Edmund Bell, by René Follet
Edmund Bell - 'Le Diable au Cou'

René Follet was one of the most remarkable Belgian illustrators and comics artists, with a career spanning over 70 years. Widely praised for his elegant and dynamic art style, his baroque illustrations appeared in many books and magazines published in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Follet was capable of effectively capturing the mood of a story, while his almost elastic characters seemed to jump off the page. Nature elements like the sea appeared to be drawn spontaneous, but still mark great authenticity. It is therefore no surprise that clients regularly gave his drawings full-page exposure. While his art was admired by his peers, Follet always remained a so-called "artists' artist". His excursions into the field of comics were limited and short-lived, as they failed to capture a large audience. Still his oeuvre is varied, from the naval epic 'S.O.S. Bagarreur' (1968) and historical series such as 'Les Zingari' (1971-1973) and 'Steven Severijn' (translated as 'Steve Severin', 1975-1982) to elaborate novel adaptations of Homer's 'Iliad' (1982), John Flanders' 'Edmund Bell' stories (1985-1990), Loup Durand's 'Daddy' (1991-1992) and Jérômine Pasteur's 'Shelena' (2005) and fully painted comics biographies about Madame Tussaud ('Terreur', 2002-2004) and Robert-Louis Stevenson ('Stevenson, le Pirate Intérieur', 2013). René Follet is furthermore one of the few comics artists who has worked for most of the leading post-war Belgian, Dutch and French comics magazines, such as Spirou, Tintin, Le Journal de Mickey, Pilote, Pep, Eppo and Donald Duck.


'L'Eau de Feu'.

Early life and career
Born in 1931 in Brussels' Woluwé-Saint-Lambert district (Sint-Lamberts-Woluwe in Dutch), the young René Follet became interested in comics and illustrations through the comics magazine Spirou. As a kid he used to copy entire issues. The magazine's main artist of the time, Jijé, is therefore one of his major influences. He also admired comics artists like Paul Cuvelier, Hans G. Kresse and Wilhelm Busch, illustrators Norman Rockwell, Harold Von Schmidt, Gustave Doré and Honoré Daumier, as well as classical painters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt, William Turner and Edgar Degas. Hergé gave him some advice during the war years, most notably to not attend art school! Follet had his first professional assignment at the age of 14, when he made 60 pencil drawings illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', which were then inked and colored by another artist. They were used as collectable images for the bilingual picture book 'L'Ile au trésor/Het Schatijland' (sic), published in 1945 by the chocolate brand Aiglon. In that same year, he began illustrating adventure and war stories in O.K. Magazine. Shortly afterwards, he drew a comic strip about Native Americans for the scouting magazine Plein Jeu: 'L'Eau de Feu' (1946). For the same magazine, he later made 'Les Aventures de Coq Sceptique. S.P. des Antilopes' (1948-1949) and 'Les Dangers du Trésor Vert' (1954). He signed these works with his boy scout totem name Wapiti (or "WAP"). For another Scouting magazine, Feu Sacré, he made a short-lived gag strip called 'Les Revers d'Aristide' (1949). In 1949 he illustrated another edition of 'Treasure Island', this time published by Casterman. In 1964 he'd also illustrate James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel 'The Last of the Mohicans'. 

