Kiekeboe - 'Prettige Feestdagen' (1986).

Merho is best known as the creator of the funny family comic 'De Kiekeboes' (1977-2023), which managed to become one of the most succesful comic series in Flanders. The books are brimful with all kinds of visual jokes, slapstick, running gags, parodies, innuendo and especially word play. Comics specialist Jan Smet once named Merho "the cabaret artist of Flemish comics". Another nickname Merho received over the years is "Willy Vandersteen's natural successor". 'De Kiekeboes' managed to become the best-selling comic series in Flanders since Vandersteen's equally popular 'Suske en Wiske', even surpassing it in local sales today. Contrary to most other comics in the region which are either marketed to children or adults, Merho managed to appeal to both demographics. The adventures of the Kiekeboe family are not stuck in an old-fashioned setting, but very much of their own age, constantly evolving with the times. Storylines handle mature themes like politics, business fraud, violent deaths and even sex, but do so in a clever, tasteful and always amusing manner. Merho is also easily one of the most experimental Flemish comic artists. Occasionally he tries out unusual narratives and collaborates with other artists and writers, which keep the franchise fresh and interesting.

Comi en Drackske, by Merho
'Comi en Dacske', by Merho.

Early life and career
Robert Merhottein was born in 1948 in Antwerp as the son of a collector for a gas company, who later became a telephonist. Merho's brother, Walter Merhottein, would gain some fame in adulthood as owner of a puppet theatre, 'Poppenspel Kiekeboe'. From a young age, Merho eagerly watched humorous movies, TV shows, stand-up and cabaret artists. He considered Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, Jacques Tati, Toon Hermans, Wim Kan, Youp Van 't Hek, Monty Python and especially Laurel & Hardy his favorites. He listened to them on the radio, watched them in (movie) theatre or on television. As a young adult, Merho often travelled to The Netherlands to watch Dutch cabaret artists perform and buy their latest stage shows on vinyl. He remained a lifelong fan of comedy, regardless of era, genre or performer. Some of his influences were very obscure. For instance, the arrogant businessman Firmin Van De Kasseien in 'De Kiekeboes' was inspired by actor Jerry Desmonde in the comedy films of Norman Wisdom. Merho had an equal love for humorous writers like Simon Carmiggelt and Godfried Bomans and, of course, comics. 

Among his graphic influences were Hergé, André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, René GoscinnyCharles M. SchulzMarc Sleen and especially Willy Vandersteen. Hergé, Tillieux and Vandersteen gave him insight on how to built tension and atmosphere. Goscinny and Vandersteen learned him how to tell funny, engaging stories, with amusing running gags, witty puns and humor that both children and adults could enjoy. As a child, Merho's aunt once forced him to show a drawing he'd made to Marc Sleen. The boy went to his home and was allowed in for a visit. Merho recalled being impressed that Sleen had his own swimming pool, which gave him the wrong impression that comic artists were as rich as Hollywood stars. As an adult, Merho also frequently paid visits to other veteran Flemish comic artists, like Pom and Bob Mau, who gave him professional advice. 

Originally, Merho wanted to become a comedian, but suffered from stage fright. He felt drawing humorous comics was a nice alternative. In high school, Merho made his first comic book, 'Zoz en Zef', which he sold from door to door to fund a school trip to Rome. The story was also published in the Catholic magazine Jong Caritas. Merho studied graphic arts at the St. Lucas Institute in Brussels. His first professional comic strip was 'Comi en Dacske' (1964), a series of gags about two children, serialized in the retailers' magazine Middenstand. 

'Soldaat Jansens' (1970).

Studio Vandersteen (1970-1977)
In 1970, Merho applied for a job as assistant at the Vandersteen Studios, at the time the most important and lucrative comic studio in Flanders. As luck would have it, one of their long-time collaborators, Eduard De Rop, had just quit earlier that afternoon. Merho was promptly hired and instructed to ink stories of the humorous superhero series 'Jerom', a spin-off of Vandersteen's signature series 'Suske en Wiske'. Two different versions of 'Jerom' were made at the time, one for the Dutch-language market, the other for German magazines. Merho worked on the German-language series. While he was honored to work for one of his childhood idols, he was drafted after three months. He found a creative outlet through the gag comic 'Soldaat Jansens', published in the base paper. The title was later changed to 'Jager Jansens', since his character's uniform resembled the military rank 'jager' (part of the infantry) more than a common soldier. By volunteering to take care of the military library, Merho could stay away from pointless drills and find excuses to leave the base from time to time, "to buy necessary accessories". After being discharged, his 'Jager Janssens' comic was continued by another future comic talent: Hec Leemans.

