Will Sparrow by J. Van Straelen
Feux Croisés (Hardi les Gars!, 1948)

J. Van Straelen was an artist who drew for French magazines and comic books during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He was probably a Belgian artist living in Paris. He is mostly known for drawing many aviation comics for the Parisian publisher Marcel Daubin. He was most notably the author of a great many locally produced adventures of the villainous aviator 'Will Sparrow', which was originally an Italian comic by Kurt Caesar. Although still largely obscure (his first name isn't even known), he was only recently revealed as one of the ghost artists of the 'Spirou' comic during Robert Velter's mobilization in 1940.

Van Straelen's name first appeared in Le Dimanche Illustré, the supplement of the newspaper Excelsior, in 1926. He subsequently contributed artwork to magazines like La Presse (1927), Ric et Rac (1930-1934), Marius (1930), L'Almanach National (1933) and L'Almanach Vermot (1938-1942). He got Louis Forton's spot in the Offenstadt magazine L'Épatant after Forton's death in 1934 and published his humorous comic 'Gedeon, Bec-de-puce' (1934-1935) in this magazine.

In the complete edition of Rob-Vel's 'Spirou' (Dupuis, 2013), it was revealed by historians Christelle and Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault that Van Straelen was one of the ghost artists of the famous bellboy. The title character of the Belgian comics magazine Spirou was created by the Frenchman Robert Velter in commission of publisher Dupuis in 1938. When World War II broke out, Velter was mobilized and production was continued under supervision of his wife Blanche Dumoulin (Davine). Since the couple's original co-worker Luc Lafnet had passed away in 1939, Van Straelen jumped in to help. He started working on the comic by the end of 1939. The effort lasted about a year, after which it became increasingly difficult to transfer the comics pages between the two occupied countries. By October 1940 the borders were closed, and Dupuis asked local artist Jijé to improvise the rest of the running 'Spirou' comic.

Spirou by Van Straelen
Spirou, drawn by Van Straelen (the lay-out and style was "borrowed" from a 1938 comics page of 'Il Legionario' by Kurt Caesar)

Throughout most of the 1940s, Van Straelen worked frequently for the Parisian publisher Marcel Daubin (S.E.P.I.A.). He made new 16-page stories of the Italian aviation series and 'Aéroport Z' and especially 'Will Sparrow' ('Les Pirates du Ciel') for several of the publisher's collections. These series were originally drawn by the Italian artist Kurt Caesar and published in magazines like Audace, Topolino and Paperino in the 1930s, after which they were translated for French-language magazines like Robinson, L'As and Spirou. While in Italy these series were continued by artists like Aurelio Galleppini and Giovanni Benvenutti, in France, local artists like Van Straelen were assigned to produce new stories. In Daubin's collection Les Cahiers d'Ulysse, much of Caesar's original material was published, while Van Straelen is credited for the 'Aeroport Z' stories 'Terreur sur l'Île' (issue 20, 1942), 'Poursuite sans escale' (issue 23, 1942) and 'Jungle en Flammes' (Sélections Prouesses, 1943), as well as the 'Will Sparrow' story 'Le Fléau des Mers du Sud' (issue 30, 1942). Further French 'Aéroport Z' stories were drawn by Roger Melliès, as Van Straelen's main occupation became the 'Will Sparrow' adventures.


Terreur sur l'Île

'Will Sparrow' was a remarkable Italian comic, as it had a villain in the starring role. Between 1944 and 1946 Van Straelen drew more stories with the air pirate and his accomplice Mark Park for Daubin's further publications. 'Le Fléau des mers du Sud' (issue 10, 1944 - reissue from 1942), 'Le Train 725 a disparu' (issue 18, 1945), 'Les Perles de la Mer d'Oman' (issue 20, 1945), 'Le Vase Sacré des Dasyous' (issue 26, 1946) and 'Les évadés du Tibet' (issue 29, 1946) appeared in the Collection Odyssées, while the serials 'Le Cité Engloutie' (1946-1947), 'Le Roi des Ténèbres' (1947), 'Will Sparrow contre Mark Park' (1947) and 'L'Empereur du Silence' (1947) ran in Jeudi Magazine and its successor Zorro-Hebdo. The series was continued in the collections Les Sélections Hardi les Gars! and Héroïca Présente with the episodes 'Gilda l'Atomique' (1947), 'La Course au Trésor' (1948), 'Feux Croisés' (1948), 'Tempête sur l'Antarctique' (1948), 'Havre sans marins' (1948) and 'Les Loup se mangent entre eux' (1949). In some cases, Van Straelen's stories were reworkings of original Italian episodes. For instance, a French-language version of the Italian original 'Le Perle del Mare di Oman' by Galleppini had already appeared in Spirou as 'Les Perles de la Mer d'Oman' in 1939-1940, but a new story with that title was published in the Collection Odyssées in 1945. Several of Van Straelen's 'Will Sparrow' stories were subsequently published in Italy in the collection Albi d'Oro (1947-1948) by Mondadori.

Van Straelen was furthermore one of the main artists for 'A L'Assaut Du Ciel' (1946-1947), an aviation collection about World War II, also published by S.E.P.I.A. Van Straelen contributed such features as 'Les Aventures du Capitaine Raider'. The collection further contained stories drawn by Christian Mathelot. Two of Van Straelen's stories for 'A L'Assaut Du Ciel' were later published in the album 'Les Aventures du Capitaine Raider' (1948) under the imprint Éditions Marcel Daubin.

For Collection Odyssées he also made the historical comic 'Le Philtre Magique' (issue 27, 1946). In addition, he made a comic strip called 'Cap'taine Stouf' for in the aviation magazine En Plein Ciel in 1947. In Le Petit Canard he published several stories, including 'Bedjabad la Merveilleuse' (1949), a story about a young French engineer at the court of a maharadja. His last known work, 'Les Aventures de Rojanette' was published in 1950 in the women's magazines Eve and Atout-Coeur.

Capitaine Raider by J. Van Straelen

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