Tom Tempo, by Eduard de Rop
Tom Tempo #2 -  'Het Oog Van Shava'.

Eduard De Rop was a Belgian comics artist, best known as a member of Willy Vandersteen's Kalmthout studio. He was one of the master's longest-serving co-workers, and the regular inker of the 'Suske en Wiske' series for several decades. With Karel Verschuere he provided the artwork for the first albums in the popular knight comics series 'De Rode Ridder' (1959-1969), while he wrote and drew the original 'Pats' comic (1962-1967) on his own. De Rop furthermore continued the 'Suske en Wiske' spin-off 'Jerom, de Gouden Stuntman' for many years, while also lending his slick inking style to 'Bessy', 'Robert en Bertrand' and other studio productions. De Rop was also the main artist behind 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia' (1965), an odd comic strip based on Marc Sleen's series 'Nero', written by Gaston Durnez. With Sleen's permission it used all his familiar characters through collage techniques, combined with backgrounds and side characters drawn in Studio Vandersteen's style. It remains not only a highly unique comic strip in the history of the medium, but was also a pawn in a long legal battle between Het Volk and De Standaard, who each felt they owned the copyright. While almost his entire career happened in the shadow of Vandersteen, De Rop did create a series of his own in the late 1980s, 'Tom Tempo'. Unfortunately a brain hemorrhage cruelly terminated what could've been a productive solo career. 

Early life and career 
Edward De Rop was born in 1928 in Antwerp. He'd later spell his name as "Eduard" to give it more international resonance. His father woked at the paper division of the Gevaert factory, and regularly brought large piles back home, which were filled by young Edward's scribbles. His passion for comics was fuelled by American newspaper comics like Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant' and Milton Caniff's 'Steve Canyon', but also by the Dutch comic 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' by Frans Piët. He attended the Antwerp Art Academy, and took evening courses from the Academy of Berchem. Originally he worked as a furniture designer for his grandfather's shop, but left this job to become an advertising artist. He created many movie posters for the Nelissen agency, while delivering illustrations to the magazines Bolero and Mascotte under the pseudonym "Pim". In Piccolo his artwork appeared in colour.

First solo comics
De Rop's first gag strips with the rascals 'Patat, Kriekske en Snijboon' (1953-1954) appeared in Pat magazine, followed by the humorous adventure serial 'Henk Handig in "De Zwarte Boeddha"' (1958) in the weekly Ons Land. He assumed the pen name Drope and continued with the short comics 'Clara Detective' (1959), 'Stan Stikker tegen de Raaf' (1959) and 'De Familie Zwanzers' (1960), lightweight stories about a girl detecive, a young reporter and an average Flemish family for the women's magazine Iris. In De Gazet van Antwerpen ran his advertising comic 'De Vrolijke Lotgevallen van Hans Snugger en Kwikzilver' (1959), which he drew for the advertising agency Publi Advisa in cooperation with a certain Hopstaken. De Zondagmorgen furthermore featured 'Tijl Tempo in "De Blaffende Stopnaald"' (1962), which De Rop co-created with E. Decamps under the collective pseudonym Ro-Cam in 1962.


'De Zwanzers'.

Studio Vandersteen
In April 1959 De Rop joined Willy Vandersteen's studio, becoming one of his longtime assistants. He was hired just when regular inker Karel Boumans left. Among De Rop's early jobs were inking the daily 'Suske en Wiske' newspaper stories, starting with 'Het Vliegende Bed', as well as the gag series 'De Lustige Zwervers' for Ons Volkske, 'De Grappen van Lambik' (1959-1962) for De Bond and the final episodes of ''t Prinske' ('Altesse Riri', 1959) for Tintin. In 1960 Vandersteen created 'Geschipper naast Mathilde' (1960), a celebrity comic based on the popular Flemish TV sitcom 'Schipper Naast Mathilde' (1955-1963), which appeared in De Zondagmorgen. He already grew tired of it after one episode and passed it on to Eugeen Decamps and De Rop who continued it for a little while longer. This wasn't the only comic strip based on 'Schipper Naast Mathilde', by the way. The same year Johan Anthierens and Eddy Ryssack also created 'Kapitein Matthias' (1960) for Humo. Between 1960 and 1962 six early reading books were written by Leopold Vermeiren starring Suske and Wiske. 'Wij Lezen met Suske en Wiske' was, however, illustrated by Eduard De Rop.


Bessy - 'De Vuurdans'.

