Baden Powell, by Jijé, in magazine Spirou, 1950
'Baden Powell' (1950).

Joseph Gillain (Jijé) was one of the most influential Belgian comic artists - along with Hergé, E.P. Jacobs, and André Franquin. From 1939 until his death 41 years later, he worked mostly for Spirou. Not only did he create several comics series for this magazine, he also laid the groundworks for the magazine's house style, which has become known as the "School of Marcinelle". This graphic style proved a counterweight to Hergé's "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line") or the so-called "School of Brussels", which appeared in the competing magazine Tintin. As their mentor, Jijé helped launch the careers of several masters of European comics, including Franquin, Peyo, Morris and Giraud. A versatile man, he worked in a very aesthethic and dynamic style, inspired by his background as a painter and sculptor, hobbies he practiced his entire life. It came to blossom in realistic comics like the detective strip 'Jean Valhardi' (1941-1944, 1956-1965), his magnificent western comic 'Jerry Spring' (1954-1977) and his Catholic propaganda comics. But he was equally adept at creating humorous comics, like the children's adventure series 'Blondin et Cirage' (1939-1942, 1951-1963). Last but not least Jijé also succesfully continued series created by others, such as Jean-Michel Charlier and Albert Uderzo's 'Tanguy et Laverdure' (1966-1980), Charlier and Victor Hubinon's 'Barbe-Rouge' (1979-1980) and - of course - Rob-Vel's 'Les Aventures de Spirou' (1943-1946). He furthermore enriched the latter franchise by giving Spirou a goofy sidekick: Fantasio. 

Jean Valhardi by Jijé
'Valhardi contre le Soleil Noir' (1956).

Early life
Joseph Jean-Pierre Gillain was born in 1914 in Gedinne in the Belgian province of Namur. By 1920 the family moved to the medieval town Florennes, and later on they settled in Châtelet. His father Eugène was a publican who had a large family of eight children. Joseph was the fourth kid and his parents encouraged him to pursue his artistic talents. At a young age, he took courses from the Dinant-based painter/sculptor Alex Daoust and attended the Saint-Joseph school in Maredsous, where he learned modeling, sculpting, painting and ceramics from Benedictine monks. During evening courses at the Paul Pastur University of Labour in Charleroi, the neo-impressionist painter Léon Van den Houten learned him how to draw without looking at the paper, a technique Gillain would later teach to his own pupils. When Gillain studied at the La Cambre School of Visual Arts in Brussels, his teacher in monumental painting was the famous Flemish painter Gustave van de Woestijne. At age 18, Joseph Gillain made a mural of three by three meters in the church of Corbion, the birth town of his mother. Throughout his life, Gillain was not only active as a comic artist and illustrator, but he also made paintings, sculptings and murals, while coming up with strange inventions on the side. Gillain got his interest in comics through reading 'Bicot' (Martin Branner's 'Perry Winkle') and Hergé's 'Tintin'. Later graphic influences on his comic art were Fred Harman, Saul Steinberg, Milton Caniff and Frank Godwin.

Early work
In 1932 Joseph Gillain made twelve woodcut illustrations for 'Les Crwès dins les bruwères', a book about World War I in the Walloon dialect by E. Wartique and E. Thirionet, published by Duculot in Gembloux. The artist used his earliest childhood memories as inspiration, since Gedinne was a theatrical stage area during the final war years. In 1936 he made three linocuts for the poetry collection 'En attendant la Caravelle' by F. José Mangis. Around the same time he made the cover illustration for the book 'Les Processions et la Marche Militaire de la Saint-Feuillen à Fosses-la-Ville' by Maurice Chapelle and Roger Ancot. Between 1937 and 1943, Jijé also made many cover illustrations and woodcuts for Les Cahiers Wallons, a magazine published by his father Eugène Gillain, who was a dialect poet.

Jojo, by Jijé
'Jojo' (Le Croisé, 2 July 1939).

In the second half of the 1930s, Joseph Gillain's main occupation became making comics. Adventure comics were still relatively new in Belgium, and much of the early efforts were characterized by naïve graphics and improvised good-versus-evil storylines. Gillain's early comics were no different, and appeared in several of the edifying Catholic children's magazines of the time. The first was La Semaine du Croisé, a publication of the "Eucharistic Crusade" movement. The editors asked him to "make them a Tintin", so they could compete with the rival magazine Le Petit Vingtième. 'Le Dévouement de Jojo' commenced on 17 May 1936. The character indeed had a strong resemblance to Hergé's 'Tintin'. He was a young and heroic reporter, whose adventures brought him all over the world. Graphically he was also basically the same character, only with a pointed nose. As a pen name, Joseph Gillain again used Hergé as an example, and phonetically combined his initials to "Jijé". When Hergé noticed the resemblances and complained about it, Jijé famously created three drawings which showed how Tintin could be morphed into Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine', proving Hergé himself was no stranger to borrowing from other artists. Nevertheless the Hergéan influences gradually disappeared from Jijé's artwork over the course of the second story, 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Jojo'. When 'Jojo' came to an end on 2 July 1939, Jijé had largely found his own style. The "Croisade des Enfants" collected the adventures of Jojo in two books.

'Freddy Fred et le Mystère de la Clef Hindoue'.

