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

Tentacle Tuesday: Rahan to the Rescue

« Rahan n’a plus peur de la nuit, ni du feu, ni du tonnerre du ciel, ni des fleuves sans fin… »

(Rahan no longer fears the night, nor fire, nor the sky’s thunder, nor endless rivers…)

Even non-European readers will probably have some familiarity with handsome troglodyte Rahan, one of the heroes of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinée.

In 1969, Rahan made, to general acclaim, his début in the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget: apparently his escapades appealed to both male and female audiences. The series was created by writer Roger Lécureux and artist André Chéret, both seasoned comic pros by then. His adventures spanned years upon years of publication and spawned legions of rabid fans. To give you an idea of what “many years” implies, the last album – with new material! – came out in 2012; the collected series, which gathers material between 1969 and 1999 (30 years of the Lécureux – Chéret team), took up 26 handsomely-printed hard-cover volumes.

The following sequence is from La flèche blanche, originally published in Pif Gadget no. 90 (Nov. 1970), and reprinted in colour in Rahan no. 7 (Oct. 1973).

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I first encountered Rahan on his home turf, which is to say in some old issues of Pif Gadget. I am not a big fan of the prehistoric genre, as it demands a more momentous suspension of disbelief on my part than I can provide. (The endless parade of clean-shaven blonde hunks accompanied by female nubile savages is a little too much for me.) Besides, Pif Gadget offered far more fascinating strips to focus on, so I happily skipped over the adventures of Rahan, just as I would gleefully ignore Les pionniers de l’espérance (same writer as Rahan) or the boringly handsome Docteur Justice (not the Marvel one).

However, I have to (grudgingly) avow that Rahan doubtlessly had great things going for it. Its strengths are also what seems to provoke some modern readers into dismissing Rahan with a patronizing hand-wave: aligning itself with the communist nature of Pif Gadget, Rahan espoused such values as justice and equality. He was also an immensely curious young man with a scientific mindset, which led him to discovering/creating useful tools, helped him to solve problems and shielded him from the superstitious nonsense others believed. One doesn’t often run into a caveman whose leitmotif is Humanism.

I did not grow up with Rahan, having only come to Pif Gadget in the last ten years or so (through the influence of co-admin RG), but these values are well known to me from growing up on Soviet science-fiction (Russian has a nicer word, fantastika, which is much more encompassing and also includes any forays into fantasy, prehistoric or otherwise). That, too, often gets thrown under the train of « childish, naive and simplistic », the holy trinity of a jaded cynic that’s currently en vogue as a role-model.

This seems especially unfair given that the series did not shield its mostly young readers from some harsh truths about life. Death and violence accompanied our hero wherever he went, and a lot of characters he encountered were, frankly, colossal assholes, as disinterested in fairness or egalitarianism as some modern poo-pooing readers. Not to mention Rahan’s curse of solitude – orphaned twice, he is never really accepted by the tribes he bumps into during his travels. He’s either rejected as an intruder… or venerated as a sort of a god, once he creatively extricates himself (and frequently the tribe) from some predicament. Oh, and this being a French comic, there are also bare-breasted women like it’s no big deal (and even some breast-feeding).

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Original cover art from Rahan – L’intégrale Tome 16 (2019, Soleil).

Today’s post is dedicated to André Chéret, who died less than a month ago, on March 5th. He was 82.

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A self-portrait of the artist, which originally saw print in Pif Gadget no. 81 (Sept. 1970).

You can read some Rahan stories here.

∼ ds

Robert Gring’s Wits-Sharpening Fun

« We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. » — G. Stanley Hall

Despite the ubiquity of his work over several decades, very little is known of Robert Gring, at least online. Ah, but thankfully, ‘one reads books‘… and so I turned to Richard Medioni‘s indispensable ouvrage on the history of Mon camarade, Vaillant and Pif Gadget, L’histoire complète 1901-1994. About Mr. Gring (likely born in 1922 and died in 1995), we discover that he was for several years a press illustrator for centrist daily newspaper France-Soir, that he spent some time in a work camp during WW2, that, post-war, his work appeared in L’Almanach Vermot, Paris Match, Télé 7 Jours, La vie parisienne… and so forth.

That he was a reserved, bashful man who treasured his work above all else. And most admirably, that he was a man of great personal integrity and principles, as evidenced by the following anecdote, recounted by Mr. Medioni: « In parallel to his intensive work with (Pif-Vaillant), he occasionally works for Le journal de Mickey, but it ends on a sour note! In 1980, it is gently brought to his notice that his collaboration to a periodical associated with the French communist party is incompatible with his presence within the pages of Mickey. He must choose! Gring, who does not appreciate this type of pressure and has lofty ideas of honour, does not dither the slightest bit: he opts for fidelity. » I’m strongly reminded of Howard Prince’s valiant words to the House Un-American Activities Committee in The Front (1976).

