The 17th graphic novel to feature Michel Vaillant, the comic world’s best-known racing driver, was Le fantôme des 24 Heures or ‘The Ghost of the 24 Hours’, first published in Tintin magazine in 1968. The story has proven to be surprisingly prophetic in more ways than one.
A few decades down the line, details from Le Fantôme des 24 Heures have been reflected in one way or another in real life or on the cinema screen.
1968/2003, night vision - For the encounter between Michel Vaillant and the fearful Leader, Le fantôme des 24 Heures served up an astonishing night-time backdrop verging on the realm of fantasy, with a deserted 24 Hours circuit and an enduring image of Michel Vaillant under the Dutray clock. Thirty-five years later in the Michel Vaillant feature film, the French driver (played by Sagamore Stévenin) invites team-mate Julie Wood (Diane Kruger) on to the Pit Straight on the track, where they are caught up by memories of the 24 Hours.
1968/1969, the finish foretold? - In Le fantôme des 24 Heures, Jean Graton’s fictious 1968 24 Hours began at 16:00 one Saturday in June, while the real race took place at the earlier time of 15:00 in September. The 17th album ends with a last-lap showdown between the car driven by Michel Vaillant and Yves Douléac and the Ford GT40 steered by Jacky Ickx and Chuck Danver, with the ending – and the winners – left to the readers’ imagination. The final of the real-life 1969 24 Hours was astoundingly similar: Jacky Ickx in the Ford GT40 overtook Hans Herrmann’s Porsche 908 in the final lap to take the first of his six Le Mans wins!
1968/2017, fiction and reality collide - Le fantôme des 24 Heures sees the Vaillante marque take on two prototypes fielded by Leader, the team’s sworn enemy from Tibet, with a crew of Mongolian drivers. Forty-nine years later, in the real-life 24 Hours of Le Mans and 2017 World Endurance Championship, there was fierce battle between the Vaillante Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson prototypes (renamed for Michel Vaillant’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans) and Chinese outfit Jackie Chan DC Racing’s cars in the LMP2 class. A similarity with Le fantôme des 24 Heures which didn’t go unnoticed by followers on social media. The class win at Le Mans went to Jackie Chan DC Racing while Vaillante Rebellion claimed the FIA World Endurance Championship Endurance Trophy for LMP2 teams in the final few miles of the last race of the season. A nail-biting scenario worthy of any graphic novel!
Illustrations: Eight drawings from Le Fantôme des 24 Heures are available in Art Strip format. They include this image with Michel Vaillant sprinting towards his car at the start of the race.