When I looked up Czech painter-caricaturist Josef Lada (1887-1957), I was surprised to find him called ‘one of the best-loved Czech painters of all time‘. There’s no question that Lada’s work remains immensely popular among Czechs, but I suppose the question for context would be « how many painters from that corner of the world are well known outside of outside of the Czech Republic and ex-USSR countries » (probably not many). Lada doubtlessly deserves his lasting fame, at any rate.
My familiarity with his style comes from his illustrations for Jaroslav Hašek‘s sardonically hilarious novel The Good Soldier Švejk, a favourite family book from which we can all quote at length, and which I own in several Russian editions (thanks to inheriting my grandfather’s copy). There have been many adaptations of Švejk, but I can only imagine him the way Lada depicted him. Visit BibliOdyssey for a glimpse of the good soldier.
While his renown is assured thanks to his work on Hašek’s magnum opus, the entirely self-taught Lada is also fondly remembered for his illustrations to children’s books (which he occasionally wrote himself), as well as paintings of pastoral life, probably inspired by his childhood in the small village of Hrusice. For a fuller biography, head over to The Genius of Josef Lada, the most complete source of information that I could find online in English.
Here’s an assortment of images from various books – among others, Ezopské bajky (The Fables of Aesop) from 1931; Kocour Mikeš (Tomcat Mikeš), written and illustrated by Lada between 1934 and 1936, and being a sort of a take on Puss in Boots; Nezbedné Pohádky (Naughty Fairy Tales) from 1946 – as well as some postcards and aforementioned village illustrations.
« In the first year of his life, [Lada] had a life-altering accident – he fell on his father’s knife and the injuries sustained permanently blinded his right eye. Some art historians later attributed the artist’s flat-perspective painting style to this incident.»
« A shaggy mane, odd, steel-rimmed little glasses, a get-up owing rather more to personal fancy than to the edicts of fashion, a candid gaze, the smile of a malicious dunce, that’s Le Grand Duduche… and it’s also Cabu. » — René Goscinny
On this significant day, I will spotlight Jean Cabut (b. 1938, d. 2015) alias Cabu, and his wondrous Le Grand Duduche series, begun in 1963 and concluded in 1982, published in Pilote, Hara-Kiri, Charlie Hebdo and Pilote Mensuel. An absurdly massive collection of the entire series (672 glossy pages!) was published by Vents d’Ouest in 2008. Even as a hardcover volume, the thing’s so big and heavy it can barely bear its bulk, and is therefore virtually unreadable. It should really have been three books in a slipcase. But hey, the reproduction is first-rate… for what it’s worth.
Duduche is a gangly lycéen (high school student, sort of) wending his way through classes and student life, doing as little work as possible but expanding a maximum of ingenuity. It’s most certainly not about the plot.
The strip displays a fantastic level of graphic bravura and formal experimentation, while retaining 20/20 narrative clarity. I felt it was a fool’s errand to try singling out a “typical” example, since every page is unique — so here’s a sampler. Amazing, and yes, highly recommended, even if you can’t read the (marvellous and abundant) text.
Coming back around to what makes this a ‘significant day’… Eight years ago to the day, Cabu was among those viciously murdered during the terrorist assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Honestly, I can’t bear to talk about it, but it’s crucial that this horrible event not be forgotten, and not merely because one of my artistic heroes was slaughtered that day.
« When she visits the gravesite of her late husband in Châlons-en-Champagne, Véronique Cabut-Brachet can witness just how much the French have not forgotten him: locals and fans come regularly to reflect (“It’s Cabu’s grave that people are looking for, and some people come just for it: nearly one a day, yes!” and for the past five years, according to the caretaker of the Cimetière de l’Ouest, interviewed by France Bleu). The artist’s gravestone is copiously covered in flowers but, especially, pencils in jars, a touching homage and the most beautiful of symbols. » [ source ]
I’ve recently given in to a long-time interest (‘a fool’s dream is realized‘) and purchased one of those pretty miniature book nook kits. In case you are not familiar with them, they’re usually the size of a big hardcover book once assembled, and are meant to be inserted on a bookshelf and provide a bibliophile with an intriguing glance into an urban landscape, a Victorian street, a bookshop, a train station, or whatever it is bookworms tend to go for. One painstakingly (and crookedly, at least in my case) glues together furniture and houses, cuts out tiny pieces of paper or slices of fruit, and connects wires to provide background illumination. The one I’m currently working on is a peaceful Japanese street with a sushi shop, a tea store, and lots of cherry blossoms.
