Tag Archives: Merho

Interview with Hec Leemans on Bob de Moor (By Bernard Van Isacker)

Hec Leemans
Hec Leemans

Hector (Hec) Leemans is a Flemish cartoonist and scenario writer who was ‘trained’ according to the press (but Hec Leemans says he just visited the studio one day and Bob de Moor gave him some very useful tips) by Bob de Moor as a 15-year old. Debuting with the series Circus Maximus, he hit the right spot when launching the Bakelandt series which debuted from October 20 1975 on in the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet. After the death of scenario writer Daniël Jansens in 1980, Leemans took over the writing duties.

Rooie Zita (Bakelandt)
Rooie Zita (Bakelandt)

The last 20 albums were drawn by Claus Scholz while Leemans kept on providing the scenarios. In 2006 the series was paused after the 96th album, but by then Red Zita had become a muse for many male readers.

By 1990 he had also started 2 new series, Nino, drawn by Dirk Stallaert, and the shortlived Kowalsky. While Nino has become one of the best post-Hergé examples of how the clear line can be alive and kicking, it was with the comic series FC De Kampioenen, based on the TV series with the same name, that Leemans would reach a huge mass of young readers. He was also the one who co-wrote the immensely popular film of said TV series.

Hec knows the ins and outs of the Flemish comic scene, so a talk with him on Bob de Moor was on our shortlist for sure.

BDM: In the book “De klare lijn en de golven” there is a reference to a conflict that you have had with Bob de Moor concerning the continuation of “L’ Alphart”. What was it about? Did you minimize his input in Tintin?

HL: I never minimized Bob’s share in Tintin. The quote that irritated Bob was that I had said that I would find it legitimate that someone would draw “L’ Alphart” (Bob that is, who else?) if there was a complete scenario available. In there I also referred to a meeting I had with Hergé during which he showed me how he had put indications on his drafts for the decors. That’s all I said. I don’t know why Bob interpreted this as an attack on him personally, because I especially wanted to overhaul some critics in the press with my example. Fact is that at that moment he was under siege of several people, inside and outside the studio, who all wanted to interfere with “L’ Alphart”. I presume he worked his irritation out on me. I immediately called Bob and 14 days later he invited me for a meal in Brussels. End of story. We never had any quarrel since then. I have the utmost respect for the work that Bob did with Hergé.

BDM: Was he according to you capable – when given enough time (unlike the short deadline he got imposed for completing the Blake & Mortimer album “Mortimer vs. Mortimer”) – to complete “L’ Alphart”?

HL: If there had been a proper scenario, Bob surely could have completed it. But the work of Hergé was, especially scenario wise, rather personal. However, Bob once told me that he more or less knew in what direction Hergé wanted to head the story.

BDM: Bob de Moor risks to end up as a footnote in comic history as his work outside the studio is far less known. In a chat I had earlier last month with Merho, he told that Bob would end up being forgotten since he worked as a servant for Hergé, and that contrarily to Hergé and Vandersteen, he wasn’t really a born storyteller. A theory that isn’t completely correct according to me, the Cori stories for instance showcase that he was an excellent storyteller. What’s your take on this?

HL: History will tell us. An oeuvre can temporarily be forgotten, but find a public again a decennium later. Everything happens in cycles. I’m convinced that the children of Bob will do the necessary to keep his work in the spotlight, which they are actually busy with.

BDM: How would you describe Bob de Moor as human being?

HL: Bob was a fantastic person, a gentleman. He wasn’t fickle, was always friendly and full of humor. A few months before he got ill, he visited my place together with Jeanne, his wife. He offered to exchange a plate of Cori for a plate of Bakelandt. But alas, that never happened. A few months later I met Bob for the last time at a meeting at the Belgian Comic Centre. I knew it would be the last time that I would see him.

I recently remembered a rather funny anecdote with Bob. When the Belgian Comic Centre was opened he had to give a speech, being the chairman. The king and the queen were there and hundreds of invitees. He did his duty with a lot of aplomb in both dutch and french and ended his speech with “Vive le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee et viva boma, pattatten met saucissen!” I don’t know how many people heard that, but I did. Typically Bob.

(editor’s note: the “viva boma, pattatten met saucissen” line comes from a popular Antwerp song, but it became ‘cult’ when Gérard Madiata — and not Papa Wemba as so often said — sang the song for president Mobutu and a few Belgian ministers including Willy De Clerck and Leo Tindemans. The latter were on a mission in the former belgian colony of Zaire, which now is the Republique Démocratique du Congo. You can see the fragment here – note that the ministers had trouble not bursting out into laughter. The story would later also pop up in Nero’s “Beo the terrible” by Marc Sleen.)

BDM: Did you learn anything from him when it comes to drawing?

HL: Bob was the very first comic artist I met face to face when I was just 15 years old. Already during that first meeting he gave me some useful tips. I always remembered them: clarity for everything in your drawing.

