Today is the 60th birthday of Philippe Vandevelde, better known as Tome. The Tome & Janry run on Spirou, which covered most of the 1980s and 90s, was the series’ most commercially successful period, and a fan-favorite.
Born 24. February, 1957 in Brussels, the young Philippe Vandevelde was introduced to comics by his mother, who read to him out of Tintin and Corentin (by Cuvelier and Greg) when an eye operation meant he couldn’t see anything for a few days. He started drawing comics and publishing in fanzines as a teenager (where he first introduced a variation of his alias, “Tom”), and studied at the art school of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, where he met his future collaborators Jean-Richard Geurts (Janry) and Stéphane De Becker (Stuf).
According to some sources Vandevelde studied animation, graphical communication and journalism at the ULB (Université libre de Bruxelles, “Free University of Brussels”) before dropping out, while others say that after military service he enlisted for two years as an officer. In any case, he then decided to pursue a career in comics, joining up again with Janry, who was working as an assistant for Dupa (Cubitus). They would also lend a hand to Turk & De Groot (Léonardo, Clifton). A Cubitus tribute in the Journal de Spirou put them in touch with the magazine, and they were soon hired to make the games feature Jeurêka, which debuted in 1980. The two of them also illustrated the classic column Le Fureteur (“The Browser”), and eventually subbed for Yann & Conrad on the hauts des pages gag feature.
Soon after they joined the magazine, editor-in-chief Alain De Kuyssche was looking for someone to write Spirou adventures for Nic Broca, chosen by the higher-ups (against De Kuyssche’s wishes) to succeed Fournier on the series. This took the form of a behind-the-scenes contest to produce a Spirou script, and when asked whether they wanted to give it a shot, Vandevelde said that he had an idea, but wanted Geurts to be the one to draw it. To their surprise, De Kuyssche accepted, resulting in their first Spirou adventure (indeed, their first professional comic), the 8-page La Voix sans maître (“His Masterless Voice”), published in the Journal in 1981. This story also introduced the Tome & Janry aliases. The story put them in competition with Nic Broca & Raoul Cauvin, who had meanwhile been designated the official Spirou team. After several difficult years, Tome & Janry prevailed and took over the series on an exclusive basis and to great success.
While Tome started out illustrating as well, he increasingly focused on script-writing. In 1986 he launched the hard-boiled cop series Soda, drawn at first by Luc Warnant, whose main character pretends to be a priest to reassure his mother. The next year saw the creation of the one-page gag series Le Petit Spirou (“Little Spirou”), spinning off the childhood adventures of the title hero along with Janry. Le Petit Spirou became tremendously successful, outselling the main series several times over. He continued to expand his activities, writing the 1991 graphic novel Sur la route de Selma (“On the Road to Selma”) illustrated by Berthet, taking over writing on Le Gang Mazda for Christian Darasse in 1993, and launching Berceuse Assassine with Ralph Meyer in 1997. Tome was also involved in the 1993 Spirou & Fantasio cartoon, writing original episodes in addition to the ones adapted from his and Janry’s albums.
An attempt to modernize the look and style of Spirou & Fantasio, turning it into a more futuristic, science fiction-tinged title, met with controversy with the 1998 adventure Machine qui rêve (Spirou & Fantasio #47, “Machine That Dreams”), and Tome & Janry abandoned work on the next album, Spirou à Cuba (“Spirou in Cuba”) to focus entirely on Petit Spirou. Soda also went on hiatus, and apart from Petit Spirou gags, nothing was heard from Tome between 2005 and 2014, when he made a comeback with a new Soda adventure, now illustrated by Dan Verlinden and appropriately enough titled Résurrection. Hopefully there will be many more to come.
Happy birthday, Tome!