Fred, Mile et Bob, by F. Gianolla

François Gianolla was a Belgian painter, writer, playwright, singer-songwriter, musician, caricaturist, cartoonist, illustrator and comics artist. The majority of his work shows his admiration for the working class, particularly the miners' community in which he grew up. As a comics artist he is best known for his "Clear Line" style and continuing 'Fred et Mile' (1932-1940, later 'Fred, Mile et Bob') in L'Avenir, after Hergé dropped the series. Starting off as a children's gag comic, 'Fred et Mile' evolved into a genuine adventure comic. The series is also historically important for being the first comic album published by Dupuis. Unfortunately Gianolla's style resembled Hergé too much, especially 'Quick et Flupke', which forced him to discontinue his relatively succesful comic strip. He would never make another comic again. 

Early life and career
François Gianolla was born in 1907 - only two months later than Hergé - in Montignies-sur-Sambre, as the son of a Swiss father and a Walloon mother. He grew up in the miner's quarter in Neuville, Marcinelle and Nalinnes. From an early age he was interested in drawing, music and the life of the common people he saw working everyday. He once wrote: "I was very impressed with these people who seemed to be supernatural to me. Admiring their courage, I swore to illustrate them and show audiences their life in all meaningfulness and honesty. I knew despair, but also the greatness of the worker: he was my horizon." Gianolla studied drawing and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. After graduation he became an illustrator and retoucher in a helio-engraving office. Gianolla then became the staff artist for the "kajotters" movement, the Catholic youth organization. He specialized in illustrations, caricatures and comics. He was also head of a subdivision for young workers.

Fred et Mile 
In 1931 Hergé created the gag comic 'Fred et Mile' for Mon Avenir, a Catholic magazine intended to prepare teenagers for a job as common workers (at the time one could already leave school at age 14 and get a job). The characters, two rascal boys, were very similar to Herge's earlier creation 'Quick & Flupke', which ran in his home magazine Le Petit Vingtième. After two episodes Hergé dropped the series for unknown reasons. Perhaps he saw no need to continue a decoction of his own work. 

In 1932, however, 'Fred et Mile' returned to the pages of Mon Avenir, albeit drawn by Gianolla. He turned it into a genuine gag comic series. In 1936 a Dutch translation, 'Fred en Miel', ran in the Dutch-language version of Mon Avenir: "Onze Toekomst: Het Blad Dat Voorbereidt Tot Den Arbeid". Another child character, Bob, eventually became a main cast member, prompting a title change in 1938: 'Fred, Mile et Bob'. Now an adventure comic, it ran in other Catholic magazines like La Cité Nouvelle and L'Avant-Garde too. In 1939 'Fred, Mile et Bob' also appeared in book format, published by Achille Faux in Charleroi. The second album of the series became the very first comic book album issued by Dupuis, the company responsible for Spirou magazine. It appeared in 1940 and had the very long title: 'Les Aventures en Afrique de Fred, Mile et Bob, Gamins Belges' ("Adventures in Africa of Fred, Mille and Bob, Belgian scoundrels"). A Dutch translation appeared too, only changing the characters' names to 'Jef, Dolfke en Rob, Rakkers Zonder Vaar of Vrees'. A third album, 'Mousquetaires de 16 Ans', was released by SPES in 1954.

'Fred et Mile' was in many ways very similar to 'Quick & Flupke, though it already was when Hergé drew it. The problem was that Gianolla mimicked Hergé's "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line") a little too much. The characters have the same physical features as Tintin, and Fred, Mille and Bob's adventure in Africa shares many resemblances with 'Tintin in Africa'. Even the leopard who accompanies them is clearly modelled after the leopard who interrupts Tintin's math lesson in that very same album. Most readers incorrectly assumed that Hergé drew the series. In 1940 Gianolla discontinued 'Fred et Mille', mostly because of World War II, though some sources hint that he may have done this under pressure of Hergé. Coincidentally 'Quick et Flupke' also came to an end one year. Either way, Gianolla refrained from making new comics ever again. As a result his pioneering work fell into obscurity. Still, together with 'Quick & Flupke', 'Fred et Mile' laid the foundations of many Belgian children's gag comics about young rascals from the 1930s on. 

comic art by F. Gianolla

comic art by F. Gianolla

Later life and career
Gianolla also produced 'Les Pages du Roi Richard', which appeared at SPES publishers. He illustrated many posters for mass manifestations in a style resembling Masereel's. Shortly after World War II, he was an artist/cartoonist for the Katholieke Werkliedenbeweging (the Catholic worker's movement) and a Christian organization. Between 1946 and 1960 he spent most of his time between Paris, Switzerland and Charleroi, creating hundreds of cartoons for different papers and magazines, among them Le Soir Illustré. After settling in Charleroi he became a friend of Félicien Barry, head of the Literary Association of the city, and became an illustrator for its monthly magazine El Bourdon. He also wrote various poems, plays, novels and songs in both French as well as Walloon dialect, all romanticizing the life of miners. His poems were collected in the book 'Sang du Pays Noir'. François Gianolla passed away in Nalinnes in October 1990.

Series and books by François Gianolla in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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