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Revisiter les normes spatiales du sport

Borders with Reality : the Playground and Fence in Branner’s Bicot

Aux limites du réel : le terrain vague et la palissade du Bicot de Branner
Denis Jallat et Yann Descamps
Cet article est une traduction de :
Aux limites du réel : le terrain vague et la palissade du Bicot de Branner


En France, la série Bicot, Président de club est publiée à partir de 1923. L'Excelsior dimanche, l’a commandé à un bédéiste américain. Bicot et plusieurs gamins issus de milieux populaires ont créé un club pour s'adonner à leur passion, le base-ball. Sur un terrain vague, ils construisent un club-house et aménagent l'espace pour jouer à leur sport favori. Leur « territoire » est séparé de la rue par une palissade. La friche et la barrière de bois jouent un rôle essentiel dans la BD. La seconde marque la frontière entre des univers différents. Elle sépare la banlieue pavillonnaire bourgeoise dans laquelle Bicot vit et l'espace réservé aux gamins dans lequel ils jouent et réalisent leurs farces ou leurs menus larcins. La palissade est ainsi le trait physique et symbolique qui sépare et différencie, inclut ou exclut, dernière lequel les gamins se cachent, mais derrière lequel ils apprennent également la vie. Notre travail s’appuiera sur toutes les historiettes de la série ayant le sport comme fil conducteur.

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Notes de la rédaction

Editor’s note: This paper is a literal translation in English of a paper originally written in French, about an American comic strip who was also published in France (!). The authors used as main sources the French comic book versions, not the original American newspaper strip. Hence, we like to point out to our American readers the following: 1. The comic strip is not referred to by his original title, Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner, but by his French title, Bicot, président de club. 2. The pictures have not been changed from the original French paper, consequently they come from the French albums (published by Hachette), translated in the 1920’s. 3. All in-text references are made to the French albums (see Sources).

Texte intégral

  • 1 French readers started getting greater access to these with the creation of the Journal de Mickey i (...)

1In France, during the interwar period, a tough competition was raging on between the comic strips and books imported from the United States on the one hand, and the adventures written and drawn by an ever-growing number of French-speaking authors exploring this same field on the other hand (PERROT, 1999). The former were often published in the daily press1. This was considered as a sign of the “brutal Americanization” of graphic stories for the youth (CREPIN, 2001).

2Comic book series Bicot, président de club (Bicot, Club President) was published in this particular context, first in the United States, and then in France starting in 1924, when it appeared in the Dimanche Illustré, a supplement to L'Excelsior. The one-page stories made it to the center pages of the newspaper. These were set in 1920s America. A funny, mischievous, feisty kid named Bicot founded the Ran-Tan-Plan club with a bunch of other kids. Together, they were dreaming of putting together a sports team and attending baseball games nearby. Thus, they had to make some money (see image 1).

Image 1

Image 1

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club et le marchand de journaux ». In Bicot président de club. Paris : Hachette, 1926 (french edition)


3In order to do so, they completed odd jobs in their neighborhood, helping out shopkeepers and elderly people. But they also engaged in petty theft. Besides, most of the time, they only thought about having fun and playing pranks on people. Bicot’s stories often ended in failure. In spite of the kids’ good will, things went wrong when they tried to give people a hand. Their carefully-planned thefts came to sudden ends, and the club’s till remained hopelessly empty. Sometimes, the kids even became the victims of their own plans. But it did not matter, for Bicot was having fun. That was without taking his big sister Suzy into account. She was some fifteen years older than him, and she was planning on giving her little rascal of a brother a good education, while he was only thinking about escaping her watch to join his gang made of kids from poor backgrounds. As for him, Bicot was part of a working-class-to-lower-middle-class family which aspired to move up the social ladder – just as Suzy wished.

  • 2 The numbers used throughout this article refer to the books published by Hachette between 1926 and (...)

436% of the short stories took place in the street, to 15% in the countryside and 17% indoors. Also, 38% of Bicot’s adventures in an outdoor urban environment took place in a waste ground turned into a playground. The streets were also turned into the kids’ playground where they could do pranks and earn some money. The waste ground was a more complex space with a plural, polymorphic status. As a space where the kids played, it could be literally described as a playground. Most importantly, it fitted the description of a geosymbol as defined by geographers (BONNEMAISON, 1981). In this space, the kids could free their minds, create, and express themselves like they did when they played sports such as baseball on playgrounds (BURNS, 2004). They invaded these disorganized, abandoned spaces and made it their own both culturally and physically (DESCAMPS, VACHERON, 2013). In this place now owned by Bicot and his gang, the kids built their clubhouse and planned mean tricks. Thus, this playground turned into a refuge when things went wrong, and the kids hid there to escape from adults or older gangs. It was also their meeting point. The ground was surrounded by a fence which played a different, multilayered part as well. Indeed, the fence hid, protected and limited Bicot’s territory. People had to pass through it coming in or going out, so it acted as a checkpoint, allowing the kids to accept or reject people. More generally, it shaped the city in different zones, while these were delimited by blurry lines in the 1920s. The drawings by cartoonist Martin Branner highlighted these zones. Suburban houses with gardens surrounded by a low wooden fence (as in “A Grumpy Man”, « Un Monsieur grincheux », in Bicot #22) stood next to fields (“A Ball Turned into a Wasps Net”, « Le ballon changé en nid de guêpes », in Bicot #2) and the nearby countryside (“Feminine Disloyalty”, « Déloyauté féminine », or “The Interrupted Swim”, « La baignade interrompue », in Bicot #4), as well as construction sites and livelier, more urbanized areas. The stories alternately took the readers from calm streets to busier roads (“Bicot and his whistle”, « Bicot et son sifflet », in Bicot #4) and more animated sidewalks (“Bicot Starts a Business”, « Bicot se lance dans le commerce », in Bicot #4). However, they featured calmer streets, as Bicot’s stories often only staged the main characters along with only a few onlookers.

5These wood boards were so important that no matter the story or place, Branner drew fences of different sizes and materials which were always signifying. Out of the 220 studied stories, 149 took place outdoors in the city. Only 26 of them did not feature a fence. Moreover, a wooden wall was to be found in more than a quarter (29%) of the comic book squares when the action occurred in the city. This consistent representation gave the readers some landmarks, for Bicot’s adventures moved from one neighborhood to another. And only a few clues helped them to locate the action. Did Bicot’s adventures took place in one of these small towns which were still beloved in 1920s America, or in the growing suburbs of a big city which were changing America’s urban landscapes at that same period? Were the short stories staged downtown, in nearby streets, in residential neighborhoods, or next to some megalopolis, as it was suggested in “The Unexpected Swim” (« La baignade imprévue », in Bicot #1), in which the reader could see towers in the background, behind some wide river navigated by liners? Certainly, there were some clues in the background regarding the urban setting – higher buildings or numerous shops (“A Fair Revenge”, « Une juste vengeance », in Bicot #1), or, on the contrary, single wood houses (“You Break the Glasses, You Pay For Them”, « Qui casse les verres, les paie », in Bicot #3). But in the end, no matter where the stories unfolded, what mattered to young readers were the pranks, adventures and misadventures experienced by Bicot, and his tricks to escape from his sister’s watch.

6Turned into their own playground by Bicot and his friends, the waste ground and wooden fence worked as landmarks. They reminded the readers that they were reading a Bicot story. These two elements gave some kind of unity and balance to the short stories, even while they took place in changing, hard-to-identify places.

