Placid et Muzo, by José Arnal
'Placid et Muzo'.

José Cabrero Arnal was a Spanish comic artist and resistance fighter, who became one of the most important comic authors in post-World War II France. During the 1930s, his career in comics started in Spanish magazines like KKO and Pocholo, where he specialized in creating cartoony funny animal worlds. Arnal then served as a volunteer in the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War, before finding refuge in France and spending most of World War II in the Mauthausen concentration camp. After the war, he began a fruitful collaboration with the French communist press, creating comics for the newspaper L'Humanité and the children's magazine Vaillant. Created in an instantly recognizable and simple drawing style, his funny animal series 'Placid et Muzo' (1946-1958) and 'Pif le Chien' ('Spiff the Dog', 1948-1954) formed the backbone of Vaillant magazine and all its later incarnations, well into the 21st century.

Early life and career
José Cabrero Arnal was born in 1909 in Castilsabas-Loporzano, a small town near Huesca in the Spanish Aragon region. He was the third child and second son of Emeterio Cabrero Mur and Leonor Arnal Puertolas, a family of Aragonese peasants. Living in poverty in the Spanish countryside, the young José had little entertainment except making drawings. During the early 1920s, the Cabrero family moved to Barcelona in search of better job opportunities. There, his father found employment with the Cuerpo de Seguridad, the government police force. At home, Emeterio Cabrero also upheld a strict and firm regime. José Arnal fully enjoyed the city life in Barcelona, and surrounded himself with friends from the city's young cultural circles. Although he had been fascinated by comics and drawing since his early childhood, Arnal's artistic ambitions were strongly discouraged by both his father and his teachers. At age 14, he had to contribute to the family income by working as an apprentice carpenter and cabinet maker, and later as a repairman for calculating machines.

Funny animal comics
Without his father's knowledge, Arnal sent samples of his artwork to local publishing houses. By age eighteen, he had his first cartoons published in children's magazines, after which his father gradually warmed up to his son's career choice. Homesick, his parents moved back to the family's Castilsabas farm in 1931, while José and his adult siblings stayed in the city. Arnal later described the first half of the 1930s as the happiest years of his life. During these early years of the Second Spanish Republic, Barcelona blossomed industrially and culturally, and Arnal was present in many of the city's comic magazines.

Early picture stories, pantomime humor strips and illustrations by José Cabrero Arnal - who mostly signed with just C. Arnal - appeared in the magazines Algo and TBO. In November 1929, he also filled the Ki-Ki-Ri-Ki children's page of the women's magazine El Hogar y la Moda. In KKO - a comic tabloid launched in 1932 to compete with TBO - Arnal developed his trademark funny animal style, inspired by Walt Disney and Pat Sullivan cartoons. With 'Perrerías y Gaterías' ("Kennels and Cattery"), he created a funny gag feature about the eternal war between dogs and cats. The black-and-white series 'Aventuras de Arrechucho y su amo Don Perucho' ("Adventures of Arrechucho and his master Don Perucho") told the misadventures of a little bourgeois Catalan and his trusty dog. Other Arnal characters like the cat Morronguitonipolitis and the rooster Gallo Kiki also appeared in the pages of KKO. By the time KKO changed its name to Perragorda - in 1935 - Arnal's earlier series were reprinted in the short-lived comic paper El Muchacho, published by Editorial Guerri.

'Hazañas de Paco Zumba'.

The biggest successes of José Arnal's Spanish period were in the pages of Pocholo, a comic magazine launched in 1931 by Santiago Vives, that became the home base for a new generation of Spanish cartoonists. While the magazine innovated Spanish with realistic comic serials in the American tradition, Arnal fine-tuned his funny animal craft. Whereas his KKO comics were classic picture stories with text captions underneath the images, the panels of his Pocholo comics gradually began to include speech balloons and cartoony sound effects. His best-known feature from this period was 'Guerra en El Pais de Los Insectos' (“War in the Country of the Insects”, 1933-1934), about a peaceful and industrious insect population at war with bloodthirsty spiders. In retrospect, this work was a grim foreshadowing of the real-time events that were about to take place in Europe. The comic's anthropomorphic insect world and round elastic character designs were strongly inspired by the 1932 Walt Disney short 'Bugs in Love' and its related newspaper comic about 'Bucky Bug'. Another popular series was 'Viajes extraordinarios del Perro Top' ("Extraordinary Travels of Top the Dog", 1935), about an anthropomorphic dog having either strange and futuristic adventures in a surreal fantasy world, or troubled encounters with his love interest Topilita. Top was later identified by the artist as the father of 'Pif le Chien', the post-war comic character he created in France.

