Suske en Wiske by Paul Geerts
Suske en Wiske - 'Angst op de Amsterdam'.

Paul Geerts is a Belgian comics artist, best known as the first author to continue Willy Vandersteen's popular series 'Suske en Wiske', which he did from late 1971 until mid-2001. During his run, international translations of the franchise were attempted, though the most dominant market became the Netherlands. Geerts' stories were often inspired by his own exotic travels and notable for their sentimentality. He was additionally in charge of the studio, training assistants and acting as spokesperson to the press. During his 30 year-run on 'Suske en Wiske', Geerts was often unfavorably compared with Vandersteen and criticized. However, as time went on, his stories have received more appreciation in their own right. Since his retirement, Geerts has additionally drawn the comics series 'Mo, Jade & Plakapong' (2005), of which the profits go to charity.

Early life
Paul Geerts was born in 1937 in Turnhout as son of a metal worker/industrial designer. His father encouraged his love for drawing by letting him copy pieces of metal as technically accurate as possible. Geerts grew up reading comics by Hergé, Willy Vandersteen and André Franquin, ranking these three as his prime graphic influences. At age 14 he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He made such progress, that his teachers felt he was ready for their prestigious painting course. Unfortunately, Geerts' parents couldn't afford it and thus he left the Academy after three-and-a-half years. The dropout tried to find a job, yet since many companies insisted that he did his military service first, he joined the army. Geerts published his first illustrations in the monthly barracks magazine Het Ezeltje. He even got his adjutant so far that he was allowed to just make drawings in his office, instead of doing military exercises. His fellow recruits weren't jealous, since Geerts made drawings in commission for them. When his officers found out that he earned money with this, he was fined. Geerts nevertheless continued on the sly. After being caught again, he received ten days house arrest for disobedience. Yet in the end, even some officers requested him to paint portraits for them.


'De Verdwenen Smirrel' (Ohee #394, 31 October 1970).

Early career
Back in civilian life Geerts tried out various jobs, including window dresser in the Innovation department store and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. His work as film poster artist and advertising illustrator appealed to him the most, yet he found a more stable vocation in a printing firm. It enabled him to continue illustrating in his spare time. He livened up the pages of a junior high school math book, 'Levend Rekenen' (1959) and made his first comic strip, 'De Chirowietjes', for the boy scout magazine Trouw & Lente, based on a script by Jo Van Leinen. Geerts additionally drew two science fiction adventure stories, 'De Melkweglopers' and 'De Verdwenen Smirrel' (1970), which were serialized in 't Kapoentje (the junior supplement of Het Volk) and Ohee (the junior supplement of De Gazet van Antwerpen). Decades later, these stories were released in either special edition book formats for comics events or archival collections.

Studio Vandersteen
In 1967, Geerts applied for a job with Willy Vandersteen, who at that point already ran the most lucrative comics studio in Flanders. Yet he didn't make an appointment and just rang Vandersteen's doorbell. The spiritual father of 'Suske en Wiske' was kind enough to take a look at his portfolio and pay him a compliment. Nevertheless he told him to practice some more and contact him again later. Predictably, Geerts didn't hear from him again. He therefore phoned him a couple of times until he eventually received an official appointment. Vandersteen gave him a few test assignments to get the studio's house style in his fingers. Five months later he was allowed to illustrate a script. Vandersteen was pleased with the end results and so, on 2 January 1968, Geerts was officially hired. During his first two years, Geerts started off as a writer-inker-artist on 'Jerom' and 'Bessy', two series which were surprise hits in Germany. Vandersteen even had a separate studio making exclusive German-language 'Bessy' stories for publisher Bastei Verlag, some which had to be churned out on a monthly, even weekly basis! Sometimes Geerts filled in as an inker on some of Vandersteen's series intended for the Dutch-language market such as 'De Rode Ridder' and 'Biggles'.

