Zoo #3 (2007).

Frank Pé is a Belgian artist, noted for his philosophical and spiritual comics, centered around the relationships between humans, animals and their surroundings. Both his trademark series about the student 'Broussaille' (with writer Bom, 1978-2003) and the acclaimed trilogy 'Zoo' (co-written with Philippe Bonifay, 1994-2007) feature not only multi-layered human characters, but also animals with strong, visual characteristics and imaginative, almost lively settings. In his limited oeuvre, the meticulous Pé also applied these widely praised skills on existing comics franchises, for instance Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' and André Franquin's rendition of the Franco-Belgian classic 'Spirou et Fantasio' (with writer Zidrou).

Early life and education
Frank Pé was born in 1956 in Ixelles, one of Brussels' southern suburbs. His love for animals dates back to his toddler years, when a traveling circus planted a truck with a camel before the family house. Since then, the young boy visited zoos, circuses and other places that housed animals, whenever he could. As a teenager, his interest turned to taking care of exotic animals, educating himself to build the best terrariums for them and studying their behavior. Over time, Frank bred about fifty reptiles, including twelve crocodiles, until he felt animals weren't meant to be "collected". He only kept his two iguanas.

As a child, he developed an interest in drawing as well. Originally, he felt inspired by the comic artists André Franquin, Moebius and Dany. Later in his career, he mostly drew inspiration from other art forms. The paintings of Egon Schiele and the animal sketches of Wilhelm Eigener, for instance, or the cinematography of Andrej Tarkovsky and the Art Nouveau designs of Victor Horta. As an adolescent, Frank was already captivated by the expression and sensuality of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. His early experiences in the art world were however unsatisfying. Fresh out of high school, he found a job with the Belvision animation studio, but didn't feel at ease in such an office environment. He left after about a month. His education at the Institut Saint-Luc in Brussels also didn't give him what he desired. The faculty's program focused on creative freedom and didn't give proper training in anatomy, composition or techniques. The three years at Saint-Luc did result in lasting friendships with the future comic authors Bernard Hislaire and André Geerts. Pé stayed in Brussels for many years, until leaving the city for rural Andenne in the early 2000s.


'Comme un animal en cage' (1984).

Spirou magazine
Frank Pé made his first appearances in Spirou magazine in 1973 and 1974, when he submitted two short stories to the 'Carte Blanche' section. As a pen name, he used only his first name, Frank. He became a regular contributor to the magazine after Hislaire introduced him to scriptwriter Jean-Marie Brouyère. His first illustrations for the magazine's nature section appeared in 1976. Shortly afterwards, Brouyère offered the young artist the opportunity to create a full-length comic story. The scriptwriter however backed out because of personal issues, after which editor-in-chief Thierry Martens (Terence) assumed the writing duties for 'Comme un animal en cage', a humanitarian story about wildlife trade. It took Frank six years to complete this sole episode starring the muscular hero Vincent Murat. Serialization in Spirou didn't start until 1984, and a book publication followed in 1985.

'Vincent Murat' was created in the magazine's traditional round-nosed humor style, which the artist quickly abandoned. By the early 1980s, Frank was already the regular illustrator of Spirou's nature section with his hero 'Broussaille', and the author of the editorial gag strip 'L'Élan' (1981-1987). The latter presented the conversations between Spirou's titular character and a depressed moose with the ambition to become a true comics hero. Éditions Dupuis collected the strip in a single booklet in 1984. A collector's edition was released by the Geneva Comics Association in 1992.


'L'Élan' (Spirou #2271, 1981).

Broussaille
Frank's signature character, the red-headed, bespectacled student 'Broussaille', first appeared in Spirou issue #2108 of 7 September 1978. He became the mascot of the magazine's nature section, which was originally the realm of illustrator René Hausman. But instead of Hausman's poetic renderings of nature's beauty, Pé chose a more philosophical approach. The 'Papiers de Broussaille' ("Broussaille's letters") were romantic ponderings of a sentimental nature lover during his countryside walks. They were informative, full of atmosphere and not limited to wild animals alone. Some episodes were dedicated to city animals or pets, and offered pratical tips for arranging and maintaining a terrarium, for instance.


