cover of Suske en Wiske (Bob et Bobette), 1948
Suske en Wiske - 'De Sprietatoom' (cover).

Willy Vandersteen is the most famous, influential and productive Flemish comic artist ever. His signature work, 'Suske en Wiske' ('Spike and Suzy', 1945-   ), is the longest-running Flemish comic series of all time and, after Rob-Vel's 'Spirou' (1938-  ), the second longest-running Belgian comic series. The folksy adventures of the kids Suske & Wiske, their adoptive aunt Sidonia, comic relief Lambik and strongman Jerom have entertained generations of readers. Nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, the series became the best-selling Dutch-language comic in Belgium and the Netherlands. Vandersteen is widely praised as an unsurpassed and versatile storyteller, equally gifted in comedy as well as drama. His stories are full with hilarious gags, colourful characters, playful language, nail-biting cliffhangers and moving morals. His genre-busting work brought his characters to many different locations and time periods. The maestro created original series such as 'De Familie Snoek' (1945-1954, 1965-1972), 'De Vrolijke Bengels' (1946-1952), 't Prinske' (1953-1959), 'Jerom' (1960-1991) and 'De Geuzen' (1985-1990). Yet he also took pre-existing characters and stories like 'Tijl Uilenspiegel' (1951-1953), 'De Rode Ridder' ('The Red Knight', 1959-   ), 'Karl May' (1962-1977), 'Biggles' (1965-1970) and 'Robert en Bertrand' (1972-1992), and wrote his own exciting stories around them. In some cases he created copyright-free substitutes, like the western series 'Bessy' (a knock-off of 'Lassie', 1952-1992). Vandersteen launched countless other comics, most continued by his assistants. He founded his own studio, Studio Vandersteen, which became one of the most lucrative in its field of the Benelux. Some series by Vandersteen have been translated all across the globe, with 'Suske en Wiske', 'De Rode Ridder', 'Bessy' and 'Jerom' (the latter two especially in Germany) being his most popular. No Belgian comic artist other than Hergé is subject of such a fanatic following. Even though 'Suske en Wiske' and 'De Rode Ridder' are his only titles to keep running today, original artwork by Vandersteen and mint copies of first print albums remain collector's items.

Early years
Willebrord Jan Frans Maria Vandersteen was born in 1913, in one of the poorer areas of Antwerp, the Seefhoek. His father was a sculptor and ornament maker. From a young age Vandersteen was blessed with inexhaustible imagination and a gift for drawing and storytelling. He was captivated by jokes, tall tales and folk legends told in bars. Everything in his city of birth made him dream away, from the medieval buildings, the zoo to the harbour. He watched plays, read adventure novels and scribbled stories on the sidewalk with crayon. Yet teachers told him he would "never make a living with writing and drawing alone." Vandersteen was predestined to follow in his father's footsteps, attending evening courses in ornament making at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. Unfortunately it was a dying profession. Through his uncle he got a job as window designer at the department store Innovation in Antwerp. It was here that his career would take a different direction...

One day Vandersteen was given a U.S. fashion magazine. While paging through it, he noticed a fascinating article titled 'Comics In Your Life', about the cultural impact of newspaper comics. Vandersteen had read comics as a child, particularly the magazine De Kindervriend where 'Blutske' (a translated comic by an unknown foreign author) was one of his favorites. As a teen he had read Hergé's 'Totor' (1926-1929) in the scouts magazine Le Boy Scout Belge, which inspired him to create gag cartoons and comics in his own scouts magazine. But he had never done anything with it since. The 'Comics In Your Life' article introduced him to many U.S. comics he wasn't familiar with. He was especially intrigued that certain cartoonists were so popular that they were well-paid. As such he decided to become one himself. It was a bold move. In the early 1930s Belgian comics were still in their infancy, with only Hergé having some success. Only a few local comic artists existed and most made illustrated stories for children's magazines. Vandersteen therefore learned from studying other artists. Apart from Hergé, he considered Walt Disney, Floyd Gottfredson, Eugeen Hermans (Pink), George Herriman, Otto SoglowBud Fisher, E.C. Segar, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster his main graphic influences. In the field of high art he looked up to the Flemish masters Pieter Bruegel and Peter Paul Rubens, as well as Hieronymus Bosch. Later in his career he expressed admiration for H.G. Kresse, Bob de Moor, Marc Sleen, Anton Pieck and - to the surprise of many - Kamagurka.

Early wartime strip of 'Kitty Inno'. Kitty dislikes how she looks with a gas mask, until she uses it as a hat. 

Early comics
Vandersteen's earliest comic, 'Pinneken en Dik' (1939), never saw publication, so he was off to a bad start. World War II changed his fortune. As the Nazis banned all import of U.S. and British comics in occupied Belgium, there was suddenly a higher demand for locally produced comics. Vandersteen made his professional debut with the publication of 'Kitty Inno' (1940-1945) in Entre Nous, the monthly staff magazine of the Innovation stores. This gag comic about a young woman mostly told jokes related to the store and war-time reality of buying products with food stamps. When Vandersteen left Innovation in 1942, 'Kitty Inno' was continued by other, anonymous, artists. On 19 March 1941 his first newspaper comic, 'Tor, De Holbewoner' (1941-1942), appeared in De Dag. It also ran in French as 'Herculin' in the Brussels weekly Mon Copain. The pantomime gags about a bearded caveman were temporarily moved to De Dag's children's supplement Wonderland between 11 June and 3 September 1941, before being interrupted for a month. De Dag then brought the series back on 8 October until the final episode on 28 January 1942. Wonderland originally published Bud Fisher's 'Cicero's Cat' (as 'Barabas') too, but after the Nazi ban Vandersteen was asked to draw his own version to continue the popular gag comic. The end result, 'De Lollige Avonturen van Pudifar' (1941), ran between 26 March and 21 May. A few weeks later Vandersteen also created a spin-off around Pudifar's son: 'Barabitje'. During this period he signed all his comics with "Wil".

'Pudifar'. Translation: "Go away, pussy. You interrupt my singing lesson." - "Hello! Police! A cruel animal executioner tortures a cat!" 

In 1942 Vandersteen left L'Innovation and found a job at another store, De Corporatie, doing paper work about meat distribution and creating illustrations for the butcher's magazine Het Slagersblad. He also made posters and leaflets for Winterhulp, an organisation providing food for the needy. A year later Ons Volk asked Vandersteen to create a children's comic book for their publishing company. The only condition was that he had to make it in one week time. His boss gave him a week off and Vandersteen managed to complete his first complete humorous adventure comic book, 'De Avonturen van Piwo, Het Houten Paard' (1943) before the deadline. The story about a wooden horse who comes alive received two sequels: 'Piwo en De Paardendieven' (1944) and 'Piwo Bij De Zoeloes' (1946).

De Avonturen van Simbat, by Willy Vandersteen
'De Avonturen van Simbat de Zeerover'.

In May 1943 Vandersteen joined the bilingual comic magazine Bravo, where his colleagues E.P. Jacobs and Jean Dratz gave him a lot of professional advice. For this magazine he created 'Tori De Holbewoner' (1943-1944), basically a younger version of his earlier caveman gag comic 'Tor De Holbewoner'. A month later Bravo ran his humorous pirate comic, 'Simbat de Zeerover' (1943-1944), of which the protagonist can be described as a prototypical version of Lambik. His final comic strip for Bravo, 'Lancelot' (November 1945-26 September 1946), was a gag comic about a knight and his dachshund Sando.

Collaborations with Bert Peleman
On 3 February 1944 Vandersteen turned up in the first issue of the children's magazine De Rakker. He illustrated a few covers and columns, among them by poet Bert Peleman. Peleman scripted his text comic 'Bert, De Lustige Trekker' (1944), about a joyful boy scout, which lasted until its final issue on 28 August of that same year. They collaborated again in De Illustratie, a weekly sister magazine of the Nazi publication Volk en Staat, where the text comic 'Peerke Sorgloos' (18 February 1944) appeared. The droll jokes of this befuddled old gentleman were drawn by Vandersteen as "Wil" or "Pim", while Peleman wrote the rhyming sentences below each image. The series continued until September 1944, when Belgium was liberated by the Allied Forces.

Cover illustration for De Rakker (3 February 1944).

Nazi collaboration
In 1942 Vandersteen secretly drew some antisemitic and pro-Nazi cartoons for a booklet by Bert Peleman, 'Zóó Zag Brussel De Dietsche Militanten' ("This Is How Brussels Saw The Dietsch Militants", 1942) and also under the title 'Bart de Brigademan' in the Nazi magazine Volk en Staat. Both men used a pseudonym. Peleman wrote under "Ulenspiegel", while Vandersteen called himself "Kaproen" (though, judging differences in artwork, he may have alternated with the magazine's house cartoonist Edgard Vanmechelen, who usually signed with "Gard"). Other cartoonists who once drew for Volk en Staat have been Buth, C. Dick, Paul Jamin and Armand Panis. After the war, Peleman was arrested and convicted for Nazi collaboration, but Vandersteen managed to keep his old shame a lifelong secret. Nevertheless some journalists had a hunch that Vandersteen might've been Kaproen. Biographer Peter van Hoeydonck once asked him directly, but the artist denied it. Rumors kept dogging the estate even after Vandersteen's death in 1990, and in 2010 his family let archivists from the GeheugenCollectief agency research the matter. A document was found which confirmed the rumors. The news made headlines, but was nevertheless only a minor controversy, since Vandersteen had also created various anti-Nazi comics during World War II, such as 'Dappere Jan' (1943). He even openly signed them under his prominent pseudonym Wil.

It remains a mystery why Vandersteen made these pro-Nazi cartoons. His children said it went against everything their father had taught them. Vandersteen's successor Paul Geerts suspected that he probably needed income badly. He recalled that Vandersteen once told him about the war years and especially how "horrible it was to hear your children cry from hunger." The secret was probably a heavy burden on Vandersteen's conscience. Some post-war 'Suske en Wiske' stories frequently mention forgiveness in the context of war collaborators. Many of his comics in general have a running theme of people who did something wrong and seek forgiveness. Pacifism is also a recurring subject, with some albums describing war as "a conflict where both parties lose." Nobody ever suspected anything dubious about these themes, as they all fit well within Vandersteen's idealistic convictions and the Catholic idea of redemption and forgiveness. Yet in hindsight they may be interpreted as a personal cry for help. Last but not least: many Vandersteen stories revolve around people with hidden identities. For people interested in the mystery about Vandersteen's war past, Aline Sax and Veronique Van Humskerke's report, 'Onderzoeksrapport. De Oorlogsjaren van Willy Vandersteen' (2013-2014) in collaboration with Geheugen Collectief vzw, Berchem, is a thorough and insightful examination of the matter. 

