Isabelle by Will

Willy Maltaite, Will in short, was one of the talented artists responsible for the success of the weekly Spirou magazine after World War II. Together with Jijé, André Franquin, Peyo and Morris, he is considered a founder of the so-called "School of Marcinelle", which continues to influence new generations of artists to this day. For several decades, Will illustrated the classic 'Tif et Tondu' (1949-1990) comic, which he took over from its creator Fernand Dineur. He gave the bold and the bearded adventurers a new creative boost in cooperation with the scriptwriters Maurice Rosy, Maurice Tillieux and Stephen Desberg, who all put their personal mark on the stories. Will could showcase his qualities as an illustrator in his background illustrations for comics by his friends Franquin, Peyo and François Walthéry, and in his (painted) cover drawings for Spirou. His poetic side was reflected in the magical series 'Isabelle' (1969-1994), while his talents of working with direct colors and drawing beautiful women can be seen in the more adult-oriented graphic novels from the final stages of his career.

Early life and education
He was born in 1927 in the town of Anthée, not far from the Walloon city Dinant. His father was a plumber in the Dinant region, while his mother filled her spare time with making oil paintings. His parents supported the upcoming talent of their son, and submitted him to the Saint-Joseph art school in Maredsous. He however failed the entrance examination, after which the Maltaite family tried their luck with the School of Industrial Design in Dinant. There, it was suggested that the young Will should pay a visit to Joseph Gillain, better known as the comic artist Jijé, who had his house atelier in that same city. He was only fifteen years old when he moved in with Gillain, and stayed with the enigmatic master for six years, from 1942 to 1948! Gillain's main focus was teaching his student to explore his own style and interests. Maltaite spent the first years of his apprenticeship making paintings, sculptures, wood engravings and illustrations. Comics only came into the picture after World War II, when the Gillain family moved to Waterloo. The young artists André Franquin and Morris joined the team, which was quickly dubbed "The Gang of Four" ("La Bande à Quattre"). There, the foundations were laid for the Golden Age of Spirou magazine, which lasted until the late 1960s. While Franquin took over Jijé's 'Spirou et Fantasio' and Morris created 'Lucky Luke', Will made his first cartoons and illustrations for the magazines Bonnes Soirées and Le Moustique, as well as Spirou. For the magazine L'Hebdo, he made the illustrations for the text comic serial 'L'Histoire Hebdomadaire' by Jacques Loar, which ran for sixty weekly episodes in 1947.

La Mystère du Bambochal by Will
'La Mystère du Bambochal'.

La Mystère du Bambochal
By 1948 Jijé, Franquin and Morris left Belgium and headed for the United States and Mexico, in search of inspiration and career opportunities. Will was still in his early twenties and had just met his future wife Claude, so he decided to stay back home. Around this time he embarked upon an actual comic of his own. 'Le Mystère du Bambochal' stars the American reporter José Baldovir who personally saves the fictional South American country San Jacinto from a military coup. The 30-page adventure was conceived in a style obviously influenced by Jijé, but was still refused by Dupuis, publisher of the magazines Spirou, Bonnes Soirées and Le Moustique. With the help of a cousin who was in the printing business, Will finally self-published the story in book format with a print run of 15,000 copies in 1950. A Dutch translation of the story, 'Het Mysterie van de Bambochal', wasn't published until 2009 in the collection Fénix of the Brabant Strip association. In the French language, a pirate edition was released by Éditions Grafik in 2016.

Tif et Tondu - 'La Cité des rubis' (1949).