  • 3 We put garden wooden fences aside. Even though they did occasionally appear in some of Bicot’s adve (...)

7To go beyond that, we could say that the fences and playground actually seemed to be characters of the Bicot comic books in their own right, for they played a part in the short stories. Bicot hid there to plan a prank. He found refuge there to escape from some angry shopkeeper or passer-by. The gang of kids gathered there to talk and plan the actions of the day. For this reason, these elements must be regarded as more than mere elements in the background3. This is shown by the fact that the waste ground was portrayed as mere landscape in only 15.75% of the square in which it was featured. Otherwise, as it is the case for the fence, it gave body to Bicot and built up his character. These two elements enhanced Bicot’s identity as a leader of the gang of kids, a joker and a worker too. They allowed Bicot to escape from his sister and the educational principles she tried to teach him, and to experience life and shape his personality. They also saved the kids from the most complicated situations. By doing so, these two elements allowed the cartoonist to feature morality, education and adventure – three ingredients which have been so critically important in children’s literature ever since the interwar period (VIVIER, 2012).

  • 4 On this instance, the words “political authorities” were used with a broader meaning. They alternat (...)

8Moreover, Bicot’s wooden fences and playground stood as true borders between different worlds, i.e. “a limit separating territories ruled by different political authorities4” (FEBVRE, 1962, p. 18).

About the context

9The Bicot, président de club series was written by Martin Branner. It was created in 1920 in the United States under the title Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner, in the form of four-to-five-square comic strips. In 1923, a Sunday page in color was added to the weekly strips, focusing on the adventures of Perry/Bicot, Winnie/Suzy’s adopted little brother.

  • 5 Sources: Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l'image, Angoulême.

10That same year, L’Excelsior Dimanche – which was renamed Dimanche illustré after 1924 – bought the rights to this comic strip from the Chicago Tribune. On January 6, 1924, it published the first of many pages of young Bicot’s adventures. The Dimanche Illustré was a supplement to L’Excelsior newspaper, a challenger to l’Illustration. The Sunday page was very popular. It targeted the whole family, as the articles published in it showed. The magazine was a 16-page, 12-inch-by-17.6-inch publication. Its format changed after 1938. In 1924, it sold nearly 230,000 copies5. While the rest of the publication was in black and white, its center pages were in orange and blue or grey, and they were dedicated to comic strips, among which Bicot’s adventures, facing La famille Mirliton (The Gumps, by Sidney Smith). In France, Bicot, président de club was also published between 1926 and 1929 in 14 paperback books featuring all the Dimanche Illustré comic strips.

  • 6 “The American version of the strip was far more concerned with Winnie’s class aspirations, or prete (...)
  • 7 “Comparing the American Perry Winkle episodes with the reworked French-version strips offers useful (...)
  • 8 Branner colored the kid’s skin in the same shade as the other characters’ to show some sort of equa (...)
  • 9 “In the French version the baseball field becomes a football (soccer) field and the worry is that i (...)

11Bicot was the main character in the eponymous series. On the contrary, in the United States, his sister was the comic book’s main character, as it focused on the social aspirations6 and modernity of the young girl. Indeed, she was working, willing to be independent, choosing her pretenders, etc. However, the real difference between the French and American versions lied in their kind of humor7. While foreign comic books published in France during the interwar period usually ignored these cultural characteristics, translators sometimes had to adapt the dialogues so that they could fit the French readers’ culture and habits. For instance, in the American version, one of the kids in Bicot’s gang was known under the racially-connoted name Chink8. In the French version, it was changed into Ernest – a name which totally overlooked his Chinese origins (GORDON, 2016, p. 40). Regarding the drawings, the two versions of the Bicot series were almost similar. However, Gordon spotted a few changes, such as a baseball field turned into a soccer field9.

12As previously written, the action took place during the interwar period. Bicot lived in a fictitious American city, in a neighborhood with small houses and a few buildings. The urban landscape changed from story to story, along with the neighborhood where Bicot did his pranks. Nevertheless, it definitely referred to America, especially through the iconic image of the kid’s father sat in his rocking chair on the terrace of a wooden house.

  • 10 There was one exception: “The Boxing Match” (« Le match de boxe », in Bicot #3) featured 16 squares (...)

13Every Bicot, président de club story fitted in a page featuring twelve 2.4-by-2.6-inch squares. Occasionally, the author would merge the last two to three squares, mostly at the bottom of the page. In these cases, the page would only feature ten to eleven squares10. These pages were also topped by a banner headline with the title of the story and a more basic drawing.

  • 11 We chose not to take into account the books’ flyleaves, a color cartoon, as well as the banner illu (...)

14This study focused on the entire first four books of Bicot, président de club which were published yearly by Hachette in France between 1926 and 1929. 212 short stories featuring a total of 2493 squares were analyzed11.

15As far as methodology was concerned, this research consisted in deciphering the messages contained in the drawings (PEETERS, 1991) without overinterpreting them. Inspired by the work of scholars from Besançon (LAFFAGE-COSNIER, VIVIER, 2012), this study aimed at highlighting what the squares showed and conveyed, as well as what they inspired and allowed the readers to imagine, as these levels of interpretation – the obvious and the suggested – could differ. Two kinds of analysis were jointly led. The first one was quantitative. It allowed us to identify key elements, formulate hypotheses and ask the main question tackled in this research. The second one was qualitative. It allowed a subtler reading of what the figures showed, and highlighted what they could not.

16Reading a comic book is a visual experience first. What “jumps out” and catches the reader’s eye, and what makes sense right from the start is what can be seen. For the cartoonist, keeping on representing an element is one of the ways to make it visible. He can also change its size or location in the drawing. Counting the occurrences of an element allows us to grasp its importance before digging a little deeper into its meaning. This work was based on reading the books without any preconceived idea in mind over which elements to look for. Identifying the most represented elements and regrouping them into categories led us to build hypotheses and strengthen our demonstration. Two types of lists were put up. The first list focused on the presence of the fence and playground in the comic books, while the second one highlighted the parts they played in each story and how Bicot used them. Knowing how many times the fence and playground were drawn in Bicot, président de club was essential to our understanding of their status in the series. The second, qualitative analysis allowed us to build a more complete understanding of this status. Groensteen’s thorough work (GROENSTEEN, 1999) underlined the complexity of such a study. What he named “iconic solidarity” led us to take into account the context of the interwar period both in France and the United States in our reading of the series. Indeed, referring to what happened at a particular time is “the most valuable protection against hasty interpretation” (GERVEREAU, 2000, p. 54). Among other things, it allows to seize the way young French readers understood Bicot’s adventures and experienced them then. Studying the context also allowed us to understand the difference between the series’ American and French versions (GORDON, 2016), and, starting from there, consider a semiotic reading of the fence and waste-ground-turned-playground.

17Even though some data were linked to a short story as a whole, these analyses, both quantitative and qualitative, mostly focused on the squares. Indeed, they were relatively autonomous and sent multiple messages. Some of them sometimes even conveyed messages which were independent from the rest of the short story they were part of. In the same time, they were meant to be coherent and they were part of a whole designed by the author. They gave the reader the opportunity to move on in the story step by step, but they could also exist on their own at the margin of the main, “official” story or create their own story. Of course, the whole page and its general meaning were also taken into account.

