Les Frères Clips, by Marcel Denis
'Les Frères Clips' from Spirou/Robbedoes #1032 (1958). Dutch-language version. 

Marcel Denis was a Belgian comic artist and scriptwriter, known for his slapstick humor and inventive gadgets. After publishing his first cartoons and comics in several smaller periodicals, he spent most of the 1950s and 1960s working for Spirou magazine. Besides his job in the magazine's art studio, he assisted André Franquin on his secondary projects, temporarily took over the 'Tif et Tondu' comic series (1960-1961) and served as an inker for his friend Marcel Remacle on 'Hultrasson le Viking' (1964-1967) and 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire' (1968-1971). His best-known solo comic feature was 'Les Frères Clips' (1958-1969), about two goofing handymen.

Early life and career
Marcel Denis was born in 1923 in Monceau-sur-Sambre, a town in the coal mining region of Charleroi. As a child, he developed a keen interest in drawing and filled his school notebooks with comic characters inspired by the comic magazines he read: Le Petit Vingtième, Pierrot, L'Épatant, Cri-Cri. After finishing secondary school in the city of Binche, he enrolled at a private school in his hometown to take painting lessons.

Between January and March 1940, the seventeen-year old Marcel Denis made his debut as a comic artist in the newspaper supplement Le Petit Vingtième with three gag pages starring the boy scout Pip. His style was influenced by Hergé - the supplement's editor, but at the time away during the mobilization - and the cartoonist Albert Dubout. Any chance to publish another comic in Le Petit Vingtième was thwarted when in May 1940 Hitler occupied Belgium and the newspaper was instantly discontinued. It would take a couple of years before Denis' cartooning career really took off. During World War II, he had an office job with the Steam Mills and Brewery firm in Marchienne-au-Pont. When in 1944 the factory was destroyed by the Allied Air Forces, he went to work for a printery.

'La Poudre Silencieuse' (1946).

Post-war cartooning
After the Liberation, Denis began selling his cartoons to several of Belgium's post-war magazines. These included L'Âne Rouge, Le Face à Main, Plein Jeu and La Vie au Foyer, later followed by Le Moustique, Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, Pourquoi pas?, Ariane, Le Patriote Illustré, and La Revue de l'Efficience. For Le Patriote Illustré, he drew the legend of Manneken Pis, Brussels' biggest tourist attraction. For the Brussels weekly L'Optimiste, he developed his first comic serial, 'Les Aventures du Professeur Vianrose' (1946). The story revolved around a professor, whose name was a pun on the expression 'La vie en rose' ("a rose-colored life"). Due to the magazine's disappearance, the serial was quickly aborted, after which Marcel Denis moved over to another weekly, La Défense Sociale. Between May 1946 and July 1948, that magazine's supplement Excelsior ran three serials of 'Les Aventures de Jim et Bill Butterson, Détectives', written by the artist's older brother Marc Denis. The main characters were two detectives, whose exploits involved a mad scientist, zany inventions and explosions. In 1948, Excelsior released the first episode, 'La Poudre Silencieuse', in book format. Besides a limited edition book with his first 'Tif et Tondu' story in the early 1980s, it would remain the only book collection of Marcel Denis's solo comics that appeared during his lifetime.

Cover cartoon for Le Moustique of 10 December 1950. Translation: "Porter!". 

Éditions Dupuis art studio
Marcel Denis's cartoons for the weekly Le Moustique (and its Dutch-language edition Humoradio), caught the attention of publisher Charles Dupuis, who was in search of a letterer for the Dutch-language editions of his magazines Spirou (Robbedoes) and Bonnes Soirées (De Haardvriend). On 21 October 1952, Marcel Denis was hired to do the job. For several years, he worked alongside Willy Lambil, Jamic, Marcel Remacle and Louis Salvérius in the publisher's art studio, run by Maurice Rosy. By 1955, he shared an office with chief editor Yvan Delporte, and his tasks also included doing lay-out work and small illustrations for all the publisher's magazines. Denis was also on the editorial staff of Le Moustique, working with Charles Jadoul and Albert Desprechins.

