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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Titeuf storms French comic world
By Hugh Schofield
In Paris

France's new comic-strip hero is an eight-year-old prankster with an ostrich plume for a hair-style and an obsession with the mysteries of his looming adolescence.

Titeuf comics
The latest album has an initial print-run of two million
His name is Titeuf, and he is fast taking over from such classics as Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke as the must-have in every French school-child's collection.

The publication this month of the latest album - the tenth in 11 years - has broken all the records.

An initial print run of two million copies is bigger than for any other cartoon character - even the diminutive Gaul - while an ubiquitous publicity campaign has made the egg-head and quiff an inescapable feature of the urban landscape.

Overall, some 11m books have been sold since the appearance of the first album - God, Sex and Suspenders" - in 1993.

He has been translated into 15 languages - including Chinese - and in France the franchising has gone haywire, with everything from footwear to fish fingers stamped with the Titeuf logo.

From doodle to hero

For 37 year-old Swiss creator Philippe Chappuis - known to his readers as Zep - it is the unlikely conclusion to an adventure he first started in a fit of professional gloom.

Titeuf's prime characteristic is that he is curious
Zep
Titeuf's creator
"Nothing was working out for me, and no-one was taking my stuff. All the magazines said they wanted characters that were 'targeted on the market'. But I couldn't do that," he said in an interview.

"So to take my mind off things I started doodling, remembering my own school-days. At first it was supposed to be a kind of personal diary - just for me - but then Titeuf took on a life of his own."

Titeuf - the name means "little egg" - lives a life that is instantly familiar to millions of French school-children.

The landscape is urban - apartment blocks and grubby parks - and the cast includes extended family-members and the regular school assortment of chums, swots, bullies, teachers and attendants.

He spends his time indulging in puerile pranks, mainly centring on bodily functions, or suffering fits of embarrassment as a result of encounters with girls.

In one sketch, he and his friend Manu squirt toothpaste out of a train window to see if it will fly in the next - which it does of course onto a passenger's face. In another he urinates over the concierge's moped.

'Lightning-rod'

But Titeuf is more than just an urchin. He is fascinated but bewildered by the world of teenagers, which he knows he must enter soon.

Swiss creator Philippe Chappuis, known to his readers as Zep
Zep has written 10 albums since the appearance of the first album in 1993
Sex, pregnancy, condoms, periods, pornography and Aids are all within his radar - but he struggles to understand what they mean. He is drawn to his classmate Nadia but finds the act of kissing revolting.

"Titeuf's prime characteristic is that he is curious. He wants to understand. But he understands nothing," said Zep - who says he was heavily influenced by the British cartoonist Leo Baxendale, creator of the classic Bash Street Kids.

"He is more lost than the children who read him, so he asks questions they would like to but would never dare to, and tries out things they would like to but never dare to. He is like a lightning-rod - drawing the danger away," he added.

'Gentle punk'

Some parents have expressed concern about Titeuf's language and behaviour, which are certainly less than exemplary. Indeed when he wrote the first album, Zep intended it for adults and the success with children took him by surprise.

But in a world where little in any case is hidden from the young, Titeuf clearly moves and acts in a way which they find easily recognisable. And for all his fits of giggles at the sight of a couple having sex in the bushes, he remains at heart an innocent.

"Every generation has to be a little bit 'punk'," said Zep. "There has to be a rebellion. It is important for the development of the child. That is what Titeuf is exploring. He is 'punk' in a gentle, easy way."


SEE ALSO:
Asterix under attack from Japan
22 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
Tintin celebrates 75th birthday
09 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Comic lovers flock to French festival
31 Jan 03  |  Entertainment
Lucky Luke creator dies
20 Jul 01  |  Entertainment



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