Bert, de lustige trekker
'Bert, De Lustige Trekker'.

French-language comics
After the Liberation of Belgium, many magazines and newspapers were terminated or temporarily put on hold. Only Bravo kept appearing. Most of Vandersteen's comics now appeared in French-language magazines. For the children's magazine Franc Jeu he drew 'Floche et Flache Tiennent Le Maquis' (23 Oct. 1944 - 3 March 1945) and 'Bill et Sam Aux Philippines' (17 March - 4 August 1945) under the pseudonym Mik. Both were humorous war comics in which two Allied soldiers fight respectively against German soldiers in Europe and Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. The magazine also featured a text comic adaptation by Frank Saxter of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket' ('Les Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym', 1944-1945). The first 15 episodes were illustrated by Léon Noël and the final five by Vandersteen. Between 31 March and 4 August 1945 Franc Jeu featured Vandersteen's humorous detective series 'Une Enquête de l'Inspecteur Briket' (1945) and between 5 May and 4 August 1945 another detective comic, 'Le Secret du Meurtrier' (1945), signed with Valentin. Although Valentin's style is very reminiscent of Vandersteen, Rolf De Ryck argues in his book 'Van Kitty Inno tot De Geuzen' (1994) that it was certainly not created by Vandersteen. 

Under the pseudonym Bobs, Vandersteen's humorous western comic 'Les Aventures de Bill Bing et Panzo' (1944-1945) ran in the first four issues of the architectural magazine Perce Neige, before being abruptly discontinued. The pantomime comic 'Les Péripéties de Peggy le Petit Scotch' (1944-1945) lasted longer. The Scotch terrier Peggy kept toddling from December 1944 right up until June 1945. For Le Petit Monde, Vandersteen drew the one-shot pantomime comics 'Un Mot Qui Fait Balle' (1946), 'Après La Kermesse' (1946), 'Le Fantôme du Chateau' (1946), 'Le Temps' (1946), 'Un Mot Qui Fait Balle' (1946), 'Par Ici La Sortie' (1946), 'Coeur Tendre' (1946), 'Un Ami Devoué' (1946), 'En L'An 500' (1946), 'Le Bon Plaisir du Roy' (1946), 'Incrédule' (1946), 'Drôle de Cabane' (1946), 'Le Truc' (1946), 'La Nuit de Noël de Bill Fink' (1946) and 'La Nuit de Nouvel An' (1946). Among the regular columns he illustrated were 'Images Sans Dessins' (14 March - 30 May 1946) and 'La Lanterne Magique' (1946), the latter scripted by Maurice Carême. Vandersteen also created the humorous adventure comic 'Poppy et Maggy' (3 October 1946 -11 March 1947) about a young couple, though of the three long stories in total he only drew the first one.

Lancelot, by Willy Vandersteen
Introduction of 'Lancelot', with cameo appearance of the artist (Bravo #21, 1945).

Suske en Wiske
On 30 March 1945 Vandersteen launched his breakthrough newspaper comic 'Suske en Wiske' in De Nieuwe Standaard. It introduced three main characters: the little egg-headed girl Wiske, her rag doll Schalulleke and aunt Sidonie. Wiske already had a boy companion named Suske, but in this version he was her older brother and the editor had changed his name into "Rikki" without consulting Vandersteen. As such the first story is titled 'Rikki en Wiske in Chocowakije'. The author got his revenge on 15 December, when the next story 'Op Het Eiland Amoras' took off. In the first panel he wrote Rikki out the series, because he looked too much like Hergé's Tintin anyway. Wiske and Sidonie travel to the island Amoras, where Wiske meets a local boy of her age, again named Suske, after Vandersteen's father. They instantly become inseparable friends. Readers unfamiliar with this backstory often assume the duo are siblings, which makes scenes where Wiske is jealous whenever Suske gets female attention rather awkward for the uninitiated. Suske is a flat character with no real flaws. Wiske, on the other hand, is vain, stubborn, jealous, short-tempered and too curious for her own good. In earlier stories Suske and Wiske were much younger, walking on toddler legs. But as the series progressed, they became young teenagers, making Wiske's love for her doll Schalulleke a bit strange. Nevertheless, despite her flaws, she still has a good heart, making her far more relatable to readers. As the series' first breakout character, she received the honour of closing off every story with a wink to the readers.

First encounter between Suske and Wiske in 'Op het Eiland Amoras' (1945-1946).

Tante Sidonie/Sidonia
Tante Sidonie is Suske and Wiske's adoptive aunt. At the time there was an unwritten taboo that comic characters weren't allowed to have children of their own, as this would imply sexual intercourse. But Vandersteen merely felt that real parents would never allow their offspring to go on adventure, so an aunt made "more sense". 'Suske en Wiske' is quite unique for a children's comic in the fact that the kids are never seen at school. It's not even hinted, though perhaps Sidonie homeschools them in between stories? Although a surrogate parent, Sidonie cares a lot about Suske and Wiske, providing the series with a strong family dynamic. In a similar rule, adult female comic characters weren't allowed to be attractive. As such Sidonie is an old, ugly, flat-chested spinster, with a big nose, chin and feet. Her thin, flexible body was inspired by E.C. Segar's Olive Oyl. Many gags poke fun at the odd ways she can bend her body, her nervous breakdowns, her constant search for a man and her anger whenever others insult her. But much like Wiske she is, considering the times, a remarkable strong, inventive and intelligent female character.

Professor Barabas 
'Het Eiland Amoras' also introduced another main character: the absent-minded professor Barabas. He was originally an obese stutterer, but lost both traits soon. Barabas' inventions often set the plot in motion. In 'Op Het Eiland Amoras' his supersonic helicopter, the Gyronef, is introduced, while in 'De Sprietatoom' (1946) he constructs an anthropomorphic car named Vitamitje. His most famous invention, a time machine, was introduced in 'De Tuf-Tuf Club' (1952), which allowed many adventures set in historical eras.

Prinses Zagemeel, 1982 version (color, unlike 1949 version)
'Suske en Wiske' - 'Prinses Zagemeel' (coloured reprint version, 1947), featuring the origin of the logo used by Amsterdam comics store Lambiek.

'De Sprietatoom' (1946) also marked the debut of Lambik, who instantly became the series' most popular character. Named after Vandersteen's favorite beer brand Gueuze Lambic, he provides most of the comic relief. Lambik is a clumsy, vain and short-tempered fool. The so-called "plumber-detective" constantly overestimates his own abilities and does stupid things. Many of his blunders have become classic, such as pinning a note to excuse his absence "because I'm not here." Or giving villains his weapon so he can stripsearch them for guns. Overall, Lambik is an archetype of the Belgian soul: a simple-minded bon vivant who enjoys a nice, cool beer. Precisely for this reason many readers identify with him.

Lambik became so popular that he inspired no less than two spin-offs. A series of irregularly appearing gags named 'De Lotgevallen van Mijnheer Lambik' were published in Kuifje, Ons Volk and Ons Volkske between 1948 and 1951. Officially titled 'De Avonturen van Suske, Wiske en Lambik', it is nowadays more commonly known as 'De Grappen van Lambik', the title under which it appeared in book format. It also ran in French as 'Les Farces de Monsieur Lambique'. From 24 January 1954 on it became a regular series, published in the weekly De Bond until 1963. In this gag comic Lambik also received a sidekick: the stupid bespectacled assistant Sezar. Vandersteen later passed the entire gag series on to his assistant Karel Boumans.  Between 2005 and 2006 new episodes of 'De Grappen van Lambik' were created by Marc Verhaegen and later Luc Morjaeu.

Jerom, running faster than sound, in 'De Tamtamkloppers' (1953).

In the Suske en Wiske story 'De Dolle Musketiers' (1952), the superstrong but monosyllabic caveman Jerom made his debut. His appearance was modelled after the title character in V.T. Hamlin's comic 'Alley Oop', at the suggestion of Vandersteen's assistant Karel Verschuere. In the original story, Jerom was a brute, short-sized villain who walked around bare-chested. Some newspaper readers felt repulsed, with one even writing that "my breakfast loses all taste when I see him." Halfway the plot, Jerom converts to "the good side" and moves in with Lambik to become another main cast member. Over the course of the series, Jerom slowly but surely civilizes. He changes his bearskin for a modern suit, but always keeps talking in a dry, witty telegram style. Jerom's most proverbial character trait is his phenomental strength. He is capable of running faster than sound, can generate electricity, jump extraordinary heights and punch people out with some delay, so that they only collapse a few seconds later. And that's just four examples! Vandersteen and his assistants had a lot of fun introducing new physically impossible superpowers in each album, if only as a set-up for funny gags. Just like Superman, though, Jerom eventually became a deus ex machina. Some fans mark his capability of solving every possible problem as the first decline in the series' quality. To keep the stories a bit more interesting, Jerom is therefore sometimes sent on holiday or temporarily put to sleep.

Jerom became so popular that on 18 August 1960 he received his own spin-off series, 'Jerom', in Ons Volkske. Originally it was a humorous action series, featuring Tante Sidonia and professor Barabas as side characters, but not Suske, Wiske or Lambik. In 1967 it was moved to Pats, the juvenile supplement of De Standaard, and a year later Het Belang van Limburg too. Rebooted as 'Jerom, De Gouden Stuntman', he became a superhero in yellow costume with cape. Much like Batman, he received a boy sidekick, named Odilon. Many stories were written by Marck Meul and Jacques Bakker, while Eduard de Rop drew most of the episodes, assisted by Diane Asselberg (inking), Eugeen Goossens, Paul Geerts, Peter Koeken and Merho. 'Jerom' was extraordinarily popular in Germany, where it ran under the name 'Wastl' (1965-1968) in the magazine Felix by Bastei Verlag. From 1968 on, new 'Wastl' stories instantly appeared in comic book format, first every two weeks, then on a weekly (!) basis. Between February 1972 and June 1973 'Wastl' also ran in the magazine Klasse. Many German 'Jerom' comics never appeared in Dutch translation, also because some were basically translations of older 'Suske en Wiske' stories. The production was so high that the quality of the stories and artwork started to decline, which effectively terminated the German 'Jerom' production by 1973. 'Jerom' was also translated in French ('Jérôme'), Greek and English ('Big Billy Bigg', which ran in Sparky). The Dutch version of 'Jerom' kept running for another decade. In 1982 it was retitled 'De Wonderbare Reizen van Jerom', but one paper after another cancelled the series. The final album was published in 1991.