De Rode Ridder & Bessy
De Rop had quickly established himself as a jack-of-all-trades in the studio. He worked extensively with Karel Verschuere, who was responsible for most of the studio's realistic comics series, such as 'Bessy' and 'Karl May'. Their most notable collaboration was on the medieval sword-slinger 'De Rode Ridder', based on the text stories by Leopold Vermeiren. Vandersteen handed his co-workers a brief outline for the first story, which the two turned into the first serial, 'Het Gebroken Zwaard' (1959). Vandersteen produced the second story himself, but from then on, Verschuere and De Rop were the series' main artists until Frank Sels took over in 1963. Eduard De Rop also provided the script for the episode 'Het Wapen van Rihei' (1961). From the 30th episode in 1966 ('Mysterie te Camelot') until Karel Biddeloo took over in 1968, De Rop pencilled the series for a couple of albums, using a more slick and clear drawing style.

In an interview published on destripspeciaalzaak.be in 2016, De Rop claimed that he and Verschuere drew all 'Rode Ridder' stories together up until Karel Biddeloo took over, leaving out the entire Sels period and De Rop's solo tenure. This information is otherwise disputable considering Verschuere's first departure from the studio in 1964. Karel Verschuere left Studio Vandersteen once again in 1965, after which De Rop jumped in to draw the new 'Bessy' stories, recognizable by the more edgy and stiff drawing style. As Vandersteen's new "second in command", he also helped his employer with assembling a team which would take care of the 'Bessy' stories ordered by the German publisher Bastei Verlag. A tight and large-scale production which would be coordinated from the separate Studio Bessy in Antwerp from 1966 on, initially under supervision of Karel Verschuere. Among the early artists who worked there were Karel Biddeloo, Edgard Gastmans, Frank Sels and a group of girls for the inking duties.


First 'Pats' strip, from 5 September 1962

Pats
On 5 September 1962 all publications of De Standaard issued a new weekly children's supplement named Pats, named after the popular puppet show Pats Poppenspel by Karel Weyler, who had also made puppets out of the 'Suske en Wiske' characters. In his spare time, De Rop created a gag strip based on Weyler's puppet play, 'Pats', which he signed "Dropy". The initial strips were written by Weyler, but De Rop eventually did the entire production. When the Pats supplement was restyled in 1965, Willy Vandersteen got the opportunity to contribute more comics. First of all, Vandersteen and De Rop developed a reboot of the previously cancelled family comic 'De Familie Snoek', alongside Eugeen Goossens (1965). To appeal to a younger audience, the strip was restyled with a more slick drawing style, while the gags were more focused on the kids characters. 

On 8 February 1967, Vandersteen's 'Jerom' comic replaced De Rop's 'Pats' on the frontpage. It took until 1974 before the title comic returned. On 28 February of that year Pats was retitled De Patskrant and a new protagonist was created with the same name but a different design. He received a baby sister, Trezebees, and a strange pet called Flappy which can be best described as an extraterrestrial big-eared squirrel with the ability to fly. Vandersteen took care of the first stories himself, but eventually handed the production over to Merho. Pats Poppenspel threatened to sue, since they weren't financially compensated for the use of their brand name. After a court case both the newspaper and the comic changed their name. On 23 August 1977 the Patskrant became the Stipkrant and Pats got redesigned and renamed as 'Tits'. The rest of the cast stayed the same and the comic continued until 3 June 1986, drawn by Peter Koeken. By then the strip had deviated far from De Rop's initial creation.

Nero by Karel Verschueren
'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia'

De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia
Another comic with Eduard de Rop's participation is an interesting sidenote in Flemish comics history. In 1965 Marc Sleen, creator of 'Nero', left the newspaper Het Volk and joined De Standaard, where he became a colleague of Vandersteen. While De Standaard already announced the arrival of 'Nero' in their pages (and in their other papers Het Nieuwsblad and De Gentenaar) Sleen was contractually unable to publish anything for the next three months. This proved a problem for both him as well as De Standaard. As usual, the workaholic Vandersteen stepped in to help. He proposed to create a 'Nero' story of his own to fill in the gap. With his aid the first episode took off in De Standaard on 12 April 1965 under the title 'De Avonturen van Nero & Co'. The plot, written by Sleen's friend and colleague Gaston Durnez, stars Nero as the monarch of a happy kingdom named "Sleenovia". He wants his country to join the United Nations, but an alliance of "serious countries"  try everything to keep him out. The artwork was credited to Wirel, the pseudonym used by Vandersteen and Karel Verschuere, but in reality most was done by De Rop. A rival cartoonist making an official comic strip with another cartoonist's characters was already unusual in itself. But Durnez and De Rop used some odd techniques too. They cut out characters from old 'Nero' stories and pasted them in the story, while other background characters and scenery were drawn in the familiar Studio Vandersteen style. This was by far the most experimental comic strip Vandersteen ever produced! 

