Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire #18 - 'Le Feu de la Colère'.

Marcel Remacle was a prominent contributor to Spirou magazine between 1956 and 1990, yet at the same time one of the most obscure and mysterious authors of Franco-Belgian comics. With the peak of his production in the 1960s, with over 950 produced pages, he will always be remembered for his signature series, 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire' (1958-1990). It provided adventures and short stories with an endless stream of gags and slapstick humor. The original title character, the flinty sailor Old Nick, gradually made room for his nemesis, the misanthropic pirate Blackbeard. The timid and reclusive Remacle has often been compared to his breakthrough character, who just couldn't make the grade as a ferocious pirate. Remacle on the other hand leaves an impressive oeuvre behind, which also contains the long-eared dog 'Bobosse' (1956-1958) and the viking 'Hultrasson' (1964-1967).

Early life
Born in Namur on 16 January 1926, Marcel Remacle's father was a railway conveyer and his mother a seamstress. As the artist has hardly given any in-depth interviews, the limited information about his early life comes from a 22 December 1960 article in Robbedoes, the Dutch-language equivalent of Spirou. We learn that the young Marcel was a very mediocre student in almost everything, including drawing. But he was also determined. He devoted a full two months self-studying the dictionary and the grammar rules, after which he knew everything he needed. After the war he decided he needed no further studies and became an apprentice women's hairdresser. After fulfilling his military service in 1947, he settled at his parents' home in Salzinnes where he continued in the hairdressing business. He married Raymonde Vanemberck in 1951, and the couple had three children between 1953 and 1960. The Remacle family spent six years in the Brussels area (Woluwé-Saint-Pierre / St. Pieters-Woluwe), then moved to Haltinne in 1964 and finally settled in Evelette, near Ohey, in 1980.

Cover illustration by "Ted Smedley" for Le Moustique of 25 March 1956.

Ted Smedley
Hairdressing provided a steady income, and also gave him some means for creative expression. Remacle often made sketches of the haircuts he wanted to make. But by then he had also picked up cartooning. In vain he tried to sell his drawings to the Belgian press. His first gag appeared around 1946 in the daily La Dernière Heure, but it took a few years before the Belgian weeklies opened their pages to his often black humor. He assumed the English-sounding pseudonym Ted Smedley, and saw his cartoons published in Le Moustique, Pourquoi Pas?, En Marche, Pan and L'Âne Roux. Since he had no previous interest in comics or cartoons, it is hard to tell what - if any - were his initial influences?

Dupuis art studio
Along the way, Remacle grew bored with his daytime job. A new opportunity rose in 1955, when the publisher of Le Moustique, Charles Dupuis, noticed his talent. He offered him a job in the art studio's of his publishing house, where Remacle was mainly involved in lettering the Dutch translations of comic series published in Spirou for Robbedoes. At the studio, he became friends with his colleagues Willy Lambil and especially Marcel Denis, with whom he would frequently collaborate in the following years. Other co-workers were Arthur Piroton, Louis Salvérius, Jamic, Turk and Eddy Ryssack. Studio head Maurice Rosy can be considered Remacle's first artistic mentor. On 23 February 1956, Dupuis' new tabloid-sized comic magazine Risque-Tout ran Remacle's first comics story: 'Le Mousquetaire'. The main character, a kid called Rouquinet, showed a strong resemblance to Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace'. For his further comics work, he settled in the publisher's house style, the round-nosed and primarily humorous "School of Marcinelle". He initially found inspiration in the work of Raymond Macherot, but later on Remacle's major influence was evidently Morris.

Bobosse, by Marcel Remacle
'Bobosse' (Dutch version 'Pukje', from Robbedoes #1025).

More durable was the cute little dog 'Bobosse' (1956-1958). He made his first appearances in a couple of gag strips, discretely filling empty spots on the pages of Spirou between February and August 1956. A short story was published in Risque-Tout #19 of 29 March 1956. Bobosse's first long adventure, 'La Forêt Silencieuse' was serialized in Spirou between 30 August 1956 and 17 January 1957. By now, the little dog had found its definitive form, with his excessively long tail and ears. The countryside adventure in which Bobosse and his badger friend investigate the disappearance of several forest animals however didn't amount too much. Chief editor Yvan Delporte decided to help him out with the script for the next story, together with Peyo. 'Les Évadés de Trifouillis' appeared between October 1957 and March 1958, and dealt with the escape of mistreated animals from a menagerie. Despite the better script, the story suffered artistically. Not a fully trained artist yet, Remacle had difficulties with effectively portraying animals. Thus came an end to the adventures of Remacle's first character, although 'La Forêt Silencieuse' appeared in a remounted version in the pocket book collection 'Gag de Poche' in 1966. By then, Remacle had already become one of the staples of Spirou with a completely different series...

Le Vieux Nick - 'Pavillons Noirs'.

