Rahan, by Andre Cheret

André Chéret was a French comic book artist, who has worked for most of the leading French-language comic magazines. As co-creator of the intelligent caveman 'Rahan' (1969-2015) with writer Roger Lécureux, he became one of the staples of Pif Gadget. With its original outset, detailed artwork and dynamic framing, the blonde Cro-Magnon has become an icon of French comics. Even though his adventures were translated in Dutch, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, Romanian and Yugoslavian, Rahan's popularity remained mostly centered in his home country. It inspired its own magazine, two animated TV series and even a theme park! Chéret has worked on many more projects over the course of his fifty plus years career. He collaborated with magazines like J2 Jeunes, Vaillant, Tintin and Spirou, and provided his distinctive baroque graphics to the aviation series 'Bob Mallard' (1962-1974), the 17th century vigilante 'Domino' (1973-1981), the android 'Protéo' (1981-1985, 1996-1998) and a host of short-lived comics and one-shots. The artist's name shall however always be linked to his famous caveman, about whom he drew over 3600 pages!

Early life and influences
Chéret was born in 1937 in the Montorgueil-Saint Denis-Les Halles district of Paris. During World War II, the boy and his sisters were lodged with a farmer's family in a small town in Allier. There he developed his interest in drawing, making sketches of animals and nature. His fascination for comics was fuelled by the comics adventures of 'Tarzan', especially those drawn by Burne Hogarth. He also read his sisters' copies of Fillette magazine, where he was particularly captivated by the jungle heroine 'Durga Râni' by Pellos. It is telling that these two comics caught Chéret's attention, since they both foreshadowed the character he would become mostly associated with. Especially Hogarth's detailed anatomy were an influence on his 'Rahan' comics.

Early career
At age 15, André Chéret had his first work experience in a printer's office, finding employment afterwards at a studio specialized in advertisements for movie theaters. There he trained his skills in making ink wash drawings, which allowed him to become an illustrator for women's magazines such as Bonnes Soirées, Nous Deux and Intimités later on. By 1958 he fulfilled his military service in Baden-Baden, Germany, while contributing cartoons, illustrations and his first comic strip, 'Nicéphore Dupont', to the military magazine La Revue des Forces Françaises. During his draft Chéret met the illustrator Pierre Koernig and the comic artist Jean Giraud, and together the three men tried to sell their illustrations in Paris during their leave.

Cover for Tintin, by André Chéret

Éditions Fleurus
It was eventually Koernig who introduced Chéret to his first professional client: the Catholic publishing house Fleurus. Together, the two men made a short humorous story for Fripounet et Marisette, called 'Paulo et la Furie du Rodéo' (24 May 1959), marking André Chéret's professional comics debut. Chéret then had a more steady collaboration with Coeurs Vaillants and its follow-up J2 Jeunes, for which he provided the artwork of a variety of short, historical comics stories between 1959 and 1964. One of the regular scriptwriters for these stories was the future publisher Jean-Paul Benoît (real name Jean-Paul Gisserot), with whom Chéret also made four long adventure serials starring the young aviator 'Karl' (1966-1968).

'Les Réfugiés'.

Magazine illustrations and newspaper comics
With Koernig, he additionally made illustrations and short strips for magazines like L'Avant-garde and Femmes Françaises, often in a comical style. His drawings in ink wash appeared in the French news weekly Radar by Éditions Nuit et Jour. Around the same time, he worked on a couple of newspaper comics for the regional press. The vertical text comic strip 'L'Étonnant Monsieur K.' (1960) was based on the Ukrainian novel 'Nikita Khrouchtchev' (1957) by Victor Alexandrov, and published in Paris Jour. Chéret also made a horizontal comic strip adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle novel 'The Refugees' (1893), which was serialized in 296 daily episodes as 'Les Réfugiés' (1961) in the newspapers La Montagne, Bonne Soirée and Le Progrès through Intermonde Presse. By 1961 he was hired by Cino Del Duca's Mondial Presse agency to finish the ongoing 'Sherlock Holmes' serial (1961), which had been drawn by a certain Marc-Eric since 1959. Chéret illustrated between 100 and 200 strips, which appeared in papers such as La Voix du Nord, La Liberté du Massif Central, Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, Ouest-France, L'Union, La République du Centre and Sud-Ouest. Years later, Chéret made another comics adaptation for the pocket book Télé Feuilleton by the SFPI, based on the TV series 'Vidocq' (1966).