Freddy Fred
Joseph Gillain's long term collaboration with the Marcinelle-based publishing house Dupuis began in 1938. His first assignment was illustrating the novel 'Le Secret du Bagnard' (1938) by Perre Desclaux in Le Moustique magazine. On 6 April 1939 he made his debut in the publisher's children's magazine Spirou, which was launched in the previous year. His first serial was 'Le Mystère de la Clef Hindoue', starring the adventurous reporter Freddy Fred. It ran until 9 November 1939 with two pages in small format every week (Spirou was by then still tabloid-sized). Le Croisé also published the story, but then under the title 'Freddy aux Indes', until the German invasion in May 1940 put further publication to a halt.

Blondin et Cirage by Jijé

Blondin & Cirage
On 16 July 1939, Jijé introduced 'Blondin et Cirage' to the readers of Petits Belges, a Catholic publication by the abbey of Averbode. The comic depicts the adventures of a white boy, Blondin, and a black boy, Cirage. At first sight, the modern viewer may consider Cirage to be a bit racially insensitive. The child is of African origin and has a name which translates as "shoe polish". True to the paternalistic nature of a Catholic magazine like Petits Belges, the friendship between the two boys represented the Christian ideal of charity and equality, yet also reconciliation between black and white. At the time Cirage was groundbreaking in the history of Belgian comics. After Blackske in Pink's 'Suske en Blackske' (1932), he was the first black comic book character in a starring role, and the first to be more than just a racial caricature. In fact, Cirage is just as good and clever as his white friend and often gets him out of trouble. The character also seems to have been the inspiration for Sjimmie, the black best friend of Sjors in Frans Piët's 'Sjors en Sjimmie' (1949). Marc Sleen's Petoetje, a Papua New Guinean boy who made his debut in 'Nero' in 1950, was probably also modelled after Cirage, down to his long curly hair.

'Blondin et Cirage contre les Gangsters'.

All three original stories, 'Blondin et Cirage en Amérique' (1939-1941), 'Blondin et Cirage contre les gangsters' (1940-1941) and 'Jeunes Ailes' (1941-1942), were collected in book format by Averbode between 1942 and 1946. Yet Nazi censors objected to the positive portrayal of a black boy and thus Cirage didn't appear in 'Jeunes Ailes'. 'Blondin et Cirage' did not appear in Petits Belges' Flemish counterpart Zonneland, edited by Nonkel Fons, but Altoria/Averbode released Flemish editions of the book publications under the series title 'Wietje en Krol' (the characters would later become known in Dutch as 'Blondie en Blinkie').

Trinet et Trinette, by Jijé
'Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya' (around 1940).

Trinet et Trinette
In August 1939 Jijé was mobilized and thus he had to produce his pages of 'Freddy Fred' and 'Blondin et Cirage' while serving as an observer in the third artillery regiment of Outre-Meuse. With his 'Freddy Fred' serial concluded, Jijé immediately embarked upon a new comic for Spirou. He chose the twin kids Trinet and Trinette as protagonists. Like with Blondin and Cirage, Jijé preferred working with duos, since dialogues served the narratives better than the monologues of a solitary hero. But while Trinet and Trinette were the title stars, the true hero of 'Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya' (1939-1941) was their uncle Jacques Mantel, clearly a predecessor to 'Jean Valhardi'. The characters reappeared in a second story, called 'Du Sang sur la Neige' until May 1941, which was left unfinished due to a page reduction caused by paper shortage. The plot was later reused for the post-war 'Blondin et Cirage' episode 'Kamiliola' (1952). 'Trinet et Trinette' was the first comic in which Jijé experimented with his drawing style, and he didn't shy away from alternating between realistic and caricatural artwork.

Spirou, by Jijé
Spirou calendar 1944 during the publication ban ("I am asleep, but my heart is awake...", the sign says "Unemployed").

World War II
When the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940, publication of Le Croisé, Petits Belges and Spirou was put on hiatus until August-September of that year. It marked the definitive end of Jijé's association with his first regular client. His collaboration with Petits Belges lasted until 12 September 1942. His role in the pages Le Journal de Spirou only increased during war years. Jijé and (unofficial) chief editor Jean Doisy were responsible for the majority of the magazine's content during this period, while the local artists Fernand Dineur ('Tif et Tondu') and newcomer Sirius ('L'Épervier Bleu') also kept providing their pages. It became however more and more difficult for the Belgian publisher to receive the material for the several foreign series, and the over-productive Jijé was tasked to fill in the empty spots.Things got worse when the Nazis banned all import of American comics series. Jijé had to improvise alternate endings for the ongoing American serials, such as Siegel & Shuster's 'Superman' in May 1941, and Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' in November 1942. A more pressing matter was the absence of the mobilized Frenchman Rob-Vel and his wife Blanche Dumoulin, who provided the title comic. Jijé filled in on 'Les Aventures de Spirou' for a first time between 7 November 1940 and 13 March 1941, turning the spirited bellboy into a movie star and then sending him and his squirrel Spip on an adventure on the North Pole.

Honorary code in action: "A friend of Spirou is loyal to God and his country."
"A friend of Spirou is a friend of all, but especially the weak."

