We’re still a month away from Christmas, but many Journal de Spirou subscribers have already received the special, double-length Christmas issue of the magazine, which – most importantly – features the first installment of La Colère du Marsupilami (Spirou & Fantasio #55, “Wrath of the Marsupilami”). Read on for an interview with Vehlmann and a peek at the first couple of pages…
Vehlmann: “I wanted to have a go at an earnest, straight-up adventure.”
As the title indicates, the big deal in the 55th Spirou album is the reappearance of the Marsupilami within the adventures of the famous bellhop. By Franquin’s choice, the appealing creature disappeared from the series after the album Le Faiseur d’or (Spirou & Fantasio #20, “The Gold Maker”) by Fournier. How to arrange its return? Writer Fabien Vehlmann answers.
Was the return of the Marsupilami a request by the publisher, or something you yourself wanted?
Vehlmann: It was my own personal wish! Actually, I was a bit clumsy and jumped ahead too quickly: As soon as I heard that Marsu Productions had been brought into the Dupuis Publishing fold, I immediately assumed that of course we were going to bring the Marsupilami back to Spirou & Fantasio. That’s where it originally came from, and lots of old readers were anticipating its return. I had the impression that everyone that had worked on the series [after Franquin] had dreamed of this: to finally get past this prohibition, this taboo against even mentioning the Marsupilami, where everyone knows that it was part of the series but for years has had to pretend not to know anything about it! I talked about it in interviews, and was gently reprimanded by one of the people responsible for the Marsu deal, who reminded me, quite appropriately, that the conditions of the return would need to be discussed with the publisher first.
This episode starts with a sequence of “cold opens”, prologues: a scene in the magazine offices, then at a carnival in Champignac, then in the snowy fields of Canada… Why so many of them?
Vehlmann: It goes back to the first question Yoann and I had to ask ourselves: How to bring back the Marsupilami in a way that would make sense, when the way it left the series didn’t make sense, since it was dictated by factors outside of the universe of the series? I needed a pretty long story [to make this work], but it still had to fit into the album format. That’s why we have these sometimes rather abrupt transitions! Yoann and I wanted a really high tempo in the storytelling, so we could get to the action very quickly. Because readers already know what the album is about: we put a teaser in the ending of the last album – which provoked lots of reactions, by the way – with the picture of a Marsupilami in a cage… So we were not going to pretend not to know that everyone already expected the animal to come back, and therefore we don’t waste too much time, but rush ahead to the action! Apart from that, the short scene in the snow is a way to get some variety in, since the rest of the album takes place completely in the Palombian jungle.
Was it this “forced forgetting” of the Marsupilami that gave you the idea to involve the zorg-ray?
Vehlmann: It was Yoann who came up with the idea of using the zorg-ray, and then we developed it together. It seemed to me like the best option, because for one thing, the zorg-ray is a well-established part of the series, and at the same time, it guides the story down certain specific paths. It implies the involvement of one of only two or three characters: Zorglub, the Count of Champignac… or Zantafio! And Fantasio’s cousin is a character we hadn’t had a chance to use yet. In my mind, Zantafio is extremely tied into the adventures in Palombia.
What is it about the character that inspires you?
Vehlmann: He’s a bit like Clark Gable past his prime, or Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, or also Yves Montand in The Wages of Fear (one of my go-to bedtime movies). He’s an adventurer down on his luck, and that’s what appeals to me about him. In this album, more than in the previous ones, I wanted to have a go at an earnest, straight-up adventure. Until now, I’ve maybe overemphasized an impulsive tone of humor that’s a bit all over the place, at the risk of throwing off some readers. Here, I told myself that it was time to be less tongue-in-cheek, not just because the return of the Marsupilami entails some emotional weight, but also because in my eyes, Zantafio is a tragic figure. I didn’t want to make him just a cheap villain, because I think the character is too complex for that.
He’s a character who has always been rather ambiguous.
Vehlmann: You can sense that Franquin never quite knew what to do with him: he shows up, he disappears off the radar… At first, his personality is hard to get a grip on, because it’s so quickly outlined; later on he becomes more and more evil. I wanted to keep Zantafio’s psychology complicated. There is real violence in him, but he definitely remains capable of human feeling. What also interests me about the character is his frustrated dreams of greatness, because at the end of the day, that makes him relatable.
And the first couple of pages of the adventure (via Izneo):
The adventure will run in 9 parts, with this first installment covering the first 8 pages (of which Izneo’s preview also includes the third).