Pierre Tombal, by Marc Hardy

Marc Hardy is a Belgian comics artist, whose dynamic and gritty drawing style has illustrated many mainstream comics series with controversial subject matter. After doing assistant work and drawing more traditional adventure comics like 'Badminton' (1974-1975, 1980) and 'Garonne et Guitare' (1975-1978), he and scriptwriter Stephen Desberg shook up the pages of the Catholic comics magazine Spirou with 'Arkel' (1983-1986), a science-fantasy retelling of the battle between Heaven and Hell. With Raoul Cauvin, he then turned to morbid humor with the long-running gag series about gravedigger 'Pierre Tombal' (1983-...) and his departed "customers". No taboos were spared either with 'La Patrouille des Libellules' (1984-1988), a spoof of the scouts movement and the Second World War, published in Circus. It was written by the always subversive Yann, with whom Hardy subsequently made 'Lolo et Sucette' (1988-1989, 1997-2000), a gag strip about two prostitutes. Later on, Hardy applied a more realistic drawing style for the experimental graphic novel 'Feux' (2005) with Tome and his long-awaited and still upcoming spin-off album with 'Spirou et Fantasio'.

Early life
Born in 1952 in Liège, Marc Hardy spent the first fifteen years of his life in Belgian Congo (the current Democratic Republic of the Congo). Living in a small village in the Katanga Province, he first encountered comics when a visiting family friend brought along a large pile of comic books. It contained issues of Spirou magazine and Le Journal de Mickey, introducing the boy to not only classics of Franco-Belgian comics, but also Carl Barks' 'Donald Duck' stories. However, the albums of Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' and Tibet's 'Chick Bill' left the most lasting impressions. Hardy also developed a talent for drawing, making his own stories with Henri Vernes' 'Bob Morane' as a child. In 1967, the Hardy family returned to Liège, because Marc's brother had suffered a brain infarct. Marc Hardy spent a year and a half on the Institut Saint-Luc, where he often clashed with his teachers, who were fully into abstract art. 


Oncle Paul - 'Les Débuts de l'Homme sur la Terre' (Spirou #1752, 1971).

Assistant work
The 17-year old boy eventually quit his studies when he met Jean Mariëtte, a.k.a. Mittéï or Hao, who was one of the regular artists of Tintin magazine. Hardy became an assistant for Mittéi and helped him on 'Modeste et Pompon', the domestic gag series created originally by André Franquin. He was also trained to draw in a more humorous style. Hardy later also worked for Pierre Seron, assisting on the inking of the 'Les Petits Hommes' episode 'Des Petits Hommes au Brontoxique' (1972) in 1970-1971. Between 1971 and 1973, Hardy was present in Spirou again with five episodes of the educational historical series 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul'. Four of them were written by Octave Joly, one by Sylvie Brien, a cousin of his mother. For Michel Deligne's Curiosity Magazine he also drew 'Military Folies' (1972), a comic with military humor. He then joined the studio of Édouard Aidans, with whom he made an album about the history of the Tour de France, written by Yves Duval ('La Prodigieuse Épopée du Tour de France', Arts & Voyages Gamma, 1973). He also assisted Aidans on the family adventure comic 'Les Franval'. He provided full artwork for two digest-sized 'Franval' stories and one with 'Modeste et Pompon' for Tintin Sélection in 1974, after which he was ready to stand on his own feet.

Garonne et Guitare by Marc Hardy
Garonne et Guitare - 'La bruge-sous-les-flots' (1977).

Badminton
Marc Hardy found a homebase in Spirou, where his first effort was 'Badminton'. Based on an idea by Michel Dusart and with scripts by Hao (Mittéï), the series told the adventures of David Badminton, a retired British major turned private investigator, and his assistant Pickford. The initial two serials, both titled 'Badminton en Amazonie' (1974-1975), followed the two utterly British adventurers searching for a missing girl and their subsequent survival in the Amazon jungle. 

Garonne et Guitare
Editor-in-chief Thierry Martens asked Hardy to drop 'Badminton' and instead illustrate a new series called 'Garonne et Guitare', written by Mythic. Ten stories of varying lengths starring two 1920s investigators followed. The series' full title was actually 'Garonne et Guitare contre Foxy Lady', as an impalpable femme fatale known as Foxy Lady was behind most of the mysterious and supernatural ploys our heroes were confronted with. Spirou's new editor-in-chief Alain De Kuyssche however preferred the abruptly ended 'Badminton', and assigned Hardy to return to his first series. He drew one new full-length story, 'Badminton contre la bête' (1980), which showed him settled in the sketchy drawing style that would become his trademark in the rest of the decade.

