Boule et Bill, by Jean Roba
'Boule et Bill' gag #149.

Jean Roba was a Belgian comic artist. He was part of the second generation of the "School of Marcinelle", and for several decades one of the staples of Spirou magazine. He is known first and foremost as the creator of 'Boule et Bill' (1959-   ), a charming gag comic largely inspired by his own suburban family life. The kid Boule and his playful cocker spaniel Bill graced the magazine's back cover for many years, and also became well-known abroad, while spawning both an animated series and a live action movie. Essentially a gag man, Roba had a few excursions into longer, adventure comics. He assisted André Franquin on a couple of 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories for the newspaper Le Parisien Libéré (1958-1960) and co-created the kids gang adventure comic 'La Ribambelle' (1962-1968, 1976). The workload of the latter however forced him to rely on outside help from his colleagues Vicq, Maurice Tillieux, Jidéhem and Yvan Delporte. With his background in advertising, he was also an important promotional illustrator for the magazine. Besides beautiful full colour covers, he was for many years the artist of the header announcements.

Jean Roba was born in 1930 in Schaerbeeck, but spent most of his childhood in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Sint-Jans Molenbeek), a rural suburb of Brussels. His twin brother died three months after birth, leaving him the youngest of three boys. His father was a book keeper with a Brussels firm, while his mother was a housewife. Despite growing up during the World War II years, he had a relatively carefree childhood. As a boy scout, he enjoyed the countryside, which fueled his lifelong joy of drawing fields, vegetable gardens, trees and birds. But on the other hand he also sketched the Messerschmitts and Spitfires that flew by. All in all, his childhood surroundings formed the basis for most of his future comics work. As a child, Roba eagerly read classic literature from the "Green Library" of Éditions Hachette, containing works by Alexandre Dumas, the Countess of Ségur, Hector Malot and Alphonse Daudet. He also devoured most of the pre-war comic magazines, such as Mickey, Robinson, Hurrah! and L'Intrépide. He particularly enjoyed George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father', but also Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon', Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine' and E.C. Segar's 'Popeye'. Other influences on his later comics work were André Franquin, Jijé, Walt Disney and Charles M. Schulz, as well as the humor of the comedians Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.

Education and early career
It was obvious that the young Roba prefered drawing over his school work. He however had the strange abnormality of drawing everything upside down! "Drawing dyslexia", he called it himself. His academic training began at age eleven, when he took evening classes in model drawing and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Molenbeek. In the following years, he also took courses in decoration, ceramics and fashion design, where he met his future wife. Desiring to become an illustrator, he visited Jean Dratz of the comic magazine Bravo. He was however still too young to join the magazine himself. Roba's initial dream was becoming an animator, like Walt Disney. But it took him several detours before he decided that comics were his final destination. At age fifteen, he dropped out of school and went to work in a shop which made stained glass windows for churches. Fear of heights quickly ended this ambition, and he became a retoucher in a photo studio instead. He then found employment with a printing firm of prestigious art books and calendars. There, Roba did his first published illustration and design jobs, and stayed with the company until he was drafted for military service in 1950.

Advertising campaign for HOW soap (1951).

Studio Creas
Back in civilian life in late 1951, Roba ventured into commercial art to support his young family. Advertising illustration was still a very profitable activity back then, and after some freelance efforts, Roba landed a job with Studio Creas in 1952. He was quickly promoted to art director, leading a team of four, and later six artists. In this occupation he was also in direct contact with the studio's clients, developing his skills in combining their wishes and his own creative ideas in quick sketches. The advertising experience also allowed Roba to experiment with many techniques and styles, from realism to his trademark humorous drawings. Six years long, Roba and his team crafted ads and posters for a variety of clients, including the shoe polish brand Ça-va Seul and Meudon lemonade. His advertisements for HOW soap (1951) were his earliest comic strips. For the promotional paper of the grocery store chain VéGé, Roba developed a gag strip about a father and a son (1958), titled 'Père et Fils'. It was a clear predecessor to 'Boule et Bill', which he would launch in the following year.