'Vidocq', rendered in ink wash technique.

Mireille magazine
Back in civilian life since 1961, Chéret was also present in the girls' magazine Mireille, published by Cino Del Duca's Éditions Mondiales. First of all, he drew stories with 'Rock l'Invincible' (1962-1963), a former slave who fights alongside the Britons against the Romans. Originally, the feature was a British comic called 'Wulf the Briton' (1959-1961), created by writer Mike Butterworth for TV Express in the UK, which appeared in French translation in L'Intrépide. The original artists were Ruggero Giovannini and Ron Embleton. When the British material ran out, the French publisher assigned Angelo Di Marco to continue the series directly for him. By the time L'Intrépide was absorbed by Mireille, Chéret replaced Di Marco as the artist. During the same period, Chéret contributed six short stories with the air hostess 'Monica, Hôtesse de l'Air' (1962-1963) to Mireille. In 1962 he furthermore drew some short historical stories for another Del Duca magazine, Télé-Jeunes, while illustrating game pages in L'Intrépide. The collaboration with Éditions Mondiales however came to an end when a brigand in one of Chéret's stories had the looks of publisher Cino Del Duca. Even though the artist had never seen the man, the publisher was offended.  

Bob Mallard by Andre Cheret
'Bob Mallard ' (Pif Gadget #9, 21 April 1969).

Vaillant - Bob Mallard
In 1962 André Chéret began the association that would define his career. He joined the publishing house Vaillant and its magazine of the same name, which was initially a publication of the Youth Movement of the French Communists. His first assignment was taking over the aviation comic 'Bob Mallard' (1962-1974). The fighter pilot had made its debut back in 1946, fighting Nazis under supervision of scriptwriter Henry Bourdens and artist Rémy Bourlès. Since 1957 scriptwriter Jean Sanitas and artist Francisco Hidalgo had taken over the series and were still producing it when Chéret succeeded Hidalgo. By the time Chéret assumed the art duties, the World War II theme had been dropped. Mallard was turned into an ace pilot tasked with special missions all over the world, accompanied by his sidekick Puchon. Chéret's powerful and dynamic linework gave the series a new boost, making it last until 1974. But by that point, there was another hero who required all of Chéret's attention. Between 1977 and 1978 Éditions Jeunesse et Vacances reprinted several 'Bob Mallard' stories in six bimonthly comic books.

Pif Gadget
In February 1969 Vaillant continued with a completely new formula, and was rebaptized under the new title Pif Gadget. The new weekly focused on complete stories instead of serials, while readers received a free gadget with their magazine every week.

In issue #1 of Pif Gadget, published on 24 February 1969, the first adventure of 'Rahan' kicked off, spread over a full 20 pages! The stories revolve around a wandering caveman, Rahan, created by André Chéret and scriptwriter Roger Lécureux. Caveman series had existed before in Franco-Belgian comics, such as Édouard Aidans' 'Tounga' (1961-2007) and the original 'Timour' by Xavier Snoeck and Sirius. However, 'Rahan', was something different. Despite his primal background, the character shows great intelligence, inventiveness and an almost modern sense of ethics. Nicknamed the "Son of the Dark Age" ("Fils des Âges Farouches"), the young Rahan has lost his entire tribe in a vulcano eruption. All that's left to him is a necklace with five claws, which symbolizes the human qualities taught to him by his adoptive father Crâo the Wild. These virtues are generosity, courage, tenacity, loyalty and wisdom. With these life principles, Rahan wanders through an alternate prehistory, encountering other men ("Those who walk upright") and wild beasts.