Other characters
In the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'Het Rijmende Paard' (1962-1963), the cast received a nemesis: Krimson. Krimson is an evil doctor who owns a large crime network. His only weakness is that he often suffers nervous breakdowns and needs to be fed pills by his butler Achiel to calm down. A few other minor recurring characters are worth mentioning too, such as Sus Antigoon (1945) - the ghost of Suske's deceased grandfather - and Lambik's brother Arthur (1946), who has the ability to fly because he ate too much bird seed. Among later notable characters are the rich castle owner Anne-Marie van Zwollem and her mad father (1957), annoying vacuum cleaner salesman Theofiel Boemerang and his catchphrase "Kleine percentjes maken rijke ventjes" ("Little percents make rich people") (1957) and Tobias the street dog (1961), who is adored by Wiske but hated by Lambik.

Clever wordplay in this episode of 'De Geverniste Zeerovers' (1957-1958): all words begin with the letter V!

Vandersteen modelled his comics after the U.S. newspaper format, where every episode was part of a daily serialized story. He knew this was the best way to build up an audience. Each episode of 'Suske en Wiske' typically features one or two gags per strip, to give readers a daily laugh. He used many cartoony and silly situations, which set him apart from other Belgian comics which were more grounded in reality. Other comedy can be found in word play, like pun-based names, funny accents, pseudo ancient Dutch, telegram- or rhyme talk. Long before Jef Nys, Vandersteen was the first Flemish comic artist to let Spaniards add the word "-os" at the end of each sentence. Later in his career Vandersteen gave nearly all 'Suske en Wiske' stories an alliterative title, something that eventually became a joke in itself.

Political satire in the original publication of 'De Koning Drinkt' (1948), referring to the Royal Question. The king has fled and feels guilty for leaving his people behind. Wiske advises him to "hire a villa in Switzerland", in reference to Belgian king Leopold III who, after World War II, also lived in exile in Switzerland for a few years.

'Suske en Wiske' also thrived on recognizability. The backgrounds, characters, their dialect-driven dialogues and ironic sense of comedy are all unmistakenly Flemish. Many characters are based on local folklore, such as Lange Wapper and Kludde in 'De Zwarte Madam' (1948) and the Bokkenrijders in 'De Bokkenrijders' (1949). Other stories are set in national history, with the main cast meeting people like Ambiorix, the Geuzen and Pieter Bruegel. During the first seven years of the franchise some stories made references to current events and politics, like the bombing of the Yser Tower (1946) and the Royal Question (1945-1990) whether Belgian king Leopold III was allowed to return to the throne. Since many of these jokes were quickly dated and sometimes controversial, Vandersteen eventually dropped them in favour of more timeless comedy. In general, readers responded enthusiastically to this regional atmosphere, especially since no comics before had found so much inspiration in Flemish culture. In fact, Vandersteen can be credited with familiarizing many historical and folkloric characters in Flanders and the Netherlands. By setting many storylines in real-life cities, towns and countrysides in Belgium or The Netherlands, he only added to the recognizability. 

Professor Barabas' "Tele-time Machine" offers endless plot possibilities (From: 'De Dolle Musketiers').

Vandersteen's greatest strength was his ability to tell captivating stories. He deliberately ended every episode on a strong cliffhanger. Recurring elements are secret doors, mysterious manuscripts and masked people who refuse to reveal their identity. He often stretched readers' patience weeks on end, to hilarious degrees. In 'De Bokkenrijders' (1948), for instance, Sidonie reads a manuscript but the final page drops on the floor, so the revelation has to wait until the next episode. In other stories the cliffhanger just turns out to be the set-up for a joke, such as in 'De Mottenvanger', when Lambik hears about the end of the world and his wall crumbles. In the next episode it turns out somebody merely drove his car into his house. Vandersteen tingled audience curiosity so often that people started reading their newspapers backwards, just so they could check the funnies first. Contrary to most other comics, who are somewhat restricted by their setting, 'Suske en Wiske' has tremendous versatility in plot. Vandersteen's imagination was constantly sparked by novels ('De Dolle Musketiers', 1952, 'De Straatridder', 1955), fairy tales ('Prinses Zagemeel', 1947, 'De Schone Slaper', 1965), myths, legends ('De Zwarte Madam', 1947, 'De Ringelingschat', 1951), paintings ('De Koning Drinkt', 1947, 'Het Rijmende Paard', 1962, 'De Dulle Griet', 1966), films ('De Speelgoedzaaier', 1954, 'Jeromba de Griek', 1965), TV series ('De Texasrakkers', 1959, 'Wattman', 1966) and/or travels ('De Gouden Cirkel', 1960, 'De Sissende Sampan', 1962). Thanks to professor Barabas' Gyronef and his time machine, Vandersteen had an easy device to sent his characters to any country, fantasy world or historical era he wanted. It gave Vandersteen and his successors creative freedom and also made the franchise more unpredictable, appealing to many different readers' tastes. André Franquin put it best by saying: "When you read Vandersteen you're afraid of doing anything else afterwards. He has already invented and done everything."

Amidst all the fun and adventure, the author never lost sight of a tightly built plot with a dramatic story arc. As someone who grew up in a folksy neighbourhood, Vandersteen knew what the average person enjoyed. His Catholic and boy scout background gave him a strong sense of virtues and values. Having experienced poverty and war misery firsthand, many stories show tremendous compassion for the underprivileged and promote pacifism and forgiveness. His main cast may have their flaws, but they always stick up for each other and do the right thing in the end. All these aspects built a strong emotional bond between 'Suske en Wiske' and its readers, making it the timeless classic it remains today. Vandersteen's son, Bob, once stated: "All the stories my father drew were adventures he wished he could experience himself."

Back cover illustration from the early 'Suske en Wiske' albums.

Success and impact
'Suske en Wiske' was a hit from the very beginning. Every magazine and paper wanted to publish it. The newspaper De Nieuwe Standaard ran 'Suske en Wiske' from 30 March 1945 until their name change into De Nieuwe Gids in April 1947. A few months later, on 1 July 1947, the series moved to another paper, De Standaard and its sister paper Het Nieuwsblad. It became instantly clear that Vandersteen had absolutely made it, since 25.000 readers all took a subscription to 'Suske en Wiske' 's new home papers. The success didn't stop there. Between 1948 and 1953 two comics starring Lambik ran in the Catholic magazines Kerkelijk Leven (nowadays Kerk en Leven) and De Bond, but were basically 'Suske en Wiske' stories, later retitled as 'De Gekalibreerde Kwibus' and 'Het Vliegende Hart'. 'Suske en Wiske' also ran in an exclusive version in the weekly Kuifje/Tintin between 1948 and 1959 (see below). Between 1950 and 1951 six educational gag comics starring Suske, Wiske and Lambik ran in the weekly De Volksmacht by the Christian Union ACW, to learn young readers about the importance of personal hygiene. Another propaganda comic was 'Wiske, Jong Kajotster' (1958-1959), which appeared in the monthly magazine Belofte by De Jong VKAJ, a juvenile Christian organisation. Between 27 February and 15 June 1959 Vandersteen created a weekly comic strip for De Standaard starring the 'Suske en Wiske' characters as part of a contest to test readers' linguistic knowledge.

The "Vandersteen model", became the standard for all Flemish comics for decades to come. A serialized comic strip appeared on a basis of two strips a day. If a story is concluded, the next one kicks off a day later. Each year four new albums came out. All Flemish newspapers now had to have their own serialized comic series. Vandersteen paved the way for many colleagues, most notably Marc Sleen ('Nero'), Pom ('Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber') and Jef Nys ('Jommeke'). From January 1947 on, completed 'Suske en Wiske' stories became collectable as comic book albums in iconic red frames with the title printed in white. Between 1949 and 1959 ,the back cover showed the main cast posing around a potted flower. Afterwards the image changed to just Suske and Wiske showing off the available titles, until in 1966 the familiar iconic image of Jerom lifting up the rest of the cast was introduced. Around the same time, the series appeared in full colour too, but took off from number 67 rather than nr. 1. The original 66 black-and-white albums weren't reprinted, but just reintroduced in the regular series, regardless of chronological order, leaving an overall confusing mess behind. Between 1981-1984 and again from 1993-1999, Standaard Uitgeverij reprinted the original 1940s and 1950s 'Suske en Wiske' stories uncut in the series 'Suske en Wiske Klassiek', which were widely collected by old-school fans. A treasured memory for certain generations were the annual seasonal comic book specials. These were special 'Suske en Wiske' comic books released during the holidays, namely Christmas and the summer vacation. They featured exclusive 'Suske en Wiske' stories not part of the regular album series. The books were filled with games, activity pages, occasional reprints of old Vandersteen series and other comic series owned by Standaard Uitgeverij, usually by Studio Vandersteen but also other artists. The specials, first launched in 1973, tended to have different titles, but from 1986 until 2002 they were known as the 'Suske en Wiske Familiestripboeken'. 

'Suske en Wiske' was personally scripted and pencilled by Vandersteen until 1972, after which he passed the series to his main assistant Paul Geerts, who continued the majority of the albums until 2001. After his retirement, Vandersteen only drew two extra stories, 'De Ruige Regen' (1985) and 'De Wervelende Waterzak' (1988), while also scripting 'De Vinnige Viking' (1976), 'Het Verborgen Volk' (1976), 'Het Bretoense Broertje' (1982) and 'De Eenzame Eenhoorn' (1988). Between 1990 and 2001 Geerts was alternated by Marc Verhaegen, who became the comic's main artists afterwards. Since 2005 the series has been continued by scriptwriter Peter van Gucht and main artist Luc Morjaeu. The main colorist between 1971 and 2006 was Rita Bernaers. Since Willy Vandersteen's death, the holdings of the Vandersteen family ((Erven Vandersteen GCV and Amoras II CVA)) are managed by Willy Vandersteen's eldest daughter, Helena Vandersteen (°1938). Since 2002, she is also the business manager of Studio Vanderteen. Her son Tom Wilequet (°1959) is the studio's office manager and digital editor.

