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

Joseph Gillain (Jijé) was one of the most influential Belgian comic artists of his generation - along with Hergé, E.P. Jacobs and André Franquin. From 1939 until his death in 1980, he worked mostly for Spirou magazine, creating comics in a variety of styles and genres. His aesthetic and dynamic drawing style was inspired by his background in painting and sculpting, interests he practiced his entire life. His skills came to blossom in realistic comics like the action-filled detective series 'Jean Valhardi' (1941-1944, 1956-1965), the western feature 'Jerry Spring' (1954-1977) and his comic biographies of prominent Catholics, such as Don Bosco (1941-1942, 1949), Baden-Powell (1948-1950) and Charles de Foucauld (1959). Jijé was equally adept at creating humorous comics, like the children's adventure series 'Blondin et Cirage' (1939-1942, 1951-1963), as well as Spirou's title comic (1943-1946), which he took over from Rob-Vel and expanded by giving Spirou his goofy sidekick Fantasio. Later in his career, Jijé worked on more series created by others, succeeding Albert Uderzo on the aviation comic 'Tanguy et Laverdure' (1966-1980) and Victor Hubinon on the pirate series 'Barbe-Rouge' (1979-1980), both written by Jean-Michel Charlier. A founding father of post-war Franco-Belgian comics, Jijé helped launch the careers of creators like André Franquin, Peyo, Morris and Jean Giraud, who all became influential in their own right. At Spirou, Jijé and his pupils laid the groundwork for the magazine's characteristic playful house style, which became known as the "School of Marcinelle".

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

Early life
Joseph Jean-Pierre Gillain was born in 1914 in Gedinne, a town in the Belgian province of Namur. He was the fourth of eight siblings of Eugène Gillain, a publican and dialect poet. By 1920, the family moved to the medieval town of Florennes, and later settled 25 kilometers north, in Châtelet. Showing an early talent for drawing, Joseph's parents encouraged him to pursue his artistic ambitions. At a young age, Joseph Gillain was a pupil of the Dinant-based painter/sculptor Alex Daoust. He also attended the Saint-Joseph school in Maredsous, where Benedictine monks trained him in modeling, sculpting, painting and ceramics. During evening courses at the Paul Pastur University of Labor in Charleroi, the neo-impressionist painter Léon Van den Houten taught Joseph Gillain how to draw without looking at the paper, a technique that Gillain later also used with 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 professional life, Gillain was not only active as a comic artist and illustrator, but he also made paintings, sculptings and murals, while infamously coming up with strange inventions on the side. Gillain got interested in comics through reading Martin Branner's 'Perry Winkle' (that appeared as 'Bicot' in French) 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, written by E. Wartique and E. Thirionet and published by Duculot in Gembloux. As his hometown Gedinne had been a theatrical stage area during the final war years, the young artist used his earliest childhood memories as inspiration. In 1936, he made three linocuts for the poetry collection 'En Attendant La Caravelle' by F. José Mangis. Around the same time, he provided 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 in local dialect by his father Eugène Gillain.

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

In the second half of the 1930s, comics became Joseph Gillain's main occupation. As adventure comics were still relatively new in Belgium, much of the early efforts were characterized by their naïve graphics and improvised good-versus-evil storylines. Gillain's early comics were no different, and appeared in several edifying Catholic children's magazines. The first was La Semaine du Croisé, a publication of the "Eucharistic Crusade'' movement. The editors asked Gillain to "make them a Tintin", so they could compete with the rival magazine Le Petit Vingtième, which ran the adventures of Hergé's famous reporter. Gillain's 'Le Dévouement de Jojo' commenced on 17 May 1936. As requested, the character had a strong resemblance to 'Tintin'. He is a young and heroic reporter, whose adventures take him all over the world. Graphically, he was basically the same character, only with a pointed nose. For a pen name, Joseph Gillain again used Hergé as an example, and phonetically combined his initials to spell "Jijé". When Hergé noticed the resemblances between Jojo and Tintin and complained about it, Jijé famously replied with a succession of three drawings that showed how Tintin morphed into Émile-Joseph Pinchon's 'Bécassine', proving Hergé himself was no stranger to borrowing from other artists. However, the Hergéan influences gradually disappeared from Jijé's artwork over the course of the second story, 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Jojo'. By the time Jojo's adventures 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' (1939).

Freddy Fred
In 1938, Joseph Gillain's long-term collaboration with the Marcinelle-based publishing house Dupuis began. His first assignment was illustrating the serialized novel 'Le Secret du Bagnard' (1938) by Perre Desclaux for Le Moustique magazine. On 6 April and 9 November 1939, he made his debut in the publisher's children's magazine Spirou. His first contribution was 'Le Mystère de la Clef Hindoue' ("The Mystery of the Hindu Key"), a serial featuring the adventurous reporter Freddy Fred. Since Spirou was still tabloid-sized at the time, Jijé's comic ran with two pages a week, sharing a spread with an illustrated text serial. Le Croisé also ran the story, but then under the title 'Freddy Aux Indes', until the Nazi invasion in May 1940 put further publication to a halt.

