Never Forget: Cabu, le grand Duduche

« 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.

Ah, remember cursive?
Little Duduche has to give away his cat’s latest litter, with deplorable results. « A female cat can have up to 20,000 descendants in just a span of five years. If you don’t want to take care of tons of cats or feel responsible for many homeless ones, it’s a good idea to spay or neuter your cat. » It’s just common sense, folks.
Expressive, varied lettering is another crucial asset in the toolkit of the complete artist. « Mister Duduche! You will no longer find it quite so droll when I quiz you on aerial warfare of 1917-18! »
Okay, this was hell to scan and reassemble (do open it in a separate tab to see the glorious details). But I felt it essential to showcase Cabu’s mastery of scale, perspective, architecture and general cohesion. Once in a while, Cabu would pull out one of these ambitious strips with over a hundred distinctive and identifiable figures, in service of a couple of dozen individual or entwined jokes. It is a rare breed of genius that can conceive such an array of moving parts and keep them all under control.
1- “Sir! Sir! Sir!” ” “Belphegor is getting deafer by the day...” 2- “May I go out, sir?” “Yes.” “Watch this…” 3- “Sir! Sir! Sir!” 4- “Sir, may I go out… to tell the principal’s daughter that I love her?” “No. There’s already another.” 5- “Well, I never!” 6- “Sir! May I go out to smash the other freak’s face in… it’s urgent!” “Okay, okay. But make it quick!
If you notice that the elderly maid, who’s known you all your life, is suddenly afraid of you…
Duduche catalogues the telltale signs of his entrance into ‘the awkward age’. “If you notice that the house cat is now wary of you…
Interesting: I had no idea until just now that the country fair game of ‘Chamboule-tout’ was known as ‘Coconut Shy‘ in English. Live and learn!
Duduche’s utter inability to keep a poker face can be a bit of a liability. I love the well-observed detail of the study monitor keeping his feet warm with a hot water bottle. In French, the lovely, evocative term for that item is ‘bouillote‘.
Here’s one from Pilote no. 590 (Feb. 1971, Dargaud). Though Cabu could be much, much acerbic than his American colleague, he and Jules Feiffer had a lot in common. “What’s on tonight at the film society?” “It’s a flick with, ah, what’s his name again… ?” “It’s on the tip of my tongue, his name…” “… I’ve got his name on the tip of my stump, your weirdo… isn’t it Fred Astaire?

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 ]

Cabu’s headstone in Châlons-en-Champagne. Photo © Radio France – Sophie Constanzer.

-RG