Gil Jourdan by Maurice Tillieux
Gil Jourdan - 'La Voiture Immergée' (1958).

Maurice Tillieux was a Belgian comic artist who was a master in the detective genre. His signature series, 'Félix' (1949-1965) and 'Gil Jourdan' (1955-1978) rank among the best and most influential detective comics ever created. His work is renowned for its well-conceived plots with moody artwork. Compared with most other comics published in Spirou at the time his work felt far more mature and exciting. Tillieux used snappy dialogue which didn't sound childish or like unneccessary exposition. In his suspense scenes he even used hardly any dialogue at all, leaving all power to the visual. This is one of the reasons why Tillieux' work has always been popular with adult readers. Tillieux was furthermore a writer for other artists, such as Will ('Tif et Tondu'), Roger Leloup ('Yoko Tsuno'), Francis ('Marc Lebut et son Voisin'),  François Walthéry ('Natacha'), Jean Roba ('La Ribambelle') and Arthur Piroton (‘Jess Long’). His career was unfortunately cut short by a tragic car accident. While he never enjoyed the same kind of international fame of some of his colleagues, Tillieux' work has proven to be remarkably timeless. It is still rediscovered by new generations and remains a strong influence on many modern European comic artists.

Félix by Maurice Tillieux

Early years
Born as Maurice Jules Alexandre Florent Tillieux in 1921 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. His main graphic influences were Hergé, Jijé, André Franquin, Peyo, Martin Branner and Milton Caniff. 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.

Gil Jourdan by Maurice Tillieux
Gil Jourdan - 'Les cargos du crépuscule' (1961).

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.

Bob Bang by Maurice Tillieux
'Bob Bang'.

Early comics
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.

Le Médecin à travers les âges by Maurice Tillieux
Illustration for a series about the history of medicine.

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'.

Notre Oncle et Nous by Maurice TillieuxAchille et Boule de Gomme by Maurice Tillieux

Heroïc-Albums / Spirou / Assistance of Willy Vandersteen
In 1947 he joined Héroïc-Albums, the new comic book series 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. Tillieux tried to apply for a job at Tintin magazine, but was rejected. However, one of their employees, the Flemish comic artist Willy Vandersteen, hired him as a ghost artist on several of his realistically drawn comics, serialized in Ons Volkske and Overal. Vandersteen's 'De Staalblauwe Boeddha' (6 June 1948 - 16 January 1949), an exotic thriller set in China, ran in Ons Volk was almost entirely illustrated by Tillieux. 

Félix by Maurice Tillieux

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'. 

Monsieur Balourd by Maurice Tillieux
'Monsieur Balourd'.

Other comics
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'.

César, by Maurice Tillieux

Gil Jourdan
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 (a former con) and grumpy inspector Crouton, became one of the staples of Spirou magazine. Serialization of the first episode began on 20 September 1956. 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.

Zappy Max by Tillieux
'Zappy Max'.

César / Zappy Max
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 who lives 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.

Gil Jourdan - Les Moines Rouges (1962), by Maurice Tillieux
Gil Jourdan - 'Les Moines Rouges' (1962).

By 1966, Tillieux's focus shifted to writing scenarios for other artists. In the years that followed, he took on numerous lasting collaborations, starting with Francis, for whom he created the slapstick feature 'Marc Lebut et son Voisin', about the ongoing conflicts between the obnoxious Marc Lebut with his Ford T oldtimer, 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'. 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).

Bomaanslag in de bergen
Gil Jourdan - 'Surboum sur 4 roues' (1963).

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.

Spirou cover by Maurice TillieuxSpirou cover by Maurice Tillieux

During the 1970s, Maurice Tillieux was one of Spirou's top scriptwriters. 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. In a latter-day interview, Tillieux also named thyroid disease as a reason for these reworkings. 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. Prior to this, Jean-Marie Brouyère, Turk and Bob De Groot had all assisted Tillieux on his artwork. When Raoul Cauvin gradually gained importance as one of Spirou's major writers, Tillieux intended to resume 'Gil Jourdan' on his own. His untimely death however put a halt to those plans.

Gil Jourdan by Maurice Tillieux
One of the many car crashes in Tillieux's oeuvre, from 'Le Gant à 3 Doigts' (1966).

In 1971 he won the Prix Saint-Michel for Best Comic Writing for his entire body of work. He also received the Dutch Stripschapprijs (1975) for his oeuvre.

An avid fan of cars, there is hardly a detective comic by Tillieux that doesn't feature a car chase sequence. Ironically enough, in 1978 a tragic car accident abruptly ended the life and successful career of Maurice Tillieux. He was only 56. His funeral was not only attended by several legendary names in Franco-Belgian comics, but also by Michel d'Ornano, then French Minister of Culture.

Legacy and influence
Tillieux' series were terminated after his death, which made 'Félix' and 'Gil Jourdan' fade away in the general public's eye. Yet his stories keep being reprinted to this day. Comic fans are still familiar with his work and many fellow artists take inspiration from them. Contrary to many comics marketed to children who lose their power once the little readers grow up, Tillieux' oeuvre remains relevant. Much like Hergé he didn't talk down to his audience. In 1989 Maurice Tillieux was one of the few Belgian comic pioneers to become part of the permanent exhibition at the Belgian Comics Center in Brussels. 'Gil Jourdan' received his own comic book wall in May 2009 as part of the Brussels' Comic Book Route. Located in the Rue Léopold I /Léopold I Straat, it was designed by G. Oreopoulos, D. Vandegeerde, A. Ardila and R. Kuleczko. Two other comic book walls honouring this series can be seen in Auderghem in the Rue du Vieux Moulin/Oudemolenstraat and the Rue Emile Idiers/Emile Idiersstraat.

One of the classic authors of the so-called "School of Marcinelle", his work has influenced such artists as Pom, ButhJean Roba, Martin Lodewijk, Gos, François Walthéry, Henk KuijpersPierre SeronJean MahauxMerho, Hanco Kolk, Yves Rodier, Cosey, Arthur Piroton, François DimbertonAlain DodierDragan De Lazare, P. Leika, Michel Constant, Steve Van Bael and even Eric Schreurs and KamagurkaRik Clément's 'Jan Knap' (1963-1964) was a detective whose design and profession were obviously modelled on 'Gil Jourdan'. Tillieux' second, unfinished 'Marc Jaguar' story was completed in 2018 by Étienne Borgers and Jean-Luc Delvaux, under supervision of François Walthéry. Olivier Schwartz and Yann had the ambition to relaunch 'Gil Jourdan' and make new stories with Tillieux' hero. The heirs vetoed against their plans, so the two authors transformed their concept into a retro-style detective series of their own, 'Atom Agency' (2018).

Books about Tillieux
For those interested in Maurice Tillieux' life and work the luxury artbook 'Heroic' by Vincent Odie (Dagniel Maghen, 2011), which showcases a large part of his illustration and comics work, is a must-read!

photraph of Maurice Tillieux

Series and books by Maurice Tillieux in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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