Blondin et Cirage by Jijé

Blondin & Cirage
In addition to the magazines Le Croisé and Spirou, Jijé also began a collaboration with Petits Belges, a Catholic children's publication of the abbey of Averbode. On 16 July 1939, Jijé introduced the readers to 'Blondin et Cirage', the adventures of a white and a black boy. To modern standards, the depiction of the black Cirage - whose name translates as "shoe polish" - can be considered stereotypical and racially offensive. But at the time, true to the paternalistic nature of Catholic children's magazines, the friendship between the two boys represented the Christian ideal of charity and equality, as well as a reconciliation between black and white. Being just as clever and heroic as the white Blondin, Cirage was a groundbreaking character in Belgian comics. After Blackske in Pink's 'Suske en Blackske' (1932), he was the second black comic book character with a starring role, and the first who was more than just a racial caricature. It took until after World War II before black and white duos became more common. Blondin and Cirage seem a probable inspiration for Frans Piët's 'Sjors en Sjimmie', a popular Dutch comic series with a black and a white hero. In 1950, the Flemish newspaper comic 'Nero' by Marc Sleen introduced the character Petoetje, a Papua New Guinean boy who shares much of his looks with Cirage.

'Blondin et Cirage Contre Les Gangsters'.

Petits Belges ran three stories of Jijé's comic: 'Blondin et Cirage en Amérique' (1939-1941), 'Blondin et Cirage Contre Les Gangsters' (1940-1941) and 'Jeunes Ailes' (1941-1942). However, Cirage did not appear in the last story. During World War II, Nazi censors objected to the positive portrayal of blacks, and the character had to be left out. Between 1942 and 1946, Averbode released the original 'Blondin & Cirage' stories in book format. The Flemish edition of Petits Belges, Zonneland, didn't feature the adventures of 'Blondin et Cirage', but publisher Altoria/Averbode released Flemish translations of the books, in which the characters were named 'Wietje en Krol'. After the war, Jijé rebooted the series in Spirou magazine and its Dutch edition Robbedoes, in which the characters appeared 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 into the army. While serving as an observer in the third artillery regiment of Outre-Meuse, he continued to produce his pages of 'Freddy Fred' and 'Blondin et Cirage'. With his 'Freddy Fred' serial concluded in November, Jijé immediately set out to create a new comic for Spirou. As protagonists, he chose the twin kids Trinet and Trinette. After Blondin and Cirage, Jijé again used a duo, as he felt dialogues between two characters better served the narrative than monologues of a solitary hero. But even though Trinet and Trinette were the title stars, the true hero of 'Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya' (1939-1941) was their uncle Jacques Mantel, a clear predecessor to Jijé's later hero 'Jean Valhardi'. The characters reappeared in a second story, 'Du Sang sur la Neige', which was canceled in May 1941, as Spirou magazine underwent a page reduction due to a wartime paper shortage. Jijé later reused the plot for the post-war 'Blondin et Cirage' episode 'Kamiliola' (1952). 'Trinet et Trinette' was the first comic in which Jijé freely experimented with drawing styles, 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 the magazines Le Croisé, Petits Belges and Spirou were put on hold until August-September of that year. It marked the end of Jijé's association with his first regular client, Le Croisé. His collaboration with Petits Belges lasted until 12 September 1942, when the serial 'Jeunes Ailes' was concluded. Jijé's role in the pages of Le Journal de Spirou only increased during the war years. Together with Jean Doisy - the magazine's unofficial editor-in-chief with Communist sympathies - he was responsible for the majority of the magazine's content, and the local artists Fernand Dineur ('Tif et Tondu') and newcomer Sirius ('L'Épervier Bleu') kept providing their pages too. However, as it became significantly difficult for the Belgian publisher to receive new episodes of several foreign series, the ever-productive Jijé was asked to fill in the empty spots. When the Nazis banned all imports of U.S. comic series, Jijé had to improvise alternate endings for the ongoing serials, for instance in May 1941 for Siegel & Shuster's 'Superman', and in November 1942 for Fred Harman's western comic 'Red Ryder'. A more disruptive matter was the absence of the mobilized Frenchman Rob-Vel and his wife Blanche Dumoulin, who provided the title comic, but were now out of reach. Between 7 November 1940 and 13 March 1941, Jijé filled in on 'Les Aventures de Spirou' for the first time, turning the spirited bellboy into a movie star and then sending him and his pet squirrel Spip on a North Pole adventure.

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
By March 1941, Rob-Vel resumed his work on Spirou's title comic in Paris. As he lived nearby the publisher's Marcinelle offices, Jijé remained the go-to artist for additional illustrations. These drawings were not only used for the weekly magazine, but also for related products like postcards, writing paper, puzzles and games. As a sculptor, Jijé modeled a statuette of Spirou and Spip, which went on sale in 1942. During the war years, editor Jean Doisy established a strong camaraderie between Spirou and its readership through the "Club des Amis de Spirou" (literally, the "Friends of Spirou Club"), that came with its own code of honor. This set of rules to live by was promoted through nine comic strips that 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 also illustrated pamphlets for André Moons' Le Farfadet puppet shows, which kept the Spirou characters alive during the magazine's September 1943 Nazi publication ban.

