Spirou et Fantasio (Spirou and Fantasio) is one of the most popular classic Franco-Belgian comic strips. The series, which has been running since 1938, shares many characteristics with other European humorous adventure comics like Tintin and Asterix. It has been written and drawn by a succession of artists.
Spirou and Fantasio are t
The comic strip was originally created by Robert Velter (Rob-Vel) for the launch of the Le Journal de Spirou on April 21, 1938, published by Éditions Dupuis. The main character was originally an elevator (lift) operator (in French: un groom) for the Moustique Hotel (in reference to the publisher’s chief magazine, Le Moustique), and remains dressed in his red bellhop uniform to this day although there was no relevance to his original occupation for many years. Spirou (the name means “squirrel” (lit.) and “mischievous” (fig.) in Walloon) has a pet squirrel called Spip, the series’ first supporting character, who was introduced on June 8, 1939 in the story arc titled L’Heritage de Bill Money and liberated in the following week’s issue, remaining a presence in all Spirou stories since.
Spip’s liberation, June 15, 1939
Adding to the difficulties of magazine publication that came with the outbreak of World War II, Velter joined the army effort, and his wife Blanche Dumoulin, using the pen name Davine, continued the work on the Spirou strip, with the aid of the young Belgian artist Luc Lafnet. Spirou became the property of the publisher Dupuis, atypical of most European comics characters, who bought the character from Rob-Vel in 1943, and since then the series has belonged to no specific author. The title has therefore subsequently been passed on to several different artists and writers.
The first succession came in 1943 when Joseph Gillain, known by the pen name Jijé, was given charge of the character. In 1944 Jijé introduced a new character, Fantasio, who would become Spirou’s best friend and co-adventurer. Holding many artistic commitments at Le Journal de Spirou, Jijé sought to delegate much of his work, and in 1946 he handed the series to his understudy, the young André Franquin, in the middle of the production of the story Spirou et la maison préfabriquée.Franquin’s Spirou
Franquin developed the strip from single gags and short serials into long adventures with complex plots, and is usually considered as the definitive author of the strip. He introduced a large gallery of recurring characters, notably the Count de Champignac, elderly scientist and inventor; the buffoonish mad scientistZorglub; Fantasio’s cousin and aspiring dictator Zantafio; and the journalist Seccotine, a rare instance of a major female character in Belgian comics of this period.
Spirou et les héritiers, 1952, by Franquin
One Franquin creation that went on to develop a life of its own was the Marsupilami, a fictional monkey-like creature with a tremendously long prehensile tail. The Marsupilami appears in the majority of the Franquin stories, starting in 1952 with Spirou et les héritiers. In the series, it is adopted by the duo and follows them everywhere they go. Marsupilamis in the wild take centre stage briefly in Le nid des Marsupilamis (1957) which presents Seccotine’s documentary featuring a family in their natural habitat, the jungles of the fictitious South American state Palombia.
Starting with Le prisonnier du Bouddha (1959), Franquin began to work with Greg (writing) and JidéhemBruno Brazil, Bernard Prince), Greg staged his stories in a realistic geopolitical context. Le prisonnier du Bouddha is set in mainland China, with veiled references made to the Cold War. As for QRN sur Bretzelburg, it takes place in two imaginary European countries which bring to mind pre-reunificationGermany. Lastly, it is with Greg that Franquin created famed villain Zorglub in the diptych of Z comme Zorglub and L’ombre du Z. (backgrounds). As in some of his later series (
However, as Franquin grew tired of Spirou, his other major character Gaston began to take precedence in his work, and following the controversial Panade à Champignac, the series passed on to a then unknown young cartoonist, Jean-Claude Fournier, in 1969. One side effect of this is that the Marsupilami would only appear in one last story, Le faiseur d’or. This is because Franquin decided to retain the rights to that character; all the other characters remained the property of the publisher. Starting with Du glucose pour Noémie, there would be no more appearances of the Marsupilami in Spirou et Fantasio, with the exception of a few discrete references. Only in the 1980s did the Marsupilami reappear in its own series, and later television cartoon and videogame.