Interviewed by Toon Horsten in the book 'Zwart op Wit' (2013), Merho looked back on his military service as a complete waste of time. His disgust for militarism was also expressed in the character Leon Van der Neffe in 'De Kiekeboes', who is the annoying neighbor of his protagonist, Marcel Kiekeboe. Van der Neffe is a professional corporal. In the story 'Géééééf Acht' (1982), Kiekeboe is forced to fulfill his military service again, due to a bureaucratic error. He ends up in Van der Neffe's regiment, who bullies him around. The plot gave Merho the opportunity to ventilate all his frustrations about his army period in a humorous way. 

Jager Jansens, by Merho
'Jager Jansens' (1971).

After his military service, Merho gladly returned to Studio Vandersteen, where he provided backgrounds to Vandersteen's realistic jungle adventure comic series 'Safari'. He also revamped old episodes of Vandersteen's western comic 'Karl May' into new stories of another western series, 'Bessy', again intended for the German market. He and his colleagues redrew these stories, panel by panel, only replacing protagonists. Since the German readers had never read Vandersteen's 'Karl May' series (which had only been published in Dutch), nobody noticed the recycling.  Merho's big break came when he inked Vandersteen's children's comic 'Pats', eventually being allowed to write and draw the series too, alongside Peter Koeken. 'Pats' was based on the Punch & Judy plays by Karel Weyler and ran as main feature in Pats, the juvenile supplement of the newspapers Het Nieuwsblad, De Standaard, Het Handelsblad, De Gentenaar and De Landwacht. In 1974, the supplement changed its name to 'Patskrant'. Since Merho's brother has his own puppet theater, Merho also co-operated with the TV puppet play adaptation of 'Suske en Wiske' (1975-1976), produced by Wies Andersen. 

Merho learned a lot about narration, lay-out and drawing at Studio Vandersteen, both from Willy Vandersteen himself and his co-workers. Yet, wanting to create his own comic series, Merho left the studio in 1976. 'Pats' was continued by Peter Koeken and in 1977, after a legal dispute with Weyler, changed its name to 'Tits'. Under this name it ran until 1986. 

Jef Nys
In the mid-1970s, Merho also briefly worked at Jef Nys' studio, assisting on his signature comic 'Jommeke'. While Nys also provided him with a lot of professional advice, Merho felt he was too demanding. Later, when Merho hired assistants of his own, he understood Nys' high standards much better. 

Tits, by Merho
Pats - 'Lieve Loempia'.

De Kiekeboes
Merho sometimes helped out his brother, Walter Merhottein, with his puppet theater, 'Poppenspel Kiekeboe'. In 1973, Merho co-designed his main puppet characters, Marcel Kiekeboe, and the villain Balthazar. Kiekeboe was a bald man, with a large, black droopy moustache, while Balthazar a typically stupid thief. Five years later, Merho used Kiekeboe and Balthazar to build a newspaper comic strip around them. He went to Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet, since Hec Leemans' 'Bakelandt' was their only exclusive Flemish comic series. At first ,the editorial board was reluctant, but Merho convinced them to let his comic strip be read by their (grand)children, a tactic Vandersteen once used when he offered 'Bessy' to an equally resistant newspaper boss. Once again the strategy worked and on 15 February 1977 the first episode of 'Kiekeboe' appeared in the papers. Throughout its first 33 years, the series was known as 'Kiekeboe' (Dutch for 'Peekaboo'), but in 2010 Merho retitled it as 'De Kiekeboes' ('The Kiekeboes'). In the late 1970s, one-page gags of 'Kiekeboe' also ran in the magazine Ons Volk and as 'Guidon' in the French-language sister magazine Chez Nous. 

Kiekeboe by Merho
Kiekeboe - 'De Wollebollen' (1977).

