Le Décalogue, by Mounier and Frank Giroud
Le Décalogue #10 - 'La Dernière Sourate' (artwork by Franz).

Frank Giroud was one of the most successful writers of French comics. From his debut in the early 1980s until his death in 2018 he has worked with many prominent artists on comics in a variety of genres and time periods. Both his historical and his contemporary stories are characterized by their realism, political engagement and a deep sense of humanity, while the author regularly expressed his distaste of militarism and religious fundamentalism in his writings. Among his best-known works are the series 'Louis la Guigne' (1982-1997) with Jean-Paul Dethorey, its spin-off 'Louis Ferchot' (1998-2005) with Didier Courtois, 'Mandrill' (1998-2007) with Barly Baruti and the politically engaged graphic novels he made with Christian Lax. The author's erudition especially came to blossom in the several concept series he made around a certain theme or event, such as the three series forming the 'Le Décalogue' universe (2000-2013), or 'Destins' (2010-2011), 'Quintett' (2005-2007) and 'Secrets' (2004-2014). Each installment was presented as a one-shot, drawn by a different artist, but was at the same time a piece of a larger puzzle.

Early life
Frank Norbert Henri Giroud-Bit was born in 1956 in Toulouse into a workers family. He showed an early talent for writing, and even won a writing contest at the age of 10. His father however, who knew the ordeals of unemployment, wanted his son to get a "real job" instead. He won a contest of the École Nationale des Chartes in 1977, but broke off his studies in historical sciences before obtaining his degree in palaeography. He obtained his Master's degree in History in 1981, after which he taught this discipline in Milan and then Grenoble. He additionally accompanied many organized trips, which formed his great knowledge of countries and their cultures.

All the while Giroud had continued to write. It wasn't until the age of 17 that he discovered the comics medium. In the years that followed he added scriptwriters like Jean-Michel Charlier, Michel Greg, Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal to his list of influences, which originally consisted of classical novelists like Alexandre Dumas. Other major inspirations were the movie directors Stanley Kubrick, Miloš Forman and Roman Polanski. Giroud's first assignments came from the publishing house Larousse, which published educational comics collections about historical subjects. Between 1978 and 1982, Giroud wrote several (short) stories for both 'La Découverte du Monde en Bandes Dessinées' and 'L'Histoire du Far West', which were illustrated by such artists as Alarico Gattia, José de Huescar, Pierre Frisano, José Bielsa and Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri. He additionally contributed to magazines like Fripounet ('Zoom' and 'Pages d'histoire' with Pierre Brochard) and Amis-Coop ('L'Inspecteur X' and 'Big-Boogie' with Jean-Paul Dethorey).

Louis la Guigne
His talent became more widely recognized when he made his appearance in the comic magazines published by Jacques Glénat in the early 1980s. Teaming up again with Jean-Paul Dethorey, the comic series 'Louis la Guigne' made its debut in the 59th issue of Circus magazine in 1983, and was continued in Vécu from the following year on. The main hero was the unemployed worker Louis Ferchot, nicknamed "Louis la Guigne" ("Bad Luck Louis"), who returns to a changed society after serving time in the Cayenne prison for mutiny from the Verdun trenches. The original series thirteen albums follow his exploits from the 1920s through the 1940s, while Louis travels from France to the Weimar Republic, Italy, the USA and Spain. The period's social unrests are the connecting thread in the series, as Louis is confronted with clashes between German fascists and the Communists, American bootleggers, racism, anti-fascist movements like the Popular Front, and the Spanish Civil War. The series came to an end after thirteen albums in 1999, when the artist Dethorey died. By that time, Giroud had already begun a parallel series about Louis' younger years with artist Didier Courtois. Titled 'Louis Ferchot' (1998-2005), the series told the character's exploits from the death of his father in 1910 until shortly after World War I. Each album builds up to the events of 1914, from a worker's life in poverty through the arms race and the actual outbreak of the Great War. Against these grim historical settings, Giroud sketches the political and human education of his protagonist. Both the main series and its spin-off are prime examples of Giroud's historical knowledge and fierce social criticism.

Other series of the 1980s and early 1990s
The success of 'Louis la Guigne' allowed Giroud to give up his teaching job and become a fulltime writer. From then on, he usually worked on two or three projects at the same time. One of his early efforts was the graphic novel 'Le Chaman' (Ice Crim's, 1984), a mix of crime noir and fantasy for which Ab'Aigre provided the artwork.Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Giroud wrote several historical series in different time periods. 'Les Patriottes' (Glénat, 1988-1990) was set during the French Revolution and drawn by Fabien Lacaf. Giroud appeared in Tintin's successor Hello Bédé magazine with the western 'Jackson' (Lombard, 1989-1991), drawn by Marc-Renier, while he worked for the competing magazine Spirou at the same time. For the latter he wrote 'Missouri' (Dupuis, 1989-1991), about the struggle for independance of a group of French peasants in 18th century America, drawn by Daniel de Carpentrie. 'Le Crépuscule des Braves' (1991), drawn by Philippe Tarral, was set shortly after the Hundred Years' War and appeared in the Lombard collection 'Histoire de l'Histoire'. For 'Pieter Hoorn' (Glénat, 1991-1994), Giroud and artist Norma ventured into the "glory days" of the Dutch United East India Company (VOC). 'Zoltan' (Vents d'Ouest, 1994) was another colonially-themed story, set in Congo-Brazzaville, with artwork by Luc Brahy. 'Tango' (1990) with artist Alain Mounier on the other hand was another thriller story, published by Glénat.

