s work on the film.

Here, then, are some (dark) highlights of Gourmelin’s work in the 1960s.

This one is entitled « En famille ».
Ever had one of those weeks?
This piece appeared in Les chefs-d’œuvre de l’épouvante (1965, Les éditions Planète), accompanying Claude Farrère‘s classic 1928 short-short story, Le Train perdu, which you can read here (in the original French). Gourmelin also provided the anthology’s arresting cover and frontispiece artwork. Maybe next time…

-RG

*It says something (flattering, if you ask me) about the Gallic character that Gourmelin’s work would fall under the category of “humorous”. We’re a looong way from, say… Dave Barry.

Keeping Cool in Grønland: Racontars arctiques

« There are two kinds of Arctic problems, the imaginary and the real. Of the two, the imaginary are the most real. » — Vilhjalmur Stefansson

As it’s been a record-shattering scorcher of a week over much of North America, I’ve been daydreaming of cooler, much cooler climes whilst simmering at my desk. And why not make a post of it? A couple of years ago, I picked up one of the finest comics I’ve ever encountered, Racontars arctiques: l’intégrale (2018, Sarbacane). Its myriad of virtues, subtle and obvious, made it easy to enjoy, but a challenging work to dissect and properly discuss. But here we are — hope I did it justice!

Danish writer Jørn Riel (b. 1931 in Odense) spent the better part of his twenties and thirties in Greenland as part of a scientific expedition. This sojourn in turn inspired a successful series of tall tales set in the Arctic, fanciful accounts of the lives of hardy explorers, hunters and Inuit natives. His works have been translated into fifteen languages, and in an unusual twist, English isn’t among these.

French cartoonist-illustrator Hervé Tanquerelle (b. 1972 in Nantes) might be termed a cartoonist’s cartoonist, with all that entails: he hasn’t achieved superstar status, but it’s not through any lack of talent or toil. While I’ve often lamented the rather banal tragedy of great North-American artists who can (and do) cruise through decades-long careers without ever coming within hailing distance of a decent script, Hervé Tanquerelle’s path has been paved with glorious scenarios, most of them provided by writer-artist compères: Professeur Bell (with Joann Sfar, 2002-06, which I’ve featured here); Le legs de l’alchimiste (with Hubert Boulard, 2002-07); Les faux visages (with David B., 2012), and his most commercially successful opus thus far, Racontars arctiques (with Gwen De Bonneval, 2009-13). He has just completed work on the ambitious Le dernier Atlas (with De Bonneval and Fabien Vehlmann, 2018-2021), nothing less than a gritty, SF-infused alternate version of the Algerian War.

For Racontars, Tanquerelle even travelled to Greenland with a group of scientists and artists, with Jørn Riel among them, which added layers of authenticity and personality to what was already an undeniable labour of love. Try to envision your average US cartoonist putting out this kind of effort and commitment (one notable exception being, of course, the prodigious William Stout)! Anyway, Tanquerelle made fruitful use of this experience and its attendant documentation with a semi-autobiographical ligne claire account (fittingly published by Casterman, Tintin’s forever home), Groenland Vertigo (2017).

Despite essaying the thankless role of the invisible middleman, Gwen De Bonneval (Tanquerelle’s fellow Nantois, né Gwénaël de Bonneva in 1973), deserves full marks for admirably condensing Riel’s tales without sacrificing their appeal, not to mention cherry-picking the ones most ripe for adaptation (confirmed by co-admin ds, who’s read both the prose and the comics versions).