Meanwhile, Vandersteen and Geerts grew closer. The maestro taught his pupil a lot about scriptwriting and narrating in images. Geerts was in such awe that he worked hard to mimick Vandersteen's style. After a while, he saw him less as a boss and more as a friend and mentor. He won Vandersteen's trust by frequently showing initiative in solving unforeseen problems. At one point, he even became his unofficial private chauffeur, driving his boss to public meetings and his favorite bars.


Suske en Wiske - 'De Gekke Gokker'.

Suske en Wiske
In 1970, Geerts succeeded Eduard De Rop as main inker of Vandersteen's signature series 'Suske en Wiske'. The first full story he was allowed to ink was 'De Charmante Koffiepot' (1970). However, in the following year Geerts bought an issue of the West-German magazine Stern and noticed it had a children's supplement - Sternchen - with only one comic strip: 'Jimmy das Gummipferd' by Roland Kohlsaat. Realizing the financial possibilities, Geerts drew a comic strip of his own, about a pixie and a dog, and offered it to Stern. They showed interest, but Vandersteen heard from the plan and feared he might lose his best and most trusted employee. Therefore he quickly asked Geerts whether he wanted to be his successor on 'Suske en Wiske' altogether. At that point, Vandersteen had written and drawn the series for more than 25 years. While he was assisted, he still wrote all the stories himself and did most of the penciling on his own. But now he felt it was time to pass the series to somebody else. His choice for Geerts surprised some at the studio, most notably Eduard De Rop, who had been the main inker of 'Suske en Wiske' long before Geerts was even hired at the studio. Geerts was quite stunned as well. and asked a few days to think about it. But it didn't take long before he accepted the offer. His deal with Stern fell through as a result, but Geerts never regretted his choice.

The first 'Suske en Wiske' story Geerts wrote and drew completely on his own was 'De Gekke Gokker' (1971-1972), in which Lambik is seduced by a demon and becomes a gambling addict. It debuted in De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad on 28 December 1971. Originally, Geerts wanted to make a story about the dominance of supermarkets over small stores as criticism of commercialism. Vandersteen felt this went against his own business interests, since many supermarkets sold his 'Suske en Wiske' albums. Nevertheless, his trust in Geerts was immense, as he had only read a synopsis of 'De Gekke Gokker' and insisted on following the finished story in the papers, rather than reading everything beforehand. The story was also translated in German as 'Der Verrückte Spieler'.

Paul Geerts continued the successful formula Vandersteen had established. He didn't expand the series much, nor introduced new recurring characters. The only exception was Jerom's mother Moe Mie, who debuted in 'De Malle Mergpijp' (1972-1973). In 'De Hellegathonden' (1986), readers saw professor Barabas' great-grandfather, though he didn't return in other stories. While Geerts wrote and drew the majority of the stories until 1990, he received assistance from co-workers like Eugeen Goossens and Eduard De Rop on the inking. From 'Angst op de Amsterdam' (1985) on, Eric De Rop became Geerts' permanent inker. Vandersteen himself also remained available for creative advice. He always knew a great plot development or good gag to keep stories entertaining. Some stories made after Vandersteen's retirement were however still written or drawn by him. He drew 'De Ruige Regen' (1985) and 'De Wervelende Waterzak' (1988), while scripting 'De Vinnige Viking' (1976), 'Het Verborgen Volk' (1976), 'Het Bretoense Broertje' (1982), 'De Ruige Regen' (1985), 'De Eenzame Eenhoorn' (1986-1987) and 'De Wervelende Waterzak' (1988). Otherwise, all other regular 'Suske and Wiske' stories from late 1971 until 1989 were mainly written and drawn by Geerts. From 'De Speelgoedspiegel' (1989) on, Marc Verhaegen helped with the artwork until he was allowed, from 'De Goalgetter' (1990) on, to write and draw his own stories. He officially succeeded Geerts in 2001.


Suske en Wiske - 'De Nare Varaan'.

