I have been seeing quite a lot of activity on the internet over recent weeks and months, in media related to BD, regarding problems with the artistic legacy of Edgar P. Jacobs, who – in addition to being a friend and collaborator of Hergé – was the creator, author and artist of the Blake & Mortimer
However, even with the volume of material, I had found it hard to ascertain the exact nature and extent of the problem, as my French wasn't up to the task of separating what was hard fact from opinion, and people obviously had become highly emotional, which sort of clouded the big picture.
However, I came across this article today
, which has helped me get a handle on at least the shape of the story, and which appears to set out out some of the problems, the extent of what has gone wrong, and the current state of affairs. It is in French, but is worth pursuing if you can, as it makes salutory reading, and has some interesting contrasts with the legacy of Hergé.
It seems that, like Hergé, since Jacob's death, the artwork for his books has been in the hands of a foundation, which had been charged with the task of protecting and looking after the physical artwork he produced in his lifetime.
The publication rights of the books have been in the hands of Studios Blake & Mortimer, which was purchased from the foundation in 1992 by the publisher Dargaud, which also obtained the right to produce further, new and original adventures for Jacob's characters, which has since 1996 led to 12 books by various artists and authors, starting with The Francis Blake Affair
; these have been by-and-large regarded as both critical and commercial successes, and are often cited (at least by fans) when discussing the rights and wrongs of continuing the series of Tintin books.
However, it has recently come to light that all is not well with the legacy.
Enquiries made have revealed that, far from protecting the art in perpetuity, some 200 original pages from the archives have been sold, with certificates of authenticity provided by the foundation. The administrators, far from creating a lasting library of the life's work of a pioneering artist, had not even managed to compile an inventory of their holdings over the thirty years they controlled the property.
The result of the debacle has been the chief executive of the foundation taking steps to terminate its activities by dissolving the charity, and depositing the balance of its holdings with a national collection for at least the moment.
It would seem that some of his fellow trustees are not happy about this, and would like to either challenge the dissolution, or intend to fight to reestablish a new charitable foundation to take its place.
Further questions are now being asked about whether the rights should have been sold, in particular the permission to produce new works: it would seem that there was a letter sent by Jacobs which appears to present an even more explicit call for no one else to work on the characters after his death.
Further conversation on Twitter after reading the article has confirmed that the works have been being sold, and that buyers were being made to agree to confidentiality agreements when they purchased, presumably to stop the world at large knowing that the body set up to protect the archive was in fact plundering it, but the cat seems to be firmly out of the bag now, and the news is not good for what had been a comprehensive catalogue of E.P. Jacobs' life and work.
For once this appears to be making the critics review their position on Nick Rodwell and the Studios Hergé, which have for years been subject to criticism of the ways in which they have sought to protect Hergé's legacy; in light of what lax control and mismanagement have done to the Jacobs legacy, those activities are now being seen as prudent and with positive outcomes in comparison.
There is apparently a four page story about the affair to be published in the issue of L'Express
out today, but there isn't a link to it on line as yet.