Lucky Luke by Morris
Lucky Luke - 'Sur la piste des Dalton' (1962).

The Belgian author Morris is best known for his humorous cowboy series 'Lucky Luke' (1946), whose adventures he has drawn for nearly his entire career. Together with René Goscinny he made a funny satire of the western genre, particularly every Hollywood cliché. The franchise spawned unforgettable characters like Luke's wisecracking horse Jolly Jumper (1947), the mind boggingly stupid prison dog Rantanplan (1960) and the crooked Dalton gang (1951). Morris used a simple, but effective drawing style. He applied dynamic cinematographic techniques and atmospheric colours in his lay-out. He also did a lot of research to give the backgrounds a historically accurate look, combined with cameos of Wild West legends and Hollywood actors. All these efforts gave 'Lucky Luke' the look and feel of a genuine cowboy movie.'Lucky Luke' inspired films (both animated as well as live-action), TV series, songs and  video games. Even Morris' death hasn't kept the "poor lonesome cowboy" from riding, with new albums still being produced by his successors. It made the series a global success on par with Hergé's 'Tintin' and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix". Last but not least, it was Morris who once called comics an art form, more specifically the "Ninth Art", a nickname which has stuck ever since. 

Lucky Luke, by Morris
Lucky Luke - 'L'Élixir du Docteur Doxey' (1952-1953).

Early life and career
He was born as Maurice De Bevere in Kortrijk in 1923. His father was head of a pipe factory. Morris was Flemish and spoke Dutch as a result, but is usually not regarded as a Flemish comics artist, because 'Lucky Luke' was originally published in French and in collaboration with French-speaking scriptwriters and publishers. Many people assumed he was a Walloon, including those who wrote books, essays or organized exhibitions about Flemish comics authors. Alarmingly often his name was forgotten, ignored or overlooked in such overviews. Usually not on purpose, though Geert De Weyer in his book 'België Gestript' claims that he once encountered people who refused to acknowledge Morris as a Flemish comics artist, merely because he didn't publish in Dutch as his first language. Nevertheless Morris is effectively the bestselling Flemish comics artist in the world! He loved his country and gave Lucky Luke an outfit which looks like the colours of the Belgian flag (black, yellow, red).

As a child, Morris bought magazines such as Robinson, Hop-là and Mickey Mouse Weekly and was strongly influenced by Hergé, Walt Disney, Floyd Gottfredson, Harold Knerr and Elzie Segar. Another influence on Morris' later work was the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. While he studied at St. Joseph college in Aalst, he spent most of the lessons caricaturing his Jesuit teachers in his notebooks. They were understandbly not amused and predicted that he would never amount to anything in life. As an act of revenge, Morris later modelled the faces of the gravediggers and undertakers in 'Lucky Luke' after those of his former educators. Another major influence was film. Morris enjoyed going to the cinema, particularly westerns. He owned a film projector and made flip books for his friends. 

Lucky Luke by Morris
Lucky Luke - 'Calamity Jane' (1967).

While Morris studied rights at the University of Leuven, he actually wanted to become an animator. During World War II, he came into contact with Belgian animator Jules Luycks. In 1944 he worked as a cel inker for the Belgian animation studio Compagnie Belge d'Actualités (CBA), where he met Eddy Paape, André Franquin and Peyo. After the war, Morris made illustrations and cartoons for the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, and for the weekly magazine Le Moustique, for which he created various cover illustrations. The Dutch version of Le Moustique, Humoradio (later Humo), also published his work.

Cover for Humoradio (Le Moustique), by Morris (1949)Cover for Humoradio (Le Moustique), by Morris (1949)

Lucky Luke in Spirou (1947-1968)
By the end of the 1940s, Morris became one of the driving forces behind Spirou magazine, and together with his colleagues Jijé, Franquin and Will he established the so-called "School of Marcinelle", a comical style of drawing and storytelling that characterized Spirou during its heyday. These four artists would be referred to as "The Gang of Four", as they all worked in Jijé's home studio in Waterloo at that time. While Franquin and Will took over Jijé's 'Spirou et Fantasio' and Fernand Dineur's 'Tif et Tondu', Morris created a comic strip of his own. On 7 December 1946, he launched the first Belgian western comic series, 'Lucky Luke', which was published in L'Almanach Spirou. It was an immediate success and became one of Spirou's most popular features. At the time Hergé's 'Tim l'Écureuil' (1931) and 'Popol et Virginie' (1934) had been the earliest Belgian western comics, but remained one-shots. Cowboy comics were nevertheless very popular among Belgian readers, but most titles were imported from the U.S. In Spirou itself Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' had ran for years with tremendous popularity and many of the early 'Lucky Luke' stories still echo its influence.

