Spirou (left) and Fantasio (right), with the Marsupilami and Spip the squirrel.
Spirou et Fantasio (Spirou and Fantasio) is one of the most successful Belgian comic book adventure series, spawning various spin-off series and an Animated Adaptation.Spirou is an intrepid hotel groom/reporter working for Le Moustique/Le Journal de Spirou/freelance. With his wacky/Comically Serious/now wacky again sidekick Fantasio and his pet squirrel Spip, he has many adventures over the globe, fighting Mad Scientists and evil dictators, but also doing a fair bit of actual reporting on the side (Take That, Tintin!).This series has the distinction of being one the few "work for hire" franchises of Franco-Belgian comics (most of them are owned by their initial creators or their estate). As such, various authors worked on the main series over the years:
Robert "Rob-Vel" Velter was commissionned to create the Spirou character to headline the new eponymous weekly "Le Journal de Spirou" magazine. He wrote and drew Spirou's adventures from 1938 to 1943, after which the war prevented him from continuing; his publisher bought the rights to the series and has had various creative teams work on it ever since. These adventures have never been reprinted and are mainly known for the introduction of Spirou's pet squirrel Spip.
Joseph "Jijé" Gillain (already a well-known veteran, now mostly remembered for drawing the Western series Jerry Spring) then took over the series (as well as a lot of publisher Dupuis's strips). He introduced Fantasio, whose garish costumes and gaffes made the perfect wacky Sidekick. Overwhelmed by having to handle too many series at once, he gave most of them to the care of various young artists he had groomed for that purpose.
André Franquin took over Spirou et Fantasio around 1948 (though Jijé did a few stories after the formal switchover). He is credited for creating the most well-known parts of the Spirou universe, including Champignac, the Marsupilami, Zorglub and Gaston Lagaffe. At the end of Franquin's run, the series received the input of Michel "Greg" Regnier for plots, grounding Spirou's adventures in a more realistic geopolitical context. By the beginning of the '70s, Franquin grew bored of the character and left the series (though he kept the rights of a few of his creations, including the Marsupilami and Gaston Lagaffe).
Young artist Jean-Claude Fournier then took over the series, updating slightly the look of the characters and giving the characters a more militant outlook.
In the 80s, publisher Dupuis found Fournier too slow and started looking into other creative teams, with three of them working at the same time. Nicolas Broca & Raoul Cauvin's contribution (three albums) were quickly abandoned], as well as Yves Chaland's retro take, in favor of Philippe "Tome" Vandevelde & Jean-Richard "Janry" Geurts. They reached a commercial and critical success by updating Franquin's tradition, often with a slightly Darker and Edgier mood. They also launched the spin-off series (about Spirou's youth), which took a lot of their time: after a failed "realistic" relaunch, they left the main series.
In the 2000s, Dupuis gave care of the main series to Jean-David Morvan and José-Luis Munuera, who tried including elements from each of the previous authors' runs; the lackluster sales meant they were given the boot after only four albums.
A series of out of continuity one-shots written and drawn by different artists (Le Spirou de...) started in 2006. Five have been published as of 2009, the more notable being Spirou, journal d'un ingénu, an alternative origin story by Émile Bravo in which Spirou is a young hotel groom in 1939.
The magazine this series was created for, now titled Spirou, is still being published nowadays. It is now a weekly anthology of various comedy series, as well as serializing various adventure series of Dupuis's catalogue. Throughout the '90s and 2000s, its eponymous series barely appeared in it (due to frequent Schedule Slip), though Le Petit Spirou remained a regular presence. This changed with the one-shots, which have been published at thrice the rhythm of the main series so far.
Spirou and Fantasion provides examples of the following tropes:
Aliens in Cardiff: The Ksorien aliens from Du cidre pour les étoiles land in the rural area near Champignac in order to study with the Count of Champignac.
