by Jordi Costa
I associate the discovery of Edgar P. Jacobs to what I call the Cairo Years: that privileged moment in which, in the midst of the 80s comic magazine boom, came out a publication with, let’s say, an ethic and aesthetic agenda. Cairo was one of those mastheads able to leave a trace on the sentimental education of anyone who let themselves be seduced by it. Not very long ago, film director Javier Rebollo told me up to what point had been important for him this neo-cartoon able to establish solid connections between the new –the authors of the Valencia School (Micharmut, Sento, Torres), some of the most versatile underground militants (Gallardo, Montesol) and other heterogenic avant-garde soldiers– and the classic –the French-Belgian tradition, Spanish humour stories, etc.–. Álex de la Iglesia was also one of those abducted by the strategy of seduction carefully designed by the ideologist –and one of this country’s most refined and romantic cartoon editors–, Joan Navarro. When, as a student of Philosophy at the University of Deusto, de la Iglesia became one of the motors behind NO!, this doomed fanzine included on its irreverent pages styles and echoes that could be traced back to old readings of Cairo. Years later, there were many rumours about his film project (that I hope he’ll go back to one day) to adapt The Yellow “M”, the legendary Blake and Mortimer adventure album by Edgar P. Jacobs that Cairo published in instalments on its first issues and almost turned into an icon of its particular revolution of taste.
In Cairo, Hergé was God the Father, but they also rolled the red carpet before who sat to his right at the Olympus of the Great Adventure Calligraphers, Mr. Jacobs. To be honest, I never felt true love for Jacobs’ work in general or the Blake and Mortimer stories in particular, since I always found them too stiff and asphyxiated by those bubbles full of redundant text that accompanied those cartoons that were pure detailed virtuosity, yes, but also an adventure paralysed by a reckless injection of formaldehyde. Jacobs met Hergé in 1944 and became a close collaborator of Tintin’s father, who benefitted from the taste for detail and obsession about technical and architectonical precision of whom, three years later, would start the Blake and Mortimer oeuvre with the first instalment of The Secret of the Swordfish. However, there’s a pre-Hergé Jacobs for whom I do feel certain sympathy: the one who had to replace Alex Raymond during Belgium’s German occupation. When the US joined WWII, American cartoons ceased to be published in Belgium and, consequently, Raymond’s Flash Gordon stories were interrupted… until Jacobs, pretending to be the creator of Emperor Ming, took temporary charge of continuing them on his own until Nazi censorship obliged him to stop. Still, this Raymondnian impulse was pursued in other media: in 1943, Jacobs started publishing in instalments, on the pages of magazine Bravo!, the materials that, at the end of the day, would end up making up his first comic book, The ‘U’ Ray, a true sum of pulp pleasures that he kept on going back to and polishing in different versions and formats (the series was reprinted in Phénix magazine and coloured for the Tintin weekly) until it reached its final form in the book that Dargaud published in 1974.
Today’s cartoon comes from the Spanish edition of the album published in 1991 by Ediciones Junior, S. A. in its collection Trazo Libre, that was based on the same year’s edition published for the French market by Éditions du Lombard. In The ‘U’ Ray, a coveted source of energy inspires a very simplified spy intrigue that sends the heroes of the story to some unknown land in which anything that could give pleasure to an infant reader with a thirst for prodigies ends up taken place: there’s dinosaurs, pterodactyls, a giant snake, forest fires, caves, passages, traps, enigmatic temples, monkey-men tribes, giant octopuses, and, as you can see, also a huge and beautiful tiger. The ‘U’ Ray is the perfect demonstration that, under its confinement, in Jacobs’ work lay rivers of lubricious lava orientated towards pure pleasure: it is, probably, the most sexualised work of an author whom, from Blake and Mortimer on, would repress any feminisation trend in his aesthetic discourse. What was already present there was the circumspection of his characters, able to go over the astonishing without ever losing their nerve or letting their pulse accelerate. This cartoon is here, basically, because of its beauty, but also because, before the spectacular vision of the impaled meta-tiger before the eyes of the hero, you and me would have expressed the zoological singularity of the sumptuous feline with, for instance, “A beautiful (or magnificent) animal!” that would have come out of our very soul, and that’s why we might find the Jacobsian reaction quite funny. Jacobs’ character prefers to simply validate and record the minutes, succinctly and without adding any layers of meaning in the shape of adjectives, the example of hunting engineering that has been able to capture the beast: “A beast trap!”. I’m sure when Jacobs wrote that exclamation mark he thought he was being way too emotional.