From 31 March 1972 until the magazine's demise on 3 December 2001, exclusive stories were published in the Flemish tv guide TV Ekspres. One ran in Story in 2002. Between 1993 and 2003 the franchise also had its own comic magazine, Suske en Wiske Weekblad. On 17 December 2022, both De Standaard and its sister paper Het Nieuwsblad ran the final installment of their 'Suske en Wiske' serial, and so ending the comic's 77-year legacy as newspaper feature. 

Tintin cover, by Willy VandersteenTintin cover, by Willy Vandersteen
Covers for Tintin/Kuifje. The first cover (16 June 1949) depicts a scene from 'Het Spaanse Spook'. The other (13 April 1950) from 'De Bronzen Sleutel'. 

Suske & Wiske in Tintin
At the start of his career, Vandersteen drew everything spontaneously, without a consistent style or any realism. Wiske's hair, for instance, is tied together in an odd way and all shoes have a pointed nose, which would hurt horribly in real life. Most readers, however, saw past these imperfections, because the stories were so excellent. In 1948 Vandersteen's work underwent a notable graphic evolution. The editors of the Belgian comic magazine Tintin asked him to create exclusive 'Suske en Wiske' stories for the Dutch-language version Kuifje, to boost up sales. They would appear in the French-language version too, and ran in Ons Volkske as well. Hergé only insisted that both the artwork and narratives had to be more realistic, in line with the style and reputation of his magazine. Kicking off with the classic 'Het Spaanse Spook' on 9 September 1948, Vandersteen changed his artwork drastically. Everything was drawn with attention to anatomic and technical detail. Suske, Wiske and Lambik are the only three cast members in these stories and were all redesigned, most notably Wiske, who received blond curls. The cartoony gags were toned down and fantasy elements disappeared. To allow storylines set in a historical era, the characters were often put under collective hypnosis. Other stories just start off in a historical past without any explanation how the characters got there. Hergé's right hand and Vandersteen's best friend Bob de Moor often helped Vandersteen out, since he was far more skilled in realistic drawing.

Suske en Wiske - De Gezanten van Mars, by Willy Vandersteen (Kuifje, 1955)
"Deleted scene" from 'De Gezanten van Mars', in which Lambik refers to Hergé's 'Explorers on the Moon' album (Kuifje #39, 1955).

All eight 'Suske en Wiske' stories for Tintin rank as highlights in the series. 'De Schat van Beersel' (1952-1953) is even regarded as Vandersteen's magnum opus. A treasure hunt story set in the real-life castle of Beersel, it brings Suske, Wiske and Lambik to the Middle Ages. Like all other Tintin comics, the 'Suske en Wiske' stories were published by Lombard in hard cover book format. Because of their blue colour they were nicknamed "De Blauwe Reeks" ("The Blue Series") to distinguish them from Standaard's red cover albums, which contained the newspaper comics publications. Decades later, the Blue Series stories would be republished in the Red Series too, though often clumsily shortened to meet the fewer amount of pages.

By doing more research and enriching his illustrations, the newspaper versions of 'Suske en Wiske' also improved. Vandersteen's narratives now looked better than ever. In fact: in reader's polls held by Tintin magazine in the 1950s, 'Suske en Wiske' often ended at first place, way above 'Tintin' itself. Both Hergé and Edgar P. Jacobs felt somewhat threatened by this success, though Hergé did congratulate Vandersteen with his improved graphics, even nicknaming him "the Bruegel of comics", specifically referring to the albums 'Het Spaanse Spook' and Vandersteen's comic adaptation of 'Tijl Uilenspiegel'. Nevertheless Vandersteen left Tintin in 1959. At the time he felt he was succesful enough, though in some later interviews he did regret leaving. His unfinished story 'De Sonometer' only existed in six sketched out pages. In 2020 François Corteggiani and Dirk Stallaert completed it and prepublished it in De Telegraaf from 29 August on. 

'De Schat van Beersel'.

'Suske en Wiske' was destined for translation. In Wallonia it ran in French as 'Bob et Bobette' (not to be confused with Loÿs Pétillot's 'Bob et Bobette') in Le Petit Monde, Tintin and the Brussels newspaper La Cité. Some other languages have translated the title characters as 'Bob & Bobette' (or variations thereof) too, such as Italian ('Bob & Bobetta'), Greek ('Bobi & Lou'), Spanish (originally 'Tin & Titina', later 'Bob y Bobette') and Portuguese ('Bibi & Baba' in Portuguese, 'Zé and Maria' in Brazilian). In Norway, Denmark and Sweden they were translated as 'Finn & Fiffi', in Finland as 'Antti & Anu' and in Iceland as 'Siggi & Vigga'. Between 1958 and 1960 the series was translated in the German magazine Felix as 'Ulla und Peter'. In English, the characters have been called 'Willy and Wanda' (USA), 'Spike and Suzy' (UK) and 'Luke and Lucy' (in a 2009 film and video game). 'Suske en Wiske' were also translated into Persian, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Tamil and Indonesian ('Bobby & Wanda').

Success in The Netherlands
'Suske en Wiske' became extraordinarily popular in the Netherlands, basically the only Flemish comic strip to become a huge bestseller there. At first the albums for Dutch readers ran as a separate series, which changed all Flemish expressions into standard Dutch and removed some Flemish cultural references. Lambik, Sidonie, Jerom and Schalulleke were renamed "Lambiek", "Jeroen", "Sidonia" and "Schanulleke". In 1963 the Flemish and Dutch series were merged into the current standard Dutch version. At this occasion Sidonia and Schanulleke became the official names of these characters. The first Dutch magazine to publish 'Suske en Wiske' was De Stem in 1946, which circulated in Breda. The series then conquered a spot in many regional papers: Het Binnenhof, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, De Leidsche Courant, Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, Noordhollands Dagblad, De Gelderlander and De Goudsche Courant. Between 1955 and 1960 the comic ran in the Dutch weekly Revue and from 2005 until 2012 TrosKompas also published new, original stories. 'Het Spaanse Spook' was also serialized in the comic magazine Sjors in 1974, while new stories were printed in Eppo Wordt Vervolgd and its successor Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad between 1986 and 1990. Today 'Suske en Wiske' still runs in the regional paper De Limburger and, as of 2 March 2019, the national paper De Telegraaf. 

Het Bevroren Vuur, by Willy Vandersteen
The daily episodes of 'Suske en Wiske' also underwent some Clear Line influences in the Tintin years ('Het Bevroren Vuur', 1951)

Studio Vandersteen
Vandersteen once said he could never outdo Hergé in international sales, unless he simply produced more albums and series. Therefore he worked for as many publications as possible. Luckily he was in high demand, but to keep all these series running he needed more assistants. His wife Paula inked most of his stories in the early days. Wim Goderis, assistant-director of Standaard Boekhandel, often brainstormed with him to think up gags for his humorous series. For his realistically-drawn comics of the late 1940s he was assisted by none other than Maurice Tillieux as ghost artist, while Bob de Moor helped out with 'Tijl Uilenspiegel' in Kuifje. In 1949 Vandersteen hired his first official assistant, François-Joseph Herman, who would ink many of his stories until 1952. The same year Karel Boumans became inker, letterer, colourist and background designer until 1959. Jo-El Azara assisted on the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'De Lachende Wolf' (1953). Karel Verschuere was the first to be credited alongside Vandersteen, albeit through a collective pseudonym, "Wirel". Over the decades many other loyal assistants would join the studio, most notably Paul Geerts, Karel Biddeloo (Bik)Jeff Broeckx, Eugeen GoossensRobert Merhottein, Eduard de Rop and Eric de Rop, Peter Koeken and Ron van Riet.

Even taken in consideration that he didn't draw everything alone, Vandersteen's production is staggering. He sometimes worked on several series at the same time. The maestro was always approachable whenever his artists got stuck with writer's block or overdue pages. Many times he came up with fresh ideas from the top of his head, even drawing it out for them. Yet the workaholic was also a party animal. On his nights off he loved going drinking, even if he still had a deadline to complete. However, when he returned home at dawn, he dutifully finished his pages first, regardless how tired or hungover he was. Vandersteen had a holy respect for deadlines. As long as a series remained profitable, he wanted to keep it running. It not only provided his assistants with skill practice, but also a decent living. Vandersteen never forgot how difficult his early years had been. For the same reasons he rarely fired people. Even on his deathbed in the hospital, he still kept drawing, although the series he worked on didn't appear in prepublication anyway. Vandersteen also left a few projects behind which never found a publisher, including a reboot of Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer's 'Felix the Cat', made in the mid-1970s. The huge amount of titles also explain why he is the most collected comic artist of the Low Countries. Certain fans are willing to buy everything he ever signed his name underneath, even work by an assistant or a posthumous publication. The demand is so high that old and rare stories have frequently been reprinted. Numerous Dutch and Belgian book stores have earned a living purely thanks to Vandersteen collectors.

De Familie Snoek, by Willy Vandersteen
'De Familie Snoek'.

De Familie Snoek
Vandersteen's first major series after the creation of 'Suske en Wiske' was the witty gag comic 'De Familie Snoek' (1945-1954, 1965-1972), which ran in De Nieuwe Standaard (later retitled De Standaard). Contrary to 'Suske en Wiske' it featured a real family. Vandersteen's friend Wim Goderis was a major contributor to the gags, which he often based on his own family life. The main characters are Leonard Snoek, his wife Marie, teenage daughter Gaby and young son Sloeber. Most gags feature the gullible and naïve couple in all kinds of zany events. Later gags added Albert, Leonard's millionaire brother from the U.S., and an impolite neighbour, Krab, who talks in telegram style, like Jerom. At a certain point Gaby married her neighbour Stan Steur, who works as a comic artist and is a self-portrait of the author. This marked the first instance of two main cast members in a Belgian comic strip marrying and having children of their own. The couple even received twins: Pietje and Mietje. Unintentionally, 'De Familie Snoek' is nowadays also a nostalgic time capsule of life in Flanders just after World War II. 