Bakelandt & FC De Kampioenen
Bakelandt & FC De Kampioenen

BDM: Besides drawing the popular FC De Kampioenen (‘FC The Champions’ in english), you also co-wrote the scenario for the film on The Champions which became a huge succes in the theaters. Any idea why the film “W” by that other popular series “Witse” turned out to be a huge flop?

HL: I guess that it has something to do with the fact that the Witse character in the movie is way too far alienated from the Witse as he was portrayed in the TV-series. People have certain expectations. If you don’t follow those expectations than they just don’t want to see it. Having said that, I can’t judge the film as such as I haven’t seen it.

BDM: The rumor mill has it that you are busy completing a new Nino too. Is this correct and how will the style be compared to that of Dirk Stallaert who did the first 3 parts?

HL: I personally have no time now to work on it. I have no idea how it could evolve stylistically. Nino got a lot of very good reviews in the French press when the albums were released. We should have continued it, then it would have turned into a succes. But it was Dirk Stallaert’s choice to stop.

Merho interview : “For both gentlemen this was a win-win situation.” (Interview by Bernard Van Isacker)

10152461_643626355687190_1393068624_nWe did a Bob de Moor related interview with Merho, the best selling comic artist in Belgium.

Merho (born in Antwerp, Belgium 24 October 1948) is the pseudonym of Robert Merhottein. He is a Belgian comic-book writer and artist, best known for creating the comic strip Kiekeboe (now named De Kiekeboes). He worked for five years as an assistant on Jerom and Pats with Studio Vandersteen before starting his own series, Kiekeboe – officiële fanpagina for the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. That newspaper had until then no local, Flemish comic strip contrary to De Standaard/Het Nieuwsblad (with Spike and Suzy) and Het Volk (with Nero). Instead they published Dutch comics by Marten Toonder or Hans G. Kresse, so that left an opportunity for Merho to enter the daily comic market.

The first story was serialized in the newspaper starting on 15 February 1977 and has since then continued almost uninterrupted. With more than 100 albums, the Kiekeboe series is one of the 3 most successful Flemish comics (next to Jommeke & Spike and Suzy) and sells over 100,000 copies with each new album, 1 million albums per year in total. The series only had a short-lived French, German and English translation, and a rebranding for the Dutch market, including renaming the series to De Kiekeboes.

But Flemish readers will know Merho for sure! And he has a very straightforward view on Bob de Moor and his career as you can read.

1780948_643341065715719_144356541_oBDM: That you respect Hergé as an artist was already visible in the funeral of Kiekeboe were amongst other comic heroes we also find a sobbing Tintin and Captain Haddock. But what is your stance towards the work of Bob de Moor, who also created quite a number of series besides his work for Hergé?

M: As a comic reader I knew Bob de Moor’s work from my youth. But I never had the same affinity with it as I had with the work of Hergé, Vandersteen or Sleen. I got to know Bob in the eighties via the Stripgilde. Later I also met him often during meetings at the Belgian Centre of Comics. It was one of the most adorable people from the ‘métier’. Nothing cocky, very open and very jovial when meeting younger colleagues. The last time I saw him was at the funeral of Willy Vandersteen in 1990. Afterwards he and his wife were facing us at the coffee table. Of course we reminisced to our good friend Willy. Two years later he would die himself.

BDM: In contradiction to Bob vs Hergé, you never stayed a ‘servant’ when it came to working with Vandersteen and you lanced yourself and your own series. Did Bob have it to free himself from his relation with Hergé?

M: Bob already had lived a whole career when he started working for Hergé. And from his biography I learned that that career move was quite a relief to him. Bob wanted certainty and didn’t have the mentality of an entrepreneur (Editor’s note: the recent biography describes in full detail how Bob didn’t like the paperwork of being self-employed). I think he really felt relieved when he could work at his own pace on Tintin without having the worries of an independent. For an employer a person like Bob de Moor is godsend. A man with a whole lot more métier, who never had the need to break out. The most ideal collaborator a comic maker can dream of. Most collaborators in the end want to create something for themselves. Which I can perfectly understand. I had that same urge and therefor also left the Vandersteen Studios. Bob already had lived that adventure and could on top work on his own series within the Studios Hergé construction. For both gentlemen this was a win-win situation. And deep inside he also knew that, despite his virtuosity as a comic artists, he wasn’t the master storyteller like Vandersteen and Hergé were.

BDM: As a result of staying in the shadow the younger generation (younger than 40) hardly knows Bob de Moor and his work. Is this what pushes you? Not being forgotten or don’t you ever think of that?

M: Of course I’d love to be read after I’m gone. It is somewhat life after death. That’s why I don’t object to see the De Kiekeboes series continued after I’m gone. On top, my heirs can then take some profit from it. Something that stops soon disappears these days. Tintin is the exception to the rule. But from the younger generation, who still knows Nero? Who is still reading Ernest Claes? I think that the work of Bob de Moor will end the same way on the long run. Eternal glory is only reserved for the greats. For clarity, I certainly do not count myself amongst those greats.