Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Origins of Red Ketchup

When certain breakout characters such as Popeye show up and become more popular than the main character, it becomes an exercise for the creator to justify their existence. They can either downplay their usefulness or play up their appearances for all it's worth. If their story is at the risk of floundering under obscurity, usage of these madcap characters becomes more important for saving them from cancellation. The general consensus is that once a character gains popularity through public opinion, an elaborate backstory is then created for them once they've generated enough popularity. Similar to how Wolverine was supposed to be a one-off character, but eventually wound up becoming the most iconic X-man member ever.

In Red Ketchup's first story, he was given an origin that was condensed into four short pages. His childhood is mostly defined by an abusive father, and as a result, is more sad than funny. (More details at the end of this post)

However, Red Ketchup's first true appearance was in Black and White, and is just as crazy as the man's colour adventures. He showed up 2/3rds of the way in the 2nd Michel Risque book. Michel Risque is notoriously difficult to describe without sounding completely insane, since so much of what happens seems to be a rambling stream of consciousness where a single man gets involved into more and more outlandish situations that he has no control over. They're very much a style of this happened, then this happened form of storytelling. It could best be described as an adult Canadian version of Tintin. The influences are certainly apparent there, especially since the story is told in 3-4 page chunks, allowing for plenty of variation between chapters. If you divide a typical Tintin volume, you'll often find that where the boy detective starts out is a very different place from where he eventually winds up at least halfway through. So too is it with Michel Risque.

Red Ketchup gives an air of menace by quoting that he "always gets his man!" (The actual Mountie motto is "Uphold the law") The implying threat is that eventually, Michel Risque and Red Ketchup will eventually meet up, reaching towards a common goal. From these panels alone, you'd be hard pressed to know that Red Ketchup was a pasty Government albino. Red Ketchup starts gathering information by touring the streets with his effective negotiation skills. This tactic works effectively until he meets a suspect who likes getting hurt.

"Talk first, then I'll hit you." (BTW, if the concealed nipples bothers you more than the implicit violence, you might want to reconsider your values) After going through several informational dead ends, he finally hits upon the location of a link to said drug runners who just happen to be on the very boat that Michel Risque is unknowingly helping.

Once Red Ketchup catches up, there's a shooting match between the criminals and the authorities while Michel is totally oblivious to the overseas gang warfare happening behind his back. He's looking for an antiseptic in a medical box when the other one was stuffed with handguns.

Meanwhile, the druglord, Raoul Escobar takes an immediate liking to Michel Risque's girlfriend Poupine. To get a better idea of this vision of loveliness who's stolen his heart, here's a side-by-side comparison with her love interest. He conducts an elaborate kidnapping scheme to have her by her side, while Michel embarks on a crusade to find out where his girlfriend's gone.

However, Escobar shouldn't stay confident for too long, since Red Ketchup hasn't exactly gone down with the ship. Keep in mind that this is only the end of the second book, and he has yet to ingest drugs at an alarming rate. He was already crazy long before he even took his first snort.

At the beginning of the third book, Red Ketchup is reviewing his mission from his chief back in Washington after failing to catch Escobar and surveying the amount of damage he's done, as par for the course. To put the extent of his actions in context, all of the below took place over a period of only nine pages, not counting when he was swimming for shore.

"Eight destroyed Government cars, a coast guard boat annihilated with the crew, a hotel and three private residences dynamited, eighteen deaths, forty people injured and maimed and eleven charges against you for breaking and entering, damage to property, cuts and wounds, rape, torture, etc..."
"But chief... You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!"

In all fairness, The hotel bombing is the only thing Red Ketchup wasn't directly (or indirectly) responsible for, though he was there when it happened. The scene then shifts to a bordello house where perversions of every kind is tolerated. Raoul Escobar has a dialogue with a man who has some truly weird fetishes of his own.

It isn't until he goes home and cleans up that we discover this man's true profession.

With the Commissioner's permission, Red Ketchup hopes to find any trace of Raoul Escobar by casing out the usual joints with his typical interrogation techniques:

Upset with not finding any leads, he confronts the Commissioner because he's beginning to feel like he's being led in circles and not getting any closer to his target.