The majority of our esteemed cast: Anton, Museau, Lodvig, Le Comte, Herbert (cradling Alexandre), Mads Madsen, William le Noir, Bjørken, Lasselille, Lieutenant Hansen; and Valfred providing the beefcake in front.
The climatic extremes of the Great North aren’t for everyone, to put it mildly. Anton sinks deep into melancholy.
With its unusual day/night cycle, Greenland is no place for a normal rooster, as we learn from the woeful tale of Alexandre.
« Museau was a first-rate hunter… until he lost his glasses », explains his companion, Bjørken. While treating the puppies to some jam, a freeloader comes along.
What do you do when someone kicks the bucket during the long winter? The ground being frozen solid, he can’t be buried. And if you leave him outside, foxes or other rascals are liable to carry off the corpse. In this case, you give him a proper send-off — by dropping his coffin into the sea, but first gathering everyone for a boozy feast, with the stiff in the place of honour. Oops, he’s thawing out.
In the darkest of these tales, Le Roi Oscar (that’s the hog), Halvor loses his mind (what his companion calls “the Great Vertigo”), with dire consequences.
Callow youth Anton Pedersen arrives with a baggage of illusions and misconceptions about the trapper’s life. Reality nearly does him in.
His spirit is saved in extremis by the song of Spring’s first snow bunting, a sweet little guy.
In the set’s wildest and most epic tale, Valfred and Hansen… take a little detour.
The series’ centrepiece is probably La vierge froide (“The Cold Virgin”), in which the men share a useful delusion of Emma, an ideal woman they barter back and forth. Note how Emma’s appearance shifts according to the proclivities of each current companion.
Of this adaptation, Jørn Riel said: « Opening this book is like opening the door to the arctic world as I knew it so many years ago. The trappers in these drawings are exactly as I discovered them then, and to meet them anew this way was both a surprise and a source of great joy. I thank with all my heart the authors and publisher. The trappers of Northeastern Greenland have been resurrected. » Let’s not underestimate the resilience and backbone of such men: after all, the vaunted Vikings gave up living there… because conditions were too harsh for their tender hides.

Jørn Riel defines a racontar (rumours or gossip don’t quite convey the meaning), as “a true story that could pass for a lie. Unless it’s the other way round“. I hope the language barrier doesn’t prove too much of a hurdle. These marvels truly offer a fantastic opportunity for the discerning publisher… and, unless I missed something, the overdue scoop of Riel’s first English-language publication. Hello, Fantagraphics, D&Q…

-RG

Eleven Panels: a Tribute to Nikita Mandryka

« In the last analysis, a pickle is a cucumber with experience. » — Irena Chalmers

Earlier this week, the world lost another of its greatest cartoonists in Nikita Mandryka (October 20, 1940 – June 13, 2021), and he’s been among my lifelong favourites, thanks to his accessible, deceptively simple style and its nervous, explorative vitality. I’ve written about Mandryka’s Ailleurs some time ago, so there’s no pressing need to rehash his biography.

He was a giant, I tell you! The artiste circa 1975.

This freed me to opt for another tack this time. Since Nikita’s work is all-but-untranslatable (between the argot and the puns and general free-form lunacy… I’m not Even Going to Try) and his pages too dense for meaningful large-scale extraction, I’ve selected a sort of random number of panels — eleven seemed right (and winnowing things down was predictably exacting); Hope you like them.

Encore merci, Monsieur Mandryka!

