The art of inspiration

Being around Formula 1 is fascinating but it can make one a little distrustful of people. Some F1 folk are extraordinary human others, some are not very nice people. They are there for their own gratification or to make a quick buck. They will trample over others to get what they want, they will cheat and they will lie like Donald Trump.

But then there the others who make the sport so special. The people who are more genuine, who do it because they love doing it. They like to win, of course, but it is not a question of winning at any cost. They know that winning unfairly is merely self-delusion. There are also a few people who believe that part of what they do is to encourage others to do the same: to inspire and to give something back. I remember with a smile each time I think of how Ron Dennis would light up when he talked about inspiring new generations, about what a thrill it was to see the spark lit in a youngster. It is perhaps the most rewarding thing in teaching, but one must put up with a lot of drudge for every little spark.

Yesterday I read the news Jean Graton had died at the age of 97. The name probably means little to the Anglo-Saxon world, but in France Graton was a man who inspired many others. And he did it with pen and paper. Graton was a cartoonist, who was a passionate motor racing fan. It started in the 1930s when he was a child, seeing racing cars and loving what he saw. It continued for the rest of his life. His special gift was an ability to draw and he went off to Belgium and found work, illustrating for Tintin magazine, a weekly Franco-Belgian comic for “youth from seven to 77”. At one point in its glory days it was selling 600,000 copies a week. Graton had bigger ambitions, however, and he began to draw his own cartoon series about a racing driver called Michel Vaillant. What he did that was unusual is that he inserted his characters into real life situations and mixed them with cartoon versions of the stars, allowing the readers to imagine themselves in the same situation.

Cartoons catch the eye, engage the reader, and incorporate narrative in ways that can make them useful tools for teaching, rather than forcing youngsters to plough through traditional texts. Looking back I remember how much easier it was to study Marx and Lenin when I had cartoon versions of their theories, and how a cartoon version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth was much more inspiring than the traditional text. Cartoons inspire. Graton understood that and he built an empire from that knowledge. Vaillant never grew old and even starred in films but he was always a real life hero, not a superhero with powers beyond humankind.

And there is no doubt that for the Francophones, Vaillant inspired youngsters to go racing…

31 thoughts on “The art of inspiration

    1. As far as I know only once, in a short-lived comic called “Champion” that came out in early 1966. The serial was called “The Knights of Konigsfeld”, a rather weird adventure around the running of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring…

  1. Hi Joe! I know we are in lockdown mood but you’ve mixed Jean Blaton (‘Beurlys’ the famous gentleman driver who died last Month) and Jean Graton (author of ‘Michel Vaillant’). They knew each other well but they were not related… Take care, Pierre

  2. For years I have suspected you were a closet communist – your admission about Marx and Lenin confirms that suspicion.

    Hope you and the family are well.

    Bob W

    1. Can I point out that, having done the same at university, studying Marx and Lenin is the best way to put one off their theories, bar none?

  3. On Ron Dennis ; Such a character which , i think , is duly missed in F1 Is Ron working
    on an autobiography Would be a for sure bestseller !

    1. IF RD isn’t planning on, or having commenced on such a venture already, I cannot think of a better scribe than our Mr Saward with which to entrust the job

    2. so long as it was ghostwritten, otherwise it might be pretty impenetrable…

      I’d love to think he would, but it doesn’t seem very Ron. He hasn’t even turned up on Beyond the Grid yet. Apart from some brief snippets on the Race to Perfection he seems to have largely closed the door behind himself.

      Patrick Head would be very worth reading too I’m sure.

  4. For a few years now, in the foyer of the Offices in the main paddock building at Paul Ricard, they have had on the walls for decoration and sale, framed Vaillant art strips. Having been familiar with the original cartoon strips since childhood, I purchased some.
    Always wonderful imaginative stories even for the older reader and always, without fail, such great artwork.

  5. Was it Lion comic in the UK that sometimes had a motor racing themed strip that always reminded me of his style? In terms of great comic books the experience of reading “Maus” will never leave me

  6. Misspellings or not, two thumbs up. This 70+ year old fart is very familiar with Tintin.
    Btw, At German gymnasium (not to be confused with physical exercise), either Latin or Greek were mandatory, and were taught with Asterix cartoons published in those languages.

  7. A special Jean Graton serie of four albums was published a few years back titled “Ickx” and bringing the real Jacky into the fairytale life of Michel Vaillant. Or was it the opposite ? 😉
    Graton was not the only one to use Motorsports as a background for his cartoon heroes. “Grand Prix” by Mark Van Oppen (aka Marvano) is also a masterpiece. Has it ever been translated into English ?

  8. If the Autobiography is a representation of Ron as witnessed in his 2005 Japanese Grand Prix interview after Kimi’s Win, it would be sublime. Thats the real Ron behind the clinical exterior.

    1. I have heard that the Real Ron was largely walled-up behind the impenetrable, er, wall of RonSpeak after the serious road accident to which our host referred in another piece recently.

  9. Sad to hear this, Joe. Michel Vaillant stirred my interest in F1, had nearly all the album’s. May he rest in peace.

  10. This artwork is stunning. I love Prost’s McLaren. As for the Dennis book, I’d definitely want to read it, more so if JS was involved.

  11. Does anyone have a good recommendation about 1) are there English translations of the comics that are available or 2) how to learn French quickly enough to read them?

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