De Kiekeboes: Setting
'Kiekeboe' (or 'De Kiekeboes') is firmly rooted in the Flemish humorous family comic tradition. Marcel Kiekeboe is a big-moustached father. He and his wife Charlotte have two children: the self-willed teenage daughter Fanny and her smart kid brother Konstantinopel (named after the old name of Istanbul). Kiekeboe has an unspecified desk job for a company run by the arrogant businessman Firmin Van De Kasseien, who often lets him do dirty, dangerous or illegal tasks. The sleazy boss fools around with sexy secretaries, while his wedded wife Yvonne, nicknamed 'Chichi', frequently catches him in the act and punishes him. Kiekeboe has an ongoing rivalry with his grouchy, snobby and racist neighbor Leon Van der Neffe. Van der Neffe's children, Joeksel and Froefroe, are more sympathetic and good friends with Konstantinopel. Less annoying, though not much, is Kiekeboe's neighbor from across the street, the talkative and saliva-spitting Fernand Goegebuer.

Even within his own family, Kiekeboe can rarely find peace. His own mother, Moemoe, frequently guilt-shames him into doing things for her. Whenever Kiekeboe goes through the effort, she never shows gratitude afterwards. The old lady also constantly quarrels with her brother-in-law, Uncle Vital. Vital is a jolly character, but nevertheless can't learn to mind his own business. He often overhears things that are supposed to remain a secret, or simple misunderstandings, and spreads them around. Moemoe's best friend, Mevrouw Stokvis, is often mentioned but never seen by the readers. A similar mysterious character is an obese woman who has a cameo in all stories, but never received a name. Fans have nicknamed her 'De Dikke Dame' ('The Fat Lady') and Merho uses her merely as a running gag.

Originally, 'De Kiekeboes' had one recurring antagonist, Balthazar, a hangover from the comic's origins as a puppet series. The checkered suit-wearing villain is never a genuine threat. He is such a bumbling buffoon that he causes more laughs than scares. A more menacing criminal was introduced in 'Met De Franse Slag' (1991): the French gangster Dédé La Canaille. Ever since Kiekeboe landed him in jail, La Canaille is out on revenge. Whenever he escapes prison, Kiekeboe is forced into hiding. For a while, Merho considered dropping Balthazar in favor of Dédé, until he got a better idea by pairing them together. The contrast between Dédé's serious nature and Balthazar's laughable stupidity worked perfectly. De Kiekeboes have the law on their side, thanks to police inspector Sapperdeboere, whose enormous appetite unfortunately often distracts him from doing his job.

Fanny Kiekeboe
The real star of the series is Kiekeboe's sexy teen daughter Fanny. An assertive, free-spirited young woman, she is not afraid to speak her mind. Fanny doesn't let herself by commanded, neither by her parents, nor the hundreds of men who lust after her. As a running gag, she has a different boyfriend in almost every album. Only a few lasted longer than one story. Merho has also cast Fanny in several suggestive erotic situations. In some stories she is shown half-naked. She has appeared as a nudist ('De Pili-Pili Pillen'), belly-dancer ('De Fez van Fez'), in a wet t-shirt ('Villa Delfia') or as a stripper ('Prettige Feestdagen'). While teasing censors and titillating readers, Fanny's fan service never became tasteless or flat-out pornographic. But it did make her effortlessly the series' breakout character, equally popular with male and female readers. In some foreign translations of the series, Fanny was therefore presented as the protagonist. Merho even deliberately chose her English-sounding name because it had international appeal. Only later he found out that the word "fanny" is also the English term for a woman's behind...

Kiekeboe, by Merho
De Kiekeboes - 'De Doedelzak van Mac Reel' (1979).

De Kiekeboes: Style
Right from the start, Merho tried to make his series stand out from the competition. He deliberately avoided certain comic book clichés. For instance, Kiekeboe's children are not adopted orphans, but his actual offspring. There are no absent-minded professors, talking animals or superstrong men who serve as deus ex machina. 'De Kiekeboes' also avoids magic, time travel and other unrealistic plot elements. Some cartoony exaggerations are present, but generally the series doesn't use physically impossible gags. When characters get injured, they aren't miraculously "cured" two panels later. Overall, 'De Kiekeboes' are set in a plausible present reality. Merho also frequently updated his characters and backgrounds. The latest technologies, fashions and societal trends were introduced and often stir plots (and gags) forward. As the decades progressed, he added more gender, sexual and ethnic diversity to background and side characters. From the 2000s on, Fanny and Konstantinopel wore different clothing in each album. These modernisations kept the comic fresh and modern, instead of feeling stuck in an out-dated era. When one reads 'De Kiekeboes' chronologically, one also gets an interesting view on how late 20th-century, early 21st-century society evolved. Not just in the backgrounds, but also in terms of censorship,...