Chat Moise
In 1980-1981 Marc Hardy furthermore provided Spirou two fold-in mini-books starring the cat 'Chat Moïse'.

Arkel by Marc Hardy
Arkel - 'Les 7 diables supérieurs' (1984).

Arkel
It took until March 1983 before Marc Hardy returned to the pages of Spirou, this time in collaboration with scriptwriter Stephen Desberg. 'Arkel' (1983-1986) was originally intended to be drawn by Godi, but those plans fell through. Luckily it was Marc Hardy's artwork which gave this science-fantasy/sword-and-sorcery comic exactly the moody atmosphere it needed. The series had a daring theme for a magazine with such firm roots in the Roman Catholic tradition. The main hero is 'Arkel', a rowdy angel tasked to escort the recently deceased to Heaven with his spaceship. With his allies, he has to defend Heaven against the devil Gordh, one of the seven sons of the fallen angel Baal. Gordh leads invasions of demons and other monsters. Both the angels and devils are equipped with high-tech spacecrafts and weaponry. Especially the so-called "sting swords" prove effective. A sting of the devils' swords make an angel suffer in anguish for eternity, while the angels' swords turn the devils in good-willing softies for a while. Even more disturbing are the angelic devil Lilith and the devillish angel Estelle, who turn events into true coming-of-age challenges for young Arkel.


Arkel - 'Estelle' (1986).

The provocative retelling of the classic story of Good vs. Evil in 'Star Wars' style appealed to Spirou's readership. Publisher Dupuis reluctantly released one single large-format book collection under the title 'Les Sept Diables Supérieurs' (1985). In 1992 and 1993 Éditions Palombia published three more albums. The final episode 'Estelle' ended with a major cliffhanger, but readers had to wait until 2009(!) before learning the rest of the story. In 2008-2009 Spirou reprinted 'Estelle' and then launched the second installment. At this occasion the series was renamed 'Ange & Diablesses'. The full story was published as a diptych in book format by Dupuis in 2009.

Pierre Tombal, by Marc Hardy
'Pierre Tombal'.

Pierre Tombal
Marc Hardy's best known work, 'Pierre Tombal', debuted only six months after 'Arkel', on 29 September 1983. Scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin liked Hardy's style, but was also "frightened" by it, as the artist recalled in the 2013 'Cauvin' monography by Patrick Gaumer. Hardy made him a couple of sketches, which gave Cauvin the idea of a gravedigger who has to deal with the quirks and demands of his entombed customers. Long before French publishers like Vents d'Ouest and Bamboo built an entire comics genre around "humor in professions", Hardy and Cauvin already introduced one of the most unique concepts for a gag strip. 'Pierre Tombal' revolves around a grave digger/funeral parlor, whose name is a pun on the word "pierre tombal" (translation: "gravestone"). As a protagonist he is basically the straight character and voice of reason. Cauvin and Hardy deliberately made him this way, to guide their readers through the macabre concept. The comedy is provided by the deceased, who apparently aren't actually "gone". They merely continue their existence under the ground as living skeletons or as ghosts. Pierre treats them as residents. He chats with them, listens to their requests and complaints and makes sure they enjoy their stay at his cemetery. Sometimes he allows them to leave their graves, for instance to go on a holiday. Or they are "volunteers" for Pierre's projects, such as a real-life skeleton during biology lessons at school. But Pierre isn't afraid of interfering whenever they break the rules. All in all: he is more than just a traditional gravedigger. He acts as a guard, diplomat, confidential advisor, justice keeper... and also as middle man between them and the "world of the living". A running gag is that most living people are utterly shocked that the dead are still able to talk and move. Pierre often has to interfere to tell his "deceased" residents to keep a low profile. But he also gives lectures to the living about how daily activities on his cemetery are conducted. Apparently the dead organize games, buy magazines and even have political elections. 

