« 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.
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.