Fred is the nom de plume and the nom the pinceau of Frédéric Othon Theodore Aristidès. You may have heard about him because of Pilote magazine and his most famous series, "Philemon" (or Philemon if we are talking about the albums). Before that though, Fred had a career behind him as a single-panel gag cartoonist and an absurdist comics artist in the pages of several magazines (the Mad inspired Hara-Kiri especially). It was in said mag that Fred published (from issue #38, April 1964, until issue #64, June 1966) his masterpiece "Le petit cirque" (or Le petit cirque if we're talking about the 1973, 1997 and 2012 album editions). The series, in short episodes of two pages each (with the exception of the first three pages), was also reprinted in Pilote magazine (it appeared in twenty eight issues from #701, April 1973, until #741, January 1974).
In 2012 an important retrospective of Fred's work, Le petit cirque included, was shown at the Angoulême comics convention in France (at the Hôtel Saint-Simon, to be exact). To celebrate the occasion Dargaud published a new remastered edition of Le petit cirque directly shot from the existing original art (which means that pages #8, 9, 26, 27, 36, 37 - three episodes - didn't receive the same treatment as the rest of the book; there's no discernible difference between those pages and all the others though; the editors didn't explain why this is so). Now I'm waiting for a new edition of Le journal de Jules Renard Lu Par Fred (Jules Renard's journal read by Fred) with the original page layouts recovered. I hope that someone at Flammarion reads my appeal.
Panel from page 53 of the 1997 edition of Le petit cirque by Fred.
The same panel as above from page 51 of the 2012 edition.
Fred himself said, remembering the series' first album edition in 1973:
I was pleasantly surprised that time! When we took the pages out of the portfolio to print the album, we realized that the original art had yellowed. Time yellows everything, even the mementos hidden in the bottom of a suitcase. Gray had become sepia which added a melancholia of sorts. I love those atmospheres.As we can see above the 1997 edition reproduced the sepia tones. The lines are far from crisp though and many wash details were lost to resurface in the 2012 edition only. The latter's matte paper retains some of the beige flavor that pleased Fred. Since Le petit cirque is a comics masterpiece I would say that this edition is one of last year's most important comics related events. Unfortunately it passed virtually unnoticed.
The first two tiers of the first page of the series as it appeared in Hara-Kiri # 38, April 1964.
The same tiers published in the albums (in this case, the 2012 edition). As we can see the logo and the episode titles, when they existed, disappeared.
The first two panels of episode two (three in the albums) as published originally in Hara-Kiri # 39, May 1964.
The same panels as published in the 2012 album edition. The logo and episode title were removed, a paper and pencil texture was added (notice the glue smears captured by the photogravure).
The little jobs: the countryside licker of stamps. Notice the Fredian twiggy tree and the wind. Hara-Kiri # 23, December 1962.
The first half of "L'audition"'s first page (the audition) with the human cannonball (the human time bomb appears in the page's second half), Hara-Kiri #37, March 1964. The little circus before the little circus: it is right there in the second panel.
It was the first time that I did something solid and everything happened naturally, the ideas, the emotions. Maybe because it's the story of people without roots, like my parents. After leaving Constantinople they traveled a lot too and it was my father who inspired me to create Léopold. [...] The Carmen of Le petit cirque is dark-haired and thin while my mother had brown hair and was rather plumpish, but she inspired me nonetheless.
The family that inspired Le petit cirque: from left to right: Eleni (Carmen), Yanis (Léopold), and little Fred (who, in the album, has no name); Trouville, 1930s.
Le petit cirque, page 11 of the 2012 edition.
Carmen discovers the violin tree in page 36 of the 2012 edition.
The first two panels of page 18 of Le petit cirque's 2012 edition. To the circus family the city is a menacing, blocky, empty space. Fritz Lang's expressionist Metropolis isn't far; an hyperbole, again.
Le petit cirque: second and third tiers of page 48 of the 2012 edition.
I could go on doing close readings of all the episodes of Le petit cirque (like the one in which Léopold and Carmen offer a wheelchair to their son and break his leg in order for him to enjoy his present - which he does, of course), but the above is enough, I guess...
In conclusion: the circus family wanders aimlessly in an inhospitable landscape, is harassed and hated by almost everybody else and they suffer setback after setback, but they continue their journey because they have to, winning a few small victories along the way... We only get to the sense of it all though after decoding the logic of the book which is the nonlinear, oblique logic of dreams.
Fred sets his little creatures in motion; second tier of Le petit cirque's 2012's edition's last page. Another narrative device: self-referentiality.