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ARCHIVED - Springtime of the Quebecois Comic Strip
In the 1960s, Quebec society was in full bloom. Quebec was modernizing, taking control of its economy and of its future. Reforms, which often undermined the traditional values promoted by the clergy, were prevalent. Quebec culture was strengthened in all areas, including the theatre, the cinema, art, music and literature. The 1967 World's Fair, Man and His World, celebrated Quebec society on a world stage. At the height of what has been called the Quiet Revolution, when Quebec nationalism was on the rise, labour disputes and student movements exploded in Quebec, as they did throughout the Western world. In their wake came an unprecedented renewal of the BDQ. This period is referred to as the "springtime of the Quebecois comic strip" (from the title of an article by Georges Raby, published in Culture Vivante in 1971).
As the western world changed, so did its perception of comics, especially in Europe. Henceforth, comics were viewed as an artistic form of expression in their own right, beginning to be seen as the "ninth art." In Europe, graphic-narrative experiments addressed to young adults abounded in the pages of magazines such as Pilote and Charlie. These magazines, as well as the work of underground creators on the American west coast, headed by Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, inspired Quebecois artists. Creators gathered to exchange ideas, groups were formed, and exhibits and festivals were organized. As in other art forms, the creators of Quebecois comics wanted pride of place in their home market.
Conflict and Experimentation (1968-1978)
The disappearance of the Catholic press for children in the middle 1960s left a great void. In the following years, from 1965 to 1967, Quebecois comics barely existed beyond Albert Charier's unsinkable "Onésime." At the end of the decade, Héritage publishing house of Saint-Lambert began publishing American comic books translated in Quebec. Riding the wave of American superheroes that was then breaking, the first five titles published (L'Étonnant Spider-Man, Capitaine América, Les Fabuleux Fantastic Four, L'Incroyable Hulk and Rawhide Kid) were immediately successful. Several dozen other titles would be added over the following two decades. Héritage actually flooded the market with these translations of U.S. comics. The only indigenous comic book evident during this early period was a single number of Aventures du capitaine Nicolas Bonhomme, produced by Gui Laflamme in 1970. However, new Quebec creators were about to emerge.
The first group of these comics creators formed around the poet Claude Haeffely. In the six short months that it was active, the Chiendent group, with Haeffely and illustrators Marc-Antoine Nadeau, André Montpetit and Michel Fortier, managed to publish some very innovative comic strips in periodicals such as Maclean and Perspectives. Its members also produced some comics albums (Le Baiser chinois, Le Cirque national du Québec), but these, unfortunately, failed to find publishers.
Oror 70 (Celle qui en a marre tire) by André Philibert appeared in May 1970, the first modern Quebecois comic book, in which free love, drugs, rejection of consumer society and Quebec independence all mixed in a psychedelic setting. Another title, similar in tone, came out a few months later from the same publisher, Éditions du Cri: L'Œil voyeur by Tibo (Gilles Thibault's pen name).
Strange names for strange magazines
Despite the difficulty in getting published, young creators were eager to make themselves heard and to get their comics into the hands of readers. Thus, several groups formed and published magazines that appeared almost simultaneously in the four corners of the province. Coming mostly from colleges and universities, these periodicals, with sometimes amateur, and, frequently, underground content, were all short-lived.
The first to appear was Ma®de in Quebec, which issued five numbers (one of which was number 0) between 1970 and 1972. Drawn by Fernand Choquette and André Boisvert in Sherbrooke, Ma®de in Quebec presented the comic strips of these two artists as well as of André Philibert, Nimus and several others. L'Hydrocéphale illustré followed soon thereafter with two numbers between 1971 and 1972. Sponsored by the cultural development service of the Université de Montréal, this tabloid published the first works of Jacques Hurtubise, Gilles Desjardins and Réal Godbout. Next, B.D. of Sainte-Thérèse published two numbers in 1971, and then, after a year of looking for financing and experimentation in graphics, seven numbers in 1973. In B.D. were published, among others, strips by Godbout, Michel Tassé, Tibo, André Philibert, André Myette and Pierre Dupras.
