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

Louis Salvérius, who mostly signed his work Salvé, is known as the initial artist to draw the successful series 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968) in Spirou. He designed the two protagonists, Blutch and Chesterfield and, despite drawing in a more humoristic style, still managed to captivate readers with his striking artwork. Unfortunately Salvérius died unexpectedly at an early age. 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' one. 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.

He was born in 1930 in Soignies and after fulfilling his military service, he began working at the art studio of the publishing house Dupuis in 1955, and remained employed there until 1970. His first illustrations were published in Risque-Tout, and since then, he provided countless realistic and humorous drawings for Spirou.

Ginarino, by Louis Salverius
Ginarino

He did the lay-outs for the pocket book collections 'Les Merveilles de la Vie' and 'Gags de Poche', and also worked as a cameraman at the animation department TVA Dupuis for a while. By 1959, Salvé also 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

He specialized in comical western series, initially for the mini-books section. Throughout the 1960s, Salvé made various mini-books with characters like 'Tim et Tom' with Jacques Devos and 'Petit Cactus' with Deliège. For Spirou's normal pages, he made the Indian gag series 'Whamoka et Whikilowat' with Devos (1963-67), and later on, 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 Carrousel collection of children's books.

Spirou cover by Louis Salverius

In 1968 Spirou lost one of its most popular features: 'Lucky Luke'. Artist Morris joined writer René Goscinny in his new magazine Pilote and took the album series with him to Dargaud. To fill the gap, scriptwriter Raoul Cauvin created a new western comic in collaboration with Salvérius. The result was 'Les Tuniques Bleues' ("The Blue Jackets", 1968), which was eventually set during the American Civil War. The choice for this particular time period wasn't coincidental. For some unexplained reason 'Lucky Luke' had never once featured a narrative set during the American Civil War, despite occasionally referencing it. As such Cauvin and Salvérius could avoid entering Lucky Luke's territory. It apparently worked the other way around too, as 'Lucky Luke' later never featured any major plotline about the American Civil War either.

'Les Tuniques Bleues' made their debut in Spirou on 29 August 1968. During the first two years, the series 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. The early stories dealt with the fort's cavalry and its struggles with a tribe of Indians. The first longer story, 'Un chariot dans l'Ouest', was serialized in Spirou in 1970. The Civil War didn't enter the series until the second serial, 'Du nord au sud' (1971). As the setting changed, Cauvin realized this would require a different, more dramatic narrative approach. Salvérius slightly changed his graphic style into something more semi-realistic, which was also reflected in the plots.

Les Tuniques Bleues, by Louis Salvérius
Les Tuniques Bleues

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.

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.

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 comic series. It is unfortunate that its co-creator didn't live to see this...

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

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