Tintin/Spirou
By 1948 René Follet's father died, and he had to make a definitive career choice. Without any formal training, he chose illustration. In late 1948 and early 1949, his drawings appeared in the comics magazines Tintin (Lombard) and Spirou (Dupuis), at that point still signed with "Ref". Especially his illustration of a Native American throwing a tomahawk (Spirou, October 1949) was an early showcase of his dynamic linework. Later text serials with illustrations by Follet were Xavier Snoeck's 'Les Compagnons de l'Amazonie' (1953) and 'Aile Rouge contre Étoile Bételgeuse' (1966). Through Georges Troisfontaines' World's Presse agency, he drew eight short stories in Spirou's educational historical series 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle' between 1951 and 1958, written by Octave Joly. For Tintin, he illustrated many text stories and serials throughout the 1950s, most notably the westerns 'Texas Slim' by Marcel Artigues (succeeding Paul Cuvelier in 1952-1953) and 'Bill aux yeux clairs' by Sam Griffith (1954-1955). He also illustrated stories by Henri Vernes ('Secret de l'Homme en Noir', 1955), Yves Duval ('Pour sauver Dani!', 'Dernière Patrouille', 1955-1956) and Jean-Michel Charlier ('Le Monstre des Wambutis', 'Samouraïs du Soleil Noir' and 'Tempête à l'Ouest', 1957-1959). With Duval he also made a couple of short stories with the western hero 'Rocky Bill' (1953-1954) and the soccer champion 'Raymond Kopa' (1960). Follet and Duval additionally made the dramatic comics serial 'Peggy, Petit Oiseau sans Ailes' (1957) for the girls' magazine La Semaine de Suzette.

Rocky Bill, by Rene Follet
'Rocky Bill' (Dutch edition from Kuifje #6, 1954.

Illustrations
Around 1950, René Follet refused an offer from E.P. Jacobs to become the inker of the 'Blake et Mortimer' series. Determined to go his own way, he expanded his clients list during the 1950s and 1960s. He remained a regular illustrator for the Belgian Scouting movement. He not only made drawings for their calendars, but also for magazines such as Plein Feu, Feu Sacré, Le Guide, Scouts de France, Mowgli, Carrefour des Routiers, Nos Routes, Seeonee, Scout and Les Carnets de Seeonee. He worked with Jijé on the illustrations for a serialization of 'The Count of Monte Christo' in Le Moustique in 1951. While his drawings continued to appear in Tintin, Follet also did an occasional job for Lombard's advertising division Publi-Art, headed by Guy Dessicy. Notable was his cover illustration for the youth flyer of the World Expo in Brussels in 1958, which was issued by the organization in French, Dutch and English. Another commercial assignment was the short comic strip 'Noguès' (1960) in Benoît Gillain's promotional comic book Bonux-Boy. As a book illustrator, Follet worked for the Dupuis collections 'Spirou-Sélection' (1952-1954) and 'Terre Entière' (1967-1969), the school books of publisher Hachette, Marabout's 'Marabout Junior' collection and the Casterman book series 'Les Albums de l'Âge d'Or', 'Le Rameau Vert' and, most notably, 'Tous Frères', about missionaries in Africa. Equally edifying were his colorful illustrations for Caravane, the missionary magazine of the White Fathers, from 1958 on. He also worked on two text comic strips for this publication, with captions written by Vincent De Decker: 'Bracelet tabou' (1958-1962, the first episodes were drawn by Jo-El Azara) and 'Ganyatoukpou' (1962-1964). Later in the 1960s, Follet provided illustrations to magazines such as Motorama, Missi, Vie Féminine and Pilote.

Spirou cover, by René FolletTintin cover, by René Follet

Assistant to MiTacq and Vance
While his comics output was simmering during most of the 1960s, he did lend a helping hand to his friend MiTacq. While MiTacq already had his hands full on his signature series 'Les Patrouilles des Castor' in Spirou, he also drew the adventures of the solitary boy scout 'Jacques le Gall' for Pilote. René Follet assisted on the pencilling of the episodes 'La Déesse Noire' (1963), 'Le Secret des Templiers' (1965) and 'Les Naufrageurs' (1966). Even though MiTacq did the finished art and the inking, Follet's typical drawing style still echoes in the characters. Follet also worked on MiTacq's solo series 'Stany Derval' in Spirou, more specifically the episodes 'Le Trésor de Montorgueil' (1968) and 'Les Galops de l'Enfer' (1973). William Vance, who lived in the same quarters as Follet, could also count on his help. Follet participated in the pencil art of the series 'Bruno Brazil' episodes 'Commando Caïman' (1969) and 'La Nuit des Chacals' and the 'Bob Morane' stories 'La Prisonnière de l'Ombre Jaune' (1972) and 'L'Oeuil du Samouraï' (1973). Years later, Follet also assisted on Vance's 'Bruce J. Hawker' albums 'Les Bourreaux de la Nuit' (1990) and 'Le Royaume des Enfers' (1996), as well as the 'Marshal Blueberry' episode 'Mission Sherman' (1993).

