BRUSSELS - Fans of famed Belgian cartoon strip Blake and Mortimer, the story of two British adventurers which first appeared in Tintin magazine in the 1940s, will finally get a chance to know more about the pair with the publication of a prequel.
The stories about fictional professor Philip Mortimer and dashing intelligence captain Francis Blake were the brainchild of artist Edgar P. Jacobs, a contemporary of Tintin creator Herge, who died in 1987.
After his death, other authors took up the baton to write about the further adventures of the two stalwarts of the British empire, most recently Yves Sente and Andre Juillard, who have been in charge since 2000.
But the publication of "The Staff of Plutarch" on Friday is the first to go back in time from the first Blake and Mortimer story in 1946, and answers some mysteries about the dynamic duo at the centre of one of Belgium's favourite comics.
How, for example, did they meet? And where did they meet their sworn enemy, the diabolical Colonel Olrik?
"When we reread ("The Secret of the Swordfish", the first Blake and Mortimer adventure), we noticed some strange things," said Sente, who writes the strips.
"For example, when Blake and Mortimer and Olrik see each other for the first time, they know each other. How is that possible if they have never seen each other before. But there is no explanation anywhere.
"So we had fun, as much in creating a story which we hope is exciting, as asking all the questions left hanging."
Spies and flying machines
Hailing from the land of Tintin and The Smurfs, Blake and Mortimer may not have the same international profile as their comic cousins, even though they have been translated into English with a TV cartoon version also available.
But prospects of discovering more about the backgrounds of the two characters is big news in cartoon-mad Belgium, where comic strips are as much of a national symbol as beer or chocolate.
Dashing, blonde, moustachioed, Blake is a former Royal Air Force officer who goes on to become the head of the British intelligence service MI5. His friend Mortimer is a bearded scientist and gentleman scholar. Both embody British wartime grit with a touch of empire.
"We weren't going to change their personalities, we did everything we could to keep them the same," said Juillard, the artist.
For that, they went back to the mini-biographies of the main characters written by Jacobs himself.
But it was on a chance visit to Winston Churchill's War Rooms in London that Sente and Juillard decided to set the adventure in spring 1944, just before the D-Day landings.
The new strip starts with Nazi fighter jets attacking Big Ben in London, with Blake in an RAF jet trying to fight them off - a nod to both the World War II past and the jet-age future.
Along the way they face a typical mix of spies, traitors, futuristic flying machines and secret codes - all in the classic, cleanly drawn "Ligne claire" style that is familiar to the world from the Tintin comics.
Blake and Mortimer first appeared in Tintin magazine, a project that Jacobs worked on with his friend Herge, and Jacobs went on to publish 12 of their adventures. After his death other authors published several more.
"In Blake and Mortimer, there is always action," says Juillard, joking that Sente had "spoiled" him by giving him so many aerial combat scenes to draw.