The original series ran from 22 December 1945 until 9 January 1954, but on 16 April 1965 it made a comeback in a rebooted version. The characters were redesigned by Eduard de Rop and Eugeen Goossens. This reboot ran in Pats, the junior supplement of De Standaard, but wasn't as popular. On 5 June 1969 it was discontinued and moved to TV Ekspres, where it ran from 14 June 1969 until 4 March 1972, with co-production by Eric de Rop. 'De Familie Snoek' appeared in French as 'La Famille Guignon' and in the 1960s also ran in the British magazine Sparky, first as 'The Pike Family', then as 'The Snooks'. More than one observer has noticed the conceptual similarities between 'De Familie Snoek' and Merho's later series 'De Kiekeboes'.

'De Vrolijke Bengels'.

De Vrolijke Bengels
For Ons Volkske, the children's supplement of Ons Volk, Vandersteen created the classic gag comic 'De Vrolijke Bengels' (1946-1954), which debuted on 1 August 1946. Gag comics about naughty children have always been popular in Belgium, with Rudolph Dirks' 'Katzenjammer Kids', Hergé's 'Quick & Flupke' and Pink (Eugeen Hermans)' 'Filipke en de Rakkers' as important predecessors. The jolly rascals in Vandersteen's comic are the boy genius Poliet who talks in rhyme, the girl Vlooike and the stone deaf twins Pontius and Pilatus. Originally there was also an obese kid named Patatje, but he was dropped for being too one-note. The kids often combat Tieter, a bossy and stupid police officer, but have a common enemy in Job, a mean youngster who enjoys playing pranks on them. De Vrolijke Bengels therefore always punish him back, occasionally with help from Tieter. Another recurring character is Mie Pladijs, an older woman whose cakes are frequently robbed by Job.

Between 3 April and 6 November 1947 'De Vrolijke Bengels' moved to 't Kapoentje, the youth supplement of Overal, after which Vandersteen took the series to another magazine titled Ons Volkske, this one the new children's supplement of Het Nieuwsblad, where it ran until the 35th issue in September 1954. 'De Vrolijke Bengels' had a change of concept between 9 March 1950 and 30 April 1953, when the child characters were replaced by Suske and Wiske, while Lambik became Tieter's deputy. In 1955 some 'Vrolijke Bengels' gags also ran in Revue. At the time the series was so popular that rival magazine 't Kapoentje felt the need to create a similar comic in the wake of Vandersteen's leaving, namely 'De Lustige Kapoentjes' (1947-1989). It was first drawn by Bob de Moor (1947-1949), then Marc Sleen (1950-1965) and afterwards continued by other artists until 1989. Because of its far longer run,  it has essentially overshadowed 'De Vrolijke Bengels' as the most typical Flemish children's gag comic from that era.

'De Vrolijke Bengels', now starring Suske and Wiske.

Minor comics
Between the late 1940s and late 1950s Vandersteen made several short-lived comic series. For Ons Volkske he created the chivalry comic 'Ridder Gloriant' (27 December 1945- 14 March 1946) - obviously inspired by Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant'. A second story ran in the newspaper Ons Volk between 3 December 1950 and 28 June 1951. He drew several realistically drawn one-shot comics for Ons Volkske as well. 'Het Roode Masker' (21 March-1 August 1946) is set during the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands in the 16th century. 'De Heldentocht der Bataven' (8 August - 19 December 1946) takes inspiration from the Batavian Uprising against the Romans, while 'De Zwarte Luipaard' (26 December 1946) is set during the Boer Wars. Vandersteen went to the Stone Age with 'Tussen Water en Vuur' (6 November 1947-13 May 1948) and the 18th-century Boerenkrijg peasant uprisings with 'De Jonge Brigand' (20 May 1948 - 13 January 1949). Readers of 't Kapoentje could enjoy his pirate adventure comic 'De Blauwe Kreeft' between 26 June and 20 November 1947.

Meanwhile the newspaper Ons Volk ran various realistic one-shot comics by Vandersteen. 'Marscommando's op Aarde' (14 July 1946 - 12 January 1947) is a science fiction story about invasions from Mars. A more atmospheric ghost story, 'Het Veenspook' (19 January - 30 March 1947) ran until Ons Volk had to change its name over a legal battle and became Overal, where it continued from 6 April until 29 June 1947. The underwater treasure hunt story 'Het Verzonken Rijk' could be read between 6 July and 9 November 1947. A few years before Hergé, Vandersteen already made a moon travel comic strip with 'De Eerste Maanraket' (16 November 1947 - 31 May 1948). The exotic thriller 'De Staalblauwe Boeddha' (6 June 1948 - 16 January 1949) is set in China and was mostly drawn by Maurice Tillieux. Vandersteen returned to horror with the werewolf story 'De Weerwolf' (26 June 1949 - 15 January 1950), while 'Het Gouden Masker' (11 June - 26 November 1950) takes place in darkest Africa. A rare humorous story for this magazine was 'Tanjar de Viking' (22 January - 4 June 1950), about a bluestone Viking statue which comes alive, not unlike the Golem. Vandersteen's final contribution was an adaptation of 'Willem Tell' (19 July - 20 September 1951).

'Het Veenspook', 1947. 

Vandersteen's pantomime comic 'Bert Trekkers' (1947) ran in the travel magazine De Toerist. For the monthly printers' publication Graphica he drew the gag comic 'Pietje Bovenkast' (1947-1948). To compete with Marc Sleen's annual 'De Ronde van Frankrijk' in Het Volk - a comic strip version about every individual contest in the Tour de France - Vandersteen created 'Draaien, Altijd Maar Draaien' (1948-1949) for De Standaard. The main difference was that he mostly illustrated Marius Sepacu's sports columns and quit his series after only two editions, while Sleen invented his own gags and continued 'De Ronde' up and until 1964. Vandersteen created the one-shot comic 'De Pantoscaaf' (March 1949 - July 1950) in De Knape, the magazine of the Katholieke Studenten Aktie, who also published it in book format.

For supermarket Centra, Vandersteen and his assistant Karel Boumans created the advertising comic 'De Familie Vergaren' (1958-1959), which also ran in French as 'La Famille Tirelire'. Its storylines featured a family trying to save money by shopping at Centra. In 1960 the artist made 'Geschipper naast Mathilde' (1960) for De Zondagmorgen, a celebrity comic based on the popular Flemish TV sitcom 'Schipper Naast Mathilde' (1955-1963). He already grew tired of it after one episode and passed it on to Eugeen Decamps and Eduard de Rop who continued it for a little while more. This wasn't the only comic strip based on 'Schipper Naast Mathilde', by the way. The same year Johan Anthierens and Eddy Ryssack also created 'Kapitein Matthias' (1960) for Humo.

'Tijl Uilenspiegel'.

Tijl Uilenspiegel
For the comic magazines Tintin and Ons Volk, Vandersteen created the historical adventure comic 'Tijl Uilenspiegel', loosely based on Charles de Coster's 1861 novel (originally co-illustrated by Félicien Rops). Set in the 16th century, the original novel depicts Tijl as a trickster who frequently fools people, including priests. He eventually becomes "the spirit of Flanders" when he uses his wits to fight the Spanish oppressors. In his adaptation Vandersteen left out all scenes that were too adult or anti-religious and focused primarily on Uilenspiegel's resistance fighting. He condensed many chapters, added his own imagination and took many cues from artwork by Bruegel, 'Tijl Uilenspiegel' remains a highlight in Vandersteen's oeuvre. The first story, 'Opstand der Geuzen', ran in Tintin between 26 September 1951 and 24 December 1952. The second and final story, 'Fort Oranje', ran between 7 January and 9 December 1953 and brought Tijl and his friends to New Amsterdam in pre-colonial America. This album was almost completely drawn by Karel Verschuere. Other artists who occasionally assisted were Bob de Moor and Tibet.

Judi / Rudi
'Judi' (1952-1956), ran in Ons Volkske between 23 October 1952 and 11 March 1954. It told events from the Old Testament from the viewpoint of a 14-year old boy named Judi. The stories were published in book format by Catholic publishing house Sheed & Ward, with approval from Leo Suenens, who was then auxiliary bishop of Mechelen and later became cardinal of Belgium (1961-1979). However, most young readers didn't enjoy its dry, preachy tone and even among Catholic teachers and preachers it was criticized for its liberal and often sensational approach of the Bible. In total only six stories were made. The first three installments were mostly pencilled by Vandersteen and inked by Karel Verschuere, while Verschuere made the fourth album, 'De Zwervers' (1956), all by himself. When the stories were reprinted in the Ohee series in the 1960s, Verschuere drew one final story, 'Het Beloofde Land' (1968) with the character, who was renamed 'Rudi'. The final two stories weren't even prepublished: they appeared straight in book form.

'Bessy' #1 - 'Het Geheim Van Rainy Lake' (1954).

Inspired by the popularity of 'Lassie', Vandersteen and Karel Verschuere created a more succesful blend of adventure and didactics: 'Bessy'. Vandersteen asked MGM for permission to create a comic strip around Lassie and even bought a collie dog. However, they insisted on exact adaptations, so in the end he just came up with his own series. Just like Lassie, Bessy is a female collie, but all action is set in the Far West. Bessy and her owner Andy travel through the prairie with occasional educational intermezzos. Whenever the duo encounters an animal or a plant, captions give readers a small biology lesson. 'Bessy' took off on 24 December 1952 in La Libre Belgique, before making its Dutch-language debut in the weekly Ons Volk (17 December 1953) and from 1959 on in the newspapers Het Belang van Limburg and De Gazet van Antwerpen. One story, 'De Gevangene van de Witchinoks', also appeared in De Standaard. In the Netherlands, 'Bessy' also ran in the Catholic weekly Katholieke Illustratie (1955-1966), while De Telegraaf published two stories, 'De Strijdbijl' en 'De Verdwaalden', between 1960 and 1961. However, the series knew its biggest success in Germany, where Bastei Verlag published the stories in the youth magazine Pony between October 1958 and August 1960, after which it ran in the magazine Felix. From 15 February 1965 on new stories were churned out every month (!) and by the 58th album every week (!!). In the end about 992 'Bessy' titles appeared exclusively for the German market. Some were never translated to Dutch or French (and vice versa). Twenty titles were instantly released as books without prepublication.