SOS Barrageur, by René Follet
'Alain Brisant'.

S.O.S. Bagarreur
René Follet's first full length comics story began serialization in Spirou issue #1552 in 1968. 'S.O.S. Bagarreur' was a maritime story about the rescue operations of a tugboat and its captain, Alain Brisant. Scriptwriter Maurice Tillieux was a big fan of naval stories, and delivered a well-documented script, while Follet was in his element with drawing the tempestuous sea. Unfortunately, Spirou's editor-in-chief was not convinced of the series' possibilities, and the project came to an end after one episode. It took until 1985 before Dupuis released it in book format, albeit shortened from 52 to 46 pages. Éditions de l'Élan released the full story in a large format luxury edition with all pages in facsimile in 2014.

comic art by René Follet
'Les Zingari'.

Les Zingari 
The experience with 'S.O.S. Bagarreur' however marked the start of René Follet's actual comics career. With Yvan Delporte, he subsequently made 'Les Zingari' (1971-1973), about a group of 19th century gypsy's with their traveling circus. The stories of ten pages in length were originally published in Le Journal de Mickey between 1971 and 1973 and reprinted with new coloring and amended artwork in Spirou between 1985 and 1987.

Ivan Zourine, by Rene Follet
Ivan Zourine - 'Les Ors du Caucase'.

Ivan Zourine
It was followed by the adventures and treasure hunts of the early 20th century Russian geologist 'Ivan Zourine' (1974) in Tintin. The stories, 'Le Testament de Sibérie', 'Les Ors du Caucase' and 'Sa Première Fugue' were written by Jacques Stoquart. A new episode, 'Fort Ginseng' (1976), was published in the Dutch comics magazine Eppo in 1976, and reprinted in Spirou in 1983. A final story, called 'Le Possédé' appeared in Spirou in 1984. Magic-Strip published two albums in 1979, while the complete series was compiled between 2005 and 2008 by Marie Moinard's small publishing label Des Ronds dans l'O.


'De Graaf van Monte Christo' (Donald Duck #8, 1981).

Illustration work for the Netherlands
René Follet had begun collaborating with Dutch magazines in the early 1960s, illustrating text stories for Panorama and Pep. From 1967 on he started  working more regularly for the comics magazines of the publishing house De Geïllustreerde Pers. Between 1967 and 1970 he provided Pep with elaborate illustrations for text serials like 'De Jongen en zijn Geweer' (1967-1968) by Tim Maran and Jack London's 'De Roep van de Wildernis' (1968) and 'Pittah de Grijze Wolf' (1970), and also for short stories by Quint and Jac. C. Constant. Between 1977 and 1987 Follet painted illustrations for text serials in the Dutch Donald Duck weekly as well. The first was the story 'Papa is een hond' (1977) by Guus Kuijer, then came Allard Schröder's retelling of 'The Count of Monte Christo' (1981) by Alexandre Dumas, 'Roelof en het vossejong' (1984) by Dick Walda, 'Het Hart van Steen' (1985) by Wilhelm Hauff and 'De Geest van de Zee' (1987) by Allard Schröder.

Steven Severijn, by Rene Follet
Steven Severijn #4 - 'De Dertiende Valk'.