Top, by José Cabrero Arnal
'Viajes Extraordinarios del Perro Top' (Pocholo #207, 16 October 1935).

Other Arnal creations for Pocholo were 'Paco Zumba' (1934), an adventurous fly with a strong sense for justice, and the blackbird detective 'Castrilla Detective' (1936), known as the "Sherlock Holmes of Animalandia". While he received great popularity with his funny animal comics, Arnal also created comic stories with human characters. Mostly humorous portraits of men and women, they revealed the cartoonist's sense for social criticism and black comedy. Notable were the neurotic Don Melitón and the desperate and depressed Anacleto Palmatoria. To Pocholo's editorial pages, Arnal contributed spot illustrations for the mail section, the frame of honor for the best readers' drawings and artwork for contests. In its collection Karikatos, Pocholo's publisher released books collecting three of Arnal's comic series: 'Guerra en el País de los Insectos' (1934), 'Hazañas de Paco Zumbo, Moscón Aventurero' (1934) and 'Viajes Extraordinarios del Perro Top' (1935). His work for Pocholo also made José Cabrero Arnal one of the first Spanish artists whose comics were published abroad. In the second half of the 1930s, several of his features were reprinted in the Portuguese comic magazine O Mosquito. The Lisbon magazine also released a translation of Arnal's 'Guerra en El Pais de Los Insectos' in book format.

Other Spanish work
Besides working for children's magazines, Arnal made political cartoons for the satirical weekly L'Esquella de la Torratxa, and erotic drawings for the satirical magazine Papitu, which he signed with "Cea". His comic 'Don Simplón' appeared in Gente Menuda, a supplement of the daily newspaper ABC (1934), and also in Editorial Molino's Mickey magazine (1936). For Mickey, he also created 'Chin-Chin, El Duende del Tíntero' ("Chin-Chin, The Inkwell Goblin", 1936), about a small stain of Indian ink. The ink blot was anthropomorphized as a stereotypical Chinese man, in reference to a synonym for Indian ink, Chinese ink. These were José Cabrero Arnal’s final creations from his first tenure in comics, as the political turmoil in Europe of the following years changed his life for good.

''El Hambre Aguza El Ingenio', one of the few comics with human characters that Arnal made for Pocholo (#164, 18 December 1934).

Spanish Civil War
On 17 July 1936, a civil war broke out in Spain between groups of right-wing Nationalist rebels - spearheaded by General Francisco Franco - and Republican loyalists to the government. Communist and anarchist resistance movements managed to uphold the coup in the country's industrial regions, including Barcelona. While many cartoonists used their drawing pens to revolt against Franco's fascist troops in propaganda drawings, José Cabrero Arnal picked up the arms and enlisted as a volunteer in the Republican army. The specifics of his battlefield activities have been lost in history, but correspondence with his family has revealed that he first served in the 7th Artillery Battery in Lérida, and then with a machine gun company in the 27th Division of the Eastern Army. A leg injury hospitalized him for several months in the second half of 1937, but by 1938 he was back in action with the Signal Company of the 134th Mixed Brigade, as part of the 31st Division of the military reserve. Over the course of 1938, Arnal most likely took part in the famous Battle of the Segre, which lasted until January 1939, when it became impossible for the resistance army to keep defending the region against the overwhelming pressure of the rebels. Arnal later learned that on 11 March 1939, his father had been executed in Huesca by Franco's troops.

La Retirada
After the fall of Barcelona, nearly half a million Republican sympathizers and soldiers - including José Cabrero Arnal - crossed the French-Spanish border in search of refuge. After this "Retirada" ("Retreat"), they were held in improvised concentration camps, often under harsh conditions. Arnal spent time in a camp on the beach of Argelès, sleeping outside, plagued by wind and rain. He was later transferred to similar camps in Barcarès, Saint-Cyprien and Agde, meanwhile finding comfort in new friendships with the Catalan writers Joaquim Amat-Piniella, Pere Vives i Clavé, Ferran Planes and the musician Hernandez. To escape the camps, the group volunteered for the CTE, the Companies of Foreign Workers. Clothed in old French World War I uniforms, Arnal and his friends were stationed at the Maginot Line, standing guard for a possible German invasion. In the meantime, Arnal made cartoons of his everyday life, while maintaining a friendly correspondence with famous cabaret singer and dancer Josephine Baker.