Vandersteen was forced to hire new assistants and establish a whole separate unit. He gave Verschuere co-credit, albeit not under his full name, but as part of a collective pseudonym: Wirel ("Wi" for Willy, "Rel" for Karel). His assistant also received 20 percent payment of the royalties. No other Studio Vandersteen employee had received such benefits. Not even any of other assistants who industriously worked on 'Bessy' over the decades: Frans Anthonis, Jeff Broeckx, Chris Callebaut, Eduard De Rop, Eric De Rop, Guy Derrie, Edgard Gastmans, Eugeen Goossens, Peter KoekenWalter Laureysens, Michel Mahy, Jan Moens, Jacky Pals, Jean Bosco SafariFrank Sels, Marcel Steurbaut, Christian Vandendriessche, Anne Van De VeldePatrick van Lierde, Ron van Riet, Jos Vanspauwen, Jean Veyt, Jos Verreycken, Robert Wuyts, nor the scriptwriters Jacques Bakker, Daniël Jansens and  Hugo Renaerts. While the profits of 'Bessy' were high, it must be said that some of these hundreds of German stories were reprints. Others were shameless rehashings of other western comics by Vandersteen, especially 'Karl May'. The studio often recycled these stories panel by panel, changed the hero's face with Andy's and drew Bessy in the backgrounds. Everything was so rushed-out that the drawings became sloppier. On 12 January 1984, 'Bessy' was discontinued in La Libre Belgique. Bastei terminated their contract too a year later, feeling they didn't get their money's worth. Not all complaints were about the graphic quality: in some case they asked to tone the violence down.

Scriptwriter Marck Meul and artist Jeff Broeckx tried rebooting the series as 'Bessy, Natuurkommando' (1985-1992), in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund. The modernized version featured Andy and Bessy with two new characters, a young woman named Aneka and a little boy, Kid. The setting was changed to the present, with the characters being wildlife preservers. Some stories appeared in De Stipkrant, the children's supplement of the newspaper De Standaard. Bastei Verlag published it as 'Bessy - Rettung für die bredrohten Tiere'. 'Bessy Natuurkommando' managed to lengthen the series even after Vandersteen's death, but it eventually was discontinued in 1992.

't Prinske, by Willy Vandersteen (Kuifje, 1955)
''t Prinske' (Kuifje, 26 May 1954).

't Prinske
Between 23 December 1953 and 14 October 1959 Vandersteen created the gag comic ''t Prinske' (1953-1955) for Tintin and Ons Volkske. The series revolves around a young prince from the fictious kingdom Marmeladië. In the original version he remained nameless, but in the French translation, 'Son Altesse Riri' and later 'Le Prince Riri', he was given the name Riri. Many gags feature him interacting with a solemn court marshall and another prince around his age, Foerak. Eduard de Rop was one of the inkers.

Het Plezante Circus
After 'De Vrolijke Bengels' had run its course, Vandersteen created a new gag comic for Ons Volkske titled 'Het Plezante Circus' (1954-1958), which ran between 9 September 1954 and 10 April 1958. It also appeared in French as 'Le Cirque Zim-Boum'. Set in a circus, the comic features two children, Jefke the acrobat and Mieke the dancer, Gust the clown and Karlo the magician. The misanthropic worker Bros serves as the antagonist.

De Lustige Zwervers
As a replacement for 'Het Plezante Circus', Vandersteen created 'De Lustige Zwervers' (1958-1960), which ran in Ons Volkske from 17 April 1958 until 11 August 1960. Karel Boumans and Eduard de Rop were frequent assistants. The gags center around two tramps, Job and Bob, who are shadowed by a secret agent, Agent 17, who wants to arrest them for vagrancy. Though short-lived, much of the concept was an embryonic version of Vandersteen's far longer-running 'Robert en Bertrand' (1972-1992).

Het Plezante Circus, by Willy Vandersteen
'Het Plezante Circus' (Ons Volkske). French-language version. 

De Rode Ridder
On 5 November 1959 Vandersteen launched a comic strip adaptation of Leopold Vermeiren's popular series of novels about Johan, a noble red knight: 'De Rode Ridder', which had been serialized in De Kleine Zondagsvriend, a Sunday juvenile supplement in the newspaper De Gazet van Antwerpen. The original stories were illustrated by a pseudonymous artist named "Jan de Simpele", later followed by Gustaaf De BruynePaul Ausloos and then Karel Verschuere. Vandersteen always had a soft spot for historical adventure stories and since Verschuere worked for his studio too, it seemed to be an easy deal. However, De Zuidnederlandse Uitgeverij owned the rights. Antoon Sap, publisher at NV Standaard Boekhandel, solved the problem by simply signing Vermeiren under their contract. The novelist greenlighted the comic strip adaptation, but preferred his name to be left off the credits because he also worked as a school inspector. For the same reason his occasional scriptwriting for Jef Nys 'Jommeke' also stayed anonymous. Vermeiren only gave permission to use Johan, none of his other characters. As a result the novels and comic strip take place in a different universe. The only similarity between the two, other than the name and title hero, was that Vermeiren changed his protagonist's black hair colour into blonde on the book covers so he'd resemble Johan from the comics more.

De Rode Ridder #2 - 'De Gouden Sporen'.

The first 'De Rode Ridder' comic strip was serialized in De Standaard. The early stories betray the influence (and occasional artwork) of Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant'. Johan is a lonely knight roaming through woods and fields, fighting for justice. Later he becomes a Knight of the Round Table and serves under King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The story 'King Arthur' (1964) introduced Merlin the wizard, who'd remain a regular cast member afterwards. The first story, 'Het Gebroken Zwaard' (1959), was mostly written and illustrated by Vandersteen's studio employees, based on a small synopsis he left behind before he embarked on a long voyage to South East Asia. The maestro wrote and drew the second story, 'De Gouden Sporen' (1960), completely on his own. Afterwards he took a seat back and concentrated on album cover design and scriptwriting, while his assistants did most of the artwork.

His son Bob Vandersteen drew backgrounds for the first three 'Rode Ridder' stories. Karel VerschuereEduard De Rop and Frank Sels illustrated the albums throughout most of the 1960s. This also explains why there was no real focus. Some stories take place in different era of the Middle Ages, often centuries apart from one another. Sometimes the tone is realistic, while other times Johan meets dragons, witches, fairies, gnomes and wizards. The knight travels through Continental Europe, but his horse occasionally brings him as far as Scandinavia, Iraq, Cambodia, Korea, China or Japan. Since the studio employees had to work on other series too and rush everything out for publication, occasional sloppy work was unavoidable. Off-model drawings, spelling mistakes and continuity, proportion or perspective errors were rampant. The infamous album 'De Zwarte Roos' (1968) has often been cited as the worst executed 'Rode Ridder' story.

But through it all Vandersteen's storytelling talent shines through. The adventures are captivating, suspenseful and overall epic. It helped 'De Rode Ridder' become a bestseller. Vermeiren's original novels also sold better as a result, even though the comic strip adaptation completely overshadowed them. Between 1969 and 2004 Karel Biddeloo took over 'De Rode Ridder' and transformed it into pure sword & sorcery, with sly eroticism. Vandersteen only scripted one story since: 'Het Dodenschip' (1974). After Biddeloos's death, Dutch comic artist Martin Lodewijk, of 'Agent 327' fame, became the series' new writer, while Claus Scholz provided illustration work. Peter van Gucht was briefly scriptwriter, until he was succeeded in 2012 by Marc Legendre. Since 2016 Italian artist Fabio Bono is the series' new illustrator. He took the opportunity to give the always clean-shaven Johan a stubble.

Pats / Tits
On 5 September 1962 all publications of De Standaard issued a new weekly supplement named Pats, starring a gag comic of the same name created solely by Eduard de Rop. The character was based on the popular puppet show Pats Poppenspel by Karel Weyler, who had already made puppets out of the 'Suske en Wiske' characters. The series ran until 8 February 1967, after which 'Jerom' took its place. On 28 February 1974 the Pats supplement was retitled De Patskrant and the title character redesigned. He received a baby sister, Treezebees, and a strange extraterrestrial pet which can best be described as a big-eared, flying squirrel. During this period Merho assisted on the series. On 23 August 1977 the Patskrant became the Stipkrant, while 'Pats' was restyled as 'Tits', because Pats' Poppenspel had sued for lack of financial compensation. The rest of the cast stayed the same and the comic continued until 3 June 1986, drawn by Peter Koeken.

'Pats' and 'Karl May'. 

Karl May
In 1962 Vandersteen rediscovered Karl May's old cowboy novels about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, which he so enjoyed as a boy. With help from Karel Verschuere, Frank Sels, Eduard de Rop, Eugeen Goossens and Karel Biddeloo he adapted them into a comic series. The first story wasn't prepublished, but the second one appeared in De Standaard from 10 December 1962 on. After 13 stories, 'Karl May' was moved to the children's supplement Pats, where new stories ran between 16 April 1965 and 6 December 1977. Some later ones were drawn/inked by Merho.

On 12 April 1965 Vandersteen launched 'Biggles', based on W.E. Johns' popular aviation novels. These novels had been adapted into comic strips before by foreign artists like Pim van Boxsel, Albert De Vine, Rob Embleton, Ola Ericson, Gote Goransson, Guicha, Roger Melliès, Maurice Rondepierre, Alfred Sindall and Mike Western, but as always Vandersteen managed to put his own spin on it. The series was mostly drawn by Verschuere and Karel Biddeloo. Biddeloo eventually continued the series on his own until 19 January 1970. 

De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia
The most unusual comic strip in Vandersteen's career was 'De Geschiedenis van Sleenovia' (1965), made when Marc Sleen left newspaper het Volk to join De Standaard, but contractual obligations prevented him from using 'Nero' in this paper for about three months. To fill in this gap, Gaston Durnez scripted a 'Nero' story of his own, which was cut-and-pasted from old 'Nero' stories, while Vandersteen's assistants Eduard de Rop and Karel Verschuere provided most of the extra artwork. However Het Volk sued and for a few weeks the characters were slightly remodelled to avoid copyright infringement. Eventually the legal matters were resolved outside court doors and the one-shot comic continued as planned. In 2017, the story was finally published in book format by Peter Bonte with a cover drawing by Sleen's longtime assistant Dirk Stallaert.

'Biggles' and 'Safari'. 

