(Paris) French cartoonist Jean Graton created the one who would become the most famous comic book racing hero, Michel Vaillant, in the newspaper Tintin in 1957.
Figure of the Franco-Belgian school of the 9e art, he has sold over 20 million copies of the 70 Pilot’s Adventures albums. They have been translated into a dozen languages and adapted for the small and the big screen.
From one hut to another, Michel Vaillant steers his life between car racing, family affairs and police intrigue.
With his onomatopoeias and elegant lines, Jean Graton “recreates speed thanks to the sounds that tear his images apart. He invented the soundtrack in a silent art, ”auctioneer Hervé Poulain, himself a pilot, told AFP at an exhibition on the designer in Belgium in 2015.
Popular among motor sports enthusiasts, Jean Graton went so far as to call on great drivers like Jacky Ickx for example to set the tachometer needle to the right speed when needed.
His friends were champions, like the Belgian Lucien Bianchi and the Frenchman Alain Prost, who attribute his vocation to the stories of this “visionary of human relations in the race”. He also often frequented René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the “parents” of Asterix.
Television and cinema
Jean Graton was born in Nantes on August 10, 1923, raised by a father who ran a motorcycle club that took him to the 24 hours of Le Mans. At 8, his first drawing appeared in the Belgian newspaper The evening : “It was my dad repairing his motorcycle”, he remembered.
At 17, he was a fitter at the Nantes shipyard, doing his military service in Angers, where, thanks to his talents as a designer, he decorated the canteens. He moved to Brussels at the end of the 1940s, determined to make a living from his art.
Noticed by the World Press agency which provides comics for the magazine Spirou, he joined the competition in 1954, namely Tintin, then co-directed by the great Hergé and Raymond Leblanc.
He will offer stories around an intuitive racing driver, running for a brand of car created by his father. In 1959 appeared the first album of a series that still lasts.
The author, who created his own publishing house in 1982, will also launch the sentimental series The Labourdets, then Julie wood, heroine on a motorcycle who crosses the road of Michel Vaillant.
The hero with square jaws and athletic appearance, who comes out of perilous situations with virtuosity, takes over television with the series The adventures of Michel Vaillant (1967), a cartoon (1990), as well as the 2003 feature film, Michel Vaillant, directed by Louis-Pascal Cuvelaire (co-written by Luc Besson).
Fiction gave life to fifteen real cars, the “Vaillantes”, at the instigation of Jean Graton. One of them appeared in the latter film, with Sagamore Stévenin in the title role as well as Jean-Pierre Cassel and Diane Kruger.
After his retirement, it is his son, Philippe, who continues the series. The last of season 1 of 70 Michel Vaillant was released in 2007. Every year since 2012 an album of Michel Vaillant, in a season 2, with new writers and designers, and now with the publisher Dupuis.