Lucky Luke panel from 'Billy the Kid' (1961).

Morris was a Belgian comic creator, who devoted almost his entire career to his signature series 'Lucky Luke' (1946-   ), the "cowboy who shoots faster than his shadow". Starting out as funny western stories for the post-war issues of Spirou magazine, the series came to blossom when Morris teamed up with scriptwriter René Goscinny. Together, they turned 'Lucky Luke' into an iconic western satire, spoofing Hollywood clichés, but at the same time popularizing the genre and its tropes in European comic culture. Apart from the deadpan titular hero, the series spawned unforgettable characters like Luke's wisecracking horse Jolly Jumper (1947), the crooked four Dalton brothers (1951) and the mind-bogglingly stupid prison dog Rantanplan (1960). Applying a drawing style aimed at efficiency, Morris used dynamic cinematographic techniques and uniformly colored areas in his instantly readable page lay-outs. To give the series a historically accurate look, he did a lot of research, using real-life Wild West legends and caricatures of famous Hollywood actors for his secondary characters. The 'Lucky Luke' series inspired films - both animated and live-action -, TV series, songs and video games. The "poor lonesome cowboy" has continued to ride after his creator's death, with new episodes being produced by his successors. Together with Hergé's 'Tintin' and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix', 'Lucky Luke' is one of most successful European comics worldwide. In terms of book sales, 'Lucky Luke' is the best-selling Belgian comic series in the world, making Morris the most widely read Flemish comic artist. One of the major authors of European comics, Morris also showed a keen interest in the medium's history, coining the descriptive term "Ninth Art" for this art form.

Early life
Morris was born in 1923 as Maurice De Bevere in Kortrijk, a city in the south of the West Flanders province. His father Armand De Bevere owned a factory that produced terra cotta pipes. Growing up bilingual - Dutch and French - Morris read comic magazines such as Robinson, Hop-là and the British Mickey Mouse Weekly, with Hergé, Floyd Gottfredson, Harold Knerr and Elzie Segar becoming his early influences. However, as a child he was mostly infatuated by film. Coming from a middle-class family, Maurice and his older brother Louis had their own Baby-Pathé film projector, on which they watched reels of 'Felix the Cat' animated cartoons and the 1917 short comedy film 'Lonesome Luke, Messenger' by Harold Lloyd. As a teenager, Morris fully devoured the Walt Disney feature film 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1937) and the animated 'Popeye' and 'Betty Boop' shorts of the Fleischer brothers. To study graphic movement, he made DIY flipping books, much to the entertainment of his friends. Besides animation, Morris enjoyed going to the cinema, taking a particular liking to the silent western films of John Ford, Michael Curtiz and William Wellman. During lessons at the St. Joseph College in Aalst, he filled his notebooks with caricatures of his Jesuit teachers, who, not amused, predicted their pupil would never amount to anything. Later in life, Morris took his revenge by modeling the gravediggers in his 'Lucky Luke' stories after his former educators.

Cover for Humoradio (Le Moustique), by Morris (1949)Cover for Humoradio (Le Moustique), by Morris (1949)
Cover gag cartoons for Humoradio, also used for its sister magazine Le Moustique (1949).

Even though Morris wanted to work in animation, he pleased his father by enrolling at the Law faculty of the University of Leuven/Louvain. As a student during the early World War II years, he avoided being sent to Germany for forced labor under the Arbeitseinsatz program. In his spare time, he took a Parisian correspondence course in animation set up by the Hungarian-French film director Jean Image. During this period, he also got in touch with the Belgian animator Jules Luycks, his first connection to the Belgian animation industry. In 1944, Morris found employment as a cell inker at the Compagnie Belge d'Actualités (C.B.A.), a Brussels animation studio run by Paul Nagant. Among his colleagues were the future comic artists Eddy Paape and André Franquin, and in 1945, he was joined by Peyo. Recognizing his talent, lead animator Paape let Morris make his own piece of animation, featuring a painter mixing his colors. Still, this venture into animation was cut short in September 1944 because of the Liberation of Belgium. The subsequent post-war chaos and the return of competing Hollywood films in movie theaters led C.B.A. to close its doors.

While working for C.B.A. in 1944, Maurice De Bevere sold his first gag cartoons to Le Moustique, a radio guide magazine published by Éditions Dupuis. He signed them with "Morris", an anglicized version of his first name. On 28 October 1945, Le Moustique first ran a drawing by Morris on its cover. He continued to work for the magazine - as well as its Dutch-language edition Humoradio (nowadays Humo) - until 1956. By then, his comic production demanded all of his attention. For over ten years, Morris made dozens of cover cartoons, initially revealing his background in animation, but later - while he was living in the USA - showing strong influences from international cartoonists like Virgil Partch, Al Hirschfeld and the cover artists of The New Yorker. During the 1950s, Morris additionally provided cover and interior illustrations to the women's weeklies Lectures d'Aujourd'hui and Bonnes Soirées. In the second half of the decade, he illustrated the sports section in the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. Since 1947, the cartoonist Marc Sleen had been covering the annual Tour de France in comic strip reports for several Flemish newspapers. The idea turned out so popular that many rival papers, including Het Laatste Nieuws, had their own cartoonists visualize the Tour in humorous drawings. Morris covered the Tour for a period of three years.

'Le Piano à Bretelles', story by Paul Berna, illustrated by Morris (1955-1956).

The Gang of Four
After the closing of the C.B.A. animation studio, Morris introduced his colleagues André Franquin and Eddy Paape to the Dupuis publishing house. The three men continued their careers as illustrators for Le Moustique, but also became post-war staples of the publisher's comic magazine Spirou. For their training, Morris and Franquin were sent to Spirou's lead artist, the creatively prolific Joseph Gillain, AKA Jijé. In Jijé's Waterloo house atelier, the two men got acquainted with Will, another young cartoonist living with the Gillain family. The four men were quickly dubbed "La Bande à Quatre" ("The Gang of Four"), as foundations were laid for lifelong friendships and the Golden Age of Spirou magazine. Within this creative environment, Jijé and his team developed the magazine's unofficial post-war house style, named the "School of Marcinelle", after the publisher's homebase. Characterized by its playful way of dynamic drawing and comical storytelling, the Marcinelle style has continued to inspire generations of humor cartoonists. But while most of his colleagues followed in Jijé's footsteps, Morris chose his own path. Rooted in the American animation tradition, Morris' drawing style deviated from his colleagues. And while Franquin, Will and Paape each took over one of Spirou's already existing features, Morris decided to create a series of his own.

