Monday, April 28, 2014

Life and Work of Gus Bofa (1883-1968)

by Huib van Opstal

SCULPTED. Gus Bofa’s own ears are among the largest I’ve ever seen. Unforgettable ears. Last month, his niece Marie-Hélène Grosos told me she remembers her uncle from early 1950s family gatherings as 
‘Quite nice, not very talkative, tall, slim, with big ears — that he used to move as those of an elephant — and in strange orthopaedic shoes which gave him, in our child’s eyes, “round feet.” We, his younger nieces and nephews, called him Bofa and said “vous” to him instead of “tu,” and he said “vous” to us and called us “old chap.” Though in our childhood (when adults more or less deliberately ignored his work) we didn’t have the slightest idea of what he did except that we thought he was drawing all-day…’Marie-Hélène Grosos 2014

1 [1911] Un entrefilet (a brief report), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in words and pictures in Le Rire, No 422, 4 March.

2 [1917] “Request… La Baïonnette… Its weird issue… Prohibited by Decree!…” 
BRANDED. Bofa’s unique personal brand of funny big-foot characters, especially those from the first decades of the twentieth century, is unforgettable too. Gus Bofa characters on paper often radiate life in lines that are powerful and tender as well. Work sculpted in a mix of fat and thin, in ink in pen and brush — much of it with correctional white gouache — or in crayon with rubbings or wash for effect.

3 [1911] Un beau mariage, from Bofa’s theatre review of a Sacha Guitry comedy in Le Rire, No 456, 28 October.

A GUSH. Here’s a gush of Bofa, his early work in particular, humorous as well as dark. About his loves, fears and fantasies, and his traumatic war experiences in particular, from the ‘Great War’ of 1914-18 he barely escaped alive.

4 [1917] Défense d’Acheter Ce Numéro (Décret du 30 Mai 1917), “Do Not Buy This Issue Prohibited by Decree of 30 May 1917,” cover of La Baïonnette, No 129, thematic issue ‘Discipline Civile’ (civil obedience), 20 December.

5 [1911] A dancer in the ballet-pantomime À l’opéra – La Roussalka, and singer Félix Mayol, from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 464, 23 December.

DRAWN. His style of visuals is already unmistakeble his own in his earliest, small black and white work for little magazines. Full of funny little people with big round heads. Years of larger work and colour follow: affiches or posters and magazine covers, and a wide range of advertising and publicity design for theatre companies and other commercial clients, like adverts, folders, puzzles and post cards. 

6 [1911] ‘Le répertoire du Grand-Guignol,’ from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 433, 20 May.

INKED. Towards 1910 he favors inking the lines of his finished art real fat, in both pen and brush. As an all-round professional he offers design and illustration in a range of styles, since the 1920s in modern woodcut and fine line etching too. 

7 [1911] The high jump of Russian ballet dancer Vatslav Nijinski, from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 436, 10 June.

SIGNED. As a young kid he invents his favorite signature GUS BOFA — often with two points added as ‘Gus. Bofa.’ or ‘GUS. BOFA.’ suggesting abbrevation — with variations such as GUS B., GUS, Gustave Bofa, G. BOFA and GB. His French biographer Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, the author of a big Bofa biography just published last last November, thinks the name Bofa ‘…comes from the patois of Nice, the nissarte dialect (Bofa’s mother lived in the city of Nice before marrying). A “bofa” is a chip of wood, or a clever, funny boy. “Faire bofa” also means to lose…’

8 [1910] The ‘GUS. BOFA.’ signature (poster detail).

9 [1914-18] Bofa as soldier in militairy uniform; ID photo.

10 [1930] Le mauvais train (the bad train), 1 of 48 full-page illustrations in Bofa’s book Malaises…

Bofa’s niece Marie-Hélène Grosos is a key player in the Gus Bofa story.
‘In the early 80s I realized the importance of his work when the Musée-Galerie de la SEITA in Paris — gone now — planned an important exhibition to comemorate Bofa’s 100th birthday in the spring of 1983. My aunt Cathérine Grosos said she was too old and too tired and asked me to get involved in it. I didn’t know the slightest about Bofa then, but Jean Edelmann, who was in charge of the exhibition became my mentor. I owe Jean quite a lot! The 1983 exhibition went to Poland and several towns in France and ended up in a holiday resort for Seita employees, where the teenagers gave an amazing Bofa presentation!… Since then, I decided to do all that I could to keep Gus Bofa alive and to get his books reprinted. A hard struggle… and a long story till, by chance, I met Jean-Louis Gauthey of les Éditions Cornelius and Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian. And here we are!’Marie-Hélène Grosos 2014

11 [1911] Il y a quatres Générales dans la Soirée! – “Et Niniche qui…” (four general rehearsals tonight, and Niniche who…), from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 461, 2 December.