A long transition
Fournier authored nine books in the series, which saw Spirou evolve into a more modern character. Where Franquin’s stories tended to be politically neutral (in his later works, notably Idées noires, he would champion pacifist and environmental views), Fournier’s stint on Spirou addressed such hot topics (for the 1970s) as nuclear energy (L’Ankou), drug-funded dictatorships (Kodo le tyran) and Duvalier-style repression (Tora Torapa).
Fournier introduced some new characters such as Ororéa, a beautiful girl reporter with whom Fantasio was madly in love with (in contrast with his loathing for Seccotine); Itoh Kata, a Japanese magician; and an occult SPECTRE-like criminal organisation known as The Triangle. None of these were reused by later artists until some thirty years later when Itoh Kata appeared in Morvan and Munuera’s Spirou et Fantasio à Tokyo.
However, at the end of the 1970s Fournier’s pace began to slow down and the publisher, Dupuis, sought new authors to replace him. For a time, three separate teams worked on concurrent stories. Nic Broca (art) and Raoul Cauvin (writing) took on Fournier’s lead without adding much to the characters. Their primary addition to the Spirou universe, namely the “Black box”, a device which annihilates sound, is in fact an acknowledged rehash from an early Sophie story by Jidéhem (La bulle du silence). Strangely, the authors were not allowed by the publisher to use any of the side characters and because of this, the duo’s three stories read somewhat like a parenthesis in the series.
Yves Chaland’s caseYves Chaland proposed a far more radical make-over. His (very short) stint on Spirou is an ironicLe Journal de Spirou, n°2297 to n°2318, printed in two-colour, but was interrupted before it was completed. This unfinished story was first collected in an unofficial album in 1984, À la recherche de Bocongo, and then, legally, under the name of Cœurs d’acier (Champaka editor, 1990). This last edition includes the original BDs, and a text by Yann Le Pennetier, illustrated by Chaland, that finishes the interrupted story. re-staging of the strip as it was in the 40s. This homage to Jijé and early Franquin was seen at the time as too sophisticated for the mainstream readership. It was prepublished in 1982 in
Spirou in contemporary times – Tome & JanryVito la Déveine, 1991, by Tome & Janry
But it was the team of Philippe Tome (writing) and Janry (art) which was to find lasting success with Spirou, both in terms of sales and critical appeal. Graphically, the authors’ work was seen as a modern homage to Franquin’s classic work, while their plots involved such modern topics as biotech (Virus), robotics (Qui arrêtera Cyanure?) and even time travel (The diptych of L’horloger de la comète and Le réveil du Z, the latter featuring a future reincarnation of Zorglub). Their position as the official Spirou authors made them the flagship team to a whole new school of young, likeminded artists, such as Didier Conrad, Bernard Hislaire or Frank Le Gall, who had illustrious careers of their own. For a time, Spirou also acted as a side character in Frank Pé‘s short-lived absurd humor strip L’Élan.
With La jeunesse de Spirou (1987), Tome and Janry set out to imagine Spirou’s youth. This idea was later developed into a spin-off series, Le Petit Spirou (“Young Spirou”), which details the antics of the character as an elementary school boy. A lot of the gags center around the character’s interest in the opposite sex. It is generally acknowledged, however, that the Petit Spirou doesn’t have very much in common, psychologically speaking, with the adult character.
A new villain, the unlucky Mafia boss Vito “Lucky” Cortizone, based on the character Vito Corleone from the The Godfather movies, was introduced in Spirou à New-York, while Spirou à Moscou (1990) sees Spirou and Fantasio pay their first visit to the USSR, just as it was about to collapse (the country was dissolved in 1991).
In Machine qui rêve (1998), Tome and Janry tried to once again renew the series with a more mature storyline (wounded hero, love relationships, etc.), coupled with a more realistic graphic style. This sudden shift into a darker tone shocked many readers, although its seeds were apparent in previous Spirou albums and in other series by the same authors (Soda, Berceuse assassine). While many considered the change in tone to be courageous and laudable, there was some concern that Spirou lost much of its point when presented as a “realistic” character. At any rate, the controversy caused Tome & Janry to concentrate on Le Petit Spirou, and stop making albums in the main series.