Vieux Nick
By mediation of Maurice Rosy, publisher Charles Dupuis gave Remacle a second chance. And luckily he hit the mark with his next project, which debuted on 13 March 1958. Initially planned as a cowboy, Remacle's 'Vieux Nick' ("Old Nick") was eventually situated in the 18th century, during the heydays of piracy. In the debut story 'Pavillons noirs' (1958), the cunning and vigorous greybeard of 72 refuses to sit down with the other old geezers and watch how the young inhabitants of the Aladouzes islands defend their land against the threats of piracy. Through a misunderstanding, he ends up on a ship with a group of buccaneers, and his life roaming the seas begins. The first album however, published in 1960, was for a long time the victim of French censorship, as it would promote the crude joys of piracy to its young and gullible readership. This didn't keep Dupuis from continuing the series, and the second story, 'Le Vaisseau du Diable' (1958-1959) appeared in album format that same year.

First appearance of Barbe-Noire in 'L'Île de la main Ouverte', still a lot shorter than in his later adventures.

Full of energy, the old man led his crew on missions against pirates for decades to come. In the story 'Dans la Gueule du Dragon' (1961) the lisping harpooner Sébastien became Nick's regular sidekick. Old Nick's appearances in his own series however became more and more scarce over the years. His role at the center stage was gradually taken over by his arch enemy. The pirate Barbe-Noire (real name Saturnin Tromblon) was introduced in the fourth story, 'L'Île de la main Ouverte', serialized in Spirou from 24 March 1960 on. Despite the name, Remacle's "Blackbeard" shows very little resemblance to his historical namesake. Grumpy, highly inflammable and plagued by a childish nature, the pirate's antics hardly lead up to anything, especially since Vieux Nick continues to cross his paths. This all to the despair of his grandpa ("Bon-Papa"), who envisioned his grandson to become the greatest pirate of all. Introduced in 'Les Mutinés de la Sémillante' (1960), Bon-Papa accompanies Barbe-Noire on all his missions, regularly slapping his offspring with a "corrective tap". As Remacle gradually began to draw Barbe-Noire taller, the pirate's wits quickly diminished. In the end, the interactions between Bon-Papa and his grandson bring to mind Joe and Averell Dalton from Morris' 'Lucky Luke' series.

Hultrasson, by Marcel Remacle
Hultrasson #1 - 'Fait moi peur Wiking!'.

Peak production in the 1960s
The 1960s marked the peak of Marcel Remacle's production. During that decade he published no less than 19 albums and more than 950 pages for Spirou. That is more than half of his entire oeuvre! He not only created new episodes of 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire', as his signature series was now called, but also other comics. Between 1960 and 1965 he made nine installments in Spirou's fold-in mini-books section. Some starred Barbe-Noire, others were independent one-shot stories with other historical characters. For his friend Marcel Denis, he scripted the 'Tif et Tondu' episode 'Ne tirez pas sur l'Hippocampe' (1961), which not surprisingly was also set at sea. Shortly afterwards, Denis was removed from this classic series, which was picked up once again by the previous authors Will and Rosy from 1964 on.

Hultrasson #2 - 'Chez les Scots'.

Instead, Remacle and Denis teamed up to create their own hero: the viking 'Hultrasson' (1964-1967). He was first introduced to readers in Spirou issue #1351 (5 March 1964). Characterized by a touch of fantasy and the same wacky humor as 'Le Vieux Nick', the series stars a viking in the service of King Harald-les-Beaux-Cheveux ("King Harald-with-the-Beautiful-Hairs"). Hultrasson is constantly crossed on his missions by the evil barbarian Sépadeffasson, who is destined to overthrow King Harald. Sépadeffasson's servant is the sly Payasson, whose looks were based on Spirou's editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte. To share the workload, the stories were pencilled by Remacle and inked by Denis, while Vicq took care of the scriptwork for the episodes 'Fais-moi peur Viking' (1964) and 'Hultrasson chez les Scots' (1965). When the rather unreliable scriptwriter suddenly disappeared, Maurice Tillieux wrote the third story, 'Hultrasson perd le nord' (1966). In that same year, Remacle and Denis made two short spin-off stories starring Sépadeffasson. A (temporary) fall-out between the two artists ended their collaboration, and Remacle sold his share of the rights to publisher Dupuis. Denis made one more short story in 1967, but it took until 1973 before the series (briefly) returned. The fourth serial, 'L'Eau de Politesse', was once again scripted by Tillieux, but this time drawn by Vittorio Leonardo.

'La Prise de Canapêche' (1971).

