When Spirou was created by Rob-Vel, he was a rather blank and anonymous character. And even though Franquin later expanded his personality and gave him a human dimension, he still lacks a true psychology. ... I had so many questions: Why does he wear a hotel uniform when he never works as a bellhop? Has he ever been in love? Does he have any political views? How did he and Fantasio become lifelong friends? Who is Fantasio, anyway? And Spip, who is he? How come he can think?
— Émile Bravo
This is my last post in the series that explores the origins of Spirou. The first focused on the creation of the character and the early years of the series before Franquin, while the second presented Tome & Janry's comedic versions of Spirou's childhood. I'll wrap it up with Émile Bravo's acclaimed origin story, Le journal d'un ingénu and its prequel, but first I'd like to come at it from another angle: What are the experiences that turn readers (and future comic book artists) into Spirou fans?
Reading and Making Spirou
In 2008, for its 70-year anniversary, Spirou magazine invited whole bunch of famous artists to draw a one-page comic on the subject of "Spirou and me." The wide variety of responses can be seen on the Spirou Tribute Gallery. José-Luis Munuera had recently been replaced as the artist on the series, and in his contribution to the project, he looks back at his complicated history with Spirou, both as a reader and a creator:
"JD" is Jean-David Morvan, the writer on Munuera's albums. "Christian" is presumably the colorist, Christian Lerolle. (And as for their inspirations, Greg wrote some of the classic albums and Jijé drew the series before Franquin.) Nezchan posted an excerpt of Paris-sous-Seine ("Paris under Seine," a pun on those "Stratford-upon-Avon" style town names), the album that's mentioned, and both Morvan and Munuera actually responded. (He seems like a nice guy.)
By the way, the reason why El País didn't publish The Prisoner of Buddha (1958) until 1983 was that few foreign comics were allowed during the Franco regime. That's touched upon in the contribution by Émile Bravo, in a story that takes place a few years earlier:
I especially like this story because I can recognize some of my own experiences from reading comics as a kid. (Also, I should probably mention that I had trouble with the translation of both the one-pagers, and I won't guarantee the accuracy of the captions in the final panels in particular.)
The Making of Spirou
|While Morvan and Munuera were writing and drawing the main Spirou series, Dupuis also launched a parallel series of out-of-continuity one-shots. These were given more freedom from the editorial restrictions the two official creators suffered under, and could explore variations on the character and the premise. The results have not always been successful, but the 4th entry in the series, Émile Bravo's 2008 Spirou: Le journal d'un ingénu (hard to translate; an "ingénu" is a young boy who is innocent or naïve due to inexperience; "A Boy's Diary" would be an approximate rendering) was an unqualified critical and commercial hit. The review in The Comics Reporter is a fairly typical rave.|
The title and logo is an obvious homage to the original Journal de Spirou design. (Less obviously, Spirou is standing on a Belgian flag edged with tiny swastikas and hammer-and-sickles.) Bravo is going back to Spirou's beginning, in the run-up to World War II. One of the things he's doing is bridging Rob-Vel's original character with the (very different) one established by Franquin.
OK, let's just get to it (7 pages out of 67):
You may recognize the portly porter as Entresol, from the early Rob-Vel stories.
Meanwhile, Spirou has been dragged away by some younger kids to broker a dispute. When his diplomatic efforts fail, he gets caught in the middle of the fight.
Later on, a glamorous couple check in. The concierge recognizes the woman:
Other stuff happens at the hotel, but let's move on...
You gotta love Fantasio's incredibly creepy vibe here. I would have made a run for it much sooner.
It shouldn't be giving away too much to say that the rest is a story of love, friendship, growing up, and war. Hopefully it will be available in English some day.
Back to the Beginning
Following up on Le journal d'un ingénu, Bravo made a short prequel called La loi du plus fort ("The Law of the Jungle") that ran in the anniversary issue #3653 of Spirou. Here then, finally, we get to see how it all started (About 1 2/3 pages out of 5):
St. Pancrace Orphanage, 1938. Two orphans, René and Jean-Baptiste, are playing in the chapel when they find the key to the altar wine. René is upset; he explains that his dad was a drunk who killed his mom and died in prison. He says that he'll piss in the wine, and asks Jean-Baptiste if his parents are dead too:
The priest (Father Albert), who is drunk and crazy, charges at them in a rage, but knocks over the ladder...
The cross hits him over the head, killing him. Jean-Baptiste is trapped under the body, and asks René to help him:
Having apparently been caught in the act, René is accused and summarily tried for murder. Jean-Baptiste's perfectly reasonable objection that the boy could hardly lift the cross, much less bash in a man's head with it, is ignored. He himself is expelled from the orphanage:
The priest tries to get Jean-Baptiste to admit that René killed Father Albert to "protect his [Jean-Bapt's] innocence," a notion he seems unhealthily fixated on. Jean-Baptiste doesn't understand...
While the priest goes off to talk to the director, a bellhop approaches Jean-Baptiste:
From the context, I'm guessing that, like spirou, spip is also a slang/dialect word for squirrel in French. "Redhead" is roux, pronounced like "-rou." I assume you've sussed out the identity of Jean-Baptiste by now.
Jean-Baptiste promises Fulgence that once he starts working, he'll help him out and things won't be so bad. He aces the interview and is hired on the spot:
And with that "FIN," we're back to the beginning, and to the end of this series. Hope you enjoyed it!