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

Willy Lambil is one of the mainstays of the publishing house Dupuis and the magazine Spirou. With a career of nearly 60 years, he is best-known as the artist of 'Les Tuniques Bleues', one of the bestselling Belgian comic book series with over 23 million copies sold. Lambil changed the visual style of the series considerably and gave the characters their definitive designs. He also drew the humoristic gag series 'Pauvre Lampil' (1973-1984), which stars a fictional version of himself and his scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin. But it took Lambil at least 15 years before his talent was truly recognized.

Born in 1936 as Willy Lambillote in Tamines, he grew up reading comic magazines like Bravo and Spirou. He spent one year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, but didn't feel much affection for sculpting and painting. Through fellow townsman Henri Gillain, the brother of comic artist Jijé, he offered his services to the publishing house Dupuis in 1952. Lambil got a job with the publisher's art studio, where he replaced Marcel Denis as a letterer. He spent the next years lettering comic stories, doing lay-out jobs for collections like Gags de Poche and making a couple of illustrations for Bonnes Soirées, alongside Arthur Piroton, Paul Deliège, Louis Salvérius and Eddy Paape.

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

Lambil claimed in an interview that his first produced comics for Spirou were installments of the educational series about history 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul', with Octave Joly. These stories are either yet to be identified, or they were put on hold for a while, because the 'Oncle Paul' stories credited to Lambil weren't published until 1962 and 1963. By then, Lambil's 'Sandy et Hoppy' (1959-1974) had already made its debut. Lambil had been developing this comic series set in Australia since the was 15 years old. The plot of the first story starring Sandy Reynolds and his kangaroo Hoppy was made in cooperation with Henri Gillain, and commenced publication in March 1959. Lambil took over full writing duties from the second story.

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

During a period of fifteen years, the characters explored the Australian outback, often accompanied by filmer Michael Forster. Although the characters appeared in 24 full-length comic stories, and also in five shorter episodes, Dupuis never rewarded Sandy with an album series. Only 'Koalas en péril' was published in the Okay collection in 1972, and 'Du Béton dans le Désert' appeared in the series 'Péchés de Jeunesse' in 1984. Magic Strip released 17 black-and-white albums in 1980 and 1981, and the small imprint La Coffre à BD published a series of chronological compendiums from 2008 until 2011. 'Sandy et Hoppy' stories were also published in Samedi Jeunesse in the second half of the 1960s.

Spirou cover by LambilSpirou cover by Lambil

Lambil had established himself as a realistic artist during the early years of his career. He temporarily switched to humor when he created the parody 'Kangourou, Koala et Kiwi contre Kookaburra' for Spirou's fold-in mini-books section with editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte in 1960. This first effort evolved into the funny animal comic 'Hobby et Koala', which he made with scriptwriter Serge Gennaux between 1968 and 1973.

Hobby & Koala by Lambil
Hobby & Koala (1971)

Lambil's rise to the top of the comics industry was preceded by a tragedy. On 23 May 1972, his friend and colleague Louis Salvérius suddenly passed away. Salvé and scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin had created the succesful comics series 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ('The Blue Jackets', 1968) four years earlier, as a way to fill the void left behind after René Goscinny and Morris had left Spirou, taking their popular western comic series 'Lucky Luke' with them. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' managed to become one of Spirou's most popular titles, but Salvérius had died while the fourth adventure serial, 'Outlaw', was still unfinished. The remaining eight pages were finished by Lambil. His collaboration with Cauvin was a success, and the duo embarked upon a fifth album, which was followed by many more.