First work for Dupuis
At Creas, Roba developed several concepts of comic series in his spare time. A colleague introduced him to Maurice Rosy, at the time art director of the Dupuis magazines. Roba began contributing illustrations on a regular base through World Press, the agency which supplied Dupuis with much of its (realistic) artwork. His first publication in Spirou was for Peyo's fairy tale 'Une étoile pour le prince', which appeared in issue #1027 of 1957. He furthermore illustrated text stories and editorial sections for both Bonnes Soirées and Spirou, and some covers for TV Moustique. He also pencilled two installments of the educational comics feature 'Les Belles Histories de l'Oncle Paul' (1958) by Octave Joly, which were finished and inked by Eddy Paape. They were published under the joint signature Robbedy.

Spirou by Jean Roba
Spirou et Fantasio- 'Tembo Tabou'.

Work with Franquin
For a while, Roba continued to combine his illustration jobs with his work at the advertising agency. He finally gave up his daytime job when André Franquin requested his services at his atelier in the Avenue du Brésil in Brussels. Franquin was commissioned to provide the French newspaper Le Parisien Libéré with new 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories in addition to his normal production for Spirou magazine. Roba was brought in to draw the secondary characters and backgrounds in 'Spirou et les Hommes-bulles' (1958), 'Tembo Tabou' (1959) and 'Les Petits Formats' (1960). The newcomer was quickly included in the companionship that characterized the Spirou team during this period. In the studio he worked alongside Franquin, Jidéhem, Marcel Denis and colorist Jean Verbruggen, but he also socialized with Peyo, Morris, Will, Jijé, Maurice Tillieux, editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte and other key members of the so-called "School of Marcinelle". The team filled Spirou during its heyday and remains influential to this day. They often effortlessly helped each other with their work and were responsible for many playful and crazy ideas. One example of such team spirit was 'L'Île au Boumptéryx' (1959), a 12-page story about birds laying exploding eggs. Franquin and Denis provided the script, while Roba drew the characters and Jidéhem the backgrounds. The project was published under the collective signature Ley Kip ("L'Équipe", meaning "the team"). Years later, Roba wrote and drew a short follow-up story for Spirou #1875 in 1974.

'Les Frères Fratelli'.

Solo career
Welcomed with open arms by Spirou's art team, it took a while before his solo career really took off. Back in 1957 Roba had already made the short story 'Jo le Toubib' with Yvan Delporte for the dummy issue of the pocket book Spirou de Poche. Delporte and Roba's 'Les Frères Fratelli' was intended for the planned second book, but didn't appear until Benoît Gillain's advertising comic book Bonux-Boy ran it in 1960. It was also reprinted in a remounted version in Spirou in 1965. Roba's first solo effort in Spirou was a short story about a Native American, 'Tiou le Petit Sioux' (#1057, 1958). But still publisher Charles Dupuis wasn't convinced if a commercial artist like Roba could become a true comic artist. All projects he suggested were refused, including a gag comic based on his own family life. In his graphic memoir 'Rosy, C'est la vie!' (2013), art director Maurice Rosy described how he went to great lengths to convince his boss to give Roba a chance. Rosy remembered that he let Roba draw a full 'Boule et Bill' page which he subsequently had colored, lettered and printed in the magazine format. He snuck it between the pile of proof material for the upcoming issue and presented it to Dupuis. The magazine's patriarch was instantly attracted to the new comic, and asked who the maker was?

