Recently I started studying comic artist Frank Santoro’s grid theories for comics. His website, comicsworkbook.com, is an extensive resource featuring lectures and interviews. During my research, I discovered an interesting post about a TV show from the late 1960’s called Tac Au Tac.
Based on the surrealists’ concept of the exquisite corpse, Tac Au Tac set up competing cartoonists in a friendly drawing match. Produced and presented by Jean Frappat, the show aired on French TV from the late 1960’s to mid-1970’s.
The format was simple. A group of cartoonists, armed with markers and a large blank page, improvised a drawing based on a theme or visual starting point. They collaborated or competed with their peers taking turns to complete a collage. The end result was a juxtaposition of styles and approaches but its real value was to witness a visual dialogue between the artists.
Some of the greatest French, Belgian and American comic artists of the era appeared on Tac Au Tac. Moebius, Druillet, and Steranko to name but a few. It is inspiring to see the different styles and approaches to drawing. The different thought processes and clarity of visual thinking.
There are one hundred episodes of Tac Au Tac available on the INA (Institut national de l’audiovisuel) website. I’ve chosen a few to look at in more detail.
Tac Au Tac – October 21, 1972
Filmed in New York, this episode features Jean Giraud (Moebius), Joe Kubert and Neal Adams. The trio improvises on the theme of Pandora’s box. Giraud starts with a sketch of the box before Kubert and Adams interpret what escapes. As the drawing progresses, the group explore the themes of war and violence through time in visuals and conversation.
Giraud is the loosest in his use of line approaching shadows with loose cross-hatching. The episode is a rich display of draftsmanship and craft. Yet, the artists rely on genre tropes such as cavemen, commandos, and aliens to communicate the theme.
Tac Au Tac – February 19,1972
In this episode, Barbe, Jean Andre Laville, Wolf and Claire Bretecher improvise on two different themes. In the first, Bretecher repeats a drawing of an old woman three times. The other cartoonists then create a narrative around the three drawings. Bretecher resolves the story with the old woman turning misadventure into victory.
For the second theme, the group faces the challenge of a visual starting point. Using a vine leaf cut-out, each cartoonist improvises a drawing.
Claire Bretecher is the stand out cartoonist for me in this episode. Her drawing is so confident, flowing from the marker like writing. Her style is simple and cartoony but full of character. Barbe is more considered with a detailed linear style. Jean Andre Laville line is efficient and Wolf showcases a strong design sensibility. Bretecher ties the story strands together creating a sequential narrative, turning the story on its head.
The second creative problem tasks the group to make a drawing using a cut-out element. Bretecher’s attempt stands out due to her use of scale and spatial awareness.
Tac Au Tac is a rich resource for any aspiring comic artist. It introduces many renowned French, Belgian and Spanish comic artists from that era. For me as an artist, it is enjoyable and rewarding to watch these masters at work. It is a first-hand account of their approach to drawing, storytelling and visual thinking.
The show also provides interesting tasks for the visual artist. This is creative play combining visual problems with collaboration in a gamified format. I can see its pedagogical value and how it can apply to the classroom.
Fernández, J. (2017). Tac au Tac – Comics Workbook. [online] Comicsworkbook.com. Available at: http://comicsworkbook.com/tac-au-tac/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].
Ina.fr, I. (2017). Du tac au tac : émission du 21 octobre 1972. [online] Ina.fr. Available at: http://www.ina.fr/video/CPF86607642/du-tac-au-tac-emission-du-21-octobre-1972-video.html [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
YouTube. (2014). Jean Giraud, Joe Kubert & Neal Adams (Tac au tac, 21 octobre 1972). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhieFYAo_g0 [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
Ina.fr, I. (2017). Du tac au tac : émission du 19 février 1972. [online] Ina.fr. Available at: http://www.ina.fr/video/CPF86642554/du-tac-au-tac-emission-du-19-fevrier-1972-video.html [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
YouTube. (2013). Tit for Tat (David B., Kagan McLeod, Paul Pope, Samuel Hiti, Frederik Peeters, ). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWsxXwVY0e0 [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].