When Merho launched 'De Kiekeboes' in 1977, he was lucky to publish in Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet, two papers with a liberal ideology. Contrary to other Flemish papers, like De Standaard and Het Volk, they weren't tied to a Catholic publisher. Merho could therefore be riskier in his imagery and comedy. Still, at the start of his career, his editors and publishers wanted to protect their "family audience". The early stories are therefore a bit conventional, even a bit naïve and infantile compared with what the series would eventually become. In hindsight, Merho personally regarded some of his early stories as "embarrassing". However, gradually he found his style and, as the sales rose, received more creative freedom. Over the decades, 'De Kiekeboes' tackled many adult topics most other Flemish family comics wouldn't touch: white-collar crime, hormone doping, homosexuality, striptease bars, prostitution, sex change operations,...

Cast members became more fleshed out as well. Kiekeboe's wife, Charlotte, was originally just a shallow housewife, but became more briskly from 'Het Lot van Charlotte' (1985) on, working part-time jobs. Recurring villain Timotheus Triangl underwent a sex change in 'Zeg Het Met Bloemen' (1993), becoming the first recurring transsexual female character in a Belgian comic strip. Kiekeboe's snobby, prejudiced neighbor Leon Van der Neffe went through a permanent divorce in 'En In Kwade Dagen' (2007). His separation gave Merho the opportunity to remodel him into a more pitiable loner. Fanny received a new friend in 'Joyo de Eerste' (2009): Tomboy Dizon. Tomboy is a mulatto woman, who works as a prostitute. She asks Fanny to not inform others about her secret nighttime job, which leads to frequent misunderstandings with Fanny's other friend, Alanis, who wants to know what Fanny is hiding from her. 

Merho was quite amazed how certain topics became more socially acceptable (in comics) as time marched on. At the start of his career, he wasn't allowed to imply that Fanny slept with her boyfriends. Over the years, he frequently teased censors with jokes and scenes that showed nudity or referenced sex. By the time he introduced Tomboy the prostitute in the series, his editors had already given up trying to censor him, knowing he would simply do what he wanted, anyway. All these elements increased 'De Kiekeboes'' popularity with readers. Prepubescent teens enjoyed the naughty jokes and were thrilled by the sly eroticism. Adults liked the series because it was far more mature than the average Flemish family comic. 

Afgelast wegens ziekte by Merho
'Afgelast wegens ziekte' (1991).

Apart from its more contemporary and adult tone, 'De Kiekeboes' owes its popularity to Merho's talent as a writer. Influenced by many classic film comedians, cabaret artists, stand-up comedians and humorous writers, he has a clear insight in how to tell an engaging, funny story. His plots flow like a well-constructed comedy film. Each joke is carefully staged and inbedded in the plot, with a logical build-up and witty pay-off. His cast members are comparable to sitcom characters, each with their own running gags. The series perfectly balances between jokes that appeal to children and ones that adults will enjoy more. Some are cultural-historical nods. Certain side characters are directly inspired by real-life people and events, like African dictator Bibi Pralin Gaga (a spoof of Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin Dada) and Prime Minister Ronald Bod from Burlesconia (a parody of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). Merho also makes regular nods to popular paintings, photographs, comics, novels, films and TV series. An overview of all his references to paintings and sculptures can be found in the book 'Museum K' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 2011). A glimp in Merho's travel diaries and photographic research is offered in the specials 'De Wereld Rond Met De Kiekeboes', of which five volumes were published between 2020 and 2022. 

