In Choco-Boys, published on October 15, we discover Lucky Luke as an ally of the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bi, trans). This album could not be more official, created for the collection “A tribute to Lucky Luke after Morris” published by Lucky Comics, is signed Ralf König. The 61-year-old German comic book author, who has always spoken of homosexuality in his works, guided by his sense of humor and observation, took up the challenge of the exercise of style without betraying the spirit. adventures of “the man who shoots faster than his shadow”.
In this album, the cowboy does a service to a Swiss chocolate maker by taking cows to regain strength in Dandelion Valley. He goes on a mission with a cowherd boy who confides in him that he is in love with another man. Over the pages, the hero also meets Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bitch and Sitting Butch… A rainbow intrigue that Ralf König, passing through Paris this weekend, agreed to discuss with 20 minutes.
What does Lucky Luke represent to you?
Lucky Luke, for me, is above all entertainment. As a child, I enjoyed it a lot, I had fun copying it. I drew it and redraw it. He’s one of the Morris characters who probably got me the most to do what I’m doing today. He is an extremely striking figure, a classic just like Asterix or Donald Duck. It is an honor for me, fifty years later, now that I have made my career, to have the opportunity to draw it myself.
Were you surprised that this tribute was offered to you?
It was not offered to me directly. I slipped by relation in the project. My partner works for the publishing house that publishes the adventures of Lucky Luke in Germany. A German colleague of mine paid tribute to the character a short time ago [Lucky Luke se recycle de Mawil]. One morning at breakfast, I sighed in annoyance at not having had the opportunity to do so. My partner didn’t say anything to me, but he did get the message across to the office and it was very well received. This is how they came back to me, offering to pay tribute in my own way. I was quite apprehensive at first. I am not familiar with the western world, horses, wooden houses… It is not part of my repertoire. I thought about the plot, got the idea to introduce a chocolate story to the Far West, and sat down to the drawing board.
Did the publisher tell you what you can and cannot do? What were the limits imposed?
I made a videoconference on Zoom with the holders of the Lucky Luke license to present my project to them. They welcomed him. They knew who I was, they knew my background and my career as a gay comic book writer. They knew there would be a bit of sex, that it was going to be about the gay scene, that I would be a little more raw than the classic Lucky Luke. There was a form of apprehension that I was being excessive in the treatment of the character. I was given two limits: he could not smoke or be homosexual. About the fact that he is not gay, I had no complaints. This character is 75 years old, at no time in his adventures is there any mention of his sexual orientation. On the other hand, it was harder for me to accept that Lucky Luke does not smoke, because I have always found it very attractive. It doesn’t please me to see him with a little ridiculous bit of straw in his beak.
You represent Lucky Luke, shirtless, with nipples. Nipples that we have not seen in any previous album …
I’ve always wondered why classic characters like Asterix didn’t have nipples. No one ever knew how to answer me. For women, we can understand that it is a sexualizing element, but for men, it escapes me. I think that denotes prudishness. Becoming a Lucky Luke designer in turn allows me to reproduce what I did as a child, that is, I took the Lucky Luke albums, the nipples were missing, so I added them to the marker. It’s part of the character. He’s a man, he has nipples, it’s pretty sexy, so it’s important to do it.
The writing is full of double meanings, innuendo, allusions … You deliberately wanted to offer different levels of reading so that, depending on whether the reader is young or old, gay or not, the interpretation of the plot varies. ?
Your question is a compliment. When I have a project, I do it without having written everything in advance. We had this ban on making Lucky Luke a homosexual character. This allowed a rather delicious ambiguity to hover over the exact nature of his sexual orientation. In none of his adventures do we see him with a woman and in my album which talks about homosexuality, we do not see him with a man either. I therefore voluntarily left the doubt on this aspect. It’s different from what I usually do. In my other works, everything is very clear and unambiguous. To maintain this vague universe, I also created new words. I found one for the homophobic insult: in French, it’s “salopette”, the contraction of “dirty lopette”. It is also a question not of comics but of “history in pictures”. These neologisms serve to muddy the waters.
A scene takes place in a bookstore: the young saleswoman says her aversion to “stories in pictures” – for comics, therefore – which would not stand up to great literature. Did you want to send a message?
It’s clearly a commentary on how comics are viewed in Germany. They are stored in the humor and other non-serious things department. They are much less valued than classical literature. When I release a new album, it is not placed in the bookstore on the new releases display, I am relegated to the back of the store.
This falls flat in France, fortunately, I want to say, because comics are considered a cultural good, they are more valued. I also wanted to talk with these characters, a dad and his daughter, about the difference in perception between the older generations who read Lucky Luke and the younger one who is more about digital formats, iPhones, manga …
Are there any authors in whose creation you recognize yourself?
On a personal level, I know very few authors. I know comic book authors through festivals or meetings, but I have little to do with the environment. Homosexuality is at the heart of my stories and, with that, I’ve always been a bit isolated, apart. In the 1980s, I took a fresh look at this theme which was relatively taboo, on a reality considered negative… It had a liberating aspect. Even today, I think I’m still a bit out of my way, I’m not part of a specific family or movement and I don’t necessarily dislike it. This status allows me to have a different approach to sex from my heterosexual colleagues who tell heterosexual stories. In the United States, with Robert Crumb, in the underground world, there was sex, but it was hidden. And that never really changed. Sexuality in straight comics has always kept this sulphurous aspect. In any case, it is not under this aspect that I approach it in my works. Maybe straight writers get yelled at by their wives when they talk about sex, or those around them don’t like it. If I had been straight it would have been much more difficult to do what I wanted to do.
In Western Europe, the rights of LGBT people have advanced over the past two decades. Homosexuality is better accepted in society. Isn’t dealing with this subject in a comic less sulphurous or provocative than before?
With this Lucky Luke, I never wanted to be provocative. I don’t care that people are shocked to see two gay cowboys. I have never been an activist for the cause [LGBT]. I have nothing against the fact that there may be a positive side effect with a somewhat emancipatory approach. But I never had, in my books, the ambition to have a moralizing echo. I think my stories are popular because I do what I want to do, what I love and it shows. In this case, I am homosexual, my characters are homosexual, it is just like that. I think the audience perceives the pleasure I take in imagining and drawing the stories. People like to find good storytelling, dialogue, and jokes. There is no activism in this area.
Are you working on a new album?
I always have three or four on the stove. During the pandemic, I posted a number of short stories on Facebook. I think I will continue in this way, to speak perhaps of the end of the pandemic. I am thinking about adapting the Niebelungen, the legend of Sigfrid, an old mythical Germanic substrate. And then, as you see from my flaming shirt [du doigt, il désigne les motifs], I like Popeye, the sailors… This might be part of a future project. I will absolutely have to get creative again. I broke my arm not too long ago. It kept me from working. I can’t wait to get back to it. Drawing is not just my livelihood, it is also a way for me to find a psychological balance. I control everything that comes out of my pencil and everything that is on the board. If I didn’t draw, I would probably go see a shrink. I like being the little miracle worker [magicien] with pencil in hand.