Jerry Spring - Les Broncos du Montana (1963)
Jijé was one of the great Belgian comic artists - along with Hergé, E.P. Jacobs, and Franquin. Thanks to him, many talented artists got their careers going, like Franquin, Peyo, Morris and Giraud. Jijé's style was esthetic and beautiful and most of all, very realistic. But he was a humorist as well, and a painter, and also the founder of the Marcinelle School which pitted itself against the Hergean (Bruxelles) School. He was the driving force behind Spirou magazine during World War II, and the creator of such classic series as 'Jean Valhardi', 'Jerry Spring', and 'Blondin et Cirage'. He also successfully continued series created by others, such as 'Tanguy et Laverdure' and 'Barbe-Rouge'.
Valhardi contre le Soleil Noir (1956)
Born in Gedinne, Joseph Gillain was encouraged by his parents to pursue his artistic talents. He took courses from the Dinant-based painter Alex Daoust and attended the Saint-Joseph school in Maredsous, where he learned modeling, sculpting, painting and ceramics from Benedictine monks. The neo-impressionist painter learned him how to draw without looking to the paper, a technique Gillain would also teach his own students. After completing his educations in fine arts and applied arts in Brussels, Gillain began a collaboration with the Catholic magazine Le Croisé.
Joseph Gillain created the character of 'Jojo' for this magazine in 1936. The character had a strong resemblance to Hergé's 'Tintin', who appeared in the competiting magazine Le Petit Vingtième. By 1939, Jijé introduced two new characters to the readers of Petits Belges, called 'Blondin et Cirage'. Jijé developed his own style during the course of three stories, that would become known as the "Atom style". The 'Blondin et Cirage' stories were collected in book format by Averbode between 1942 and 1946.
Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya (around 1940)
Also in 1939, Jijé began his enduring collaboration with magazine Spirou magazine, that was launched a year earlier by publisher Dupuis in Marcinelle. His first creation for the magazine was 'Le Mystère de la Clef Indoue', a story starring 'Freddy Fred' that was published between April and November 1939. Le Croisé also ran the story, but then under the title 'Freddy aux Indes', until the German oppressor forbid further publication in May 1940.
Spirou calendar 1944 during the publication ban ("I am asleep, but my heart is awake...", the sign says "Unemployed")
Another early creation for Spirou was 'Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya'. Spirou, mostly filled with American comics at the time, was unable to receive any of the foreign material when World War II broke out, so it was Jijé's task to continue most of the running comics at the time. Not only did he take over the title comic 'Spirou' from Frenchman Rob-Vel (adding the side-character Fantasio), he also filled episodes of American series like Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' and Siegel & Shuster's 'Superman'.
Christophe Collomb (1942)
In addition, he made comics biogaphies about Don Bosco ('Don Bosco - Ami des Jeunes' , 1941-1942) and Christophe Collomb (1942-43), which were his first fully realistic stories. Also, together with editor and scriptwriter Jean Doisy, he created the insurance agent/detective 'Jean Valhardi' in 1941. After some episodes situated in Belgium, the authors sent their character, most of the time accompanied by the little Jacquot, on more exotic adventures around the world. In this comic, Jijé's shifted styles along the way, changing his initial caricatural approach to realistism.
Jean Valhardi (1943-44)
In the post-War years, Jijé became a teacher and inspiration for a new generation of comic artists, the one that would define the glory days of Spirou magazine in the 1950s and become known as the "School of Marcinelle". He took the young artists André Franquin, Morris and Will in his home in Waterloo to work in his studio. The four artists are often referred to as "the Gang of Four." In the years that followed, Jijé also encouraged artists like Eddy Paape, Victor Hubinon, Peyo and Jean Giraud in their careers.
In 1946, Jijé decided to create the gospel in comics format: 'Emmanuel', in cooperation with priest Henri Balthasar, who made sure that the litteral text of the Bible was followed. In order to spend all his time on this project, he simply "handed out" his other series to his students. Franquin got 'Spirou', Paape took over 'Valhardi' and Hubinon drew a new adventure with 'Blondin et Cirage', Gillain's characters from Petits Belges.
Afterwards, he travelled through Mexico and the USA for three years, accompanied by his family as well as Franquin and Morris. During this trip, he completely redrew his earlier 'Don Bosco' biography for publication in Le Moustique in 1949-50 and published in album in 1951. He also drew most of his comics biography of 'Baden Powell' in the States, that was published in Spirou between 1948 and 1950. A fictionalized chronicle of this legendary trip in comics format called 'Gringos Locos' was created by Olivier Schwartz and Yann and published by Dupuis in 2012.
Baden Powell (1950)
Mexico had inspired Jijé to create 'Blondin et Cirage au Mexique', a new story with his characters that he wrote and drew by himself. Five more stories followed until 1954, that were also published in book format. In the final story, Jijé even introduced an African Marsupilami, a tribute to the longtailed animal created by his pupil Franquin for the 'Spirou et Fantasio' series.
In that year, Jijé launched what is perhaps his best known series, the western 'Jerry Spring'. Jijé made 25 long stories until 1977, although with intervals and with scripts by either by Jijé himself or by Maurice Rosy, René Goscinny, Jean Acquaviva, Jacques Lob and his son Philip Gillain. The series started as a classic western, but the new wave of realism that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, including the work his former student Jean Giraud did with 'Blueberry', inspired him to create more realistic and hardboiled stories at the end of the series' tenure.
Jijé also resumed the adventures of his detective 'Jean Valhardi' in (1956), and added the goofy side-character Gégène. Aided by scriptwriters like Jean-Michel Charlier, Philip Gillain and Guy Mouminoux, Jije made new episodes with the character until 1965. In 1959, he made yet another biography, this time of 'Charles de Foucauld'.
Charles de Foucauld
In addition to his work for Spirou, Jijé was present in the women's weekly Bonnes Soirées from 1950 with illustrations, as well as the sentimental story 'El Senserinico', based on the work of Flora Sabeiran. For Le Moustique, he made illustrations for 'Le Comte de Monte-Cristo' by Alexandre Dumas, and a comics adaptation of Joseph Pirot's novel 'Blanc-Casque'.
He made the first episodes of 'Bernadette' for the magazine Line from 1958. The complete story was published in album by Fleurus in 1979. Between 1959 and 1961 Jijé helped his oldest son Benoît with Bonux-Boy, a series of promotional mini comics for Bonux washing powder. He assisted his son on the title comic and created his own stories like 'Jo Le Petit Cowboy' and some educational comics.
In 1964-65, he worked with his student Herbert and scriptwriter Charles Jadoul on the first two episodes of 'Docteur Gladstone' in Spirou. A year, later, he took over the artwork of the adventurous aviation series 'Tanguy & Laverdure' from Albert Uderzo, published in Pilote and later Tintin and Super-As (scripts by Jean-Michel Charlier).
Gillain returned to a more caricatural style for 'Les Enquêtes du Commissaire Major' in La Voix du Nord (scripts by Jean-Paul Rouland and Pierre Bellemare, 1971-73) and 'Que Barbaridad!' in the Spirou supplement Le Trombone Illustré (1977). In 1979, he took over later 'Barbe-Rouge' from Hubinon, assisted by his son Laurent Gillain (Lorg). Joseph Gillain died in Versailles in June 1980, while working on new episodes of 'Tanguy et Laverdure' and 'Barbe-Rouge'. It was right at the time that his classic "Atom style" had regained popularity with a new generation of artists, including Yves Chaland and Ever Meulen.