La Marque Jaune by EP Jacobs
'La Marque Jaune'.

Edgar Pierre Jacobs is one of the masters of Belgian comics, despite his small body of work. His signature series, 'Blake and Mortimer' (1946), only counts 11 albums by his own hand. Together with just one other stand-alone comic book, 'Le Rayon U' (1943), they form his entire oeuvre. All his other artwork was done in function of Hergé's 'Tintin' series, to which he contributed backgrounds, colouring and occasional plot suggestions in the mid-1940s. Yet all his comics are unanimously regarded as masterpieces of European comic book art. 'Blake and Mortimer' follows the suspenseful adventures of two Englishmen, a secret agent and a scientist. The duo gets involved in all kinds of atmospheric mystery thrillers with more fantastical elements like mad science, mind control, time travel, UFO's, Atlantis and the Third World War. A notorious perfectionist, Jacobs spent months preparing himself for each story. Every drawing and every plot element had to be realistic and believable. His obsessive research, beautifully detailed art work and suspenseful narratives made his comics timeless classics. One of them, 'La Marque Jaune' ('The Yellow "M" ', 1954) has risen to iconic status in the Franco-Belgian comic scene. 

Early life
Born in Brussels in 1904, Jacobs had an early fascination for both drawing and music. As a teenager he copied images from his history books, already showing the patience and eye for detail that ensured every line was correct. Among his earliest graphic influences were Christophe, Benjamin Rabier, Étienne Le Rallic, Henry Morin, Ferdinand Raffin, Henri Lanos, Machiatti, Manuel Orazi, Arthur Rackham, Edmond Dulac, Caran d'Ache, Sem, Boudini, Job, Hans Holbein, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, François Clouet, J.P. Laurens, Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse, Dormon, Hippolyte Delaroche, Henri Leys, Gustave Wappers and particularly Georges Omry. One of Jacobs' schoolmates was Jacques Laudy, with whom he would later work together for the magazines Bravo and Tintin. Another significant event in his life was an accident that occured when he was about three or four years old. While playing in his uncle's garden he suddenly fell into a deep pit and had to wait several minutes before he was saved, though to him it seemed more like hours. He never forgot this traumatic experience and several 'Blake and Mortimer' stories feature characters roaming around in caves, cellars, basements and secret tunnels.

L'Affaire du Collier by EP Jacobs
'L'Affaire du Collier'.

Opera career
For a long while Jacobs couldn't decide which career path to choose? On one hand he wanted to become an illustrator of history books. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and illustrated catalogues for shops like the Innovation, Le Bon Marché and Le Grand Bazar. At the same time, he also dreamed of working in the world of opera. Jacobs drew, painted and designed many sets. He even performed on stage and won a governmental medal in 1929 for his excellent voice. He sang in the Casino de Paris and the Opéra de Lille and shared a stage with huge stars such as Mistinguett. Had World War II not interfered he might have been remembered today as an opera legend.

Flash Gordon, by E.P. Jacobs
'Flash Gordon' by E.P. Jacobs (Bravo #50, 1942).

Flash Gordon
After the Nazis occupied Belgium in 1940, Jacobs was forced to seek a more lucrative job. He became a designer of jewelry and lace, retouched photographs and made publicity drawings. Jacques Laudy helped him gain a job as illustrator for the magazine Bravo in 1941. As fate would have it, he also published his first comics there. Bravo published a translated version of Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon', but when the Nazis prohibited the import of American comics, the series was interrupted halfway a story. To avoid losing readers Jacobs was asked to think up the rest of the tale and draw it himself. For someone with no experience in comics he incapsulated Raymond's style perfectly. However, only a few weeks later Nazi censors even discontinued this home-based imitation.

Le Rayon U, by E.P. Jacobs
'Le Rayon U'.

