The Adventures of Nero

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For other uses of Nero, see Nero (disambiguation)
The Adventures of Nero
The Adventures of Nero.png
Nero, Adhemar and Madam Pheip during the traditional waffle feast which concludes every story.
Author(s) Marc Sleen
Current status / schedule Discontinued
Launch date October 1, 1947
End date 2002
Syndicate(s) Uitgeverij Het Volk, Standaard Uitgeverij
Genre(s) Humor comics, Satire, Fantasy, Adventure

The Adventures of Nero or Nero was a Belgian comic strip drawn by Marc Sleen and the name of its main character. The original title ranged from De Avonturen van Detectief Van Zwam in 1947 to De Avonturen van Nero en zijn Hoed in 1950, and finally De Avonturen van Nero & Co from 1951.[1] It ran in continuous syndication until 2002. From 1947 until 1993 it was all drawn by Sleen himself. From 1992 until 2002 Dirk Stallaert took over the drawing while Sleen kept inventing the stories.

Together with Suske en Wiske and Jommeke "Nero" is regarded as the Big Three of Flemish comics. The stories were noted for their satirical content, with references to politicians and celebrities of the day. Marc Sleen holds with Nero the world record of issues of a comic book series title drawn by the same author. He drew "The Adventures of Nero" singlehandedly from 1947 to 1992 without any assistance of other artists. This feat is even more remarkable, considering he also drew other comic strip series from 1947 to 1965.

History[edit]

The series debuted in the newspaper De Nieuwe Gids in the fall of 1947 and was written and drawn by Marc Sleen from the start. Originally the central character was Detective Van Zwam, but halfway the first story "Het Geheim van Matsuoka" ("The Secret of Matsuoka") (1947) Van Zwam meets a man who drank from a serum that makes people go insane and thinks he is the Roman emperor Nero. The character was also dressed in a toga with some laurier leaves behind his ears. Near the end of the story the character regained his senses and revealed his real name was "Schoonpaard" (in reprints this was changed to "Heiremans", in both cases inside joke references to colleagues of Sleen).[2] The character proved popular and remained a friend of Van Zwam in the next stories, though everyone kept referring to him as "Nero" rather than his real name. After nine stories the series was renamed after "Nero" and Van Zwam became a side character instead.[3]

In 1950 Sleen left "De Nieuwe Gids" and joined the newspaper "Het Volk". During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960 "The Adventures of Nero" was popular enough to rival Willy Vandersteen's Suske en Wiske which was published in De Standaard. In 1965 Sleen joined De Standaard too, following a legal dispute with his publishers. The first 53 "Nero" stories, which were published in black-and-white, remained property of Uitgeverij Het Volk. From "Het Bobobeeldje" ("The Bobo Statue") (1965) on all new "Nero" stories were published in De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, after which they were released as colour albums.[1]

Sleen continued drawing "Nero" for many decades. Only in 1992 did he finally hire an assistant, Dirk Stallaert, to do the drawing for him, because his eyesight had become too poor. Stallaert was promoted as Sleen's successor but in 2002 he decided to leave the series in favor of Studio Vandersteen.[4] Sleen then terminated the series for good. Stallaert still draws "Nero"-related publicity images and merchandise.

The early stories had a random length, often around 240 strips, while the latter ones (from 1965 on) had a length of 32 pages of each 4 strips. Every day, two strips appeared in the newspaper.

Concept[edit]

"The Adventures of Nero" is a humoristic adventure comic strip about Nero, an unemployed man who describes himself as "newspaper appearance" and prefers reading his newspaper in his sofa. He and his wife, named "Madam Nero" ("Madam Nero") by everyone, have one son, Adhemar, who is a child prodigy. Nero has a eccentric group of friends, who often help him out or force him to go on adventure. Many stories show a love for nature and the animal world, which mirrors the creator's own frequent safari vacations. Since the album "Het Groene Vuur" ("The Green Fire") (1965) nearly all "Nero" albums end with a traditional waffle feast, where Madam Nero and Madam Pheip bake waffles for the entire cast.[3]