An incisive entry from Rébus au pied de la lettre, published in Pilote super pocket no. 5 (Sept. 15, 1969, Dargaud); script by Marcel Gotlib.
Clopinettes: Toute une existence, from Pilote no.634 (Dec. 30, 1971, Dargaud), script by Gotlib. « I have loved… »
Clopinettes: Les bons conseils de tante Glutzenbaum, from Pilote no. 635 (Jan. 6, 1972), script by Gotlib. Background characters singing « Mammy Blue » was one of Mandryka’s most enduring recurring gags, certainly an idée fixe. The song was an inescapable, multi-lingual worldwide earworm hit in 1971 and beyond. It was composed by seasoned French songwriter Hubert Giraud, who had earlier written the standard Sous le ciel de Paris / Under Paris Skies. Chanteuse Nicoletta’s rendition was the bane of Nikita’s existence; the one that pervaded my childhood was Roger Whittaker’s, and here’s a reggae version by The Cimmarrons. Americans would know of it through Stories’ 1973 rendition. Phew!
Clopinettes: Les trois dessinateurs, from Pilote no.644 (March 3, 1972, Dargaud), script by Gotlib. In the usual order, L’Écho des Savanes‘ founding trio: Mandryka, Gotlib, (1934-2016), Claire Bretécher (1940-2020). L’Écho was but a couple of months away!
Opening panel from Initiation, collected in Les aventures potagères du Concombre Masqué (Apr. 1973, Dargaud). At left: le Concombre’s fabled home, the Cactus-Blockhaus. The cryptic cucurbit’s loyal companion, Chou-rave (kohlrabi) is seen on the right. Nice brushwork!
« Somewhere, at the world’s edge… », an excerpt from Rêves de sables 2, collected in Le retour du Concombre masqué (1975, Dargaud).
A favourite excerpt from the superb opening sequence of Comment devenir maître du monde?, another entry in the Concombre Masqué saga (1980, Dargaud). Our protagonist is a journalist making the perilous journey to conduct an exclusive interview with Le Concombre.
A panel from « … quelque part à l’endroit où ailleurs veut dire ici… », collected in La vie quotidienne du Concombre Masqué (1981, Dargaud). For the full effect, listen to Schubert’s La truite.
Another one from the same source. « Scram! Out! Everyone! ».
« Le Concombre is on his way to the South Seas with Zaza »; a panel from Le bain de minuit (2006, Dargaud). Meet Zaza, le Concombre’s latter-day personal secretary and Girl Friday. Incidentally, they’re travelling by bathtub, which is likely le Concombre’s favourite place to be.
A panel from La vérité ultime (2012, Dargaud). All is not what it seems aboard this flight to Timbuktu.

For more Concombre Masqué and all things Mandryka (did you know it was he who reportedly coined Métal Hurlant‘s title? ‘Howling Metal’ would have been such a better name than ‘Heavy Metal’… and ironically more Metal), check out his website (while it lasts). In french, hope you won’t mind!

-RG

Jean-Jacques Sempé’s Caustic Heyday

« When I grow up I would like to be an artist in France. » — Keith Haring

The other day, while weighing the idea of producing this post, I asked my wife: “Is Sempé too obvious a choice?”, to which she wisely replied: “To whom?”. To add another few grammes of perspective, I’m reminded of how, a decade-or-so ago, I was helping out a friend by manning his business phones while he took a vacation. One caller identified herself as Mme Sempé. I immediately asked whether she was related to the cartoonist. She was (they’re second cousins), but rather shockingly, this was the first time anyone had ever brought up the subject with her. Okay, so not so obvious after all.

If you only know Jean-Jacques Sempé‘s work through his cover illustrations for The New Yorker, well, you’ve missed his finest. Sempé (born August 17, 1932, in Bordeaux, France) was recruited in the late 70s, in the twilight of editor William Shawn‘s tenure (1952-87) with the magazine. To be quite frank, Sempé’s New Yorker work is his weakest, comprising almost invariably mawkish scenes of the dying arts: little girls practicing scales at grand pianos, ballet rehearsals and grand operas. And the work has only grown more anachronistic and sentimental with time; I’d say he’s the least compelling cover artist currently working for the magazine, with the exception of art director Françoise Mouly‘s little chouchou, the stiff and bland Adrian Tomine, he of the lifeless line and emetic palette. Ahem.

But there was a time…

In 1968, a decade-and-a-half into Sempé’s career, ever-lucid Belgian writer and historian Jacques Sternberg perceptively summed up the artist’s appeal:

« But Sempé’s humour has earned the favour of a very wide audience. Without a doubt because he’s able to observe with a playful — but rarely sadistic — eye the drawbacks and peculiarities of our daily lives, and that his reader feels — mistakenly — reassured by this vision.