12 [2013] Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian with his book.
‘I’ve chosen the subtitle “the disenchanted enchanter” because part of Bofa's world is made up of fairies, giants, and fantastic creatures, and because when he went to war he stepped into “the enchanted circle” of his close friend Pierre Mac Orlan. It also alludes to a Bofa story in La Croisière incertaine (1950), about a fairy who lost her powers…
13 [1912] Cover hero Paul Choux, his bonnet lettered ‘Le Cocotier’ (the coconut tree).
…the cover drawing with the blue bonnet was originally used on the first edition of La Maison du retour écoeurant (1912) by Pierre Mac Orlan. But the one used for the dust jacket of my Bofa biography — the one with the white bonnet — is from the second, 1924 edition. They show Mac Orlan’s hero and alter ego, Paul Choux wearing the uniform of a sailor in the Republic of Haïti Navy.’ Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014

14 [1900] Le verrier (the glazier), two-page cartoon spread in the weekly La Risette, No 36, 25 December.

15 [1903] “…d’aller à pied…” (to go by foot), cover of Le Sourire, No 200, 24 October.

16 [1910] Histoire sans Paroles! (story without words), a comparison of playwrights Henry Bataille and Edmond Rostand, from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 371, 12 March.

17 [c.1910] Bofa in gilet; publicity photo.

HONOURED. During my stay in the small town of Angoulême in France early this year, my Swiss friend Cuno Affolter introduced me to Bofa’s tireless promotors Marie-Hélène Grosos (b.1944) from Samois sur Seine and Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian (b.1950s) from Paris. Both glowing with pride that Emmanuel’s big Bofa biography is now published, finally, and both present because Gus Bofa was honoured this year at the four-day Angoulême Festival International de la bande dessinée 41 with a thematic exhibition: ‘Gus Bofa, l’adieu aux armes’ (Gus Bofa’s farewell to arms), which proved to be such an interesting, compact exhibit that it was promptly extended from four days to forty-five. Its curator is of course Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian. Focusing on World War I and the early decades of Bofa’s career, it was presented in a downstairs and upstairs gallery — with not a single comic strip in it, and his risqué drawings shown upstairs… In my view it even outclassed the stale Jacques Tardi show on the opposite side of the staircase. Bofa’s war art is simply more touching than Tardi’s. 
18 [1912] Davos, Saint-Moritz etc.; le Ski, illustration in Le Journal, 14 January.

19 [1915] Le Réveillon au Cantonnement (Christmas Eve Dinner in the Digs), full-page comic strip in La Baïonnette, No 25, 23 December. French soldiers improvise a Christmas dinner at the war front but miss their traditional boudin (blood sausage or ‘black pudding’). Enter a soldier who proposes to mince his German prisoner — ‘Don’t worry, fellahs. I’m bringing ya what we need to make some!’
“Gus Bofa characters on paper often radiate life in lines that are powerful and tender as well…”

20 [1917] L’Adoration des poilus (The adoration of the poilus, the French infantry soldiers), full-page drawing in black and yellow in biweekly magazine Automobilia, No 20, late December.

REFRESHING. As a result, it was the most refreshing exhibition of this year’s Angoulême fest, and once Bofa’s art enchants you, who cares about strip format or no strip format? He certainly didn’t, anyway — although he definitely had a soft spot for lettering and the use of balloons and text in his drawn visuals. (His unpublished 1920 manuscript La véridique histoire du chat botte, for example, is completely handlettered.) He observed and wrote and drew instinctively. He loved thick and thin. He loved the little man. He loved human expressions. He loved all things British. He loved his dogs (his first one, named Diamant, diamond, was a black-and-white cocker spaniel). He loved animals and hated zoos, bullfights and hunters. He liked savate and boxing (as excercise since his 7th year, no further interest in them as sports). He loved digging holes. He loved listening. He loved dreaming. He loved drawing rain. 

But he fought a lifelong fight with fear.
‘Bofa thought mankind’s destiny was ruled by Fear. He published a book about it in 1937 — a book written AND illustrated by him— La Symphonie de la Peur, his symphony of fear. A real great book… with some of his best drawings. Man is afraid of the nothingness he comes from and of the nothingness he’s going to. Between birth and death, he’s afraid of everything: the night, the storm, the animals, and so on… So he tries escaping his fears by traveling, by making up gods, and by making war as well. Nasty creature!…’Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014

21 [1909] Papillon, aka Lyonnais-le-Juste, from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 350, 16 October.

22 [1921] Un Duo (a duet) by Arthur Conan Doyle, pocketbook cover illustrated with a woodcut by Gus Bofa (the full original 1899 title is A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus). The same identical cut is used on at least 4 other different titles in the series. Similar Bofa ‘dessins gravées sur bois’ (actual wood cuts, wood engravings, but for this series reproduced via line cliché) appear on books by authors such as Arthur Morrison, Serge Basset, J. Storer Clouston, and H.B. Marriott Watson — misspelt ‘Wattson’ and with a Bofa cut of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson on the cover. All titles in the series Drames d’Histoire et de Police (historical and detective fiction) carry the imprint L’Édition Française Illustrée in Paris, and are reissues, produced in 1921-23. The interiors are old, unsold prewar copies, published by Stock, given a second life by new covers or ‘couvertures de relais.’ Most of these newly designed covers are printed across the border, in Wiesbaden in occupied Germany. Earlier, from 1915 to 1920, L’Édition Française Illustrée published La Baïonnette.

23 [1911] ‘Les ‘Puzzles" de Gus Bofa sont gais!’ (Gus Bofa puzzles are jolly), 1 of 6 jigsaw puzzle designs.

