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February 15th - Willy Vandersteen by kanyiko February 15th - Willy Vandersteen by kanyiko
A Year in Comics - February 15th

The world of Willy Vandersteen

Willy Vandersteen was born on February 15th 1913 as Willebrord Jan Frans Maria Vandersteen in Antwerp, Belgium.  The son of a stone mason, Willy often helped out in his father's workshop when not following school - or rather, making drawings on his notes.  However, just as he was preparing to succeed in his father's footsteps as a stonemason, the Art Deco architectural style gained widespread fame, resulting in stone masonry falling out of demand.  Instead, Vandersteen found work as a shop front decorator in one of the larger warehouses of the city of Antwerp.

After reading an article in an American magazine about comics, Vandersteen was inspired to become a comic artist himself.  However, just as he started his career as a comic artist, World War Two erupted, and Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany.

As a result of the Occupation, many publishers found themselves cut off from the foreign, mostly American comics which they published, and instead asked local artist to take over publication.  Among his first jobs, Vandersteen found himself drawing episodes of comics like Sinbad the Sailor, Lancelot and Thor the Caveman.  However, soon the publication of foreign comics was forbidden under Nazi censorship.  Vandersteen instead turned to illustrating publications.

However, it appears that the young artist would go on to lead a double life around this time: above board, Vandersteen drew illustrations and cartoons, such as his first comic, Piwo the wooden horse (1943).  However, at the same time, a certain Will emerged, who drew anti-Nazi cartoons for illegal Resistance publications.  Following the end of the war, however, a rumour started about a certain Kaproen, an unknown artist with a drawing style similar to that of Vandersteen, who had drawn illustrations for Nazi publications during the War.  However during his lifetime Vandersteen would deny being Kaproen. Posthumously, it was proven beyond doubt that he was the artist Kaproen following a 2010 academic study and research of contemporary judiciary sources.

Following the liberation of Belgium in September of 1944, the Nazi-era publication restrictions were lifted, and Belgian newspapers started appearing once again.  Vandersteen approached the Standaard Uitgeverij group with the idea of publishing a daily comic.  This comic would feature a teenage brother and sister pair, encountering adventures.  On March 30th 1945, Vandersteen's first adventure in this series made its debut - and almost immediately was dissatisfied by a number of editorial changes which had been made to the comic.

After the first story, Rikki & Wiske, was finished, Vandersteen made a large number of changes to the story.  Rikki, who looked very much like Hergé's Tintin, disappeared, and instead his place was taken by Suske, an orphan encountered by Wiske and her aunt Sidonie.  In its new, changed form, the comic made its debut in December of 1945.

Soon, the comic series became a success in the Flemish part of Belgium, where only few locally-made comics were being published at the time.  The success of Suske & Wiske was also noted by Hergé, author of Tintin, who asked Vandersteen to make stories for the Tintin comic weekly.  Soon, Vandersteen was making two variants of his comic - one exclusively for his Flemish home market, featuring an extended cast of characters (other than Suske, Wiske and Sidonie, also the professor/inventor Barabas (introduced 1945); the resourceful but vain private detective Lambik (introduced 1947), and the caveman Jerom (introduced 1952), with stories based on fantastic or folkloric elements, and containing absurd humor and even fourth-wall breaking gags; and one for publication in the Tintin weekly, featuring a reduced core cast of just Suske, Wiske and Lambik, featuring more serious, mostly historic stories, and made in Hergé's ligne claire style.  Stories among the latter series are still considered to be among the best made by Vandersteen, with Hergé himself giving Vandersteen the nickname The Breugel among comic artists.

By the early-1950s, Vandersteen had reached an unseen productivity - not only was he drawing the Suske & Wiske comic series, at a pace of four to five 54-page comics per year; but he was also drawing gag strips such as De familie Snoek, Het plezante circus, De grappen van Lambik, De vrolijke bengels and 't Prinske, or more serious one-shots, such as The Curious Case of Doctor Jeckle and Mister Hyde and Tijl Uilenspiegel.

The increased demands and pressures of drawing such a massive amount of material meant, that Vandersteen started surrounding himself with assistants from the mid-1950s onwards, leading to the founding of Studio Vandersteen in 1959.  Around this time, Vandersteen started delegating series to some of his assistants, overseeing and advising, but not necessarily participating in their publication.  Series created around this time were, for instance: Bessy, a Western strip based on the success of the Lassie films; De Rode Ridder (the Red Knight), a medieval adventure saga; Karl May, based on the Karl May stories of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou; Robert & Bertrand, a series following the adventures of two vagabonds in the 19th century;...

By the time Vandersteen died on August 28th 1990, at the age of 77, he had built up a considerable legacy, which continues to be upheld by his successors at the Vandersteen studios to this day.

To give an idea of the volume of comics produced by Vandersteen, his assistants and successors, included some numbers of the main series produced by his studios:

Suske & Wiske (1945 - present): 338 albums to date (226 at the time of Vandersteen's death), not including shorts
Bessie (1952 - 1997): 1023 albums in three series, mostly for the German market.
De Rode Ridder (1959 - present): 252 albums to date (first 43 by Vandersteen)
Jerom (1960 - 1991): 131 albums in two series.
Karl May (1962 - 1985): 87 albums
Biggles (1965 - 1968): 21 albums
Safari (1970 - 1974): 24 albums
Robert & Bertrand (1973 - 1993): 98 albums
Pats/Tits (1974 - 1986): 43 albums
De Geuzen (1985 - 1990): 10 albums (last series started and entirely drawn by Vandersteen himself)

As an artist, Vandersteen continues to influence the Flemish and Dutch comic scene.


55th entry out of ?

February 14th - Twin Spica by kanyiko <- Back to February 14th ---------- Other February 15th entries 

Mature Content

February 15th - Art Spiegelman by kanyiko
   February 15th - Matt Groening by kanyiko 
---------- Forward to February 16th ->  February 16th - Sika by kanyiko
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SoyaBeans Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
It's quite a coincidence that my brother found an old Suske & Wiske album and gave it to me today. I hadn't even heard of this series until recently. Its quite interesting reading up about it's history.

If I am to be completely honest, I've actually been reading up on your series about different artists for quite a while now and I've learned so much. I look forward to seeing what other artists get a mention.
kanyiko Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Quite a coincidence indeed! :wow:

And thank you so much for your kind words!  I'm glad to hear that people are actually following my series! :hug:
SoyaBeans Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You're welcome! It's a very fascinating series and has got me interested in checking some of these artist's work out! 
benitezdk Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
... A brilliant career! ... And a little dark spot in the remote past! ... :cry:

... I remember the sensation when it became common known! ...  
... The German writer, Nobel Prize winner and dissident! ... Günter Grass!
... As very young! ... During the last part of WWII ... Was enlisted Waffen-SS! ... :omfg:
kanyiko Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Personally, I'm reminded of Derrick, which used to be highly popular and regularly shown on both the German and Dutch TV - until it was discovered that its lead, Horst Tappert, had concealed his service in the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front (he always said he was 'just regular Wehrmacht'), and both channels declared they would never air the show again.

Luckily, no such impact resulting from the revelations on Vandersteen's early career, although it has led to many to re-evaluate his work and pose some troubling questions...
burstlion Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow, that is an impressively large legacy!
kanyiko Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Unfortunately, in some cases it did not do any good to the quality of the work... D:
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