In early 2023, Éditions Dupuis released the first volume of the 'Les Amis de Spirou' trilogy, telling the true story of a group of children who helped the Resistance during the German occupation in World War II, with the Spirou code of honor in mind. Written by Jean-David Morvan and drawn by David Evrard, the "Friends of Spirou" title heros were modeled after the children of Jijé's "honorary code" strips.

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

Biographical comics
By far, the war years were the most productive period in Jijé's career. At his peak, he produced about three pages a day. In an interview, Jijé later recalled that the Nazis 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 material. The heavy workload initiated the further development of Jijé's highly dynamic drawing style, with its clever use of black-and-white, directly inspired from his experiences as a woodcut artist. In addition to his series 'Trinet et Trinette' and his fill-in work on 'Les Aventures de Spirou', he provided cover illustrations to the Dupuis women's magazine Les Bonnes Soirées. For Spirou, he began making comic biographies about the Catholic saint Don Bosco ('Don Bosco - Ami des Jeunes' , 1941-1942) and the explorer Christopher Columbus (1942-1945). Created primarily to replace 'Superman' and other imported comics, these ambitious projects were Jijé’s first fully realistic stories.

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

Jean Valhardi
Another important wartime creation was 'Jean Valhardi', Spirou's own "superhero", but without special powers. Valhardi was the brainchild of Jean Doisy, who wanted this local Superman to personify the magazine's honorary code. His name already alluded to his two major qualities: "valeureux" (brave) and "hardi" (fearless). 'Jean Valhardi, Détective' debuted in Spirou on 2 October 1941. Jijé modeled the protagonist after the typical hero of the time: muscular, broad-shouldered and with a firm, angular profile. One of the characters' unforgettable traits was his firm handshake, which often left the people he met in pain! However, scriptwriter Doisy strongly objected to Jijé's depiction of Valhardi, feeling the character now resembled the Aryan ideal of a blonde, white muscular man, often used in Nazi propaganda. It was the first, but not 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, Jean Valhardi became the perfect role model for Spirou's young readers, keeping up morale during the grim war years. An orphan boy named Jacquot was added as his sidekick. Jacquot was in many ways the embodiment of countless 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 protect his young companion at all times. Valhardi was introduced as an agent with an insurance firm, sent out to investigate a couple of mysterious fires. During these early serializations, Valhardi and Jacquot simply moved from one thrilling adventure and exotic locale to another, with the plots developing from week to week. Graphically, Jijé often shifted styles, changing his initial caricatural approach to a more realistic depiction. 'Jean Valhardi' immediately caught on and even surpassed 'Les Aventures de Spirou' in terms of popularity. On 17 September 1942, Jean Valhardi replaced Spirou on the front cover spot of his own magazine. Next generation comic authors like Willy Lambil and Tibet have credited the Valhardi stories they read as young boys for fuelling their passion for comics.

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

In late 1943, the Nazis banned Spirou magazine. During the 1943-1944 ban, Jean Valhardi appeared alongside other popular Spirou characters in stage shows by Les Mignonnettes and Les Compagnons de la Belle Humeur. In addition, Jean Doisy wrote a novel starring the character, 'L'Étrange Réveillon de Jean Valhardi' (December 1943), illustrated by Jijé. In September 1944, Belgium was liberated from the Nazis, and one month later, Spirou returned to the newsstands. In the first new issue, Jijé and Doisy promoted Valhardi to chief of staff of the insurance firm. In this adventure, he organized a trip to the countryside with the staff's children. However, their encampment is harassed by a gang of rascals led by the dictatorial "Le Grand Jules", a metaphor for the Nazis. The collaboration between Jijé and Doisy lasted until October 1945, when the latter sold his share of the 'Jean Valhardi' rights to publisher Dupuis.

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

Dupuis albums
In the Summer of 1943, the Nazis wanted to assign an ideological administrator to Dupuis' publishing house. When Dupuis staunchly refused, Spirou was banned, but the company was still allowed to publish comic book albums and annuals. At the time, album collections of comic stories were no common practice in Belgium, but the wartime situation forced the publisher into exploring this new market. Back in 1940, Dupuis had already made a first attempt at book publishing, releasing 'Les Avontures de Bibor et Tribar - Tif et Tondu' (1940) - a joint collection of comics by Rob-Vel and Fernand Dineur - and 'Les Aventures en Afrique de Fred, Mile et Bob, Gamins Belges' by F. Gianolla, but these efforts were not continued. A 1943 book release of Jijé's 'Don Bosco' was the publisher's first true best-seller, which saw five reprint editions and an overall print run of 200,000 copies. In that same year, Dupuis also published 'Jean Valhardi Détective', collecting the first stories of Jijé and Doisy's superstar. During Spirou's publication ban, Dupuis issued anthology books like 'L'Espiègle au Grand Coeur' (November 1943) and 'L'Almanach Spirou 1944' (December 1943), containing new '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
In September 1944, most of Belgium was liberated from the Nazis. Many people were arrested and charged with Nazi collaboration. Since Jijé had worked for the press during the Nazi occupation, neighbors questioned why he was never sent away for forced labor, and he was imprisoned. Through mediation of publisher Charles Dupuis and Jean Doisy - who had an important role in the Belgian Resistance - the artist was released after two months. However, during his captivity, Dupuis decided to get rid of their stock of mediocre paper from the war period. They published a small-format book of Jijé's comic story 'Le Mystère de la Clef Hindoue' (1944), never informing him about this release. Adding insult to injury, the art department heavily mutilated his artwork by reconfiguring the story from three to two rows per page. Jijé was understandably not pleased. To make up for this hastily produced release, the book was republished in 1947, in better condition. Around that same time, Éditions Dupuis also 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 in late 1944 on the charge of Nazi collaboration, Jijé continued to work on his pages for the relaunched Spirou magazine. He not only resumed 'Jean Valhardi', but also got back to work on 'Les Aventures de Spirou', since the original French artist, Rob-Vel, was now completely out of reach. Earlier, Jijé already created new 'Spirou' stories for the two 1943 anthology books. The story in which Spirou became an aviator marked the first appearance of his sidekick Fantasio. Fantasio presented himself as a wacky and absent-minded journalist, walking around in his underpants. He is dumb, clumsy and easily agitated, making him the perfect counterpart to Spirou's heroic, level-headed personality. While Spirou was a role model to readers and therefore limited in what he could do, Fantasio offered more creative possibilities. His funny antics became the driving force of many 'Spirou' stories. The tall goofer bought an American jeep, began his own detective agency and ventured into a business of prefabricated houses. Spirou served as the stable character and voice of reason. He made sure that Fantasio's impulsive behavior and wacky plans didn't result in disaster.

