The cast having their traditional waffle dinner alongside their creator.
"Nero" is one of the iconic Flemish comic strips, along with Suske en Wiske, Jommeke, Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber and De Kiekeboes. One of the all time Print Long Runners"Nero" was published in newspapers from 1947 until 2002. Author Marc Sleen (1922) drew the comic singlehandedly from 1947 until 2002, while working on dozens of other comic strip series until 1965 (!), which in 1992 won him a mention in the Guinness World Records book. Because of his failing eyesight Sleen hired an assistant, Dirk Stallaert, who was meant to be his successor. Stallaert drew "Nero" for ten years, but in 2002 Stallaert made public that he wanted to work for Suske en Wiske instead. Sleen then decided to quit his comic strip series all together, after 55 years of continuous publication.Nero's characters are:
Nero: A fat, bald man with two hairs on his head. He prefers to stay home and read his newspaper. Generally he only goes on an adventure when his friends are in danger or if there's a treasure hunt abound.
Madam Nero: Nero's wife.
Adhemar: Nero's Child Prodigy baby son, who is a teacher at Oxford and Cambridge. He frequently invents all sorts of machines and rockets.
Meneer Pheip: A fat, dim-witted self-important man who speaks in a jambled mix between Dutch and French.
Madam Pheip: Meneer Pheip's dominant wife. She smokes pipe, hence her surname. Also note that Meneer Pheip adopted her name, rather than the other way around.
Clo-Clo Pheip: Meneer and Madam Pheip's son. He has the same moustache as his father, despite being only five years old. He is a typical naïve and whiny child whose screams deafen everyone who hears him.
Petoetje: Madam and Meneer Pheip's adopted son. He's a very intelligent Papua New Guinean black boy.
Petatje: Madam and Meneer Pheip's adopted daughter. She's an orphan.
Abraham Tuizentfloot: A little man who dresses like a pirate and is completly mad. He claims to be a real pirate and always attacks people with his sword. Still, Nero and the others see him as a friend.
Kapitein Oliepul: A sea captain who is always near whenever the characters are at sea or on a deserted island somewhere.
Ricardo: A Napolitan maffiosi and Nero's archenemy.
"Nero" started off as a children's comic, but gradually changed into a series for adults. While other comic book series aim for timelessness "Nero" took full advantage of its status as a newspaper comic. References and shout outs to current events were often integrated in the plot. Instead of removing these jokes in the album version, like Suske en Wiske did, "Nero" kept all of them intact, even though many of them, as Time Marches On, became less comprehensible to modern day readers. Because author Marc Sleen was originally a political cartoonist he regularly gave real life celebrities a cameo in his stories.The stories were always whipped out on deadline, which caused many strange stories full of weird plot changes and continuity mistakes. Still "Nero" is still held in high regard for its ironic comedy, unpredictable plot developments, wacky characters and Sleen's highly personal vision.
This series provides example of:
Abnormal Ammo: In "De Spekschieter" Amedee uses bacon as ammo. (This is a pun of the Flemish expression "met spek schieten" ("shooting with bacon"), meaning that someone's attacks have no effect.)
Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: In “De Hoed van Geeraard De Duivel” Nero has bicycled on a kick scooter for so long that one of his legs is longer than the other.
The albums “Kouwe Kwibus”, “Toffe Theo”, “De Matras van Madras”, “De Kat van Katmandu”, “Het Bobobeeldje”, “Patati Patata”, “De Gele Gorilla”, “De Rosse Rupsen”, “De Blauwe Blommebloem”, “De Groene Gravin”, “Papa Papoea”, “De Bom van Boema”, “Kiwi de Kiwi”, “De Bibberballon”, …
Adventures In The Bible: In “De Ark van Nero” Nero builds an Ark and eventually ends up in Paradise, where Madam Pheip eats from the Apple despite being warned by Adam. Just as in the Bible they end up in misery, but eventually Nero goes to Hell to sort things out with Satan.
Adolf Hitler: Hides inside an igloo (“De Man Met Het Gouden Hoofd”) and on a deserted island (“Het Knalgele Koffertje”).
Afraid of Blood: The royal executioner in "Prinses Lovely" and "De Mosterd van Abraham" is afraid of blood.