Le Rayon U
The editors of Bravo then asked Jacobs to draw a science fiction comic of his own, but somewhat reminscent of 'Flash Gordon'. The end result, 'Le Rayon U' ('The U Ray', 1943), was impressive and proved he was capable of combining his graphical skills with talent for narration. While the atmosphere and some characters still echoed the influence of 'Flash Gordon', it also introduced prototypes of characters Jacobs would later develop in his own 'Blake and Mortimer' series. Marduk, Calder and Dagon look and act very similar to Mortimer, Blake and Olrik. Stylistically it was a text comic, with the dialogue written below the images, but 30 years later it would be reprinted in the magazine Tintin with speech bubbles. 'Le Rayon U' is also historically important for being the first Belgian science fiction comic.

Assistance of Hergé (1944-1947)
Between 1944 and 1946, Jacobs published in Stop and ABC. During this period Jacobs was however mostly busy assisting Hergé on 'The Adventures of Tintin'. The two men were introduced to each other by Jacques van Melkebeke during the premiere of the stage show 'Tintin in India' on 15 April 1941. They got along, despite Hergé's hatred for opera, and by 1944 Jacobs was hired to restyle several of the earlier black-and-white 'Tintin' albums for color publication, more specifically 'Tintin in the Congo', 'Tintin in America', 'The Blue Lotus' and 'King Ottokar's Sceptre'. Jacobs not only colored the stories, but also drew new backgrounds. As a sign of gratitude, Hergé added cameos of Jacobs in 'Cigars of the Pharaoh' (as the mummified archeologist E.P. Jacobini) and in 'King Ottokar's Sceptre' (as a military officer standing next to Hergé when Tintin is removed from intruding the king's palace). Hergé also claimed that Jacobs was a major inspiration for some of Captain Haddock's energetic outbursts. A large part of the plot of the new Tintin stories 'The Seven Crystal Balls' and 'Prisoners of the Sun' was co-written by Jacobs. This would eventually provide tensions when Hergé refused to credit his contributions. By 1947 Jacobs terminated the collaboration. Nevertheless, Hergé and Jacobs always remained on good terms. 

Tintin cover by EP JacobsTintin cover by E.P. Jacobs
Cover illustrations for Tintin #7 (1948) and 70 (1950). 

War Of The Worlds
When the magazine Tintin was founded in 1946, Jacobs was present from the first issue on. Between 1946 and 1947, he illustrated a serialized, shortened version of H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds'. The cover of Tintin issue #2 (1947), which used an illustration from this specific story, was also used for a 1986 a trade paperback edition.

Blake and Mortimer
The very first issue of Tintin also introduced readers to Jacobs' own comics series: 'Blake & Mortimer'. The moustached secret agent William Blake and his bearded friend, the scientist Philip Mortimer, would soon become some iconic. Jacobs modelled Blake after Jacques Laudy, while Mortimer was inspired by Tintin's editor-in-chief Jacques Van Melkebeke, though in both cases the characters' facial hairs were additions by the author. The physical appearance of arch nemesis Colonel Olrik was inspired both by Hitler as well as Jacobs's own face.

Le Secret de l'Espadon by EP Jacobs
'Le Secret de l'Espadon'.

The first 'Blake & Mortimer' story 'Le Secret de l'Espadon' ('The Secret of the Swordfish', 1946-1949) was an action-packed science fiction tale which still echoed the events of the only recently ended Second World War. The two friends get involved in a new world war where the Mongolian army conquers the entire planet. The two-parter 'Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide' ('The Mystery of the Great Pyramid', 1950-1952), was set in Egypt and had a similar atmosphere to Tintin's 'Cigars of the Pharaoh', with Blake and Mortimer exploring an Egyptian tomb. Early stories such as these sometimes suffer from an overabundance in text in both speech balloons as well as captions. Gradually Jacobs found his balance and created stories which are widely considered  highlights in the history of comics. Working in the same "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line") as Hergé and with the same eye for realism, suspense and documentation, 'Blake and Mortimer' is a worthy equivalent of 'Tintin', though without comedy. The stories are atmospheric mystery thrillers with a touch of fantasy and science fiction. The highly realistic artwork makes everything all the more believable.

Le Mystère de la Grand Pyramide
'Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide' (Dutch version from Kuifje #7, 1952).

