'Placid et Muzo' (Pif Gadget #242, 1973).

Jacques Nicolaou was a French comic creator, and the longtime author of the funny animal comic 'Placid et Muzo', which he took over from its creator José Cabrero Arnal. Between 1959 and 1993, Nicolaou drew the feature for Vaillant magazine, its successors Le Journal de Pif and Pif Gadget, as well as a monthly pocket book title, and then again for Pif Gadget's 2004-2008 reboot.

Early life and career
Jacques Nicolaou was born in 1930 in Châtenay-Malabry, a commune in the South Western suburbs of Paris. Trained in industrial art, he began his career making illustrations for the national press, while trying his hand at amateur comic stories like 'Riton, Roi des Sportifs'. In March 1953, Nicolaou's long association with Éditions Vaillant took off, starting with game and handicraft pages for the quarterly title Les Aventures de Pif. By 1955, he illustrated Claude-Marcel Laurent's activity game pages in the publisher's flagship title Vaillant - a children's comic magazine rooted in the French communist party. With the exception of a single 1954 gag strip published in Marijac's Coq Hardi magazine and the comic story 'Un Trio d'Amis' in the 1955 Caramba comic book of the SNPI (Société Nationale de Presse Illustrée), Jacques Nicolaou remained associated with the Vaillant Miroir Sprint publishing group for the rest of his career.

Early 'Placid et Muzo' episode by Jacques Nicolaou from Vaillant #743 (1959).

Placid et Muzo
After three years of doing illustration work and game pages, Jacques Nicolaou took over the funny animal comic 'Placid et Muzo' from its creators, the writer/editor Pierre Olivier and the Spanish refugee artist José Cabrero Arnal. With his first gag published in the 14 November 1958 issue (Vaillant #705), Nicolaou became the series' writer and artist for decades to come. Set in a Disneyesque cartoon world, the main characters are a lazy bear (Placid) and a cunning fox (Muzo), while the secondary cast of characters consists of dogs, goats, horses, monkeys, elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinos and ostriches. Appearing in both gags and longer stories, Placid and Muzo encounter recurring villains like the wolf Bulldog and the gorilla Grosses Narines, as well as allies such as the genius professor Grostalent, who can let the heroes travel through time. Apart from these Arnal-Olivier creations, Nicolaou expanded the cast with Muzo's resourceful nephews Riri and Fifi, Placid's panda nephew Tib, their freeloading dog friend Mecton and the sporadic human characters, Monsieur and Madame Tout-le-Monde. Under Nicolaou's reign, the poetic undertone of the Arnal era and the doggerel verses of Pierre Olivier were dropped, and the series turned to a more simplistic graphic and narrative style.

Placid, Muzo and Mecton in Pif Gadget in 1981.

While drawing 'Placid et Muzo' in Vaillant and its successors Le Journal de Pif and Pif Gadget, Nicolaou also created stories with his bear and fox characters for the pocket book series 'Placid et Muzo Poche' (1964-1993). For Vaillant's children's collection 'Les Rois du Rire', he created spin-off booklets with Tib (1976-1980). In 1985, Nicolaou's regular tenure on 'Placid et Muzo' in Pif Gadget came to an end, after which Michel Motti became the lead artist of new stories until the magazine's (first) disappearance in 1993.

Pif Gadget
In 1966, Vaillant was renamed into Le Journal de Pif, after another Cabrero Arnal creation and the magazine's mascot, 'Pif Le Chien'. In February 1969, the title was revamped altogether into Pif Gadget, aiming at a younger audience and appearing with a weekly toy premium. Adept at handicraft, Jacques Nicolaou designed the first of these "gadgets", that readers could construct through illustrated instructions in the magazine. In addition to the adventures of 'Placid et Muzo', Nicolaou was Pif Gadget's regular illustrator of game and handicraft pages, including a 1969-1971 series of drawing lessons.

"How to make a yo-yo", from Pif Gadget #47, 1970.

Later life
After his retirement from 'Placid et Muzo' in 1993, Jacques Nicolaou turned to watercolor painting in his hometown Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, a coastal commune in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in South Western France. On a regular base, his works of art were exhibited in the town's Relais de la Côte de Beauté cultural centre. When Pif Gadget magazine was rebooted as a monthly title between July 2004 and November 2008, Nicolaou returned to his beloved characters, making several new episodes. Even though he was already well in his eighties by 2015, he expressed disappointment about not being asked to make new stories for Pif Gadget's third series, Super Pif, launched in December of that year. Instead, new 'Placid et Muzo' episodes were produced by new creator teams, including Netch and Cookielie, and Mircéa Arapu and Isabelle Bottier. In 2020, Pif le Mag was launched, for which 'Placid et Muzo' were handed to Clem and Eiffel (Frédéric Lefebvre).

Legacy and death
Two of the best-known characters of French children's comics, Placid and Muzo inspired the pen names of the contemporary comic artists Jean-François Duval (Placid) and Jean-Philippe Masson (Muzo). Taking great pride in the cult status of his heroes - three generations grew up with his stories - Jacques Nicolaou remained active until the very end. With the help of his daughter Béatrice, he organized a mini museum dedicated to 'Placid et Muzo' in a former Saint-Georges-de-Didonne buther's shop in the Summer of 2021. The veteran cartoonist died in his hometown on 30 May 2022, at the age of 91.

'Placid et Muzo' from Pif Gadget #8, 2005.

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