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

'Les Tuniques Bleues' (1968) is set during the American Civil War. The choice for this particular time period wasn't coincidental. Spirou wanted a new western comic in the same vein as 'Lucky Luke' and for some unexplained reason 'Lucky Luke' had never once featured a narrative set during the American Civil War, despite occasionally referencing it. As such Cauvin and Salvérius could avoid entering Lucky Luke's territory. The early stories by Cauvin and Salvérius had already established the familar ingredients of the series. The main characters were two members of the 22nd Cavalry Regiment of the Northern Army. Sergeant Chesterfield is the stupid, self-important, patriotic and obedient military officer who believes in the virtues of war and anything his superiors tell him. His subordinate, corporal Blutch, is a more cynical, sceptical and far more intelligent soldier. He doesn't believe the military propaganda fed to him, nor enjoys being in the army. Any chance he gets to avoid fighting, he'll take. Another regular character who was already introduced by Salvérius and Cauvin was Captain Stark, who has been so long in the army that he somewhat lost his grip on reality. He always wants to charge the enemy, even if the moment is badly chosen. Along the way, Salvérius had slightly changed his round and comical graphic style into something more semi-realistic, which was also reflected in the plots. The comedic contrasts between Blutch and Chesterfield remained present, but the gruesomeness of the war became more outspoken. Soldiers actually get wounded and even die, which was a far cry from the bloodless adventures of 'Lucky Luke'.

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

Lambil built further on the road paved for him by his predecessor. Funny enough, while Salvérius started out drawing in a comical style and eventually changed to a more semi-realistic style, Lambil was used to drawing fully realistic comics and thus also had to abandon his style to match Salverius' graphics. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' has become one of the most remarkable mainstream comic series. On the one hand it graphically depicts the atrocities of the battlefield, and on the other it delivers hilarious burlesque comedy. The anti-militaristic tone is embodied in the two main characters. Blutch tries to wriggle his way out of every charge and assignment, while Chesterfield has an unconditional respect for authority and the military cause. The two obviously despise each other, but are for some reason always assigned to the same mission. The characters were deepened in a couple of albums which shows their background stories, such as 'Blue rétro' (1980) and 'Vertes années' (1992). Cauvin and Lambil also introduced new characters, such as Blutch's faithful horse Arabesque in 'Les Cavaliers du Ciel' (1975) which is trained to throw itself to the ground during battle so Blutch can act as if he is wounded and thus survive the fighting unharmed. Other new cast members designed by Lambil were the cynical Captain-Major Stephen Stilman and the series' ratty nemesis, Cancrelat, who fights for the Southern army.

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

Lambil uses mainly books for his well-documented artwork, which depicts the Secession War in an historically accurate way. 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 have all been featured in the stories.

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

In addition to their 'Tuniques Bleues' stories, Lambil and Cauvin have made the humor series 'Pauvre Lampil', which appeared on an irregular basis between 1973 and 1994. This semi-autobiographical comics feature deals with the troubled relationship between a somewhat gloomy comics artist (Lampil) and his more frivolous scenarist (Cauvin). Besides Lambil, Cauvin and their respective families, there are also appearances by Franquin, Walthéry, Laudec, Fournier, Berck and publisher Charles Dupuis. Dupuis has collected the series in 7 books. How realistic the events are is open for speculation. In interviews, Lambil, similarly to Lampil, sometimes expresses the feeling he's being underestimated by publishers, press and the rest of the comics industry. In a 2011 issue of Brabant Strip Magazine, Lambil has even expressed his hatred for the 'Lampil' feature itself. While one can easily discover similarities in the relationships between Blutch & Chesterfied and the caricatural Lampil & Cauvin, the introduction in the 'Pauvre Lampil' compendium of 2011 revealed that there have been actual periods of embroilment between the two men.

Pauvre Lampil by Lambil
Pauvre Lampil

Although Lambil is not an avid comics reader, he has expressed his appreciation of classic authors like André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Jijé, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff and Albert Uderzo. Cauvin has sold his share of the rights of 'Les Tuniques Bleues' to the publisher, but Lambil has kept hold of his. And while he is already in his eighties, his own artwork hasn't lost any of its strength. The 60th album was published in 2016. For the occasion, Éditions Dupuis also embarked upon the production of a tribute album, which contained 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.

Willy Lambil has won the Grand Prix at the comics festival in Anzin-Saint-Aubin in 2013. He lives and works in the Walloon village of Falisolle.

Lampil

www.lestuniquesbleues.com

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