Barbe-Noire during the 1960s and 1970s
While the 1960s were a remarkably fruitful period in Marcel Remacle's career, by the early 1970s much of his inspiration seemed to have dried up. He relied on the help of Marcel Denis for several 'Barbe-Noire' episodes, and also Maurice Tillieux stepped in to write the stand-out episode 'La Prise de Canapêche' (1971). In this story, Barbe-Noire shaves his beard and disguises himself as a student of the boarding school Saint-Remacle, in order to infiltrate the wealthy and fortified city of Canapêche. His attempts to escape the strict regime and classes of the school are considered by many as the funniest moments of the entire series. While Remacle then continued to write his own scripts, he alternated the longer episodes with short, humorous stories. Many of these shorter installments dealt with Barbe-Noire's attempts to escape from prison, often accompanied by the childlike fellow inmate Hercule, who has his auntie on the outside as an accomplice. In the longer stories, Remacle confronted Barbe-Noire with a new foe, a more grotesque pirate with a mask and cape called Lucifer.

Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire - 'Le Mal Étrange' (1981).

Stories and style
Throughout its run, humor remained the driving force behind the stories of 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire'. Some exceptions aside, the plots of the stories generally served as vehicles for an ongoing spree gags and slapstick charades. The graphics were also fully in service of the humor. The backgrounds were kept simple, although Remacle took great care in depicting ships historically accurate. The artist was a connaisseur of naval history, which he at times incorporated in his stories. One of the early episodes, the fan favorite 'Les Mangeurs de Citron' (1959), was partially inspired by the famous mutiny on the Bounty (1789) and delved into the deplorable hygienic circumstances 18th century sailors had to work in. In the late 1970s he made a couple of short stories in which Barbe-Noire tells about life at sea, collected in the album 'Sous les Voiles' (1979).

Le Vieux Nick - 'Dans la Gueule du Dragon'.

Retirement and death
Marcel Remacle continued to provide Spirou with new stories throughout the 1980s, albeit with longer intervals. When the Dupuis family business was sold to an investment group in 1985, Remacle was one of the victims. He no longer had the patriarchic protection of Charles Dupuis, and his album series was terminated. Despite some attempts to revive 'Bobosse' as a series of (unpublished) one-page gags, he seemed to have been completely inactive between 1985 and 1988. He discretely returned in Spirou's pages between 1988 and 1990, with 'La Beleine Jaune' (1990) being his last serial. Now in his mid sixties, Remacle retired. For his own amusement, he spent his final years experimenting with an animated adaptation of the 1966 'Barbe-Noire' episode 'Les Boucaniers', for which he made all the drawings and performed all the voices. He was also active as a painter, since he had been a student of the English painter David Little in the mid-1980s. Marcel Remacle passed away on 16 December 1999, at the age of 73.

Marcel Remacle left behind a legacy of over 1800 comic pages. His oeuvre forms a prominent part of Spirou's patrimony, although it has somewhat faded into obscurity. The album series was never a huge commercial success, and has been out of print since the 1980s. Nonetheless, his 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire' stories have known some international success. Besides their publications in French and Dutch (as 'Ouwe Niek en Zwartbaard'), the series caught on in Germany, where it appeared as 'Old Nick und Schwarzbart' in Rolf Kauka's magazines between 1966 and 1977. Remacle's comics were also translated and published in Spain, Italy, the UK, Former Yugoslavia, the Scandinavian countries and Argentina. Some attempts have been made to revive Remacle's oeuvre in later years. His colorist Vittorio Leonardo instigated a re-release of six albums under his Jourdan imprint at the Toulon-based publishing house MC Productions in 1991-1992. The initiative was a commercial failure. Between 2005 and 2008 fan-based publishing labels like Le Coffre à BD, Taupinambour and La Vache qui Médite have released reprints of 'Bobosse', 'Le Vieux Nick' and Remacle's sole 'Tif et Tondu' story.

'Barbe-Noire contre Hercule'.

Even during his lifetime, Marcel Remacle has been shrouded in mystery. Some described him as a misanthrope, others as a timid, reclusive soul with a keen sense of humor. He has often been compared to his breakout character Barbe-Noire, as is illustrated by a funny anecdote. When the Remacle family lived in Brussels, it took a while before they got acquainted with their neighbors. When Remacle spoke about his profession, the neighbor said: "So you draw? That is weird... we have a subscription to Spirou. And for two years now my wife has nicknamed you Barbe-Noire!" While the artist attended signings and publicitary events at the start of his career, he disappeared from public life in the mid-1960s. Only after his retirement in 1991, he gave an interview to the newspaper Vers l'Avenir. For most of his career, he mailed his pages to the editorial offices of Spirou, and seldomly appeared there in person. When asked for anecdotes about the artist, Dupuis longstays Raoul Cauvin and Thierry Martens had to admit they hardly knew anything about him. In April 2013 the library of Tubize hosted an exposition of Marcel Remacle's work, called 'Hommage à Marcel Remacle'. For the occasion, librarian Christian Jasmes wrote the accompanying brochure, which presents the most comprehensive overview of Marcel Remacle's life and work to date.

Final panel of 'La Beleine Jaune' (1990).

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