Working with Franquin
Starting in 1957, Marcel Denis additionally assisted Spirou's lead artist André Franquin on several projects. For a couple of months, he regularly commuted from Charleroi to Brussels to join Franquin in his Avenue du Brésil studio. He provided the illustrations for coloring books and merchandising products with the magazine's mascots Spirou and Fantasio (of which Franquin was the artist), and scripted two short stories with the characters for the short-lived supplement Spirou Poche. For the latter, he also made the artwork for three advertising strips. In 1957, Marcel Denis scripted 'Opération Ciseaux', a short story introducing a new kids gang called La Ribambelle. After this single story, drawn by Jo-El Azara, the project remained shelved until 1962, when Jean Roba rebooted it as a full-blown adventure serial with other writers. While working at Franquin's studio, Denis also made some try-out drawings to become the artist of Franquin's new humor character Gaston Lagaffe (1957-1991), but that task eventually went to another studio worker, Jidéhem. Two years later, Denis briefly rejoined the team as the co-writer of 'L'Île au Boumptéryx' (1959), a 12-page story about birds laying exploding eggs, published in the 1959 Easter issue of Spirou. The comic was a true team effort, written by Denis and Franquin and drawn by Roba and Jidéhem, all under the collective signature Ley Kip ("L'Équipe", meaning "the team").

'Les Frères Clips' (Spirou #1465, 1966).

His colleagues have described Marcel Denis as a good-natured, playful prankster with a knack for gadgets and gags. These character traits were best showcased in his solo comic feature about two inventor brothers, 'Les Frères Clips' (1958-1969). The stories feature the brother Jules and Jonas, two handymen whose not-so-clever inventions cause more mayhem than solutions. Their inventions, for instance scooters that can be used to lift up potatoes, were presented by Denis in full detail, complete with explanation of their working. Over the course of eleven years, the exploits of the Clips brothers appeared in Spirou sporadically - sometimes even with two-year intervals - as gags, short stories or installments in the fold-in mini-books section in the magazine center. Also in 1958, Marcel Denis briefly collaborated with Électricité Pour Tous, the magazine of the Belgian union of electrical operators. His feature for this magazine was called 'Les Élucubrations du Professeur Pompe', and had a similar approach. The artist however could not have the professor do inventions that work on coals, gas or petrol. Only electricity was allowed.

'Tif et Tondu à Hollywood' (Dutch-language publication from Robbedoes #1139, 1960).

Tif et Tondu
With only a handful of published comic stories to his name, Marcel Denis got the opportunity to take over two of Spirou magazine's main comic heroes, Tif and Tondu. In 1958, their artist Will decided to leave Spirou and become art director of the competing comic magazine, Tintin. Through mediation of the series' scriptwriter and his studio colleague Maurice Rosy, Marcel Denis was offered to take over 'Tif et Tondu'. The series had been a mainstay in Spirou since the first 1938 issue; originally created by Fernand Dineur, and then built into a clever mix of fantasy adventure and detective comic by Will and Rosy. While he plotted his first story together with Rosy, Denis immediately gave the series a personal spin, with a strong focus on his trademark slapstick humor. In 'Tif et Tondu à Hollywood' (1960), he had the two chubby heroes - one bald and the other bearded - go to Hollywood to have their adventures made into a film. What followed was a succession of goofy humor scenes in which Tif and Tondu are confronted with movie gadgettery or pursued by a group of gangsters who try to kidnap them. His next story was the equally slapstick-filled 'Ne Tirez Pas Sur l'Hyppocampe' (1961). Written in collaboration with Marcel Remacle, the action was this time set around a stolen submarine, on which Tif is accidentally held prisoner.

Tif et Tondu, by Marcel Denis
Tif et Tondu - 'Ne Tirez Pas Sur l'Hyppocampe' (Dutch publication from Robbedoes #1207, 1961).

