As I discovered, all these cool French characters from the 1960s and 1970s have been combined into one consistent universe -you have probably even read comics from the United States with them in and not realised it. But who could possibly be the mega brain behind such a venture?
Jean Marc Lofficier, that’s who. And I am very pleased and, I’ll admit to being excited at the prospect of this creator of a French comics universe answering some of my questions and revealing the story behind all of this!
Terry: Now, I’ve obviously seen the incredible Cool French Comics site set up by yourself and wife Randy (http://www.coolfrenchcomics.com/ ) which covers characters from A-Z from Adele Blanc-Sec to Zembla but also includes a timeline of French comic book/strip characters.
Is it fair to say, in the nicest possible way, that you and Randy are French comic geeks?
Jean Marc: I definitely am the geek of the family! Randy used to read METAL MEN and some of the cool DC comics as a teenager, but obviously she wasn’t aware of the rich tradition of French comics; I’m the one who introduced her to it – as well as the films, TV series, etc. derived from those characters. It is of course much easier to find even the rarest of books or TV series today. We truly live in a Golden Age of Geekdom!
Jean Marc and Randy Lofficier
Terry: I don’t think comic readers in the UK, and definitely in the United States, have no idea how rich and extensive French comic characters and comics have been. After all –“It’s not in English”!
So, how old were you when you “discovered” comics -what are your first memories of French language comics: did you have favourite characters or a title you’d go out of your way to get a hold of?
Jean Marc: The first comics I read as a very young child was Le Journal de Mickey, which published Disney stories. Then, later, I switched to Spirou, Tintin and Pilote, but parallel to that, I also discovered French translations of DC’s Mystery in Space in the early 60s (the big name superheroes such as Superman or Batman weren’t imported until 1968, but I knew Adam Strange and Martian Manhunter!). I also read a lot of French digest-sized magazines which contained translations of British, Italian and American comics (again, DC), plus a number of original series created at the behest of the French publisher but often drawn by Italian artists. This was particularly true at Editions Lug, which created a large number of characters, which became the “Hexagon Universe” under my guidance.
When I was a kid, I was particularly fond of Lucky Luke and The Smurfs, and Spirou too (which I preferred to Tintin). As far as more realistic stories are concerned, I was always drawn towards the more fantastic type of heroes. Because these were not well represented in the “mainstream” mags like Spirou or Tintin, I read in the digest magazines: there were jungle lords like Zembla, Akim and Tanka, but also weird monsters like Wampus (which, even then, was supposed to be “mature readers”), super-agents like Mister Song of CLASH, and characters like Jaleb the telepath, Homicron and the Time Brigade which shared the spotlight in a mag called “Futura”, about the only comics mag fully devoted to home-grown sci-fi/superhero comics.
Terry: Now, Cool French Comics is a very, uh, cool site. Lots of history and, of course, colour illustrations. But I was impressed by SHADOWMEN 2:Heroes & Villains Of French Comics. There is a great cover and the book is almost encyclopaedic in its scope. In fact, you detail the creators, the story behind the character, publishing history and a huge bibliography for some characters so the reader knows the chronology of the stories and their titles. This IS encyclopaedic. But it needs a larger format! It’s 319 pages, indexed (!) and, I forgot to mention, full of black and white art.
How long did it take you and Randy to put the book together –I’m guessing the Cool French Comics (CFC) helped to a degree; the entry on Super Boy on CFCs is a simple page but in the book the character takes up (with illoes) 13 pages. So was it a case of saying “We’ve got the basics now let’s fill in with more detail”?
cover by Andrew Paquette
Jean Marc: The source of all this is an 800-page book I did in the mid-90s for an American publisher of scholarly/academic tomes called MacFarland. The book was called FRENCH SCIENCE-FICTION and included an extensive section on comics. I’m not 1200% sure but I think I created the CFC website at about the same time, primarily to feature more art, in color, which I couldn’t do in the MacFarland book. Then when we started Black Coat Press in mid-2003, it was easy to spin off the materials regarding the LITERARY heroes into SHADOWMEN and the COMICS heroes into SHADOWMEN II. I already had all the information; it was mostly a matter of reformatting, and providing some historical context.
