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March 24, 2008

Raymond Leblanc, 1915-2008

Raymond Leblanc, the Belgian publisher that built Lombard into one of the great successes of worldwide comics publishing, died on March 21, according to wire reports. He was 92 years old.

A civil servant turned member of the French Resistance in World War II, the Longlier native partnered with two friends to create a small publishing company on Rue du Lombard in Brussels. Their big coup came in 1945 when they convinced Herge to bring his Tintin into the fold of a weekly publication devoted to kids to share the feature's name. The cartoonist, already a success with a dozen albums to his credit but battered personally and professionally by the limited publishing opportunities during the war in a way that would drive criticism his way for the remainder of his days, accepted their offer. He recruited three friends -- Paul Cuvelier, Edgard P. Jacobs, Jacques Laudy -- to help him form the core of the magazine. They and their successors would take aim at the successful Spirou and forge a successful legacy for themselves at the same time.

imageFor his part, Leblanc decided to publish 60,000 copies of the magazine when it debuted in September 1946; a moment when some thought 15,000 or 20,000 would have been more reflective of the marketplace. Soon the publication was up to 80,000 in sales. In 1947 the magazine began to bear one of the most famous taglines in all of comics: "for kids ages 7 to 77." A co-publishing deal with Georges Dargaud for a French version was worked out a year after that, and the publication began its run as one of the most influential items of 20th Century kids and comics culture. The magazine Tintin, at one point the round table of the first generation of ligne claire cartooning (making Lombard in general the Camelot), would cease publication in 1988, having launched and sustained scores of prominent careers.

In the 1950s, Lombard moved into album publication (Jacobs' Blake and Mortimer was one of the first series) and helped establish as a commercial force a format that not only remains a popular standard approach in Europe but allowed for international distribution and a longer life than tabloid publication. Leblanc's the company eventually publishing 1500 titles more than half of which are still available in some form today. His foundation gives him credit for the enormously popular "Timbre Tintin" publicity campaign, opening the Tintin store in the ground floor of its new office on Lombard street, creating the cartoon character-driven advertising agency Publiart, and founding the Belvision animation studios. That same source notes that the next decade, he rescued another iconic French comics weekly, Pilote, starting in 1962.

In 1986, Leblanc sold Editions du Lombard to Media-Participations, one of the more significant events in the development of the modern French industry. He was honored in 2003 at Angouleme with the first honorary Alph-Art award given to an editor. Until recently, he still went to the office where he served as an honorary chairman.

* Forbidden Planet International has much, much more on Leblanc's career and achievements.
* A fun gallery can be found here.
posted 8:50 am PST | Permalink

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