Alternate Continuity: Lampshaded in Alerte aux Zorkons, in which Fantasio mentions a character from a past adventure whom Spirou has no recollection of, and adds "Well, that was in a different space-time continuum." Fans interpret this as a sign that Fantasio went back, after all the time-travel shenanigans in Aux Sources du Z, and erased the Morvan & Munuera adventures from continuity. A Fourth Wall-breaking one-pager with Spirou and the new artist Yoann having wacky adventures through time until Fantasio and the new writer Vehlmann put a stop to it and pledge to put everything back in order lends some credence to this theory, but the fan dislike of the Morvan & Munuera era also seems to be a factor.
Animal Talk: Extremely inconsistently handled with Spip; in some early stories Spirou and Fantasio were able to understand him, but later on it was established that while Spip understood humans perfectly well, humans did not understand him. Whether other animals understood him seemed to vary depending on the story, but it is notable that while he was good friends with the Marsupilami, the two were never depicted as having anything resembling a conversation. The rule of thumb seems to be that only the reader understands Spip's comments, but there have been several exceptions.
Lampshaded in Des Haricots Partout, when a UN delegate assumes he's the Count's personal bellboy.
Spoofed in Le Petit Spirou, where he wears it as a little kid and even his parents own the same outfit.
Also lampshaded in the short story Back to the Redac, where Spirou is forced to go back to wearing his bellhop uniform (he had more or less discarded it by the end of Tome & Janry's run, and Morvan & Munuera only had him wear it in flashbacks). Why? Because his contract with Dupuis, the publisher of the comic, obliges him to wear it since he's the face of the company and it is so iconic. The next album, Alerte aux Zorkons features him in full uniform again.
Beardness Protection Program: Inverted briefly in Machine qui rêve. The comic opens with a bearded man being pursued by the authories, who shaves his beard off in a bar's bathroom because his image is being broadcasted on the news channels. It turns out to be a movie that Spirou and Fantasio are watching.
Berserk Button: The easiest way to make Spirou drop his level-headed hero shtick is to harm Fantasio or Spip.
Black Like Me: Played anviliciously straight in Le Rayon noir, when Spirou is turned black by some of the count's phlebotinium. Though pretty hilariously, after half of the town's been turned black and back, people comments how the milkman is still black. His answer: "But I've always been!"
Body Double: Lenin's body as displayed in his mausoleum is one, the real one being too fragile.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Spip would occasionally do this in Fournier's stories, acknowledging that he was a comic book character, lamenting his lot as an animal sidekick and even occasionally going into rants on how Spirou and Fantasio were lousy comic book heroes.
Canon Discontinuity: Facilitated by the various creative teams working on the series with their own directions, often ignoring their predecessors' work. Due to the lack of reprints, most people think the series started with Franquin's run (Rob-Vel and Jijé's contributions are rarely acknowledged).
Because of a strange editorial edict, Nic & Cauvin could not use Franquin's supporting cast, making their short run very easy to ignore.
In Alerte aux Zorkons it's implied that Fantasio went back in time and prevented the events of Morvan & Munuera's Aux Sources du Z from happening.
Censor Box: In Le gri-gri du Nikolo-Koba, the diamond of Koli can make people disappear (they come back when it is placed in its special sheath), but it doesn't affect clothes. When a male villain is returned, the frame includes a narrator box with a pointless line (which reads "this is a white square"), conveniently waist-height.
The Chew Toy: Fantasio in several of the Tome & Janry stories. If a leg needs to be broken, you can bet it'll be his. Also in many Franquin stories. The premise of several of them are based on "Bad shit happens to Fantasio" or feature a huge element of this in the story. A recurring plot is to have Fantasio be the victim of events outside his control. See La Mauvaise Têtenote He's framed for theft. Its Dutch title translates to "beware, Fantasio"., Les Héritiersnote He is set to inherit a fortune, needs to take part in challenges to get it vs his evil cousin. And the inheritance isn't what he thinks it is., Z comme Zorglubnote He breaks his foot, gets kidnapped and then gets brainwashed... That makes him turn Genre Savvy when submitted to madness by the mosquito of La Vallée des Bannis.
Also Vito Cortizone, who has literally been cursed by bad luck.