Boule contre les mini-requins
Still, 'Boule et Bill' had a slow start. The main characters, the boy Boule, his father, the dog Bill and best friend Pouf were already present in the short story 'Boule contre les Mini-requins' (1959), which appeared in Spirou's Christmas issue (#1132) of 24 December 1959. It was the seventh installment of the legendary "mini-books" section, which Yvan Delporte had just developed. The small stories were printed on the magazine's center pages, and could be taken out and folded into miniature comic books. It marked the debut of many of Spirou's popular characters, including Roba's. Rosy provided the script, in which a mad scientist torpedoes the toy boats in the park pond. The story was not printed in Spirou's Flemish counterpart Robbedoes, leaving the Dutch-speaking audience unintroduced to it until Dupuis reprinted it in pocket book format in 1985. Boule and Bill returned in Spirou #1146 in 1960 with a short story about a flying fish. The actual gag series didn't take off until issue #1169 of 8 September 1960.

Boule et Bill, by Roba

Boule et Bill: inspiration
Roba didn't have to look far for inspiration for his gags. He simply based it on his own family life! The Roba family owned a pet Cocker Spaniel called Bill, whose funny behaviour often made them laugh. Roba's son Philippe was about eight years old, and was nicknamed "Bouboule" at school. He stood model for Boule. Pierre, the father of the household was an advertising man, like Jean Roba, and just like Roba's first wife Loulou, Boule's mother Carine was in charge of the housekeeping. In U.S. newspaper comics family gag series were a common phenomenon, but in Europe the genre was rare. Roba therefore modelled 'Boule et Bill' predominantly after U.S. comics. Elements remind of Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts' (1950-2000), most notably the prominent role of the dog and his dog house. Graphically, Boule shows resemblances to Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace' (1951), with his messy hair and trademark dungarees. From George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father', Roba borrowed the gimmick of having characters in the paintings on the walls respond to the actions in the foreground.

Roba and the real Bill in a photo comic by Gérald Frydman and Borguet from Spirou #1691 (1970).

Boule et Bill: a family comic
Working for a Catholic publishing house had its limitations. Family values were important to maintain. Boule had to be well-mannered and the authority of his parents was not be questioned. This forced the author into his success formula, since these moralistic rules did not apply to pets! Therefore the resourceful Bill became the centerpoint of the series' humor. Many gags evolve around his misinterpretations of human behavior and cunning attempts to hide bones in the garden. Bill is a badly mannered dog who follows his instincts. He creates mayhem and washing him on a regular basis is an almost impossible task. Boule's rather stubborn father often struggles to find a moment of peace and quiet. Bill even steals away his comfy spot in his armchair. While Bill is a typical dog in this sense, he acts more cartoony at other times. Particularly his ears are an endless source of comedy. He uses them to play ping pong, to provide a diving board for the garden birds, but also to making communication signals. As a result Boule and Bill can understand each other perfectly, much to the amazement of Boule's long-haired pal Pouf. The latter is often the victim of Bill's fanaticism in playing games. 

Boule et Bill: animal characters
Roba was a master in making his characters the focus of attention in the panels. The garden is often presented by a simple hedge and some trees, while the presence of the surrounding houses is suggested through silhouettes. As the series progressed, more animal characters frequent the family garden. The next-door cat Corporal is not greated with open "ears" by Bill, but the charming tortoise Caroline is his best friend. She quickly develops a crush on the orange Cocker Spaniel. Bill is also great friends with the garden birds, who hang around his dog house. While he has to communicate with humans through his ears, Bill has endless conversations with other animals, most notably the neighbourhood dogs. Another important pal is, of course, the town butcher.

Boule et Bill: setting
The author's own surroundings formed the primary settings of the series. Most gags take place in and around the house, a cosy detached villa in a quiet suburb. The countryside or neighborhood playing fields are also regularly visited. Only on rare occasions we see Boule and Pouf at school, where their teacher appears to be a spitting image of 'Lucky Luke' artist Morris! Sometimes, the family heads for a holiday at the beach or the mountains with their red 2CV. At one point Roba swapped their iconic car for a Citroën GS, but was forced bring the old one back after furious readers' protests! All in all, 'Boule et Bill' presents an idealistic portrait of family life in a perfectly safe environment. Roba's social satire or criticism always remained subtle, if present at all. In some later gags, Roba for instance commented on urbanization, pollution and other environmental issues.