'Rahan - L'Homme-Chien' (Pif Gadget #797).

The caveman is a noble being. He helps his fellow men and uses his knowledge of nature to his advantage. He always knows which herbs are poisonous and which ones could be used as medicine. A skilled inventor, he invents the catapult, the hoist, the fishing pole, mirrors as a way to divert light, agriculture and many other innovations. Rahan also understands that certain nature phenomena are definitely not the work of certain corrupt shamans and sorcerers. He informs tribes that these superstitions are nonsense and that they are being brainwashed into submission by the town "wizards" and chieftains. Naturally this occasionally leads to conflicts. During such action scenes he yells out his battle cry: "RAAHAA!", which could count as his catchphrase. But even then he only uses his trademark white ivory cutlass when necessary. And after defeating his enemies Rahan still shows mercy. Chéret took great care portraying the anatomy of his muscular hero. Wearing only a loincloth, the French press often labelled the comic as "gay erotic".

Rahan's tragic death in 'Le Mort de Rahan' (1977).

Rahan - publication
'Rahan' quickly established itself as Pif Gadget's top feature, while the album publications were bestsellers. The series continued to appear in full twenty-page stories until 1975, when ten or twelve pages became the norm. Most of the later episodes varied between eight and twenty pages. Issues of Pif Gadget with a 'Rahan' story could reach print-runs up to 500,000 copies. The September 1977 issue (#443) in which Chéret and Lécureux staged Rahan's death even sold 1,5 million copies! Many readers figured it all ended here, and didn't even notice the anouncement of the following story on the next page. Readers begged the editors to undo this tragic event, but they had to wait until issue #445 before their hero returned.

Éditions Vaillant furthermore collected the stories in quarterly and then bimonthly comic books. The first series consisted of 27 issues and appeared between 1972 and 1977. Then came another bimonthly series released from 1978 to 1984, followed by a monthly comic book from 1984 to 1987. Albums were published subsequently by Hachette (1973), Éditions du Kangourou (1974-1975), GP Rouge et Or (1980-1981), Messidor-La Farandole (1986-1987), J'ai Lu BD (1989-1990) and Novedi/Dupuis (1991-1993). Soleil Productions first collected the entire series in 25 black-and-white volumes under the title 'Tout Rahan' (1992-1997). A new series of 25 volumes appeared between 1998 and 2015. Translations of 'Rahan' have appeared in Yugoslavia (in Strip Zabavnik), Greece, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands (in Peptoe), Germany (in Felix), Denmark, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina and most notably Romania, where Pif Gadget was also widely read. The character however never managed to maintain the popularity he enjoyed in France.

Cover for Pif Gadget, by André ChéretCover for Rahan, by André Chéret

Rahan - Legal issues
Despite its success, the series had a bumpy ride, largely because of differences between Chéret and his publisher. The (bi)monthly books contained older stories, but still there had to be enough material to fill them. Of course the authors were not able to come up with a full story for Pif Gadget each week. And when André Chéret began working for Tintin magazine on the side in 1973, publisher Vaillant was not amused. Behind Chéret's back, they hired the Italian artist Guido Zamperoni (a.k.a. Guy Zam) to draw additional 'Rahan' stories. Understandably, Chéret was not too pleased by this maneuver either. Eventually, Zamperoni was let go and Chéret was allowed to set up his own studio to keep up with the production. But since Chéret couldn't find enough time to train the three additional artists, the studio stranded after only a year. The Spanish artist  Enrique Badia Roméro became Chéret's regular replacement, alternating on stories from 1976 on. Michel Rouge assisted on the comic in 1977 and José De Huescar also drew a 'Rahan' story in 1982. Between 1982 and 1990 Pif Gadget also ran the series 'Tarao' , about Rahan's son, written by Roger Lécureux and drawn by Raphaël Carlo Marcello.

