Les Tuniques Bleues, by Lambil
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Les Bleues dans la gadoue' (1978).

Willy Lambil is one of the mainstays of the publishing house Dupuis and its comic magazine Spirou. Beginning his career at the publisher's art studio, his first notable work as a comic artist was 'Sandy et Hoppy' (1959-1974), an adventure comic set in the Australian outback. However, Lambil is best known as the artist of 'Les Tuniques Bleues' (1968-   ), a humorous adventure comic set during the American Civil War, written by Raoul Cauvin. Taking over from the late Louis Salvérius in 1972, Lambil changed the series' visual style and gave the characters their definitive designs. In the following decades, Lambil and Cauvin turned 'Les Tuniques Bleues' into one of Belgium's hit comic book series, with over 23 million copies sold. As a side-project, Lambil and Cauvin made the autofiction gag series 'Pauvre Lampil' (1973-1994), in which they spoofed both the comic industry and their own bumpy relationship.

Early life and career
Willy Lambillote (shortened to "Lambil" during his professional career) was born in 1936 in Tamines, a town near the Sambre river, 15 kilometres east of the industrial city of Charleroi. He grew up reading comic magazines like Bravo and Spirou, seeing one of his childhood drawings published in Spirou's readers' section in 1946. Spending one year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Lambil had little to no interest in his sculpting and painting classes.

Spirou cover by LambilSpirou cover by Lambil

Dupuis art studio
Through fellow townsman Henri Gillain - brother of comic artist Jijé - he offered his services to the publishing house Dupuis. In 1952, Lambil got a job in the publisher's art studio, where production artists did layouts, lettering and spot illustrations for the Dupuis magazines, including the comic magazine Spirou. Among his early tasks was replacing Marcel Denis as a letterer. For several years, Lambil added the translated Dutch dialogue in the speech balloons of comic stories for Spirou magazine's Dutch edition, Robbedoes. Working alongside fellow studio members Arthur Piroton, Paul Deliège, Louis Salvérius and Eddy Paape, Lambil also did layout jobs for the pocket book collection Gags de Poche and made a couple of illustrations for the women's weekly Bonnes Soirées.

In an interview, Lambil said that his first produced comic stories for Spirou were installments of 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul', an educational series about history, written by Octave Joly. Which specific stories these were is however unknown. They either still need to be identified, or they were put on hold for a while, because the 'Oncle Paul' stories credited to Lambil were published in 1962 and 1963. By then, Lambil had already started 'Sandy et Hoppy' (1959-1974), a series set in Australia that he had been developing since age 15.

Sandy et Hoppy by Lambil
Sandy - 'Poursuites sur la Murray' (1960).

Sandy et Hoppy
Written in collaboration with Henri Gillain, the first adventure of the young Australian Sandy Reynolds and his kangaroo Hoppy began serialization in Spirou in March 1959. From the second story on, Lambil assumed full writing duties. During a period of fifteen years, Lambil's characters explored the Australian outback, often accompanied by filmer Michael Forster. Although the characters appeared in 24 full-length comic stories - as well as five shorter episodes - the publihsing house Dupuis never gave Sandy his own book collection. In 1972, only the episode 'Koalas en Péril' was published in the Okay collection, and in 1984, 'Du Béton dans le Désert' appeared in the series 'Péchés de Jeunesse'. In 1980 and 1981, the publisher Magic Strip released 17 black-and-white albums, and the small imprint La Coffre à BD published a series of chronological compendiums from 2008 until 2011. In the second half of the 1960s, 'Sandy et Hoppy' stories were also reprinted in Samedi Jeunesse, a monthly comic magazine published by Éditions du Samedi.

Sandy et Hoppy by Lambil
Sandy & Hoppy - 'L'Étranger de Glen Muir' (1970).

Hobby et Koala
During the early years of his career, Lambil established himself as a realistic comic artist. For Spirou's fold-in mini-books section, he temporarily switched to humor when making the funny animal story 'Kangourou, Koala et Kiwi contre Kookaburra' (1960). Written by editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte, it was intended as a spoof of Lambil's lead series, imagining the fanciful adventures of a group of Australian forest animals, including a koala and a kangaroo. Between 1968 and 1973, this one-shot effort was continued with a series of irregularly short stories under the title 'Hobby et Koala', in collaboration with scriptwriter Serge Gennaux.

Hobby & Koala by Lambil
'Hobby & Koala' (1971).