'Le Papier de Broussaille'.

From 1979 on, 'Broussaille' appeared in occasional short stories as well. They had the same sentimental tone as the 'Papiers', deviating from the adventurous themes of Spirou's traditional comic series. As such, Frank was part of a new generation of authors with more mature and layered storytelling. They introduced comics filled with romance, poetry and nostalgia, starring more complex and true-to-life characters. Pé's 'Broussaille' was introduced within the same timeframe as Marc Wasterlain's 'Docteur Poche' (1976), Bernard Hislaire's 'Bidouille and Violette' (1978), Alain Dodier and Pierre Makyo's 'Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche' (1982), André Geerts' 'Jojo' (1983) and Frank le Gall's 'Théodore Poussin' (1984). The series fully came to blossom when Frank Pé teamed up with scriptwriter Michel de Bom. Together they made more elaborate stories with literary subject matter. From the duo's third album on, colorist Topaze (Michel Dubois) completed the team. Frank and Bom's 'Broussaille' was among the first series included in Dupuis' Repérages list, the publisher's more mature-oriented graphic novel collection.

Broussaille by Frank
Broussaille - 'La Nuit du Chat' (1989).

In the longer 'Broussaille' stories, Frank not only showcased his talent for drawing animals, but also his ability to make cities and landscapes an integral part of the storytelling. Brussels' Leopold Quarter forms the setting of Frank and Bom's first volume, 'Les Baleines Publiques' ("The Public Whales", 1984). The reader joins Broussaille in a dreamlike fantasy trip through the city, where whales, fish and other sea creatures swim through the streets. The mystery is enhanced when Broussaille finds a 1929 print with the exact visualization of his imagination. His investigation leads to a cave underneath the Museum of Natural Sciences, where the astonished hero stands eye to eye with a real-life whale. In a 1992 interview with the fanzine Rêve-en-Bulles, Frank explained that this "dream come true" motive was symbolic for the hero's transition into adulthood, when the inner world of a child is replaced by the outer world of self-awareness and practical issues of an adult. Today, 'Les Baleines Publiques' stands as a contemporary classic of Franco-Belgian comics, praised for its poetry and romance, without becoming mushy or heavy-handed.

Broussaille by Frank Pé
'Broussaille' - 'Sandrine' (2000).

Self-development remained a prominent theme in the 'Broussaille' series. Over the course of the stories, Frank's artwork also evolved from semi-caricatural into a more mature realism. In 'Les Sculpteurs de Lumière' ("The Sculptors of Light", 1986), Broussaille visits his uncle René (who shares his looks with illustrator René Hausman) in the Belgian countryside, where the construction of a new factory rouses the emotions, while the secrets of an ancient fraternity trigger mysterious events. 'La Nuit du Chat' ("The Night of the Cat", 1989) starts off as a nocturnal search for Broussaille's cat, but turns into the young hero finding his true love, Catherine. After this original coming-of-age trilogy, Broussaille's appearances in Spirou became more sporadic. The semi-long episodes 'Au Japon' (1994), a solo effort by Frank, and 'Sandrine des Collines' (2000) gave the artist an opportunity to present his graphic renderings of Japan and Burundi. Both stories were collected in the book 'Sous deux Soleils' ("Under two Suns", 2000). Frank Pé was solely responsible for the series' swan song so far, a spiritual journey through nature under the title 'Un faune sur l'Épaule' ("A Faun on the Shoulder", 2003).


'Zoo' #1 (1994).

