Tentacle Tuesday: dans la galère tentaculaire…

… in which we continue our exploration of tentacles slithering their way into Franco-Belgian comics!

In an orderly fashion, please.

The other day, a friend heartily recommended a certain movie to me, pointing out that it was ‘ancient’ and therefore probably available online for free. When I checked the year, it turned out to have been from 1995 which, excuse me, hardly qualifies as prehistoric. What can be considered ‘old’, then, people in their early thirties will ask? Why, this magazine cover, for instance.

Le Petit journal illustré (May 21st, 1922). The bottom says “a drama at the bottom of the sea”, with details of how a diver was attacked by an octopus and cannot get out his knife to fight against his repellent aggressor.

Skipping some thirty years ahead, I believe we’re still in “old” territory.

A page from « Zette reporter : Aventure en Pacifique », published in Lisette n° 38 (September 16th, 1956). Script by François Drall, illustration by Yvan Marié. The girls, after witnessing a fight between a giant shark and octopus, now seek to escape the clutches of the victor’s eight appendages.

Lisette was a comics magazine specifically aimed at female readership (to be more precise, it was marketed to girls between 7 and 15 years old). The interesting part is that it often featured articles about traditionally men-dominated careers, some of which had only been very recently accessible to women… for instance, an interview with Anne Chopinet (one of first women accepted in l’École polytechnique) and a reportage on women air pilots back when this was an almost exclusively man-only club.

Moving on to further, more energetic octopus-evading tactics… we have Bob Morane, originally a hero harking from adventure books written by prodigiously prolific Belgian novelist Henri Vernes, and published by Belgian éditeur Marabout. The number of adventures Morane has lived through is rather staggering: around 200 novels + about 80 comics albums. Now there’s a challenge for the serious collector!

Original art from Bob Morane et l’oiseau du feu (1960). Illustrated by Dino Attanasio.

Co-admin RG has already spoken about Toute la gomme, but he kindly held back this terrific tentacular page for my TT feature!

Scripted by Antoine Raymond (a.k.a. Vicq), illustrated by Will, 1962.

Co-admin RG called André Franquin‘s œuvre “an embarrassment of riches” in his Faites gaffe, monsieur Franquin! post. I thoroughly agree, and am very pleased to report (though this is in no way surprising) that tentacles are part of his vast répertoire.

Pages from what’s collectively known as Idées noires (Franquin’s Last Laugh in English). These dark strips and cartoons were Franquin’s « l’humour du désespoir », the humour of despair, and appeared in Le trombone illustré (Spirou’s magazine supplement) in 1977 and, with the discontinuation of the latter, moved to Fluide Glacial until 1983.

I’d better stop here. After all, I wouldn’t want to go as far as ‘modern’ times… say, from the 90s and onward, although it’s scary to think that was still 30 years ago!

~ ds

Lovely colours (by co-admin RG), aren’t they?

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?


Éric et Artimon: Some Choice Bubblegum!

« Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don’t swallow it. » — Hank Ketcham

Going way back: When I was a wee lad (still in the single digits), my mother would accompany me to our area’s oldest and finest bookstore (Chicoutimi’s long-gone Librairie régionale). At the time, I had been purchasing bound collections of Belgian bédé publisher’s Spirou, the earlier the better. Even at that tender age, I held the conviction that things had already peaked.

A friendly employee ushered us into the restricted area of the bookstore’s top floor, a vast warehouse I never got a tour of… but it was immense! I was led to an aisle where, high above, dozens of older Spirou collections were kept, dating all the way back to 1962. I can afford to be specific, because I bought the oldest issue they had on hand (Album Spirou no. 84). At ten dollars a pop, they were reasonably-priced, but still costly for a child with a 1970s-scale allowance. For my parents, a reliable source of ideal birthday and Christmas gifts, however!

It was in their pages (no. 90, see below!) that, along with the established Spirou magazine series (Spirou et Fantasio, Boule et Bill, Buck Danny, Benoît Brisefer, Tif et Tondu, Gil Jourdan…), I encountered scads of unfamiliar entries. Of these, an early album caught mid-tale one that truly stuck with me through decades and therefore is the object of today’s post.

This is Album Spirou no. 90 (Sept. 1963, Dupuis), collecting the bédé weekly’s issues n° 1316 to 1328. Cover by André Franquin, depicting a scene from a Spirou adventure, the troubled production that was QRN sur Bretzelburg (under its original title, QRM sur Bretzelburg).