Between 1973 and 1974, at Arvida in the Saguenay, Robytail, Simard and Marlin published three numbers of Tomahac, a humoristic comic strip magazine. Patrimoine, in Québec, uncovered the talents of authors that would leave their mark: Louis Rémillard, André-Philippe Côté and Toufik were published in four numbers from 1973 to 1974. At the other end of the province, in the Outaouais, La Pulpe published 11 numbers from 1973 to 1975 and presented strips by Jacques Boivin, Ricar, Sycor, Poc, Denis Leclerc, Manu and the very young Paul Roux.
Other magazines only survived for a single number. Such were Pizza Puce with Emmanuel Nuno, in 1971; Kébec Poudigne, also in 1971, in which Jean Bernèche had a start; and Kébek Komik by Hugues de Corta and François Goyette, in 1976.
These magazines were not aimed at the comic-reading public that had been traditional until then, namely children. Instead, like their European and American counterparts, they were intended for young adults. As in all artistic movements of the time, the trend was to challenge and question society. Using political satire and social criticism, the new comics questioned the very pillars of Quebec society. Poetic, psychedelic and funny comics were all present in equal measure. (Adventure stories, on the other hand, were completely abandoned.)
These first attempts at publishing, born of enthusiasm, crashed violently in the face of market realities and unavoidable economic obstacles. Quebecois readership, relatively limited, was scattered over a huge territory; colour printing in combination with the distribution of a magazine on a provincial scale made publication expensive. Other difficulties faced by these magazines included the absence of organization and of editorial policies, the irregularity of publication (which did not encourage fidelity on the parts of the readers), and content that aimed for graphic experimentation to the detriment of narrative (which alienated some readers). It was almost impossible for these magazines to get any advertising contracts or even to attract enough readers to survive. Sometimes, government subsidies came to the aid of a publication (for example, B.D. and La Pulpe), but sooner or later they all disappeared.
Meanwhile, in the world of comics albums…
Though no one had yet succeeded with a magazine of indigenous comics, albums were very popular in Quebec. European albums (French and Belgian) dominated the market and the readers were so avid for new material that, in 1973, the French publisher Dargaud opened a subsidiary in Montréal. Dargaud Canada took over publication of Canadian editions of Dargaud's catalogue (Astérix, Achille Talon, Philémon, Blueberry, Lucky Luke, etc.). The Belgian publisher Dupuis soon followed suit and opened a Montréal office.
Seeing the success of European albums, Quebec publishers were keen to enter the market. To gain access to this lucrative market, they opted for titles inspired by characters borrowed from popular television series, such as Robino, Patof, Le Capitaine Bonhomme and Nic et Pic. The only original series to come out, Bojoual le Huron kébékois, by J. Guilemay, strongly resembled Astérix le Gaulois.
Other publishers offered albums of political comics aimed at adult readers. These included Petit manuel d'Histoire du Québec by Robert Lavaill and Léandre Bergeron (volume 1 in 1971 and volume 2 in 1973), which were quite successful, and La Drapolice and La Bataille des chefs by Pierre Dupras (1971 and 1972, respectively). Dupras reprinted political satires published weekly in Québec-Presse.
In Mattawa, Ontario, Clermont Duval produced and self-published several tales of adventure that melded the western and science fiction genres, neither one much used by Quebec authors: La Guerre à coups de poings (1977), L'Arme humaine (1978) and La Rage aux dents (1978). Éditions Héritage distributed these albums in Quebec.
A second generation of magazines to the rescue
Drawing from the experience of the short-lived efforts that preceded them, new teams launched several magazines. These were aimed at a broader audience, and their contents, as well as their presentation, were very well done. This time, the emphasis was on humour. Social satire was still evident, but experimentation was less and less frequent.
In 1974, L'Écran published four numbers. This Sherbrooke magazine presented comics by Fernand Choquette, Trud Fiset, Denis Rousseau, Michel Fortier, Yves Poissant and Dan May (Daniel Racine), with the latter as the principal artist. The first professional magazine (having glossy paper and colour pages), L'Écran was also supported by a solid editorial team in André Carpentier, Jacques Samson, Richard Langlois and Denis Bachand. A few years later, this group would call themselves the first comics specialists in Quebec.
