Forget Asterix and Lucky Luke: the undisputed king of the 21st-century French comic strip is an eight-year-old prankster whose precocious pondering of condoms, girls and pornographic magazines has rocketed him to stardom.
The initial print run of 2 million copies for the latest Titeuf album, released this month, breaks all the records for cartoon characters in France. A total of 11 million volumes have been sold since the series began in 1991. Thanks to highly effective advertising and a brand of cheeky, slapstick humour that has proved irresistible to school children worldwide, the little figure with an oddly egg-shaped head and an ostrich-plumed quiff is fast becoming an immovable figure in cartoon cool.
Since the first album, God, Sex and Suspenders , was published, Titeuf has been translated into 15 languages and has now become the must-have read in playgrounds from Beijing to New York. The stories have gone down a storm with children who, like Titeuf himself, are teetering on the brink of puberty and are half-fascinated, half-petrified of the mysteries which lie ahead.
Like him, they giggle at rude words, play tricks on each other and have odd, unidentified feelings for members of the opposite sex. But while real children may shy away from delving into the bewildering world of teenage vices, Titeuf's effervescent curiosity leads him to reveal the confusing world of adolescence with an unusual frankness. "Titeuf wants to understand. But he understands nothing," says Philippe Chappuis, the character's Swiss creator. "He is more lost than the children who read him, so he asks questions they would like to, but would never dare to, and tries out things they would like to, but never dare to. He is like a lightning rod, drawing the danger away."
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