Certain celebrities, particularly comedians, frequently receive cameos. Among them humorists like Jacques Tati ('Klavertje Vier', 1984), Louis De Funés ('De Medusa-Stichting', 1991), Youp Van 't Hek ('De Aqua-rel', 1999), John Cleese ('Verkeerd Verbonden', 2003) and Laurel & Hardy ('De Zwarte Zonnekoning', 1979). Merho also caricatured fellow comic artists, like Willy Vandersteen ('De Onthoofde Sfinx', 1978), Hec Leemans ('Kies Kiekeboe', 1980), Berck ('De Eén Zijn Dood', 1985), Hergé ('De Aqua-Rel', 1999), René Goscinny ('Het Lijk Had Gelijk', 2000) and Willy Linthout ('Vluchtmisdrijf', 2009). 

But 'De Kiekeboes' is most infamous for its witty wordplay. Much like 'Asterix', Merho takes delight in thinking up funny names for all his characters. Usually the combination of a character's first and last name reveals a hidden pun. Examples are, for instance, Harry Zona ('Fanny Girl', a pun on the U.S. state Arizona), Sid Com ('Het Geslacht Kinkel', a pun on "sitcom") and Anna Gram ('De Anonieme Smulpapen', a pun on "anagram"). Other verbal jokes can be spotted in the name of countries (the African state Miseria in 'De Roze Rolls'), houses ('Villa Delfia'), store signs ('Funeral service: opened due to bereavement"), advertisements (the Norwegian car brand 'Fjord'), books, films, TV shows, etc.,... Likewise, album titles also hide puns ('Hotel O.', a pun on the Shakespearean play 'Othello'), or dialogues. Fans enjoy deciphering these puns, even though not all of them are immediately clear upon first reading. To help readers out, Merho released a book named 'Kiekepedia' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 2008), in which all 691 character names up to that point are listed and explained alphabetically. 

Het lot van Charlotte
Examples of word play in 'Het Lot van Charlotte' (1985). The boss of a factory of toilet paper is called W.C. Roll (=Toilet roll in Dutch). His partner's name is Sthoel (Roll + Sthoel = Rolstoel = Wheelchair in Dutch). Mr. Sthoel's gang of thugs is the "Sthoel gang" (meaning "bowel motion"), and part of this team are Harry V. ("Arrivez"), Pol K. ("Polka") and Dan Q. ("Dank u" = "Thank you" in Dutch). With Merho's typical tongue-in-cheek approach, character Fanny kicked off the story by announcing not to take part in this album, because of these corny names.

While most albums are adventure stories, Merho isn't afraid of experimenting and deviating from his own formula. In 'Album 26' (1984), the story kicks off without a proper plot. Inspired by the cult comedy classic 'Hellzapoppin'' (1941), the narrative is full with gags that spoof comic book tropes and break the fourth wall. At the time of its release, 'Album 26' polarized readers. Today, the story is recognized as a classic and frequently named one of the best 'Kiekeboes' stories. In 'De Spray-Historie' (1988), the plot is frequently interrupted by commercial breaks, drawn in a realistic style by guest artist Claus Scholz. The 50th album, 'Afgelast Wegens Ziekte' (1991), shows deleted scenes from previous albums and looks what the characters would be like if they aged 10 years. In 'Hoe Meer Kijkers' (1997), the story has to follow a TV-like ratings system. Whenever readers lose interest, a black bar slowly drops down, causing the characters to quickly do something "more interesting". At one point, the ratings effectively crash, whereupon the readers start "changing channels" to look at other comic series. Merho poked fun at his own mythos with 'De Wereld Volgens Kiekeboe' (1997), in which he travels to a future society, modelled after his own franchise. In 'De Simstones' (2000), the cast is placed in uncharacteristic situations, pushed by meddling executive producers. The family learns about their medieval ancestors in 'De Heeren van Scheurbuyck' (2002), while in 'Vrouwen Komen Van Mars' (2010), they dive into a fictional 1950s comic book, complete with blue-brown printing, ben-day dots and old-fashioned comic book clichés. 

Album 26 by Merho
Behind the scenes in 'Album 26' (1984).

