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Homage to Cycling Illustrator Rene ‘Pellos’ Pellarin

Escargot 1935 : this Pellos cartoon depicts Francsco Camusso after cosmetic surgery to reduce the size of his nose

article by Graham Jones 

In the 1930’s and 1970’s French cycling magazines were blessed with the contributions of René Pellarin who was better known under his pseudonym Pellos.

Born in 1900, his prolific career lasted well into his later years when he passed away in 1998. Pellos is universally recognized as one of the greatest sports illustrators and cartoonists of his era.

At the tender age of sixteen he was already working as an illustrator for a Swiss humor magazine called Le Gugusse. By 1930 he had settled in Paris where his talent was well recognized and he became a sports illustrator for various magazines as well as a cartoonist for several journals and weeklies.

Pellos 1962: The climbers (grimpeurs) and rouleurs were literally throwing everything at Jacques Anquetil in the 1962 Tour to break his dominance against the clock. Pellos neatly captured the unperturbed Anquetil with a ‘shadow’ of the great man (who won the Tour in 1962).

His most famous cartoon series was ‘Les Pieds Nickelés’ which he took over from its creator Louis Forton in 1948. ‘Les Pieds’ which roughly translates into ‘nickel feet’ was about three lovable scoundrels always on the make with all sorts of crazy schemes which, like them, never really amounted to much. However their good natured optimism and crazy schemes obviously struck a cord with a wide audience. From the adventures of the female heroin ‘Durga Rani’ to the science fiction series ‘Futurpolis’ it was clear that Pellos had a rich imagination and a very deep repertoire in terms of subject matter.

Piste vs Route 1936: this Pellos cartoon shows “aristocrats of track” (piste) (L) compared to the “vagabonds of road” (route).

In the world of sports Pellos is particularly remembered for his illustrations related to rugby and cycling. His powers of observation were translated into wonderful caricatures that often captured the essence of the personality better than a photograph could. An obvious deep knowledge of the sports enabled Pellos to tell an entire story in one picture which would be populated with his caricatures. Satire and commentary were combined with a story line in such a way that three weeks of the Tour de France would be told in one illustration.

Pellos French Road Race 1965: A beautiful Pellos encapsulation of the 1965 French RR Championship. A somewhat surprised Henri Anglade caught the big fish (the Tricolor Jersey). The other main contenders had no luck as their team managers pictured as little bait worms (Magne, Geminiani and Bidot) look on. Meanwhile Anglade’s managers (De Muer and Piel) run in happily to catch the tasty morsel!

His sharp eye and ability to capture the true essence of sports events led to many commissions to produce posters and magazine front cover designs. Today his works provide a wonderful insight into not only the sporting world of nearly fifty years ago but also into the popular cartoon culture of the era.

Pellos Anquetil/Poulidor 1963: While Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor battled each other against the clock in the 1963 Tour,other riders were trying to bring them both down. Pellos tells the story superbly with beautiful caricatures of the great riders (Simpson, De Roo, Van Looy and Bahamontes) trying to cut the two super-champions down.

In the above caricature of riders that Pellos obviously admired; Tom Simpson as a 1960’s beatnik from England on the left; Jacques Anquetil the aristocratic lover of the good life sipping Champagne on the right.

Pellos Eternal Second 1965: While Jacques Anquetil sat back in Nice dreaming of that years Tour, Raymond Poulidor was after him with his super-domestique Rolf Wolfscholl as his ‘hit man’. Pellos captured the endless battle that ‘eternal second’ (Poulidor) had with Anquetil but also noted that there were other adversaries also waiting to swoop in (here we see Bahamontes, Van Looy and Simpson).

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