Nino by Dirk Stallaert
Nino - 'De Prinses van Manhattan' (Lombard, 1992).

Dirk Stallaert is a Belgian comic artist, often called "the chameleon of comics" (although he personally grew tired of that nickname). He earned this honorary qualification for his work on many different Belgian comic series, both classics and modern ones, easily switching graphic styles. His drawings show dynamism and action, and each panel is full with detail. His best known original creation is the humorous adventure series about the orphan boy 'Nino' (1989-1995), scripted by Hec Leemans and drawn in a Clear Line style. Together with Patrick Vermeir, he made the more cartoony children's adventure comic 'Kitty' (1986-1991), and with Erik Meynen, he co-created the whodunit series 'Pakkeman en Poulet' (2006-2010). Stallaert has also drawn several gag comics scripted by the Flemish comedian Urbanus, most notably 'Mieleke Melleke Mol' (2004-2020) and 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' (2004-2012). Throughout the years, he has also been a notable assistant to other comic artists. Between 1992 and 2002, Stallaert worked with Marc Sleen on the final ten years of the long-running newspaper comic 'Nero'. In addition, he has assisted Jean-Pol ('Kramikske', 'Sammy'), Merho ('De Kiekeboes') and Luc Morjaeu of Studio Vandersteen ('Suske en Wiske') on their series. Stallaert has also livened up the covers for reprints of classic and out-of-print Flemish comic series. 

Early life and career
Dirk Stallaert was born in 1955 in Brussels. He grew up reading many classic Belgian comics and ranks Hergé, Willy Vandersteen, Marc Sleen, Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob De Moor, André Franquin, Jef Nys, Peyo, Morris, Maurice Tillieux, Berck, Greg, Dino Attanasio and Pom among his main influences, along with the Dutch artist Carol Voges. Outside the Benelux, Stallaert also underwent influence from Hank Ketcham, Bud SagendorfRené Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. From an early age, Stallaert showed an extraordinary skill in imitating other artists' styles. As a child, he made exact copies of money bills, complete with watermarks made from lemon juice. Leaving these forgeries on the street, he actually managed to fool unsuspecting passers-by into thinking they were real. When he was eight years old, his drawing of Marc Sleen's comic character Piet Fluwijn was printed in the 29 July 1964 issue (#31) of the comic magazine 't Kapoentje. At age 14, Dirk and his brother Bart won a drawing contest organized by the newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen, in which they had to draw two strips of Berck's comic series 'Pechvogel'. It won them a visit to Berck's studio, where they could watch the artist at work. After finishing school, Stallaert had several odd jobs, including bus driver and civil servant at a ministry. During this period, he had little interest in drawing and was more passionate about music. His earliest cartoons appeared in the weekly opinion magazine Knack (1975) and the comic magazine Kuifje (the Dutch-language edition of Tintin).

Ridder Digest, by Dirk Stallaert
'Ridder Digest'.

Ridder Digest
Stallaert's earliest professional comic strip was 'Ridder Digest' (1981-1982), a humorous feature for Knack magazine about a medieval knight. His name is a pun on the magazine Reader's Digest and the Dutch word for knight: "ridder". The series was strongly inspired by the classic Dutch newspaper comic 'De Avonturen van Pa Pinkelman' by Godfried Bomans and Carol Voges, following similar nonsensical narratives, peppered with ironic comedy. Just like 'Pa Pinkelman', 'Ridder Digest' was also presented in the traditional text comic format, with text captions underneath the images. Most 'Ridder Digest' episodes were short stories, but at the request of Knack's chief-editor Karel Anthierens, Stallaert also made one longer story, 'De Strijd van Nimbostratus'. In 1990, the series was also printed by publisher Averbode in the children's magazine Vlaamse Filmpjes, under the title 'Ridder Parsiflagie en de Diefstal van de Vierkante Tafel'. The scriptwriter was credited as Archibald Clumzy, a pseudonym for Patrick Bernauw. Stallaert was also assisted by his wife, Vera Claus, who typed out the texts. In 1983, Brabantia Nostra released one 'Ridder Digest' comic album as part 32 in their CISO series. In 2005, the episode 'De Strijd van Nimbostratus' was published in book format by Ambras. 

