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Jacques Martin, 1921-2010
posted January 22, 2010


Jacques Martin, one of the great artists of the classic mid-20th Century French-language comics magazine Tintin, the creator of Alix and a collaborator on a selection of the Tintin books, died in Switzerland on January 21. He was 88 years old.

Martin was born in the northeastern border town of Strasbourg in 1921. He went to school for engineering before breaking out of that career path to take up cartooning in his early 20s. His first work was "Les Aventures du Jeune Toddy," a story that ran in Je Maintiendray in 1942. Martin spent the war doing factory work. In 1946, Martin took advantage of travel opportunities in the post-War era to head to Belgium, where he met Hergé. He would go on to collaborate with Hergé on several albums in the Tintin series, perhaps most notably Tintin in Tibet, while building his own career through covers for Tintin Magazine and work on his own series.

In 1948 Martin created the series Alix, the adventures of a young Gallo-Roman man set in the late Roman Republic era. The adventures featured attention to the details of that period with a sprinkling of purposefully anachronistic background elements and narrative situations. Because of the background of its lead, Alix also had an element of representing French national identity that became wildly successful embodied in the much looser and ultimately much more popular Asterix series. It is largely through his work on Alix that Martin became recognized as one of the great practitioners of the ligne claire style, along with Herge, Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and Willy Vandersteen, all of whom preceded Martin in death.

image"Someone posted that Martin was the very last of the great Golden Age Franco-Belgian cartoonists and I probably wouldn't dispute that," longtime European comics reader, translator and editor Kim Thompson told CR. "I haven't read one of his books in years, but I collected all the Alixes as a kid and while even then I thought he was the weakest wheel of the clear-line Herge/Jacobs/Martin tricycle, he sure could draw, and his depiction of Rome was surprisingly raw at times for a kids' comic. I suspect one day I'll dig those books out and get a kick out of them all over again, passing as I have from bright-eyed kid ingenuousness through too-cool-for-school adult snark to middle-aged nostalgic sentimentality."

Alix became one of the more successful series of its type in comics history. Martin wrote and provided art for the first 20 Alix adventures. The first 15 of those 20 were serialized in Tintin Magazine in the '50s, '60s and '70s. The first five adventures were collected first by Lombard and then later reissued by Casterman. Casterman would eventually become the work's sole, primary publisher. Martin would later write four books for the art team of Rafael Morales and Marc Henniquiau starting in 1998 when his eyesight kept him from more pages of comics art. Four more books with various creators starring Martin's characters have appeared since 2006. Also, there were concurrent series of Alix books focusing on cultural and historical exploration supplemented with artwork featuring the series' characters. The series' 13th book, Le spectre de Carthage won an award as the French-language industry's best realistic comic book at the 1978 Angouleme Festival.

Martin created a litany of other character-driven series. One of the most famous was Lefranc, a journalist whose same-name adventures were set in modern times (1952 being the year of his creation). That was his second most well-known feature. Others included Jhen (1978) and Arno (1984); the Arno books featured art by André Juilliard. Martin created new characters and series around them until a few years preceding his death. As a survivor of the industry's Golden Era, an acknowledged master of its most popular contribution to cartooning and as a creator who worked with any number of younger artists and writers from the late 1970s on, Martin enjoyed several years as an acknowledged and respected presiding presence within the field. At the end of his career, it is estimated that Jacques Martin sold more than 15 million books in 10 countries.