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

Introduction of Lucky Luke
Inspired by singing movie cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, Morris introduced the readers of Spirou magazine to a yodeling Lucky Luke and his trusty white horse Jolly Jumper in the story 'Arizona 1880'. Launched on 7 December 1946 in the 'Almanach Spirou 1947' anthology, the feature was then continued in Spirou's regular pages, where it remained a popular mainstay until 1968. Historically, 'Lucky Luke' was notable as the first Belgian western comic series. Earlier stories in the genre, like Hergé's 'Tim l'Écureuil' (1931) and 'Popol et Virginie' (1934), were one-shot genre experiments. However, cowboy comics were already popular among Belgian readers, but mostly through imported U.S. newspaper comics. Early 'Lucky Luke' stories echo the influence of Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' series, at the time in translation a popular serial in Spirou too. Another possible inspiration for 'Lucky Luke' - particularly the name - was an obscure feature in the American comic books New Fun Comics and Popular Comics by Jack A. Warren, called 'Loco Luke' (1935-1936).

The first couple of 'Lucky Luke' stories were slapstick-filled cowboy adventures with straightforward plots. At this point, Morris still hoped for a career in animation, and deliberately designed and staged his early comics like 1940s Hollywood cartoon shorts. Actions and movements are shown from the same camera angle and focus on "key frame" shots, the moments used in animation to define starting and ending points of sequences. Morris' initial characters have a roundish look, big eyes and four fingers on each hand. After a couple of stories, Morris' drawings became more angular.

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

Collaboration with Louis De Bevere
Although credited as solo works by Morris, several of the early 'Lucky Luke' stories were made in collaboration with his brother Louis De Bevere, a school teacher and amateur magician. In later interviews, Morris acknowledged his brother's involvement in the plot of the second serial, 'La Mine d'Or de Dick Digger' ("Dick Digger's Gold Mine", 1947), but a January 2022 article on the website Marsam Graphics revealed he did far more. Research by Michaël Baril and Clément Lemoine uncovered that Louis "Lode" De Bevere (1920-2003) wrote either the scripts or story outlines for 'Le Sosie de Lucky Luke' ("Lucky Luke's look-alike", 1947-1948) and the two early stand-out episodes 'L'Elixir du Dr Doxey' ("Doc Doxey's Elixir", 1952) and 'Alerte aux Pieds Bleus' ("The Bluefeet are Coming", 1956), as well as a mid-1950s short story for Spirou's companion magazine Risque-Tout.

Puffy Plays Baseball
'Puffy Plays Baseball' (Little Owl Books, 1954).

American years
Between 1948 and 1955, Morris fine-tuned his craft during a long sojourn in the United States and Mexico. On 3 August 1948, Morris and André Franquin - both fans of jazz music and American pop culture - accompanied Jijé and his family on their trip across the ocean, leaving from Rotterdam on board the New Amsterdam. Arriving in New York City, the entire group - Franquin, Morris and the Gillain family, consisting of two parents and four children - then crammed into a Hudson Commodore, driving to Los Angeles. Morris hoped he could secure himself a job with the Walt Disney Studios, but arriving there he learned the company had just let go a great deal of its employees. Instead, the group headed south towards San Diego and finally Mexico, where the Gillain family settled. All the while, Morris and Franquin continued to work on their respective comic series - 'Lucky Luke' and 'Spirou et Fantasio' - sending their pages to Spirou magazine's editorial offices in Brussels. While traveling the American West, Morris absorbed the natural landscapes, making photographs and sketches of prairies, deserts, ghost towns and abandoned silver mines. The change of scenery became apparent in the 'Lucky Luke' panels, showing more accurate depictions of the Far West.

After their stay in Mexico, the group settled in Wilton, Connecticut in July 1949. That same year, Franquin was the first one to return to Europe, followed in mid-1950 by the Gillain family. Still interested in the American way of life, Morris stayed for another five years. Through Jijé, Morris was introduced to René Goscinny, another European artist who shared his passion for the animated cartoons of Walt Disney and Tex Avery. Morris regularly visited Goscinny in the Broadway studio he shared with Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder. The two Europeans became good friends with the American artists, and also got acquainted with their colleagues Jack Davis and John Severin. Morris at one point shared an apartment and studio space with the cartoonist Fred Ottenheimer. While still making 'Lucky Luke' for Spirou, Morris also did pencil and inking work for a couple of American comic books. It is still a mystery which comic books contain Morris' art, but it presumably involved western stories for Prize Comics, made in collaboration with John Severin. In the United States, Morris also provided the illustrations for 'Puffy Plays Baseball' (1954), a children's book written by Mary Taylor for the Little Owl Books series, an attempt by the New York-based publisher Cross Publications to compete with the popular Little Golden Books by Simon & Schuster. In 1952, Morris was present when Kurtzman and his friends launched the satirical Mad Magazine at E.C. Comics. Its nervous, caricatural and energetic parody style became an important influence on the future 'Lucky Luke' stories.

In Franco-Belgian comic history, the USA trip of Jijé, Franquin and Morris achieved an almost legendary status. In 2012, Dupuis released 'Gringos Locos', a fictionalized chronicle of the first part of the journey, created in graphic novel format by Olivier Schwartz and Yann. When the heirs of Jijé and Franquin objected to the authors' creative interpretation of certain events and motivations, the planned second installment was canceled.

