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Comics - Maltreated, but Forever Young (2)

by Caspar Wintermans in Films & Books , 30 mei 2010


The Adventures of Alix and Enak (II)

“They have become a kind of couple, which is a bit embarrassing.” Jacques Martin gives the impression that the homo-erotic image of Alix and Enak bothers him. If so, it would be logical henceforth to avoid all reference to homosexuality. But whoever reads the albums with attention cannot fail to remark that they contain ever more allusions, sometimes veiled, to this passion. And not just in the historical series we are scrutinizing here.


Let us make a side-leap and have a look at “The Apocalypse,” a volume from the afore-mentioned series “Lefranc.” It was published in 1987. The protagonist, a journalist who bears a strong physical resemblance to Alix and who was originally assisted by his “friend and protégé,” the schoolboy Jeanjean, forms part of a select company at a remote conference hall which is being told by some aliens about the ecological dangers threatening the planet. They are given a peep in the future as well as the past. And who are put upon the stage by Martin?

Napoleon, who is being poisoned; an emperor with a weakness for the weaker sex. Then his colleague Hadrian: he adhered to the “Greek principles” and had a favorite, Antinoüs. A gay icon. Martin depicts his drowning in the Nile, a grateful opportunity of showing male nudity. Lefranc also witnesses the death of the Bavarian King Ludwig II, yet another notorious queer, builder of fairy castles and maecenas of Richard Wagner. All of which retrospects have almost nothing to do with the plot.


In his hotel room Lefranc enjoys a film by Luchino Visconti, the gay director whose masterworks “Ludwig” (about the king we have just named) and “Death in Venice” form part of the cinematographic gay canon.

The replica of a statue by the classical artist Leochares, the “Apollo of Belvedere,” seen on page 35, gives me additional food for thought, for it was precisely this work which the founding father of archeology, the homosexual Johann Joachim Winckelmann, praised as the pinnacle of plastic – that is to say: masculine – beauty in his “Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums” (1764).

Methinks that a comic artist who pretends to feel uncomfortable when his books are claimed by homosexuals might have chosen the “Venus of Milo,” and Cleopatra and Mary Stuart instead of Antinoüs and Ludwig of Bavaria. And surely there are plenty of straight film directors?

Photo: Jacques Martin and Hergé


‘Then You Won’t See Enak Again’

Back to Alix and Enak. Their relationship is severely tested in “The Prince of the Nile.” This album from 1974 testifies to delicate psychological insight. The two young fellows travel to a kingdom in Egypt whose childless pharaoh, Ramès, wants to adopt Enak as his son and heir; for the orphan is supposed to be “the only descendant of the Menkherâ dynasty.”

Ultimately this proves to be an invention concocted by Ramès’s courtiers that only served to lure Alix to the capital, Sakhara, where he is told he must kill Julius Caesar, who is believed to contemplate annexing Egypt to the Roman imperium. “And what if I refuse?” Alix asks the general who sets out this plot to him. – “Then you won’t see Enak again, nor Rome.” – “Affairs of state!”



Alix finds an ally in the pharaoh’s sister, Saïs, who does not shrink from sacrilege and murder to get him out of a scrape, but who cannot prevent his being added to the heap of slaves that has to build the pyramid. Enak meanwhile fails on all counts.

On his arrival in Egypt he had already acquiesced in the proposal to move on to the capital without Alix, and without his knowledge – Alix, “lost in thought,” says nothing on hearing the news, yet his facial expression shows how unwelcome it is to him –; without a murmur Enak swallows Alix’ arrest and condemnation to hard labour. Saïs overwhelms him with reproaches, accuses him of heartlessness and treason. Moreover she reveals that his blood is not blue at all, so it is strange that in later albums he continues to pass himself off as an aristocrat!

At the end of the story the boys meet face to face. Enak wants to beg Alix’ forgiveness, but the latter interrupts him: “Everything is all right, Enak! We forget what has happened.” – “You are generous, Alix,” says Enak. “I kept thinking how to explain everything to you. Now that we are together again I understand that it isn’t necessary.”
Is not the hallmark of true love that you accept from your belovèd what you would never accept from anyone else? In “The Prince of the Nile” Jacques Martin has given more depth to his main characters while creating a wonderful female one, Saïs. Her fate is compelling and tragic. She is in love with Alix, it is entirely due to her efforts that he is reunited with Enak, but thereafter he barely looks at her and she dies of a broken heart.