Videoclip Spirou et Fantasio – The Mandarine Prince Part 1/5 Spirou in the 21st centuryMorvan & Munuera
Then, after a 6 years break, which only saw the publication of L’accélérateur atomique, a Spirou spoof by Lewis Trondheim not included in the official series (but which received Dupuis’ approval), the series went back to a more classical storytelling mode with seasoned cartoonists Jean-David MorvanJosé-Luis Munuera (art). The latter kept close to the spirit of Franquin‘s graphical style, while bringing its own touch of manga-inspired modernism. Morvan and Munuera’s Spirou is partly remarkable in that it uses background elements and secondary characters from the whole history of the title, and not just from Franquin’s period. (writing) and
The duo’s latest album, Spirou et Fantasio à Tokyo was released 20th September 2006. Spirou and Fantasio uncover the story of two children with telekinetic powers (similarly to the manga Akira) that are forced to construct an edo and meiji period theme park. Dupuis has also released as Spirou et Fantasio 49Z, a manga story by Hiroyuki Oshima after an idea by Morvan. This story tells Spirou’s adolescence as a groom in a 5 star Tokyo hotel.
Due to a significant decline in sales, Dupuis decided to cease Morvan and Munuera work in Spirou in January 2007. No successor has been named yet.Une aventure de Spirou et Fantasio par...
It is often said that it is the secret dream of many Belgian and French cartoonists to draw their own Spirou. Perhaps Dupuis had this in mind when in 2006 they launched a second series of one-off volumes by various authors, under the name Une aventure de Spirou et Fantasio par… (“A Spirou and Fantasio adventure by…”). This is a collection of special albums that will appear in parallel with the regular series, without interfering with it. Each album will be a one-shot with different authors and will offer a new viewpoint on the series.
The first volume, Les géants pétrifiés by Fabien Vehlmann and Yoann, had a modern storyline and art, not dissimilar in spirit to Morvan and Munuera’s work. The second volume, Les marais du temps, by Frank Le Gall, is drawn in a more classic style not dissimilar to Tintin and Théodore Poussin, Le Gall’s own comic series. Le tombeau des Champignac, by Yann and Fabrice Tarrin, is a slightly modernized homage to Franquin’s classic period. Journal d’un ingénu, by Emile Bravo, is a novelistic homage to the original Rob-Vel and Jijé‘s universes and stories.
Main and recurring characters of Spirou et Fantasio’s adventures.
Spirou – The main character. An investigative reporter with a strong sense of justice.
Fantasio – Spirou’s best friend and co-adventurer, a reporter with a hot temper.
Spip – Spirou’s grouchy pet squirrel.
The Marsupilami – A very unusual creature captured in a South-American jungle by Spirou and Fantasio. Marsupilami is the name of the species, and the creature never acquired an individual name. Often referred to as “the little animal” even though it can terrorise anything and anyone!
Count of Champignac – Spirou and Fantasio’s eccentric scientist friend.
The Mayor of Champignac. Petty, pompous, ineffectual and two-faced, he is mostly memorable for his trademark speeches in which he piles up mixed metaphors sky-high.
Seccotine – Their fellow reporter, a friend and rival at the same time. Gets on Fantasio’s nerves, but a priceless ally.
Gaston Lagaffe – The main source of disaster and gags at the Spirou magazine offices. While he is the hero of his own series, he makes a few guest appearances in Spirou stories.
Ororéa – Another brave female reporter, of Polynesian descent.
Itoh Kata – A Japanese scientist and magician.
EnemiesZorglub – A mad scientist. A former colleague of the Count of Champignac from university days, he later boasts that he could take over the world, but really wants to be recognised as the greatest scientist of all time. He later rehabilitates and becomes a friend of the protagonists.
Zantafio – Fantasio’s evil cousin.
John Helena “la Murène” (the moray) – A brutal maritime criminal.
Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone – New York mafia boss, father of a dangerous woman called Luna.
Cyanure, a gynoid.
AlbumsThis list includes French titles, their English translation, and the first year of publicationJijéSpirou et l’aventure, 1948, featuring:
Le meeting aérien (The Aerial Meeting), 1943
Autour du monde avec le pilote rouge (Around the World with the Red Pilot), 1944
Le voyage dans le temps (The Voyage in Time), 1944-45
L’enlèvement de Spip (The Abduction of Spip), 1945
La jeep de Fantasio (Fantasio’s Jeep), 1945-46. Also in hors-séries H2.
