Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 18

« Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. » — Pat Robertson

Truly one of the crown jewels of Franco-Belgian comics, Isabelle (1969-1995) has quite a pedigree: it was conceived by scripters Yvan Delporte, Raymond Macherot and illustrator Willy Maltaite, alias Will. When Macherot took ill, the legendary André Franquin stepped in, and the series took on a slightly more sombre shade, and its characterisations gained further depth. The best of all possible worlds, truly.

Brimming with magic, poetic grace, wit and atmosphere, Isabelle gave us, for a change, a level-headed and resourceful little girl in a world of infinite possibilities. I can’t stress this point enough: unlike every other little girl character in supernatural fantasy tales I’ve ever encountered, Isabelle doesn’t trip over roots, gasp loudly or drop a glass at the wrong time; she doesn’t disobey solemn, life-or-death instructions against all common sense. And yet she’s just an ordinary little girl, not a secret ninja or a princess in hiding. Truly refreshing. After reading Isabelle, most of what passes for fantasy is shown for the formulaic, stock dreck that it is. This is the genuine article.

In the mid-90s, publisher Les Éditions Dupuis brought the series to an unceremonious end, judging its sales numbers insufficient. Ah, but Isabelle has its fans, and a tenacious lot they are. Dupuis’ rival, Les éditions du Lombard (home of Tintin, and now merged with Dargaud, home of Astérix et Obélix) collected the entire series in 2007, in three stunning volumes rife with priceless documentary extras. Absolute bande dessinée nirvana. Good luck getting copies these days, sadly.

The cover of weekly Spirou no. 1929 (Apr. 3, 1975, Dupuis), beginning the serialization of the seventh Isabelle story (and her third album), Les maléfices de l’oncle Hermès (collected in book form in 1978). This is where two of the series’ pivotal characters, the titular Oncle Hermès and his eventual paramour, sexy witch Calendula, were introduced, not to mention her evil ancestress (the original) Calendula, the series’ archfiend.

The album in question, in its original edition (1978).
Page 2 of Les maléfices de l’oncle Hermès. During a long career shackled to characters he didn’t own (i.e. Tif et Tondu), Will was thrilled to work on a series of his own, one closer to his own interests and preoccupations. Dig that mood!
Page 10 of Les maléfices de l’oncle Hermès. Cloven-hoofed Oncle Hermès, the victim of a centuries-old curse, is trapped in a flame, and his great-great-great-great (etc.) niece Isabelle is endeavouring to set him free.
The journey is, of course, quite perilous… and the visuals gorgeous.
This is the original spell-caster, malevolent Calendula.
And this is her descendant of the same name, on the side of good, though she does have a temper.
Isabelle and Calendula (and friends) feature as part of Brussel’s delirious Parcours BD. Does your hometown appreciate its comics this effusively and concretely?

-RG

2 thoughts on “Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 18

    • gasp65 October 18, 2020 / 16:00

      Hi Ben! I’ve just taken a look through my collection with felines in mind, and while there aren’t a ton (in Isabelle, Will tends to favour creatures from his own vivid imagination), I’ve spotted a couple of cameos and one choice sequence between a tiny man escaped from a painting, a hungry cat, and a salutary package of andouilles (a type of sausage). There’s also a great little cat scene in Éric et Artimon. If you’d like, I’ll scan them for you when I get a breather.

      And yes, it’s a shame Isabelle’s adventures haven’t been translated into English or made more widely available. The stuff gets wilder and wilder.

      Liked by 1 person

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