Archie Cash, by Malik
Archie Cash - 'Le Carnaval des Zombies'.

Malik was a Belgian-based French comic book artist, collaborating with Spirou magazine for forty years. His two major series couldn't be further apart. Malik and scriptwriter Jean-Marie Brouyère caused a revolution with their over-the-top, hard-boiled action comic 'Archie Cash' (1971-1987, 2019). The graphic scenes of violence and death were unprecedented in the magazine's pages. With, respectively Brouyère and Spirou's former editor-in-chief Thierry Martens (AKA Terence/Yves Varende), he co-created the equally raunchy heroes 'Blue Bird' (Spirou, 1977) and 'Johnny Paraguay' (Edition des Archers, 1983-1985). The artist's firm inking work became more delicate when he tried his hand at humor. After his first effort with writer Bom, presenting the adventures of the boy Antoine and his goodish pet gorilla 'Big Joe' (in both Spirou and Super As), he teamed up with Spirou's house writer of humor comics, Raoul Cauvin, to create a gag strip about the loveable but mischievous angel 'Cupidon' (1988-2013).

Early life
Malik was born in 1948 as William Tai. His grandfather had been an ambassador for the Chinese ruler Chiang Kai-Shek, and had permanently settled in Brussels with his Belgian wife, when the communist revolutionary Mao Zedong came to power. Coming from a family of Eurasian descent, Paris-born William Tai spent part of his early childhood in French Indochina (currently Vietnam), where his father was a functionary. After the Vietnamese independence, he went to live with his grandmother in Brussels, together with his mother, two brothers and sister. His childhood was troubled by an absent father and poverty. In an interview with Philippe Capart in La Crypte Tonique #2 of January-February 2012, Malik remembered he and his friends played dangerous games with self-made pointed arrows and war armor. On the other hand, he also enjoyed reading, for instance Willy Vandersteen's 'Bessy', André Franquin's 'Spirou & Fantasio' stories and other comics, but also a book about insects by etymologist Jean-Henri Fabre. He developed a passion for insects, spiders and reptiles, of which he bred a great many during his lifetime.

Oncle Paul - 'Drôle de Montreur de Nains' (Dutch version from Robbedoes #1716, 1971).

Early career
From the age of fourteen, William Tai attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, studying Illustration. He was dreadfully bored with the classes, which focused on commercial art and children's book illustration. He almost turned to banking before he decided to try his luck at comics. Malik named André Franquin and Jijé as his major influences, but he also acknowledged that his artwork reflected his Eurasian background. He made his debut in Tintin magazine with the short story 'Petit Minusset deviendra grand' (#38, 1970), written by Jean-Marie Brouyère, but truly hit the mark in the magazine's direct competitor Spirou that same year. The self-taught artist first contributed two installments to the educational, historical feature 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' by Octave Joly, one dealing with dinosaurs (#1684, 1970), the other with the British spy Leo Pickard (#1716, 1971). Still signing with his own name, Tai's artwork was far more lively than the more formal drawing style the feature usually had. Malik later reflected he always remained the odd one out at Spirou, since he hadn't been an assistant to one of the magazine's regulars first. His image of an independent lone wolf was further established when the gritty action hero 'Archie Cash' was introduced in 1971.

Archie Cash
'Archie Cash' was intended for Jean Pleyers to draw, but the collaboration with scriptwriter Jean-Marie Brouyère didn't work out. So the job went to William Tai, who assumed the pen name Malik for the occasion. In issue #1745 (23 September 1971) of Spirou 'Archie Cash' made its debut. Cash is a deserting army sergeant from the South American republic Toro-Toro, who joins the resistance movement against the military reign of Colonel Achen. Later episodes have the two-fisted hero fighting for peace and justice in other parts of the world, such as Asia and the North American desert. Sharing his looks with the American actor Charles Bronson (1921-2003), Archie always keeps his cool, has a no-nonsense approach and seems to attract trouble wherever he goes. Overall, the 'Archie Cash' series has the look and feel of a sensational Hollywood action flick, with its exotic locations, busty women and bullets flying everywhere. Malik's dynamic brush strokes, daring camera angles and grotesque, overacting characters add to the series' pulpy nature.

