Genie des Alpages, by F'Murr
La Génie des Alpages

F'murr (or F'murrr) was a French comics artist who was part of the new generation of humoristic cartoonists who emerged in the 1970s. He is best known for his absurd and philosophical signature series 'Le Génie des Alpages' (1973-2007), which features a shepherd, his dog and various eccentric anthropomorphic characters in an Alpine setting. The series is a wonderful display of imagination with no boundaries. The absurd tone allows plots to go anywhere. The comic strip developed a cult following for its poetic and surreal setting, full of odd characters, verbal wordplay and literary allusions. F'murr was furthermore the creator of 'Contes à Rebours' (1971-1972), which parodied fairy tales. The Middle Ages seemed to be his favorite era, as many of his other series were set during this time period, including 'Jehanne d' Arc' (1976-1984), 'Robin des Boîtes' (1985), 'Le Pauvre Chevalier' (1990) and 'Les Aveugles' (1991). An oddity in his already bizarre bibliography was 'Histoires Déplacées' (1985-1987), which satirized the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (1979-1989). Apart from the thought-provoking and humorous content, F'murr's oeuvre is also interesting for its experimental spirit. He often tried out new lay-outs, backgrounds, characters and ideas to compliment his loose narratives. Working quietly for most of his career, F'murr was very much an artist in his own little wonderful universe.

Les Aveugles by F'Murr
Les Aveugles

Early life
He was born in 1946 in Paris as Richard Peyzaret. As a child he ranked Hergé, René Goscinny, Marcel Gotlib, Chaval, Rudolph Dirks, and André Franquin among his main artistic influences. Later in life he also expressed admiration for Hugo Pratt, Nikita Mandryka, Jean-Claude Forest, José Muñoz, Carlos Sampayo, George Herriman, Cliff Sterrett, Billy DeBeck, Jacques Tardi, Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar and Japanese art. He was a huge bibliophile with a strong preference for novelists like Junichiro Tanizaki, Pierre Corneille, Laurence Sterne, Halldór Laxness, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, François Rabelais, Alfred Jarry and E.T.A. Hoffmann. The latter writer also inspired his pseudonym, which was derived from the tale of 'Le Chat Murr' (1819-1821), from his famous 'Tales of Hoffmann'. F'murr added an "F" to make the name a bit more difficult to pronounce and an extra "R" to confuse people who had to copy it. Depending on his mood he sometimes spelled his pseudonym with one or two R's extra.

Contes à Rebours
He studied Applied Arts at the École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré. After graduation he joined L'Atelier 63, better known as the studio of Raymond Poïvet, the creator of the famous science fiction series 'Les Pionniers de l'Espérance'. This brought him into contact with other well known cartoonists, including Dimitri, Gigi and Mandryka. Peyzaret quickly grew tired of working in a studio, where he had to constantly crank out gags and stories and redraw the same backgrounds over and over. Mandryka suggested Peyzaret to apply for a job at the magazine Pif. He did so, but since it was a children's magazine the editors forced everyone to keep their stories simple. This was never Peyzaret's goal so he went to Pilote instead. Pilote was a youth magazine too, but it at least offered space for more mature comics as well. Chief editor René Goscinny liked his drawings and thus Peyzaret made his debut in Pilote with the gag series 'Contes à Rebours' ("Backwards Tales", 1971-1972). These were humoristic deconstructions of fairy tales.

Contes à Rebours by F'Murr
Contes à Rebours (Pilote #630)

The 'Contes à Rebours' amused readers since everyone grew up with fairy tales and was thus familiar with the source material. This gave F'murr leeway to experiment with the set-up. He basically retold the same fairy tales over and over, but with clever and funny variations. One of his favorite targets was 'Little Red Riding Hood'. He wrote and drew so many different versions of it that they were published in one book, 'Au Loup!' (1974), dedicated to the Big Bad Wolf. In one episode the wolf tries to outsmart Little Red Riding Hood by going through all the familiar motions, only as quick as possible. He breaks his previous "record" perfectly, but didn't count on the young girl's brawny brother who enters grandmother's house and beats him up. In another story grandmother poisons the poor mammal, adding him to "her collection". F'murr drew every story in a playful, scribbly style. He made use of clever verbal puns and often layered his narratives with subplots. The Big Bad Wolf is somewhat comparable to Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote in that he always loses, but audiences still sympathize with him.