In the late 1960s the TV series 'Daktari' (1966-1969) - about a vet in East-Africa - was quite popular. It inspired Vandersteen to create a comic strip, 'Safari' (6 May 1969 - 29 January 1974), which ran in Pats, mostly illustrated by Karel Biddeloo and Merho. Contrary to 'Daktari', 'Safari' is set in Central Africa and stars a white hunter: Sam Burton. Sam is assisted by biologist Ellen Moore, her son Tim and a Maasaï hunter named Mgono. Much like 'Bessy', it had regular intermezzos to educate readers about African culture, fauna and flora. Quite unusual for Vandersteen was the fact that it followed a continuous storyline throughout all albums. Much of its concept was modelled after the British comic series 'Fraser of Africa' (1960-1961) by George Beardmore and Frank Bellamy. which also featured a white hunter and a Maasaï. 'Safari' was eventually terminated by lack of success, which Vandersteen attributed to the demystification of Africa through TV.

Robert en Bertrand by Willy Vandersteen
Robert en Bertrand #1 - 'Mysterie Op Rozendael'.

Robert en Bertrand
When Vandersteen quit 'Suske en Wiske' in 1972, he had more time for a new ambitious series. Since childhood he was a huge fan of Raf Verhulst's 'Robert en Bertrand', about two happy-go-lucky tramps. In the late 19th and early 20th century their adventures were subject of many theatrical plays and children's novels. Vandersteen cherished a lifelong dream to make a comic strip about them, set in the 19th century. In his version the blond-haired Robert and black-haired Bertrand are scoundrels too, but fight injustice wherever they go. Their motto is "Slechts in 't gevaar, geweld in 't gebaar." ("Only when in danger, violence is allowed."). During their journeys they meet a young Moldavian prince Joeki (modelled after Vandersteen himself as a child), whom they adopt. The trio is constantly stalked by secret agent Nr. 17, who wants to jail them for vagrancy. As a running gag Vandersteen also added a little snail in many of his panels. 'Robert en Bertrand' (1972-1992) ran in De Standaard from 30 November 1972 until 6 July 1992. While some regard it as one of Vandersteen's finest achievements, the series was never a huge hit with audiences. From 1985 on the scripts were written by Marck Meul, while Ron van Riet provided the artwork. Other people who made graphic contributions were Eugeen Goossens, Jeff Broeckx (inking), Anne Van De Velde (inking), Marie-Claire De Cock (coloring), Eduard de Rop and his son Eric.

De Geuzen, by Willy Vandersteen
De Geuzen - 'De Wildeman van Gaasbeek'.

De Geuzen
In 1972 Vandersteen developed a comic series set in the 16th century, during the Spanish occupation of Flanders. The main characters are slightly based on 'Tijl Uilenspiegel', namely a young hero (Hannes), his sweetheart (Veerle) and an obese comedic sidekick (Tamme), all expies for Tijl, Nele and Lamme Goedzak. The original comic went as far as 11 pages, before Vandersteen abandoned it. Thirteen years later he returned to his original idea and redesigned the characters. The end result, 'De Geuzen' (1985-1990), started out as a humorous series, but from the fifth album on both the artwork as well as the tone became more realistic. Vandersteen felt very attached to 'De Geuzen' and spent a lot of historic research. As a personal tribute each story reproduced an engraving by Bruegel. The love scenes between Hannes and Veerle were also far more sensual - though still chaste - in comparison with his other series. He really put his soul in this passion project and therefore didn't seek prepublication anywhere. Instead all stories instantly appeared in book form. Vandersteen also insisted on no assistance and didn't allow anyone to continue it after his death. Though, as his health deteriorated, some of his artists did occasionally fill in for him, most notably inker Eugeen Goossens.

While it's often claimed that 'De Geuzen' was Vandersteen's final series, his actual swan song was 'Schanulleke' (1988), a spin-off built around Wiske's rag doll. It originally took off as two children's adventure comic books, 'Schanulleke in de Dierentuin' (1986) and 'Eiko de Wijze Boom' (1986), in which Vandersteen gave Schanulleke a male sidekick: the clown doll Duddul. On 27 December 1988 'Schanulleke' became a one-page gag-comic for young readers, running in De Stipkrant, the children's supplement of De Standaard, and later in the Dutch toddlers' magazine Okki too. The gags were written by Patty Klein and drawn by Eric de Rop.

Media adaptations
A real-life rag doll based on Schanulleke was made available by the Antwerp firm Morema as early as 1947. The same year, Karel Weyler of Pats Poppenspel created a series of popular puppet plays based on the characters. They toured all over Flanders. By 1958 these hand puppets became commercially available as toys, along with a 1960 hook-and-ring game named "Op-Jerommeke". In 1948 cartoonist Pil designed a ceramic statuette of Wiske. Between 9 October 1955 and October 1957, Belvision produced some very low-budget animated TV cartoons based on the 'Suske en Wiske' stories published in Tintin magazine, broadcast on the Flemish public TV channel N.I.R. (nowadays V.R.T.). The most popular media adaptation was Wies Andersen's puppet show 'Suske en Wiske', broadcast on Dutch TV by the TROS from 6 October 1975 until 15 December 1976. Aided by a catchy theme song, the program increased the franchise's popularity in the Netherlands to such a degree that Vandersteen didn't have to worry about financial troubles for the rest of his life. The series had six original stories, later adapted into albums too. In 1989-1991 several 'Suske en Wiske' stories were adapted into an animated TV series by Atelier 5, broadcast on VTM. The animation was so limited that many episodes relied on constant stock footage. One of the Studio Vandersteen people who worked on these productions was Eugeen Goossens.

In 1994 'Suske en Wiske' was adapted into a succesful theatrical musical, 'De Stralende Sterren', which also travelled the Netherlands with equal success. Two other musicals followed, 'De Spokenjagers' (2002) and 'De Circusbaron' (2008). In 2004 the story 'De Duistere Diamant' (2004) was adapted into film, while a a CGI-animated film, 'Luke and Lucy: The Texas Rangers' (2009) followed a few years later. Over the decades, 'Suske en Wiske' has inspired books, audio plays, video games, figurines, jam jars, crockery and tons of other merchandising.

'De Sissende Sampan' (1963). In 1959-1960 Vandersteen had travelled to South-East Asia and was deeply shocked by the poverty in Shanghai, which inspired not only this album, but also this scene. 

As popular as Vandersteen is, he has been subject of several controversies too. Early in his career he didn't shy away from plagiarism. The original newspaper print of 'Rikki en Wiske in Chocowakije' (1945) stole a scene from 'Tintin in America' in which gangsters shoot the reporter from an open window, which then turns out to be a dummy. However, this was removed in the album version. Rob Møhlmann's book 'Prins Valiants Zwartboek Over Plagiaat' (1982) caused an uproar at the time for exposing how Vandersteen copied imagery from Pieter Bruegel, Gustave Doré, Hal Foster and Alex Raymond for many scenes in 'Judi', 'Ridder Gloriant', 'De Rode Ridder' and 'Suske en Wiske'. Vandersteen admitted borrowing poses, but defended himself that there were no reference guides available at the time. Indeed, Vandersteen wasn't the only comic artist at the time who did this. And it must be said that while he often looked for inspiration in other media, he usually wrote original storylines around the imagery, setting and a few major characters. In that sense he was closer to a great fanfiction writer than a plagiarist.

Vandersteen has also often been accused of commercialism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s many 'Suske en Wiske' stories expressed Flemish-nationalist viewpoints, including sympathy for repressed collaborators. These were so controversial at times that some readers wrote angry letters and certain albums couldn't appear in book format, nor French translation, before all these references were removed. Many people who knew Vandersteen personally called him apolitical, which made these controversial remarks more a result of following his paper's ideology and public opinion than any true conviction. Indeed, once Vandersteen's sales rose, he eliminated all such commentary in favour of more general jabs at "incompetent politicians, policemen, tax inspectors and civil servants." The only real controversy he caused since was the story 'De Toornige Tjiftjaf' (1970) in which he criticized bird hunters, a debate which polarized many people. He received angry letters, but in the end the practice was banned in Belgium. Vandersteen often submitted to the demands of his publishers and advertisers. Some fans dislike the way he redesigned 'Suske en Wiske' for Tintin, because his style became too streamlined. Aiming at the much bigger market in the Netherlands, many 'Suske en Wiske' stories were set there, with the cast flying with Dutch airline company KLM in blatant product placement. Many old-school fans feel this "Hollandisation" destroyed the charm of the original series. Some Dutch fans agree too, deliberately purchasing the dialect versions of old albums, rather than the standard Dutch versions.

Another bow to commercial pressure was the increasing preachiness. Vandersteen clearly tried to appeal to moral guardians and give his comics a more wholesome reputation. Especially in the Netherlands, comics had a bad public image, so "educational comics" had a bigger chance to see publication. Many stories became allegories and metaphors for real-life issues, building up to a predictable moral, blatantly explained at the end.

Sequence from the original version of 'De Witte Uil' (1948).

Vandersteen's studio has often been accused of putting quantity over quality. Vandersteen typically launched a comic because he was interested in a certain setting. After a couple of stories he usually grew tired of it. Some he just discontinued, but slightly popular ones were simply passed on to his co-workers. Without the master's guidance, most inevitably turned into soulless factory products. Certain 'Suske en Wiske' stories were purely made as exclusive advertising comics (and collectables afterwards, since they weren't part of a regular series). Others cashed in on local tourism, popular TV shows or annual thematic events. Even older stories weren't respected. Classic 'Suske en Wiske' titles were randomly added to the regular series without any consideration for chronology. Several classic albums were redrawn and -colorized by assistants to look more like the newer stories. If this wasn't bad enough, the new artwork often looked sloppy and wooden. Fan backlash was so huge, that the remaining older stories were reprinted in their original look. The eight 'Suske en Wiske' stories originally published in Tintin were also added to the red series, though since they usually counted more pages certain scenes were clumsily removed. In some cases this caused noticeable continuity errors, which confused many readers.

Less inspired redrawn version of 'De Witte Uil' (1972).

