Le Chat, by Philippe Geluck

Philippe Geluck is a Belgian newspaper cartoonist and comics artist, who also enjoys fame in Wallonia and France as a radio and TV comedian. He is best known for his long-running comic strip, 'Le Chat' (1983-2013), which appeared in Le Soir for over thirty years. The newspaper strip was renowned for its verbal comedy, clever satire and absurd monologues. It became both a critical and commercial success, reaching levels of a mania even, albeit mostly in the francophone world. Together with Jef Nys' series 'Jommeke' it is perhaps the best example in the Belgian comics industry of the differences between both language communities. While 'Jommeke' is a cultural phenomenon and colossal bestseller in Flanders, it's downright obscure in Wallonia, just like the success of 'Le Chat' remains restricted to its French-language readers.

Early life and career
Philippe Geluck was born in 1954 in Brussels as the son of another cartoonist, Didier Geluck (better known as "Diluck"), who was also active as a distributor of Eastern-European films and a member of the Belgian Communist Party. Philippe's mother was a singer and actress in amateur theater, from whom he enherited the desire to entertain people on stage. Among Geluck's graphic influences are Saul Steinberg, Chaval, Folon, Bosc, Siné, Roland Topor, Ronald Searle, Pierre Kroll, Pierre Soulages, Gary Larson, Bob de Moor, Pablo Picasso, César and Tomi Ungerer. He was 14 when his first illustrations appeared in Azimut, a little brochure distributed by the Renault corporation. At the age of 18 he and his brother scribbled cartoons in the form of a newspaper on the walls of a public lavatory. A window cleaner noticed them, felt they were hilarious and mentioned it to his friend, Bob De Groot, comics writer and chief editor of the humoristic magazine L'Oeuf. Soon Geluck published in L'Oeuf as well, followed by cartoons in Clé Pour La Musique. Between 1972 and 1975 he studied at L'Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion (INSAS). After graduation he became a member of the Théâtre National de Belgique and played starring roles in their theatrical plays. In 1976 he co-founded the Théâtre Hypocrite, which had a succesful run in both Wallonia and France and performed works by cartoonists like Chaval and Copi, among others.

Le Chat, by Philippe Geluck

Le Chat
'Le Chat' made his first appearance on the wedding cards Geluck and his wife gave away after their marriage in 1980. On 3 March 1983 - coincidentally the same day Hergé passed away - Geluck's signature series 'Le Chat' made its debut in the Walloon newspaper Le Soir. The main character is an obese tuxedo wearing grey cat, whose facial expression never changes. Drawn in a very minimalistic style, with hardly any backgrounds or other characters besides the protagonist, 'Le Chat' is a purely verbal gag comic. The cat always delivers absurd monologues about daily news events and usually looks directly at the viewer. This approach betrayed Geluck's theatrical background and in many ways 'Le Chat' was indeed some kind of paper-and-ink stand-up comedy show. 'Le Chat' soon became a hit with Le Soir's readers to the point that he even became the newspaper's official mascot! In 1986 the first compilation of his gags was published by Casterman. Between 1985 and 1990 'Le Chat' was hand-coloured in water paint by Geluck's assistant Françoise Procureur. After that date the comic was digitally colourized by Serge Dehaes. Geluck and Dehaes also created a spin-off about Le Chat's son, 'Le Fils du Chat' (1998), intended for children. In 2003, to celebrate Le Chat's 20th anniversary Geluck illustrated an entire issue of Le Soir by himself. This special edition received publicity and homages by fellow artists like Siné, François Schuiten, Loustal, Goffin, Fred, Tardi and even Moebius! On 3 March 2013, after 30 years continuous publication, 'Le Chat' came to an end.