The Yellow 'M'
Jacobs' masterpiece is without a doubt 'La Marque Jaune' ('The Yellow "M"', 1953-1954). The plot revolves around a mysterious villain who terrorizes London by informing the press in advance where he is going to strike. As a signature he leaves an "M" in a yellow circle behind. Parts of the story were inspired by the classic film thrillers 'M' (1931) by Fritz Lang and Karl Freund's 'Mad Love' (1935). The page-turning suspense is comparable to the best film noirs. Its detailed depiction of 1950s foggy London provides an unintentional time capsule. 'The Yellow "M"' has risen to classic status in Franco-Belgian comics and the iconic album cover alone has been referenced, homaged and parodied numerous times. In 1997, at the Comics Festival of Koksijde, Belgium, the book was voted "Best Comic Book Story of the 20th Century". Two years later, it received a similar honor from the jury who normally judges the bi-annual Flemish comics awards: the Bronzen Adhemar. 

panel by Edgar P. Jacobs
'La Marque Jaune' (Dutch version from Kuifje #3, 1954).

Perfectionistic research
A meticulous perfectionist, Jacobs tried to make his drawings as accurate as possible and his plots watertight. Whenever he lacked necessary info for the story he refused to continue until he had obtained it. He made sketches on location or acquired photographs of places he couldn't simply visit, such as a Caïro museum, the Tower of London or the sewers of Paris. A famous anecdote goes that the artist once needed an image of a Japanese rubbish bin for a story. As he couldn't find one in Belgium itself he sent a letter to the Belgian embassy in Tokyo asking them for a photograph of the object. For months the story was interrupted and the drawing left unfinished. Finally Jacobs received a reply and the desired photograph... only to discover that a Japanese rubbish bin looks exactly like any other bin!

L'Enigme de l'Atlantide by EP Jacobs
'L'Enigme de l'Atlantide' (Dutch version from Kuifje #32, 1956).

Jacobs also had the habit to redraw entire pages if he disliked the end result, even if that meant starting all over again and rewrite the plot. Once he threw out the entire first part of 'L'Enigme de l'Atlantide' ('The Enigma of Atlantis', 1955-1956) after learning that Willy Vandersteen was working on a similar story about Martians ('De Gezanten van Mars') for his humorous series 'Suske en Wiske'. Afraid that his readers wouldn't be able to take his story seriously anymore, he changed the plot to a story about the hidden continent of Atlantis.

Jacobs' painstaking research and perfectionism also explains why only eight long stories were drawn, namely 'The Secret of the Swordfish' (1950-1953, spread over three albums), 'The Mystery of the Great Piramid' (1954-1955, spread over two albums), 'The Yellow "M"' (1953-1954), 'L'Enigme de l'Atlantide' ('The Enigma of Atlantis', 1955-1956), 'S.O.S. Météores: Mortimer à Paris' ('S.O.S. Meteors: Mortimer in Paris', 1958-1959), 'Le Piège Diabolique' ('The Time Trap', 1960-1961), 'L'Affaire du Collier' ('The Necklace Affair', 1965-1966) and 'Les Trois Formules du Professeur Sato ('Professor Sató's 3 Formulae', 1971-1972, 1990). All of these were published in book format by Le Lombard. From the 1960s on his production started to slow down. His story 'Les Trois Formules du Professeur Sato' (1971-1972) never got further than the first part. Realizing his own mortality he published his autobiography, 'Un Opéra de papier' ('An Opera on Paper') in 1981. When the unavoidable day of passing eventually came in 1987, the second part of 'Les Trois Formules du Professeur Sato' was still only a script on paper. Bob De Moor finished the story in 1990, based on the writings Jacobs left behind.

S.O.S. Meteores by E.P. Jacobs
'S.O.S. Météores' (Dutch version from Kuifje #48, 1958).

Media adaptations
In the late 1950s and early 1960s various stories of 'Blake and Mortimer' were adapted into radio plays and made available on record albums afterwards. Between 1997 and 1998 Ellipse adapted the series into an animated TV series. The first nine episodes were straight adaptations of the original albums, while the four others were stories created by the animators. In 2001 Warners Music released the music album 'Blake et Mortimer - Alerte Sonique' (2001), which featured music inspired by the comic strip, created by many different artists. 'Blake and Mortimer' has furthermore been adapted into board and video games as well.