Collaborations with Christian Lax and Barly Baruti
From 1990 onwards, Giroud wrote several politically engaged one-shots and diptyches for Christian Lax, which appeared in the Aire Libre graphic novel collection of Éditions Dupuis. The first was 'Les Oubliés d'Annam' (1990-1991), which told the story of French soldiers in Vietnam who deserted to a group of idealistic local resistance fighers. 'La Fille aux Ibis' (1993) was a politically themed love story set in post-Ceaușescu Romania. In 1990 the author had spent two weeks in the country collecting stories and photographs as documentation for this work. The concept of Giroud's stories were often triggered by current events, but then deviated into a different direction. The thin line between good and evil during the Kosovo War was for instance the inspiration of 'Azrayen' (1998-1999), although that story actually dealt with the experiences of Giroud's father during the civil war in the French colony Algeria in 1957.

While Giroud and Lax attended a book convention in the Senegalese capital Dakar, Giroud met the Zairese comic artist Barly Baruti. This resulted in a collaboration which started with three albums of 'Eva K.' (Soleil, 1995-1998), a crime thriller series set in an unnamed dictatorial African country. Giroud and Baruti then created 'Mandrill' (Glénat, 1998-2007), presenting the adventures of an orphan boy in post-war Paris. Giroud's crime plot around looted objects trafficked during the war and the perennial hatred between the former collaborators and resistance fighters, reminds of French crime novelists like Boileau-Narcejac and Léo Malet.

Le Décalogue
The ten volumes of Giroud's concept series 'Le Décalogue' were published by Glénat Grafica between 2001 and 2003. Although the installments can be read as a single story, each story is connected with a larger theme. 'Le Décalogue' deals with a mysterious book called Nahik, which describes the existance of a mysterious religious decalogue dictated by the prophet Muhammad. It was written on the shoulder blade of a camel and contains ten early Islamic rules, which could challenge the religion's foundations and the most violent interpretations of the Koran. Each episode is set in a different time period, counting back from Glasgow in 2001 to Medina in 622. Besides addressing religious fundamentalism, the series' other themes are the less flattering qualities of the human race, such as violence, greed and lying. To be able to present the series as a whole within a short time period, and to underline each volume as a stand-alone story, Giroud worked with ten different artists for this series. Subsequently Joseph Béhé, Giulio de Vita, Jean-François Charles, TBC, Bruno Rocco, Alain Mounier, Paul Gillon, Lucien Rollin, Michel Faure and Franz provided the artwork. An eleventh collective installment (2003) filling in some missing links was published late in 2003.

Between 2006 and 2010 five volumes of a sequel called 'Le Légataire' appeared. It continues the adventures of Merwan Khadder from the first Décalogue album in his search for the author of Nahik, while being pursued by religious fanatics. The artwork of each book was a co-production between Joseph Béhé and Camille Meyer. In the second spin-off, 'Les Fleury-Nadal' (2006-2013), it is explained that each character from the main series is part of one big dynasty. This series presents more background stories for some of the main protagonists in either one-shots of diptyches, with artwork by Lucien Rollin, Daniel Hulet, Didier Courtois and Gilles Mezzomo.

Further concept series
Besides 'Le Décalogue', Giroud created more series with the same principle. 'Secrets' (Dupuis, 2004-2014) was a collection of nine individual series chronicling family histories and their secrets in different time periods and countries in one, two or three albums. The series comprised the graphic novels 'L'Écharde' (2004-2006, drawn by Marianne Duvivier), 'Le Serpent sous la Glace' (2004-2006, drawn by Milan Jovanovic), 'L'Ecorché' (2006-2007, drawn by Rubén Pellejero and co-written by Florent Germaine), 'Samsara' (2007-2009, drawn by Michel Faure), 'Pâques avant les Rameaux' (2009, drawn by Marianne Duvivier and co-written by Giroud's life partner Virginie Greiner), 'L'Angélus' (2010-2011, drawn by José Homs), 'La Corde' (2010-2011, drawn by Duvivier), 'Cavale' (2013-2014, drawn by Magda and co-written by Florent Germaine) and '¡Adelante!' (2013-2014, drawn by Javi Rey).