Le Génie des Alpages by F'Murr
Le Génie des Alpages

Le Génie des Alpages
After a few years Goscinny felt that 'Contes à Rebours' became a bit worn. F'murr was therefore motivated to create a new comic. On 11 January 1973 his signature series 'Le Génie des Alpages' (1973-2007) first appeared in print in Pilote. It was comparable to its predecessor in the sense that it also starred anthropomorphic animals and was set in a never-changing location, though the actions differed from episode to episode. The gag comic takes place in the Swiss Alps, where F'murr had taken a holiday in the company of his sister. The artist had observed a shepherd herding his sheep and started imagining what their conversations might be like. Therefore 'Le Génie des Alpages' also features an old shepherd. However, this shepherd, who never received a name, doesn't radiate much charisma. None of his animals obey him. The only thing he's good at is lynching any tourist who visits the mountain top. After five years F'murr replaced the character with his trainee, Athanase Percevaive. This beret-and-pullover-wearing shepherd got along far better with the surrounding animals. Athanase too received a companion: a young shepherdess who also remained nameless.

Le Génie des Alpages by F'Murr
Le Génie des Alpages

Another anonymous protagonist is the shepherd's dog, whose eyes are always covered by his fur. The canine walks around on two feet and expresses himself in highly cultivated language. He is somewhat of a philosopher, with the wisdom and observation talent of a guru. The dog has a sidekick of his own, which happens to be a lion! The sheep are headed by Romuald, a pompous frustrated black ram whom nobody takes seriously. F'murr had a strong dislike of conformity, clichés and generic ideas. Rather than just draw a flock of random sheep like most cartoonists would he gave them all distinct designs, personalities and names. Fans have counted no less than 200 (!) individualized sheep in his universe. Several are named after famous historical and cultural characters like Bernadette Soubirous, Louis Blériot, G.K. Chesterton, Frédéric Chopin, Oliver Cromwell, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Sand and Thomas of Aquino. One of them, Goscinaëlle, is a nod to René Goscinny. Out of all these woolly mammals Tombed-Camionette became the most prominent recurring character. Like his name explains the sheep fell from a truck and was discovered by all the other sheep. Tombed-Camionette is a Suffolk sheep and therefore acts and talks like a stereotypical Englishman.

Le Génie des Alpages
Le Génie des Alpages

If this bizarre menagerie wasn't enough, 'Le Génie des Alpages' also features the dim-witted St. Bernhard's dog Berthold, Kattarsis the sphinx, Marconi the seal, Dorothée the bear, a Buddhist monk from the monastery of Zürich, a bunch of snakes, sheep grabbing eagles, a fox unaware what a chicken looks like and the Grim Reaper who doesn't look like a walking skeleton but more like an attractive female. Cameos of Plato, Charlemagne, Galileo Galilei, Elizabeth II, ayatollah Khomeini, Hergé's Tintin, Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, Charles M. Schulz' Snoopy, Santa Claus, the Knights who say "Ni" from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' (1975) and God are not uncommon either. The mountainous area may look idyllic and pastoral, but is still far from a normal place. Basically anything can happen. In one gag the fog is able to play accordion to entertain the mountains, while grass is able to walk around. Another episode has the shepherd meet his long-dead father, though it turns out the dog had merely put marijuana in his master's pipe, which made him hallucinate. In another episode the nameless dog protagonist asks Einstein the sheep whether he knows what his name is? Since even the all-knowing Einstein has no clue the entire comic strip suddenly vanishes from existence... though only for a brief moment.

Le Génie des Alpages by F'Murr
Le Génie des Alpages

The series is not very reliant on plot. Most episodes take two pages but revolve around the interactions between the characters. For F'murr the format dictated the creation, rather than the other way around. The artist often started out from the dialogue or one visual idea. He might know the ending or the start, but rarely knew beforehand what would happen in between? That way he also surprised himself. In a 2004 interview published in Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée, F'murr explained that he saw all comics essentially as collages. All of them put images in front of one another. Even if these images have no connection with each other they still create a coherent discourse. Since the narratives weren't very important to him F'murr thought more in images and characters. A non-linear story was more difficult to think up, but generally more interesting than a linear one.

Le Génie des Alpages by F'Murr
Le Génie des Alpages

But 'Le Génie des Alpages' is more than just random nonsense: it follows a certain stream-of-consciousness. F'murr was strongly inspired by The Marx Brothers, Monty Python and the pictures of Luis Buñuel. Certain episodes reference cultural classics, like Herman Melville's novel 'Moby Dick', the Fables of De La Fontaine, 'El Cid' by Pierre Corneille, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's 'The Little Prince' or Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's 'The Silver Surfer'. The large cast often engages in philosophical and mystical discussions with socio-political commentary, but comedy lurks behind every corner. It can range from clever wordplay to visual gags which break the fourth wall. F'murr felt that all thought-provoking discussions could benefit from a little comedy. F'murr experimented with lay-out and panels to get his ideas across. Some episodes are very dialogue-heavy, while others are almost pantomime. The artist was myopic and refused to wear glasses throughout a large part of his life. This explains his more sketchy graphic style rather than very precise and elaborate illustrations. This gives 'Le Génie des Alpages' an unpredictable atmosphere and visual variation rarely experienced in gag comics. He created his own little universe which fans love to revisit time and time again.

