Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 23

« 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!

Pretty good spotting, Agent Corey Hart!
The story runs fourteen pages, a bit long for our purposes… but I’m sure these highlights will properly convey its nocturnal essence.
This is Jess Long, Police spéciale no. 2 (1977, Dupuis), comprising the fifth and sixth adventures. For some reason, the publisher didn’t start collecting the series until 1976. In the end, twenty albums were issued, a fine run!
This is Spirou no. 1787 (July 13, 1972, Dupuis). Cover by Piroton, with a lower left vignette by André Franquin.
Another spooky Jess Long cover, this time it’s Spirou no. 1897 (Aug. 22 1974, Dupuis), with another Franquin comment.

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

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!


Tentacle Tuesday: le mardi des tentacules, parbleu!

In my ceaseless quest for tentacles, once in a while, I return to a previous theme – in this case, the Franco-Belgian tradition of comics. To start at the beginning, visit Tentacle Tuesday, Franco-Belgian edition parts 1 and 2, and Tentacle Tuesday: Tentacules à la mode.

We start some 70-some years ago, with an issue of Bob et Bobette, a Belgian feature created by Willy Vandersteen in 1945. Well, to be more precise, the latter created Suske en Wiske — when the strip became popular in its native De Standaard (a Flemish daily newspaper), it was picked up by Tintin magazine, after Vandersteen agreed to modify it somewhat according to Hergé (who was the magazine’s artistic director) and his Ligne claire guidelines. The main characters were renamed – far from the last time that happened: in Britain, they were known as Spike and Suzy, and as Willy and Wanda in the United States.

Bob et Bobette no. 55: La cité des pieuvres (1947). Scripted by Jean-André Richard and illustrated by Robert Dansler, who was often known as Bob Dan. That lovely sepia paper… I can just smell it.

I’ve never read a whole album of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, though I like its premise (an intrepid, independent héroïne? yes, please) and Jacques Tardi‘s art (depending; sometimes I love it, sometimes I’m indifferent, but it’s certainly good enough for purposes of following a story). Chalk it down to something I never got around to, I guess. Irritatingly, in 2010 we have been *ahem* ‘blessed’ with a movie based on this comic, directed by the ever sharp-witted Luc Besson (who royally fucked up a movie adaptation of Valérian et Laureline in 2017, so he seems to be making this into a specialty).

Le Noyé à deux têtes is the sixth volume of Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, a series by Jacques Tardi. In 1984, it was serialised in À suivre, a Franco-Belgian magazine, and collected as an album a year later (both by Casterman).

A peek at the tentacles within.

I mentioned the comics magazine Le journal Tintin earlier – here’s a cover from its competitor, Spirou (Le journal de Spirou), published by Éditions Dupuis since 1938. The respective publishers (Raymond Leblanc for Tintin, and Charles Dupuis for Spirou) of these magazines had a gentleman’s agreement: an artist’s work could only be published in one or the other, never both. Incidentally, there was an interesting exception in the case of André Franquin, who moved his wares from Spirou to Tintin after a quarrel with its editor – and, contractually obligated to work for Tintin for five years, simultaneously continued to provide Spirou with stories.

Spirou no. 1771 (march 23rd, 1972), art by Puig. Brice Bolt, a feature launched in 1970, was soon abandoned after but two episodes (although to be fair, they were lengthy – the strip lasted until 1972)… from the sound of it, for being a little too modern for its time. After the publication of the first chapters, letters came in complaining that the story was too scary, the animals too monstrous, the illustration style too realistic. The “monstrous animals” included an army of giant crabs, a behemoth squid (just up our street!), colossal vampire bats, and ginormous Komodo dragons.

Valentin le vagabond was created by René Goscinny et Jean Tabary in 1962 for publication in Pilote. After 1963, Tabary carried on alone, scripting and illustrating all by his lonesome, Goscinny having his hands full with other projects. Valentin le vagabond et les hippies is the final story of this series, originally serialised in issues 709 to 719 in 1973.

Valentin le vagabond: Valentin et les hippies (Dargaud, 1974). Story and art by Jean Tabary.

An excerpt from Pilote no. 719 (1973). The tree is a hippie tree, as it was treated with LSD… now it’s got tentacles. Naturally.

The French are surely not immune from scatological humour. The Kaca fairy (I’ll give you three guesses for what “kaca” means in French) is a rather inept witch. She accidentally conjures up an octopus who’s a little too intent on being liked, and the rest of the comic deals with the attempts to whisk him away again.

« Hurry up and make this monstrosity disappear! » « Yes, yes, I’m looking, but nothing works! » Panels from La fée Kaca (Humanoïdes Associés, 2007) by Florence Cestac.

The octopus tries to convince everybody that they should allow him to stick (ha, ha) around – « for instance, I stick myself to the wall and leave you with all the room you need! ».

~ ds

Charles Bronson’s Paper Doppelgängers

« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson

Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.

Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.

Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.


« Like an unpalatable salad » indeed; a word salad. Published in Charlton’s Scary Tales no. 2 (October, 1975). Edited by George Wildman.

Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.


Front and back covers of Archie’s début, Le maître de l’épouvante (1973).

And to give you a sense of the series’ narrative texture, page five from Le maître de l’épouvante; when it debuted in the fall of 1971, the series brought a welcome griminess and ethno-social realism to the squeaky-pristine pages of Spirou.

The Italians would then follow suit, “borrowing” Jean-Paul Belmondo‘s likeness for their Goldrake series around 1972, followed by Alain Delon‘s looks for Playcolt, and more exploitively, Ornella Muti‘s charms for Sukia. Mind you, all these liberties with celebrity likenesses don’t make Brian Hitch‘s laziness and lack of imagination any less reprehensible.

Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?), Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!

Happy birthday, Mr. Buchinsky!

– RG

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.