Corentin by Paul Cuvelier
Corentin - Le Poignard Magique

Paul Cuvelier was one of the classic artists of post-war Franco-Belgian comics. He was one of the original contributors to Tintin magazine, together with Hergé, Jacques Laudy and Edgar P. Jacobs, and worked for the magazine from its start in 1946 until the early 1970s. He is best-known for his historical adventure series about the young Corentin Feldoë (1946-1974), but he has also drawn the medieval series 'Flamme d'Argent' (1960-1963), the adventures of the Native American 'Wapi' (1962-1966), the investigations of the charming 'Line' (1962-1972) and the groundbreaking erotic graphic novel 'Epoxy' (1968). Cuvelier's comics output is however characterized by long intervals. The artist always drifted between his ambitions as a fine artist and the more financially rewarding comics industry, which resulted in a rather fragmented and somewhat unstable comics oeuvre. The connecting thread between his activities in these two art forms remained however his fascination for the aesthetics of the human anatomy.

Epoxy by Paul Cuvelier
Epoxy

Early years
Paul Cuvelier was born in 1923 in Lens, a town near Mons, in the Walloon province of Hainaut. He was the third of seven children, and showed an almost immediate talent for drawing. Already as a child he was gifted with the powers of observation, and he regularly headed out to make drawings and paintings of the outdoors. He was also an avid storyteller for his two younger brothers. He enlightened these stories with drawings and self-fabricated marionettes. The young Cuvelier's main sources of inspiration were adventure novels like Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' and Paul Féval's 'Corentin Quimper', as well as the 19th century etchings of Gustave Doré and religious illustrations. Comics were not a prominent interest of the young man at all, although he enjoyed reading the adventures of Hergé's 'Tintin' in Le Petit Vingtième, a magazine which published one of his drawings when he was only seven years old! Because of this artistic background, it is difficult to pinpoint direct influences on Cuvelier's later comics work. The artist himself named Alex Raymond, Edgar Pierre Jacobs and Hergé as sources of inspiration. Later in life he also expressed his admiration for André Franquin, Jean Giraud, Jean-Claude Mézières, Jacques Martin and Fred.

Tom Colby by Paul Cuvelier
Tom Colby

In 1941, eighteen year old Paul Cuvelier ended his classical studies at the university of Enghien, and became an apprentice in the atelier of painter Louis G. Cambier. He later enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Mons, but he eventually dropped out. This was, according to legend, because his tutor, painter Louis Buisseret, informed him he couldn't teach the talented young man anything more. By 1943, Cuvelier developed a new story for his younger brothers starring a character called Corentin Feldoë, a name inspired by his favorite novel heroes Corentin Quimper and Robinson Crusoë. The artist quickly felt a connection with his creation, and he captured his exotic stories in a series of eight watercolor paintings. Cuvelier decided to give the comics medium a chance, and, in 1945, through a friend of his father, he met grandmaster Hergé. The creator of 'Tintin' was impressed by the young man's work, especially his 'Corentin' watercolors. To get him started, Hergé provided him with a script he had written with his co-worker Edgar Pierre Jacobs under the joint pen name Olav. Thus, Cuvelier's first comic became the western 'Tom Colby : Le Canyon mystérieux'. He signed the strip with Sigto, his first name written in Greek. The story was finally published in a book by Éditions du Berger in 1947, but by then the artist was already working on his next project.

L'Extraordinaire Odyssée de Corentin Feldoé (Dutch version from Kuifje #3, 1947)
L'Extraordinaire Odyssée de Corentin Feldoé (Dutch version from Kuifje #3, 1947)

Corentin
On 26 September 1946 the first issue of Le Journal de Tintin appeared, a joint effort of Hergé and publisher Raymond Leblanc. In this first issue, 'L'Extraordinaire Odyssée de Corentin Feldoé' (1946-1947) took off, in black-and-white with effects in washed ink. The main hero is a young orphan boy from 18th century Brittany, who flees from his abusive and alcoholic uncle. He heads for great adventures as a stowaway, and ends up in India after the ship was attacked by pirates and wrecked. During his adventures he finds two unlikely sidekicks in the gorilla Belzébuth and the tiger Moloch. He also befriends an Indian boy called Kim, who will accompany him on all his further adventures. Other recurring allies are Princess Sa-Skya and her father, the Sultan of Minpore.

