« 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.
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!
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!
« … Out behind a tree there jumped a great bighungry wolf
‘Pardon me’, he said, real cool ‘Why make the scene alone? A crazy chick like you should have a handsome chaperone’ » — Ridin’ Hood (The Coasters, 1962)
It could be quite convincingly claimed that Jean Ache (1923-1985, né Jean-Baptiste Huet in Le Havre, France) was the most versatile, chameleonic artist of his generation. Not only was he able to accurately adopt any style he chose, “high” or “low”, but he also wielded a panoply of styles of his own devising. To support my claim, take a peek at noted historian Henri Filippini‘s comprehensive survey of Ache’s career (in French), which includes a generous gallery of his multifaceted art. [ Part One ] and [ Part Two ]
From 1971 to 1973, near the end of René Goscinny‘s enlightened regime (his Astérix compèreAlbert Uderzo ably serving as art director), French bédé periodical Pilote featured a high-calibre series of “high art” pastiches. It was entitled Le Musée Pilote.
The pages of 1973’s PiloteAnnuel revealed an Ache tour de force, wherein he retold the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood in comics format *and* in the style of a number (seven, to be exact… but not *the* Group of Seven) of famous painters. The set bore the following cheeky introduction: « Within the scope of the Musée Pilote, we came to realise that numerous artists had never tried their hand at comics. Thanks to our friend Jean Ache, it is now a done deal, and we are pleased to present the tryout pages crafted by these illustrious beginners. It is for you to decide whether these attempts are conclusive, and if these young people’s efforts should be encouraged. »
Here we go!
My initial brush with Ache came in the early 1970s and his short-lived Pastec (1968-70, 9 issues, plus one album). I only ever got my hands the album (« L’Agent secret chante à minuit », 1971), but I never forgot. Like many a childhood fascination, it came out of nowhere, then vanished.
I honestly hadn’t planned to write two consecutive posts about nearly-forgotten French artists named Jean, but something else fell through… and here we are. Sorry!
« J’fais dans la bande dessinée, qu’est bien plus pop que le ciné!* » — J.C. Forest (Une chanson, 1973)
On the eighty-ninth anniversary of his birth, let’s salute in passing one of the great pioneers of French comics, namely Jean-Claude Forest (Sept. 11, 1930 – Dec. 29, 1998), Barbarella’s creator, the man who, in the early 1960s, ushered strictly-for-kids bandes dessinées into decidedly more risqué and adult realms of eroticism, fantasy and fun.
« Le sergent Laterreur resembles no-one. It’s impossible for anyone to be so ignoble, so sinister, so cruel. One feels that the two poor bastards that created him are exacting their revenge for all the humiliations suffered at the hands of the strong. One wouldn’t have been surprised to discover that the authors of Sergent Laterreur were Jewish, Black, Irish or Czech. They’re Belgian. » — Georges Wolinski
“Le Sergent Laterreur” is a strip that ran in the fabled bédé weekly Pilote from February 1971 to December 1973.
This vitriolic lampoon of military life (no Beetle Bailey this) was the brainchild of Belgians Touïs (né Vivian Miessen, b. 1940) and Gérald Frydman (b. 1942).
Miessen produced a few more comics during the 70s, and made a notable comeback contribution to L’Association‘s massive anthology Comix 2000, but he chiefly worked in animation. Frydman mostly pursued projects in photography and film, directing several short subjects.
Laterreur’s full effect is best experienced in massive doses, and L’Association, fully cognizant of that fact, issued a splendid Le Sergent Laterreur omnibus in 2006. An obscure creation, it remains obscure, but at least it’s available if you seek it out.
« The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little. »
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Dopey private detective parodies are a dime-a-dozen, and they seldom raise more than a lazy, jaded chuckle. With that out of the way, just how does Jean-Marc « Loro » Laureau (1943 – 1998)’s Les enquêtes d’Abel Dopeulapeul pull ahead of the pack? Let’s see: while it’s hardly side-splitting, it nevertheless scores precious points on the hilarity front by maintaining a mostly deadpan tone. But… one quick peek at the strip and the jig is up: it’s a glorious, unabashedly visual feast. Loro was blessed with that rather uncommon gift, the ability to seamlessly mix the cartoonish and the realistic. Even Wally Wood couldn’t pull that off. Frank Cho is a perfect contemporary example of someone who’s utterly incapable of it.
M.A. Guillaume, who penned the back cover copy for the second Abel collection, Sale temps pour mourir (1979, Dargaud), clearly gets the picture. I’ll translate:
« Dopeulapeul, a parodic and cretinized response to [Philip] Marlowe, views himself as that marvellous guy who stalks vice and corruption on fifty dollars a day plus expenses. Within the haze of his dream fed by adulterated bourbon, he doubtless imagines he’ll croak on some moonless night, alone like a dog behind the last trashcan of some filthy dead end. The reader will cackle maliciously, knowing no-one gives a toss about the death of a caricature. But he’ll be wrong. Dopeulapeul conducts himself like some village idiot in the throes of some clandestine passion for Lauren Bacall. His blasé detachment, dragging a language school aftertaste, is as seductive as an unkempt stinkbug. It matters little how offhandedly Loro may treat the tentative meanderings of this poor beggar. Within him slumbers a fascinated vision that survives all clichés: in the debauched night, a man moves along, and his shadow is weary of knowing too well the callousness of the blacktop and of men’s hearts. He is free and solitary and Death is at his heels.
Parody can’t put a dent to that, and Loro knows it full well. He may laugh, parody, demystify, “Sale temps pour mourir” is nonetheless an homage to an untouchable legend. »
Loro is all-but-forgotten nowadays, but his ability to channel vintage Will Eisner (particularly The Spirit) without aping him, while displaying plenty of his own pyrotechnics, by itself deserves a more prominent place in history.
« Réquiem pour un privé », an early entry in the series, first saw print in Pilote Hors série aventure (No 17 bis, October 1975, Dargaud)
C’est un fou qui repeint son plafond et un autre fou arrive et lui dit: « Accroche-toi au pinceau, j’enlève l’échelle!*»
Poor Marcel Miquelon: a simple suburban nobody, he merely wants to get a good night’s sleep, but it’s never in the cards. When he and his Yvonne go to bed, each night at 10, some din from above invariably keeps him awake and frustrated. So what can he do but seize his faithful broom by the handle and bang on the ceiling to manifest his discontent? And dreadful things happen, in increasingly byzantine shades of dreadfulness.
These loosely-connected vignettes appeared sporadically from 1975 to 1979, under the portmanteau heading of Scènes de la vie de banlieue in the French monthly Pilote (1974-1989). They were the brainchild of Philippe Cazaumayou, alias Caza (b. November 14, 1941, Paris), also a renowned science-fiction illustrator, which should certainly surprise no-one.
This episode is titled Toujours du bruit au plafond (« Still some noise on the ceiling »); it originally saw print in Pilote Mensuel no. 34 (March, 1977). It’s the rare (possibly the only) one that ends peacefully for Marcel, perhaps because he didn’t bother with the broom. Better St. Peter than… well, everything else.
*One of the hoariest French jokes, everyone’s heard it, and its appeal has whirled countless times around the bend, deep into irony and meta-subtext. Thankfully, though, it’s actually translatable, at least verbally: A lunatic is painting the ceiling. Another madman comes along and says: « Hold on to the brush, I’m borrowing the ladder! »