A LIFE OF BOFA. Gus Bofa is already a sharp dresser since his 20s, and virtually lives on coffee and cigarettes. His coffee he likes black, with lots of sugar. ‘I don’t drink coffee. I eat it.’ A regular chain-smoker, he prefers smoking English cigarettes; in occupied France during WWII, when they’re no longer available, he smokes everything he can find in his Mauperthuis garden. 

Such biographical data I get from Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, writer of the brand new Bofa biography published in French last year under the titel Gus Bofa; l’enchanteur désenchanté (Gus Bofa; the disenchanted enchanter). He also composed and curated this year’s Bofa exhibit in Angoulême.
‘Writing Gus Bofa; l’enchanteur désenchanté took me more than 8 years. Documentation had to be garnered: letters, the artist’s personal writings, original artwork, material from publisher’s archives, press clippings, books, and testimonials of his contemporaries. Most drawings in the book are scanned from original art by Bofa; a third has never seen print before. A long project made possible by the support of Jean-Louis Gauthey and his publishing company les Éditions Cornélius, plus the kind assistance of Marie-Hélène Grosos, niece and champion of the artist, who put Gus Bofa’s papers at my disposal. For over twenty years now, she fights with dogged determination and enthusiasm, against all odds, to get the works of her oncle republished and recognised. Practically unknown in France now, neither museums nor librairies are interested in Bofa. He’s seen as no more than a draughtsman, “not a painter”…’Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014

24 [1909] Les Aventures de Gavroche, a play in 4 acts by Gaston Marot and Victor Darlay, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. From Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 314, 6 February.

25 [1909] ‘Dooping,’ from Bofa’s theatre review of Master Bob, gagnant du Derby, in Le Rire, No 326, 1 May.

26 [1911] Le Co-Locataire, full-colour cover of Le Rire, No 459, 18 November.

27 [1910] Théodore Ier, Empereur des Yankees / A New Napoleon, “Teddy the First,” full-page comic strip on the long African safari of former US president Theodore Roosevelt Jr., in Le Rire, No 386, 25 June.

IMMORTALIZED. An amazing little detail is that Pollaud-Dulian is the first Bofa biographer who decided to dig up the birth certificate of the artist, born approximately 130 years ago. His book is now the only one in existence that states both the correct birthday and birthyear of Gustave Henri Émile Blanchot — 1885? 23 May? Neither!

Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian insists to be very precise in what he says, that is, as long as he likes to talk about it. His own origins for instance are ‘yiddisho-irlando-arméno-kalmouque.’ But his own birth year? ‘Can’t remember.’ He also persists to call his Bofa biography — as thick as an orange and covered in beautifully bright orange too — his ‘Big Yellow Book.’ The production values of publisher Cornélius are immaculate, as usual. Plus, with some 550 pages of very detailed writing it offers a huge quantity of new findings and downright scoops. All about Alice Peter; all about Nandette Monthui; all about Jo Merry — ‘many book dealers thought he didn’t exist and was just another Bofa alias’ —; all about Bofa’s family, his school grades and his military papers; how he was wounded in the war; how he helped war veterans; how he wrote comedies; how, in the 1950s, he wanted to change his name and start his career all over… According to Pollaud-Dulian: ‘Three quarters of the book is fresh info.’ 

28 [1917] Cri du Coeur! (— “Ces pauvres Français ne pourront plus manger que deux plats!” / — “TOUS les jours?!”) Hungry Germans, plagued by reduced food rations, goggle at the news that French restaurants are not allowed to serve customers more than two courses, full-colour center spread in La Baïonnette, No 89, 15 March.

29 [1910] La Semaine de Ferdinand (Ferdinand’s week), full-page comic strip in Le Rire, No 388, 9 July.

30 [1911] Le groupe des “X” mystérieux, Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in words and pictures in Le Rire, No 458, 11 November. His text signed with his alternative pen-name ‘Le Médecin de service,’ the medic on duty.

31 [1910] Proportionnalistes et Arrondissementiers — “aux urnes, cotoyens!” (to the ballot boxes, citizens!), fun with poires, full-page drawing in Le Rire, No 363, 15 January.

BIRTHDAY. Gus Bofa is born on 22 May 1883, in the same year as Coco Chanel, Edgar Varèse, Rube Goldberg, Frank O. King, Cliff Sterrett, Max Fleischer and Franz Kafka, and on the same day as HERGÉ and ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.

32 [1911] Le Bon Jardinier (the quality gardener), full-page full-colour drawing in Le Rire, No 422, 4 March.

33 [1910] “La maison Myrrhine, rue Monsigny, refuse du monde chaque soir” (the Myrrhine is sold out each night), from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 373, 26 March.

34 [1911] Siberia, à l’Opéra (Siberia in the Opera), from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 437, 17 June.

35 [1910] Chantecler en 4 actes by Edmond Rostand, from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 368, 19 February.

YEAR 1900. The earliest published Bofa work I can find today is from November 1900, drawings from when he was just 17 years of age — made to get some extra pocket money. Cartoons in box frames, neatly drawn in thin, straight lines in black-and-white, in a small low-end, weekly gag paper called La Risette, the smile. All signed ‘G. BOFA.’ And already full of his sketch-like line play. The very first published Bofa drawing though dates back to some months earlier, you can find it reproduced again on page 32 of Pollaud-Dulian’s big Bofa biography. It is from Le Sourire No 40 of 8 September 1900. Some of Bofa’s earliest work also appeared in another little magazine titled Le Pompon. 

