Le Chevalier Ardent - 'Les Cavaliers de l'Apocalypse' (1980).

François Craenhals was a Belgian comic creator, and a longtime contributor to Tintin magazine and the publishing house Casterman. His series were characterized by a strong sentimentality and focus on human emotions. Working in both a caricatural and a realistic drawing style, Craenhals created several storybook-inspired series with adventurous children, most notably 'Pom et Teddy' (1953-1964) and 'Les As' (1964-2004), as well as the newspaper comic 'Primus et Musette' (1957-1968). His signature series was however 'Le Chevalier Ardent' (1966-2001), a chivalry comic full of mysticism, intrigues and romance. For the publishing house Casterman, Craenhals additionally illustrated several series of youth literature.

Early life and career
François Craenhals was born in 1926 in Ixelles, one of the towns in the Brussels-Capital Region. He went to a Catholic boarding school, where he spent most of his spare time painting and drawing. Among his main graphic influences were the American comic strips he read in the comic magazines Bravo and Junior, such as 'Flash Gordon' by Alex Raymond, 'Alley Oop' by V.T. Hamlin and 'Abbie an' Slats' by Al Capp and Raeburn Van Buren. A French comic that caught his attention were the adventures of the athlete Jean-Jacques Ardent, drawn by Pellos. At the age of 15, Craenhals and a friend made three full-length comic stories, which they sent for consideration to the Bravo editors. There came no reply, leaving the youngster to earn his first money with other jobs. These included furrier, salesman and dental assistant. After a job in electromechanics, Craenhals took a Fine Arts course from the Academy of Brussels, and subsequently designed billboards for a Ghent-based advertising agency.

'Thyl Ulenspiegel' (1949).

Early comics and cartoons
In the mid-1940s, Craenhals did his first cartooning work, making political caricatures and illustrations for Jo Gérard's Vrai magazine, using the signature F. Hal. From March 1945 through July 1946, he also made drawings for Documentation, a business magazine. Between July and October 1948, the weekly magazine Le Soir Illustré ran Craenhals's first comic strip, the magical chivalry story 'Le Domaine de Druka'. He continued to illustrate several text serials for this magazine and other publications of the Rossel group. In Le Soir Jeunesse - the Wednesday children's supplement of the newspaper Le Soir - Craenhals illustrated fairy tales by Paul Caso, and in 1949 he adapted the legend of 'Thyl Ulenspiegel' into comic format, based on the book by Charles De Coster. At a gallery opening, he met Fernand Cheneval, publisher and editor of the comic magazine Héroïc-Albums. A starting point for many important Belgian post-war comic artists, Héroïc also opened its doors to Craenhals. In 1950 and 1951, he contributed nine adventures about the junior jungle hero 'Karan' and his jaguar Rhôr - one of them written and inked by Tibet.

Studio Lombard
In 1950, Craenhals additionally offered his services to Tintin, the comic magazine built around Hergé's iconic comic character, published by Lombard. Craenhals submitted his earlier chivalry story for Le Soir Illustré, but the editors felt the young artist needed more experience. Instead, he was sent to work in the publisher's art studio, where he and Raymond Reding filled the vacancy left by Bob De Moor, who had just joined Studio Hergé. Under supervision of art director Evany, Craenhals learned the ins and outs of the publishing and printing industry. In the period 1950-1962, he did layouts and editorial illustrations for Tintin magazine. He also illustrated short stories and serialized novels, starting with 'Petite Mort, Le Vison' (1950). Between 1953 and 1955, he additionally drew short educational comic stories based on historical characters, films and world literature, often written by Yves Duval.

Grenadier Victoria advertising strip published in Tintin #7, 1955.

At Lombard's advertising division Publiart, Craenhals succeeded Raymond Macherot as the artist of comical promotional comic strips for Grenadier Victoria chocolate, drawing the serial 'Mission dans le Bled' (1954-1955). For Governor camping equipment, he also made several strips with 'Polochon, le Trappeur Modèle' (1955-1956). This feature was previously drawn by Tibet, and continued in 1957 by Berck. Between 1957 and 1961, Craenhals also made illustrations and comics featuring the caveman Adalbert for Seeonee, a Catholic boy-scouts magazine produced by Publiart. At this occasion, he used the pen name Clopp.

Rémy et Ghislaine
While working for the Lombard art studio, Craenhals created his first comic series for Tintin: 'Rémy et Ghislaine'. Created with expressive wash ink drawings, 'Rémy et Ghislaine' established Craenhals' signature style: melodramatic stories starring heroic children who take on the evils of the world in faraway countries. Submerged in nostalgia, the author's main inspiration for the feature was the children's literature he read as a child, including the work of Charles Dickens. His graphic influences were American comics and his Tintin colleagues Paul Cuvelier and Edgar Pierre Jacobs. Even though only two stories were made - 'Le Cas Étrange de Monsieur de Bonneval' (1951) and 'Le Puits 32' (1952) - the adventures of Rémy and Ghislaine were a forerunner to Craenhals's first major creation, 'Pom et Teddy'.

