De Kiekeboes is the most successful Flemish comic strip since Suske En Wiske. Though Suske en Wiske has more success and thus larger sales globally, De Kiekeboes are far more popular in Flanders today. Author Merho started his career as a protégé of Suske en Wiske author Willy Vandersteen, but since 1977 he started his own comic strip: “Kiekeboe” (since 2010 renamed as “De Kiekeboes”).At first sight “De Kiekeboes” is your typical Flemish family strip in the tradition of Suske en Wiske, Jommeke and Nero. All stories center around the family Kiekeboe: father Marcel, mother Charlotte, teenage daughter Fanny and school boy Konstantinopel. However, the series have a more realistic every day life setting avoiding many of the typical comic book strip clichés: no World's Strongest Man, no Absent-Minded Professor, no Talking Animal and fantasy elements are kept to a minimum. We do know that ghosts exist (“Spoken in Huis”), vampires (“Het Witte Bloed”, “De Kus van Mona”, “De Babyvampier”,…), strange prehistoric monsters (“Met De Franse Slag”), aliens ("De Trawanten Van Spih") and occasionally some physically impossible gags occur. But most of the time everything is set in a realistic atmosphere. Fanny and Konstantinopel are not Conveniently an Orphan or adopted, but Marcel and Charlotte’s real children. The early albums are still a bit naïve and childish like a traditional comic strip, but gradually the series started Growing the Beard and became Darker and Edgier. Many of the early one-dimensional characters became more complex. Story lines touched more adult and often risqué subject matter like prostitution, drugs, transsexuality, religious cults, racism, homosexuality, … The sly erotic jokes also became more prominent and explicit in later stories. Today “De Kiekeboes” is mostly an adult strip, though it still manages to keep its stories amusing and interesting for children as well.The main characters are:
Marcel Kiekeboe: The big moustached father. A joyful, enthusiastic but naïve man who is often manipulated by others like his mother, Moemoe, and his boss, Van De Kasseien. He has a tendency of taking impulsive decisions that sometimes cause major problems.
Charlotte Kiekeboe: The mother of the family. Originally a very bland flat character her personality became more assertive and self-assured over the years.
Fanny Kiekeboe: The teenage daughter who doesn't go to school anymore, but works various jobs. She is self-assured, headstrong, socially engaged and brave. Many plots have scenes where she walks around in erotic or semi-nude poses. She has also had a lot of boyfriends.
Konstantinopel Kiekeboe: The young son, who is smart well beyond his years.
Moemoe: Kiekeboe's mother. She is a meddlesome, opportunistic, headstrong and pushy woman who often claims Kiekeboe and the rest of the family don't do enough for her. Often she will defend a certain opinion militantly, only to claim the exact opposite later in the story, despite all the effort other characters did for her. She is also very elitarian and interested whenever Fanny dates a doctor or a lawyer.
Mevrouw Stokvis: Moemoe's best friend, although their friendship borders to rivalry. She is an invisible character and never seen by the readers.
Nonkel Vital Marcel Kiekeboe's uncle and Moemoe's brother-in-law. He is a happy-go-lucky and meddlesome character who often bickers with Moemoe about family matters.
Leon Van Der Neffe: Kiekeboe's neighbour who works as a military. He is an unsympathetic, snobistic, egocentric, prejudiced, xenophobic and racist man, originally married to a woman with the same opinions. He and his wife, Carmella, have two children: a boy, Joeksel, and a girl, Froefroe, who are actually more intelligent and sympathetic. They often play with Konstantinopel. At a certain point in the series he divorced and since then his one-note character got more depth and even sympathetic aspects.
Fernand Goegebuer: Another neighbour of Kiekeboe. Generally sympathetic, optimistic and helpful but often obtrusive, naïve and nosy. He has a tendency to spit while he talks.
Firmin Van De Kasseien: Kiekeboe's boss. A vain, arrogant, corrupt and adulterous man who frequently uses Kiekeboe to do legal and illegal things for him. He never thanks Kiekeboe for all the trouble he goes through to help him. Van De Kasseien also regularly cheats on his wife, Chichi, and tries to seduce anything in a skirt. This often brings him in a lot of trouble.
Inspecteur Sapperdeboere: A police inspector who enjoys eating more than solving crimes.
Alanis: Fanny's girlfriend.
Balthazar: One of the series' villains. He is a naïve, childish, clumsy and dumb man who is generally too stupid to be a real threat to the Kiekeboes. Most of the time he is more obnoxious and irritating to the other criminals who work together with him.
Timotheus Triangl: A James Bond type villain who wants to take over the world. Originally he was a little man, but later he underwent a sex change and since then he is a woman.