Le Chat by Philippe Geluck

However, 'Le Chat' wasn't just a popular item in Le Soir. He became a daily fixture in other French-language papers and magazines as well, such as Sud-Ouest, Ouest-France, Pour Vous, Info Matin, Siné-Hebdo, Siné-Mensuel and À Suivre. The comic strip was praised by cartoonist Siné, semiologist Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle, and novelist Frédéric Dard of the 'San Antonio' series who named Geluck "a genius". Le Chat soon reached the status of a cultural phenomenon. In 2003 he was subject of an exhibition by L'École National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Le Chat received his own comic book wall (August 1993) in the Boulevard du Midi /Centrale Boulevard in Brussels, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route, followed by yet another mural on 27 September 2014, located at the Boulevard Général/ Generaal Jacques Boulevard. Le Chat received his own statue in the Belgian village Hotton, Luxembourg, in 2008. Le Chat could also be enjoyed in animated form during the one-minute 3D-cartoon segment 'La Minute du Chat' (2011), broadcast every weekday on RTBF and France 2. In 2003 Geluck became Chevalier des Arts et Lettres and was named Commander in the Order of the Crown in 2009 by Belgian king Albert II. In 2009 a school in Herseaux, Hainaut, was named after the artist and Brussels granted him a Grand Prix Saint-Michel in 2013. Last but not least: since 2006 both the character and his creator have their own asteroid! In 2023 Le Chat will receive its own museum in Brussels, not far from the Royal Palace.

Le Chat by Philippe Geluck

Yet, despite his impressive popularity, 'Le Chat' mostly remains a French-language phenomenon. Attempts have been made to translate it into Dutch, English, Spanish, Italian and even Persian but nowhere else has it achieved such unanimous critical and commercial success. Even across the Belgian language border in the Dutch-language region Flanders, where 'Le Chat' was published in De Standaard, he never caught on. A possible explanation might be the comic's reliance on verbal comedy, which is difficult to translate properly. The best example of the gap in appreciation between Belgium's two communities was the 2005 "Greatest Belgian" election. While Geluck wasn't even nominated in the Flemish version of the contest, he ended at the 22nd spot in the Walloon version. Only two other comics artists scored higher, namely André Franquin at nr. 18 and Hergé at nr. 8!

Homage to Siné, by Philippe Geluck
Geluck homage to Siné.

Other comics
While Geluck is best known for 'Le Chat', he also made other kinds of comics. Some of his cartoons published in Le Soir are reprints of old-fashioned 19th-century illustrations, to which he added ironic captions. The contrast between the deadly serious and static imagery and Geluck's witty commentary was a golden idea, which since then has been copied by many other cartoonists since. Though Geluck wasn't the first to come up with this idea: Canadian-American comedian Art Finley did it first between 1962 and 1981 with a daily gag cartoon series named 'Art's Gallery'. Geluck also collaborated on a children's game book, 'Jouez Avec Quick et Flupke' (1984), starring Hergé's eponymous brats from Brussels. He is the author of his own 'Encyclopédie Universelle', a mock encyclopedia which features palimpsests and fairy-tale animals. Four volumes have been published: 'Un Peu de Tout' (1992), 'Made in Belgium' (1994), 'Le Petit Roger' (1998) and 'Made in Belgium II' (2007). In 2002, he became editor of the collection C'est Pour Offrir by the publishing house Casterman. It reprinted work by his idol Siné, whose cats were a big inspiration for his own 'Chat'. He also became a cartoonist in Siné's own magazine, Siné Hebdo (2008-2010). Since 2009, Geluck writes scripts for the comic series 'Les Aventures de Scott Leblanc - Alerte sur Fangtaufa', a spoof of classic Belgian comics like Hergé's 'Tintin' and Edgar P. Jacobs' 'Blake et Mortimer', drawn in a Clear Line style by Devig. It is published by Casterman.

