Maurice Tillieux was a master in the detective genre. He stood out for his well-conceived plots and exciting or humorous sequences, combined with moody artwork. Either written for others, such as 'Tif et Tondu', or illustrated by himself, such as 'Gil Jourdan' and 'Félix', Tillieux's detective stories rank as the best in the genre.
Born into a family of French origins in Huy in the province of Liège, Tillieux grew up enjoying classic detective authors like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. He later also developed a passion for American cinema, most notably Humphrey Bogart classics like 'Casablanca' (1942) and 'The Maltese Falcon' (1941). Elements of film noir can be seen in Tillieux's cinematographic approach of action sequences, and in his atmospheric use of black-and-white. Another influence on Tillieux's artwork are the chiaroscuro paintings by Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux, who also had a fondness for streets lit by gas lamps, foggy nights, heavy rain, and abandoned places.
Tillieux began his career way back in 1936, when his first illustration was published in Le Moustique. However, illustrating was not his initial call, so he took navigation courses in Ostende in order to travel later on. He joined the merchant marines, but his plans were cancelled when the harbor of Bordeaux was bombed by the Germans. Although his naval career was cut short, shady and misty harbours have continued to appear frequently in his many comic stories.
During the War, Tillieux went into hiding to avoid forced labour and turned to writing detective novels, which were published in the collection Le Sphinx of Éditions Maréchal. During this period, he also painted advertisements and illustrations for French and Belgian publications. Tillieux drew his first comics in 1942, but these remained unpublished. By 1944 he was publishing cartoons in Le Moustique on a regular basis, and he joined the studio of Guy Depière in Brussels, who had launched Bimbo in that year, Jeep in 1945 and Blondine in 1946.
Using anglicized pseudonyms like John Cliff, James Jhames, Ronald Scott and Jill Morrison, Tillieux drew his first comics for the magazines of Studio Guy (especially Jeep), including 'Bimbo, Romarin et Misky', 'Les Nouvelles Aventures de Bricole', 'Les Débrouillards' and 'Jonas et Zénobie'.
In 1947 he joined Héroïc-Albums, the new comic book launched by former Studio Guy colleague Fernand Cheneval. He drew the first episodes of 'Bob Bang'. During his period he was also present in Spirou with illustrations, and in L'Explorateur, a magazine edited by another former Studio Guy co-worker, Delwiche, from 1949 to 1950. During the 1947-1949 period, Tillieux was also assisting Flemish artist Willy Vandersteen on his realistic comic stories for Ons Volkske and Overal.
For L'Explorateur, Tillieux created serials like 'Notre Oncle et Nous', and most notably 'Achille et Boule de Gomme', which was the predecessor of 'Félix'. But it was at Héroïc that Tillieux's star rose. Joined by other Studio Guy artists like Marcel Moniquet and Fred Funcken, he stayed with Cheneval's magazine until 1956. His most notable creation was the detective series 'Félix' (1949-1956), but he also made the realistic series 'Bill Sanders' and the Caniff-inspired 'Groupe K', as well as illustrations for novels like 'Nouvelles du Captain Kid'.
In addition to his work for Héroïc, Tillieux made a great many strips with 'Monsieur Balourd' for the National Association for Work Accident Prevention between 1954 and 1964. He also joined Greg in the short-lived magazine Le Journal de Paddy in 1955, for which he drew 'Vervaine et le Mystère' and 'Le Trésor de Zapatec'.
In 1955 he made a definitive transition to the publishing house Dupuis, where his first creation was the adventure series about photographer 'Marc Jaguar' in the short-lived tabloid-sized magazine Risque-Tout. When this magazine was cancelled in the following year, he joined Spirou. He changed the names and looks of the main 'Félix' characters and transformed them to the cast of the 'Gil Jourdan' comic. Master detective Jourdan, accompanied by his assistant Libellule and grumpy inspector Crouton, became one of the staples of Spirou magazine. In this series, Tillieux excelled in clever plots with moody semi-realistic artwork, but he didn't shy away from adding comical elements like witty slapstick and always bickering characters.
At the same time, Tillieux produced the humorous gag series 'César et Ernestine', about a struggling comic artist and a wisecracking and intrusive little girl that lived next door. The strip appeared in Le Moustique between 1959 and 1966 and was reprinted in Spirou in the 1970s. He also made the short-lived series 'Bob Slide' for Spirou, and a comic starring famous French radio star 'Zappy Max' for Pilote in 1959-60.
By 1966, Tillieux's main focus became writing scenarios for other artists. In the years that followed, he took on numerous collaborations, starting with Francis, for whom he created the slapstick serial 'Marc Lebut et son Voisin', about the ongoing conflicts between the obnoxious Marc Lebut with his Ford T, and his neighbor. In 1968, Tillieux took over the writing duties of 'Tif et Tondu' from Maurice Rosy. Together with artist Will, he made a series of true detective stories with the characters, which also containted occult and supernatural elements. In 1969, he teamed up with Arthur Piroton to create the adventures of FBI agent 'Jess Long'.
A trademark in Tillieux stories seems to be his tendency to have his characters frequently exchange insults or tease each other. Allume-Gaz and Alonzo Cabarez (from 'Félix'), Libellule and Crouton (from 'Gil Jourdan'), Marc Lebut and his neighbor, César and Ernestine... they all don't seem to get along that well, but for some reason, they are condemned to each other. Even Tif and Tondu succumb to an occasional row in the Tillieux stories. On the other hand, Tillieux has assigned heroic roles to the female characters in his comics, from detective Linda in 'Félix', over Gil Jourdan's clever assistant Queue-de-Cerise, to countess Amélie d'Yeu (Kiki) in his 'Tif et Tondu' stories. He also wrote the initial stories of electrical engineer 'Yoko Tsuno' for Roger Leloup in 1970.
Tillieux has also lended a hand to many other artists, and has written stories for series like 'Alain Brisant' (by René Follet), 'Natacha' (by François Walthéry), 'La Ribambelle' (by Jean Roba), 'Stany Derval' (by MiTacq) and 'Hultrasson' (by Vittorio Leonardo). Because of his increasing workload, Tillieux was sometimes forced to recycle some of his early 'Félix' stories for 'Tif et Tondu', 'Gil Jourdan' and 'Jess Long' episodes. The expansion of his writing activities also led to Tillieux handing over the artwork of 'Gil Jourdan' to Gos in 1970, while he continued to write the plots.
An avid fan of cars, there is hardly a detective comic by Tillieux that doesn't feature a car chase sequence. Ironically enough, it was a tragic car accident that abruptly ended the life and successful career of Maurice Tillieux in 1978. His work continues to live on in the ongoing reprints of his work, but also in the luxury artbook of his work, called 'Heroic' by Vincent Odie (Dagniel Maghen, 2011). One of the classic authors of the so-called "School of Marcinelle", his work has also influenced such artists as François Walthéry, Jean Roba, Arthur Piroton, François Dimberton, Merho and even Kamagurka.