A prolific Belgian “bande dessinée” author who deserves to be better known: the father of Dan Cooper, Canadian hero, Albert Weinberg (1922-2011), Part 2

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Dan Cooper, as drawn by Belgian “bande dessinée” author Albert Weinberg during his visit to North Bay, Ontario, in May-June 1966. Anon., “Originator of RCAF cartoon hero visits defence bases at North Bay.” The North Bay Nugget, 3 June 1966, 1.

Hello, my reading friend, yours truly is delighted to see that this text, a humble contribution to the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Belgian “bande dessinée” author Albert Weinberg, interests you a tiny bit.

You will recall that the first part of this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee ended with a sentence implying that the accomplishments of Weinberg contained therein, important as they were / are, were not and are not the reason why he became famous throughout the world. Allow me therefore to present said reason to you.

The famous Belgian illustrated weekly Tintin presented the first adventure of Dan Cooper to its readers, both female and male, in December 1954. An image of Canadian duality, that elite fighter pilot within the British Royal Air Force (RAF), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Forces had / has an Anglophone father and a Francophone mother. Cooper apparently took engineering courses at McGill University in Montréal, Québec.

Courageous, courteous, gallant, generous, polite and selfless, the fearless and reproachless hero that was Cooper was not belligerent, despite his choice of career. Would one dare to say that, at the core of his being, Cooper was a pacifist?

Weinberg made his hero a Canadian because he had read a lot about Canada, a great free country according to him. It was also a very popular country in Europe at the time, due to the role played by Canadian soldiers in the liberation of Western Europe in 1944-45. As a teenager, Weinberg was also fascinated by the beauty of the landscapes he had seen in the short films shown at his school.

He affirmed at least once that a British film released in 1952, The Sound Barrier, in French Le mur du son, played a role of trigger. Very successful and popular, that feature film addressed the use of the jet engine and the efforts undertaken to break the sound barrier. The Sound Barrier suggested, however, that an RAF prototype was the first piloted flying machine to have achieved the feat, which was certainly not the case. Indeed, Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, an American fighter ace from the Second World War, was the first Homo sapiens to break the sound barrier, in October 1947, but back to our story – after yours truly’s note to the effect that Yeager was mentioned in a December 2021 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Weinberg may, I repeat may, have implied on one occasion, unless the reporter made it up from scratch, that Cooper’s personality was based in part on that of George Frederick “Screwball / Buzz” Beurling. This Canadian ace of aces of fighter aviation during the Second World War served in the RAF because the RCAF did not want him. You see, Beurling had not completed high school.

Beurling obtained almost all his victories during his only tour of operations on the island of Malta, in 1942. Cooper began his career in that same place and around the same time, by the way.

And yes, almost 50 years later, our hero was still flying, aboard McDonnell Douglas CF-188s – a type of aircraft represented in the breathtaking collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario. And yes, a pilot who had served in the Second World War would be around 70 years old around 1992. Cooper did not have a single wrinkle or gray hair, however, lucky him. I am green with envy. His hair looked great too, gripe, gripe, grumble, grumble.

How did Weinberg’s mentor, Victor Hubinon, one of the great names in 20th century aeronautical “bande dessinée”, react when he learned that Weinberg had launched Dan Cooper, you ask, my reading friend? He may not have been very amused to see a competitor to his own aeronautical “bande dessinée”, Buck Danny, appear.

A brief digression if I may. The name of Weinberg’s paper hero may, I repeat may, have owed its origin at least in part to a suggestion made by the spouse of a great name in Francophone “bande dessinée,” Frenchman Gilbert Gascard, known under the pseudonym of Tibet.

Increasingly concerned with the accuracy of his works, Weinberg documented himself with enthusiasm. He designed the Triangle bleu, a fictional vertical take-off and landing supersonic fighter plane, designed by Cooper’s father and piloted by his son, with the help of engineers from Belgium’s national air carrier, the Societé anonyme belge d’exploitation de la navigation aérienne (SABENA).

Cooper’s adventures touched space more than once. They also bordered on science fiction, especially during the 1950s. Yours truly would like to bust your chops… Sorry, sorry. Yours truly would like to speak to you at greater length on this subject, but you certainly have other things to do. Me too, by the way.