I’m clearly not alone in my love for house miniatures or drawn isometric projections of a room. One can do without too much unnecessary psychoanalysis (perhaps it allows us to feel organised and in control when real lives and houses are quite messy), but most of us find such things soothing. Placing a tiny plate on a tiny table is profoundly satisfying; the 2021 game Unpacking makes good use of this, consisting of pulling various objects from a box and placing them where you want through different rooms of the house.
The art of French artist Florent Chavouet (see my earlier post Spotlight on Florent Chavouet) hits a similar note for me. His love of isometric projection and his elaborate sketches of storefronts and people’s rooms immediately attracted me, though at the time I didn’t think to verbalise the reason for it. I concentrated on his excellent graphic novel Petites coupures à Shioguni last time, so here are more glimpses of his other books.
On a more seasonal note, two of his window panoramas drawn for the famous Galeries Lafayette in 2022:
Another thing I really love is imaginary food (which is why the duo of comic artists James Stokoe and Brandon Graham is going to be a post topic sometime in the future), and Chavouet did a beautiful job with his Gloutisphère, a map of the best food in the world… completely made up. Enjoy it on his blog!
Today, let’s bask in some purely visual glory. Let’s take a gander at a small corner of the mind-boggling œuvre of Averardo Ciriello (1918 – 2016). As you can see from these dates, he was a long-lived fellow, and I’m delighted to report that he was healthy, hearty and active well into his nineties.
He was one of those illustrators who truly delighted in their craft, and so produced an enormous body of work that bore every sign of inspiration and enthusiasm. Since my plan is to focus on a specific period of his career, I’ll skip most of his early work — though it’s well worth returning to — and give you a couple of famous pieces to give you as sense of his success and importance in his field.
Now for the heart of it: I frankly marvel at Ciriello’s willingness to provide hundreds of cover paintings for cheap, mass market erotica fumetti. The way I see it, it’s evidence that he greatly enjoyed the assignment, and that the money was but a secondary concern at best. We’ve briefly touched upon the Maghella series (in our all-time most popular post, as it happens), but here’s some more.
« Crosses and gallows – that deadly historic juxtaposition. » — Howard Zinn
Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs…
All right, time for me to tackle (though a bit sideways, I’ll explain) another of my daunting heroes. This time out, it’s Frédéric Othon Théodore Aristidès (1931-2013), better — and more simply — known as ‘Fred’.
A compulsive and constant scribbler, he attended no institute of artistic learning but his own (and didn’t bother to complete his secondary education), and made inroads into the field by the dawn of the 1950s, landing in Ici Paris, France-Dimanche, Le Rire, Paris-Presse, France-Soir, Punch, and even as a gagman (uncredited!) for The New Yorker (others, among them Otto Soglow, would illustrate the gags for publication).
Mid-decade, he began his long and fruitful association with Pilote, launching, with the magazine’s 300th issue (July 22, 1965, Dargaud) his undeniable masterpiece, Philémon. And this is where my ‘sideways’ loophole comes in: I’m truly not ready to tackle the overflowing poetic cornucopia that is Philémon. By way of introduction, I’ll stick to the margins and showcase instead some of Fred’s ‘brutish and nasty’ (a rough translation of Hara-Kiri’s motto) panel cartoons and short pieces. There’s a lot to this guy.
Which reminds me of a time, a couple of decades ago, when Montreal’s FIFA (Festival international des films sur l’art/International Festival of Films on Art) presented a series of TV shows showcasing individual cartoonists, among them Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman… and Fred. I recall that Messrs Ware and Spiegelman were just as miserable and neurotic as expected, there was also this Manga master that felt trapped as a cog in an assembly line. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to the existential angst, Fred was brimming with evident delight and joie de vivre at his good fortune to be a working cartoonist*, grinning and scribbling in his sun-dappled studio, leisurely strolling through his village, charming the ladies, enjoying a glass of wine and a wedge of fine aged cheese… I concluded that here was an eloquent encapsulation of the respective cartooning cultures of a few nations. Regrettably, I haven’t been able to track down this documentary series, not even in the FIFA archives. Nevertheless, here’s a short visit with the dear man, by then living in Paris.
*this is serious, though: when Fred stopped drawing comics in the late 1980s, he fell into a deep depression and wound up in a psychiatric hospital. The cure? A return to creating comics. Surely there’s a lesson in this.