Modernizations
By being two decades younger than Vandersteen, Geerts had more feeling with the interests of new generations of readers, a fact that even the maestro himself acknowledged. As in previous decades, the backgrounds and household objects went along with the changing times. The characters' sense of fashion barely didn't. In the early 1970s, Suske and Wiske were sometimes seen in hip jeans, but this already happened under Vandersteen's run and was simply continued by Geerts for a few albums, until the kids returned to their familiar outfits. With 'Amber' (1999), controversy arose as Suske and Wiske suddenly received more drastic trendy clothing, like a top and mini-skirt for Wiske and baggy trousers for Suske. Fan backlash was so huge that the idea was harkened back a little, with Wiske only losing the sleeves of her white shirt.

Travel stories and foreign translations
Some stories were inspired by Paul Geerts' travels to exotic countries, such as the United States ('Het Kregelige Ketje', 1979-1980), Peru ('De Tamme Tumi', 1983-1984), Nepal ('De Parel in de Lotusbloem', 1987), India ('Lambik Baba', 1991), Iceland ('De Edele Elfen', 1987), Austria ('Het Wondere Wolfje', 1991), Aruba ('Het Aruba-Dossier', 1996) and Papua New Guinea ('De Mompelende Mummie' [1997], De Vogels der Goden' [1997]). Interviewed in 2016 by Martin Hofman for De Stripspeciaalzaak, Geerts said that for his story 'De Kleine Postruiter' (1989-1990), in which the characters travel from Mechelen, Belgium, to Innsbruck, Germany, he actually drove the same route by car to collect documentation. It took him four days! Some of these travel albums were made in an attempt to appeal to local markets. During the Vandersteen years, 'Suske en Wiske' had already seen translations in French, German, Spanish, Brazilian, Afrikaans and Italian, with only the French ones doing well. When Geerts was in charge, a few stories were translated into English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, Persian, Indonesian, Tibetan and Tamil. Yet none really got the series launched. In some cases, cultural differences were a factor. The 'Suske en Wiske' story 'Het Dreigende Dinges' (1984), for instance, is based on Ouida's novel 'A Dog of Flanders' which is set in Hoboken and Antwerp. While obscure in Europe, 'A Dog of Flanders' is considered a classic in Japan and Korea and much tourism from these countries to Belgium is motivated by it. The album was therefore translated in Japanese, but local readers took offense to the fact that all Eastern characters were drawn with bright yellow skin and eyes reduced to stripes, despite Geerts' good intentions.


Suske en Wiske - 'De Woeste Wespen'.

Breakthrough in the Netherlands
'Suske en Wiske' had decent sales in the Netherlands since the 1950s, when the series suddenly achieved a major commercial breakthrough thanks to the TV series 'Suske en Wiske' (1976), broadcast on Dutch public television by the TROS. In Flanders, episodes were repeated on the public channel BRT (nowadays VRT). Using Punch and Judy-style puppet performances and aided by a catchy theme song by Piet Souer, the show drew high ratings. Six stories were exclusively written for the program. Geerts adapted them into comic books, which were added to the regular 'Suske en Wiske' series: 'De Minilotten van Kokonera' (1975), 'De Zingende Kaars' (1975), 'De Gouden Locomotief' (1975-1976), 'De Windbrekers' (1976), 'De Regenboogprinses' (1976) and 'Het Laatste Dwaallicht' (1976). These were not straightforward adaptations, since the puppet series was limited by its format. The stories were expanded with more characters, gags and subplots. Over time, the Dutch market became so important that more and more albums were set in the Netherlands: 'De Efteling-Elfjes' (1977), 'De Woelige Wadden' (1981-1982), 'De Belhamel-Bende' (1982), 'Het Delta Duel' (1983), 'Angst op de Amsterdam' (1984-1985), 'De Woeste Wespen' (1987), 'De Goalgetter' (1990), 'Het Witte Wief' (1990-1991) and 'Volle Maan' (1996-1997). In 1987 Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands approached Geerts to make a story to bring attention to the endangered black rhinoceros. The prince was a member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and wanted to promote the organisation. In the story 'De Rino Ramp' (1989), the characters travel to Tanzania, where they fight poachers. His Majesty wrote a special letter to be printed within the comic book. This marks the first and only time a member of royalty has ever written a text for a comic book!