Because the two stories by Marcel Denis were so out-of-touch with the comic's original outset, publisher Charles Dupuis refused to have them included in the 'Tif et Tondu' book series. This was a huge disappointment to Marcel Denis, especially since the cover for 'Tif et Tondu à Hollywood' was finished and ready to go to the printer. So after two stories, Denis' tenure came to an end. By the early 1960s, Will had also returned to Spirou. After a couple of years doing other comic projects, he resumed his work as the artist of 'Tif et Tondu' in 1964, continuing it with Rosy in the same fashion they had done before. Since the two Denis stories were never officially reprinted, they faded into obscurity. Even though 'Tif et Tondu à Hollywood' was released in a 1983 limited fan edition by Éditions Albino, it took until 2019 before Éditions Dupuis dedicated the third volume of their luxury 'Tif et Tondu' book collection to the Denis era. Also included were a career-spanning overview article by Christian Jasmes and the first thirteen pages of 'Les Saucisses du Docteur Snoss', a 'Tif et Tondu' story that Denis had been working on from a script by Maurice Rosy, but which for unknown reasons remained unfinished and unpublished. If completed, it would have been a story in the style the series was known for, filled with mystery, action and humor.

'Hultrasson' solo story by Marcel Denis. 'Les Vikings aux Champs' (Dutch-language version from Robbedoes #1519, 1967).

Collaboration with Marcel Remacle
One of his co-workers in the Dupuis art studio became one of Marcel Denis's closest friends, Marcel Remacle. An unlikely pairing, considering that Remacle was known as a reclusive misanthrope, while Denis's general attitude was cheerful and optimistic. But their characters complemented each other perfectly, particularly in their joy in creating crazy characters. After collaborating on the 1961 'Tif et Tondu' episode, they worked together again on the fold-in mini-book 'Les Blaireaux sont Fatigués' (1963), before launching the humor adventure series about 'Hultrasson le Viking' (1964-1967). He was first introduced to readers in Spirou issue #1351 (5 March 1964). Characterized by a touch of fantasy and a wacky sense of humor, the series stars a viking in the service of King Harald-les-Beaux-Cheveux ("King Harald-with-the-Beautiful-Hairs"). Hultrasson is constantly crossed on his missions by the evil barbarian Sépadeffasson, who is destined to overthrow King Harald. Sépadeffasson's servant is the sly Payasson, whose looks were based on Spirou's editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte. To share the workload, the stories were pencilled by Remacle and inked by Denis, while Vicq took care of the scriptwork for the episodes 'Fais-moi Peur Viking' (1964) and 'Hultrasson Chez les Scots' (1965). When the scriptwriter suddenly disappeared, Maurice Tillieux wrote the third story, 'Hultrasson Perd Le Nord' (1966). In that same year, Remacle and Denis made two short spin-off stories starring Sépadeffasson. A (temporary) fall-out between the two artists ended their collaboration, and Remacle sold his share of the rights to publisher Dupuis. Denis made one more short story in 1967, but it took until 1973 before the series (briefly) returned. The fourth serial, 'L'Eau de Politesse', was once again scripted by Tillieux, but this time drawn by Vittorio Leonardo.

Between 1968 and 1971, the friendship was restored and Marcel Denis helped Remacle with the inking of two albums in his signature series, the pirate comic 'Le Vieux Nick et Barbe-Noire'.

Later life and death
Another clash with Marcel Remacle, as well as serious health problems, urged Marcel Denis to leave the comic industry. In 1971, he switched to a job with a more steady paycheck in the printing industry. In the early 1980s, he however returned to drawing and painting, taking lessons from fine art painter Gérard Deuquet at the Charleroi Academy of Fine Arts. In 1992, the Charleroi Comics Festival honored Marcel Denis with an overview exposition of his career in comics. For the occasion, Marcel Remacle contributed a text evoking their years of close collaboration, while praising his friend's accomplishments. On 18 March 2002, at the age of 79, Marcel Denis passed away in the town of Lobbes, not far from Charleroi.

Presentation of Marcel Denis in the "Spirou encyclopedia" (Spirou/Robbedoes #1150, 1960). Translation: "Draughtsman of variable, but rather disturbing size. Owner of a guitar and a 2 HP. Sometimes confuses these two instruments. At a very young age, he threw himself with all his wits on humorous drawings. He took Tif and Tondu down Hollywood's twisting paths."

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