Zoo
Frank Pé's other major work is the dramatic graphic novel trilogy 'Zoo', created in collaboration with the Frenchman Philippe Bonifay, originally a theatrical writer. A chance meeting at the Maubeuge comic festival formed the basis for their collaboration. The two men were coincidentally placed next to each other, and immediately hit it off. A couple of years later, Frank proposed the writer his concept in which a Normandy zoo serves as the setting for psychological character development. For the story's four protagonists, the park with its Art Nouveau design and exotic animals forms a safe haven against the grim reality of the 1910s. The animal-loving medical doctor Célestin created the zoo after inheriting a large fortune. His adoptive daughter, the jumpy Manon, spends all her time taking care of the animals, while maintaining a romantic fling with the sculptor/designer Buggy. Buggy was physically modelled after Bonifay, and his sculptures were based on the work of animal sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti. Stand-out character in 'Zoo' is Anna, a refugee from the Russian steppes who lost her nose during a brawl in her native village. Finding her place within the zoo family, she gradually refinds her self-respect and joy for life.

Like the settings in the 'Broussaille' stories, the zoo can be considered a character in itself. It loses most of its grandeur over the course of the narrative, as the wartime tragedies take over the carefree environment. The first two installments were published in Dupuis' literary Aire Libre collection in 1994 and 1999. The third and final volume of 2007 followed Anna on her journey through war-torn towns in search of Célestin, who had volunteered as a front medic. With its monumental drawings, well-considered use of color and touching spiritual character growth, 'Zoo' too is seen as a masterpiece of European comics.

Zoo 2 by Frank Pé
'Zoo 2' (1999).

Collective comics
Frank Pé has also participated in many collective comic projects. In 1988 he was one of the artists contributing to Yslaire's comic book 'Du Souchon dans l'air' (Delcourt, 1988), dedicated to the music of French-Swiss singer Alain Souchon. Pé himself oversaw the production and compilation of the collective book 'Entre chats' (Delcourt, 1989), to which several French and Belgian artists contributed stories about cats. The participating artists were Topaze, Will, André Juillard, Andreas, André Barbe, Didier Comès, Max Cabanes, René Hausman, André Franquin, Christian Darasse, René Follet and Christian Rossi. Together with 20 other comic artists, he illustrated a record single for the project '20 Vraies Fausses Pochettes De Disque Par 20 Vrais Dessinateurs de BD' (Paléo Art et Spectacle, 1995). Pé chose a song by Jean-Louis Aubert. He was also one of the artists who completed the graphic novel 'L'Arbre des deux Printemps' (Lombard, 2000), after the death of its artist Will. In 1993, he developed a new comic series called 'Matsu' for the Japanese publisher Kodansha, but the project stranded after only five pages were published in the manga magazine Morning.


'Little Nemo'.

Little Nemo
A commission project that worked out extraordinary was Frank Pé's version of Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland'. A Parisian gallery owner asked Pé to create a couple of pages in homage to this classic American newspaper comic. The artist felt so at home in McCay's magical dreamworlds, that he created enough material for two luxury books, published by Toth in 2014 and 2016. Pé wasn't the first European to try his hand at 'Little Nemo'. 'Hé, Nic! Tu Rêves?' (1980-1982) was Hermann's humorous wink at the original series in Spirou, and Moebius and Bruno Marchand created their own graphic novel interpretation of 'Little Nemo' (1994-2002) at Casterman. Pé's version captures the spirit of McCay's original the best, albeit in a contemporary setting. The artist excelled in painting many realistic animals with human character traits, and each episode ended traditionally with Nemo waking up. In 2020, Dupuis collected all the stories in one big volume, making Frank's enchanting work accessible to a wider audience.


'La Bête' (2020).

Franquin-related works
André Franquin is the comic artist Frank Pé admires the most. He took great pride in the fact that Franquin had expressed his admiration for him too. Pé was one of the contributing artists to the collective comic book celebrating the 50th anniversary of Franquin's 'Gaston' in 2017. In his 'Portraits héroïques de Frank Pé' (Dupuis, 2008), the artist painted many of his favorite comic characters. Besides Hugo Pratt's 'Corto Maltese', Peyo's 'Smurfs' and Will and Rosy's 'Monsieur Choc', the book featured several secondary characters from Franquin series, such as Monsieur De Mesmaeker and Herr Doktor Kilikil. The backstory of the grumpy animal trainer Noé from Franquin's stand-out 'Spirou' story 'Bravo, les Brothers!' plays a prominent role in Frank's graphic novel 'La Lumière de Bornéo' (2016). It was part of the 'Spirou & Fantasio' spin-off collection in which several authors give their own interpretation of the classic series.

