Willeke 7 - De tinnen soldaatjes

Edgard Gastmans is a Belgian comics artist and painter who has worked as an assistant for Willy Vandersteen, Frank Sels and Jef Nys. Nowadays he is mostly infamous for an obscure comic strip named 'Willeke' (1972-1974), whose graphic style and characters were so similar to Jef Nys' 'Jommeke' that the author was eventually condemned for plagiarism.

Edgard Gastmans was born in 1938 in Antwerp. At the age of twelve he began his professional career as a colorist for Ray Goossens' animation studio. Between 1954 and 1957 Gastmans studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. When he was 17 years old he worked as an animator for Raymond Leblanc's animation studio Belvision, where he made graphic contributions to their feature film 'Pinocchio Dans L'Espace' ('Pinocchio in Outer Space', 1965). The picture was a critical and commercial flop, but did inspire a comic strip adaptation which was published in Tintin magazine in December of that same year. The artist of this comic strip was Willy Lateste and the comic has never appeared in album format. Gastmans left the animation world and became a commercial designer for the Galerie Anspach in Brussels. After some design work he joined Willy Vandersteen's Studio Bessy in Antwerp in 1967, where he assisted Karel Verschuere in creating adventures of 'Bessy'. Verschuere eventually got fired and thus Gastmans and Frank Sels assumed control over the production of this popular western series. However, within a year Frank Sels too left the studio and tried to set up his own studio, Studio Sels, which created the western comic strip 'Silberpfeil' for the German publisher Bastei Verlag. Gastmans didn't stay long at Sels' studio and returned to drawing advertisements again.

Willeke 1 - De triestige plant

In the early 1970s Gastmans became an assistant for Jef Nys and helped him with his best-selling series 'Jommeke', among other projects. In 1972 Gastmans created a comic strip of his own named 'Willeke'. It stars two young boys, Willeke and Bartje, who own a talking crow named Jan. They enjoy typical children's adventure stories, often facing off against the recurring villains Brol and Krol. 'Willeke' originally appeared as a sticker album distributed by Studio Ridiga. People could collect the entire story by buying 336 different stickers to puzzle the story together. The marketing tactic worked and soon 'Willeke' was established as a regular comics series, even reaching as far as six albums. A seventh album was considered, but by 1974 Gastmans had joined publishing company Kluwer where his comics could appear in color. Nevertheless only one more album appeared, because Gastmans ran into legal troubles.

Willeke by Edgard Gastmans
Willeke 4 - De draak van Kokoluput

'Willeke' caught the eye of Gastmans' former employee Jef Nys, who felt that this comic strip was unsubtly similar to 'Jommeke'. Not only did the graphic style, lay-out and dialogues look eerily the same, even the characters were basically copies of 'Jommeke' characters. Willeke was a blond boy like Jommeke, Bartje a black-haired sidekick not unlike Jommeke's friend Filiberke and they even owned a talking bird for a pet, much like Jommeke's parrot Flip. The only difference was that Bartje's bird was a crow, whose ability to talk made far less sense compared with a parrot. To finish it all off, the recurring bad guys Brol and Krol were pure rip-offs of the scoundrels Kwak and Boemel. Gastmans was sued for plagiarism and sentenced to discontinue 'Willeke' immediately. Oddly enough, an eighth album of 'Willeke' was published in 1999 for the Mercator comic con, followed by a re-release of a few 'Willeke' stories by Uitgeverij Bonte. Gastmans was the first but not the last comics artist to be sued by Jef Nys for plagiarism. Between 1994 and 1995 two pornographic parodies of 'Jommeke' were published under the name 'Pommeke' by an unknown author: 'Hete Avonturen' (1994) and 'Erop of Eronder' (1995). Nys won his case and both of these albums were not only forced to be taken off the market, but the remaining copies were also ordered to be destroyed.

Since his 'Willeke' debacle not much has been heard about Edgard Gastmans. He returned to the academy and studied sculpting at the Academy of Mol and painting at the Academy of Lier. In the 2010s his paintings have been exhibited in Deurne and Lier.

Willeke, by Edgar GastmansWilleke, by Edgar Gastmans


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