Les Nouvelles Aventures de Corentin (Dutch version from Kuifje #22, 1948)
Les Nouvelles Aventures de Corentin (Dutch version from Kuifje #22, 1948)

Since Cuvelier's artistic interests had not come from a passion for comics, he had difficulties crafting his story. He was helped for the plot by editor-in-chief Jacques van Melkebeke. Van Melkebeke also wrote the second adventure, 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Corentin Feldoë' (1947-1948), ook off immediately after the first one ended in late 1947, and brought our heroes to China. The adventures of young Corentin would remain an irregular feature in Tintin's pages until the 1970s. The early 'Corentin' episodes lack a solid story. They generally aim for dramatic effects, with Corentin and Kim falling from one adventure into the other. The chain of accidental happenings is filled with a great many kidnappings, malicious villains and other dangers. Later stories have more eye for the plot, but the overall theme depends on the scriptwriter on duty and the artist's mood.

Corentin chez les Peaux–Rouges
Corentin chez les Peaux–Rouges

Albert Weinberg helped with the script of the third story, 'Corentin chez les Peaux–Rouges' (1949-1950). This is an oddball in the collection, since it doesn't star the original Corentin, but his grandson. Corentin III and his mother are roaming the US prairies in search of Corentin's stepfather, an American army colonel called William. The story also stands out for its portrayal of Native Americans. Unlike most pop culture outings of the time, the "Indians" are not presented as enemies but as Corentin's allies.

Corentin et le Prince des Sables
Corentin et le Prince des Sables

When the story concluded Cuvelier took his first of many long breaks. Readers had to wait until 1958 before the next installment appeared in Tintin's pages. 'Le Poignard Magique' (1958-1960) features the original Corentin again, who has returned to India with Kim after their previous adventures in China. The two are also reunited with Belzébuth, Moloch and princess Sa-Skya. Her father, now the Radjah of Sonpie, sends Corentin on a quest to reclaim a magical dagger. The initial plot and script were written by Gine Victor, an acquaintance from Mons' artistic circles. She had no experience with comics whatsoever, and the collaboration ended as the artist was dissatisfied with the story's progression. This time Michel Greg stepped in to help out the struggling artist. After yet another long interlude, Corentin returned in 'Le Signe du Cobra' (1967), this time scripted by Jacques Acar. Jean Van Hamme provided the scripts for the two final completed stories, 'Corentin et le Prince des Sables' (1968-1969) and 'Le Royaume des Eaux Noires' (1973). The Van Hamme stories are mostly situated in Arabia, and the beautiful Zaïla is introduced as a new love interest for Corentin, who has aged considerably since his first appearance. In the final story, Corentin and Zaïla end up in the realm of a half human/half extraterrestial creature. These science-fiction elements were a far step from the magical and poetic atmosphere Cuvelier desired, and didn't satisfy the artist in the least.

Corentin - Le Royaume des Eaux Noires
Corentin - Le Royaume des Eaux Noires

Other work for Tintin
Cuvelier was a rather productive artist in the early years of Tintin magazine. He provided the magazine with many beautiful cover illustrations, often with his signature hero. He also illustrated 'À la mer' (1947), a serialization of a naval story by Captain Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883). He made illustrations for several other text stories in the following years, and created a series of imaginative advertising comic strips for Côte d'Or under the title 'La Légende du bon chocolat Côte d'Or' (1947). The more contemporary comic strip serial 'La Prodigieuse Invention du professeur Hyx' (1948-1949) also aimed at the promotion of this chocolat brand.

La Prodigieuse Invention du professeur Hyx

Art style
Cuvelier was one of the few authors of Tintin magazine who wasn't forced into Hergé's "Clear Line" straitjacket. His early black-and-white stories had a closer resemblance to 19th century etchings, although they lost most of their charm after being colorized for the album publications. When 'Corentin' was published directly in color from 1951 onwards, the artist applied a more refined drawing style with less use of shading. Unlike his friend and colleague Jacques Martin, of 'Alix' fame, Paul Cuvelier didn't care much for a solid documentation of the depicted time period. His visual memory allowed him to render believable surroundings for his characters, but his focus lay on the aesthetics of humans and animals, with their subtle expressions. He had a keen sense of anatomy and perspective, and managed to give his characters an elegant and almost sensual flair. Unfortunately Cuvelier's specialty was also his weakness. Cuvelier tended to choose the most elegant compositions, while sometimes the story requested a more dynamic approach. Cuvelier seemed in a constant struggle between his fine arts ambitions and regular dayjob. All throughout his career, he was plagued by self-doubt and fear of failure. His unhappiness with the work of some of his scriptwriters enhanced his love-hate relationship with the comics medium.