Suske & Wiske, Tibetan version, by Paul Geerts
Suske & Wiske - 'De Parel in de Lotusbloem' (Tibetan version).

Tribute to and death of Willy Vandersteen
Geerts always maintained the highest respect for Willy Vandersteen. He gave his mentor guest appearances in the albums 'De Nare Varaan' (1974) and 'De Belhamel Bende' (1982). On 23 January 1987 he organized a surprise event for his boss by having him appear on the TV show 'In De Hoofdrol', the Dutch version of the format 'This Is Your Life'. Up to that point, only Dutch celebrities had appeared on the show, hosted by Mies Bouwman. Like all other guests, he was treated with surprise appearances of relatives, friends and colleagues, some of which he hadn't seen in ages. Even his new-born grandchild was brought in (he hadn't been told yet that the baby was born that same week). To top it all off, Geerts presented Vandersteen a copy of a completely new 'Suske en Wiske' album, 'De Parel in de Lotusbloem', which he made in secret as a homage to his mentor. After the show, when Geerts drove Vandersteen home, the veteran called it "the most beautiful day of his life."

The plot of 'De Parel in de Lotusbloem' revolves around aunt Sidonia, who falls terminally ill. To save her, the characters travel to Nepal and return with a magical scarf which grants her eternal life. In the final panel, an extra scarf is is found and worn by Vandersteen in a touching cameo. At the night of Vandersteen's appearance on 'In De Hoofdrol', 'De Parel in de Lotusbloem' hadn't been published anywhere. After the emission, many viewers instantly went to stores to order a copy, which helped it become a bestseller. It was also translated in various languages. Dutch crown-prince Willem Alexander (since 2013 king of the Netherlands) gave a copy to the Prince of Nepal. But to Geerts, the greatest thrill was that some time later, Vandersteen during an interview named 'De Parel in de Lotusbloem' his favorite 'Suske en Wiske' story of all time.


Suske en Wiske - 'De 7 Schaken'.

From 'De Krachtige Krans' (1989) on, at the insistence of the head of Standaard Uitgeverij's comics department, Manu van Treeck, Paul Geerts was finally mentioned in the credits of the 'Suske en Wiske' albums. Sadly enough, Vandersteen's health started to deteriorate around this time. By the summer of 1990 he was in the hospital, while Geerts started reorganizing the studio and going through his taskmaster's documents to prepare for the inevitable. He discovered an unfinished drawing, depicting Geerts as Noah and his Arc, standing alongside the cast of 'Suske en Wiske'. The maestro had been working on it as a surprise for Geerts, but it was still unsigned. Unfortunately Vandersteen was already too weak at this point to put his signature underneath it. In August 1990, Geerts and his family were on holiday at the Costa Brava, when he suddenly received a call that Vandersteen was on the verge of dying. Geerts instantly drove back to Belgium in one night. To his luck, Vandersteen was still alive when he arrived at the hospital, yet in a coma. Geerts visited him every day and talked to him, even though he didn't wake up anymore. The day after he promised his mentor that he would take care of the studio after his death, Vandersteen passed away. Geerts always felt this was a sign that he was given a final blessing. Indeed Geerts has done everything to keep the memory of Vandersteen alive. He praised him in every interview, lecture and book public event. The 'Suske en Wiske' story 'De 7 Schaken' (1995), made to celebrate the series' 50th anniversary, was drawn by Geerts as a special tribute. It is set during Vandersteen's childhood in the 1920s. Partially thanks to Geerts' efforts, Vandersteen's old Kalmthout villa was redecorated into a museum in 1997.