Waspman by Dirk Stallaert
'Waspman'.

Comics in the early 1980s
After 'Ridder Digest', Dirk Stallaert began working for a variety of other magazines, while also offering his services to other cartoonists. Early that decade, he applied for a job at the leading Flemish comic studio, Studio (Willy) Vandersteen, but was rejected. From 1982 to 1992, Stallaert helped Jean-Pol with the artwork of the adventure series 'Kramikske', about a baker's assistant. When in 1982 the journalistic "enfant terrible" Johan Anthierens founded his own satirical magazine De Zwijger, Stallaert contributed about 20 strips of the American superhero spoof 'Waspman' (1983). His mid-1980s comic 'Dionies d'Oldenboom' (1985) was a parody of educational comics. The storyline pitches an absurdly good character, Dionies, against an absurdly evil antagonist, Salami Segers (whose name was a pun on Flemish singer Salim Seghers). One story - 'De Gevallen Baron' (1985) - was published in book format by Clumzy, with a foreword by Marc Sleen. A second episode was never completed. A one-shot comic by Stallaert, 'De Knetterdolle Duivenkeet' (1985-1987), appeared in a pigeon-fancier magazine. In 2003, it was collected in a limited edition comic book by Ambras.


'De Strangers'.

Celebrity comics
In 1984, Stallaert and Patrick Vermeir considered making a celebrity comic about the popular Dutch comedian André van Duin, but this had already been done in the Netherlands by Fred Julsing (1975-1976). So instead, Stallaert and Vermeir settled on the Antwerp comedy band De Strangers, who were specialized in parody songs. Stallaert only met with one of the band members, John De Wilde, who visited him at home to discuss the proposed comic. When De Wilde greenlighted the project, 'De Strangers' (1985) was serialized in the newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen. One scene, in which a nude woman is seen in a bathroom holding her hands in front of her breasts, had to be censored. The editors took offense because they were a "Catholic newspaper", even though, as Stallaert later recalled, there was no actual nudity. One book collection of 'De Strangers', 'De Dageraad' (1987), was published by De Dageraad. In 1991, Stallaert drew another celebrity comic for the weekly Dag Allemaal, this time based on Flemish singer Eddy Wally. The story was titled 'De Turbokoeien'. 

In 2019, Stallaert was hired by Standaard Uitgeverij as the artist of a new celebrity comic series about the Flemish pop group K3, for which Bruno De Roover serves as scriptwriter. Since the line-up of the band changes every few years, this was already the third comic book series devoted to the group. Its first line-up starred in 17 albums published by De Stripuitgeverij/Ballon Media between 2002 and 2008, with Jan Ruysbergh as scriptwriter and Patriek Roelens as lead artist. A short-lived revival occurred in 2009-2010, when Ruysbergh made two albums about K3's second line-up with Charel Cambré and Pol Vierset as artists.

Kitty by Dirk Stallaert
'De Avonturen van Kitty' - 'Het Plan Carton'.

Kitty
After 'De Strangers', Stallaert and Patrick Vermeir continued their collaboration with the adventure comic, 'Kitty' (1986-1991). It follows the adventures of a young pig-tailed girl, Kitty, and her robot friend Chips. Eleven stories were made, the majority serialized in De Gazet van Antwerpen. Stallaert's inker for the final two stories was Geert van Asbrouck. Between 1995 and 2021, Brabant Strip published all 'Kitty' stories in book format. 

