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Le Crapouillot – France’s 80-Year Political Satire Magazine


While foraging about the internet’s forest floor to learn all I could about our latest Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Patrick Modiano, I discovered Le Crapouillot. The first discovery was that Modiano had contributed to an issue of a magazine about drugs. The actual title of the issue was: “LSD une bombe atomique dans la tête” (“LSD: An atomic bomb in the head”). The issue was Crapouillot #71, and came out in 1966, when Modiano was 21. The cover is really something to behold. The quote below the cover image translates roughly to: “[i]t hurts … I’m hot … flowers … oh, it’s beautiful …. I have to come back …. oh, no! it’s getting terrible…” – look at that poor woman’s face!:

 

Crapoillot no 7: LSD

 

Clearly, this was a magazine I needed to investigate further.

Le Crapouillot (the word is a variation on the French word “Crapaud” or “little toad”) was a French political magazine which ran for more than 80 years, from 1915 until its final issue in 1996. The magazine was begun by French soldier and controversial journalist Jean Galtier-Boissiere, who originally intended it as a trench paper, just for his peers in the military. He created it, in part, out of his belief in a need for a balanced view of French soldiers, after being offended and taken aback by the depictions and caricatures he saw in the media. Le Crapouillot promised early on to address the authentic, first-hand stories of French soldiers, from their perspectives. The insolent, irreverent and fearless publication soon proved so popular, however, that by 1925 it was a monthly distribution, with an ever-expanding subscriber list.

In its 80 year run, Le Crapouillot varied widely in its insights and opinions, striving to seek the truth and to publish without censorship or fear of reprisal. That bold attitude resulted in a fantastic series of historical snapshots, with issues addressing so many social, political and economic struggles throughout the century. For instance, the July, 1933 issue, “Hitler, est-ce la guerre?” (“Hitler, is This War?”) explored in detail the personality of Adolf Hitler, his intentions, and his possible trajectory, despite being published very early into Hitler’s rise to power.

le-crapouillot-hitler

Le Crapouillot was unusual at the time, as it devoted each issue to one sole subject to focus on, and nothing was off the table. Art, sexuality, drugs, the economy, social trends, class warfare, and of course politics – everything had its moment within the pages of the magazine. Le Crapouillot enjoyed enough traction to attract the attention of some larger publications, and was given a nod in a December, 1935 issue of Time Magazine as a “Paris muckraker” worth exploring. (What is muckraking?)

In its later years, publication frequency was fitful, irregular and unreliable. By the time the magazine folded in 1996, it had become a staunchly conservative, right-wing publication. But for any magazine collecting enthusiast or French history buff, the back issues of Le Crapouillot are a unique goldmine of information to explore – a time capsule of nearly an entire century of France’s social development. Copies are, for the most part, surprisingly affordable, as well.

There are well over 2,000 issues of Le Crapouillot available for sale on AbeBooks, ranging in price from £1 all the up to £1000, with a median asking price of approximately £9.

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