Suske en Wiske by Paul Geerts
Suske en Wiske - 'De Krachtige Krans'.

The studio after Vandersteen's passing
After Vandersteen's death, Geerts became head of the studio. Unfortunately several of Vandersteen's series were discontinued within the decade. In the case of 'De Geuzen' this was merely stipulated in Vandersteen's testament, but 'Bessy', 'Jerom' and 'Robert en Bertrand' were all unable to keep up decent sales and thus axed. Only 'Suske en Wiske' and 'De Rode Ridder' (by Karel Biddeloo) kept on running. Geerts oversaw several projects, including the weekly Suske en Wiske Weekblad (1993-2003), for which he wrote the foreword in the very first issue. He was also involved with the popular 1994 theatrical musical based on 'Suske en Wiske', performed by het Koninklijk Jeugdtheater in Antwerp. Geerts made the preliminary sketches for 'Klein Suske en Wiske' (later renamed 'Junior Suske en Wiske'), a spin-off in which Suske and Wiske are five-year old toddlers, launched in 2002. Apart from these sketches, Geerts had nothing to do with the overall concept, which was written over the years by Urbanus, Pieter van Oudheusden, Willem Ritstier, Dirk Nielandt, Kris De Saeger, Anneke Scholtens, Peter van Gucht and Marc Legendre, and drawn by Jeff BroeckxDick Heins and Charel Cambré.

Merely three years after Vandersteen's death, Geerts was diagnosed with a tumor in his central nerve system. He needed a specialized surgeon to bring the operation to a good end. His doctor managed to make an appointment with one in Piacenza, Italy, but Geerts had to wait seven months. Even so, there was a chance he wouldn't make it. With this depressing perspective, Geerts found escapism in his work. He worked dutifully on several 'Suske and Wiske' stories in advance, determined to make sure that the series could continue for a while during his revalidation or, even worse, if he died under the knife. Every day he got up at three o'clock in the morning to get to the studio by half past three and work until five o' clock in the afternoon. In the end, seven months worth of material was ready. Luckily the operation was a success. The only downside was that his vocal chords had to be cut, which meant that he had to learn to speak again with aid of a logopedician.


Suske en Wiske - 'Robotkop'.

During his operation, Geerts slipped into a coma and afterwards claimed to have had a near-death experience. Like many survivors, it left him with a different, more positive outlook on life. He even used it as a plot development in the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'Robotkop' (1996), where Lambik also has a near-death experience on the operation table in a hospital in Piacenza. He travels through the proverbial white tunnel and ends up in the afterlife. There he not only meets various ghost characters from previous 'Suske en Wiske' stories, but also Vandersteen himself, who assures him that he won't die and his friends need him. Lambik then awakes from his coma, much to everybody's delight. The scene met with some controversy from readers who felt this was far too heavy-handed for a comic strip aiming at family audiences. On the other hand, his old colleague Merho praised the narrative as a "masterful story one couldn't make up if one hadn't experienced it firsthand."

While Geerts survived his operation, his final years at the studio were less happy. Since 1989 Geerts had trained his assistant Marc Verhaegen to become his successor. Already in 1990, Verhaegen was allowed to write and draw his own 'Suske en Wiske' stories, though Geerts still had final say. However, because of Geerts' absence during his illness in the mid-1990s, Verhaegen systematically took over more tasks. Interviewed by Martin Hofman for De Stripspeciaalzaak in 2016, Geerts felt increasingly belittled and shoved aside by his publishing company Standaard Uitgeverij. One executive even downright called his stories "too old-fashioned", specifically dismissing the album 'Volle Maan' (1996). Geerts described a meeting between a notary, lawyer and accountant who all told him he was no longer allowed to create new 'Suske en Wiske' stories. Nevertheless, he kept going to the studio, but spent most of his time answering fanmail and chatting with people from the Suske en Wiske Museum in Kalmthout.

