Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche #11 - 'Le Coeur à Droite'.

Alain Dodier is a comics author from the north of France, known for his signature series 'Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche'. The clumsy P.I. with his trademark Solex has been one of the staples of Spirou magazine since 1982, and it is generally considered one of the highlights of contemporary Franco-Belgian comics. The series has been critically praised for its well-crafted plots, authentic characters and cinematographic artwork. It was originally created togerher with Dodier's partner-in-crime Pierre Makyo, who also made the medieval fantasy series 'Gully' with Dodier (1980-1990, 2008).

Early life and career
Born in 1955 in the coastal city Dunkirk (Dunkerque), near the Belgian border, Alain Dodier has been an avid comics fan since early childhood. He enjoyed reading the work of André Franquin, Jean Tabary, Jijé and Hermann, and was particularly fond of the artists René Follet and Maurice Tillieux. The shady panels in Tillieux' detective comic 'Gil Jourdan' have been a powerful influence on Dodier's own work. Young Dodier was so fond of drawing, that he dropped out of high school, went to work as a mailman and devoted all his spare time to comics. He saw his first pages published in 1973 in the fanzine Falatoff, and then in 1975-1976 Spiru magazine published his work in its amateur section 'Carte Blanche'.


'Marty et Titine'.

Collaboration with Makyo
A fully self-taught artist, Dodier eventually teamed up with Pierre Makyo, who was practically his next door neighbor. The two men shared a studio, and worked well together; with Makyo providing scripts, and Dodier doing the artwork, the collaboration continued into the 1980s. When Dodier was fulfilling his military service in Germany, Makyo got them a job with the new ecological comics monthly Pistil, and they made their professional debut within its pages in 1977. They contributed two gag comics, the first starring the police man 'Janotus agent spécial', the other one about the wood ants 'Marty et Titine'. They also provided two short stories about 'Suzy La Petite Fourmi' (1980-1981) to Djin, and the six-page one-shot 'Léopold et Capucine' (1981) to Tintin, both also starring ants. Their comical detective 'Pijannot' (1980) was offered to Spirou, but although he was not selected by the magazine, this rejected detective served as a prototype for their later creation 'Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche'. Created in a fully caricatural style, a revamped version of 'Pijannot à l'École' was eventually published as a mini-booklet in the center of Spirou #2579 in 1987.

Gully, by Alain Dodier
Gully - 'Le petit prince et les agressicotons' (1987).

Gully
When Pistil folded, Dodier and Makyo transferred to Mercredi, a new weekly supplement to a couple of regional newspapers. However, since the magazine wasn't simultaneously launched with every paper, Dodier and Makyo's medieval humor comic 'Les Aventures de Gully' (1980-1990) debuted on different dates throughout December 1980. The very first print appearance happened in Mercredi-Dépêches on 3 December 1980. The fantasy world of Gully is set in the kingdoms Yridor and Onriflor. The two countries are at constant war with each other, but their inhabitants remain a jolly bunch. In battle they keep big smiles on their faces, and even during the cruellest torture they remain in good spirits. Laughter is the predominant religion of these kingdoms, but every hundred years, a baby is born with a highly contagious disease: melancholy! Anyone who comes close to an infected person is immediately doomed with instant depression. Yridor's Gully was born with the disorder, and lives with his granny Zita in the forest, far away from civilization. When he reaches the age of 10, however, he is sent to school, where he meets Mollo, a fellow-sufferer from Onriflor.

Gully by Alain Dodier
Gully - 'Le poisson bleu' (1985).

The Mercredi supplement was short-lived. From 1983 on, the two authors continued 'Gully' in the Belgian comics weekly Spirou, which also had begun running their the detective series 'Jérôme K. Jérome Bloche'. The magazine reprinted the original story, and published four more serials with the two outcasts Gully and Mollo the series stopped in January 1990. Besides being humorous, the adventures had a philosophical undertone. The swamps and woods surrounding the two kingdoms are inhabited by fantasy creatures. The odd green Blableur seems impervious to the boys' depressing nature, and becomes a companion during their adventures. The Blableur is however an extremely moody character. When he is happy, he brings good fortune. But when he is sad or angry, he causes utter boredom to the people around him. Éditions Dupuis collected the original series in five albums between 1985 and 1990. Dodier and Makyo attempted to relaunch 'Gully' in 2008 with a sixth episode, called 'Les Vengeurs d'Injures', but the revival turned out to be a one-off.

