Petit Spirou, by Tome
'La Jeunesse de Spirou' (1983), the short story which served as the inspiration for 'Le Petit Spirou'.

Tome was a prominent Belgian comic scriptwriter and former artist, and one half of the duo Tome & Janry. As the authors of 'Spirou et Fantasio' in the 1980s and 1990s, the duo innovated the title comic of Spirou magazine with captivating adventures set all over the world. Their tenure drew favorable comparisons with the comic's heyday when it was created by the popular André Franquin, while they also updated the stories with more edgy humor and science fiction elements, such as artificial intelligence, time travel and cloning. Their satirical streak and sense of parody resulted in the gag series 'Le Petit Spirou' (1987- ), a humorous and at times naughty look at the younger years of the otherwise infallible classic comic hero. In addition to his work with Janry, Tome is the creator of the critically praised action-filled crime comic 'Soda' (1986- ), which was drawn subsequently by Luc Warnant, Bruno Gazzotti and Dan Verlinden. He has also worked as a scriptwriter with Philippe Berthet ('Sur la Route de Selma', 1992 ), Christian Darasse ('Le Gang Mazda', 'Les Minou Kinis', 1993-1998), Ralph Meyer ('Berceuse Assassine', 1997-2002) and Marc Hardy ('Feux', 2005).

Early life and education
Born in 1957 in Brussels as Philippe Vandevelde, he had an unusual introduction to the comics medium. When he was eight he had to undergo an eye operation and was temporarily unable to see for a few days. During this period his mother read him two comic book stories: Hergé's 'Le Sceptre d'Ottokar' ('King Ottokar's Sceptre') and Paul Cuvelier and Greg's 'Corentin' story 'Le Poignard Magique' ('The Magical Poignard'). Despite having to visualize everything with his own imagination, his interest was sparked and as soon as he regained his sight, he became a fanatic reader of the magazines Tintin, Spirou and Pif Gadget. At the age of 13 he drew his first comic stories, inspired by Jean-Claude Poirier's 'Horace, le cheval de l'Ouest'. Two years later he saw his stories 'Gérard Meuvussa' (1972) and 'Estrel' (1973) published in Thierry Groensteen's fanzine Buck. His main influences within the comics realm are André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Greg and René Goscinny, and outside comics he draws inspiration from Woody Allen, Coen Brothers films and the British comedy group Monty Python. Vandevelde also studied journalism, visual communication and animation, but eventually returned to his original interest: comics. During his time at the Woluwe-Saint-Lambert School of Arts, he became good friends with fellow students Jean-Richard Geurts (Janry) and Stéphane de Becker (Stuf). The three men would work together throughout their future careers, but their first collaboration was an unpublished strip with a cowboy called 'Pétard Guy', whom they modelled after their teacher Guy Brasseur.

John Perill - Jeuréka, by Tome and Janry
Dutch version of 'Jeuréka', published in Robbedoes #2250 (1981), drawn by Tome & Janry.

Assistant for Dupa
Vandevelde fulfilled his military service and subsequently became the assistant of Dupa, the author of 'Cubitus' and 'Chlorophylle' in Tintin magazine. He initially replaced Geurts, who had been been Dupa's assistant since 1977 but was now drafted into the army. The two friends were reunited after a couple of months and together they worked on the backgrounds of Dupa's series between 1978 and 1980. The two additionally assisted Turk and Bob De Groot on 'Léonard', 'Robin Dubois' and 'Clifton'. Since Dupa was lending a helping hand to Michel Greg on his 'Achille Talon' comic, the two young artists joined in on this production as well. A career-defining moment for both Philippe Vandevelde and Jean-Richard Geurts happened in 1979, when they delivered Dupa's contribution to a collective anniversary story of Jean Roba's 'Boule et Bill' to the editorial offices of Spirou magazine. They presented their own work to chief editor Alain De Kuyssche, who liked it so much that he offered them the opportunity to work for his magazine. In November 1980 the duo launched a weekly puzzle comic in Spirou's back pages, titled 'Jeurêka', which ran in the magazine until late 1981. It starred explorer/detective John Perill. By then the artists had not yet settled on their "joint" pen names, and the feature was simply credited to "JR+PH". The mix of gag comic and puzzle feature was an early showcase of the author's humor and inventiveness. They arrived around the same time as another legendary duo, Yann and Conrad, who provided satirical and often controversial illustrations on the headers of Spirou's pages. While the latter two caused a revolution within the pages of the Catholic children's magazine, Tome and Janry had the most lasting impact and heralded in Spirou's modern age.