Les Tuniques Bleues
Lambil's rise to the top of the comic industry was preceded by a tragedy. On 23 May 1972, his friend and colleague Louis Salvérius died suddenly from a heart attack. Four years earlier, Salvé and scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin created their succesful comic series 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ('The Bluecoats', 1968- ), about two cavalry soldiers in the Northern Army. Launched in an effort to fill the void after René Goscinny and Morris took their famous cowboy comic 'Lucky Luke' from Spirou to Pilote magazine. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' managed to become one of Spirou's most popular features in its own right. Louis Salvérius died when the fourth adventure serial, 'Les Hors-la-loi', was still unfinished. Lambil drew the remaining eight pages of the story, dropping his regular realism for Salvérius' semi-caricatural drawing style. Scriptwriter Cauvin was happy with Lambil's fill-in job, and the duo began working on the fifth album, followed by many more.

Les Tuniques Bleues
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Les Cavaliers du ciel' (1975).

Since the second Salvé-Cauvin serial, the American Civil War had become the setting of the 'Les Tuniques Bleues' (1968- ) stories. Since the series was intended as a replacement for 'Lucky Luke', the choice for this time period was not coincidental. Despite sometimes referencing it, the 'Lucky Luke' series had no Civil War-centered episodes. Realizing there was a whole territory of potential narratives to explore, Cauvin and Salvérius decided to make the Civil War the prime focus of 'Les Tuniques Bleues', allowing them to avoid entering 'Lucky Luke' story territory. The early stories by Cauvin and Salvérius already established the familar ingredients of the series. The main characters were two members of the 22nd Cavalry Regiment of the Northern Army. Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield is the stupid, self-important, patriotic and obedient military officer who believes in the virtues of war and does anything his superiors tell him to do. His subordinate, corporal Blutch, is far more cynical and sceptical of the entire war effort. He doesn't believe any of the military propaganda fed to him, nor does he enjoy being in the army. Another early character was Captain Stark, who has been in the army for so long, that he lost any grip on reality. He never dismounts from his horse and is always ready to charge the enemy, even if the moment is badly chosen.

The comedy contrasts between Blutch and Chesterfield form the basis of each story, but at the same time, 'Les Tuniques Bleues' shows graphical depictions of war gruesomeness. Battle scenes are shown as they were, filled with crippled and dying soldiers. In the early 1970s, this was completely different from the bloodless adventures of 'Lucky Luke', that were created in more censor-heavy times. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' quickly became one of Spirou's most popular features and from 1970 on, Dupuis also released the stories in book format.

Les Tuniques Bleues by Willy Lambil
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Drummer Boy' (1990).

To continue 'Les Tuniques Bleues', Lambil continued in the vein of his predecessor, Louis Salvérius. Ironically, Salvérius started out drawing the feature in a comical style, and then switched to semi-realistism. Lambil on the other hand was used to drawing fully realistic comics, but he had to abandon his style and turn to more caricatural graphics. For a mainstream comic series in a child-oriented magazine, 'Les Tuniques Bleues' was a remarkable creation. On one hand, the stories gave graphical depictions of the atrocities of the battlefield, and on the other it offered hilarious burlesque comedy. The anti-militaristic tone is embodied in the two main stars, whose conflicting characters form the basis of each story. Blutch tries to wriggle his way out of every charge and assignment - for instance by having his horse Arabesque "play dead" on the battlefield - while Chesterfield has an unconditional respect for authority and the military cause. The two openly despise each other, but for some reason they are always assigned to the same mission. Their characters were given more depth the episodes 'Blue Rétro' (1980) and 'Vertes Années' (1992), that showed their background stories. During Lambil's tenure, new characters were introduced. 'Les Cavaliers du Ciel' (1975) marked the first appearance of Arabesque, Blutch's faithful horse that is trained to "play dead" on the battlefield so that Blutch doesn't have to participate. Other new cast members designed by Lambil were the cynical Captain-Major Stephen Stilman and the series' ratty nemesis, Cancrelat, who serves in the Southern army.

Blue Retro by Lambil
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Blue Rétro' (1980).