Tif et Tondu (1)
In the late 1940s, Dupuis was in search of a new artist for the adventures of 'Tif et Tondu'. The series had made its debut in the very first issue of Spirou magazine in October 1938, written and drawn by Fernand Dineur. Since then it had remained one of the the magazine's two original comic series, along with the title comic 'Les Aventures de Spirou'. In the post-war period, the magazine had reached a higher artistic standard, and Dineur's somewhat naïve and folksy drawing style and improvised storytelling felt outdated. When Dineur was let go, he however went to Fernand Cheneval's Héroïc-Albums, which published new Dineur-created stories throughout 1949. For understandable reasons, Dupuis was not too pleased with this development, and bought the rights to the characters from their creator. They hired Jijé's former apprentice Will as the new artist, although Dineur initially remained on board as the writer. This limited Will's artistic freedom, as Dineur insisted the new artist kept drawing Tondu the old-fashioned way: with his hairdo and beard constructed out of five brushy points. The first story drawn by Will, 'La Cité des Rubis', debuted in Spirou #588 of 20 July 1949. Dineur remained the writer until 1951's 'La Villa "Sans Souci"'. In the following two years, Will worked from scripts by Luc Bermar (a pen name for Jijé's brother Henri Gillain) for 'Le Trésor d'Alaric' (1952) and a certain Ben (Albert Despréchins) for 'Oscar et ses Mystères' (1953). It were the first stories published in book format by Dupuis between 1954 and 1956, along with Will and Dineur's 'Tif et Tondu en Amérique centrale'.

Tif et Tondu, by Willy Maltaite (Spirou #791, 1955)
'Tif et Tondu' (Spirou #791, 1955).

Monsieur Choc
Will had by now gradually settled into his own, trademark drawing style. When Maurice Rosy was assigned as the new scriptwriter in 1954, 'Tif et Tondu' was finally boosted to the classic it is today. This was mainly established through the introduction of a new master criminal, who made his debut in the new team's first story, 'Tif et Tondu contre la Main Blanche' (1955). The mysterious Monsieur Choc captivated readers from the start. Hidden behind an iron mask and sharply dressed in a chic tuxedo, the "master of evil" was the perfect antagonist for the otherwise rather dull Tif and Tondu. The authors even enjoyed playing with this contrast. Most stories start with Tif and Tondu trying to retire from their many adventures and write their memoirs, when they are pulled into another one of Choc's schemes. Choc allowed Will and Rosy to step beyond the boundaries of plain adventure stories and delve into fantastic and mystic realms for the standout stories 'Le Réveil de Toar' (1966) and 'Le Grand Combat' (1967). Even though Will and Rosy's first collaboration was the fourth 'Tif et Tondu' album published, it remained for many years the starting point of the series, since the earlier albums weren't reprinted until the 1980s.

Choc au Louvre, 1966
Tif et Tondu - 'Choc au Louvre' (1966).

Atomic style
In his 'Tif et Tondu' stories, Will had already proven his keen sense for architecture and design, especially in his depiction of towns along the Mediterranean coast. This prompted his friend André Franquin to ask his assistance for the 'Spirou et Fantasio' story 'Les Pirates du Silence' (1955). Will's designs for the architecture of the futuristic city Incognito-City are prime examples of the so-called "Atomic style", a drawing style initiated by Jijé, which had a focus on post-war progress. Will also provided the backgrounds to Franquin's short 'Spirou' adventures published in sister magazine Risque-Tout (1955-1956).

Paris-Flirt & Tintin
Will and Rosy's successful tenure on 'Tif et Tondu' was interrupted from 1959 to 1963, when Will was busy with other projects. Will's first excursion outside of Spirou magazine was the humorous gag strip about the model 'Lili Mannequin' (1957), which was syndicated by Edifrance to the adult-oriented magazine Paris-Flirt, and in Belgium to L'Âne Roux. The gags written by René Goscinny revealed another one of Will's specialities, the depiction of beautiful women. After six months, Will left the comic and handed over the art duties to Christian Godard. In 1958 Will had grown a bit tired of the comics medium altogether. Franquin had recently joined the competing magazine Tintin at Lombard, and informed him that the editors desired a restyling. Will applied and was hired by publisher Raymond Leblanc as art director. During a period of two years he judged the work of Tintin's authors, while making lay-outs, designs and illustrations on the side. He also drew advertising comic strips for Lombard's Publiart studio, headed by Guy Dessicy, most notably the ones for Englebert tires (1959, scripted by Yves Duval) and Assimil language courses. During this same period, Will illustrated the brochure 'Le Tour du Monde 58' for the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, and made drawings for Seeonee, the Catholic boy scouts magazine produced by Publiart. But just like Franquin, Will quickly regretted leaving his free-spirited homebase at Spirou. He was fed up with the strictly professional atmosphere at Tintin's offices and quickly resigned from his new job.