Eppo - Steven Severijn
When the magazines Pep and Sjors were merged into Eppo magazine in 1975, editors Frits van der Heide and Martin Lodewijk had René Follet high on their wish list. Lodewijk developed the concept of 'De Omzwervingen van Steven Severijn' (1975-1982), a Hector Malot-like epic about a young boy who gets separated from his mother and sister during their emigration from Rotterdam to the USA. It became the longest series of René Follet's career, with each episode showing Steven in another part of the world, trying to reach America. The stories were written subsequently by Yvan Delporte, Jacques Stoquart and the Dutch scriptwriter Gerard Soeteman. Oberon collected the series in five albums between 1979 and 1982. Glénat released three albums in French under the title 'Steve Severin' between 1981 and 1984. The rest of the series wasn't published in French language until the small label BD Must picked it up in 2013. René Follet's final comics work for Eppo was the short one-shot story 'Op het Spoor van de Yeti' (1982), written by Wilbert Plijnaar.


Jean Valhardi - 'Les Naufrageurs aux Yeux Vides'.

Spirou - Jean Valhardi
In the early 1980s, Éditions Dupuis tried to revive the classic adventure comic 'Jean Valhardi', which had been created by Jijé and Jean Doisy back in the 1940s. René Follet was asked to draw the modern revival of the two-fisted investigator, which would coincide with the reprinting of the original album series. Beteen 1981 and 1984 three new stories appeared. 'Dossier X' (1981) and 'Les Naufrageurs aux Yeux Vides' (1982) were written by André-Paul Duchâteau, while the final episode, 'Un Gosse à Abattre' (1984), was written by Follet's regular scriptwriter Jacques Stoquart. Unfortunately the times had caught up with the classic hero, and the relaunch was a commercial failure. In Spirou #2450 of 1985 Follet additionally drew the humorous comics story 'Les Vieux' from a script by Raoul Cauvin, but the collaboration had no continuation.


'Shelena'

Literary adaptations
From then on, René Follet's comics output would be largely characterized by novel adaptations and one-shots. The adaptation of Homer's 'Iliad' was published by Glénat under the title 'L'Iliade' in 1982. He had made the comic with Stoquart back in 1974, but it had remained shelved since. During the 1980s Follet also had a fruitful collaboration with Editions Lefrancq as the illustrator of the novel series 'Bob Morane' by Henri Vernes and 'Edmund Bell' by Jean Flanders. Between 1986 and 1990 he also worked on a series of comics based on Flanders' occult detective series. 'Le Diable au Cou' was prepublished in Spirou, but the rest of the stories were published directly in albums by Claude Lefrancq. Follet made four albums in total, two with Jacques Stoquart, and two with Martin Lodewijk. The artwork of the second one, 'La Nuit de l'Araignée' (1987), earned him the Grand Prix du Dessin 1988 by the Chambre Belge des Experts en Bande Dessinée. Follet nonetheless left the series in 1990, while Stoquart made one additional album with the artist Wilbur Duquesnoy in 1993.

Follet moved on to work with novelist Loup Durand on a comics adaptation of his World War II novel 'Daddy' (1987). They made two albums (Claude Lefrancq, 1991-1992), which also contained full-page illustrations by Follet to complement the comics story.

Ikar, by René Follet
'Ikar'.

Other comics of the 1990s
The fantasy comic 'Ikar' (1995-1997) is an odd entry in Follet's oeuvre. The artist could indulge in drawing strange fantasy creatures to illustrate the story written by Makyo. The two stories were serialized in Spirou and published in book format by Glénat. From the 1990s on Follet painted the occasional cover for Spirou, while also drawing a couple of short comic stories, written by Fabien Vehlmann, Jean-Louis Janssens, Alcante or Jean-Michel Thiriet. With writer Jean-Claude de la Royère, René Follet also made two albums in commission of car brand Citroën: 'La Passion des Défis' (1996) and 'Les Fruits de la Passion' (1998).


'Terreur' #2.

