This year we celebrate the 50th birthday of Michel Vaillant, the car racer who is the star of Jean Graton’s comic book series of the same name. All over the continent, Vaillant is one of the most successful comic book heroes, and millions of young boys have followed his and his friends Steve Warson and Yves Douleac’s adventures, or dreamily ogled the beautiful cars that Graton designed for Vaillante, the car manufacturing company that Michel’s dad Henri (and later his brother Jean-Pierre) ran.
The book is certainly the most successful one to combine car-racing and adventures, at least in Europe. There have been others, such as Alain Chevalier by Christian Denayer and A-P Duchateau, but none of them became as well known, or lasted as long as Michel Vaillant. Even though a couple of years ago a fairly successful feature film was produced, there’s never been a wide-spread English translation of this comic. Which is a shame; even though it’s a typically French book, the stories and especially the subject matter (car races) should appeal to any boy who’s ever been eight (and to grown up boys too, of course!).
(a moment of high-octane – pun intended – drama in the latest Michel Vaillant album 24 Heures Sous Influence, (C) Graton Editeur)
Today the books are produced by a team of artists and writers, lead by Graton’s son Philippe, but “papa” is still very much involved in the creation of new titles, such as the 70th one, “24 Hours Under the Influence”, which was just published. By Graton Editeur, indeed, since Graton was also one of the very first to take complete control of his books by starting his own publishing house.
Strip Turnhout, the bi-annual official Flanders comics festival, wanted to honour Michel Vaillant and his creator by organising a retrospective exhibition to mark this anniversary. The show, which tells the story of the comic, but also of car racing in general, debuts on December 15th, together with this year’s edition of the festival.
(cover to the latest Vaillant album, (C) Graton Editeur)
Also in Turnhout, the typical Belgian tradition of comics walls is held high. After cities like Brussels and Hasselt, Turnhout also gets its own comics wall, designed by Jan Van der Veken who is the current Official Artist to the city of Turnhout and in the past, amongst others, designed the Drawn and Quarterly website. You can find out more on Strip Turnhout, at the official website (in Dutch).