Jérôme K Jérôme Bloche, by Alain Dodier
Jérome K. Jérôme Bloche - 'A la vie, à la mort' (1984).

Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche: debut
Between the first and the second 'Gully' story, Dodier and Makyo made their debut in Spirou with another creation, the novice detective Jérôme K. Jérome Bloche. It would become Alain Dodier's signature series. Borrowing his first names from the English writer and humorist Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859-1927) and his last name from 'Psycho' author Robert Bloch (1917-1994), Bloche was a child of his time: an anti-hero with occasional heroic splurges, who displayed more multi-layered character traits than a traditional comic book star. Within Spirou's pages, Bloche stemmed from the same time period as Frank Pé's 'Broussaille' (1978) and Frank Le Gall's 'Théodore Poussin' (1984), two other bespectacled characters with deep personalities. Written by Makyo and co-scriptwriter Serge Le Tendre, the entire debut story 'L'Ombre Qui Tue' (1982) appeared on 2 December 1982  in Spirou Album #4, a supplement to Spirou magazine. This first story has some over-the-top comic book elements which are absent from the later stories. Dodier's drawings are semi-caricatural, while the plotlines are fantastical. Jérôme is a wannabe crime writer in his early twenties, who takes a detective correspondence course taught by an elderly criminologist. One by one, the teacher and the other course members are murdered by poisonous darts, and it's up to Jérôme to catch the "Killer Shadow". The two follow-up episodes, 'Les Êtres de Papier' (1983) and 'A la Vie, à la Mort' (1984), work within the  traditional detective mystery genre,  but gradually the wild plots became more "down-to-earth".


Jérome K. Jérôme Bloche #5 - 'Le Jeu de Trois'.

Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche: characters
While Dodier and Makyo continued their partnership for the adventures of 'Gully' until 1990, Dodier became the sole author of 'Jérôme K. Jérome Bloche' from the fourth album on. Only occasionally would Makyo step in to help with a plot. The series quickly found its new definitive tone as  Dodier turned Jérôme into a character of flesh and blood, with his own distinctive looks and quirks. Like his creator, Jérôme has difficulties getting out of bed, gets about on a motorbike and has an extreme wariness for tetanus infections. In a 2019 interview with Stripspeciaalzaak.be, Dodier admitted: "You don't have to look that far. I AM Jérôme Bloche.". And indeed, the artist often wears the same overcoat and Homburg hat as Bloche, and Dodier's house studio matches the decor of Jérôme's old-fashioned office --even their faces and haircuts are similar. But the artist resides in the humble Malo-les-Bains district of Dunkirk, and Jérôme has his office in the fashionable 18th arrondissement of Paris.

In his appearance, neighbourhood detective Jérôme K. Jérome Bloche tries to mimic his heroes: the film noir detectives played by Robert Mitchum and Humprey Bogart. Posters of both actors are displayed prominently on the walls in Jérômé's small office. But Jérôme is far less hard-boiled. Underneath his trenchcoat he wears jeans and sneakers. The bottle of whiskey on his desk is only there for show. With his glasses, clumsy behavior and trademark Solex, he is far from an imposing presence. Unlike his no-nonsense film noir heroes, Jérôme's behavior is a bit eccentric. He regularly enters his apartment through the window, and likes to drink pure lemon juice. In his communications with others, he can be insecure, absent-minded and tactless. Jérôme's girlfriend Babette often has to endure his personality quirks. She is his childhood friend and current lover, but is often away due to her work as an air hostess. Whenever she returns from a long trip, Jérôme is generally too preoccupied with a case to give her a proper welcome. Her desire in the later stories to get married and have children is not always noticed by the otherwise observant detective.


Babette takes on the case when Jérôme is imprisoned in album #16 of the series.

Babette, who has been in the series from the very start, proves to be a worthy companion for Jérôme. As the red-haired detective keeps failing his driving test (and is afraid to travel by boat or airplane), Babette often drives him around in her 2 CV, which she calls Capucine, when a location is too far away to reach with his Solex. In a couple of albums, Babette takes the lead and showcases her own detective skills. In the standout episode 'L'Absent' (1993) for instance, she investigates the disappearance of her boyfriend while the title hero, temporarily stuck in prison, is largely absent for most of the story. Babette is accompanied by Jérôme's other allies, the elderly neighbors Madame Rose and Madame Zelda. Debuting in 'Le Jeu de Trois' (1987), Madame Rose is the strict porter of the apartment complex, who doesn't miss a trick and does her best to keep the halls clean. Madame Zelda, who first appeared in the sixth album, 'Zelda' (1989), is a former actress turned fraudulent fortune teller, who gets the inside scoop on her clientele through Jérôme's PI work. Also in the neighborhood is the local grocer, Burhan Seif el Din, who made his debut in the 10th album, 'Un bébé en cavale' (1995), regularly gives Jérôme good advice, without ever overlooking his interest as a small businessman. A later addition to the regular cast is Father Arthur, a black priest and old friend of Jérôme. Starting with the 17th episode, 'La Marionette' (2003), the former boxer and reckless race car driver helps the young detective out on many occasions.


