On Monday, May 14th, Dargaud publishing director Yves Schlirf announced on Twitter that William Vance had died, “that old lion”. Vance, born William Van Cutsem in 1935 was a celebrated Belgian comics artist, and was internationally probably best known for the series XIII that he created together with Jean Van Hamme and which still counts as one of the most successful comics of the late 20th Century.
Vance started out as creator of short comics in Tintin magazine in the 60s, often recounting real-life events. His first series, Howard Flynn, created with Yves Duval, played around the adventures of a naval commander in the British Royal Navy at the end of the 18th century, a subject that he would return later with his personal favourite series, Bruce J. Hawker.
After a few short-lived series, such as the hard boiled western, Ringo, Vance had his first success with the secret agent series, Bruno Brazil (together with Michel Regnier), one of the series created to attract an older audience to Tintin Magazine, together with titles like Comanche and Bernard Prince. At the same time he revitalised the science fiction adventure series Bob Morane together with Henri Vernes.
After he moved to Spain in the mid-70s, Vance started two new series, the aforementioned Bruce J. Hawker and Ramiro, one of his more personal series, which was set to the backdrop of medieval Spain. In 1984 his last and biggest success came with XIII, the international hit series written by Jean Van Hamme about a man involved in a political coup but who has lost all memories of his identity and past (a plot that, indeed, sounds more than a little like The Bourne Identity). This story, with its intricate plot twists, large cast and varied, often exotic settings, seemed to have been created especially for Vance, who was able to use all his experience to make it into a major success, selling more than fourteen million copies in more than twenty countries. After eighteen books however, Vance had to hand over the reigns to Youri Jigonouv, after announcing that he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
All through his life Vance was one of the most refined stylists in Franco-Belgian comics. In his inked pages as well as in his painted illustrations, he always managed to combine sharp realism with fluent and exciting dynamics. Vance’s panels were never dull, even when the scene was rather calm. But he was at his best in foul weather, with rain and sleet beating down on his characters, and seawater (or mud) splashing up all around. Vance keenly used the elements to add a sense of mystery and foreboding to his artwork, be it the pressing, moist heat of the tropics or a desert prison, or fog rising over a Canadian forest in the morning.
Even though he had put down his pencil for health reasons some ten years ago, it is only proper that we salute him as one of the giants of European genre comics of the past decades. William Vance was 82 years old.
Vance’s XIII albums are published in English by Cinebooks.