Alien Invasion: Happens in “De Vierkante Mannen” and “De Zwarte Voeten”
All Just a Dream: Happens to Nero in “De Ark van Nero”, briefly in “Het Vredesoffensief van Nero” ,.. Sometimes it is left to the imagination of the viewer, like in “De Groene Patreel”, where Nero travels to a medieval country and returns without any evidence whether it all happened for real or not?
And I Must Scream: In “De Wortelschieters” everyone going on land on the island barefeet will be injected with a serum that turns them into trees. As it later turns out a man called Krempap occasionally visits the island to cut down these trees!
Animorphism: Happens frequently (“Operatie Koekoek”, “Mama Kali”, "De Kat van Katmandu", “Allemaal Beestjes”)
Art Evolution: The oldest albums were very crudely drawn. Later Sleen’s style became better, if yet still very loose, simple and full of continuity mistakes. In 1992 he hired an assistant, Dirk Stallaert, because his eyesight was getting poor. Stallaert added a lot more detail, perspective and perfect anatomy to the characters.
Ascended Extra: Nero, who was just a secondary character in the first story, but quickly became so popular that he became the series' protagonist.
Audience Participation: In “De X-Bom” Nero and his friends are locked in jail and ask the audience to sent them letters to plead them to get them out of jail.
All the stories were published in a newspaper first, so occasionally characters will abruptly be giving new year’s wishes to the readers.
Author Appeal: Sleen is a huge animal lover and thus many species are frequently showcased in his stories. Especially African fauna because he went on safari to the continent every year.
As a former newspaper caricaturist Sleen also enjoyed giving celebrities of his day a cameo in his stories and make references to stuff that was in the news in those days.
Author Avatar: Characters often ask Marc Sleen to help them out of a sticky situation.
Author Tract: Sleen often provided environmental messages in his stories, especially to protect the animals.
Back from the Dead: Especially during the final years of the comic strip many characters in the franchise that supposedly died decades ago made a reappearance for sake of nostalgia. In "De Drie Wrekers" for instance two of Nero's arch villains, Matsuoka and Ricardo, make a comeback despite Matsuoka being eaten by a giant northern pike in "Het Zeespook" and Ricardo falling in a vulcano in "De Gelukbrenger".
Van Zwam is presumably shot dead in "De Gouden Patatten". All the characters protest against Marc Sleen and decide to go on strike. He is eventually resurrected back to life.
Badass Moustache: Clo-Clo, since he is actually a child. Also expect caricatures of celebrities to turn up, since Sleen enjoys drawing those.
Musician Amadeus Moderato whose moustache is shaped like a musical note.
Break-Out Character: Originally the series centered around Detective Van Zwam, but Nero turned out to be so popular that he became the star of the series.
Brick Joke: A guy holding a sign with “The End Is Near” walks around in the album “De Bende van Lamu” until Nero finally gets fed up and asks him what end is near? It turns out to be the end of the story.
In “De Draak van Halfzeven” a guy continuously bothers Nero with buckets of sand and asks him if he needs any? After a while it turns out that he stole an amount of money that Nero lost by hiding it inside the buckets.
Bullet Proof: In “De Ijzeren Kolonel” bullets simply bounce of the Colonel’s military uniform.
The Cameo: Sleen was originally a political cartoonist before he started making comics. So he still could't resist to give many famous celebrities or politicians of his day a cameo in Nero’s adventures. Even when their appearance is completely random.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Jef Pedal, originally a main cast member, simply disappeared from the series. He returned one time in "De Gouden Patatten" when it seemed that Detective Van Zwam was about to die.
Nero had two sons in “Het Geheim van Matsuoka” and one son in “Het Rattenkasteel”, but they were never mentioned again. In “De Zoon van Nero” his official firstborn, Adhemar, was introduced.
Cliff Hanger: Since "Nero" was published in newspapers Sleen often made use of cliffhangers.
In “De Rode Keizer” there’s confusion between the real Emperor Nero and Nero himself
A lookalike of Nero creates confusion and trouble in “De Driedubbelgestreepte”.
In “Het Geheim van Bakkendoen” a good and an Evil Twin brother cause confusion.
In “De Verschrikkelijke Tweeling” two dwarf brothers, Manu the good one and Panu the evil one cause a lot of confusion.
A good and evil twin brother also appear in “De Krabbekokers”.
A good and evil twin brother appear again in “Baringo”.
Cruella to Animals: Sleen was an animal lover, so his characters often come to defense when villains threaten animals.