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

Collaboration with René Goscinny
In 1955, Morris came back to Europe, where he immediately sought out his friend René Goscinny, who had returned to Europe four years earlier. Since coming up with scripts was often a burden, Morris asked Goscinny to write the future 'Lucky Luke' stories. The team-up proved a golden combination, turning 'Lucky Luke' into one of the all-time classics of European comics. For the next 22 years, until his untimely death in 1977, René Goscinny wrote all the 'Lucky Luke' stories - first anonymously, then credited - a total of 35 books. Through Goscinny's scripts, the series became a clever parody of the western genre, full of historical references, multi-layered humor and colorful secondary characters. Existing narrative elements were fleshed out or emphasized. Luke's reputation as an inhumanly fast gunslinger was expanded, making him literally "able to shoot quicker than his own shadow". His loyal horse Jolly Jumper became a sarcastic commentator on the story's progress and Luke's behavior. The villainous Dalton brothers turned into hilarious idiots with specific character traits, and the cast was completed with their stupid dog Rantanplan.

The Dalton Brothers
The Daltons were based on the real-life 19th-century outlaw brothers, whose life story was portrayed in the George Marshall film 'When the Daltons Rode' (1940). The comic book versions were first used by Morris in his 1951 solo story 'Hors-la-loi' ("Outlaws"), in which Bob, Grat, Bill and Emmet Dalton are depicted as identical brothers, each a head higher than the other. Like in most of his early adventures, Luke kills the bandits at the end of the story. However, enthusiastic reader response proved that Morris made a mistake. Realizing the Dalton brothers' potential, René Goscinny found a way to write them back into the series. In 'Les Cousins Dalton' (1957), he introduced their four identical cousins, who swear to avenge their deceased relatives. Always shown in order of length - wearing either green outlaw suits or striped prison uniforms - the four brothers became the stand-out characters of the series, and instantly recognizable comic book icons. In the Goscinny version, the Dalton brothers were slapstick parodies of western outlaws. Feared in every town they enter, they usually cause their own downfall due to their erratic behavior. Joe, the shortest brother, is the gang's hot-tempered leader, who goes into a frenzy when merely hearing the name Lucky Luke. Averell, the tallest of the four, often wrecks the gang's ploys with his stupidity and constant hunger. The two middle brothers are Jack and William, whose main task is to calm down Joe and act as voices of reason.

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

At the end of each story, the Daltons are usually sent back to prison, and at the start of the next, they escape again. The reason they mostly succeed is the complete ignorance of the prison guard dog Rantanplan (at times written as Ran-Tan-Plan), first seen in the 1960 episode 'Sur La Piste de Dalton' ("On the Daltons' Trail"). Even though René Goscinny based his name on the heroic movie dog Rin Tin Tin, there is nothing heroic about Rantanplan. Arguably the "dumbest dog of the West" - as many call him - he is so oblivious he never realizes what is going on around him. Most of the time he is either asleep, looking for food or confused by people's identities. In some stories he is only seen at the start and the end, when Lucky Luke visits the prison, but on several occasions Rantanplan follows either the Daltons or Luke on their quests, becoming a nuisance to everyone involved. Jolly Jumper in particular utterly loathes the creature, but Rantanplan became very popular with readers and was quickly promoted to regular cast member.

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

Western parody
To give the 'Lucky Luke' series a more authentic feel, Morris and René Goscinny studied the history of the Wild West. Since the Goscinny era, many episodes are inspired by actual historical events. For their first collaboration, Morris and Goscinny let Lucky Luke participate in the construction of the first transcontinental railway through the United States. Later episodes saw Lucky Luke guard the Wells Fargo stagecoaches, witness the Rush into the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma and take part in setting up the First Transcontinental Telegraph. Throughout the series, Lucky Luke met many real-life historical characters, including the adventurers Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, writer Mark Twain, the painter Frederic Remington, journalist Horace Greeley, religious leader Brigham Young, sheriff Wyatt Earp, Judge Roy Bean, the detective Allan Pinkerton, actress Sarah Bernhardt, village idiot Joshua Norton and legendary outlaws like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Black Bart, Soapy Smith and Belle Starr.

Over the years, 'Lucky Luke' has become a clever pastiche of pop cultural cowboy stories, as seen in dime novels, Hollywood movies, spaghetti westerns and other western comics. Direct inspiration for new stories came from western films 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 Cavalry' (1956) and 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' (1957). 'Lucky Luke' stories have all the traditional stereotypes: ultra-fast sharp shooters, careless gamblers leaving towns tarred and feathered, grouchy old-timers, lynch-happy mobs, morbid undertakers, Native Americans making smoke signals, Chinese laundry owners, Mexicans holding siestas and the cavalry riding in to save the day. After 1970, most of the old stereotypes gradually disappeared from western movies, when the urge for political correctness and historical accuracy called in a more realistic approach. Morris was never too fond of these later movies, and kept referring to the classics, even though younger audiences were largely unaware of these pictures and were only introduced to the old western clichés by reading 'Lucky Luke'.

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

Inspired by the singing cowboys from Hollywood movies, music played an important role in the early 'Lucky Luke' stories. The 1949 episode 'Cigarette Caesar', Morris first showed Lucky Luke riding into the sunset, singing what became his signature song: "I'm A Poor Lonesome Cowboy (and) I'm A Long, Long Way From Home" (in some versions it's "far, far way"). Starting with the mid-1950s René Goscinny stories, this scene became the trademark ending for every episode, resembling the closing credits of a Hollywood western. Morris most likely picked up the song when Gary Cooper sang it in the 1945 film 'Along Came Jones'. Probably originating from the 19th century, the lyrics to this country song were first collected in 1910 by folklorist-musicologist John Lomax for his anthology book 'Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads'. Since the Gary Cooper version, new recordings of 'Poor Lonesome Cowboy' have been made by the Norman Luboff Choir (1955), Win Stracke (1958), Ed McCurdy (1968) and Mylinda Farr (2016). The song also appeared in the 'Lucky Luke' animated feature 'Daisy Town' (1971), but with different lyrics.

