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.

5 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?

  2. Hello, I can give the explanation.
    My purpose is to create targets as realistic as possible because the most important thing for me is to train police officers to react the best way without killing innocent people or any person, (even an outlaw), without weapon and doesn’t represent a danger at the moment.
    It is true that the first targets were more artistic and more caricatural that the current ones. The reason is that in the beginning I ordered to my friend Malik some targets giving to him only the posture and the ethnic origin I needed. The faces came from his comics artist imagination. I liked them but I needed more realistic pics. By luck I realized that he draws real persons more realisticly that imaginary ones. So I started to take pictures of my collègues of the belgian police ( with their agreement of course) to give models to Malik for the targets and I am satisfied of his result.
    About the faces and expression, I must take into account that often the targets are used in scenarios as non shoot targets, innocent people beeing there, in the center of a fire shooting without understanding what happens.
    I am not sure to be right about all what I do buI I do my best to improve the training of law enforcement members to avoid dramas which have often critical conséquences.
    I am glad to discuss about that topic (even with my very bad and poor english) because these targets are the cheapest way to prepare people to shootings with real weapons and amno and in the future it will be even more important. To-day in Europe the use of my civilian targets by army (France, Germany, Spain… ) is strongly increasing because of the current terrorist situation where soldiers are in our streets to try to protect our citizens with making any damage in the population.
    Francis DORAO
    Former police inspector and shooting instructor
    Producer of PJL Targets

    • Thanks for your comment, M. Dorao – it’s interesting to hear the person directly involved in their creation explain the rationale for them, and Malik’s art is lovely to look at.

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