Club des Amis de Spirou
While Rob-Vel resumed his work on Spirou's title comic in Paris, Jijé remained the go-to artist for additional illustrations, as he lived nearby the publisher's Marcinelle offices. These drawings were not only used for the magazine, but also for related products like postcards, writing paper, puzzles and games. As a sculptor, Jijé modelled a statuette of Spirou and Spip, which went for sale in 1942. During the war years, editor Jean Doisy established a strong comradeship between Spirou and its readership through the "Club des Amis de Spirou" (literaly the "Friends of Spirou Club"). The club came with its own code of honour. This set of rules to live by was propagandized through nine comic strips which presented "our honorary code in action". Drawn by Jijé, they were published in Spirou in mid-1941 and clearly showcased the magazine's moral Catholic tone of the time. From late 1942 on, Jijé furthermore illustrated pamphlets for André Moons' Le Farfadet puppet shows, which kept the Spirou characters alive during the publication ban imposed by the Germans in September 1943.

Christophe Collomb by Jijé
'Christophe Collomb' (1942).

Biographical comics (1)
The war years were by far the most productive period in Jijé's career. At his peak he produced about three pages a day. Jijé later recalled in an interview that the Germans allowed Spirou to continue publication as long as the publisher still had pages in stock. It was simply up to Jijé to buy the publisher time and keep producing. It caused the further development of Jijé's highly dynamic drawing style, with clever use of black-and-white as a direct result from his experiences as a woodcut artist. In addition to 'Trinet et Trinette' and his fill-in work on 'Les Aventures de Spirou', he provided cover illustrations to Dupuis' women's magazine Les Bonnes Soirées. For Spirou, he furthermore made comics biographies about the Catholic saint Don Bosco ('Don Bosco - Ami des Jeunes' , 1941-1942) and the explorer Christopher Columbus (1942-1945). These ambitious projects were his first fully realistic stories, and created primarily to replace 'Superman' and other imported comics.

Don Bosco, by Jijé
'Don Bosco' (Spirou, 6 March 1941).

Jean Valhardi (1)
Another important wartime creation was 'Jean Valhardi', Spirou's own "superhero", albeit without special powers. Valhardi was the brainchild of Jean Doisy, who wanted this local Superman to personify the honorary code. His name alone revealed his two major qualities: "valeureux" (brave) and "hardi"(fearless). 'Jean Valhardi, Détective' debuted in Spirou on 2 October 1941. Jijé modelled the protagonist after the quintessential hero of the time: muscular, broad-shouldered and with a firm, angular profile. One of the characters' unforgettable treats was his strong handshake, which often left others behind in pain! Unfortunately Doisy looked a bit like the Aryan ideal of a blonde, white muscular man, which the Nazis often used in their propaganda. Scriptwriter Doisy was well aware of this and strongly objected against Valhardi's blonde haircut. This wouldn't be the last time that the Communist Doisy clashed with the Catholic and more aesthetically oriented Jijé.

A still caricatural Valhardi saves Jacquot for the first time (Spirou, 13 November 1941).

All in all, the character became the perfect rolemodel for Spirou's young readers, and kept the morale high during the grim war years. An orphan boy named Jacquot was added as his sidekick. Jacquot was in many was the embodiment of many real-life boys during World War II, whose parents were either at the front, working to survive or in jail. With his fists and morals of steel, Jean Valhardi managed to keep his young companion safe at all time. Valhardi was introduced as an agent for an insurance firm, who is sent to investigate some mysterious fires. In general he and Jacquot simply rolled from one thrilling adventure and exotic locale into the other. Graphically, Jijé shifted styles along the way, changing his initial caricatural approach to a more realistic style. 'Jean Valhardi' immediately caught on, and even surpassed 'Les Aventures de Spirou' in terms of popularity. It is telling that Valhardi replaced Spirou on the magazine's front cover on 17 September 1942. Future comic authors like Willy Lambil and Tibet both revealed that the Valhardi comics they read as young boys have left a lasting impression on them.

Jean Valhardi by Jijé
'Jean Valhardi' (1943-44).

During Spirou's publication ban, Jean Valhardi appeared in stage shows by Les Mignonnettes and Les Compagnons de la Belle Humeur, which also starred other popular Spirou characters. Jean Doisy furthermore wrote a novel called 'L'Étrange Réveillon de Jean Valhardi' (December 1943), which was illustrated by Jijé. When publication of Spirou magazine resumed in October 1944, Jijé and Doisy promoted Valhardi to chief of staff of the insurance firm. In his first new adventure, he undertook a countryside trip with the staff's children. Their encampment was however constantly harrassed by a gang of rascals led by the dictatorial "Le Grand Jules". The story was an obvious metaphorical reference to the German oppression. The collaboration between Jijé and Doisy lasted until October 1945, when the latter sold his rights to publisher Dupuis.

'Jean Valhardi' (Spirou, 4 January 1945).

Dupuis albums
While the Germans had forbidden further publication of Spirou magazine in late 1943, Dupuis was still allowed to publish books. Album collections of comic stories were no common practice at the time, but the wartime situation somewhat forced the publisher into this new direction. Back in 1940, Dupuis had already released 'Les Avontures de Bibor et Tribar - Tif et Tondu' (1940), a joint book collection of comics by Rob-Vel and Dineur, and 'Les Aventures en Afrique de Fred, Mile et Bob, Gamins Belges' by F. Gianolla, but these efforts had not been continued. A book publication of Jijé's 'Don Bosco' in 1943 was the publisher's first actual best-seller, and saw five reprints and an overall print run of 200,000 copies. In that same year, Dupuis also published 'Jean Valhardi Détective', containing the first stories of Spirou's superstar by Jijé and Doisy. During the ban, Dupuis issued anthology books like 'L'Espiège au grand Coeur' (November 1943) and 'L'Almanach Spirou 1944' (December 1943), which contained 'Valhardi' and 'Spirou' stories by Jijé.

