Greek publication of 'Alix', by Jacques Martin
Alix - Les Legions Perdues (Dutch-language version from Kuifje #47, 1962)

Jacques Martin was one of the classic artists of Tintin magazine, along with Hergé, E. P. Jacobs and Paul Cuvelier. He is best known for two comics series, namely 'Alix' (1948), which is set in the Roman age, and 'Lefranc' (1954-1961, 1977-1982), which follows the adventures of a journalist. But he also created various other historical adventure series, such as 'Jhen' (1978), 'Arno' (1983)', 'Orion' (1990), 'Kéos' (1991) and 'Loïs' (2003). Renowned for his highly realistic artwork and meticulous documentation, Martin's comics are widely seen as artistic highlights. He illustrated various columns for the Belgian comics magazine Tintin too and was creative advisor for the weekly between 1953 and 1972. Martin made major graphic contributions to albums in Hergé's 'Tintin' series as well. His reputation in the field of historical comics is such that he is one of the few comics artists respected and used by historians as reliable educational literature. In a time when many publishers still censored nudity Martin was one of the first Franco-Belgian artists to draw such scenes in mainstream comics, following his quest for historical authenticity. Martin saw himself essentially as a storyteller. Therefore he has worked with a great number of assistants and co-workers since the 1970s.

Alix by Jacques MartinLefranc by Jacques Martin

Although Martin is closely associated with Belgian comics, he was in fact born in Marseille, France, in 1921. His father was an army pilot, who was part of the regiment which occupied the German Ruhr after World War I. In 1932 he died in a plane crash, leaving Martin's Swiss-Belgian mother behind working as a staff member of the French aircraft manufacturer SNCASE (L'Aérospatiale). Much of Martin's youth was spent in pensionats paid by his mother. From a young age Martin was interested in history, classic painting, sculpture and comics. Among his graphic influences were Canaletto, Jacques-Louis David, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. In the fields of comics he underwent influence from Hergé and later also from Edgar P. Jacobs and Alex Raymond. While he studied for engineer at the Catholic School of Art and Crafts in Erquelinnes, Belgium, World War Two broke out. In 1942 Martin published his first comic strip, 'Les Aventures du Jeune Toddy' in the magazine Je Maintiendrai, albeit under the pseudonym Jam. A year later he was put to work at the Messcherschmitt factory in Augsburg, Germany, where he stayed until the end of the war.


Le Sept de Trèfle (published as 'Klaveren Vier' in Story in 1949)

After the war he worked for Renan de Vela and André Chavaud's animation studio in Neuilly, where a still unknown Albert Uderzo was also under employment. But animation didn't really interest him and he soon left again. In the late 1940s Belgium was the Mecca of the European comics industry and thus Martin decided to travel to Brussels and try his luck there. Through a cousin who lived there he got into touch with editor Desclée de Brouwer, who hired him as an illustrator for various advertising companies at the Office Technique de Publicité. Other work appeared in the Charleroi magazine L'Indépendance and La Wallonie in Liège. He drew a humoristic adventure comic for L'Indépendance named 'Le Hibou Gris' (1945), which starred a young man, Jack, and his little black cat, Minne, obviously inspired by Hergé's Tintin and Snowy. He used the same characters in another story: 'Le Sept de Trèfle' (1946). Both stories were later republished in Story.

comic art by Marleb

He teamed up with Belgian illustrator Jean Dratz who worked for Bravo. For this magazine Martin created the pantomime comic 'Monsieur Barbichou' (1946-1949), one-shots like 'Lamar l'Homme Invisible' (1947) and three stories about the Native American 'Oeuil-de-Perdrix' (1947-1950). 'Le Secret du Calumet' was published directly in album format by Éditions Bravo in 1947, while 'Le Signe du Naja' (1948) and 'Oeil-de-Perdrix à New York' (1950) were serialized in the magazine. To keep up with the workload, he teamed up with advertising illustrator Henri Leblicq, who became his background artist. Together they published under the collective pseudonym "Marleb". Even though their collaboration only lasted a year, Martin kept using this pseudonym until 1950. Another comic created by Martin was the realistically drawn story 'La Cité Fantastique' (1948), which appeared in Wrill and was later republished in Ardan and the fanzine Robidule.