Archie Cash - 'Chasse-Cœur à Koa-Gulé' (1987).

From the start, 'Archie Cash' polarized readers and editors alike. Many enjoyed the comic's thrilling entertainment value, others were shocked by the sudden explosion of violence in the normally so joyful Spirou magazine. Some purists felt it was a bow to commercialism and especially Americanism. 'Archie Cash' looked more like a typical U.S. comic book than a Franco-Belgian comic series. Albums sold well, both in Dutch and French, but the series was not without controversy or intervention from censors. The first album, 'Le Maître de l'Épouvante' (1973) was banned in France because of the graphical suggestion of a severed head in a box. The same album shows one of the female leads using a frozen corpse to distract her captors. Malik and Brouyère were however supported by chief editor Thierry Martens and - surprisingly - the paternalistic publisher Charles Dupuis, who otherwise carefully guarded the magazine's Roman Catholic roots. When the 1977 episode 'Asphalte' portrayed an assault on a bus with school children, which ended up balancing on an aiguille, new editor Alain De Kuyssche had enough. 'Archie Cash' disappeared, and didn't return in Spirou's pages until 1982. Scriptwriter Brouyère was temporarily replaced by Thierry Martens (AKA Terence) and Jean-Claude Smit-le-Bénédicte, but returned at the helm for the final episodes. 'Archie Cash' managed to last until the episode 'Curare' ended in 1987. By then, the Dupuis family business was sold to a group of bankers, and the authors of this comic book Rambo couldn't  rely on the support of publisher Charles Dupuis anymore. The 'Archie Cash' series was collected by Dupuis in 15 albums.

'Blue Bird'.

Blue Bird
In interviews, Malik often expressed feeling misunderstood and unsupported by Spirou's team. Still, he continued to work for the magazine for decades on end. One year after the first cancellation of 'Archie Cash', Malik and Brouyère launched the biker comic 'Blue Bird' (1977-1978), which measured up to 'Archie Cash' in terms of hard-boiled action. The story was collected in two volumes of the 'Dupuis Aventures' series in 1984.

Johnny Paraguay
Another conflict with Dupuis resulted in Malik signing up with the publishing house Archers to create the 'Archie Cash' clone 'Johnny Paraguay'. This time the protagonist's looks were based on French singer and actor Johnny Hallyday. After creating the first episode with writer Thierry Martens (who used the pen name Yves Varende), Malik wrote the second and third episode by himself. Archers only released the first two stories until going bankrupt; the third installment remained shelved until 2011, when Arcadia published it in Dutch.


Other realistic comics
Archers also published two albums of 'Chiwana' (1984), a solo series by Malik about a Native American girl, in which the artist could endulge in drawing wild animals and another fair amount of action. The series was originally serialized in Spirou in 1979. For Claude Lefrancq Éditeur, Malik made two albums of 'Les Colonnes du Ciel' (1989-1992), a comic book adaptation of Bernard Clavel's novel series 'Heaven's Pillars'.

Humor comics
Meanwhile, Malik also tried his hand at humor comics. In Spirou, he and writer Michel de Bom created the adventures of 'Big Joe', about a young boy who brings a pet gorilla back home. After two short stories in 1978, the series was continued in Super As over the course of 1980. A longer story under the title 'Antoine et ses Amis' was serialized in Spirou in 1985, after which the series faded into obscurity. For the Spirou special 'Album+ 3' (1982), Malik illustrated the 44-page humor story 'Le Raque à Mal'. It was written by Jean-François Benoist, the winner of a scriptwriting contest. Another attempt at a humor strip was 'La Vie Secrète des Poubelles' (Spirou, 1989-1991), an awkward gag strip about talking garbage bins, created in collaboration with scriptwriter Dugomier. More enduring was his collaboration with Spirou's in-house humorist Raoul Cauvin, which began with a couple of stand-alone short stories in 1988.

Cupidon, by Malik

Malik and Cauvin's team-up resulted in the second major series of Malik's career, 'Cupidon' (1988-2013). Introduced in Spirou #2634 of 5 October 1988, the gags and short stories follow the young and inexperienced angel Cupid in his attempts to create romance with his bow and arrow. Besides the little angel's earth-based goofs, other gags are situated in Heaven, where the mischievous Cupid and his angel friends drive the authoritarian Saint Peter crazy with their insubordination.