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

Graphic style
Graphically, Morris gave a cartoony version of the Far West, based on pop culture instead of historical accuracy. The phlegmatic western actor Gary Cooper was the inspiration for Lucky Luke's heroic persona and outfit. Many other characters have the looks of famous movie stars, for instance Jack Palance as the outlaw Phil Defer in 'Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer' (1956) and Lee Van Cleef as the bounty hunter in 'Chasseur de Primes' (1972). Mae West appeared as Lulu Carabine, the leader of a group of dancing girls in the albums 'Dalton City' (1969), 'Western Circus' (1970) and 'Sarah Bernhardt' (1982). Among the other movie celebrities caricatured by Morris were James Coburn in 'En Remontant le Mississippi' (1961), Randolph Scott in 'Le Vingtième de Cavalerie' (1965), David Niven in 'Calamity Jane' (1967), Wallace Beery and Alfred Hitchcock in 'La Diligence' (1968), W.C. Fields in 'Western Circus' (1970) and Louis de Funés in 'Le Bandit Manchot' (1981). Besides film stars, Morris also gave his fellow comic creators cameos, such as René Goscinny as Pete in 'Lucky Luke contre Joss Jamon' (1958), Victor Hubinon as Barry Blunt in 'À l'Ombre des Derricks' (1962) and Albert Uderzo as the Tenderfoot in 'Le Pied-Tendre' (1968).

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

By the late 1940s, Morris had dropped most of the Max Fleischer-style animation influences from his artwork. However, cinematographic techniques for action, movement and atmosphere remained present throughout his career. Variations in perspective and camera angles gave the 'Lucky Luke' stories a dynamic look reminiscent of Hollywood westerns. Already in his early stories, Morris incorporated large half-page panels for cinematic establishing shots, showing bird's-eye overviews of western towns. At the time, these types of panels were new to Franco-Belgian comic storytelling, especially in Spirou magazine, where most page layouts followed a grid structure. Another movie-inspired innovation by Morris was the use of close-ups for dramatic effect, for instance a sneaky hand grabbing a gun in a holster. To keep his pages instantly readable, Morris applied a drawing style aimed at efficiency and suitability. He designed his panels and pages with geometric compositions, used a clean inking line and made effective use of black-and-white and halftones. Elements seen in close-up can be fully realistic, but from afar they are drawn with an almost stylized minimalism.

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

Another unique aspect of Morris' artwork was the inventive coloring, which the artist did himself until the 1968 episode 'Le Pied-Tendre', when Vittorio Leonardo took over. Just like the drawings, Morris used the colors to support his narrative, achieving contrast and focus by filling entire characters or items with a bright red, blue or yellow. In the USA, this same technique can be seen in Marie Severin's coloring for the EC comic books, but in Europe, Morris was again an innovator. Equally experimental were the stylish cover designs of the 'Lucky Luke' albums, which stand out for their simplicity and austerity. Using different techniques, Morris often added just one or two characters - and not always the titular hero - against the backdrop of a single spot color.

Hors la loi by Morris
The end of 'Hors-la-loi' as it appeared in Spirou/Robbedoes in 1951 and the official 1954 album collection. The original ending with Lucky Luke killing Bob Dalton was changed.

Launched in a time when most Belgian comics appeared in devout Catholic children's magazines, 'Lucky Luke' often met with censorship. In the earliest stories, Lucky Luke often shoots down or outright kills his opponents, for instance Bob Dalton in 'Hors-la-loi' (1954) and Phil Defer in 'Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer' (1956). On several occasions, these scenes were toned down before their serialization in Spirou - either in dialogue or artwork - or before the later book publication. Apart from keeping the series child-friendly, an important reason for these amendments was the strict French censorship commission, which subjected every imported comic book to a close inspection. If Dupuis wanted to distribute the 'Lucky Luke' albums in France, the violence had to be toned down. This resulted in difficult requests for a western comic, such as limiting the use of revolvers. But as the series evolved into a historical parody, the 'Lucky Luke' stories indeed became less morbid. Guns were still fired, but Luke now used his bullets to disarm opponents instead of wounding them. Eager undertakers and vultures still reminded readers of the violence in the Far West, but deaths no longer happened.

For a long time, it was not a big issue that Lucky Luke was a chain smoker. Morris countered his critics by explaining the cigarette was part of his character's profile. It took until the early 1980s, when the U.S. Hanna-Barbera Studios turned the comic into an animated TV series, before Luke's trademark shag was eventually removed. The comic book version followed the example of the animated Luke, and starting with the 1983 album 'Fingers', Lucky Luke chews on straws instead. On 7 April 1988, the initiative to remove all the smoking from his comic pages earned Morris an award from the World Health Organization.

Hors la loi by Morris
The original ending of 'Hors-la-loi' appeared in 1964 in the remounted pocket book publication for the collection 'Gags de Poche'.

From Dupuis to Dargaud
Between 1949 and 1967, Éditions Dupuis collected the Spirou-serialized 'Lucky Luke' stories in 31 albums. The quality of these book collections was one of the main reasons for Morris' eventual departure from the publishing house. Dupuis released 'Lucky Luke' in budget-priced softcover editions, instead of giving the series the same luxury hardcover treatment as its other successful comics. Since the series was a bestseller, the publisher saw the 'Lucky Luke' albums as supermarket cash cows, and a way to attract new readers for the rest of its book catalog. But the low retail price also resulted in less royalties for Morris. On top of that, publisher Charles Dupuis refused to invest in audiovisual adaptations of the 'Lucky Luke' series, despite the series' obvious success.

In 1968, Morris decided to leave Spirou and move his series to Pilote, the magazine run by his scriptwriter, René Goscinny. Starting with the final two stories serialized in Spirou, 'La Diligence' and 'Le Pied-tendre', the book series also transferred from Dupuis to the Parisian publishing house Dargaud, who released the series in hardcover. Since Pilote aimed at teenagers instead of children, the move freed Morris and Goscinny from the moral codes and censorship they endured while working for Dupuis. In the new 'Lucky Luke' stories, gun battles became more prominent and the saloon scenes were livened up with female dancers in sexy stockings.