World War II
On 14 June 1940 - the day Paris fell - German troops attacked the Maginot Line as part of their "Operation Tiger". Breaking through, they forced the French army to retreat southwards. By 22 June, the French soldiers and Spanish volunteers tried to flee to Switzerland. The French were accepted as refugees, but the Spaniards weren't, since Spain was not officially recognised by Switzerland as a “belligerent country”. Back in France, Arnal and his friends were quickly apprehended by the Nazis in the Lormont mountains. Initially kept at the Fort Hatry Prison in Belfort, Arnal was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in the January 1941 "Rote Spanier" transport of Spanish refugee soldiers. He spent most of the remaining war years in this Austrian concentration camp. By entertaining an SS officer with pornographic drawings, Arnal secured himself and his friend Amat-Piniella a job in the office where the personal belongings of newly arrived prisoners were processed. Later, Arnal was put to work in the Steyr-Münichholz subcamp, doing factory work. He remained there until the May 1945 liberation of Mauthausen. By then, only 2,000 of the approximately 9,000 "Rote Spanier” prisoners were still alive. Later in life, Joaquim Amat-Piniella wrote the semi-autobiographical novel 'K.L. Reich' (1963) about his experiences in captivity. The main character Emili was based on both the writer himself and his friend José Cabrero Arnal.

Placid et Muzo by Arnal
'Placid et Muzo'. 

Return to France
After the war, José Cabrero Arnal returned to France, in ill health. After recuperating in Toulouse, he settled in Paris with his young wife, Denise. There, Arnal met René Moreu, chief editor of the recently created French children's magazine Vaillant. Launched by Éditions Vaillant in 1945, the bi-weekly was the continuation of the Communist war-time magazine Le Jeune Patriote. José Arnal's first contribution appeared in issue #48, published on 24 January 1946. He started out providing pantomime humor strips, cartoons and drawings for game pages. By the time Vaillant became a weekly in mid-1946, José Cabrero Arnal was a regular provider of his trademark funny animal comics.

Placid et Muzo
Vaillant issue #56, published on 16 May 1946, marked the first appearance of Arnal's 'Placid et Muzo', a bear-and-fox duo that remained a fixture in the magazine's pages for decades to come. Initially written by Vaillant editor Pierre Olivier, the characters quickly became magazine mascots, appearing weekly on the cover, on subscription bulletins and in advertisements. Placid is a lazy black bear in search of peace and quiet, while his cunning fox friend Muzo is an energetic prankster. Filled with slapstick humor and cartoony violence, Arnal and Olivier crafted a funny animal world in the Disney tradition, adding a cast of secondary characters consisting of dogs, goats, horses, monkeys, elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinos and ostriches. Appearing in both gags and serials, Placid and Muzo encountered recurring villains like the wolf Bulldog and the gorilla Grosses Narines, as well as allies such as the genius professor Grostalent, who can let the heroes travel through time. In 1949-1950, 'Placid et Muzo' also appeared as a weekly newspaper comic in Dimanche Fillettes and Le Cri de la Loire. In 1950, Eugène Gire drew a short-lived daily solo strip with 'Muzo le Renard' for newspapers like La Patrie and L'Echo du Centre.

'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Gavroche'. 

Newspaper comics
While gradually becoming the star of Vaillant magazine, José Cabrero Arnal had a second career as a newspaper cartoonist. In mid-1946, he was present in L'Avant-Garde, a publication of the Union of the Republican Youth of France (U.J.R.F.). Succeeding the cartoonists Roz and Bouleau in July 1946, he was the third cartoonist to draw cartoons, strips and illustrations with the paper's mascot 'Gavroche'. After giving Gavroche a reporter friend called G. Latine, Arnal continued the series as 'Gavroche et G. Latine' (1946-1950).

In the Summer of 1946, Arnal simultaneously made his debut in L'Humanité, the newspaper of the French Communist Party. Around that time, the paper had increased its page count, having more space available for entertainment. Arnal started out making spot illustrations for the cinema section, and was then appointed illustrator for the weekly children's insert 'Pour nos Enfants'. Gradually, he also began contributing comic strips. Since he was not yet fully fluent in the French language, Arnal's regular collaborator during this period was Pierre Camus (1897-1955, AKA "Jean-Claude"), a writer of fables, nursery rhymes and other children's stories. Arnal's first comic features for 'Pour nos Enfants' were the around-the-world adventures of the sailor boy 'Clopinet' (1946), and 'Bouldegomme et Nez-au-Vent' (1946), a pantomime gag strip about a boy and his dog.

Clopinet by Arnal
'Clopinet' (1946).