While Sleen supported Vandersteen's initiative Het Volk threatened to sue De Standaard over copyright infringement. After only five episodes Nero suddenly received a black bag over his head, which stayed there for most of the story. His name was removed from the title and speech balloons and replaced by three dots. All the regular 'Nero' cast members were drastically redesigned as well. The story continued in this censored style for a while. Durnez wrote Nero's obscured head in the narrative and made a few jokes about the legal complications. Sometimes Nero's name and head returned again, only to disappear again the next day. On 4 May 1965 Nero eventually returned for good. Durnez' plot continued uncensored. Only one permanent change was added. On 31 May the story was renamed 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia', the title it is still referred to today. Yet this didn't mean the troubles were over. On 5 June a judge sentenced De Standaard for "unfair rivalry" and forbid them to use Sleen's characters and names ever again. De Standaard went in higher appeal, but eventually some high-ranked Catholic clergymen stepped in to end this squabbling between two Catholic newspapers. They managed to settle everything amicably. As such 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia' could quietly end its adventure on 30 June 1965. A day later Sleen's contract with Het Volk ended, which left him with the opportunity to publish his first real 'Nero' story in the newspapers of De Standaard. 

Still, legal issues prevented this unique collage comic from ever receiving an official album publication. In 1979 the Flemish comics magazine Ciso Stripgids brought out a special issue (#25), which offered a bundled version as a free gift. Collectors bought it eagerly. In 2017 Dirk Stallaert redrew 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia' in Sleen's style to make the first-ever official release of this album possible. While Stallaert's version is a marvellous compromise it cannot be denied that the original collage version of 'Sleenovia' by Studio Vandersteen would deserve an official republication too. Not only because it is so unique in its execution, but also because it marks the first time an official Belgian comic strip was drawn by artists from a different studio, with permission of the original creator! Indeed, it's the first 'Nero' parody of its kind, preceding Willy Linthout's 'De Zeven van Zeveneken' (1982) and Kim Duchateau's 'De Zeven Vloeken' (2017). 

Jerom, by Eduard de Rop
Jerom - 'Wie een put graaft voor een ander' (1990)

Jerom
The Vandersteen series Eduard De Rop is most associated with is 'Jerom'. On 18 August 1960 Vandersteen had launched a spin-off around Suske and Wiske's muscleman friend in Ons Volkske. In 1967 the series also appeared in Pats, followed a year later by its publication in Het Belang van Limburg. Originally Jerom was a humoristic action series, but from the 11th adventure on in 1967 it was rebooted into a superhero-style comic named 'Jerom, De Gouden Stuntman'. Three other characters from 'Suske en Wiske' were added as main cast members, namely Tante Sidonia, professor Barabas and antagonist Krimson. Interestingly enough, the 'Suske en Wiske' stories Vandersteen made for the magazine Tintin only featured Suske, Wiske and Lambik. It almost seemed that with 'Jerom' he wanted to give the neglected cast members a comics series where now Suske, Wiske and Lambik were notably absent. 'Jerom' also introduced a new main cast member: a boy sidekick named Odilon.

The series was also translated in French, English ('Big Billy Bigg', which ran in Sparky) and Greek. Just like 'Bessy' 'Jerom' was incredibly popular in German translation by Bastei Verlag. Under the title 'Wastl' it appeared in Felix between 1965 and 1968. Yet some were basically translations of older 'Suske en Wiske' stories. From 1968 on new 'Wastl' stories were instantly published in comic book format, first every two weeks and then on a weekly basis. Between February 1972 and June 1973 another 'Wastl' series appeared in the magazine Klasse. The final German 'Jerom' story appeared in 1973. Another comparison with 'Bessy' was that certain German 'Jerom' stories never appeared in Dutch and that the majority saw a severe decline in quality once production became too high. Besides Vandersteen himself, Eugeen Goossens, Paul Geerts and Merho also worked on 'Jerom' stories. Eduard De Rop got a prominent role in the production from 1969 on, when Paul Geerts took over 'Suske en Wiske'. In 1982 'Jerom' was retitled 'De Wonderbare Reizen van Jerom' (1982-1985) and then back to simply 'Jerom' (1985-1991), with explicitly mentioned Eduard De Rop as artist and later Marck Meul as the writer. The hero said farewell to his Golden Stuntman persona and became a globetrotter. Ons Volkske ended its publication of 'Jerom' in 1984, Het Belang van Limburg in 1986 and Stipkrant in 1988. The final 'Jerom' album was published in 1991. 


'Het Hondenparadijs', a 'Suske en Wiske' story inked by Eduard De Rop.

