The most famous groom of the 9th Art dies in his last adventure and is replaced by a new character. A strategy to modernize an 80-year-old license. SPOILER WARNING.
Does Spirou have a place in today’s world? This is the question posed by The Death of Spiroua new album by Olivier Schwartz (drawing), Sophie Guerrive and Benjamin Abitan (script) where the famous groom dies before being replaced by a female character.
A skilfully organized marketing operation to relaunch an 80-year-old license, which is struggling today to regain its former success. “Since he has trouble reconnecting with the reader, precisely because he is out of place in our constantly changing world, we had to ask the question in this album”, explains Stéphane Beaujean , editor of the album at Dupuis editions.
Already author of three albums of Spirou (The Verdigris Groom, The Leopard Woman and The Master of the Black Hosts), Olivier Schwartz was not shocked to learn of the editor’s decision to kill Spirou. “I thought it was not bad,” he says. “It didn’t shock me more than that. On the contrary, I love it. It’s fun. And then there was everything with Spirou. We can do anything with him.”
Reference to “The Death of Superman”
Telling the story of Spirou’s death remains a real challenge. In France, the figures of Franco-Belgian comics never die, with the exception of Buddy Longway, hero of a cult western by Derib (Yakari). The Americans, on the other hand, are the specialists of the genre: from Phoenix to the X-Men in The Dark Phoenix Saga to Superman in The Death of Supermanthey multiplied the sacrificial stagings of their heroes, to reinforce their aura.
The cover of The Death of Spirou echoes these works, specifies Stéphane Beaujean: “The empty suit floating in an environment is really a reference to Superman’s cape, but we reinterpreted it, because we didn’t want to be literal and didactic .” “I like the idea that there is no Spirou on the cover”, adds Olivier Schwartz.
How to stage a moment as important as the death of Spirou? With a form of cruelty tinged with sadness. Olivier Schwartz, Sophie Guerrive and Benjamin Abitan opted for an underwater sequence where Spirou drowned through the fault of Fantasio, who did not share with him a potion capable of making them breathe underwater. A sequence that echoes another, cult, from the album The Valley of the Banished (1989) by Tome and Janrywhere Fantasio saves Spirou from drowning in extremis.
Drawing the death of Spirou
Killing such an important character in the history of comics in such an inglorious way is a provocation, accentuated by the choice not to “play the codes of great tragedy”, welcomes Stéphane Beaujean. “He dies because he is a victim of his teammate’s mistakes all the time.” Even James Bond had a better death in Dying can wait (2021).
“Franquin would never have done anything too tearful,” explains Stéphane Beaujean. “And the authors were not too much for it, because in youth comics, when there is a death, there is sadness, but we don’t dramatize it like a Netflix series or in a comic book. We knew that it was not necessary to hammer the sadness and avoid the dramatic emphasis.” Spirou’s gaze, at the precise moment of his death, remains heartbreaking. “It was hard to do,” concedes Olivier Schwartz. “I shit it.”
Surprisingly, Spirou’s death causes little stir in the last pages of the album. Apart from Fantasio, who breaks down in tears, the other characters welcome the news with resignation. “His loss doesn’t change much. It’s weird,” agrees Olivier Schwartz. Even Spip seems impervious to his death. In one particularly cruel scene, Spip walks alongside Fantasio, dressed as a groom, and wonders: “That guy in red tells me something… What’s his name again?”
Spirou is indeed dead
On the Friends of Spirou Facebook group, the debates are raging. Many readers denounce a marketing stunt. “If Dupuis tries (with some difficulty) to resuscitate Gaston, it is not to kill Spirou definitively in stride. Let’s not be naive”, thus writes a fan. “Volume 2 will therefore be worth its weight in peanuts (and hazelnuts for Spip) to find out how the screenwriters managed to bring back our favorite hero.”
But for Dupuis editions, Spirou is well and truly dead. “He is really dead,” insists Olivier Schwartz. “And it’s not even a multiverse. He’s dead. I don’t know how to explain that without giving away more. He really is dead.” Spirou, on the other hand, will continue to live paper adventures in parallel collections such as “Spirou seen by…” On November 25, he will thus be found in Spirou among the crazya pastiche by Jul (screenplay) and Lobin (drawing).
All of these titles are brought together under the title of “Spirou-verse”, inspired by the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verseconfides Stéphane Beaujean: “It’s something that will be built from now on. The world of Spirou was becoming a bit cacophonous for booksellers between the parent series, the ‘Spirou seen by…’, etc. That partly explains the difficulty we have today in rediscovering the success of yesteryear with Spirou. It is a little unreadable. We had to find a way to organize this universe.”
Following The Death of Spirou is already on track. Release scheduled for 2023 for volume 57. The rest of the adventure will unfold over two other volumes, which will be complete stories, linked by this common thread of the disappearance of the groom. Impossible for the moment to know what these albums will hold. “I can’t really talk about it,” says Stéphane Beaujean. “There will be many twists and turns. The next volume will offer as many surprises as in The Death of Spirou.”
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