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

Tire la chevillette: Jean Ache’s Little Red Riding Hood Variations

« … Out behind a tree
there jumped a great big hungry 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,  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 compère Albert 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 Pilote Annuel 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!

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After Henri Rousseau (French, 1944-1910). Incidentally, « Tire la chevillette, la bobinette cherra » means « Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up. »

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After Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955).

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After Bernard Buffet (French, 1928-1999).

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After Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).

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After Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978).

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After Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983). My first encounter with Miró came through this item; if I’d been hipper, it might have been this instead… but I was only six years old at the time.

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After Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944).

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And here’s the cover. This is Pilote Annuel 74 (no. 731 bis, Nov. 1973). It comprised, in roughly equal measure, a selection of the past year’s best work and new material.

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.

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A sample from Pastec no. 4 (January 1969, Société française de presse illustrée). The birdie is Psitti, Pastec’s loyal Ara; the Llama is Camélo; and Pastec himself is the displeased fellow with the green hat in the middle tier.

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!

-RG

Jean-Claude Forest, ‘Father of Adult Comics’

« 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.

Born on September 11, 1930 in the Parisian suburb of Le Perreux-sur-Marne, he passed away in 1998 at the age of 68, but not before leaving behind a body of work of breathtaking depth and variety. Barbarella aside (sorry, miss): Le Copyright (the springboard for Nikita Mandryka‘s Le Concombre masqué), Hypocrite, Mystérieuse matin midi et soir (his wild riff on Jules Verne’s L’île mystérieuse), Bébé Cyanure, Les Naufragés du temps (illustrated by Paul Gillon), Enfants c’est l’Hydragon qui passe… « et j’en passe », as they say.

Here are a few highlights to give you a sense of the man’s imagination, versatility and tremendous draftsmanship, in chronological order.

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An excerpt is from Les colères du mange-minutes (1965-66), the second volume of Barbarella’s adventures. Yes, there was a film adaptation, but it’s, well, pretty vapid. Director Roger Vadim was kind of the Gallic John Derek; both were fair-to-middling directors whose chief talent was womanizing. Though one has to admit it *was* quite a talent.

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« No, you mustn’t love me… » Detail from the cover of giff wiff, revue de la bande dessinée no.22 (Dec. 1966), previewing its article on Forest’s 1965 experimental tv cartoon Marie Mathématique, which you can watch here. It features the dulcet tones of Le beau Serge, certainly one of the most overrated artistes of the 20th century. Too much competition to call the race to the bottom, though. 😉

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Born out of a misunderstanding between the editorial team of Pif Gadget and Forest, Mystérieuse matin midi et soir proved too labyrinthine for the magazine’s young readership, cost the publishers a bundle, and only two of its three parts appeared in Pif. Fear not, it was collected in album form the following year. This is a page from part 1, which saw print in Pif Gadget no. 111 (April, 1971).

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A sequence from the rollicking N’importe quoi de cheval…, featuring Hypocrite, another of Forest’s spunky heroïnes. From Pilote Mensuel no. 6 (Dargaud, Nov. 1974).

A pair of pages from the melancholy, elegiac Enfants, c’est l’Hydragon qui passe « Children, there goes the Hydragon » (Casterman, 1984).

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I’m sure it’s mere coincidence, but the boy, Jules, seems to be modelled after yet another Gainsbourg “muse”, pop nymphette Vanessa Paradis.

– RG

*I make comics, they’re far poppier than movies!

Barracks Life With Le Sergent Laterreur

« 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 ( Vivian Miessen, b. 1940) and Gérald Frydman (b. 1942).

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Pilote no. 590 (February 21, 1971, Dargaud), the Sergent’s third appearance in the magazine and his first (of two) on the cover.

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Episode 4: Flower Power

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Episode 15: « Et tu retourneras les poussières ». The Sergent’s immortal maxim: « Don’t forget that dirt is our worst enemy! »

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Episode 80: Les mots historiques. Laterreur thought the enemy was bluffing.

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.

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Episode 85: Du gâteau. A fitting way for a dotty old general to blow out his birthday candles.

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The finale, Episode 108: Tapage nocturne. Now you know how it goes down, so to speak.

Fun factoid: The strip’s name presumably comes from the French title of a USA “boot camp” Korean War propaganda film from 1953, “Take the High Ground!“, directed by Richard Brooks. and starring Richard Widmark and Karl Malden.

– RG

Loro’s Abel Dopeulapeul, privé

« 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.

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Monsieur Laureau himself, in the late 1970s.

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.

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« Réquiem pour un privé », an early entry in the series, first saw print in Pilote Hors série aventure (No 17 bis, October 1975, Dargaud)

-RG

Philippe Caza’s Surreal Suburbia

C’est un fou qui repeint son plafond et un autre fou arrive et lui dit: « Accroche-toi au pinceau, j’enlève l’échelle!

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Marcel (and the hapless Yvonne) meet the Homo-Detritus. From Pilote no. 47-bis (April, 1978)

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.

CazaPlafond01ACazaPlafond02ACazaPlafond03ACazaPlafond04AThis 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! »

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A ‘Scènes de la vie de banlieue’ collection (Dargaud, 1982). I agree: for all he’s gone through, Marcel Miquelon does deserve his own statue.

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The collected works (Les Humanoïdes associés, 2017)

-RG