Although Fantasio made his official debut in the 'Spirou' comic series in 1943, he was not a complete stranger to longtime Spirou readers. Since 1939, Jean Doisy had used the pen name Fantasio for several of his editorials. In the column 'Voyez-Vous les Erreurs?' ("Do You Notice The Mistakes?"), Fantasio told an improbable fantasy story, leaving the readers to spot the errors. As a regular player in 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. Jijé remodeled Fantasio in 1943, though Doisy wasn't too pleased with the character's weird appearance. Fantasio has blond, wispy hair and was directly inspired by Dagwood Bumstead, a character from Chic Young's  family comic 'Blondie'.

When Spirou magazine resumed publication in October 1944, Fantasio became Spirou's regular companion on his adventures. In Jijé's initial serial, printed 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 a future society, inspired by Fritz Lang movies. In one of the episodes, the heroes meet a future version of their artist. Jijé additionally experimented in the series with typography, panel lay-outs and full-color illustrations.

'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. He took the young artists André Franquin, Morris and Will under his wing by letting them live and work in his home in Waterloo. The four men were quickly dubbed "La Bande à Quatre" ("The Gang of Four"), as foundations were laid for lifelong friendships and the Golden Age of Spirou magazine. Within this creative environment, Jijé and his team developed the magazine's unofficial post-war house style, named the "School of Marcinelle", after the publisher's homebase. Characterized by its playful way of dynamic drawing and comical storytelling, the Marcinelle style has continued to inspire generations of humor cartoonists. In post-war Belgian comics, it was just as influential as the "Clear Line" ("Ligne Claire") of the "School of Brussels", spearheaded by Hergé and the artists of Tintin magazine.

In order to spend his time on more artistically rewarding projects, Jijé "handed out" his regular series to the next generation. André Franquin received  'Spirou et Fantasio', Eddy Paape took over 'Jean Valhardi' and Victor Hubinon drew a new adventure with 'Blondin et Cirage', who now joined the cast of Spirou. By then, Morris had already created his humorous cowboy 'Lucky Luke', while Will took over 'Tif et Tondu' from Ferdinand Dineur. On two later occasions, Jijé returned to 'Spirou et Fantasio', creating the fill-in stories 'Comme une Mouche au Plafond' (1949) and 'Les Hommes Grenouilles' (1951). Collected in the album 'Les Chapeaux Noirs' (1952), they are the only Jijé stories included in the regular 'Spirou et Fantasio' book series.

Don Bosco, by Jijé
'Don Bosco', 1949.

More biographical comics
Jijé's main reason to pass his comic series on to other artists was so he could devote all his time to adapt the gospel in comic format. Previously, Jijé had already worked with priest Henri Balthasar on religious sculptures and decorations. Balthasar now became his co-writer and consultant on the religious comic series 'Emmanuel'. An architect and art connaisseur himself, Balthasar made sure that the literal text of the Bible was respected. Jijé allowed the priest full creative control, while he focused on his ink wash drawings. The ambitious project took Jijé over a year to complete, but missed the mark due to Balthasar's heavy oversized text captions. The two volumes published by Dupuis in 1946 and 1947 were commercial flops.

After his disappointing 'Emmanuel' experience, Jijé set to work on a completely new version of his 1941 'Don Bosco' biography for publication in Le Moustique. After the 1949-1950 magazine serialization came a 1951 book collection. The differences between his two 'Don Bosco' versions give a good impression of Jijé's artistic development during the decade. Between 1948 and 1950, Spirou ran Jijé's comic biography of 'Baden-Powell', the founder of the Scouts movement. For documentation, the dedicated artist took several study trips to Italy and England. The largest part of these two comic biographies however were drawn in North America.

