Yvan Delporte was the editor-in-chief of Spirou during the heyday of this comic weekly (1955-1968). It was during his tenure that the pages of the Belgian weekly were filled by the classic "School of Marcinelle", consisting of André Franquin, Morris, Peyo, Will, Maurice Tillieux, Jean Roba and Jidéhem. Delporte's free spirit and preference for crazy ideas paved the way for many legendary creations, such as the mini-books in the magazine's center and the fictionalized depictions of Spirou's offices in the 'Gaston Lagaffe' comic and his editorials. Delporte furthermore wrote an impressive lot of comic strips, both for Dupuis and other publishers.
He was born in Saint-Gilles in the Brussels region in 1928. Young Yvan and his mother came to Charleroi during the Second World War, mainly because this industrial town had coal during the war years. An avid reader since his early childhood, Delporte came from a family with artistic talents. His cousins were painter/sculptor Charles Delporte and composer/author Paul Louka. He himself started frequenting the artistic circles of Charleroi. He surrounded himself with a group of friends that included Maurice Rosy, Nicolas Klechkowski, who later became a bass player, and Gaston Mostraet, who wrote surreal poetry. The group had their own magazine, called La Sarbacane, for which Delporte was the editor and illustrator. Delporte was somewhat of an odd figure, with his anarchist and provocative nature, his trademark beard and hand-knitted pull-over with a giant Y on it. Where other lads of his age were interested in sports, Delporte delved into the writings of James Thurber and Freud, while also being an avid fan of 'Cyrano de Bergerac'. Up until the mid 1950s, Delporte regularly made drawings about his personal life.
During this period, Delporte also landed his first job as a photographer in the printery of Éditions Dupuis, the publisher of magazines Bonnes Soirées, Le Moustique and Spirou. He was later also assigned to retouch (actually, censor) the American comic strips that were published in Spirou, such as Clarence Gray's 'Brick Bradford'. Since he knew English, he also served as a translator, and as a lay-out man for Spirou and Le Moustique. By 1948, he had his own section called 'Le Pithécanthrope' in Le Moustique, which he signed with a cartouche resembling a duck. He also provided an occasional cover illustration and cartoon to Le Moustique (and its Flemish counterpart Humoradio).
Delporte wrote his first comic scripts in 1949 and 1950: three long serials featuring 'Jean Valhardi', which was drawn by Eddy Paape at the time. It were the stories 'Le roc du diable' (1949), 'Á la poursuite de Max Clair' (1949) and 'Chez les êtres de la forêt' (1950). Although his full talent had not come to bloom yet, elements of Delporte's typical feeling for satire and irony were already present in his 'Valhardi' stories.
Yvan Delporte fulfilled his military service between 1953 and 1955. He then returned to Dupuis, where he was appointed editor-in-chief of Spirou, of course under strict supervision of publisher Charles Dupuis. One of his first acts was moving the offices to the Galerie du Centre in Brussels, which also housed Georges Troisfontaines' offices of World's Presse, the main provider of realistic comics to the magazine. This made it more inviting for Spirou's artists to drop by, enhancing the collective team spirit, which was soon reflected in the magazine itself. Delporte's pal Maurice Rosy was art director/man of ideas, and together they brought Belgian comics to new heights. In the aforementioned mini-books, new talent, mostly from Dupuis's in-house art studio, could present their work, such as Louis Salvérius, Charles Degotte, Eddy Ryssack, Serge Gennaux, Jacques Devos and Lucien De Gieter.
Other artists that were introduced under Delporte's reign were Marcel Remacle, for whom he wrote 'Bobosse', Jidéhem, who became Franquin's loyal co-worker, Jean Roba, who would popularize the family comic with 'Boule et Bill', Raymond Macherot, who moved over from competing magazine Tintin, and Willy Lambil, with his series 'Sandy et Hoppy'. Delporte also had an eye for the more innovative artists. He wrote 'Saki et Zunie' for René Hausman, an artist whose poetic style somewhat deviated from the more traditional Spirou comics. Delporte also introduced female cartoonist Claire Bretécher to the Spirou audience. As Delporte was bilingual, Flemish and Dutch artists also got the opportunity to publish in Spirou. Berck moved over from Tintin and drew 'Mulligan' from scripts by Delporte and Macherot. Spirou also published 'Judge Tie' by Dutch authors Frits Kloezeman and Robert van Gulik, and the work of young talent Rob Peters.
