Les Tuniques Bleues, by Louis Salvérius
Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Un chariot dans l'Ouest'.

Louis Salvérius, who mostly signed his work Salvé, was a Belgian comics artist, best known as the co-creator of the successful and long-running series 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968) in Spirou. The adventures of two soldiers during the American Civil War were an instant hit. While the storylines and initial concept should be attributed to comics writer Raoul Cauvin it was Salvérius who designed the protagonists Blutch and Chesterfield and side characters like Captain Stark and Ms. Appletown. He drew in a cartoony style at first, which gradually evolved into more elaborate and striking artwork, without losing the humoristic touch. Unfortunately Salvérius died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of only 42. His successor, Willy Lambil, reshaped the comic's graphic style and drew all next albums. As a result, the general audience is arguably more familiar with Lambil's version than Salvérius' original. Nevertheless, Salvérius and writer Raoul Cauvin built the foundations on which the popular series is grounded and which helped it become such a beloved best-seller from the start.

Ginarino, by Louis Salverius
'Ginarino'

Early life and career
Louis Salvérius was born in 1930 in Soignies and after fulfilling his military service in 1955, he took a job at the art studio of the publishing house Dupuis. He remained employed there until 1970. His first illustrations were published in Risque-Tout, after which he provided countless realistic and humorous drawings for Spirou. He made lay-outs for the pocket book collections 'Les Merveilles de la Vie' and 'Gag de Poche', and worked as a cameraman at the animation department TVA Dupuis for a while. By 1959, Salvé turned to comics, starting with a Cécémel advertising comic and a couple of center-folded mini-books scripted by Yvan Delporte, Maurice Rosy, Serge Gennaux and Bob de Groot.

Petit Cactus by Salvé
'Petit-Cactus'

Early western comics
Salvérius specialized in comical western series, initially for the mini-books section and often under the pseudonym "Salvé". Throughout the 1960s he made various mini-books with characters like 'Tim et Tom' with Jacques Devos and 'Petit Cactus' with Deliège. For Spirou's normal pages, he and Devos made the gag series 'Whamoka et Whikilowat' (1963-67), about two Native Americans. Later he made three short stories starring 'Ginarino le Sicilien' with Gavazzi (1967-68). In addition, he cooperated with Jamic on the illustrations for western books in the children's book collection Carrousel.

Spirou cover by Louis Salverius

Les Tuniques Bleues
In 1968 Spirou lost one of its most popular features: 'Lucky Luke'. Artist Morris joined writer René Goscinny in his move to Pilote, where the adventures of the "poor lonesome cowboy" continued from then on. To fill in the void left behind, scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin created a new western comic for Spirou,  in collaboration with Salvérius. The result was 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968), of which the first episode made its debut on 29 August 1968 (issue #1585). The early stories dealt with the fort's cavalry and its struggles with a tribe of Native Americans. The first longer story, 'Un chariot dans l'Ouest', was serialized in Spirou in 1970. The U.S. Civil War didn't enter the series until the second serial, 'Du Nord au Sud' (1971). The choice for this particular time period wasn't coincidental. For some unexplained reason 'Lucky Luke' had never once featured a story set during the American Civil War, despite occasionally referencing it. Cauvin and Salvérius therefore realized there was a whole territory of potential narratives to explore. They decided to make the U.S. Civil War the prime focus of their series, which also allowed them to avoid entering Lucky Luke's territory. It apparently worked the other way around too, because later albums of 'Lucky Luke' still didn't feature any major plotline about the American Civil War. 

During the first two years, 'Les Tuniques Bleues' consisted of merely short stories and gags, dealing with members of the cavalry of Fort Bow. The initial cast of characters was much larger. Besides sergeant Chesterfield and corporal Blutch, other recurring members were the soldiers Bryan and Tripps and the Indian scout Plume d'Argent. As the setting changed, Cauvin realized this would require a different, more dramatic approach. Salvérius slightly changed his graphic style into something more semi-realistic, which was also reflected in the plots. Chesterfield and Blutch became the focus of the storylines from then on. Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield is the stupid, self-important, patriotic and obedient military officer who believes in the virtues of war and anything his superiors tell him. He is also in love with Ms. Appletown, a colonel's daughter about whom he refuses to hear any bad word. His subordinate, corporal Blutch, is a more cynical, sceptical and far more intelligent soldier. He doesn't believe the military propaganda fed to him, nor enjoys being in the army. Any chance he gets to avoid fighting, he'll take. Another regular character already present in Salvérius and Cauvin's stories is Captain Stark, who has been so long in the army that he somewhat lost his grip on reality. He always wants to charge the enemy, even if the moment is badly chosen.

Les Tuniques Bleues, by Louis Salvérius
'Les Tuniques Bleues'.

In the later stories, the comedic contrasts between Blutch and Chesterfield remained, but the gruesomeness of the war became more outspoken. Soldiers actually get wounded and even die, which was a far cry from the bloodless adventures of 'Lucky Luke'. 'Les Tuniques Bleues' quickly became one of Spirou's most popular titles and from 1970 on, it was also published in book format. The original short stories and gags by Salvérius and Cauvin from the late 1960s were collected in two books by Dupuis in 1984.

Death and legacy
Unfortunately, Louis Salvérius died in 1972 from a heart attack. This tragic news caught everyone by surprise, as the artist was only 42 years old. He had been drawing the fourth long adventure story, 'Outlaw', but the story was still unfinished. Willy Lambil was brought in to draw the remaining eight strips and thus de facto became the series' new artist. Lambil and Cauvin continue to make new stories every year, and the series has become one of the best-selling European comics. On 12 July 2018 a statue of Les Tuniques Bleues was erected in Lambil's birth town Tamines.

Louis Salvérius is in a way one of the saddest stories in comics history. An artist whose early death and small body of work remain in the shadow of his successor, who continued 'Les Tuniques Bleues' for over half a century. It's unfortunate that he could never experience the enduring success of his characters. Yet he at least isn't forgotten, precisely because his characters are still popular today. In 2014 and 2016 Éditions Dupuis released two luxury volumes which collect all the Salvérius era stories. Lambil has so far refused any compilation works with his own work on the series.

Photocomic starring Salverius and Cauvin
Salverius and Cauvin starring in a photo comic.

www.tuniques-bleues.com

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