Our Man In Paris: He drew himself to our attention

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The Independent Online

Jean-Luc J was, among other things, a cartoonist. His cartoons talked of politics, of television, of the oddities of existence and, sometimes, wryly of the misery of Jean-Luc's existence. Like many cartoonists, Jean-Luc had a pet character, Micro Mec - "tiny guy" - a hunched figure with a big nose, who made poetic, or amusing, observations about his own life and "Life" with a big "L".

Until today, Jean-Luc and Micro Mec have never been published, except in chalk on the pavements of Paris.

Jean-Luc was a fortysomething clochard (down-and-out) who spent most evenings for the last 10 years sitting on the pavement outside a Club Med office on the Rue Lecourbe in the 15th arrondissement. He never asked for money, although he did not refuse it. He was never noticeably drunk. He was not aggressive. His cartoons charmed and amused passers-by, until they were washed away by the rain or the street-cleaners.

A few weeks ago, Jean-Luc - and Micro Mec - stopped appearing in the Rue Lecourbe. After a couple of days, someone pasted a notice on the wall beside his favourite spot on the pavement. It read: "The red-haired man who sat here for many years at the end of each day, and who often drew with finesse, was called Jean-Luc J. Monsieur Jean-Luc J died on Wednesday 18 June, 2003, at 18hrs in the Hôpital Pompidou in Paris..."

Soon afterwards, someone stuck to the wall a series of photographs of Jean-Luc's cartoons. "It is not only Jean-Luc but Mini Mec [sic] who has left us," the admirer wrote. "This little character has become part of our everyday life. Day after day... he tried to amuse us."

The pictures attracted more tributes - flowers, little messages, some scribbled on top of the other messages, others carefully composed and written in elaborate script.

"I am very troubled by his death, as I was by his presence." Signed "C.M."

"Jean-Luc. You were certainly less stupid than those people who passed by without seeing you." Unsigned.

Almost six weeks after his death, the wall of the Club Med has become a jumbled but moving tribute to a man who was largely ignored in life. The latest notice informs passers-by that a mass will be said for Jean-Luc J on Friday, 8 August. This has produced another flurry of anguished messages from people who say they will be on holiday for the whole of August. Could the mass not be postponed until September, they ask?

The admirer who pasted up the photographs of Jean-Luc's drawings is Jean-François Le Falher, who lives on the Rue Lecourbe. "I took many, many pictures," he told me. "I was planning to put them into an album and give them to Jean-Luc as a souvenir. He died before I could."

M. Le Falher does not know Jean-Luc's full name. He knows only - from conversations with him over the years - that he was probably in his mid-forties; that he was once a computer programmer; that his life fell apart after his son died, about 10 years ago; that he left his wife and lost his job and ended up on the street. He slept in a shelter for down-and-outs and ate at one of the mobile canteens for street people - "Restos du Coeur" - which were created by the comic actor Coluche in the 1980s.

"Jean-Luc touched many people," M. Le Falher said. "He read the newspapers and so his cartoons commented on politics, but he also somehow managed to make comments about programmes on TV, even though he never watched TV."

One of the ephemeral cartoons preserved by M. Le Falher's camera has Micro Mec commenting on the French equivalent of Big Brother, which is called Loft Story. In the cartoon, Micro Mec says: "Me, I've been in Loft Story for ages. I've had no privacy for 10 years."

"We did what we could for him, but now everyone thinks that they could have done more," M. Le Falher said.

Why did Jean-Luc draw cartoons? Of the many sketches photographed by M. Le Falher, the one reproduced here offers an explanation. "Luckily I have a bit of chalk left to draw myself," Micro Mec says. A second figure replies: "Otherwise you would not exist."

There's more to the Metro than mice and men

Is there a monster in the Metro? An unidentified race of giant beetles has taken up residence in the Paris underground, according to a councillor.

Mice in the Metro are common enough. You often see them scurrying between the rails. The RATP - the public body which runs the buses and trains in Paris - also admits to the presence of other creatures, including rats and crickets.

It denies, however, that there is a new infestation of strange beetles, three inches long and almost one inch wide. Dominique Larry, a councillor and assistant to the mayor of the 12th arrondissement, disagrees.

M. Larry says that, when he was sitting in a train at the Châtelet station the other night (Line Four, direction Porte d'Orléans), his attention was attracted by the shrieks of young people on the platform. On going to investigate, he found an enormous insect, twice the length of a Metro ticket - larger than any species normally found in France - crawling up the tiles lining the station wall.

Without a more precise identification, French entomologists have declined to comment. The RATP says that is has received no other sightings. A bored spokeswoman suggested that it was probably "just a visitor". A tourist perhaps?