Pompon Rouge, by François Bel
'Pompon Rouge'.

François Bel was a French comic artist who enjoyed a long and fruitful career, almost entirely devoted to the publications of the Catholic publishing house Fleurus. He was the author of the children's adventures series 'Pat et Moune' (1948-1971) and 'Pompon Rouge' (1956-1964), which appeared in the children's magazines Âmes Vaillantes and Coeurs Vaillants until the end of their run, and were then continued in Fripounet et Marisette. He created several animal and nature-related comics for both Fripounet and Francs-Jeux later on. Bel was one of the most prominent artists in the Fleurus magazines during the 1950s and 1960s, along with Pierre Chéry, Pierre Brochard, Claude Dubois, René Bonnet, Roger Bussemey, Robert Rigot, Érik and Pierdec.

Early life and career
François Bel was born in 1927 in Toulouse and got his interest in drawing through Émile-Joseph Pinchon's classic comic series 'Bécassine'. He also read Pierrot and Coeurs Vaillants, through which he discovered the work of Hergé and Marijac. While in college, he created his own paper called Le Courrier de Marathon. As his upbringing was filled with religion and ethics, the young man initially wanted to fulfill his desire for travelling by becoming a missionary. He later decided to enroll at the Saint-Cyr military school in Brittany (Bretagne), so he could fight for his country in Africa. All these plans fell through when he turned ill at the age of 16. He spent two years at the Font Romeu sanatorium, but suffered from a crippled leg for the rest of his life. While in the sanatorium, he trained his drawing skills. He even wrote to his idol Hergé, who encouraged him to continue. Most of his later comics were drawn in a style inspired by Hergé's Clear Line.

Pat et Moune
By 1947 Bel got his start at the Fleurus girls' magazine Âmes Vaillantes, at this point signing with Franbel. He quickly made it to the magazine's front page with the adventures of the brother and sister 'Pat et Moune' and their dog Flico. Since his condition made travelling difficult, he enjoyed sending his characters all around the world instead of him. Although this first story was set in Lapland, Bel used no documentation and just invented his own sets and situations as he went along. Apparently not quite convinced by the talent of their new contributor, the Fleurus management sent the young artist away after a couple of months. Bel returned to Toulouse, where he took evening courses in Fine Arts. He now learned how to use documentation and draw from nature, while also experimenting with other art forms, such as sculpting and ceramics. Bel additionally produced artwork for Le Croisée and L'Almanach du Croisée, publications of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Pat et Moune by François Bel
'Pat et Moune'.

With a formal art training in his pocket, he returned to Fleurus in 1955 and stayed with the publishing house until his retirement in the mid-1980s. 'Pat et Moune' reappeared in Âmes Vaillantes and ran until the end of the magazine's run in 1963. It was then continued in Fripounet et Marisette from 1964 to 1971. The series continued to rely a lot on travelling, but the artist now made sure he was fully documented before sending his heroes off on adventure. Following the moral standards of the time he let the children be guarded by an uncle, rather than real parents, to avoid ridiculing parental authority. Two of the 19 serials were collected in book format in 1961-1962 by Fleurus. 

(Phil et) Jordi
Fleurus was by now convinced of Bel's talents, and also asked him to create a serial for their boys' magazine Coeurs Vaillants. This resulted in the series 'Phil et Jordi', which ran in the magazine between 1956 and 1961. This comic dealt with the bookseller Phil, who inherits a sailboat and engages a shipmate called Jordi (who is nicknamed Pompon Rouge). The graphics in this series were very close to Hergé; even Jordi and his inseparable white cat Biniou are clearly inspired by Tintin and his white fox terrier Milou. While the first story appeared under the title 'Phil et Jordi', Jordi quickly became the star of the series, and the adventures appeared under the name 'Jordi' from the second story onwards. Phil and Biniou eventually disappeared from the scene completely. Just like 'Pat et Moune', 'Jordi' was also continued in Fripounet et Marisette from 1962 until 1964, and returned under the title 'Pompon Rouge' in Coeurs Vaillants' follow-up magazine J2 Jeunes between 1966 and 1968. Fleurus released four book collections in 1961 and 1962. The small label P.B.D.I. published five more limited edition books in their collection Le Bel Illustré.

Phil et Jordi - 'Les Trois Feux Rouges' (Coeurs Vaillants #48, 1956).

Other comics
Bel created several gags, short stories and illustrations for Coeurs Vaillants and its successors J2 Jeunes and Formule 1, and also for Âmes Vaillantes and its follow-up J2 Magazine. For Fripounet et Marisette (renamed Fripounet in 1969), Bel created three-page stories about the elderly but adventurous lady 'Miss Justine' (1964-1971) in cooperation with writer Claire Godet (who used the pen name Dany François). For J2 Magazine, Bel and Godet cooperated again on the adventures of 'Sidonie Fleurdepois' (1968), a 17th-century housemaid at the court of king Louis XIV. François Bel's final creations for Fripounet and Éditions Fleurus were the funny animal comic 'Mohican' (1979-1982) and the science fiction series 'Zophyta' (1983-1985).

'Pinny et Poggy' (Fripounet #18, 1978).

Comics for other publishers
During his career, François Bel only made a couple of excursions to other publishers. In 1967 he appeared in Lisette/Nade of Bayard Presse with the comic series 'Tante Zaza', made in cooperation with S. Mandron. Between 1969 and 1976, Bel was present in Francs-Jeux, a magazine published by SUDEL. He drew the serial 'Pyle fait face' (1971-1972), but also a series of ecologically themed stories with the character 'Pistil', in which he accurately showed the lives real animals. In the same tradition, he subsequently made the documentary-style comics serial 'Pinny et Poggy' (1978), about a seal and a penguin, for Fripounet.

Le Fantôme Rouge de Fynnmore
After his retirement, Bel made a historical album set in Scotland for Éditions Loubatières, called 'Le Fantôme Rouge de Fynnmore' (1991). The project in direct colors was however aborted, and didn't appear until La Vache qui Médite released it in 2016. This publishing label has been reprinting most of the artist's classic work since 2008.

François Bel passed away in 2009.


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