The Dark Ideas of Franquin
Posted by Bart Croonenborghs on Jun 15, 2012
From the darkest recesses of the master of light footed humour comes a deeply satirical look on the human species.
Off Belgian comic powerhouse André Franquin’s Dark Designs only a few pages have ever reached the English speaking world in the most of obscure places: Kitchen Sink’s short lived French Ticklers magazine launched in 1989. French publisher Fluide Glacial published a complete edition in 2007 entitled Idées Noires - L’Intégrale collecting even the half page gags Franquin published when his depression worsened and he just couldn’t muster up the energy to produce full size pages.
Done during 1977 and 1983, Dark Designs were the direct externalisation of the deteriorating battle with his chronic depression of the creator of Gaston Lagaffe and Marsupilami. First published in an inset of the Spirou magazine it moved to the Fluide Glacial magazine after about 30 gags. Dark Designs is Franquin at his most vulnerable, delivering his disposition for all the world to see on an unsuspecting readership. Featuring Franquin’s trademark lively and body contortionist figure work and sublime character designs, the humour within these pages is definitely not the Franquin we know. Ranging from dark satire to outright morbid fantasies, it covers a range of subjects that are their equal in moralist weight: ecological disasters, suicides, industrial foolhardiness, religious abuse of power, man versus nature and the human war machine at its worst.
Graphically Franquin opts to go all black in not only subject matter but also in drawing style. Every panel is a sublime work of crosshatching and filled blacks all done with a single Rotring pen. Inspired by the drawings of Gustave Doré, Franquin cuts to the essence foregoing on all backgrounds concentrating solely on the absolute necessities to make the gag work. When they’re not forming a silhouette, his figures are drowned in black with just a single source of light - more like a weak light bulb to be precise - providing a few reflected light areas in order to make the figure work in 3D. It sets a mood of utter desperation and sets the reader - and the protagonists up for a deeply dark ending in all the gags collected but it sure is funny!
From its first album, 40.000 comics fly off the shelves in barely a month. Franquin insists on drawing a new cover for each new edition and for each language edition. For the Fluide Glacial edition, he settled on a self portrait exquisite in detail and mood.
Dark Designs by André Franquin reflects humankind’s own dark and neurotic nature forming a dark undercurrent to the works of this Belgian master. It lends an existential vibe to Franquin’s outlook on Man and I sincerely hope that an English language publisher picks this up to present to a whole new audience.
Dark Designs is published in French as Idées Noires - L’Intégrale by Fluide Glacial. It is an oversized black and white hardcover counting 76 pages and retails for €10,95.
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