36 [1908] La Pension Michonnet; Operette en 2 Actes de Mr Boissier – Musique de Perpignau, poster for the Eldorado music-hall, avenue Strassbourg, Paris.

37 [1910] Tigress Electra, from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 412, 24 December.

38 [1910] Les “Bibendum” Politiques (the political Bibendums), fun with the Michelin trademark figure, full-page drawing in Le Rire, No 406, 12 November

SELF-EDUCATED. Gustave Henri Émile Blanchot, the tenth of fourteen children (5 boys and 7 girls, plus stillborn twins) and the fourth son, is born in 1883, on the 22nd of May, in Brive (now: Brive-la-Gaillarde) in the Limousine region in the mid south of France. His father Paul and his granddad Charles (his mum’s father) are professional colonels in the French army. In his birthyear his mother Léonie is 35 and his father 46 years of age; she teaches him his first arithmetic, reading and writing. In 1889 the family moves to Bordeaux (to a grand house with a walled garden he never forgets), and then, in 1893, to Paris, where he will live and work until the year 1966, changed into designer-artist-writer ‘Gus Bofa.’ 

39 [1911] ‘Le monsieur au principe’ (a man of principles) never shaves without a Brot mirror, advert in Le Rire, No 453, 7 October.

40 [1911] “…et d’acheter à la place… une Charron” (you’d better buy a Charron) is the expert opinion of tramp Tom Charron and his dog Sam, advert for Charron automobiles.

41 [1911] En Tournée (on tour), a comment on the Tunesia trip made last April by the French Président, Armand Fallières, full-colour cover of Le Rire, No 431, 6 May.

42 [1910] Le Candidat Candide (a naive candidate), two-page comic strip in Le Rire, No 378, 30 April (page 1 of 2). Text by ‘Pick-Me-Up,’ a collective alias for Le Rire staff members.

43 [1910] Le Candidat Candide (page 2 of 2).

COMMERCE. Early in the 20th century Bofa, after some odd jobs, and still a young adult, chooses to make a living in design, art and writing. He begins to work as an independent, self-taught commercial designer — of carefree and humorous advertising and publicity work, from around 1906 under his own company name Affiches GUS-BOFA. And he begins to work as a writer, editor, and literary critic. For the daily newspaper Le Journal he writes ‘contes’ or short stories. Stage and costume design he practices too. He works for the weeklies Le Sourire, Le Rire, La Risette, La Baïonnette, à La Petite Semaine a.o. titles, and the biweekly Automobilia. After the war comes his work for the monthly Le Crapouillot.
‘When Gus Bofa, very briefly, took charge of Le Rire and Le Sourire, he tried to give these magazines — financed by advertisements for prostitutes, aphrodisiacs and pornography sellers — a more literary and artistic turn. He failed, of course, and left them. Let’s get real, these papers were bought by the petite bourgeoisie, who wanted its weekly ration of bad jokes and naked women. No more. Bofa came to despise the periodical press. Most illustrators weren’t even allowed to write their own captions!…’Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014

44 [1918] “Plus de TABAC pour dépenser votre argent!… Rien ne vous empêche donc d’acheter “Chez les toubibs,” l’album de Gus Bofa pour vous consoler!” (no more TOBACCO left to spend your money on, so there’s nothing to stop you buying Chez les toubibs, Gus Bofa’s book to cheer you up), small ad on page 2 of the wartime edition Le Rire Rouge, No 169, 9 February.

“Gus Bofa wanted to prove that 
drawing was as good as writing…”
45 [1917] Chez les toubibs (Among sawbones), a spread from Bofa’s illustrated satiric ‘album’ with sketches from the hospital, following his nightmarish treatment by army doctors.

46 [1921] L’araignée, 2e exposition (the spider, 2nd exhibition). Promotional leaflet for the Salon de l’Araignee, a series of group exhibitions in Paris, initiated by Gus Bofa; the drawing is a self-portrait by Lucien Boucher.

47 [1912] “The passionate actor Bach in a new play in the Eldo,” from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 469, 27 January.

EXCHANGE. World wide, writers, editors, artists and publishers closely monitor eachothers work. In the late 1800s, inspiring European periodicals of interest, shipped daily, are seen and read in New York and Chicago within a week. In return, a week later, inspiring American titles of interest reach European cities like London, Paris and Munich. Papers full of strips, cartoons and illustrations are not necessarily thrown away anymore. Smart publishers even have them filed. 

48 [1916] Tommies… Halt! That number’s for you!!!, cover of La Baïonnette, No 50, thematic issue ‘Les Tommies,’ 15 june.

49 [1918] “Out Soon,” advert for Signaux à l’ennemi, war stories by G. de Pawlowski, in Automobilia, No 34, 15 October.

50 [1918] The actual Gus Bofa front cover of Signaux à l’ennemi, war stories by Gaston de Pawlowski.

51 [1911] Les chiens de garde qui veillent aux barrières du Louvre!… (watchdogs dealing with the barriers in the Louvre), picture page in Le Rire, No 451, 23 September. In Paris, the lack of security in the Louvre allowed Da Vinci’s painting ‘La Joconde’ — the Mona Lisa — to be stolen in August.

