Prudence Petitpas, by Maurice Maréchal
Prudence Petitpas - 'Fusils Pour Macao' (1967).

Maurice Maréchal was a Belgian comic artist, best-known as the creator of the humorous mystery comic 'Prudence Petitpas' (1957-1967, 1984-1987). The series is notable for a few historical reasons. The title character, Prudence Petitpas, was the first Belgian comic series to star a single female character, and an elderly lady for that matter. At the time, this was an atypical choice for a comic hero. 'Prudence Petitpas' was also one of the few comic series to have run both in Tintin and rival magazine Spirou, albeit decades apart from one another. Maréchal's comic career was modest: 'Prudence Petitpas' was his only comic series and never a huge success. But it was translated in Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian and Arab and in 2001 adapted into an animated TV series. Maurice Maréchal should not be confused with Belgian athlete Maurice Maréchal (1906-1968), nor with French cellist Maurice Maréchal (1892-1964). 

Early life and career
Maurice Maréchal was born in 1922 in Waremme, in the Walloon province Liège. His father was an art teacher and naturally Maréchal inherited his talent. At age 17, the boy made political cartoons and in the late 1930s, he already scripted a few stories for the comic magazine Spirou. In issue #32 (24 November 1938) his short story 'Le Brick des Justiciers’ appeared in print. Two other stories, 'Le Coup de Teléphone’ (issue #6, 9 February 1939) and 'Le Noël d’Ads 473’ (issue #52, 28 December 1939) followed the next year. On 9 October 1949, another short story by his hand, 'Anthony et l’Autruche’ appeared in Coeurs Vaillants.  

Between the 1940s and early 1980s, Maréchal worked at the Royal Atheneum in Verviers, teaching French and Spanish. One of his students was future comic artist René Hausman. In his hometown, Polleur, south of Verviers, Maréchal lived next door to a well-known comic artist: Raymond Macherot, famous for the funny animal comic 'Chlorophylle', serialized in Tintin magazine. Through this connection, Maréchal was in 1957 able to introduce himself to the editors of Tintin. He was promptly accepted to publish in their pages.  

Prudence Petitpas
'Prudence Petitpas et les Voitures Fantômes' (1966). Dutch-language version. 

Prudence Petitpas in Tintin
On 8 May 1957, the first episode of 'Prudence Petitpas' was serialized in Tintin magazine. Her debut story was scripted by René Goscinny, while Maréchal's neighbor, Raymond Macherot, helped him sketch out the pages. Prudence is an old, friendly, but gullible lady, who owns an orange cat named Stanislas. Her name reflects her personality, since she is prudent and takes careful, small steps ('petit pas') to achieve her goals. Prudence lives in the quiet, fictional village Moucheron, where her best friend is a young boy, Jojo. Maréchal based Mocheron on the real-life French town Sauveterre-de-Rouergue, where he often spent his summer vacations. Much like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Prudence is a private investigator. She entangles mysterious crimes, aided by Jojo. Because of her age, criminals underestimate her, while the local police force doesn't take her seriously. Especially inspector Robur Duroc is sceptical about her deductions, but luckily younger policeman Cyprien shows more support and appreciation. 

Early episodes of 'Prudence Petitpas' were short, gag-based stories, but in late 1959 Goscinny left Tintin magazine. Maréchal was now skilled enough to carry the series without Goscinny and Macherot's help. Mittéï and his assistant Pierre Seron collaborated on the scripts and backgrounds. His first independent story appeared in issue #571 (1 October 1959). A year later, in issue #16 (20 April 1960), 'Prudence Petitpas’ became a full-length adventure comic. Despite irregular intervals, the series was a mainstay in Tintin's pages for a full decade. While Maréchal discontinued the series in  1967, two extra stories ran in 1968 and 1969 in Tintin Sélection, a trimestrial pocket book supplement of the magazine. 'Prudence Petitpas' was also translated in Dutch ('Tante Zenobie'), German ('Oma Pfiffig, Kater Schlau'), Spanish ('Doña Prudencia'), Italian and Arab. 

