Les Pieds Nickelés, by Louis Forton

Louis Forton is one of the pioneers of French comics and the creator of the classic series 'Les Pieds Nickelés' (1908-1934) and 'Bibi Fricotin' (1924-1934). He was one of the major contributors to the early 20th century magazines Le Petit Illustré and L'Épatant, alongside such contemporaries as Louis Tybalt, Raoul Thomen, Marcel Arnac and E. Nicolson. Forton was renowned for his amusing drawing style and subversive streak, particularly in his signature series 'Les Pieds Nickelés'. The latter often took a stance against aristocrats and politicians and has therefore remained a favorite among fans of satire. Countless comics artists have rebooted the series over the decades. Even today - more than a century old (!) - it's still in production, making it the second longest-running French comics series after Jo Valle's 'L'Espiègle Lili' (1909-1998), and one of the longest-running comics series period! Together with Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine' (1905), Forton's 'Les Pieds Nickelés' were at the vanguard of the modern French comic strip with recurring characters.

Louis Adolphe Forton was born in Sées, Orne, in 1879. As the son of a horse salesman it was only natural that he originally worked as a racehorse jockey. During one of these races he met the Offenstadt brothers, who were well known magazine publishers at the time (a firm later known as the Société Parissienne d'Édition). They planned to launch a children's magazine and so, by May 1904, Forton debuted as a graphic artist in their magazine L'Illustré. It was here that he published his first comic strip, 'L'Histoire du Sire de Ciremolle' (1904). The magazine folded only two years later, but was quickly replaced by Le Petit Illustré in November 1906. Forton became one of the leading contributors to this magazine. During the same period, he made humorous illustrations for the military magazines La Vie en Culotte Rouge and La Vie de Garnison. He was also present in Polichinelle, published by Flammarion, and Le Petit Illustré Amusant, published by Fayard. Forton also appeared in L'American Illustré by the Parisian Librairie Mondiale during its 40-issue run in 1907-1908. He used Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms like Tom Hatt, Tommy Jackson and W. Paddock for short stories and creations like 'Isidore Mac Aron', 'Anatole Fricotard' and 'Aventures de Séraphin Laricot'.

Séraphin Laricot

In April 1908, he also became the main artist of L'Épatant, a magazine that had just been launched by Offenstadt (the first issue was a free supplement to Le Petit Journal). Forton created numerous covers and illustrations. In the ninth issue of 4 June 1908 the first episode of 'Les Pieds Nickelés' was published there too. The series stars three work-shy vagabonds. The title refers to their sensitive feet "which shouldn't be used for any hard or difficult work", as they claim. The tramps consist of three men: Ribouldingue, Filochard and Croquignol. Ribouldingue has a black beard. Filochard wears a moustache and has an eyepatch. Croquignol is the bald and pointy nosed-leader of the gang. Many storylines feature them looking for food or money and getting into trouble for it. Their main adversaries are police chief Croquenot and Inspector Duflair who always try to arrest them. The series was originally published in text comics format, with the text written underneath the images, as was common in Europe during the early 20th century. Forton went through great lengths to convince his editors to be allowed to use speech balloons.


Les Pieds Nickelés contre le Kaiser

Right from the start 'Les Pieds Nickelés' were a success. Readers liked the trio's humorous adventures, which often ridiculed the police, judges, aristocrats, military officers and politicians. Some were even caricatures of real-life rich and famous people, like the President of France and the English king. While Forton apparently wasn't drafted during the First World War he did let his characters join the military during the conflict. They fought the German army ("Les Boches") and even Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. Thanks to their "anarchic" reputation and tendency to keep up with the times, 'Les Pieds Nickelés' were guaranteed a long lifespan. They inspired various book collections from 1915 on. In 1917 and 1918 French animation pioneer Emile Cohl made five short animated films with 'Les Pieds Nickelés' for the Société Éclair.


Les Pieds Nickelés

Although he had a big production, Louis Forton still took time off to enjoy himself. He worked during the morning, after which he headed for the horse races in Paris. 'Les Pieds Nickéles' was frequently interrupted as a result, and readers of L'Épatant often had to wait several weeks until the series was continued. Despite these delays, Louis Forton also created other comics during his lifetime. He continued to draw for La Vie de Garnison, as well as Mon Copain du Dimanche (1911), Le Croix d'Honneur (1918), Fillette and Le Pêle-Mêle (1924). He also made picture stories for both L'Épatant and Le Petit Illustré under the pen name Piccolo. 