Fantasio et le Fantôme (Fantasio and the Ghost), 1946. Also in hors-séries H4
followed by La peur au bout du fil (Fear at the End of the Line, 1959; with Greg (writing) and Jidéhem (backgrounds).
14. Le prisonnier du Bouddha (The prisoner of the Buddha, 1959; with Greg (writing) and Jidéhem (backgrounds).
15. Z comme Zorglub (Z is for Zorglub, 1960; with Greg (writing) and Jidéhem (backgrounds). First appearance of Zorglub. Part one of two.
16. L’ombre du Z (The Shadow of Z, 1960; with Greg (writing) and Jidéhem (backgrounds). Part two of two.
17. Spirou et les hommes-bulles (Spirou and the Bubble Men, 1959)
followed by Les petits formats (The Small Formats), 1960; both with Jean Roba (art). These stories, along with Tembo Tabou, first appeared in a newspaper, Le Parisien Libéré.
18. QRN sur Bretzelburg (Q.R.N. over Bretzelburg), 1963; with Greg (writing) and Jidéhem (backgrounds)). A longer version was published in 1987 in a limited printing.
19. Panade à Champignac (Babysitting in Champignac), 1968; with Peyo and Gos (writing).
followed by Bravo les Brothers (Hurray for the Brothers), 1967; with Jidéhem (backgrounds).
Fantasio et son Tank (Fantasio and his tank, 1946, Franquin)
L’Héritage (1946, Franquin)
2. Radar le robot (Radar the robot). Featuring:
La maison préfabriquée (The prefabricated house, 1946, Jijé & Franquin)
Radar le robot (1947, Franquin)
Le Homard (The lobster, 1957, Franquin)
3. La voix sans maître et 5 autres aventures (The voice without owner and 5 other adventures). Featuring stories by:
Rob-Vel: La naissance de Spirou (Spirou’s birth, 1938); Spirou et la puce (Spirou and the flea, 1943)
Franquin: Fantasio et le siphon (Fantasio and the siphon, 1957)
Nic: Le fantacoptère solaire (The solar fantacopter, 1980)
Tome & Janry: La voix sans maître (1981); La menace (The menace, 1982); La Tirelire est là (The money box is there, 1984); Une semaine de Spirou et Fantasio (A week of Spirou and Fantasio, 2001)
4. Fantasio et le fantôme et 4 autres aventures (Fantasio and the ghost and other 4 adventures). Featuring stories by:
Jijé: Fantasio et le fantôme (1946)
Franquin: La Zorglumobile (The Zorgumovil, 1976); Noël dans la brousse (Christmas in the bush, 1949); Fantasio et les pantins téléguidés (Fantasio and the remote-controlled skates, 1957)
Yves Chaland: Cœurs d’acier (Steel Hearts, 1982)
Fournier: Vacances à Brocéliande (Holidays at Broceliland, 1973; Joyeuses Pâques, Papa! (Happy Easter, dad!, 1971)
One-shots: Une aventure de Spirou et Fantasio par…
1. Les géants pétrifiés (The Petrified Giants, 2006, by Fabien Vehlmann (story) and Yoann (art)) 
2. Les marais du temps (The Marshlands of Time, 2007, by Frank Le Gall)
3. Le tombeau des Champignac (The Tomb of the Champignacs, 2007, by Yann (story) and Fabrice Tarrin (art))
4. Spirou, le journal d’un ingénu (Spirou, An Ingenuous [Boy]’s Diary, 2008, by Emile Bravo)
On October 3, 1988, the Belgian Post issued a stamp featuring Spirou, drawn by Tome & Janry, in the series of comic stamps for youth philately. This was the fourth Belgian stamp showing a comic hero.
On February 26, 2006 the French Post issued a set of 3 Spirou et Fantasio stamps, featuring art by José-Luis Munuera. To commemorate the occasion, the Musée de la Poste de Paris (Paris Mail Museum) organized an exposition from February 27 to October 7 2006 with two halls, one showing original plates and the other more recreational, with television, games, etc.SourcesSpirou et Fantasio publications in Le journal de Spirou BDoubliées (French)
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