Collaborations and crossovers
Merho enjoys collaborating with fellow creative spirits. The album 'Kiekebanus' (1998) was a crossover between Merho's characters and those from Willy Linthout and Urbanus' series 'Urbanus'. Both drew in their respective style, creating a funny and sometimes bizarre atmosphere. 'Bij Fanny op Schoot' (2005) featured Fanny interviewing various comic characters from other series, all drawn by their respective authors, including Linthout, Urbanus ('Urbanus'), Jan Bosschaert ('De Geverniste Vernepelingskes'), Luc Morjaeu ('Suske en Wiske'), Dirk Stallaert ('Nero'), Kamagurka and Herr Seele ('Cowboy Henk'), Jean-Pol ('Kramikske'), François Walthéry ('Natasja'), Kim Duchateau ('Esther Verkest'), Ivan Adriaenssens ('De Zusjes Kriegel'), Ilah ('Cordelia'), Hec Leemans ('F.C. De Kampioenen'), Martin Lodewijk ('Agent 327') and Erik Meynen. Merho also worked on the crossover album 'Het Geheim van de Kousenband' (2001), in which other artists like Marc Sleen, Dirk Stallaert ('Nero'), Hec Leemans ('F.C. De Kampioenen'), Karel Biddeloo ('De Rode Ridder'), Marc Legendre ('Biebel'), Paul Geerts ('Suske en Wiske') and Urbanus and Willy Linthout ('Urbanus') all added storylines. Two 'Kiekeboes' stories are adaptations of thriller novels, namely 'Grof Wild' (based on a book by Pieter Aspe, 2011) and 'Salami' (based on a book by Rudy Soetewey, 2018). 

Vrouwen komen van Mars by Merho
'Vrouwen Komen van Mars' (2001).

'De Kiekeboes' was the last Flemish comic strip to not be based on a media celebrity or TV show and still become a success. Slowly but surely, it rose from a cult comic to a bestseller. By the early 1990s, the series even outsold the original market leader 'Suske en Wiske' by Willy Vandersteen, albeit only in Flanders. Between 1977 and 27 December 2022, 'De Kiekeboes' ran in Het Laatste Nieuws. It was additionally serialized in the children's weekly Suske en Wiske Weekblad (1993-2003) and, from 2004 until 2022, in the papers Het Belang van Limburg and Gazet van Antwerpen. Until 1990 all albums were published by the N.V. Hoste, after which they moved to Standaard Uitgeverij. 

Over the years, attempts were made to translate the series in English ('Jo & Co'), French ('Guidon', 'Fanny & Cie', 'Les Marteaux') and German ('Die Kuckucks'), but they never caught on. In The Netherlands, 'De Kiekeboes' only enjoys a cult following either. For a while, Merho thought the original title 'Kiekeboe' misled potential Dutch readers into thinking it was a mere children's series. In 2010, he therefore changed it to 'De Kiekeboes' ("The Kiekeboes"), to reflect the more mature tone and the fact that most stories revolve around the family rather than Kiekeboe alone. Still, the title change had no real effect on the series' sales in The Netherlands. 

Het geslacht Kinkel by Merho
'Het Geslacht Kinkel' (1995).

In 2017, 'De Kiekeboes' inspired a spin-off trilogy, 'Fanny K.' It stars Fanny Kiekeboe as a slightly older woman in captivating thriller stories. The script was written by Dutch popular novelist Toni Coppers (best known for his 'Liese Meerhout' novels), while Jean-Marc Krings provided artwork. 

Media adaptations
In 1992, one of 'De Kiekeboes' most popular albums, 'Het Witte Bloed', was adapted into a feature film, directed by Herman Fabri. The picture wasn't a huge success, mostly because the plot was adapted too literally, almost panel by panel, line by line. Yet Merho liked the end result well enough to add a re-edited DVD release as a free gift with the 'Kiekeboes' album 'Mona, De Musical' (2003). In 2000, another attempt was made to bring the series to the big screen. 'Misstoestanden' (2000) wasn't based on a pre-existing album, but an original script by Merho. However, executive meddling transformed the picture, directed by Renaat Coppens, into something completely different. Even before its premier, Merho was already determined to make sure the film was never released on home video, or DVD. 'Misstoestanden' became a huge flop and was quickly forgotten. To ventilate his frustrations, Merho drew two albums ridiculing his unpleasant experience. 'Misstoestanden' (2000) presented his original script in comic book form, while 'De Simstones' (2000) ridiculed producers who claim to know better than the original creator.

A more satisfying project was a theatrical stage production of the album 'Baas Boven Baas' (2006), produced by the children's media company Studio 100. At first, Merho feared everything headed to yet another colossal disaster. But a few days before the premier, Studio 100 executive Gert Verhulst arrived on the set and quickly reorganized the chaotic production. Thanks to his resolute creative involvement, 'Baas Boven Baas' became both a critical and commercial success. 

