Les Tuniques Bleues, by Louis Salvérius
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Du Nord au Sud'.

Louis Salvérius - Salvé in short - was a Belgian comic artist, best known as co-creator of the successful and long-running adventure series 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Bluecoats", 1968- ) in Spirou magazine. The adventures of two soldiers during the American Civil War were an instant hit. While the storylines and initial concept can be attributed to scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin, it was Salvérius who graphically designed the protagonists Blutch and Chesterfield, as well as secondary characters like Captain Stark and Ms. Appletown. Initially, Salvé drew in a cartoony style, but when the storylines became more dramatic, he switched to more elaborate and striking artwork, without losing the humorous touch. Four years after the series' launch, Salvérius suddenly died from a heart attack at age 38, so he never experienced the series' tremendous success. Since his successor Willy Lambil worked with Cauvin on new stories for decades to come, the general audience is more familiar with Lambil's version than the Salvérius original. Nevertheless, Louis Salvérius and Raoul Cauvin laid the foundations on which the popular series is built.

Ginarino, by Louis Salverius

Early life and career
Louis Salvérius was born in 1933 in Ghlin, a town near the Belgian city of Mons, not far from the French border. Many sources erroneously state Salvérius was born on 1 April 1930 in Soignies, but it wasn't until the 1950s before he and his wife moved there. Coming from a modest family, Louis was the eldest of three brothers. His father Jules had a job in a rolling mill, and his French mother earned extra income as a cleaning lady. Louis Salvérius fulfilled a large part of his military service with the armored infantry brigade in Arolsen, Germany, where he treated his fellow recruits with caricatures and murals on the barrack walls.

Back in civilian life, Salvérius got a job at the art studio of Éditions Dupuis, where production artists did layouts, lettering and spot illustrations for the publisher's magazines. Salvérius was mainly tasked with doing lay-outs for the pocket book collection 'Les Merveilles de la Vie' and 'Gag de Poche'. This included remounting comic pages from Spirou's classic comic series to the pocket book format. He also had a short stint as camera man for the animation department TVA Dupuis, and made his first illustrations for the tabloid-sized comic paper Risque-Tout. Salvé made his first comic artwork for a contest of Cécémel chocolate milk, held in Spirou from April through September 1959.

Petit Cactus by Salvé

Early western comics
Salvé's graphic talents were noted by Spirou editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte and art studio chief Maurice Rosy, who invited him to do more illustration work and draw a couple of center-folded mini-books. The scripts for these mini-comics were provided by either Delporte or Rosy, but also by Serge Gennaux or Bob de Groot. The main scriptwriters of Salvérius' early career in comics were however his studio colleagues Jacques Devos and Paul Deliège. From the start, Salvérius specialized in humorous western series, working under a shortening of his last name, "Salvé". Whenever Salvé and Devos worked together, they used the joint pen name "Devosalvé". For full color cover drawings and book illustrations, Salvé often cooperated with Jamic, including on a series of western books in Dupuis' children's book collection Carrousel.

Throughout the 1960s, recurring characters in Salvé's mini-books stories with Devos were 'Tim et Tom' (1963-1965), two adventurous brothers crossing the Far West with a rickety wagon, appearing in three episodes. With Deliège, he created five stories with 'Petit-Cactus' (1968-1969), a little Native American camouflaged as a cactus in a flowerpot. For Spirou's regular pages, Salvérius and Devos created the gag series 'Whamoka et Whikilowat' (1963-1967), another feature about two Native Americans. Both men were big fans of the Far West, and the initial solo episodes with the Sioux warrior Whamoka were filled with educational fun facts, accompanied by funny artwork. When the funny papoose Whikilowat joined the cast, the concept turned into largely pantomime gags. From scripts by the future crime novelist G.J. Gavazzi, Salvé made three short stories starring 'Ginarino le Sicilien', about the adventures of the inhabitants of the Sicilian village Fiodaliso.

Spirou cover by Louis Salverius
Cover of Spirou #1503 starring Whamoka and Whikilowat by Louis Salvérius (1967). Translation: "After all those studies on tobacco, I've decided to switch to filter." 