The authors of Ma®de in Québec, L'Hydrocéphale illustré and Kébec Poudigne also reassembled and, under Jacques Hurtubise and Pierre Fournier, formed les éditions de L'Hydrocéphale entêté. In 1973, they published their first magazine, Les Aventures du Capitaine Kébec. Even though only one number came out, Pierre Fournier's Capitaine Kébec became a compelling and popular symbol; in fact this character is still frequently used as an icon of the BDQ. L'Hydrocéphale entêté also published a number of L'Illustré in 1974. This magazine, really a prototype of the future magazine Croc, was published by Godbout, Hurtubise, Choquette, Bernèche and Alain Glomo.
In Quebec, Mario Malouin, a young author then making waves, published two numbers of a humorous, hand made style magazine called Plouf (1974-1975). Plouf presented works by Serge Gaboury, François Faucher, André-Philippe Côté and Marc Auger. Montréal also saw the appearance of Prisme (eight numbers from 1976 to 1977, with Grane, Toufik and Patrick Moerell) and of Baloune (seven issues from 1977 to 1978, with Yves Poissant, Christine Laniel, Bado [Guy Badeaux] and Daniel Lefresne). These two high-quality magazines offered a mix of humour and science-fiction comics. The latter genre, until then largely ignored by Quebecois creators, experienced major growth, driven primarily by Métal Hurlant, a major French magazine that published the works of artists Jean Giraud (or Moebius), Philippe Druillet, Jean-Claude Mézières and Enki Bilal -- all of whom had considerable influence on the Quebec creators of the time.
From 1976 to 1978, Éditions Héritage added four Quebec titles to their catalogue of American comic books: Brisebois et compagnie, Monsieur Tranquille and Nic et Pic (these last two titles taken from television programs) drawn by Henri Desclez, and Capitaine Cosmos, with eight issues between 1980 and 1981, by Robert Schoolcraft. In 1970, the latter had directed another publication at Éditions Héritage dedicated to science fiction: Odyssée, of which two issues came out.
Newspaper strips remain a hard sell …
In spite of all of this activity, the mainstream press hesitated to open its pages to the BDQ. The Chiendent group put out a few stories but, on the whole, and purely for economic reasons, the Quebecois dailies continued to give preference to the American strips offered by various syndicates. Still, some strips managed to sneak into the dailies and the weeklies. "Les Microbes" by Michel Tassé and "Rodolphe" by Jean Bernèche appeared daily in La Presse, while the weekend editions of newspapers offered "Nestor" by Marc Chatelle and Éric Thomas (Photo-Journal), "Zanzan" by Serge Ferrand (La Presse) and "L'Homme impossible" by Pierre Thériault (Le Soleil).
Nevertheless, from 1974 to 1976, the cooperative Les Petits dessins, a Quebecois syndicate, managed to have six daily strips appear in the new pro-independence newspaper Le Jour. It was the first time, and unfortunately the only time, that a Quebecois newspaper published daily strips produced solely by local creators. The roster of Les Petits Dessins included "Les Terriens" by Réal Godbout; "Lunambule" by Tibo; "Célestin" by Michel Demers; "Jaunes d'oeufs" by Bernard Tanguay; "Les Âmes limpides" by Richard Côté and Claude Croteau; and, most notably, "Le Sombre Vilain" by Zyx (Jacques Hurtubise). The title character of "Le Sombre Vilain" had only one goal: to become master of the world. While awaiting that day, the anarchist buffoon quickly became the star of Le Jour, where his adventures were published until the newspaper disappeared in 1976.
It was at this time that European comic strips, strengthened by their success in albums, returned to the weekend supplements. "Astérix," "Lucky Luke" and "Bob Morane" appeared in Safari, the youth page of Montréal-Matin and "Achille Talon," "Gaston Lagaffe" and "Boule et Bill" in La Petite Presse, the Saturday supplement of La Presse.
The Impact of Comics (1971-1978)
At the end of the 1960s, which had marked the recognition of the comic strip as a legitimate art form, fan clubs were formed in Europe. Members of these clubs busied themselves promoting comics with meetings, information bulletins, conferences and fanzines. Their first important exhibition was presented in the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris in 1967. Exhibits and festivals of comic strips were also organized in Lucca, Italy, and Angoulême, France, as well as in New York.