'Les Aventures de Pom et Teddy' (Dutch version).

Pom et Teddy
During a brainstorming session with Tintin's chief editor André Fernez, Craenhals talked about the fate of working donkeys that were being replaced by tractors. He was particularly moved by the story of a former circus donkey that died of homesickness. In a flash of inspiration, the artist reworked 'Rémy et Ghislaine' into a new feature set in a circus. Launched in Tintin in March 1953, the debut episode of 'Pom et Teddy' (1955-1963) introduced the young orphan boy Teddy, who adopts the little donkey Pom. They are accompanied on their adventures by other performers of the Tockberger circus, most notably the young horse rider Maggy - named after the author's wife - and the giant Tarass Boulba - named after the main character in Nikolaj Gogol's classic short story 'Taras Bulba'. The original story setting of 'Pom & Teddy' was modeled after the artist's hometown Enghien, a border town in the German-speaking part of Belgium. Offering a romanticized vision of circus life, the first stories pitted Pom and Teddy against Tockberger's ruthless chief of staff. Starting with the 1955 episode 'Le Talisman Noir', the setting changed to more exotic locations. Most of the melodrama was dropped, while the stories shifted towards thrilling international intrigues set in India, Spain, Congo, Hollywood and the Middle East. Gradually, donkey Pom became less prominent in favor of the team-up between Teddy and Maggy. Still, human emotions and sentimentality remained important elements in Craenhals's stories. One of the stand-out episodes was 'Le Secret du Balibach' (1956), a dramatic story about Romany and a legendary thousand-year-old treasure buried in central Spain.

Pom et Teddy - 'Le Secret du Balibach' (Dutch version).

Dissatisfied with the lack of attention publisher Lombard gave to the book releases of his series, Craenhals discontinued 'Pom et Teddy' in 1963, after ten serials. In 1967 and 1968, and again in 1983, Craenhals made a couple of short stories with an older Teddy for Tintin magazine and its specials Tintin Sélection and Super Tintin. In the second half of the 1970s, Michel Deligne collected the stories in a new book series. In 2012, the BD Must imprint released the complete series in ten luxury volumes.

Other comics for Tintin
During the mid-1950s and early 1960s, Craenhals had a couple of excursions into other comic genres. In 1955, he made the short humorous story about the caveboy 'Yopy' for the Tintin Sélection pocket series, followed in 1956 by the slapstick short story 'Luc, Lucette et Fantoche' in Tintin issue #22. In 1958, Craenhals worked with writer René Goscinny on a two-page story with 'Alphonse', a humorous character previously drawn by Tibet. To further explore his talent for writing clever intrigues, Craenhals created the one-shot serial 'Aventure à Sarajevo' (1960), starring the gentleman secret agent Delta. Drawn in a semi-realistic style similar to 'Pom et Teddy', Lombard released the story in book format in its collection Jeune Europe.

Zonneland, by Craenhals
'Sensatie te Lourdes' (Zonneland, 18 May 1958), a comics biography about Bernadette Soubirous. 

Averbode magazines
Simultaneously with his career at Tintin, Craenhals began a fruitful collaboration with the Abbey of Averbode, a devout Catholic publishing house operating under the names Altoria De Goede Pers and Bonne Presse. Averbode's best known publication was the children's magazine Zonneland/Petits Belges. Craenhals' first contribution to Zonneland was 'Het Geheim van de Burcht' ('Le Secret du Manoir', 1955), a story starring François and Maggy, two carbon copies of his Tintin characters Teddy and Maggy. In the following years, Craenhals made many comic strips and illustrations, often of an edifying nature, to both Zonneland and its French version Petits Belges. Resuming his pen name F. Hal, Craenhals drew adventure serials such as 'Uranium & Cie' (1956) and 'Le Document 76' (1956), working with scriptwriter Jean Ray, AKA John Flanders. The latter was an episode in the melodramatic series 'Johnny et Annie', previously drawn by Renaat Demoen. His best-known Zonneland comic was the comic biography of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, serialized between January and April 1958 under the respective Dutch and French titles 'Sensatie te Lourdes' and 'Sensation à Lourdes', and then released in book format as 'Beroering te Lourdes' (1959). In 1960, Craenhals also contributed the medieval gag series 'Roc et Rol'.

Craenhals continued to work for Averbode until the mid-1980s, although he eventually outsourced most of his assignments to his assistants. Craenhals himself made large drawings to illustrate historical subjects. When Petits Belges was renamed to Tremplin, Craenhals and his assistant Endry created three adventure serials with the new title hero 'Luc Tremplin' (1962-1965).

