Illustrated Law Enforcement Training Targets, Circa 1982 – 1988

Exhibit / March 14, 2017

Object Name: Illustrated law enforcement shooting targets
Maker and Year: PJL Targets, circa 1982-1988
Object Type: Law enforcement shooting targets
Description: (Richard McKenna)

In the early 1980s, an officer of the Judicial Police of Belgian city Liège, Francis Dorao, began seeking a cost-effective method for providing more realistic simulations of high-risk situations for police target training, claiming that the traditional black silhouette targets did not adequately prepare officers to face actual human opponents or to make the split-second decisions necessary when distinguishing between an armed threat and an innocent bystander. A comic book fan, Dorao began contacting artists from the fertile Belgian comics scene to solicit artwork for the new kinds of targets he imagined. Comics illustrators including François Walthéry, Arthur Piroton, Gilbert Gascard (Tibet), Herman Huppe (author of post-apocalyptic comic Jeremiah), and William Vance provided artwork for Dorao’s targets, with several of the more striking images being drawn by William Tai, also know as Malik, who is perhaps best known for Cupidon, his long-running comic about the misadventures of Cupid (he was also well-known for his erotic comics drawn under the pseudonym Phénix). The targets were an immediate success, becoming popular outside of Belgium and leading to a paradoxical circle of causality whereby police officers were trained using images created by artists who often specialized in producing spectacularized versions of the exploits of police officers for consumption through comics. Dorao—whose company, PJL Targets, still supplies “realistic” training targets—became friends with several of the artists he hired and contributed a script, 1986’s Neige Poudreuse à Liège (Powder Snow in Liège), to Franco-Belgian police comic series Jess Long, illustrated by Arthur Piroton.

3 thoughts on “Illustrated Law Enforcement Training Targets, Circa 1982 – 1988

  1. Very interesting. I actually went to PJL’s website and browsed through their products. Definitely a much broader spectrum of ethnicities, age ranges, etc. than those old “thugs” which seemed to be the norm through the ’40s-’50s (now that I think about it, I want to find out more info on those).

    What’s cool is the “overlay” packs which you can use to replace weapons with plain hands and regular household/non-lethal/non-threatening objects. You can even have ’em holding a beer! lol

    • Yes, the overlay packs are very strange! The modern pics have definitely lost the comic-book appeal of the old illos, though. Far too ‘professional’ and a bit lacking in personality.

      • I’d have to totally agree. It’s tough to make the connection between the bland faces and the fact that they’re holding weapons. Their facial expressions are way too docile and lack the urgency and frantic emotions typically associated with real-life situations. Although otherwise, yes, they’re more realistically rendered in terms of portraiture rather than caricature.

        I’m curious, though, as to how or why, over the years, the art and expressionism got so diluted. Laziness? Budgetary restrictions? Lack of demand or concern from the clientele? If it’s simply a “sign of the times,” then where are we headed?

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