Bibi Fricotin by Louis Forton

In 1924, he created 'Bibi Fricotin' in Le Petit Illustré. The character was initially a puny and lazy farm hand, who worked for his uncle Isidore and enjoyed playing pendable tricks on his entourage. Bibi quickly evolved into a more quick-witted and resourceful kid, who went on exotic adventures all across the world. The character subsequently joined a circus, made a trip around the world, and worked as a journalist and detective. In 1925 Forton created 'Ploum' (1925) for L'Épatant, based on the American comedian Monty Banks. Forton cooperated on the advertising magazine La Revue du Cires Sultanes from 1931 to 1934, together with artists like Gaston Callaud, Maurice Cuvillier and Tybalt.

Bibi Fricotin by Louis FortonBibi Fricotin by Louis Forton

The great comics artist Louis Forton passed away in 1934 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye after a medical operation. Forton had drawn both 'Les Pieds Nickelés' and 'Bibi Fricotin' until his death, and both series have been continued in decades to come. 'Les Pieds Nickelés' was at first briefly continued by Aristide Perré (1934-1938) and Albert Georges Badert (1938-1940). After World War II, illustrator René Pellos brought the series to new heights from 1948 until 1981, often in collaboration with scriptwriter Roland de Montaubert. Pellos fleshed out the characters more. He made Ribouldingue a sympathetic doofus, Filochard the short-tempered one and Croquignol the smartest of the three. He also gave them distinctive clothing and new designs. He remained the series' principal illustrator for four decades, with only a brief interval between 1953 and 1954 when Pierre Lacroix made three stories with the characters. During this period the franchise was also adapted for live action cinema. Marcel Aboulker directed the comedy film 'Les Aventures des Pieds-Nickelés' (1948), which was followed by a sequel two years later: 'Le Trésor des Pieds-Nickelés' (1950). Fourteen years later, another film adaptation came out: 'Les Pieds Nickelés' (1964), directed by Jean-Claude Chambon.

In the 1980s 'Les Pieds Nickelés' was continued by respectively Jean-Louis Pesch (1981), Jacarbo and Serge Saint-Michel (1982-1983), Jicka (1984-1988), Laval, Claderes and Gen-Clo (1988). Three years later Michel Rodrigue, aided by Mike Deporter and Thierry Capezzone, created a reboot named 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Pieds Nickéles' for Vents d'Ouest (1991-1992). André Juillard and Didier Convard took a more personal shot at it with 'Les Pieds Nickelés - Demain Sera Un Autre Jour' (Dargaud, 1999). The now one century old franchise lay dormant throughout the first decade of the 21st century, but was revived in 2009 by Trap and Stéphane Oiry for Delcourt.

comic art by Piccolofrom Fillette, by Louis Forton

In 2010 various artists were asked to create their own take on the eponymous characters. This lead to a unique book featuring contributions from Michaël Baril, Aurélien Bédéneau, Fabien Bertrand, Paul Burckel, Ced, Clotka, Dib, François Duprat, Frédéric Duprat, Elric, Filak, Stéphane Girod, Olivier Ka, Loco, Lommsek, Alejandro Milà, Pasto, Radi, Loïc Senan, Thibaut Soulcié, Unter, Waltch, Wayne, Wouzit, Carali, Caza, Hardy, Hugot, Lamorthe, Laurel, Étienne Lécroart, Thierry Martin, O'Groj, Obion, Nancy Peña, Jeff Pourquié, Olivier Schwartz, Al Séverin, Walthéry and Wasterlain. Pascal Rabaté designed the cover. Since the 2010s Philippe Riche, Richard Malka, Ptiluc, Luz, Corteggiani, Herlé, Gérald Forton (the artist's grandson!), Julien Moca, Jihel, J.P. Tiberi and Bévé have also created their own versions of the classic trio.

Les Pieds Nickeles by Louis Forton
Les Pieds Nickelés ont la belle vie

'Bibi Fricotin' was continued after Forton's death by Gaston Callaud until the outbreak of World War II in 1940. In 1947 the series was rebooted by Pierre Lacroix until 1988. In 1950 he teamed Bibi up with a black boy, Razibus Zouzou. One year Marcel Blistène also directed a film adaptation, 'Bibi Fricotin' (1951), which featured a still unknown Louis de Funés in a small role. Lacroix was assisted by Maric, René Lortac and Roland De Montaubert for the scripts. Like with 'Les Pieds Nickélés', modern renditions of the series have been made in recent years. Writer André Manguin and artist Claude Turier made a new book called 'Bibi Fricotin et les Sumos' for Éditions Aarsinoë in 2010. Grandson Gérald Forton and writer Stephan Borrero also made a new book with the character for Éditions Joe in 2014.

The Société Parissienne d'Édition gave both Forton's characters their own magazines. Le Journal des Pieds Nickélés appeared from 1948 to 1951, and then from 1964 to 1976, while Le Journal de Bibi Fricotin ran from 1965 to 1976.

Louis Forton

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