Benoit Brisefer by Will and Peyo
Typical houses and trees by Will for 'Les Taxis Rouges', the first 'Benoît Brisefer' story by Peyo.

Studio Peyo
His return to Spirou wasn't however without a struggle. Since his departure, Spirou's editors had assigned Marcel Denis to draw the 'Tif et Tondu' series. Luckily, his colleague Peyo could use his help. From his own atelier in the Walloon town La Hulpe, Will provided the backgrounds for 'Les Taxis Rouges' (1960) and 'Madame Adolphine' (1963), the first two albums of Peyo's series about a boy with Herculean strength, 'Benoît Brisefer'. Will gave the boy his hometown Vivejoie-La-Grande, with its cosy streets and stylized trees. Will also helped Peyo with the creation of the humorous adventure series 'Jacky et Célestin' (1961-1962) for Le Soir Illustré, a newspaper of the Walloon Rossel publishing group. He illustrated the first three adventures, although he was assisted for the latter by another Tintin drop-out, Jo-El Azara. The series was then transferred to La Dernière Heure, where he remaining stories were drawn by subsequently Azara, François Walthéry, Francis and Roger Leloup. Around the same period he helped Franquin with the backgrounds for the 'Marsupilami' short story 'La Cage' (1965), in which the long-tailed animal is chased through the Palombian jungle by the hunter Bring M. Backalive. Will repeated the gesture for two more stories with the Marsupilami and the hunter in 1977 and 1981. As much capable of drawing jungles as he was with houses, Will was asked by former Peyo assistant Walthéry to draw the tropical, deserted island setting for the 'Natacha' story 'l'Ile d'Outre Monde' (1983).

'Record & Véronique' (Record #4, 1962).

Bonux-Boy & Record
During his 'Tif et Tondu' interlude, Will also created an obscure comic strip about the other-worldly and absent-minded 'Monsieur Farfelu' (1960) for Bonux-Boy, a mini-comic book by Benoît Gillain to promote Bonux washing powder. Between 1962 and 1965 Will was furthermore a prominent artist for Record, a French monthly comic magazine published by Bayard Presse, and the successor of Bayard magazine. From the first issue on, he illustrated editorial pages and the game section 'Jeux de Record et Véronique' (1962-1963) by Jean-Michel Charlier. After creating the short story 'Quatrépingle et Ficelet' with scriptwriter Chappuis, he reunited with René Goscinny for title comic 'Record et Véronique' (1962-1963). The latter starred Record's blond mascot, teamed up with an equally unruly girl called Véronique. Will furthermore resumed his collaboration with Rosy for the adventures of 'Marco et Aldebert' (1962-1965).

Eric et Artimon - Le tyran en acier chromé (1962)
Eric et Artimon - 'Le tyran en acier chromé' (1962).

Éric et Artimon
From 1960 on, Will gradually reappeared in the pages of Spirou. Not only as the background artist of 'Benoît Brisefer', but also with the stories 'Pépin et l'Île Juillet' (1960, script by Rosy) and 'Le Virus Mugissant' (1963, script by Vicq) in the mini-books section in the magazine's center. Before resuming 'Tif et Tondu', he created another short-lived, but still well remembered series, 'Eric et Artimon' (1962-1963, 1967). Written by Vicq under his real name "A. Raymond", the series stars the resourceful boy Eric, a big fan of lollipops, and his uncle Artimon, the captain of a boat. Their two long adventures saw them witness a revolution in the South American country San Matamor ('Le Tyran en Acier Chromé', 1962) and helping the inventor Mr. Groisoison protecting the secrets of his magic gum ('Toute la gomme', 1963). An additional short story in 1967 ended this short-lived series. The second serial was collected in book format by Albin Michel in 1976, the first one followed in 1983 at Magic Strip.

Tif et Tondu, by Will
Tif et Tondu - 'Le roc maudit' (1972).