Characters in their own right

18The playground and fence stood as important elements in Bicot, président de club. In the foreword to the second edition by Hachette in 1965, Claude Santelli wrote

How about these fences, moving landscape, infinite space where mirages come and go! What wouldn’t we imagine while looking at them? . . . We all thought we had already seen this fence: it was featured in Tom Sawyer. . . It was the very fence which sheltered the Tramp’s happiness. . . Above all, this fence, this vast territory which belongs to no one, is the hidden world where the Ran-Tan-Plan club could maybe take refuge one day

  • 12 In one of his adventures, Bicot decided to play on another waste ground. The drawing showed in grea (...)

19Besides, the playground and the fence – especially the latter – were featured in many short stories in the comic books. The playground was represented in 56 stories, while 128 showed a wooden wall. The way the author drew them somewhat varied. Was it always the same place and fence? Judging from the type of wood, the height of the wooden wall or the look of the neighborhood, it seemed like it was not. Sometimes, Branner represented a stone wall instead of a wooden fence to highlight the type of neighborhood Bicot was in, for the author did not pretend to set the action in one single place. But actually, it did not really matter. The very presence of a waste ground or fence referred to Bicot’s territory and triggered the imagination of the readers and reminded them of signifying representations. The use of recursive identifying elements such as kids, a ball, a baseball bat or the club’s shack reinforced that process12. The fence was often overlooking the kids’ arguments, muttered talks and activities. It came into play in numerous stories: kids hid behind it to do a prank, they fought in front of it, etc. Sometimes, it sparked some reactions from Bicot and his friends: seeing a poster on the fence gave them some idea, discovering a hole in the fence allowed them to set a fake ticket booth at the stadium, etc. Besides, the playground and fence allowed the characters to play their own part: Bicot was the gang leader for he controlled the space the cartoonist put him in – not only the playground and fence, but also the streets of fancier neighborhoods. Some dialogue was established between the two “elements” and the kid and some of his friends: the imps hid behind the fence, went through it, past it, over it… They spent most of their time on the playground playing, planning some pranks, learning the rules of group life and discovering society’s rules. In a nutshell, they socialized and grew up there. Made possible by the wooden fence and the playground, all this gave young readers – among whom the French – the want to pretend they were this American street urchin named Bicot, and to embody his way of being and doing along with his values as they were passed on by the cartoonist through his stories (CREPIN, GABILLIET, 2008).

The Playground As Another World

20In Bicot, président de club, the waste-ground-turned-playground was mostly located on the corner, between two blocks. 78 stories took place in an outdoor urban environment while 32 were set in the countryside. In a few stories, the ground was sometimes located at the city’s limits. A long shot would show the countryside or factories in the background, reinforcing this idea of an in-between space. This area would not belong either to the city or the country. Thus, it would fit the definition of what sociologist Ratzel named “scattered cases”. Branner was inspired by the changes undergone by the American cities during the interwar years. At that time, urbanization spread towards the cities’ outskirts, which were divided into zones or parcels. Residential suburbs developed next to underdeveloped, sometimes rural sites (SUKKO, 2007 and GHORRA-GOBIN, 1997). Several Bicot adventures showed the kid in the nearby countryside either fishing (“A Fishing Contest”, « Un concours de pêche », in Bicot #2), swimming (“Bicot Does Not Want to Go for a Swim”, « Bicot ne veut pas se baigner », in Bicot #3) or sometimes working at the farm (“A Day of Rest”, « Une journée de repos », in Bicot #4). Other adventures showed the kids’ playground next to fields (“Bicot and the Broken Windows”, « Bicot et les carreaux cassés », in Bicot #3). Branner used to draw different territories on each side of the waste ground. On the one hand, there were the suburbs, where lower-middle-class families – along with Bicot’s – lived. On the other hand, there were poor neighborhoods where the other Ran-Tan-Plan kids lived. Even though the lower-class housing was not portrayed by the cartoonist, it was nonetheless to be found in Bicot’s adventures. Branner gave hints of its presence, and the reader’s imagination did the rest. Two social and urban backgrounds were put in contrast. In the background of certain squares, one could see a few shacks and projects looking in bad shape. Other squares featured stone walls, while others showed numerous, damaged wooden fences with missing boards, and streets filled with tramps and kids in rags. All this offered a sharp contrast to other squares with fancy neighborhoods where well-dressed kids played in well-equipped parks or well-kept houses (“A Humiliating Situation”, « Une humiliante situation », in Bicot #1). Moreover, the entrance of the basement where an African-American family lived (“Negro Battle”, « Bataille de nègres », in Bicot #4) seemed to be located in an old, lower-class neighborhood or in some unattractive, often insalubrious inner cities (SILVER, 1985). This little black girl shown next to big projects in “Bicot and the Children’s Car” (« Bicot et la voiture d'enfant », in Bicot #3) tended to suggest the same urban and social background.

21Branner often represented the waste ground as an in-between space, an enclave which broke the harmony of the urban landscape, but also structured it somehow (MAUMI, 1997 and GHORRA-GOBIN, 2006).

  • 13 This was stated in the loi Cornudet of March 14, 1919 (Programs of urban renewal).
  • 14 “… an important mark of the cultural differences between the versions with the French adaptation pl (...)

22In France, Bicot’s waste ground-turned-playground also made sense, as did the fence we shall tackle next. We are not arguing that Branner wanted to reach out to the French kids intentionally, especially since his drawings were left untouched in the French version. Nevertheless, the playground and fence were parts of the interwar French readers’ lives, as well as places where they could picture themselves in. For instance, the fence referred to the rebuilding sites in post-World War I France (VAYSSIERE, 2009) or the transformed projects13. As for the waste ground, it symbolized modernity in the making. Factories moved there. J. Sorez drew a parallel between the developing industry and the building of sports sites with waste grounds as a backdrop (SOREZ, 2012). Even though Branner did not take the French context into account when he drew his waste ground and fence, it did not prevent the young French readers from using their own imagination, representations and experiences of these elements when reading Bicot’s adventures. This was reinforced by the fact that the translators chose to represent more mature kids in the French version14.

The Playground as a Unit to Characterize Space

23Branner drew a city which alternately featured little houses surrounded by wooden-fenced gardens, more urban inner cities and waste grounds hidden behind high fences (see “You Break the Glasses, You Pay for Them”, « Qui casse les verres, les paie », in Bicot #3). The latter also stood as free spaces where the rules, codes and norms were different from the ones in place in constructed areas (see “Useless Efforts”, « Efforts inutiles », in Bicot #2 or “A Fast Eviction”, « Une expulsion rapide », in Bicot #3, which celebrated the strong). However, 62% of the squares dedicated to sports in the city were staged on the playground, and these sports practices which took place there did not obey those other rules. Even though they were ruled, codified and organized, sports activities did take place in the non-“policed” part of the urban space, behind the wooden fence. As soon as the children engaged in physical activities, the rules of sports applied and ruled the playground. Cheating was forbidden (“An Impartial Referee”, « Un arbitre impartial », in Bicot #1) and every kid abode by the constraining organization and rules of sport. In other words, the cartoonist emphasized the supposedly socializing aspect of sport. By doing this and by staging sport and the kids’ game on the playground, Branner introduced the idea that this was not an empty space. He even demonstrated the usefulness of these spaces which helped channeling the kids’ energy and socializing them by teaching them the rules of society. Thus we could compare Branner’s representation of the children’s playground to Michel Foucault’s thoughts on the garden, as he wrote that “the garden is both the smallest fragment of space in the world, and the whole world in the same time. Since the Ancient days, the garden has been this kind of happy, universal heterotopia” (FOUCAULT, 1984). Besides, some argued there was a link between the urban organization under construction in the first half of the 20th century in America, and phenomena of social disorganization and deviance (THOMAS, ZNANIECKI, 1919). Branner based some stories on these ideas when he portrayed a gang of older kids trying to settle in Ran-Tan-Plan territory (“Bicot Is Defeated”, « Bicot est déchu de son titre », in Bicot #2), or African-American kids living in a basement downtown and accused of having stolen Bicot’s baseball outfits (“Negro Battle”, « Bataille de nègres », in Bicot #4).