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Francs-Jeux was a long-lived kids’ magazine published from 1946 to 1979… 777 issues!), and Gring provided a number of its covers and several interior illustrations and strips. This is Francs-Jeux no. 390 (Sept. 15, 1962). See: even then, you had a couple of kids in black hoodies skulking to class.

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This is Francs-Jeux no. 393 (Nov. 1st, 1962). The title feature, Le coucou qui ne voulait plus dire ‘coucou’ is the touching tale of a clock birdie who decides to make a dash for freedom, only to discover that life on the outside is intolerably uncertain and perilous. This is a France straight out of Jacques Tati‘s Mon oncle.

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Another Gring specialty: Le jeu des bulles, wherein errant word balloons must be restored to their proper speaker. If you must know: 1-g, 2-j, 3-a, 4-f, 5-i, 6-d, 7-b, 8-e, 9-k, 10-c, 11-h; Published in Pif gadget no. 33 (Oct. 1969, Vaillant). Plots from the fables of Jean de la Fontaine, script by Roger Dal.

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Gring could always be counted on to compose and depict complex but lucid crowd settings, and this is a fine example. It’s also a 5-in-1 game: 1) Find the five anomalies; 2) Find the hidden umbrella; 3) Spot the five differences between the nearly-identical Durant Père and Durant Fils boutiques; 4) Four objects appear three times apiece. Find them; and 5) To whom does the stopwatch on the pavement belong? Published in Pif gadget no. 71 (June 1970, Vaillant); game conceived by Odette-Aimée Grandjean.

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No customers! « The café is deserted and the barman leans forlornly on his bar counter. This is abnormal, of course, but certains things are even more abnormal. » During our current state of all-around home confinement, it seemed sadly à propos. From Pif gadget no 143 (Nov. 1971, Vaillant).

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From Pif gadget no. 185 (Sept. 1972, Vaillant). You wouldn’t see this sort of thing in an American kids’ publication, that’s for certain. The object of the game: find the anomalies.

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« But he would attain fame in most unexpected fashion. In order to enliven the austere pages of the Méthode Assimil, he is called upon to illustrate a variety of idioms for the manuals. Not only does his drawing prove itself effective for the learning of English, German or Spanish, but it makes these volumes funny and user-friendly. » This undated gouache illustration Gring created for Assimil is scanned from the original, a prized part of my collection.

Here, then, are some excerpts from a couple of Assimil guides from my shelves:

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1) « No smoking is allowed in here. » 2) « Personally, I’m really not hungry at all. » 3) « I love him, he loves me, and that’s what matters most. » 4) « All streets are exactly alike in these parts. » 5) « We’d always rather be where we’re not. » — from Le russe sans peine (1971, Assimil) and 6) « We’re headed to Dubrovnik by way of Zagreb. » — from Le serbo-croate sans peine (1972, Assimil). Thanks to Darko Macan for confirming that last translation!

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Gring was also a regular contributor to Ludo, Le journal des amateurs d’énigmes. If you can read this, here’s the solution, which I’m afraid requires prior knowledge of Paris in the 1970s: « Pendant sa crise, le bonhomme a sans doute marché jusqu’aux studios de Boulogne. La scène qu’il a surprise se déroulait dans les décors de cinéma. » Incidentally, a quality hardbound collection of this material was published in 2013 by Les Éditions Taupinambour. under the title of Les énigmes de Snark & autres mystères.

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In the 1960s, Gring illustrated a popular series of keychains for Norman dairy company Virlux, featuring the signs of the Zodiac. I’m still missing Taurus, Aquarius, and Cancer (thanks, Matt!) as you can see.

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A rare photograph of Monsieur Gring (left), and one of his writing partner, Roger ‘Dal’ Dalméras, date unknown.

-RG

 

Jean Mad’s Enigmas and Anomalies

« A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you. » — Erno Rubik

Jean Mad… now who’s he? A once-popular and prolific French cartoonist and illustrator, largely forgotten today, in part because his body of work appeared, frequently unsigned, in ephemeral periodicals… and hardly any of it was ever collected or reprinted. So he isn’t a household name, if he ever was, but his distinctive style will ring a bell among francophone readers of a certain age.

