L'Agent 212 by Daniel Kox

Daniel Kox is a Belgian comic artist, most famous for drawing the humor series 'L'Agent 212' (1975-  ). Co-created with Raoul Cauvin, the blunders and misfortunes of this unlucky corpulent police officer have entertained the readers of Spirou magazine for almost half a century. As of 2021, it is one of the longest-running Belgian gag comics still in production. Also for Spirou, Kox wrote and drew a short-lived gag series of his own, 'Les Indésirables' (1978-1981), about two incompetent thieves.

Early life
Daniel Kox was born in 1952 in Ottignies, a town in the central Belgian province of Brabant (nowadays Walloon Brabant). As a child, he loved to read comics, and was particularly fond of the Spirou artists André Franquin, Peyo and Maurice Tillieux, who also became his main graphic influences. Later in life, Kox also expressed admiration for such creators as Raoul Cauvin - his main co-worker -, Christian Binet, Gordon Bess, Jean-Pierre Gibrat, Frank Pé, Régis Loisel, Marc Hardy, Yann & Conrad, Renaud Collin, Dubuc & Delaf and Julien Neel. In 1967, Kox showed his work to comic artist Jidéhem, at the time an established artist at Spirou magazine. The fifteen-year old Kox had ambitiously copied a couple of Christmas-themed drawings by Mittéï and expressed the desire to make a comic in the style of Jean Roba's 'La Ribambelle' comic. Impressed, Jidéhem advised Kox to try and find his own style, and the two men kept in touch afterwards.

Early career
In 1970, Daniel Kox made his professional debut in Samedi Jeunesse, a monthly comic magazine published by Éditions du Samedi. He drew the gag comic 'Vladimir et Firmin' (1970), about a ranger trying to arrest a poacher. Although the series was short-lived, it showed Kox inventing gags about a comical authority figure. In a way, Vladimir can be seen as an embryonic version of Agent 212, while Firmin brings to mind the laughable crooks from Kox's futures series 'Les Indésirables'.

Agent 212 by Daniel Kox
During his first appearance in 1975, L'Agent 212 was less chubby. Years later Kox redrew a selection of his earlier stories to fit with his hero's current body mass. 

Assistance work
In 1973, Kox served as a background artist and colorist for Dino Attanasio's signature humor series 'Signor Spaghetti', for many years a mainstay in Tintin magazine. In the following year, he offered his services to Peyo, the famous creator of the Smurfs for Spirou magazine. In his portfolio, he had an early version of his comic strip 'Les Indésirables'. Peyo liked it, but Spirou's editor-in-chief Thierry Martens wasn't convinced. Kox hoped he could perhaps work in Peyo's studio. However, Peyo had his hands full with overseeing Belvision's animated feature based on his famous blue dwarves, 'Le Flute à Six Schtroumpfs' ('The Smurfs and the Magic Flute', 1976). For the next few months, Peyo had no time to train a new assistant, and redirected Kox to another Spirou contributor, Francis Bertrand. In 1975, the young intern spent two months assisting on Francis' humor comic 'Marc Lebut et Son Voisin', but then decided he rather worked solo. In January and February of 1975, Kox also made his first two appearances in Spirou magazine with illustrations for Charles Jadoul's biology column 'Nature-Jeunesse'.

l'Agent 212, by Daniel Kox
'L'Agent 212' (Spirou #2229, 1981).

L'Agent 212
Still awaiting a vacant spot in Peyo's studio, Kox was introduced to comic writer Raoul Cauvin, at that time best known as the creator of the humorous western comic 'Les Tuniques Bleues', drawn by Willy Lambil. Cauvin had two scripts for Kox to choose from. The first idea was set on a train, the second was about a clumsy traffic cop. Kox initially picked the train concept, but feeling it didn't suit him, he quickly abandoned it. He passed on the plot to another young artist, Félix Zygmunt, who turned it into the four-page short story 'Comment Vous Arrêter de Fumer?', published in Spirou issue #1938 (5 June 1975). In the meantime, Kox began working on the humorous police comic. In Spirou issue #1939, published on 12 June 1975, the readers were first introduced to 'L'Agent 212'. As more episodes followed, Kox gradually dropped the idea of joining Peyo altogether.

'L'Agent 212' (Spirou #2703, 1990).

Incompetent policemen had been a notable source of comedy in Belgian comics before. Prime examples being Agent 15 in Hergé's 'Quick & Flupke', Agent Tieter in Willy Vandersteen's 'De Vrolijke Bengels', the "Champetter " in Marc Sleen's 'De Lustige Kapoentjes' and Longtarin in André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe'. Still, all these stupid or mean guardians of law and justice were always secondary characters, serving as comic relief or foils. In Cauvin and Kox's story, the policeman was the protagonist. Initially modelled after Franquin's Longtarin character, the original Agent 212 was still slender. As the episodes progressed, Kox made the character more corpulent, giving him a natural dopey and laughable look, comparable to Oliver Hardy. When asked why he chose the number "212", Cauvin explained it was simply the first number that came to his mind.

'L'Agent 212' (Spirou #2649, 1989).

