Spirou et Fantasio by Tome & Janry
Spirou & Fantasio - La Vallée des Bannis

Janry is a Belgian comics artist who forms an inseparable duo with scripwriter Tome. Tome and Janry had a very popular and innovative run on 'Spirou et Fantasio' in Spirou magazine during the 1980s and 1990s. Their stories featured high tech science fiction, more global adventures and the return of several iconic side characters from its 1950s and 1960s heyday. Tome and Janry's tenure drew favorable comparisons with grandmaster André Franquin, who broke Spirou's title feature free from its more naive and improvised start under the reigns of Rob-Vel and Jijé in the 1940s. The duo also didn't shy away from parody, resulting in the gag-a-week feature about Spirou's more mischievous childhood, 'Le Petit Spirou' (1987-to date), which has become a bestselling comics series in its own right. To some younger generations 'Le Petit Spirou' is even more popular than the original franchise!

Le Petit Spirou
Le Petit Spirou

Jean-Richard Geurts was born in 1957 in Jadoville, in former Belgian Congo. He and his family returned to Belgium when he was eighteen years old. The young man showed an early talent for drawing, especially planes and other technological items. He studied Industrial Design in Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, near Brussels, for two years, where one of his teachers was Guy Brasseur. Among his fellow students were Philippe Vandevelde (Tome) and Stéphane De Becker (Stuf), who became his longtime friends and colleagues in later years. Geurts began his professional career in the comics industry as an assistant of comics artist Francis Bertrand. He mainly participated in Bertrand's production for the Stone Age comic 'Die Pichelsteiner' in commission of the German Kauka Verlag. By the mid 1970s he was working with Dupa, whom he assisted on his signature series 'Cubitus' and on 'Chlorophylle', a funny animal series originally created by Raymond Macherot. Both comics ran in Tintin magazine. Janry for instance produced most of the artwork of the 1980 'Chlorophylle' episode 'Faits Divers'. During his period with Dupa, he began his longtime association with Philippe Vandevelde, who was also one of Dupa's co-workers. Both Geurts and Vandevelde additionally assisted Turk and Bob De Groot on 'Léonard', 'Robin Dubois' and 'Clifton'. Since Dupa was lending a helping hand to Michel Greg on his 'Achille Talon' comic, the two young artists joined in on this production as well.

Chlorophylle, by Dupa and Janry
Chlorophylle, by Dupa and Janry

In 1979 Jean-Richard Geurts and Philippe Vandevelde's career underwent a serious change when they delivered Dupa's contribution for a special anniversary story for Jean Roba's 'Boule et Bill' to the editorial offices of Spirou magazine. They presented their work to chief editor Alain De Kuyssche, who liked their work so much that he offered them the opportunity to work for Spirou. In November 1980 the duo created a weekly puzzle comic for Spirou's back pages, titled 'Jeurêka', starring explorer/detective John Perill. It ran in the magazine throughout 1981. By then the artists had not yet settled on their "joint" pen names, and the feature was simply credited to "JR+PH". The mix of gag comic and puzzle feature was an early showcase of the author's humor and inventiveness. They arrived around the same time as another legendary duo, Yann and Conrad, who provided satirical and often controversial illustrations on the tops of Spirou's pages. While the new wave of humorists partially heralded in Spirou's modern age, it were Tome and Janry who had the most lasting impact.

Jeuréka by Tome & Janry
Jeuréka (Robbedoes #2243. 1981)

By 1981 they became one of the new artist teams on Spirou's title comic 'Spirou et Fantasio', and began using their joint pen name Tome and Janry. Janry got his pen name as a contraction of his first name, Jean-Richard. His partner-in-crime Philippe Vandevelde picked Tome as an American-sounding pun on Hanna-Barbera's famous cat and mouse Tom and Jerry. By 1980 Jean-Claude Fournier had been somewhat unceremoniously removed from the 'Spirou' comic. One of the reasons was a desired increase of story production, but the editors also had difficulties with the political tone in some of Fournier's stories. To establish a weekly presence of Spirou's title comic, the editors chose to split the production between separate author teams. Tome and Janry first exercised with a series of short stories, the first of which ('La Voix sans Maître') was published in Spirou #2253 of 18 June 1981, months after they had created it! Longer stories were in the meantime created by Nic Broca and Raoul Cauvin, while Yves Chaland also drew a retro-style comic strip story in 1982.

Qui arrêtera Cyanure?
Qui arrêtera Cyanure?