Jijé designed a new header for Spirou magazine upon its reappearance, adding the subtitle "Champion de la Bonne Humeur" ("Champion of Good Mood").

After the Liberation
With parts of Belgium liberated in September 1944, the witch hunt against alleged collaborators began. Jijé was imprisoned, as he had continued to work for the press during the war, and certain neighbours wondered why he was never sent away for forced labour? Luckily, Spirou's driving force was released after two months through mediation of Charles Dupuis and Jean Doisy, who had played an important role in the Resistance. During his captivity however, the publisher had decided to get rid of their stock of mediocre paper from the war period by publishing a small-format book of Jijé's 'Le Mystère de la Clef Hindoue' in late 1944. It was a disastrous project, to say the least. First of all, the art department heavily mutilated Jijé's artwork by remounting the story from three to two rows per page. Secondly, the author was not even informed about this release! To make up for their ill-considered actions, the editors gave this early story by their star author a new book publication in 1947. Around that same time, the publisher furthermore released books of Jijé's 'Christophe Colomb' (1947) and 'Spirou et l'Aventure' (1948).

Spirou et Fantasio by Jije
'Spirou et l'Aventure' by Jijé (Spirou, 26 October 1944).

Spirou et Fantasio
While imprisoned, Jijé had continued to work on his pages for the relaunched Spirou magazine. He not only resumed 'Valhardi', but also returned to 'Les Aventures de Spirou', since Rob-Vel was now completely out of reach. Jijé had already taken over the pencil in the two aforementioned anthology books in late 1943. The story in which Spirou became an aviator, is historically notable for the introduction of Spirou's new sidekick Fantasio. However, the tall and goofy Fantasio was not new to the readers of Spirou magazine. Jean Doisy had used the pen name Fantasio of several of his editorials since 1939. In the section 'Voyez-vous les Erreurs?', Fantasio told a fantasy story, in which the readers should spot the errors. A regular part of the magazine's editorial cast, Fantasio also appeared in the Farfadet puppet shows as envisioned by Doisy: a dandy with dark, curly hair and a golden lock. The socially conscious editor was far from pleased when he spotted Jijé's depiction in late 1943! His Fantasio was a weird customer with blonde, wispy hairs, modelled after Chic Young's character Dagwood from 'Blondie'. He was introduced as a wacky and absent-minded journalist, who walked around in his underpants.

When Spirou magazine resumed publication in October 1944, Fantasio became Spirou's regular sidekick. In Jijé's initial serial, published under the title 'Spirou et l'Aventure', the two heroes and their squirrel Spip travel through time. This allowed Jijé to not only delve into historical settings, but also in Fritz Lang-inspired futurism. In one of the episodes, the heroes even meet a future version of their artist! Jijé furthermore experimented with typography, panel lay-outs and full-color illustrations. The antics of Fantasio became the driving force behind Jijé's later Spirou narratives. He bought an American jeep, began his own detective agency and ventured into a business of prefabricated houses, while Spirou had to make sure things would not get out of hand.

'Spirou in the future' (15 February 1945).

School of Marcinelle
In the post-war years, Jijé served as a mentor for a new generation of comic artists. His graphic style would define the glory days of Spirou magazine in the 1950s and became known as the "School of Marcinelle". He took the young artists André Franquin, Morris and Will under his wing by letting them work under his guidance in his Waterloo home. The four artists are often referred to as "the Gang of Four." In order to spend his time on more artistically rewarding projects, Jijé had "handed out" his regular series to the next generation. André Franquin got 'Spirou et Fantasio', Eddy Paape took over 'Valhardi' and Victor Hubinon drew a new adventure with 'Blondin et Cirage', who now joined the cast of Spirou. Morris had by then already created his humorous cowboy 'Lucky Luke' and Will had taken over 'Tif et Tondu' from Fernand Dineur, marking the start of the heyday of Spirou magazine. Jijé would return to 'Spirou et Fantasio' on two occasions, creating the fill-in stories 'Comme une Mouche au Plafond' and 'Les Hommes Grenouilles'. They were collected in the album 'Les Chapeaux Noirs' (1952), and are the only Jijé stories in the regular 'Spirou et Fantasio' album collection.

Don Bosco, by Jijé
'Don Bosco', 1949.

Biographical comics (2)
Jijé's main reason for handing out his series was his plan to create the gospel in comics format, called 'Emmanuel'. He joined forces with priest Henri Balthasar, with whom he had previously worked on some religious sculptures and decorations. An architect and art connaisseur himself, Balthasar was to make sure that the literal text of the Bible was followed. Jijé allowed the priest full artistic control, while he would focus on his ink wash drawings. The ambitious project took Jijé over a year to complete, but Balthasar's oversized captions failed to gain an audience. The two books published by Dupuis in 1946 and 1947 were commercial flops. After his 'Emmanuel' disaster, Jijé completely redrew his first 'Don Bosco' biography for serialization in Le Moustique in 1949-1950. An album collection followed in 1951. Comparing the two versions gives a good impression of Jijé's development as an artist. His comics biography of 'Baden-Powell', the founder of the Scouts movement, was published in Spirou between 1948 and 1950. The dedicated artist undertook several study trips to Italy and England for these works. The largest part of these two comic biographies were however drawn overseas...