Lucky Luke by Morris
Lucky Luke - 'La mine d’or de Dick Digger' (Spirou/Robbedoes, 1947).

Other notable differences about the early stories were the minimal cast and different graphic style. Luke and his trusty horse Jolly Jumper were the only recurring characters. The drawings were also specifically designed to make them fit for animation. Not only were the characters more roundish: they even had four fingers on each hand. In 1948 he, Franquin and Jijé travelled to the U.S.A. and Mexico. Officially, they wanted to find inspiration for new stories, particularly Morris, who made a lot of photographs and sketches of prairie and desert backgrounds. But Morris also secretly hoped to meet Disney and convince him to turn his comic strip into an animated cartoon.

Puffy Plays Baseball
While Disney showed no interest, Morris did encounter several people who would push his style into a different, more versatile direction. During his six year stay in the U.S. he met Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman and assisted them with the foundation of their satirical publication Mad Magazine at EC Comics. The nervous, caricatural and energetic parody style of Mad would have tremendous influence on 'Lucky Luke'. While in the States, Morris provided the illustrations for 'Puffy Plays Baseball' (1954, text by Mary Taylor). It was a children's book in the series Little Owl Books, the answer of New York-based Cross Publications to the popular Little Golden Books by Simon & Shuster.

Puffy Plays Baseball
'Puffy Plays Baseball'.

René Goscinny (1955-1977)
Another important person whom Morris met was French scriptwriter René Goscinny, who was also travelling the States to try and get into animation. Goscinny shared Morris' love for Mad Magazine and the animated cartoons of Walt Disney and Tex Avery. Back in Europe, he would become scriptwriter for 'Lucky Luke', although anonymously at first. Between 1955 and 1977, he wrote the narratives for 35 albums. This period is often seen as Lucky Luke's golden age.

The Daltons, Rantanplan and other character developments
Thanks to Goscinny the characters became more fleshed out. Luke was transformed into an inhumanly fast gunslinger, "able to shoot quicker than his own shadow". Jolly Jumper became a sarcastic observer and commentator. Inspired by a real-life 19th century gang of outlaws named the Daltons and George Marshall's movie adaptation 'When the Daltons Rode' (1940) Morris had Luke meet the Daltons in the album 'Hors-la-loi' (1951). At the end of the story he murdered them all in cold blood, but the artist felt their potential. In the next story, 'Les Cousins Dalton' (1951), they returned, albeit in the guise of their identical cousins. Each brother received his own characteristic individual behaviour. Dwarf-sized Joe is the gang's aggressive and hot-tempered leader. Jack and William, each a head higher, act as the voice of reason. Averell, the tallest of the four, is also the stupidest and most hungry. They would remain Luke's main nemeses. In 'Sur La Piste de Dalton' (1960) another popular character made its debut: prison dog Ratanplan, whose name spoofed  the famous film dog Rin Tin Tin. Ratanplan is arguably the dumbest dog of the Far West, unable to ever realize what is going on around him and utterly loathed by Jolly Jumper.

Lucky Luke by Morris
Lucky Luke - 'La Guérison des Dalton' (1975).

Western atmosphere
Morris and Goscinny studied the history of the Wild West and spent more time in the theater watching westerns. Pictures like 'Stagecoach' (1939), 'Union Pacific' (1939), 'Jesse James' (1939), 'When the Daltons Rode' (1940), 'The Westerner' (1940, which featured Judge Roy Bean), 'Billy the Kid' (1941), 'Belle Starr' (1941), 'Western Union' (1941), 'Calamity Jane' (1953), 'Pony Express' (1953), '7th Calvary' (1956) and 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' (1957) all inspired plotlines for new stories. Luke became a participant during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the Pony Express and the first transcontinental railroad through the United States. He furthermore met real-life historical characters, including Billy The Kid, Jesse James, Calamity Jane, Belle Starr, Abraham Lincoln, Roy Bean, Soapy Smith, Mark Twain, Black Bart, Horace Greeley, Brigham Young, Wyatt Earp, Allan Pinkerton, Frederic Remington, Joshua Norton, Buffalo Bill and Sarah Bernhardt. Morris also elevated his drawings by using a lay-out inspired by cinematographic techniques. Different kinds of perspective and camera view points gave 'Lucky Luke' a more dynamic look which reminded readers of a typical Hollywood western. Even Luke's theme song, 'I'm a poor lonesome cowboy', was lifted from a western film: 'Along Came Jones' (1945). At the end of each story he characteristically rides into the sunset singing it. 