Still, occasionally animals are wounded or killed by the protagonists themselves. In "De Erfenis van Nero" Nero shoots a rhinoceros to gain his uncle's heritage. In “De Kat van Katmandu” Tuizentfloot kills a tiger who attacked them. In “De Oliespuiter” Nero is attacked by an ice bear and hits him with an axe in the head, yet the bear survives this.
Cultural Translation: The series is very Flemish, with lots of references to Belgian politics, geography and culture. Several titles have been translated into French, German and English, but outside Flanders it is only known in Wallony and The Netherlands.
Defector from Commie Land: Since the strip was made during the height of the Cold War villains often come from these kind of countries.
Deliberately Monochrome: The first 53 albums of "Nero" were published in black-and-white, due to reasons of economy. The 163 albums after that were published in color. Sleen never made any attempt to colorize his black-and-white stories and reintegrate them into the series like The Adventures of Tintin did, for example.
Delivery Stork: Clo-Clo is brought to Meneer and Madam Pheip by a stork who can be seen leaving their house as the other characters visit them.
Dragged Off to Hell: Nero often ends up in Hell, as the albums "De Hoed van Geeraard de Duivel", "De Paarse Futen", "De Terugkeer van Geeraard de Duivel", "De Held der Helden",... prove. It always turns out to be All Just a Dream.
Originally Detective Van Zwam was the main character. Nero was actually just a buffoon whose name was “Heiremans”, named after a colleague of Sleen and merely thought he was Emperor Nero. Apart from that Nero’s original 1947 appearance was very different from the character we know now. His nose hung more down and he was completely bald. His famous haircut would only appear after a few albums.
Detective Van Zwam was much fatter in the early albums.
Petoetje had a potbelly in the early albums. Despite being adopted by Madam Pheip from Papua New Guinea she kept dressing him like a native for a long time.
The traditional waffle feast which concludes every album only started in the color albums. Not in the black-and-white albums.
Ear Trumpet: One of the old council members in “De Orde van de Wellustige Wezel” has an ear trumpet.
Easy Amnesia: Characters frequently lose their memory. It happens to Nero in "De Draak van Halfzeven" and "De Verdorven Stad". Petoetje temporarily suffers from it too in "De Granaatslikker".
Eat the Bomb: Nero swallows a hand grenade in “De Granaatslikker”.
Executive Meddling: The album "De Wensring" was meant to be a satire on Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. However, since the president was considered to be a friend of the Belgian government Sleen was forced to draw a beard on Amin's face to make him "unrecognizable". In later albums Sleen Idi Amin appeared again, but this time without a beard, because by then he had fallen out of favor with the Western world.
Nero was originally a complete buffoon. He never became an intelligent man, but after a while he became a bit smarter.
Adhemar tended to act more like a child his age by walking around in diapers and crying extremely loud whenever he was scared or unable to get what he wanted. Later he started dressing in tuxedo, teacher barets and became more dignified. Clo-Clo later took over a lot of Adhemars childlike behavior.
Originally Petoetje was the child genius, but later he became just generally smart.
Fish Out of Temporal Water: Many stories have some creature or human being not used to modern civilization walk around in the city. They feel uncomfortable in their new surroundings, are discriminated by other people or kidnapped and exploited. Near the end of the story they usually return back to their original environment or decide to stay and adapt after tasting Madam Nero and Madam Pheip's delicious waffles. Examples can be found in "De Vleugeltjes van Xlopotl", "De Nerobloemen", "Kweetniet", ...
The ghost in “Pol de Pijpegeest” fulfills wishes from inside a pipe, but only his voice can be heard. He never really appears in any visual manner.
The ghost fulfilling wishes in “Het Theepotje des Konings” hides inside a royal teapot.
The Ghost: Main characters in “Het Zeespook”, “Pol de Pijpegeest”, “De Pax Apostel”, “De Juweleneter”, “Het Kasteel der Zuchten” and “Het Spook uit de Zandstraat”.
Giftedly Bad: In “De Z van Zottebie” Nero takes up painting. His work is very amateurish, but two smugglers organize exhibitions about his work so that when customs checks their luggage they only find Nero’s worthless paintings and don’t mind checking the other expensive smuggled paintings.
Helping Granny Cross the Street: Nero does this in "Het Wonderwolkje", because he's acting like a scout and has to perform his good deed for today. It turns out that the old lady didn't want to cross the street anyway.