Boule et Bill, by Roba

Boule et Bill: global success
'Boule et Bill' was an instant hit, and provided a peaceful counterpart to Spirou's other gag series, André Franquin's more anarchic 'Gaston Lagaffe'. By 1963 Roba's series had secured itself a prominent spot on the magazine's back page, where it remained until the late 1970s. Éditions Dupuis released the first album collection in 1962. They published twenty more, until Roba transferred to Dargaud in 1988. The series has been translated in many languages. In Dutch it is generally known as 'Bollie en Billie', but also as 'Bas en Boef' (in its publication in Sjors magazine). In English the characters appeared as 'It's A Dog Life' (when published in the magazine Valiant), 'Billy and Buddy', as well as 'Bolly and Billy', while the Germans ran their stories as 'Schnieff und Schnuff' and later 'Pico & Bello'. In Austrian and Swiss-German, however, the series was titled 'Billi & Willi'. In Spanish Roba's comic appeared originally as 'Quique y Lucio' in the magazine Strong and later as 'Bill y Bolita', while in Colombia it was known as 'Bil & Bolin'. Additional editions appeared in Portuguese ('Boule et Bill'), Italian ('Bill e Bull'), Danish ('Bulder og Hans Hund', or 'Bulder & Bill'), Swedish ('Kulan och Smulan', or simply 'Bullen'), Finnish ('Teemu ja Tassu', later 'Vili & Bill'), Polish ('Ptyś i Bill'), Greek ('Mnoul & Mnil'), Turkish ('Can ile Afacan') and Japanese ('Jim and Bill').

Boule et Bill: additional publications
In addition to the regular gags, Roba often treated the readers with full color cover illustrations or single panel gags. Through his commercial background, Roba was able to tell an entire story in one single image, often combining his humor with a poetic sentiment. The same goes for his illustrations in the Dupuis children's book collection Carrousel, which contained the 'Boule et Bill' volumes 'Boule et Bill en pique-nique' (1966), 'La Maison perdue' (1968) and 'Boule et Bill à la montagne' (1969). The first was written by Yvan Delporte, the other two by Charles Degotte. In 1976-1977, Dupuis released four more children's booklets starring Bill, made in collaboration with Raoul Cauvin and Guy Bollen. Between 1967 and 1972, Yvan Delporte wrote and Jean Roba illustrated 'L'Avis de chien de Bill', an editorial section in which Bill observes human behaviour from a dog's perspective. Roba made some new installments with Robert Casterman as writer in 1976-1977. While 'Boule et Bill' was essentially a gag series, Roba drew a couple of longer stories throughout the years. By readers' demand, he made one long serial, 'Globe Trotters' (1981-1982), in which the family makes a trip around the world, driving their tour guide crazy along the way. Delporte helped out with the script, but the production was a heavy burden on Roba. The serialization had to be paused with a long interval. For Roba, the story was a one-off experiment. He felt way more at ease with telling stories in single pages.

Spirou cover by RobaSpirou cover by Roba
Cover illustrations for Spirou/Robbedoes #1720 and #1960.