The young artists were caught in the middle of a power struggle between editor-in-chief Alain De Kuyssche and "conceptual director" José Dutillieu. De Kuyssche wanted Tome and Janry as lead artists, while Dutillieu preferred Nic Broca, his former assistant from the animation studio Belvision. Tome and Janry eventually took the plunge and demanded that publisher Charles Dupuis took a decision. Since both the readers' polls and heavyweight André Franquin were in favor of the young duo, they eventually got the job and became the series' sole artists. Their take on the characters was very popular with the readers, since it was strongly reminiscent of Franquin. At first, scenario and artwork were a joint effort, but after a while, Janry became the artist while Tome focused on the scripts.

Spirou et Fantasio by Tome and Janry
New York mobster Don Vito Cortizone was a recurring villain in Tome and Janry's Spirou stories (Spirou à New York)

Tome and Janry's first serial, 'Virus!', commenced in issue #2305 of 1982. Twelve more followed until they left the comic in 1998. Their tenure marked the return of several popular side characters from the Franquin era, like villain John Héléna ('Virus!', 1982), the female reporter Seccotine ('Aventure en Australie', 1983), mad scientist Zorglub ('Le Réveil du Z', 1985) and Fantasio's evil nephew Zantafio ('Spirou à Moscou', 1990). The little town of Champignac and its colorful inhabitants was also a regular setting in their stories. This didn't make their stories a repetition of previous episodes however. Tome and Janry delivered well-crafted sci-fi and adventure plots with high quality artwork. Their stories anticipated on the hot topics of the time, such as biotechnology ('Virus!'), cybernetics ('Qui arrêtera Cyanure?', 1983), time travel ('L'Horloger de la Comète', 1984), Italian mobsters ('Spirou à New York', 1987) and cloning ('Machine qui Rêve', 1998). While their predecessors took Spirou, Fantasio and their pet squirrel Spip to mostly fictional countries, Tome and Janry let them visit actual places like Antarctica, Australia, New York and the USSR. They even included witty satirical depictions and references to things these countries and nationalities are known for, much like René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix'. Their diptych about the ficional country Touboutt-Chan and its "Valley of Banishment" however stands out as one of their strongest efforts. The first part, 'La Frousse aux Trousses' (1988), follows our heroes on their expedition through the Touboutt-Chan war zone in search of two missing explorers. In 'La Vallée des Bannis' (1989), Spirou and Fantasio are trapped in the aforementioned mysterious valley. It is one of the most spiritual and character-driven stories in the entire series, in which Spirou and Fantasio have to depend on each other to survive. The story has a strong emphasis on its protagonists' long friendship and slumbering competition.

Spirou et Fantasio by Tome & Janry
Spirou & Fantasio - Machine qui Rêve

The 1990s brought more humor oriented stories like 'Vito-la-déveine' (1991) and 'Le Rayon Noir' (1992). Their final two stories for the main series presented a more mature and self-aware Spirou. 'Luna Fatale' (1995) toyed around with the lack of sexuality of the classic comic book hero. 'Machine qui Rêve' (1998) experimented with his immortality and infallibility. This final story was a true tour-de-force, with Janry dropping his comical drawing style in favor of a semi-realistic noir style in the tradition of Tome's other creation, the hard-boiled crime comic 'Soda'. Although the more realistic rendition of Spirou has been praised, it also caused controversy, not in the least because the hero is cloned, but also because it featured a more tormented Spirou instead of the free-spirited hero. This daring take on the character was endorsed by publisher Philippe Vandooren. His death in 2000 and Tome and Janry's departure from 'Spirou et Fantasio' make this album an oddball in the series. In hindsight the story is significant, because for the first time artists did something boldly different with a classic Belgian comics series. Throughout the next decades other classic Belgian comics franchises, like Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', 'Jerom' and 'De Rode Ridder', would also receive more modernized adult spin-off versions. In 2006, the 'Spirou' series got a spin-off series as well, with each album created by different authors in their own personal styles. Tome and Janry were succeeded on the main series by José-Luis Munuera and Jean-David Morvan between 2004 and 2006 and since 2010 by Yoann and Fabien Vehlmann.