24While urban planning was often synonymous with prohibition and limitation (PIERROT, 1983), on the contrary, the waste ground-turned-playground remained a place of creativity, self-expression, freedom or deep change. Actually, as it was the case in “The Ran-Tan-Plan Shack” (« La cabane des Ran-Tan-Plan », in Bicot #2) and “An Incomplete Rescue” (« Un sauvetage incomplet », in Bicot #3), the playground was the birthplace of Bicot’s imagination, prank-planning or money-making schemes. And when these were planned in the street, Bicot and his friends met in the playground to get set.

25The playground also drew the line between public and private property, between the construction site and the houses, and even between a territory which was open to all, and a space belonging to some, sold by its owner or closed to the public. This change from an open-to-all space to a closed one led those who used to go there to be evicted and excluded from it (NAVEZ-BOUCHANNE, 1991). The “An Unsuccessful Attempt” (« Une tentative malheureuse », in Bicot #1) story signifyingly symbolized this process, as some promoter threw Bicot out of the playground to exploit it.

  • 15 It is interesting to note that many stories used the building of a wooden cabin by the kids as thei (...)

26In the comic book, Branner chose to almost always have the kids own the playground. By establishing his club there, Bicot somewhat privatized an otherwise public space, giving himself the right to accept or reject newcomers. Building a clubhouse15 on that playground gave the kids the impression that they owned a space they conquered and needed to defend against other challengers – from rival gangs to digging machines. Many Bicot stories took this issue of space and property as their main theme, as it was featured in about 35% of square in which the action was not set in the street.

The Playground as Meeting Place and In-Between Athletic Space

  • 16 As it was sometimes round, and sometimes oval-shaped, the ball drawn by Branner did not allow the r (...)
  • 17 In the context of the United States, boxing allowed American athletes to gain some recognition on t (...)
  • 18 A few ball games were also played in the street, but they always ended up in some accidents (“Fleet (...)
  • 19 See “A Nice Round of Golf” (« Une belle partie de golf »), “Bicot and the Stubborn Player” (« Bicot (...)

27Ball games16 or baseball games took place on the playground respectively in 41 and 93 squares. Branner did use baseball quite often or only suggested it through the drawing of a bat or a glove. Also, Bicot’s adventures sometimes featured other physical activities such as racing, boxing17, or informal, bare-handed fighting which happened in the street – a space with different codes from the ones ruling the playground. By associating different spaces with different physical activities, Branner identified several types of sports. Team sports took place on the playground18, while individual practices were located in the street. Swimming, skating, archery, and fishing happened in the countryside, and were considered as leisure and amusement more than sports. Branner also represented the circus with its animals, contortionists and acrobats – people Bicot tried to mimic. These practices occurred in a space of their own which the reader could not really pinpoint. Last, golf had a different status and space. It was featured in only four stories19, yet these were of interest, since they showed Bicot by himself at the service of serious men. Besides, Bicot did not play golf; he only worked as a caddy to earn some tips.

28Bicot’s looks validated that this was not a sports comic book. Athletic and physical activities, including circus, only made up for 28% of the stories, i.e. 62 pages. Often, these activities were only suggested through a stadium drawn in the background or a ball carried by a kid. They served as pretext for a kids meeting, a Bicot adventure or a reward when Bicot behaved or obeyed his sister. The kid was no athlete, even though he practiced some physical activities. His body was neither muscled nor overpowering. Bicot was not looking to perform. Branner’s drawings did show his common body. Nevertheless, sport was among the recurring themes in Bicot, president de club.

29Representing physical activities allowed Branner to show that the playground was not without rules or values. On the contrary, it was a space with codes which were not necessarily the ones one might face in the city. As a result, this space was as good a place of acculturation and socialization as other spaces.

30Branner portrayed Bicot and his friends doing sports in a variety of places, from the playground, of course, to the street, the countryside, and, in a few stories, a private gym and an outlined baseball field. Through this variety of places, the cartoonist highlighted the relative autonomy of physical practices, as they could settle in various spaces, and thus convey other values than the ones linked to sports. Besides, we shall remark that girls were missing from the sports scenes drawn by Branner, and only one story staged a girl who was more agile and daring than Bicot (“Feminine Disloyalty”, « Déloyauté féminine », in Bicot #4). In fact, in both the United States and France, women’s sports were only in their early stages (TERRET, 2006), even though a few pioneers had spread the practice of basketball – a sport which was not featured in Bicot, président de club – and even though women’s part in society was evolving, as the Suzy/Winnie character symbolized.

  • 20 It was most certainly football games – even though the French readers thought they were rugby games

31In the comic book, physical activities worked as an alibi, a kind of backdrop which could have been different had sport not been so important in the interwar period. Indeed, on both sides of the Atlantic, these activities were signifying to the readers of the kid’s adventures. They built a bridge between the United States and France. Branner used them to showcase the American social and cultural model (DYRESON, 1989; MOREAU, 2006), and not only did he differentiate these sports according to their type, but he also did according to their origins. Team sports belonged on the playground, while individual sports were taken to the streets. More importantly, American sports – i.e. baseball and what looked like football20 – belonged on the playground, while English sports such as running or cycling were taken to the streets. Boxing and fighting had a peculiar status: they often started in the city streets and ended right behind the fences, away from onlookers. During this period, many sports from the other side of the Atlantic were on the rise in France. We could even argue that “English sports started to be challenged and even replaced with North American sports. In the 1920s and 1930s, American sports spread in several parts of the world under American influence” (OHL, 2006). That was the case of basketball (ARCHAMBAULT, 2007). Invented in 1891 in the United States, it was only played in YMCAs at first, until World War I.

between 1917 and 1919, American soldiers, teachers and humanitarian workers living in France showcased some kind of basketball which was ruled by norms and standards similar to those of the football association and football rugby. They organized championships in many public places such as schools, hospitals, ports, parks and gardens which were requisitioned for their quartering (CHAVINIER, 2008)

  • 21 To understand the supremacy of American athletes at that time, see A. Guttmann’s analysis.

32The Interallied Games (TERRET, 2003) and the Paris Olympic Games (TERRET, 2006) highlighted the abilities of American athletes. The American rugby union team defeated the French team in the finals of the Paris Games on May 15, 1924. In track and field, American athletes Frederick Morgan Taylor, Harold Osborn, Robert Legendre, Jackson Scholz and many others piled on medals and world records. The same happened in tennis and in both women’s and men’s swimming, as illustrated by Johnny Weissmuler’s feats21.

On Both Sides of the Fence

  • 22 For a study of New York City’s peculiar space, see Pouzoulet Catherine, New York, construction hist (...)