Dédé la Canaille: A dangerous French criminal who wants to kill Kiekeboe for putting him behind bars.
Alain Provist The boss of an employment agency, frequently consulted by Charlotte.
Meneer Kreuvett A restaurant critic.
Bibi Pralin Gaga An African dictator and parody of Idi Amin. His accomplice is Amoko, an African wizard whose head is always hidden behind a mask.
Moïse Mombakka: An African foreign exchange student who dated Fanny for one album and later became president of Boeloe Boeloe after the deposition of Bibi Pralin Gaga.
De Dikke Dame A fat nameless woman who makes one cameo appearance in each album as a Running Gag.
Jens: Fanny's longtime boyfriend for ten albums. Since then they broke up.
Elodie Melody: A dumb female pop singer
Tomboy A black female prostitute who keeps her work a secret. Fanny is the only one who knows about it.
One of “De Kiekeboes” most notorious trademarks are the puns and word play jokes, usually hidden in album titles, background gags, throwaway jokes and characters’ names.
Dictator Sstoeffer in "Het Plan S Stoeffer" is a clear parody.
His handkerchief is auctioned in "Het Edelweissmotief".
Alien Abduction: Happens to Joeksel, Froefroe and Konstantinopel in “De Trawanten van Spih”.
All for Nothing: Kiekeboe tries to get a cake which has a ring hidden inside in the album “De Taart”. When he finally retrieves the cake after many shenanigans it turns out he left the ring at his local baker’s place.
Alternate Ending: An alternative ending to the story “De Zaak Luc Raak” is provided in “Afgelast Wegens Ziekte”.
Armed Farces: The album "Geeeeef Acht" is a collection of various jokes about the military.
Art Evolution: The early albums look a bit different compared to later albums.
Asshole Victim: The pedophile bisshop Hoegeiligman in "Schijnheilig Bloed". He's already in hiding from the public, is dementing, gets turned into a vampire and finally walks into broad daylight and bursts into flames.
Badass Mustache: Marcel Kiekeboe’s moustache. The real life Moustache Club of Antwerp even called him the “Moustache Of The Year” in 1984! Merho then drew a story about it: “De Snor van Kiekeboe”.
Bad Boss: Firmin Van De Kasseien is Kiekeboe's boss and a vain, promiscuous, adulterous, corrupt one at that.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: The characters are well aware they are comic strip characters and frequently address the audience. Merho even took this to more experimental levels in the albums “Album 26”, “Afgelast Wegens Ziekte”, “De Simstones”, “Het Geslacht Kinkel”,…
Charlotte, Kiekeboe’s wife, was originally a very bland and passive housewife. In the album “Het Lot van Charlotte” she got so fed up with slaving for her husband and children that she and Kiekeboe briefly separated. They eventually came back together, but since then Charlotte become more assertive and free-thinking. She also regularly goes out part time working.
Leon Van Der Neffe, Kiekeboe’s neighbour, was originally nothing more than a unsympathetic, vain, snobbish and racist man. Later in the series he and his wife divorced, changing his character to a more pitiful loser trying to find a new wife.
Children Are Innocent: Subverted. Konstantinopel, Joeksel and Froefroe are at most early teens, but know a suspiciously lot about sexual topics.
Clueless Chick Magnet: All women fall in love with Kiekeboe when he accidentally gets some aphrodisiac potion spilled over his body in “De Onweerstaanbare Man”.
Comic Book Adaptation: The album "Grof Wild" is a comic book adaptation of the eponymous literary story by Belgian crime author Pieter Aspe. Merho got permission of the author to adapt the plot into a Kiekeboes story.
Comic Book Time: The characters don’t age (... much. Fanny was stated to be 16 years old in Album 26 but drives a car in later issues, which in Belgium is only possible at 18+), except for one short story in the album “Afgelast Wegens Ziekte”, where all his characters age 20 years into the future.
Merho jokes with this aspect in “De Wereld Volgens Kiekeboe” where a character is named “Verstockt”. Konstantinopel then asks: “Zou het kunnen dat die Verstockt vrijgezel is?” (“Could it be that that Verstockt is single?”) He then explains that it is a reference to the phrase “een verstokte vrijgezel” (“a lifelong single”), but sheepishly adds: “Of course, when you have to explain a joke it’s not very funny anymore.”)
Early Installment Weirdness: The early albums are more traditional comic book stories with cute fantasy creatures (“De Wollebollen”) and less inspired stories and puns. The characters don’t have much depth to them, everything is aimed at children and there’s none of the more daring subject matter that can be found in later stories. To make matters worse many plot elements and jokes are told by Mr. Exposition narrative devices. Even Merho sees many of these old stories as an Old Shame.
