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Strap in! Chocks away!
on 4 September 2013
Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is rightly considered one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output is relatively meagre when compared to some of his contemporaries, the iconic series he worked on formed the basis and backbone of the art-form in Europe, and his splendidly adroit, roguish and impeccably British adventurers Blake and Mortimer, created for the first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, swiftly became a staple of post-war European kids’ life the way Dan Dare would in Britain in the 1950s.
Edgar P. Jacobs was born in Brussels, a precocious child who began feverishly drawing from an early age but was even more obsessed with music and the performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but, determined never to work in an office, pursued art and drama following graduation in 1919.
In the 1930s-1940s regular employment came from Bravo magazine. As well as illustrating short stories and novels, he took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip when the German invaders banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and left the publishers desperately seeking someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.
‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly sanctioned by the Nazis, after which Jacobs created his own epic science-fantasy - Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure. The U Ray was a huge hit in 1943 and scored big all over again a generation later when Jacobs reformatted the original “text-block and picture” material to incorporate speech balloons and re-ran the series in Tintin with subsequent releases as a trio of graphic albums in 1974.
I’ve read differing accounts of how Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together – and why they parted ways professionally, if not socially – but as to the whys and wherefores of the split I frankly don’t care. What is known is this: whilst creating the weekly U Ray, one of Jacob’s other jobs was scene-painting, and during the staging of a theatrical version of Tintin and the Cigars of the Pharaoh Hergé and Jacobs met and became friends. If the comics maestro was unaware of Jacob’s comics output before then he was certainly made aware of it soon after.
Jacobs began working on Tintin, colouring original black and white strips of The Shooting Star from Le Soir for a forthcoming album. By 1944 he was doing likewise on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was also contributing to the illustration, on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.
After the war, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and others to work for his new venture. He launched Le Journal de Tintin with editions in Belgium, France and Holland edited by Hergé, starring the intrepid boy reporter and a host of newer heroes.
The first instalment of ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred a bluff, gruff British scientist and an English Military Intelligence officer: Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake…
The initial storyline ran until September 1949 and cemented Jacobs’ star status. In 1950, with the first 18 pages redrawn, Le secret de l’espladon V1 (The Secret of the Swordfish) became Le Lombard’s first album release; with the concluding part published three years later.
Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material, but since the two remained friends for life and Jacob’s continued to produce Blake and Mortimer for the Belgian weekly, I think it’s fair to say that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat.
I rather suspect that The Secret of the Swordfish was simply taking up more and more of the brilliant, diligent artist’s time and attention…
One minor word of warning: by having the overarching enemies of mankind be a secret Asiatic “Yellow Peril” empire of evil, there’s some potential for offence – unless one actually reads the text and finds that the assumed racism is countered throughout by an equal amount of “good” ethnic people and “evil” white folk…
It begins with ‘The Incredible Chase’ as a secret army in the Himalayas launches a global Blitzkrieg on a world recovering from its second planetary war. Basam Damdu, Emperor of Tibet, has assembled an arsenal of technological super-weapons and the world’s worst rogues such as insidious Colonel Olrik in a bid to seize control of Earth.
In England, physicist and engineer Philip Mortimer and MI5 Captain Francis Blake discuss the worsening situation at an industrial installation where the boffin’s radical aircraft engine is being constructed. When the warning comes that war begins that night, the old friends swing into action…
As super-bombers rain destruction down on world capitols, Mortimer’s team prepares his Golden Rocket, for immediate launch, taking off just as Olrik’s bombers appear over the desolate complex. Despite heavy fire, the Rocket easily outdistances the Imperial forces, leaving ruined homes in its wake as the fleeing Britons fly into a hostile world now controlled by Basam Damdu…
Now read on …
Gripping and fantastic in the best tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of True Brit grit and determination, delivering grand old-fashioned Blood and Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion with staggering visual verve and dash. Despite the high body count and dated milieu, any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history if you want) will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.