'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, Jijé feared Europe could get plunged into another war. He decided to relocate to the United States, and send his comic pages to Belgium from there. To earn funding for his crossing, Jijé tirelessly provided illustrations for Dupuis' novel publications and humorous covers for Le Moustique magazine. On 3 August 1948, the Gillain family - consisting of Joseph, his wife Annie and four children - headed stateside from Rotterdam on board the New Amsterdam. They were accompanied by André Franquin and Morris, but Will stayed at home, breaking up the versatile "Gang of Four". Arriving in New York City, the group had to wait two weeks before Jijé could obtain a valid driver's license for the USA. Crammed into 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 back in New York! Instead, they headed south, with the Gillain family landing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, awaiting their visas 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 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.

In Franco-Belgian comic history, the USA trip of Jijé, Franquin and Morris achieved an almost legendary status. In 2012, Dupuis released 'Gringos Locos', a fictionalized chronicle of the first part of the journey, created in graphic novel format by Olivier Schwartz and Yann. When the heirs of Jijé and Franquin objected to the authors' creative interpretation of certain events and motivations, the planned second installment was canceled.

Return to Europe
When the Gillain 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. In 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. Renovating an old orangery into a family home and atelier became one of the artist'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 United States remained an important source of inspiration for Jijé. Gone were the experimental, improvised and somewhat old-fashioned comics of the war years, in came captivating stories, well-crafted plots, modern architecture, furniture and cars, with powerful, effective artwork. Over the course of his 'Baden-Powell' biography, Jijé switched from inking with a pen to a brush, bringing forth a dynamic inking style with clever use of chiaroscuro, inspired by Milton Caniff. In his post-war humor comics, Jijé further perfected his clean designs and developed what became known as the "Atomic style". This stylized way of drawing was angular and geometric, and had a focus on progress, with modern designs of cars, houses and gadgets. Even his round signature became more angular, firmly establishing the author's achieved maturity. The "Atomic style" was also picked up during the 1950s by André Franquin and Will, and enjoyed 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').

The return of Blondin & Cirage
Inspired by his overseas sojourn, Mexico and the United States became regular settings in many of Jijé's later comics. With his photographic memory and assembled documentation, the artist was able to faithfully reproduce the locations he visited before. He kicked off with 'Blondin et Cirage au Mexique' (1951), a new story with his two black and white kid characters. It had been almost ten years since Jijé had last drawn the comic for Petits Belges, and since the conclusion of Victor Hubinon's sole 1947 story with the characters for Spirou, the series had not been continued. Inspired after their Mexican adventure, Jijé immediately continued the adventures of the two boys in the serial 'Le Nègre Blanc' ("The White Negro", 1951). For 'Kamiliola' (1952), Jijé reused the plot from his aborted second 'Trinet et Trinette' story, and in 'Silence! On tourne' ("Silence! We're Filming", 1953), he spoofed the movie industry. One of the most notable installments was the final one, 'Blondin et Cirage Découvrent les Soucoupes Volantes' ("Blondin and Cirage discover Flying Saucers", 1954-1955). Paying tribute to his pupil André Franquin, Jijé introduced an African Marsupilami in this story, who was far more lazy than his long-tailed Palombian family member from Franquin's 'Spirou' stories. In 1963, Blondin and Cirage returned only once more for a short Christmas story. Between 1952 and 1956, Dupuis released all five serials in book format, four of which were reprinted between 1978 and 1984 in the publisher's 'Péchés de Jeunesse' (“Sins of Youth”) collection.

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

Jerry Spring
Also during the 1950s, 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 the 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 best friend and the series' comic relief. Together, they fight for justice and help the needy, including the Native American and Black population. The first episode, 'Golden Creek', started on 4 March 1954 in issue #829 of Spirou magazine. It served as a replacement for the imported 'Red Ryder' comic by Fred Harman and offered a more serious and dramatic counterweight to Spirou's humorous cowboy feature 'Lucky Luke', created by Morris. In the background art, the 'Jerry Spring' comics gave atmospheric impressions of the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, mostly lifted from the sketches and photographs Jijé made during his stay in these countries. Among his peers, Jijé is also widely praised for his depictions of horses. To give the graphics more space and impact, the early 'Jerry Spring' stories had three panel rows per page instead of the common four.

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

Jijé wrote the scripts for his 'Jerry Spring' stories either personally, or with help from 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 on 'Jerry Spring' was Jijé's son Philippe, who was credited as "Philip". Philippe Gillain was only seventeen years old when he told his father he'd like to write plots for him. Father and son ended up collaborating on six 'Jerry Spring' stories, as well as one episode of the 'Jean Valhardi' series. Graphic assistance for certain 'Jerry Spring' stories came from Jean Giraud and later Jean-Pierre Rogé.

At first, 'Jerry Spring' was a traditional western, with new stories appearing regularly between 1954 and 1967. Album sales were disappointing however, and it took until 1974 before Jijé and his son Philip resumed the series with the episode 'L'Or de Personne' ("Nobody's Gold"). On 6 June 1974, Spirou magazine celebrated Jerry Spring's long-awaited return with a special western-themed issue of 100 pages (issue #1886). While the early 'Jerry Spring' episodes were fairly straightforward "good versus evil" stories, these new episodes were inspired by the new wave of mature realism in European comics that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. The three 1974-1977 'Jerry Spring' stories were hardboiled and gritty, comparable to the popular French western series 'Blueberry' by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud. Ironically, Giraud had been Jijé's assistant on the 1961 'Jerry Spring' episode 'La Route de Coronado'. Éditions Dupuis collected the 'Jerry Spring' series in 21 regular albums. Often unhappy with the work of the publisher's coloring studio, Jijé was compensated with four large-format luxury books in black-and-white, in which his artwork got the spotlight it deserved. Published in 1974 and 1975, each volume contained a classic and a recent story.

