Natacha, by François Walthery
Natacha - La mémoire de métal (1974). The villain in the final panel is a caricature of Maurice Tillieux.

The Belgian comics artist François Walthéry was one of the most prominent contributors to Spirou magazine in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He first made his mark as a loyal assistant and pupil of Peyo, for whom he drew episodes of 'Jacky et Célestin' and 'Benoît Brisefer'. He is however best-known as co-creator of the sexy air hostess 'Natacha' (1970), one of the first heroines in the popular children's magazine of Éditions Dupuis. His other work either showcase the artist's talent for drawing sensual female characters, or his nostalgic side and roots in the Liège region.

Walthéry was born in 1946 in Argenteau, and raised in Cheratte. His peaceful childhood in the small town has served as an inspiration for Walthéry's later nostalgic comic series 'Le P'tit Bout d'Chique' and 'Le Vieux Blue'. While growing up in post-war poverty, the young Walthéry developed a keen passion for comics. His ambition to become a comics artist was supported by his parents. Among his influences were the classic Franco-Belgian artists Hergé and André Franquin, whose 'Spirou' episode 'La Corne de Rhinocéros' he largely copied when he was a child. Later influences were Maurice Tillieux and Mad Magazine artists like Wallace Wood and Jack Davis. Walthéry was only 15 years old when he presented his work, a comic strip called 'Les Garnements', to comics artist Jean Mariette, better known as Mittéï, who lived nearby.

Pipo by Walthery
Pipo, by Pop's

Mittéï gave him inking, framing and erasing chores, and also provided him with his first professional assigment. In 1962, Junior, the children's supplement of the weekly magazine Chez Nous, as well as its Dutch-language equivalent Ons Volkske, was in need of a new gag strip when their regular artist Géri turned ill. Mittéï proposed his young assistant, which resulted in the publication of 18 gag pages starring the little boy 'Pipo' (1962). Walthéry signed this early work with "Pop's". In that same year, he enrolled in the Saint-Luc Institute in Liège, where he took courses for about a year. It was during his studies that he met the future comics artists Pierre Seron, Dany and Hachel, as well as the scriptwriter Michel Dusart.

Jacky et Celestin by Francois Walthery
Jacky et Célestin - Casse-tête Chinoise

In the summer of 1963, the 17-year old art school dropout tried his luck with Spirou magazine. His meeting with editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte, publisher Charles Dupuis and comics artist Peyo has become a legendary anecdote, as the boy arrived in short trousers and was accompanied by his mother. The editors were convinced by his talent, and Walthéry got the opportunity to replace Francis Bertrand in Peyo's art studio at the Avenue de Boetendael in Brussels in September 1963. Among his early assigments was drawing 'Jacky et Célestin', a humor/adventure series created by Peyo and Will for the newspaper supplement Le Soir Illustré in 1960. After four episodes drawn by Will and Jo-El Azara, Walthéry was handed art duties. His first story, 'Vous êtes trop bon!' (1963-1964, script by Peyo and Vicq) and was followed by 'Casse-tête-chinois' (1964-1965, script by Gos and Derib), 'Sur la piste du scorpion' (1965-1966, script by Peyo and Gos) and 'Le Chinois est rancunier' (1966-1967, script by Peyo, Gos and Walthéry). Walthéry drew most of 'Casse-tête-chinois' and the beginning of 'Sur la piste du scorpion' while fulfilling his military service in Germany. Two more 'Jacky et Célestin' stories were drawn by Francis and Roger Leloup from scripts by Mittéï between 1966 and 1968. Despite being created by some of the top authors of European comics, the series' outset is rather one-dimensional: the smart guy Jacky and his more reckless friend Célestin regularly just end up in dangerous situations. It is largely due to Walthéry's stories that the series has not faded into obscurity. His work on 'Jacky et Célestin' has been collected in four albums in the Dupuis collection 'Péchés de Jeunesse' between 1980 and 1985.

