“Culture can be fun!” says comic strip author Alain Ayroles who infuses his abundant “erudition” into a new historical series, L’Ombre des Lumières, four years after the success of Les Indes fourbes (250,000 copies sold) . For more than 30 years, the screenwriter of De capes et de crocs or Garulfo has been a recognized figure in French comics, combining a taste for escape, humor, a sense of historical detail and verbal gluttony.

His new trilogy, drawn by Richard Guérineau (Le Chant des stryges), narrates the tormented destiny of a noble libertine between France and Canada in the 18th century, halfway between Dangerous Liaisons and The Last of the Mohicans. The first volume, entitled The enemy of the human race (Éditions Delcourt) and printed in 100,000 copies, comes out on Wednesday September 13.

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If he claims this “erudition”, Alain Ayroles laughingly assures that it is “very superficial”. “The idea is to enrich, without weighing down. Through all these cultural references, it is also about bringing details which will make the universe credible,” the fifty-year-old, with shoulder-length hair and a slight South-West accent, explains to AFP.

He is very “conductor”, comments Thierry Leprévost, comrade of the Fine Arts of Angoulême who became his colorist for Garulfo or D. “It’s straight line, nothing is left to chance”, he explains. he. “He has a great literary culture and researches a lot. He is one of the best of this generation.”

“Culture is not necessarily something boring and dusty”, resumes Alain Ayroles. “I’ve always had this hope of telling people: Here is an entertainment story, which is there to amuse you, but which will perhaps teach you things, arouse your curiosity.”

This objective places him in the footsteps of “big names in comics” like René Goscinny or Jean Van Hamme, believes Jean-Philippe Lefèvre, former presenter of the show Un monde de bubbles on the Public Sénate channel. “He is really one of the ten screenwriters who have this ability to speak to the general public while respecting them,” notes this specialist.

Born in 1968 in the Lot, the young Ayroles organized role-playing games in Angoulême with some of his future accomplices, such as the designer Jean-Luc Masbou (De capes et de crocs). “Summoning the collective imagination through references and clichés, even if it means diverting them, that comes from role-playing,” says Ayroles.

This great fan of Monty Python, who has worked in cartoons for a long time, admits to enjoying “taking his reader on a journey”, as in Les Indes fourbes, the story of a 17th century Spanish scoundrel with an incredible destiny set against a backdrop of quest for El Dorado. This large format album (160 pages), carried by the lush drawings of the Spaniard Juanjo Guarnido, won numerous prizes and was a hit in bookstores, with more than 250,000 copies sold, when a Goncourt prize, on average, sells for more than 350,000 units, according to a study by the GfK institute. “Les Indes fourbes is a somewhat special phenomenon in publishing. It was a big bet”, appreciates Christophe Scotch Arleston, creator in particular of the successful series Lanfeust de Troy. “And the bet worked, also reaching an audience that rarely reads comics,” adds the screenwriter, who has “great professional admiration” for Alain Ayroles.

The latter has recently tackled the dark side of the Age of Enlightenment by creating with Richard Guérineau the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur, an ambitious gentleman of the 18th century, depraved and unscrupulous. “To make him suffer insults is exhilarating,” smiles Alain Ayroles, who does not rule out going beyond the planned trilogy. However, there is no question of “producing more” than one or two albums a year for this father of two children, who also published a short play in verse in 2000. “It was rather lucky for me to refine, to try to prioritize quality,” he notes. But “it’s a fragile economy, nothing is certain”, immediately specifies the one who co-founded in 2007 a group of comic book authors within the National Union of Authors and Composers (Snac), faced with a profession that has become ” more and more precarious.