However, despite Geerts' account of events, new albums by his hand were still published up until 'Lili Natal' (2002). The only difference was that Verhaegen produced more and more albums, which still bore Geerts' name in the credits. In 2002 Geerts officially retired. His successor, Marc Verhaegen, made a tribute 'Suske en Wiske' story for him: 'De Verdwenen Verteller' ("The Disappeared Narrator"). In March 2020, Paul Geerts and inker Eric De Rop collaborated once again on a 'Suske en Wiske' story. 'De Preutse Prinses' was created as stand-alone volume to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the franchise. Unfortunately, the corona virus pandemic caused the release of Geerts' first story in almost 20 years to be postponed for a few months. It was eventually released with less fanfare that normally would have been the case.


 'Suske en Wiske' - 'De Stoute Steenezel'.

Criticism
When Geerts took over 'Suske en Wiske' in 1971-1972, he instantly met with criticism from longtime readers. Many felt the stories never reached the same heights of Vandersteen's. Geerts gradually reduced physically impossible cartoony gags in favor of more realism. Sentimental melodrama became more prominent. Wiske regularly got jealous whenever her friend Suske received romantic attention from other girls. Aunt Sidonia and Lambik also went through tough personal breakdowns in several stories. Again, the emotional arguments were spread out, much like a soap opera. Some stories, like 'De Rino Ramp' (1989) and 'Robotkop' (1996) featured very graphic death scenes, with lots of blood. Geerts additionally made more use of frightening horror scenes in stories like 'De Krachtige Krans' (1987-1988), 'De Mysterieuze Mijn' (1990) and 'Volle Maan' (1996). Some of Geerts' religious convictions were also considered unwanted personal opinions shoehorned in a family series. In 'De Mysterieuze Mijn' (1990), Saint Barbara is used as a deus ex machina to save mine workers. The philosophies of Indian guru Sai Baba dominate the plot of 'Lambik Baba' (1991), while Lambik flies up to Heaven and back in 'Robotkop' (1996).


Sentimentality in 'De Lieve Lilleham'.

The criticism increased once Vandersteen's health in the late 1980s no longer allowed him to provide creative advice. After his death in 1990, Geerts and the other studio workers now had to carry on 'Suske en Wiske' on their own strength, which wasn't an easy task. Interviewed in newspaper De Morgen of 30 March 1995, Geerts said that there had been times in his career that he was severely depressed, which was unknowingly reflected in his writing. It was Vandersteen himself who pulled his co-worker back and stated that values like friendship, sentiment, tolerance and helpfulness needed to be at the forefront.

Following in Vandersteen's footsteps was of course no easy task. The comics grandmaster was such an exceptional storyteller and so beloved with general audiences, that he became a tough act to follow. Anyone who had to continue 'Suske en Wiske' after him would've received criticism, no matter how hard he tried. Geerts was always the first to modestly admit that he could never reach Vandersteen's level. Over time, Geerts' stories have been vindicated by fans. They're nowadays judged on their own terms, rather than compared with Vandersteen's. Some even feel that compared with his colleagues and successors, Geerts's stories still had a certain quality level in stories and artwork. When it was announced in 2020 that Geerts made a new 'Suske en Wiske' story, fans' reactions were very enthusiastic.


'Suske en Wiske' - 'De Rino Ramp'.

Commercial turn
The Geerts era is also associated with increasing commercial exploitation of the 'Suske en Wiske' franchise. Marketing opportunities were often put before creative independency or the series' Flemish roots. After the Dutch success of the 1976 puppet TV series, the "hollandization" of the book series alienated quite some Flemish readers. In 'De Goalgetter' (1990), for instance, Suske becomes the best soccer player in the world, but he joins the Dutch national team instead of the Belgian. In Geerts' defense, much of the things he was blamed for already started when Vandersteen still wrote and drew the series. Both Vandersteen and his publisher Standaard Uitgeverij approached 'Suske en Wiske' as a commercial product. And when one actually counts the amount of stories set in the Netherlands as opposed to the ones set in Belgium, the latter are still in the majority.

