The last old news story to catch up on is a major one: Éditions Dupuis announced on 26 March that they had purchased the Marsu Productions publishing house. The acquisition means that a number of their former titles and characters are returning to Dupuis, most notably Gaston Lagaffe, Marsupilami and Natacha. In particular, it means that after more than 40 years, the Marsupilami can now again appear in Spirou, which subsequent reports confirm will happen in Yoann & Vehlmann’s album #55, expected in 2014.
Unusually for a European comic, Spirou belongs to the publisher, Dupuis. From 1946 to 1968, it was written and illustrated by André Franquin (with the help of numerous collaborators and assistants), who created an entire universe for the series. Under the terms of the deal struck when he left the title, all the supporting characters and other elements he contributed (from Champignac to Zorglub) would belong to Dupuis, except only for the Marsupilami. He also retained the rights to original series set in the same universe, such as Gaston and Le Petit Noël:
None of these characters disappeared from the magazine: Franquin continued to make comics with each of them, with new Gaston gags weekly, and Marsupilami gags and Noël stories more irregularly. However, since they were his, other authors or artists couldn’t use them, and that effectively meant they had to be gone from the Spirou series. Gaston and Noël were quite peripheral characters, so that wasn’t a problem, but the Marsupilami had been an integral and popular part of the comic, and it vanished inexplicably after a final appearance (drawn by Franquin) in Fournier’s first adventure, Le faiseur d’or (“The Gold Maker,” Spirou 20). Some fans still haven’t gotten over it.
Then in 1986, Franquin sold the rights to the Marsupilami to his friend Jean-François Moyersoen, a millionaire diamond dealer and comics fan. Moyersoen set up a new publishing company (based in Monaco for tax purposes): Marsu Productions. Franquin worked with Yann and Batem to create a Marsupilami album series for Marsu, which was a great sales success and is still running, some 26 albums later. Marsu later also acquired the rights to Gaston and the rest of Franquin’s work.
Although the company also owns the rights to Walthéry’s Natacha and a number of other series, Marsu’s most significant and lucrative intellectual property has always been the Franquin comics. It has done many fine things with the license, such as a complete chronological album edition of Gaston, a number of attractive art books of Franquin’s illustrations, and deluxe album editions reproducing Franquin’s original ink pages (with all the pencil marks, annotations and corrections visible) in full size. At the same time, a number of projects seem like dubious cash-ins, such as licensing the Marsupilami to Disney for a bastardized cartoon series, repackaging the same material over and over again in different combinations, editing Spirou and Fantasio out of Le nid des Marsupilamis (“The Nest of the Marsupilamis,” Spirou 12) so that they could release their own version of the album, and most recently creating “kid versions” of their two most popular series with Marsu Kids and Gastoon.
Marsu Productions have also been very aggressive in asserting their rights to the Marsupilami and to Franquin, whose name they trademarked after his death. They shut down the parody comic Le blog de Franquin. They refused permission for Munuera to use the Marsupilami in the time-travel story Aux sources de Z (“The Origins of Z,” Spirou 50), in a panel based on one by Franquin:
They have also blocked the republication of the Spirou and Gaston story Les Robinsons du rail (“The Railway Robinsons”) for nearly two years, presumably in dispute with Dupuis over who holds the rights. Perhaps most egregiously, they demanded that Dupuis edit the Marsupilami out of the cover for volume 6 of the collected Spirou, modifying Franquin’s drawing:
Bringing the rights together should simplify the situation and eliminate this kind of conflict. At the same time, further consolidation in Franco-Belgian comics publishing brings Média-Participations (which owns Dupuis, Dargaud, Le Lombard and many others) even closer to a monopoly position.