Marc Sleen and his Nero spent 55 years together
From a minor character in De Avonturen van Detectief Van Zwam, Nero soon became the main character. Marc Sleen has given generations of children and adults hours of reading pleasure with the madness, absurdities, irony, very recognisable human flaws and slight anarchy in the life of Nero, the average Fleming, and his colourful gang. 217 albums long.
Even as a child, Marc Neels, as his real family name was, tried his hand at drawing. Even the walls and his father's bowler hat were not safe from his scribbling. At the age of fourteen, he adopted a more professional approach by taking lessons at the Academy of Sint-Niklaas. In 1944, at the age of 22, he took his first real steps as a cartoonist and illustrator at the newspaper De Standaard, the later called De Nieuwe Gids. Looking for a pseudonym, he turned his name, Neels, around.
On 2 October 1947, the daily comic series De Avonturen van Detectief Van Zwam was published in serial form in De Nieuwe Gids, with as the first album Het Geheim van Matsuoka. Here appeared a Mr Schoonpaard, who was given beer to drink by the Japanese villain, Matsuoka, and as a result imagined himself to be the Emperor Nero. Nero was born. After three albums, Nero had dethroned Van Zwam as the main character. His popularity was unstoppable. Marc Sleen frequently incorporated current events into his scenarios, such as the Suez crisis and the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Other comic series by him were also successful: De Avonturen van Piet Fluwijn en Bolleke, Doris Dobbel and Oktaaf Keunink, to name but a few. In 1965 Sleen switched from the newspaper Het Volk, which had taken over De Nieuwe Gids in 1950, to De Standaard. From then on, he concentrated fully on his Nero. Meanwhile, his passion for animals had taken a concrete form in the many safaris and reports which he would make for BRT in the East African bush until 1978, where he found inspiration for his Nero albums. Until 1992, he drew and wrote everything himself and until the very last album in 2002, De Zilveren Tranen, with the very last waffle box with which he ended each story, he also created the scenarios himself.
At the beginning of his career, the Catholic slant of the newspapers for which Marc Sleen worked was clearly noticeable. Afterwards he adopted a more neutral political stance. Yet, with the regularity of a clock, various domestic and foreign political prominent figures kept turning up in De Avonturen van Nero en Co, a unique feature in the Flemish comic strip. His drawing style always remained the same: hardly any close-ups, the text neatly in the frame, no bird's eye view or other perspective... It all had to be done quickly, which resulted in quite a few continuity errors. But Nero's folksy and sociable nature more than compensates for that shortcoming, and the reader doesn't mind at all.
Marc Sleen passed away in 2016 at the age of 93 at his home in Hoeilaart.