Delporte also played with the friendly rivalry between Spirou and their main competitor Tintin. For instance, he wrote articles about a fictious argument between artists Tibet (Tintin) and Morris (Spirou). The 1965 April Fools' Day issues of Spirou and Tintin were each published with covers in the lay-outs of their adversary. Delporte also introduced double-sized seasonal issues, with extra comics and beautiful covers. In Maurice Rosy's collection 'Gags de Poche', he translated Charles M. Schulz's 'Peanuts' and Walt Kelly's 'Pogo' for a French-speaking audience.
Delporte furthermore wrote scripts for the sci-fi serial 'Alain Cardan' by Gerald Forton (1957-1959), 'La Ribambelle' by Jean Roba, 'Starter' by Jidéhem and 'Benoît Brisefer' by Peyo. But he was most notably involved in the launch of two of Europe's most iconic comic book properties. The first was 'Gaston Lagaffe', Franquin's ever-goofing anti-hero, who first intruded Spirou's editorial sections in 1957. Delporte's friend Gaston Mostraert inspired the character's first name, but his playful personality likely owed more to Delporte himself. 'Gaston' eventually appeared in a series of gags set in the fictionalized offices of Spirou, drawn by Franquin and Jidéhem, but also in a series of editorials written by Delporte. This further increased the joyful atmosphere of the magazine, as the readers got an alleged look behind-the-scenes at the ins and outs of their magazine. Some of the wackier gags in 'Gaston' actually had some base in reality, like Gaston's tendency to bring animals to the office. Once Spanish artist José Larraz needed a picture of a lion to document himself for his comics series 'Michaël'. To help him out, Delporte hired an actual lion cub named "Pinky" and let it play around at the office for a few weeks. Even the horse and chimpanzees that once surprised Gaston's colleagues had visited Spirou's headquarters in real life.
The second important event that Delporte participated in was the launch of the solo career of Peyo's tribe of blue good-natured dwarfs, 'Les Schtroumpfs' ('The Smurfs'). The characters had made their debut in Peyo's medieval series 'Johan et Pirlouit', but got their own comic strip in the mini-books section in 1959. Delporte wrote many scripts for this series, that soon surpassed all Peyo's other creations in popularity. The result was a large merchandising line, and animated series of TV cartoons; the first being developed by TVA Dupuis as early as 1959. The feature film 'La Flûte a six Schtroumpfs' was produced by Dupuis-Belvision and released in 1975. It was an adaptation of the 'Johan et Pirlouit' story of the same name, where the Smurfs had made their debut. Delporte and Peyo both participated in the script for this film. Delporte's role was thus, that his name was mentioned alongside Peyo's name as co-creator on the credits of the animated series by Hanna-Barbera in the US in the 1980s.
Despite his creative inventiveness, Delporte's tenure came to an end in 1968. His loose way of dealing with deadlines, his provocative nature and his more free-spirited approach to the financial aspects of his work, made him less popular with the other members of the board of directors. Apparently, a macabre parody on the recruitment campaigns of the Belgian army was the last straw and Delporte was fired. All in all, 1968 is considered by many a disaster year for Spirou. Delporte left, Franquin quit drawing 'Spirou et Fantasio' and Morris transferred his 'Lucky Luke' to Pilote magazine and Éditions Dargaud. The Golden Age was over, and Delporte had to seek work elsewhere.
