Francis Masse

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Francis Masse
Born1948 (1948) - Gap - France
OccupationArtist, graphic designer, cartoonist, sculptor, painter

Francis Masse, known as Masse (born 21 August 1948 in Gap, Hautes-Alpes[1][2]), is a French artist. In the early 1970s, he first became acquainted with his sculptures, then turned to animation and cartoon.

The poetic universe of Masse is served by an unusual graphic design where the scenes are created by means of printing rasters, as well as by a subtle work on the relief, the frame and the perspectives.

Mainly since Les Deux du Balcon (1985), Masse starts focusing primarily on the scientific subjects: physics, astrophysics, cosmology, chaos, quantum mechanics, and so on, and extrapolates them with fantasy in a nonsensical, poetic and jubilant universe.

One finds the influence of Masse's work in the cinema of his English cousin: the Terry Gilliam of Mad Magazine and graphic crafts for Monty Python (nonsense version),[3] as well as in the comic strip of his lost children: the Daniel Goossens of L'Encyclopédie des bébés [fr] (geek version)[3] and the Marc-Antoine Mathieu [fr] of L'Origine [fr] (applied version).[3]

Masse's universe, both erudite and off-the-wall, is praised and appreciated by his peers and scientists. The anonymous and absurd characters he staged, with their big noses, hats and coats, obsolete in everything evolve in a parallel world where codes are surprising. Frémion[4] affirms that a strong work speaks only posteriorly and that the work of Masse will characterize our time as surely as Callot, Caravaggio or Daumier.

In the late 1980s, Masse abandoned comics and devoted himself to sculpture. Since 2007, Masse exhibits his works, reissues his comic strips and albums and publishes original works.

Translated content from Francis Masse; see that page's history for attribution.


After high school, Francis Masse studied at the art school of Nancy and then Grenoble, he makes himself known first of all with his sculptures, it is an unknown aspect of his work, which nevertheless became his main activity again since the early 1990s. From the early 1970s, he made his first comics, including the "beckettian"[4] Le Roi de le monde (English: The King of the World) published in Le Canard Sauvage in 1973.

Very early, he produced animations whose graphic design described by Romain Brethes[3] as audacious, inimitable and unclassifiable and prefigures the peculiar style of his comics. Yves Frémion[4] points out that his universe was in place since the beginning, but graphically progressed very quickly. Masse uses hatching, wefts, satin coated. The drawing is dark, the detailed wefts close to engraving.

Masse presents a graphic universe that embodies the post-1968 trend in the avant-garde press of the early 1970s. According to Romain Brethes,[3] Masse is part of the history of comics for having embraced its most radical revolutions and having participated in his most fruitful experiments.

Masse's universe is often described as surrealistic. However, Romain Brethes[3] points out that we should rather speak of hyperrealism, because, when reading these comics, dating back to the early 1980s, we are witnessing, incredulously, the prophetic advent of the world of decades to come: ecological catastrophes, the world of multimedia and the virtual world are omnipresent with television, video games and new technologies that announce the computerized society.


Between 1970 and 72, he tackles animation in the association aaa (Atelier d'Animation d'Annecy) with the free jazz delirium of the Judgement Dernier and the hilarious Cagouince Migrateur. In 1973–74 with Pink Splash Production (created by Paul Dopff) known for his rather underground spirit, he directed Évasion Expresse, a short film combining animated papercutting and cartoons on cellulo, integrated with the previous films in the program Dessins Animés et Cie screened for several weeks in 1974 at the Ciné-Halles in Paris. Yves Frémion,[4] who attended, considers that they are breathtaking, simple, effective, virtuous, hilarious, pure masterpieces.

In his report of the 1974 Grenoble festival, a critic of Art Vivant[5] defined the style of Évasion Expresse of "Crumbian"[5] graphics and splendidly black humor. Évasion Expresse tells the story of a man sitting on the window side in a train compartment and who lets himself go to a fantasized vision of an appearance in the scrolling landscape... up to a "apotheosis".

Comic strips[edit]

In parallel with his animations, Masse continues to make comic strips, first of all he participated to the fanzine of Poussin: Gonocoque (1973-1974). Since then, the important magazines at that time solicited him: Actuel, Le Canard Sauvage, L'Écho des Savanes, Charlie Mensuel, Zinc, Hara-Kiri, Métal Hurlant, Surprise and Fluide Glacial.