33The waste ground differentiated and gave some structure to the spaces. It was often located right between different territories as a kind of gate or in-between space framed by the fence. On one side of the wooden fence, there was a filled, attractive, constructed space, while on the other side, there was an empty, often deserted space. However, the latter allowed the reader to imagine some kind of transition from past to future through the presence of some shack falling into ruin (“Bicot and the Broken Windows”, « Bicot et les carreaux cassés », in Bicot #3) or stacked construction material and plan (“Hidden Treasure”, « Un trésor caché », in Bicot #1). In the United States, the period running from the 1910s to the 1930s saw the rise of the suburbs. Construction sites multiplied and fences became part of the urban landscape very quickly (MONNET, 2000)22. Behind these lay waste grounds upon which houses would be built, or fields which were the remains of some rural America which was still alive and well in the 1920s.

34Thus, the fence marked the border between the city and unconstructed spaces or others being constructed. More importantly, it drew the line between the kids’ territory or world and the adults’. Only 21% of the squares set on the waste ground showed a handful of adults. A childlike man who was happy to do pranks with his son, Bicot’s father was shown on the playground in 25% of the squares in which he was not pictured home. Suzy was only seen on the playground in four squares, trying to pick her rascal brother up. A few outcasts, such as a wanderer or a thief, used it to hide. Construction site managers and workers worked there. Some young men tried to evict the Ran-Tan-Plan gang. Some adults helped them out. And, a few occasional prestigious guests were invited to take part in games against Bicot and his friends.

35The fence also drew a border between middle-class and popular cultures and educations (see “Bicot Hires a New Recruit”, « Bicot fait une nouvelle recrue », in Bicot #1). It differentiated a civilized world from a world of gangs, fights and rule transgressions. By the way, it is worth noticing that policemen never entered the playground, and Suzy only set one foot there to yell at Bicot.

36At the end of the day, the fence represented a physical border between geographical or physical – based on age, sex, etc. – worlds, cultures, models of socialization, and, above all, rituals. Depending on which side of the fence the characters were, the rituals were not the same. They could be divisive and perceived in the behaviors, languages and types of games played, among other things.

37This fence symbolized the generational, social, and cultural division which interwar America was experiencing. For instance, “The Brand-New Suit” (« Le costume neuf », in Bicot #1) successively showed higher-class ladies, a black maid with a mended apron, Suzy, and lower-class kids in one single story. In “Bicot Celebrates Two Birthdays” (« Bicot fête deux anniversaires », in Bicot #1), as he was invited to a birthday party by some well-off family, the boy stole the gifts to bring them to the birthday party of a friend of his whose parents could not afford to buy some.

38Nothing was seemingly preventing people from going from one side of Branner’s openwork fences to the other. However, only a few Bicot, président de club characters went beyond the wooden fence. Thus, it stood as a protection. In 30% of Bicot’s adventures, the fence allowed one of the characters to escape chasers or hide his or her self, or something – being it the clubhouse or some string for a prank. On the contrary, in seven stories, the absence of a nearby fence forced Bicot or his father to run away to avoid all kinds of objects thrown at them.

39The characters from Bicot, président de club did not go across the fence because of several social, cultural and mental taboos which prevented them from doing so. Branner also chose to use the wooden fence as a self-regulating filter. Some did not know where to cross this border. Others knew but did not want to or dare crossing it (see image 2).

Image 2

Image 2

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; tant va la cruche à l’eau ». In Bicot et Suzy. Paris : Hachette, 1927 (french edition)


40The cartoonist used different registers and ways of drawing depending on situations. Bicot and his gang could go through the fence thanks to some trapdoor invisible or hidden by posters in four stories such as “Don’t Push It” (« Tant va la cruche à l'eau », in Bicot #2), or some unnailed board in “Mere Misunderstanding” (« Simple méprise », in Bicot #3) or “The Charitable Wrongdoers” (« Les malfaiteurs bienfaisants », in Bicot #4). In other squares, they went through some conspicuous hole passersby could see but did not pay attention to. The characters from the comic book had different ways of going (or not) through the fence or behaving on each side of it. These ways showed which group the characters belonged to. Suzy, along with well-brought-up children, only rarely went across the fence (“A Too-Demanding Friend”, « Un camarade trop exigeant », in Bicot #1). Conversely, the playground kids did not know how to approach a “Lady”, a man with a hat, and a well-brought-up child they often made cry, though unwittingly. They were clumsy in this world they were not familiar with (“Bicot Becomes a Nanny”, « Bicot est bonne d'enfants », in Bicot #1) and the opposite was also true (“Bicot Hires a New Recruit”, « Bicot fait une nouvelle recrue », in Bicot #1).

41Clothes also played an important part to identify those from the playground from those from the suburbs (BARTHES, 1967). Bicot was the only kid who was part of the two worlds. Urchin in the morning, he did not hesitate to dirty or shred his nice clothes once on the playground, to the great despair of his sister, who “dressed him up” as a good boy when it was time to drink at her friends’ house. Bicot complained when he was dressed up as a higher-class child. He seemed ill-at-ease as a stiff, well-dressed boy in disguise. Besides, his friends did make fun of him, called him a girl, and sometimes did not recognize him anymore. In total, 23 Bicot stories, i.e. 10% of them, focused on the theme of nice clothes and manners.

42In any case, all the characters in Bicot, président de club acknowledged the existence of this wooden border. They knew what was allowed by it, and what was not. There was only one story (“A Too-Demanding Friend”, « Un camarade trop exigeant », in Bicot #1) in which a child from a rich family was accepted on the playground, and it did not go well for him. On a different level, Dorothée, Bicot’s girlfriend, also managed to go beyond the wooden border. On the other side of the fence, the kids became a gang and a strong bond connected them. Inversely, the occasional intruders were thrown out or outcast. Branner always kept them away, though always close to the fence. In these conditions, the street stood as a neutral field in which many situations unfolded. To take Anssi Paasi’s principles into account (PAASI, 1996), one needs to analyze the way the characters from territories on each side of the border act or interact. More precisely, for the purpose of this study, we needed to focus on how the characters played with the fence and sometimes used it. How did crossing the border change the narrative as well as the way the heroes behaved and acted? Bicot played the part of a link between different – or at least differentiated – worlds, namely the playground and the streets or downtown.

The Fence as Dividing Line

43The waste ground did shape the urban space. The comic book characters owned this space and turned it into their playground before urban renewal could occur, and “normal” life could unfold there again. In France and the United States, these locations reserved for reurbanization dealt with issues of space management and, as a result, social issues as well. In the United States, these new, emerging neighborhoods were occupied by middle-class and working-class families. In the 1930s, more than 55% of American people lived in urban areas, to about 40% before World War I (SILVER, 1985). The American way of life represented some kind of ideal, a model for the French to emulate during the interwar period. This could be seen through the “Americanization of French culture” (TOURNES, 1997) or Americanization through culture (NYE, 2004), as well as through the debates surrounding the comic book industry in France (CREPIN, 2001; PERROT, 1999). It also led to the development of American-inspired mass consumption in France (ROSENBERG, 2009; CORBIN, 1995). However, even though these facts showed the attraction between these two countries, they need to be nuanced since there was also some kind of aversion brewing which could explain the reactions of the public opinion (ROGER, 2002).

44The fences shaped and reinforced the city space. Indeed, 128 Bicot stories unfolding in the city featured a fence. These wooden walls stood as a link between different social backgrounds. They were a kind of contact zone, as well as a combat zone. In numerous pages of Bicot, the fence seemed to favor the poor while excluding the rich. Without looking to overinterpret the author’s intentions, we could claim that Branner seemed to represent the concepts of first- and second-class citizens which were at play in the United States during the interwar period. Coming from a poor background, second-class citizens wanted to climb the social ladder. Several American Founding Myths, such as the rise from rags to riches and the figure of the Self-Made Man, were built from this want and possibility in America. As a “common origin” to many immigrants in America, being poor originally did not prevent people from aiming at and sometimes experiencing a brighter future.

