Batem, whose real name is Luc Collin, will be at La Fouillade this weekend for the 24th edition of the comics, books and youth festival. The designer is currently preparing the 35th Marsupilami album.
If he is not its inventor, Batem can easily claim the rights to adopt the Marsupilami. Franquin, who created the character in Spirou and Fantasio, asked him in 1984 to draw him in a dedicated cartoon. The famous Belgian writer will secure the scenarios until his death in 1997. His compatriot Batem continued him. And is currently preparing the 35th volume of this curious character’s adventures.
Do you remember your first contact with Marsupilami?
It was when I was a child, in the adventures of Spirou and Fantasio. I’ve always been a fan of Franco-Belgian comics, and from an early age I’ve had my eye on Franquin’s works. I knew him first and especially through Gaston Lagaffe. When I was younger, about 7-8 years old, I tried to read a Spirou and Fantasio and I came across “La Mauvaise tête”. It was a black album that fell from my hands. It is in this one that Spirou, after a severe blow, suffers amnesia and that we see him lost in thought. It had traumatized me. So I preferred to return to my beloved Gaston Lagaffe, and it was later that I found Spirou and Fantasio. I started with the “Panade à Champignac”. In this album Marsupilami is omnipresent, slightly ridiculed by Spirou. I then continued on “QRN sur Bretzelburg” which is a masterful album where Marsupilami made me dream.
Professionally, when did you start drawing it?
I was employed in 1984 by SEPP, a company working on the development and exploitation of products derived from Dupuis grades. I had been hired to work on a Marsupilami cartoon project. They wanted to find a character that would have the same success in animation as the Smurfs, but didn’t want, at least initially, to bother Franquin. They were looking for a designer who could work on the project and develop a number of derivative products. It was only when everything had progressed that this work was presented to André Franquin.
How was this first meeting with him?
It was a memorable day for me. It was in a large conference room. On the table were all my drawings. When I entered this room, I made myself very small. André Franquin told me that he did not see things quite as I had done them. He wasn’t talking so much about the Marsupilami as about the secondary characters that I had been asked to create that weren’t really in the spirit of his work. At the same time he said to me: “Don’t stay here too long.” Even today, I wonder if he would tell me that I had the potential to make my own comic without hanging in this box too long, and if he ever thought of me bringing Marsupilami to life. His contract with SEPP expired at the end of January 1987. It was at this time that I was contacted by Marsu productions, that I gave my notice and I attacked the first album in the spring.
You are currently working on the 35th album. You didn’t invent the Marsupilami, but you now consider it your character?
I usually say that if I’m not the father, I’m the nurse. And that’s how we end up getting attached to the children we keep for so long. Because of the circumstances, I drew him more than André Franquin. Yes, that became my character. I am often told that I should no longer have this feeling of usurper. Maybe, but me, when I draw, even if I don’t always think of André Franquin, I never lose sight of him. I know everything I owe him. I respect him immensely. It’s true that I would have preferred the Marsupilamia to come out of my brain, but it wouldn’t have been that great. It had to be André Franquin who created it.
Today, Marsupilami seems better known than Spirou or Gaston, Franquin’s two other major characters…
It is safe. It has entered the collective unconscious. Marsupilami are part of the culture, both in France and in Belgium. Those who mention it do not necessarily know the existence of the albums, but of the character. In Monteux, in the Avignon region, there is a Spirou park, but very quickly they added Marsupilami to the sign. There are no less than seven attractions dedicated to Marsupilami. In itself, it accounts for 64% of the park’s turnover. Cartoons have also done a lot for that. This character has stuck in people’s minds for a long time. He’s a bit of a magical animal. We are naturally attracted to him.
You’ve been telling Marsupilami stories for 35 years. How do you not burn out?
I discuss a lot with the screenwriters with whom I collaborated. The task is all the more difficult as it is a character who not only does not speak, but also does not think. Milou in Tintin does not speak, but thinks. He interacts with the reader. This is not the case with the Marsupilami, which only says “Houba, Houba”. So we cheat a little. Sometimes we use our tail. Sometimes there are a few images in his mind. But we must not go too far. Avoid anthropomorphism. It remains an animal and Franquin was very attached to it. I have worked with Stéphan Colman (screenwriter) for a long time. We are preparing our sixteenth album together and I think from the third or fourth, he told me he wanted to stop because he thought he had done the trick. And finally he is about to write his 16th and I am still enjoying myself.
Marsupilami is 70 years old, but it’s still a big kid…
Above all, he is a subtle mixture of child, adventurer, poet, father, foodie… He is an animal: he does not get up in the morning with a mission. He just thinks that when everyone is well fed, he will go and piss the jaguar off, and then he will go fishing. He is an epicurean, a protector of nature…
Fisherman, epicurean and conservationist, he should be in his place in Aveyron the Marsupilami. We like it all here.
I think that today you have to like all that, otherwise we accelerate the approach to the end of the world. Marsupilami is also an emblematic character of ecology and nature conservation.