Nino
In 1989, Stallaert teamed up with Hec Leemans to launch the humorous adventure series 'Nino' (1989-1995), of which the first two stories were serialized in the magazines Kuifje (in Dutch) and Hello Bédé (in French). The third episode was prepublished in Suske en Wiske Weekblad. The books were released in Dutch and French by Le Lombard. Set in the United States during the 1930s, the series revolves around a young orphan boy named Nino. In his first adventure, 'De Reis naar New York' ("The Journey to New York"), Nino escapes to New York City as a stowaway on an ocean liner. There, he befriends a young woman, Claudia del Ponte Vecchio, who takes pity on him and brings him food. She is sent to the USA by her rich uncle to marry the dislikeable Italian-American businessman Ennio Macaroni, who later turns out to be a maffia boss. Another ally Nino enounters is the eye-patched secret agent Leclerc, who helps him get an official passport. In the second story, 'De Prinses van Manhattan ("The Princess of Manhattan"), the young immigrant meets Scottish taxi driver McCab, a grouchy, short-tempered and impulsive man, who nevertheless strikes a strong friendship with Nino. To Nino, Claudia and McCab become parental figures, with Leclerc being a third reliable help in problematic situations. As the series progressed, the pompous mobster Ennio Macaroni acts as the recurring villain. 


Nino - 'De Prinses van Manhattan'.

'Nino' enabled Stallaert to show off all his graphic abilities. He created believable personalities with expressive emotional outbursts. The artwork evokes the Great Depression era magnificently, from the skyscrapers in Manhattan to the cotton fields of the Deep South. Stallaert applied a rich and detailed "Clear Line" style, reminiscent of the 1930s 'Tintin' stories by Hergé. In their stories, Leemans and Stallaert also included references to real-life events and personalities of that time period, such as Al Capone, Cab Calloway and Laurel & Hardy. 

'Nino' turned out to be Stallaert's breakthrough series. The comics enjoyed decent sales and critical praise. They were translated in French, Portuguese and Turkish. In the French-language press, 'Nino' received raving reviews. Nevertheless, only three albums were released. Because he used a lot of research to get every graphic detail right, Stallaert could only complete one album every year. Once Stallaert became preoccupied with assisting Marc Sleen on his comic series 'Nero' in 1992, it became even more difficult to work on new stories and he decided to quit 'Nino'. Scriptwriter Leemans later declared regret, especially since he had a new story in mind. But by 1997, Leemans himself was too busy with other projects, leaving the fourth 'Nino' story unfinished. 

Nino - De Grote Draak by Dirk Stallaert
Nino - 'De Grote Draak'.

Nero 
Stallaert gained even more media attention when he joined Marc Sleen in the production of the newspaper comic 'Nero' (1947-2002). In 1992, Sleen - almost seventy years old at the time - put an ad in the papers to look for a possible successor. For more than 45 years, he had drawn every daily episode with hardly any assistance, a feat that landed him in the Guinness Book of Records. During the 1960s and 1970s, Sleen had worked with assistants like Hurey and Jean-Pol, but they had little participation in the daily 'Nero' episodes and worked mostly on Sleen's other projects. In 1988, Sleen tried his luck with Francis Bertrand as a background artist for 'Nero', but their styles clashed much, ending their collaboration after only six months. So for decades, Sleen kept drawing 'Nero' mostly on his own. But nearing 70, Sleen's eyes became too weak, so he could either quit or find an assistant after all. At first, the applications offered no suitable candidate. Stallaert sent in artwork too, but missed the deadline. Even though his submission arrived in Sleen's mailbox a week later, the Flemish comic legend was so impressed that he instantly hired Stallaert. Starting with the 1992 episode 'Barbarijse Vijgen', Stallaert drew all new 'Nero' stories until the end of the series. 


Nero - 'De Duivelsklauw'.

