Vertongen & Co #18 - 'De Spoken Van De Doedelzak'.

Wim Swerts and Luc Van Asten are best known as the artist and colorist of various Flemish comics based on media celebrities and children's TV shows. Working under the "Swerts & Vanas" banner, they have their own studio, Lighthouse Productions. The duo gained their initial fame with comics, children's books and merchandising art related to children's TV series by Studio 100: 'Samson & Gert' (1993-2005), 'Kabouter Plop' (2000-2004) and 'Piet Piraat' (2002-2012), mostly in collaboration with Jean-Pol. They also made comic series based on the teen sitcoms 'W817' (2003-2011) and 'En Daarmee Basta!' (2006-2009), as well as one based on Belgian tennis champion Kim Clijsters (2004). Since 2011, they work with scriptwriter Hec Leemans on 'Vertongen & Co', a spin-off of Leemans' celebrity comic based on the TV show 'F.C. De Kampioenen'. A more personal comic created by Swerts and Vanas was 'Ambionix' (2000), made in commission of the regional newspaper Het Belang van Limburg.

Wim Swerts - early life and career
Wim Swerts was born in 1966 in Tongeren into an artistic family. His father was a justice of the peace, who directed plays, wrote and painted in his spare time. His brother Piet later became a celebrated classical musician. Other family members like his aunt and father's cousin were teachers at the Sint-Lukas Art Institute. Swerts grew up reading familiar Flemish comic series, such as Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', Jef Nys' 'Jommeke' and Marc Sleen's 'Nero', but also underwent influence from André Franquin and Albert Uderzo. His original goal was to become a fine artist, inspired by a friend of his father, the surrealist painter Jef Thewissen. Between 1984 and 1990, he was a student at the Provincial Higher Art Institute (Provinciaal Hoger Instituut voor Kunstonderwijs) of Hasselt, initially studying Printmaking. Because of health issues, it was unwise for Swerts to keep working with aggressive substances related to etching and silkscreen printing, so he switched focus to illustrations and comics. As a student, he enjoyed drawing caricatures in the local Tongeren bar, De Pelgrim. In 1989, his first professional assignment was illustrating a history schoolbook for the educational series 'Cultura'.


Danny Verbiest, Wim Swerts, Samson and Gert Verhulst, portrayed on the back of the first 'Samson' holiday book in 1990.

Near the end of his studies, Swerts wrote his thesis about comics. In 'Strip van de Sluier', he interviewed industry professionals, including editor and translator Erwin Cavens. Cavens advised him to visit Jean-Pol, a productive comic artist from the Leuven region. Swerts and Jean-Pol first met in 1989, at a gathering of the Flemish Independent Comics Guild. It was a lucrative day for the young Swerts, because not only Jean-Pol wanted to hire him as an assistant for his 'Kramikske' strip, but Merho showed interest too in recruiting him for 'Kiekeboe'. Swerts eventually chose Jean-Pol, because of their stylistic similarities. It never came to an actual collaboration, though. When Jean-Pol was asked by TV producer Danny Verbiest to make a holiday book related to the new children's TV show 'Samson & Gert', he directed him to his young assistant. The inexperienced cartoonist instantly got the job, but had to come up with a dummy for the entire book within one day! To get this nightwork done, he called in the help of his old university friend Luc Van Asten. It was the start of a fruitful and enduring collaboration.

Luc Van Asten
Wim Swerts and Luc Van Asten shared an interest in comics, and instantly hit it off when they met at the Art Institute. Born in 1964, Van Asten spent his childhood in As, a town in the Belgian province of Limburg. Both his name and hometown are reflected in his pen name, Vanas ("From As"). Like Swerts, he enrolled at the Provincial Higher Art Institute, studying Printmaking. In the evenings, he took courses in Applied Arts, Photography and Advertising at the Hasselt Art Academy. By 1989, he dropped out of school to work at an advertising firm. He was still working there, when he started with Wim Swerts on all the artwork related to the 'Samson & Gert' TV series. Vanas' main task was taking care of the coloring. By 1995, he was the first in Flanders to develop digital coloring techniques. Until then, Studio Leonardo in Charleroi had the monopoly in the French-speaking part of Belgium.