But these weren't the only differences between Chéret and Vaillant. The publisher refused him an advance on his copyrights, claiming that he was only an executor and not a creator of 'Rahan'. As a result Chéret sued them. A total of four trials followed, in which Chéret demanded co-authorship, royalties from reprints, moral rights and the settlement over a case of plagiarism with Roméro. When the judge ruled in Chéret's favor, the artist continued the adventures of 'Rahan' in Pif Gadget until the magazine went out of print in 1993.

'Cavalcade pour Domino'.

Tintin magazine
Chéret had appeared in Tintin as early as 1965, where he created 'Le Pirate du Cosmos', a sci-fi advertising strip for underwear brand Stemm. It was created in commision for Publiart, Lombard's advertising division, and also serialized in magazines such as Pilote.  Between 1973 and 1981 he was back in Tintin's pages with the adventure series 'Domino'. Chéret came up with the idea for a clumsy and naïve character after watching the American comedy TV series 'Get Smart' about the clumsy spy Max Smart. With editor-in-chief Greg he chose the French Régence period (1715-1723) as setting. The courtly and cultivated youngster Domino is sent to Paris, where the priest Porphyre is supposed to train him as a law officer. However, the eccentric priest trains him to become a vigilante crime fighter. In 1974 the still very young Jean Van Hamme succeeded Greg as scriptwriter. Lombard collected the series in five albums.

'Michel Brazier' (Dutch version: 'Meino Brent').

Short-lived comics
'Anaël aux Yeux d'Or' ("Anael with the Golden Eyes") was a comic set in the time of the Huns. Originally written by Roger Lécureux, it was intended to be published in Le Journal de Mickey. The magazine however cancelled the project because of the similarities with 'Rahan'. Chéret picked it up again with scriptwriter Sacha Broussine for publication in the short-lived magazine Les Visiteurs du Mercredi in 1978, much to Lécureux's chagrin. Bédésup published it in book format in 1980. In the late 1970s Chéret was also present in Spirou with one serial about the adventurer 'Michel Brazier' (1979), written by Jean-Michel Charlier. Because of Charlier's heavy workload, the series was not continued, and ended with a major cliffhanger at the end of the first serial. In 1981 Chéret and scriptwriter Jean Ollivier made a comic strip based on the street kid 'Gavroche' from Victor Hugo's 'Les Misérables'. It was partially serialized in Pif Gadget, and then released in book format by Hachette in 1983. For the same publisher he made a comics biography about tennis player Yannick Noah with scriptwriter Claude Gendrot in the following year ('Il était une fois... Yannick Noah', 1984).

Gavroche, by André Chéret

A series with a longer duration was 'Les Aventures de Protéo' (1981-1985, 1996-1998), which he made with crime novelist Jean-Gérard Imbar. The educational sci-fi serial featured an android who can transform itself into any living or inert form, and also travel in time and space. The original series spanned issues #16 through #45 of the series 'L'Encyclopédie en Bandes Dessinées' by publisher Philippe Auzou. The character then got its own series, of which two albums were published in 1985 and four more between 1996 and 1998. The series came to an end with the death of the writer in 1999.


Later projects
For the specialized magazine Judo magazine, André Chéret drew the single-page gags about the little judoka 'Kyu', starting in September 2000. An album collection appeared through K.Éditions in 2009. Chéret worked with Michel Rodrigue as his scriptwriter for two albums of 'Ly-Noock' (2003-2004), a Bronze Age heroine, published by Joker Éditions. For Bamboo Édition he drew Loïc Malnati's comic book adaptation of Jacques Malaterre's documentary film 'Le Sacre de l'Homme' (2007), about the early days of mankind. Even in his seventies, Chéret could manage a steady production. He finished drawing the full album in little over three weeks! Another comic Chéret drew for Bamboo was a contemporary thriller set in Vermont: 'Le Dernier des Mohegans' (2009) and 'L'Ancêtre' (2012). It was written by the French consul in San Francisco Pierre-François Mourier under the pen name Pfm.

