Some 10 years ago (almost to the day even), I already showed that Tintin and cars is a complicated matter that does not involve a lot of brand loyalty. Still, French car maker Citroën seems to have had a special place in the quiffed one’s heart in the 1980s. In 1985, the Belgian branch of Citroën even published a calendar, with 12 specially commissioned images featuring all of Hergé’s heroes alongside famous Citroën models through the ages.
The rendering of the cars is spot on, but the characters seem to be little more than lifted from earlier productions. Tintin in the March image, for example, seems to be long on the cover of Coke En Stock, while the Thompsons in December look awkardly as if they just stepped out of L’Or Noir. Still, a very nice production.
In 1985, clear line powerhouse Ted Benoit (who sadly passed away last year), had already published his first Ray Banana graphic novel, Berceuse électrique, and was preparing the second one, Cité Lumière, for the next year (Benoit famously said that a book every year was madness).
In between, he took an assignment from photography equipment manufacturer Kodak to create a short strip extolling the benefits of modern photography techniques for the graphics industries.
Visually speaking, Benoit is still very much a Hergé purist in this strip, finding his way in this particular, stringent style in terms of line, colour and composition. It’s still a long way off from his masterpiece, La philosophie dans la piscine. When it comes to storytelling though, this is already Benoit in full form, full of irony and communication that goes wrong. Due to the fact that he doesn’t use the modern Kodak products, our editor runs late and misses his appointment with the Kodak guy, who chats up the secretary with his boasts about said products (and more?). A real little gem.
As with anything that can garner a loyal (if not fanatic) niche following, comics-related imagery are used on any item that even remotely has a collectible value. Case in point today, cigar bands.
Often referred to (at least by me) as postal stamps’ less fortunate nephew, cigar bands originated somewhere in the 1830’s to enable some kind of branding on an otherwise quite indistinguishable product. Pretty soon this type of ephemera turned collectable (there’s even a name for that, vitolphilia), which in turn resulted in bands being produced with the specific purpose of being collected.
The Dutch brand Murillo, for example, started releasing themed bands in the mid-1970s, and from the early 1990s issued special, large-sized bands for collectors. Starting in 1999 they began issuing comics-themed band series almost exclusively. They were published in series of ten, featuring imagery lifted from popular (Euro) comics, such as Lucky Luke, Tintin, Suske & Wiske, De Rode Ridder or Asterix, but also Spider-Man, Donald Duck and even imagery from the comic adaptation of the Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace.
Most of these ever went near a cigar, and Murillo itself even stopped producing cigars long before these bands were created. Aesthetically, the bands are not that impressive, with randomly cropped artwork stuck on a fairly standard band. And I’m not even going to ask about copyrights.
In addition to his quite remarkable autobiographical strips, John “Nohj” Cullen likes to skirt the boundaries of what is possible in short comics with his Gramfel series, if not simply how far you can take a Garfield parody without getting into trouble with the Jim Davis empire.
The 42nd Gramfel strip combines playing around with the formal constraints of the medium with the theme of dread and recurrence that often plays in Nohj’s strips. It looks like a one-page comic that pretty much ends the way it starts. With some handiwork, though, you can turn it into a Möbius strip, a paper ring that, thanks to a single twist in the paper, is basically a 3D body with only one side, thus cleverly reflecting the subject of the strip in its form.
I must admit, things like this make me quite happy.
For the artwork of their most recent album, Little Fictions, British rock band Elbow worked with illustrator and cartoonist Robert Frank Hunter. Hunter is probably best known for his colourful but subdued work for the Guardian and the New York Times, but he’s also created quite a few books with Nobrow Press, such as The New Ghost and Young Colossus and most recently, the quite mesmerising, Map Of Days.
When you’re watching movies from the eighties or older, you often wonder how much of the drama and misunderstanding might be avoided with the technology that we have today. UK telecom provider Plusnet asked themselves the same thing, and came up with some alternative endings for classic movies, featuring mobile phones, Google Maps, Tripadvisor and other modern marvels.
One of the most peculiar uses of comics in a marketing context, is the Bazooka Joe comic. For roughly sixty years (from 1952 onwards), Topps included a short comic with its Bazooka Joe brand of bubblegum, chronicling the adventures of said Joe and his gang. The original artist, by the way, was Wesley Morse, the creative force behind many of the Tijuana Bibles, small-scale underground comics that parodied major media properties for pornographic purposes.
It would seem that what is currently commonly known as commercial property development in comics (i.e. creation of a comic for a different reason than basically telling a story, but rather to sell stuff or prepare for a movie deal) is not as new as you might think.
The Smurfs, arguably one of the most valuable comic “properties” in the Franco-Belgian tradition, originally saw the light as (yet more) comic relief in La Flûte à six schtroumpfs, the sixth album in Peyo’s series Johan et Pirlouit. Their first proper adventure though, Les Schtroumpfs Noirs, was as the first in Spirou famed mini-récits, a series of inserts in the magazine that, after some tinkering, could be made into a tiny book with a full fledged story.
The eleventh story with the little blue dwarves, however, has an even more interesting background. The book was initially created as a promotional publication for the French biscuit bakery Bisquiterie Nantaise in 1967. It was only included in the main series in 1970, after serialisation in Spirou magazine in 1969 (starting, quite befittingly, in the Space Special issue, coinciding with the moon landing). Or, never hesitate to repurpose your creations.
I’ve just finished reading Phonogram by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen and I’m pretty sure this must be the best comic I have ever seen to express the finesses and idiosyncrasies of music fandom, or rather, music nerddom. The idea of phonomancers, or musical wizards, who wield enormous knowledge of, er, indie Britpop to, well, rule their own little rooms, is almost too painfully and accurately recognisable. And McKelvie’s deadpan, understated art is simply to die for (and his work on The Wicked + The Divine shows that he’s still perfecting his unique grasp of technology and visual effects to further the story).
Thanks to an article on Comics Alliance I learned that in 2015 McKelvie collaborated with Australian animation studio Mighty Nice on an animated music video for the song Bury It by Scottish electro band Chvrches, a band that in itself would doubtlessly be in the pantheon of the Phonogram denizens. It’s like art imitating art, and I’m constantly going back to it.
(check out the CA article for some very nice examples of rock posters by comic artists)
About a year ago, in February, 2016, the staff of GQ Magazine drew up a list of the true supervillains of our time. Never mind that it is seeminly humanly more possible to actually be a supervillain than a superhero (of the cape-wearing, flying, gizmo-wielding variety, that is), their selection is quite creepy. From Martin Shkrelli and Kris Jenner to Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin, to Donald Trump as the Lex Luthor for our times, it’s beginning to look a lot like we’re in a bad Marvel movie.
The only thing that saves this article from total despair, is the awesome talent of Arthur Adams, who provides the illustrations. Thank God.
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