'Love and Learn' (Romance Trail #6, 1950).

The legendary trip to Mexico and the USA
Worried by the slumbering Cold War and the 1948-1949 Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union in particular, Gillain feared Europe might soon get hurled into another war. He decided to relocate to the United States, and send his comic pages to Belgium from there. To earn money for his crossing, Jijé tirelessly provided illustrations for Dupuis' novel publications and humourous covers for Le Moustique magazine. The Gillain family, consisting of Joseph, his wife and four children, headed stateside on the Nieuw Amsterdam on 3 August 1948. They were accompanied by Franquin and Morris, but the Gang of Four dissolved as Will stayed at home. The group arrived in New York City, where they had to wait for two weeks before Jijé could obtain a driver's license valid in the USA. Cramped up in a Hudson Commodore, the eight travel companions drove all the way to Los Angeles expecting to arrive in the heart of the comic book industry - only to learn that this was in New York! Instead, they headed south, with the Gillain family landing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, awaiting their visum for the USA. With their official papers in order, they moved to Wilton, Connecticut, two hours north of New York City. During his stay abroad, Jijé has at least made one contribution to an American comic book. The 6-page story 'Love and Learn' appeared in the May-June 1950 issue of National Comics' 'Romance Trail' title.

A fictionalized chronicle in comics format of this legendary trip by the three Franco-Belgian comics legends, called 'Gringos Locos', was created by Olivier Schwartz and Yann and published by Dupuis in 2012. A planned second installment fell through, as the heirs objected to the authors' interpretation of certain events and motivations.

Return to Europe
When the family returned to Europe in mid-1950, they initially tried to settle near Barcelona, but ended up driving up the coast to France. They spent a couple of years at the Côte d'Azur, first in Cassis, near Marseille, and then in Juan-les-Pins, near Cap d'Antibes, where they were joined by Will again. By the summer of 1954 Jijé relocated permanently to Champrosay, a small village near Paris. It was a perfect painting environment, situated along the shores of the Seine and near the Sénart forest. The restauration of the old orangery he bought became one of the master's personal works of art. He personally designed the fireplace, and decorated the ceiling with an elaborate painting.

Blondin et Cirage by Jijé
'Blondin et Cirage au Mexique' (1951).

Evolution in drawing style
The landscapes, colors and modern lifestyle of the States remained a lasting source of inspiration for Joseph Gillain. Gone were the experimental, improvised and somewhat old-fashioned comics of the war years, in came captivating stories with well-crafted plots, modern architecture, furniture and cars, and powerful, effective brush work. Over the course of his 'Baden-Powell' biography, Jijé switched from inking with a pen to a brush. This brought forth a dynamic inking style with clever use of chiaroscuro, inspired by Milton Caniff. Jijé's most important creations 'Jerry Spring' and the post-war 'Valhardi' stories profited from this new technique, even so much that their artwork is best enjoyed in black-and-white. In his post-war humor comics, Jijé further perfected his clean designs and developed what is nowadays known as the "Atomic style". This stylized way of drawing was more angular and geometric, and had a focus on progress, with modern designs of cars, houses and gadgets. His round signature even changed into a more angular one, firmly establishing the author's achieved maturity. The "Atomic style" was also picked up by Franquin and Will, while it knew a revival in the 1970s and 1980s through artists like Joost Swarte, Yves Chaland, Ever Meulen and Serge Clerc.

Detailed designs in 'Blondin & Cirage' ('Le Nègre Blanc').

Blondin & Cirage (2)
Mexico and the United States became regular settings for many of Jijé's later comics, in which the artist was able to reproduce the locations he had visited from his photographic memory. One of the first was 'Blondin et Cirage au Mexique' (1951), a new story with his two kid characters. It had been almost ten years since Jijé had last drawn his heroes for Petits Belges, and the series had been on hold since the conclusion of Victor Hubinon's single story for Spirou. Jijé was obviously inspired, because after their Mexican adventure, the two boys immediately returned in their new serial, 'Le Nègre Blanc' (1951). 'Kamiliola' (1952) reused the plot from Jijé's aborted second 'Trinet et Trinette' story, while 'Silence! On tourne' (1953) spoofed the movie industry. One of the most notable installments was the final one, 'Blondin et Cirage découvrent les Soucoupes Volantes' (1954-1955). As a tribute to his pupil André Franquin, Jijé introduced an African Marsupilami in this episode, who was far more lazy than his long-tailed Palombian family member from Franquin's 'Spirou' stories. Blondin and Cirage returned only one more time for a Christmas short story in 1963. All five serials appeared in book format at Dupuis between 1952 and 1956, four of which were reprinted in the publisher's 'Péchés de Jeunesse' collection between 1978 and 1984.

Golden Creek by Jijé
Jerry Spring - 'Golden Creek' (1954).

Jerry Spring
During the same decade Jijé launched what is perhaps his best known series, the western 'Jerry Spring' (1954-1977). Jerry Spring is a brave and noble gunslinger whose father was brutally murdered by Apache. Since then Jerry and his trusty horse Ruby roam the Far West. During one of his adventures he meets the Mexican Pancho who becomes his comedic sidekick and best friend. Together they fight for justice and help the needy, including the Native and black population. 'Golden Creek', the first episode of 'Jerry Spring', started on 4 March 1954 in issue #829 of Spirou. It served as a replacement for Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' and offered a more realistic and dramatic counterweight to Spirou's humorous cowboy series 'Lucky Luke' by Morris. The stunning artwork of 'Jerry Spring' led to atmospheric impressions of the U.S. South West and Mexico, mostly lifted from the sketches and photographs Jijé made during his aforementioned voyage to these countries. Jijé is also widely praised among his peers for his depictions of horses. The graphics of the first albums fully came to their right as the artist used three panel rows per page instead of the common four.