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

Magazine serializations
Between 1968 and 1973, 'Lucky Luke' was a regular feature in Pilote, until Dargaud decided to give the series its own monthly magazine. Between March 1974 and February 1975, Dargaud released twelve issues of Lucky Luke Mensuel. Besides running the serial 'Le Cavalier Blanc', several short stories and the 'Mémoires de Ran-Tan-Plan' text feature by Morris and René Goscinny, Lucky Luke Mensuel also ran comics by other artists. When the monthly came to an end, serialization of new 'Lucky Luke' stories became more fragmented. New episodes appeared in magazines like Le Nouvel Observateur, Nouveau Tintin, Paris Match, VSD, Tele Junior, Spirou, Eppo and Pif Gadget, and eventually directly in book format.

Spirou cover by MorrisPilote cover by Morris
Covers for Spirou (Robbedoes) and Pilote. (June 1966, November 1985). 

Post-Goscinny scriptwriters
In November 1977, the fruitful collaboration between Morris and René Goscinny came to a sudden end, when the scriptwriter died from a cardiac arrest during a doctor's check-up. Goscinny left big shoes to fill, and Morris spent the next couple of years working with a variety of scriptwriters. Between 1978 and 1982, Bob de Groot, Michel Greg, Vicq, Dom Domi (Dominique Letellier) and Martin Lodewijk were the first to help out with writing short stories. Vicq also provided the first post-Goscinny serial, 'Le Magot des Dalton' ("The Daltons' Loot", 1979), followed by the Bob De Groot-penned 'Le Bandit Manchot' ("The One-Armed Bandit", 1981). For the 1982 story 'Sarah Bernhardt', Morris first worked with the French scriptwriters Xavier Fauche and Jean Léturgie. During the 1980s and 1990s, the duo wrote several 'Lucky Luke' serials and spin-offs, proving worthy successors to Goscinny with their plots based on historical facts and characters. Later on, both men additionally teamed up with other scriptwriters to create new stories, such as Yann and Eric Adam. Between 1983 and 1992, the Dutchman Lo Hartog van Banda wrote three popular 'Lucky Luke' stories, including the stand-out episode 'Fingers' (1983). Additional writers in the later period were Guy Vidal, Claude Guylouis and Patrick Nordmann.

For decades, Morris did all of the art for his 'Lucky Luke' stories on his own. By the 1970s, when 'Lucky Luke' became an international franchise through the successful movie adaptations, additional artwork was done by the art studio of publisher Dargaud, where artists like Gil Formosa and Pascal Dabère made drawings for promotional material and merchandise. Anonymously, Dabère also drew the comic adaptations of the two 'Lucky Luke' films, 'La Ballade des Dalton' (1978) and 'Daisy Town' (1983). By 1986, Michel Janvier and Frédéric Garcia were Morris' first official assistants, participating in the artwork of the short stories that filled the album 'Le Ranch Maudit' and the 'Rantanplan' spin-off series. In his final years, Morris was assisted by Vittorio Leonardo - also the series' colorist - and Achdé, who became the official artist after Morris' death in 2001.

Rantanplan spin-off
With his new found team, Morris began expanding his 'Lucky Luke' universe. The first project was a spin-off series about prison and Rantanplan, aimed at publication in the daily press. Between 1987 and 2001, several longer stories and hundreds of half-page gag strips were made. Although Morris had the top credit byline, the original 1987-1997 team was Michel Janvier on art, and the Xavier Fauche-Jean Léturgie tandem on scripts. The final four years (1997-2001) were drawn by Vittorio Leonardo, with scripts by either Bob De Groot or Leonardo himself. Between 1987 and 2011, Dargaud, Lucky Productions and Lucky Comics collected the series in 20 books, published in non-chronological order.

'L'Amnesie des Dalton' (1991), first 'Lucky Luke' album published under the Lucky Productions imprint.

Lucky Productions/Lucky Comics
In 1990, a conflict over money made Morris leave his publisher Dargaud and set up his own company, Lucky Productions. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the new imprint published all the new books of 'Lucky Luke' and its spin-offs, while the previous books remained in the catalogs of Dupuis and Dargaud. The rest of the 1990s were not free from conflict either. In 1998, Anne Goscinny, daughter of the late René Goscinny, sued Morris for neglecting to pay royalties since 1991. Morris won the case by showing a 1977 contract stating that in case of death, both authors had the right to solely continue the series, and royalties had to be paid only until five years after the other's death. Morris also stated that he had paid the Goscinny family a royalty percentage over all the post-Goscinny albums for a period of ten years. The artist received a symbolic franc for compensation.

Ironically, in 1999 the Lucky Productions catalog was bought by Dargaud. The company then grouped all its 'Lucky Luke' assets under the new Lucky Comics imprint.

Kid Lucky
A more consequential conflict occurred over another spin-off series, presenting the younger years of Morris' famous cowboy. Inspired by popular juvenile spin-offs like Tome & Janry's 'Le Petit Spirou', Jean Léturgie developed the concept 'Kid Lucky', in which the young Lucky Luke discovers the Far West with his mentor Old Timer. The artwork was provided by a mysterious artist signing with Pearce, which turned out to be a pen name for the artist duo Yann & Conrad, known for their often subversive comics. Only two stories were made, 'Kid Lucky' (1995) and 'Oklahoma Jim' (1997). The adult satirical tone of the stories was not in line with the publisher's aim to reach younger readers, leaving the merchandise line of Kid Lucky school bags and children's clothing useless. As a result, the idea of creating a separate spin-off was dropped, and the two 'Kid Lucky' installments were added to the regular book series. All this soured the relationship between Morris and his co-workers and Jean Léturgie and his writing partner Xavier Fauche were kept away from new 'Lucky Luke' stories. In 1999, Léturgie and Pearce continued their satirical concept in a series of their own, called 'Cotton Kid' (Vents d'Ouest, 1999-2003).

Movie poster for the 'Le Juge' film, rendered in Morris' style. 

