Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Black Ideas

I was sitting in a pub one day and got talking to a French chap about comics and how much they mean to me. The subject of Asterix came up and he hit me with an opinion that totally floored me: Uderzo was a hack who copied his style! Apparently there was another Belgian artist, André Franquin, who was the originator of that style. He wasn't someone I'd ever heard of so I did some research and found that the truth was a little different to that accusation, but I'm thankful anyway to that guy for turning me onto this amazing artist. Franquin, of whom Hergé said, 'Compared to him, I'm a poor draftsman' was an incredibly influential artist and creator of two of the most recognised characters in French comics: Marsupilami, a Marsupial/monkey thing and Gaston Lagaffe, the scruffy inventor kid.

As Franquin's style developed, more and more movement lines appeared and he imbued each frame with an incredible kind of fluidity that you can see above. One of Franquin's contemporaries was Morris (Maurice de Bevere, creator of Lucky Luke), and both were tutored by Jijé (Joseph Gillian). Along with another artist known as Will (Willy Maltaite), these four went on to dominate French comics. They are known as 'The Gang of Four' and the style they developed is called the Marcinelle School. Among these four, Franquin was most influential, which led to a large number of artists heavily influenced by his style. Of the second generation of the Marcinelle School were Peyo (Pierre Culliford, creator of the Smurfs) and a certain artist called Albert Uderzo. 

How is it possible that ALL these geniuses were Belgian? It's quite amazing. 

Franquin suffered from depression and in 1977 his work shifted towards a much bleaker series which he called 'Idees Noires'. Although still clearly humourous, these short black and white strips came from a darker place. They feature encounters with death and nightmarish creatures, the horrors of modern society; rampant capitalism and militarism for example, and the end of humanity. I find these cartoons fascinating. They are of course beautifully drawn, and unfortunately a lot of them are not particularly funny, but the place they come from is so stark and so singular a vision; it's quite unique and yet firmly in the tradition of humour strips in french comics. It's also worth noting that this stuff appeared in a kids comics! 

I've translated three strips as best I can. The first is a simple joke about suicide, highlighting Franquin's incredible draftsmanship. The second is a comment on the consequences of being one of those doing the policing in society. The third is a sci-fi story, about a criminal and his punishment. (sorry about the blurred final panel). Hope you like them as much as me. 

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