De Simstones by Merho
'De Simstones' (2001).

Merho's earliest assistant was Erik Meynen, who drew the backgrounds in 'Kiekeboe in Carré' (1978). Among Merho's co-workers are Peter Koeken, Rik Dewulf, Dirk Stallaert, Jeroen Weckers and his wife, Ria Smits. Smits, a full-time teacher, started as inker and letterer. When 'De Kiekeboes' became a success, she did the bookkeeping as well. Originally, the coloring was done by Resi Van Treeck, sister of Manu Van Treeck, head of the comics department of Standaard Uitgeverij. After Smits quit teaching, she became Merho's colorist, later joined by the couple's daughter, Ine Merhottein. Koeken, a Studio Vandersteen protégé, inked the stories between 1986 and 1991. Dewulf became co-artist in 1989 and stayed for a decade until he left to make the series 'Sam & Pilou' with Marc Daniëls. In the mid-1990s Patrick Van Oppen also assisted on the series.

In 2002, Dirk Stallaert became Dewulf's successor, but he too left three years later to join Studio Vandersteen. He was replaced by Steve Van Bael and Thomas Du Caju. Van Bael quit in 2008 to start his own series, 'Figaro'. Merho replaced him with Kristof Fagard. Jos Vanspauwen is the digital inker of the series. Since 2018, 'De Kiekeboes' have two additional scriptwriters: Peter van Gucht and Bruno De Roover. Occasional assistants on writing the stories have been Ivan Adriaenssens and Marc De Locht. Steve Van Bael returned in July 2019. Between 1977 and 2015, new 'Kiekeboe' albums appeared four times a year, according to the traditional "Willy Vandersteen model". Yet since 2015 this has been reduced to just two new albums a year. The amount might rise again, because from the album 'In Troebel Water' (2020) on, all Kiekeboe albums will no longer be pencilled, but drawn digitally. This album is also the first one completely drawn by Merho's successors Kristof Fagard and Steve Van Bael, though Merho has continued to write scripts, while keeping an eye on the creative process.

In August 2023, Merho announced his retirement from his long-running comic series 'De Kiekeboes'. For a few months, he remained vague whether the adventures of the Kiekeboe family would be continued. On 21 October of that year, Merho announced that the 'Kiekeboes' series will be continued by scriptwriter Nix and artist Charel Cambré, with Pedro J. Colombo as Cambré's inker. Merho's wife Ine Merhottein retires as colorist and is succeeded by Shirow Di Rosso. Steve Van Bael leaves the team. Merho also announced that Nix and Cambré would be given creative freedom to restyle and reboot 'De Kiekeboes', since he didn't want their run on the series to become a conventional concoction of the original. 

Kiekeboe by Merho
Kiekeboe - 'Doodeenvoudig/Eenvoudig dood' (2009).

Written and graphic contributions
In 1984, Merho designed the album cover of '40 Joar Stafke Fabri' (1984), a record to celebrate the 40 year career of folk musician Stafke Fabri. In 1998, Merho and Erika Raven made a graphic contribution to the comic strip 'Suske Wiet' by Yaack Bakker and WEgé. In 2005 Merho was one of many artists who made a graphic contribution to the book 'Suske en Wiske 60 Jaar!' (Standaard Uitgeverij), which paid homage to Willy Vandersteen's series 'Suske en Wiske'. He also drew a homage to Marc Sleen in the books  'Marc Sleen. Een Uitgave van de Bronzen Adhemar Stichting' (1993), 'Marc Sleen 80. De Enige Echte' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 2002) and  'Marc Sleen 90. Liber Amicorum' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 2012). In 2014, Merho, Carll Cneut and Mark Borgions all designed the cover of the 'Jommeke' album 'De Boemerang van Kirimbir' in their own style. All three albums with these unique covers could be collected, while the original story drawn by Philippe Delzenne was similar in all three. Merho paid tribute to André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe' in the collective tribute album 'Gefeliciflaterd!' (Dupuis, 2017). He additionally illustrated the title page of the book 'Laurel & Hardy in België. Een Relaas in Woord & Beeld' (2021), a book by Marc De Coninck about Laurel & Hardy's 1948 visit to Antwerp. 