'La Voix sans Maître' (1981), by Tome & Janry.

Spirou & Fantasio
In 1981 they became one of the new artist teams on Spirou's title comic 'Spirou et Fantasio', using their joint pen name Tome and Janry. Janry got his pen name as a contraction of his first name, Jean-Richard. Vandevelde used to sign his childhood comics with "Tom". Adding an extra "e", he resumed this pen name, so the duo's joint signature would sound as a pun on Hanna-Barbera's famous cat and mouse Tom and Jerry. By 1980 Jean-Claude Fournier had been somewhat unceremoniously removed from the 'Spirou' comic. One of the reasons was a desired increase of story production, but the editors also had difficulties with the political tone in some of his stories. To establish a weekly presence of Spirou's title comic, the editors chose to split the production between separate author teams. Tome and Janry first exercised with a series of short stories. The first, 'La Voix sans Maître', was published in Spirou #2253 of 18 June 1981, months after they had created it! Longer stories were in the meantime created by Nic Broca and Raoul Cauvin, while Yves Chaland also drew a retro-style comic strip story in 1982.

Spirou et Fantasion by Tome & Janry
Spirou et Fantasio - 'Qui arrêtera Cyanure?'

Editorial politics
The young artists were caught in the middle of a power struggle between editor-in-chief Alain De Kuyssche and "conceptual director" José Dutillieu. De Kuyssche wanted Tome and Janry as lead artists, while Dutillieu preferred Nic Broca, his former assistant at the animation studio Belvision. Tome and Janry eventually took the plunge and demanded that publisher Charles Dupuis made a decision. Since both the readers' polls and heavyweight André Franquin were in favor of the young duo, they eventually got the job as the series' sole artists. Their take on the characters was very popular with readers, since it was strongly reminiscent of Franquin's stories of the 1950s and 1960s. Originally, scenario and artwork were a joint effort, but after a while, Janry became the artist while Tome focused on the scripts. In interviews, Tome has always stated that Janry was the better artist. He also still suffered from an eye condition, making it difficult for him to apply the drawing pen. The final story drawn by both men was 'Qui arrêtera Cyanure?' (album 35). The duo however decided to bring their entire production under the joint "Tome & Janry" byline to underline their close collaboration.

Spirou stories - 1980s
Tome and Janry's first serial, 'Virus!', commenced in issue #2305 of 1982. Twelve more followed until they left the comic in 1998. Their tenure marked the return of several popular side characters from the Franquin era, like villain John Héléna ('Virus!', 1982), the female reporter Seccotine ('Aventure en Australie', 1983), mad scientist Zorglub ('Le Réveil du Z', 1985) and Fantasio's evil nephew Zantafio ('Spirou à Moscou', 1990). The little town of Champignac with its colorful inhabitants was also a regular setting in their stories. This didn't make their stories a rehash of previous episodes, however. Tome and Janry delivered well-crafted sci-fi and adventure plots with high quality artwork. Their stories anticipated hot topics of the time, such as biotechnology ('Virus!'), cybernetics ('Qui arrêtera Cyanure?', 1983), time travel ('L'Horloger de la Comète', 1984), Italian mobsters ('Spirou à New York', 1987) and cloning ('Machine qui Rêve', 1998). While their predecessors took Spirou, Fantasio and their pet squirrel Spip to mostly fictional countries, Tome and Janry let them visit actual places like Antarctica, Australia, New York and the USSR. They even included witty satirical depictions and references to things these countries and nationalities are known for, much like René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo did in 'Astérix'. Their diptych about the ficional country Touboutt-Chan and its "Valley of Banishment" however stands out as one of their strongest efforts. The first part, 'La Frousse aux Trousses' (1988), follows our heroes on their expedition through the Touboutt-Chan war zone in search of two missing explorers. In 'La Vallée des Bannis' (1989), Spirou and Fantasio are trapped in the aforementioned mysterious valley. It is one of the most spiritual and character-driven stories in the entire series, in which Spirou and Fantasio have to depend on each other to survive. The story has a strong emphasis on its protagonists' long friendship and slumbering competition.