Oeuil-de-Perdrix, by Marleb (Jacques Martin)
Oeuil-de-Perdrix à New York (Bravo, 1950)

As Martin received more commissions from Belgian companies it became necessary for him to stay in the country. At first he moved in with his aunt - a sister of his mother - in St. Pieters-Woluwe/Woluwe Saint-Lambert, not far from Brussels. After receiving a letter from the regional community in which his "artistic and economic interests for the country" were questioned Martin had to inform these bureaucratic eggheads that he actually worked for various Belgian companies. Tired of their nagging he eventually moved to another Belgian city: Verviers. He married his Belgian cousin's niece in 1947. In 1972 he moved to Bousval and in 1984 to Lausanne, Switzerland. Later he also lived in the Swiss city Pully.


Alix l'Intrépide (1948)

In 1948 Martin joined Tintin, which would become his home magazine for the majority of his career. When he received permission to launch his own series he took inspiration from Gustave Flaubert's historical novel 'Salammbô' (1862), which takes place in Carthago during the Antiquity. As he'd always been interested in Roman history, Alix set his comic strip in the 1st century BC. His title character, Alix, is a young, blonde Gaul who is sold into slavery but later freed by a Roman nobleman. His physical features were modelled after Greek sculptures of young men. The first episode of 'Alix' debuted in Tintin on 16 September 1948. Originally Tintin's editors had little faith in the series. Particularly Hergé felt the artwork left a lot to be desired: it looked stiff and the overall tone was far too serious. The lay-out was very standard and made use of a lot of text. Tibet shared Hergé's sentiment and even said he never enjoyed reading 'Alix': "(...) It's a series that takes itself far too seriously. You never see Alix laughing. He's always tense and serious. (...) Perhaps Martin couldn't draw teeth, that's possible." But readers loved the series and thus Martin was allowed to continue his adventures. In the second story, 'Le Sphinx d'Or' (1949), Alix' Egyptian sidekick Enak made his debut. Originally meant as just a one-shot character he quickly became a regular cast member. As the series progressed Martin found a better balance between text and illustration. His artwork improved as well. An album highlight and readers' favorite is the story 'L'Île Maudite' (1951), which can be considered the first masterpiece of the series.


L'Île Maudite

After René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix' (1959), 'Alix' is arguably the second most famous European comics series set in the Gaulish-Roman era. They both share a reputation for quality reading and excellent historical research as well, even though 'Alix' naturally tends to be more historically accurate since it is a realistically written and drawn work. Martin went through great lengths to create an accurate depiction of the time period. Everything had to look and be historically authentique. He not only read every book about the era, but also took inspiration from classic paintings, both from the Roman era, Renaissance as well as neoclassicism. Martin even went so far to frequently portray his characters in the nude, as this wasn't a taboo in Roman days. In his own lifetime, however, many publishers felt this was unsuitable for children's eyes. Even Alix and Enak's male friendship has often been interpreted as having homosexual subtext. In 1984 and 1988 the gay magazine Le Gai Pied infamously devoted two articles to the subject, followed by another magazine with the same readers' demographic, Têtu, in 2009. Both illustrated their analysis of the homosexual overtones in 'Alix' with illustrations from the books. Martin claimed in an interview that he never intended the characters to be that way, though he understood that certain readers could project their own imagination into them. To him, it was just a historically accurate portrayal of society in Ancient Rome.

Alix by Jacques Martin
Alix - Les Proies du Volcan (1977)

It wasn't just Alix and Enak's full frontal nudity that bothered the censors. In 1965 they also objected against the inclusion of the female character Adréa. Not only was she a prominent and attractive woman in a time when all comics cautiously featured male characters, but she was also a 40-year old lady who felt attracted to the 16-year old Alix. Another aspect of Martin's realism was his depiction of the cruelty of the time. In 'Le Fils de Spartacus' (1974), a mother sells her son for gold. On several occasions, characters are thrown into fire. In 'Le Tombeau Étrusque' (1967), children are sacrificed to the fire of the god Moloch. Critics have attributed these themes to Martin's own tormented childhood, but one could also see Martin's pursuit of authenticity as the reason for these graphic depictions. Two early 'Alix' albums were also banned from publication in France until 1965, but this had nothing to do with cruelty nor nudity. French censors felt the titles 'La Griffe Noire' and 'Légions Perdues' brought the Algerian War of Independence into mind and didn't want to stir up controversy.