Painted biographies and adaptations
Follet himself initiated his next comics project with writer André-Paul Duchâteau. In the diptych 'Terreur' (Lombard, 2002-2004), the authors delved into the life of famous wax sculptor "Madame" Marie Tussaud during the French Revolution, in Follet's vision a dark period in history. It was published in English by Cinebook under the title 'The Fascinating Madame Tussaud' (2007). Follet first worked with direct colours for these books, and he used this same technique for his following comics, most notably the one-shot 'Shelena' (Casterman, 2005), which was based on Jéromine Pasteur's novel 'L'Enfant qui Rêvait le Monde'. Follet took much effort in painting Haïti's exotic scenery in expressive colors. His next project was more contemporary. Based on the eponymous book by the French journalist Christophe de Ponfilly, 'L'Étoile du Soldat' (Casterman, 2007) tells the story of the poetic Russian guitar player, who is drafted into the Russian army and sent to the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War. With scriptwriter Pascal Bresson, he made the true crime one-shot 'L'Affaire Dominici' (Glénat, 2010), about the trial and conviction of Gaston Dominici. The old gruff shepherd was sentenced to death for the triple murder of three Britons in 1952, and then pardoned by General De Gaulle. Follet and Bresson cooperated again on 'Plus Fort que la Haine' (Glénat, 2014), a fictional story about racism in the USA during the 1930s. For these two collaborations, Follet used a moody black-and-white wash technique. With writer Rodolphe, he painted a comics biography of 19th century novelist Robert-Louis Stevenson for the Aire Libre collection of Éditions Dupuis: 'Stevenson, le pirate intérieur' (2013). In that same year, Follet illustrated a new publication of Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' for Dupuis, coincidentally the same book he had started his career with back in 1945.

Stevenson by René Follet
'Stevenson, le pirate intérieur'.

Graphical contributions
Since the 1980s, René Follet has furthermore contributed to several collective projects. He has participated in tributes to comics heroes like Derib's 'Buddy Longway ('Les Amis de Buddy Longway', 1983), Martin Lodewijk's 'Agent 327' ('Dossier Vier Dozijn' in Eppo, 1986) and Jean Roba's 'Boule et Bill' ('Boule et Bill font la fête', 1999). Of a more humanitarian nature were his contributions to 'Pétition: à la Recherche d'Oesterheld' (1985) for Amnesty International Belgium, 'Téléthon - La B.D. du Défi' (Lombard, 1990), an album to raise money for the battle against neuromuscular diseases, and Amnesty International's 'En chemin elle rencontre...' books (2009-2013), to raise awareness about violence against women. He furthermore drew for Frank Pé's anthology 'Entre Chats' (Delcourt, 1989). In 2004 Follet illustrated the third book of Bruno Senny's gastronomical detective stories with the character 'Baudruche' (Apach, 2003). The other installments featured illustrations by François Walthéry, Derib and Dany. Late in his career Follet helped Emmanuel Lepage with the artwork of 'Les Voyages d'Ulysse' (2016) and 'Les Voyages de Jules' (2019), two books co-written by Lepage and Sophie Michel and published by Daniel Maghen.

Recognition
Even though his comics projects were never bestsellers, René Follet has been awarded on several occasions. In 1975 he won the Prix Saint-Michel for 'Ivan Zourine'. The Prix Tournesol was handed to him at the Angoulême Festival in 1998 for the second 'Ikar' album, while 'Terreur' earned him the Grand Prix du Dessin by the Chambre Belge des Experts en Bande Dessinée in 2003. Follet was honored at the Huy Comics Festival in 2005, and he shared the Grand Prix de la Critique by the ACBD with Emmanuel Lepage and Sophie Michel for 'Les Voyages d'Ulysse' in 2017.

Death
René Follet continued to work until well into his eighties. If not for books or magazines, then for commissions by private individuals. The so-called "poet of the brush" passed away in Brussels on 13 March 2020, about a month before his 89th birthday.

Legacy and influence
Jozef Peeters compiled a monography about René Follet's career, called 'René Follet: Un rêveur sédentaire' in 2007. The book contained previously unpublished drawings, but also written contributions by the colleagues who admire him the most, such as Frank Pé, Alec Séverin, Tibet, René Hausman, Derib and Martin Lodewijk. Another artist influenced by him is Alain Dodier.


Self portrait of René Follet and his characters.

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