With two strips published a day, six days a week, the comic strip followed daily news events quite closely and often made references to real life news events. In the story "De IJzeren Kolonel" ("The Iron Curtain") (1956), for instance, the then current Suez Crisis and Hungarian Uprising are incorporated into the plot. The series also had cameos of several Belgian and internationally famous politicians, such as Paul-Henri Spaak, Achiel Van Acker, Paul Vanden Boeynants, Wilfried Martens, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem, Jean-Luc Dehaene, Jozef Stalin, Mobutu, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hirohito, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, Idi Amin, Khomeini , Margaret Thatcher and Saddam Hussein. Media celebrities, such as The Beatles, Pablo Escobar, Urbanus, Paul Newman and Frank Zappa were also frequently caricatured. Sleen also gave himself cameos in several stories.[5] Very exceptional was the fact that all these jokes about past politics were not removed when the newspaper episodes were published in album format. This is the major reason why "Nero" provides readers with an image of almost 60 years of post-war history in Belgium.

Since Sleen worked without assistance for the majority of his career he kept his drawing style simple and efficient. He had no time for elaborate detailed drawings and as a result many of his stories are brimful with continuity errors or off-model drawing mistakes. Contrary to other comics many readers accept this as part of "Nero"'s charm.[3] Only when Dirk Stallaert took over the drawings did the art work become more technically detailed, with more attention towards space and perspective.

Main characters[edit]

During its 55 year course, a lot of regular characters have joined the original duo Nero and Van Zwam.

  • Nero is the main protagonist. Essentially good hearted, he can also be a selfish, lazy man, who does not know how to keep his money and always gets himself into trouble. Nero is one of the very few anti-hero's to lead a comic strip.
  • His wife (often called Madam Nero, or in some stories Bea) stays mainly at home and tries to keep a semblance of a household while her husband is off to some far corner of the earth. If the need arises, she knows how to defend herself.
  • Detective Van Zwam is a private detective. Driving a Porsche 911 (which seems to crash at least once every comic), he is always extremely fast at the place of the crime, and can make the most brilliant deductions out of the smallest clues (often a cigarette stub).
  • Adhemar is Nero's son. He is a child prodigy. He is only a few years old, but has received numerous Nobel prizes and Ph.D.'s. His major hobby is the building of rockets, called Adhemar I, II, ... These as well tend to crash somewhere in every story, but are a major means to get to the exotic countries where the stories often happen.
  • Meneer Pheip is the bourgeois friend of Nero. In initial albums it appears he can only speak a broken, French-sounding kind of Flemish due to his French-speaking background. Later, he is portrayed as an old fashioned Flemish nouveau riche, who thinks it is fitting that he speaks some poor kind of French instead of Dutch (a reference to the language battle between the Flemish and the French-speaking communities).
  • Madam Pheip is his wife. She is a pipe smoking bully, loyal to her kids, herself, her husband, and her friends (in that order). When necessary, she can make a smoke curtain with her pipe.
  • Petatje is the adopted daughter of the Pheips. Her father and mother died when she was very young. Initially, she was adopted by Nero, but soon got to live with the Pheips. Her name "Petatje" is a reference to the Flemish word for potato being "patat" (in dialect pronounced as "petat").
  • Petoetje is their adoptive son. He is actually the son of a Papua king, and is extremely bright. Petoetje and Petatje get treated like children (which they are, around 10 years old) by their stepparents, even though they act more mature most of the time.
  • Clo-Clo is the younger son of the Pheips. His main characteristic is wearing a large moustache as a toddler. He weeps for the smallest reason.
  • Abraham Tuizentfloot is "the last pirate still alive", or that's what he thinks, anyway. Weaponed with a dagger or sometimes a cannon, he is very easily irritated and chases everyone around. He can come up in a story at any given time and it can never be predicted what he might do next. His name is a conundrum of "duizendpoot" (jack of all trades), combined with "vloot" (fleet).
  • Captain Oliepul is the captain of the tugboat named 'His Majesty Pull'. He is a good friend of Nero, and saved him many times. He's Marc Sleen's "deus ex machina": whenever characters seem to be drowning, at the very last moment captain Oliepul coincidentally passes by and saves them just in time.
  • Jan Spier is an extremely strong guy, who is said to be the last descendant of Jan Breydel. His last name means "muscle" in Dutch. He makes a living selling French fries. He has been gone for many years in the middle part of the series, but readers convinced Sleen to let Jan Spier reappear. During the run of the series, he was married to at least two different women, Minoetje and Isabella. No divorce or other explanation was ever shown.
  • Officer Gaston was the last character to become a regular in the comic, and he appeared very late, in 1995, twenty years after the birth of Clo-Clo (at that point the last regular to be added to the cast). Gaston is fat, not too bright, and at times incredibly incompetent. However, somehow he manages to save Nero a few times.
  • Nero's worst enemies are the Maltese (see: "De Spekschieter") bandit Ricardo and a devil, called Geraard de Duivel ("Gerard the Devil", named after the medieval building, Geeraard de Duivelsteen, in Ghent).

