The artist Pirana, pseudonym of Leon van de Velde, is well-known for his original, raw and shocking humor. He was born in Zele in 1947, as the son of a cyclist who later became a floorer. Inspired by Marc Sleen, he wanted to become a comics artist, but while his mother was supportive his father was less keen on his future job perspective. Van de Velde wrote a letter to Sleen about his ambitions, but received a discouraging letter back. So, instead he became a floorer, much against his own will. Nevertheless he kept drawing and studied decorative arts at the academy of Dendermonde, where he met fellow student Hector Leemans. Later influences on his work were the French cartoonist Jean-Marc Reiser, and the Americans S. Clay Wilson, Virgil Partch and Don Martin.
In 1966, during his military service, Van De Velde published his first drawings in the soldier's magazine Marsj! He also met Hugoké and visited him in his studio. Hugoké would have a significant impact on Van De Velde's career. He advised the young artist to work under a pseudonym, so Pirana named himself after the vicious fish of the same name. He also helped him gain some notability in the press, by writing an article about him in Het Nieuwsblad, where he called him "the revelation of black comedy". Yet it was Het Volk who actually hired Pirana as their house cartoonist in 1967. Many of his early cartoons take place in medieval torture cellars, which allowed him to indulge in black comedy. He was also one of the first Belgian cartoonists to use speech balloons in his cartoons, which didn't happen often before. After meeting Jan Bucquoy he got the opportunity to publish in his underground magazine Spetters, which allowed him to be more sexually explicit in his work. On the advice of Dutch cartoonist EFBE, Pirana started sending copies of his drawings all across the world, which proved to be a very lucrative tactic. Soon he published not only in Flemish magazines such as 't Pallieterke, Het Volk, De Voorpost, De Zwijger and Panorama (later P-Magazine), but also in Penthouse and The Star and was read in countries such as Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and the USA. It allowed him to reduce his work as floorer and spend more time creating cartoons.
His first comic strip story, 'Livingsteen' (1982), was a parody of famous 19th century African explorer Dr. Livingstone and inspired by Pirana's love for Jef Geeraerts' novel cyclus 'Gangreen' (1968-1972), about the novelist's years in Congo. It would be the first of many comic books he made about dark Africa, including 'Neushoorns' (1982) and 'Zwarte Liefde' (1985). In 1987 Pirana visited the continent for the first time and would return many times. It inspired many cartoons about big breasted black women and thematic comics like 'Oeganda' (1988) and 'Kenia' (1989). In 2015, Pirana published a book about his travel experiences called 'Afrika Dingens - Amusement van de onderste plank!'. It was his first real novel, even though he did put in a few personal illustrations here and there. Despite the fact that African black women are recurring characters in his work his best known character, the manwife Mevrouw Dallemans, is white. Many cartoons and comics depict her while she yells at, fights with and even tortures men, always with a sadistic grin.
In 1975 he broke the world record for the longest cartoon of all time, previously held by his fellow countrymen Hugoké and Punt. In one hour and 48 minutes time, he drew one long cartoon on a 10 metre long scroll. He would break this record eight times more and bring it to 206 metres, after which his wife felt that he proved what he wanted to prove and should stay home more often. He also collaborated with Belgian acrobat and visual artist John Massis, who was a personal friend of his. In 1984 he drew a comic book album about the man too. Pirana also illustrated weekly articles by Jo Van Damme in Panorama/De Post.
Pirana has often won awards for his work during the annual international cartoon festival of Knokke. In 2014 he exhibited 10,000 of his erotic drawings in his hometown Zele. It was a huge success, despite the fact that there were only 1,000 of them. Several of these were caricatures of famous black female celebrities, which he had drawn in the nude. In 2016 he received demands for two extra exhibitions in Kruishoutem and even in Kumasi, Ghana. Besides drawing strips, he has also written gags for theatre shows by Ivan Heylen, Jan Bucquoy and Jacques Vermeire. He was a major influence on cartoonists Marec and Kim Duchateau.