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

Patrice Leconte: All Was Normal and Calm…

« 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

It would be terribly reasonable to presume that Patrice Leconte‘s elegant passage through the world of Franco-Belgian was, on the part of the future cinematic auteur (the Les Bronzés series, Monsieur Hire, Le mari de la coiffeuse, Ridicule, L’homme du train — my favourite, and even an animated film, Le magasin des suicides… quite a range!) some sort of dilettantish detour, but it wasn’t… is it ever? — quite so simple. As he recalls it:

« 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. »

La vie telle qu’elle est — a title that a cinephile of Leconte’s ilk could simply *not* have failed to nick from pioneering cinéaste Louis Feuillade (1873-1925, whose immortal Fantomas, Judex and Les vampires serials still thrill) and his 1911-1913 series of films bearing that name… seventeen in all!
The tale appeared in Pilote no. 603 (May, 1971, Dargaud), and here’s the cover. René Goscinny, publication director; Jean-Michel Charlier and Gérard Pradal, editors in chief; Albert Uderzo, art director.

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.

-RG