Popularity and influence[edit]

During its heyday "Nero" was the most popular Flemish comic strip, second only to Suske en Wiske. The albums sold well, also because they were a lot cheaper than their main rival. From the late 1940s until the early 1960s all the stories were published on cheap paper and often smelt of fresh ink. During the 1960s Jef Nys' Jommeke overshadowed "Nero"'s sales among children.[6]

Attempts have been made to translate "Nero" to the Dutch, British, French, German and South African market. Except for in Wallonia and the Netherlands, the translated versions of Nero never caught traction.[3] Sleen has very rarely used his characters for merchandising or other commercializations.

"Nero" was very influential on the development of comics in Flanders. Its loose drawing style and folly storylines were an inspiration for Urbanus, Biebel, Cowboy Henk, among others. Dutch artists like Martin Lodewijk (Agent 327) and René Windig and Eric De Jong ("Heinz") are also notable fans.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

The Flemish comics prize Bronzen Adhemar is named and sculpted after the character Adhemar. In Turnhout, where the award ceremony is traditionally held, a huge statue of Adhemar can be seen in the Warande park since June 15, 1991. It was built by Frank-Ivo Van Damme.[7]

Several characters from the series also have their own statues. Nero has a bronze statue in Hoeilaart, sculpted by Luc Cauwenberghs, which was erected in 1994 in front of the old streetcar station.[8] In the series this building is Nero's house since the story "De Verschrikkelijke Tweeling" ("The Horrible Twin") (1992). The station has been redecorated as a "Nero"-themed café. Nero has another statue in front of the casino in Middelkerke.[9] Meneer Pheip has a statue in the Statiestraat in Moerbeke-Waas, the village of which he supposedly is the major. It was sculpted by Guy Du Cheyne on August 24, 2012.[10] In the Dorpsstraat in Wuustwezel sculptor Gilbert Uitdenhouwen made a statue of Abraham Tuizentfloot, which was revealed in 2000.[11]

The organisation "Nero-Harmonie" in Hoeilaart and a mountain bike route have been named after "Nero".[12]

In 1984 composer Johan De Smet, conductor Vincent D'Hondt and director Arne Sierens choose the "Nero" story "Het Rattenkasteel" ("The Rats' Castle") (1947) for an opera adaptation.[13][14] It premiered as Het Rattenkasteel.

The entire cast of the series was sculpted on a bas-relief in Sint-Niklaas, made by sculptor Paul Dekker in 1988 to commemorate Marc Sleen's induction as an honor citizen of the city.[15]

In the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels the permanent exhibition brings homage to the pioneers of Belgian comics, among them Marc Sleen. In the room dedicated to his work everything is designed to look like Nero's cosy home, complete with a tower of Belgian waffles and champagne nearby.[16]

Nero is among the many Belgian comics characters to jokingly have a Brussels street named after them. The Rue de la Fourche/ Greepstraat has a commemorative plaque with the name Rue Néron/ Nerostraat placed under the actual street sign. [17]

In 1995 a wall was dedicated to "Nero" at the Sint-Goriksplein/Place Saint-Géry in Brussels,[18] where it is part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. Between 1996 and 2011 Hasselt also had a wall. In 2014 a wall was dedicated to "Nero" in the Kloosterstraat in Antwerp, depicting a scene from the album "De Oliespuiter" ("The Oil Injector").[19] depicting Nero, Petoetje and Petatje.[19][20]

The Marc Sleen Museum in the Zandstraat in Brussels is dedicated to Sleen and his creations. It was opened in 2009.[21]

Nero, the dog of the character Carmen Waterslaeghers in the successful Flemish TV sitcom FC De Kampioenen, was named after Nero. In one of the episodes Carmen is thinking of a name for her dog and coincidentally sees the daily "Nero" comic in the newspaper.

Sources[edit]

Footnotes