THE ARTIST’S ARTIST. The turn-of-the-century provides an exciting modern climate in which Gus Bofa takes to both graphic art and comics art with enthusiasm. His early work shows touches of Toulouse-Lautrec as well as Caran D’Ache. Like all contributors of Le Rire his work is influenced by the latest French, German, British and American illustration. Gus Mager (with his Monk strips), G.E. Studdy (with his Bonzo Dog cartoons), Max Beerbohm (with his illustrated theatre review columns), Bruce Bairnsfather (with his WWI Fragments from France cartoons) — he obviously knew them all. But his personal rough and tumble approach soon becomes his own. Uniquely, typically BOFA. And — his own artwork is swiftly imitated by a long line of Bofa copycats.
‘Gus Bofa wanted to emphasize drawing, to prove that drawing was as good as writing, that drawing could express everything. He produced an exceptional oeuvre — varied and intense, frequently autobiographical and intimate — that remains topical. You might say he’s the artist’s artist, because he still influences and inspires contemporaries like Charles Berberian, David Prudhomme, François Avril or Nicolas de Crécy. His illustrated books like Malaises…, La Symphonie de la Peur, or Déblais, preceded the alternative type of strip — la bande dessinée alternative.’ Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014

52 [1917] Echange de cartes (— “N… d… D…! Je lui ai donné ma carte de sucre!” / “D……d! I gave him my sugar card!”), full-colour center spread in La Baïonnette, No 95, 26 April.

53 [1910] Le Train de 8 h. 47 by Georges Courteline, play after the 1888 novel about the life of French army soldiers, from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 409, 3 December.

54 [1946] Filles et ports d’Europe (girls and ports of Europe) by Pierre Mac Orlan. One of many unknown Bofa originals — this one an alternative, never used version of the book illustration — now shown in Pollaud-Dulan’s bio.

WRITTEN. As artist, editor and writer-critic of Le Rire (the laugh), Bofa is most visible on the weekly page with theatre reviews under the header LE RIRE AU THÉATRE (the pictures, signed ‘Gus Bofa’ and ‘GB,’ are drawn by him since February 1909; the text, signed with his alternative pen-name ‘Le Médecin de service,’ the medic on duty, a direct result of his involvement with the theatre world). He also delivers several covers, full-colour pages and comic strips. Le Rire, Sourire and à La Petite Semaine are weeklies that Bofa also edits. He’s the theatre critic of Le Rire with theatre reviews in words and pictures in 1909-14. And he’s the literary critic of the monthly Le Crapouillot — just in writing — in 1922-39 under the header ‘Les livres à lire… et les autres’ (the books to read… and the others) where he promotes the works of Céline, André Malraux, Saint-Exupéry, Bernanos, Bove, Cohen, Faulkner, Giono and many others. Both Le Crapouillot and La Baïonnette date from 1915. Le Crapouillot actually started in the trenches of WWI, and was named after the French trench artillerymen that took their name from the type of mortar they used to fire their bombshells. 

55 [1918] Friede! (peace), cover of La Baïonnette, No 177, thematic issue ‘Ouf!…,’ 21 November.

56 [1911] Salade de prophéties théatrales pour 1911 (a salad of theatrical predictions for 1911), full-page comic strip in Le Rire, No 414, 7 January.
57 [1917] Jocks, Tommies, and Cy., cover of La Baïonnette, No 123, thematic issue ‘Les “Brittanniques”’ (the Brits), the whole of it filled with art and writing by Gus Bofa, Charles Genty and Pierre Mac Orlan, 8 November.

AUTOBIO. Bofa’s own war experiences lead to autobiographical books like Chez les toubibs (1917), Rollmops; ou le Dieu assis (1919) and Le Livre de la Guerre de Cent Ans (1921, written with his close friend, singer-song writer Pierre Mac Orlan). He further writes Malaises… (1930, with the motto ‘on verra bien,’ we’ll see, on the title page), Zoo (1935), La Symphonie de la Peur (1937), Solution Zéro (1943), La voie libre; notes de tourisme syncopé (1947), La Croisière incertaine (1950) and Déblais (1951). As illustrator he also adds his touch to numerous books written by others, in cheap as well as deluxe editions — books by writers like Courteline (1931, Le Train de 8 H 47), Cervantes (1926, Don Quichotte), Voltaire (1932, Candide; ou l’optimisme) and La Fontaine (1928, Les Fables).

58 [1911] Le salut des unifiés au citoyen “Browning” (the alliance salutes citizen Browning), page with double cartoon in Le Rire, No 417, 28 January.

59 [1909] The stage play Quo Vadis? could have done with real boxers as extras, from Bofa’s theatre review in Le Rire, No 358, 11 December.