Many former employees described Vandersteen as a great boss. He didn't mind whether they clowned around, because he considered a fun atmosphere essential to create entertaining stories. Yet he was also leniant about them muddling along, being late, working overtime or delivering subpar work. As long as the deadlines were reached, everything was fine. Naturally readers and publishers noticed that certain series really went downhill. By 1984 Standaard Uitgeverij was forced to intervene, because many papers and magazines had discontinued their contracts. Series way past their popularity, like 'Karl May', 'Tits' and 'Jerom', were cancelled, while 'Bessy' was retooled. In the end Vandersteen didn't regard himself as an artist anyway. He once called his profession "merely a craft one should try to do as good as possible." This could explain his grocery mentality. 

Graphic contributions
Throughout his career, Vandersteen occasionally illustrated a few books by Flemish or Dutch novelists. In 1945 he illustrated four children's books in the 'Zoo ik een ... was' series. It featured the life of an Eskimo, Native American, pirate and knight through the imagination of a child. They were published by Standaard Boekhandel and popular enough to be translated in French by Casterman. He created calendars for the Flemish Catholic Boy Scout movement (1953/1954) and a brochure (1959) to prevent juvenile crime. Between 1960 and 1962 six pre school reading books were written by Leopold Vermeiren, 'Wij Lezen met Suske en Wiske', but illustrated by Vandersteen's assistant Eduard de Rop. Vandersteen illustrated a Christmas single by Jo Leemans too: 'Aba Heidschi Bumbeidschi / Maria's Kind' (1968). In 1970 Vandersteen made the propaganda comic 'Met Kil en Fil op het Kiliaanpad' for the Antwerp delegation of the Christian-Democratic party CVP. In 1980 he was one of many Belgian comic artists to make a graphic contribution to 'Er Waren Eens Belgen.../Il Était Une Fois... Les Belges', published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium.

'De Wervelende Waterzak' (1988) was the final 'Suske en Wiske' album drawn by Willy Vandersteen. It was a tribute to the Scouts movement.

Vandersteen won one comic award during his career, namely "Best Comic Script" (1977) at the Festival of Angoulême, for the 'Robert en Bertrand' episode 'De Stakingbreker'. In 1989 he was also honoured as one of the few comic pioneers to be inducted in the permanent exhibition at the Brussels Comics Center.

Parody & plagiarism
Willy Vandersteen is arguably the most imitated and spoofed Dutch-language comic artist. In 1949 his assistant François-Joseph Herman created 'Le Secret de la Mer' (1949-1950) for the magazine Feu Sacré, an adventure story which bore a strong resemblance to the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'Lambiorix'. Halfway the plot the comic was abruptly ended, possibly through interference of Vandersteen himself. Ben Jansen made the pornographic 'Suske en Wiske' parody 'De Glunderende Gluurder' (1982), while Johnn Bakker drew a more political satire, 'De Keizerkraker' (1982), about the Amsterdam squatters' movement. Both became infamous because Standaard Uitgeverij fought them in court over copyright infringement, although Vandersteen himself bought a copy of 'De Glunderende Gluurder' and could see the humor in it. Zak named a satirical comic book about the Pope 'De Vliegende Paap' (1982), after the 'Suske en Wiske' story 'De Vliegende Aap', while Erik Meynen named the first story of his celebrity comic 'Van Rossem' 'De Poenschepper', a nod to the similarly titled 'Suske en Wiske' story. For the newspaper De Morgen Kamagurka ridiculed the S&W story 'De Rosse Reus' (1981), while it was running in the rival paper De Standaard. Between 2004 and 2006 Windig & De Jong made the gag comic 'Sliske', featuring a teethless version of Vandersteen's Wiske ("slissen" is Dutch for "to lisp"). Marc Scherbateyev created an erotic parody of Wiske, titled 'Nudiske'. 

In his series 'Lolo et Sucette', Marc Hardy once depicted Lambik and Jerom as two gays who are into leather. During the early 1990s Tom Bouden imagined a grown-up version of Suske & Wiske titled 'Suster en Wiebke', followed by a full comic book parody: 'Suster en Wiebke. Het Dertigersdipje' (2019). De Rode Ridder has been spoofed by TV show 'Buiten de Zone' (as 'De Roze Ridder'), Jeroom  (as 'Ridder Bauknecht'), Tom Bouden & Kim Duchateau ('Herman de Lichtroze Ridder'), Pascal Agotha ('Nahoj, de Groene Ridder') and Geinz and Jean Deras ('De Rode Ruiter'). In 1971 Ever Meulen spoofed 'De Vrolijke Bengels' in Humo as a bunch of stoners, trying to run from the law.  For the same magazine Fritz Van den Heuvel made the one-shot comic 'Tipy Gaat Kamperen' (1991), in which 'Bessy' is spoofed. 

Final years and death
In 1990 Vandersteen passed away from cancer. In his testament he left specific instructions behind about his series. Yet without his genius most were doomed to die out. 'Bessy' disappeared in the sunset in 1992, while 'Robert en Bertrand' was cancelled in 1993, not even making its 100th album. Today only 'Suske en Wiske' and 'De Rode Ridder' remain in production, although they have been retooled and remodelled often to appeal to modern readers. Some posthumous spin-offs of 'Suske en Wiske' have come about as well, such as the children's series 'Klein Suske en Wiske' (2002-2015) by Jeff Broeckx. More adult and stylistically different spin-offs have been 'The Red Knight' (1990) by Ronald Grossey and Marvano, 'Amoras' (2013) by Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré, 'J. ROM - Force of Gold' (2014-2016) by Bruno De Roover and Romano Molenaar, 'Cromimi (2017)' by Yann and Gerben Valkema, 'Red Rider' (2017) by Lectrr and Stedho and 'Boemerang' (2018) by Conz and Steven Dupré.

Evelien and Kees Kousemaker with Willy Vandersteen, 1968
Kees Kousemaker and his wife Evelien, alongside special guest Willy Vandersteen, at Lambiek's opening day on 8 November 1968. 

Legacy and influence
Willy Vandersteen remains a highly popular and respected author in the Low Countries. He had a considerable cultural impact. In Flemish dialect a strongman (or someone who thinks he is) is often called a "Jerommeke", while dumb twits are sometimes compared with Lambik. Many bars in Flanders have been named after Lambik as well. On 8 November 1968 Kees Kousemaker opened the first European comics store in Amsterdam and named it Lambiek. Willy Vandersteen was present at the opening party. Between 2000 and 2004 a Dutch club specialized in vandalizing speed cameras and named themselves after the 'Suske en Wiske' story De Tuf-Tuf-Club, which also involves speeding cars. They were eventually disbanded for breaking the law and sued by Vandersteen's heirs for copyright infringement. Theme park Walibi in Waver also has a bumper car ride named Tuf Tuf Club. Since 2010 Vandersteen's name also lives on in the Willy Vandersteenpijs, an annual comics award.

Several monuments have been erected to honour Vandersteen and his work. On 8 June 1965 Suske and Wiske received a statue in Zuiddorpe, Netherlands, and another one on 19 May 1979 in the Antwerp Zoo, sculpted by René Rosseel. On 17 September 1995 a statue was erected by Gilbert Uitdenhouwen at the Heidestatiestraat in Antwerp. Vandersteen received a statue of his own in Hasselt, sculpted by Gerald Moonen on 13 February 1988. His birth house in the Seefhoek in Antwerp has a commemorative plaque since 1991, while the town where he spent most of his life and career - Kalmthout - has several other memorials, including a path (1986) and a bust, designed by Valeir Peirsman on 15 September 2007, which also became the name of the local square. Vandersteen's old villa in Kalmthout became an interactive children's museum on 29 November 1997. In June 1995 a comic book wall dedicated to 'Suske en Wiske' was inaugurated in the Rue de Laeken/Laekensestraat 116 by G. Oreopoulos and D. Vandegeerde, as part of the Brussels Comics Route. Four other comics walls were created in the Korte Ridderstraat 8 in Antwerp (13 May 2006), near the station of Kalmthout (26 April 2009), the Handelsstraat in Antwerp (16 October 2015) and in the IJzerlaan in Middelkerke (24 September 2018). In 2002 Monique Mol created another statue dedicated to Suske & Wiske in Middelkerke. In the comics neighbourhood of the Dutch city Almere streets have been named after Wiske, Sidonia, Lambik and Jerom. The 2017 indoor theme park Comics Station in Antwerp was modelled after six Belgian comic series, among them 'Suske en Wiske'.

Willy Vandersteen influenced practically the entire post-World War II comic scene in Flanders: Bob De Moor, Marc Sleen, Piet Tibos, Ever Meulen, Jean-Pol, Hec Leemans, KamagurkaPaul Geerts, Marc Verhaegen, Jan Bosschaert, Merho, Willy LinthoutUrbanusErik MeynenStedhoPierre BoschmansSteven Dupré, Steve MichielsLuc MorjaeuNixLuc CromheeckeKim DuchateauBavoThijs De Cloedt and Conz, to name a few, are all indebted to him. In Wallonia he influenced François Walthéry, Marc Hardy and Jean Van Hamme. In the Netherlands, followers can be spotted in the work of Martin Lodewijk, Theo van den Boogaard, Joost SwarteDick Matena, Gerrit de Jager, Co Loerakker, Hanco Kolk, Gleever, Hein de KortMaaike HartjesNorbert MiraniJos BeekmanWilfred OttenheijmRobin VinckBerend Vonk and Windig and De Jong. An obscure Dutch duo named Schietvereniging Okido created a 1988 comic, 'Zef Bef', in which both Lambik and Marc Sleen's Nero have cameos. 

Books about Willy Vandersteen
Peter van Hoeydonck's 'Willy Vandersteen. De Bruegel van het Beeldverhaal' (1994) and Rolf van Ryck's 'Willy Vandersteen. Van Kitty Inno tot de Geuzen' (1994) remain the standard works about Vandersteen's life and career. Van Hoeydonck's '50 Jaar Suske en Wiske' (1995) is a fascinating work about everything that makes the franchise great. Luk Guilaume's 'Willy Vandersteen, De Interviews - De Foto's' (2005) collects all interviews the maestro ever gave. Ronald Grossey in turn wrote an interesting study about Vandersteen's studio, 'Studio Vandersteen, Kroniek van een Legende (1947-1990)' (2007).

Comics shop Lambiek will always be grateful to Vandersteen for illustrating the letter "L" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen', published in 1979.

Final panel from 'De Tamtamkloppers', featuring a classic wink from Wiske. 

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