However, Red Ketchup isn't the only major worry that's hanging over the Commissioner's head. A mook gangster who's part of Escobar's crew is also tired of Red Ketchup's interference, and wants the Commissioner to have him taken care of. In a state of ethical integrity, the Commissioner objects to the gangster using language that would offend his mother.

Said gangster decides to make things easier by blackmailing the Commissioner by threatening to show his kindly old mother incriminating photos of his little pastime activities with children unless the Red Ketchup problem is resolved.

This page is particularly noteworthy, because it's the first time that this comic has shifted away from the main protagonist and focused on a cliffhanger for a secondary character. Quite naturally, Red Ketchup manages to get out of his predicament. Somehow, this random murder is newsworthy enough to get an article in the paper, further scaring the crooked Commissioner.

Seeing himself backed into a corner, the Commissioner decides to go to more desperate measures and just have Red Ketchup killed by less conventional means.

Miraculously, Red survives the grenade attack, and it's only after he gets back to his apartment that he realizes that he's still in shock.

Under his current condition, he's in no shape to continue without help. It's at this point that he decides to take a little sniff from a pack of cocaine to boost up his strength and starts down a slippery slope that he'll never be able to back up from now on.

The man does not know the meaning of restraint. (If he ever did, it was deleted from his memory)

After killing the crooked Commissioner, he finds the first lead he's ever got on finding Raoul Escobar - an invitation to a costume party. Once he arrives at the party grounds, Red rushes into the scene guns akimbo, then stops just long enough to put on an inconspicuous disguise.

Inside the mansion, after spending months of resisting her capturers, Michel's girlfriend, Poupoune is starting to develop Stockholm's Syndrome and worrying about Raoul Escobar who's come down with love sickness. Meanwhile, Red ketchup helps himself to the contents of a snuff box.

In a contrived coincidence, Michel Risque has also somehow managed to make his way into the Escobar estate through a series of events too complicated to explain. (That's him in the bunny suit. Don't ask - it's the most normal thing he's worn in a long time) At the costume party, the two men only narrowly miss each other, and engage with a certain Escobar through a case of mistaken identity through different methods. After realizing that the shot man isn't Raoul Escobar, the party devolves into a shooting match between rival gangsters, the gatecrashers and innocent bystanders.

In the confusion, Red Ketchup manages to make his way up to the bedroom where Poupoune and Raoul Escobar are, leading up to an inevitable conflict between between the naive Quebec hero and the FBI agent...

...only, that's not what happens. Red Ketchup quite literally throws Poupoune into Michel's arms, since she's "getting in the way", and he's more concerned with killing Escobar than their romantic reunion.

In a way, this was kind of a fitting exit. Red Ketchup was threatening to take over the Michel Risque comic, and thus was subsequently given a spin-off title under his own name. The differences between the two men could not be more obvious. While Michel Risque was something of a reluctant hero, Red Ketchup was something akin to a force of nature.

I've been collaborating with LeChatVert in an attempt to translate Red Ketchup for the masses. This'll continue until I either get a restraining order from Réal Godbout and Pierre Fournier, or my upload site gets cancelled. Whichever comes first. If our luck holds, I'll be able to add Michel Risque to the list once Red Ketchup's over with.

You can download the first two stories in English here:


  1. They need to make a movie about this guy!

  2. Actually, there WAS a plan to create a movie out of Red Ketchup in the early 2000s, but it was abandoned upon the sudden death of director Richard Boutet. Both series creators have refused any other film projects that would have distorted the character, and a video game starring Red Ketchup would have shown they believe in violence, leaving no place for the satirical character.

    Incidentally, the fourth Red Ketchup book has the man on a movie set that tries to replicate his mission in the second book. For those of you who forgot, that's the one where he kills all the penguins. He's mainly there as a consultant, bodyguard and stuntman for the actor, who's not as albino-looking as the man he's supposed to portray.

  3. Yeah, Ketchup in Hollywood was the first of his stories I read.
    The Fifth story is FINALLY coming on album this year!