August 2, 2021

Death of Nikita Mandryka, creator of “Masked Cucumber”, designer of the absurd

It is and will forever be the most famous cucurbit in the history of world comics. A character like no other, living in a cactus-blockhaus, speaking in a newspeak of absolute poetry, digressing ad infinitum on the meaning of existence (or rather on its lack of meaning) and s’ stupefying in front of the screen of his “television”. With his face half hidden by a black hood, the masked cucumber is one of those iconic heroes of Franco-Belgian comics whose name had become familiar to the general public, although they have not always read his adventures. struck at the corner of the absurd and the burlesque.

Passionate about philosophy and psychoanalysis, this vegetable with shattering oaths – “Liquid pretzel! “,” Rhône-Poulenc nationalized! “,” Baking soda! “,” Protz! “ – will have made the fame of its author, Nikita Mandryka. The French designer and screenwriter died on Sunday June 13 in Geneva at the age of 80. It will also remain, in the history of the 9e art, as one of the co-creators of Echo of the Savannahs in the mid-1970s, a magazine that accelerated the emancipation of comics towards an adult readership.

“A therapeutic comic book”

The fruit of completely hazardous circumstances, his birth would have deserved to compose the content of an album on its own. Nikita Mandryka was indeed born on November 20, 1940, in Bizerte, Tunisia, where his maternal grandfather, commander of a Russian torpedo boat who fled the Bolshevik revolution, had settled after having sought asylum in France. Son of a doctor from the Slavic diaspora of the city, the future designer will be marked for life by his close universe, as he will tell:

“A world of madness between Russian immigrants (…) The defeated men aspiring to return, the women doing housework… sweet nuts! I took up some Russian words that made me laugh by transcribing them later phonetically in a comic strip. I think it was from this universe that I invented mine, a way to get out of the madness in which I lived my childhood, to control it. The Cucumber is a therapeutic comic strip, an infinite analysis. “

Creator of a comic book newspaper sold by the local grocer, the teenager was 16 when he saw his first story published in the Belgian weekly Risk-All, published by Dupuis, shortly after his parents decided to settle in the Jura. He has already created the “Masked Cucumber” but will not bring it back to life for good until he has become a professional designer, a career that he embraces after studying cinema at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographies, in Paris.

He then multiplies the pseudonyms – Kalkus, Karl Kruss, Caleq-usse and Calgus, Kilkoz… – and publications in the youth press. The “Cucumber” appears in the pages of the magazine Valiant (the ancestor of Pif) in March 1965, as a “Fabulous vegetable” in search of which an intrepid reporter by the name of Boff set out, lost in the “Desert-of-slow-death”.

Angoulême Grand Prix

His quirky humor, his underground design, his linguistic inventions and the impression of improvised writing, box after box, will give the series (fifteen albums in all, between 1971 and 2017) a unique charm, to borders of surrealism. It was through the “fault” of the “Cucumber” that one of the most stimulating adventures in comics at the time was born.

The designer slammed the door of the magazine “Pilote” to create “L’Echo des savanes”

The chronicle indeed relates that René Goscinny, then editor-in-chief of the magazine Pilot, which housed the adventures of the hero vegetable garden, refused an account by Mandryka entitled It was a garden. Vexed and in love with freedom, the designer then slammed the door of the weekly in the company of Gotlib and Claire Bretécher to create Echo of the savannas, in 1972. Mandryka will return thereafter to Pilot, and will even become its editor in 1983, after having been in Charlie monthly.

Nominated Grand Prix d’Angoulême in 1994 for all of his work, he later opted for a discreet career, made up of various contributions, whether in erotic comics or in science fiction, alongside ‘other designers. He will relaunch his Cucurbitaceae on several occasions, endeavoring to publish every week, on his website, a new page of his unclassifiable adventures.

Read the 1994 archive: The winners of the 21st International Salon: Nikita Mandryka Grand Prix of the city of Angoulême

Nikita Mandryka on a few dates

November 20, 1940 Born in Bizerte (Tunisia)

1971 Release of the first album of Masked cucumber

1972 Participate in the creation of the journal Echo of the Savannahs

1994 Grand prize of the Angoulême comic book festival

June 13, 2021 Death in Geneva (Switzerland)