It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Pierre Sterckx, the great teacher and art critic I had the privilege of collaborating with on the 2013 English-language reissue of The Adventures of Jodelle.
Sterckx was renowned for his unparalleled expertise on the work of Hergé : he had developed a close friendship with the creator of Tintin from the mid-1960s, and had been instrumental in sharpening the Belgian cartoonist's eye for modern art. Sterckx would go on to publish a dozen reference texts on Hergé, deconstructing his work with a fresh perspective—who else could summon Gilles Deleuze or Roland Barthes while discussing the composition of a strip from The Blue Lotus ?—and becoming a de facto authority in the ever-expanding cult of Hergé.
But perhaps more importantly, Pierre Sterckx had been able to parlay his wide-ranging curiosity and remarkable talent for intuitively connecting seemingly ill-matched references into a unique position on the rapidly receding border of art and bande dessinée. He has written extensively on Magritte, Holbein, Vermeer and art writing itself, and was in a league of his own when harnessing his encyclopedic, self-taught knowledge to enlighten us on the so-called "low art" of bande dessinée.
His free-spirited approach to art historical theories made for interesting curatorial achievements. In the 2009 exhibition Vraoum! at the Maison Rouge in Paris, he revealed deep-rooted links between 50 masterpieces of the "9th art" and contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami and Wim Delvoye (a personal favorite). That same year, he brought together Jean-Claude Forest, Guido Crepax, Paul Cuvelier and Peellaert in Brussel's Palais des Beaux-Arts for a tribute to the sexual liberation of the "Sexties".
Quite tellingly, I could think of no one else to pen the lead essay on the Jodelle style that was to open the archival section of the remastered 1966 Peellaert classic—a daunting task requiring the ability to put the poorly documented work in context and navigate its maze of influences and ambivalent references. From our first meeting at Café Beaubourg opposite the Centre Pompidou, I knew he was the right person for the job when, bursting with characteristic enthusiasm, he told me how he had been among the first to purchase a portfolio of Warhol's Marilyn silkscreens from the Sonnabend gallery when the conservative Parisian art world didn't yet care (he had had to sell it way before it reached the financial heights of today, much to his chagrin), or how he had run into trouble with the school where he was teaching after devoting a class to the Adventures of Jodelle, back in the 1960s when the book was banned and considered mild pornography—it turns out Belgium was even more conservative than France ! He also delighted me with stories of Hergé's admiration for Peellaert's radical upending of the traditions of belgian bande dessinée, a flattering endorsement I knew nothing about.
Hardly a week after that first meeting, his essay was completed and I found myself having to edit a boisterous flow of inspired observations, comparisons and connections, eventually resolving to keep it as intact as possible. After all, that was pure sterckxian raw energy. And poor Kim Thompson, the beloved editor who presided over Fantagraphics, was left to translate it all into English... No small task indeed.
You can download a PDF version of Pierre Sterckx's The Jodelle Style here.
Sterckx was to pen another essay devoted exclusively to Pravda, but following our decision to freeze that project in the wake of Kim Thompson's tragic death only a few days after the release of Jodelle, we shall never have the pleasure of reading his musings on Peellaert's iconic character.
His most recent contribution, a short yet insightful introduction to Christophe Quillien's Art et BD, is being released this week in France, but his final and crowning accomplishment is likely to be Hergé's Masterpiece, billed as the definitive monograph on the art of Tintin and published in English by Rizzoli this coming September.