Baron de Crac by Jacques van Melkebeke

Jacques van Melkebeke was a Belgian painter, journalist and comics author. Despite the fact that he is generally presented as the "man in the shadows" of European comics, he was one of the founding fathers of Tintin magazine, and has worked with all of its original authors. The most famous of these was Hergé, for whom he co-scripted some early 1940s 'Tintin' stories. He also scripted stories for Edgar P. Jacobs' 'Blake and Mortimer', Jacques Laudy's 'Hassan et Kadour' and Paul Cuvelier's 'Corentin'.

He was born in 1904 in Brussels into a modest family. A close friend of Jacques Laudy and Edgar Pierre Jacobs since their days at the Brussels Academy, Van Melkebeke spent most of his early years trying to hit his stride as a painter. He went to work for the daily newspaper Le Soir shortly after World War II broke out. He was largely responsible for the editorial content of the children's supplement Le Soir Jeunesse, which he signed with "Friend Jacques".

Cover for Le Soir Jeunesse by Jacques van MelkebekeCover for Le Soir Jeunesse by Jacques van Melkebeke

The paper, which was under German supervision, also carried Van Melkebeke's comic strip 'Les Nouvelles Aventures du Baron de Crac' (inspired by the novel 'The Fabulous Baron Munchausen') from June 1940, as well as Hergé's 'Adventures of Tintin'. Van Melkebeke was Hergé's co-plotter for the Tintin stories that appeared during the war, including 'L'Étoile Mystérieuse' ('The Shooting Star', 1941–1942), 'Le Secret de la Licorne' ('The Secret of the Unicorn', 1942–1943), 'Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge' ('Red Rackhams' Treasure', 1943) and 'Les 7 Boules de Cristal' ('The Seven Crystal Balls', 1943-1946). Van Melkebeke and Hergé additionally wrote two Tintin plays, 'Tintin in India - the Mystery of the Blue Diamond' (1941) and 'Mr Boullock's Disappearance' (1942). Van Melkebeke also worked for Le Nouveau Journal, the leading pro-German newspaper in Francophone Belgium between 1940 and 1944. Although he worked for newspapers that were under national-socialist supervision, Van Melkebeke mostly wrote articles on culture.

Les Farces de l'Empereur by Jacques van Melkebeke
Les Farces de l'Empereur

Jacques van Melkebeke became the first editor-in-chief of Tintin magazine, which was launched by Éditions du Lombard in September 1946. His tenure didn't last long, because he had to step down because of his collaboration during the war. Being suspected of "incivism", he could only resume his work as a journalist under pseudonyms like George Jacquet and Jacques Alexander, and also earned some money by doing some uncredited writing jobs for Tintin. It is therefore, that many of his credits are based on speculation or later testimonies. According to Jacques Martin, Van Melkebeke helped E.P. Jacobs with the plots for the 'Blake & Mortimer' stories of the 1940s and 1950s, including 'Le Secret de l'Espadon' (1946), 'Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide' (1950) and 'La Marque Jaune' (1956). Jacobs has always disputed Van Melkebeke's involvement in his series, but it is sure that his friend stood model for one the series' protagonists, Philip Mortimer. He also wrote the first two stories of 'Hassan et Kadour' for Jacques Laudy and he also cooperated on the first two 'Corentin' stories by Paul Cuvelier. He made a new comic strip called 'Les Farces de l'Empereur' for Ons Volkske/Chez Nous in the mid 1950s.

It is speculated that an additional 'Hassan et Kaddour' story called 'Chasseurs de Chimères', which appeared in Tremplin in 1960-1961, was solo work by Jacques van Melkebeke. Some sources also link Van Melkebeke to the "J. Alexander" that wrote the story 'Brammetje Bram en de Beieren' for Eddy Ryssack in 1979, but it is more likely that this is actually another author.

Since the 1950s, Van Melkebeke had spent most of his time writing and painting, however. He passed away in 1984. Comics historian Benoît Mouchart wrote an essay about Jacques van Melkebeke, which was published under the title 'À L'Ombre de la Ligne Claire' in 2002.

Jacques van Melkebeke

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