'Primus et Musette'.

Primus et Musette
Again in a more humorous drawing style, Craenhals also tried his hand at a daily newspaper strip. Launched on 28 June 1957, 'Primus et Musette' appeared in La Libre Belgique and ran for about 3,000 episodes well into the 1960s. For this feature, Craenhals took inspiration from other Belgian newspaper comics, mostly of Flemish origin, filling his stories with absurdities, parody, improvised storylines and topical references to the news of the day. The three main characters - the kids Primus, Musette and Pardaf - have adventures in past, present and future, encountering mad scientists, witches, gangsters and Frankenstein-like monsters. The outlandish storylines also use meta-humor, for instance in the story 'La Grève de la Fin', when the three heroes revolt against their author and force him to undergo all the ordeals they had to endure. In 1961 and 1962, the newspaper released four book collections with the 'Primus et Musette' stories. Between 1970 and 1973, the stories were additionally reprinted in Samedi-Jeunesse, a monthly comic magazine published by Éditions du Samedi.

During the mid-1950s, Craenhals began an enduring association with the publishing house Casterman. He was initially an illustrator for several youth books collections, but the Tournai-based company later became the regular publisher of his comic series too. Around 1956, Craenhals illustrated covers for translated editions of James Fenimore Cooper and Sir Walter Scott novels in the collection Le Rameau Vert. In the Relais collection, he began making the illustrations of 'Les 4 As' (1958-1961), a series of children's adventure novels written by Georges Chaulet. Together with his assistant Endry, he wrote and drew five children's booklets with the young Native Americans 'Hopi et Cati' (1968-1970). In the early 1970s, Craenhals and Endry also made illustrations for the educational book series 'L'Aventure de la Science', written by Jean-Claude Pasquiez.

'Les 4 As et le Couroucou' (Dutch version, 1966).

Les 4 As
Collaborating on the 'Les 4 As' youth novels since 1958, author Georges Chaulet and illustrator Craenhals decided to turn the popular series into a comic series. The first installment - published directly in book format by Casterman in 1964 - was an adaptation of the novel 'Les 4 As et le Serpent de la Mer'. After that, the two men collaborated on brand new adventures in an ongoing series that lasted throughout the rest of Craenhals's career. Humorous and with easily accessible storylines, 'Les 4 As' ("The Four Heroes") became the artist's most commercially successful book series. The four main characters represented the archetypes of the typical pop cultural kids gang: Lastic was the heroic handyman, Dina the curious and playful girl, Doct the nerdy scientist and Puffy the chubby comic relief, always longing for his next meal. They are accompanied on their adventures by their loyal dog Oscar. A couple of episodes were first serialized in the magazine Le Patriote Illustré by publisher Eyskens. 'Les 4 As' should not be confused with similarly titled comic series like 'Les 3A' (1962-1967) by Tibet and Mittéï or 'Les As' by Greg (1963-1973).

Le Chevalier Ardent - 'Le Prince Noir' (1970).

Le Chevalier Ardent
After quitting 'Pom et Teddy' in late 1963, Craenhals had a two-year interlude from publishing in Tintin magazine. In the final issue of 1965, a new series was announced, debuting in the first issue of the following year. This time, instead of a group of children, Craenhals used a medieval knight as a hero. Craenhals named him 'Le Chevalier Ardent' ("Ardent the Knight", 1966-2001), inspired by the comic character Jean-Jacques Ardent, created by Pellos. Ardent can also mean "courageous" in French, giving the hero's name a double entendre. However, the Dutch translation of 'Le Chevalier Ardent' interpreted the title literally and named the series 'De Koene Ridder' ("The Brave Knight"), apparently not realizing Ardent is also the character's name. Unlike other traditional comic series, the adventures of the "Ardent Knight" follow a chronological period of time. In the debut story 'The Prince Noir' ("The Black Prince"), main hero Ardent du Walburge is still a young and impulsive hothead. In later stories, he ages to a more mature man in his thirties, something the series has in common with another famous medieval comic strip, Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant'. Set in the eleventh century, Ardent's adventures take place in Rougecogne, a region modeled after the author's favorite holiday destination, the French Périgord.

In the first story, Ardent meets princess Gwendoline - still a little girl at the time - and is appointed as her shield-bearer. As the stories progress and the characters age, Gwendoline becomes the love of his life - although he can't help but occasionally fall for other damsels in distress. The main opponent in their troubled love story is however Ardent's lord and Gwendoline's father, the ruthless King Arthus, who does everything in his power to sabotage their relationship. Ardent's adventures bring him to several regions in Europe and the Orient, where he has to overcome evil intrigues, black magic and dramatic romances.

