That title above is a rough translation of the book’s French name, “Toutes Les Couvertures des Recueils du Journal de Spirou par Franquin.”
It’s quite the mouthful in either language, but it’s the perfect description of the book’s contents.
This is a 2017 French hardcover book that collects 22 years’ worth of Andre Franquin’s covers for the Spirou Journal collections. Often, the covers are seen side by side with a picture of the original art.
This will likely be the closest I’m ever going to get to a Franquin Artist’s Edition.
It’s pretty cool.
Background: What’s a Spirou Journal Collection (“Recueil”)?
I wrote about “The Surprising Way They Collected “Pilote” Magazine Issues” last year. After every tenth issue, they’d glue those ten issues into a hardcover binding and sell it as a collection.
Dupuis, having started Spirou Journal (see “What is Spirou Journal?”) a couple of decades before Pilote, did it first. It’s confirmed for me in this book that the collections are made up of the issues that were returned from the newsstand, unsold. Publisher Jean Dupuis was smart enough to anticipate that the newsstand copies wouldn’t all sell out. He agreed to take the unsold books back.
He’d take a recent batch of issues, glue/bind them together into hardcover editions, and sell them into bookstores and department stores. They would have a longer shelf life there compared to the magazines’ one week turnover, and reach a new audience. In fact, the books sold particularly well in places like Quebec and Switzerland.
Early collections varied in how many issues they contained. Those first Spirou magazines were half or a third of the size they are today, so you could pack more issues into the book.
And, yes, 4000 issues later, Dupuis is still collecting Spirou Journal magazine issues into books. The 365th volume is due out in July 2021.
For these collections, Dupuis commissioned new covers featuring their breakout character, Spirou. After Rob-Vel (Spirou’s creator) and Jije handled the first 15 covers, Andre Franquin became the regular cover artist through volume 109.
Those covers are what this book collects.
The book starts with an overview of the first 109 collections, from 1938 to 1968. Alongside postage stamp-sized reprints, a few covers get a paragraph explaining how the covers came about. This book is in French, so the Google Translate phone app is your friend. I pointed my camera to the page and the words translated directly on my screen.
It is here we learn about the way the collected editions were packaged, as well as the places where others helped out on the covers. There’s not a commentary for every cover, unfortunately. It’s just about 15 or 20 of them. It’s enough to place them into a context and tell a story with Franquin’s long run on this assignment.
After two pages showing larger versions of 18 of the first 34 books, we get to the main part of the show: Franquin’s art.
Every cover he did from book 16 all the way through to book 109 are reprinted at full size on one page. On the facing page, where available (starting with the early 1950s covers), the original art by Franquin is reprinted in black and white at the same size as the covers. In some cases, the original colors are available, but not the original line art. In some others, only a version of the cover without the lettering on it is shown.
The book ends with a biography of Franquin and a bibliography of all his works.
Let’s Look at the Art
For the original art pages, it’s done in the same style as an IDW Artist’s Edition, in that the original color of the pages is visible. It’s not pure black and white. In fact, it’s mostly closer to yellow.
You can see some original pencil lines. You can see where Franquin clearly erased and redrew an arm a couple times before he liked what he had. You can see where the black backgrounds ended just outside the safe space on the page. You can see the (figurative) blue lines where Franquin outlined the location of the logo placement to help with his compositions.
You can also see that Franquin drew just slightly larger than the cover. In this book, the area outside the actual published parts is stark black and white, while the art that is visible on the final books maintains its original yellowed appearance.
Here’s the occasion where Franquin drew a cover featuring not Spirou and Fantasio, but his friend Peyo’s Benny Breakiron. It’s a beauty:
(Forgive the slight warp in the images from the book throughout this review. The book’s binding is very tight. I didn’t want to flatten it out on a scanner, so I took pictures with my phone. The pages warp a bit when you lay the book flat on its back.)
It’s a great cover that’s even greater when you look closer at the small town and read the signs and appreciate the little details:
The most fascinating thing about this book is watching Franquin’s art style evolve over the course of twenty years. If you’ve read enough of his Spirou stories, this doesn’t come as a surprise. His final style is still my favorite and the way I think most people picture his art. But you can also see his atomic style period, which looks a little closer to a more iconic ligne claire style.