Identical Stranger: In “De Bronnen van Sing Song Li” and “De Driedubbelgestreepte” an escaped convict shaves himself completely, causing him to look identical to Nero. In “De Nerotiekers” there are even three villains who try this tactic!
Implacable Man: Nero drinks a potion in “De Bronnen van Sing Song Li” that causes him to walk forever until he’s back home from China to Belgium!
Improbable Hairstyle: Nero is completely bald, but has two thin hairs sticking out of his head, much like the antennas of an insect.
Petoetje has a high Afro hair cut, which gives him the unique opportunity to dance while jumping on his head.
In other albums (“De Kille Man Djaro”, Toffe Theo”, “Het Bierkanaal”, “De Paarse Futen”, “Barbarijse Vijgen”, “De Kolokieten”, “De Blauwe Walvis”,…) he himself meets reclusive people or animals on deserted islands or inpenetrable jungles, who simply wish to be left alone.
Even Sleen himself often shows himself as someone who suffers from too much work stress and wishes to flee from it all to some far, distant exotic land.
Mad Scientist: Dr. Ratsjenko in "Het Rattenkasteel", Libeer in “De Nerovingers”, Dr. Zappa in "Het Beest Zonder Naam".
In “Het Geheim van Matsuoka” everyone who drinks the Matsuoka beer becomes mad.
In “De Brollebril” a man with special glasses hypnotizes everyone to do as he tells them.
In “De Nerovingers” a Viking helmet causes everyone to be submissive to the carrier of the helmet. Unless the success goes to the helmet carrier’s head, because then the helmet becomes to heavy and crashes the owner to the ground.
Adhemar invents a ray gun in “De A-Straal” that forces everyone to hand over all their financial possessions.
In “De Gelukbrenger” Nero is visited by his biggest fan, who turns out to be someone who is able to bring luck. Nero wins the lottery several times thanks to his powers.
Nightmare Sequence: Characters have frightening nightmares in “Moea Papoea”, “Beo De Verschrikkelijke”, “De Gouden Vrouw”, “De Ark Van Nero”, “De Paarse Futen”, “Zwoele Charlotte” and “De Draak van Halfzeven”
Nero visits Joseph Stalin in "Het Vredesoffensief van Nero" and forces him to sniff a product that makes him a pacifist.
When prime minister Gaston Eyskens is cycling in "Hoed Je Voor Kastar" Nero and company drive him off the road. Eyskens protests: "You cannot cause a government to fall down that easily!"
In "Joske de Wreker" Joske the giant butterfly lifts Khomeini and Khadafi up and drops them into the sea. This action is not shown in the story however, but told to us thru a radio report.
In "De Man van Europa" several European politicians literally lose their head when visiting the Royal Place in Brussels, among them Margaret Thatcher and French president François Mitterand. The only ones not affected by the phenomenon are German chancellor Helmut Kohl and king Baudoin of Belgium.
Nero drops a cool box on Saddam Hussein 's head in "De Bibberballon" and kicks his behind in "De Gouden Hemelkijker" in order to fulfill a quest.
Not Allowed to Grow Up: The children in the strip, Adhemar, Clo-Clo, Petoetje en Petatje never become older. In “De Nerobonbons” an explanation is given why Adhemar is still a baby. He eats special pralines that keep him young. However, why the other children still have the same age isn’t explained.
Off with His Head!: People literally (or almost) lose their heads in the albums “De Man met het Gouden Hoofd”, “De Wallabieten”, “De Daverende Pitteleer”, “De Zwarte Voeten”, “De Rode Keizer”, “De Hoorn des Overvloeds”, “De Ark van Nero”, “De Man van Europa”.
Sleen enjoyed going on safari and thus this often became part of the plot.
The national Zoo of Antwerp is a frequent location of choice in albums like “Kangoeroe-Eiland”, “Allemaal Beestjes”, “De Ring van Balderic”, “Zwoele Charlotte” and Nero regularly donates animals to the zoo.
Many politicians or celebrities of the day have cameos in the strip. Sometimes their appearance was a major part of the plot.
Author Marnix Gijsen has a cameo as a politician in “Hoed je voor Kastar”.
“De Egmont Planeet” is an allusion on the bi-lingual treaty, the Egmont Pact (1977)
The Suez Crisis and the 1956 Hungarian Uprising are part of the plot of “De Ijzeren Kolonel”.