Joss Jamon by Morris
Inventive storytelling in 'Lucky Luke contre Joss Jamon' (1958).

Colour work
But Morris' colouring was remarkable too. Morris would regularly colourize entire characters or backgrounds red, blue or yellow, giving his panels depth and focus, just like Marie Severin did in her colouring for EC Comics. Accompanied by his stylized and schematic drawing style, the 'Lucky Luke' pages are very orderly and legible. This also comes to blossom in the cover designs of the albums, which stand out for their simplicity, often featuring just one or two characters with backgrounds in a spot colour.

Billy the Kid cover by MorrisCalamity Jane cover by Morris
Simple but effective covers for 'Billy the Kid' (1962) and 'Calamity Jane' (1967).

Caricature
Still, it never got too artsy or serious. Morris insisted on keeping his graphic style simple, so he wouldn't have to lose too much time on details. While he did research about the time period he preferred to portray a cartoony version of the Far West, based on how many people imagined it to be, rather than strive for complete historical accuracy. To bring the point down he often gave characters the looks of famous movie stars. The phlegmatic western actor Gary Cooper inspired Luke's heroic persona. Other caricatured actors were Jack Palance ('Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer', 1956), James Coburn ('En remontant le Mississippi', 1961), Randolph Scott ('Le Vingtième de Cavalerie', 1965), David Niven ('Calamity Jane', 1967), Wallace Beery, Alfred Hitchcock ('La Diligence', 1968), Mae West ('Dalton City', 1969, 'Western Circus', 1970, 'Sarah Bernhardt' 1982), Lee Van Cleef ('Chasseur de Primes', 1972), W.C. Fields ('Western Circus', 1970) and  Louis de Funés ('Le Bandit Manchot', 1981). He sometimes even gave his colleagues a cameo, such as René Goscinny (Pete in 'Lucky Luke contre Joss Jamon', 1958), Victor Hubinon (Barry Blunt in 'À l'ombre des derricks', 1962) and Albert Uderzo (Tenderfoot in 'Le Pied-Tendre', 1968).

Lucky Luke by Morris
Lee Van Cleef as bounty hunter Elliot Belt in 'Chasseur de Primes' (1972).

Western parody
Goscinny also transformed 'Lucky Luke' into a clever parody of the western genre. Every stock character is there: ultra-fast sharpshooters (like Luke himself, who shoots "faster than his own shadow"), careless gamblers who are frequently tarred and feathered, grouchy old-timers, lynch-happy mobs, morbid caretakers, monosyllabic Native Americans who make spelling mistakes while sending smoke signals, Chinese laundry owners, African-American laborers, siesta-holding Mexicans, overly feared outlaws and the cavalry riding in to save the day. Morris was never fond of the westerns made after 1970, when many of the ancient stereotypes were removed out of political correctness, realism and a more historically accurate approach of the Wild West. He kept referring to older westerns, even though younger audiences have often never seen these pictures and are therefore less bound to recognize the clichés once associated with the genre.

Hors la loi by Morris
The end of 'Hors-la-loi' as it appeared in Spirou/Robbedoes in 1951, and the official album publication in 1954...

Censorship
As popular as 'Lucky Luke' was, it still often met with censorship. Publishers felt that the series was too violent for young readers. In some of the earliest stories Luke actually murders some of his opponents in cold blood, such as Phil Defer in 'Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer' (1956) and Bob Dalton in 'Hors-la-loi' (1954). These segments were softened before their publication in Spirou, or for their album publications. It got to the point that the owners of Dupuis felt that revolvers ought to be used as little as possible, which is kind of impossible in a western strip.

Hors la loi by Morris
...and the original version, which did end up in a pocket book in the collection 'Gags de Poche'.