La Ribambelle
'Globe Trotters' wasn't Roba's first excursion into longer stories, though. In fact, his other classic contribution to Franco-Belgian comics is an adventurous kids' gang comic: 'La Ribambelle' (1962-1976). The series' originated in 1957, when André Franquin helped his studio co-worker Marcel Denis and artist Jo-El Azara to make a comic strip about a bunch of children. Such comics had always been popular in Belgium, as the previous success of Hergé' 'Quick & Flupke', Eugeen Hermans' 'Flipke en de Rakkers', Willy Vandersteen's 'De Vrolijke Bengels' and Marc Sleen's 'De Lustige Kapoentjes' had proven. Yet Franquin wanted it to be more comparable to Martin Branner's 'Perry and the Rinkydinks', which was translated in French as 'Bicot et les Rantanplans'. Franquin strove for a similar sounding name. As such 'La Ribambelle' came about (roughly translated: "The Swarm"). A first try-out of four pages in length, 'Opération Ciseaux', appeared in issue #1041 of Spirou (27 March 1958). However, Azara left Spirou for rival magazine Tintin, bringing the project to a halt for the next four years. Franquin suggested Jean Roba to pick up the project. Roba enjoyed having kids as main characters, and drastically reworked it into an adventure series. He envisioned something in the style of the film serial 'Our Gang' (nowadays better known as 'The Little Rascals'), with bratty kids, but to the very conventional editors of Dupuis this was a bad example for young readers. So the main characters became well-behaved infants instead. Roba's debut story 'La Ribambelle Gagne du Terrain' debuted in issue #1247 (12 March 1962).

La Ribambelle by Roba
'La Ribambelle s'envole'.

La Ribambelle: characters
The series revolves around a multicultural group of children who are best friends. Phil, Grenadine and Archibald are white. Phil is a blond boy, Grenadine a red-haired girl and Archibald Mac Dingeling a rich Scottish kid who wears glasses. Archibald even has his own butler, James Jollygood-Fellow, who often accompanies them during their adventures as a guardian figure. Dizzy is a black kid who likes playing trumpet. He is the only character from Franquin's original concept to be reused by Roba. Franquin was a huge jazz fan and therefore he based Dizzy's name on trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie. (Incidentally, in 1965 U.S. comic artist Morrie Turner would also create a children's comic, 'Wee Pals', with a black boy named Diz, again in tribute to Gillespie.) Roba also added two Japanese boys, the twins Atchi and Atcha. They are extremely polite and skilled in martial arts. The children have their own playground in the city, located on a field of grass where they have refurbished an old bus wagon as their clubhouse. To protect their secret headquarters they've laid out several traps. The series' main nemesis is another billionaire, the mean businessman Arsène Grofilou, who has his own personal chauffeur, Ernest. Most people in their town fear Grofilou, because he is so rich and powerful, but La Ribambelle has the guts to stand up against his diabolical plans. Grofilou is a shady character who often collaborates with a group of kid hoodlums named Les Caïmans, consisting of Rodolphe, Alphonse and their chief Tatane.

For the modern-day observer, some of the kids in 'La Ribambelle' might come across as somewhat offensive stereotypes. Grenadine, for instance, is good in knitting and cooking. The black boy Dizzy is so fanatic about jazz that he carries his trumpet around wherever he goes. The Japanese Atchi and Atcha are much shorter than the other kids and often talk in aphorisms, sometimes using stock phrases like "Banzai!" or "honorable". Archibald runs around in a kilt, mixes English words in his speech and uses the line "My kingdom for a bottle" (a pun on "My kingdom for a horse" from Shakespeare's play 'Richard III' and the Scots' love for whiskey) as his battle cry. Furthermore the gang's leader is the white blonde boy, Phil. Yet 'La Ribambelle' was actually fair for its day. It was the first Belgian comic series to be multicultural. All kids respect each other's differences and stick up for one another. Spirou's readers enjoyed the gang too.

'La Ribambelle Contre-attaque'.