Previous Sleen assistants were always ghost artists, with their names deliberately kept out of the press. But now, Sleen gave Stallaert both credits and a lot of media attention, praising his skills in every interview. The productive comic veteran didn't even mind that 'Nero' underwent a notable art shift under Stallaert's tenure. Sleen himself had always used a loose, caricatural style. Since he worked alone and had to reach his daily deadlines, he avoided technically complicated or detailed drawings. Continuity errors, sketchy backgrounds or occasional off-model drawings were so common in his work that fans accepted them as part of the comic's charm. However, Stallaert put far more time and effort in every panel. Characters received anatomically correct proportions. Background drawings were fully rendered, down to the tiniest details. Stallaert pencilled intricate machinery, exotic animals, celebrity caricatures and atmospheric backgrounds. Some of his most notable work was visualizing London in 'De Kroon van Elisabeth' (1993) and 'De Kolbak van How' (1994) and the Taj Mahal in 'Het Achtste Wereldwonder' (1996). He also filled his panels with more dynamic points-of-view, close-ups and versatile lay-outs. 'Nero' purists complained, but Sleen always defended his assistant against critics. He proudly claimed that 'Nero' never looked better and encouraged him to continue "upgrading" the artwork. Whenever documentation was needed for a story, Sleen offered pictures from books or magazine cut-outs for Stallaert to copy. At one point he even declared his co-worker "the son he never had". 


'Bompanero'.

Since 'Nero' was such a nonsensical comic, full of wacky gags and zany situations, Stallaert had fun visualizing word play and exaggerating absurd, cartoony moments. Stallaert also designed a new cast member, the no-nonsense police officer Gaston. The character shared his looks - particularly his moustache and large belly - with an earlier policeman creation from Sleen's gag comic 'De Lustige Kapoentjes', called "De Champetter". However, De Champetter was an easily fooled idiot, while Gaston is far more competent. Granted, Gaston often loses himself in "doing everything by the book", but  never loses his cool and arrests criminals when he's done with the necessary paperwork. Stallaert infamously added dozens of silly and intricate objects on Gaston's police belt. 

To "go along with the times", Sleen also allowed Stallaert to add more attractively-drawn women and occasional gratuitous nudity. Still, the series had to remain family friendly, since it ran in widely circulating newspapers like De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad. One scene in 'De Kolbak van How' (1993-1994) had several speech balloons censored. When Nero is held captive in a pit by the demon Geeraard de Duivel, one of his sexy demonesses offers to get them out, on the condition that he "will commit a sin". Nero promises this, but his thought balloon reads: "Are you crazy, floozy?" The demoness is then pulled in the pit, because she was stupid enough to tie Nero's rope around her body. Nevertheless she still asks: "How about it, are we going to do it?" When the story was serialized in De Standaard, these sexually tainted dialogues were airbrushed away from the speech balloons. They didn't make it in the album version either. Only the dialogue directly related to being pulled out of the pit was kept. 


Nero - 'De Kroon van Elizabeth', featuring a guest role by queen Elizabeth II. 

Stallaert also sparked Sleen's imagination. When he told him about 'Blues Brothers 2000' (1998) - a sequel to the 1980 cult movie 'The Blues Brothers' - Sleen was fascinated with the main characters. He was completely unaware of the duo's origins in a Saturday Night Live sketch, but felt they looked like perfect villains for a new 'Nero' story. So for 'De Blauwe Broertjes' (1998), Stallaert modelled the looks of a gangster duo after Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman's appearance in 'Blues Brothers 2000'.

Now Sleen's official successor, Stallaert also created new promotional artwork or other publicity drawings with Sleen's characters. He was responsible for the design of three murals dedicated to 'Nero', inaugurated in Brussels (1995, at the Place Saint-Géry/ Sint-Goriksplein), Antwerp (2014, in the Kloosterstraat) and Middelkerke (2017, in the Watervlietstraat). In 2001 Stallaert also made a contribution to the comic album 'Het Geheim van de Kousenband' (2001), a cross-over adventure starring Nero and several other Belgian comic characters, including Merho's 'De Kiekeboes', Hec Leemans' 'F.C. De Kampioenen', Karel Biddeloo's 'De Rode Ridder', Marc Legendre's 'Biebel', Paul Geerts' 'Suske en Wiske' and Urbanus and Willy Linthout's 'Urbanus'. Stallaert also drew a two-page 'Nero' story for Merho's one-shot album 'Bij Fanny op Schoot' (2005), in which Fanny Kiekeboe interviews comic characters from different franchises. Whenever old albums by Sleen were re-released, Stallaert also made new cover illustrations.