Le Génie des Alpages by F'Murr
Le Génie des Alpages

'Le Génie des Alpages' remained a staple of Pilote until the magazine went bankrupt in 1989. After that date new episodes still appeared, but directly in album format. The final one was published in 2007. In total 14 albums are available with one, 'Bêêêêstres of le Génies des Alpages' (2008) a compilation of the best episodes. The album 'Barre-toi de mon Herbe' (1977) won the 1978 award for "Best French Humoristic Comic Series" at the Festival of Angoulême. One of the side characters in 'Le Génie des Alpages', Naphtalène, eventually received her own spin-off series: 'Naphtalène' (1974-1975) which was also prepublished in Pilote. 'Le Génie des Alpages' was also an unexpected success in Norway, where it ran under the title 'Ullkorn', and in Denmark where readers knew it as 'Fårfængelighedens marked'.

Jehanne d'Arc by F'Murr
Jehanne d'Arc

Jehanne d'Arc and other series
F'murr also created other series. 'Porfirio et Gabriel' (1974-1976) ran in Le Canard Sauvage and later in Circus. In the latter magazine one could also find his series 'Brahms' (1975-1976). In 1976 F'murr created 'Jehanne d'Arc' (1976-1984), a humorous comic strip set in the Middle Ages. It originally appeared in Métal Hurlant and its English counterpart Heavy Metal, but was later transferred to Á Suivre, where it ran from 1978 on until 1984. 'Jehanne d'Arc' is a mix between history and fantasy. The title character interacts just as easily with historical contemporaries like criminal Gilles de Rais as with Attila the Hun, who lived centuries before de Rais was even born! Even mammoths and extra-terrestrials aren't out of the ordinary in this medieval comic strip. From 1982 on the focus of 'Jehanne d'Arc' changed to Jeanne's son Timofort, nicknamed 'Tim Galère', thus prompting a title change: 'Le Fils de Jehanne d'Arque' (1982-1984). In 1985 F'murr drew a parody of Robin Hood for Fluide Glacial named 'Robin des Boîtes' (1985), which shouldn't be confused with Turk and De Groot's 'Robin Dubois' (1969).

Robin des Boites by F'Murr
Robin des Boîtes

For a few memorable months in 1977 the Belgian children's magazine Spirou featured an adult supplement magazine named Le Trombone Illustré, at the initiative of André Franquin and Yvan Delporte. It featured more mature comics, one of them F'murr's 'Les Mirrois de Marguerite' and 'Ada et Lolli' (1977). The same year his comic strip 'L'Père Raoul et Niace Podouce' (1977) ran in Ah! Nana, while 'Le Petit Tarot de F'murr' (1978) was published in Pilote. The cartoon collection 'Vingt Dieux, c'est le Synode' was published in book format by Artefact in 1977. In 1983 F'murr made a contribution to 'Tintin - Pastiches, parodies & pirates' (1983), a comic book with other artists' interpretations of Hergé's 'Tintin'.


Vingt Dieux, c'est le Synode

F'murr showed himself at his most political when he created 'Histoires Déplacées' (1985-1987) for Á Suivre. The comic strip offered his personal view about the Russian-Afghan War (1979-1989), but used in a satirical context. Contrary to the war 'Histoires Déplacées' didn't last long. After two years it already came to an end and was published in book format as 'Le Char de l'État Dérape sur le Sentier de la Guerre' (1987). F'murr said in an interview that the subject matter started to depress him and he thus preferred to terminate it. In 1988 F'murr created a parody of Spirou titled 'Spirella, Mangeuse d'Écureuils' (1988), which was published by Khani.

Spirella by F'Murr

Another series for A Suivre was 'Le Pauvre Chevalier' (1990), a parody of comics about heroic knights. The series won the 1991 Prix Alph-Art for Humoristic comic strip at the Festival of Angoulême. The same year A Suivre published 'Les Aveugles' (1991), a comic strip about a bunch of blind beggars, inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder's famous painting 'The Blind Leading The Blind'. In 1994 F'murr participated with the collective Raaan, published by L'Assocation. The same year he created 'Danaé' in L'Argent Roi, published by Autrement. In 2006 he made a contribution to the album 'Vive La Politique' (2006). F'murr passed away in 2018 in Paris at the age of 72.

Le Pauvre Chevalier by F'Murr
Le Pauvre Chevalier

Series and books by F'murr in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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