Les Tuniques Bleues
In 1968, Spirou lost one of its top features, when artist Morris and writer René Goscinny took their "poor lonesome cowboy" to Gosinny's own magazine Pilote. To fill in the void left in Spirou, scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin created a new western comic, and asked Salvérius to provide the artwork. Because of his strong interest in the history of the American Far West, Salvé agreed on the condition that the Native Americans should not be stereotypically portrayed as the villains. The result was 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968), of which the first gag strip appeared on 29 August 1968 (Spirou issue #1585). The early stories dealt with the cavalry of For Bow and its struggles with a tribe of Native Americans. In 1970, the first longer episode, 'Un Chariot Dans l'Ouest', was serialized in Spirou. In the second serial, 'Du Nord au Sud' (1971), the U.S. Civil War entered the series' narrative. The choice for this particular time period was not coincidental. Despite sometimes referencing it, the 'Lucky Luke' series had no Civil War-centered episodes. Realizing there was a whole territory of potential narratives to explore, Cauvin and Salvérius decided to make the Civil War the prime focus of 'Les Tuniques Bleues', allowing them to avoid entering 'Lucky Luke' story territory.

Les Tuniques Bleues, by Louis Salvérius
Panel from an early 'Les Tuniques Bleues' short story.

During the first two years, the 'Les Tuniques Bleues' feature consisted of short stories and gags, dealing with the cavalry members of Fort Bow. Although sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and corporal Blutch eventually took the center stage, the initial cast of characters was much larger, with recurring cavalry members like Bryan, Tripps and the Native American scout Plume d'Argent. When the setting changed to the Civil War, Salvérius switched his round-nosed caricatural drawing style into a semi-caricatural one. This more serious tone was also reflected in the plots, now fully focused on Chesterfield and Blutch, two soldiers in the 22nd Cavalry Regiment of the Northern Army. Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield is the stupid, self-important, patriotic and obedient military officer who believes in the virtues of war and does anything his superiors tell him to do. He is in love with Miss Appletown, the Fort Bow colonel's daughter, about whom he refuses to hear any bad word. His subordinate, corporal Blutch, is far more cynical and sceptical of the entire war effort. He doesn't believe any of the military propaganda fed to him, nor does he enjoy being in the army. While Chesterfield has an unconditional respect for authority and the military cause, Blutch tries to wriggle his way out of every charge and assignment. Another regular character already present in Salvérius and Cauvin's stories is Captain Stark, who has been in the army for so long, that he lost his grip on reality. He never dismounts from his horse and is always ready to charge the enemy, even if the moment is badly chosen.

The humorous contrast between Blutch and Chesterfield form the basis of each story, but at the same time, 'Les Tuniques Bleues' shows graphical depictions of war gruesomeness. Battle scenes are shown as they were, filled with crippled and dying soldiers. In the early 1970s, this made it stand apart from the bloodless adventures of 'Lucky Luke', created in more censor-heavy times. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' quickly became one of Spirou's most popular features and from 1970 on, Dupuis also released the stories in book format. In 1976, Salvérius and Cauvin's initial late-1960s short stories and gags were collected in two books by Dupuis as well.

Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Et Pour Quinze Cents Dollars en Plus' (1972).

Death and legacy
In May 1972, Louis Salvérius died suddenly from a heart attack. The tragic news caught everyone by surprise, as the artist was only 38 years old and otherwise in good health. At the time of his death, he was drawing the fourth long 'Tuniques Bleues' adventure, 'Les Hors-la-loi'. With eight pages to go, former art studio colleague Willy Lambil was brought in to draw the remainder of the story. Lambil had to switch from the realistic drawing style of his own 'Sandy et Hoppy' series to Salvé's more comical rendering. His effort worked out well, and Lambil was appointed the new artist of 'Les Tuniques Bleues', eventually dropping his own 'Sandy' comic altogether. Over the next decades, Lambil and Cauvin made a new story every year, turning the series into one of Europe's bestselling comics. On 12 July 2018, a statue of Les Tuniques Bleues was erected in Lambil's birth town Tamines. On 5 September 2019, Cauvin announced his retirement from the series, after which publisher Dupuis hired the Frenchman Kris (Christophe Goret) to create new stories with Lambil.

Looking back, Louis Salvérius' career is one of the saddest stories in comic history. Because of his early death and small body of work, he always remained in the shadow of his successor, who continued 'Les Tuniques Bleues' for over half a century. Unfortunately, Salvé never experienced the enduring success of his co-creation. But since his characters are still popular today, Salvérius has not completely faded into obscurity. In 2014 and 2016, Éditions Dupuis released two luxury volumes, collecting all the Salvérius era stories of 'Les Tuniques Bleues'. So far, Lambil has refused any compilation works of his work on the series.

French comic artist Blutch thanks his pseudonym to a classmate, who felt he resembled the character 'Blutch' from 'Les Tuniques Bleues'. 

Photocomic starring Salverius and Cauvin
Salverius and Cauvin starring in a photo comic (Spirou #1776. 1971).


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