Many gags feature the dead trying to continue the same jobs and hobbies they did when they were still alive. Sometimes they do this with ease. Other times, they overestimate their own abilities. In one gag Pierre takes a corpse to the beach, but when it doesn't stay behind the windscreen as he told him to, his bones are blown away by the wind. The irritated Pierre is therefore forced to run behind them, while all other beach visitors are scared away. Other gags or short stories explore the back story or cause of death behind one of Pierre's latest buried customers. Some episodes poke fun at famous historical or fictional characters, such as Werner von Braun (who keeps launching his headstones as rockets), Prometheus (whose grave is still plagued by a giant eagle) or Judas (who is buried in a mausoleum as opposed to Jesus whose grave is a mere wooden cross, "because Judas could afford it."). As an inside joke, the authors often put names of friends and colleagues on tombstones. In one gag Pierre even organizes a signing session for real-life late comics authors. 

Marc Hardy's drawing style provides the perfect mix between humor and gore. Always in for something new, the artist tries to introduce new elements in every album. For instance, as the series progressed (and the writer became older) the series tackled more philosophical episodes about life and death. Hardy's graphic style and Studio Cerise's colouring occasionally offered slight alterations. 'Pierre Tombal' also moved along with the times. Late episodes have poked fun at social developments like selfies, the evolution of ditching technologies, ​​death insurance marketing and euthanasia. The Grim Reaper (or "Death"), also became a more prominent side character. The emaciated skeleton in his trademark hood, holding a scythe, is usually just biding his time. People who dare to mock him are often killed off before they know it. In other gags it is revealed that he is actually a grumpy, stressed-out man who is fed up with his job. Once he even went on strike. In album #27, he got competition from Life, a sweet little girl in blue who guides and guards people during their lifetime. Wherever she goes, flowers grow. Pierre has his own set of rivals too. In some episodes he is seen in a bar discussing his profession with his colleagues. One runs a crematorium, the other provides burials at sea. They often bicker which of their methods is the best? In other episodes each tries to convince a dying man that their funeral service is preferable over the other two. Later in the series Pierre even got a rival in his own family. His charming niece Marie Tombal debuted in album #31, where her far more stylish and modern graveyard attracts more customers than Pierre's. He is so envious that people aren't even allowed to mention her name in his presence. 


Life vs. Death in Pierre Tombal #27. Life sings 'Lilali', a reference to the 1998 hit song by Belgian pop singer Kim Kay. 

'Pierre Tombal' neatly tied in with Cauvin's other black humor comic, 'Les Femmes en Blanc' (1980), which was set in a hospital and drawn in an equally nervous style by Philippe Bercovici. Just like with 'Arkel', the Dupuis family again cringed over the subject matter of 'Pierre Tombal'. Yet Spirou editor-in-chief Philippe Vandooren gave it a shot anyway. While the series was prepublished in Spirou from 1983 on, it still took until 1985, when the family business was sold, before albums were released. Indeed, the series was quite a departure for Dupuis' traditional Catholic values. The comic strip does acknowledge the existence of God in its universe, but the dead are never seen in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. Apparently these kinds of afterlives don't seem to exist. The dead merely spent their eternity living underground, not far away from the world of the living. 

To Hardy the series had a therapeutic effect. Ever since his early childhood the artist had been confronted with death. He had lost four brothers and later also his first wife. But by making fun of the subject and putting it into perspective, he claimed he has never been afraid of death again. Readers liked  'Pierre Tombal' too. It quickly became one of the most popular features in the magazine, prompting Hardy to drop 'Arkel' in favour of this gag series. It was also translated in Dutch ('G. Raf Zerk'), Spanish ('Pedro Tumbas') and Indonesian ('Tombal'). Running for over 35 years 'Pierre Tombal' eventually disappeared from Spirou's pages in 2017. From that moment on the gags were published directly in album format. Two years later Éditions Dupuis announced the series' upcoming cancellation after one or two new albums.


'La Patrouille des Libellules'.

La Patrouille des Libellules
The 1980s proved a fruitful period for Marc Hardy. While slowly gaining fame in Spirou magazine, he was also present in Circus, a more adult-oriented comics magazine published by Jacques Glénat. Together with the always subversive scriptwriter Yann, he launched 'La Patrouille des Libellules' (literally "The Dragonfly Patrol", 1984-1988), about a group of girl scouts. The authors claimed their series was a tribute to the atmosphere of the early post-war Willy Vandersteen comics. One of the scouts is even a grossed out version of Vandersteen's Tante Sidonia character. But sex, violence and cynicism dominate in Yann and Hardy's depraved scouts comic.  Originally it was a mere satire of the scouts movement. From the second album on it became an even harsher satire of the Second World War's political and social clichés, spoofing scouts, Nazis, Jews and world leaders alike. While the series was popular, it was also accused of antisemitism and incitement to racial hatred. The series ended in 1988 after three albums, leaving the announced fourth album with the revealing title 'Pas d'Ausweis pour Auschwitz' unpublished.