Alex by Jacques Martin
Alix - Le Tombeau Étrusque

Naturally Jacques Martin frequently had to battle censorship in order to pursue his artistic and historically accurate vision. But his efforts paid off. Many European history teachers still use and recommend 'Alix' during their lessons about Ancient Rome. The only creative license Martin allowed himself was not tying 'Alix' to one specific era in Roman history. Even though the early stories were set in the 1st century BC other albums take place centuries later, even as far as the Fall of the Roman Empire, nearly 400 years later! 'Alix' remains Martin' signature series. He drew it personally for 40 years, before passing the pencil to Jean Pleyers (1988) and then to Rafael Morales and Marc Henniquiau (1998). Morales drew the next albums until 2006, when Cédric Hervan took over alongside Christophe Simon. Between 2009 and 2010 Ferry and Marco Venanzi also drew installments in the series. Since 2013 Marc Jailloux is Alix' official artist. Martin remained closely involved with the scripts until 2006, after which other scriptwriters took over completely. Throughout the years, François Maingoval, Patrick Weber, Marco Venanzi, Michel Lafon, François Corteggiani, Géraldine Ranouil, Matthieu Bréda, Pierre Valmour have all written one or more albums.

Alix - L'Enfant Grec (1979)
Alix - L'Enfant Grec (1979)

'Alix' inspired a 1960 audio play named 'Alix L'Intrepide' (1960), in which he was voiced by Claude Vincent, while Jean Maurel provided direction. In 1998 'Alix'was adapted in an animated TV series by Carrère/Project Images Films/Sipec/Videal, which was broadcast on France Trois and Télè München. A series of novelisations written by Alain Hammerstein have also been published, though with artwork by Jean-François Charles. In 2004 four books were published by Casterman.


Lefranc #1 - La Grande Menace

Jacques Martin's second best known series is 'Lefranc'. The comic strip was inspired by a 1951 visit to the Vosges in France, where Martin and a friend saw an abandoned tunnel from World War II, complete with a V1 missile originally intended to bomb Paris. The image inspired Martin to create a detective series set in the mid to late 1940s. 'Lefranc' (1952) stars the brilliant detective Guy Lefranc and his sidekick Jeanjean, who is a boy-scout orphan. They both follow orders on account of police chief Renard. Storylines are set in the paranoid climate of the final days of World War II and the start of the Cold War. Lefranc and Jeanjean get involved in espionage and fight spies, terrorists, dictators and recurring nemesis Axel Borg, who is a gentleman-thief and master of disguise. The series is notable for referencing several real-life mid-to late-20th century events. Once again the editors of Tintin saw little in 'Lefranc' and asked him to just focus on 'Alix' instead. Martin persisted and eventually agreed making it just a one-shot story with characters as similar as possible to Alix and Enak. This also explains why Lefranc shares the same blond haircut and Jeanjean the same personality as Enak. However, after the first panels were published in Tintin on 21 May 1952 it became such a success that Martin's bosses now tried to convince him to drop 'Alix' in favor of 'Lefranc'! Seeing they had never been right before it was easy for him to ignore their requests. New stories appeared irregularly. The second one, 'L'Ouragan de Feu', was serialized in 1959, and wasn't followed by 'Le Mystère Borg' until 1964.

Lefranc by Jacques Martin
Lefranc - L'Ouragan de Feu

Despite the success, one of Martin's colleagues, Edgar P. Jacobs, was confident that 'Lefranc' plagiarized his own work. The disgruntled artist even went so far to publish a letter in Tintin to ventilate his anger. Martin felt obligated to publish a letter of reply, denying the accusations. Jacobs remained spiteful for years, until he finally calmed down and personally apologized to Martin for his behaviour. For the fourth 'Lefranc' story in 1970, Martin took Bob De Moor as an assistant. Between 1977 and 1998 Gilles Chaillet was the artist of the series, followed by Christophe Simon, Francis Carin, André Taymans and Erwin Drèze, making it possible for Martin to just lean back and concentrate on writing scripts instead. Throughout the years, Roger Leloup, Thierry Lebreton, Olivier Pâques, Vincent Henin, Didier Desmit, Thierry Cayman, Raphaël Schierer and Doris Drèze have all assisted on the backgrounds, while Leloup, Nicole Thenen, France de Beck-Ferrari, Chantal Defachelle, Bruno Wesel, Loli Irala Marin and Bonaventure have all worked as colorists for the series. After Jacques Martin's retirement, Michel Jacquemart, Patrick Weber, Patrick Delperdange, Thierry Robberecht, Roger Seiter and François Corteggiani have written new stories, while new artists like Régric, Alain Maury and Christophe Alvès were brought in as well. 'Lefranc' was translated in more than ten languages, including Dutch, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, Greek and Indonesian.