Samson & Gert #19 - 'Roboctaaf'.

Samson & Gert
On 2 September 1990, the first episode of 'Samson & Gert' aired on the Flemish public TV channel BRT (nowadays VRT). It starred a human named Gert (played by Gert Verhulst) and his talking bobtail Samson (puppeteered and voiced by Danny Verbiest). The simple, formulaic storylines and heavy reliance on catchphrases made the series an instant hit. Showrunners Verbiest, Verhulst and Hans Bourlon quickly turned 'Samson & Gert' into a colossal media franchise with toys, clothing, CD's, Christmas shows and other merchandise flooding the market. Swerts and Vanas provided most of the artwork for these products from the start, beginning with the previously mentioned holiday book.

At the suggestion of Jean-Pol, a comic book series with the characters was launched in 1993. Jean-Pol wrote the scripts in cooperation with the TV production team, made the preliminary sketches and inked the main characters. Swerts then did the finished art, while Van Asten and his wife provided the digital coloring. After a while, Jean-Pol concentrated on the scripts, with Swerts and Vanas taking care of all the art duties. Although Swerts and Vanas had drawn Samson and Gert on official merchandising since 1990, the characters were drastically remodelled. Jean-Pol wanted to avoid caricatures of the actors, so that the comics could be enjoyed by children unfamiliar with the TV show and be suitable for international licensing. A more dynamic redesign also worked better in action scenes. In the show, Samson was a plain hand puppet. For the comics, Swerts and Jean-Pol redesigned the dog into a slender, appealing character with paws and different facial expressions. Since the dog always mispronounces words, there was the danger that young readers would pick up these mistakes. To prevent this, Samson's verbal mistakes were printed in bold letters. The TV show also had several off-screen characters, who were only mentioned in dialogue, including farmer Teun, fries salesman Fred Kroket and cleaning lady Marie. In the comics, these characters did appear onscreen to interact with the cast. Mr. Van Leemhuyzen and Frieda Kroket on the other hand appeared in the comics first, before they were introduced in the TV series. As a result, their TV appearances were modelled after Swerts and Jean-Pol's designs from the comics.

Between 1993 and 2005, 33 'Samson & Gert' albums were made. Originally, they contained short stories, set in the characters' hometown, just like in the TV show. As the comic book series progressed, the characters had adventures outside of their house and village too, something the TV budgets never allowed. The final installment, 'De Schat van Edelstein' (2005), was the only album with one full-length adventure. The comic strip was serialized in the TV weekly Dag Allemaal. Because of its runaway success, reading books and a junior spin-off series about Samson as a puppy were launched too. On 2 March 1996, the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet launched the 'Samson & Gert Krant' ("Samson & Gert Paper"). This Saturday supplement featured gag comics with Samson and Gert (some in text comics format), as well as photo comics with stills from TV episodes, game and puzzle sections and coloring pages. These comics were drawn by Swerts, often with assistance from Mormic (joint pen name for Luc Morjaeu and Dirk Michiels). In 1996 'Samson and Gert' received a comics mural in Hasselt, but it was removed again in 2011.


Samson & Gert #29 - 'De Draak Van Drakenstein'.

Kabouter Plop
In 1996, Gert Verhulst, Danny Verbiest and Hans Bourlon organized all their children's shows and associated projects under a new company name: Studio 100. In October of the following year, Wim Swerts and Luc Van Asten officially joined forces and set up their own comics studio, Lighthouse Productions. The duo worked on Studio 100's official merchandising art and associated comics, in cooperation with Jean-Pol. The company's first new children's TV show was 'Kabouter Plop', launched in 1997 on commercial channel VTM. It starred a group of gnomes with animated bonnets. Again, the team of Jean-Pol, Swerts and Vanas provided a comics version. Between 1999 and 2004, four albums were published, based on the live-action 'Kabouter Plop' feature films. A direct result of Kabouter Plop's popularity was that the Samson & Gert Krant was first retitled to De Plopkrant (on 11 March 1998) and then to De Plopsakrant (19 July 2000). The latter became a more general magazine promoting all of Studio 100 children's shows, as well as the recently opened theme park Plopsaland in De Panne.