La Ribambelle: publication history
'La Ribambelle' had eight adventures of varying lengths between 1962 and 1976. Only the first one, 'La Ribambelle Gagne du Terrain' (1962), was scripted by Roba himself. For his other stories, the artist had to rely on outside help to keep up with the production. Since he was mostly a gag man, he required assistance in crafting out full-length adventure stories. 'La Ribambelle en Écosse' (1962), 'La Ribambelle s'Envole' (1963) and 'La Ribambelle aux Galopingos' (1966) were written by Vicq. Vicq's somewhat unpredictable behavior, caused by his alcoholism, meant that Roba had to construct certain parts of the stories himself. Yvan Delporte provided the script for 'La Ribambelle Engage Du Monde' (1964), while 'La Ribambelle Enquête' (1968) was written by Maurice Tillieux. Jidéhem helped out with the artwork for this latter story, yet the series became too heavy a burden for Roba to continue. It took until 1975 before readers learned how the previous episode continued in 'La Ribambelle Contre-attaque' (1975-1976), another production of the Roba-Jidéhem-Tillieux team. New stories were initiated, one with backgrounds by Will, another one with a script by Raoul Cauvin, but never completed.

'La Ribambelle' was first published in four books by Dupuis between 1965 and 1968, followed by the two final albums in 1984. The series was also translated in Dutch ('De Sliert') and German (first as 'Die Sechs', later as 'Die Rasselbande'). In Dutch the names of the main cast members remained the same, but in German Grenadine was renamed Connie and Atchi and Atcha Ping & Pong (even though ping pong is a Chinese sport).

Header announcement for Spirou
Header announcement for Spirou #1310.

Other projects
Even though the 1960s and 1970s were largely filled with producing weekly 'Boule et Bill' pages and 'La Ribambelle' serials, Roba found the time to work on other projects as well. By 1961 one half of a Spirou cover was filled with a comic strip, while the other half consisted of the logo and an introductionary illustration for that issue's content. Making the promotional header drawings was originally Franquin's task, but by 1961 Roba took over. Roba made full color illustrations with nearly all the magazine's characters from issues #1215 through #1433, when a restyling changed the cover design in the second half of 1965. Years later, Roba designed a new logo for Spirou, which appeared on the covers between 1978 and 1982.

For a brief period, Roba was additionally present in Record, a new comic magazine published by Bayard Presse. His gag strip about a sweet little girl called 'Pomme' (1962-1963) ran only in ten issues, as the artist felt the style and tone was too similar to 'Boule et Bill'. 'Pomme' also appeared in the Spanish magazine L'Infantil de Tretzevents under the title 'Mariona'. When there were no more Roba gags, the Spanish artist Josep María Alberdi (MIA) continued it by making new gags locally in the period 1962-1963.

Header announcement for Spirou
Header announcement for Spirou #1219.

In 1969 Roba provided the illustrations for the children's book 'Kakou, le Petit Pingouin Jaune' (Dargaud, 1969) by Daniele Bourillon. For Spirou, he made a couple of one-shot short stories throughout the years, mostly for thematic and seasonal issues. In 1975 Roba and chief editor Thierry Martens (a.k.a. "M. Archive") came up with the idea of 'La Blabladoigt' (1975-1980), a somewhat peculiar cartoon section in Spirou about conversations between the fingers on one's hand. Readers were encouraged to send in their own joke ideas, which were then illustrated by Roba. Carlos Roque took over drawing the cartoons shortly afterwards. In 1977 Roba was furthermore present in Le Trombone Illustré, the controversial Spirou supplement edited by Yvan Delporte and André Franquin. He contributed the feature 'Le 6ème Jour', about Adam trying to figure out Paradise without Eve. 

'La Naissance d'un Fantôme' (short one-shot story from Spirou #2139, 1979).

Transfer to Dargaud
'Boule et Bill' remained one of Spirou's most popular features until 1987. By then, the atmosphere changed. The family company was sold to a holding company, marking an end of an era of creativity and solidarity. Many of the publisher's major artists jumped ship, among them Franquin, François Walthéry and Peyo. Roba too was dissatisfied by the lack of communication, feeling the authors were "sold like horses from a stable". He got a satisfying offer from competing publisher Georges Dargaud and signed up. He had to leave his back catalogue behind, but took his characters with him. Roba eventually made four more albums at his new homebase between 1988 and 2001. Between 1986 and 1992 several new gags were prepublished in Pif Gadget. Production slowed down because of old age, prompting the publisher to provide the author with an assistant. Laurent Verron worked with the master in the late 1980s. He was a welcome help for the increasing workload on related products, like merchandising and commercial collaborations.