The script was written by Zidrou, with whom the artist then embarked upon a more ambitious project, focused on the Marsupilami. Their version gives a realistic vision on Franquin's comical long-tailed animal, interpreting it as an actual wild beast. The story follows its arrival in the gloomy port of Antwerp in late 1955 and its subsequent escape. Arriving in the Brussels suburbs, the exhausted animal is saved by the young François, an animal lover and social outcast. Their budding friendship is however threatened by the intervention of the authorities. The story, denouncing the abuse and trafficking of exotic animals, also featured several cameos of classic comic authors, including Maurice Tillieux, Jean Roba, Jijé and, of course, André Franquin. The first volume of the diptych 'La Bête' was released by Dupuis in a large-format book with high quality paper in 2020.


'La Bête' (2020).

Other activities
Throughout his career, Frank Pé's comic albums have appeared with relatively long interludes. This is not only due to the artist's meticulous perfectionism with regard to his graphical direction and storytelling, but also to his many side projects. Since 1989 he is regularly engaged as an illustrator for the annual calendar of the Catholic Boy Scouts. He also makes sculptures, and lends his services as an illustrator, muralist and designer to nature conservation organizations (Natgora, ENR) and zoos throughout Belgium and France.

Film work
During he 1990s, he served as concept artist for the American animated film 'The Magic Sword: Quest for Camelot' (1997), along with Claire Wendling. He designed a great many dragons for the production, but only a few were used, because Warner Bros changed the originally dark concept into a film aimed at children. Years later, Frank Pé also provided the comic art shown in the European adaptation of Jirô Taniguchi's manga 'Quartier Lointain' (2010), directed by Sam Garbarski. He was additionally a designer for the German animation films 'Der kleine Eisbär 2: Die geheimnisvolle Insel' (2005) and 'Kleiner Dodo' (2008) through the Rothkirch Cartoon-Film studio.


Drawing by Frank Pé in homage to Victor Horta. The building depicted on the drawing are the Magasins Waucquéz in the Rue the Sable / Zandstraat in Brussels, nowadays better known as the Belgian Comics Center. In the margins of his paper we see little sketches of André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe', Raymond Macherot's 'Chlorophylle' and Hergé's 'Tintin'. 

Recognition
Frank Pé is among the most widely recognized authors of contemporary Franco-Belgian comics. With little over ten albums produced during a forty-year career, each release is greated with great excitement. Although made in collaboration with writers like Bom, Bonifay and Zidrou, all of Frank's stories share his personal traits: character development and human emotions, a passion for animals and captivating settings. 'Les Baleines Publiques' and 'Zoo' are nowadays considered classics, and 'La Nuit du Chat' won the audience prize during the 1990 Angoulême comic festival. In Germany, 'Zoo' won the 1996 Max und Moritz Prize as Best Foreign Comic.

In July 1991, a mural depicting 'Broussaille' was inaugurated at the intersection between the Marché au Charbon/Kolenmarkt and Teinturiers/Verversstraat in Brussels. It was the first comic book mural to be created as part of the monumental Brussels' Comic Book Route. In September 1999 it was renovated. Another mural depicting 'Broussaille' can be seen in the Rue des Wallons in Louvain-la-Neuve. The Belgian Comic Strip Center devoted a large career overview exposition to Frank Pé in 2016. The art book 'Frank Pé - Une Vie en dessins' (Dupuis, 2020) presented reproductions of 250 original comic book pages and previously unpublished illustrations. The book has accompanying texts by Daniel Couvreur and Frank Pé himself.

Broussaille by Frank Pé
Broussaille - 'Les baleines publiques' (1984).

frankpe.com

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