Spirou, the long-running French language comic has just released a 100-page double-issue to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of its publisher, Editions Dupuis.
Originally a family-run firm, Dupuis is based in Belgian and is now owned by Media-Participations, a company with a complex structure that manages, at once, to qualify as a French-owned concern while being controlled by a Belgium holding company.
Spirou, or Le Journal de Spirou as it was originally called, was created in 1938 as an addition to a successful stable of magazines that targeted specific sections of the market. Something of a revolution in publishing, where previously magazines had often been aimed at the whole family, with specific sections aimed at fathers, mothers and children. Spirou joined successful titles aimed specifically at men and women and was the French language equivalent of The Dandy, which had started its life just four months earlier.
Since then, Spirou has been an ongoing success, only missing a few months of publication, during the German occupation and claiming to be the third longest-lived regular comic still being published, after the Italian comic, Il Giornalino, and DC’s Detective Comics.
Aimed at 9 – 16-year olds, but read by many adults, Spirou mixes one page gag strips with science fiction, fantasy and adventure stories. There is satire alongside art that might occasionally be a little too racy for a children’s comic here in the UK, and in recent years some interesting horror strips, most notably the excellent “Creatures” that I think our own Phoenix would be wary of publishing.
Over the years it has been home to some of the most successful French language comic strips and is the “last man standing” of the trio of weekly titles that dominated Franco-Belgium market for many years – Pilote, Tintin and Spirou itself.
Ironically, while Spirou is the last survivor, it is the other two titles in the triumvirate that provided homes for the character’s best known to English language readers, Asterix in Pilote and Tintin in the magazine bearing his own name. Still, Spirou has spawned some long-running series of equal or better quality, many of which are represented in this special issue.
The title strip, “Spirou and Fantasio“, a comedy adventure strip has run from the first issue and has been described as a more overtly comedic riff on the Tintin theme. Recent years have seen some highly original and different takes on the character – most especially, in the heartbreakingly dramatic series by Emil Bravo, set during the German occupation of Belgium.
“Les Tuniques Blues” (The Bluecoats) has been running since 1970, a clever mix of history, adventure and comedy telling the story of two ordinary Union soldiers in the American civil war. Lucky Luke, the western hero created in 1946, would go on to be written by Asterix creator, René Goscinny from 1955 until 1977, with new albums by a variety of creators being produced to this day. Both are featured in this edition of Spirou, along with adventure strips “Michel Vaillant” and “Buck Dany“, and the long running science fiction strip, “Yoko Tsumo“.
All strips that have, in recent years been translated and made available to reader in the UK via Cinebook.
This double issue of Spirou, covering numbers 4380 and 4381, is a fascinating look at a European comics institution. It a mix the of regular ongoing strips with special tributes to the past 100 years of Editions Dupuis and shows that, if carefully nurtured, there can be a readership for teenagers beyond the sci-fi and superhero fans.
Copies of Spirou are difficult to come by, but you can buy large hardback collections of recent issues from Amazon, and you can read copies online through the Izneo application – but do note you may have to change the language setting on the site to French to find it. The cost is £1.79 an issue and well worth it for special issues like this.
Peter Duncan is editor of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine and Splank! – an anthology of strips inspired by the Odhams titles, Wham!, Smash! and Pow! He’s also writer of Cthulhu Kids. Full details of his comics activities can be found at www.boxofrainmag.co.uk