The Ninth Art
Between 1964 and 1967, Morris and Pierre Vankeer wrote a section for Spirou magazine called 'Le Neuvième Art', in which they presented the world of American comics. This coined the term 'ninth art' as a prestigious way to refer to comics. Although the phrase had appeared in an article by Claude Beylie for La Vie Médicale eight months prior to Morris and Vankeer's first article, its creation is generally attributed to Morris. The number "nine" refers to the other eight previously numbered art forms: architecture (1), sculpture (2), painting (3), dance (4), music (5), poetry (6), cinema (7) and television (8).

Lucky Luke at Dargaud (1968-....)
By 1968, Morris and Goscinny left Dupuis and Spirou and joined Dargaud, where 'Lucky Luke' enjoyed new adventures in Goscinny's own magazine Pilote. With more creative freedom, gunfights became more prominent again. Another new element were the somewhat sexually risqué female dancers in the saloons. 

Spirou cover by MorrisPilote cover by Morris

Lucky Luke after Goscinny's death
Sadly enough Goscinny died in 1977. Morris continued 'Lucky Luke' with many writers in the following decades, like Bob de Groot, Vicq, the duo Xavier Fauche/Jean Léturgie, Guy Vidal, Lo Hartog van Banda and others. From 1989, the books were published through Lucky Productions, and their rights were transferred to Lucky Comics, a joint venture between Morris and Dargaud, in 1999. Morris also participated in the launch of spin-off series like 'Rantanplan' (together with Michel Janvier, Jean Léturgie, Bob de Groot and Vittorio Leonardo) in 1987 and 'Kid Lucky' (with Conrad, Yann and Léturgie) in 1995. After Morris' death in 2001, 'Lucky Luke' was continued by Achdé and Gerra in a new series of albums published by Lucky Comics.

Lucky Luke - La Diligence, by Morris (1968)
Lucky Luke - 'La Diligence' (1968).

Film and TV adaptations
During the 1970s and 1980s, Morris finally saw his dream of adapting 'Lucky Luke' into animation come true. He and Goscinny made two humoristic animated feature films based on 'Lucky Luke', namely 'Daisy Town' (1971) and 'La Ballade des Dalton' ('The Ballad of the Daltons', 1978), both animated by the same company that made 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' in 1976. In 1983, Hanna-Barbera also adapted some of the albums into a TV cartoon series in co-production with France 3 and Gaumont. Since the series was aimed at children and under politically correct pressure, several elements of the comic were not featured on the show, including racial stereotypes, the caretakers and Luke's smoking habit. Morris also made Luke a non-smoker in the comics from then on, for which he was awarded a medal from the World Health Organization in 1988. In 1991 a new animated TV series based on 'Lucky Luke' was produced by IDDH, followed by yet another one a decade later by Xilam.

Magazines
Twelve issues of a shortlived Lucky Luke monthly magazine were published by Dargaud from March 1974 to February 1975. Another attempt at a Lucky Luke magazine was made in June 1994 by Semic, but after the eighth issue in January 1995 it folded too. In June 2014 Mondadori launched a trimestrial magazine. 

Graphic contributions
In 1980 Morris was one of many Belgian comics 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.

Recognition
In 1972 Morris received the Grand Prix Saint-Michel for his entire oeuvre. Twenty years later, 'Lucky Luke' was honored at the Festival of Angoulême with a big exhibition, receiving the 1992 Grand Prix Spécial  at the same time. The same year Morris was knighted in the Order of Leopold II. In 2005 Morris ended at the 79th place in the Walloon edition of "Les Plus Grandes Belges" ("The Greatest Belgians"), ending at the 79th place. In the Flemish version of that same contest he ended at nr. 360. 

Fingers by Morris
Lucky Luke replaces his trademark cigarette for a straw, in 'Fingers' (1983), an album written by Dutch writer Lo Hartog van Banda.

Legacy and influence
Morris passed away in 2001. As a notoriously thrifty man he one day noticed damage to his roof. Rather than hire a specialist the already 77-year old man tried to repair it himself, but fell from the ladder. He survived, but had to be hospitalized and later died from a stroke. Morris left behind one of the best-selling comics series in the world and coined the term "Ninth Art", which is still used to describe comics in books, essays, articles and documentaries. Despite being widely read across the globe it's a bit more difficult to pinpoint direct graphic followers. Influences of Morris' style can be found in the work of Didier Conrad (for instance in his 'Donito' series), Marcel RemacleMazelConz and even Jacques Tardi, while Morris' method of coloring also appears in the Dutch 'Elsje' strip by Gerben Valkema. Artist Henk Albers and writer Jan van Gelderen were allowed to make 'De Wereld van Lucky Luke' ('Lucky Luke's World'), an educational series about the Wild West, for the Dutch comics magazine Pep. Albers also worked with scriptwriter Yvan Delporte on four reworkings of fairy tales with characters from 'Lucky Luke' for the Lucky Luke monthly magazine in 1974.