Piet Piraat
Other Studio 100 productions with artwork by Swerts and Vanas were 'Piet Piraat' (2001-2006) and 'Big & Betsy' (2000-2003). Launched in 2001, 'Piet Piraat' followed a pirate captain and his crew. Like all Studio 100 shows, it had a familiar formula, combined with musical and theatrical shows and associated merchandising. Between 2002 and 2012, Wim Swerts and Luc van Asten drew at least ten children's reading books and comics with the character. In addition to Swerts and Vanas, Studio 100 opened its own art studio in Schelle to take care of the increasing amount of artwork. Among the affiliated artists were Charel Cambré, Peter Quirijnen, Bruno De Roover, Thomas Du CajuMario Boon and Filip Heyninck.


'Ambionix en de Xinoibma'.

Ambionix
In addition to their Studio 100 work, Swerts and Vanas began working on other projects too. One assignment came in 2000 from the regional newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, and marked their first collaboration with Hec Leemans as scriptwriter. The newspaper desired a topical comic based on real-life Celtic chieftain Ambiorix. In the first century BC in what is now Belgium, Ambiorix was king of the Eburon tribe. He organized an uprising against the Romans, which was fierce enough to make Julius Caesar refer to the Belgae tribes as "the bravest of all Gauls". Although Caesar eventually surpressed the rebellion, Ambiorix was never caught, nor found. Since the 19th century, Ambiorix is celebrated as a national hero in Belgium. Swerts' hometown Tongeren has a Gallo-Roman museum, as well as a statue of Ambiorix on the market place. The historical figure also inspired several comic books, most notably 'Lambiorix' (1948) in Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' series and the 'Jommeke' story 'Het Geheim van Ambiorix' (1985) by Jef Nys.

The version by Swerts, Vanas and Leemans didn't star the real Ambiorix, but a clone, made by professor Kierewiet. Ambionix tries to adapt to 21st-century life, aided by Kierewiet's niece, Desiree, and her boyfriend Jaak. However, Ambionix doesn't doesn't understand modern times very well. While the comic aimed at children, several jokes were nods at current events. Politicians like Steve Stevaert and Willy Claes, as well as football trainer Johan Boskamp had cameos. Three stories were serialized in the newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, where this type of topical comedy and references to local news worked very well. Only two stories were published in book format by Concentra Media. The series came to an end due to a shift in the newspaper's editorial team.


W817 #10 - 'Een krot van een kot'.

W817
Even though the project was short-lived, 'Ambionix' associated Swerts and Vanas with Hec Leemans, the writer of most of their future comics. Many of these projects were celebrity comics based on popular TV series of personalities, published by Standaard Uitgeverij. The first was a comic book version of 'W817', a teenage sitcom about six students living together in a dormitory, which was a huge ratings hit on Belgian television between 1999 and 2003. The comedy appealed to children as much as adults watching over their shoulder. The actors made music videos and performed as a band too. Even after its discontinuation, old episodes of the show appeared in reruns on Ketnet. This paved the way for a comic series adaptation, drawn by Wim Swerts and Luc Van Asten. The original scriptwriter was Hec Leemans, who was allowed to create completely new stories for this print version. Tom Bouden assumed the writing duties in 2007. Launched in 2003, the 'W817' celebrity comic enjoyed remarkable longevity and survived the original TV series almost by a decade. Standaard Uitgeverij published 26 titles until 2011.


Kim #1 - 'De FatCup'.