Spirou stories - 1990s
The 1990s brought more humor oriented stories like 'Vito-la-déveine' (1991) and 'Le Rayon Noir' (1992). Their final two stories for the main series presented a more mature and self-aware Spirou. 'Luna Fatale' (1995) toyed around with the lack of sexuality of the classic comic book hero. 'Machine qui Rêve' (1998) experimented with his immortality and infallibility. This final story was a true tour-de-force, with Janry dropping his comical drawing style in favor of a semi-realistic noir style in the tradition of Tome's other creation, the hard-boiled crime comic 'Soda'. Although the more realistic rendition of Spirou has been praised, it also caused controversy, not in the least because the hero is cloned, but also because it featured a more tormented Spirou instead of the free-spirited hero. This daring take on the character was endorsed by publisher Philippe Vandooren. His death in 2000 and Tome and Janry's departure from 'Spirou et Fantasio' make this album an oddball in the series. In hindsight the story is significant, because for the first time artists did something boldly different with a classic Belgian comic series. Throughout the next decades other classic Belgian comics franchises, like Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', 'Jerom' and 'De Rode Ridder', would also receive more modernized adult spin-off versions. In 2006, the 'Spirou' series got a spin-off series as well, with each album created by different authors in their own personal styles. Tome and Janry were succeeded on the main series by José-Luis Munuera and Jean-David Morvan between 2004 and 2006 and since 2010 by Yoann and Fabien Vehlmann.

Le Petit Spirou
Leaving the main series, Tome and Janry now had all the time to focus on their other project, the gag series 'Le Petit Spirou'. The origin of the childhood version of Spirou lay in a short story the duo made for the 45th anniversary of Spirou magazine, which was published in Spirou Album# 5 in 1983. In this story, the wise and all-knowing Oncle Paul (created by Jean-Michel Charlier and Eddy Paape in the 1950s), tells about the younger years of the famous bellboy. The young Spirou proved to be far less righteous than his adult incarnation. When the parody appeared in album format in 1987 it gained  popularity, resulting in a spin-off gag comic launched in the final issue of that year (#2594).

'Le Petit Spirou' features no characters from the main series, except Spirou himself. Some hints at his later-day adventures are given in some of the early gags, but these references were dropped when the series proved to be a mainstay and could continue on its own. Young Spirou lives with his parents and his grandfather, who are all dressed in the well-known bellboy uniforms. His main partners in crime are his best friend Antoine Vertignasse, the gluttonous Nicolas Ponchelot and his love interest Suzette. He is also very close to his grandfather, a World War I veteran with an equally playful and frivolous nature. Many gags are filled with sexual innuendo, especially when Spirou and their friends are peeping at their sexy math teacher, miss Claudia Chiffre. The main victims of their escapades are Mr. Mégot, the drinking and smoking gym teacher, and father Angelusse, the town's devout abbot. 'Le Petit Spirou' has an odd anachronistic atmosphere. Some elements are definitely old-fashioned, like the town abbott (complete with out-of-date costume) and Spirou's grandfather's World War I past. Yet for the most part the series is set in our modern age, with references to television, cell phones and video games. The first album was published by Dupuis in 1990, and each album consists traditionally of a short five-page story and a series of gags.

