Even after 70 years of adventures, Spirou remains a somewhat enigmatic figure.
Who is he? Where does he come from? Does he have any family, and if so, where are they?
I'll attempt to answer these questions, or at least give you the different answers various writers have offered.
In my first post, I covered the creation of Spirou the character and the magazine, and showed some of the key moments from the early years of the series. In this post I'll present Tome & Janry's reimagining(s) of Spirou's childhood.
Nothing here should be NSFW, by the way, but Li'l Spirou has a fair bit of cheesecake fanservice.
(Almost none of the scans are mine. I just did some cleanup and the scanlation from French.)
|To recap, Spirou was created by Rob-Vel (Robert Velter) in 1938. In the first story, the director of Moustic Hotel needs a bellhop, and finds himself an artist to paint him one. With one spritz from a bottle of eau de vie ("water of life"), the painting springs to life with the words "Spirou at your service!"|
At first, Spirou was a mischievous troublemaker at the hotel, but soon he became a globetrotting adventurer, acquiring a more virtuous and heroic personality in the process. As the series changed hands multiple times and gradually became more realistic, this Pinocchio-style origin and initial rowdiness was quietly forgotten. The definitive version of Spirou became that of André Franquin, who drew the series from 1946 to 1968. His Spirou was clever, brave, but rather straitlaced.
Jean-Claude Fournier had charge of the series in the 70s. After he left, three separate teams worked on their own version of the series in parallel: Nic Broca & Raoul Cauvin with a somewhat uninspired trilogy of adventures, Yves Chaland with a retro-pastiche of the 50s comic strip, and finally, Tome & Janry.
Spirou's Younger Days
Philippe Tome and Jean-Richard Geurts (Janry) started out writing short Spirou episodes that brought a riotous sense of comedy to the series. Even though these read almost like parodies of Spirou, they were successful enough that the duo were soon made the main and then the only Spirou creative team. Their run lasted until 1998, and marked another high point in the history of the series.
This is from one of those early short stories (5 pp.) that won them the job. It was written for the 45th anniversary of the magazine in 1983, and looks back at the creation and history of Spirou. It was collected in the 1987 album La Jeunesse de Spirou ("Spirou's Youth," here translated as "Spirou's Younger Days").
|Oh, and it might help to know that Uncle Paul was a character who acted as a host and narrator of educational "true fact" comics in the magazine, usually historical. He would introduce a story about The European Coal and Steel Community (the future European Union), for example. Exciting stuff!|
Uncle Paul was a symbol of reliability and credibility, but this sort of didactic comics belonged mainly to the 50s and 60s, and by the 80s he was seen as pretty old-fashioned.
The noise is made by Fantasio, leading to their first meeting.
From this point the story becomes increasingly ridiculous and meta. Uncle Paul claims that all the characters from Spirou went to school together as kids, even the villain Zantafio – complete with mustache. Their class teacher was the Count of Champignac, while other teachers included all the creators of the series: Rob-Vel, Jijé, Franquin, Fournier... And the headmaster was the publisher, Mr. Dupuis!
He also touches briefly on how Spirou got Spip:
In the end, Uncle Paul finds that most of his listeners have fallen asleep, except for Mr. Dupuis, who asks how much of it was true. Uncle Paul admits that he made most of it up. When Mr. Dupuis wonders if readers won't be shocked that he's telling tall tales, Uncle Paul goes: "Ehhh! Once every 45 years..."
Tome & Janry must have liked the idea of Spirou as a kid, because in 1987 they decided to revisit the concept with Le Petit Spirou ("Li'l Spirou"). This second take was less of an in-joke (though even more of a gag series), since it didn't feature characters Spirou wouldn't meet until he grew up, or people who worked on the series in real life.
The first story featured an introduction that specified that this wasn't Spirou's younger brother or anything like that, but the actual Spirou when he was little. However, it's questionable whether it sits in the same continuity as the main series, given the difference in tone, characterization, and time period. (While some elements of Li'l Spirou seems to place it in the mid-twentieth century, lately Tome & Janry have introduced computers and cell phones into some of the gags, anachronistically.)
The guy he's saying hello to is his best childhood friend, Antoine "Vert" Vertignasse. The two of them get up to all sorts of shenanigans together, often involving the girls' locker room.
Spirou's future destiny is sometimes alluded to. Compare the adult Zantafio shooting at Spirou below to the kid version seen in "Spirou's Younger Days."
Here are some of the other characters. Notice a theme?
By the way, Spirou's math teacher is named Claudia Chiffre. ("Chiffre" means digit or number in French.) LOL!
As you can tell, Spirou is not an orphan in this version. He lives with his mom, his dad and his grandfather (who's his "favorite grown-up"), all depicted wearing the same bellhop uniform. His father seems to be a strict and distant man. You never see his face, though it's implied that he has a mustache.
There are a ton of gags I could post, but since I'm focusing on Spirou's origins, I'll end with this, the story of his birth:
Li'l Spirou was and is a huge success; it has run for 14 albums so far, and is one of the best-selling comics in Europe (outselling the "adult" Spirou adventures several times over). If you guys like it I might post more of it some other time.
In the next (final) entry in this series, I'll post bits from Emile Bravo's Journal d'un Ingenu, which places a young Spirou in the context of World War II, and finally reveals Spirou's real name!