Because of the very serious tone 'Blake and Mortimer' has always been a favorite target for parody. Dupa was the earliest to do so. In his 'Cubitus' short story 'Cubitus et La Marque Jaune' (prepublished in Tintin issue #18 [30 April 1974], later collected in the album 'L'Ami Ne Fait Pas Le Moine') he spoofed pages 38 and 39 of 'La Marque Jaune' with his own characters. Pierre Veys and Nicolas Barral's 'Les Aventures de Philip et Francis' (2005) and Alain D.'s 'La Marque de la Parodie' are direct parodies of the entire series. On April Fool's Day 2008 the Flemish newspaper Het Belang van Limburg brought out a special edition where all the articles and photographs were written and manipulated by comedian Urbanus. Inside the edition was a special photo comic, 'Bleek and Skortrimmer' which spoofed Edgar P. Jacobs' 'Blake and Mortimer' with Urbanus playing Mortimer and fellow comedian Geert Hoste taking the part of Blake. Philippe Geluck and Devig 'Les Aventures de Scott Leblanc - Alerte sur Fangtaufa' (2009) is a parody of both Jacobs and Hergé's oeuvre. 

Parodying the iconic cover of 'La Marque Jaune' is almost a spoof genre on its own in Belgium and France: only 'Tintin' albums are spoofed more often! In 1990 François Walthéry had his air hostess Natacha imitate Marilyn Monroe in front of the wall of 'La Marque Jaune' for a 20th anniversary special comic book. Merho had his characters Kiekeboe and Konstantinopel stand in front of 'The Yellow M' wall, when shopping for better comic book backgrounds in 'Afgelast Wegens Ziekte' (1990). He spoofed the same album cover again on the cover of his own 'De Kiekeboes' album 'Het Boerka Complot' (2005). In 1992 Belgian cartoonist Gal satirized the 'La Marque Jaune' cover, with Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and Minister of Budget Herman van Rompuy posing in front of a street in Maastricht, in reference to the European Union Treaty of Maastricht. The cover of Tom Bouden's 'Paniek In Stripland' (2008) also spoofs 'La Marque Jaune'. Éric Maltaite created a 2009 cartoon of a man standing in front of a Flemish lion flag, under the title: 'La Belgique résistera-t-elle?', in reference to the increasing separatism in Flanders. Alain D. satirized the McDonaldisation of France by putting Blake and Mortimer in front of a wall with the McDonald's emblem, in a cartoon titled 'Le Big Mac Jaune'. Philippe Geluck also spoofed the cover as 'La Marque du Chat', with his character Le Chat and a mouse standing together while Le Chat's silhouette is seen on the wall behind them. 

Le Piège Diabolique by EP Jacobs
'Le Piège Diabolique' (Dutch version from Kuifje #47, 1960).

Already during Jacobs' own lifetime he was awarded for his impressive achievements. In 1971 he won the Grand Prix Saint-Michel for his entire career and a year later the Prix Saint-Michel for Best Science Fiction Story (1972) with 'Les Trois Formules du Professeur Sato'. 

