Last week the world got the news that Jean Graton had died. One of the more solipsistic names to come out of the golden age of Franco-Belgian comics, in style as well as in subject matter, he was one of the cartoonists that showed me how to tell a story, how to define characters and, above all, how to create a gripping atmosphere.
Graton was the creator of Michel Vaillant, easily the best racing comic around. It may be an old guy talking here, but in my opinion the first 20 books, until RodÃ©o sur 2 RouesÂ were a perfect combination of soap opera drama, the odd bit of humor, family history and lots and lots of amazing cars.
I’ve only met Graton once, or I should say, my sons have. In 2007 they queued for more than 2 hours at the Turnhout festival to get an autograph from Graton and his son. They were only 11 and 8, and Graton was like a gentle giant, asking them questions (via his son, who spoke Dutch), and then instructing his assistants to “make something beautiful” of their dÃ©dicace. For some reason, he made two new fans for life.
So, to bid adieu to one of the greats of fictional racing, here’s a picture of him with that other giant, Steve McQueen, who died some 40 years ago already. Fittingly enough, McQueen is leafing through Le FantÃ´me des 24 heures (1970), Graton’s single best Le Mans comic. The photo was not taken at Le Mans though, but rather at the 12 Hours of Sebring, where the two met along with motoring journalist Bob Sicot. Graton would later dedicate on of his Dossiers Michel Vaillant to McQueen.