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

More Jean Valhardi adventures
By the mid-1950s, Jijé felt he had outgrown humorous comics, and fully devoted himself to more serious stories, with realistic artwork. Dropping 'Blondin et Cirage', he returned to another one of his previous heroes, Jean Valhardi. Years had passed since he had last drawn his two-fisted insurance investigator, and much had changed. Under the reign of his successor Eddy Paape and scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier, the series was developed into a full-blown detective series, with thrilling stories filled with sci-fi and Cold War-inspired themes. Jijé wanted his old series back, and the publisher - owning co-creator Jean Doisy's part of the rights - was eager to oblige. Paape was let go, and Jijé embarked upon the character's third artistic make-over. In the new Jijé stories, Valhardi no longer worked for the insurance agency, but worked for hire as a freelance detective. The series got a modern and cosmopolitan look and feel, inspired by the trends of the decade. Valhardi replaced his trademark suit and raincoat for blue jeans, a yellow pullover and a white jacket, and he drove around in sports cars. Previous sidekicks like Jijé's orphan boy Jacquot and Paape's klutzy Arsène were dropped, making space for the clumsy photographer Gégène as the series' comic relief.

Jean Valhardi - 'Le Gang du Diamant’ (1957).

Between 1956 and 1965, Jijé made nine new adventure serials with his classic hero, aided by scriptwriters like Jean-Michel Charlier, his son Philip Gillain and Guy Mouminoux. Graphically and storywise, episodes like 'Valhardi contre le Soleil Noir' (1956), 'Le Gang du Diamant' (1957) and 'L'Affaire Barnes' (1957) and 'Le Mauvais Oeuil' (1958) have become classics of Franco-Belgian adventure comics. However, the image of the impeccable hero had lost most of its relevance since the 1940s, and gradually the focus shifted to the impulsive antics of Gégène. The three final stories - scripted and drawn in collaboration with Mouminoux - were strongly inspired by the Beat Generation and its generational conflicts. The dynamics between Valhardi and Gégène changed, with the red-headed youngster becoming a pop star and race car driver, and Valhardi assuming a mature and paternalistic 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 released in book format until 1986, when Dupuis reprinted the entire 'Valhardi' series.

El Senserinico by Jijé
'El Senserenico' (1952).

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. Between November 1951 and September 1952, he illustrated a serialization of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel 'Count of Monte Cristo' for Le Moustique. For the women's weekly Bonnes Soirées, he made a comic version in ink wash 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 Gillain's father. The emotional story revolves around a Hungarian family that emigrated to western Canada, where the father Jean Choumak drifts between good (honesty) and evil (alcoholism). In 1956, Dupuis released the story in book format. By request of Éditions Lombard, Jijé began working on a comic based on the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes (1844-1879). Although the May-October 1958 serialization in Line magazine remained unfinished, 'L'Étrange Destin de Bernadette' was eventually published in full in a 1979 book collection by Éditions Fleurus.

Blanc-casque, by Jijé
'Blanc Casque' (1954).

Additional comics for Spirou and Pilote
In 1959, Spirou published another comic biography by Jijé, this time about Charles de Foucauld, a French Catholic priest who lived among the Tuareg people in the Sahara in Algeria. In 1964, the Spirou editors introduced Jijé to the young artist Herbert Geldhof, who signed as Herbert. Together, Jijé and Herbert created the artwork of two stories starring 'Docteur Gladstone' (1964-1965), a European medical doctor in Africa. Written by Charles Jadoul, Jijé drew the white characters, while Geldhof did the black ones and the backgrounds. Four additional 'Docteur Gladstone' stories appeared in Spirou until 1971, by then drawn solely by Herbert Geldhof. Despite all of his own projects, Gillain found the time to fill in for his former pupil Jean Giraud, drawing several pages of the 'Blueberry' stories 'Tonnerre à l'Ouest' (1964) and 'Le Cavalier Perdu' (1965) in Pilote magazine. Also for Pilote, he filled in on the 'Barbe-Rouge' episode 'Le Pirate Sans Visage' (1966), when the regular artist Victor Hubinon had broken his arm.