Jerry Spring - 'L'Or du Vieux Lender' (1956).

The 'Jerry Spring' scripts were either written by Jijé himself, or by Maurice Rosy, René Goscinny, Jean Acquaviva, Daniel Dubois and Jacques Lob. All of his co-workers however suffered from Jijé's tendency to freely alter the provided stories. The only scriptwriter with a lasting tenure was Jijé's son Philippe Gillain, who was credited as "Philip". He was only seventeen years old when he suggested he'd like to write plots for his father. Father and son ended up cooperating on six 'Jerry Spring' stories, as well as one episode of 'Jean Valhardi'. 'Jerry Spring' started as a classic western, and initially appeared regularly between 1954 and 1967. Album sales were however disappointing, and it took until 1974 before Jijé and Philip resumed the series with the serial 'L'Or de Personne'. Jerry Spring's long awaited return was celebrated with a special western issue of Spirou magazine (#1886, 1974). The times had changed, and the comics medium had matured. While the early stories are fairly straightforward "good versus evil" tales, the latter-day 'Jerry Spring' stories were inspired by the new wave of realism that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. The three stories from the 1974-1977 run of 'Jerry Spring' were more hardboiled and gritty, comparable to Giraud's 'Blueberry'. Ironically, Giraud had been Jijé's assistant on the 1961 episode 'La Route de Coronado'! Éditions Dupuis collected the series in 21 albums. Often appalled by the work of the publisher's coloring studio, Jijé must have been pleased with the release of four large-format luxury books in black-and-white in 1974-1975. Each volume contained a classic and a recent story.

Jerry contre KKK by Jijé
'Jerry contre KKK' (1966).

Jean Valhardi (2)
By the mid-1950s, Jijé felt he had outgrown humorous comics, and fully devoted himself to realistic ones. He therefore dropped 'Blondin et Cirage' and returned to another one of his previous heroes. Years had passed since he had last drawn his two-fisted insurance investigator 'Jean Valhardi', and much had changed. Jijé's successor Eddy Paape had developed the comic into a full-blown detective series in cooperation with scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier, creating thrilling stories with sci-fi and Cold War-inspired themes. Jijé wanted his old co-creation back, and the publisher, who owned Doisy's part of the rights, was eager to oblige. Paape was fired, and Jijé started with the character's third make-over. Valhardi no longer worked for an insurance agency, but was now for hire as a freelance detective. The comic got a modern and cosmopolitan look-and-feel. Valhardi's trademark suit and raincoat were replaced by trendy jeans, a yellow pullover and a white jacket, while the hero drives around in fast sports cars. All previous sidekicks, both Jijé's own Jacquot and Paape's Arsène, were gone for good, while the goofy photographer Gégène made its entrace as the series' comic relief.

Jean Valhardi - 'Le Gang du Diamant'.

Aided by scriptwriters like Jean-Michel Charlier, his son Philip Gillain and Guy Mouminoux, Jije made new adventure serials with his classic hero until 1965. Stories like 'Valhardi contre le Soleil Noir' (1956), 'Le Gang du Diamant' (1957) and 'L'Affaire Barnes' (1957) and 'Le Mauvais Oeuil' (1958) are considered classic Franco-Belgian adventure comics, both graphically and storywise. The image of the impeccable hero had however lost most of its relevance since the 1940s, and gradually the focus shifted to the impulsive Gégène. During the three final stories, scripted and co-drawn by Mouminoux, the Beat Generation and its generation conflicts made its entrance when the red-headed youngster became a pop star and race car driver, while Valhardi received a mature and paternalizing role. Often referred to as the "yé-yé trilogy", after Southern-European rock and roll culture, this new incarnation failed to impress a new readership and the series came to an end. The final story wasn't even published in book format until 1986, when the entire 'Valhardi' series was reprinted.

El Senserinico by Jijé
'El Senserenico'.

Non-Spirou work during the 1950s
While Jijé maintained a presence in Spirou with his three major series, he also undertook other projects and assignments. From 1950 on he made regular appearances in the other Dupuis magazines, Le Moustique and Les Bonnes Soirées, mostly with illustrations. He illustrated a serialization of the 'Count of Monte Christo' by Alexandre Dumas in Le Moustique between November 1951 and September 1952. For the women's weekly Bonnes Soirées, he subsequently made a comics version in inkwash of Flora Sabeiran's sentimental novel 'El Senserenico', serialized between October 1952 and February 1953. Between February and November 1954 Jijé returned to the pages of Le Moustique with 'Blanc Casque' (1954), a comic based on the novel 'Elle Vit!' by Joseph Pirot, a Walloon missionary in Canada and a friend of his father. The emotional story revolves around a Hungarian family who emigrated to western Canada, where the father Jean Choumak drifts between good (honesty) and evil (alcoholism). Dupuis released the story in album format in 1956. By request of Éditions Lombard, Jijé began working on a comic based on the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes (1844-1879). After an unfinished serialization in Line magazine between May and October 1958, 'L'Étrange Destin de Bernadette' wasn't published in full until 1979 by Fleurus.