However, Stallaert also experienced Sleen as a demanding taskmaster. Since 'Nero' was such a personal work, it was difficult to come up with stories that satisfied Sleen's standards. Other than that, the newspaper De Standaard informed Sleen in 1997 that they considered to drop 'Nero', because the comic no longer enjoyed the sales of its heydays. Sleen was devastated, also because he felt responsible for Stallaert's career. Thanks to a massive petition organized by author Yves Kerremans, 'Nero' was allowed to continue. By 2002, Dirk Stallaert was drawing 'Nero' for a full decade. In that timespan, he had co-created 42 albums of the 216 'Nero' stories in total. But now Sleen himself announced he would retire his signature series after a 55-year uninterrupted run. The final 'Nero' story, 'Zilveren Tranen' ("Silver Tears"), ran in the paper until 31 December 2002. Fittingly the end of the year, but also coinciding with Sleen's 80th birthday. 

The end of the 'Nero' series was big news in the Dutch-language press. Tributes poured in and several journalists devoted articles to this proverbial "end of an era". In some articles it was incorrectly suggested that Stallaert had quit the series, forcing Sleen to terminate his beloved comic. In reality, Stallaert wanted to continue, but it was Sleen who couldn't find the energy to write new scripts. So unlike what is sometimes believed, there was no ill blood between the Flemish comic grandmaster and his assistant. In subsequent years, Stallaert still remained the official artist for artwork related to Sleen's comics. He provided promotional artwork for reprint editions and the Marc Sleen Museum in Brussels, while also taking care of special illustrations and graphic contributions. 

Suske en Wiske - De Zappende Ziel
'De Zappende Ziel'.

De Kiekeboes
When in 2002 Nero held his final waffle feast in the papers, Standaard Uitgeverij offered Stallaert the choice of either becoming an assistant on Merho's 'De Kiekeboes' or Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', two of Belgium's most popular comic series. He preferred the latter, but at the time Marc Verhaegen was the lead artist on 'Suske en Wiske', and vetoed the idea. So from 2003 to 2006, Stallaert joined Merho in the production of 'The Kiekeboes', kicking off with the episode 'Mona, de Musical' (2003) and collaborating on twelve subsequent albums. While he did a fine job imitating Merho's style, some secondary characters still looked notably different. Merho didn't mind, but Stallaert experienced difficulties getting the feature's style in his fingers. Since 'De Kiekeboes' debuted when he was already an adult, he was less familiar with the series.

Suske en Wiske
By 2005, 'Suske en Wiske' had Luc Morjaeu as the new lead artist, and he was more receptive of Stallaert joining Studio Vandersteen. One of his first jobs in the studio was drawing new installments of 'De Grappen van Lambik', a 2005 reboot of the 1954-1963 spin-off gag series with the comic's main comic relief character. Between 2007 and 2011, Stallaert worked with scriptwriter Peter van Gucht and the rest of the team on the special short 'Suske en Wiske' serials for the weekly Dutch TV guide magazine Troskompas. Stallaert was also lead artist on a couple of albums in the regular series, such as 'De Watersater' (2010) and 'De Zappende Ziel' (2011), both with background art by Peter Quirijnen. He additionally drew the special 'Suske en Wiske' album 'De Laaiende Linies' (2011), a joint production of Standaard Uitgeverij and the provinces West Flanders, East Flanders and Zeeland about the Eighty Years' War. In 2020, scriptwriter François Corteggiani and Dirk Stallaert completed 'De Sonometer', an old unfinished 'Suske en Wiske' script by Willy Vandersteen. It was originally developed in 1959 for Tintin magazine, but never completed beyond eight sketched out pages. Stallaert tried to mimick Vandersteen's graphic style from that particular period as close as possible. From 29 August 2020 on, 'De Sonometer' was serialized in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. The album was released in November of that year.