Flamme d'Argent by Paul Cuvelier
Flamme d'Argent #2 - Le Croise sans Nom

During his first excursion into fine arts, in 1951, Cuvelier established his own atelier in Mons, where he focused on a career in painting and sculpting. One of his early assignments was designing a tapestry for the UN headquarters in New York. He remained present in Tintin with illustrations for the western text story 'Texas Slim' (1952) by Marcel Artigues, although he was replaced by René Follet after a couple of episodes. In the following year he illustrated the text serial 'Bento Cheval sauvage' (1953) by Holesch Dita. He also illustrated two short historical comic stories; the first from a script by Gine Victor ('En ce temps–là', 1953); the second from his own plot ('Si l'Iliade m'était conté', 1956).

Wapi, by Paul Cuvelier
Wapi - Le Triangle d'Or

Flamme d'Argent, Wapi, Line
In the 1960s he was again a prominent staple in Tintin magazine, although he felt reluctant to resume 'Corentin'. He therefore worked on several new comics series during this period. The first one was 'Flamme d'Argent' (1960-1963), which was also based on some of the stories he used to tell his brothers. Michel Greg further developed the story about a Robin Hood-like troubadour, who stands up for the poor and the needy. Cuvelier showcased dynamic and inspired artwork, but the project stranded after three stories because the artist grew tired of it. At one point, the artist couple Fred and Liliane Funcken filled in for their friend when he was ill. Cuvelier subsequently turned to the Far West and ancient Native American legends for 'Wapi et le Triangle d'Or' (1962), a one-shot story scripted by Cuvelier's friend and colorist Benoit Boëlens under the pen name Benoi. 'Wapi' appeared one more time in 1966, in a short story written by Jacques Acar.

Line by Paul Cuvelier
Les Aventures de Line - Le Secret du Boucanier (1964)

In 1962 Cuvelier was also present in Tintin's sister magazine Line, which aimed at feminine readership. With Greg, he took over the title comic until the magazine's cancellation in 1963. The character Line was created in 1956 by writer Nicolas Goujon and illustrator Françoise Bertier. In the years that followed, several authors made their own interpretations; first Charles Nugue and André Gaudelette, and then the cartoonist Rol. Cuvelier and Greg continued Line's dynamic detective stories in Tintin between 1963 and 1965, with a final story, starring more matured Line, appearing in 1971-1972. One of the artists who have assisted Paul Cuvelier on 'Line' was Mittéï.

Line by Paul Cuvelier
Line - La Caravane de la Colère (1971)

Eroticism and Epoxy
The artist continued to see comics as a necessary way to earn money. His true heart lay in painting and sculpting, especially nudes which showcased his passion for the beauty and anatomy of the human body. Cuvelier's fine art was characterized by a sensuality which has been described as "slumbering eroticism". The same can be said about some of his comics. Even the juvenile heroes in his 'Corentin' stories are scantily clothed most of the time. The friendship between Corentin and Kim can be interpreted in the same homo-erotic subtext as the companionship between Jacques Martin's Alix and Enak. His final 'Line' story also featured a more sexy presentation of the heroine. The 1973 'Corentin' story 'Le Royaume des Eaux Noires' featured much nudity and hinted at a sexual relationship between the protagonist and Zaïla. By then, Cuvelier and Van Hamme had already created their groundbreaking erotic graphic novel 'Epoxy' (1968).

Epoxy, by Cuvelier
Epoxy

'Epoxy' was created in the wave of adult-oriented comics, which found its breeding ground in the American underground comix movement. The first generation that grew up with the post-war comics continued to embrace the medium, which opened up new possibilities for creators. Free from the restrictions of working for the children's press, authors could now aim their work at a mature audience. In Europe, magazines like Pilote and Hara-Kiri were at the vanguard of this new movement. Frenchman Jean-Claude Forest's sci-fi heroine 'Barbarella' (1962) was the first character that embodied the sexual revolution of the 1960s. In Belgium, Guy Peellaert had pioneered the comics eroticism with his stories 'Les Aventures de Jodelle' (1966) and 'Pravda, la survireuse' (1967), while Guido Crepax heralded in the "sexties" in Italy with his 'Valentina' (1965). Dutch authors Thé Tjong-Khing and Lo Hartog van Banda released their pop-art inspired graphic novel with the sexy 'Iris' in 1968. Cuvelier and Van Hamme's 'Epoxy' fully presented the artist's qualities for sensual artwork, against a story inspired by Greek mythology. Created in 1967, the album was released by the Paris-based Belgian publisher Eric Losfeld in the revolutionary month of May 1968. It initially didn't catch much attention, but in later years its historical importance was recognized for being one of the first independent and fully erotic Belgian comics. It has been re-issued in later years by Horus (1977), Marcus (1981), Clue Circle (1985), Éditions Lefrancq (1997) and Le Lombard (2003). German and Scandinavian translations of 'Epoxy' were however published without the knowledge and consent of the authors, who consequently never received royalties from these editions.