It’s hard to tell from these covers just when, exactly, Franquin started to move away from that atomic style. It’s a slower evolution than I first expected.
If you go all the way back to the start, though, you’ll see how he began in a style closer to Rob-Vel’s initial Spirou designs. It feels very old-timey to me. It feels like a turn of the century comic strips style. The difference is the same as you’d see in American comics between 1940 and 1960, though, or in the world of animation. Picture Warner Bros’ classic Bugs Bunny shorts and how much they evolved from his first appearance in 1940 through to the 1960s. As time marches on, designs just change.
You’ll also see how the cover design changes over that time. The most drastic change for me is in the last 15 or 20 covers, when suddenly you can feel the editorial mandate to sell all the characters in the book, and not just Spirou and Fantasio. They were always the cover subjects, though Marsupilami moved in at one point and threatened to take over.
Then, all of a sudden, crowds marched down the cover with signs featuring the other characters in the magazine, like a Smurf and Boule and Bill. They appear in other covers as the backs of playing cards and signs on the outside of a hot air balloon.
The cover to this book is reused from that era. It’s the cover of volume 95, featuring a bullet list of all the characters with stories in the book. It’s a long list. The art presented alongside that particular cover features the original painting for the cover without all the text over the art.
Especially with the earliest covers, there isn’t original art available. Thankfully, the original color art was available for some of those later books, so the cover is seen face to face with just the colors that are visible under the line work. These were covers that Franquin painted in gouache, with a separate ink line layer. There are one or two examples of that in this book where you get to see both the black and white version as well as the painted version. It feels very much like someone turned off the Photoshop layer with the line work on it to reveal the colors.
Then there’s a case like this, where the color guide shows us a different cover from the final:
This cover was before he started bringing out the gouaches. These colors are merely a guide, I’d guess, and appear to be drawn with colored pencils. I’m guessing that editorial didn’t like their mascot character being seen punching someone directly on the cover, so you wound up with a less violent image?
The book is 172 pages. Once you get to the covers section, the pages are numbered by the volume of the collected Spirou edition. When there’s an alternate version of the cover, there are two of the same page numbers, but with an “A” and “B” label on them.
It’s an 8.5″ x 12″ hardcover, which makes it the same size as the original magazines, so you get the cover art reprints at full size.
Here’s an issue of the magazine from 1954 sitting on top of the book:
I don’t know what size Franquin drew at. I’m guessing the original art in the book is slightly shrunk down, but I’m OK with it if it is. It’s just a thrill to see these original art boards in a book as affordable as this.
One of the things I love about the book design is how it incorporates the lettering in it. The back cover shows a list of all the book numbers with Franquin covers. But it’s all the numbers as they appeared on the covers. Some are hand drawn. The last couple rows are mostly fonts, but there’s still a lot of ones Franquin drew in himself. You can see them laid out on some of the covers in the original art, as a matter of fact.
The title page of the book includes six different variations of the Dupuis logo. That’s followed by two pages of hand drawn lettering extracted from the cover copy. It’s all isolated word balloons and titles and sound effects. If you like comics lettering, you’ll appreciate these.
The inside front and back cover has a picture of the spines of all the Spirou collections. With a little overlap in the middle, it runs from a couple of books that don’t have numbers on their spines but are probably in the 20s somewhere, all the way to books 105 – 109 on the inside back cover.
Those are the little additions that make a book like this great. Franquin’s art is the star, but the little extras in those design choices puts it over the top.
If you find one of these books on eBay today, expect to pay a bunch for them. I’ve seen some of the earlier ones going for hundreds of dollars.
Yes, if you’re a big Franquin fan, or a Marcinelle school fan. It’s surprisingly affordable and available through Amazon.com on Prime, at the time I bought it. It’s as close to a Franquin art book as I’m likely to come. The book is in French, but there’s not that much writing in it. I’d have loved to see even more. I’m still learning about this stuff, so every scrap of information I can get is something I crave.
You can pick it up on Amazon today. (That’s an affiliate link, so I’ll cut a small cut of the sale but it won’t cost you any extra.)