  • 23 This did not include circus, as the places where circus tents were put up could not be identified – (...)

45In Bicot, président de club, the poor defied the rich, and they were protected by the fence in the process. It also hid what society did not want to see, such as gang rivalries – an issue which interwar America wanted to keep in check (TRASHER, 1927). In this place, only the strong and smart survived (see “Bicot Is Defeated”, « Bicot est déchu de son titre », or “Useless Efforts”, « Efforts inutiles », in Bicot #2). Except in a couple of instances where things went well for the Ran-Tan-Plan boys, Branner used the fence otherwise: it protected the kids from hoodlums (“On the Defensive”, « Sur la défensive », in Bicot #2) and helped arrest bad guys (“Bicot, Chief of a Secret Society”, « Bicot, chef d'une société secrète », in Bicot #2). It let what was good for the kids’ education in. That was the case of sports, which were featured on the other side of the fence in 84 of the 270 squares showcasing sports in the city23.

46Above all, the fence drew the limits of the different territories, thus marking a clear, visible line between constructed and non-constructed areas, as well as modern, renewed ones and old or abandoned others. It also clearly separated different social identities which Branner made explicit by drawing openwork construction boards in some squares, and a high, closed fence, a wooden gate or a stone wall in others.

47The fence stood as the border between different physical, cultural and social worlds. As a result, there were those who were at ease on the playground, and those who were in the suburbs where they lived. And according to Branner, you could only belong to one or the other. Eleven stories took place in classy neighborhoods and houses, as Branner used to draw opulent-looking settings to show that the scenes took place in an upper-class neighborhood. Like borders, the fence was sometimes impassable. But it could also be open depending on circumstances, times or characters. Besides, sports were an excuse to move beyond these limits and cross the border. Bicot and his gang went out of their playground to make some money and attend baseball games or buy sports apparels. Kids and even big boys were allowed to enter the playground to take part in games against Bicot’s team. Also, some sports practices sometimes did take place beyond the fence.

48To strengthen the border-like dimension of the fence, the cartoonist sometimes drew a police officer in uniform who was tricked by the children. The fence allowed the kids to control, authorize, or forbid people in and out. Therefore, it acted as a filter. On another matter, education through social codes and learnt cultural norms played the part of a passport to this space. Thanks to his sister – and thus despite his will – Bicot was familiar with both worlds and played with and within both. As an in-between character or smuggler, the kid made the fence more open, especially when he took his poor friends to the suburban streets where they ran countless pranks. He also invited a few rich children on the playground, when they got in touch with popular games and bad education, or in the streets of his neighborhood. This intertwinement of spaces and worlds separated and linked by the fence could be compared to Michel Foucault’s heterotopias, which have “an opening and closing mechanism which both isolates and opens them” (FOUCAULT, 1984).

The Including-and-Excluding Fence

49As the wooden wall acted as a filter, so, as a result, it included and excluded people according to their belonging to one space or the other, while highlighting the differences between them. Even though the playground was the field of popular culture, bad education and petty theft, it was free of criminality at a time when America was plagued by it (TRASHER, 1927). Tough guys and ruthless gangs were only very rarely allowed past the fence, and when they tried to force their way in, thugs only found misfortune there. On the other side of the wooden wall, they lost their marks and habits, and thus were weakened and dominated by those who owned this space – even though they were younger and worse fighters.

  • 24 There is another, more recent book in which the girl is cheekier. She is featured in multiple squar (...)

50Branner’s playground was a man’s world at a time – the interwar period – when this phrase lost some of its meaning. Only ten of 2493 squares featured women on the playground. Most of them (7) pictured Suzy and a few mothers of the other Ran-Tan-Plan kids. Girls did not enter the playground. They were not excluded from it either, for they were the ones integrating the fact that this space belonged to the boys. Nevertheless, Bicot did let in one well-brought-up girl named Dorothée, who played with her doll pretending to be a mum and forcing the boy to play along. As he was certainly enamored (“Hopes and Disillusions”, « Espoirs et désillusions », in Bicot #2), Bicot took her into the playground. It happened to be a wrong call, since she dared monopolizing the Ran-Tan-Plan shack (“A Rough Eviction”, « Une expulsion difficile », in Bicot #1) and allowing her girlfriends to move across the fence, hence driving the boys out of their turf and turning the clubhouse into some cozy world with curtains on the windows thanks to some cleaning (see image 3). Dorothée was pictured on the playground in only one square, and Branner actually drew her with her friends in the shack24.

Image 3

Image 3

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; une expulsion difficile ». In Bicot président de club. Paris : Hachette, 1926 (french edition)


51As for them, adults rarely ventured on the other side of this border, as if they had understood that this space was not theirs. Bicot’s father was the odd one out, as he was featured in 25% of the squares set on the playground. He spent entire days with his son, officiating or announcing basketball games organized from scratch by his son. Like Bicot and his friends, he hid behind the fence to run pranks, escape some shopkeeper or mad man wearing a hat, or to protect his son as in “Bicot Delivers the Mail” (« Bicot distribue des lettres », in Bicot #4) (see image 4).

Image 4

Image 4

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club distribue des lettres ». In Les farces de Bicot. Paris : Hachette, 1929 (french edition)


  • 25 This was actually what Suzy blamed her parents for, and why she took charge of her brother’s educat (...)

52As he was some kind of big, phlegmatic, irresponsible, dreaming kid25, Mr. Bicotin was one of the few adults authorized to cross the border because of his personality. As for Suzy, she sometimes managed to step into the playground in 7 of the 2493 squares of the corpus. It was then up to her to manage to pull her rascal brother out (see image 5). She was literally doing so, as she was often drawn with one foot in and the other out, or one arm in and her body out.

Image 5

Image 5

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; envoi de fleurs ». In Les farces de Bicot. Paris : Hachette, 1929 (french edition)


53The rules of this inclusion-exclusion system made possible by the fence could change according to situations. Indeed, some characters were occasionally allowed to cross the border. While she only rarely went into the playground, Suzy found refuge there when she was chased by a black matronly woman whose son she had beaten up by mistake (“The Brand New Suit”, « Le costume neuf », in Bicot #1). The fence prevented the cheaters and troublemakers from coming back to the playground once they were expelled from it. For instance, Mr. Bicotin was driven out by his son and the Ran-Tan-Plan kids for they suspected him of favoring the other rugby team and refereeing the game unfairly. The wooden wall could also go in the way of the playground’s regulars while they were chased after one of their pranks. Even though they sometimes managed to escape by climbing over the fence, they also sometimes found themselves with their backs against it, as in “The Right Runaway” (« La bonne escapade », in Bicot #1).

  • 26 See “Punished Disobedience” (« La désobéissance punie »), “In a Tough Spot” (« Dans une fâcheuse po (...)