Blanc-casque, by Jijé

Additional Spirou work
In 1959, Spirou published yet another one of Jijé's comics biographies, this time of 'Charles de Foucauld', a French Catholic priest who lived among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. In 1964, the editors of Spirou directed another young artist, called Herbert Geldhof, to Jijé. The two worked together on the artwork of two stories about 'Docteur Gladstone' (1964-1971), about a European medical doctor in Africa. Written by Charles Jadoul, Jijé drew the white characters, while Geldhof illustrated the black ones and the backgrounds. Herbert, who signed with only his first name, drew the final four stories on his own.

'Jo, le Petit Cow-boy' (Total Journal #16).

Work with Benoît and Philippe Gillain
Jijé was furthermore involved with several commercial projects by his eldest son Benoît. Between 1959 and 1961 the two worked on a series of promotional mini comics for Bonux washing powder. He assisted Benoît on the title comic 'Bonux-Boy', and created his own stories like 'Jo Le Petit Cowboy', 'Fangio' and 'Sitting Bull', while illustrating educational articles written by his son-in-law Pierre Sineux. Between 1966 and 1968 he also participated in his son's sponsored magazine Total Journal for Total gas stations, for which Jijé made illustrations for features like 'Osamu' (written by Michel Finot) and 'Les Chevaliers Teutoniques' (written by Pierre Christin) as well as a new comic story of 'Jo le Petit Cow-boy'. The three aspiring artists Jean Giraud, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pat Mallet, who had first visited Jijé in 1958, also became contributors to Benoît's projects, as did several of Jijé's friends and co-workers.

Around the same period, Jijé experimented with his son Philippe Gillain and good friend Guy Bara on some animated shorts starring Bara's characters Max the Explorer and Kéké the parrot. None of these try-outs were however completed. Joseph and Philippe Gillain furthermore contributed the western comic 'Hud le Spécialiste' to Johnny, a magazine built around singer/actor Johnny Halliday. The story was based on the spaghetti western 'Le Spécialiste' (1970) by Sergio Corbucci, which had Halliday in a starring role.

Tanguy et Laverdure by Jijé
Tanguy et Laverdure - 'Mission "Dernière Chance"' (1972).

Tanguy & Laverdure
In 1966 'Jean Valhardi' and the first cycle of 'Jerry Spring' had come to an end. By lack of success, publisher Dupuis decided to no longer collect Jijé's series in book format. It resulted in a seven-year rift between the otherwise loyal artist and his publisher. Instead, Jijé joined the ranks of Pilote, the magazine launched by René Goscinny, Jean-Michel Charlier and Albert Uderzo in 1959. He succeeded Uderzo as the artist of the French aviators 'Tanguy & Laverdure'. Financially, it proved far more rewarding than his own series, but artistically, Jijé's heart lay with westerns. He made thirteen long stories with writer Jean-Michel Charlier, including the more controversial episodes dealing with the nuclear tests on the French Polynesian atoll of Mururoa. Jijé initially tried to work in a style similar to Uderzo, but felt uncomfortable with the more caricatural design of Laverdure. He eventually remodelled Michel Tanguy and Ernest Laverdure and gave them the looks of Jacques Santi and Christian Marin, the actors who portrayed the characters in the succesful TV series 'Les Chevaliers du Ciel' (1967-1969).

The comic ran in Pilote until 1971, and was then continued in the French edition of Tintin (1973) and in Super As (1979-1980). Although Gillain was known for being a quick and qualified worker, the technical drawings of airplanes caused a heavy workload for the generally more spontaneous draughtsman. Assistance was found in Daniel Chauvin, who helped Jijé with the planes and the lettering from 1967 to early 1971. Despite all his ongoing series, Gillain filled in for his former pupil Jean Giraud and drew several pages of the 'Blueberry' stories 'Tonnerre à l'ouest' (1964) and 'Le Cavalier perdu' (1965). He also filled in on the 'Barbe-Rouge' episode 'Le Pirate sans Visage' (1966) when the regular artist Victor Hubinon had broken his arm.

Commissaire Major by Jijé
'Commissaire Major'.

Return to humor in the 1970s
As Charlier was regularly late with his scripts, Gillain enjoyed himself with more caricatural and satirical work. He made parodies about the lives of famous people of the time and some political cartoons for Pilote (1972-1973). With editor Pierre Bellemare and scriptwriters Jean-Paul Rouland and Claude Olivier he created the humorous riddle comic 'Les Enquêtes du Commissaire Major' for the newspaper La Voix du Nord (1971-1973) in Lille. He furthermore produced a series of six caricatural stories with Jerry Spring's sidekick Pancho under the title 'Que Barbaridad!', in the Spirou supplement Le Trombone Illustré (1977), edited by Yvan Delporte and André Franquin. Jijé additionally illustrated the book 'Apprendre l'Anglais par la Bande Dessinée' (Marabout, 1972) by Félix Packnadel and advertisements for Manpower, Solo, Kodak and Gilette.

Graphic contributions
Jijé illustrated an English language guide titled 'Apprendre L'Anglais par la Bande Dessinée' (Marabout, 1972), which was also translated in Dutch as: 'Engels leren dankzij het Stripverhaal'. 