Sempé has, in fact, a way with an impressive setting, with meticulous detail, of the mise en scène that sugarcoats the bitter pill and of the lyrical flight that dampens the ferocity of the content. The miracle occurs as if by magic: Sempé, who is rather scathing, seduces rather than worries his readers. »

A cartoon that first saw print in the pages of Ici Paris in 1958.
This cartoon appeared in France Dimanche, circa 1957.
Another one that ran in France Dimanche in 1957.
The signs say, from left to right: “They’re mocking us“; “More demagoguery“; “Freedom First!“; “End the abuse“, “Down with…” and… “We have found this glove“.
From France Dimanche (1957). This one strikes close to home for me. Makes me think of the sort of barbarians always seeking to ‘improve upon’ nature. A passage from friendly gadfly and crime writer Carl Hiassen‘s brilliantly scathing polemic, Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World (1998) comes to mind:

« Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil; so uniformly efficient and courteous, so dependably clean and conscientious, so unfailingly entertaining that it’s unreal, and therefore is an agent of pure wickedness. Imagine promoting a universe in which raw Nature doesn’t fit because it doesn’t measure up; isn’t safe enough, accessible enough, predictable enough, even beautiful enough for company standards. Disney isn’t in the business of exploiting Nature so much as striving to improve upon it, constantly fine-tuning God’s work.

Lakes, for instance. Florida’s heartland is dappled with lovely tree-lined lakes, but the waters are often tea-colored from cypress bark. For postcard purposes, tea-colored water was deemed unsuitable for Disney World’s centerpiece, Bay Lake, so in the early 1970s Team Rodent sprang into action—yanking out many of the cypresses, draining the lake, scraping out the bottom muck, replacing it with imported sand, then refilling the crater. All this was done to make the water bluish and therefore more inviting to tourists. For good measure, Disney even added beaches.» [ read it here ]
Naturally, I don’t dislike *all* of his New Yorker covers. This one, from the November 24, 1997 issue, is a peach.

-RG

Marc Caro, Before the Movies

« The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. » — Oscar Wilde

Marc Caro, born in 1956 in Nantes (birthplace of Jules Verne!), was never a prolific bédéiste, quite possibly because he liked to spread his talent around: musician, animator, film director, designer, art director… et j’en passe!

Today, he’s perhaps best remembered for his collaborative work with long-time accomplice Jean-Pierre Jeunet (they met at an animation festival in 1974!), most famously the films Delicatessen (1991) and La cité des enfants perdus (City of Lost Children, 1995), which they co-directed. While Jeunet went on to Alien: Resurrection (with Caro along as design supervisor), Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (most popular French film of all, and a great one for a change!) and his breathtaking adaptation of Sébastien Japrisot‘s Un long dimanche de fiançailles, Caro concentrated on design and art direction. So while nowadays his toil largely occurs behind the scenes, he remains quite active and in great demand.

Back in the early days, though, while juggling animation projects and musical gigs (ah, youth!), Caro created a clutch of brief and brutal vignettes for such fabled publications as Métal hurlant, Fluide glacial, Charlie Mensuel and, on this side of the pond, Raw. Most of these strips were crafted using the daunting technique of scratchboard; done right, it’s strikingly effective, and in Caro’s nimble hands, it’s done right. Another master of the technique is Switzerland’s Thomas Ott.

Our featured piece was translated into English by Elisabeth Bell and lettered by Lea Hernandez [psst: someone left out a word in the first panel…]. It appeared in The New Comics Anthology, edited by Bob Callahan (1991, Collier Books). In this case, Caro is using a combination of scratchboard and Craftint.

That grotesque cigar chomper, top right, brings to mind the savagery of Marshall Arisman‘s work, but in a different medium.

Sadly, this printing doesn’t quit do justice to the finesse of Caro’s rendering. Compare with an excerpt from the French original:

Caro’s retrospective poster for Paris’ Art brut gallery La Halle Saint Pierre‘s Caro/Jeunet exhibition. Sorry, looks like we’ve all missed it. « Reached at home in Nantes, a few weeks after the vernissage, Marc Caro chuckles when it’s pointed out that even their heads are identical. “I’m not sure who first grew out his goatee, but I was first to lose my hair.” »
One of the Caro/Jeunet exhibition’s treasures: Makeup tests and elements of Caro’s storyboards, on loan from the collection of the great makeup designer (and long-time associate) Nathalie Tissier.

See further samples of Caro’s comics work here, and if you crave yet more, you can’t go wrong with L’Association‘s Caro compendium, Contrapunktique.