Lolo et Sucette by Marc Hardy
'Lolo et Sucette'.

Sex humor
Hardy and Yann continued their collaboration with 'Lolo et Sucette' (1988-1989, 1997-2000), a gag comic about two streetwalking prostitutes who are best friends. Lolo is the obese, blond one. Her name is a pun on the French slang term for tits ("des lolos"). Sucette is red-headed and slender. Her name is the French word for lollipop, with a double entendre referring to fellatio. They debuted in a special issue of Circus magazine, about prostitution, published on 1 February 1988 (issue #118), and remained a regular gag feature until the following year. The series was continued in the Humour Libre collection of Éditions Dupuis between 1997 and 2000, with a total of five albums published. Again, Hardy's dark style was perfectly suited to illustrate the shabby streets and the ladies' scrubby clients. The comic strip also features occasional cameos of famous male comics characters as their clients, including Joe Dalton (from 'Lucky Luke') and Lambik and Jerom (from 'Suske en Wiske') as two gay men who enjoy leather. 'Lolo et Sucette' was also translated in Dutch as 'Titia en Pijpelijn'. For Marsu Productions Hardy and Yann furthermore created two albums of 'Croqu' la vie' (1992-1994), which can be seen as a sex spin-off to 'Pierre Tombal'.

Feux
With scriptwriter Philippe Tome, Marc Hardy additionally created 'Feux' (2005), an atypical series at the crossroads between European comics, American comic books and manga. The series kicks off with a young woman crashing down with her space shuttle in an alternative prehistoric universe. Here dinosaurs have developed their own civilized and hierarchic communities. They adopt her as one of their own, giving her the name Feux ('Fire"). The authors planned several story cycles of their series, but the project stranded after one single album. A completed second volume has remained unpublished.

Feux by Marc Hardy
'Feux'.

Spirou & Fantasio one-shot
Marc Hardy is also one of the artists asked to give his take on the classic 'Spirou et Fantasio' series, in the one-shots collection 'Une Aventure de Spirou et Fantasio, par...'. Hardy's story was years in the making. Commencing on the project in 2009, the artist had difficulties settling on a satisfying drawing style and concept. He eventually ended up working with scriptwriter Zidrou on a very dark and realistic take on the classic series, which is yet to be published.

Graphic contributions and limited editions
Throughout his career, Marc Hardy has contributed to several collective projects. The first was 'Qui a tué F. Walther?' (1985), an album produced, published and sold in one single day. Other contributions were to 'Joyeux Noël, Bonne Année' (Vents d'Ouest, 1987), 'Parodies 1' (MC Productions, 1987), 'Animaux a(d)mis' (Alliance Européenne, 1990), 'Flash Back' (COMIC! Events, 1995), 'Rire c'est rire' (F.I.R., 1995) and 'Folklore Wallon en Bulles' (Dricot, 2010). Hardy was also one of the participating artists in the completion of ' 'L'Arbre des Deux Printemps' (Lombard 2000), the graphic novel left unfinished due to the death of Will.

Éditions Black & White has released erotic art books by Marc Hardy under the title 'L'Irrévérence selon Marc Hardy' since 2012. The label also released a limited edition with Hardy's childhood 'Bob Morane' comics under the title 'Fragments de Mon Enfance' (2014) and a collection of 'Garonne et Guitare contre Foxy Lady' in 2018.

Legacy
With his uncompromising but still reader-friendly graphic style, Marc Hardy has managed to captivate mainstream audiences with otherwise provocative comics series. He can count at least the comics veteran Hermann among his fans. One of his sons, Nicolas Hardy, has also worked as a comics writer. Father and son cooperated on a special 'Pierre Tombal' comic in commission of funeral insurance company Le Voeu, 'Papy se disperse' (2011). They also made the short story 'Père Fouettard' (2013) for Spirou together.


"In loving memory". Cauvin and Hardy shine on the cover of the 23rd Pierre Tombal album.

www.HardyMarc.com

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