54Indeed, the fence did not always serve the kids’ interests. It also excluded them as soon as it surrounded sporting events. The only four stories26 staging official games dealt with this excluding dimension. Because of the fences, Bicot and his friends could not attend official baseball or rugby games organized in the city, and every attempt at sneaking in failed, as in “In an Awkward Position” (« Dans une fâcheuse position », in Bicot #3) (see image 6). Thus, Branner showed two existing worlds – the world of official sports and the one of kids’ games and sports – living next to each other, yet conveying different values and ways of working. Moreover, he highlighted that the access to official sports was closed, reserved and selective by putting the kids on the wrong side of the sports field’s fence. Thus, while the fence could be open when surrounding the kids’ playground, it was otherwise perfectly impermeable as soon as some “official” sporting events unfolded behind it. It then stood as a tighter filter.

Image 6

Image 6

Branner, « Bicot président de club, ou le désobéissant puni ». In Bicot et les Ran-Tan-Plan. Paris : Hachette, 1928 (french edition)


The Fence as a Friend and Protector

  • 27 See Diogo Sardinha’s reading of G. Bataille’s theories (SARDINHA, 2005).

55By including some and excluding others, or at least forbidding them to enter the playground, the fence protected the kids from onlookers and hid them, among other things. This was why Bicot and his friends built the Ran-Tan-Plan clubhouse behind the wooden wall. Thus, their shack could not be seen or vandalized. However, the part played by the fence went beyond this. It allowed the kids to discretely gather. In 40 stories, the gatherings of Bicot and his friends, as well as Bicot’s good intentions and rallying speeches, took place next to the fence – or even behind it in 77% of cases. Inversely, Bicot drew plans with his friends in the street in only 25 adventures. They discussed future actions, planned their pranks and charitable acts, and assessed their theft and favors behind the wood boards or in their clubhouse, which was built against the fence. The latter thus became some kind of accomplice. It was even more so since it allowed the kids to hide to run their pranks, like when they were tying a wallet to a string, making a hat fall with a fake wind blow, throwing a snowball at a passerby, etc. It also hid them when they were chased by the police, some angry person, or a rival gang. Considering all this, we could see the fence in a metaphorical light. To the kids, crossing this border directed towards the outside world27, exiting the playground gave them the opportunity to transgress prohibitions or infringe social rules.

56But, the fence was also a confidant (“Don’t Push It”, « Tant va la cruche à l'eau », in Bicot #2). The kids shared their sorrow with it. They found refuge behind the wooden wall to cry or think about how to fix their mistakes – as in the very first adventure entitled “First Difficulties” (« Premières difficultés », in Bicot #1), or discretely heal their wounds (“Negro Battle”, « Bataille de nègres », in Bicot #4). Thus, the fence allowed the playground kids to remain children, even though they were used to the tough life of lower classes in an evolving America. The waste ground-turned-playground brought them back to that space which was owned by the youth, as well as an evolving space which welcome different identities while also building them. Being tied with a place, and identifying oneself or having a sense of belonging to a particular space leads to embodying the identities which this territory hosts and conveys (DI MEO, 2007). Thus, the playground becomes a place of memory, a legacy which is passed on to the youth, and is sometimes linked to it (BROMBERGER, 2006).

57The wooden wall was also a guardian and teacher. Behind the fence, the children slowly learnt some rules and how to live in society. Thus, in “Bicot Is Defeated” or “Useless Efforts” (« Bicot est déchu de son titre » or « Des efforts inutiles », in Bicot #2), the all-too-naive kids saw their shack being stolen from them by older kids. Inversely, Bicot established himself as gang leader (“The Ran-Tan-Plan Shack”, « La cabane des Ran-Tan-Plan », in Bicot #2) or tried to integrate the neighborhood (“Bicot Wants to Become a Better Kid”, « Bicot veut devenir meilleur », in Bicot #3). His role as president of an association illustrated this acculturation process. There was no doubt that the playground’s codes and norms sometimes differed from those in the city and the suburbs. But it did not matter, as Bicot and the others learnt to live together as well as live with others (see image 7).

Image 7

Image 7

Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club veut devenir meilleur ». In Bicot et les Ran-Tan-Plan. Paris : Hachette, 1928 (french edition)


58Branner used the myth of sports as a socializing tool, among other things. According to Durkheim, if the socializing process traditionally occurs between the adults and the youth in our Western societies, the peers also play an important part. This secondary socializing process was studied by Berger and Luckmann, and it was the one mainly portrayed in Bicot, président de club. It led to the construct – or in the case of comic books, the representation – of different identities depending on the character’s position and role, the efforts he or she had to make to live and adapt to cultural or social issues he or she faced.

59Regarding this socializing process which was so critical to the author of Bicot, the presence of an umpire was never highlighted when the kids were playing baseball. Nevertheless, the games seemed to go on well. The competing kids’ teams showed seriousness, focus and respect for the others and the rules. A few rare stories did feature an umpire – very often Bicot’s father. Then, every time, the games involved cheating, bribing and missed calls. And Bicot had to throw the umpire out. Thus, the socializing process represented by Branner happened among the peers, behind the fence, and it led to learning shared common codes. The kids virtually did not do any stupid thing when doing sports. That could be seen in “Bicot and the Broken Windows” (« Bicot et les carreaux cassés », in Bicot #3), in which Bicot decided to look for another practice field away from the city not to break the neighbors’ windows with his ball.


60This research showed the parts played by the fence and playground regarding two aspects, as they separated and differentiated two worlds on the one hand, and linked these two different worlds on the other hand. Indeed, Branner – the author of Bicot – used both these registers. The waste ground-turned-playground and the suburbs highlighted those differences. They actually emphasized the differences between the characters. More than that, the cartoonist’s project consisted in explaining to his young readers – among whom the French – that these two different, and even antagonistic worlds could complete each other and grow richer from this process. In other words, people living in one of these worlds could benefit from the other. To send these messages, the cartoonist used the fence as a border and protection between the playground and the suburbs. But in the same time, he turned the wooden wall into a bridge, a gateway and a kind of “stepping stone”, a neutral area around which exchanges were made possible. To the children portrayed in the comic book, it seemed easier to go from the playground to the city, as if growing up meant moving out of the world of games into the world of seriousness, and from a less organized territory to a more civilized world. Thus, the crossing of the fence would become sort of an initiatory rite. Actually, the three stages identified by Van Gennep (VAN GENNEP, 1981) did appear quite obviously in Bicot, président de club. The ritual of coming into the playground was codified, even though the situations varied, and it reinforced the links between the members of the gang. In the same time, it allowed to control and select the characters who were part of that gang, who were invited by it, or those who were outsiders. It also had a highly symbolic function, as it made the people crossing the fence abide by the rules of the playground.

61Thus, this study showed that the waste ground as an empty space was not a “space of emptiness”, to use Alain Corbin’s words. Even though poor kids hung out there, it also conveyed “desire and pleasure” – specially to play together and plan pranks. Sometimes, it was even coveted. Even though it was protected or defended by the fence, the waste ground – as a space between two urbanization plans which the city wanted to make disappear – allowed the kids to enjoy this space even more, had it been planned as a playground by the city’s architects. It was also the perfect youth space, a place of lack of concern where everything was possible – at least in the United States.

62As Gordon did in his book (GORDON, 2016), it is interesting to highlight the differences and resemblances between Bicot’s American and French versions, as they translated, without a doubt, the adaptation of a cultural artifact from one culture to another, between two cultures which emulated and also protected their own specificities. The use of the fence and playground, along with the use of sports practices, allowed the authors to explicitly translate the elements which more technical issues, such as untranslatable jokes, could not explain.

