Le Flagada, by Degotte

Charles Degotte was a Belgian comics and lay-out artist who had a long career at Spirou magazine. He is best known as the creator of the yellow 'Flagada' bird (1961-1993), who originated in the magazine's fold-in mini books section. Another long-running series of his hand was the hotrod gag comic 'Les Motards' (1984-1993). Degotte was also active as a children's book writer, illustrator and TV animator.

Early life and animation career
Born in 1933 in Verviers, where he also attended the local art academy. Degotte initially worked in the decoration atelier in the Inno department store in Brussels. Fellow Verviers citizen Raymond Macherot helped him compile a portfolio, which led to his employment by publishing house Dupuis in 1960. He began his long association with the Marcinelle-based publisher at its animation department TVA Dupuis, where he worked alongside studio chief Eddy Ryssack, director Jean Delire, camera man Raoul Cauvin and fellow artists Vivian Miessen and Michel Matagne, among other people. Degotte served as animator on the first adaptations of Peyo's 'Smurfs' for Walloon television (1961), and the more experimental animated shorts 'Teeth is Money' (1962) and 'Le Crocodile Majuscule' (1964). By 1968 he was assigned with the lay-outs of the Dupuis magazine Télé-Moustique, and shortly afterwards that of the comic magazine Spirou as well.

Spirou mini-books
From the start of his employment with Dupuis, Charles Degotte had appeared in the pages of Spirou with comics stories and later also illustrations. Like many of the Dupuis staff artists, his stories were initially limited to the special centrefold mini-books, which had been introduced by art director Maurice Rosy and editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte a couple of years earlier. Starting in 1961, Degotte did regular contributions to the section, either alone or in cooperation with his studio colleagues. With fellow TVA members Cauvin, Matagne and Ryssack he produced the booklets 'Manque de pot' (1964) and 'Le Gâteau du Roy' (1965) under the joint signature Desquatre (litteraly, "The Four"), for instance. Among Degotte's own mini-books are several one-shot stories, starring wizards ('L'Enchanteur Désenchanté', 1961), dictators ('¡Viva Patata!', 1961) and movie makers ('Ruée sur le désert', 1962). His very first contribution however introduced the character he would become mostly associated with: the Flagada.

First Flagada comic, by Charles DegotteFirst Flagada comic, by Charles Degotte

'Prenez garde au Flagada' was published in Spirou issue #1196 of 16 March 1961. The main hero was Alcide Citrix, a hunter of rare animal species. His prey was the Flagada, a wacky yellow bird who flies through a a propeller on his tail and lives on a tropical deserted island. His main hobby is relaxing and snacking the island's "pignouf" fruits. The characters reappeared in sporadic stories until Degotte's publication rhythm increased in 1966. Alcide had by now grown to like the lush life on a tropical island, and rather hangs around in a hammock instead of chasing the Flagada. The two even became the best of friends, filling their days exploring the island's mysteries or protecting their paradise from outside threats. Alcide however still has to counter the bird's anarchic behavior with his logic, while on the other hand the Flagada enjoys ridiculing his human friend with pranks and wacky puns. The cast is later expanded with Professor Trucmuche, who uses the island as testing ground for his crazy and dangerous inventions, and the lazy and clumsy blue cormorant Émile, who is unable to catch any fish and is lovingly nurtured by the Flagada.

Le Flagada by Charles Degotte

The Flagada's mostly slapstick adventures continued in the mini-books section until 1971. Between 1968 and 1974, Degotte additionally made a series of gags called 'Le Flagada et les Pépins de la Pêche', which centered around the character's attempts at fishing. In 1972 the Flagada made its definitive transition outside of the mini-books into Spirou's regular pages. Until 1983 Alcide, Émile and the Flagada frequently starred in gags, short stories and four longer serials, 'Requin, Flotte et Fantaisie' (1978), 'Émilius le terrible' (1979), 'L'Île de Nivapapapa' (1981) and 'Le Flagada et le Martin–bêcheur' (1982). A new short story was published in Spirou in 1987, and a final gag page in 1988. In the late 1970s Bom helped Degotte out with his scripts, but in the end the artist preferred working alone.

