Tintin is actually gay

COMING-OUT
or: How the Belgian comics finally grew up

 By Andreas C. Knigge

“The friends hadn't expected this sight. Self-doubt creeps into Bob's big heart. But then an ingenious thought flashes through his brain, which is surrounded by a thick brush haircut. "SNAP - and Bob utters an energetic" Got it! "

This is the stuff real heroes are made of ... If you are not following the bad habit of confusing afterwords with a foreword, then you have just made a turbulent journey through time. Chapeau! In the dark prehistoric times, at the side of Bob Marone and Bill Gelatine, you finally managed to track down the white dinosaur and finally uncover the secret of the missing Frank Veers and his big game hunter companions. After countless escapades and passed dangers, you are now safely back in your comfortable armchair in the here and now and lean back. Do not be embarrassed if you are still a little out of breath - the dramatic events have not even passed the intrepid Bob without a trace: "You look pale," his mother notices when she returns to the scratchy commander Receives the present again.

But that’s all well that ends well - how could it be any different in the face of two fearlessly courageous “heroes of many adventures”, as Yann and Conrad assure you right from the start. Upright heroes never leave their readers alone, at least not in comics of Franco-Belgian provenance. Because that in the bandes dessinées In the end, courage and generosity reliably triumph, the Catholic Church itself watches over it ironically, this has been the case since Hergé's "Tintin".

Back then, comics are still exclusive pour la jeunesse, for the youth, and they want to be protected and properly educated according to the best example. Consequently, right at the beginning of his career - that was in 1929 - Tim discovered godless communists in the still young Soviet Union and a little later had to evangelize between straw huts and coconut trees in the Congo, where Leopold II only recently let blood rage with church blessings. Sure, a lot has happened since then, at some point the comic became the “neuvième art”, the ninth art, then even the “roman graphique”, or in German a graphic novel. However, almost all of the major comic book publishers in Belgium and France are still Catholic-owned today.

But maybe you belong to those for whom everything was better back then (“even the future”, to quote Karl Valentin). At least before Barbarella seduces the robot Viktor in the distant cosmic space or Arzach peeks into a tetrahydrocannabinol-laden dream world right in front of his readers in the first picture of an episode. In addition to “Tintin” on your comic book shelf, you'll probably find all the volumes from “Spirou & Fantasio” (at least those from the pen of the unrivaled André Franquin), “Jeff Jordan”, “Yoko Tsuno” and Peyo's “Johann und Pfiffikus” ". Not to forget of course “Lucky Luke” and “Asterix”, brilliant ones toiles de maître a time when comics were still comics and carefree fun instead of being zealous with the madness of this world.

With a knowledgeable look at the drawings, you thought that “Bob Marone” should go perfectly with these classics. But now you are confused. Not because of the gruesome white dinosaur, oh what, mindless dragon cattle you know well enough from church frescoes (or at least since Franquin's “An ice-cold guest thaws”). But that Bob and Bill show a cuddly side as well as their heroic side - and that also show each other - that's not exactly what the Pope allows. And also generally raises the question of the real chemistry between Tim and Captain Haddock, Jeff Jordan and Teddy Bear, between Harry and Platte or Spirou and Fantasio. To name just a few who have been inseparable in francophone comics for ages, without a girl ever coming in sight or receiving serious attention.

This is exactly how the Belgian publisher Charles Dupuis saw it when, at the beginning of July 1981, he leafed through the 2255 edition of the weekly “Spirou”, the most important property in his house alongside the television newspaper “Télémoustique”. The cover picture adorns Jerry Spring, the western hero of the great Jijé, one of the most important artists of the comic magazine, who was there shortly after it was founded in 1938 and who died last year - the start of an adventure that had already been printed in 1953. At the time, “Spirou” was the most successful youth magazine in French, but its circulation is now crumbling; only recently did you even have to bring yourself to hand over the title series to a new draftsman: Jean-Claude Fournier had taken over “Spirou & Fantasio” a good ten years earlier from André Franquin, but his Breton joke is only received in moderation by the readers. And above all, it is too slow for the series to be featured in every issue of the magazine named after it.