He published in Charlie #84 "Le Complot chromatique" (English: The Chromatic Plot), a quite long black and white story that tells the bursting in of a small bright pink detail. Yves Frémion[4] points out that Schindler's List uses a similar concept. His strips are grouped in albums: Masse at Éditions du Fromage [fr] in 1976, Mémoires d'Outre Terre at AUDIE the following year, two volumes of L'Encyclopédie de Masse and two volumes of On m'appelle l'Avalanche at Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1982 and 1983. The Avalanche is a wild-looking character who carries a bicycle handlebar across his nose, like a bone, he will leave traces with Boucq.[4] After the album Masse in the collection "30x40" of Futuropolis in 1985 and Les Dessous de la Ville at Hoëbeke [fr] in 1985, Casterman brings together in albums the strips of Les Deux du Balcon and then La Mare aux Pirates originally published in (À suivre) in 1985 and 1987.

In Les Deux du Balcon, an immense tribute to Flaubert,[4] two socially very different characters discourse on the great scientific theories that Masse distorts in order to propose his vision where poetry, fantasy, humor and nonsense mix with scientific rigor. This album is considered one of the most representative of his work, for Frémion[4] it is evident that this album is one of the greatest comic strips ever published and that it represents a final denial[4] for those who believe that literature or cinema are arts superior to small-mickeys.[4]


In order to construct his premonitory, dark, wrecked universe, Masse parses his erudite work of allusions, nods and pastiches with which he cheerfully massacre the doxa.

Philippe Ducat[6] points out that Masse's "drame sombre[6]" (English: dark hatch), is his level of culture. The scientific references he uses are unusual in the world of comics and are reserved for an informed readership. Ducat[6] adds that innovative authors such as Winshluss, Trondheim, Killoffer, David B., Casanave [fr], Blutch or Gerner consider Masse much more.

Ducat[6] finds that there is some William Hogarth in Masse's work, they share the nonsense, the satire of society, the wry and biting humor. Masse draws on heavyweight coated paper and then scrubs out material, while Hogarth engraved on metal and then printed it. The Englishman confined his characters in a box to experiment on them, playing on space-time as in The False Perspective. Masse does the same, but to a higher degree.[6]

Masse's work is often compared to Goya's one, caricature, causticity and satire are staged in nightmarish universes where fantasy reigns. According to Ducat,[6] Masse's "cucurbitish" character recalls the satirical portraits published by André Gill in the satirical press of the Second Empire, his page layouts recall Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905–14) by Winsor McCay, the collages by Max Ernst, and the Imaginary Prisons of Giovanni Piranese (source claimed by Masse), he adds: This is simply a miracle.


Masse, largely covers the scientific fields, especially since L'Encyclopédie de Masse (1982) and especially in Les Deux du Balcon (1985). Philippe Ducat[6] evokes a logical connection with the "Science Amusante" of Tom Tit (1890), a work in which unnecessary experiments are illustrated with engravings at the limit of surrealism which inspired René Magritte, and according to Ducat,[6] confines to the absurd, and compares him to Jean-Pierre Brisset and Gaston de Pawlowski with a humor close to Marcel Duchamp's one.

Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond,[7] physicist and director of the "Science Ouverte" collection at Le Seuil, welcomes Masse's desire to disseminate scientific knowledge in an absolutely new form from a science amateur, in the noblest sense of the term[7] and explains that Masse pulls his inspiration from references and authorities such as Jouvet, Gould, Ruelle or Aspect, and that this guarantee is necessary to support Masse's crazy vision of contemporary science. According to him, Masse demonstrates the underlying scientific truth, since he points out that science progresses by freeing from common sense.[7] He adds that admiring science must not prevent from amusing oneself and that there is room for a merry knowledge.[7] He ends by saying that Masse brings opening thanks to a new scenography which releases from both flat illustration and dubious metaphor.[7]

During his interview with Masse at the festival Formula Bula [fr][2] in 2015, the physicist Etienne Klein draws a parallel between the work of Masse and the popularization work of the phycician George Gamow who, through his character Mr Tompkins, explains with a whimsical humour the great scientific theories.