Benoit Brisefer by F. Walthery
Benoît Brisefer - Tonton Placide

His most notable work for Studio Peyo are however the four albums he drew with 'Benoît Brisefer' (1966-1972), the little boy with a superhuman strength, who loses his powers when he catches a cold. 'Les Douze travaux de Benoît Brisefer' (1966) is still drawn largely in the Peyo tradition, but the next stories unveil more and more of Walthéry's own dynamic drawing style. 'Tonton Placide' (1968) was created to tie in with the popularity of James Bond, while 'Le Cirque Bodoni' (1969) brought the young and naïve boy to a struggling circus. The character didn't return until three years later in 'Lady d'Olphine' (1972), which marked the return of robot gangster granny Madame Adolphine from a previous episode. The backgrounds of Walthéry's final episode were drawn by Marc Wasterlain. The scripts for the series were written by Peyo in cooperation with either Yvan Delporte or Gos. Walthéry has expressed in interviews that most of the stories were truly a group effort. All befriended artists that visited Peyo's studio joyfully participated in coming up with plot ideas, including Jean Roba, André Franquin and Jidéhem.

Benoit Brisefer, by François Walthéry
Benoît Brisefer - Lady d'Olphine (1972)

Walthéry also participated in the artwork of several 'Smurfs' stories, as well as the 'Johan et Pirlouit' episode 'Le Sortilège de Maltrochu' (1967, 1969). Other assistants that worked for Peyo during Walthéry's time with the studio were Derib, Daniel Kox, Lucien De Gieter, Marc Wasterlain, André Benn and Albert Blesteau. Walthéry and his studio colleague Gos made the illustrations of a promotional manual for conscripts, which appeared as a supplement to the Belgian edition of Spirou magazine in June 1967. In their spare time, the two men also developed some of their own projects. One of these was a short story about 'Roland Labricole' (1968), an obvious caricature of Gos and a zealous handyman. Their most remarkable creation was however the air hostess 'Natacha', whose first preliminary sketches were made in 1967. Walthéry based her face on a neighbourhood girl he used to know. The concept was an idea of Spirou's editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte, who decided the magazine could use a female heroine in addition to Jidéhem's more youthful 'Sophie' (1965). However, it took three more years before the comic actually saw the light of day. The first episode, 'Natacha hôtesse de l'Air', made its debut in Spirou magazine on 26 February 1970.

Double vol, by Walthery
Natacha - Double vol (1975)

The series marked the arrival of female heroes in Spirou magazine, together with Roger Leloup's 'Yoko Tsuno', which began in the same year. More than Leloup's technical engineer, the voluptuous and short-skirted air hostess was quite a break in tradition within the conservative Catholic Spirou magazine. This was not just because she was the first female protagonist since 'Sophie', but also because she was a young, attractive woman rather than a schoolgirl. Censorship sometimes creeped in to make her less erotic. On some of her album covers, Natacha's breasts had to be redrawn to make their roundings underneath her shirt less prominent. Another aspect that made 'Natacha' different from previous comics in Spirou was the far more dynamic drawing style, with swift chase and fight scenes. By 1972 'Natacha' had become so popular that Walthéry left Peyo to fully concentrate on this hit series. The ever loyal Walthéry, along with Wasterlain, continued to assist Peyo on his 'Smurfs' comics when needed in the following years.

Instantanés pour Caltech by Walthery
Natacha - Instantanés pour Caltech (1981)

The first two 'Natacha' stories were written by Gos, but since then, Walthéry decided to work with a different scriptwriter for every album. This gives the series a varied tone and theme. The only constant factors are Natacha and the goofing flight attendant Walter, who work for the airline company Bardaf. Walthéry's friend Étienne Borgers introduced technology in the episode 'La Mémoire de Métal' (1973) and science fiction in the diptych 'Les Machines Incertaines' (1980, 1982). Crime/detective stories were written by the genre's specialist Maurice Tillieux in 'Un Trône pour Natacha' (1974) and 'Le Treizième Apôtre' (1976), while Raoul Cauvin provided his trademark slapstick in 'Les Nomades du Ciel' (1995). Walthéry's former tutor Mittéï also wrote several albums for the series, most notably the stories 'L'Hôtesse et Mona Lisa' (1979), 'Le Grand Pari' (1985) and 'Les Culottes de Fer' (1986), which focused on the adventures of Natacha and Walter's grandparents.