Executive Meddling: Spoofed in “Album 26” and “The Simstones” where Merho is told to update his comic strip.
Merho encountered too much executive meddling during the filming of “Misstoestanden”, a live action adaptation of his characters which he felt was a disgrace to his series. The film quickly flopped and disappeared into obscurity. Merho got his revenge by making two stories mercilessly satirizing executive meddling: “Misstoestanden” and “De Simstones”.
Gender Bender: Happens to Inspecteur Sapperdeboere in "Over Koetjes En Kalfjes" due to a huge ammount of female hormones in his food.
The Generalissimo: South American dictators regularly play an important part of the plot (“Het Plan Sstoeffer”, “Zeg Het Met Bloemen”, “De Roze Rolls”,…)
Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the early years Merho still had to keep everything clean and decent, but occasionally he snuck in some erotic scenes and jokes. Throughout the years the series' popularity grew and thus the stories became more suggestive, risqué and sometimes even controversial.
The Ghost: The ghosts of two medieval robbers are shown in “Spoken In Huis”.
The Mafia: Characters in “De Hoofdzaak” and “Witter dan wit”.
Mass Hypnosis: In “De Dorpstiran van Boeloe Boeloe” the people Boeloe Boeloe are brainwashed into loving the president by being forced to eat a certain type of mind bending soup used as a Mind-Control Device
The Movie: Adapted to the big screen twice, but in both cases it wasn’t a big success.
Old Shame: Merho doesn’t like some of his earliest albums which followed a more traditional comic book structure, including fantasy stuff, unnecessarily exposure of jokes and plot points and too bland and childish jokes.
Overly-Long Name: Mr. Osnoprodavonoblikavitch in the album "Hotel O" who's never been able to remember his own surname. He shortens it to the letter "o", despite other people miraculously remembering it without any mistakes.
Pastiche: In the album "Vrouwen Komen Van Mars" typical Flemish comic strip series of the 1940s and 1950s are stylistically parodied.
Painted Tunnel, Real Train: Just the painted tunnel part. In “Het Witte Bloed” Kiekeboe escapes from prison by drawing a large circle on the wall and simply walk through it, something he saw in a movie by Mack Sennett. In "Prettige Feestdagen" he tries the trick again, but fails.
Parental Bonus: This is a comic strip that adults can enjoy on different levels.
People Jars: Comic book characters are put in jars in the album “Kiekebanus”.
Pie in the Face: A national tradition in the country Itsi Pitsi in the album “De Zoete Regen”.
Pint-Sized Kid: Konstantinopel, Joeksel & Froefroe. Their age isn't exactly stated, but it's clear from their general knowledge (reading, writing, computer use, etc ) that they go to the later years of primary school (9 - 12 years old). They still only come up to their parents' waist.
Plot-Relevant Age-Up: In “Het Stokvis-Incident” a serum is discovered that can make people grow to old age.
Police Are Useless: Inspector Sapperdeboere, who usually spents more time eating than actually solving crimes.
Product Placement: Merho drew one album “Avontuur in Sun Parks” where the Kiekeboes have an adventure in the amusement park “Sun Parks”.
Psycho Shower Murder Parody: In "Het Plan Sstoeffer" Fanny takes a shower and thinks: "If I'm quick, I'll be able to catch "Psycho" by Hitchcock on TV". While she is showering she is attacked by a spy, but she notices him just in time and knocks him out.
She Who Must Not Be Seen: Mevrouw Stokvis, the best friend of Moemoe is always mentioned, but never seen by the audience.
Shouldn T We Be In School Right Now?: Konstantinopel is seldom seen at school, though it is often mentioned. Compared to other comic book heroes we DO occasionally see him at school, for instance “Kiekeboeket” and “De Hoed van Robin”.
Shout Out: Little winks to popular films, books, other comics or TV series are occasionally provided.
Show Within a Show: In “Vrouwen Komen Van Mars” de Kiekeboes go inside a comic book that Kiekeboe enjoyed reading as a kid. The style is Deliberately Monochrome and a parody of the 1940s and 1950s Flemish comic strips.
Special Guest: For his album “Doorgestoken Kaart” Merho sought advice about magician’s tricks from Belgian magician Gil Ricardo. As a way to thank him he gave him a cameo role in the album.
Suicide As Comedy: Kiekeboe jumps off a bridge in “Afgelast wegens ziekte” because he thinks he’ll die in three days and wants to end it all quicker. His attempt fails when a van carrying sand passes by.