The cosmologist Jean-Philippe Uzan [fr][8] pays tribute to him at the conference "La Cosmologie en Bande Dessinée" (English: The Cosmology in Comic Strip) (2011), referring to Alfred Jarry, he describes the album (Vue d'artiste) as an innovative "pataphore"[8] and he proposes to symbolically award Masse the title of Doctor of Pataphysics from the University of Paris VI, with his unanimous congratulations.[8]

The mathematician Cédric Villani[9] for the release of his album "Les Rêveurs lunaires" (English: The Moon Dreamers) quotes his reference comics authors and named Masse in his personal four aces of great founding authors still alive[9] with Baudoin, Bourgeon, and Tardi. He describes the Masse's universe rather confusing at first, but advises that we are largely rewarded for efforts when diving into[9] and adds that On m'appelle l'Avalanche is certainly a major work of the ninth art.[9]

From reality to nonsense[edit]

In a discussion reported by Gabrielle Lefevre,[10] Masse defined his approach and his humor saying the work of the artist is to give a representation of reality, as the scientist does, and the two approaches complement each other and clarifying: Obviously, I am freer than the scientist! I am only bound to poetry.[10] He points out that, when a scientist makes an effort to popularize, he is obliged to use parables, it sometimes becomes just as in Prévert.[10] According to him, the description of the reality can only pass through humor, because humor is the grammar of what means several things at the same time.[10]

Vincent Baudoux[11] speaks of the apparent "non-sens" (i.e. no sense) of Masse and prefers the Anglo-Saxon term "nonsense" by referring to Robert Benayoun (Les dingues du Nonsense, Baland, 1984), who considers nonsense to be the logic extrapolated up to absurdity, while the French term of "non-sens" translates the absence of logic.

The term "nonsense" is the most suitable for defining the work of Masse, this is why he is more appreciated by a readership open to the Anglo-Saxon culture.

For example, when Terry Gilliam, the American Monty Python, released his film Brazil, he told to Libération[12] that amongst his stated influences figure Goya, the American underground comics and French comics, with a rare admiration for Masse: Fabulous ! I would love to make a film with him, and he still amazes me.[12]

Similarly, in an interview with the magazine Les Inrockuptibles,[13] Art Spiegelman quotes Masse before Crumb and Tardi by saying that what he did was incredible, his work is important and very much underestimated.[13] In this paper, Masse's style is described as strips stripped with the steel wool of a funny cynicism.[13]

Masse and the world of comics[edit]

Although Masse has published in numerous magazines and produced about twenty albums, it has never aroused the enthusiasm of the public usually fond of comics, nevertheless his work is often acclaimed by the critic and by artists who quote him as a reference.

For Willem,[14] Masse was in 1982 the greatest.[14] Thierry Groensteen[15] evokes in 1984 the "massolatry" reigning within the team of the Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée.

Yves Frémion[4] concludes his short biography of Masse by saying he is a major artist, alive, funny, who has something to say.

It is written in La lettre des Sables d'Olonne[16] that Masse is unique, his universe is dark and fantastic,[16] the author points out that Masse is the first, and still the only one,[16] having dealt with scientific problems in the comic strip with seriousness and fantasy,[16] he describes the style as intelligent popularization,[16] and it is a rather entertaining[16] and rather underestimated[16] genre, while explaining that his writing is close to Raymond Queneau or Marcel Aymé: One must read him as an author.[16]

Benoît Gilles[17] says that Masse is recognized as one of the precursors of the new freedoms[17] of the comic strip.

At the Angoulême Festival 2012 [fr], Art Spiegelman presents Masse as one of the prominent figures in his now-legendary New Yorker journal RAW.

In 2007, the museum of Sainte-Croix Abbey in Sables d'Olonne organizes a retrospective of Masse's comics and animated films as well as an exhibition of his sculptures. The Association reissues On m'appelle l'Avalanche. Le Seuil publishes L'Art Attentat, a collection of old strips colorized by Pakito Bolino. The Dernier Cri publishes Tsunami au musée a snakes and ladders limited edition game. From February to April 2009, he appeared with Stéphane Blanquet, Gilbert Shelton, Joost Swarte and Chris Ware in the exhibition Quintet at the Contemporary Art Museum in Lyon. Since 2011, he begins to reissue his albums as well as original works at Glénat. At the end of 2014, a new Encyclopédie de Masse is reissued, with more than fifty entirely new strips, humor drawings and never-reissued strips, the artist redrawn many strips and rewrote the dialogs.


  • 14 juillet, 1971. Realised in pixilation.
  • Le Cagouince Migrateur (English: Migrant Loo), 1971.
  • Le Jugement Dernier (English: Last Judgment), 1972.
  • Évasion Expresse (English: Express Escape), 1973. Broadcast at the show Pop2 of ORTF on Saturday 3 November 1973 (available on web site INA).
  • Le Clap (English: The Clapperboard), 1973. Originally made for a film based on exquisite corpse principle and realized by a collective of authors.
  • La première ascension du Mont Blanc par un Français (English: The first ascension of Mont Blanc by a Frenchman), 1974. Rushes of 20 minutes exist for this film produced by Cinémation and broadcast in the 1970s in a Michel Lancelot's show.
  • Chimère (English: Chimera), 1986. A 4 minutes short film.
  • La Loi du chaos (English: The Chaos Law), 2002. Original script (graphical and show bible) for 26 episodes created by Masse for an animated TV show.