Natacha - L'ile d'outre-monde (1984)
Natacha - L'ile d'outre-monde (1984)

Further contributors to the series' scripts were Marc Wasterlain, Mythic, Michel Dusart, Guy D'Artet de Neufmoustier and Thierry Martens, while the artist used old scripts by Peyo, Tillieux and Sirius for his later stories. 'L'Épervier Bleu' (2014) was for instance a reworking of an old 1940s story of Sirius' series 'L'Épervier Bleu'. Walthéry also invited friends to participate in the artwork of his series. Throughout the years, Pierre Seron, Jidéhem, Will, Laudec, Mittéï, Georges van Linthout and Bruno di Sano have all contributed background or additional artwork to 'Natacha' albums.

Le Regard du Passe by Walthery
Natacha - Le Regard du Passe (2010)

The artist has always enjoyed drawing caricatures of his friends and colleagues in his pages. Examples of this are Victor Hubinon as an aviator in 'Les Nomades du Ciel' (1988) and Dany in 'La Veuve Noire' (1997). A more over-the-top utilization of this hobby was the episode 'Natacha et les Petits Miquets' (1978), in which the entire art staff of Spirou magazine has a starring role. Walthéry also gave Belgian politicians occasional cameos, such as Elio di Rupo and Louis Michel, who are cast as gangsters in 'La Mer des Rochers' (2004). Another remarkable episode was 'L'ile d'Outre-Monde' (1983, written by Wasterlain), in which Natacha and Walter are stranded on a deserted island. Walthéry could indulge in drawing his sexy heroine in scarcely clothed situations, while Will provided the attractive island settings. Although the 'Natacha' stories continued to appear in Spirou on a regular base until 1997, Walthéry had moved his album collection from Dupuis to Marsu Productions after the thirteenth album, in 1989. 'Natacha' returned to regular serialization in Spirou in 2006.

Le Vieux Bleu by Walthery
Le Vieux Bleu

Although 'Natacha' is his most important series, Walthéry has created a couple of other comics while working for Spirou. The first one was 'Le Vieux Bleu' ('The Old Blue One', 1974-1979), about a pigeon fancier set in the working class environment of Cheratte, the town in which Walthéry grew up. The series was inspired by Walthéry's own father who died of old age around this time period. He too kept a pigeon named "old blue one". The short stories appeared irregularly from scripts by Raoul Cauvin between 1974 and 1979, and was collected in album format by Dupuis in 1980. A version in the Liège dialect was also published. 'Le P'tit Bout d'Chique' was Walthéry's third series and was also largely based on nostalgia and childhood memories. The poetic strip about a little boy that is a little ill-at-ease in the world of adults was published in Spirou between 1975 and 1978. Marsu Productions collected the initial stories in an album in 1989. A new album written by Serdu and drawn by Walthéry followed in 1992. The series was then continued by Mittéï for another four albums between 1994 and 1998. 

P'tit Bout d'Chique, by François Walthery
Le P'tit Bout d'Chique

As Walthéry is notorious for being a slow worker, he has mostly worked with background artists and other contributing artists on his later-day projects. He was furthermore present at Lombard with the series about 'Rubine' (1993-2011), a sexy female cop based in Chicago. The comic was written by Mythic and drawn by Dragan de Lazare and later Boyan under supervision of Walthéry. Walthéry, a master in drawing beautiful women, further showcased his talent in the erotic comic 'Betty Strip' (Noir Dessin, 1992) and in 'Une Femme dans la Peau', an adult comic published by P&T Production in 1994. Scripted by Fritax (Jean-Claude de la Royère) and with backgrounds by Georges van Linthout, the latter tells the story of a man named Antoine, who wakes up in a woman's body. The story was continued in the sequels 'Dans la Peau d'une Femme' (Joker Éditions, 2001), 'Au Malheur des Dames' (Joker, 2002) and 'Johanna - La Dame des Sables' (Joker, 2005), which were all written by Mythic (Jean-Claude Smit le Bénédicte) and drawn in cooperation Bruno di Sano. In 2014, Walthéry was involved in the launch of another aviation series, this time for Paquet's Cockpit collection. Written by Étienne Borgers and drawn in cooperation with Bruno Di Sano, 'L'Aviatrice' (2014-) is about 1930s female air mail pilot Nora Stalle, who is hunted by German counter-espionage in Nazi Germany.


