Sunday, May 16, 2010

BILBOQUET--Found in Translation

(The beauty of the Internet is that somewhere, somebody has the answer to any question.

In this case, my request for further information about the seminal French comic tabloid BILBOQUET has been been fulfilled by the kindly assistance of Michaël Dewally. Michaël, a dedicated French-born comic historian currently ensconced in America's Midwest heartland, has generously translated the text of L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD - les journaux illustrés 1934-1944 (THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMICS-The Illustrated Papers 1934-1944), a 2004 overview of French comics by Jean-Jacques Gabut.

L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD - les journaux illustrés 1934-1944
by Jean-Jacques Gabut

Michaël paraphrases Gabut's text (drawing his information from pages 28, 32, 105 – 106, 180 – 183 of the book) and brilliantly puts BILBOQUET into an understandable historical context. So let me step aside and turn this over to Michaël, our very own Auguste Dupin.

"BILBOQUET was published by les Editions Montsouris. The first issue is dated February 6, 1938 and ran weekly for 48 issues before being absorbed into PIERROT. During its run, BILBOQUET published mostly US material. In all, les Editions Montsouris were an unlikely candidate to reprint Eisner’s work on "Les Boucaniers", a.k.a., "Hawks of the Seas".

Founded in 1880 when it first published LE PETIT ECHO DE LA MODE, a magazine targeted at female readers, Les Editions Montsouris was an old publication house that was dedicated to publishing few US materials in its three illustrated weeklies: PIERROT, LISETTE and GUIGNOL.

LISETTE #49 (Dec. 6, 1931)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD
by Jean-Jacques Gabut

LISETTE (started in 1921) published mostly text but notably carried "Little Anny Rooney" and GUIGNOL (1919) never ran any strips. PIERROT (1925), on the other hand, was more illustrated but focused on French and other European material, including work by Pellos, Liquois, Gervy, Stonkus, Le Rallic and Rob-Vel (creator of "Spirou").

PIERROT #10 (March 10, 1929)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD

In this context, the publication by Montsouris of BILBOQUET was an odd experiment and proved short-lived. One can conceive that the old house bowed to the pressure and the success of the other illustrated weeklies that published American material. Yet, by 1938, it seemed too little, too late which conceivably explains it short-lived tenure.

LE JOURNAL DE MICKEY #10 (Oct. 21, 1934)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD

Paul Winkler, creator of LE JOURNAL DE MICKEY (# 1 published on October 21st 1934), is responsible for the appearance of American material in France’s illustrated weeklies. Winkler not only got the rights to publish the Disney strips through Opera Mundi, the publication house he co-financed with Hachette, but he also struck a contract with William Randolph Hearst to distribute the King Features Syndicate’s material.

L’AVENTUREAUX #18 (Feb. 1936)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD

Thus began the revolution that spawned many imitators, starting with Winkler’s own ROBINSON (1936) and HOP-LA! (1937). Others were Libraire Moderne’s JUMBO (1935) and AVENTURES (1936) [Note: AVENTURES was the first to publish "Superman" in France as "Yordi"], Les Editions Mondiales ran HURRAH! (1935) and L’AVENTUREAUX (1936), La Société Parisienne d’Edition (S.P.E.) created both JUNIOR (1936) and L’AS (1937), and other lesser known titles also appeared.

JUNIOR #86 (1937)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD

In light of this explosion of reprints, when Les Editions Montsouris thought to enter the fray, it seems that most US material was already under contract with one of its competitors. During its short run, BILBOQUET is known to have published "Hawks of the Seas" ("Les Boucaniers"), "Tailspin Tommy" (Jean Reid), a strip distributed by the smaller Bell Syndicate, "Captain Bilboquet" by Gene Ahern (presumably Ahern’s "Room and Board"*, a strip started in 1936 when King lured Ahern away from NEA), and "Polo L’Eclaireur Marin" by Léon A. Beroth (could it be "Don Winslow"?). [*excuse the interruption, but it looks more like an older reprint of Ahern's "Our Boarding House" to my eyes--Ken Q]

"Les Boucaniers" ["Hawks of the Seas"]
HURRAH! #199 (1939)
as reprinted in L'AGE D'OR DE LA BD

Success-wise, Montsouris’ lone American material magazine lagged its more illustrious competitors. While it is difficult to ascertain actual publication numbers, estimates are that, pre-War, the weekly numbers were: LE JOURNAL DE MICKEY (500,000), ROBINSON (400,000), HOP-LA! (300,000), HURRAH! (250,000), JUMBO (250,000), AVENTURES (250,000), JUNIOR (200,000), L’AVENTUREAUX (130,000), L’AS (100,000). BILBOQUET ran about 150,000 copies a week.

Upon the demise of BILBOQUET, "Hawks of the Seas" found a new home in HURRAH! from issue # 189 through 250 while "Sheena" ran (appropriately enough) in JUMBO for another publisher. Eisner’s "Hawks" was in good company since at the time HURRAH! was also reprinting: "Bob l’Aviateur" ("Scorchy Smith") by Frank Robbins, "Luc Bradefer" ("Brick Bradford") by Clarence Grey, "Gordon Fife" ("Gordon, Soldier of Fortune") by Carl Pfeufer, "King, Le Roi de la Police Montée" ("King of the Royal Mounted") by Allen Dean, "Myra North" by Ray Thompson, "L’imbattable Pinky" ("Radio Patrol") by Charlie Schmidt and "Tarzan" (dailies) by William Juhre.

One thing I find surprising is:

1)The book does a terrible job at listing the strips that ran in BILBOQUET. While it lists "Hawks of the Seas", it does not list "Tailspin Tommy", even though you have it documented in your issue. The book really emphasizes the larger print run weeklies. Interestingly, the author lists "Jean Bolide" by Forrest as having run in ROBINSON from issue 1 through 194. This can only be again "Tailspin Tommy" which then must have run in more than one weekly at a time.

2)"Tailspin Tommy" makes sense in BILBOQUET, being a strip from the smaller Bell Syndicate … but "Don Winslow", another Bell Syndicate strip, is all reprinted all over during the same period, i.e., "Don Winslow" appeared in L’AVENTUREAUX from # 1 through 245 and also appeared in LE JOURNAL DE MICKEY from # 171 through 257 (re-titled: "Bernard Tempête").

All in all, the appearance of this material in BILBOQUET is not surprising but the mix in the mag is odd (isn’t it always)."

Très bon, Michaël! And thank you once again, mon ami.


  1. Great work. Seeing how the turn-of-the-century France inspired even print comics, and seeing even the influence of American comic strips of the later part of this period. is incredible.


    Steven G. Willis

  2. On behalf of Michaël, I thank you, Steven!

    Comic books have a far richer history than many suppose and information such as this expands all of our horizons.

  3. Great work assembling all this information, Ken. Today I visited Librairie Lutèce and got you some first-hand copies. I have the first issue of Hurrah! with Les Boucaniers (#189, 15 Janvier 1939) and issues 9,12,16,17,22,23,25,34,37,47 of Bilboquet. I'll send them to you when I return to California.
    Peace, Jim (|:{>

  4. Jim, I'm about to explode with excitement!!!

    There's a perfect example why you are considered one of the generous guys in this field. Not to mention one of the most brilliant minds!