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

Nikita Mandryka’s Ailleurs

« If you don’t want to be idolized by the masses, you don’t become an author, you become a plumber-welder! » — Entretien avec Mandryka, Les cahiers de la bande dessinées no. 28 (1975), conducted by Numa Sadoul

Nikita Mandryka was born October 1940 in Bizerte, Tunisia, to Russian émigré parents. His grandfather had fled the Russian Revolution in 1921 aboard a warship he was commanding. Nikita’s first professional strip appeared late in 1964 in Vaillant (Boff, in Vaillant no. 1024, Dec. 27, 1964), soon renamed Vaillant, le journal de Pif , then Pif Gadget in 1969. While he’s best known for his loquacious, dominoed cucurbit, Le Concombre Masqué, today we’re going to harvest the riches of his somewhat less familiar, but equally absurdist creation, the free-form strip Ailleurs (“Elsewhere”). The feature debuted with the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget and made its bow with issue 35, a few months down the line.

Mandryka left Pif Gadget on good terms (and returned over the years), and with a solid reason: while Pif’s editorial team rightly adored his work, its left-field humour left the majority of Pif’s young readership quite baffled, and sometimes infuriated. Mandryka’s place in the magazine may have been secure, but he yearned for an audience that actually understood him. This he would find at Pilote, with its teenage readership, and all the more so with L’Écho des Savanes (which he cofounded, in 1972, with Claire Bretécher and Marcel Gotlib).

Pif’s was an unusual case: its most singular, daring, arguably most valuable strips were those least appreciated by the kids. And that slice of the readership, you’ll have guessed it, tends to express its opinions more freely and vehemently than their elders, who did love (but more quietly) the somewhat abstract, second degré (offbeat, ironic) features, such as Marcel Gotlib and Henri Dufranne‘s Gai-Luron*, the recently-departed Massimo Mattioli‘s M. Le Magicien or Henri Crespi‘s Nestor. Still, the savvy editorial team, who after all had made the magazine a massive hit, keenly grasped the import of editorial balance and trusted its collective taste and instinct over the “wisdom” of the accountants and marketers… who, at the height of the magazine’s popularity, pulled a mutiny and… sank the ship. So, in hindsight, Mandryka was right to leave.

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Ailleursdébut, from the inaugural issue of Pif gadget / Vaillant no. 1239 (March 1st, 1969); If it goes “zgunk”, it’s not a zgonk, it’s a zgunk.

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As an english equivalent to « Sacré vingieu! », I propose « Dagnabit! »

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Ends with a sarcastic « Glory to the ten millionth discoverer of our planet! »

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« An original solution to the parking problem. »

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From Pif gadget no. 23 / Vaillant no. 1261 (July 1969); now you know what the legendarily stoic members of The Queen’s Guard do whilst at leisure.

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From Pif gadget no. 33 / Vaillant no. 1271 (Oct. 1969); idea provided by Tabary (Jean or his brother/ghost Jacques? We may never know).

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The final Ailleurs strip, from Pif gadget no. 35 / Vaillant no. 1273 (Oct. 1969). This would have made a great skit for Jacques Tati‘s peerless Mr. Hulot.

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Nikita’s just heard a really good one during this photoshoot for a L’Écho des Savanes advert.

To my knowledge, Ailleurs has never been collected or comprehensively reprinted, save for nine of the strips turning up in Claude Moliterni‘s** excellent scholarly Phenix, revue internationale de la bande dessinée (nos. 31-31-32) in 1973.

-RG

*I’d even argue that Dufranne does a better Gotlib than Gotlib ever did.

**Among many notable achievements, he was co-founder of the Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême (Angoulême International Comics Festival).