José Cabrero Arnal was a Catalan artist, who eventually became one of the most important comics authors in France in the post-war period. He was the creator of the funny animal comics 'Pif le Chien' and 'Placid et Muzo', which formed the backbone of the comics magazine Vaillant. Created in an instantly recognizable simple drawing style, his charming characters have remained the eye-catchers in all later incarnations of Vaillant, well into the 21st century.
El Hambre Aguza El Ingenio (Pocholo #164)
Arnal was born in Castilsabas-Loporzano, a town in the province of Huesca, in 1909. The Arnal family moved to Barcelona in the 1920s, where Arnal's father became a police officer. He was fascinated by comics since his youth, but initially followed an apprenticeship to become a carpenter and furniture maker. He worked as a mechanic for calculating machines, when he sent his first artwork to Spanish publishing houses. He made his debut in the comics magazine TBO at the age of 18. He got his comic stories 'Guerrall en El Pais de Los Insectos' (1933-1934), 'Paco Zumba' (1935) and 'Castrilla Detective' (1936) published in the magazine Pocholo of publisher Santiago Vives. His comic 'Don Simplón' appeared in the supplement of the daily ABC, Gente Menuda, in 1934, and in Editorial Molino's Mickey in 1936. He was additionally present in TBO with the dog character 'Top', which can be seen as a prototype for 'Pif le Chien'. 'Top' was later also featured in Pocholo, and in a series of books in the collection Karikatos.
Arnal was a fighter in the republican army during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He came to France as a political refugee after Franco came to power in 1939. He was interned like many of his compatriots in the camps on the beaches of the Mediterranean coast. An anti-fascist, Arnal fought the Nazis as a member of the Foreign Workers Company at the Maginot Line. He was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp with the "Rote Spanier" transport on 27 January 1941, and spent practically the entire war there. Arnal is one of the main characters in the autobiographical novel 'K.L. Reich' by his friend Joaquim Amat-Piniella, which chronicles the author's years of captivity in Mauthausen.
Although broken and suffering from bad health after his ordeal, he resumed his activities as an artist when he returned to France after the liberation. He began his collaboration with Éditions Vaillant and their eponymous magazine in 1946. The title was launched in 1945 as a continuation of the communist and patriotic war-time magazine Le Jeune Patriote. Arnal's creation 'Placid et Muzo', a comic about an anthropomorphic bear and fox, got a regular spot on the magazine's cover. The original gags had texts in rhyme by Vaillant editor Pierre Olivier.
Arnal additionally became a contributor to L'Humanité, the newspaper of the French Communist Party. For the weekly Sunday supplement L'Humanité Dimanche, he developed comic strip features like 'Clopinet', 'Le Canard Oscar', 'Becdor le Canard' and 'Bouledegomme et Zéphirin' (scripts by Pierre Camus) from 1946. His most famous creation for this paper was however 'Pif le Chien', who made his debut on 3 March 1948 in L'Humanité and several regional communist newspapers. The working class dog Pif and his enemy, the awful cat Hercule, also made their appearance in short stories in Vaillant. The character had a remarkable introduction in this magazine, when he jumped out of a package sent by Santa Claus on the cover of the 21 December 1952 issue.
In addition to his work for L'Humanité and Vaillant, Arnal produced 'Gavroche' in Avant-Garde (1946-1950), 'Nouche et Nigo' in Vaillantes (1947) and 'Fifine et Fofon' in Pipolin (1957), and cooperated with Pierre Olivier on the launch of the children's publication Roudoudou les Belles Images at Éditions Vaillant in 1950. A similar title called Riquiqui Les Belles Images with art by René Moreu debuted the following year. Arnal and Olivier also turned 'Placid et Muzo' into a newspaper strip, published in Dimanche Fillettes in 1949, while a daily strip starring only 'Muzo le Renard' was made by Eugène Gire in 1950.
In Vaillant, the popularity of 'Placid et Muzo' was quickly surpassed by 'Pif le Chien'. The magazine was even renamed to Le Journal de Pif in 1966, and then to Pif Gadget in 1969. But by then, Arnal's production had slowed down because of health issues. In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the main author of 'Pif le Chien' was Roger Mas, who had already succeeded Arnal on the daily comic in L'Humanité in 1950. Mas expanded the Pif universe by adding several characters to the cast, most notably Pif's son Pifou. The comic still had the byline "d'après Arnal" for a couple of years to secure Arnal an income of royalties. Mas was succeeded by Louis Cance in 1967.
From the 1970s on, the 'Pif' comic became more and more a studio production, involving several artists and writers. Productive scriptwriters have been Patrice Valli, Jean-Marie Nadaud, Christian Godard, François Corteggiani, Michel Motti and Jacques Kamb, while contributing artists were Yannick Hodbert, François Dimberton, Patrice Croci, Mircea Arapu, Carmen Levi and Rachid Nawa. Artists from Italy 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 participated in the artwork too. The final issue of Pif Gadget appeared in 1993, but the magazine was relaunched between 2004 and 2008. This new version contained reprints of older Mas stories, but also new ones by Bernard Ciccolini, René Mazyn, Olivier Fiquet and François Corteggiani. An animated TV series called 'Pif et Hercule' was broadcast between 1989 and 1990, and a feature film was made under the title 'Les Nouvelles aventures de Pif et Hercule' in 1993.
'Placid et Muzo' was continued by Jacques Nicolaou from 1959 to 1985, after which Michel Motti became the main author. Although this comic never became as popular as 'Pif le Chien', the two main characters did inspire the contemporary comic artists Placid and Muzo for the choice of their pen names.
José Cabrero Arnal passed away in Antibes in 1982. René Moreu, Vaillant's former editor-in-chief, wrote a book about Arnal called 'C. Arnal, une vie de Pif', which was published by Éditions La Farandole in 1983.