Welcome to the wacky, dream-like, erotic and comic world of the artist, designer and illustrator Roger Blachon, who took like a duck to water to Marseille's exuberance and the locals' infinite ability to laugh at themselves.
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Blachon lived for only a few years in Marseille, where he also died, and several of his manic beach frescos could only have been executed there. One delightful, beautifully painted vignette celebrates the city's legendary prowess at pétanque.
In yet another scene, set in a classroom (pictured top left), a pupil asks about the correct plural form of Zizou, the nickname of Marseille's famous son, Zinedine Zidane. "There is only one Zizou," thunders his teacher, quite correctly.
In the summer of 2011, Marseille paid tribute to its great comic chronicler in an exhibition organised by the Fondation Regards de Provence at the Palais des Arts, plus a smaller show at the Espaceculture_Marseille. Combined, they displayed over 150 works by Blachon.
The first revelation was how huge some of these are. The pieces range from intimate one-off gags, often involving birds such as a lusty little feathered chap whose fantasy is to seduce a Bluebell Girl, to vast, amazingly detailed Brueghel-like frescos which you could study for hours.
These depict scenes such as a chaotic ski slope, a Tour de France viewed by sprawling, indolent spectators while the cyclists whizz in an illegible blur, or a wine-tasting that turns into a naked, exultant bacchanalian orgy.
Blachon (1941-2008) finds a sort of perverse joie de vivre in the most extraordinary situations. Even a suicide, plummeting to his doom from an office skyscraper, takes the opportunity to grin and flash at shocked secretaries as he plunges past their windows.
The subjects of choice are sport, wine, the absurdities of everyday life and, always and especially, sex. (Pictured right: Tarzan and the Elephant.) The humour is scabrous, but also affectionate. Even as he mocks them gently, Blachon never despises his characters or makes them grotesque.
Some of these watercolours were produced for publications such as the sports newspaper L'Equipe, and occasionally the event which inspired them is long-forgotten. But the quality of design and draftsmanship makes them much more than throwaway ephemeral cartoons. A few had captions, which were not translated for the exhibition, but most of the jokes spoke very eloquently for themselves.