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

Work with Benoît and Philippe Gillain
In addition to his own comics, Jijé was involved with several commercial projects coordinated by his eldest son Benoît. Between 1959 and 1961, father and son Gillain worked on a series of promotional mini comics for Bonux washing powder. Jijé assisted Benoît on the title comic 'Bonux-Boy', and contributed his own stories 'Jo Le Petit Cow-boy', 'Fangio' and 'Sitting Bull', while illustrating educational articles written by his son-in-law Pierre Sineux. Between 1966 and 1968, he participated in his son's Total Journal project, a sponsored magazine for Total gas stations, making illustrations for features like 'Osamu' (written by Michel Finot) and 'Les Chevaliers Teutoniques' (written by Pierre Christin), and also a new comic story of 'Jo le Petit Cow-boy'. Three young and aspiring artists Jean Giraud, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pat Mallet - who first visited Jijé in 1958 - were also important contributors to Benoît's projects, as were 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 making animated shorts starring Bara's characters Max the Explorer and Kéké the parrot, but none of these try-outs were completed. For Johnny - a magazine built around French singer/actor Johnny Hallyday - Joseph and Philippe Gillain made the western comic 'Hud le Spécialiste' (1970), based on the spaghetti western movie 'Le Spécialiste' (1970) by Sergio Corbucci, in which had Hallyday 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' came to an end. Due to lack of commercial success, publisher Dupuis decided to no longer release Jijé's series in book format, resulting in a seven-year rift between the artist and his publisher. Instead, Jijé joined the ranks of Pilote, the comic magazine for teenagers launched in 1959 by René Goscinny, Jean-Michel Charlier and Albert Uderzo. Since Uderzo had his hands full on the increasingly popular 'Asterix' comic, Jijé succeeded him on his other feature, starring the French aviators 'Tanguy & Laverdure'. With writer Jean-Michel Charlier, he made thirteen long stories, including the 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 remodeled Michel Tanguy and Ernest Laverdure by giving them the looks of Jacques Santi and Christian Marin, the actors who portrayed the characters in the 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). Commercially, the 'Tanguy & Laverdure' comic proved far more rewarding than his own series, but artistically, Jijé's heart lay with westerns. Although he was known for being a quick and qualified worker, the technical drawings of airplanes were a heavy burden for the generally more spontaneous draftsman. From 1967 until early 1971, assistance was found in Francis Jouet and Daniel Chauvin, who helped Jijé with the planes and the lettering. Cover illustrations were painted by Yves Thos.

Commissaire Major by Jijé
'Commissaire Major' (early 1970s).

Return to humor in the 1970s
As Jean-Marie Charlier was notorious for always being late with his scripts, Jijé often had to wait until new 'Tanguy et Laverdure' stories arrived. During these interludes, he enjoyed himself with more caricatural and satirical work. In 1972 and 1973, he made some political cartoons and parodies about the lives of famous people for Pilote. 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 Lille-based regional newspaper La Voix du Nord (1971-1973). Also in a comical style, he produced a series of six caricatural stories with Jerry Spring's friend Pancho under the banner 'Que Barbaridad!' for the Spirou supplement Le Trombone Illustré (1977), edited by Yvan Delporte and André Franquin. Jijé additionally illustrated the English language guide 'Apprendre l'Anglais par la Bande Dessinée' (“Learning English through Comics”, Marabout, 1972) by Félix Packnadel, which was also translated in Dutch as 'Engels Leren Dankzij het Stripverhaal'. He also provided artwork for advertisements for Manpower, Solo, Kodak and Gilette.

Final years and death
Following the death of Victor Hubinon, Jijé was asked by scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier to take over 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), aided graphically by his son Laurent Gillain, who worked under the pen name Lorg. By then, Jijé was already in ill health, but he managed to continue working. In June 1980, father and son had finished eight pages of their third story, 'Les Disparus du Faucon Noir', when Jijé died in Versailles from cancer. Lorg proved too inexperienced to continue on his own, so the 'Barbe-Rouge' series was handed to Christian Gaty. Scriptwriter Charlier began an additional story cycle with Patrice Pellerin. After Jijé's death, Tanguy and Laverdure's adventures were continued by Patrice Serres. Between 1981 and 1984, Dupuis restarted the 'Jean Valhardi' series, running three new stories in Spirou drawn by René Follet, with scripts by either André-Paul Duchâteau or Jacques Stoquart. Years later, in 1990, the artist Franz and scriptwriter Jean-Pierre Festin made a new 'Jerry Spring' album for Alpen Publishers, but the reboot was abandoned after only one album.

Barbe-Rouge by Jije and Lorg
Barbe-Rouge - 'Raid Sur la Corne d'Or' (1979).

Reprint editions
After many years of unavailability, many of Jijé's comics returned on the market during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as part of the Dupuis reprint wave. Between 1978 and 1984, several 'Blondin et Cirage' albums were included in the classics collection 'Péchés de Jeunesse’, and the 'Jean Valhardi' series was reprinted in full, and rounded out with previously unpublished stories. Several of Jijé's comic biographies were reprinted in the series 'L'Histoire en Bandes Dessinées' (1981) and then in luxury format in the collection 'Figures de Proue' (1990-1991). Between 1991 and 2010, Jijé's full body of work for Éditions Dupuis was fully restored and compiled chronologically in the 18-volume collection 'Tout Jijé', with new coloring by Studio Leonardo and historical introductions written by the company archivist Thierry Martens.

In the 2010s, series of luxury collections of the Dupuis cultural legacy, Jijé was not forgotten either. In five volumes, the complete 'Jerry Spring' (2010-2012) was compiled in black-and-white, with dossiers by Philippe Capart and Erwin Dejasse. Between 2015 and 2019, 'Jean Valhardi' was collected in five luxury books, three of which contained the Jijé episodes. The extensive background dossiers were written by either Christelle and Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault or Jérôme Dupuis. A facsimile edition of Jijé's 1948 book 'Spirou et l'Aventure' appeared in 2010, and his full run on the 'Spirou' comic was collected in a 2015 luxury volume. Jijé's runs on 'Tanguy & Laverdure' and 'Barbe-Rouge' were chronicled in luxury collections published by Éditions Dargaud.