Subtle direction in Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche #19 - 'Un Chien dans un Jeu de Quilles'.

Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche: stories
Dodier opted to stick with a limited cast of characters, and keep his hero's world small and recognizable. He deliberately never introduced a recurring nemesis. Jérôme's cases are all within the realm of plausibility, and do not involve grotesque villains, major criminal exploits or horrific abuse and violence. Events take place in the detective's own neighborhood, and most are low-key, unsensational criminal activities: blackmail schemes, hit-and-run accidents or mistaken identities, sometimes venturing into more serious family tragedies or crimes of passion. Only in rare occasions does Jérôme encounter professional killers, like in 'Le Cœur à Droite' (1996), when he helps a tramp who is chased by a hitman, or in 'Un Chien dans un Jeu de Quilles' (2006) when a misconnected phone call leads to serious trouble. Episodes in which Jérôme and Babette leave Paris are often situated in small communities -- breeding grounds for scandals and secrets. In his first solo story, 'Passé recomposé' (1986), Dodier sent his PI to the foggy Breton island Saint Mathieu, where the population is haunted by ghosts from the past, and in 'Le Gabion' (1997) he is involved a family tragedy near the Normandy coast. Several episodes take place in Bergues, a small community near Dunkirk where Jérôme grew up (not coincidentally, the region where Dodier lives and works). In 'Le Jeu de Trois' (1987) it is revealed that Jérôme's mother died when he was young and that his British father never showed any interest in his son. He was raised by his grandmother, his uncle Sébastien and his aunt Cécile. Jérôme's childhood also plays an important role in 'Le Couteau dans l'Arbre' (2017), and Babette's estranged father is introduced in 'Post Mortem' (2012). Despite these occasional revelations of the protagonists' past, most stories are plot-driven.


Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche #17 - 'La Marionnette'.

Adding to the series' authenticity is the author's graphic and storytelling technique, accompanied by the moody coloring of Studio Cerise. Gradually settling into a semi-realistic drawing style, Dodier became a master in depicting subtle nuances in his characters' expressions and movements. Sometimes the camera zooms out and dialogues are no longer needed; the artwork speaks for itself. Dodier's cinematographic direction forms an essential part of the series' overall tone. Instead of cutting between scenes, Jérôme's trip from location A to location B is part of the narrative. The author takes his time to show the detective getting his Solex from the inner court, exchanging civilities with his neighbors, and chuffing the Parisian streets. The camera angles are meticulously placed to achieve the desired flow or mood. Also, Dodier spends four months in crafting a watertight plot and writing the full script, leaving no ends untied when the actual drawing begins.


Less successful heroics in Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche #27 - 'Contrefaçons'.

Graphic contributions
Despite the short revival of 'Gully' in 2008, Dodier has not worked on that many other projects since the 1980s. He and Makyo appeared in the collective album 'Du Souchon dans l'Air' (Delcourt, 1988), alongside a host of other contemporary Franco-Belgian artists. He also made a graphic contribution to 'La Galerie des Gaffes' (2017), a tribute album published to celebrate the 60th anniversary of André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe'.

Legacy
Alain Dodier remains mainly associated with 'Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche', a series widely considered one of the hidden gems of Franco-Belgian comics. Over the course of its decades-long serialization, it hasn't lost any of its initial charm or quality. This can be largely attributed to the author's strong, personal relation to his character, a connection perhaps only equalled by Roger Leloup and his heroine 'Yoko Tsuno'. The series has additionally appeared in Dutch as 'Jerome K. Jerome Bloks', and in German as 'Jackie Kottwitz'. IDW released the first two albums in the USA in 2017 and 2018. Alain Dodier's work on his signature series was awarded with the "Prix de la série" at the Angoulême Comics Festival of 2010.

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