Despite its run in Spirou's pages of over 25 years, Éditions Dupuis never rewarded the bird with its own album series. This however didn't make the character any less emblematic. The Flagada remains an icon in Franco-Belgian comics nonetheless. If not for his own adventures, then for the many tributes made by André Franquin in his 'Gaston' gags. Franquin was a big fan of the character, and often drew the yellow bird on walls, as a piece of merchandise, and a even as a costume for his goofing office clerk in a 'Gaston' gag collected in the album 'Le Géant de la Gaffe'. An example of the mutual respect between him and Degotte, who had in turn modelled the Flagada after Franquin's Marsupilami in the first place! In a special retro issue of Spirou magazine (#2300, 1982), the rebellious Yann and Conrad made a parody of Franquin's famous story 'Le Nid des Marsupilamis' (1956), called 'Le Nid des Flagadas', which had Degotte's 'Flagada' in the leading role instead of the Marsupilami. It wasn't until 1981 that Éditions Pepperland issued the first book collection of some of Degotte's early 'Flagada' mini-books stories, followed in 1989 by an album of 'Emilius le Terrible' through M.C. Productions.

Les Motards by Charles Degotte

Les Motards
In 1984, Degotte dropped his beloved character and shifted from the tropics to the city for a new gag series full of slapstick humor and clever wordplay. A motorcyclist himself, the author's new project was a gag series about a good natured biker gang called 'Les Motards' (1984-1993). The large cast consists of anthropomorphic birds, all with their own biking interest or speciality. Olaf, for instance, is the sidecar specialist, who often shows up with absurd creations. Billy the Kick is a DIY genius, and Lafrime the show-off, who rides large American bikes. Spidi is the group's hotrod, while Gamelle spends more time crumpled on the asphalt than on his bike. And these are but a few. Stand-out character is however the naïve Duhon, a large good-natured fellow whose yellow "I LOVE" T-shirts always reflect his mood or thoughts in pure 'Yellow Kid' style. Dupuis collected the series in ten books between 1986 and 1993. The series also inspired the editorial section 'Essai Motard' (1986-1987), which was written by Geo Salmon and illustrated by Degotte.

'Pat Rolman, de Sint-Bernard van de Weg', comic strip for the Belgian roadside assistance service. Ran in Touring Wegenhulp in 1986-1987, original(?) French name is unknown (strip discovered by Chris Mouton).

Additional work
In addition to his comic series, Degotte wrote and illustrated several children's booklets in Dupuis' Collection du Carrousel. He wrote and drew three booklets with the hedgehog Bigoudi (1966-1967), the latter two in cooperation with Michel Matagne: 'Bigoudi le Petit Hérisson' (1966), 'Bigoudi, le Hérisson Frisé, et Julie la Taupe qui voulait pêcher la Lune' (1967) and 'Le Ballon de Bigoudi' (1967). Together with his wife Lucy Degotte, he contributed the more educational installments 'A.B.C. des Animaux' (1967) and 'J'apprends à Compter' (1970). Charles Degotte additionally wrote the text for 'Antoine et l'anneau magique' (1968, illustrations by Will), 'Grand Coq' (1969, illustrations by Rémy Dubois) and two volumes starring Jean Roba's comic characters 'Boule & Bill': 'Boule et Bill, la maison perdue' (1968) and 'Boule et Bill à la montagne' (1969), both with illustrations by Roba.

He additionally developed the characters 'Les Zippies' for Belgian television, and had his own funny animal cartoon series called 'Zoodingue à Degotte' (1983-1985) in Spirou.

In Spirou/Robbedoes #1772 (1972), Degotte appeared alongside Émile and the Flagada in a photo comic, made in cooperation with Vivian Miessen and photographer Gérald Frydman.

Personal life and death
Charles Degotte continued to do lay-out work for Spirou until his pre-pension in the early 1990s. Having suffered from manic depression, the author eventually commited suicide on 20 April 1993. Beloved within both the comics and the biker world, his legacy is far from forgotten. Éditions Dargaud posthumously collected several of Degotte's later-day 'Flagada' stories in a volume of their 'Les Classiques de Rire' collection in 1996. The small French label Le Coffre à BD compiled the complete 'Flagada' run in eight volumes between 2007 and 2011, and then continued with 'Les Motards' in 2011. Tome and Janry remembered their old friend in a tribute comic called 'L'Illustre Inconnu', which appeared in Spirou #3852 of 8 February 2012. In the introduction to the 1996 Dargaud collection, Degotte's widow Luce explained that her husband appeared as a sociable person to outsiders, but that he actually preferred the solitude of his atelier, where he devoted his time to the deserted island of his Flagada, while listening to records with French chansonniers and American jazz legends.

Philippe Bercovici and Zidrou revived 'Le Flagada' for two new albums published by Glénat in 2008 and 2009. Instead of returning to Degotte's original setting, the new authors decided to create a new narrative about the quest of a young girl and her father who try to find the mythical bird.

Charles Degotte was the father of Belgian actor, comedian, screenwriter and director Charlie Degotte (1962), who is known for his atypical and at times surreal productions and performances.

Les Motards by Charles Degotte

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