If you pay close attention, you’ll find a coded message within this text. You might also find a clue that will enable you to solve the crime. Jordi Costa has already done so. This clearer than clear-line cartoon about pointillism and reader attention by François Rivière and Alain Goffin’s Le réseau Madou contains it all.
Charles Crichton’s Hue and Cry is considered the founding film of irresistible and influential Ealing comedies canon, but, in fact, it was something else: a singularity, something that would never fit completely the whole made up of movies such as Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob or The Man in the White Suit. Hue and Cry was of a completely different sort: a childish detective tale, with all the charm represented by stories such as those starred by child detective Nancy Drew or the encounters to come between The Three Investigators and their mentor, Alfred Hitchcock. It also had something of a British answer to, let’s say, a Tintin adventure. Let’s keep this last reference in mind since here we will see how, in time, something very similar to poetic justice ended up showing up.
In the film, the leader of a bunch of kids is addicted to reading a detective cartoon and, one day, he sees on the street a scene he had already read in comic book form. From then on, he will try to uncover the mystery of that synchronicity and will reach the conclusion that those stories are the means of transmission of coded messages for a criminal mob. Of course, when the kid goes up to the police with his theory, they don’t pay any attention to him. I’m not going to tell you what happens in the end, but I imagine you can imagine: it takes the coordinated action of a whole mob of youngsters who believe in pop culture to solve the crime.
During those golden years in which one could go to the newsagent and buy a magazine called Cairo, it appeared on the pages of such invigorating and formative publication a series written by François Rivière and drawn by Alain Goffin, which, under the title of Le réseau Madú, proposed directly a re-reading of Hue and Cry taking place in 1930s Brussels among art deco furniture and a sonic background of radio programmes consecrated to jazz’s free compositions. Its main character, Thierry Laudacieux, was something of a modern design Tintin, with the red quiff that would appear on the second and last adventure of his unfortunately brief existence, La mine de l’Étoile, in which the authors played around with aesthetic nostalgia of their colonial past.
With his boy scout spirit and thick-rimmed spectacles, Laudacieux, despite the braveness implied by his patronymic, was more inclined to thinking than action… and, as a reflection of his own readers, he too read cartoons. It was precisely this last habit what, in the course of Le réseau Madú, turned him into the key resource of the investigation about a counter-espionage network undertaken by his friend, older than him, presenter of a jazz radio programme. Laudacieux discovered that the discontinuity in the (clear) lines of some newspaper comic strips he got a hold to hid messages coded in Morse that, as in Hue and Cry, were encrypted –and visible– messages for spies.
I remember getting angry back on the day at Rivière for having used a plot that wasn’t his own –I ignore whether he ever acknowledged the debt in any interviews or not–, but, in time, I haven’t ceased to admire the coup of genius with which he redeemed himself of plagiarism, because Le réseau Madú (the cartoon) included the same strange graphic components that the cartoon within the cartoon that Laudacieux was reading. Someday I must retrieve old Cairo issues to try and de-code the secret message that Goffin and Rivière, in a mise en âbime game, surely introduced in such a sophisticated adventure. It will be a way of feeling a bit like Laudacieux, because maybe all of us who haven’t been able to get rid of the poison of comic books in our old age are a bit like this: readers with a magnifying glass, or with X-rays in our eyes, who have always looked at cartoons thinking that there are secret keys in them, discourse mazes, sense bottomless pits. Yes, this Cartoon Stolen from Le réseau Madú also wants to be a collective self-portrait, and an invitation: never stop reading cartoons like the protagonist of Hue and Cry or like Thierry Laudacieux, always looking for a stolen letter, or crime fingerprints, within them…