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.

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).
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).
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).
« 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).
« 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).
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.
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.
« 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).
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).
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 ».
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.


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