Les Maîtres de l'Orge, artwork by Francis Vallès
Jean Van Hamme is one of Europe's most prominent comic writers since the 1980s. With such legendary and highly successful titles as 'XIII', 'Largo Winch' and 'Thorgal' to his name, he qualifies as a master in the comics field. A career in writing wasn't his initial focus however. After obtaining his degree in political economy from the Solvay School of Commerce, he took on a long career as a marketeer and consultant for companies like the United States Steel Corporation and Philips.
He wrote his first comic stories on the side, starting with the erotic and mythological 'Epoxy' for Paul Cuvelier in 1968. Also for Cuvelier, Van Hamme wrote some episodes of 'Corentin'. He was also involved with the adaptation of this series to animated shorts by the Belvision studios. After writing some 'Magellan' stories for Géri in 1969 and 1970, Van Hamme began writing for Tintin magazine on a regular base.
It wasn't until 1976 that Van Hamme cancelled his marketing activities and focused solely on writing. His main writing activities of the 1970s include 'Domino' for André Chéret (written at first by Greg), the aviation series 'Michael Logan' for André Beautemps and the one shot graphic novel 'Histoire sans Héros' with Dany. Van Hamme and Dany continued their cooperation between 1978 and 1984 with the 'Arlequin' series, and in 1997 with the follow-up of their graphic novel, called 'Vingt ans après'. He also developed a novel series based on an unused comics project by him and Greg, starring the young billionaire Largo Winch, starting in 1977.
With the creation of 'Thorgal' for Dargaud in 1977, Van Hamme had his first bestseller. Illustrated by Grzegorz Rosinski, 'Thorgal' wasn't a regular historical comic about a group of vikings. Playing with fantastic elements, the series is more a heroic fantasy. Van Hamme and Rosinksi additionally made the widely praised fantasy story 'Le grand pouvoir du Chninkel' for Casterman in 1988.
Another highlight of Van Hamme's career began in 1984, 'XIII', illustrated by William Vance, and published by Dargaud. With the main theme based on Robert Ludlum's book 'The Bourne Identity', the series is built around a character in search of his true identity. What follows is a series of exciting intrigues, government and military cover-ups, murder attempts and action scenes. At the same time, he produced the political-fiction series 'S.O.S. Bonheur' for Griffo, that was published in the Aire Libre collection of the publishing house Dupuis.
By 1989, Jean Van Hamme began adapting his 'Largo Winch' novels into comic strips, which resulted in yet another successful comic series, illustrated by Philippe Francq. The success led to a live action television series in the 2000s. Between 1992 and 1999, Van Hamme made 'Les Maîtres de l'Orge' with Francis Vallès, a series of eight books about a dynasty of Belgian brewers. Since 1996, he has been working on new stories with Edgar P. Jacobs' 'Blake et Mortimer', that have been drawn by Ted Benoit, René Sterne and Antoine Aubin.
Other new creations include the one shot 'Lune de Guerre' with Hermann (Dupuis, 2000), 'Wayne Shelton' with Christian Denayer in (Dargaud, 2001-2003 and from 2009) and 'Lady S' with Philippe Aymond (Dupuis, since 2005). Van Hamme's unused script for a TV mini-series was turned into the comic series 'Rani' by artist Francis Vallès and scriptwriter Alcante (Lombard, since 2009).
By 2007, Van Hamme retired from his series 'XIII' and 'Thorgal', leaving the writing to Yves Sente. He continues to write new stories for 'Largo Winch', 'Lady S' and 'Wayne Shelton', however, and serves as an advisor for spin-off series like 'XIII Mystery'. In 2009, he wrote the graphic novel 'Le Télescope' for Dutch artist Paul Teng.
He received the Prix Saint-Michel for his entire oeuvre during the Brussels Comics Festival in 2009, and became an honorary citizen of the city in 2011. In that same year, he was named Commandeur des Arts et Lettres at the Angoulême festival. Van Hamme was knighted by the Belgian king Albert II in 2015.