Cool Car: The Turbotraction (which somehow disappeared just after Franquin left). Pénélope in the Animated Adaptation. The first model was crashed by Ibd-Mah-Zoud in Vacances sans histoires to be replaced by the second model; in Panade à Champignac, Franquin replaced it altogether with a small Honda coupé. Fournier, who took over, kept the same small car. After that, Spirou and Fantasio would always drive small, cheap cars — Franquin said it first in Vacances sans histoires and Tome & Janry hammered in that Spirou and Fantasio are far from being rich in Spirou à New York.
Also demonstrated to be true for the rest of the world in Dans les griffes de la Viper, where a clique of extremely powerful people is revealed who can launch and win frivolous lawsuits, rewrite laws, force people into contracts that essentially equate to slavery, and set the CIA on random people; all to serve shallow whims.
Darker and Edgier: A general trend for the series as a whole, and inside nearly each creative run. Machine qui rêve, Tome & Janry's last album, tried reinventing the series as an ultra-serious (and decompressed) techno-thriller. It didn't work.
For some reason, Fantasio's sexuality is also one of the things that gets editorialized. He's been everything from straight (Yoann & Vehlmann) to effeminate but interested in women (Morvan & Munuera) to gay and blatantly pining for Spirou (Yann & Tarrin) to straight-leaning-on-bisexual (Tome & Janry).
Though, in their defense, a child won't necessarily pick up on those kind of hints... And it can be argued that some of it is played for laughs.
Also the oil sheik Ibn Mah-zout, who turned Spirou and Fantasio's car into scattered pieces of scrap metal in just a few minutes of driving it.
Easy Amnesia: Zorglub in Panade à Champignac. He gets hit over the head and all his memories come back. Then he gets hit over the head another time and they all disappear. And let's not forget the fact that he's acting like an 8-month-old in the first place.
How the Mighty Have Fallen: Kodo the Tyrant. He's the undisputed dictator of a fictional country in Asia named Catung. Fantasio and Spirou ruin him by destroying his opium fields and replacing his weapons shipments with agricultural vehicles. A year later, our heroes find him selling vegetables in a open market in Europe.
Aurélien de Champignac looks exactly the same as his uncle the Count of Champignac, except his moustache points up instead of down.
Zorglub's descendant from Le Réveil du Z looks exactly the same as his ancestor, except he's a dwarf.
Fantasio and Spirou also have identical family members in Le Réveil du Z, and much to their ancestors' shock, they are Zorglub's descendant's Elite Mooks.
Idiot Hair: Fantasio has the eight strands of hair that pop up on top of his head.
Intimidation Demonstration: One of the early stories has the Marsupilami meet a gorilla, who starts engaging in threatening behavior (chestbeating, ripping trees out of the ground...). Subverted, however, in that it is quickly too tired to actually fight, and the Marsupilami goes by unharmed.
Madness Mantra: After Fantasio goes insane in La Vallée des Bannis he develops a tendency to say or yell, "FANTASIO MAGAZIIIIIIIIIINE!" due to the fact that the Hate Plague had made him fixate on the fact that despite them being lifelong partners, their book was still called Spirou Magazine.
In Le Voyageur du Mésozoïque, Champignac finds a dinosaur egg in the ices of Antarctica.
In Virus, a sinister corporation has a germ warfare research facility located in Antarctica.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Le Journal d'un ingénu, Spirou's suggestion settle peace between the Polish and the Nazis, therefore averting war. However, Fantasio was looking for a big story and angered the Nazi negotiator. This prompted him to retaliate by calling off the peace proposal. Congratulations Fantasio, you just caused WWII.
In Fantasio's defense, the Nazi negotiator was total dick and deserve to be punched for hitting Spirou (who was just a young teenager during that time).
There's also hints that Nazi Germany wanted to push for war, regardless of the negotiations' outcome.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: In Vito la Déveine. Vito Cortizone is still a Butt Monkey, but he also shows he can be dangerous. He almost successfully killed Spirou; after that failed, he neutralized him with a homemade drug.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Zorglub and Champignac (although the latter is a mushroom specialist, he can also build submarines or counter-mind control devices when needed).
