In the small world of Christian comics, Jean-François Kieffer is a monument. But a monument well hidden in the guise of a modest child troubadour, disciple of Francis of Assisi, wandering in the Italy of the 13the century and singing to earn his bread. This little hero is Loupio. The twelfth volume of his adventures has just been published, twenty years after the first. Almost a million copies sold, translations into nine languages, and variations in music, puzzles and other board games … A longevity and record success on the scale of Christian comics, that Jean-François Kieffer, 64 years old, pioneer of the genre and lover of the clear line, tastes with happiness and serenity.
In reality, Loupio was not born in 2001, but in 1995, in the pages of a Scouts de France magazine, the monthly Cub. Jean-François Kieffer defines his hero as “A sort of wolf cub from the Middle Ages”. At the time, this Deco Arts graduate lived from collaborations with children’s publications, including several within the Bayard group (which also publishes The cross) like Yeh, Astrapi Where Okapi.
Already, it is Christian comics that inspires him. The designer settles down in this genre apart, without regret. “As soon as I published my first plates on the Bible, people started asking me to illustrate catechism. And it is true that I was told at the time: “Be careful, you are going to have a label”. So I tried to do something else, games, documentaries… But that didn’t make me vibrate. ” This attraction has always seemed natural to the author, brought up in religious practice and scouting, and marked in his faith by an experience of charismatic renewal, lived in 1979.
Like most authors of Christian comics, Jean-François Kieffer began by illustrating the lives of saints and pages of the Gospel – he never stopped, moreover, and anyone who has gone to churches a little has probably already crossed paths with , without knowing it, one of his drawings in the corner of a mass sheet. But one day, in Angoulême, where he was participating in the Christian comic strip festival, a bishop lamented before him that the latter never produced fiction. “It clicked, remembers Jean-François Kieffer. It was a period when I wanted to create my hero, and also when I needed money for my family ”, relates this father of four children, to whom he then promises: “Don’t worry, I’ll make a bestseller! “
Jean-François Kieffer believed in Loupio’s success. He could not have known, on the other hand, that he would be ahead of the Church by drawing this little man, a friend of animals and of Creation, almost twenty years before the arrival of Pope Francis. If he “Dreamed of a pope in sandals”, the author did not wait for Laudato Si ‘to live his “Back to earth”. In 1986, this child from Strasbourg and Créteil moved with his wife to a small village in the Meuse, to lead a sober and green life.
He also did not wait for the Argentine Pope to put Francis of Assisi at the heart of his work, drawing him as a friend and mentor of Loupio. The Italian saint, who patronizes half of his first name, has always accompanied Jean-François Kieffer. As early as 1982, he drew in Astrapi the life of the one he readily imagines “By the fireside, with a guitar”. A necessarily sympathetic image for the one who also describes himself as a “ campfire musician ‘. Because not content with drawing, this player of citrus and lute, self-taught, writes and composes songs and musical tales of which Loupio is also the hero.
Far from being satisfied with this success, Jean-François Kieffer also launched in 2012 the series Jeannette and Jojo, story of adventures in Lorraine in the 1960s, the sixth volume of which was published at the start of the school year. And adds to his profession, for which he sometimes worked up to fifteen hours a day, a ministry of permanent deacon of the diocese of Verdun, which he has assumed since 1996.
It was too much, and the author suffered a burnout three years ago. He even considered, for a while, that the twelfth volume of Loupio would be the last. The idea passed him, but since then he slows down, draws a little less, takes the time to take care of his house, his trees or his sheep. His next projects: a musical show around Loupio in Reims, scheduled for spring, and, already, the writing of the thirteenth opus in his series. With, at the end of twenty years, a particular joy:“To see the first readers, now in their thirties, offer Loupio to their own children. “