NEW ART. In the 1890s the so-called Art Nouveau or ‘new art’ in France, in graphic art made world-famous by mammoth-sized posters printed from lithographic stone, steals the limelight. Meanwhile, the modernised printing processes of the 90s offer equally great art in periodical press products, in much higher numbers, for a much larger public. 
‘Bofa and friends used the bibliophily craze to their advantage. Chas Laborde deliberately chose what he called “the artistic clandestinity” of the “livre d’art” to be free to draw. They were not merely “illustrateurs” — a word almost pejorative in France! What people like Bofa or Daragnès first and for all wanted was: to get young artists out of the mediocre illustrated press, to let them show what they could do, to prove that drawing was an art, and then, by using newer reproduction and printing techniques, get rid of all the “bibliophilic” whims to produce normally priced illustrated books. Small publishers like Jonquières or Lacourière are actually the forefathers of Cornélius or L’Association. But the economical crash of 1929-30 put an end to what was, in fact, an artists movement to more creative freedom.’Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2014
60 [c.1912] Les Cent Mille Pas (the hundred thousand steps), advertising comic strip for ‘chaussures caoutchouc Au Coq’ (Au Coq rubber boots and shoes), folded leaflet, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are needed to solve the case.

61 [1910] Une grande fête pur célébrer le cinquième milliard du budget (a great festival to celebrate the five billion budget), double cartoon in Le Rire, No 373, 26 March.

PRINTED COLOUR. Many papers and periodicals in the late 1800s began to add colour to their printed pages. Le Rire (in Paris, s.1894), a satirical weekly with illustrations, cartoons and strips on every page, all on cheap newspaper stock, features front and back covers in colour, first in soft tones, and gradually in a more bright, real full-colour look. Coloured center spreads soon follow. A single issue can contain portraits, political comments, cartoons, strips, and the occasional unexpected new experiment. Two years later, a similar format and formula is taken up by Jugend (Munich, s.1896) and Simplicissimus (Munich, s.1896) in Germany. The full-page coloured drawings in such satirical European weeklies range from funny to realistic to sexy. 

62 [n.d.] Bôo-Fah, premier du nom, qui fut globe-trotter (Bôo-Fah, the first by this name, became a globetrotter), one of many unknown Bofa originals shown in Pollaud-Dulian’s bio.

63 [1911] L’existence à Nouméa des condamnés de droit commun est un paradis à côté de l’enfer des ouvriers français. C’est honteux! (about the perks of convicts sentenced to hard labour – T.F. or Travaux Forcés), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 430, 29 April.

64 [1921] ‘Bois gravé de Gus Bofa’ (woodcut engraved by Gus Bofa), cover of L’Aventure des 13 filles de Mademoiselle d’Oche, a novel by François Poncetton.

MOBILIZED. When German troops invade France in the summer of 1914 — and WAR IS DECLARED — Gustave Blanchot alias Gus Bofa, just thirty-one, following his 1904 draft service and two very short periods as a Réserviste in 1910 and 1912, is MOBILISED in August, and without hesitation joins the FRENCH ARMY as a soldier in the INFANTRY.

Family tales and popular imagery of heroic battles in the 1800s — with French soldiers still in bright red pants — have shaped his vision of the military. Less than four months of uneventful trench warfare later, while on patrol duty in the Bois-le-Prêtre (the preacher’s forest) under Luxembourg, on Monday 7 December 1914, enemy fire takes him out: he is severely shot in legs and hip by German machine-gunners. It’ll be years before he’ll walk again. 

65 [1911] “…des rêves de deux centièmes” (two-cent dreams), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 455, 21 October.

66 [n.d.] Ma peau, rapportée du front et de l’hôpital (my skin, saved from the front and the hospital), the original Bofa drawing of an illustration for his 1917 Chez les toubibs, shown in Pollaud-Dulan’s bio.

TRAUMATIZED. Bofa, traumatised for life, receives the obligatory militairy medals for bravery afterwards; one is the 1915 croix de guerre (the war cross), an honour he shares with over two million other service men. But the dark side of it all is that he spends over a year of anguish and fear, interned in several French army hospitals — full of war amputees — where he has to fend off lunatic army doctors who want to cut off his leg and foot.

He manages to escape without amputation, and continues to write and draw, but often bedridden and working from a drawing board. Superficial carefree humour and straight lines in his work become rare. His later work evolves into often startling reportage drawing. 

“Bofa thought mankind’s destiny 
was ruled by Fear…”

In late 1915, a year after he’s been shot, Bofa starts his wartime comeback in print. In Paris, in November-December, Le Petit Parisien, L’Excelsior and Le Journal publish several new Bofa drawings. Topped by a full page in the ‘Noël de Guerre’ (War Christmas) issue of the newly launched satirical weekly La Baïonnette, No 25 of Thursday 23 December 1915, with a comic strip gag about French soldiers making the best of it at the war front, in the snow, titled ‘Le Réveillon au Cantonnement’ (Christmas Eve Dinner in the Digs).

In 1916 he’s finally allowed to return to civilian life again. His right leg paralyzed and shorter than the other, and his left foot irreparably damaged; large orthopaedic shoes soften the pain the rest of his life. The same year he marries Alice and decides not to go back to drawing for the periodical press. He still takes on advertising commissions, but his real goal is writing and illustrating his own books.

67 [1967 [1937] A spread from La Symphonie de la Peur (The Symphony of Fear), Gus Bofa’s visual novel, as photographed by Librairie Mesnard in Angoulême. “Un des 100 exemplaires numérotés sur papier de Hollande…” Click the photo and note the deckle-edged sheets in this first edition in pristine mint condition.