Ly-Noock, by André Chéret

Rahan - Post-Pif period
Despite his many other creations, André Chéret shall allways be associated with 'Rahan'. After the disappearance of Pif Gadget in 1993, Chéret and Lécureux continued their creation 'Rahan' at other publishers. Apart from the compilation volumes, Soleil also published four albums of 'Le Petit Rahan' (1994-1995), a series exploring the younger years of the caveman. Between 1999 and 2010 the regular adventures of 'Rahan' were self-published through Éditions Lécureux. With the death of Roger Lécureux in 1999, his son Jean-François took over the scriptwriting duties for the final albums. During the relaunches of Pif Gadget between 2004 and 2008 and between 2015 and 2017, 'Rahan' was present with reprints of older stories. The final album, 'Les Fantômes du Mont-Bleu' was published by Soleil Productions in 2015.

'Domino contre Justicias'.

Through the bestseller 'Rahan', Chéret could rank himself among the great French comic artists. His work was imbued with techniques borrowed from American comic books, like its detailed anatomy and revolutionary way of framing. Unlike most other European comics, Chéret dared to give his panels dynamic viewpoints and a cinematographic direction, adding much appeal to his action-filled pages. When Mourad Boudjellal's new publishing label Soleil picked up the series in the early 1990s, the volumes quickly reached print-runs of 60,000 copies within a couple of months! It provided Soleil a headstart in investing in new comic series, most notably the even more successful 'Lanfeust of Troy' franchise. 'Lanfeust' authors Didier Tarquin and Scotch Arleston have both called 'Rahan' an important influence on their own creations. Another artist influenced by 'Rahan' was Tibor Szendrei

Like all popular series, 'Rahan' has also been subjected to tributes, spoof and parody. In 1994 the independent publisher L'Association offered its members the free comic book 'Raaan', in which each of the label's main artists drew their own version of a page of the 1970 episode 'Les Hommes aux Jambes Lourdes'. Blutch spoofed 'Rahan' in 'Clebs-Gadget' a parody of Pif Gadget, published in Lapin #15 in April 1997. The names of the rock groups Les Wampas and Ceux Qui Marchent Debout were inspired by elements from the 'Rahan' comics. The French psychologist Pascal Hachet submitted Rahan's personality and intelligence to a study, which was published in the book 'Rahan chez le Psychanalyste' (L'Harmattan, 2014).

'Rahan' from Pif Gadget #162.

Rahan - adaptations
In 1986 an animated series based on 'Rahan' was produced by France Animation in Montreuil and Jean Image in Paris. The 26 episodes were based on some of the comic's best known episodes, adapted by Nina Wolmark. Rachid Nawa was one of the animators of the series. Plans were made for a live-action film by Christophe Gans in 2003, but the project was eventually cancelled in 2006. A second animated series was released in 2008-2009. It was a French-Italian co-production, created by Pascal Morelli and the Xilam animation studios. An amusement park  based on 'Rahan' opened its doors in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère in the Dordogne region in June 2004, but closed down again only one year later.

Chéret himself has however not received the critical recognition he might have deserved. He was awarded the "Prix du dessinateur français" at the Angoulême Comics Festival in 1976, and was named Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2004. It wasn't until late 2017 that his work received a full retrospective in the Huberty & Breyne Gallery in Paris.

Final years and death
For thirty years, André Chéret and his wife Chantal lived in the small town La-Ferté-Saint-Cyr, where one of the local schools was even named after his signature hero: the École de Rahan. His wife since 1974, Chantal had been the regular colorist of her husband's work. When she passed away in 2017, Chéret relocated to the Parisian region. One of his final plans was continuing the adventures of 'Michel Brazier', which he had begun with Jean-Michel Charlier in 1979. Christian Godard was tasked with the scriptwriting, but Chéret had to drop out because of illness. The pencil was transferred to ManKho who has been drawing new albums for publisher Fordis since 2018. André Chéret passed away on 5 March 2020 at the age of 82.

Self-portrait from 1980.


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