Graphically, Craenhals switched to a more mature realism, using a pen instead of a brush. Dropping the clean lay-outs of his 'Pom et Teddy' stories, the artwork in 'Le Chevalier Ardent' became more atmospheric and dynamic, reminiscent of artists like Eddy Paape and MiTacq. His page lay-outs constantly changed to support the narrative, and fantasy elements or fever dreams induced by black magic showed influences from psychedelia and the Op-Art (optical art) movement. Craenhals wrote almost all of the twenty stories himself. For the 18th and 19th episode, he worked with scriptwriter Gérard Dewamme. 'Le Chevalier Ardent' became Craenhals's signature series, serialized in Tintin magazine until 1986, before appearing directly in book format. To release the books, Craenhals this time associated himself with Casterman instead of Tintin publisher Lombard. Apart from the regular collection, additional books of 'Le Chevalier Ardent' were published by Horus, Magic Strip, Jonas and Paul Rijperman.

Le Chevalier Ardent - 'Le Secret du Roi Arthus' (Dutch version).

Later comic projects
With successful series 'Les 4 As' and 'Le Chevalier Ardent' taking up most of his time, Craenhals hardly worked on new projects. In the 1970s, he created the poetic and satirical gag comic 'P'tit Dab' in collaboration with scriptwriter Thierry Martens (Terence), but couldn't get it published. Only a handful of pages saw print in the comic fandom magazines Les Cahiers de la BD and Hop!. In the early 1980s, Craenhals and novelist Gérard Chaulet adapted another one of Chaulet's book series into comic format. For publisher Hachette, they made three adventures of the masked vigilante 'Fantômette' (1982-1983), but the series proved less successful than 'Les 4 As'. A fourth and final installment was illustrated in 1985 by Craenhals' assistant Endry. Craenhals also participated in a couple of collective comic books, such as 'Pétition' (1986) for Amnesty International and 'Téléthon' (Lombard, 1990) in support of the treatment of neuromuscular diseases. In 1980, he also contributed a drawing to 'Pepperland' (1980), a collective tribute to the 10th anniversary of the Pepperland comic store.

Studio Craenhals
By the mid-1950s, Craenhals' workload increased, so he hired assistants in his Brussels atelier. His earliest collaborator was his first wife Maggy De Prijck, who did the coloring for the first two 'Pom et Teddy' stories. Until 1974, Jacques Dannau became his regular colorist, and in 1985, Craenhals began a steady collaboration with Martine Boutin, who later became his second wife. For his newspaper comic 'Primus et Musette', Craenhals was assisted on art duties by Jean Labart (some sources write "Jean Larbar"). Starting in the 1960s, Endry (Henry De Dryver) worked with Craenhals on his Averbode work, as well as the 'Hopi et Cati' children's books. By 1983, Jacques Debruyne was a regular collaborator on 'Les 4 As'. In 2004 and 2005, Debruyne drew books 41 and 42 on his own. In 2007, an attempt by publisher Casterman to relaunch 'Les 4 As' with scriptwriter Sergio Salmaand artist Alain Maury stranded after one book.

Appearance of the artist in the 'Primus et Musette' episode 'La Grève de la Fin'.

Graphic contributions
In 1990, Craenhals paid graphic tribute to François Walthéry in the collective homage book 'Natacha: Special 20 Ans' (Marsu Productions, 1990), which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Walthéry's series 'Natacha'.

In 1973, Craenhals received the Prix Saint-Michel - the oldest Belgian comic award - for his 'Chevalier Ardent' book 'La Dame des Sables'. In the category "Epic Artwork", he was awarded the same prize in 1976. On 12 February 1988, Craenhals was knighted in the Order of the Belgian Crown, followed in 1991 by an additional knighthood in the Order of Leopold, along with several other comic artists.

Final years and death
In 2001, Craenhals and his second wife Martine Boutin moved to Rivières-de-Theyrargues in southern France, where they ran a bed and breakfast. In August 2004, Craenhals died while undergoing heart surgery in a Montpellier hospital. He was buried in Rivières.

Legacy and recognition
An important second generation author of Tintin magazine, François Craenhals was a staple of Belgian adventure comics in the second half of the 20th century. After exploring melodramatic adventure stories and humor comics, he reinvented himself with the epic adventures of his medieval swordslinger 'Le Chevalier Ardent', earning much praise. His son Pierre Craenhals is active as a painter in the Naïve Art movement.

Books about François Craenhals
A monograph about the author's life and work by Kris De Saeger, 'Dossier Craenhals', was published in Dutch (Arboris, 1990) and French (Casterman, 1991). In 2004, the Belgian comic specialist Jean-Pierre Verheylewegen added another study to the work of Craenhals with 'Hommage à François Craenhals', a publication of the Chambre Belge des Experts en Bande Dessinée (DBEBD).

François Craenhals in the 1970s.

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