Pakkeman en Poulet by Dirk Stallaert
Pakkeman & Poulet solve a case in the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels.

Pakkeman & Poulet
In addition to doing studio work, Dirk Stallaert also began new collaborations for more personal comic creations. To help him with his production, he began working with assistants too, most notably the inkers Jeroen Bullaert and Jos Vanspauwen. In 2002, he worked with scriptwriter Erik Meynen on two short comic stories for UNIZO, the Flemish "Union of Self-Employed Entrepreneurs": 'De Mysterieuze Klant' (2002) and 'De Neuzen van Sniezo' (2003). When asked by newspaper De Standaard to make a comic strip about typical Belgian phenomena in the essay 'België Blootgelegd' ('Belgium Exposed', 2002), Meynen and Stallaert contributed 'De Laatste Friet', about the French fries store of Jan Spier, a well-known character from the 'Nero' series. The section was collected in book format in the following year. The two detectives that starred in this strip proved such fun characters, that from May 2006 until December 2010, they were the stars in a monthly riddle comic, published in the bilingual civil servant magazine Fedra. While the duo was originally called 'Pakkeman & Trouveur' (as a pun on the Flemish singing couple Schatteman & Couvreur), their names were changed to 'Pakkeman & Poulet' (as "poulet" is French slang for cop). The comic featured hidden cameos of comic artists (such as Willy Vandersteen and Morris), while one episode was even created completely in Vandersteen's style. For the November 2016 issue of Brabant Strip Magazine, Pakkeman and Poulet teamed up with Detective Van Zwam from Marc Sleen's 'Nero' comic. 

Mieleke Melleke Mol by Dirk Stallaert
'Mieleke Melleke Mol' #4 (Standaard, 2007).

Mieleke Melleke Mol 
In 2004, Stallaert began a regular collaboration with the Flemish comedian Urbanus. Since his nonsensical humor style is largely inspired by Sleen's comics, Stallaert was the perfect man to illustrate Urbanus's crazy comic scripts. Together, they developed two children's gag comics, 'Mieleke Melleke Mol' (2005-2020) and 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' (2004-2012), both published by Standaard Uitgeverij. 'Mieleke Melleke Mol' aims at beginning readers. Its title refers to the slogan of the Melkbrigade ("Milk Brigade"), a 1960s media campaign to motivate children to drink more milk: "Milke Melke Mol! Karwitsel Karditsel Kardol". In the comic, the names refer to the three main characters. Mieleke is a little boy, Melleke a little girl and Mol a cute mole who performs funny background comedy. The children and their pet live with their aunt, Tante Tulp. To coincide with her name, she always carries a tullip in a flower pot on her behind. The bushy hair of her husband, Nonkel Nest, is a literal bird's nest. The kids often play the boy Wiebeke Weerborstel, the girl Belleke and baby Tut. Their nemeses are the bad boys Polle Poep and De Klakke, who nevertheless often get a taste of their own medicine. Like in many classic Belgian gag comics, there is also a police officer, Agent Toffentip. All gags have easy-to-read dialogues and feature charming - if somewhat unusual - punchlines.

Plankgas en Plastronneke
'Plankgas & Plastronneke'.