Nero visits Joseph Stalin in “Het Vredesoffensief van Nero” and makes him a peaceful man. At the end of the story Nero, Stalin and American president Harry Truman all join dinner until they become drunk.
Nero is caught by Fidel Castro in “Het Wonderwolkje” and claims he is almost as famous as him. This angers Castro so much that he orders Nero to be executed by firing squad.
In “De Brief aan Nasser” Nero has to deliver a letter to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Paul Newman is cast as a villain in "Ivan De Verschrikkelijke".
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada pays Nero a visit in “De Wensring”, “De Zweefbonbons”, “Daris Doet Het” and “De V-Machine”.
Nero singlehandedly defeats the notorious Bende van Nijvel in “De Gouden Patatten”.
Frank Zappa is cast as an Evil Professor in “Het Beest Zonder Naam”.
Hirohito is visited in “De Kleine Pieterman”
In “De Man van Europa” (1990) many European politicians of the day, including Margaret Thatcher, literally lose their head because they keep watching the hole in the ozone layer above the Koningsplein in Brussel. All except for German chancellor Helmut Kohl and king Boudewijn of Belgium.
In “De Kroon van Elisabeth”, “De Steen van Abraham” and “De Kolbak van How” the crown of Queen Elizabeth II is stolen, but later returned to her.
The house were Nero lives since 1992 is actually Sleen’s house in Hoeilaart.
Reference Overdosed: To understand a lot of the jokes, references, throwaway gags, celebrity cameos, political allusions in this comic strip you need a good understanding of the history of the second half of the 20th century in both Belgium as the rest of the world. This is one of the reasons why the older albums have been reissued with some explanations and historical context at the back of each album.
Shouldn T We Be In School Right Now?: Adhemar is a genius who doesn’t have to go to school: he is in fact a college professor in Oxford and Cambridge. Petoetje and Petatje are often told to go school when they want to join an adventure.
Shrouded in Myth: We never find out who the mysterious doctor in “De Linkadoors” and the one in “De Grote Geheimzinnigaard” are. Coincidentally they both wear Ku Klux Klan-like robes, though the former is a villain and the second one is not.
Spinoff: This comic strip was actually a spinoff of "The Adventures Of Detective Van Zwam". Van Zwam was originally the protagonist, but eventually Nero became the Breakout Character and the series' new hero, while Van Zwam was degraded to a secondary/tertiary character.
Take That: Mostly general targets, such as "lying politicians", "thieving tax collectors", "tyrannic police officers", “merciless poachers”, “complaining women”, "heartless industrialists" (“De Wraak van Nganga”), drug dealers, gangs, dictators,...
Talking Animal: Frequent plot device, most famously Beo the beo in “Beo De Verschrikkelijke” and “De Kleine Pieterman” and “De Kakelende Kaketoe” , Aboe Markoeb the shoebill in "Aboe Markoeb"
Tarzan: Nero dresses like him and swings on vines in “De Verdwenen Nero”.
That Russian Squat Dance: When Nero and his friends are captured by Soviets in "Het Vredesoffensief van Nero" they are forced to perform the Russian squat dance to show whether they are really Russian. They of course get tired soon and the Soviets laugh at them. Nero then asks them if they can do it better, whereupon the entire Soviet Army starts doing the dance. Nero and his friends then push them all on the ground, and escape.
Time Machine: In “De Rode Keizer” the cast travels to Ancient Rome with a time machine and meets Emperor Nero.
Unwanted Harem: In "De Ring van de Moefti" Nero is given a ring by a rich sheik for saving his life. As long as Nero carries the ring the sheik's harem will follow and protect him. Throughout the story Nero tries to get rid of his harem, but to no avail. Finally he manages to take the ring off and give to Meneer Pheip. Then Pheip asks the women to take off their veils. It turns out they are all men!
Verbal Tic: Abraham Tuizentfloot always adds "aha" in the middle of his sentences.
Vertical Kidnapping: Joske, a giant butterfly in "Joske de Wreker", abducts people by lifting them up in the air.
Vine Swing: Done a lot in this comic strip and always accompanied by a shout-out to the Tarzan franchise.
After injecting herself with a special serum in "Het Zevende Spuitje" Petatje is able to walk upright on the wall.
Clo-Clo is also able to do this in "De Muurloper".
Weird Al Effect: To this day many Flemings (especially from the older generation) will think of the protagonist from this popular comic book series whenever they hear the name "Nero", instead of the Roman Emperor on which his name was based.