Jean Hébrard, the fourth member of the Edifrance, had been friends with François Clauteaux for a long time. Since 1944 the latter had been thinking of setting up a magazine for children in the style of ‘Paris Match’. This project was well suited to the Edifrance team, who were qualified to make it reality after their experience producing the magazines ‘Pistolin’ and ‘Jeannot’.
Both Edifrance and and Clauteaux had a good relationship with Raymond Joly, press officer of Radio Luxembourg, who was very interested in the project. In return for being given a 20% share in the magazine, Radio Luxembourg agreed to conduct a major advertising campaign.
The final pieces of the puzzle fell into place when Ribière and Courtaud, respectively the director and administrator of the Centre Républicain, joined the team having been introduced to the project by Joly.
These eight men founded ‘Pilote’ : Charlier, Uderzo and Goscinny controlled the cartoon strips and the artwork, Clauteaux and Joly controlled the editorial and news sections and Hébrard, Ribière and Courtaud handled the business affairs.
Thanks to the massive advertising coverage on Radio Luxembourg that started in September, the first issue of ‘Pilote’ that came out on 29 October 1959 was a success : nearly 300,000 copies were sold on the first day ! Clauteaux soon gave up some of the management of the magazine : The launch is what fascinated me. Once the magazine was up and running I was less interested.
Half way through 1960, around issue no.32, Ribière and Courtaud also left : We did not want to risk losing our money in project that , however wonderful it might be, was bound to fail
Indeed while the sales were still very high, the magazine was struggling financially, mainly because the N.M.P.P was delaying making the payments (sometimes for several months).
When Ribière and Courtaud left, the magazine was plunged into a critical state. It was time to find someone to take it over. It was bought for a token 1 franc by Georges Dargaud, the publisher of French edition of ‘Tintin’ magazine, who became the owner of ‘Pilote’ from issue no. 60 in December 1960. He made Denis Lefèvre-Toussaint editor, who opted to retain the magazine’s content.
His successor, Marcel Bisiaux, who took over in January 1962, did not follow this wise decision. He turned ‘Pilote’ into a teenage music magazine instead. The readers who, as Goscinny said have talent, showed little interest in a sub-‘Salut les Copains’ magazine and sales dropped dramatically.
Georges Dargaud called Goscinny and Charlier back to rescue the magazine and put them in charge as from issue no. 203 of 12 September 1963. Goscinny defined hs role as follows : an editor in chief runs the magazine, he decides what the magazine will be about, sets its tone, and chooses what will appear in it. He is really the ship’s captain and has great power. He is virtually a dictator but if the sales of the magazine drop then the editor gets replaced and there is a new leader.
‘Pilote’ stopped being a copy of ‘Salut les Copains’ or ‘Paris Match’ and became a cartoon strip magazine with the arrival of new series like Fort Navajo by Giraud and Charlier (from issue no. 210) and Achille Talon by Greg (issue no. 211). Of course the old successful series remained : Astérix, Tanguy et Laverdure, Barbe Rouge, Valentin, Norbert et Kari, Le Grand Duduche. Gradually, under the slogan “Mâtin, quel journal !” (Wow, what a magazine !), ‘Pilote’ connected with its readers and treated them to in-jokes and running gags.
Thanks to the flair and professionalism of Charlier and Goscinny many new stars joined ‘Pilote’ and contributed to the rebirth of the Cartoon Strip : Gotlib, Christin, Mézières, Fred, Gébé, Reiser (the last two joined after ‘Hara-Kiri’ magazine was banned) and, in 1968, Goscinny’s “family” was united : the series Lucky Luke (drawn Morris) and Iznogoud (drawn by Tabary) joined Astérix in ‘Pilote’.
Disputes characterised May 1968 and the publication of ‘Pilote’ was interrupted for three weeks. René Goscinny’s interests were elsewhere. On the 19th of May he became the proud father of Anne, his only daughter.
The artists from ‘Pilote’, together with those from other magazines, held a meeting the back room of a bistro in the Rue de Pyramides. Charlier and Goscinny, the two editors or ‘Pilote’, were asked to attend. Conscious of their responsibilities as editors, keen on maintaining dialogue at all times and out of solidarity for the artists, Goscinny and Charlier decided to attend. Charlier had a last minute problem and could not go and Goscinny arrived alone.
To his great surprise, the moment he arrived he was subjected to a sort of trial. He was accused of being paternalistic, of earning too much money, of not allowing enough freedom of expression... What really almost made me lose my sense of humour for good was the well-to-do anarchists at Pilote in May 1968. They wanted to be involved. What did they expect me to say to them ? To remind them that I had always asked them to attend editorial meetings and that they had never bothered to come ? They said they were disgusted by money and ‘consumer culture’. What could I say to that ? Should I have pointed out that every time they had come to see me was to discuss the rate of pay and author’s rights ? I ended up by walking out.
Goscinny was so disgusted that he decided to resign from ‘Pilote’ and even to stop writing cartoon strips. Then they ran after me and said how sorry they were and I thought long and hard what to do next. I had had enough but it seemed to me that there was now an opportunity to try something new. I called everyone together and suggested a new type of magazine that would a parody daily life, current affairs and would have regular contributor’s meetings...
The unfortunate episode of Goscinny’s ‘trial by jury’ triggered a new approach which took ‘Pilote’ to new heights. But Goscinny’s faith was broken and the magazine lost its edge a few years later. Goscinny left once again, permanently this time.
Goscinny became the director of the magazine. In his editorials, quoting from the Petit Nicolas, he would refer to his team as ‘a great bunch of pals’. This was meant ironically, but no one knew that at the time.
The quality of the traditional cartoon strips, the running jokes that made the reader’s feel at home (Molyneux, Hal, the assistant editor who was too tall to fit in the pictures...), the daring nature of the pages satirising the news (supplied by Fred, Gébé, Cabu, Reiser, Lob, Pelaprat, de Beketch) and the arrival of new talents (Alexis, Mandryka, Druillet, Bretécher, Bilal, Tardi, Caza, Leconte, F’murr) all made ‘Pilote’ during that period the greatest cartoon magazine of all time.
The weekly version of ‘Pilote’ could not survive the loss of Gébé, Reiser and Cabu who left for ‘L’Echo des Savannes’ and the magazine lost its dynamism. The readers felt this too and ‘Pilote’ again struggled financially. To save the magazine, Dargaud decided to turn it into a monthly publication. Goscinny wrote the first editorial for issue no.1 of the monthly version, and wrote a series that parodied contemporary films with North in the first three issues. He also contributed some humorous texts and continued Iznogoud, but his involvement with ‘Pilote’ was essentially over. He already had other ideas.