Television career
Geluck is also active and popular in other media. From 1977 on he worked for various productions of the Walloon public channel RTBF. He starred as the clown Célestin Radis in the TV show '1, 2, 3... J'ai vu!' (1977) and as host of the children's show 'Lollipop' (1979-1984), which he co-presented with motor cyclist Joël Smets and a marionette named Malvira (operated by Patrick Chaboud). The program had an absurd nature and featured Geluck in several comedic sketches, intercut with cartoons as well as clips from Roland Topor and Henri Xhonneux's cult children's show 'Téléchat'. Labor-Nathan also published children's books based on this program, with contributions by Geluck. The man furthermore contributed to programs like 'L'Espirit de Famille' (1982). His one-man show, 'Un Certain Plume' (1983) was a runaway succes and meant his breakthrough with the general public. Yet it still didn't hold a candle to the praise 'Un Peu De Tout' (1991) received, which won the Golden Rose of Montreux for 'Best Comedy Show'. During the 2000s the humorist was a regular guest on the talk show 'Vivement Dimanche Prochain' (1998-...) and variety show 'On A Tout Essayé' (2000-2007). In 2009 he and Jacques Mercier presented a 90-second TV show called 'Monsieur Dictionnaire' (2009). In each episode they looked up the etymology of a French word in the dictionary and fantasized a funnier explanation than the actual origin or meaning.

Le Chat by Philippe Geluck

Radio career
The all-round entertainer could also be enjoyed on the radio. He was a mainstay on 'Le Jeu des Dictionnaires' (1989-2011), a humorous radio show broadcast on RTBF 1, where he starred alongside artists like Laurence Bibot, Juan d'Oultremont, Frédéric Jannin, Marc Moulin, Raoul Reyers, Pierre Kroll, Jean-Jacques Jespers, Miam Monster Miam, Gilles Dal and Thomas Gunzig. Every Saturday morning between 9 and 10 o'clock the show had a special broadcast named 'La Semaine Infernale', which featured satirical sketches poking fun at earlier news events that week. One of these sketches was 'Le Docteur G.', in which Geluck pretended to be a doctor who answered questions from patients. The radio show had such good ratings that it received a TV spin-off later on. Geluck furthermore was a frequent guest on 'On va s'gêner' (1999-2014) on Europe 1 and since 2014 on 'Les Grosses Têtes' on RTL.

Film and literary career
Geluck also acted in a few films, like the TV movie 'Jackson et le Mnémocide' by Jean-Louis Colmant (script by Jean Van Hamme) and 'Benvenuta' (1983) by André Delvaux. He published various humorous books, such as 'Oh Toi Le Belge, Ta Gueule!' (2006), 'Geluck Se Lâche' (2009) and 'Geluck Enfonce Le Clou' (2011). In 2013 Geluck published the book "Peut-on Rire de Tout?", a funny plea for complete freedom of speech to ridicule everybody and everything. He himself enjoyed this liberty very much and only a few of his cartoons were ever subject of controversy.

Once he drew a gag about motor accidents, which was refused publishment in Le Soir, because it happened to co-incide with a special issue about motor companies. The paper also didn't see the comedy in a cartoon about a Siamese twin unable to urinate because their penises were attached together. Geluck also managed to create a cartoon which was refused by none other than his nevertheless far more taboo-breaking mentor Siné. It depicted the vaginas of French politicians Martin Aubry and Ségolène Royal, in a parody of Eve Ensler's play 'The Vagina Monologues'. Another joke by Geluck outraged Flemish Christian democratic politician Eric Van Rompuy, because it suggested that the Belgian coast ought to be divided in a Flemish and a Walloon part. Le Soir brought the two men together to sort the discussion out. Yet it soon became clear that Van Rompuy simply took everything too serious. Even when Geluck hinted that he would give the Flemings the beach at high tide and the Walloons at low tide Van Rompuy still didn't understand his opponent was joking and got even more angry. Later it turned out the politician had no idea who Geluck actually was and assumed he was some kind of political activist.

Legacy and influence
Geluck's art has been exhibited in London, Paris, Milan, Kopenhagen and Dallas. His son Antoine enjoys some fame as a singer recording under the pseudonym "Antoine Chance", a pun on the fact that "Geluck" sounds like the Dutch word "geluk", which means "luckiness" or "chance".

Philippe Geluck

(en français)

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