‘So Beautiful to Contemplate’

Saïs is not the only lady who must pay for her passion for Alix with her life. And his entourage does not fail to notice what exclusive bond links the Gaul with the Egyptian. The eponymous hero of “Iorix the Great” for instance snarls at Alix, speaking about a girl, Ariela: “Depuis que tu es aperçu, elle n’a eu d’yeux que pour toi! Toi don’t le seul compagnon est ce garçon que tu dorlotes dans ton chariot.” Which may be translated as: “Since you appeared, she has had eyes for you alone! For you, whose only companion is that boy you’re cuddling in your hooded cart.” (Enak has been wounded yet again and needs tender loving care which Alix bestows on him.) Iorix clearly insinuates here that his foe is having a homosexual relationship, and apparently the Dutch translator felt uncomfortable about that; otherwise it would be incomprehensible why the last of the sentence just quoted was omitted by him or by her. Nor is this the only example of censorship.

The pharaoh who in “The Prince of the Nile” sits down in the night at the edge of Enak’s bed and inadvertently wakes up the boy, explains his presence with the words: “Tu dormais bien paisiblement et tu étais si beau à contempler.” That is to say: “You were sleeping so peacefully and were so beautiful to contemplate.” The text I italicized is not to be found in the Dutch edition! Lastly, in “The Son of Spartacus” (1975) we meet a dignitary called Livio Spura. When Alix and his travelling companions make their appearance he is amusing himself in a lake with under-aged boys. “My kiddies are so playful in the water!” we read in the Dutch version. The French one leaves no doubt as to the nature of their games: “J’adore me baigner en compagnie de mes petits dauphins qui me font des taquineries sous l’eau!...” I.e. “I adore bathing in the society of my little dolphins who tease me under water!...”



Illustrations: The text of ‘The Prince of the Nile’ censored in the Dutch translation

Every classicist knows that Jacques Martin is referring here to the biography Suetonius devoted to the Emperor Tiberius who, he alleges, took pleasure in having his genitals tickled under water by specially trained chits, a piece of gossip that seems to appeal to the imagination of the comic writer. Did his wife read Suetonius, I wonder? Her name is given in the “Nouveau dictionnaire de biographie alsacienne,” n° 21, p. 2536.

Martin once remarked that he really feels greater affinity with Plato and Socrates’s Athens than with Julius Caesar’s Rome, so it was logical that an adventure of Alix was situated in that city: “L’Enfant grec” (A Child from Athens) appeared in 1980. The book is cleverly constructed and provided Martin with a welcome excuse to treat us to an ample supply of male nudity, for instance when he takes us to the gym where Herkios, “grace personified,” is showing off his athletic skills at a place where “there are more onlookers than actors, just as in the theatre.” These onlookers are adult men who derive visible pleasure from viewing the juvenile boxers, jumpers and discus throwers. The man at the far left carries a purse. A telling detail.

Those who are familiar with the iconography of Attic red-figure vase-painting – and presumably most of the young readers are not – know that we are dealing here with someone wishing to buy the favours of an ephebe. The gymnasium was a famous meeting-place for cruising homosexuals, Martin is aware of this fact and gives a “wink” to the “initiated.”

Please note that in this album Enak is wearing another type of loin-cloth which only hides the essential from view, fully revealing his thighs; during a nocturnal conversation in their bedroom his eyes are fixed on the crotch of his equally naked friend, which remains invisible to us because of a cushion, but at which Alix grants him a full look. Very suggestive!

(Illustration: Alex en Enak in Een kind van Athene)




Thermae Visitors in the Buff

No wonder then that in his parody of “Alix,” published in the album “Strip-tease” from 1981, Roger Brunel mocked at the series’ increasingly conspicuous homo-eroticism. “What are you thinking of, Anak?” asks Anux his black-haired friend. – “Of nothing,” comes the reply. “I am continually standing in such a way that one cannot see too much nudity!” In the palace of Phallus, governor of Pornopolis, the guests are leaving their clothes at the cloak-room, for the going-ons there are wild. Anux distrusts the governor: “He seems to have rather peculiar habits.” Indeed; the magistrate is straight! A young lady invites Anux “to visit [her] alps and enter a different grotto than [he is] used to,” and shortly afterwards Arbincest, the “arse-enemy,” appears who, while loosening his girdle, announces “to attack” Anux “in the back... the bare back!...” The Greek “enters the garden of delights” which elicits a sigh from Anak: “I’m never really part of the show... At long last there’s a story in which I could go to bed with [Anax], yet it goes wrong again...”


