Le Vent dans les Saules, by Michel Plessix
The Wind in the Willows

Michel Plessix was a comic artist and writer from Brittany, who is best known for the series 'Julien Boisvert' (1989-1996), his adaptation of 'Wind in the Willows' ('Le vent dans les Saules', 1996-2001) and its follow-up 'Le vent dans les Sables' (2005-2013).

Plessix was born in 1959 in Saint-Malo into an artistic family. Both his father and grandfather were active as painters. He grew up reading comic magazines like Tintin, Le Journal de Mickey and Spirou, and was already drawing comics based on De La Fontaine fables while still a child. He knew he wanted to become a comics artist after discovering the book 'Comment devient-on auteur de Bandes-Dessinées', in which Philippe Vandooren interviewed legends like Jijé and Franquin. Plessix especially ranked the comical yet moving comic series by Christian Godard among his early influences. Later in life, he was especially fond of artists like Pascal Rabaté and Cosey.

Despite his artistic ambitions, Plessix chose a scientific direction at high school, and then studied medicine for two years. He worked as an ambulance driver and cook for a while, before enrolling at the Academy of Plastic Arts. The artist claimed he learned most from his fellow Breton comic artist Jean-Claude Fournier, whose atelier he had frequented since he was 16 years old. There, he also became friends with Jean-Luc Hiettre and Emmanuel Lepage, two young artists from the same region. Plessix's first artistic endeavours were posters for local events like the Fest Noz festival. Together with Fournier and other artists from the Rennes region, such as Malo Louarn, Gégé and Hiettre, he participated in the comics paper Frilouz. Eight issues were published between 1982 and 1985. Plessix teamed up with Hiettre to create a couple of short stories with the clumsy policeman 'Mark Jones', which were collected in the album 'Pas de banane pour Miss Blanquette' under Lucien Souny's label in 1987. The two wrote the scripts together, while Hiettre provided the artwork, giving the character the looks of their teacher, Fournier.

La Déesse aux Jeux de Jade by Michel Plessix
La Déesse aux Yeux de Jade

Plessix contributed to fanzines like Dommage and some collective projects in the mid 1980s, and assisted Yves Magne on 'Défi dans l'Atlantique' and Malo Louarn on 'Rona'. With Lucien Rollin and Gégé, he furthermore made a comic album called 'Allô, map puce!' (1986) for the visitor center of the city of Rennes. A solo project he had made with a local TV scriptwriter was never picked up. The publishing house Milan was impressed by Plessix' drawings however, and teamed him up with the scriptwriter Dieter for another project. This resulted in the artist's actual professional debut with the children's series 'Ed et Benjamin', which originally appeared in the magazines Mikado and Diabolo. A longer story appeared in the series' sole album publication, 'La Déesse aux Yeux de Jade' (1988). The project ended because the publisher wanted to publish the stories directly in albums, which resulted in a lower page rate for the authors. Plessix and Dieter however quickly found base at the new publishing house of Guy Delcourt.

Neekibo by Michel Plessix
Julien Boisvert - Neêkibo

Over time, Plessix' drawings became more realistic, so Plessix and Dieter decided on a change of scenery and characters. Between 1989 and 1995, they made four albums of their adventure series 'Julien Boisvert', which aimed at a mature audience. This critically acclaimed series was no adventure series in the classical sense. The main focus were the inner feelings and psychological development of the globetrotting hero. The books also paid much attention to the beauty of the places Julien visited, such as Africa ('Neêkibo', 1989), Guernsey ('Grisnoir', 1991), Mexico ('Jikuri', 1992) and San Francisco and Arkansas ('Charles', 1995). Michel Plessix had visited all these places himself, and provided well-documented drawings of the sceneries, which were then colored by Isabelle Rabarot.


Julien Boisvert - Grisnoir

Another important aspect of the series was the close relation of the albums to 'Tintin' and his author Hergé. Julien and his dog Gilbert can be considered modern renditions of Tintin and Milou, while the stories give a modern look on subjects Hergé had treated in his albums decades earlier. Where 'Tintin en Congo' was based on a colonial Africa, 'Neêkibo' is largely centered around decolonialism and its horrors. 'Grisnoir' returns to the settings and thematics of 'L'Île Noire', while 'Jikuri' was based on 'Tintin et le Temple du Soleil' for its setting, and 'Tintin au Tibet' for its narrative. The final album, 'Charles', hinted at what Tintin would have done if he had encountered Hergé at the time when he was accused of collaborating with the Fascists shortly after the war. Whereas Hergé's hero remained single and young throughout his career, Plessix and Dieter's lead character aged as the stories progressed, and even got married. The final installment of the series won the jury prize during the Angoulême Festival of 1996. A complete edition of the series was published by Delcourt in that same year.

Julien Boisvert by Michel Plessix
Julien Boisvert - Charles

One year after completing the 'Julien Boisvert' cycle, Plessix returned to a younger audience with his internationally acclaimed comic adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel 'The Wind in the Willows'. Delcourt published four books of 'Le Vent dans les Saules' (1996-2001) in its new collection Delcourt Jeunesse. For this project, Plessix developed a new style of coloring and established himself as a talented storyteller in his own right. Plessix has claimed that he strongly identified with the novel's focus on friendship, admiration for nature and the little everyday worries, and especially the reclusive character of Badger. Plessix' book series has been translated to Dutch, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Korean and Chinese.

Wind in the Willows by Michel Plessix
Panel from Wind in the Willows with a reference to the painting L'Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet

Plessix adapted eleven of the twelve chapters of Grahame's original novel, but left one chapter out in which Rat meets another rat who sailed the seas. He expanded on this subject for a whole new storycycle, in which he sent Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad on a trip to the African continent. This was collected in the five books of the series 'Le Vent dans les Sables' ("The Wind in the Sand") between 2005 and 2013. Both cycles gained much praise for their poetic storytelling, keen sense for details and the scenic beauty in the artwork. The books furthermore contain hidden tributes to painters like Édouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet, while the author's narratives show influences from filmmakers like Orson Welles, Sergio Leone and François Truffaut. For the sketchbooks of the character Mole, Plessix made an appeal on his friend Loïc Jouannigot.

Le Vents dans les Sables by Michel Plessix
Le Vents dans les Sables

In addition to his own series, Michel Plessix has written two books of the social chronicle 'Les Forell' for the artist Bruno Bazile (Dargaud, 1997-1998). He wrote the third and fourth album of 'La Famillie Passiflore' (Dargaud, 2014-2015), an animal series by Loïc Jouannigot based on the children's books by Geneviève Huriet (known in English as 'Beechwood Bunny Tales'. He has furthermore participated in several collective projects, such as the one-shot 'Innuat' (Paquet, 2000), books with adaptations of songs by Renaud ('Le retour de la bande à Renaud', 1988) and Bernard Lavilliers ('L'Or des Fous', 2000), as well as fables by De La Fontaine ('La Fontaine aux fables', 2002). He was one of the artists who participated in the tribute album to Will ('L'Arbre des deux printemps', 2000), and to the collective series 'L'Atelier Mastodonte' (Dupuis, 2013).

In 2016, Plessix embarked upon a new project, this time in cooperation with Frank Le Gall as his scriptwriter. 'Là où vont les fourmis' ("Where the ants go") is the magical adventure of the young Saïd, who follows the trail of the ants who wander through his village and the desert sand. The book was published by Casterman in 2016.

Michel Plessix passed away at the age of 57 in the night of 21 August 2017, following a heart attack.

Là où vont les fourmis
Là où vont les fourmis

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