Boule et Bill, by Jean Roba
Boule et Bill

Jean Roba was one of the most popular artists of Spirou magazine, working for this weekly from the late 1950s until the mid 1980s. Born in Schaarbeek near Brussels, Roba had an education in several artistic disciplines such as Decorative Arts and fashion design. He began his career doing advertising illustrations through Studio Créas after fulfilling his military service in 1951. Roba worked for this studios for six years, and eventually became art director.

Spirou by Jean Roba
Spirou - Tembo Tabou

By 1957 he did his first illustration assignments for the magazines of Éditions Dupuis, including Bonnes Soirées and Spirou. Through the World's Press agency he also drew two installments of the educational series 'Les Belles Histories de l'Oncle Paul' in cooperation with Eddy Paape, under the joint pen name Robeddy. He drew his first solo comic, the short story 'Tiou, le Petit Sioux', for Spirou issue 1057 in 1958.

Spirou cover by RobaSpirou cover by Roba
Covers for Spirou #1720 and #1960

In the late 1950s, Roba worked in André Franquin's studio, alongside Jidéhem and colorist Jean Verbruggen. Assisting Franquin, Roba drew the backgrounds and secondary characters for three 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories that were published in the newspaper Le Parisien between 1958 and 1960. He also participated in 'L'île au boumptéryx', a story about birds laying bomb eggs, together with Franquin, Jidéhem and Marcel Denis under the group name Ley Kip.

Boule et Bill, by Roba

On 24 December 1959 Spirou published a short story about a little boy and his Cocker Spaniel by Roba and Maurice Rosy in its mini-books section: 'Boule et Bill contre les Mini-requins'. In the following year, he developed this comic into a gag strip inspired by Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts', that became his trademark comic. It was largely inspired by his own family life. He named the main character after his son, who had the nickname Bouboule and who also owned a Cocker Spaniel named Bill. The sympathetic and recognisable family strip appeared in Spirou's pages on a weekly base until 1987.

La Ribambelle by Roba
La Ribambelle s'envole

In addition, Roba began a second series in 1962, about the children's gang 'La Ribambelle', inspired by the American 'Our Gang' films. Based on an idea by Franquin, the first four episodes were written by Vicq. Roba's heavy workload on 'Boule et Bill' caused long gaps between stories. The final two stories appeared in 1968 and 1975, by then written by Maurice Tillieux and with assistance on the backgrounds by Jidéhem.

Boule et Bill by Jean Roba
Treets advertising comic starring Boule et Bill

Roba always prefered working on short stories and gags, although he made one one continuing story with 'Boule et Bill', called 'Globe Trotters' in 1981. Besides his comics for Spirou, Roba drew 10 gags with the little girl 'Pomme' for Record in 1962 and 1963. In 1977, he drew 'Le Sixième Jour' for Spirou's Le Trombone Illustré supplement.

Header announcement for Spirou
Header announcement for Spirou

In the first half of the 1960s, Roba made the header announcements on Spirou's frontpage, that appeared between the logo and the 'Gaston' gag by Franquin. He also continued to do many advertising assignments that often starred 'Boule et Bill', including comics for Treets, MFP and Sabena.

Header announcement for Spirou
Header announcement for Spirou

Roba was one of the contributing artists to the book 'Il était une fois... Les Belges'/'Er waren eens... Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and comic pages published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. After leaving Dupuis in 1987, Roba continued to draw 'Boule et Bill' for the publishing house Dargaud until his retirement. Throughout his career, he has made about 1000 gag pages with his beloved characters, which he handed over to his former assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.  In 1989 Roba became one of the few Belgian comics pioneers to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels. In 1991 Boule et Bill received a statue in the Stade du Pays sports stadion in Charleroi. Another statue depicting the duo was erected in July 2000 by sculptor Tom Frantzen at the roundabout in the Avenue Van England, Jette, not far from Roba's old home.  In 1992 Roba was invested with a knighthood in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres . Jean Roba has a cameo alongside Yvan Delporte and René Goscinny on page 12 of Maurice Tillieux' 'César album 'Quel Métier' (1972).

Boule et Bill, by Roba

Roba passed away in 2006, leaving a legacy full of great humor, that combined tenderness with malicious wit, all in a readable and enjoyable graphic style. In 2011, Roba's other classic series, 'La Ribambelle', was revived, when Jean-Marc Krings and Zidrou began working on new stories for Dargaud.

In 1991 a statue of 'Boule & Bill' was created in Charleroi, depicting Boule in a football outfit. Unfortunately the statue was vandalized on 19 August 2012, but it was restored later that year. Since October 1991 'Boule et Bill' have their own comic book wall in the Rue du Chevreuil/ Reebokstraat, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. On 2 October 2000 Boule & Bill received another statue, sculpted by Tom Frantzen, erected at the cross-section of the avenue Van Engeland and Heymbosch in Jette. In September 2014 this statue was vandalized too, whereupon it had to be restored as well. In 2005 Roba was elected to the 100th place in the Walloon version of "The Greatest Belgian" contest.

Jean Roba

Series and books by Jean Roba in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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