Rubine #1, artwork in cooperation with Dragan De Lazare

In addition to his own productions, François Walthéry has been a dedicated contributor of additional art for re-editions of European heritage comics. He produced cover art for re-editions of 'Félix' (1981, 2011) by Maurice Tillieux, 'Jehan Pistolet' (1990-1991) and 'Luc Junior' (1990, 2011) by Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, and 'Pemberton' (2012) by Sirius. The artist has produced several pieces of art in commission, including scouting calendars, comics festival flyers and advertisements. An interesting creation is the character of 'Citronella' (1979) for Citroën, which appeared in advertising campaigns, magazine spreads and on scented paper towels. The artist has additionally contributed to countless collective comics projects. He also contributed to a parody album of André Franquin's 'Gaston' (1983), tribute albums to Derib's 'Buddy Longway' (1983), Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix' (2007) and Will ('L'Arbre des deux printemps', 2000). He participated in satirical books about Jacques Chirac and football for Pictoris Studio (1997-1998), and in a book with adaptations of Renaud songs (1986). For Le Lombard, he provided artwork for a benefit book for people with neuromuscular disorders ('Telethon', 1990) and for a book about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (with Didier Carsten, 1993).

He was one of the contributing artists to the book 'Il était une fois... Les Belges'/'Er waren eens... Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and comic pages published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. In 2005 he was one of several Belgian en Dutch comics artists to make a graphic contribution to the crossover comic book 'Bij Fanny op Schoot' (2005), in which Fanny Kiekeboe from Merho's 'De Kiekeboes' interviews various characters from other comics series, drawn by the original artists. Walthéry was the only Walloon who participated. In the book Natacha is interviewed by Fanny, but they run into subtitling troubles. Walthéry illustrated the first book of Bruno Senny's detective stories with the character 'Baudruche' (Apach, 2003). The next installments featured illustrations by Derib, René Follet and Dany. He worked with comics artist/illustrator Jaap de Boer on two fairy tale books for Éditions Deirdre ('Contes de Fees', 2009). He was also one of the illustrators of erotic fairy tale comics for BD Fly. These included Bruno Di Sano's 'Sortilège' (BD Fly, 2011), two collections starring an erotic rendition of Little Red Riding Hood, and 'Alianah' (2015), an original tale about witches by Guy D'Artet. GPRod even launched an imprint called BarDaf, named after Natacha's airline company, which consists of books with sexy ladies in the Walthéry tradition, such as 'Sexyscope' (2016). Besides work by Walthéry himself, the books also contain work by Bruno Di Sano, Bruno Gilson, Jean-Marc Stalner and Péral.

Since the 1990s, Walthéry has cooperated on books, both collective and solo, aimed at a Walloon audience. He for instance illustrated a comics album about 'Tchantchès' (Khani Éditions, 1988), a folkloric character from the Liège region. Contributing scriptwriters were Jean Jour and Michel Dusart, while Francis and Laudec provided background art. A second album with storyboards by Walthéry, a script by Dusart and artwork by Didier Carsten followed at Noir Dessin in 1995. Also for Noir Dessin, he has made original illustrations for a great many books with fairy tales, local legends, folk tales and fables, and also ones about local cuisine, which appeared in the Walloon language. With Jean-François De Marchin, Walthéry made a comics adaption of the book 'Les Ceux de Chez Nous', which contain the childhood memories of Marcel Remy (1865-1906), a music critic of Liège origin. Two books were published by Noir Dessin in 2002 and 2005. For Editions Dricot he was one of the artists of a book with comics based on Wallloon folklore ('Folklore Wallon en Bulles', 2010).

Throughout the years, several books with pin-ups, illustrations, previously unreleased material and original artwork have been released in low print-runs by labels like Noir Dessin, La Vache qui Médite and Khani Éditions. A monography about the artist was written by Jean Jour and published by Libro Sciences in 1981. Dupuis also released a book about Walthéry by Jean-Paul Tibéri, called 'Walthéry, Natacha & Co' (1987). An art book was released by Horizon BD on the occasion of the artist's 60th birthday in 2005. It was followed in 2012 by a limited edition book for the 50th anniversary of Walthéry's career as a comics artist, called 'Walthéries' (GPROD).

Une Femme dans la Peau by Walthery
Une Femme dans la Peau

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