At first sight, 'Cupidon' was a complete deviation from Malik's previous work. The artist reinvented himself with an elegant and cute drawing style, without losing his trademark dynamism. On the other hand, 'Cupidon' was groundbreaking too. It fitted in with other series by Cauvin, which playfully mocked the serious sides of life (and death). 'Les Femmes en Blanc' (1981, drawn by Philippe Bercovici) gave a comical view on hospitals, 'Pierre Tombal' (1983, drawn by Marc Hardy) poked fun at death, and in 'Les Psy' (1992-2019, drawn by Bédu), Cauvin let his cynical humor loose on the mental health industry. 'Cupidon' not only satirized mankind's everlasting quest for love, but also the symbols of the Roman Catholic religion. Also, Malik's chubby angels provided the first full-frontal nudity in Spirou's pages, although in a non-erotic way. Another proof that Spirou had dropped its religious roots was the launch of Stuf and Janry's game feature 'Jeux d'Enfer' (1988-1990, which later spawned 'Passe-Moi Le Ciel'), which also gave a humorous view on Heaven and the afterlife, and was launched in the same year as 'Cupidon'.

'Cupidon' was published in Spirou magazine until 2011. Twenty-one albums were released annually by Dupuis, usually around Valentine's Day. Again, the series had a rather unceremonious cancellation, starting with the publisher's halt to the Dutch translations after the 17th album. Malik created two more albums on his own for Joker Éditions (2012) and Noir Dessin Production (2013), but without much success.


Later comic creations
While working on 'Cupidon', Malik contributed to a couple of other projects, often of a saucy nature. Together with Jidéhem, Daniel Kox, Louis-Michel Carpentier and Louis-Laurent Carpentier, he filled the pages of three 'Chansons Cochonnes' albums (Top Game, 1990-1992), with comic adaptations of scabious songs. For the publishing house Nous, he made a comic album based on 'Gertrude' (1996), a character created by comedian Stéphane Steeman for the RTBF television show 'Bon week-end'. 'Cupidon' starred in the album 'Un Amour de Province' (Emmanuel Hendrickx, 2005), a promotional album in commission of the province of Walloon Brabant. Malik adopted the pen name Phénix for the erotic stand-alone albums 'Passion à Notre-Dame' (IPM, 2003) and 'Les Centaures' (IPM, 2004); the artist himself appeared in the latter. He contributed to the three volumes of Bruno di Sano's erotic collective series 'Sortilège' (BD Fly, 2011-2018). Malik returned to his realistic drawing style for 'Avec Vauban' (Éditons du Triomphe, 2010), a comic about Louis XIV's military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, written by Louis-Bernard Koch.

'Chansons Cochonnes'.

Other work
In addition to his comics, Malik worked as an illustrator for the newspaper Le Soir, and for Schtroumpf, the comic magazine related to Peyo's 'Smurfs'. During the 1980s, Malik also drew several shooting target posters, used by law enforcement officers during their target practices. He was also a talented painter; his cover illustrations for Spirou were often made in gouache.

Malik shooting poster.

Later years
In 2011, Malik disappeared from Spirou's pages after 41 years. Both 'Archie Cash' and 'Cupidon' had ended in an unsatisfying way, leaving the artist with bitter sentiments. Luckily, the Dutch-language publisher Arcadia released several of Malik's more obscure creations in their 'Arcadia Archief' series, including the previously unpublished third 'Johnny Paraguay' story. The artist also enjoyed attending comic festivals, where he took the time in making special drawings for his fans. He also began working on a new 'Archie Cash' story, based on an unused script by Jean-Marie Brouyère (who had passed away in 2009). 'Qui a tué Jack London?' (2019) was self-published by Malik under the Les éditions du Fourbe Chinois, and a Dutch translation followed at Arcadia.

William Tai lived in the Belgian town of Huppaye (Ramillies) since 1986. He died a tragic death on the morning of 12 December 2020, when his house burned out. He was 72 years old.

Cauvin and Malik by Malik, as part of a comics interview published in Spirou #3578 (2006).

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