In addition to comic strips, Arnal and Camus contributed illustrated children's stories, most notably the pond adventures of the little duckling 'Oscar, le Petit Canard' (July 1946). Two months after Oscar's first appearance, a fairy called Perlinette turned him into an anthropomorphic duck. In his new adventures - set in a medieval Wonderland - he is called 'Bec d'Or' (and later 'Becdor'). Continuing for many years, the stories of 'Becdor' were also collected in a 1947 book. In between episodes, Arnal launched a couple of one-shot picture features, often falling back to characters he had created in Spain, years before. For the feature about the little mosquito 'Zippy le Moucheron' (August 1947), Arnal returned to the world of insects. In 'Le Joyeux Lutin de l'Encrier' (January 1947), Arnal used a revamped version of his 1936 creation Chin-Chin. In this new story, the authors Arnal and Jean-Claude appear as themselves, as they become victims of their own pranking creation: a little gnome that comes out of an inkpot. In his further adventures, the gnome has the visual appearance of an insect character, and the cast was completed with the monkey Zéphirin and the fierce tomcat Moumoute.

Pif le Chien
'Pif le Chien' from L'Humanité.

Pif Le Chien
On 28 March 1948, José Cabrero Arnal's best-known creation made its modest debut in L'Humanité, 'Pif le Chien'. Soon afterwards, the playful working-class dog got a regular spot in the paper's Sunday supplement, Le Dimanche Illustré, as well as several regional Communist newspapers (La Liberté de Lille, La Marseillaise, La Patrie, L'Echo du Centre, Le Patriote de Nice, etc.). In Arnal's early daily strips, Pif was an anthropomorphic dog in a human world. Most of his interactions were with his human masters, Tonton and his wife Tata, and their little boy, Doudou. Playful and inventive, Pif was later revealed to be the son of Top and Topilita, the dog characters created by Arnal for Pocholo magazine in the 1930s. Pif's life changed for good in 1950, when the teasing and feisty black-and-white cat Hercule became his main antagonist. Many times, Hercule tried to foil Pif, although in later episodes, the two became friends with a love-and-hate relationship.

On 21 December 1952, Pif also made his debut in Vaillant magazine, where Arnal was already a star with his 'Placid et Muzo' comic. However, those characters were almost immediately surpassed as magazine mascots by Pif, whose head became part of the magazine header from the first issue he appeared in. While the daily strips were gags of 3 to 4 panels, Pif's Vaillant appearances were full pages and later also short stories. From 1958 on, he was often accompanied on his adventures by his son, Pifou. Even though by 1955, Arnal's series in Vaillant magazine were gradually taken over by other artists, he continued to provide stories and art on a regular basis until 1974.

'Fifine et Fonfon'. 

Other Éditions Vaillant comics
As the unofficial lead artist of Vaillant magazine, José Cabrero Arnal also participated in the launch of other, often short-lived, magazines by the same publisher. In 1947-1948, he appeared in Vaillante - a Vaillant for girls - with the adventures of the cat Nouche and the penguin Nigo, who appeared in farces comparable to 'Placid & Muzo'. Between 1950 and 1957, Éditions Vaillant also released the quarterly Les Aventures de Pif le Chien, collecting 'Pif' episodes from both L'Humanité and Vaillant, as well as some of Arnal's other newspaper features. For a pre-school audience, Vaillant launched the monthly magazines Roudoudou, Les Belles Images - with art by Arnal - and Riquiqui, Les Belles Images - with art by René Moreu and Arnal, containing illustrated stories about a little goat and a bear, respectively. While their adventures appeared in separate titles between 1950 and approximately 1959, both magazines merged in the 1960s to Roudoudou et Riquiqui, Les Belles Images. Between 1957 and 1961, Arnal also appeared in Pipolin, a monthly magazine for six-to-nine-years-old children, with the adventures of 'Fifine et Fonfon', a donkey and a bunny.

Roudoudou by ArnalRoudoudou by Arnal
Covers for Roudoudou magazine (#1, 1950, and #7 1951).

Retirement & sucessors
During the 1950s, José Cabrero Arnal's health began to decline, a result of his wartime ordeals. Over time, his comic productions were gradually handed over to other artists. In the early 1950s, Roger Mas took over most of his ongoing newspaper features, including 'Gavroche et G. Latine', 'Becdor' and 'Pif le Chien'. In 1954, Mas also took over the 'Pif le Chien' gags in Vaillant, continuing it long into the 1960s. For a couple of years, the comic still had the credit byline "d'après Arnal" ("after Arnal"), to secure Arnal an income of royalties. In 1967, Roger Mas was succeeded as artist by Louis Cance until, in the 1970s, 'Pif le Chien' became a studio production under the supervision of Michel Motti. Arnal continued to produce episodes of 'Placid et Muzo' until 1958, when Jacques Nicolaou took over as writer and artist. Between 1985 and 1993, Michel Motti was in charge of this comic too.