However, it is not the general situation of the paper that worries the publisher on this July morning, but rather a narrow strip of texts accompanied by small drawings that runs through the magazine on sixteen pages. “This week,” the first strip begins, “an unreleased adventure by Bob Marone”. And the last one says: "Coming soon a new episode by Bob Marone: 'The Dinosaur Hunters" ". Editor-in-chief Alain De Kuyssche only introduced the stripes at the top of the booklet, above the regular comic series, six months earlier: Young cartoonists regularly deliver additional gags - one of De Kuyssche's measures to make "Spirou" more attractive. The extra is christened “Les hauts de pages” - back to the top. The strip is soon in the firm hands of Yann and Conrad, who now come up with Bob Marone and Bill Gelatine in the new edition. Charles Dupuis is horrified; this is really not how he imagined the renovation of his magazine, which he commissioned De Kuyssche, to do.

"I was amused by the idea of ​​bringing two homosexual heroes into the world," says Yann le Pennetier, born in 1954 and now one of the most sought-after Belgian comic book authors. “That didn't exist in comics before. And it allowed me to equip my characters with emotions, to tell something like a love story. The fact that comic heroes also have a sexuality had previously been concealed. Of course, Asterix and Obelix are also gay, but nobody says that. ”Yann drew his first short stories for“ Spirou ”in 1974, before concentrating entirely on writing scenarios and soon as a The enfant terrible of Franco-Belgian comics is true. Four years later he met the draftsman Didier Conrad in Brussels - and quickly came to appreciate him. Like Yann, Conrad is originally from Marseille, is five years younger but also drew a few short stories for "Spirou" in 1974, when he was still a schoolboy. In the following year, Charles Dupuis ‘Magazine created the joint series“ Heroes without Scruples ”, then Yann and Conrad also took over the“ hauts de pages ”.

For their first “Bob Marone” episode - not yet a comic like the one at hand here, but rather an illustrated mini-short story - Yann and Conrad choose the pseudonym “Raoul Vernes”. Which brings us to the fact that you could of course also be one of those who bought "The White Dinosaur" because of a completely different mistake. You didn't look closely either and only just noticed while reading that this time it's not Bob Moraine and Bill Ballantine jetting through the ages in search of a new adventure. That not even the story of Henri Verne's originates and, of course, that other things also happen a little differently than usual. You too are flabbergasted - and to be completely honest: it is unlikely that you can be helped. If the band isn't dog-eared yet, then your best bet is to exchange them.

Perhaps you are one of those who no longer even know what we are talking about: "Bob Morane" is a series of novels that is enormously popular in the French-speaking world and was written in 1953 by the Belgian author Charles-Henri-Jean Dewisme under the pseudonym "Henri Vernes" and of which 225 titles are available to date (some of which even led to a German translation in the mid-1960s and the present volume is based on their initial cover aesthetic). Bob, former commander of the Royal Air Force, is an agent of a "time patrol" and is always accompanied on his adventures in the past and future by his loyal friend Bill, who is not only called Ballantine, but actually has a strong love for Scottish whiskey. In addition, little more is known about the private lives of Verne's heroes than that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or Starsky and Hutch. In any case, the British reporter Sophia Paramount, who regularly has to rescue the duo from the worst of dangers, cannot actually be taken seriously just because of her name. In 1959, Vernes also began a comic series in the women's magazine “Femmes d’aujourd’hui”, which already had 85 albums, followed by a “Bob Morane” film in 1960, a television series in 1963 and in 1998 also an anime-style cartoon series.

But back to the summer of 1981. Charles Dupuis picks up the phone and dials Alain De Kuyssche's number. The announced sequel to “Bob Marone” cannot be stopped, it is already finished and the magazine in which it is to appear is already in production. Dupuis can be expressly assured that it will be over after that, hangs up and looks out of his office window over the desolate Charleroi, where his publishing house is based. Mon colonel!

