Comics History

Spirou, the modern period

The late 1960s can be considered the end of the classic era of Spirou magazine (see part 1). Luckily, a new generation of artists was ready to guide the magazine into the 1970s.

Next generation in the 70's

Natacha by Walthery First of all, Peyo's former co-workers Walthéry, Gos, De Gieter, Francis and Wasterlain all had series of their own by now. Gos created his extraterrestrial cat 'La Scrameustache', while De Gieter delved into ancient Egypt for his series 'Papyrus'. The times had changed and the readers were deemed ready for a wave of female heroines. Jidéhem had already made solo stories starring 'Sophie', a secondary character from his 'Starter' stories, but the late 1960s also marked the arrival of air hostess 'Natacha' by François Walthéry and Gos, Roger Leloup's electrical engineer 'Yoko Tsuno' and the fairytale world of 'Isabelle' by Will, Delporte and Macherot.

Hard-boiled action was also not avoided with the arrival of action hero and Charles Bronson look-alike 'Archie Cash' by Malik and Jean-Marie Brouyère. Tillieux expanded his activities with a focus on scriptwriting. He succeeded Rosy as the writer of the 'Tif et Tondu' series, created FBI agent 'Jess Long' with Arthur Piroton and the slapstick serial on neighborly irritations with 'Marc Lebut et son voisin' with Francis. One of the most popular new series was 'Les Petits Hommes' by Pierre Seron, whose art showed a strong resemblance to Franquin.

Spirou cover, 1972Spirou cover, 1976Spirou cover, 1979
Spirou covers from 1972, 1976 and 1979.

The writer that would determine the magazine's personality the most during the following decades was however Raoul Cauvin. A former cameraman with Dupuis' animation department, he had been writing the occasional comic strip during the 1960s. One of his first and best-known successes is 'Les Tuniques Bleues', about the American Civil War. When the original artist Louis Salverius tragically died in 1972, he was succeeded by Willy Lambil, who had been drawing 'Sandy et Hoppy' since the 1950s. Cauvin's humorous series quickly multiplied during the 1970s, and hardly a theme was skipped. He visited the gangster era of 1930s Chicago in 'Sammy' with Berck, the days of Napoleon in 'Godaille et Godasse' with Jacques Sandron, while mocking the law with the round police officer 'L'Agent 212' with Daniel Kox and introducing a mini-Tarzan and his friend gorilla in 'Les Jungles Perdues' with Mazel.

Cauvin at workCauvin at work (from the 'Pauvre Lampil' comic).

The new editor-in-chief was Thierry Martens, whose impressive knowledge of the history of the publishing house Dupuis, its magazines and its authors earned him the nickname "Monsieur Archive". He searched new talent in the 'Carte Blanche' section, which meant the debuts of Philippe Bercovici, Yann, Luc Warnant, Bernard Hislaire and Alain Dodier. Other new talent was found in the fanzine scene, such as Christian Darasse, André Geerts, Watch, Dédé, Bom and Bosse.

New wave of mature comics

By the late 1970s, the comics medium had matured. Classic infallible heroes were considered old-fashioned, and the time had come for more human protagonists. Hislaire, Geerts and Wasterlain told romantic and poetic stories in their respective series 'Bidouille et Violette', 'Jojo' and 'Docteur Poche'.

Header for Le Trombone Illustré by Franquin.

Even the older generation turned to more mature-themed comics when Yvan Delporte started the Spirou supplement Le Trombone Illustré between 17 March and 20 October 1977. Inspired by modern comic magazines of the time, such as Fluide Glacial, Métal Hurlant and L'Écho des Savanes, the supplement featured work by Enki Bilal, Claire Bretécher, F'Murr and Gotlib. Franquin was present with his beautiful illustrated headers starring a cast of characters including a rather controversial bishop - which was rather remarkable for a religious publishing house like Dupuis. He also made his first black humor gags 'Idées Noires', while Frédéric Jannin and Thierry Culliford made gags about the generation gap with 'Germain et nous...'.

By 1978 Martens was replaced by Alain De Kuyssche, a journalist without a former background in comics. During De Kuyssche's tenure, new artists of the Saint-Luc art school such as Philippe Berthet and Antonio Cossu were introduced with more experimental and artistic work. Hermann was also present with 'Nick', a modern rendition of 'Little Nemo'. The arrival of Yann and Conrad caused quite a stir, when they poked fun at all the established series and artists in their margin illustrations. Their series 'Les Innomables' was far too violent and explicit for the readership, and the duo was eventually banned from the magazine.