-RG

Between 117 and 007: Francis Coplan, Agent FX-18

« Generally speaking, espionage offers each spy an opportunity to go crazy in a way he finds irresistible. » — Kurt Vonnegut

I love a good tale of espionage, but not in the Bond mould. While the adventures of Fleming’s 007 have their charm, it’s not exactly plausible spycraft, nor is it expected to be, I reckon. The world-weary, less flashy and more cerebral approach pioneered by Eric Ambler (Passport to Danger, A Coffin for Dimitrios) and Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American) is more in keeping with my interests.

« Before Ambler, international thrillers tended to be dominated by such writers as John Buchan, Herman Cyril McNeile (known as “Sapper”), and their many imitators. These books were often rousing adventures, but filled with improbabilities, both of plot and character, plus a hearty jingoism and a well of right-wing, Old World prejudice that would curl your hair today. » [ source ]

As far as I’m concerned, I’m afraid that describes Fleming’s writing to a T. By contrast, I was right chuffed when I learned, a couple of days ago, of this striking bit of news about worthy Ambler disciple John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), who passed away last year.

Now, given his prodigious and lasting popularity, most people likely presume that James Bond was the first “super spy”. While espionage chronicles have been around nearly as long as there’s been storytelling, the spy, if he survived his adventure, rarely embarked on a sequel.

That state of affairs was scrambled somewhat by the arrival on the scene of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117. Created by Jean Bruce, he’s starred in 265 novels, which have sold in excess of 75 million copies. The series was initially published by the legendary Fleuve Noir press, which lent the English language the now-ubiquitous (and often misused) term of ‘Noir‘.

As it happens, Mr. Bruce decided, after 25 novels in three years, to shift his series over to a rival publisher (Presses de la Cité*). Fleuve noir, understandably scrambling to avoid a massive shortfall, commissioned a pair of Belgian writers, Gaston Van den Panhuyse and Jean Libert (under the joint nom de plume of Paul Kenny) to concoct a replacement agent secret. The new fellow was Francis Coplan, alias FX-18. He was featured in 237 novels between 1953 (beating James Bond to the stands by a couple of months) and 1996.

Coplan’s début, 1953’s Sans issue (“No Exit”)

In 1966, les Presses de la Cité began issuing, through their Arédit/Comics Pocket line, graphic adaptations of OSS 117 novels; Coplan followed in 1969. As a kid (and later!), I assiduously steered clear of these: stiff and generic-looking artwork, overly-verbose scripts. At nearly 200 pages, the comics were barely shorter than the novels (generally less than 250 pages long), so the adaptors clearly didn’t make full use of the visual medium’s condensing potential.

So why am I even discussing these?

Because I discovered recently that an artist whose work I do rate highly, José de Huéscar (1938-2007), drew, as it happens, a handful of Coplan issues, and demonstrably well at that. Here are some samples, pulled from the original art.

Position clé, page 33 (1971). Note Huéscar’s confident use of a dry brush technique and his bold use of negative space (panel one in particular).
Sabotages sanglants, page 16 (1971). Ingenious, low-tech Coplan is far more John Drake than James Bond, and that’s how I prefer my spies!
Sabotages sanglants, page 24 (1971). Inventive, but not gratuitous or confusing, ‘camera’ work.
Sabotages sanglants, page 29 (1971). Fun with textures, great depth of field work, again with clear storytelling despite the invasive captions.
Sabotages sanglants, page 43 (1971). Another page that would have resulted in static talking heads. The meal the characters share is virtually relegated to the captions, and Huéscar wisely moves the action (so to speak) outside.
Sabotages sanglants, page 85 (1971). Having left London for Cairo, Coplan recruits some local help. In lesser hands, this would have just been graphically tedious talking heads.
Sabotages sanglants, page 92 (1971). Yes, this will get Francis into trouble.
Front and back covers of Coplan no. 7: Position clé (Jan. 1971, Arédit), and Coplan no. 10: Sabotages sanglants (Oct. 1971, Arédit). Seems like the cover artist had a favourite model!