Celebrity fans
Celebrity fans of 'Lucky Luke' have been comedian Urbanus, actor Tom November, comedian Laurent Gerra (who became Lucky Luke's scriptwriter in 2004), economist Jacques Attali and French Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002) Hubert Védrine. In January 2005 former Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal claimed that he "only read 'Lucky Luke'."

Universal bestseller and recognition
'Lucky Luke' is one of the bestselling European comics in the world, sharing the honorary stage with Hergé's 'Tintin' and Goscinny and Uderzo's 'Astérix'. The adventures of the "poor lonesome cowboy" have been translated in Dutch, English, Welsh, German, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian, Icelandic, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovene, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Bengali, Tamil, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Afrikaans. In most languages the title (character) remains the same, except for Icelandic ('Lukki-Láki') and Turkish ('Red Kit', in a nod to Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder'). 

Monuments
In June 1993 a comic book wall was dedicated to 'Lucky Luke' in the Rue de la Buanderie (Washuisstraat) in Brussels, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route.  In 1994 he and Jolly Jumper received a statue in the Parc Reine Astrid in Charleroi and In 2000 another one in Middelkerke. Morris became a honorary citizen of Waterloo in 1996. The Dutch city of Almere named two streets after respectively Lucky Luke and Ratanplan in 2003, as part of their 'Comics Heroes District'. On 16 November 2016 Lucky Luke also received a comics wall in the Populierlaan in Middelkerke. 

Cultural impact
In 1967 French singer Joe Dassin recorded a song, 'Les Dalton', inspired by the comic strip. Marcel Amont did the same with his song 'Lucky Luke' (1968). After the German punk band Die Ärzte split up, singer and drummer Bela B. formed another band named Depp Jones, inspired by 'Les Dalton dans le Blizzard' (1963). In this particular story the Daltons decide to use a different name to avoid being identified as the Daltons. Averell is named 'Jim Jones' or, as the German translation goes: 'Depp Jones'. Fil Auwera, bass player of the Belgian rock band Kitchen of Insanity, named himself 'Phil IJzerdraad' in the album liner notes, referring to the Dutch name of the character 'Phil Defer'. French comedian Élie Sermoun is well known for a series of sketches built around Jolly Jumper. 

Lucky Luke - Les Dalton se rachètent, by Morris (1965)
Lucky Luke - 'Les Dalton se rachètent' (1965).

Parodies of Lucky Luke
Naturally the series wasn't safe for parody. This led to predictable porn spoofs like 'De Sex Avonturen van Lucky Luke' (1982) by Paul Schuurmans, which was later republished as 'La Vie Sexuelle de Lucky Luke' (1993) by Jan Bucquoy. In both cases they were sued. Far more interesting were the spoofs by professional artists. In December 1971 Gotlib reimagined 'Lucky Luke' as a spaghetti western and also spoofed the final panel of each 'Luke' story from a different silly perspective. while Claire Bretécher made a feminist satire: 'Lucky Lite.' Jean Giraud took a page from the Lucky Luke album 'Le Pied-Tendre' ('Tenderfoot') and redrew it in his own realistic style. Morris returned the favour by redrawing a page from Giraud's 'Blueberry' story 'La Mine de L'Allemand Perdu'. 

Homage comics series
In 1985 various French and Belgian comics artists paid tribute to Morris with the collective parody comic book 'Rocky Luke' (1985). Since 2016 other authors are invited to make their own rendition of 'Lucky Luke'. The first to create an homage was Matthieu Bonhomme, who gained much praise with his album 'L'Homme qui tua Lucky Luke' (2016). He was followed by Guillaume Bouzard, who gave a more satirical look on the series in 'Jolly Jumper ne répond plus' (2017).

Books about Morris
For those interested in Morris' life and career Stephane Beaujean's 'L'Art de Morris' (Dargaud, 2015) is highly recommended.

Series and books by Morris in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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