photo of Jacques Martin and Hergé
Hergé (left) with Jacques Martin at Studio Hergé

Jacques Martin now had a strong enough reputation to become Tintin's artistic director from 1953 until 1972. He illustrated many columns in the magazine like the educational series 'Voir et Savoir' ('To See and To Know'), which also inspired a series of chromo cards. Originally Edgar P.Jacobs drew the early episodes, which were mostly about aeroplanes and railway stations. Martin succeeded him and drew series like 'Les Chroniques de l'Auto' (1948-1953) and 'Les Chroniques de l'Aviation', which respectively delved into the history of automobiles and aviation. Each episode showed a historic car or aeroplane model, which Martin depicted down to the tiniest technical details. Other artists who worked for 'Voir et Savoir' were Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and Georges Fouilé. Martin also became a respected member of Studio Hergé in 1954. He assisted the maestro on redrawing backgrounds for republications of classic 'Tintin' and 'Jo, Zette and Jocko' albums. Martin also worked on new titles of these series. Hergé even used some of his ideas. He came up with the gag about Rastapopoulos and the surgical tape attached to his mouth in 'Vol 714' ('Flight 714', 1968). It was also his idea to let Roger Leloup create an actual technically plausible sketch of Lazlo Carreidas' plane in the same album.

JhenArno

In 1972 Martin left both Studio Hergé and Tintin magazine in order to set up his own graphic studio. Six years later he and artist Jean Pleyers launched a new historical comics series named 'Xan' which was retitled to 'Jhen' (1978) to avoid confusion and copyright issues with another comic strip of that same name. Set during the Hundred Years' War 'Jhen' follows the adventures of a young sculptor, architect and painter named Jhen Roque. The stories also feature real-life historical characters like Jeanne d'Arc, French king Charles VII and French serial killer Gilles de Rais. Martin had always been fascinated by De Rais, but knew he couldn't possibly make him the star. Therefore he created Jhen as protagonist so that De Rais could be a side character. As a little inside joke he also drew a character named Parfait in the album 'Les Écorcheurs' (1984) who physically resembled Martin's colleague Paul Cuvelier. Martin and Pleyers cooperated on nine albums until 2000. The series was relaunched in 2008 with Hughes Payen as scriptwriter and Pleyers and Thierry Cayman alternating on the artwork. Jerry Frisen and Jean-Luc Cornette have written new stories since 2013, with artwork provided by Pleyers and Paul Teng.

In 1983 Martin developed another historical series: 'Arno'. The comic chronicles all historic events from the French Revolution up until the end of the Napoleonic Empire through its central character, Arno, who is a Venetian musician. Arno gets involved with the revolutionary movement in 1789 and eventually gets recruited in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. Martin once again strove for historical accuracy and tried to depict the Corsican emperor in a balanced way. He is portrayed as a brilliant politician and military strategist, but at the same time also quite tyrannic. The stories were originally drawn by André Juillard, while Martin wrote the scripts. From the fourth album on, '18 Brumaire' (1994), Jacques Denoël became the new illustrator. The final album appeared in 1997. The first story was prepublished in the magazine Circus, the next ones in Vécu. The albums were published by Glénat.

Orion by Jacques Martin
Orion #1 - Le Lac Sacré (1990)

In 1990 Martin created a comics series which echoed 'Alix', even though it takes place in a different civilization. 'Orion' (1990) is set during Greek Antiquity and follows the adventures of the Athenian youngster Orion. Because of a dispute with Casterman, Martin originally published the series under his own label Orix, but eventually Casterman wisened up and published the complete series. Martin drew the debut album and the first 30 pages of the second album, 'Le Styx' (1996), personally, after which his assistant Christophe Simon became the new artist. Nevertheless only one new album appeared afterwards. It took until 2011 before a new title was created by Marc Jailloux. Interestingly enough 'Orion' also inspired a spin-off which produced far more books than the original series. In 1990 Martin developed an educational book series named 'Les Voyages d'Orion' (1990-1995). It provides information about the Antiquity, written by historical experts while Martin's assistants created the illustrations. Pierre de Broche drew two volumes about Ancient Greece, Rafael Morales about Ancient Egypt, while Gilles Chaillet illustrated two volumes about the Roman era. Between 1996 and 1999 these five volumes were re-edited as 'Les Voyages d'Alix', since the general public was more familiar with Alix than Orion and it basically dealt with the same time period. New volumes continued under this new title, mostly by Martin's assistants but also new illustrators like Laurent Bouhy, Cédric Hervan, Jean Torton, Éric Lenaerts, Léonardo Palmisano, De Wulf & De Marck, Gilbert Bouchard, Alex Evang, Yves Plateau, Jean-Marie Ruffieux and Wyllow. In the same tradition, Martin made an album called 'Histoire d'Alsace' (2001) with illustrator Christophe Simon and writer Georges Bischoff, dealing with his home region.