Plankgas & Plastronneke
Urbanus and Stallaert's other creation, 'Plankgas en Plastronneke', aims at older children and features more absurd and naughty comedy. Plankgas is a tall, buck-toothed boy with a red quiff and an artificial leg, while Plastronneke is a short, chubby, bespectacled and asthmatic kid with a large tie ("plastron" is a Flemish corruption of the French word "plastron" for tie). Plastronneke can be seen as a self-caricature of Urbanus, who also suffered from asthma as a child. The series owes its spirit to classic Belgian children's gag comics like Hergé's 'Quick en Flupke', Willy Vandersteen's 'De Vrolijke Bengels' and Marc Sleen's 'Piet Fluwijn en Bolleke' and 'De Lustige Kapoentjes'. Just like these predecessors, all action take place in a quiet Flemish village where bratty children interact with a meddling police officer. But 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' has a far wilder and more surreal tone, with lots of black comedy. While Plankgas en Plastronneke themselves are already quite odd characters, their friends are equally eccentric. There's the constantly sad-eyed Renaat, the spikey-haired bully Steve Stoemp (inspired by Franquin's 'Spirou' character Pinnekeshaar), the dreadlocked Arabian Rashid, the goofy C.M. who wears a mustard pot on his head and the toddler Stanislas whose spirit is possessed by the Devil. Other bizarre villagers are the mean police officer Winston, the sassy black policewoman Black Pudding and an unnamed bushy-haired mayor and a preachy Roman Catholic priest.

On 19 June 2004, 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' made their first appearance in the Saturday supplement XL of the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. 'Mieleke Melleke Mol' strips were prepublished in the kids magazine of Pizza Hut. Starting in 2005, 'Mieleke Melleke Mol' and 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' appeared in separate book series by Standaard Uitgeverij. To give both series a publicity boost they were featured in the 2009 children's show 'Urbanus Vertelt' (2009) on the Flemish commercial TV channel VTM, in which Urbanus read gags from the comics to young viewers. The show was intercut with music videos promoting the characters. Tying in with the TV series, the new albums had the author Urbanus more prominently on the cover, and contained episodes of both series under the collective banner 'Urbanus Vertelt'. From the seventh album on, the two features were split up again, with each volume devoted to either 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' or 'Mieleke Melleke Mol', but still under the title 'Urbanus Vertelt'.

Mieleke Melleke Mol by Dirk Stallaert

Other collaborations with Urbanus
In 2012, Urbanus also asked Dirk Stallaert to become the new artist of his satirical comic series 'De Geverniste Vernepelingskes', after his original artist Jan Bosschaert quit after 14 years. Stallaert felt that working in the same graphic style he used for 'Mieleke, Melleke Mol' and 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' didn't suit 'De Geverniste Vernepelingskes'. He tried out working in a different style, but still couldn't find his niche. So after only one episode, he passed the pencil to Steven Dupré. In 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dutch music festival Pinkpop, Urbanus wrote the exclusive comic book 'Urbanus en de Pink Penarie Pop' (2019), in which he visits the festival. Stallaert illustrated the story. The comic book could be purchased through the Pinkpop website. 


Cover illustrations by Dirk Stallaert.

Designing reprints
Since the 2000s, Stallaert has been a productive designer of new logos and covers for reprint collection of classic Flemish comics, released by small imprints like Brabant Strip and Adhemar. First and foremost, Stallaert livened up reprints of classic series by Marc Sleen, such as 'De Lustige Kapoentjes', 'Oktaaf Keunink' and 'Piet Fluwijn en Bolleke'. Working with Willy Vandersteen's large oeuvre, he designed covers for reprints of Vandersteen's realistically drawn one-shot stories, such as 'Ridder Gloriant', 'Lancelot', 'William Tell', 'De Weerwolf', 'Het Gouden Masker', 'Het Rode Masker', 'De Jonge Brigand', 'Tussen Water en Vuur', 'Het Verzonken Rijk', 'Het Veenspook', 'De Heldentocht der Bataven', 'De Blauwe Kreeft', 'De Staalblauwe Boeddha', 'De Eerste Maanraket' and 'Marscommando's op Aarde'. He did the same for more humorous series by Vandersteen, such as 'De Familie Snoek', 'Pats (also known as 'Tits'), 'Simbat de Zeerover',  'Tori de Holbewoner', 'Bill and Max', 'Floche en Flache', 'Poppy en Maggy' and 'Tanjar de Viking'. Stallaert has additionally created new covers for Bob de Moor's 'Snoe en Snolleke', Eugeen Decamps' 'Op Maanonderzoek', Rik Clément's 'Dees Dubbel', Gray Croucher's 'Tijl en Lamme', Bob Mau's 'Kari Lente' and Pink's 'Flipke en de Rakkers' and 'Pluk en de Valsemunters'. 