Little by little, the original fans gave way to a new generation of more scholarly researchers. Historians, sociologists and semiologists took an interest in the comic strip, as being typical of the 20th century. Encyclopaedic, historical and pedagogic works appeared. The visual grammar and syntax of the comics were scrutinized, analyzed and examined in all their forms.
Comic strip exhibits and festivals
Starting in 1971, the prestigious Salon international de la caricature de Montréal, directed by the caricaturist, Robert LaPalme, added a section devoted to comic strips to its annual exhibit. The exhibit's main award alternated between masters of editorial caricature, humorous drawings and comic strips. Among the laureates of this prize were the Italian Hugo Pratt and the American Burne Hogarth.
The group from les éditions de l'Hydrocéphale entêté was most active in the second half of the 1970s. It assigned itself the mission of promoting the Quebecois comic strip on all fronts. Apart from its editorial activities (publishing L'Illustré and the Les Aventures du Capitaine Kébec, as well as a guide for authors, Le Guide du parfait petit dessinateur québécois de bandes dessinées), l'Hydrocéphale entêté organized an exhibit, "Le Show de la BDQ", which travelled from Montréal to New York and Toronto. L'Hydrocéphale entêté also controlled a local syndicate, the cooperative, Les Petits dessins.
An untiring promoter, Jacques Hurtubise took part in the organization of the first "Festival de la bande dessinée de Montréal" together with Pierre Huet, Sylvie Desrosiers and a few others. This festival, which took place at the Université de Montréal from 1975 to 1978, presented works by European and Quebecois creators. For the artists, these comics festivals were welcome opportunities to get together and exchange ideas. Some projects, such as the magazine Baloune, were conceived there. The Festival lived again briefly in 1989 and 1991; this time it was really international as, in addition to European creators, some Americans were invited.
In 1976, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal mounted the first major retrospective of Quebecois comics. This exhibition, which is presented at the festival in Angoulême and at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, presented original artwork by creators from the earlier generation (Petitdidier and Chartier) and from the new one (Fournier, Godbout, Tanguay, Montpetit, Tibo, etc.). Later that same year, the Musée du Québec organized an exhibit on Quebecois humour in comic strips, in caricatures, in humorous drawings and in animation. This exhibit also presented works by contemporary and earlier authors.
Intellectuals get involved
The publishing team of L'Écran was at the root of a notable work in the study of the Quebecois comic strip. André Carpentier, Richard Langlois, Denis Bachand and Jacques Samson, in collaboration with Gleason Théberge and a few others, produced a special issue of La Barre du Jour, a magazine of literary studies, totally dedicated to the comic strip and titled BDK. This volume of more than 260 pages dealt with the historical, sociological and semiological aspects of the comic strip. Other articles came out, some in magazines dedicated to the arts ("L'Esthétique de la bande dessinée, ou les confessions d'un mangeur de bulles..." by Georges Raby in La Vie des Arts) or to sociology ("Introduction à une lecture de la bande dessinée québécoise, 1904-1910" by Jean Véronneau in Stratégie), and some in certain popular newspapers and periodicals ("Zap! Pow! Stie : la nationalisation de la bande dessinée" by Serge Brind'amour in Le Maclean). In 1975, Michel Ouellette launched B.D.K., a fanzine dedicated exclusively to the Quebecois comic strip, which he published for three years (21 issues).
In Sherbrooke, Richard Langlois prepared a course called "Bande dessinée et figuration narrative." Starting in 1973, this course was offered in several colleges and universities in the province. Following this innovation, theoretical and practical courses abounded in learning institutions. Some, offered by French departments, dealt with theoretical questions, whereas the departments of visual arts proposed creative workshops. Numerous fanzines also grew out of these workshops, including Krypton, Zonar and Vestibulles at the CEGEP of Old Montréal; L'Œuf and 100 % Papier at the Ahuntsic CEGEP; Opium at the Joliette CEGEP; Par Thouse B. D. at the Sainte-Foy CEGEP; Le Phare at the highschool in west Sherbrooke; Le Scribe, first at Marie-Victorin college and then at the Université du Québec in Hull; and Club BD at the Valleyfield CEGEP. Primary and secondary schools also used the comic strip for teaching purposes: everything could be taught using the comic strip, from sexuality to democracy, nutrition, and the fight against drugs. Numerous works were published to introduce teachers to this new medium.