Epoxy by Paul Cuvelier
Epoxy

Final years
Paul Cuvelier spent the final years of his life in poverty, and in a constant search of artistic fulfillment. A final attempt to pick up 'Corentin' was made in cooperation with Jacques Martin, who wrote the script for 'Corentin et l'Ogre Rouge' (1973). Cuvelier abandoned the project after the first pages, which were published posthumously in the monography 'Paul Cuvelier: Corentin et les chemins du merveilleux' by Philippe Goddin in 1984. Martin later used the plot for the 'Alix' story 'Les Proies du Volcan' (1978). Jacques Martin also picked Cuvelier as his first choice to draw his historical comics series about French serial killer Gilles de Rais. Cuvelier was however not interested, and was revived by Martin and Jean Pleyers for the series 'Xan' (1978, later renamed to 'Jhen'). Pleyers was Cuvelier's pupil during his final years. In an interview in L'Est Républicain in 1993, Pleyers recalled squatting with Paul Cuvelier during most of the 1970s, living in "old embassies, surrounded by homosexual drug addicts". Another assistant of Cuvelier was the Spanish artist Juan Lopez de Uralde, who helped him with the last pages of 'Corentin et le Prince des Sables' in the late 1960s. Paul Cuvelier's final work included some erotic illustrations for Privé magazine in 1975, and the preparations of an exposition with the theme "Fillettes" ("little girls"). The artist however passed away in 1978 in Charleroi at the age of 54 after years of declining health.

Painting by Paul Cuvelier
Painting by Paul Cuvelier

Legacy and influence
'Corentin' is still considered one of the most important works in Franco-Belgian comics history, even though its quality and consistency have been variable. Publisher Le Lombard had published Corentin's adventures in album format since 1950. The collection was relaunched in 1992 with new colorizations by Marc-Renier and Marie-Noëlle Bastin. The publisher collected the series in two large volumes in 2010. The character was even revived in 2016 with the album 'Les Trois perles de Sa-Skya'. The artwork was provided by Jacques Martin's former co-worker Christophe Simon, while the plot was a reworking of a novel Jean Van Hamme had written with the characters for one of Tintin's pocket publications back in the 1970s. However, Cuvelier refused any participation with the work, since he felt Van Hamme took too much liberty with Corentin's character traits. It also created some continuity errors in connection with the 1949 Far West excursion starring the protagonist's offspring. The adventures of 'Corentin' have furthermore been adapted into an animated TV series called 'Les Voyages de Corentin' (1993-1998). Twenty-six episodes were produced by Belvision in cooperation with Média-Film and Saban International. Animation veteran Picha was involved with the project while Jean van Hamme was screenwriter. Writer Jean Cheville and illustrator Nadine Forster adapted four episodes into a series of illustrated books for Lombard in 1995.

Tintin cover by Paul CuvelierTintin cover by Paul Cuvelier

Despite his constant doubts and dissatisfaction, Paul Cuvelier remains an influence on several artists to this day. First of all, artists like Tibet and Jean Graton received his help in drawing animal characters during the early stages of their careers. Jean Pleyers has always kept his mentor in high esteem, while artists such as Philippe Delaby, Vincent Hénin and Tome have also mentioned him as an influence. French comic book artist Michel Rouge even named his son after Cuvelier's signature character, and Corentin Rouge has become a comics artist in his own right. The Flemish artists Karel Verschuere and Frank Sels took their inspiration to the limit and copied several of Cuvelier's western-oriented panels in their bulk productions. Another less flattering form of "inspiration" appeared in Zorro-Jeudi Magazine of the French publisher Chapelle. Cuvelier's 'Corentin' stories appeared under the title 'Robin l'Intrépide' from 1947 onwards, but then traced by Jean Pape. André Oulié reworked the character into a Tarzan-like jungle hero (who kept the name Robin Feldoë) and continued his adventures until 1954. Other artists who have drawn this imitation are Maurice Toussaint, Pierre Chivot and Maxime Roubinet.

Paul Cuvelier was awarded the Prix Saint-Michel for his high quality realistic artwork in 1974. Since 1989 he is one of the few Belgian comics pioneers to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. 

Books about Paul Cuvelier
Historian Philippe Goddin compiled two extensive and highly recommended books about the artist: 'L'Aventure Artistique' (Magic Strip, 1981) and 'Corentin et les Chemins du Merveilleux' (Lombard, 1984).

Paul Cuvelier
Paul Cuvelier in his atelier in Brussels in 1964 (Photo © F. Bannett)

Series and books by Paul Cuvelier in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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