Rolf Kesselring: The pen strokes of a libertarian humanist

In 1991, Rolf Kesselring spoke with rare frankness to journalist Bertli Galland in front of Jean Mayerat’s camera for Plans-Fixes, a foundation dedicated to the French-speaking heritage.

Godfather of Corto Maltese and Titeuf, anarchist, publisher, author, he had collaborated with the whole underground comics scene in Paris. From his exile in Provence, he wrote extensively for Radio Suisse Internationale, then for Homage to the jack of all trades, the disrespect activist Rolf Kesselring, who died on July 30th.

This content was published on August 11, 2022 – 16:00

The world’s Chablaisian, Rolf Kesselring, was born in Martigny in 1941, “almost under a railroad track, that must be a harbinger of something,” he told journalist Bertil Galland, who interviewed him for the Fondation Plans-Fixed in 1991 (Who’s afraid of Rolf Kesselring? by Jean Mayeratexternal link)

He grew up in the Plaine du Rhône, mainly in Aigle, a large wine-growing town at the foot of the Vaud Alps. A childhood as a bistro kid, marked by a very strong bond with his stepfather, who made him read all kinds of books, both the classics and the “bad books” (op.cit.external link) and who received the famous painter Frédéric Rouge in his caféexternal linkwhose talent and style fascinate the young Rolf.

>> Rolf Kesselring also wrote Christmas stories for for years, showing that old Anar kept his child’s soul. Here the one from 2008

At that time he wanted to be a sailor – “probably because of Jules Verne and Pierre Loti” (op.cit.external link) – but he enrolled at the École Normale anyway to reassure his family. He won’t finish it. The dark years begin here. For living with a 21-year-old woman at age 17 (a “wrong” embezzlement of a minor), Rolf Kesselring was arrested, put in a cell, then placed “under surveillance” in a penitentiary for three months. . An interplay of almost ten years follows, between petty crimes, judgments, preventive measures, arrests.

But even behind bars, Kesselring continues to fill notebooks and annotate all the books he devours, as his stepfather taught him to do. To the point of “completely rewriting Boris Vian on the edge of the books” (op.cit.external link) From there he also sends his first chronicles for the magazine L’illustré. And two years after his release, in 1969, he published April’s Martians, his first (science fiction) novel. Half a dozen more books (of all genres) will follow in 40 years.

take off

Rolf Kesselring quickly makes up for the years in the shadows. His character is both “boastful and ruthless” (op.cit.external link) allows him to make Gilles Vigneault, whose tours in Switzerland he organizes, believe he is a publisher (although he has only published three books including his own), and the giant of Quebec Song, who is also an author, to entrust him with a book.

The rest is history. “If I had to write his biography, I would be called a liar, his life is so incredible,” confided his widow Françoise Raphaël Ebinger of La Tribune de Genève / 24 hours. He moved to Paris, founded an adult comics publishing house and met future (or already) big names like Wolinski, Reiser, Cavanna, Topor, Bretécher, Gotlib, Mandryka. With the latter three he founded the magazine “L’Écho des Savane”, of which he was editor-in-chief at times.

These proponents of what is perceived as vulgar – “gross”, Coluche would have corrected – humor then feel very constrained in the world of “youth publications” (Law of July 16, 1949), which in France are still comic strips. . “They wanted to do something different, talk about life. But Gotlib couldn’t write c…, b… and c… in its ding dossiers even if it wanted to” (op.cit.external link)

>> In this 2006 column for, Rolf Kesselring looks at the next generation of satirical cartoons in Switzerland after Leiter, Barrigue, Bürki, Chappatte and Mix & Remix.

Starting from scratch, “L’Echo” quickly reached 600,000 copies. This time, Rolf Kesselring is a real publisher, courted by all the Parisian media in which he appears as a pirate. A pirate with business acumen: in 1970 he founded the first bookstore “La Marge” in Yverdon – in its heyday there were six in western Switzerland

Cult places of the underground scene of the 70s and 80s, these “bookstores fighting censorship and pedantry” (op.cit.external link) distribute everything that others do not want to distribute. This earned them a bad reputation and strict police surveillance, as well as multiple charges of “obscene publication” and confiscation of books at customs.

But Rolf Kesselring doesn’t care: he can afford to turn down an offer to distribute books by Andy Warhol, who has come to Yverdon to revive him from Paris. The American business scares him. On the other hand, he will release the first albums by Vallot and Zep, but also by Cosey, Hugo Pratt and many others about crushes and friendships. What flair!

>> In 2002, Rolf Kesselring welcomed his friend Hugo Pratt, the creator of Corto Maltese, who had died seven years previously

It is also a friendship story that forms the origin of his chronicles on comics for Radio Suisse Internationale, then on literature, politics and life in general for Early 1980s Bernard Léchotexternal link, who was responsible for the culture of the house at the time, met him in La Marge. The stream passes quickly and collaboration begins.

>> In February 2002, the man who wants to live to be 150 delivers these thoughts about death, tinged with black humour.

On his Facebook page, our former colleague recently praised the “flow of discussions, the anger, the humanity and the insane generosity of the man”. He’s not the only one. Honors are pouring out on social media. For his part, the designer Barrigue recalls “a great man, one of the hearts of my personal construction, to cling to the futile barge of our existence”.

>> On December 31, 2001, Rolf Kesselring expresses his disappointment at the dawn of the third millennium, which has nothing to do with a golden age.

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