« It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. » — E. L. Doctorow
Once more rooting around Europe for properly atmospheric material, we unsurprisingly dig up some gold in Belgium, a land rife with longstanding traditions of the fantastic.
While there never were — if memory serves — any explicitly supernatural elements at play in Maurice Tillieux and Arthur Piroton‘s chronicles of FBI agent Jess Long’s colourful investigations, the creators used every opportunity to instill the oppressive fog of atmosphere.
While never a massive hit, the series had solid legs, lasting from its 1969 introduction in Spirou magazine, surviving Tillieux’s tragic demise in 1978 and finally coming to the end of its road with Piroton’s own passing in 1996.
Today, we feature excerpts from Jess Long’s sixth investigation, Les ombres du feu (‘Shadows of fire’), from 1972. Fasten your seatbelts!
I’ve heard that Piroton’s style was considered a bit too ‘American’ to be that popular in Europe. Amusingly, it looked like nothing published in American comics at the time — I’d say his approach was a throwback to a mix of Bernard Krigstein and, say, Alex Raymond in Rip Kirby and Secret Agent X9 mode.
Something else worth noting about the Tillieux-Piroton collaboration: while Tillieux was the complete package — writer and artist — he was essentially forced, by some disastrously myopic editorial decisions right from the top at Dupuis (a stubborn failure to grasp that not every cartoonist can be his own writer) Tillieux had to almost entirely give up drawing, even on his own series, Gil Jourdan, to take on writing duties for a great many features. But since he was, one might say, the “Anti-Stan Lee”, he painstakingly storyboarded each page of his scripts, acting not only as scenarist, but also as metteur en scène. Thankfully, some examples of these fascinating breakdowns have survived. Check out this one and especially that one. -RG
In the spirit of celebrating the spirit of Hallowe’en even from places it’s not traditionally celebrated, it’s now my turn — and my pleasure — to draw from the wondrous inkwell of Massimo Mattioli (1943-2019) and his finest creation, M Le Magicien, which ran, largely unappreciated, in the pages of France’s Pif Gadget from 1968 to 1973. My co-admin ds devoted, back in January, a post to the artist and his creation: Massimo Mattioli Mania: M le magicien, but I’d been reserving the rare but excellent ‘spookier’ M strips for this occasion. Mattioli would delve much, much further into the macabre, in the early 1980s, with his frankly excessive Squeak the Mouse. Ahem.
« An editorial team that gathers within a magazine such as Pilote constitutes a true family, as it’s a small group and everybody knows everybody. There’s friendship, admiration, competition, hijinks and the pleasure of being together, even if we didn’t take the bus to Quiberon together in the summer. » — Patrice Leconte
« As a child, I dreamed of nothing but cinema. Well, I also dreamed of drawing. As they say, I went up to Paris and went to film school. But I kept on drawing. And I was a Pilote reader. I wrote to [ Marcel ] Gotlib, who responded, looked at my drawings, showed them to René Goscinny, who liked them, invited me to the office and found me likeable, published my drawings and encouraged me to carry on, which I did. For five years. 1970 to 1975. I was happy. Then I shot my first film [the frankly unpromising Les vécés étaient fermés de l’intérieur, co-scripted with Gotlib] and everything began to unravel, because I haven’t made anything but films since, and I gave up comics. »
Humble to a fault, Leconte is well aware of his limitations as a “classical” draughtsman (largely beside the point in his case, imho, as he’s a superb designer and stylist):
« I think that my personal touch was tied to my drawing handicap, that self-taught aspect which meant than I absolutely had to find a workaround. I’ve always held to the rule that constraints constitute a first-rate engine of creation, coupled with the magical notion of “let us make qualities of our flaws“. Well, it works! »
By all means, read the full conversation with Leconte about his bédé days, conducted by Jean-Luc Brunet and Vivian Lecuivre en 2007. It is, however, in French, but we currently have the technological means to let you grasp the gist of it.
By the way, Leconte’s got a new feature out, an adaptation of Georges Simenon‘s 45th Jules Maigret novel, Maigret et la jeune morte (“Maigret and the Dead Girl“, first published in 1954), starring deplorable human being but splendid actor Gérard Depardieu. Among Simenon’s eighty Maigret books, this must surely be the most adaptable, as this marks the fifth time this novel is brought to the screen! The trailer looks great.