Blake and Mortimer after Jacobs' death
In 1996 Jean Van Hamme and Ted Benoit were given permission to continue the franchise. They co-wrote the album 'L'Affaire Francis Blake' ('The Francis Blake Affair, 1996), the first to be published through the new imprint Éditions Blake et Mortimer. The next story, 'La Machination Voronov' ('The Voronov Plot', 2000) was scripted by Yves Sente, drawn by André Juillard and colored by Didier Conrad. Van Hamme and Benoit teamed up a final time for 'L'Étrange Rendez-Vous' ('The Strange Encounter', 2001), after which Sente and André Juillard created the double album 'Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent' ('The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent', 2003-2004) and the stand-alone 'Le Sanctuaire du Gondwana' ('The Gondwana Shrine', 2008). Van Hamme returned for 'La Malédiction des Trente Deniers' ('The Curse of the Thirty Denarii', 2012), but the artwork was provided by René Sterne and his partner Chantal De Spiegeleer, with further graphical assistance from Antoine Aubin and Étienne Schreder. Sente and Juillard teamed up again for 'Le Serment des Cinq Lords' ('The Oath of the Five Lords', 2012), 'Le Bâton de Plutarque' ('The Staff of Plutarch', 2014) and 'Le Testament de William S.' ('The Testament of William S., 2016). Jean Dufaux wrote the script for 'L'Onde Septimus' ('The Septimus Wave', 2013), which is a sequel to 'The Yellow "M", and had Antoine Aubin and Étienne Schreder providing the drawings. In 2018 the Dutch artists Peter van Dongen and Teun Berserik finished their installment in the series, 'La Vallée des Immortels I' ('The Valley of the Immortals', 2018), another diptych scripted by Sente. Outside of the regular series, Didier Convard and André Juillard created the album 'Blake et Mortimer, L'Aventure Immobile' (1998) in the collection Le Dernier Capitre, featuring an exchange of letters between Blake and Mortimer. 2019 saw the publication of 'Le Dernier Pharaon' ('The Last Pharao', 2019), starring an elderly Blake and Mortimer. It was written by novelist Thomas Gunzig and film director Jaco Van Dormael (of 'Toto Le Héros', 'Mr. Nobody' and 'Le Tout Nouveau Testament' fame) and drawn by François Schuiten. The script of this particular story was based on a few notitions Jacobs left behind for a story he still had to develop, but never did. With the new titles of 'Blake & Mortimer' outselling even the albums drawn during Jacobs' lifetime, his legacy seems safe for future generations.

cover for Het Raadsel van Atlantis, by E.P. JacobsSOS Meteores

Legacy and influence
In 1989 Jacobs became one of the few Belgian comic pioneers to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels. On 5 September 1997 a comic book mural based on the 'Blake and Mortimer' story 'La Marque Jaune' was inaugurated in the Rue du Petit Rempart/Vestje, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. In October 2003 it had to be demolished out of fear of crumbling down. A new mural with the same design was created on 20 July 2005 in the Rue du Houblon/ Hopstraat in Brussels. Yet in 2019 it also had to disappear because of a new student's house. A new mural will be erected in 2021 in the Rue du Temple/ Tempelstraat in Brussels, where Jacobs used to live.

In 1999 the French newspaper Le Monde compiled a list with 100 Books of the Century they considered to be essential reading. The entire 'Blake and Mortimer' series ended at 90th place, as one of the few comics in that list. Another testament to 'Blake and Mortimer' 's popularity is that at least four different comics stores have been named 'La Marque Jaune': one in Wavre, Belgium, one in Hoorn, Nederland (as 'Het Gele Teken', the Dutch translation), and two in France, namely in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Évry. 

Edgar Pierre Jacobs was an influence on artists like Jacques Martin, Karel Verschuere, Joost Swarte, Ever Meulen, Martin Lodewijk, Pascal J. Zanon, Aloys Oosterwijk, André Juillard, Ted Benoît, Conz, Goux, Peter Van Dongen, Erwin DrèzeNicolas Barral, Pierre Veys and Dirk Stallaert.  Goux' adaptation of Jules Verne's 'Facing the Flag' ('Le Fulgurateur Roch' at Ed. Regards, 2012) can be considered a tribute to Jacobs.

Books about Jacobs
For those interested in Jacobs' life and career Claude Le Gallo's 'Le Monde de Edgar P. Jacobs' (1984)  and Gérard Lenne's 'Blake,Jacobs et Mortimer' (1988) are both must-reads. Louis Alloing and Rodolphe also published a biography in graphic novel format, 'La Marque Jacobs' (2012), which resulted in a lawsuit from the publisher of the original 'Blake & Mortimer' books because of the book's title and cover lay-out. Jacobs' heirs felt it was copyright infringement, but the judge eventually allowed its publication.

Blake & Mortimer, by E.P. Jacobs
Sketch for page 26 of 'Les Trois Formules du Professeur Sato'.

Les amis de Jacobs
(en français)

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