This being said (typed?), I must point out that the first Canadian astronaut was Cooper. He accomplished the feat in 1956, I think, somewhat less than 5 years before Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a Soviet gentleman mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since July 2018. Cooper became an astronaut even before the launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite launched by human beings, back in October 1957.

A digression if I may. Jean-Michel Charlier, one of the great scriptwriters of Francophone “bande dessinée” of the 20th century, wrote the scripts for 3 of Cooper’s adventures to help out Weinberg, who was then overworked. However, he did so in secret so as not to come into conflict with the management of the Belgian illustrated weekly Spirou, Tintin’s great rival. Mind you, Charlier may also have been discreet so as not to offend his friend Hubinon. Be that as it may, the stories in question, published in Tintin between 1960 and 1962, were among Cooper’s best adventures.

Interestingly, Charlier was seemingly involved in a radio serial project developed around 1962 in which Cooper was to star. The Canadian state radio and television broadcaster, the Société Radio-Canada, was also involved. Unfortunately, that project fell through for some reason or other, and this even if Charlier had seemingly found a Canadian sponsor.

About 25 million copies (!) of the 41 albums (!) of Cooper’s adventures went into bookstores between 1957 and 1992. These albums were produced in multiple (20? 25?) languages, from Arabic to Yiddish.

Yours truly remembers receiving one of these albums as a gift in the late 1960s. I dare to hope that my parents gave it, many years ago, to someone who appreciated it. By the way, some / many old “bande dessinée” albums in good condition are collector’s items worth their weight in gold.

Would you believe that Weinberg was one of the members of the trio of Belgian authors present in the Pavillon de la Jeunesse, at Terre des Hommes / Man and his World on Belgium’s National day in May 1967? As you know, Terre des Hommes was the site of the Exposition internationale et universelle de Montréal, or Expo 67, which took place from April to October 1967.

That stay, however, was not Weinberg’s first on Canadian soil. Nay. Before discussing that aspect of his career, let me mention that the artist visited the RCAF station at Marville, France, no later than the mid-1960s. Weinberg also visited a base of the Italian air force, or Aeronautica Militare, where RCAF pilots trained in gunnery.

Would you believe that it was around 1965, following a meeting with an RCAF officer stationed at the Canadian embassy in Belgium, an Anglophone who loved “bandes dessinées,” by the way, that Weinberg contacted the Department of National Defence of Canada in order to improve his documentation by visiting RCAF bases?

In May 1966, the year of his first visit to Canada, Weinberg found himself at the Expo 67 site, then a vast construction site. He wanted to document himself for an album project which put Cooper in command of the Golden Centennaires, the RCAF’s aerobatic team during 1967, the centenary year of Confederation. And yes, Weinberg contacted that unit. In fact, he spent a week with its personnel.

Close ties eventually developed between Weinberg and high-ranking Canadian officers. It was thanks to them that the Belgian artist had access to places normally off limits to the general public. He even flew aboard various types of Canadian military aircraft.

Over the years, Weinberg captured the traits of many Canadian servicemen. Some of them were then surprised to find themselves on one of the pages drawn by the Belgian artist.

It is worth noting that several Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Forces pilots readily admit that reading Cooper’s adventures played some role in their career choice, but back to our story.

In early June 1966, Weinberg was at RCAF Station North Bay, in Ontario. He had a look at the Boeing CIM-10 Bomarc nuclear tipped anti-aircraft missiles located there. Weinberg could also watch the scramble of at least one McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo all-weather fighter – an aircraft type featured in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s formidable collection. Even better, he could check out the holy of holies, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) control centre in North Bay. Weinberg then travelled to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida to conduct more research.

And yes, my hungry for precision reading friend, the formidable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum also includes a Bomarc. It does not, however, include a North American F-100 Super Sabre and… What is it, my reading friend? You seem quite puzzled. What is that American fighter plane, the world’s first operational supersonic fighter plane, doing in this text, you ask? A good question.

Aware that its North American / Canadair Sabre fighter planes would soon be obsolete, the RCAF set out to find a replacement aircraft. As 1954 drew to a close, it considered asking the Department of Defence Production to acquire the license for its big brother, the Super Sabre. A wind of economy then blowing on the federal government, that project soon fell by the wayside. That fall into the liquid element took Weinberg by surprise. Indeed, he wrote (at least?) one Cooper adventure in which the latter piloted a Super Sabre in the colours of the RCAF, but I digress.

