Suske en Wiske, created by Willy Vandersteen, is unquestionably the most famous comics series in Flemish Belgium. Published since 1945, counting more than three hundred stories, Suske en Wiske – known in French as Bob et Bobette and in English as Spike and Suzy – is a classical family adventure. The prototypical characters – witty girl Wiske and her rag doll Schanulleke, brave boy Suske, their spindly aunt Sidonie, clumsy Lambik, supernaturally strong Jerom – travel through space and time in search of adventures peppered with situation gags and practical jokes. Given the longevity of the strip, it relies on an achronological timelessness typical for serial comics: characters do not age, most stories are situated in the present time, without precluding manifold time travels, from prehistory to the future.

With German occupation of Belgium during WWII had a significant impact on newspaper culture of the time, and despite the ensuing issues of censorship and collaboration, it brought about new opportunities for Flemish comics. The halting of the translation of American comics during the war and the recovering newspaper industry at its end opened up the occasion for Vandersteen to publish in the Brussels newspaper De Nieuwe Standaard the first installment of the then titled De avonturen van Rikki en Wiske. Followed by a story in which Suske meets Wiske, Op het eiland Amoras, its success was quickly grounded, making it one of Flanders’ major titles and its author an extremely influential cartoonist.

These stories appeared in a daily installment of two black-and-white strips, making up a larger ongoing narrative: this format, typical for Flemish comics, made them particularly responsive to the political context. Vandersteen and Standaard would quickly collect the adventures in an instantly identifiable book format known as “Rode Reeks” (Red Series): a 56-page, red softcover album, printed in red-and-blue duotone first, and after 1967 in four colors.

The early Suske en Wiske stories are particularly known for their uproarious humor embodied in Lambik’s capers, as well as the looser, more spontaneous ligne claire style, defying anatomical rules in a dynamic way. When Vandersteen was invited to publish in Tintin magazine, he had to adapt to the neat standards of Hergé,  bolstering narrative coherence and tuning down the popular elements. These stories nonetheless kept a folkoristic dimension that would make Vandersteen known as “the Brueghel of Comics,” epitomized by Het Spaanse Spook, in which the heroes are transported into a Brueghel painting. With time, and with Vandersteen opening his own studio to meet increasing production demands, a uniform style arose, leading some critics to lament the stereotypification of the stories. Studio Vandersteen continues to publish the series today, recently borrowing from North-American superheroes comics in order to reach new audiences.

— Benoît Crucifix

 See also: Ligne claire style

Further Reading

  • Baetens, Jan. “North and South in Belgian Comics.” European Comic Art 1.2 (2008): 111–126. Print.
  • Lefèvre, Pascal. “Fifty Years of Bob and Bobette.” The Low Countries 3 (1995-1996): 46-52. Print.