The Marcinelle school

This splendid cover by Maurice Tillieux caught my attention this morning. I admire that drawing style a lot, but had never really heard of Tillieux before, so I started wondering why the styles of so many Belgian cartoonists are so similar, did they all go to the same art school or something? (And do they offer classes? 🙏)

Some quick googling led me to The Marcinelle School (as in “school of thought”, not “a place to study”), named after the site of the Dupuis printing firm who published Le Journal de Spirou. The Comics Journal has written a great piece about The Belgians Who Changed Comics, including magazine rivalry and where this style comes from:

The team's cartooning technique – partly inherited but soon individualised – was an animated, breezy, ultra-modern one. Eventually, it became known as 'le style atome'. This moniker derived from the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, whose signature was a sculpture called 'the Atomium'. An outsized icon of Populuxe design, this seemed to match the sparky visual spirit of post-War Spirou. Certainly it paralleled the artists' angular shapes, their streamlined drawings and a use of bright, sharp colours. Graphically much brasher than Hergé's ligne claire, le style atome gave a nod to '50s and '60s US culture. It featured rounder speech bubbles instead of rectangles and privileged short, spunky dialogue over declamations.


Spirou's energetic art is now known as "the Marcinelle school" or "the school of Charleroi". Both terms refer to the site of the Dupuis' printing firm. But those artists who worked with Jijé had a different name for it. They called the work gros nez – or "big nose" – comedy.

The flipside of Marcinelle art was found in the pages of Tintin. A vehicle for Hergé's hero, this weekly was the laboratory of a rival "Brussels' school". Just as Marcinelle art reflected Jijé’s temperament, the Tintin employees operated in Hergé's shadow. Their highly polished work was required to resemble his and, in their atelier, an artist wore his suit and tie. He would labour to produce pristine pages, with refined lines underscored by un-shaded colour.

It also has this quote about Franquin’s amazing line style:

Inside the frames, everything is concrete, everything is charged with the energy of the line. The speech bubbles, the paper lying around on the floor, the exclamation points…nothing can be inanimate; everything has to come alive. Fantasio's anger is more than simply buggy eyes, dishevelled hair and a wide, gaping mouth. It's also puffs of cloud around him, lines that tremble like forceful cries and the tail of a speech balloon turned into a zigzag of lightning. There are so many graphic incarnations of the intangible, of invisible and interior moods… it makes metaphysical anguish absolutely palpable.

Check out the linework in these old, felt-cled postcards!

Link dump #03

Link dump #02

Making comics is self-indulgent! When it’s good I feel like I’m playing with all my toys on one of those children’s rugs with the roads and buildings on them.

Mike Shea-Wright’s Cartoonist’s Diary

These diary comics by Mike Shea-Wright are perfect, I wish there were more. Great writing, style and format.

Liked this aside about working with pen and paper vs. digitally:

I don’t mind drawing with digital tools, but I have no idea how they work so there’s a distance between me and the drawing.

With ink pens there’s a direct connection to the page, and knowing how tools work makes drawing with them an intimate experience.

Initially thought: “but Mike, drawing on the iPad can be just as intimate”. Then I read it again and got the point⁠—it’s not about digital vs. ink, but about your relationship with your tools. For me, Procreate emulates pens and pencils better than anything else I’ve tried (and digital paint is so much more convenient than messy, real paint), which makes the intimacy carry over somewhat, I guess.

There can also be a lot of fun in trying new tools, or making the most of something you don’t know well (John Lennon: “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.”), but it’s like the difference between meeting someone new and interesting, and having a conversation (or a row!) with an old friend.

Link dump #01

Adventure game graphics

Loving these comparisons between EGA and VGA graphics in the early LucasArts adventure games. Great compilation job by Superrune! The LucasArts games are still some of my all-time favorites, a lot of nostalgia here.

Amazing how much they got out of the limited EGA palette, in a lot of cases the backgrounds look better than the VGA versions. Also interesting how the artists got infatuated with a new gradient tool in Deluxe Paint, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade looks awful in places.

See also Jimmy Maher's excellent write-ups on:

(I think it's about time I played Loom, still haven't)

Purge ’21

It’s become tradition for me to redesign and/or rebuild this website at least once a year, dazzled by sparkly new technology or fed up with some feature that doesn’t work. This time it’s both, with some mental health issues on top.


More cloud spotting

Such a dramatic sky today, had to snap some pictures out of the car window.

Turbulent clouds over Modum, Norway

What causes those flowing, sharp edges? Is it some kind of lenticular variety? It's been pretty windy, I bet it has something to do with turbulence, at least.

Turbulent clouds over Modum, Norway

Fun facts about the European hornet

Had several visits from European hornets this summer. Since knowing stuff about scary things tend to make them less so, here are a few fun facts about Vespa crabro:

  • Largest wasp in Europe (length varies from 18mm to 35mm). Not as aggressive as our regular wasps (Norwegian wasps, German wasps, and yellowjackets), but the sting is said to be more painful. Cruising speed of 20–24 km/h (≈ 12–15 mph), faster when it’s hunting.
  • Was observed in Norway in 2007 for the first time since 1911, huzzah!
  • Europeans are the biggest threat to the European hornets, destroying their nests because they’re scary and chopping down their habitats for fun and profit. The hornets have enjoyed legal protection in Germany since 1987, where swatting (and killing) a European hornet can net you a fine of up to €50,000.
  • Laughs at spiders and their webs, even steals their prey (phenomenon known as kleptoparasitism).
  • The common hedgehog is immune to the poison and will gladly raid a hornet nest, though they’re usually built in places hedgehogs can’t reach.
  • Insect-eating birds leave the European hornets alone, except the European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) who remove stingers and squeeze out the venom before they eat. Clever birds!
  • We don’t have bee-eaters in Norway.

Ant etymology rabbit hole

Was admiring the word myrmecology (the study of ants), and got curious about its similarity to the Swedish word for ant, myra, and the Norwegian variant maur.

Started wondering about the word ant, since it’s so different. As far as I can tell, it’s an orally eroded version of the synonym emmet from the Old English ǣmete, related to the German Ameise. Myrmecology, like most “studies of”, comes from Greek, in this case múrmēx (ant).

Looked up the etymology for maur as well: the Scandinavian names come from the Old Norse maurr, so it looks like the relation to myrmecology is either coincidental or goes back to Indo-European.

Trying to make sense of an online Indo-European dictionary, the closest I got was:

Root / lemma: mai-1

English meaning: to cut down, work with a sharp instrument


2. d-extension: got. maitan `hew, hit, cut, clip', [...] ahd. mīza `Milbe' (probably to gr. μίδας `Made'), perhaps also ags. ǣ-mette, engl. ant, emmet, ahd. ā-meiza `Ameise'

So... looks to me like there’s some kind of link between King Midas (μίδας) and the word ‘ant’, but damned if I can find the link to “myrmecology”.

As a consolation prize, I’ll settle for finding out there’s a Midas ant (Myrmecia midas) living in Australia.

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