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E.P. Jacobs: The "theft" of his legacy?

#1 · Posted: 15 Nov 2017 17:50
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 books.
But 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.
#2 · Posted: 16 Nov 2017 18:02
Here is the link to the article in "l'Express": Blake et Mortimer: le mystère des planches disparues
#3 · Posted: 16 Nov 2017 18:31
Here is the link to the article in "l'Express"

Thank you - it makes interesting reading, although I could have done with less of the petty racism which peppers so many articles about Nick Rodwell.

What does it matter that he's English? Nationality and race have no bearing on the issues, but once again it is thrown into the mix, as if he has no right to be involved just because of where he was born - and it's not as if the fact that Philippe Biermé is Belgian has produced good results...
#4 · Posted: 16 Nov 2017 18:48
Yes I just put the link for information. But you're right, it was not necessary to mention that Nick Rodwell is English.
#5 · Posted: 16 Nov 2017 19:12
Yes I just put the link for information.

Oh I realise that! I wasn't having a go at you, just the journalist involved's poor choice of lines to pursue!

Thank you again for supplying the link.

The scope of the issue is appalling, especially when the collection had been so complete and comprehensive. While the methods and approach have sometimes been questionable, Mr Rodwell and the Studios Hergé do have years of experience in creating structures to protect not just the intellectual property, but the artifacts and work of a major artists. It is wrong to dismiss that expertise out of hand, if it stops archives being plundered in the future.
#6 · Posted: 16 Nov 2017 22:54
Thank you for taking the time to write about this, jock123. There isn't an awful lot I can say, as I'm not as familiar with Jacobs' work as Hergé's, beyond finding the level of mismanagement and negligence here by the foundation to be absolutely shocking.
#7 · Posted: 17 Nov 2017 09:28
This article is very critical about Philippe Biermé and the Jacobs Foundation ... not only original pages have disappeared but some that remain might only be high quality scans...!! (This is under investigation).
So sad.
The Jacobs legacy (and the British inspiration, by the way) will be better protected in the future, but it would be nice if the series could continue...
I think the "sequels" respect the spirit of Jacobs' universe.
(Please correct my Belg-French-English!)
#8 · Posted: 17 Nov 2017 11:09
Thank you for taking the time to write about this, jock123.

You are very welcome; I'm not sure I have got the gist of all the complexities of the case, but there is certainly a lot going on which (as Hilaire Belloc put it) makes one "gasp, and stretch one's eyes"!

not only original pages have disappeared but some that remain might only be high quality scans...!!

I'm shocked at this, but not surprised, if the quality of the facsimiles I have seen displayed for Hergé exhibitions (clearly labeled as copies of pages not in the ownership of the archive), which were near-indistinguishable to originals with the naked eye, is anything to go by.

Is this affair being seen as a criminal as well as a moral crime? Has Biermé broken the law in this - even if "only" for breaking the rules on activities by charitable trusts?

it would be nice if the series could continue... I think the "sequels" respect the spirit of Jacobs' universe.

The one positive I could possibly see coming from this is that there will be a public discussion of how to handle Belgium's huge legacy to the world of comics, including the posthumous expression of artist's wishes in regard to their characters.

This might, first, lead to a reappraisal of the endeavours of Mr Rodwell to act in the interests of his wife's wishes (she, rather than he, being in ultimate control of Hergé's properties), and at least some small admission that he, the Studios and Moulinsart have been acting to protect an artist and his wishes.

Secondly, such discussion could, in due course, lead to a setting out of a code of conduct which acknowledges the manner in which legatees, trusts and foundations can be reasonably allowed to make provision for the continuation of new works based on established characters, even if against the express wishes of the artist when alive, if in doing so the intention is to preserve the legacy and fund the promotion and study of the artist and his work.

This might provide an avenue by which the devotion with which Mme. Rodwell has sought to uphold Hergé's wish that his characters die with him is acknowledged and respected, but which would also in time allow for a reasonably elegant and respectful transition (possibly well before the 2054 expiry of copyright in the series) to a furthering of the series, without it appearing to be an unruly trampling of the memory of Hergé.

The seeds sown in the cordial platform debate at Angoulême in 2014 could thus continue to blossom and then bear fruit, funding and continuing the work of the museum, the archive and the study of Herggé for decades and centuries to come.

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