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

Louis Salvérius, who mostly signed his work Salvé, was a Belgian comic 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 comic writer Raoul Cauvin, it was Salvérius who designed the protagonists Blutch and Chesterfield and side characters like Captain Stark and Ms. Appletown. At first, he drew in a cartoony style, which gradually evolved into more elaborate and striking artwork, without losing the humorous touch. Unfortunately, Salvérius died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of only 38, so he could never experience the series' tremendous success. His successor Willy Lambil reshaped the comic's graphic style and created new albums with Cauvin for the next decades. As a result, the general audience is 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.

Ginarino, by Louis Salverius

Early life and career
Louis Salvérius was born in 1933 in Ghlin, a town near the Belgian city of Mons. Many sources erroneously state he was born on 1 April 1930 in Soignies, but he and his wife didn't move there until the 1950s. Louis was the eldest of three brothers in a modest family. His father Jules had a job in a rolling mill, and his French mother earned some extra income as a cleaning lady. He 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 barracks walls.

Back in civilian life, he got a job at the art studio of Éditions Dupuis, where much of the production and additional illustration work was done 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 many comic pages from Spirou's classic 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. His first comic artwork was made for a contest for Cécémel chocolate milk, which ran in Spirou from April through September 1959.

Petit Cactus by Salvé

Early western comics
His talent was noted by 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 were provided by either Delporte or Rosy themselves, but also by Serge Gennaux or Bob de Groot. Salveríus' main scriptwriters during these early years were however his studio colleagues Jacques Devos and Paul Deliège. From the start, Salvérius specialized in comical western series, working under the pseudonym "Salvé". Whenever he worked with Devos, they used the joint pen name "Devosalvé". For full color cover drawings and book illustrations, Salvé often cooperated with Jamic, for instance on a series of western books in Dupuis' children's book collection Carrousel.

Throughout the 1960s, recurring characters in his mini-books stories with Devos were 'Tim et Tom' (three episodes between 1963-1965), two adventurous brothers crossing the Far West with a rickety wagon. 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 normal pages, he and Devos created the gag series 'Whamoka et Whikilowat' (1963-1967), about two Native Americans. Both men were big fans of the Far West, and the initial episodes starring only 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. With G.J. Gavazzi, he made three short stories starring 'Ginarino le Sicilien'.

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 at his own magazine Pilote, where the adventures of the "poor lonesome cowboy" continued from then on. To fill in the void, scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin created a new western comic for Spirou, and asked Salvérius to provide the artwork. Salvé's only condition was that the Native Americans should not be stereotypically portrayed as the villains. The result was 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968), and the first episode made its debut on 29 August 1968 (Spirou issue #1585). The early stories dealt with the fort's cavalry and its struggles with a tribe of Native Americans. The first longer episode, '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. 'Lucky Luke' never once featured a story set during the American Civil War, despite occasionally referencing it. Cauvin and Salvérius realized there was a whole territory of potential narratives to explore. They decided to make the U.S. Civil War the prime focus, which also allowed them to avoid entering Lucky Luke's territory.

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

During the first two years, 'Les Tuniques Bleues' consisted of merely short stories and gags, dealing with the cavalry members of Fort Bow. While sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and corporal Blutch eventually took the center stage, the initial cast of characters was much larger. Other recurring members were the soldiers Bryan and Tripps and the Native American scout Plume d'Argent. As the setting changed, Cauvin realized this would require a different, more dramatic approach. Salvérius changed his caricatural graphic style into semi-caricatural, which was also reflected in the plots, which fully focused on Chesterfield and Blutch. 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 in love with Miss Appletown, a colonel's daughter about whom he refuses to hear any bad word. His subordinate, corporal Blutch, is a 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 in the army for so long, that he lost his grip on reality. He never dismounts from his horse, always ready to instantly charge the enemy, even if the moment is badly chosen.

The comedy contrasts between Blutch and Chesterfield was the series' main focus, but the stories also graphically show the gruesomeness of the war. Battle scenes are depicted as they were, with soldiers getting wounded and dying. This was a far cry 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, the stories were also released 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 1976.

Les Tuniques Bleues - 'Et pour quinze cents dollars en plus'.

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 38 years old. At the time of his death, he was drawing the fourth long adventure story, 'Outlaw', but the story was still unfinished. Former art studio colleague Willy Lambil was brought in to draw the remaining eight pages, switching 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 remained on board as the series' new artist. Over the next decades, Lambil and Cauvin made new stories 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.

Louis Salvérius' life is in a way one of the saddest stories in comic history. His early death and small body of work remained 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 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'. Lambil has so far refused any compilation works of his work on the series.

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


Series and books by Louis Salvérius in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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