Final years and death
Following the death of Victor Hubinon, Jijé was asked by Jean-Michel Charlier to also assume the art duties of the pirate comic 'Barbe-Rouge' in 1979. Jijé completed the episodes 'Raid sur la Corne d'Or' (1979) and 'L'Île des Vaisseaux Perdus' (1979) in cooperation with his son Laurent Gillain, who worked under the pen name Lorg. They had finished eight pages of their third story, 'Les Disparus du Faucon Noir', when Jijé died in June 1980. He had suffered from cancer since several years, but always managed to continue working. Lorg proved too inexperienced to continue on his own, and 'Barbe-Rouge' was handed over to Christian Gaty, while Charlier began an additional story cycle with Patrice Pellerin. 'Tanguy et Laverdure' was continued by Patrice Serres.

Barbe-Rouge by Jije and Lorg
Barbe-Rouge - 'Raid sur la corne d'or' (1979).

Only late in his career Jijé's work received awards. In 1975, he received the Jury Prize at the Prix Saint-Michel festival and the Dutch Stripschapprijs. In 1977 he was honored with the Grand Prix at the Comics Festival of Angoulême. Posthumously the Spanish translation of the Jerry Spring story 'Mon ami Red' won the 2013 Haxtur Award. Since 1989 Jijé is one of a select few Belgian comic pioneers to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels.

Legacy and influence
Although he has remained somewhat in the shadows of his pupils, Joseph Gillain can rightfully be considered one of the founding fathers of Franco-Belgian comics. He influenced not only his direct students, like André Franquin, Will and Morris, but also the second wave of the "School of Marcinelle", consisting of Peyo, Maurice Tillieux, Jidéhem, Jean Roba and Willy Lambil. Jijé's western comics have served as an inspiration to Jean Giraud and Jean-Michel Charlier's 'Blueberry', Hermann and Greg's 'Comanche' and Derib's 'Buddy Longway' as well as the work of Christian Rossi, André Juillard and François Boucq, while his "Atomic style" can be traced back in the work of Yves Chaland, Serge ClercAlain Dodier and Alec Severin. Chaland has declared that his character 'Freddy Lombard' directly inspired by Jijé's 'Freddy Fred', while 'Jean Valhardi' served as an example for both Tibet's 'Ric Hochet' and Serge Clerc's 'Phil Perfect'. Yves Chaland honored the man who inspired his career with the biographical short story 'La Vie exemplaire de Jijé', which was published in Métal Hurlant #64 (1981). Chaland's one-shot 'Spirou' story (1982) was also a tribute to Jijé's legacy. Jijé was also a strong influence on Nikita Mandryka.

Family connections
Most of Jijé's children have also pursued artistic careers. His eldest son Benoît (1938-2016) had a successful advertising agency in Paris. His middle son Philippe (1943) worked with his father on the scripts of a couple of 'Jerry Spring' and 'Jean Valhardi' albums, while the youngest son Laurent (1954) assisted his father on the artwork of the 'Barbe-Rouge' albums. His daughter Dominique (1947) is a painter, editorial artist, children's book illustrator and caricature artist.

Jerry Spring - 'Le Grand Calumet' (1977).

After Jijé's death, Dupuis restarted 'Jean Valhardi' with the artist René Follet. Between 1981 and 1984 three new stories appeared, two written by André-Paul Duchâteau and one by Jacques Stoquart, but they failed to catch on. Years later, Franz and scriptwriter Jean-Pierre Festin made a new album with 'Jerry Spring' for Alpen Publishers, but this too didn't meet with success. Several of Jijé's albums were however part of Dupuis' reprint wave of the late 1970s and 1980s. Several of Jijé's comic biographies were reprinted in luxury format in the collection 'Figures de Proue' in 1990-1991. Jijé's entire oeuvre for Éditions Dupuis was compiled chronologically in the 18-volume collection 'Tout Jijé' (1991-2010), with art restauration and new coloring by Studio Leonardo and forewords by the company archivist Thierry Martens.

With the new wave of luxury collections of its patrimonium, Dupuis republished Jijé's oeuvre too. The complete 'Jerry Spring' (2010-2012) was compiled in black-and-white in five volumes, which had dossiers by Philippe Capart and Erwin Dejasse. 'Jean Valhardi' was collected in luxury books between 2015 and 2019, three of the five consisting of Jijé's run on the comic. The lengthy background dossiers were written by either Christelle and Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault or Jérôme Dupuis. Jijé's interlude period on 'Spirou' was also collected in a luxury volume in 2015, while a facsimile edition of 'Spirou et l'Aventure' (1948) appeared in 2010. Jijé's run on 'Tanguy & Laverdure' and 'Barbe-Rouge' has furthermore also been chronicled in luxury collections published by Dargaud. 

'Blondin et Cirage' were honoured with their own comic book wall in November 1998 as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. Designed by G. Oreopoulos and D. Vandegeerde, it can be seen in the Rue des Capucins/Kapucijnerstraat 13. Between 27 May 2003 and 27 February 2005 Jijé had his own museum in the Rue du Houblon/Hopstraat in Brussels, but had to close because the Walloon Community didn't want to provide government grands.

Books about Jijé
Jijé connaisseur François Deneyer compiled a highly recommended large format anthology/monography/biography, containing rare interviews and many illustrations, called 'Quand Gillain raconte Jijé' (Dupuis, 2014).


Series and books by Jijé in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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