Motoring art: Michel Constant

| 28 Nov 2023
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

France and Belgium have a long tradition of graphic art, so much so that it’s commonly regarded as the ninth art form.

From Spirou to Michel Vaillant, automobiles and motorsport have regularly inspired some famous comic-book characters, but less familiar are the adventures of Mauro Caldi.

Written by Denis Lapière, this eight-part series is drawn by Belgian Michel Constant and coloured by his partner ‘Béa’.

Set in Italy during the post-war years, it mixes racing with the criminal underworld, all vividly brought to life by the marvellous penwork and atmospheric tones of this artistic husband-and-wife team.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit stars in Les voleurs de Ferrari, a comic book illustrated by artists Michel and Béatrice Constant

Born in 1963, Michel grew up in Bellaire, Liège.

From an early age he developed a talent for drawing inspired by his love of comics, and at school he became close friends with Marc Morgan.

Both went on to study comic art at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc, but Morgan later focused on a music career.

While at art college, Michel met future wife and collaborator Béatrice.

His artistic career had to be put on hold during military service, but on his return he began writing and illustrating short stories, which were published in Le journal de Tintin.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

Characters Mauro Caldi and Joanne in a Ferrari barchetta, ahead of the gangsters’ Alfa Romeo 1900 in La guerre des familles, the fifth volume in Denis Lapière’s series

Inspired by the legendary Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, the young talent developed the classic ‘clear line’ comic drawing style.

In the mid-’80s, Michel teamed up with screenwriter Lapière to create the Mauro Caldi character.

This young, red-haired driver, mechanic and amateur detective became the star of a classic book series set in Italy during the ’50s.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

The cover for Mille Miglia, featuring a Ferrari 250 Tour de France

The first title, Mille Miglia, was published by Les Éditions de Miroir in 1987.

The launch story involves the Mafia and hero Caldi being disguised as wealthy Ferrari 250 Tour de France driver Ricardo don Rossellini on the 1956 Mille.

The second book, Cine citta, is set around Rome in the famous movie studios, but racing continued to feature throughout the series.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

This moody bodyshop scene is a graveyard for classic cars

Caldi’s fifth adventure, La guerre des familles, is based in Sicily during the Targa Florio, with brief appearances from Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson.

Michel and writer Lapière focus on the Belgian Grand Prix for Les voleurs de Ferrari, which features Caldi’s glamorous assistant, Joanne, inspired by actress Leslie Caron.

After a 20-year break, the series returned in 2014 with La vieille dame, which follows the discovery of an old Mille Miglia Alfa 6C.

More recently the eighth edition, La mamma, turned its focus to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, with a Maserati 2000GT among the main cars featured.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Michel Constant

Michel’s dynamic line drawing is a signature of the Mauro Caldi books; his partner, Béatrice, was in charge of colours

Away from the Mauro Caldi books, Constant has also teamed up with Michel Vandam for the Bitume series, which revolves around the quirky characters encountered on mythical road trips.

Classic vehicles regularly feature in his stories, including a Manx Norton in La dame de fer, which is set in the UK during Margaret Thatcher’s political reign.

In recent years, Constant has worked with his friend Jean-Luc Cornette for Red River Hotel.

With the title set in urban America during the ’60s, Michel relished drawing the period traffic.

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