One of his new jobs was performing as the bard Honoré Delbouille, who gave his satirical look on the Walloons in the radio program 'Du Sel sur la Queue'. He also continued to do scriptwork for Spirou in the decades to come, though, most notably the poetic and magical series 'Isabelle', which was drawn by Will from 1969 to 1994. Delporte was the main scriptwriter, assisted by André Franquin and Raymond Macherot in the early years. With Franquin, he also scripted 'Arnest Ringard et Augraphie' for Frédéric Jannin, a comical series of short stories about the ongoing battle between a man and a mole (1978-1980 and then again from 1993-1995). He also provided gag ideas to Jannin's 'Germain et nous' in the 1980s and wrote stories with 'Les Puzzolettis' for Carine De Brabanter (1987-1988).
He also expanded his horizon by cooperating with other magazines. For Le Journal de Mickey, he co-wrote the scripts about the caveman 'Onkr' with Jean Malac for artist Tenas (1970-1972). He wrote the stories of traveling artists' group 'Les Zingari' for René Follet (1971-1973), that were reprinted in Spirou in the 1980s. He furthermore wrote stories with 'Colin Colas' for Eddy Ryssack, that were printed in the Koralle publications Zack (Germany) and Super As (France) in 1979. Delporte also reported himself at De Geïllustreerde Pers/VNU, the publisher of the Dutch comic magazine Pep. He wrote several comics for this publication from 1969, such as 'Bondonéon' with Dino Attanasio (1970-1972), 'Alfred de Wees' with Claire Bretécher (1971), 'Anna Tommy' with Peter de Smet (1972) and 'Llewellyn Fflint' with Peter van Straaten (1972). He was also present in Pep's successor Eppo, with scripts for 'Steven Severijn' by René Follet.
Delporte returned to Dupuis once more in 1977 with the launch of Le Trombone Illustré, a tabloid-sized supplement to Spirou, that he created with André Franquin. Compared with the child friendly content in the rest of the magazine, Le Trombone contained more adult-oriented satire. As a result, the supplement only lasted a few issues, but did introduce one classic comic book, 'Idées Noires' ('Black Thoughts', 1977) by André Franquin, for which Delporte provided several black comedy gags. The supplement also featured work by Frédéric Jannin, Roba, Hausman, Claire Bretécher, F'Murr, Rosinski and many more. When it folded after 30 issues, the 'Idées Noires' moved over to Gotlib's magazine Fluide Glacial. The Trombone had a short revival in 1978-1979 under the title 'Et pendant ce temps là à Landerneau' in the comics magazine Á Suivre.
During the 1980s, Delporte was mostly involved in the development of the US 'Smurfs' cartoons. He also set up L'Upchic Ballon, an interest group for comic authors. In 1989, Delporte became the editor of Schtroumpf Magazine, a new publication built around Peyo's dwarfs. After Peyo's death in 1992, Delporte was also involved in writing new stories starring 'Johan et Pirlouit', that were drawn by Alain Maury. In old age he remained interested in wacky ideas, and from 1995, he performed as a singer with an all-star band of comic authors, named The Boys Band (Dessinée), which was a pun on the French word for comic strip ("bande dessinée"). Apart from Delporte, it also featured Janry, Bruno Gazzotti, Fabrizio Borrini, Batem, Midam and others. In his later years, he remained interested in modern comics, especially by artists of L'Association, such as Lewis Trondheim. He participated in exhibitions and wrote articles about comics. In the 2000s, he also wrote stage shows for the Théâtre de Proche in Brussels.
Delporte's colorful persona and appearance have been captured by many of his colleagues, since the editor-in-chief with the characteristic beard and toggle coat has made guest appearances in many comic series. He was featured prominently in Yves Chaland and Yann's contribution to the collective comic book 'Les Histoires Merveilleuses des Oncles Paul' (Vents d'Ouest, 1986). Delporte was the subject of a large book by Dupuis experts Christelle and Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, called 'Yvan Delporte, Réacteur en Chef' (Dupuis, 2009). A similar-sized retrospective of Le Trombone Illustré, that contained the entire content of all 30 issues, was published in that same year.
Delporte caricature by Franquin