Recursive Canon: Spirou and particularly Fantasio work for Dupuis, the publishing company that produces the Spirou comic. Sometimes they are freelance reporters for Le Moustique, Dupuis' real-life entertainment magazine, and sometimes they work on the staff of the Spirou magazine itself, having to meet deadlines and doing publicity for the comic! In the comic stories, Spirou occasionally meets characters who read the comic and recognize him from it:
Jijé had him interact with members of his own fan-club (run by the magazine), Amis de Spirou ("Friends of Spirou"), in the story L'enlèvement de Spip.
In Spirou and the Heirs (Spirou et les héritiers), Spirou rescues a boy who is reading his earlier adventure, The Wizard of Culdesac (Il y a un sorcier à Champignac), and who asks him how it ends.
In Z is for Zorglub (Z comme Zorglub), a kid helps Spirou when he's looking for Fantasio, having recognized them both from the comic.
In Alerte aux Zorkons, a sniper refuses to fire on a Spirou-shaped advertising balloon the heroes are using to cross a military roadblock, because he used to read the comic as a child.
In Machine qui rêve, Spirou and Seccotine get out of getting a ticket for riding a motorcycle without helmets because the policeman has kids who read the comics. (He mentions he thought it was ‘just comics' and is surprised to find out Spirou really exists.)
In Le Groom vert-de-gris, which take place during WWII era, Fantasio wakes up in bed with Wehrmacht officer Ursula Chickengrüber getting dressed for work.
In Le Tombeau des Champignac, Spirou and Seccotine are freezing to death in a Tibetan mountain as their anti-cold drugs are wearing off. As they hold each other to warm themselves, Seccotine notices a mushroom that Spirou is holding just changed color. She correctly guesses it's tied to emotions and teases him by asking if he has ever kissed a girl, as she always thought he and Fantasio were gay. Cut to a scene outside the mountain with Seccotine saying: "But?! Spirou, what are you doing?" Later, Fantasio comes to the rescue and has very shocked expression on his face when he enters the cave.
Spip, though he does get thought balloons quite often.
Strangely, while Spip has a quasi-human intelligence (and the cynicism that comes with it), the Marsupilami, who can utter human words like a parrot does, only has animal-level intelligence. He is clever for an animal, though.
Trading Bars for Stripes: Zantafio proposes it to Spirou and Fantasio. First they nearly lynch him, then they accept so they can plot against him more easily.
Tragic Keepsake: In a one-shot, Le Journal d'un ingénu, Kassandra Stahl says that Spirou looks great in his red groom costume. After hertragic death, Spirou decides to keep wearing his costume as a reminder of her.
Under the Sea: Much of Le Repère de la Murène takes place underwater.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: There has been a lot of ambiguity on where Spirou and Fantasio live, with conflicting hints pointing towards the suburbs of either Paris or Bruxelles. Meanwhile, the location of the quaint small town of Champignac is deliberately ambiguous.
Windbag Politician: The mayor of Champignac is widely feared for his entirely improvised and metaphor-breaking digressions.
The Worst Seat in the House: In Spirou à New York the title characters are supposed to attend a "car ball" (like soccer, but the players are all in cars, and the ball is also a car) finals match to write an article about it. They are late (since they spend the entire comic on wacky mafia hijinx), but a shady guy sells them the last set of seats. Which are inside the "ball".
Would Hit a Girl: In Paris-Sous-Seine Spirou punches Miss Flanners in the face for being the cause of Spip's death. However, after discovering that Spip is actually safe and sound, he is mortified by his actions even though Flanners had still done enough to deserve the punishment.
Later in Aux Sources du Z it's possibly subverted again as Aged!Spirou reveals he originally hit Miss Flanners because when he saw her, he immediately had "strange feelings" that he'd never felt before and it scared him, causing him to lash out... At Miss Flanners.
Writing for the Trade: Mostly averted, as most creative teams made a point of ending nearly every page with a gag or Cliff Hanger because the prepublication schedule could be reduced to as little as one or two pages per week.