Spirou cover, 1983Spirou cover 1984Spirou cover 1986
Spirou covers from 1983, 1984 and 1985.

The general tone of the magazine became even more mature under De Kuyssche's successor's reign Philippe Vandooren in the 1980s. Dodier and Makyo had started the decade with the melancholic 'Gully', but soon found success with their clumsy detective 'Jérome K. Jérome Bloche'. Marc Michetz and Bosse introduced their samurai 'Kogaratsu' in 1983, and Frank Pé created his poetic 'Brousaille'. Griffo and Van Hamme made the Orwellian series of short stories 'S.O.S. Bonheur', while Tome wrote the adventures of policeman in disguise 'Soda' for Luc Warnant and later Bruno Gazzotti and Frank Le Gall created his maritime adventurer 'Théodore Poussin'. The distinction between these series and the more mainstream comics was also noted by the publisher, who placed the book publications in special collections like Repérages and Aire Libre.

Jerxme K. Jerxme Bloche, by Alain Dodier'Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche' by Dodier.

Fournier was released from the 'Spirou' comic and after some try-outs with new authors, including Nic Broca & Cauvin, Tome & Janry and Yves Chaland, Tome and Janry were finally named the official new authors of the title comic. They relied heavily on the Franquin-era of the series, not only through the drawing style, but also by revisiting earlier characters like John Helena, Seccotine and Zorglub. The duo produced many new albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s to much acclaim by the audience, and even introduced a younger, and more naughty, version of the character in a series of gags under the title 'Le Petit Spirou'.

Le Petit Spirou by Tome & Janry
'Le Petit Spirou', by Tome & Janry.

Dutch independence and return to humour

Ever since the 1930s, the Dutch version Robbedoes had been largely a translation of its French older brother. But by the 1980s the editors Jos Wauters and Erwin Cavens got more freedom in filling special sections of their own. This meant the inclusion of work by Dutch and Flemish artists like Ikke ('Biebel'), Gerrit Stapel ('Huon de Neveling'), Toon van Driel ('Felis Leo'), Pjotr & Eric Meynen ('Tommy Gun en Marion Lee'), Gerard Leever ('De vloek van Bangebroek') and Peter de Smet ('Morgenster en Durandel'). But at the end of the decade Robbedoes returned to being a mere - and by now shortened to 32 pages - translation of Spirou. Only Gerrit de Jager and Luc Cromheecke found their way to the French audience with respectively 'Roel en zijn Beestenboel' ('Aristote et ses Potes') and 'Tom Carbon'.

Roel en zijn beestenboel by Gerrit de Jager
'Roel en zijn beestenboel' by Gerrit de Jager.

Some of the more serious comics were removed from the magazine in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the focus returned to humor and a more juvenile audience. After some final efforts by veterans like Franquin, Will, Macherot and Remacle, the magazine was almost completely handed over to new talent. Cauvin got competition as most productive scriptwriter from the likes of François Gilson and Zidrou, who created new series like 'Mélusine', 'Garage Isidore', 'Les Crannibales' and 'Tamara', with art by Clarke, Olis, Fournier and Darasse, respectively.

Le Boss by Bercovici
'Le Boss' by Zidrou and Philippe Bercovici.

Of course, Cauvin remained present in every issue with short comical stories and gags of 'Pierre Tombal' (with Marc Hardy), 'Les Femmes en Blanc' (with Bercovici), 'Cupidon' (with Malik), 'Les Paparazzi' (with Mazel), 'Les Psy' (with Bédu) and 'Cédric' (with Laudec). Albert Blesteau and Christian Godard created the baby boy 'Toupet', while Serge Ernst and Midam satirized fanatic television viewers and gamers in their respective gag series 'Les Zappeurs' and 'Kid Paddle'. Short stories were provided by young artists like Baron Brumaire, E411, Jean-Michel Thiriet, Lewis Trondheim, Manu Larcenet and Blatte.

'Kid Paddle' by Midam.

Stephen Desberg and Denis Lapière were responsible most of the longer adventure serials. Desberg had been writing 'Tif et Tondu' and '421' for father and son Maltaite since the 1980s, and came up with new creations like 'Jimmy Tousseul' with Daniel Desorgher and 'Billy the Cat' with Stéphane Colman. The latter also became a TV star in his own cartoon series, just like other Dupuis heroes like 'Spirou et Fantasio', 'Papyrus' and 'Cédric'. Lapière created the final rendition of 'Tif et Tondu' with Alain Sikorski, and started new series like 'Charly' with Magda, 'Alice et Léopold' with Olivier Wozniak, 'La Clé du Mystère' with Sikorski, 'Luka' with Gilles Mezzomo and 'Oscar' with Christian Durieux.