"I really regretted Dupuis' decision," Conrad later recalls. “Breaking old stereotypes or playing with them, that was in the air back then. That was the zeitgeist, draftsmen tried out new things everywhere. But with 'Spirou' they had painted their pants and wanted to continue as before. What a shame! ”When issue 2267 with the second episode of Yanns and Conrad's“ Heroes of Many Adventures ”appears in September, the publisher tells its readers:“ Even if we can objectively state that the caustic imagination of Yann and Conrad does not happen every week is soaked with such poisonous humor, we have to admit that many of you are against the 'hauts de pages'. ”A little later, that ends, shortly afterwards De Kuyssche leaves his post as editor-in-chief. For Yann and Conrad, the problems with their publisher also persist; Dupuis repeatedly intervenes in the plot and design of their series “Heroes without Scruples”, demanding changes. In the summer of 1982 he even broke off the publication in the middle of the adventure in progress, because he found the tone too cheeky and gloomy pour la jeunesse. That's it, Yann and Conrad turn their backs on “Spirou”.

Not that that would have harmed them: In the next few years Yann will be working with various artists on a wide variety of series, including "Marsupilami", "Lucky Luke" and even in 2009 - Charles Dupuis had blessed the time a few years earlier - "Spirou & Fantasio" . Conrad, on the other hand, has just followed in Albert Uderzo's footsteps and is now drawing “Asterix and Obelix”. But above all: Yann and Conrad wouldn't be Yann and Conrad if “Bob Marone” hadn't turned into something after all. After the rift they switched from Dupuis to Glénat and revived “Bob Marone”, colored by Lucie, in his monthly magazine “Circus”, which is explicitly aimed at older comic readers (although the publisher Jacques Glénat is still four years had previously encountered a lesbian scene in François Bourgeon's “Travelers in the Wind”, also in “Circus”).

You are holding the result in your hands, a modern classic and an impressive success in the mid-1980s, translated into several languages ​​and awarded the “Prix de la presse” at the international comic festival in Angoulême. "We probably wrote comic history with 'Bob Marone'", says Conrad today. “As far as I know, Bob and Bill are actually the first gay comic book heroes.” And that's actually true. Only in the same year in which the two experienced their comeback in “Circus” did Howard Cruse start the series “Wendel” in the US gay magazine “The Advocate” - the young protagonist of which, however, was more of a hero of everyday madness, as was later Ralf Königs Konrad and Paul.

So it's no wonder that this milestone remains unforgotten, although Yann and Conrad then devote themselves to new projects. Almost twenty years later, Yoann Chivard, still unknown at the time, now the current draftsman for “Spirou & Fantasio”, approaches Yann and suggests a revival of Bob Marone. Finally, Yann writes a new story under the title “Bob and Bill” and Conrad provides detailed layouts and scribbles, based on which Yoann, under the pseudonym “Janus”, makes the drawings. “A scent of the pink yetis” appears in the magazine “Fluide Glacial” at the end of 2003 and takes the friends to the snowy deserts of the Himalayas. Six more adventures follow (including a cameo by Bill's resolute sister Lara Gelatine) and of course they have long been available in France as a book edition - at first glance it can be confused with one of the old “Bob Morane” paperbacks.

Perhaps, as an intrepid fan of Henri Verne's ‘Zeitagenten, you will find fun in the parody of Yann and Conrad - and read your“ Bob Morane ”with slightly different eyes in the future. That would speak for you. And if you are primarily raving about the divine Franquin, Hergé and the good old days of Belgian comics, then you will get your money's worth anyway, and that in abundance. Or at the beginning, in the back seat of Bob's red MG convertible, didn't have the feeling for a moment that you were racing to the castle of Count von Rummelsdorf, even if the place name sign still said “Schnakenhof”? Of course, the Bimbo Quimbo, which impregnates half the town, and which even before Sunday mass, reminded you of the colonial air that wafted through the early bandes dessinées, back when everything was better, also the future. And of course you smiled warmly when you recognized two familiar Gauls in Bob and Bill at the latest on page 58.

There are a lot more subtle allusions and mischievous quotes to discover, so it's best to start all over again. Then you can put the volume on your comic book shelf with a clear conscience, maybe even next to the albums with Blake and Mortimer, Alix and Enak or Michel Vaillant and Steve Warson (when doing so, turn the page back to the unearthly view that Michel looks at the penultimate page of the first adventure to the newly made friends).Because despite the small difference, Bob and Bill are ultimately nothing but - real heroes.

(Epilogue to Yann / Conrad: Bob Marone, Carlsen Verlag, Hamburg 2015)

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