Adaptations: live-action
When 'Lucky Luke' moved from Dupuis to Dargaud, plans were made for film adaptations, one of Morris' lifelong dreams. The very first film, 'Le Juge' (1971), was a French-Italian co-production, directed by Jean Girault - most famous for the 'Gendarme de St. Tropez' franchise - and spaghetti western director Federico Chentrens. The script was based on the 1957 'Lucky Luke' album 'Le Juge' ('The Judge'), about the notorious historical "hanging judge" Roy Bean. Some of the movie posters were directly based on Morris' artwork. Oddly enough, Lucky Luke was completely absent from the picture. He was replaced by a character named Buck Carson, played by Angelo Infanti, an actor best-known for playing Michael Corleone's bodyguard in 'The Godfather' (1972). The film was not a success at the box office, and has since then faded into obscurity.

It took twenty years before a new live-action adaptation came along: 'Lucky Luke' (1991), this time featuring all of Morris' popular characters. The director was Terence Hill, who also played Luke. Ron Carey, best known as a regular in Mel Brooks' comedies, portrayed Joe Dalton. Known for making funny western parodies with Bud Spencer, Hill wanted to make his adaptation a tribute to the comic series. Unfortunately, the picture failed to make an impression. The movie was a companion to the 1992 'Lucky Luke' TV series, which had the same cast and aired on Canale 5. Produced by Paloma Films and Reteitalia, it lasted only eight episodes. During production, Hill's adopted son Ross died in a road accident, and the remaining five episodes were never made.

In 2004, Philippe Haïm made the first 'Lucky Luke' live-action film after Morris' death, 'Les Dalton' (2004). Till Schweiger (best known as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds') received the role of Luke, while the comedy duo Éric Judor and Ramzy Bedia played Joe and Averell Dalton. A French-German-Spanish co-production, it was one of the most expensive pictures ever made in these countries. Yet again, it bombed at the box office. Five years later, the James Huth-directed 'Lucky Luke' (2009) came out, with in the title role Jean Dujardin (best known as the male lead in the silent film 'The Artist', 2011). Huth's picture was loosely based on the animated film 'Daisy Town', but with a different plot. Critics and audiences praised its style, though the story was widely panned.

Film poster for 'La Ballade des Dalton'.

Adaptations: animation
The animated adaptations of 'Lucky Luke' were more successful. Since 1955, the publishing house Lombard had its own audiovisual studio, Belvision. Besides adapting popular series from its own Tintin magazine, Belvision also produced animated series based on other Franco-Belgian comics. One of their major projects in the 1970s was a 'Lucky Luke' feature film. Having experience with movies through the 1968 adaptation of his comic 'Astérix and Cleopatra', scriptwriter René Goscinny wrote the screenplay and directed the picture himself. It premiered in 1971 as 'Lucky Luke', but was renamed for the 1980s video release to 'Daisy Town'. The film was not based on an earlier comic story, but had an original plot, about the rise and fall of a western town that Luke has to protect from the Daltons and an invasion of Native Americans. The film was a critical and commercial success. 'Daisy Town' is also notable for its soundtrack by Claude Bolling, which included a version of Luke's trademark song in the comics, 'I'm A Poor Lonesome Cowboy', with lyrics by Jack Fishman and sung by Pat Woods.

In 1978, the next 'Lucky Luke' feature film appeared, 'La Ballade des Dalton' ('The Ballad of the Daltons'). A co-production with Avco Embassy Pictures, it was made by the same team as 'The Twelve Tasks of Astérix' (1976), and has a similar plot. The story revolves around the Daltons having to fulfill their late uncle's will and murder twelve people to inherit his fortune. This picture was another well-received box office hit. Unfortunately, scriptwriter René Goscinny died before the film premiered. One of the animators on these two classic 'Lucky Luke' feature films was Nic Broca.

In 1983, Hanna-Barbera adapted 'Lucky Luke' into a TV cartoon series as a co-production with France 3 and Gaumont. Under pressure of children’s focus groups, several elements of the series were toned down, including the gun violence, racial stereotypes and Lucky Luke's decades-long smoking habit. African-American, Mexican and Native American secondary characters were largely absent, as were the morbid undertakers. The dancing girls are briefly seen in the opening titles, but never in the episodes themselves. Hanna-Barbera also produced the third animated feature film, 'Les Dalton en Cavale' (1983), an anthology of three episodes from the TV series.

In 1991, a new animated series of 26 episodes was produced by IDDH, with the collaboration of Morris, based on album stories not adapted in the prior series. A decade later, a new 52-episode series was produced by the Xilam studios in Paris, called 'The New Adventures of Lucky Luke' (2001-2003), featuring original stories. One artist who animated on the Xilam series was Frédéric Legrain, better known as Régric. In 2007, Olivier Jean-Marie released his 'Lucky Luke' animated film, based loosely on the album 'La Caravane' ('The Caravan'). Another Xilam production was the 2007 animated feature film 'Tous à l'Ouest' (translated as 'Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure'). Additional animated series included the spin-offs 'Rintindumb' (Xilam, 2006), 'Les Dalton' (Xilam, 2010) and 'Kid Lucky' (2020).

Fingers by Morris
Lucky Luke replaces his trademark cigarette for a straw, in 'Fingers' (serialized in VSD magazine from 13 July 1983 on), an album written by Dutch writer Lo Hartog van Banda.

International versions
'Lucky Luke' is one of the best-selling European comics in the world, sharing the honorary stage with Hergé's 'Tintin' and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix'. The adventures of the "poor lonesome cowboy" were 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 remains the same, except for Icelandic ('Lukki-Láki'), Serbian ('Talicni Tom') and Turkish ('Red Kit'). Several international publications produced their own 'Lucky Luke'-related material, some in license, some without consent of the rights owners. Starting in 1962, the Turkish publisher Yurdagül Yayinlari had the local artist Ferdi Sayisman redraw/trace 34 'Lucky Luke' adventures for its 'Red Kit' publications. In Greece, the 'Lucky Luke' stories were translated and published by Themos Andreopoulos, starting in 1968, inspiring the publisher to create a rip-off series called 'Láky Blou' ("Lucky Blue", 1971), written by George Marmaridis and drawn by Konstantinos Rabatzi.