What was SAGE, you ask? SAGE was a system of powerful computers and associated network equipment which coordinated data from numerous radar bases and processed it to produce a single unified picture of the airspace around and to the North of, in this case, North Bay. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, SAGE directed and controlled the response of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to a potential Soviet air attack.

Known today as the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD was a command which brought together units (all-weather fighters and anti-aircraft missiles) of the aforementioned USAF and RCAF with the function of defending North America.

The informal history of the creation of NORAD is worth summarising. Increasingly during the 1950s, the RCAF and USAF participated jointly in the defence of the North American continent. In the eyes of senior officers, the establishment of a single command seemed both logical and necessary. The first meetings to that effect took place even before the end of 1956. Canada’s Chiefs of Staff Committee may, I repeat may, have orchestrated the discussions on Canadian soil in such a way that the federal government ended up believing that it was an American proposal that the military of the two countries had considered. As a precaution, said government decided not to sign anything before the June 1957 elections were held. The military, it seemed, only had to be patient.

The party in power since 1935 was defeated, however – to the surprise, it was said, of the official opposition, which formed a minority government. Also surprised, the senior officers of the RCAF and USAF decided not to put an end to the negotiations. The atmosphere was no longer the same, however. The American government had, in fact, approved the project in April 1957. In Canada, senior officers of the RCAF became more and more insistent. Their efforts eventually bore fruit. The new Minister of National Defence, George Randolph Pearkes, could not be more supportive to the single command project. He spoke to the new prime minister in July. John George Diefenbaker could not be more supportive. The deal was in the bag. The Cabinet was apparently not even consulted.

The announcement of the informal creation of NORAD, in August 1957, through a joint statement by the United States Secretary of Defense, Charles Erwin Wilson, and his Canadian counterpart, immediately sparked controversy. Members of parliament of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) did not share the enthusiasm of the RCAF. Their protest revolved around one crucial point: the government had committed itself without having obtained the assent of the House of Commons. That was not all, they said. For the first time, Canadian fighter planes based on Canadian soil would no longer be under the exclusive control of the Canadian government.

The debate began. Government members of parliament got knocked about. After a while, someone asked for the vote. The official opposition decided to support the government. Both major parties agreed on the need to increase the degree of cooperation between Canada and the United States in the area of ​​air defence of North America’s territory. The members of parliament of the CCF had to bow to the majority.

The federal government could thereby ratify the NORAD agreement, more formally this time. The single command so desired by the RCAF came into being in May 1958, following an exchange of diplomatic notes.

The behind-the-scenes influence exercised by the RCAF throughout that debate led some members of the official opposition to ask themselves many questions about the autonomy and influence of the Canadian armed forces. One of them, Paul Theodore Hellyer, would gradually conclude that they needed to be brought to heel, which he did during his time as minister of National Defence in the 1960s, a period during which the Canadian armed forces were integrated (1964) and unified (1968). End of digression.

And yes, Hellyer was mentioned in December 2018 and October 2020 issues of our you know what.

Would you believe that Diefenbaker may, I repeat may, have wondered if the RCAF and / or the Department of National Defence railroaded him into approving the NORAD agreement?

You will remember that yours truly mentioned above that, over the years, Cooper’s adventures were translated into multiple (20? 25?) languages. They were not translated into English, however, which was curious given the popularity of that character among officers of the RCAF, Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Forces. But not that curious if Cooper’s popularity in English Canada did not go far beyond that limited circle. This being said (typed?), a Cooper adventure may, I repeat may, have been published experimentally in England, if only in part, in at least one newspaper or magazine, and this in 1966.

In 1968, a small team of Radiodiffusion-télévision belge, émissions françaises, the Belgian counterpart of the aforementioned Société Radio-Canada, was on Québec soil. It had visited 6 countries, including, apparently, Canada, Italy, Norway, Portugal and West Germany over the previous weeks or months in an effort to prepare an original radio series comprising 45 episodes which was to be broadcasted in Belgium, France, Switzerland and, hopefully, Canada. Weinberg may well have accompanied that team throughout that journey.

A good part of, if not all of the recordings on Québec soil were made at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Bagotville, where there was an all-weather fighter squadron equipped with Voodoos, No. 425 (Alouette) Squadron. Indeed, the Canadian Armed Forces literally bend over backwards to help the team of Radiodiffusion-télévision belge, émissions françaises.