Placid et Muzo, by José ArnalPlacid et Muzo, by José Arnal
'Placid et Muzo' comic book covers.

Pif legacy
By 1966, 'Pif le Chien' was fully established as the official lead character of Vaillant. From then on, the magazine began using the title Le Journal de Pif, with the Vaillant name used only as a tiny header. In February 1969, the magazine was revamped altogether into Pif Gadget, aiming at a younger audience and appearing with a weekly toy premium. The focus shifted from serials to complete stories, and the production of 'Pif' episodes was transferred to Michel Motti's Studio Pif. Until the magazine's 1993 cancellation, many writers and artists were involved in 'Pif le Chien'. Productive scriptwriters have been Patrice Valli, Jean-Marie Nadaud, Christian Godard, François Corteggiani, Michel Motti and Jacques Kamb. Louis Cance continued to produce stories, while additional contributing artists were Yannick Hodbert, François Dimberton, Patrice Croci, Mircea Arapu, Carmen Levi and Rachid Nawa. In 1976, Hodbert acquired the rights to the character Hercule, and used him in a series of solo comics and gags. Italian agency artists were also attracted to draw stories with the famous dog, including Luciano Gatto, Giorgio Cavazzano, Claudio Onesti, Giorgio Rebuffi, Alessio Coppola, Roberto Totaro and Sandro Zemolin. The Spanish studio Récreo provided artwork as well.

Between 2004 and 2008, Pif Gadget was rebooted into a new monthly magazine, containing reprints of older Roger Mas stories, as well as new 'Pif le Chien' episodes drawn by Bernard Ciccolini (AKA Chicco), René Mazyn, Olivier Fiquet and Vincent Fourneuf, and written by former Pif Gadget editor Richard Médioni, François Corteggiani and BenGrrr. Between December 2015 and October 2017, Pif Gadget reappeared as a quarterly series featuring new 'Pif' stories by François Corteggiani and his writing partner Bonaventure,with artwork by Richard Di Martino. Since December 2020, the fourth series of Pif Gadget appears on a quarterly basis, containing new 'Pif' stories written by Eiffel (Frédéric Lefebvre) and drawn by Levadoux.

An animated TV series called 'Pif et Hercule' was broadcast between 1989 and 1990, and a feature film, 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Pif et Hercule', was released in 1993.

Pif le Chien
'Pif le Chien' story from Pif Gadget #7 (1969), credited to Arnal.

Death and legacy
Even though he never set foot on Spanish soil again, José Cabrero Arnal never received French citizenship, because of his alleged ties with the Spanish communists and his post-war employers in France. He spent his final years in Antibes, a coastal town in Southern France, where he died in 1982 at the age of 73. While his Spanish productions are almost forgotten, José Cabrero Arnal left a lasting mark on European comics. With their poetic charm, instant readability and subtle comments on the world's injustices, José Cabrero Arnal's children's comics have become icons of French culture. In terms of establishing funny animal worlds, his legacy can be compared to other European creators like Marten Toonder in the Netherlands (creator of 'Tom Poes' and 'Panda') and Rolf Kauka in Germany (of 'Fix und Foxi' fame). Since they appeared in a communist magazine, Arnal's creations also achieved great popularity in Eastern European countries. In Romania, his comics appeared prominently in the children's magazine Cutezătorii, and in 1970, Arnal even presided over the jury of a readers' drawing contest organized by the magazine. Two of his best-known creations inspired the pen names of the contemporary comic artists Jean-François Duval (Placid) and Jean-Philippe Masson (Muzo).

Books about José Cabrero Arnal
The eventful life and times of José Cabrero Arnal inspired his former editor-in-chief, René Moreu, to write the biography 'C. Arnal, Une Vie de Pif' (Éditions La Farandole, 1983). Another book detailing Arnal's personal life, family background and Spanish years is 'José Cabrero Arnal' by Philippe Guillen (Loubatières, 2011). In Catalan, his life was chronicled by Angel Campabadal in the book 'Josep Cabrero Arnal. Itinerari d'un dibuixant genial' (Rocaguinarga Cooperativa Cultural/Pol·len Edicions, 2022).

Self-portrait from the 1947 newspaper feature 'Le Joyeux Lutin de l'Encrier'.

Pif Le Chien site

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