In the Netherlands, 'Lucky Luke' ran in the comic magazines Pep and Eppo, using local artists Daan Jippes and Michel Nadorp to produce original 'Lucky Luke' cover illustrations. Also in Pep, the Dutch artist Henk Albers and editor Jan van Gelderen made "variations" of classic world literature featuring characters from the 'Lucky Luke' comics. These variations were followed by 'De Wereld van Lucky Luke' (1973), a section with information about the Far West. Noticing the similarities in art style, Morris invited Albers and the Belgian scriptwriter Yvan Delporte to make new 'Lucky Luke' stories for the short-lived Lucky Luke Mensuel. In 1993 and 1994, the German publisher Bastei Verlag released fifteen issues of an original Lucky Luke magazine, filled with short stories and gag pages made in license by scriptwriter Peter Mennigen and the artists Bernardo Serrat and Angél Del Arbol, both affiliated with the Spanish art studio Ortega. Between June 1994 and January 1995, this German content appeared in France in a similar magazine published by Semic France, which lasted only eight issues.

Parodies of Lucky Luke
Like most popular comic series, 'Lucky Luke' wasn't safe from parody. Notorious was the 1980s porn spoof 'De Sex Avonturen van Lucky Luke' (1982) by Paul Schuurmans, later printed in French by Jan Bucquoy as 'La Vie Sexuelle de Lucky Luke' (1993). Both editions resulted in court cases. 'Lucky Luke' was also spoofed by professional artists. On the occasion of Lucky Luke's 25th anniversary, the 9 December 1971 issue of Pilote magazine was filled with 'Lucky Luke' spoofs and tributes, contributed by Yves Got, Claire Bretécher, Jean Giraud, Jacques Lob, Jean Solé, Philippe Druillet, Martial, Loro, Greg and Gotlib. In Turkey, Abdullah Turhan parodied 'Lucky Luke' and other famous comic characters in his book '49 Saban Tagor'a Karsi' (1973). In 1985, many French and Belgian comic artists paid tribute to Morris with the collective parody comic book 'Rocky Luke' (Goupil, 1985). In 1980, Morris himself made an offbeat page of his series by taking his heroes to the Belgian capital Brussels for the book 'Il Était Une Fois... Les Belges'/'Er Waren Eens Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and one-page comics, published in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Belgium.

Header for the 'Ninth art' section in Spirou magazine.

The Ninth Art
Another part of Morris' cultural legacy is popularizing the term "the Ninth Art" for comics. Through his experiences in both Europe and the USA, Morris had a keen knowledge of the comic art form and its history. Between 17 December 1964 and 22 June 1967, Morris and the comic collector Pierre Vankeer made a special section in Spirou magazine devoted to the international history of comics. Each episode highlighted another artist or series. They named the feature 'Le Neuvième Art: Musée de la Bande Dessinée' ("The Ninth Art: Museum of Comic Art"), using the term "ninth art" as a prestigious description of the comic medium. Although Morris is often credited for coining it, the phrase was first used by Claude Beylie in an essay for La Vie Mécale that appeared eight months before Morris and Vankeer's first article. As the ninth art, comics are added to previously numbered art forms: architecture (1), sculpture (2), painting (3), dance (4), music (5), poetry (6), cinema (7) and television (8). The term became more mainstream among comic scholars when French journalist Francis Lacassin used it in his 1971 essay 'Pour Un Neuvième Art, La Bande Dessinée'.

At the 1972 Comics Festival of Angoulême, France, Morris received the Grand Prix Saint-Michel for his entire body of work. On 27 June 1992, 'Lucky Luke' was honored at the same festival with a large exhibition, with Morris receiving the Grand Prix Spécial. The cartoonist also received the BD d'Or (1989) at the Grand Prix du Salon de la BD in Porto, Portugal, and the "Golden Pencil" (1998) at the Festival of Middelkerke, Belgium. Respectively in 1995 and 1996, the Belgian towns Waterloo and Kortrijk named Morris an honorary citizen, while the French town of Menton gave him a Médaille d'Or (1999). In 1979, Morris was knighted in the Order of Leopold II (1979). In 2005, he ended at the 79th spot in the Walloon edition of the "Greatest Belgians" contest. In the Flemish edition, he became number 360.

Among his colleagues, Morris was notorious for being a thrifty man. Several anecdotes, probably exaggerated, made the rounds. Maurice Tillieux once remembered he and Morris traveled to Paris to cash in royalties. He returned with a bag filled to the brim with banknotes, with his lunchbox on top. When inviting his publisher for a business lunch, Morris brought his own sandwiches to the restaurant. Once when a fan wanted to buy an original page from him, Morris traced it so he wouldn't lose his own original. Unfortunately, his tendency to exercise economy also led to a serious accident that resulted in the artist's eventual death. One day, Morris noticed damage to the roof of his Brussels home. Rather than hiring a specialist, the 77-year old cartoonist tried to repair it himself, but fell from the ladder. He survived, but was sent to a hospital, where he died from a stroke on 16 July 2001.


Lucky Luke in the post-Morris years
After Morris' death, his assistant Achdé was appointed his official successor. Starting with the episode 'La Belle Province' (2004), the new stories appeared in the rebooted series 'Les Aventures de Lucky Luke, d'après Morris' ("The Adventures of Lucky Luke, after Morris"), starting with a fresh numberation. For Achdé's first stories, the French comedian Laurent Gerra served as scriptwriter. Later episodes were written by the duo Tonino Benacquista and Daniel Pennac, and eventually Jul. In 2011, Achdé and Lucky Comics also restarted the juvenile spin-off 'Kid Lucky', this time as a children's gag series with educational elements. In June 2014, Mondadori France launched the trimestrial magazine Le Journal de Lucky Luke, containing comic stories and activity pages.