Tif et Tondu - the Tillieux era
By 1964 Will was finally able to return to 'Tif et Tondu', initially again in collaboration with Rosy. The two heroes continued their jobs as amateur detectives, and were regularly paired with Inspector Allumette of the French Sûreté. After creating some of the best stories with Choc as villain in which Will could experiment in graphically depicting his scriptwriter's strange fantasies, Rosy felt he had told all he had to tell and left the series. He however kept the rights to Choc to himself. Will was now paired with Maurice Tillieux, a master in the detective genre. The new scriptwriter immediately filled the series with his sense for suspense, mystery and danger, turning the stories into true thrillers. During their joint tenure, Will and Tillieux sent their two heroes to rainy coastal towns, grim harbor settings, muddy swamps and mysterious German castles, but also to actual cities like London and New York. Will's drawing style became semi-realistic, and made much use of chiaroscuro to match the stories' atmosphere. Far from the fantasy-filled adventures by Rosy, the transformation also required more use of documentation. Supernatural elements like monsters and giant spiders were however not avoided. The characters of Tif and Tondu were also further defined. Tif, always the goofer of the two, became more reckless and carefree, which often led to squabbles with the more strict Tondu. "Eye candy" was provided by the addition of countess Amélie d'Yeu (Kiki) to the regular cast, while Inspector Fixchusset of Scotland Yard became the team's official liaison.

Les ressucités by Will
Tif et Tondu - 'Les ressucités' (1972).

The late 1960s also marked the launch of another important series in Will's oeuvre, the magical 'Isabelle' (1969-1994). The seeds for the series were planted in a concept by Will for a comic with the kids Catherine and Bernard. The two were featured in one short story, 'Gudule et le Battant Perdu' (1969), a poetic tale about a defect Easter bell. Catherine was renamed Isabelle when she returned in another short story in the following year, 'Isabelle et les Gens d'Ailleurs' (1969). Spirou magazine and its publisher Dupuis were in deperate need for innovation. Several important authors had either quit their series or left the company altogether. Also, the time was right for a series with a female protagonist. 'Isabelle' was preceded by Raymond Macherot's 'Sibylline' and Jidéhem's 'Sophie', who both debuted in 1965. In her wake came François Walthéry's 'Natacha' and Roger Leloup's 'Yoko Tsuno', both in 1970. 'Isabelle' proved to be the most magical of them all; a perfect blend of the series' two scriptwriters: the craziness of Yvan Delporte and the poetical streak of Raymond Macherot.

Les maléfices de l’oncle Hermès
Isabelle - 'Les maléfices de l'oncle Hermès' (1975).

'Isabelle' is a young red-heared girl from a small French coastal town, who is constantly confronted with the magic surrounding her. Her aunt Ursule however is completely oblivious to all the supernatural happenings, and is predominantly occupied with baking cakes and making sure her niece is dressed warm enough. The first stories are poetical tales about a man living in a painting ('Isabelle et le Tableau Enchanté', 1970), a sea captain with a wishing pipe ('Isabelle et le Capitaine', 1971) and a fairy babysitter ('Isabelle et la Petite Fée au pair', 1974). The comic's true plunge into fantasy came with the addition of André Franquin to the writers' team. 'Les Maléfices de l'Oncle Hermès' (1975) marked the introduction of Isabelle's great-great-uncle of the seventh generation Hermès, a magician with goat legs. He becomes a regular cast member after Isabelle frees him from a magical lamp, where he was cursed into by the evil witch Kalendula. He then marries the beautiful Calendula, the descendant of the evil witch, and the pair become the instigators of many future adventures (although aunt Ursule never noticed that). Will could fully enjoy himself drawing monsters, mystical creatures, underwater worlds, floating islands, elves, magical forests and even Hades itself in the most poetical way. Macherot left the team after 'L'Astragale de Cassiopée' (1976), and Franquin after 'L'Envoûtement' (1985), leaving Will and Delporte to make the remaining albums as a duo until the series was cancelled because of disappointing sales in 1994.

Isabelle - La traboule de la Géhenne (1991)
Isabelle - 'La traboule de la Géhenne' (1991).