68 [1937] A full-page illustration from La Symphonie de la Peur, the dinosaur.

69 [1937] A full-page illustration from La Symphonie de la Peur, the cave.

LA GRANDE FARCE. The First World War of 1914-18 — still called the ‘Great War’ then — he bitterly relabels la Grande Farce, the great farce. Any positive feeling he ever had about militairy action and militairy glory was killed in it. His first reply in print is a scathing, illustrated satiric tract about his experiences with army doctors, titled Chez les toubibs (Among sawbones), which is first sold December 1917. A slim softbound book — in ‘toile grise’, grey cloth — of 64 pages, some in full-colour, that publisher La Renaissance du Livre advertises as a ‘très bel album’ (a very beautiful book) costing 10 francs.

70 [1916] Warface. A smoking French infantryman of the 346th Regiment, cover of La Baïonnette, No 38, thematic issue ‘Les Loustics,’ the fellahs, 23 March.

LA BAÏONNETTE. Published under the imprint of L’Édition Française Illustrée in Paris, La Baïonnette (the bayonet) — ‘Nouvelle Série,’ new series — is a satirical weekly published during World War I, edited by Charles Malexis. Filled with reasonably gentle humour about the war, it resembles Le Rire in concept, size and price, but is published on Thursdays instead of Saturdays. For this new series, from 8 July 1915 to 22 April 1920 a total of 250 issues is produced, most as thematic issues. It sells for 20 centimes an issue, the same cover price Le Rire has at the time.

(To distance itself from all earlier magazines with the title La Baïonnette, the issues number 1 to 5 of the 1915
Nouvelle Série are titled À la Baïonnette, on the bayonet, in July-August. From issue number 6 on the ‘A’ is dropped again. The first of the preceding La Baïonnette titles seems to have been an 1888 paper, published by Librairie F. Roy in Paris, advertised as: ‘La Baïonnette. Journal patriotique et humoristique. Actualités, Histoires, Anecdotes drolatiques. Illustré de nombreux dessins Inédits par Berlureau. Parait tous les Samedis.’ The second seems to have been launched in the year 1900 as La Baïonnette with the subtitle: ‘Journal Hebdomadaire, Satirique et Humoristique; Absolument Militaire’ (Paris, Publisher: Librairie Contemporaine, Directeur: F. Charly, an artist who also drew for it). The third seems to have been published since January 1915 by artist-editor Henriot (b.1857) as La Baïonnette who sells it to publishing company L’Édition Française Illustrée in Paris and its editor Charles Malexis before July 1915, but I found few visual traces of those earlier three La Baïonnette titles yet.)

Like many other papers at the time, the 1915 La Baïonnette has a page near the back with reprinted cartoons taken from other papers. Side by side, in number 31 of 3 February 1916, this page features a cartoon by newcomer Alain Saint-Ogan (20) and a cartoon by returned veteran Gus Bofa (32).

71 [1912] Fête pour le repatriement des artistes subventionnés (a feast day for the repatriation of funded artists), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 467, 13 January.

CATHÉRINE GROSOS. Gus Bofa marries his first wife Alice Loewenstein-Peter in 1916. Seriously older than him, born in 1864, from 1907 to 1923 she runs the successful Eldorado music hall on the avenue Strassbourg in Paris. She dies in 1934, seventy years of age.

Bofa’s second wife is Cathérine Grosos (real name: Laure Renée Cécile Grosos, b.1902), seriously younger than him. They marry in January 1940. After he passes away in September 1968, she asks her niece Marie-Hélène Grosos to look after Bofa’s legacy. Cathérine dies in 1983, the same year Jean Edelmann and Jean-Hugues Piettre produces their 30-page catalogue for a Bofa exhibition in the Musée-Galerie de la SEITA (Société nationale d’Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et des Allumettes) in Paris, from 5 May to 10 September, titled Gus Bofa et les illustrateurs de l’entre-deux-guerres — Gus Bofa and the illustrators of the interwar years.

72 [1914-18] Bofa as soldier in militairy uniform; photo with his fox terrier Tango.

FAUX BOOKS. The French Bofa website, online since 2001 thanks to Michel Lagarde, offers a wealth of information on Gus Bofa and his times. In a longlist of books connected to Bofa — exactly 200 — it supplies some sharp criticism too. Roger Bouillot’s bad book Gus Bofa l’incendiaire (Gus Bofa the incendiary, Paris: Futuropolis, 1980) is trashed for instance. Read the following capsule review of it, written a dozen years ago – 
‘Cette biographie illustrée de Gus Bofa a le seul mérite d’exister. Avant la publication de Bibliographie de Gus Bofa de François San Millan, travail autrement sérieux et respectueux de l’artiste et de son oeuvre, elle était malheureusement le seul ouvrage de référence consacré à l’artiste. Les sources consultées par Roger Bouillot sont hélas peu nombreuses et bien connues. Faute du minimum de recherche, Gus Bofa l’incendiaire offre une vision très partielle de Bofa et de son oeuvre. L’auteur conclue d’ailleurs son texte sur un aveu d’échec: “Il reste bien des points mystérieux concernant cet homme énigmatique, des détails biographiques ou la raison de son pseudonyme (souvenir de l’enfance gazouillante dans une famille de cinq ou six enfants?)” On regrette que M. Bouillot n’ait pas approché la veuve de l’artiste, alors vivante et qui aurait pu lui fournir de précieux détails, aujourd’hui à jamais perdus. On déplore aussi qu’un éditeur paresseux n’ait pas cru bon de donner une liste des livres écrits et illustrés par Gus Bofa et se soit satisfait d’une bibliographie réduite à huit titres! L’illustration emprunte lourdement (et sans le préciser) au remarquable Gus Bofa de Pierre Mac Orlan, publié à La Belle Page en 1930. Mais le procédé de reproduction, l’absence de couleurs et de curieux partis pris de mise en page (non respect du format des dessins, suppression des légendes, etc.), ne rendent pas justice au trait de l’artiste. Ajoutons que la partie littéraire de l’oeuvre de Bofa est à peu près passée sous silence. Ce livre n’en reçut pas moins le prix Catenacci de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts en 1981.’ Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian 2002