As documentation, Lambil mainly use books that depict the Secession War in an historically accurate way. Several stories were inspired by historical events or people, like the Battle of Bull Run, the Andersonville Prison, the Union Army Balloon Corps, the naval battles of Hampton Roads and Cherbourg, the warships USS Monitor and the USS Kearsarge and historical characters like Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, General Lee, Mary Edwards Walker, William Clarke Quantrill, and Nancy Hart. On 5 September 2019, Raoul Cauvin announced he would write one more episode of 'Les Tuniques Bleues' and then retire. Since the writer had sold his rights to Dupuis years ago, the publisher assigned the Frenchman Kris (Christophe Goret) to take over Cauvin's role and create new stories with Lambil, by then well in his eighties. Before Cauvin's swan song, the 65th album appeared in 2020 as an intermission, written and drawn by José Luis Munuera in cooperation with the scriptwriting duo BéKa. Cauvin's final 'Tuniques Bleues' story, 'Où est donc Arabesque?' was serialized in Spirou magazine in 2021, and then released as the 64th installment of the book series. Kris and Lambil's collaboration takes off with the 66th album in 2022.

Duel dans la manche by Willy Lambil
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Duel dans la Manche'  (1995).

Pauvre Lampil
In between 'Tuniques Bleues' episodes, Lambil and Cauvin worked on their side project 'Pauvre Lampil' (1973-1994), a spoof of the comic industry in general and the authors' own collaboration in particular. The first episodes appeared in Spirou's 'Carte Blanche' section, where authors were allowed to create stand-alone stories in full creative freedom, outside of their regular features. Lambil and Cauvin enjoyed themselves with two-page stories about a failed comic artist, in desperate search of success and recognition. Lambil based the character on himself, only the name was modified to "Lampil". As the episodes progressed, other colleagues made guest appearances - always under their own name - most notably scriptwriter Cauvin, but also André Franquin, François Walthéry, Laudec, Jean-Claude Fournier, Berck and publisher Charles Dupuis. 'Pauvre Lampil' appeared irregularly between 1973 and 1994 - with a handful of new episodes in 2003 and 2006 - and portrayed Lampil as a miser and a hypochondriac, always in conflict with his publisher, colleagues, the town butcher, his family doctor and - even more - himself.

Pauvre Lampil by Lambil
'Pauvre Lampil'.

Arguably the first work of autofiction in Franco-Belgian comics, 'Pauvre Lampil' gives an interesting look on three decades of Belgian comic book history as well as the family lives of both Lambil and Cauvin. How realistic the gags are is open for speculation. The interactions between the fictional Lampil and Cauvin are comparable to the arguements of Blutch and Chesterfield from 'Les Tuniques Bleues'. Still, in interviews, Lambil and Cauvin revealed that many episodes were based on true stories - including the ones made during a five-year period when the two men really didn't get along. Just like his comic book persona Lampil, Willy Lambil expressed in interviews a sentiment of being underestimated by publishers, the press and the comic industry. In a 2011 issue of Brabant Strip Magazine, Lambil said he hated the 'Lampil' feature, because it was too close to home.

Despite the long intervals between episodes, and modest sales of the seven album collections, 'Pauvre Lampil' became a fan favorite, nowadays referred to as a hidden gem of Belgian comics. In 2011, Dupuis released a large volume compendium of all the episodes. Iin 1980, Lambil was one of many Belgian comic artists to make a graphic contribution to the book 'Il était une fois... les Belges'/'Er waren eens Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and one-page comics, published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. He chose to make a gag page starring his Lampil alter ego.  

Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré have cited 'Pauvre Lampil' as a strong influence on their own comic strip 'Heden Verse Vis' (2018-  ), which also features satire on the comic industry by using the authors themselves as protagonists. 

Lampil

Personal influence and own influence
Although Lambil is not known to be an avid comic reader himself, he has expressed his appreciation of classic authors like André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Jijé, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff and Albert Uderzo. While Cauvin sold his share of the rights to 'Les Tuniques Bleues' to the publisher Dupuis, Lambil has kept hold of his. And even though he is already in his eighties, his artwork hasn't lost any of its strength. On the occasion of the 60th album of 'Les Tuniques Bleues' in 2016, Éditions Dupuis also published a tribute album, with contributions by Baba & Lapuss', Renaud Collin, Denis Bodart & Thierry Gloris, Denis Goulet & Sti, Olivier Dutto, Aimée de Jongh, Olivier Schwartz, Jose Luis Munuera, Pau & Denis Lapière, Olivier Frasier & Joris Chamblain, Éric Maltaite & Zidrou, Clarke and Blutch. The book was festively presented to Lambil in the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels.

Recognition
In 2013, Willy Lambil won the Grand Prix at the comic festival in Anzin-Saint-Aubin. On 12 July 2018 a statue of Les Tuniques Bleues was erected in Lambil's birth town Tamines.He lives and works in the Walloon village of Falisolle. 

www.lestuniquesbleues.com

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