Studio Karel Verschuere
In 1969 De Rop briefly left Studio Vandersteen, when he and other former studio employees like Karel Boumans and Erik Vandemeulebroucke went to work for German publisher Erich Pabel as part of Karel Verschuere's own studio. They collaborated on the humorous western series 'Tom Berry', as well as the realistic comic 'Die Abentteuer von Jimmy Carter und Adlerfeder' (which had nothing to do with the later US President Jimmy Carter, who wasn't widely known at the time). The latter comic was also published in the Flemish magazine De Post as 'Arendsklauw'. One could wonder why the loyal and friendly De Rop would leave Vandersteen in the first place? First of all, De Rop and Verschuere became good friends during their collaboration at Studio Vandersteen. Another reason might be the fact that the master assigned relative newcomer Paul Geerts to take over the studio's lead comic 'Suske en Wiske', which had been inked by De Rop ever since 1959. The collaboration Vandersteen-De Rop had resulted in some of the best remembered stories of the 1960s, such as 'De Texasrakkers', 'De Wolkeneters' and 'Het Hondenparadijs'. Yet in the end De Rop was not appointed as Vandersteen's successor, but handed the less quality-driven 'Jerom' instead. Whatever the reason, his departure didn't last long. A disagreement over payment with Verschuere made all employees return to Vandersteen again. Verschuere was therefore forced to cancel his contract with Pabel.

Return to Studio Vandersteen
Back at Vandersteen, De Rop resumed inking 'Suske en Wiske', this time pencilled by Paul Geerts. It remained one of his main tasks, often in alternation with Eugeen Goossens, until 1980. He also returned to 'Jerom', and assisted on the inking of 'Robert en Bertrand'. Yet the productivity at the studio occasionally made the quality suffer. The unbelievable deadlines for the German-language versions of 'Bessy' and 'Jerom' stories turned in such sloppy work that by 1985 Bastei Verlag terminated their contract. By the mid 1980s Studio Vandersteen was dissolved, and many series cancelled. Productions were divided between Vandersteen's Kalmthout studio and a new studio opened by Standaard Uitgeverij in Brussels. De Rop transferred to Brussels, where he drew the remaining 'Jerom' albums until the series' cancellation in 1988.


Tom Tempo #5 - 'De Zonderlinge Mummie'. 

Solo career, final years and death
Now in his early 60s, De Rop was out of work and too young to retire. He therefore revived his 1960s creation 'Hans Snugger' and renamed him as 'Tom Tempo' (1988), while applying a more "Clear Line" approach in his drawings. Newspaper Het Volk published 14 episodes of his humorous adventure comic, and collected six of them in book format in 1989 and 1990, without much success. To earn some extra income, Eduard De Rop sold new drawings of 'Pats' and 'Suske en Wiske', commissioned by his fans. In the late 1990s he and Karel Biddeloo also contemplated a comic strip set in 19th-century London, named 'Crazy Old London'. Six pages were ready when De Rop suddenly suffered a brain hemorrhage, which left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. It effectively ended his comics career and he spent the final years of his life in a medical care center. Eduard De Rop passed away in Borgerhout in 2007. 

Legacy
In later years, several of Eduard De Rop's older comics have been reprinted in limited edition albums by Peter Bonte. First of all, Bonte released the entire 'Tom Tempo' series in new albums in 2006. Then came a booklet collecting the finished artwork of 'Crazy Old London' (2007), and albums with the 'Hans Snugger en Kwikzilver' story 'S.O.S. op de planeet Jupinus' (2012) and 'Stan Stikker tegen de Raaf' (2016). His son Eric De Rop is also a comic artist for Studio Vandersteen, mainly responsible for the 'Schanulleke' comic and inking 'Suske en Wiske'. Eric's own son, Dave de Rop, became a well known graffiti artist under the name Bué the Warrior. In 2011 a posthumous graphic homage by Eduard De Rop was included in 'Op Het Spoor van Pom' (2011), a collective tribute album to Pom. In reality this page was actually originally intended to apply for the continuation of Pom's series 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber'. 

Eduard de Rop has a cameo in the 'Suske en Wiske' album 'De Briesende Bruid'. In the scene where Tante Sidonia gets married in the city hall (strip 214), exchanging the vows with the major, he, Paul Geerts and Hilde Costermans can be seen in the background. De Rop also has a guest appearance in strip 208 of 'De Belhamel Bende' (1982). In the scene where Suske and Wiske visit the studio, he claims it is a "delightful surprise." 


Eduard De Rop and his personal creations, drawn by his son Eric De Rop in 2014.

Suske en Wiske site

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