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…