KeosLois

Martin continued to launch new projects, such as the comics series 'Kéos' (1991-1999) with Jean Pleyers, which is set in Ancient Egypt. 'Loïs' (2003) featured the graphic talent of Olivier Pâques. Set in the 17th century, during the era of Louis XIV, 'Loïs' received a new scriptwriter from the third album on, namely Patrick Weber. By the sixth album Pierre Valmour took over. Once again Martin oversaw an educational spin-off project named 'Les Voyages de Loïs'. Two volumes were published. The first one tells the story about Versailles and is illustrated by Olivier Pâques and Jérôme Presti. Luis Diferr illustrated the second volume which explains life in 17th-century Portugal.

Les Voyages d'AlixLes Voyages de Jhen

In 2004, 'Lefranc' also got an educational spin-off collection called 'Les Voyages de Lefranc'. The books deal with historical events of the 20th century, most notably the uprise of aviation and the Second World War. Illustrators for the collection have been Régric and Olivier Weinberg, while Isabelle Bournier has written most installments. Around this period, Jacques Martin almost completely retired. During the 1990s Martin had started suffering from dystrophia and was only able to see with help from a magnifying glass. As such he refrained from drawing and eventually had to give up writing too. In his final years, he only wrote short outlines and remained involved as an advisor. The artistic supervision was given to a comity of family members and representatives of the publisher. While Martin always kept strict artistic control over his creations, the comity members proved to have difficulties to maintain a univocal vision. Scriptwriter François Maingoval drew the line and resigned. In 2012, two years after Jacques Martin's death, another spin-off series called 'Alix Senator' was launched. In this sequel an elder Alix is portrayed as a Roman senator. The series is written by Valérie Mangin and drawn by Thierry Démarez.


Vercingetorix (1985), the final 'Alix' album drawn solely by Jacques Martin

Naturally Jacques Martin's work impressed many readers and he received various awards and honors throughout his career. In 1978 the 'Alix' album 'Le Spectre de Carthage' won the award for Best French-language realistic comics series at the Festival of Angoulême. In 1979 Martin received the Prix Saint-Michel for his three series 'Alix', 'Lefranc' and 'Jhen'. He also received the Grand Prix Saint-Michel for his entire oeuvre in 2003. In 1983 Martin was officially invited by the Tunesian goverment at the archeological site of Byrsa, which was the center of the story "Avé Alix". A special exhibition about this album was created in 1984 at the Sorbonne in Paris. The same year Martin was decorated as Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 1990 he became Commandeur in the Order of Leopold II. French novelist and politician Érik Orsenna attributed his passion for Latin to having read 'Alix' as a child. When French president François Mitterrand visited a 1985 exhibition where both Martin and Uderzo were invited the politician surprised many by claiming that 'Alix' was his favorite comic strip, rather than 'Astérix'. In 1989 Martin enjoyed the honor of being one of several Belgian comics pioneers to receive his own permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels. Together with Tibet he is the only French-born artist to be exhibited there, alongside his Belgian colleagues. Coincidentally both passed away within the same month; Jacques Martin on 21 January 2010 in Orbe, Switzerland. He was 88 years old.

As one of the main authors of Tintin magazine, Jacques Martin has influenced new generations of comics artists. Several of his co-workers have become important authors in their own right, such as Roger Leloup, Gilles Chaillet, André Juillard and Jean Pleyers. But also Pascal Zanon, Bernard Swysen and many contributors to Glénat's historical comics magazine Vécu (1985-2004) are indebted to Martin. Naturally Martin's work was so deadly serious that it became irresistible for parody. 'Lefranc' was parodied by Ernst in the 1981 story 'Guy Lefranc. La Grande Menace' to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Tintin magazine. Roger Brunel drew a pornographic spoof named 'Legland' in the third volume of 'Pastiches' (1984). The same year Al Voss also ridiculed 'Lefranc' in 'Parodies de Al Voss' (1984).

photo of Jacques Martin (1921-2010)
Jacques Martin (1921-2010)

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