The project seemed to have a bright future. Let us not forget, the 3 million albums of Cooper’s adventures printed between 1957 and 1968 were available in 17 languages ​​and in some 20 countries in Africa, America and Europe.

This being said (typed?), the team of Radiodiffusion-télévision belge, émissions françaises, did not seem to be rolling in moolah. Indeed, one of the two main male actors often had to carry the tape recorder used to record the dialogues and the main actress was the secretary and scriptwriter of the team. As well, the extras were people met on site, at CFB Bagotville.

For some reason, Weinberg’s hopes were dashed, the show not airing. A television series project involving the Société Radio-Canada did not see the light of day either, any more than the publication of Cooper’s adventures in Canadian newspapers or in a Department of National Defence publication available in English and French, Sentinel / Sentinelle.

Yours truly wonders if the success of a French television series did not overshadow the Belgian projects. Allow me to explain. After Buck Danny and Dan Cooper, a third Francophone aeronautical “bande dessinée” came out in 1959 in the new French illustrated weekly Pilote. The aforementioned Charlier teamed up with Albert Uderzo, born Alberto Aleandro Uderzo, to create Michel Tanguy / Tanguy et Laverdure. The adventures of Tanguy and his friend, Ernest Laverdure, two Armée de l’Air fighter pilots, could / can be found in 34 albums (!) published at well over 6 million copies (!) between 1961 and 2020 (!).

And yes, Uderzo co-created the world famous “bande dessinée” character Astérix with French artist René Goscinny.

The great popularity of Tanguy et Laverdure led to the creation of two television series, Les Chevaliers du ciel and Les Nouveaux chevaliers du ciel, a unique case for Francophone “bande dessinée,” series on the air in 1967-69 and 1988-91. The theme song for the first series was performed by none other than the French Elvis Presley, the very popular Johnny Halliday, born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet, in Belgium, but back to our story.

In November 1971, a man who called himself Dan Cooper, not D.B. Cooper, hijacked a jet airliner over Oregon. He then parachuted out and disappeared, with $ 200 000 in cash – approximately Can $ 1 800 000 in 2022 currency. In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who inherited the file suggested that this infamous hijacker, most likely / probably a former member of the aforementioned USAF who had served in Europe, chose his alias to “honour” the character created by Weinberg. A very poor-quality American feature film, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, released in 1981, tells that to say the least fascinating story.

If I may digress, yours truly adheres to the assumption that the Asgardian Loki Laufeyson and the hijacker were / are one and the same.

It should be noted that the principal daily newspaper of Québec, Québec, Le Soleil, published part of the album 3 cosmonautes under the name of Dan Cooper 3 cosmonautes, each week, between February 1971 and April 1972. The main Canadian Francophone daily newspaper, La Presse of Montréal, Québec, did the same with the album Les hommes aux ailes d’or, renamed Dan Cooper Les hommes aux ailes d’or for the purpose of the exercise, between August 1975 and June 1976.

In 1984, as part of celebrations surrounding the 60th anniversary of the RCAF, and the 30th anniversary of the birth of Cooper, Weinberg donated 4 boards to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in Edmonton, Alberta. The press at the time suggested that Cooper and Weinberg had been inducted into that organisation mentioned in a February 2022 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. A review of the list of inductees conducted as this issue of our yadda yadda was written revealed that neither Cooper nor Weinberg were in it, however, which was / is a tad curious.

Weinberg still hoped at that time that Canadian (Francophone? Anglophone??) daily newspapers would publish Cooper’s adventures. Let us not forget, the 9 million albums of Cooper’s adventures printed between 1957 and 1984 were available in 17 languages ​​and in nearly 25 countries in Africa, America and Europe. Weinberg’s hopes were dashed, however.

Weinberg returned to Canada on more than one occasion, at least until the early 1990s. Indeed, he returned to Canada in 1994. As was said (typed?), at the very beginning of the first part of this article, the Canada Aviation Museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, offered its visitors a new exhibition on Cooper in 1994, the year during which that paper hero celebrated his 40th anniversary. Dan Cooper: Canadian Hero / Dan Cooper : Héros canadien seemed to open in March 1994. Weinberg was obviously part of an evening event surrounding that temporary and traveling exhibition, in September.