73 [1916] T’en fais pas! (don’t you dare), cover of La Baïonnette, No 72 (detail), 16 November.

74 [1912] Un “service personnel” à M. Flateau (a word of advice to Mr. Flateau), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 468, 20 January.

MONOPOLIZED. Gus Bofa’s most active years as an illustrator are the 1920s and 30s. In 1919 he initiates the Salon de l’Araignee (the spider fair), a series of group exhibitions of original artworks by French illustrators, held in Paris, meant to liven up the world of illustration. Still, gradually, the clear focus and function of his drawing and writing for the periodical press fade away. He illustrates great books but becomes trapped in the bookseller’s game of ‘Fine Art,’ overpriced copies, too limited press runs, and eternally sold out deluxe editions. He starts to overdose on odd stylisms. Practically all his older illustration work for regular press products is neglected. 

75 [1917] “Il faut tenir un quart d’heure de plus, qu’eux…” / La Roue Rudge-Withworth vous donne ce quart d’heure (to gain a quarter per hour on “them” is what we need / the Rudge-Whitworth wheel gives you that quarter), advert in Automobilia, No 20, late December. With the company name Rudge-Whitworth repeatedly garbled as ‘Rudge-Withworth.’

76 [1911] Le critique du Rire “tapant” son compte rendu (the critic of Le Rire typing his report), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 432, 13 May.

FINAL RETREAT. When yet another war — ‘World War II’ — breaks out in 1939 he is 56. The 1940-44 occupation of France by the German army he finds intolerable. He refuses to live and work in Paris any more and goes into retreat near Mauperthuis, a village in Seine-et-Marne, 65 km from Paris. He and his wife Cathérine live there most of the period 1940-47 in a house with a walled garden, not far from his friend and fellow artist Pierre Falké in Coutevroult. ‘Je voudrais pouvoir aller me coucher et dormir jusq’à la fin de cette farce tragique’ — I wanted to be be able to hide myself and sleep until the end of this tragic farce.

77 [1960s] Gustave Blanchot, aka Gus Bofa; photo.

A published artist for six and a half decades, his last work, included in ‘Hommage à Pierre Mac Orlan,’ appears in 1965 in Revue des Belles Lettres. Pierre Mac Orlan is the penname of his lifelong friend Pierre Dumarchey (1882-1970). 

78 [1911] Jusqu’à la saison Prochaine (till next season), from Bofa’s page of theatre reviews in Le Rire, No 439, 1 July.

Gustave Henri Émile Blanchot — aka GUS BOFA and Le Médecin de service — lives 85 years and 3 months and dies on the 1st of September 1968 in Aubagne, Bouches-du-Rhône, in the south of France. He probably never left France.

Cuno Affolter, Éditions Cornelius, 
Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian & Marie-Hélène Grosos 
(both interviewed for this issue of Yesterday’s Papers), 
Brian Hughes, Marion Jacoub, Cyril Koopmeiners, 
Galerie Michel Lagarde Éditions, Jean-Pierre Mercier, 
Librairie Mesnard (Angoulême), Jan Posthumus, 
Librairie Victor Sevilla (Paris), Gallica 

2013, Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, Gus Bofa; l’enchanteur désenchanté, Paris/Bordeaux: Éditions Cornélius, 550 pp., illustrated in full-colour, hardback with dust jacket, ISBN 978 2 36081 062 8, euro 55,–
An English translation & e-reader edition would be appreciated…
Éditions Cornelius has already commissioned a republication of Bofa’s book Chez les toubibs, due to appear in September 2014, and a republication of the Bofa-illustrated Don Quichotte, which is planned for 2015. Bofa’s book La Symphony de la Peur will follow later.
His Gus Bofa biography (Éditions Cornélius) is here.
His Salon de l’Araignée book (Michel Lagarde Éditions) is here.
His Excentriques site is here.
The Gus Bofa website, most of its content composed by Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, and soon to be given a new server, is here.
Gus Bofa’s voice and reminiscences, in a substantial radio interview aired by Le Poste Parisien on 23 September 1954, ‘Les Rêves perdus de Gus Bofa’ (44.38 min.), are here.
Gus Bofa’s work on Ma Galerie à Paris is here.
Original art by Gus Bofa a.o. in Galerie Michel Lagarde is here.