List extracted from the detailed bibliography.[18]


Illustrations for papers[edit]

  • French: Dossier de Court Métrage, Glénat, 1974.
  • French: Le Matin, circa 80.
  • French: Marie-Claire, circa 80.
  • French: La Recherche, circa 1985–1986.
  • French: Le Français dans le monde, #200, Hachette, 1986.
  • French: 9e Art, #13, January 2007, Bande dessinée et philosophie by Hélène Gaudy, Laurent Gerbier, Catherine Ternaux, Thierry Groensteen.


  • French: Illustration for garbage trucks of Lyon, October 1986 (cf. Le Lynx et Bennes dessinées).
  • French: Newspaper Le monde, advertisement for Meridien Hotels. Advertising Press Drawing Award 1982.
  • French: Voyage en carnivorie, Film synopsis, circa 1985.


  1. Volume 1 : A-H, 1982.
  2. Volume 2 : I-Z, 1982.
  1. On m'appelle l'Avalanche : Volume 1, 1983.
  2. On m'appelle l'Avalanche : Volume 2, 1983.
  • French: Masse, Futuropolis, coll. "30 x 40", 1985.
  • French: Les Dessous de la ville (English: Lower Parts of the City), Hoëbeke [fr], 1985.
  • French: Les Deux du Balcon (English: The Two Guys on the Balcony), Casterman, coll. "Studio (A Suivre)", 1985. Reissue Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2011.
  • French: La Mare aux Pirates (English: The Pond with the Pirates), Casterman, coll. "Studio (A Suivre)", 1987. Reissue Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2013.
  • French: Tsunami au musée, Le Dernier Cri, 2007.
  • French: Cahier de l'Abbaye Sainte-Croix, les trames sombres de Masse, Le Dernier Cri, 2007.
  • French: L'Art attentat, Le Seuil, 2007.
  • French: (Vue d'artiste) (English: (Artist's impression)), Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2011.
  • French: Contes de Noël, Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2012. Reissue of Masse in "30x40" with an additional story "Les pommes" (English: The Apples).
  • French: Le Modèle Standard, "With English Subtitles", Le Chant des muses, coll. "Zorro Zébré", 2012.
  • French: Elle, L'Association, coll. "Espôlette", 2014.
  • French: La Nouvelle Encyclopédie de Masse : A-M, Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2014.
  • French: La Nouvelle Encyclopédie de Masse : N-Z, Glénat, coll. "1000 feuilles", 2015.
  • French: Les deux du Dock, Galerie Dock Sud, 2015.
  • French: La Minute de Silence, Super Loto Éditions, coll. "Banco", 2015.
  • French: La Dernière Séance, L'Association, coll. "Patte de mouche", 2016.


  • Cartoon: Dessins animés et Cie.
  • Theatre: Comédie des Alpes [fr], Ils viennent jusque dans nos draps....
  • Theatre: Compagnie de la mouche.
  • Exhibition: Comic strips : Museum of Grenoble, 1977.
  • Theatre: Troupe Le grand nuage de Magellan, Le printemps (D. Guénoun), Season 1984–1985, Trèfle Publicité.
  • Short film: 7th Clermont-Ferrand Festival, February 1985.
  • Exhibition: La science par la bande, Paris – La Villette, 13 March 1986.
  • Exhibition: Les trames sombres de Masse, Sainte-Croix Abbey Museum – Sables-d'Olonne, 2007.