To keep up with their workload, Tome and Janry have received assistance from several co-workers over the years. The first of them was their old friend Stéphane De Becker, who became the colorist for all the duo's projects, starting with the 'Spirou' episode 'Le Réveil du Z' (1985), until his unfortunate death in 2015. With the launch of 'Le Petit Spirou', young artists were attracted to help drawing with the weekly gag page. The three friends set up shop in Tome's appartment in Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, where they were first joined by Bruno Gazzotti (in 1988), and then by Dan Verlinden (since 1993). Eric Closter, Yves Urbain, Adam and Ralph Meyer have also worked at Tome and Janry's atelier. With their own background as assistants in mind, Tome and Janry felt they should credit both Gazzotti and Verlinden for their contributions. When Verlinden has done the most work on a 'Petit Spirou' gag, his name is even the first one mentioned at the bottom of the page. The authors furthermore support their assistants in doing their own projects. For the young Gazzotti, this meant the chance of a lifetime...

While Tome had the important task of keeping the legacy of one of Europe's most famous comic heroes alive, he has embarked upon several other projects on the side. The first, and arguably the most important, is the noiresque crime comic 'Soda' (1985). Tome and Janry had toyed around with the idea of creating a comic series of their own, and Tome felt this should be situated in New York City. Janry however had enough work assuring a weekly presence of the title hero in Spirou magazine, so he backed out. Tome took an inspirational and fruitful trip to the city that never sleeps. He not only situated two stories of 'Spirou et Fantasio' there (in 1987 and 1995), but also came up with the concept of a new action-filled comic series, which was rooted in New York's busy crime scene. Instead of creating your average hero from the local police force, he gave Lieutenant David Ellioth Hanneth Solomon an extra dimension. Nicknamed Soda, the man is a moody and anti-authoritarian police officer with Scottish roots, for whom shoot-outs are a daily routine. But most of all, he shares an apartment with his elderly and widowed mother, a heart patient, who must never know of her son's dangerous job. To her, he is a devoted priest, who leaves the appartment every morning in his clerical clothing. During the elevator ride he however changes into a more casual outfit, although he carries out some investigations in his priest persona.

For the art duties, Tome began a collaboration with Luc Warnant. The first story 'Un Ange Trépasse' (1986) started in Spirou #2506 of 1986. The original outset and Warnant's dark and dynamic, yet comical drawings immediately attracted the reader's attention. If anything, 'Soda' was an example that the comics medium had matured. Ten years earlier, a two-fisted priest with a gun would have never reached the pages of the Catholic Spirou magazine. Instead of focusing on the events surrounding his hero, Tome crafted the stories around the melancholic title hero and his mysterious background. The second album, 'Lettres à Satan' (1987) was largely a flashback at the horrible events which motivated Soda to become a cop. We are however yet to discover why our hero has only three fingers on his gloved left hand?

In 1987 and 1988 Dupuis released the first two books of the 'Soda' album series, which is characterized by a sober cover lay-out with red-and-white color scheme. The instant success however put a weight on the author's shoulders. Eleven pages into the third story, 'Tu ne buteras point' (1990), Warnant suffered a nervous breakdown and had to end his involvement in the project. Tome found a suitable replacement in Janry's assistant Bruno Gazzotti, who took over from page 12. That story also introduced the African-American officer Linda Tchaikowsky as Soda's partner in (fighting) crime. Tome and Gazzotti collaborated on nine more albums until 2005. The latter stories each had longer intervals between them, caused by Tome's other activities and slow working pace. It took until 2015 before the series was aptly resurrected with the story 'Résurrection' (2015). However, Gazzotti was by now too busy with his other success series, 'Seuls', so he was no longer available. A replacement was found in the person who had also succeeded Gazzotti as Tome and Janry's assistant years earlier: Dan Verlinden.

