Picking up on our recent story about Tales from Europe, The Singing, Ringing Tree and The White Horses, who remembers The Aeronauts… or as older readers might remember them, from Lion comic – “The Flying Furies“?
Not to be confused with the upcoming feature film starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, directed by Tom Harper, this dramatic action adventure series was originally broadcast in France as Les chevaliers du ciel (“The Knights of the Sky”), in 1967.
Running for three seasons and 39 episodes, Les chevaliers du ciel was based on the comic series Tanguy et Laverdure by the prolific author Jean-Michel Charlier and originally drawn by Albert Uderzo, the latter the co-creator of Asterix and who had previously tried to seek publication for test pilot-inspired strip, “Marc Laurent“.
Initially titled Michel Tanguy, Tanguy et Laverdure debuted in the first issue of the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote in October 1959, providing the anthology with a competitor to the similar series,”Buck Danny”, serialised in Spirou, and “Dan Cooper”, which appeared in Tintin magazine.
Many episodes of the Les chevaliers du ciel TV series were written by the multi-talented hand highly respected Charlier himself, who as well as being a comics writer and artist, was also a pilot.
Belgian artist Jijé (Joseph Gillain), the seminal artist on the “Spirou et Fantasio” strip and creator of one of the first major European western strips, Jerry Spring, took over the strip from Uderzo – and, over time, made the characters look more like the actors from the TV show.
Like Uderzo, Jijé, who died in 1980, was one of a few European artists to have worked on both realistic and humorous strips. After starting in a Hergé-like ligne claire style, he went on to create his own distinctive art, in the so-called Atom style.
The Aeronauts show, starring Jacques Santi and Christian Marin as pilots as Michel Tanguy and Ernest Laverdu was re-titled The Aeronauts and shown by the BBC in the UK in the 1970s, and aired on CBC in Canada, too.
An anglicised version of the theme tune, originally performed by Johnny Hallyday, sung by Rick Jones, was released in 1972 – and it’s a darn sight more entertaining than the French original.
The first Tanguy and Laverdure story “L’Ecole des Aigles” was published in English in Lion, between April and September 1966, as “The Flying Furies“. Tanguy was re-named Jim ‘Jet’ Power and Laverdure Terry Madden.
The Aeronauts 1973 annual, a direct tie-in with the TV series, re-published a slightly edited compilation of two original albums, “Destination Pacifique” and “Menace sur Mururoa“, and used the characters’ French names.
The cover was by the well-known poster artist Yves Thos, originally used as the cover of the album “Destination Pacifique”, which has been-re-used several times, including as the cover of an Italian edition, published by Alessandro Editore; re-purposed as a collection cover, released by Dargaud in 1996; and as the cover of a soundtrack album to the original French TV show.
The original TV series was such a huge success that even Charlier, who died in 1989, recalled that his father Albert, a simple office worker who had never admitted that his son had embarked on a career in comics instead of continuing his career to become a lawyer, was finally impressed by something his sone had done!
Les Chevaliers du ciel continued with a different cast over two further seasons, released in 1988 and 1991. A feature film, also called Les Chevaliers du ciel, was released in 2005, directed by Gérard Pirès about two air force pilots preventing a terrorist attack on the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
The Tanguy et Laverdure continues to be published today by Dargaud, albeit written by different authors and artists.
• Bear Alley: The Flying Furies
Jeremy Briggs’ 2007 feature on the Lion reprint
• Bear Alley: Tanguy et Laverdure
Jeremy Briggs’ 2007 feature
With thanks to Simon Doyle and David Roach