A few other Canadian institutions, including the Musée J.A. Bombardier in Valcourt, Québec, and the Stewart Museum in Montréal, borrowed said exhibit. (Hello again, MD and SD!)

Would you believe me if I told you that the Belgian Prime Minister, Jean-Luc Joseph Marie Dehaene, a big fan of Cooper before the divine, was present during the evening in September 1994, as was the Canadian Prime Minister, Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien – a character mentioned in November 2019, July 2021 and October 2021 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee?

The exhibition chronicled Cooper’s life and career as if he were a real character. Indeed, the Canadian Forces entered into the spirit of the game by providing the Canada Aviation Museum with a uniform and a dog tag bearing his name.

One of the most interesting items on display was a magnificent scale model of the aforementioned Triangle bleu, made by the museum’s workshop staff.

Weinberg was happy to be in Canada in September 1994. He was all the happier because an English version of his “bande dessinée” was to appear on the shelves of Canadian bookstores in the spring of the following year. His hopes were again dashed, however. For one reason or other, the project fell through.

And now for something completely different, or not.

Weinberg left Tintin in 1972 after a final disagreement with its editor, a Francophone “bande dessinée” giant, the Belgian Michel Louis Albert Regnier, better known as Greg. As was said (typed?) above, he obviously continued to publish adventures of Cooper, in album form. As these were no longer published in Tintin, Weinberg may have had to create new characters to better make ends meet.

For example, Weinberg created Aquila, the hero of an eponymous “bande dessinée” published by the Italian illustrated weekly Corriere dei Ragazzi between 1972 and 1976. Son of an Indian mother and Norwegian father, Aquila, his real name being Singh, was an excellent pilot who worked to save people all over the world. Dare I say (type?) that Aquila was a Dan Cooper clone which did not really take off, Corriere dei Ragazzi having only been published between 1972 and 1976?

Curiously, a short-lived “bande dessinée” inspired by Dan Cooper may have had its origins in a real-life character Weinberg encountered. Tintin published 5 short stories detailing the adventures of a tourist guide from Athens, Greece, Vicky Ciulli, whom Cooper had met. Vicky appeared and disappeared in 1970.

In 1971, Weinberg left aviation a little bit to create a daring automobile and motorcycle racing driver, Knut Andersen, for the French illustrated weekly Pif, and / or for the well-known Netherlands illustrated weekly Pep. In 1973, he launched the “bande dessinée” Barracuda in a new (1972) West German illustrated weekly, Zack. Weinberg recounted the adventures of underwater archaeologists. The last of the 5 stories was released in 1975.

The artist made a brief return to Tintin around 1974-75 with 5 brief and more or less advertising type stories, collectively known as Bib, which featured the Michelin man / Bibendum, the mascot of a world-renowned French tire manufacturer, the Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin. Neither Knut Andersen nor Barracuda or Bib were very successful.

It should be noted that Weinberg did a few commercial “bande dessinée”. Let us mention, for example, Le Rallye de l’Enfer, an album sponsored by the Compagnie Générale des Établisements Michelin which appeared around 1973-74. Another commercial album, Aviation Militaire Suisse – 75ème Anniversaire avec nos pilotes, sponsored by the Société de banque suisse, was released in 1989.

In 1993, Weinberg released an album titled Agent spécial - Le Roumain. That spy story was in all likelihood to be the first in a series. Success being absent, it remained unique.

Released that same year, the collective album Ex-Yougoslavie – Pour un monde meilleur, dedicated to the victims of the conflict surrounding the disintegration of Yugoslavia, contained some beautiful illustrations by Weinberg.

Weinberg’s latest major project was to draw a promotional “bande dessinée” album for an independent and private Swiss medical air rescue organisation. The Garde aérienne suisse de sauvetage / Guardia aerea svizzera di soccorso / Schweizerische Rettungsflugwacht had / has the function of coming to the aid of those in need of help in emergency situations, both in Switzerland and outside the borders of that country. Opération sauvetage was released in 1995. That album was obviously available in French, Italian and German.

Weinberg left our world in September 2011, at the age of 89. He will be missed.

May I suggest you take a look at the French language documentary À la recherche de Dan Cooper? You will not regret it. (Hello, MD!)


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Rénald Fortier