Tailor-made stories
During Geerts' run, many exclusive stories were made outside of the regular series. Some were for summer or winter holiday books to promote the studio and Standaard Uitgeverij's other comics. Other 'Suske en Wiske' stories were even more blatant product placement. Local tourism was promoted in 'De Vliegende Klomp' (1975), a story made for the Tourist Association in the Dutch province North Brabant, and 'Een Bij voor Jou en Mij' (1982), which was sponsored the Apiculture Museum in Kalmthout. Some stories were made in collaboration with humanitarian organisations, such as the Dutch Red Cross ('Beter voor Bert, 1983) and the WWF ('De Rinoramp', 1989), others were thinly veiled commercials for theme parks, such as De Efteling ('De Efteling-Elfjes' [1977], 'Fata Morgana' [1988]) and Bellewaerde ('De Kattige Kat', 1984-1985). Exclusive albums sponsored the brands Tide ('De Gouden Bloem', 1974), Hero ('Het Verloren Zwaard', 1980), Argenta ('De Zilveren Appels', 1981), Puratos ('De Blijde Broodeters', 1982), Presto Print ('Het Onbekende Eiland', 1982), Prodent ('De Tandentikkers', 1985), Sony ('Sony-San', 1985), Albert Heijn ('Witte Zwanen', 1987), Eru ('Het Gouden Kuipje', 1989), Ozo ('De Gouden Friet', 1990) and Pro-Post ('De Macabere Macralles', 1993). Even promoting two rival products wasn't beneath the studio. 'De Lollige Lakens' (1977) advocated Ariel washing powder, while 'Het Monster van Loch Ness' (1978), 'De Witte Gems' (1978) and 'De Bevende Berken' (1984) were sponsored by Dash! And naturally all these albums became treasured finds for collectors afterwards... Many of the tailor-made 'Suske en Wiske' stories were however not created by Geerts himself, but assigned to other studio members, such as Eric De Rop and Eugeen Goossens.


Suske en Wiske - 'De Raap van Rubens'.

Event-driven stories
From 1977 on, Studio Vandersteen and Standaard Uitgeverij regularly tried to coincide the release of the regular albums with press-worthy events. The 400th anniversary of painter Peter Paul Rubens' birth, for instance, inspired 'De Raap van Rubens' (1977), while other albums were pushed by the anniversaries of the death years of novelist Hendrik Conscience ('De Gouden Ganzenveer', 1982-1983), Vincent Van Gogh ('De Kleurenkladder', 1989-1990) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ('Het Wondere Wolfje', 1990-1991). Some albums anticipated theme years, including the "Year of the Village" ('Het Drijvende Dorp', 1978), Unicef's "The Year of the Child" ('De Pompenplanters', 1979), the 1000th anniversary of Brussels ('Het Kregelige Ketje', 1979-1980) and the completion of the Dutch Delta Works ('De Delta Duel', 1983). The commercial background aside, 'De Raap van Rubens' and 'Angst op de Amsterdam' can be ranked among Geerts' best stories.

One remarkable story was 'De Krimson-Crisis' (1988), an album instigated by the 'Vlaanderen Leeft' ("Flanders Lives") cultural campaign in Flanders. However, the book had such a Flemish-nationalist tone and over-reliance on guest appearances by Flemish media celebrities, that critics felt it crossed the border to blatant propaganda. In the Netherlands, readers couldn't follow most of the references and in Wallonia it wasn't even translated, the only 'Suske en Wiske' story to have that "honour". Two other albums were also criticized because of rapidly dated allusions with little interest to a majority of readers. Geerts and Marc Verhaegen's 'De Rebelse Reinaert' (1999) retold the medieval poem about the diabolical fox Reynard as a metaphor for Belgian child molester and kidnapper Marc Dutroux. Throughout the story, several other scandals which dominated Belgian media at the time were referenced, such as the Agusta corruption affair, the murder of Karel van Noppen and the closing of the Renault factory in Vilvoorde. 'Het Enge Eiland' (2000) was based on the fear for the Millennium bug.