Le Petit Spirou
Le Petit Spirou

Leaving the main series, Tome and Janry now had all the time to focus on their other project, the gag series 'Le Petit Spirou'. The origin of the childhood version of Spirou lay in a short story the duo made for the 45th anniversary of Spirou magazine, which was published in Spirou Album# 5 in 1983. In this story, the wise and all-knowing Oncle Paul (created by Jean-Michel Charlier and Eddy Paape in the 1950s), tells about the younger years of the famous bellboy. The young Spirou proved to be far less righteous than his adult incarnation. When the parody appeared in album format in 1987 it gained in popularity, resulting in a spin-off gag comic launched in the final issue of that year (#2594).

Le Petit Spirou

'Le Petit Spirou' features no characters from the main series, except Spirou himself. Some hints at his later-day adventures are given in some of the early gags, but these references were dropped when the series proved to be a mainstay and could continue on its own. Young Spirou lives with his parents and his grandfather, who are all dressed in the well-known bellboy uniforms. His main partners in crime are his best friend Antoine Vertignasse, the glutinous Nicolas Ponchelot and his love interest Suzette. He is also very close to his grandfather, a World War I veteran with an equally playful and frivolous nature. Many gags are filled with sexual innuendo, especially when Spirou and their friends are peeping at their sexy math teacher, miss Claudia Chiffre. The main victims of their escapades are Mr. Mégot, the drinking and smoking gym teacher, and father Angelusse, the town's devout abbot. 'Le Petit Spirou' has an odd anachronistic atmosphere too. Some elements are definitely old-fashioned, like the town abbott (complete with out-of-date costume) and Spirou's grandfather's World War I past. Yet for the most part the series is set in our modern age, with references to television, cell phones and video games. The first album was published by Dupuis in 1990, and each album consists traditionally of a short five-page story and a series of gags.

Le Petit Spirou by Tome & Janry
Le Petit Spirou

Tome and Janry's impact on Spirou magazine and its publisher Dupuis is immense. Besides the main series, they also provided the magazine with regular promotional illustrations, announcements, and cover illustrations for its quarterly omnibus collections. Their 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories formed the basis for the animated TV series about Spirou, of which 52 episodes were broadcast by Canal J (1993) and TF1 (1994-1995). 'Le Petit Spirou' was adapted into an animated TV series in 2012. A live-action comedy movie about the character was written and directed by Nicolas Bary, and released on 27 August 2017. To keep up with their workload, they formed a studio with their regular colorist Stéphane De Becker and their assistants Bruno Gazzotti (late 1980s) and Dan Verlinden (since 1993). Yves Urbain and Adam have also worked at Tome and Janry's atelier.

Poussin 1er
Poussin 1er

As a scriptwriter, Janry teamed up with De Becker (a.k.a. Stuf) for the launch of another puzzle feature, 'Jeux d'Enfer' (1988-1990). The concept was similar to that of 'Jeuréka', but this time the setting was in the hereafter. To be allowed entrance to Paradise, the recently deceased have to correctly answer Saint Peter three questions, otherwise they are directed to hell. The erstwhile Catholic magazine Spirou had opened its doors to more morbidly themed comics during the 1980s, most notably Marc Hardy's gravedigger comic 'Pierre Tombal' and Philippe Bercovici's hospital humor series 'Les Femmes en Blanc', both written by Raoul Cauvin. Stuf and Janry's black humor feature was even the magazine's second comics series situated in Heaven; Malik and Cauvin's 'Cupidon' was also launched in 1988. By 1990, the puzzle element was dropped and the series continued as the gag feature 'Passe-moi l'Ciel' until De Becker's death in 2015. The gag version of the comic was collected in seven albums between 1999 and 2015. In 2013 Janry additionally teamed up with Franco-Belgian playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt for the gag comic 'Les Aventures de Poussin 1er', about a young chicken who struggles with existential questions. The first album was published in 2013; the second followed in 2015.

As the artist of its mascot, Janry's art was the publisher's standard bearer for over twenty years. While he is obviously a follower of Franquin and the other classic masters of the Franco-Belgian school, Janry's dynamic and comical brushwork has served as an inspiration for other artists in its own right. Traces of Janry's influence can be seen in the work of Ralph Meyer, Stédo and the Dutch artist Gerben Valkema. Since 1995, Janry is also a member of The Boys Band (Dessinée), an all-star band of comic authors, which also featured Yvan Delporte, Bruno Gazzotti, Fabrizio Borrini, Batem, Midam and others.

Tome and Janry in the 1980s. Photo © Jan Nackaerts
Tome and Janry in the 1980s. Photo © Jan Nackaerts

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