On April 27, 2019, an auction offered by the Artcurial house, a stone's throw from the Champs-Élysées, is devoted to comics.
Me François Tajan is at the hammer.
The audience seems more diverse than usual.
We meet both fifties and young people between 20 and 30 years old.
The atmosphere is good-natured.
We do not feel this tension that sometimes exists when collectors look at each other like faience dogs, determined to take away a piece that has been coveted for a long time.
However, among the works presented, we find original plates by Enki Bilal or Franquin.
There is even a lithograph of “We walked on the Moon”, by Hergé, dedicated by its author and by American astronauts who themselves set foot on our satellite.
But it's a little auburn-haired girl who's going to get the ball rolling.
The sale begins with the auctioning of 27 original drawings from the series of children's books "Martine", signed by her illustrator, the Belgian Marcel Marlier, who died in 2011. A first for this very popular heroine and who remains so.
Martine up for auction
Between 1954 and 2010, some 150 million copies of the 60 albums written were sold worldwide, and 500,000 are still sold each year.
On June 23, the girl returns to the bookstore for a 61st adventure, “Martine au Louvre”.
The drawings, by Marlier, are taken and adapted from a previous album, “Martine en Classe de Découverte” (1998), and affixed to photos taken at the museum.
Because the key to the success of the series lies in the style so characteristic of its illustrator.
No perspective or drawing errors
Eric Leroy, the house expert in the 9th art, had the opportunity to examine Marlier's works in detail. One thing struck him: there is never a single error in perspective or drawing. With good reason: for an album, the illustrator makes around 800 sketches, often from nature. For the latter, he observed for hours the dancers of Maurice Béjart's company at the Royal Theater of La Monnaie, in Brussels. “Martine takes the train” (1978) makes her spend whole afternoons at Lille station. He takes children around him as role models - he has two sons.
"Martine was the daughter he never had, he took care of her like his child," says Céline Charvet, editorial director at Casterman. On the boards, the little girl looks ecstatic. At Marlier, the faces of the characters are often overlit. A rest of the catechism books that he illustrated for Casterman before embarking on the “Martine” adventure? “It's true that the girl's expressions sometimes suggest that she has seen the Virgin, laughs Céline Charvet. When she is happy, she shines! »And if his smile does not raise the price of drawings to that of a« Mona Lisa », he has his aficionados. Lot number 10 was awarded for the sum of 48,100 euros. Almost ten times his starting estimate.
Marcel Marlier, here in 2007, in his workshop in Tournai, Belgium, died in 2011. Sébastien Jarry
Is this success so surprising?
Martine is a Proust madeleine.
To realize this, it suffices to dive, at random, into “Martine à la maison” (1962).
In one image, the child is busy in front of a state-of-the-art stove.
The Formica furniture shines, and the hand blender hangs proudly on the wall.
A pure product of the Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975), the series is also its embodiment.
It was born in a very specific context.
A French law of July 1949 governs publications intended for children.
It has two goals: to counter the importation of American comics and Italian comics, and to prevent children from being subjected to violent or pornographic images in front of newsstands.
Add to that the baby boom and the beginnings of standardization in production: children need new heroes.
For boys, the Belgian publisher Casterman a Tintin.
But for girls?
Hachette, the competitor, in 1953 launched the adventures of Caroline, a blond girl with quilts.
The vagaries of the world have no hold on her
Casterman mandates Gilbert Delahaye, one of his typographic workers, for the texts and he assists Marcel Marlier in the design. This is how, in 1954, “Martine à la ferme”, the first opus of her adventures, was released. The designer would have liked his heroine to be called Colette. But the publisher fears confusion with the famous writer. It will be Martine, the second most popular female given name in France that year, after Marie.
Through it, a whole era is glorified: that of social and technological progress.
When she takes the plane, she boards a Caravelle, the first flight of which took place in 1955. The windows of department stores become a dream within reach.
And the crises that follow this period do not impact his universe.
In 1973, during the first oil shock, Martine went “to the flower festival”.
The 2008 crisis shakes the planet.
But, Martine, she has a lot to do with "a thunder dog".
The vagaries of the world do not seem to have taken over her.
Not in the odor of sanctity among feminists
This is also another of its strengths. If progress emerges, it leaves room for dreams. “In her garden, all the flowers grow at the same time, laughs the academic and specialist in children's literature Cécile Boulaire. His universe is recognizable, his actions too, but at the same time, everything is unrealistic. »A reassuring daily life, a heroine resembling a descendant of the« Little Model Girls », of the Countess of Ségur… Martine has a« doudou »side, which nevertheless itches a little on the necklines. On the one hand, followed by her dachshund Patapouf, she experiences micro-adventures which make her gain in autonomy ("Martine learns to swim", "Martine baby-sitter").
On the other, she remains this kind of miniature woman, prepared and moralizing.
However, if it is not frankly in the odor of sanctity among feminists, it manages to free itself from class relations.
Admittedly, she travels by plane, but in another album, we show her living in a typical residence of the middle classes of the 1960s. “She is not located socially.
Thus, everyone can project themselves into it, ”analyzes Céline Charvet.
This plate which was used to illustrate the album “Martine in the park”, in 1966, signed Marcel Marlier, was auctioned, in 2019, for the sum of 26,650 euros.
Well-combed hair, little dress with Peter Pan collar and barefoot, she perfectly embodies the fashion of the late 1950s. In terms of dress style, the girl follows her era. Basically, it is a little less the case. And when the gap between the heroine and her little readers widens too much, the publisher adapts. In 2016, Casterman thus proceeded to the rewriting of certain albums, as was the case for "the Club of five". “We measured the gap that could exist between the heroine and a child today, explains Céline Charvet. Martine vintage, okay. Nerdy, no. In one of the albums it was written “the boys are going to play outside”. We have replaced by:
Children will play outside
», Continues the editor.
And to specify: “For it to last, it was necessary to give it a timelessness that it risked losing.
Being timeless, what better way to become a pop icon?
We can no longer count the misappropriation of its covers.
"Martine does not understand anything on Twitter", "Martine left without her certificate" ... From the yellow vests crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic, the illustrations of Marcel Marlier give rise to many pastiches, more or less subtle.
"The parody is based on an object that transcends eras and classes", analyzes Cécile Boulaire.
And even the tastes.
Whether we like it or not, everyone can pick up the references, since everyone has crossed paths with little Martine one day.