Since 2016, other authors have been invited to make 'Lucky Luke' one-shots in their own styles. Matthieu Bonhomme kicked off the project with 'L'Homme Qui Tua Lucky Luke' (2016), giving a gritty realistic rendition of the series. He returned to the character for the 2021 album 'Wanted, Lucky Luke'. In 2017, Guillaume Bouzard chose a more satirical approach for 'Jolly Jumper Ne Répond Plus', emphasizing on Lucky Juke's relationship with his horse. In Germany, Mawil transformed the poor lonesome cowboy into a cyclist for the story 'Lucky Luke sattelt um' (2019), which was printed two years later in French as 'Lucky Luke se recycle' (2021). The German cartoonist Ralf König created a gay-themed 'Lucky Luke' story with 'Choco-boys' (2021).

Legacy and influence
Even though he was a staple of Franco-Belgian comics, Morris was a Fleming, with Dutch as his first language. Still, he is often mistaken for being Walloon, because his comics appeared in mainly French-language magazines instead of newspapers - the main serialization channel for Flemish comics. Morris was never part of the Flemish comic scene, but worked with French-speaking scriptwriters and publishers. As a result, books, studies and exhibitions about Flemish comic authors have often ignored or overlooked him. Usually out of ignorance, though in his 2015 book 'België Gestript', comic historian Geert De Weyer noted some fans and researchers refuse to acknowledge Morris as a Flemish comic artist, because he didn't publish directly in Dutch. Ironically enough, Morris was effectively the best-selling Flemish comic artist in the world. As a true Belgian patriot, he deliberately gave Lucky Luke an outfit with the colors of the Belgian flag (black, yellow, red).

Morris left behind one of the best-selling comic series in the world. He had a strong influence on Belgian artists like Conz, Rino Feys, Luc Mazel, Ever Meulen, Erik Meynen, Luc Morjaeu, Marcel Remacle, William Vance and Erik Vandemeulebroucke. In France, he inspired Jean Bastide, Thierry Capezzone, Didier Conrad (particularly in his 'Donito' series), Nikita Mandryka, William Maury and Jacques Tardi, in Switzerland Philippe Wurm and Zep, in Germany Flix, while in the Netherlands Henk Albers, Simon van der Molen, Mark Smeets and Peter de Wit were among his followers. The Mexican-Spanish artist Alberto Murguia was a great admirer of Morris too. Famous celebrity fans were the Belgian comic artist Pom, comedian Urbanus, actors Tom November and Terence Hill, the economist Jacques Attali and Hubert Védrine, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002). In January 2005, former Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal claimed that he "only read 'Lucky Luke'." In The Netherlands, Rutger Gret is a famous 'Lucky Luke' cosplayer, who received the official title "Dutch Lucky Luke". Because of his striking resemblance to the character, publisher Ballon Media/Standaard Uitgeverij has hired him to perform as Lucky Luke during promotional events.

Morris, signing in Hannover (Photo courtesy of Henrik Bernd). 

Cultural impact
To honor his friend and colleague, André Franquin gave the bespectacled little boy Petit Maurice the name and looks of Morris in his boxing story 'Spirou sur le Ring' (1948). Jean Roba chose a caricature of Morris as Boule's teacher in his gag series 'Boule et Bill'. Morris' influence has also reached outside of comic culture. The 'Lucky Luke' comic has served as inspiration for songs by the French singers Joe Dassin ('Les Dalton', 1967) and Marcel Amont ('Lucky Luke', 1968). The Spanish punk band Siniestro Total presented their band members as The Daltons on the cover of their album ' ¿Cuándo Se Come Aquí?' (1981), while Belgian rock singer Arno Hintjens, AKA Arno, wrote his 1989 hit song 'Lonesome Zorro' in reference to Lucky Luke. After the German punk band Die Ärzte split up, singer and drummer Bela B. formed another band named Depp Jones, inspired by the fake name Averell Dalton uses in the German translation of 'Les Dalton dans le Blizzard' (1963). Fil Auwera, bass player of the Belgian rock band Kitchen of Insanity, named himself "Phil IJzerdraad", after the Dutch name of the character Phil Defer. The French comedian Élie Sermoun performed a series of well-known sketches around Lucky Luke's horse Jolly Jumper. The Dutch pop group Het Goede Doel frequently name-dropped Lucky Luke and Rantanplan - as well as Hergé's Tintin and Snowy - in their 1989 song 'Bobby'.

In June 1993, a mural was dedicated to 'Lucky Luke' in the Rue de la Buanderie/ Washuisstraat as part of the Brussels Comic Book Route. In 1994, Lucky Luke and Jolly Jumper received a statue in the Parc Reine Astrid in Charleroi, and on 5 April 1997, another Lucky Luke statue was erected in Morris' birth town Kortrijk. On 29 July 2000, a statue designed by Luc Madou of Lucky Luke, Rataplan and Joe Dalton was presented in the Belgian coastal town Middelkerke. A month later, the Middelkerke statue fell victim to vandalism, but was repaired on 18 April 2001 and cast in bronze in 2008. In 2001, Luke received a mural painting in the Avenue Gambetta as part of the Comic Book Route in Angoulême, France. In 2003, the Dutch city of Almere named streets after both Lucky Luke and Rantanplan in its "Comic Heroes District". On 16 November 2016, a comic mural dedicated to Lucky Luke was presented in the Populierlaan in Middelkerke.

Books about Morris
Over the years, publishers Dupuis, Dargaud and Lucky Comics have independently released complete collections of the 'Lucky Luke' stories. In 2016, Dupuis began a new chronological luxury series, called 'Lucky Luke L'Intégrale', featuring not only all the comic stories but also extensive background dossiers by Christelle and Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault. In 1988, Philippe Mellot compiled the monography 'L'Univers de Morris' (Dargaud, 1988), dedicated to the artist and his work. In 2016, for the 70th anniversary of 'Lucky Luke', an extensive exhibition of Morris' work was held at the Museum of Bande Dessinee at Angouleme. To accompany the show, the curators Stéphane Beaujean and Jean-Pierre Mercier compiled the massive art book 'L'Art de Morris', filled with background information and reproductions from original art.

Series and books by Morris you can order today:


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