Behind all this, of course, was the same desire to share my knowledge of French popular fiction with US/UK readers. When I grew up, as I mentioned, the French, Italian, USA, UK stories were all published equally by the same publishers. I mean, bookwise you could find Sherlock Holmes and Arsene Lupin at Livre de poche, or The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Black Coats at Marabout, and comicswise Martian Manhunter and Fulguros at Artima, or Zembla and Spider-Man at Lug. So to me, you (the US and UK readers) are the ones being deprived, because you grew up with only half of the stuff I grew up with!
another excellent cover by Paquette
Terry: I forgot to mention that, naturally, there was a first volume, again co-written by yourself and Randy: Shadowmen:Heroes & Villains Of French Pulp Fiction. I’m going to have to track that down one day!
But I ought to mention that both you and Randy have quite distinguished careers. I’ll quote here:
“Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier are writers, editors and translators of screenplays, teleplays, books and comic books, mostly in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, animation and popular literature.
They have co-authored a dozen books about movies and television, several novels, as well as numerous comics and translations, including the Moebius graphic novels. They have also contributed scripts to animated series such as The Real Ghostbusters and Duck Tales, among others. In 1990, in recognition of their distinguished career as comic book writers, translators and editors, Randy and Jean-Marc were presented with the Inkpot Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comic Arts.”
Did this help when it came to getting hold of old French comic characters to reprint in collections under your Hexagon Comics imprint?
In case newer readers have missed the reviews:
JAYDEE, STARKNIGHT and DICK SPADE
And then the legend that is WAMPUS!
Jean Marc: First, when you decide to be a professional, you write whatever you’re being paid to write, so being in Hollywood, we were lucky to be able to write film articles, non-fiction books, short stories, comics, cartoons, film scripts, etc. I’m not saying we’re equally proud of everything we did – there are a couple of cartoons I’ve virtually never watched again since we wrote them – but overall, I think we’ve done OK, and I’m really happy with a comic series like TONGUE*LASH which is really unique, or the DC Elseworld “German Cinena” trilogy.
In the case of what became Hexagon Comics, the story is simple. In 2000, Thierry Mornet who was then editor-in-chief at SEMIC S.A. which had taken over the old Editions Lug, asked me to resurrect the old characters I used to read as a kid. You bet I was thrilled! So from 2000-2003 I was like the head writer & managing editor (under Thierry) of line of new stories featuring Phenix, Kabur, Dick Demon, Wampus, etc. and I created some new groups like Strangers and Hexagon.
Semic went out of business at the end of 2003 and the original creators of the characters and I and several authors got together and started a syndicate or an association to exploit our properties. Under French Law there is no such thing as work for hire (yay!) so reclaiming the rights was perfectly legal. So I started with the idea of reprinting the classic stories (which Semic had not done) as well as some of the new stories we’d created. I did eight reprint books in English in a smaller paperback format, but I stopped because, a) it took too much time to translate & re-letter the strips, and b) a few years ago Diamond decided to no longer carry our books.
However the French reprint series, which is done in a Marvel Essential-like format is quite successful and that one, I intend to continue for the foreseeable future.
Terry: Now, you’ve not been content to just leave it at reprints. I was surprised to walk into a comic shop in 2003 and see the first issue of the full colour Strangers comic published by Image Comics. I’d heard of C.L.A.S.H. and vaguely recognised some of the other characters. I looked at the assistant, I think it was Chris Rice and said: “These are French characters!” So I got my standing order set up as I didn’t want to miss an issue!
(Image Comics, 2003)
You and Randy had taken the characters to the next level in establishing them in a, shall we call it an “Hexagon Comics Universe”? And then –BOOM!- “Nexus versus Wampus”—Wampus I’d seen the odd page of and loved the look of the character. Now I could see him go up against Nexus.
My first question is –I’m guessing that you both approached Image Comics with the project: did they take much convincing?
Jean Marc: That was entirely Thierry Mornet’s doing. Semic was publishing several Image books in France and it was structured as an exchange. We gave Image all the films lettered in English, and the only thing they had to do was print & distribute. They did rather well, starting at 8000 copies and finishing at 6000 which wasn’t bad for characters no one had ever heard of on that side of the pond.
Terry: Now, we’ve mentioned that you got hold of these old characters and I’m guessing you and Randy thought uniting them in one consistent comic universe would be cool. Creators can be a bit “odd” when it comes to others using and developing their characters did you get any problems?