Editor-in-chief during this period (1993-2004) was Thierry Tinlot, who recaptured some of the classic spirit and fun from the Delporte era. This period also marked the return of funny editorial pages and photo comics, that regularly starred Raoul Cauvin. Zidrou and Bercovici also came up with a new editorial comic strip in the tradition of 'Gaston Lagaffe', starring a caricature of Tinlot, called 'Le Boss'. The special issues also had original and witty subjects. The issue celebrating the magazine's 60th anniversary on 22 April 1998 (#3132) in 1998 was dated 22 April 2038 and presented as the magazine's 100th anniversary issue, with the 60th anniversary issue inserted as a "facsimile". Another issue anticipated on the "Millennium bug", which was believed would reset all computers to 1900 on New Year 2000. Spirou's first issue of the new millenium (5 January 2000, #3221) was therefore printed on old, yellowish paper with all regular series in a retro-style format.

Spirou covers from 1990, 1995 and 1999.

80 years and counting...

Although the battle between Spirou with Tintin had come to a conclusion with the demise of the latter in 1988, the year 2004 really marked the end of an era. In that year, the publishing activities of Dupuis were bought by Média-Participations, the company that now owns most of the major European comic book publishers, including Dargaud and Le Lombard - indeed, the former publisher of Tintin.

Seuls by Bruno Gazzotti
'Seuls' by Fabien Vehlmann, artwork by Bruno Gazzotti. 

Robbedoes ceased publication in September 2005, but Spirou even got 20 pages extra in 2006 and celebrated its 75th birthday in 2013, followed by the 80th in 2018. The magazine remains a breeding ground for new generations of talented comic artists and some of the freshness and fun of the golden era has definately returned. Evergreens of this period are occasionally reprinted, but new artists and series are introduced every year. Fabien Vehlmann has been one of the most versatile writers of the new millennium with series like 'Green Manor' and 'Seuls', that he makes in cooperation with the artists Denis Bodart and Bruno Gazzotti. Together with Yoann he is also responsible for the new adventures of 'Spirou et Fantasio'. The main series that is, because several authors were allowed to have their turn on a personal 'Spirou et Fantasio' story, such as Frank le Gall, Fabrice Tarrin, Olivier Schwartz & Yann, Émile Bravo and many others. While Tome and Janry still continue their 'Le Petit Spirou', new spin-offs were launched such as 'Zorglub' (2017) by Munuera and 'Champignac Enigma' (2018) by BeKa and David Etien. Other important new humor series that should be mentioned are 'Les Nombrils' by Dubuc and Delaf and 'Dad' by Nob.

In 2005 Patrick Pinchart briefly returned to the seat of editor-in-chief (he had previously held this occupation from 1987 till 1993). Pinchart's successors were Olivier Van Vaerenbergh (2005-2007) and Serge Honorez (2007-2008), after which Frédéric Niffle had a long tenure from 2008 to October 2017. Niffle established a more stable formula, which not only opened the doors to new talent, but also honored Spirou's legendary past with reprints of classic stories and a historical section called 'Les Aventures d'un Journal'. Around the same time, Dupuis began collecting selections of its patrimonium in luxury books. The magazine was furthermore restyled, and the mini-books section was revived, starting with an installment by Lewis Trondheim. Another milestone came in October 2017, when Florence Mixhel became the magazine's first female editor-in-chief. Her tenure was however very shortlived, as she was replaced by Niffle again in late 2018, before Morgan Di Salvia was appointed editor-in-chief in May 2019.

In June 2019 it was announced that Dupuis will be gradually cancelling several longrunning series, including 'Melusine' by Clarke and Raoul Cauvin's 'Femmes en Blanc' (drawn by Bercovici), 'Pierre Tombal' (drawn by Hardy) and 'Les Psy' (drawn by Bédu). It marks the end of an era, especially the one dominated by scriptwriter Cauvin. Already in his 80s, he however continues to write 'L'Agent 212' for Daniel Kox, 'Cédric' for Laudec and 'Les Tuniques Bleues' for Lambil.

Spirou covers from 2004, 2008 and 2010.

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