The Marsupilami volume 3: Black Mars


By Franquin, Batem & Yann; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-418-2 (Album PB)

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke’s creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945, all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu,Isabelle, The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week, fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, collaborating with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis, returning to Le journal de Spirou, and subsequently – in 1957 – co-creating Gaston Lagaffe, and now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too. From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures. In recent years the commercial world has triumphed again and since 2016 the universes of Marsupilami and Spirou have again collided allowing old firm to act out in shared stories again…

Now numbering 32 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the fourth of these was Mars le Noir, released in March 1989 and translated here as Marsupilami: Black Mars.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins aboard a ramshackle old freighter transporting a second-rate travelling show: The Great Zabaglione Circus. It has clowns, acrobats, and an assortment of animal acts including a rather unique elastic tailed anthropoid of uncertain origins and his clown trainer Noah

Meanwhile in the deepest tracts of the rain forest, the usual chaos has been overtaken by fresh calamity as the government commission corporate colossus Prometheus to carve a Trans-Palombian Highway through the heart of the green paradise…

As monolithic machines and hot asphalt daily desecrate the virgin verdure, Noah and his bizarre beastie Mars jump ship, just in time to ally with oddly worldly-wise jungle twins in an alliance to sabotage progress and invoke the fear of archaic god Marzu-pilcoatl in the superstitious roadbuilders. Prometheus then hits back in traditional evil empire manner…

Incipient calamity builds and builds but suddenly events take a strange and portentous turn after Mars espies something very interesting: a golden and black-spotted female of the same “unknown” species as he. We all know her as the mate of the Marsupilami and mother to his pups.

Can you guess where this is all going?

No you can’t, not really, but it will all be highly entertaining before a new status quo is established and the jungle settles back to what passes for normal…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this eccentric exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 1989 by Franquin, Yann & Batem. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.