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

Harvey Kurtzman, selon Marcel Gotlib

« Tous les merdeux ricanaient en se disant qu’une revue sans merdeux à la tête, ça ne marcherait jamais.* »

In issue 63 (April, 1974) of the recently rechristened « Charlie Mensuel » (to avoid confusion with its sister publication, Charlie Hebdo, yes, *that* Charlie Hebdo), insightful bandes dessinées critic and French national treasure Yves Frémion-Danet (b. 1947, Lyon), writing under his « Théophraste Épistolier » nom de plume, provided a classic essay accompanying a reprint of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s « Goodman Gets a Gun », originally published in Help no. 16 (Nov. 1962, Warren). In his piece, Frémion posits that, with his 28 issues of Mad / Mad Magazine, Kurtzman’s brand of satire completely changed the rules of the game, and that despite an utter lack of commercial success and name recognition for himself and his work (reportedly, a French edition of Mad was published in 1965-66, for six or seven issues) on the continent, his influence on a significant swathe of the subsequent generation of French and Belgian cartoonists easily validates his vital importance.

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Théophraste Épistolier’s column’s logo, which translates as “Little Mickeys give you big ears”. A “Petit Miquet” is, in french, a generic name for cartoon characters from a dismissive and/or ignorant perspective. Someone to whom Mickey Mouse is the sole precursor of all Little Mickeys. Artwork by Gotlib.

Frémion spares no praise for Kurtzman’s acolytes Elder, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood and John Severin, and publisher Bill Gaines, but has nothing but contempt for editorial successor Al Feldstein (“vile copier”, “lumbering”, “regular”…). Frémion charts Kurtzman’s subsequent projects and associations, and his rôle in the rise of Underground Comix. Recommended reading… if you can read french.

Ah, but that brings us to an apt illustration of that creaky adage, « A picture is worth a thousand words »: as it happens, the legendary Marcel Gotlib (b. 1934, d. 2016), speaking of influential, provided a quartet of original illustrations to put across what comics were like Before and After Kurtzman, commenting at once on American comics and on Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, with a snappy Gallic twist. Like Goofus and Gallant, but with far more tongue.

It took me a long time to come to terms with Gotlib. In my formative years, in Québec, his was such an outsize, smothering influence that one got quite sick of him. To be fair, not of him so much as his multitudinous, third-and-fourth-rate would-be clones. His style was easy to imitate, yet difficult to master. You see how that could easily careen off the rails?

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In the left panel, the pistol is missing, having been whited-out « in accordance with the law on publications intended for young people », a quite repressive set of regulations adopted in 1949.

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More of the same: « Certain body parts have been whited-out. » Gotlib’s point is well made: when something relatively innocuous gets erased, the mind often fills the blanks with more perverse possibilities. Serves you right, censors.

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The issue in question. Charlie / Charlie Hebdo was published from Feb. 1969 to Feb. 1986, lasting, in fits and starts, 198 issues. It then merged with Pilote… and disappeared. Cover, of course, by Charles Schulz.

-RG

All the shitheads giggled, telling themselves that a magazine without an shithead in charge never would stand a chance. » – Théophraste Épistolier