First Belgian comic series with a female protagonist
In the 1950s, Prudence Petitpas was a rather odd choice for a protagonist. Female characters in European comics were often supporting acts, never the star of a series. Emile-Joseph Pinchon's French series 'Bécassine' (1905) was the most notable exception. In Belgium, the little girls Zette in Hergé's 'Jo, Zette et Jocko' (1936) and Wiske in Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' (1945) had starring roles, but still in combination with a leading male character. In that regard, Prudence was the first genuine female protagonist in a Belgian comic strip. In the early to mid-20th century, many Franco-Belgian comic publishers were devout Catholics who disliked the idea of women playing big parts in children's stories. Whenever females appeared, they either had to be old or ugly (Bianca Castafiore in Hergé's Tintin, Tante Sidonia in Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', Madam Nero and Pheip in Marc Sleen's 'Nero'), or prepubescent girls (Zette in 'Jo, Zette et Jocko', Wiske in 'Suske en Wiske', Petatje in 'Nero', Annemieke and Rozemieke in Jef Nys' 'Jommeke' and Grenadine in Jean Roba's 'La Ribambelle'). Pretty women were considered risqué. If they had to appear at all, they had to be desexualized with not too prominent breasts, like André Franquin's Seccotine in 'Spirou', Queue-de-Cerise in Maurice Tillieux's 'Gil Jourdan', Susan in Pom's 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' and Pompon in Franquin's 'Modeste et Pompon'.

Prudence Petitpas fell into the 'old, non-attractive women' category and was therefore deemed acceptable. Readers agreed too. Given the series' longevity, she proved that Belgian comic fans could accept a single woman in a starring role. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the character therefore paved the way for more female heroes in Belgian comics, like 'Pipelette' (1961) and 'Sybilline' (1965) by Raymond Macherot, 'Sophie' (1965) by Jidéhem, 'Isabelle' (1969) by Will, Yvan Delporte and Raymond Macherot, 'Yoko Tsuno' (1970) by Roger Leloup and 'Natacha' (1970) by François Walthéry.

cover for Tintin by Maurice Marechalcover for Spirou by Maurice Marechal
Cover illustrations for Tintin issue #607 (9 June 1960) and Spirou issue #2513 (10 June 1986). 

Prudence Petitpas in Spirou
In 1967, Maréchal dropped his comic activities for a while to focus on his family and his job as a Spanish teacher. After a decade-and-a-half hiatus, in 1983, 'Prudence Petitpas' made a comeback. Maréchal had now retired from his educational duties. A few weeks before his official retirement, he coincidentally met comic publisher Charles Dupuis, who published Spirou magazine. He convinced him to relaunch 'Prudence Petitpas' in Spirou, Tintin's main rival. The first new episode appeared in Spirou issue #2406 (24 May 1984) and Prudence Petitpas would make irregular appearances up until issue# 2570 (14 July 1987). The reboot added few novelties, except that it were all exclusive short stories. Between 1984 and 1987, his character made occasional appearances in Spirou's pages, scripted by Maréchal, Didgé, Jiem or Mittéï. This makes 'Prudence Petitpas' one of the rare comic series to have both ran in Tintin and Spirou. 

Media adaptations
In 2000, 'Prudence Petitpas' was adapted into an animated TV series, 'Les Enquêtes de Prudence Petitpas' (2001-2004), produced by Odec Kid Cartoons, SEK Studio, Carrere Group D.A. and Les Films de la Perrine. 52 episodes were made, broadcast on the Canadian channel Télé-Québec, the French channel TF1 and German channel SuperRTL. 

In 1987, Maurice Maréchal retired completely from the comic industry. In 2008, he passed away in Polleur, at age 85. Coincidentally, during the week of his death, Éditions Le Lombard published a compendium of Maréchal's work, called 'Prudence Petitpas Mène l'Enquête'.

Prudence Petitpas, by Maurice Maréchal
'Prudence Petitpas'- 'Stanislas à Encore Disparu', in Spirou/Robbedoes issue #2570 (14 July 1987). Dutch-language version. 

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