Graphic contributions
In 1990 a caricature of François Walthéry by Jijé was posthumously published in the collective homage book 'Natacha: Special 20 Ans' (Marsu Productions, 1990), which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Walthéry's series 'Natacha'.

Later in life, Jijé was widely recognized for his contributions to European comics. In 1975, he was awarded the Grand Prix Saint-Michel, the oldest Belgian comic award, by a jury formed by professionals from the comics industry. In the following year, both Jijé and fellow Belgian Maurice Tillieux received the Dutch Stripschapprijs, to date the only time the prize was awarded to non-Dutch speaking authors. In 1977, he was honored with the Grand Prix at the International Comics Festival of Angoulême, France. Posthumously, the Spanish translation of the Jerry Spring story 'Mon ami Red' won the 2013 Haxtur Award.

Since 1989, Jijé is one of the Belgian comic pioneers part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. In November 1998, his characters 'Blondin et Cirage' were honored with their own comic book wall, as part of the Brussels Comic Book Route. Designed by G. Oreopoulos and D. Vandegeerde, the mural can be seen in the Rue des Capucins/ Kapucijnerstraat 13. Between 27 May 2003 and 27 February 2005, a comic art museum run by François Deneyer in the Rue du Houblon/Hopstraat in Brussels was dedicated to the work of Jijé. After two years, the Musée Jijé had to close its doors because of a lack of government grants. In his birth town Gedinne, Jijé is honored with a memorial plate on the wall of the local tourist office.

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

Legacy and influence
Joseph Gillain, AKA Jijé, was one of the founding fathers of Franco-Belgian comics. During the early years of its existence, he was the driving force behind Spirou, one of the two major post-war Belgian comic magazines. Because the versatile artist never remained tied to one single series for a long period of time, he didn't become a household name with the general public. Unlike his contemporary Hergé - who dominated the style and tone of the equally influential Tintin magazine - Jijé's legacy largely lives on in the work of his pupils, many of whom became powerhouses of European comics themselves. Apart from direct students, like André Franquin, Will and Morris, Jijé also influenced the second wave of the "School of Marcinelle", consisting of Peyo, Maurice Tillieux, Jidéhem, Jean Roba and Willy Lambil. Jijé's take on the western genre served as an inspiration to many series that followed in the wake of 'Jerry Spring', including 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. Jijé's "Atomic style" can be traced back in the work of Yves Chaland, Serge Clerc, Alain Dodier and Alec Severin. Chaland's character 'Freddy Lombard' was 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'. To honor the man that inspired his career in comics, Yves Chaland created the biographical short story 'La Vie Exemplaire de Jijé', published in Métal Hurlant #64 (1981). Chaland's one-shot 'Spirou' story (1982) was also a tribute to Jijé's legacy.

In Belgium alone, Jijé additionally influenced Michel Constant, René Follet, René Hausman, Malik, Frank Sels, William Vance and Will. In France, his work inspired artists like Philippe Adamov, Alain Dodier, Nikita Mandryka, Ever Meulen, Jean-Claude Mézières, Luc MorjaeuJean-Pierre Rogé, Christian Rossi and Olivier Schwartz. In Switzerland, Cosey and Philippe Wurm are prominent Jijé admirers. Dutch followers are Jan Kruis and Martin Lodewijk, while in Spain, Jijé inspired Victor Mora

Family connections
Several of Jijé's relatives have worked in the comic industry for shorter or longer periods of time. Using the pen names Jean Darc and Luc Bermar, Jijé's teacher brother Henri Gillain (1913-1999) wrote scripts for André Franquin (the 1950 'Spirou' episode 'Il y a un Sorcier à Champignac'), Will (the 1952 'Tif et Tondu' story 'Le Trésor d'Alaric') and Willy Lambil (the first 'Sandy' story in 1959). He also helped his brother with the plot of the 'Blondin et Cirage' episode 'Le Nègre Blanc'. Most of Jijé's children also pursued artistic careers. His eldest son Benoît (1938-2016) ran a successful advertising agency in Paris. His middle son Philippe (1943) worked with his father as a scriptwriter for several 'Jerry Spring' and 'Jean Valhardi' stories, while the youngest son Laurent (1956-2022) assisted Jijé on the artwork of the 'Barbe-Rouge' albums. His daughter Dominique (1947) is a painter, editorial artist, children's book illustrator and caricature artist. Thomas Legrain (1981), the grandson of Joseph Gillain's sister Louise, also works as a comic artist.

Books about Jijé
Jijé connaisseur François Deneyer compiled the highly recommended large-format monograph 'Quand Gillain raconte Jijé' (Dupuis, 2014), containing rare interviews and much artwork. In November 2020, Deneyer released an extended essay about Jijé's life as a painter, engraver, sculptor and comic creator, entitled 'Joseph Gillain - Une vie de boheme' (Musée Jijé, 2020).


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