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Three Suske en Wiske books

train, tintin, leuven
Having invoked them in my discussion of Flemish dialect the other day, it occurred to me that I had never actually read any Suske en Wiske, Belgium's other favourite comic strip after Tintin, so I borrowed one of F's collected sets. Assuming that these three are typical, the stories revolve around the adventures of the title characters, a boy and girl; Wiske's aunt Sidonia; their friend Lambik, who is a less alcoholic and less nautical version of Tintin's Captain Haddock; their other friend Jerom, who is possessed of supernatural strength and a peculiar turn of phrase; and Professor Barabas, whose researches are often a starting point for the adventure. The strip was drawn for decades by Willy Vandersteen, who then handed over the reins to Paul Geerts, who himself has now retired, though the Vandersteen brand remains on the masthead. The height of the Suske and Wiske stories is apparently considered to be the "Blue Albums" dating from the time of Vandersteen's short-lived partnership with Hergé in the late 1950s; these three stories all post-date that period.

June Books 20) De Apenkermis, by Willy Vandersteen

This dates from 1965, and features a lot of the considerations of the time: radiation from a passing meteor causes intense heat (at the start of the story, forgotten after a couple of dozen pages), intelligent apes rising to take over the world, a daring spacewalk, explicit reference to James Bond. I was also a little surprised to see our gallant companions travelling to, of all places, Northern Ireland by submarine.



The ape who they meet on the Irish shore explains that he had to leave the circus after it went bust when all the clowns and acrobats went into politics instead.



The rise of the apes reveals some awfully dodgy racial politics, not for the last time I'm afraid. The whole story is rather disjointed and episodic, thrilling episode following thrilling episode without really referring back to earlier events. Like most Suske and Wiske strips, this was originally written for newspaper publication, but it rather felt as if Vandersteen was making it up as he went along.

June Books 21) Amoris van Amoras, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Paul Geerts]

This story, written in 1984, takes the gang to the South Pacific island of Amoras, a magical place where Wiske is in fact queen as the result of an earlier visit, a new and wonderful version of Antwerp is being built, and there are incidentally no black people. The villains, a woman who dresses as a witch and a bloke who dresses as a Sinister Foreigner, have been evilly building, shudder, modern-style apartment blocks in Antverpia, and lead a gang of henchmen who wear metal flowerpots on their heads (the head henchman has a little flower stuck into his so that you can tell which one he is). Other characters include the ghost of Suske's great-grandfather and a little dog who helpfully pees on things (a line used also on one occasion by Hergé).

Suske and Wiske save the day by befriending the intelligent mortar-munching termites (whose leader is the titular Amoris) which have been unwittingly undermining the foundations of the replica of Antwerp Cathedral on the island (have you been following this so far?); the termites instead are unleashed on the villains' modern apartment blocks, which collapse to general appreciation. What their potential inhabitants may have thought of this is not reported. I suspect that this is a fairly typical adventure, and it is a little more fun than I have made it sound.

>June Books 22) Het Aruba-dossier, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Paul Geerts]

This 1994 story is much less far-fetched, with the only sfnal elements (apart, as usual, from Jerom's preternatural strength) being an undersea base and Professor Barabas's 'Terranef', a cousin of the Thunderbirds' Mole. The Belgian airline Sabena will have ground their teeth at the prominent product placement for their Dutch rivals KLM; apparently there was a long-running connection betweem KLM and the Vandersteen empire, though it must be admitted that once you have decided to transport your central characters from our part of the world to Aruba (which, as you know, Bob, is one of the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles) you'll probably do it via Schiphol rather than Zaventem.

This version of Aruba actually has got quite a lot of black people, and they are all seen dancing in the street at carnival time; none seem to be in the police or employed on the villains' undersea base (apart from the stereotypically multiethnic council of villains which is behind it all). There is a scientific McGuffin which is barely used in the plot, and a researcher whose name is Vorser, which means researcher. I thought it was a bit more low-key than the other two, and also slightly shorter; Professor Barabas spends most of the story in hospital, and Aunt Sidonia is sidelined rather abruptly before the group goes to Aruba.

I hope that more recent Suske en Wiske strips have moved with the times; they will have had quite a lot of catching up to do.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
martin_wisse
Jul. 4th, 2014 07:31 am (UTC)
Actually, the best Suske & Wiskes were the ones Vandersteen wrote and drew himself, when he was still doing them in a "volkse" Antwerp accent; the Herge influenced ones are great, but do not fit his real style. Most of those have been reworked over the years to put them in line with the rest of the series though.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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