Mature comics
In the early 1990s, Tome worked with master of crime noir Philippe Berthet on 'Sur la Route de Selma' (1992), a dark thriller tackling the socially relevant topic of racism in the southern states of the USA. The graphic novel was published by Dupuis in its 'Aire Libre' collection, which contains comics with more literary qualities. The author returned to New York City as the homebase for 'Berceuse assassine' (1997-2002), a thriller trilogy drawn by Ralph Meyer and published by Dargaud. Each album tells the same story from another perspective.

Collaborations with Christian Darasse
The author also remained active in the field of humor comics. Not only with 'Le Petit Spirou', but also through his collaborations with Christian Darasse. By 1991 the artist was in urgent need for a capable scriptwriter for his humor comic 'Le Gang Mazda'. The series started out as a semi-autobiographical account of three comic artists who share a studio above a Mazda garage. Christian (Darasse) is the laziest of the bunch, and also the group goofer. Bernard (Hislaire) is the silent, romantic type, while Marc (Michetz) proves to be the most hot-tempered, and regularly swings a samurai sword around. Darasse started the comic in 1987 with his studio colleague Hislaire, and then wrote the gags by himself for a while. Tome stepped in in late 1991, and wrote the series until its end in 1996. Tome also introduced the three artists' editor-in-chief to the narrative. With his solid build and red cap with the letters "BOSS" on it, the character was modelled after Spirou's real editor-in-chief, Thierry Tinlot. When 'Le Gang Mazda' was cancelled in 1996, Tinlot's alter ego made his comeback the following year in Spirou's new editorial comic 'Le Boss' (1997-2005), created by Philippe Bercovici and Zidrou. Tome and Darasse in the meantime continued their collaboration with 'Les Minou Kinis' (Glénat, 1997-1998), a gag series set on a nudist beach near Malibu.

Graphic contributions
Tome was one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to 'Baston Labaffe no. 5: La Ballade des Baffes’ (Goupil, 1983), an official collective parody comic of  André Franquin’s 'Gaston Lagaffe’. He paid tribute to Nikita Mandryka in the collective comic book 'Tronches de Concombre' (Dupuis, 1995). 

Final years and death
After the death of his close friend and colorist Stéphane De Becker in 2015, Tome was in shock. So much in fact, that all his productions went on hiatus, despite an occasional 'Petit Spirou' gag. By 2019 he had gradually resumed his activities. Besides a more frequent return of 'Le Petit Spirou', a new 'Soda' album was announced for 2020. Unfortunately, his fans and colleagues had to learn of his sudden death from a heart attack, on the evening of 5 October 2019. He was 62 years old.

As the (co-)creator of two bestsellers in two completely different genres, 'Soda' and 'Le Petit Spirou', Philippe Tome ranks as one of the top writers of contemporary Franco-Belgian comics. The impact of Tome and Janry on Spirou magazine and its publishing house Dupuis is immense. Besides the main series 'Spirou et Fantasio', they provided the magazine with regular promotional illustrations, announcements, and cover illustrations for its quarterly omnibus collections. Their 'Spirou et Fantasio' stories formed the basis for the animated TV series about Spirou, of which 52 episodes were broadcast by Canal J (1993) and TF1 (1994-1995). 'Le Petit Spirou' was adapted into an animated TV series in 2012. A live-action comedy movie about the character was written and directed by Nicolas Bary, and released on 27 August 2017. In May 1996 'Le Petit Spirou’ received its own comic book mural in the Boulevard du Centenaire/Eeuwfeestlaan, designed by G. Oreopoulos and D. Vandegeerde, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route.

Tome and Janry in the 1980s. Photo © Jan Nackaerts
Tome and Janry in the 1980s. Photo © Jan Nackaerts.

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