L'Agent 212 - concept and characters
Agent 212 - real name Arthur Delfouille - is utterly bad at his job. Basically a manchild, the policeman misinterprets situations, leading to funny misunderstandings and mayhem. Whenever faced with a problem, he either uses the wrong methods or has no clue what to do about it. When confronted with danger, he scares easily and rarely has anything under control. And instead of staying calm in stressful situations, Agent 212 often loses his temper, literally foaming at his mouth. Although depicted as a twit, readers still feel sympathy for 212's misfortune. In the end, he means well, but lacks the brains and skills to be a model policeman. After all his blunders, the hot-tempered police commissioner Raoul Lebrun is utterly frustrated with his subordinate and never gives him a break. If something seems fishy, he instantly assumes the clumsy cop messed up again. In certain gags and short stories, however, Agent 212's misfortune isn't his fault at all. Annoying neighborhood children, disobedient civilians, reckless traffic offenders and obnoxious drunks frequently test his patience and goodwill. In these occasions, it actually feels satisfying whenever he manages to win the day, even when he abuses his authority to get things his way.

'L'Agent 212', crime scene reenactment in Spirou #2386 (1984).

In addition to commissioner Lebrun, the 'L'Agent 212' feature only has a few recurring secondary characters. Most of 212's colleagues are interchangeable police officiers, with the exception of the good-tempered Albert and Bastien. As a running gag, Agent 212 frequently stumbles upon a desperate man who tries to commit suicide. The white-haired, moustached wretch never received a name and is usually referred to as the "suicidal man". Some episodes show Arthur in his spare time, quarreling at home with his wife Louise. A major obstacle to a peaceful life is Arthur's mother-in-law, who utterly loathes him and nags that Louise should have never married him. In several gags, she passes by when Agent 212 tries to do his job, and either misinterprets the situation or starts insulting him, making the policeman lose his authority or concentration. Arthur also adopted a stray dog, named Wilfried.

'L'Agent 212', suicide prevention in Spirou #3056 (1996).

L'Agent 212 - success & style
Initially, both the authors and the Spirou editors saw 'L'Agent 212' as a filler comic with no chance for longevity. But the readers enjoyed it and the feature kept running, both in Spirou and its Dutch-language edition Robbedoes (as 'Agent 212'). Still, publisher Dupuis was reluctant to collect the series in book format, despite Kox's many pleas. It was only when 'L'Agent 212' ended as the sixth most popular series in Spirou's 1981 reader's poll that Dupuis finally greenlighted an album release. As of today, new episodes of 'L'Agent 212' still run in Spirou on an irregular basis. Even though he continued to be credited as a scriptwriter, Raoul Cauvin gradually left the writing duties to Kox himself. Since 2000, some gags were scripted by Marylène Bruno. A meticulous and notoriously slow worker, Kox has been assisted on the artwork in the 1990s by Thierry Capezzone and Péral. Colleague friends have also provided Kox with an occasional helping hand, for instance Malik, Louis-Michel Carpentier, Laudec, Bédu and Marc Hardy.

The long-lasting success of the 'L'Agent 212' feature can be attributed to the simplicity of the concept. Police comedy is quite timeless. Still, Kox is sometimes tired of drawing his main character on duty. Some of the later episodes show Agent 212 during holidays, when he is not required to wear his uniform. Applying a readable, clean drawing style, Kox takes great delight in drawing exaggerated facial expressions. Angry characters foam at the mouth while jumping up and down. When laughing, they tilt their head backwards with their mouths wide open and their tongues sticking out. Frightened characters have their eyes jumping out of their sockets.

Les Ind├ęsirables, by Daniel Kox

Les Indésirables
Between 1978 and 1981, Spirou also ran Daniel Kox's earlier concept, the gag strip 'Les Indésirables'. When Kox joined Spirou in 1974, the strip was rejected by editor-in-chief Thierry Martens - but his successor Alain De Kuyssche even preferred it over 'L'Agent 212' and had the two series run simultaneously. Debuting in Spirou issue #2112 (5 October 1978), the strips were generally printed on half a page, with two strips per episode. In a sense, 'Les Indésirables' was a mirror companion to 'L'Agent 212'. Instead of a stupid and incompetent policeman, it deals with two dumb and worthless criminals. The nameless scoundrels try to kidnap, smuggle or steal, but always fail miserably. Like the title implies, they are therefore "indésirable" ("unwanted"). The chief is tall, while his crony his short-sized. The two crooks usually get caught because the short one says or does something incredibly stupid. As a running gag, the final panel always shows them in jail, where the chief pounds on his sidekick because of his stupidity. 'Les Indésirables' ran irregularly for four years, with the final episode appearing in issue #2298 (29 April 1982). In Dutch, the series appeared under the title 'De Schobbejakken'. Because he couldn't combine it with the far more successful 'L'Agent 212', Kox eventually discontinued 'Les Indésirables'. In a special "comeback special" of Spirou magazine - issue 3839 of 9 November 2011 - the two clumsy crooks briefly returned.

Graphic contributions
In 1980, Kox was one of many Belgian comic artists to make a graphic contribution to the book 'Il Était Une Fois... Les Belges/Er Waren Eens Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and one-page comics, published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. Together with his colleague friends Louis-Michel Carpentier, Malik and Jidéhem, he adapted saucy student's songs in the comic book series 'Chansons Cochonnes' (Éditions Top Game, 1990-1992).

Since 2006, the Rue du Marché aux Poulets/Kiekenmarkt in Brussels carries the nickname "Agent 212 Street" as part of the city's "comic street" project. The choice for the market square was appropriate, since the French word "poulet" is slang for "police officer". On 2 August 2011, 'Agent 212' received his own statue - sculpted by Monique Mol - as part of the local Comics Route in the Belgian coastal town Middelkerke. On 12 June 2017, Kox and Cauvin's creation was honored with a statue by Matthias De Wolf at the Rauschenberg square in Westende.

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