Jean Marc: To give some historical perspective, the “Stan Lee” of Editions Lug, if you will, was its co-founder, co-owner, head writer & editor Marcel Navarro. His “Roy Thomas”, if you will, was Claude Legrand who came in the late 60s, started FUTURA, and created quite a few of the characters. Later, Claude went on to write several novels and was also the translator of all the CONAN comics in France. Claude is the one who first crossed over Jaleb and Time Brigade in one story. So when I came in in 2000, the idea of a shared universe was totally undeveloped, but not inexistent. Claude passed away a few years ago but I had a chance to talk to him and correspond with him, and he and the other original artists such as Luciano Bernasconi (who was the “Jack Kirby” of Lug to carry on with the analogy) have all been thrilled with what I’ve been doing. In fact, even today, Luciano keeps drawing stories for us in the “classic” style. He did an origin of Futura a year ago and is now doing an episode about young Kit Kappa. We’ve had a terrific relationship with all the “old” artists.
Below -sent to me years ago so I don’t know who to credit, but its a rare photo of Navarro at the LUG offices.
Thanks to Jean Marc -a photograph of legrand!!
Terry: Mike Baron and Steve Rude created Nexus –they had no problems with your using him?
And a final question here: why did it end with issue 6 in the English version?!
Jean Marc: Of course we received the permission of Mike and Steve to use Nexus! I don’t think they minded at all. Steve told me he liked Jay Stephens’ version of the character.
Initially, SEMIC only did 6 issues in color, hence that’s what we gave Image. I had done one more issue in B&W, plus the origins of Starlock also in B&W, but we didn’t feel like going to the expense of coloring them just for Image.
Recently for the French TPB, we colored #7 and created an all-new issue #8. The Starlock Origins, I had reprinted in B&W in the tpb reprint of Starlock, but we’re having it colored now and we’ll reprint it again in a one-shot Starlock issue of HEXAGON UNIVERSE next year.
Terry: I did get a shock when I found that some of the characters published in Hexagon’s collections have several volumes in French. But this was nothing compared to my shock on finding, accidentally, Wanga Comics: http://www.wangacomics.com/
The number of comic titles and characters was a little mind-blowing. Can you tell me about Wanga Comics –what is it’s connection with Hexagon Comics?
Jean Marc: Wanga Comics is a small French publisher which was doing its own creator-owned comics, such as LE PATROUILLEUR and NOUVEAUX GARDIENS and wanted to expand its line, but didn’t have materials or resources, so we teamed up 50-50 so to speak, sort of like with Image: I provide the books; they print & distribute them. I continue the reprint line of TPBs in black & white, they’ll do all the new stories in color. It’s a good arrangement.
We have two bimonthly mags planned: one HEXAGON UNIVERSE is a 64-page rotating character mag like the old Marvel Super-Heroes, featuring different characters every issue; the other is a classic 32-page comic featuring the STRANGERS. #1 will be released at the Angouleme Comics Fest in January 2012.
Terry: I think it’s a pity comic fans will not try comics because they are not in English. I’ve got Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish –lots of foreign language comics but not understanding the languages never ruined by enjoyment!
So what titles are you currently working on that you’d recommend and can you reveal anything about future plans –Cinebook The 9th Art, under Olivier Cadic have proven that not only can English translations of French language comics prove interesting but they also sell! Maybe a route for Hexagon to take in the future?
Jean Marc: My friend Steve Bissette has been discussing incorporating some of our “classic” stories in his TALES OF THE UNCANNY “1963” spin off project because they are after all authentic, genuine old comics from the 60s. Otherwise, I’m afraid that with all the French projects in the pipeline, I haven’t had the time to pursue the American market lately.
Terry: Anything we’ve not touched on you’d like to mention?
Jean Marc: Leaving comics aside, I’d like to plug some of the books (I mean, prose novels) published by Black Coat Press which should appeal to folks who like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc.
Every year we put out an anthology of literary pastiches in which pulp heroes and villains meet. It’s called TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN. There are 7 volumes to date with #8 coming up in December. Look it up:
It’s really exciting! We also have collections of stories with such great pulp heroes as The Nyctalope, Doctor Omega, Sar Dubnotal… Again, the perfect complement to comic book heroes.
Jean Marc: I’d love to be invited! Ryan Air has cheap fares from Carcassonne (near where I live) to London Stansted. If someone wants me to come over, I’d be happy to do it.
Terry:There you have it -if the organisers of the International Comic Expo want to have a really good international feel invite Hexagon Comics and Jean Marc Lofficier!
sketch of the poster for Strangers (c) Hexagon Comics
photo of Jean Marc Lofficier from “Le bleu du ciel en hiver” which can be found here with links to other pages (all in French):
photo of J. M. & Randy Lofficier from the Black Coat Press site (in English):