Boule et Bill by Jean Roba
Treets advertising comic starring Boule & Bill, published in Tintin in 1969.

Boule et Bill: commercial exploitation
From the start, Roba didn't shy away from using his characters in advertisements, as long as the product suited the characters. Throughout the years, Boule and Bill starred in comic strips and advertisements for Treets chocolate, M.F.P. toothpaste, UNICEF, Sabena, Danone, Coca Cola, Colgate, Babydop shampoo, Novotel, the Red Cross and many more products and humanitarian causes. Also a large amount of 'Boule et Bill' merchandising saw the light of day, including stickers, posters, figurines, puzzles, lunch boxes, dolls, clothing and eiderdown covers. Dargaud furthermore launched a series of six how-to-read booklets with the characters ('Apprends à lire avec Boule & Bill', 1990). With the 40th anniversary in 1999, the original album series was resorted and remarketed. The gags from the initial 60-page albums were spread out over new albums with 44 pages, lengthening the original Dupuis collection from 21 to 24 albums. Dargaud has released thematic album collections of older gags since 2010.

Boule et Bill: adaptations
The characters were subjected to a first animated series in 1975, developed for TVA Dupuis by Ray Goossens. Raoul Cauvin and Yvan Delporte provided the scripts. It consisted of 26 episodes of 6 minutes each, but Roba was far from happy with the rather rudimentary animation. He was more satisfied with the second series, produced in 2005 by Francis Nielsen for Dargaud Marina. It consisted of 104 episodes of six minutes. A 3D animated sequel series of 52 episodes was created by Philippe Vidal and distributed by France 3 from 2016 on. Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier made a live action film based on the series with Charles Crombez in the role of Boule. It was released in 2013 as 'Boule et Bill'. The picture received bad reviews, but nevertheless Pascal Bourdiaux directed a sequel, 'Boule et Bill 2' (2017), which flopped.

Final Boule et Bill gag by Roba.

Boule et Bill & La Ribambelle after Roba
Suffering from arthritis in his hand, Jean Roba retired in 2001, after having drawn 1149 gags with his characters. Since he didn't want them to die with him, a replacement was found in his former assistant, Laurent Verron. Aided by scriptwriters like Eric Corbeyran, Pierre Veys, Diego Aranega and his childhood friend Chric, Verron made eight more albums between 2003 and 2015. Then Jean Bastide took over the artwork, while gag comics centipede Christophe Cazenove assumed the scriptwriting. 'La Ribambelle' was also relaunched by Dargaud. Artist Jean-Marc Krings and scriptwriter Zidrou reunited the gang and created 'La Ribambelle reprend du service' (2011) and 'La Ribambelle au Japon' (2012), unfortunately without much commercial success.

Boule et Bill: appreciation
One can safely say that 'Boule et Bill' remains one of the most beloved (and profitable) Belgian comic series. Its anniversaries have always been celebrated, both creatively and commercially. When the series turned twenty, Éditions Dupuis surprised Roba with a special chain comic to which many of his colleagues contributed. In the story several well-known Belgian comic characters try to find the missing Bill. Scripted by André-Paul Duchâteau and Alain De Kuyssche, 'Bill a Disparu' (Spirou #2173, 1979) contained contributions by André Franquin ('Gaston'), Jijé ('Jerry Spring'), Dupa ('Cubitus'), Tibet ('Chick Bill'), Paul Deliège ('Bobo'), Frédéric Jannin ('Arnest Ringard'), Will ('Tif et Tondu'), François Walthéry ('Natacha'), Jidéhem ('Sophie'), Yann & Conrad, Frank Pé ('Broussaille'), Willy Vandersteen ('Suske en Wiske') and Marc Wasterlain ('Docteur Poche'). Roba later provided the first and last page. Spirou magazine also devoted special attention of the series' 40th anniversary in 1999, Roba's passing in 2006 and the 60th anniverary in 2019. On the latter occasion, José-Luis Munuera and Olivier Bocquet made a modernized version of 'Boule contre les mini-requins' with drones instead of remote-controlled boats.