I’d be squandering time and space to retrace Belgian master Willy ‘Will’ Maltaite‘s biography, as Lambiek covers the topic in great detail and with the requisite visual profusion.

In short, though, here’s what’s relevant in this case: from 1949 to 1987 (with a pause between ’59 and ’63), Will illustrated the adventures of Tif et Tondu, characters owned by Éditions Dupuis, its publisher. Still, he longed to draw characters of his own, which wasn’t an idle whim, given that most of his colleagues and collaborators did just that, enjoying more latitude and far greater financial rewards. In 1962, he got the chance to try his hand at an original series, Éric et Artimon, conceived with versatile scripter-cartoonist Raymond Antoine, alias Vicq. And the result was outstandingly charming, light-hearted and hilarious.

The 1976 (and only, so far) edition of Toute la gomme. Still, I'm grateful for its existence: I was finally able to read the whole story, though without colour.
The 1976 (and only, so far) edition of Toute la gomme. Still, I’m grateful for its existence: I was finally able to read the whole story, though without colour.

A mere two long adventures (44 pages each) were produced (Le tyran en acier chromé, 1962, and Toute la gomme, 1963, plus a six-pager, Et mine de rien, in 1967), and Dupuis never bothered to collect or reprint them. Instead, well down the pike, two separate, smaller publishers licensed the rights and issued small black and white runs of, respectively, Toute la gomme (Espace Édition, 1976) and Le tyran… (Magic Strip, 1983).

Candy aficionado Éric visits his main supplier, loveable eccentric Monsieur Grosoison, at his confiserie ‘Au bambin vorace’ (‘The Voracious Toddler’). The old man, also a brilliant inventor, shows off his new creation to his best and most loyal customer. The stuff’s not only downright magical, it’s also exquisitely delicious.
« Such lungs! Bravo! You are a great artist! »
However, Tarquin doesn’t like his good-natured fun interrupted.
The back cover of Espace’s Toute la gomme, wherein Éric employs ingenious means to escape a rooftop.
The opening page to the short concluding episode of the boy and the captain’s adventures, Et mine de rien (Spirou n° 1506, 1967).
And here’s the fancy 1983 edition of Le tyran en acier chromé, scarce and fairly pricey nowadays, unlike Toute la gomme.
Thankfully, Éric et Artimon haven’t been entirely forgotten, despite the shabby treatment they received at the hands of their original publisher. Here’s a signed lithograph produced in the early 1990s by Belgian bookstore Chic-Bull. Note the fancy silver ink on the statue. Mine’s number 48!

I’ll be spotlighting Will’s other creator-owned series, Isabelle, at some point during this year’s Hallowe’en Countdown!


Faites gaffe, monsieur Franquin!

Ninety-three years ago today (January 3, 1924, that is), master bédéiste André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium.

His œuvre is an embarrassment of riches, but heck, here’s a diabolically ingenious Gaston Lagaffe strip whose mise-en-scène is so solid and visually limpid that the only dialogue needed to truly “get it” is the punchline: « Never seen such a tough nut… »

Originally published in Spirou no. 1599 (Dec. 5, 1968, Éditions Dupuis.)

It would be unfair and inaccurate to single anything out as André Franquin’s «masterpiece», given the consistently high calibre of his output. Let’s settle for stating that Gaston was in all likelihood his most popular creation, as luck would have it.

The legendary gaffeur first messed up in a two-panel cameo in the Spirou et Fantasio adventure Le voyageur du Mésozoïque in 1957. Later S&F tales were dotted with Gaston cameos, and the accident-prone office boy soon (crash-) landed his own half-page strip, which ran from the late 50s to the late 90s, though mostly consisted of reprints after the early 80s.

Gaston’s second strip collection, issued in 1963 in the original “landscape” format, deemed an oddity at the time.

As for translations, Gaston’s popular in a bevy of languages, but not, of course, in English. Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson was a huge fan, and translated a handful of strips, which were published (as Gomer Goof) in issues of the anthologies Prime Cuts and Graphic Story Monthly.

Speaking of Gomer, Anglophone readers are in for a treat: UK publisher Cinebook has, just last October, issued a collection (only 48 pages, but you have to start somewhere… and perhaps small) entitled Mind the Goof! Check it out here.