'Quintett' (Dupuis, 2005-2007) stars the members of a musical group, which brings distraction to the French soldiers on a military base in the neutral zone of Macedonia in 1916. The first four installments present each member of the group at the crossroads of their lives. Dora Mars, Alban Méric, Élias Cohen and Nafsika Vasli all have their own personal demons to deal with, but at the same time their individual stories influence that of the others. Again, each volume can be read as an independent story, but this time the episodes take place at the same time and present the same events from a different viewpoint. The unique experiment was concluded in the fifth book, which brings each story together in a collective conclusion. The artwork for the five books was provided by Cyril Bonin, Paul Gillon, Steve Cuzor, Jean-Charles Kraehn and Giancarlo Alessandrini, while Giulio De Vita drew the pages which contained the frame story. Again, Giroud returned to his characters for a one-shot sequel called 'La Colline aux Serments' (2009), which contained artwork by Gillon, Bonin, Cuzor, Kraehn and Alessandrini, as well as Uriel and TBC.

The fourteen-volume series 'Destins' stars a young American girl called Ellen Baker, who accidentally kills a nightguard during a failed hold-up with her boyfriend, a violent left-wing activist. She flees to England, but is confronted with her past when another woman is accused of her crime and will be executed. Each story ends with Ellen at the junction of an important life decision. The following two books explore a different timeline depending on her choice. For this series, Giroud attracted several guest writers while he kept the overall supervision. These included Virginie Greiner, Pierre Christin, Valérie Mangin, Éric Corbeyran, Kris, Rodolphe, Philippe Bonifay, Denis Lapière, Florent Germaine, Matz, Frédéric Richaud and Makyo, while the participating artists were Michel Durand, Daphné Collignon, Yves Lécossois, Luc Brahy, Daniel Hulet, Espé, Gilles Mezzomo, Jean-Luc Serrano, Loïc Malnati, Olivier Berlion, Sébastien Goethals, Béhé, Eugenio Sicomoro and Ruben Pellejero.

Later series
Of course Giroud managed to create new series in addition to his thematic concepts. 'L'Expert' (Glénat, 2003-2007) is another take at religion-related agression taking place in both the 16th and 20th century. Starting point is a mysterious painting called The Triumph of St. Waldemar by a Flemish primitive painter called Hans Roeghlin. It presents events that are in blatant contradiction to the historical reality, while descendants of the portrayed characters are murdered one after another. The artwork of this series was by the Eastern European artist Brada. 'Le Cercle de Minsk' (Albin Michel/Glénat, 2005-2010), drawn by Jean-Marc Stalner, yet again combines favorite Giroud themes like religion and family secrets in the format of an historical thriller. A German doctor inherits a piece of fabric from his adoptive parents, which forms the key to a secret cult. 'Les Champs d'Azur' (Glénat, 2010-2013) is another family saga situated during the pioneer days of aviation. The artwork is by Luc Brahy.

In cooperation with Denis Lapière, Giroud wrote the one-shot 'Page Noire' (Futuropolis, 2010), a psychological thriller about a best-seller novelist whose identity remains a mystery, with artwork by Ralph Meyer. With the 'Galkiddek' trilogy (Delcourt, 2013-2016), Giroud and artist Paolo Grella crafted a fictional medieval world with baroque and esoteric elements. The story about love, revenge and alchemy is one of the few fantasy-oriented works in Giroud's oeuvre. The geo-political series 'L'Avocat' (Lombard, 2015-2017) brought back Giroud's engagement, this time in a courtroom setting. The series was written in cooperation with Laurent Galandon and drawn by Frédéric Volante. The diptych 'Le Vétéran' (Glénat, 2017), drawn by Gilles Mezzomo, was another psychological thriller, set shortly after battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Giroud and Mezzomo created a comics biography about French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) for the collection 'Les Grands Peintres' in 2016. For 'XIII Mystery', the spin-off of Jean Van Hamme and William Vance's best-selling thriller series 'XIII', Giroud wrote the installment focusing on the character Martha Shoebridge (2015), which was drawn by Colin Wilson. Giroud's final comic album published during his lifetime was 'Churchill et Moi' (Casterman, 2018), about a twenty-year old female reporter who falls in love with Winston Churchill, a young promising aristocrat of the same age but of a different social class. The artwork was by Andrea Cucchi.

During the 2002 Comic-Salon in Erlangen, Germany, Frank Giroud preceived the prestigious Max & Moritz Prize for "Best International Scriptwriter", following in the footsteps of Pierre Christin, Alan Moore and Jean Van Hamme.

Final years and death
In addition to his work for comics, Frank Giroud has worked as a songwriter with French singer Juliette Noureddine for her album 'Assassins sans couteaux' (1998). He has furthermore written comedy sketches and musicals and performed as an actor and cabaret artist. Even though his final years were complicated by a severe illness, the author continued to work until the very end. He even kept a humorous illustrated diary of his many hospital stays for dialysis. Frank Giroud passed away on 13 July 2018, at the age of 62. He leaves behind a rich and varied oeuvre, which ranks him among the greats of Franco-Belgian comics.

Frank Giroud

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