63As far as sports were concerned, even though the theme of athletic practices was secondary in Bicot, président de club, other studies could tackle many different issues, such as the opposition between English and American sports, issues of gender in sports, the development and spreading of sports during the interwar period, or the difference between places of sport – more precisely, the tensions or similarities between urban spaces and sports spaces. In Bicot, the playground was also a place where practices such as baseball or football reached out to bigger audiences. There, the readers learnt sports rules and how to behave on the field – from playing fair to respecting the opponents. Implicitly, the readers faced each other and learnt social rules. Branner developed this theme in several stories, or at least, he evoked the intentions of Bicot and his friends – as those were not always fulfilled.

Haut de page



BRANNER, Martin, Bicot, président de club, album n°1, Paris : Hachette, 1926.

BRANNER, Martin, Bicot et les Ran-tan-plan, album n°2, Paris : Hachette, 1927.

BRANNER, Martin, Bicot et les Ran-Tan-Plan, album n°3, Paris : Hachette, 1928.

BRANNER, Martin, Les farces de Bicot, album n°4, Paris : Hachette, 1929.


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1 French readers started getting greater access to these with the creation of the Journal de Mickey in 1934, as this magazine was entirely filled with American comic strips.

2 The numbers used throughout this article refer to the books published by Hachette between 1926 and 1929 (see “Sources”).

3 We put garden wooden fences aside. Even though they did occasionally appear in some of Bicot’s adventure, their status was not the same as the playground’s fence. They were essentially used as setting, to show the readers the story was taking place in the suburban residential part of town.

4 On this instance, the words “political authorities” were used with a broader meaning. They alternately referred to Suzy, policemen, shopkeepers or angry neighbors, among others.

5 Sources: Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l'image, Angoulême.

6 “The American version of the strip was far more concerned with Winnie’s class aspirations, or pretensions, than the French version” (GORDON, 2016, p.44).

7 “Comparing the American Perry Winkle episodes with the reworked French-version strips offers useful points of contrast between American humor and French humor. Moreover, it provides a useful way to examine the different cultural contexts shaping the sort of humor derived from the activities of kids” (GORDON, 2016, p.38).

8 Branner colored the kid’s skin in the same shade as the other characters’ to show some sort of equality between them all (GORDON, 2016, p.42).

9 “In the French version the baseball field becomes a football (soccer) field and the worry is that if they use it their ball will break a window” (GORDON, 2016, p.58).

10 There was one exception: “The Boxing Match” (« Le match de boxe », in Bicot #3) featured 16 squares, thus allowing the readers to witness every blow of the bout.

11 We chose not to take into account the books’ flyleaves, a color cartoon, as well as the banner illustrating the title of each adventure.

12 In one of his adventures, Bicot decided to play on another waste ground. The drawing showed in great details that it was a different place: the fence was missing, and there was an abandoned little shack in the corner of the square.

13 This was stated in the loi Cornudet of March 14, 1919 (Programs of urban renewal).

14 “… an important mark of the cultural differences between the versions with the French adaptation playing to a slightly more mature view of childhood” (Grodon, 2016, p43).

15 It is interesting to note that many stories used the building of a wooden cabin by the kids as their central theme.

16 As it was sometimes round, and sometimes oval-shaped, the ball drawn by Branner did not allow the readers to definitely say whether the kids played soccer – which started to develop in the United States in the 1920s (MOREAU, 2006) – football, or even rugby, since, in “Dishonest Competition” (« Concurrence malhonnête », in Bicot #4), a poster on the city walls was announcing a rugby match. For that matter, Gordon noticed some changes in the sports field as it was drawn in the French and American versions (see footnote #17).

17 In the context of the United States, boxing allowed American athletes to gain some recognition on the global sports scene.

18 A few ball games were also played in the street, but they always ended up in some accidents (“Fleeting Wealth”, « Richesses éphémères », in Bicot #1), contrary to the more serious and regulated ones played on the playground.

19 See “A Nice Round of Golf” (« Une belle partie de golf »), “Bicot and the Stubborn Player” (« Bicot et le joueur obstiné »), “Bicot and the Deaf Man” (« Bicot et le monsieur sourd »), “Bicot and the Golf Record Breaker” (« Bicot et le recordman de golf ») in Bicot #3.

20 It was most certainly football games – even though the French readers thought they were rugby games.

21 To understand the supremacy of American athletes at that time, see A. Guttmann’s analysis.

22 For a study of New York City’s peculiar space, see Pouzoulet Catherine, New York, construction historique d´une métropole. Paris : Ellipses, 1999. See also Bretagnolle Anne, Giraud Timothée, Mathian Hélène, « La mesure de l’urbanisation aux Etats-Unis, des premiers comptoirs coloniaux aux Metropolitan Areas (1790-2000) », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography, 2008.

23 This did not include circus, as the places where circus tents were put up could not be identified – were they waste grounds, fields on the outskirts of the city or downtown spots?

24 There is another, more recent book in which the girl is cheekier. She is featured in multiple squares chasing the boys out of the playground.

25 This was actually what Suzy blamed her parents for, and why she took charge of her brother’s education.

26 See “Punished Disobedience” (« La désobéissance punie »), “In a Tough Spot” (« Dans une fâcheuse position »), “Bicot Is in A Good Spot” (« Bicot est bien placé »), in Bicot #3, and “A Dishonest Competition” (« Une concurrence malhonnête »), in Bicot #4.

27 See Diogo Sardinha’s reading of G. Bataille’s theories (SARDINHA, 2005).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Image 1
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club et le marchand de journaux ». In Bicot président de club. Paris : Hachette, 1926 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 416k
Titre Image 2
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; tant va la cruche à l’eau ». In Bicot et Suzy. Paris : Hachette, 1927 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 289k
Titre Image 3
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; une expulsion difficile ». In Bicot président de club. Paris : Hachette, 1926 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 287k
Titre Image 4
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club distribue des lettres ». In Les farces de Bicot. Paris : Hachette, 1929 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 261k
Titre Image 5
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club ; envoi de fleurs ». In Les farces de Bicot. Paris : Hachette, 1929 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 263k
Titre Image 6
Légende Branner, « Bicot président de club, ou le désobéissant puni ». In Bicot et les Ran-Tan-Plan. Paris : Hachette, 1928 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette.
Fichier image/png, 282k
Titre Image 7
Légende Branner, Martin. « Bicot président de club veut devenir meilleur ». In Bicot et les Ran-Tan-Plan. Paris : Hachette, 1928 (french edition)
Crédits ©Branner/Hachette
Fichier image/png, 304k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Denis Jallat et Yann Descamps, « Borders with Reality : the Playground and Fence in Branner’s Bicot », Comicalités [En ligne], Bande dessinée et sport : stylisation, émancipation, contestation d'un univers normé ?, mis en ligne le 10 novembre 2018, consulté le 08 décembre 2021. URL :

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Denis Jallat

Denis Jallat is a lecturer and researcher at the Université de Strasbourg (France). He is now working as part of the Sport and Social Sciences research team (EA1342). He uses sports, and especially sailing, as an entry point to study the cultural identities of the elites and the goals they pursue through these activities. He has also published articles on children’s literature, the representations it conveys and the acculturation process it allows.

Yann Descamps

Yann Descamps is a PhD in American studies from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. His thesis dissertation deals with a cultural history of African-American basketball and its media coverage in the United States from 1950 to 2015. He has also created an international partnership focusing on the theme “Sports, Cultures and the Media”, with the Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society of the University of Southern California and the Center of Olympic Studies of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is now working on issues of representation in American popular culture regarding race and gender.

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