In 1983, Merho received the Bronzen Adhemar, the most prestigious Flemish comics prize. A year later, Marcel Kiekeboe was elected "Moustache of the Year" by the Antwerp Moustache Club. This inspired the plot of the story 'De Snor van Kiekeboe' (1984). In 1991, 'De Kiekeboes' won the Award for 'Best Flemish Comics Series' from the Flemish Chamber of Comics Experts. In 1998 Merho received a Gouden Potlood at the Comics Festival of Middelkerke and in 2010 the Stripvos for his entire career. Since 2002 he is a honorary citizen of Zoersel, his home town. 

Legacy and influence
'De Kiekeboes' inspired several monuments in the Flemish landscape. In 1999 Luc Madou sculpted a statue depicting Marcel Kiekeboe, placed on the sea dike of Middelkerke. During the summer of 2007, Fanny also received a statue there, sculpted by Josyanne Vanhoutte. On 26 August 2007, Marcel received another statue, but in Zoersel, sculpted by Valeir Peirsman. On 21 April 2013, Luk van Soom sculpted another monument to the character, which was placed in the Deuzeldlaan in Schoten, where Merho once lived for twenty years. In May 2009, 'De Kiekeboes' received a comic book mural at the entrance of the Amerikaans Theater (the American Theater) in Laken, as part of the local Brussels' Comic Book Route. But two years later the painting was already in decay. On 16 November 2018 it was announced that a new mural would be recreated in the Kerkeveldstraat, near the swimming pool of Laken. On 7 May 2007, 'De Kiekeboes' also received their own comic mural in Antwerp, located in the Paradijsstraat. On 17 June 2012, an exclusive set of beer holder cards depicting the characters was introduced in Turnhout. On 5 October of that same year, 'De Kiekeboes' received another comic book wall in the Draaiboomstraat in Turnhout, as part of their local Comic Book Route. On 13 August 2018, yet another mural was inaugurated in the Duinenlaan, part of the local comic book route in Middelkerke.

Paul Geerts gave both Merho and Marcel Kiekeboe a cameo in the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'De Speelgoedspiegel' (1989) as two customers in a restaurant. Merho also had a cameo in Dirk Stallaert's 'Nino' story 'De Grote Draak' (1994), where he talks with Laurel & Hardy. He appeared as stage actor Merhottini in Hec Leemans' 'Bakelandt' story 'Rita op de Planken' (1988) and as an art collector in his 'F.C. De Kampioenen' story 'Xavier In De Puree' (2000). For the 12th 'Jump' album, 'De Kop van Kiekeboe', Merho gave Charel Cambré permission to make a crossover with the cast of his own series 'De Kiekeboes'. In 2018, to celebrate Merho's 70th birthday, a special tribute comic book was published: 'Hoor Je Het Ook Eens Van Een Ander' (2018). in which artists like Kim Duchateau, Nix, Frodo De Decker and the Dutch artist Gerben Valkema all drew their own version of a 'Kiekeboes' story. The album received a follow-up in 2022, 'Vier door Derden', this time with 'Kiekeboes' stories written and/or drawn by and drawn by Jan Bosschaert, Charel Cambré, Laura Janssens, Marc Legendre, Luc Morjaeu and Steve Van Bael.

Books about Merho
For those interested in Merho's life and career, Ronald Grossey's biography 'KiekeboeK. In De Coulissen Van Een Strip' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 1997) is very much recommended. The book '' (2010) compiles the most interesting stories and anecdotes from Merho's personal blog. Even more detailed is 'Zwart op Wit' (Manteau, 2013), a series of interviews with Merho conducted by Toon Horsten. Originally intended to talk about every possible topic the comic artist regularly receives questions about, Horsten's book is also the closest Merho ever came to writing an autobiography. In 2023 it was re-released and updated under the title 'Moet Ik Er Een Tekeningske Bij Maken' (Davidsfonds, 2023), with an essay written by well-known philosophy scholar Jean-Paul van Bendegem. 

Merho by Marc Sleen
Drawing of Merho by Marc Sleen, after Merho had won the "Bronzen Adhemar" in 1983.

Series and books by Merho you can order today:


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