Tif et Tondu - the Desberg years
During the 1970s the workload of Maurice Tillieux continued to increase. In heavy demand as a scriptwriter, he resorted to reusing earlier scripts from his 1950s series 'Félix' for his current projects, including 'Tif et Tondu'. Help came in 1977, when Tillieux received assistance from the young scriptwriter Stephen Desberg. Tillieux and his apprentice worked together on two stories, when the master died in a tragic car crash in 1978. Together with his new partner, Will heralded 'Tif et Tondu' into the modern age. Taking elements from both Tillieux's detective plots and Rosy's fantasy stories, the two heroes became crime fighters on a global scale, with Tif transforming into a womanizer à la James Bond. The new Hollywood-style adventures saw the heroes facing new technology, nuclear threats and also their old enemy Choc, whom Desberg reintroduced with Rosy's permission. The authors also stepped on political grounds with stories criticizing the rise of far-right movements. Initially in a grotesque fashion with 'Swastika' (1983) about a slumbering Nazi regime in Argentina awaiting new opportunities, complete with a 96-years old Adolf Hitler, but later on a more serious note. In Will and Desberg's final installment, the diptych 'Les phalanges de Jeanne d'Arc' (1987) and 'La Tentation du Bien' (1989), an underground far-right organisation plans to overthrow the French government through drug trafficking, bribes and terrorist attacks. The two heroes, always presented as living off their interest, are financially ruined and hit rock bottom. The cynical story was a testament of its time, but also marked the authors' farewell to the series. Will made one more short story to fill up the final album, which consisted of short stories. The writer was Denis Lapière, who would become responsible for the series final incarnation in cooperation with the artist Alain Sikorski from 1990 to 1997.

Tif et Tondu - Dans les griffes de la main blanche (1986)
Tif et Tondu - 'Dans les griffes de la main blanche' (1986).

Paintings, sculptures and illustrations
Throughout his career, Willy Maltaite had been active in several artistic disciplines. He made watercolor paintings, pen-and-ink drawings, gouaches and sculptures, influenced by Fauvism and expressionism. His painted drawings already appeared on the cover of Spirou magazine in the early 1960s, and he made illustrations for calendars, wine labels and post cards. Between 1966 and 1968 Will additionally worked on several booklets in the Dupuis children's book series Collection du Carrousel. He wrote 'Joyeuses Pâques pour mon Petit Noël' (1966) and 'Les Étranges Amis de Noël' (1966) for André Franquin, and then illustrated 'Antonin et le Petit Cirque' (1967) and 'Antoine et l'Anneau Magique' (1968), both written by Charles Degotte.

Antonin by Will
Illustration by Will for the children's book 'Antonin et le Petit Cirque', written by Charles Degotte for Dupuis' Collection du Carrousel in 1967.

Graphic contributions
In 1980 he was one of many Belgian comic artists to make a graphic contribution to the book 'Il était une fois... les Belges'/'Er waren eens Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and one-page comics, published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. The same year he was one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to ‘Pepperland’ (1980), a collective comic book tribute to the store Pepperland, to celebrate its 10th anniversary at the time. In 1987-1988 the publishing company Brain Factory International released a four-volume comic book series where Franco-Belgian comic authors visualized several songs by singer Jacques Brel in comic strip form. The second volume, 'Les Prénoms' (1987) featured a contribution by Will. Another collective project with a contribution by Will was 'Entre Chats' (Delcourt, 1989).

One-shot comics
In addition to his regular series, Will made several one-shot short stories for Spirou, often for thematic issues. Most of them contained fantasy and sci-fi elements, like the sporadically appearing cock and bull stories of the Frenchman 'Oncle Jules' (1981-1984), who typically told them from behind a table with a bottle of red wine in front of him. They were written by Desberg, while the artist's son Éric Maltaite sometimes helped out with the drawings. Will's other short stories were written by Vicq, Yvan Delporte, Didgé, Stephen Desberg, Makyo, Toldac, Jean-Louis Janssens, Zidrou and Gilbert Bouchard. His final contribution to Spirou, the three-pager 'Le Petit Serrurier' by Bouchard, appeared in issue #3115 of 1997.

Le Jardin des Désirs by Will (1988)
'Le Jardin des Désirs' (1988).

