'Comment Naquit La Marseillaise', Octave Joly's first 'Oncle Paul' story with art by Dino Attanasio (Dutch-language version from Robbedoes #593, 9 August 1951).

Octave Joly was a Belgian journalist, columnist, film scriptwriter, advertisement scriptwriter and occasional comic writer. He is best remembered as a regular contributor to Spirou, writing storylines for the educational comic series 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' (1951-1980). 'L'Oncle Paul' was one of the longest-running comic series in the magazine, drawn by many different artists, but always with Joly as scriptwriter. He also took care of most of the research. Although somewhat corny nowadays, 'L'Oncle Paul' is one of the most influential Belgian comic series of all time. Its format inspired many similar educational comics about history. 

Early life and career
Octave Joly was born in 1910 in Momignies, in the Belgian province Hainaut. He initially studied at an agricultural school, while dreaming of a career as a sailor, but eventually switched to journalism. His career as a writer started in 1930, when he published his first article in the French magazine Ciné-miroir. He wrote some travel reports for the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, but had to interrupt his activities because he was drafted. Between 1934 and 1939 Joly penned several articles and opinion columns for the Belgian newspaper L'Opinion Publique. Once again, military service interfered with his literary career when he was mobilized during World War II. In 1940 Nazi troops took him as prisoner-of-war. After the war he became chief editor of the magazine L'Informateur-Midi, and in 1947 he was re-educated as a scriptwriter and operator by a film studio. Joly made various contributions to Radio Luxembourg, for whom he wrote commercial advertisements. He was scriptwriter for Claude Misonne's film studio and, between 1949 and 1955, wrote dozens of commercial spots for the agency Vandam-K.H., for which he also received an international award for publicity.

Octave Joly
Octave Joly, photographed in the 1970s. 

Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul
In 1951 Joly met Jean-Michel Charlier through comic artist and illustrator René Follet. Charlier asked Joly to write scripts for a feature called 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' ('The Beautiful Stories of Uncle Paul', 1951-1980), which just started in the Belgian comic magazine Spirou. Charlier wrote the first installments of the series, which were mostly drawn by Eddy Paape, through Georges Troisfontaines' World's Press agency. The feature had debuted in Spirou issue #668, and Joly came on board in issue #695. The series was intended to educate young readers about various historical characters and events. All episodes have the same formulaic set-up. Oncle Paul, a wise, pipe-smoking uncle designed by Victor Hubinon, observes his young nephews playing. The children either have an argument or ask him a question about a certain topic. Paul then tells them about a historical character who once faced a similar problem or challenge, which is visualized through a flashback narrative. Many episodes end with Paul delivering a moralistic message to which the children respond with respect and gratitude. In later episodes this set-up was abandoned and Paul usually just tells the historical story straight ahead. Joly's first script in this vein was 'Comment Naquit la Marseillaise' (issue #695, 9 August 1951), co-written by Charlier and drawn by Dino Attanasio.

'Tirez Les Premiers, Messieurs Les Anglais', an 'Oncle Paul' story about the battle of Fontenoy, with art by Juan Manuel Cicuendez (Spirou #1630, 10 July 1969).

Contributing artists
A great many artists have illustrated the 'Oncle Paul' comic during its long existence. The comic offered new artists excellent training ground to test out their skills in drawing technically accurate illustrations and following a not-too complex storyline. Whenever a talented young artist presented his work to the magazine's editors, he was handed an 'Oncle Paul' story as a try-out. Therefore, the series features early work by many prominent European comic authors (and also some less prominent ones), such as Dino Attanasio, Derib, Pierre Dupuis, Franz, Fred & Liliane Funcken, Gal (Georges Langlais), Jean Graton, Willy & Yves Groux, Marc Hardy, Herbert, Hermann, Willy Lambil, Gérald Forton, Malik, Jean-Claude Mézières, MiTacq, Guy Mouminoux, Arthur Piroton, Jean Pleyers, Claude Renard (actually Gill van Dessel), Jean Roba (together with Eddy Paape as "Robeddy"), Michel Schetter and Sidney. Spanish (agency) artists were also assigned with the artwork, such as José Bielsa, Roberto Gonzàlez Casarrubio, Juan Manuel Cicuéndez, José Lopez Fernandez, Carlos Laffond, José Laffond and Antonio Parras. Together with 'Buck Danny' by Jean-Michel Charlier and Victor Hubinon and 'La Patrouille des Castors' by Jean-Michel Charlier and MiTacq, it stood out for being one of the few realistically-drawn comics in the otherwise more comically drawn Spirou magazine. Joly scripted most of the 1.200 stories during its three-decade run between 1951 and 1980.

Album availability
Despite its decades-long run in Spirou, 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' has never known an regular album series. Spirou's publisher Dupuis released twelve thematic collections with 'Oncle Paul' stories in 1954 and 1955. Seven volumes in the publisher's later collection 'L'Histoire en Bandes Dessinées' (1974-1977) were also dedicated to the series. Graton Éditeur collected Jean Graton's stories in three albums in 2004-2006, which were combined in one large volume by Dupuis in 2013. The small label La Vache Qui Médite released no less than 48 books in a small print run of 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' from 2009 to 2013, while Pan Pan published 250 copies of a book with Mister Kit's work for the feature in 2011.