Now for a little context: in 1959, Belgian publisher Marabout launched a wildly popular series (nearly 500 titles between 1959 and 1984!) of pocket books called Marabout Flash, and the little tomes’ handy format (11,5 x 11,5 cm) and low cost “inspired” French publisher Vaillant, in 1962, to borrow the idea (at a size of 11,5 x 12 cm… to sidestep legal repercussions) for cheap reprint collections of José Cabrero Arnal‘s Pif le chien strips, which had been running in communist newspaper L’humanité since 1948. The format decided upon was 100 gags – 100 jeux (« 100 gags – 100 games »). It was an instant hit (quickly reaching 150 000 copies sold per issue), and soon generated numerous spinoffs. But the games half of the equation was, for a long time, rather shoddily-illustrated. By the turn of the decade, though, thanks to several judicious additions (Jean-Claude Poirier, Jean Marcellin and Henri Crespi, to name but a few) to the production staff, the product looked pretty spiffy. Which brings us to Mr. Mad, who turned up in 1969… and had moved on by the spring of 1972.

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True or False? 1) The beaver only fells small trees 2) A newborn bear cup weighs a mere 200 g; its mother weighs 200 kg; An antelope can approach a lion without fear; A giraffe can reach foliage beyond the reach of an elephant. (1)-False: beavers have to known to drop trees up to 30 m high and 2 m in diameter; (2)-True; (3) True, when he’s full; (4) False: an elephant can just lean against a tree, bending it to reach the foliage it seeks.) From Pif Poche no. 71 (July, 1971, Vaillant).

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Mad was a master of historical detail. A1-D2-R6 (Middle Ages); B1-I5-A3 (Louis XV); C1-J5-E3 (Prehistory); D1-H5-L6 (Ancient Egypt); E1-C2-F3 (Lady of the manor); F1-G5-J6 (1900); G4-E2-C3 (Musketeer); H4-R5-G6 (Cosmonaut); I4-B2-D3 (Roman); J4-L5-B3 (Knight); S4-A2-I6 (Renaissance); L4-F2-H6 (Gaul). From Pif Poche no. 71 (July, 1971, Vaillant).

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Mad’s economical, chiaroscuro style came to mind when I later encountered Joseph Mugnaini‘s classic illustrations for Ray Bradbury’s The October Country. In this one, you have to find the hidden crow from Aesop’s timeless fable. From Pif Poche no. 70 (June, 1971, Vaillant).

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« While observing these odd guests, try to find the six idioms that each one evokes and that all have to do with the table. » (1) Manger son pain blanc le premier; (2) Mettre de l’eau dans son vin; (3) Mettre les pieds dans le plat; (4) Mettre les bouchées doubles; (5) Tourner la cuillère autour du pot (“beat around the bush”); (6) Couper la poire en deux; From Pif Poche no. 70 (June, 1971, Vaillant).

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« These four drawings illustrate idioms featuring the word ‘devil’. Do you know them? » (1) Tirer le diable par la queue; (2) Loger le diable dans sa bourse; (3) Envoyer quelqu’un au diable; (4) Avoir le diable au corps. From Pif Poche no. 68 (April, 1971, Vaillant).

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A cute demonstration of Mr. Mad’s versatility, from Ludo, le journal des amateurs d’énigmes no. 3 (Oct. 1973, Vaillant). « These four drawings are excerpted from different strips, but all have one detail in common. Which one? » The solution was to be provided in the following issue, which I only acquired decades later… but I’m sure you can suss out the answer to this one.

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Prior to encountering this piece in Ludo, le journal des amateurs d’énigmes no. 1 (Feb. 1973, Vaillant), I had no clue as to the identity of the mystery artiste. I guess this piece was large and elaborate enough to warrant a signature.

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« A car at last! » « Where? » A bit of a cheat, that one. How was I to know, at age six, that a “DS” was a French car, even one as lovely and classic as the Citroën DS? We didn’t have those around where I grew up, and that’s a shame. From Pif Poche no. 70 (June, 1971, Vaillant).

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A surprisingly adult situation, given the audience. Catch the gaffe!: The man of the house, having queried his spouse: « At what time are those two drips due to drop in? », what should be her reply, to salvage the situation? « They had to cancel. But our friends, X… have just arrived. » From Pif Poche no. 71 (July, 1971, Vaillant).

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An artist who can not only draw steeds, but depict various equine types and personalities… now, that’s skill. From Totoche Poche no. 20 (March, 1971, Vaillant). Name Their Cavalier: (1) Don Quixote; « I am called Rossinante » (2) Alexander the Great; « Bucephalus is my name » (3) Attila the Hun; « The grass never grew back where I trod » (4) Henri IV (Henri de Navarre); « I am white, as is his panache ».

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Child Prodigies: (1) « My word, he’s rediscovered geometry! » (Little Blaise Pascal) (2) « Later on, with my machine, I’ll be making the pot boil. » (Little Denis Papin) (3) « The harpsichord? Child’s play! » (Little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). From Pif Poche no. 68 (April, 1971, Vaillant).