« Juggler of eccentric ideas, more poetic than truly macabre, Desclozeaux is served by an admirable technique that aligns him with the clan of Folon and Flora, which is to say designers for whom white space holds as much– if not more — importance than the line, the arabesque or the scroll. » — Jacques Sternberg and Michel Caen (1968)
Since the world seems to be crashing down around our ears, I figure it would be reasonable to focus on an artist who’s well-adjusted, happy, prolific, casually brilliant and, to top it off, still alive at a ripe old age. Meet, then, if haven’t already, French national treasure Jean-Pierre Desclozeaux, who will, if I’m not jinxing it for him, turn 84 this coming 5th of June.
Jean-Pierre began his career as a watercolourist and poster designer, studying under the legendary Paul Colin.
In 1965, he branched out into press illustration and cartoons. Here are a few early samples of this endeavour:
If Wikipedia will forgive me, I’ve cribbed and translated this bit for our English-only readers: « In 1968, he began his collaboration with Le Nouvel Observateur, where he published at least one drawing each week. From that point on, Desclozeaux devoted himself almost exclusively to the press and publishing areas : satirical drawings, book and magazine illustration, posters for exhibitions and shows, postcards, book jackets. »
This post’s title hails from the term of endearment and respect bestowed upon Desclozeaux by no less a personage than his affichiste confrere, Raymond Savignac (1907-2002). This reference to wine-making presumably alludes to his long-standing graphic contributions to sundry gastronomic columns. In 2002, Albin Michel even issued a heady cuvée of his wine-imbibed cartoons, Cul-Sec!*
*approximately meaning ‘bottoms up!‘ or ‘down the hatch!’ — here are some hilarious mispronunciations of ‘faire cul sec’.
Mention Belgian artist Peyo(real name Pierre Culliford, 1928 -1992) and the first thing that comes to mind is his hugely popular Les Schtroumpfs, introduced within the pages of his strip Johan et Pirlouit. Les Schtroumpfs, of course, are Smurfs, those blue humanoid creatures living in mushroom-houses in the forest. When I was just starting tentative forays into comics during my shy youth, it’s the local library’s Smurf albums that first attracted my attention, alongside Uderzo and Goscinny’s Astérix le Gaulois and Roba and Rosy’s Boule et Bill.
Another strip I really liked, unaware that it was created by the artist responsible for the Smurfs, is Poussy. Despite competing with all the other cat adventures one can think of (although there are far more today than there were twenty years ago), it was its old-fashioned charm that drew me in. This was a world where rambunctious (but always well-meaning) boys roasted chestnuts in a fire, mothers in high heels burned their Sunday roast, and families always went to the beach for their vacation. I wasn’t interested in these (human) characters, but they made a perfect backdrop to cat antics, comforting like watching cartoons on a rainy day.
21-year old Peyo drew 26 black-and-white gags of Poussy for the humble youth section of Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir between 1949 and 1951. Here’s an example of one of these early manifestations of Poussy, a playful black-and-white cat, up to very normal cat mischief:
When Le Soir decided to revamp its youth section into a more ambitious version titled Le Soir Jeunesse, Peyo, who had been concentrating on his Johan series (later to become Johan et Pirlouit, or Johan and Peewit in English) for Journal de Spirou, revived Poussy, and this frisky kitten frolicked once again between Le Soir‘s pages from 1955 to 1960. Set aside again to make room for more ambitious endeavours (namely, Peyo’s Benoît Brisefer series) at the behest of publisher Charles Dupuis, for whom Peyo was working concurrently, Poussy tiptoed back into life in 1965, this time in Journal de Spirou, in colourised re-runs of previous Le Soir material, published quite out of any chronological order.
Here are a few favourites from these re-runs — I mostly chose mute strips, both because Poussy’s expressive meowing needs no translation, and because I by far prefer jokes centered on his behaviour without too much human interference.
It was only in 1969 that Peyo resumed the production of new strips, starting with gag no. 222… and by no. 233, he had a collaborator, Lucien De Gieter, who soon took over entirely as Peyo had far too many other series on his hands to be able to continue Poussy. De Gieter continued the strip until 1974.
There have been three albums collecting Poussy material, published in 1976 and 1977 – and last year, Dupuis published a very handsome and very complete collection of all Poussy strips (a painstaking and impeccable chronological presentation, accompanied by exhaustive publishing information) which I purchased at the excellent comic-and-book store Débédé in Montréal, Québec. One doesn’t always feel like revisiting books from one’s childhood (for instance, I have little desire to ever reread Boule et Bill), but in this case I spent a few warm moments smiling at the strips I remembered surprisingly well.