Imitations & inspirations 
'L'Oncle Paul' inspired similar historically-themed comics, most notably in Spirou's rival magazine Tintin, who also started publishing one-shot educational comics from 1952 on, though without a recurring storyteller. Other magazines had more obvious rip-offs, such as 'Vader Kapoen Vertelt' by Buth, published in the Flemish children's magazine 't Kapoentje in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The only difference was that 'Vader Kapoen' had a moustache, while Paul has not. Jean-Louis Rochelle and Guy Mouminoux also illustrated an educational historical comic series named 'Tom au Pays des Découvertes' ("Tom in the Land of Discoveries", 1955-1959) for L'Intrépide, in which a caricaturally drawn anthropomorphic dog hears about a discovery or historical event from his uncle Cyprien. In later installments, the dog character is replaced by photographs of an actual kid. The feature was written by either Claude Astier or G. Carrier. Another clear inspiration is Thom Roep and Co Loerakker's 'Van Nul tot Nu' (1982), which tells the history of the Netherlands through the character of a wise - once again pipe-smoking - old bearded man named Methusalem de Tijdt. Kamagurka and Herr Seele's 'De Vaderlandsche Geschiedenis' (2013) has Cowboy Henk - again with pipe - telling various chronological moments in Belgian history, but with more silly comedy. 

Because of its corny approach, 'L'Oncle Paul' was also an irresistible target for parody. Dutch comic artists René Windig and Eddie de Jong most notably spoofed the series as 'Uit Den Verhalentrommel van Oom Wim' (Oom Wim is the actual Dutch name of the original character). Spirou magazine even ran several spoofs of the moralistic feature in its own pages in the early 1980s, when the wise uncle had obviously become too old-fashioned. Contributors were WillFrank Le GallDaniel GoossensDanyPhilippe BercoviciYves ChalandFrank Pé, Serge Clerc and Yann & Conrad, and the stories were collected in the book 'Les Histoires Merveilleuses des Oncles Paul' (Vents d'Ouest, 1986).

'La Jeunesse de Winston Churchill', art by Eddy Paape (issue #1051, 5 June 1958). Dutch-language version. 

Scriptwriting for other historical and educational comics
Apart from 'L'Oncle Paul', Joly also wrote other historical comics, such as a comics biography of Marco Polo for La Libre Junior in 1953-1954, drawn by Albert Uderzo and later Pierre Dupuis. With Charlier he scripted another biography about the Venetian traveler in 1963, this time for Spirou and drawn by Paul Ramboux. In Spirou, he also wrote biographical comic serials about British explorer Henry Morton Stanley (art by Victor Hubinon, 1953) and Winston Churchill (art by Eddy Paape, 1958). Joly's few non-historical comics were 'L'Arbre de Noël de Franz' (1957), a Christmas comic drawn by Benoît Gillain in Spirou, and the adventure series 'Tom et Nelly' (1956) by Albert Uderzo in Risque-Tout. Two new stories with the latter characters were written by Joly and drawn by José Bielsa for Spirou in the following year. In 1965 and 1966, Joly was back in La Libre Junior with the historical series 'Criss Golden', drawn by Gérald Forton.

Between 1980 and 1982 a new educational series appeared in Spirou named 'Histoire en Mille Morceaux', once again scripted by Octave Joly but drawn by a certain Doughty. The feature still had Oncle Paul as a mascot, but merely consisted of one-page historical anecdotes. The series also ran in Dutch in Spirou's sister magazine Robbedoes, under the title 'Stukje Bij Beetje'. 

'Histoire en Mille Morceaux' (Dutch version from Robbedoes #2245, 23 April 1981).

Death and legacy
Octave Joly passed away in 1988 in Brussels. Although the 'Oncle Paul' comic is rather corny by modern standards, Octave Joly has educated generations of young readers with his historical fun facts. He skilfully managed to craft readable stories full of accurate historical data in four or five pages. In an article in Spirou #2125 (1979) on the occasion of the 1000th installment in, Joly proudly recalled a kid winning the TV quiz show 'Quitte ou Double' with knowledge obtained from one of his stories! Joly always tried to give an objective look at history, but sometimes he did receive criticism. For instance, in the story 'Echec à l'Islam' (1953) he tried to neutrally chronicle a battle between Christians and Arabs, but the unfortunate title ('Failure of the Islam') resulted in several angry letters from North African readers. To make up for it, he quickly wrote a story about an Arabic hero, followed by one about a heroic Jew, etc. Whenever he was asked by the editors of Spirou's Flemish counterpart Robbedoes to write a story about a Dutch or Flemish hero, he always had to pick one that wouldn't offend the French readers, and vice versa. Joly was even aware that the 'Oncle Paul' stories were a bit too serious in tone. In the aforementioned interview he acknowledged this, but added that the one time he added a little joke he immediately received an angry letter from a school teacher!

Octave Joly
Octave Joly was a big fan of the sea, and regularly wrote his stories on a boat. The photo was taken in the 1970s. 

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