I suppose I didn’t think twice about it when I was a kid, but it seems to me, in hindsight, that kids in those days were expected to possess quite a baggage of eclectic knowledge pertaining to history, geography, language, architecture, logic, observation… As an omnivorous, voracious reader, that state of affairs suited me to a T, and so these dense little volumes nourished me considerably at a time when I was most receptive to such gleanings. Inevitably, both the comics and the puzzles were soon dumbed down, but I had moved on by then.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Tentacules à la mode

« Les artistes, c’est comme les pieuvres: ils crachent de l’encre pour se cacher. » — Julos Beaucarne*

It is time (again) for some French tentacles! (Upon closer inspection, a lot of these actually prove to be Belgian, but my point still holds.) We have all kinds in today’s post: tentacles merry and frightening, realistic or cartoony. There’s even an octopus in a bra (but don’t skip ahead)!

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Created for Le journal de Tintin in 1963 by Raymond Reding, Vincent Larcher was a professional football player who often used his athletic prowess to defeat evil guys (he also occasionally played football). The first Vincent Larcher story had no supernatural elements, and didn’t seem to make much of a ripple amidst Tintin’s audience. After a 4-year hiatus, Reding re-introduced Vincent Larcher, this time throwing him into a three-part tale with a mad scientist (as usual, hellbent on world domination) and scary aliens. This was later christened the Olympio Trilogy in honour of Olympio, Larcher’s telepathically gifted friend, who was an important figure in these stories. The pages below are from Le zoo du Dr. Ketzal, part three of the aforementioned trilogy, published in Tintin Magazine issues 1039 to 1059 (1969).

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The friendly pooch fraternizing with octopuses is Pif, the mascot of Pif Gadget (« gadget » referred to the fact that each issue of the magazine was accompanied by some thingamajig to amuse the youngsters). Pif Poche were pocket-sized collections of short Pif strips (“poche” means pocket in French), meant to be easily carried to trips, picnics, and probably school as well. Pif was created by José Cabrero Arnal in 1948, who gradually abandoned the strip by the 1960s while other artists took over.

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Pif Poche no. 270 (Vaillant, 1988)

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Pif Poche no. 287 (Vaillant, 1989)

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The following panels are from the series Tropique des étoiles by Christian Lamquet, more precisely from volume 4, Le réveil des poussières (1996, Claude Lefrancq).

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« 19 minutes, 10 seconds, you can come out! » Experiments performed on a young woman seldom turn out as intended.

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My next peace offering to the cephalopod gods comes in the form of a very loose interpretation of Carlo Collodi‘s Pinocchio, imagined by French artist Winschluss (real name Vincent Paronnaud) and executed with the help of some friends, most notably Cizo on colours. Winschluss’ art can be quite nice, but it gets a massive boost from the first-rate colouring job, so I’d like to emphasize that Cizo deserves a lot of credit for that (the tentacle pages are actually rather dark, as the action occurs undersea, but just take my word for it).

This graphic novel received a few prizes and has been lauded by many parties, but somehow I’ve managed to be quite unaware of its existence until recently. (Frankly, I am somewhat tired of picking up comics that are supposed to be superb and end up being just mediocre, so I don’t tend to pay much attention to awards and other plaudits.) A friendly comic book store clerk pointed it out to me, explaining that it was brought in by an older gentleman whose granddaughter had presented the book to him as a gift, but it wasn’t his thing at all. I was quickly won over by the art, and the story, well… it’s not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, but it’s a good one.

Winschluss’ Pinocchio was originally published in 2008 by Les Requins Marteaux, but has been reprinted several times in French (in increasingly fancier editions) as well as translated into English in 2011.

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« French comics artist Winshluss leaves his robot child hanging beneath a giant lollipop on a hill for a good quarter of his largely dialogue-free adaptation, as regimes fall, fake prophets rise and a pizza delivery girl is saved from torture at the hands of seven dwarves. It’s a grim, puerile and rather brilliant update, combining chaotic, inked panels and gorgeous full-colour paintwork to great effect. Pinocchio, designed as a killing machine, is plunged from crisis to crisis by a series of greedy men and women, his story interrupted by a tortured detective, a grieving couple and Jiminy the cockroach. » |source|

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Actually, don’t take my word for anything, you can admire the colours in this preview:

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CosmikRoger

Cosmik Roger is a sci-fi/humour comic series scripted by mo/CDM (no, seriously, that’s his nom de plume, and no, I don’t know what it stands for) and drawn by Julien/CDM (real name Julien Solé – they used to go to school together, which apparently led them to adopting the same stupid monicker). This is the cover of the collected Cosmik Roger (volume 1), published in 2018 by Fluide Glacial.

Just tuning in now? Visit the previous Gallic Tentacle Tuesdays: Tentacle Tuesday: Franco-Belgian Edition, Part I and Tentacle Tuesday: Franco-Belgian Edition, Part II.

~ ds

*artists are like octopuses: they spit out ink to hide.