Pencil drawing of 'Bessy' by Jacky Pals, made in 1999 (Courtesy of Gert Bussens).

Jacky Pals was a Flemish photographer and comic artist. He was one of the regular artists for Willy Vandersteen's massive production of 'Bessy' stories for the German market throughout the 1970s. Sometimes his name is spelled as "Jaki Pals".

Studio Bessy
Born in 1947, Pals was trained as a photographer, but first tried his luck as a comic artist. He joined Willy Vandersteen's Studio Bessy at Gretrystraat 15 in Antwerp in May 1970. The studio was tasked producing a weekly 28-page story of the western series 'Bessy' for the German publisher Bastei Verlag. Jeff Broeckx supervised the production, which also had Patrick van Lierde, Ron van Riet, Frans Anthonis and Robert Wuyts among its regular pencil artists. Pals remained a contributor during the decade, and perhaps even stayed until the end of the Bastei deal in 1984. In his book 'Studio Vandersteen' (2007), Ronald Grossey describes Pals as a long-haired and bearded man with an alternative lifestyle, who enjoyed biological farming. He stood out as a team player, but lacked certain drawing skills. Things improved when he was paired with inker Anne Van De Velde, who boosted up Pals' artwork with her finishing touch.

Like with most of the hastily cranked out 'Bessy' stories, it is hard to tell who actually did what in the production? Some stories saw several pencillers stepping in, others were cut-and-paste rush jobs. Throughout the years, artwork by some of the other relatively unknown 'Bessy' artists has been identified. Pages by, for instance, Frans Anthonis and Jean Bosco Safari were auctioned off in 2018. Pals' exact contributions however remain undocumented.

After his 'Bessy' tenure, Jacky Pals became a well-known figure in the Kapellen region. He was the town photographer, and a driving force behind Kapellen's annual trade fair. Tragedy struck in 1999 when the legionella bacterium had spread through the closed circuit of the fair's bubble baths. 85 visitors turned ill. Some even succumbed to the resulting legionnaires' disease, including Jacky Pals in the Brasschaat hospital on the morning of 14 November. He was only 52 years old. In his later years, Pals had continued to make paintings and drawings, in which he unintentionally always added 'Bessy'.

Studio Vandersteen in 1970. From left to right: Hilde Costermans, Paul Geerts, Lucienne Van Deun, Karel Biddeloo, Merho, Erik De Rop, Eduard De Rop, Willy Vandersteen, Ronald Van Riet, Jacky Pals, Jeff Broeckx.

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