Jerry Spring - Les Broncos du Montana (1963)
Jijé was one of the most influential 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, beautiful and most of all, very realistic. This was a result of his background as a painter, a hobby he continued throughout his entire life. But he also made humoristic comics and created a completely new and influential drawing style dubbed "The Marcinelle School", which pitted itself against the Brussels School of Hergé. 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'.
Born in Gedinne, Joseph Gillain was encouraged by his parents to pursue his artistic talents. At a young age, 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 Léon Van den Houten learned him how to draw without looking to the paper, a technique Gillain would also teach his own students. Throughout his life, Gillain was not only active as a comic artist and illustrator, but he also made paintings, sculptings, murals and did strange inventions.
After completing his educations in fine arts and applied arts in Brussels, Gillain began a collaboration with La Semaine du Croisé, a publication of the "Eucharistic Crusade" movement. He 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. Between 1937 and 1943, he also made many cover illustrations and woodcuts for Cahiers Wallons, a magazine published by his father Eugène Gillain, who was a dialect poet.
By 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, originally spoke very bad French 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 represents 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. 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'. 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' also appeared in the Flemish counterpart Zonneland by Nonkel Fons, under the title 'Wietje en Krol' (they could later become known in Dutch as 'Blondie en Blinkie'). All three stories were collected in book format by Averbode between 1942 and 1946.
Jijé dropped most of his Hergé inluences and developed his own style over the course of three stories, which formed the basis for the so-called "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. It was further enhanced in the 1950s by Franquin and Will, and had a revival in the 1970s and 1980s through artists like Joost Swarte, Yves Chaland, Ever Meulen and Serge Clerc.
Also in 1939, Jijé began his enduring collaboration with Spirou magazine, which 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 the character of Freddy Fred, which ran between April and November of 1939. Le Croisé also published the story, but then under the title 'Freddy aux Indes', until the German oppressor forbid further publication in May 1940.
Another early creation for Spirou was 'Trinet et Trinette dans l'Himalaya' in 1939. The characters reappeared in a second story, called 'Du sang sur la neige' in 1941, but was left unfinished due to the publication ban of Spirou. During the war period, Jijé became the most productive artist of Spirou magazine, creating the majority of its content by himself. The magazine, 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, he also finished episodes of American series like Fred Harman's 'Red Ryder' and Siegel & Shuster's 'Superman'.
Jijé would continue to draw the adventures of Spirou until 1946, and he was also responsible for giving the bellboy his sidekick. Fantasio had first appeared in Spirou's editorials by editor-in-chief Jean Doisy, but it was Jijé who gave him his looks and initial goofy character, inspired by Chic Young's character Dagwood from 'Blondie'. Jijé and Doisy were effectively the driving forces behind Spirou during the war years, and also developed the eight comic strips that accompanied Spirou's code of honor, a set of rules to live by for true friends of Spirou. These strips clearly show the Catholic and moral tone that the magazine had at the time.
Christophe Collomb (1942)
In addition, he made comics biogaphies about the Catholic saint Don Bosco ('Don Bosco - Ami des Jeunes' , 1941-1942) and Christopher Columbus (1942-43), which were his first fully realistic stories. Also, together with 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's early years, Jijé's shifted styles along the way, changing his initial caricatural approach to realism.
In the post-war years, Jijé became a mentor 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 under his guidance 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, Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières in their careers, while his influence can also been seen in the work of Jean Roba, Maurice Tillieux, Hermann, William Vance and Derib.
In 1946, Jijé decided to create the gospel in comics format: 'Emmanuel', in cooperation with priest Henri Balthasar, who made sure that the literal text of the Bible was followed. In order to spend all his time on this project, that he developed in ink wash, he simply "handed out" his other series to his students. Franquin got 'Spirou et Fantasio', Paape took over 'Valhardi' and Hubinon drew a new adventure with 'Blondin et Cirage', Gillain's characters from Petits Belges, who now joined the cast of Spirou.
Baden Powell (1950)
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 subsequent album publication in 1951. In the States, he also drew most of his comics biography of 'Baden Powell', the founder of the Scouts movement, which was published in Spirou between 1948 and 1950. A fictionalized chronicle in comics format of this legendary trip, called 'Gringos Locos', was created by Olivier Schwartz and Yann and published by Dupuis in 2012.
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, which were also published in book format by Dupuis. In the final story, Jijé even introduced an African Marsupilami, a tribute to the long-tailed 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'. The scripts were either written 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, and initially appeared regularly between 1954 and 1967. 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 during the second cycle in 1974-1977, including a story that deals with the Ku Klux Klan.
Jijé also resumed the adventures of his detective 'Jean Valhardi' in 1956, and added the goofy secondary character Gégène. Aided by scriptwriters like Jean-Michel Charlier, Philip Gillain and Guy Mouminoux, Jije made new adventure serials with his classic hero until 1965. In the final episodes, the characters and themes were modernized to the 1960s. The beat generation and generation conflicts made their entrance when youngster Gégène became a pop star and racecar driver, while Valhardi maintained his mature role and paternalized his sidekick.
In 1959, Spirou published yet another of his biographies, this time of 'Charles de Foucauld', a French Catholic priest who lived among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. In addition to his work for Spirou, Jijé was also contributing work to the other magazines published by Dupuis. He was present in the women's weekly Bonnes Soirées from 1950 with illustrations, as well as the sentimental story 'El Senserinico' (1952-1953), based on the work of Flora Sabeiran. For Le Moustique, he made illustrations for the serialization of 'Le Comte de Monte-Cristo' (1951-1952) by Alexandre Dumas, as well as a comics adaptation of Joseph Pirot's novel 'Blanc-Casque' (1954).
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 eldest 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. He also participated in his son's sponsored magazine Total Journal, that appeared between 1966 and 1968.
In 1964-65, he worked with his pupil Herbert and scriptwriter Charles Jadoul on the first two episodes of 'Docteur Gladstone' in Spirou. A year, later, he also 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 adventures of French aviators 'Tanguy & Laverdure' from Albert Uderzo. 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.
The comic ran in Pilote until 1971, and was then continued in Tintin (1973) and 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 1970.
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 the pirate comic 'Barbe-Rouge' after the death of Victor Hubinon. Another classic series by Charlier, Jijé completed two stories in cooperation with his son Laurent Gillain, who worked under the pen name Lorg. Joseph Gillain died in Versailles in June 1980, while working on new episodes of 'Tanguy et Laverdure' and 'Barbe-Rouge', which were completed by Patrice Serres and Christian Gaty, respectively.
Although he has remained somewhat in the shadows of his pupils Franquin, Morris and Giraud, Joseph Gillain can rightfully be considered one of the founding fathers of Franco-Belgian comics. Éditions Dupuis have honored him with several luxury collections. At first with the compilation of his entire oeuvre for this publishing house, the 18-volume 'Tout Jijé' (1991-2010). This was followed by the black-and-white collections of his 'Jerry Spring' stories (2010-2012), and the collections of his early work with 'Spirou et Fantasio' (2015) and 'Jean Valhardi' (from 2015), which are faithful to their original publications. Jijé connaisseur François Deneyer compiled a large format anthology/monography/biography, containing rare interviews and many illustrations, called 'Quand Gillain raconte Jijé' (Dupuis, 2014).