The Big News
There will be twenty new episodes, played weekdays for four weeks on the Museum Channel in France. There’s no word on how long each episode will be. Will they stick with the 15 minute max the original series had? Or will they go closer to filling the full half hour slot? (In America, it would be a full half hour, and they’d pad out the drawing with package pieces introducing the artists, which I’m not sure would be a bad way to go, actually…)
Featured artists include Florence Cestac, Francois Boucq, Philippe Dupuy, Guillaume Bouzard, Achde (who followed Morris on “Lucky Luke”), Jean-Christophe Chauzy, Jean-Louis Tripp, and a whole laundry list of names I don’t recognize. I’ve been Googling a few at random, and it’s clear I have a lot more comics to read… See Exciting news from BDGest.com to get the full list of names.
They have four games they’ll be playing, most of which you’ll remember from the original series, if you’ve seen any of it.
Now, for those of you wondering what I’m talking about, let me fill you in.
What Does It Mean?
“Tac Au Tac” is French for “tit for tat.” Given the nature of some of the games, often where creators are trying to one up each other or back each other into corners that would be impossible to draw their way out of, I think it’s fitting.
The Original Tac Au Tac
Debuting in 1969, “Tac Au Tac” was a French series (with 12-14 minute episodes) hosted by series creator, Jean Frapat, in which comic artists would appear on TV to draw special challenges. Given a marker and a big pad of paper, they’d improvise often hilarious drawings either in cooperation with each other, or in an attempt to make the next person’s job harder.
If you’ve seen Mark Evanier’s “Quick Draw!” panel at San Diego Comic-Con, you’ll have the idea. It’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” for cartoonists. It’s not quite as rapid fire or fast-paced, but it flows well with a little tv editing.
The show lasted almost ten years, and resulted in some memorable episodes that belong in the annals of comics history. Imagine watching top artists of all time on your television as they draw things off the tops of their heads. It’s thrilling, especially considering that this was not a day and age when everyone had a video recorder in their pocket.
For Americans, a couple of episodes featured Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, and Moebius. Michael Kaluta and Bernie Wrightson did an episode. Steranko showed up for an episode filmed on a boat in New York City.
For BD fans, there are episodes with Peyo, Franquin, Morris, and Roba together that still blow my mind, even after I’ve seen them multiple times. (I mentioned them earlier this year in “I Want to See Peyo Draw a Smurf.”) Goscinny/Uderzo appeared on an episode. Salvador Dali had a special off-format episode. Druillet, Jijé, Gotlib, Hugo Pratt also had their moments.
And, just like with this new series, there are a lot of episodes featuring names I don’t recognize.
Are They Available Today?
Yes, they are!
You can sometimes find episodes on YouTube, but they’re infringing copyright and will eventually be taken down. (Right now, I see there are a lot of episodes up on there.)
Some of them are free, some you’ll have to pay for. A seven-pack of videos with Franquin in them will run you $4.99, for example. You can also subscribe to the entire site’s video collection for $2.99 a month. (First month’s free!)
Whether you see the videos on YouTube or their official home on Ina.fr, keep in mind that the videos are more than 40 years old. They’re very low-res, in a square format, and occasionally black and white in the earliest episodes. The versions on Ina.fr are postage stamp sized on my screen, but that would have been their original size. I doubt there’s original film from these shows to go back and rescan them at 4K.
Trust me, I’ve tried making my window bigger so I can see the picture better, but resolution doesn’t work like that.
Where Did the Art Go?
Good question. According to the French Wikipedia page for the show, nobody knows. Those pages would be worth a small fortune today.
It’s possible they were thrown out. It’s possible some collector has them and isn’t about to tell anyone. Or, it could be that the original producer of the series took them home with him and insulated his attic with their crumpled remains. Who knows?
A Canadian Revival of “Tac Au Tac”?
In 2013, American cartoonist Sam Hiti had the bright idea of bringing Tac Au Tac to a new generation.
At the Toronto Comics Art Festival that fall, Kagan McLeod hosted Sam and a few friends in his Toronto studio. You’ll recognize their names: Paul Pope, David B, and Frederik Peeters. That’s two French men, two Americans, and a Canadian.
Hiti only ever released one video from the event. Plans to release additional videos never came to fruition, I guess. Paul Pope’s website includes the video with a note that it was a proposal for a Canadian cable television revival of “Tac Au Tac.” They planned on going with the English translation of the title, “Tit for Tat.”
They eschewed the voice over for a credits sequence at the start.
At Last, In 2018, “Tac Au Tac” Returns!
Look, there’s a behind the scenes video and everything.
Unfortunately, I can’t embed it here due to their restrictions, but it runs over nine minutes and it’s a great sneak preview for what’s to come. Hint: White walls, spare table, some cartoonists, and a lot of cameras to capture everything.
I don’t speak French. I can understand a few phrases here and there. But that video still excites me.
Here are some highlights:
Behind the scenes with all the camera work of Tac Au Tac. The set looks like what photographs call a Cyclorama — sort of like a white room with no visible lines. The cartoonists will be just floating in the space.
This is basically the entire set for the show. There’s the big board they all draw at, and a table set back where they sit when the game has them taking turns.
Here’s a closer shot of the artists drawing. Behind the board, there’s a camera on a slider moving from side to side to better capture the artists at work.
Guillaume Bouzard has been drawing comics for 20 years, but the only work of his I know is one I haven’t read yet: “Lucky Luke: Jolly Jumper Doesn’t Answer.” It hasn’t been translated to English yet, so forgive my approximation. I’ve seen pages from it and can’t wait for an English version….
The tone of the show was always very friendly. This isn’t meant to be a competition. It’s about a group of professionals showing off for each other and trying to keep the fun rolling. Ideas pile up, people naturally try to one-up each other, and everyone has a good laugh. Here’s Bouzard and Frank Margerin enjoying themselves.
That’s Jeanne Puchol nearest the camera. I don’t know who the other artist is. She never gets a talking head moment in the video where they put her name on the lower third. I get the feeling they’re working out ideas for what to draw on the big board when it’s their time to go up next. I think that’s a good idea.
Will It Work?
It all depends on how well they’ve cast it. Do the artists have the right style and temperament to perform on the spot and draw something legible and funny? Will the combination of creators work out for the best? Can they bounce ideas off each other and bring out the best? Will the games be the best outlet for this creativity?
I hope so. I want to see all of these episodes, but then I also want to see more, and different artists, and more craziness on that crazy over-sized easel.
I’d also like it to be subtitled in English and available on-line on the Museum’s website. While I doubt the former will happen, maybe we’ll see episodes on-line eventually. I hope we do. (If they need someone to do a dry narrator’s voice for English speakers, I’ll make myself available to the production immediately. Sign me up!)
Episodes begin to air in under two months. I’ll be keeping an eye out for YouTube in January. I’d rather stream it from a French website, but I’ll take what I can get…