En Daarmee Basta!
The successor of 'W817' on Belgian television was 'En Daarmee Basta!' ("That's enough!"), a sitcom about a patchwork family, which ran on Ketnet between 2005 and 2008. Just like with 'W817', Tom Bouden (script) and the Swerts & Vanas duo (art) turned the series into a celebrity comic. Between 2006 and 2009, Standaard Uitgeverij published 12 albums, but both the show and the comic never reached the same popularity as 'W817'. 'En Daarmee Basta!' eventually mimicked its own title and called it quits.

Kim
Another short-lived celebrity comic by Swerts & Vanas revolved around Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters. In the early 2000s, Clijsters achieved global fame by winning various international tournaments. In March 2004, Standaard Uitgeverij launched a celebrity comic strip, simply titled 'Kim'. The tennis player's dog Beauty was also turned into a prominent character. Again, Hec Leemans took care of the scriptwork, while Swerts and Vanas drew the stories. 'Kim' was serialized in the newspapers Het Belang van Limburg, Het Nieuwsblad and Het Volk, but didn't catch on and was terminated after only two albums.


Vertongen & Co #7 - 'De Bastaard van Benidorm'.

Vertongen & Co
Far more successful and enduring was Swerts & Vanas' next project, a spin-off to the popular 'F.C. De Kampioenen' comic, written and drawn by Hec Leemans. Since 1997, Leemans enjoyed tremendous success with his celebrity comic based on this family TV series about an unsuccessful local soccer club. In 2011, the spin-off 'Vertongen & Co' was launched, focusing on the show's comic relief character Marc Vertongen, his wife Bieke and their children Billy and Paulien. To keep the series in line with the main comic, Swerts had to adapt to Hec Leemans' drawing style. Leemans supervised the artwork and wrote the scripts, later in collaboration with François Corteggiani. The series proved the most enduring of Swerts and Vanas' career, with over thirty titles published by 2021.

Other activities
Between 1997 and 2001, Swerts provided artwork and lay-outs for BGQ, a fan club magazine celebrating the Australian pop band The Bee Gees. In 1998, he was commissioned to make a drawing of tour guide Erik Lamkin on a cave wall in Ternaaien-Beneden. In 2005, Swerts made a graphic contribution to 'Suske en Wiske 60 Jaar!' (2005), a book paying homage to Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' series. With Vanas, he also honored Pom in the collective comic books 'Kroepie en Boelie Boemboem. Avontuur in de 21ste Eeuw' (2010) - of which the profits went to the Children's Cancer Fund (Kinderkankerfonds) - and 'Op Het Spoor van Pom' (2011). In 2010, on the occasion of the 45th edition of the Virga Jesse celebrations in Hasselt, Swerts and Vanas drew the comic book 'Valentinus - 't Heilig Paterke' (2010), in commission of the Flemish Friars Minor. Together with scriptwriter Geert De Sutter, they turned the life and virtues of Father Valentinus Pacques into comics format.

Vlaamse Onafhankelijke Stripgilde
As a member of the Flemish Independent Comics Guild (Vlaamse Onafhankelijke Stripgilde), Wim Swerts has provided artwork and lay-outs for the guild's internal publications. He later joined its board and, between 2000 and 2003, served as its president. He was the initiator of the "Stripvos" ("Comics Fox"), an award given to people or organisations who have supported Flemish comics in special ways. The prize was awarded annually between 2002 until 2013, the first recipient being Marc Sleen.

Teachers
With Geert De Sutter, Swerts also runs the Comic Book Artist course at SYNTRA Hasselt, with De Sutter focusing on storytelling and Swerts on the technical aspects of (digital) drawing. Luc Van Asten in turn is specialized in the restoration of old paintings and polychromed objects, and affiliated as a teacher with the Anderlecht Art Academy of Fine Arts, the Pentagoon Academy Tongeren and SYNTRA Limburg in Tongeren.

't Paterke by Wim Swerts
Valentinus - ''t Heilig Paterke'.

Series and books by Swerts & Vanas in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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