Graphic novels
For many years, Will had the desire to work on projects with more creative and artistic freedom. 'Tif et Tondu' was owned by the publisher, while 'Isabelle' had to remain suitable for children. Also an avid painter, Will had begun making full-color cover illustrations for his two series during the 1980s. By now, new printing technologies made it possible to create an entire album in direct colors. Again working with Stephen Desberg, Will created the erotic album 'Le Jardin des Desirs' (1988), one of the first albums released by Dupuis in the more luxury graphic novel format. Will and Desberg's follow-up 'La 27e Lettre' (1990) was a coming-of-age story of a boy growing up among hookers in war-torn Europe. The title referred to the swastika as the symbolic 27th letter of the alphabet during the Nazi regime. The more humorous but equally erotic 'L'Appel de l'Enfer' (1993) was published by P&T Production, Will's first official album not published by Dupuis.

Final project and death
In the late 1990s, Will began work on 'L'Arbre des Deux Printemps', another story with painted colors. The script was written by Rudy Miel, with whom Will had previously made a brochure for the European Union in 1996. Willy Maltaite however passed away on 18 February 2000 in his hometown La Hulpe, before he could finish the story. Befriended comic artists jumped in to complete Will's final comics project as a tribute. Among the contributors were Régis Loisel, Hermann, Jean-Claude Fournier, Derib, Batem, Frank Pé, François Walthéry, Éric Maltaite, Marc Wasterlain, Franz, Jean Roba, René Hausman, Michel Plessix, Dany, André Geerts, Jean-Claude Mézières, Marc Hardy, and Stéphane Colman. The album was published posthumously by Le Lombard later in 2000.

'La 27e Lettre'.

With the death of Will, another giant of Franco-Belgian comics disappeared. In the previous decade, the comic world had lost other Spirou pilars from the golden days, like Peyo (1992) and André Franquin (1997), with Morris following in 2001. The influence of the founding fathers of the "School of Marcinelle" is however still noticeable in the 21st century. Perhaps Will's most direct artistic heir is his own son, Éric Maltaite (1958), who has made his mark with series like '421', 'Mono Jim', 'Carmen Lamour' and 'Zambada'. Dutch comic artist Mark Smeets also cited Will as an influence. 

Will's series did not go by unnoticed in the wave of luxury reprints which commenced in the mid-2000s. 'Isabelle' was collected in three volumes by Le Lombard in 2007. His three adult-oriented graphic novels with Desberg appeared in one volume as 'La Trilogie avec Dames' in Dupuis' Aire Libre collection that same year. Between 2007 and 2013, 'Tif et Tondu' was first collected by Dupuis in thirteen thematical volumes, with introductions by Alain De Kuyssche, Patrick Pinchart and Didier Pasamonik. These books however only stretched from the Rosy-Will stories through the Sikorski-Lapière era. Dupuis decided to start all over, with a chronological approach and a lay-out more in line with their current "complete edition" series. The new series debuted in 2018 and started off with the Dineur stories, followed with Will and Rosy's first collaborations in the second volume. The new dossiers are compiled by the house historians Bertrand and Christelle Pissavy-Yvernault. Between 2014 and 2019 Éric Maltaite and Stéphane Colman worked on a critically praised spin-off trilogy 'Choc', which explored the back story of the remarkable villain created by Will and Rosy in 1955. The regular 'Tif et Tondu' franchise is furthermore rebooted with a new upcoming story by Blutch and Robber.

Dupuis compiled Will's short stories from the period 1963-1997 in the special luxury book 'Will dans Spirou 1963-1997' (2012). Throughout the years, several monographies with and about Will's work have appeared. The Chambre Belge des Experts en Bandes Dessinées (CBEBD) released 'Hommage à Will' (2003), which came with an extended bibliography. Will's illustration work was explored in 'Le Jardin des Couleurs' (2012) by Dupuis/Champaka, while Daniel Maghen published the art book 'Mirages' (2017).

On 14 November 1997 'Isabelle' received her own comic book mural in the Rue de la Verdure / Loofstraat 13 in Brussels, as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. On 1 June 2019 Mr. Choc received his own statue in Will's hometown La Hulpe, Belgium, sculpted by Joachim Jannin, nephew of Frédéric Jannin. Interestingly enough, neither Tif or Tondu have a statue yet at this point. 

Will drew a pin-up on a French Air Force Mirage drop tank
Will drew a nude pin-up on a French Air Force Mirage jet drop tank. Photo © Jean-Luc Beghin.

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