In 1989 Roba's 'Boule et Bill' was one of the few Belgian comic series to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels. The comic's famous 2CV car welcomed visitors in the museum's entrance for many years. The museum furthermore devoted a special exposition to the series on the occasion of its 60th anniversary in 2019. 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. Also in 1991, a statue of 'Boule & Bill' was created at the Stade du Pays sports stadion in Charleroi, depicting Boule in a football outfit. Unfortunately the statue was vandalized on 19 August 2012, but it was restored later that year. Another statue depicting the duo was erected in July 2000 by sculptor Tom Frantzen at the roundabout in the Avenue Van England in Jette, not far from Roba's old home. In September 2014 this statue was vandalized too, whereupon it had to be restored as well. In 2001 Boule et Bill received a mural painting in the Rue de Montmoreau, Angoulême, France, as part of the Comic Book Route. 

Graphic contributions
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. Roba additionally made graphic contributions to 'Les Amis de Buddy Longway' (Lombard, 1983, a tribute to Derib's signature series) and the 'Lucky Luke' parody 'Rocky Luke - Banlieu West' (Goupil, 1985). During the parlementary elections of 1994, Roba made a propaganda comic in support of PSC politician Jean-Louis Thys. 

In 1971 Roba was awarded the Prix Saint-Michel for his work in humorous comics. The prize for "Best Foreign Comics Work" was offered to him for his album 'Ras le Bill!' at the 1978 Angoulême festival. At the 1981 edition of this festival, his album 'Bill est Maboul' was praised with the "Alfred Enfant" prize for children's comics. In 1992 Roba was invested with a knighthood in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also named Knight of the Order of the (Belgian) Crown. In 2003 he was the first to win the Prix Albert-Uderzo for his entire body of work at the Nîmes comic festival. In 2005 Roba was elected to the 100th place in the Walloon version of "The Greatest Belgian" contest. Éditions Toth released the art book 'Roba' in 2005, which also contained an extensive interview with Roba by Philippe Cauvin.

Death, legacy and successors
Jean Roba passed away in 2006, leaving behind a legacy full of great humor, which combined tenderness with malicious wit, all in a readable and enjoyable graphic style. His pioneering work in the field of family comics has inspired many international authors. In Spirou, Albert Blesteau and Christian Godard's 'Toupet' (1987-2004) was certainly indebted to Roba's work. In terms of semi-autobiographical family comics, 'Sisters' by William Maury and Christophe Cazenove comes to mind as a modern-day successor. Outside of the French-speaking field, Dutchman Jan Kruis based his family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' (1970) on his own family life. This comic is also known for its positive representation of family relations, and has a prominent role for the pets as well. In Chile, Raúl Bratesco's 'La Patota' borrows heavilly from 'Boule et Bill', while the Turkish comic book based on Abdullah Turhan's hero 'Alptekin' (1968-1969) had crudely redrawn 'Boule et Bill' episodes as back-up feature. French artist Thierry Capezzone and Flemish artist Charel Cambré, author of the kids' gang comic 'Streetkids', have expressed their admiration for Roba as well.

Last but not least, we have both Jean Roba and André Franquin to thank for the live drawings comic artists make for their fans during signing sessions. The two Dupuis authors preferred this little extra gesture over a simple autograph, and it was quickly picked up by competing publishing companies. It has become a customary pratice since!

Jean Roba
Roba at work in his hometown Jette.

Series and books by Jean Roba you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.