  • French: Érotisme et pornographie dans la BD, Glénat, 1978.
  • German: Eine grafische kunst der französische comic p. 42-43, Elefanten Press, 1980.
  • French: Nimbus présente le grand orchestre, Cumulus, 1980.
  • French: Permis de sourire, Le Cherche midi [fr], 1985.
  • French: Architectures de bande dessinée, French Architects Institute, 1985, p. 88.
  • French: Bennes dessinées, collection of drawings for garbage trucks of Lyon - 1200 copies - ordered by Saint-Pierre Museum, Carton Editions, 1986.
  • French: Art et innovation dans la bande dessinée européenne p. 249-255, De Buck Editions, 1987.
  • French: Nous Tintin. 36 imaginary covers, Lion Editions, 1987.
  • French: Le Cas Marsupilami, 20 covers for Spirou and Fantasio, Lion Editions, 1987.
  • French: À chacun son chat, Albin Michel, 1987, p. 229.
  • French: The New Comics Anthology, Bob Callahan, Collier Books, 1991.
  • French: La Revanche des régions, Glénat, 1992, p. 45.
  • French: Astérix, Barbarella et Cie., Somogy, 2000.
  • French: 100 cases de Maîtres, Citée internationale de la BD, 2010.
  • French: Cent pour cent bande dessinée, Citée internationale de la BD, 2010.
  • French: Variations sur un même ciel, Éditions La ville brûle, 2012, p. 339-341.
  • French: Fluide Glacial au Louvre, Éditions Fluide Glacial-Audie, Collection Album Fluide Glacial, 2018.

Original works bought by museum[edit]


  • Les maîtres de la bande dessinée européenne. Collective. National Library of France. Paris, 2000–2001.
  • CNBDI - Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image. Angoulême, 2001.
  • Les trames sombres de Masse. Personal retrospective. Museum of Modern Art of Abbaye Sainte Croix. Les Sables d’Olonne, 2007.
  • La Bande Dessinée s’attaque au musée. Collective. Museum Granet. Aix en Provence, 2008.
  • Quintet. Collective with Shelton, Ware, Swarte, Blanquet. Museum of Modern Art. Lyon, 2009.
  • Le musée privé. Une histoire mondiale de la Bande Dessinée by Art Spiegelman. Collective. Comics Museum. Angoulême, 2012.
  • Alternatives. Collective. Centre of Modern Art Georges Pompidou. Cajarc, 2013.
  • Une histoire de Charlie. Personal retrospective. Comics Museum. Angoulême, 2015.
  • Ils parlent par images. As a couple. Galery Dock-Sud. Sète, 2015.
  • Enfin Masse !. Personal. Guest of honor of festival Formula Bula. Paris, 2015.
  • Le Modèle Standard. Personal. Festival "Les Utopiales". Nantes, 2016.
  • Tables et festins. Collective. Convent Sainte Cécile. Grenoble, 2017.



  1. ^ Finet, Nicolas (2011). Gravett, Paul (ed.). 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. Universe Publishing. p. 469. ISBN 9780789322715.
  2. ^ Mouchart, Benoît (2004). La bande dessinée (in French). Le Cavalier Bleu. p. 39. ISBN 978-2846700719.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Qu'est ce la bande dessinée[circular reference]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k T'ar ta lacrèm[circular reference]
  5. ^ a b La Dame Blanche (October 1974). "Spécial Festival d'Automne à Paris". Art Vivant (in French). No. 52.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Ducat, Philippe (December 2007). "Francis Masse : l'encyclopédique". Art press (in French). No. 340.
  7. ^ a b c d e Lévy-Leblond, Jean-Marc (1 November 1985). "Diderert et d'Alembot" (PDF). Le Nouvel Observateur (in French). p. 106.
  8. ^ a b c Uzan, Jean-Philippe (13 September 2011). "La Cosmologie en bande dessinée". conference at l'Institut d'astrophysique de Paris (in French). Archived from the original on 27 August 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d Villani, Cédric (23 April 2015). "Les Rêveurs lunaires". Interview by Tristan Martine for Actua BD (in French).
  10. ^ a b c d Lefevre, Gabrielle (3 December 1985). "Francis Masse (interview by Gabrielle Lefèvre)". La Cité (in French).
  11. ^ Baudoux, Vincent (2000). Thierry Groensteen (ed.). "Les Maîtres de la bande dessinées européenne" (in French). Le Seuil. ISBN 2020436574. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  12. ^ a b "Interview of Terry Gilliam". Libération (in French). 20 February 1985.
  13. ^ a b c "Interview of Art Spiegelman". Les Inrockuptibles (in French). 21 January 1998.
  14. ^ a b Willem (9 March 1982). "Masse, où que tu peux être, reviens ! Tu es le plus grand !". Libération (in French).
  15. ^ Groensteen, Thierry (April–May 1984). "Introduction text for a section about Masse by Thierry Groensteen". Les Cahiers de la bande dessinée (in French). No. 57.[circular reference]
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h "Les Trames sombres de Masse" (PDF). La lettre des Sables d'Olonne (in French). No. 87. March–April 2007. p. 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 November 2013.
  17. ^ a b Gilles, Benoît (22 November 2000). Pavé Hebdo (in French). No. 133. {{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Detailed Bibliography, [1]