-RG

*the competitors would merge in 1962, when Presses de la Cité bought Fleuve Noir. While les Presses always did a steady business in translations of American novels, their output comprised a healthy contingent of French-language originals (including excellent series by San-Antonio and Georges Simenon); nowadays, after the usual jumble of soul-killing mergers and acquisitions, they mostly traffic in translated novelisations of American TV shows and pop franchises, a dismal parallel path to globalisation and the steady decline of French culture from the second half of the 20th century.

Henri Gerbault, Leading Light of la Belle époque

« It took me some years to clear my head of what Paris wanted me to admire about it, and to notice what I preferred instead. Not power-ridden monuments, but individual buildings which tell a quieter story: the artist’s studio, or the Belle Époque house built by a forgotten financier for a just-remembered courtesan. » — Julian Barnes

Depending on where and when you are, this post will take you far away and to long ago.

Having failed to launch a career as a painter after his studies at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, Henri Gerbault (1863 – 1930) tried his hand at satirical cartooning, and succeeded brilliantly, appearing in all the important magazines of the day, among them La Vie Parisienne, Le Rire, Le Bon Vivant, Le Frou-Frou, L’Art et la Mode, Fantasio, La Vie Moderne, Lectures pour tous… for France, it truly was a golden era for satirical, literary and cultural periodicals.

For instance, during the storied humour magazine Le Rire’s prime years (roughly the first quarter of the 20th century), Gerbault was featured in most issues, often on the front or back cover, and generally in sumptuous colour. Well, you’ll see what I mean. Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, he somehow found time to lend his sundry gifts to the theatrical, advertising, etching, and fine art fields.

Here’s a bit of context if you don’t know who Saint Denis was. Love his interaction with the initially skeptical doggo! Originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
There’s the lad, Paris’s first Bishop, at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Hope he wasn’t damaged in the blaze.
Gage d’amour (“Token of Love”), originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
Les Coulisses de l’Amour is a collection of cartoons published between 1893 and 1895 in La Vie Parisienne. Racist caricatures abound but, to be fair, everybody gets it in the neck.
“Entre la croupe et les lièvres” is a play on “Il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres” (English equivalent: “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip”), with ‘coupe’ replaced by ‘croupe’ (rump) and ‘lèvres’ by ‘lièvres’ (hares) — It was featured on the cover of Le Rire no. 261, (Nov. 4, 1899), eloquently demonstrating the vast cultural gulf between Edwardian England and Belle Époque France… not to mention the United States!
From Le Rire no. 7, (March 21, 1903). In French, the Roman God of war and the year’s third month are both “Mars”. Why is it even “March” in English?
Taking the piss out of that old English discretion (some might call it hypocrisy); from Le Rire no. 18 (June 6, 1903).
From Le Rire no. 59, (March 19, 1904).
From Le Rire no. 160 (Feb. 21, 1906).
From Le Rire no. 380 (May 14, 1910). Missals are also known as ‘prayer books’.
Despite being quite amusing, this one loses it all in translation. Still, “contremaître” is a foreman; its feminine form is “contremaîtresse”, which combines foreman and “mistress”; you’ll hopefully get the idea. This piece appeared in Le Rire rouge (as Le Rire was called during The Great War) no. 179 (Apr. 20, 1918). Note the beautifully understated colour work.
From Le Rire no. 189 (Sept. 10, 1922). « Je m’fiche à poil, rien que pour l’embêter! » in the original; sometimes it’s mighty hard to do proper justice to the source text.
The master’s self-portrait, circa 1904.

-RG

When Rosy Baffled the Kids

« 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.

You be the judge, He looked winningly impish, all right!

And now, the item in question:

From the next page over, a detail from more typical fare, namely Peyo’s La Schtroumpfette. Rosy, art director to the hilt, had opted to further mess with the readers’ minds by tampering with the magazine’s standard À suivre (to be continued) box.

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.

«… awaits you on page 5. » Rosy’s cover for Spirou no. 1465 (May 12, 1966, Éditions Dupuis).

-RG

*Philosopher Alfred Korzybski‘s General Semantics, that is; most famous for its premise that « the map is not the territory ».

**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.