After the publication of the nineteenth part of the serial, “The Trojan Horse,” nothing was heard from Alix for a while. Following the death of Hergé, Martin had emigrated to Switzerland in 1984 (he didn’t like the 92% tax rate he had to pay in Belgium), buying a house in Lausanne.

It was not his intention to rest on his laurels, but the onset of blindness forced him to entrust the realization of new episodes to others.

Illustration: De verschillende helden van Jacques Martin

He had already been assisted by Jean Pleyers while working on “The Trojan Horse,” and when the series was resumed in 1996 Rafael Moralès and Marc Henniquiau were recruited. The trio is quite prolific; but the albums they produce, based on scenarios by Martin, are extremely disappointing. The plots are mediocre, the drawings sometimes worse than that. One feels vicarious shame on discovering that plates from earlier volumes have been swiped. There is even more space reserved for male and female nudity than before, but it’s badly proportioned dolls we see, dolls with the grace of gingerbread men. In “Roma, Roma...” (2005) Alix, Enak and Heraklion pay a visit to the thermae teeming with visitors in the buff – men only – from whom, alas! no grace whatever emanates. Perhaps Martin has similar drawings by his own hand in his drawers? I found one on the Internet, depicting a naked Alix and Enak, that makes one yearn for more.

The Girls Can Whistle For It

The ladies meanwhile continue to fail to capture the boys’ lasting attention. “Ah! That girl is annoying me! Let her stop!” cries an irritated Enak in “It was in Khorsabad” (2006) when a nomads’ princess ventures to caress his shoulders. Julia Curtius, who in “The Fall of Icarus” (2001) wishes to have a bath with the pair, is branded “a harlot” by him, a view to which Alix subscribes. The party is off. It would be so easy to convince the readers once and for all of Alix’ heterosexuality by providing him with an opportunity to abandon himself to “natural” lust. “Let’s go for it, Alix,” says Julia after a few pages – Enak has fallen asleep –, “you know quite well I’m madly in love with you. We use the heavy weather to have sex... It will be wonderful, in spite of the storm!”

The hour of truth has arrived! How is Alix going to react to this initiative? Alix doesn’t react, for before he is able to get in a word a tremendous crash is heard: the principal mast of the ship where they are has broken, so all hands on deck! Subsequently Alix does not return to Julia’s proposal, and when the girl finds herself in a situation with which he himself is quite familiar – “Oops! My tunic is rent!” – Enak’s resentment is obvious: “Oh yes, she has again hit upon a way to show off her breasts!”
Enak seems to be a bit jealous. There is no need for that. Julia can whistle for it, just as the other girls who fell under Alix’ spell. Take Samthô, who plays a part in “The Spectre of Carthage” (1977, when nobody said “oops” in the albums). He has floored her, but she hasn’t floored him.

“Is he so important to you?” she cries in desperation, referring to Enak for whom the half-naked Alix is looking, “you only talk about him?” – “That’s something you can’t understand,” replies Alix testily, and shortly afterwards the girl is smashed to death.

“You can’t understand that...” Poor Samthô, it is nevertheless as plain as a pikestaff. Enak and Alix are united by a friendship passing the love of, and for, women. A. Provist rejected this notion, but Jacques Martin himself had commented in 1973: “It is said that they form an equivocal couple, and that’s not impossible. They are Mediterraneans from Roman antiquity and it may well be that they have a very intimate relationship. Enak is a pretty boy, and in those days such a bond was quite normal.” Spot on.

Illustration: Alex en Enak met discus en strigilis. Tekening door Jacques Martin, geplukt van het Internet



The author was still more outspoken in an interview with the French gay (!) weekly “Gay Pied” which came out in 1988. “The pair Alix-Enak,” Martin admitted, “form a clear example of the classic couple erastes-eromenos, and even those readers who are not acquainted with the culture of antiquity find much in it that corresponds with their dreams. For my part, the nature of the connection between my heroes only dawned on me long afterwards, as if I had unveiled myself one day!”
Perhaps an album may yet appear, preferably drawn by someone who handles the pen as skilfully as Jacques Martin, in which the sorely-tried lads end up in bed together without further ado. It would be ever so nice for them – and for us!



NB On 21 January 2010, a few days after this article was finished, Jacques Martin died in his sleep, aged 88. RIP
Our grateful thanks to IHLIA-Homodok and Jos van Waterschoot.



 







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