In 2017, Stallaert redrew an entire rare 'Nero' story, which had never seen an official book collection before, except for a 1979 one-time special issue of the Dutch comic magazine Stripschrift. The original comic strip, 'De Avonturen van Nero en Co' (AKA 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia') was created in 1965 when Sleen moved from the newspaper Het Volk to De Standaard, where Willy Vandersteen's series were published. However, Sleen was still under contract with Het Volk and not allowed to work for the competition for three more months. But De Standaard expected a story of their newly acquired 'Nero' feature in their paper too. To help Sleen out, Willy Vandersteen and his assistant  Eduard De Rop made their own 'Nero' story for De Standaard by tracing and cut-and-pasting images from older 'Nero' albums. The plot was written by Gaston Durnez. After only five episodes, Het Volk got wind of the trick and sued. Therefore, the "fake Nero" feature suddenly had to be reworked to make Sleen's characters unrecognizable, so from then on, Nero was wearing a black bag over his head. Halfway the story, Het Volk dropped their case and the story was allowed to continue with Sleen's original style intact. Because of legal issues, this unique collage comic remains unavailable, but in 2017, Stallaert made a completely redrawn version in Sleen's style for a new release by Peter Bonte.


Self-portrait for the cover of Stripschrift #401 (2009), featuring several of his characters.

Graphic contributions
In 2010, Stallaert was one of many artists who contributed to the album 'Jommekes Bij De Vleet' (2010), that paid homage to Jef Nys. The same year, he and many other artists also drew a page for 'Kroepie en Boelie Boemboem. Avontuur in de 21e eeuw' (2010) by Tom Bouden, a tribute to Pom's 'Piet Pienter and Bert Bibber'. This was followed by a contribution to another collective homage to Pom, 'Op het Spoor van Pom' (2011). Naturally, he was also present in the Marc Sleen tribute releases 'Marc Sleen. Een uitgave van de Bronzen Adhemar Stichting' (1993), 'Marc Sleen 80. De Enige Echte' (2002) and 'Marc Sleen 90. Liber Amicorum' (2012). On 28 December 2010, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of  Kim Duchateau's character Esther Verkest, P-Magazine released a special issue with graphic tributes by various artists, including Dirk Stallaert. He was also one of several artists to make a comic strip for the booklet 'Building Bridges in Europe' (2012), published by the European Association of National Builders' Merchants Associations and Manufacturers (UFEMAT). In 2014, he also participated in 'Pierke Zegget Zuu' (2014), a collective comic about the folklore character Pierke Pierlala, published by the Ghent comic store Pierke. Stallaert also designed the cover of Danny De Laet's 'Het Ware Verhaal van Robert & Bertrand: De Parasitaire Kringloop, of Vagebonden in Vlaamse Letteren' (Poespa Productions, 2022), a book about the 19th-century literary characters Robert en Bertrand. 

Recognition
In 1995, Stallaert received the Bronzen Adhemar, the most prestigious Flemish comics prize. In 2006, he received the Gouden Potlood ("Golden Pencil") during the annual Comics Festival of Middelkerke and in 2015 he was the first recipient of the Sabam Award for comics. 

Legacy
Dirk Stallaert remains a comic artist who is much in demand. Thanks to his impressive resumé, he can choose which assignments he wants do do. He, for instance, refused offers to continue classic series like 'Blake and Mortimer' (originally created by Edgar P. Jacobs) and 'Sammy' (originally created by Berck and Cauvin). Several of Stallaert's earliest comics have been collected in the book 'De Knetterdolle Duivenkeet' (Ambras, 2003). Stallaert's brother, Bart Stallaert, is also active as a graphic artist and gives workshops drawing comics and cartoons.


Dirk Stallaert in 2009 (Photo by Michel Nadorp).

www.dirkstallaert.be

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