Flemish cameo-fest in 'De Krimson-crisis'. The man in the foreground is comedian & singer Urbanus. Various dialogues refer to Flemish songs, celebrities, radio and TV catchphrases and the slogan of the annual politically motivated event De Gordel, where Flemings are motivated to cycle and hike around Brussels. 

Mo, Jade & Plakapong
Since his retirement, Geerts spent most of his spare time painting. His work has been exhibited to great public interest, namely in Lissewege (2001, 2002), De Panne (2003), Kampen, The Netherlands (2004) and Zwolle (2007). Yet he also created a new comic book series, 'Mo en Jade', of which the first story, 'De Hemelboom', was exclusively published in the biography 'Paul Geerts: Dertig jaar peetvader van Suske en Wiske' (2005) by Theo Vaessen. The stories are set in North Vietnam, inspired by a trip Geerts made to this country. The main characters are the boy Mo and girl Jade, who meet a little blue Chinese dragon named Plakapong. Plakapong's design and arrogant behavior are quite similar to Mushu, the dragon from the Disney film 'Mulan' (1998). Since 2006, several albums were published through Pear Productions. The profits all go to humanitarian causes.

De Hemelboom by Paul Geerts
'Mo, Jade en Plakapong'.  'De Hemelboom'.

Festival van Middelkerke
Since 1987, Paul Geerts is house cartoonist of the annual Comics Festival in Middelkerke. He designed most of the flyers and advertisements.

Graphic contributions
Geerts contributed a 'Suske en Wiske' story to Standaard Uitgeverij's collective comic book 'Het Geheim van de Kousenband' (2001), which also features Marc Sleen and Dirk Stallaert's 'Nero', Merho's 'De Kiekeboes', Hec Leemans' 'F.C. De Kampioenen', Karel Biddeloo's 'De Rode Ridder', Marc Legendre's 'Biebel' and Willy Linthout and Urbanus' 'Urbanus'. He naturally paid homage to 'Suske en Wiske' in the book 'Suske en Wiske 60 Jaar!' (2005), which celebrated the series' 60th anniversary. In 2010 he was one of many artists who paid tribute to Pom in the collective albums 'Avontuur in de 21e Eeuw' (2010) and 'Op Het Spoor van Pom' (2011). In 2012 he also saluted Marc Sleen in the book 'Marc Sleen 90. Album Amicorum'.

Cameos
Geerts sometimes gave himself cameos in 'Suske en Wiske'. He can be seen in the background during Sidonia's wedding ceremony in 'De Briesende Bruid' (1968-1969). He is also the shy artist showing a sketch to the TV camera in 'De Gladde Glipper' (1973). He appears in Vandersteen's studio in 'De Belhamel Bende' (1982) and as a man whose face is covered by a scarf in 'De Zeven Schaken' (1995). Fellow studio workers also paid homage to Geerts. Marc Verhaegen made an entire tribute album, 'De Verdwenen Verteller' (2002), while Peter Van Gucht and Luc Morjaeu gave Geerts a cameo in 'De Krasse Kroko' (2007).

Recognition
On 16 December 2002, Paul Geerts was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion. Four years later, on 28 October 2006, he received a Stripvos, handed out by the Independent Flemish Comics Guild ("Vlaamse Onafhankelijke Stripgilde").

Books about Paul Geerts
For people interested in Geerts' life and career, Theo Vaessen's biography's '30 Jaar Peetvader van Suske en Wiske' (2005) is highly recommended.


Paul Geerts, signing in Erlangen (Photo courtesy of Henrik Bernd).

Spike and Suzy on the WWW
(in English, French and Dutch)

Series and books by Paul Geerts in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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