Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 23

« It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. » — E. L. Doctorow

Once more rooting around Europe for properly atmospheric material, we unsurprisingly dig up some gold in Belgium, a land rife with longstanding traditions of the fantastic.

While there never were — if memory serves — any explicitly supernatural elements at play in Maurice Tillieux and Arthur Piroton‘s chronicles of FBI agent Jess Long’s colourful investigations, the creators used every opportunity to instill the oppressive fog of atmosphere.

While never a massive hit, the series had solid legs, lasting from its 1969 introduction in Spirou magazine, surviving Tillieux’s tragic demise in 1978 and finally coming to the end of its road with Piroton’s own passing in 1996.

Today, we feature excerpts from Jess Long’s sixth investigation, Les ombres du feu (‘Shadows of fire’), from 1972. Fasten your seatbelts!

Pretty good spotting, Agent Corey Hart!
The story runs fourteen pages, a bit long for our purposes… but I’m sure these highlights will properly convey its nocturnal essence.
This is Jess Long, Police spéciale no. 2 (1977, Dupuis), comprising the fifth and sixth adventures. For some reason, the publisher didn’t start collecting the series until 1976. In the end, twenty albums were issued, a fine run!
This is Spirou no. 1787 (July 13, 1972, Dupuis). Cover by Piroton, with a lower left vignette by André Franquin.
Another spooky Jess Long cover, this time it’s Spirou no. 1897 (Aug. 22 1974, Dupuis), with another Franquin comment.

I’ve heard that Piroton’s style was considered a bit too ‘American’ to be that popular in Europe. Amusingly, it looked like nothing published in American comics at the time — I’d say his approach was a throwback to a mix of Bernard Krigstein and, say, Alex Raymond in Rip Kirby and Secret Agent X9 mode.

Something else worth noting about the Tillieux-Piroton collaboration: while Tillieux was the complete package — writer and artist — he was essentially forced, by some disastrously myopic editorial decisions right from the top at Dupuis (a stubborn failure to grasp that not every cartoonist can be his own writer) Tillieux had to almost entirely give up drawing, even on his own series, Gil Jourdan, to take on writing duties for a great many features. But since he was, one might say, the “Anti-Stan Lee”, he painstakingly storyboarded each page of his scripts, acting not only as scenarist, but also as metteur en scène. Thankfully, some examples of these fascinating breakdowns have survived. Check out this one and especially that one. -RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 25

« Plenty of nocturnal ambiance in this book… It stems, I suppose, from an old childhood reminiscence. When I was little, gaslit street lamps were still around, and they created, in the evening, rather extraordinary effects of light. That slightly sinister element stuck with me, and I love to recreate this sort of thing. » – Maurice Tillieux

Private detective Gil Jourdan finds the proper spot from which to conduct a nocturnal stakeout, in his fourth (and possibly finest) investigation, « Les cargos du crépuscule », originally serialized weekly in issues 1113 to 1137 of Spirou magazine, back in 1959-60.

Story and art by Maurice Tillieux (1921-1978), one of the truly great European masters of…well, everything he handled: humour, atmosphere, pacing, local colour, dialogue...

Ah, but this time, non-French-fluent readers won’t be left out in the cold. The late Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson was a lifelong fan of Tillieux’s work, and was quite willing to put words into action and bleed some money in the process. Before his passing in 2013, he had time to publish a pair of twofer volumes of Jourdan (slightly renamed Gil Jordan*) adventures, « Murder by High Tide » (which contains this tale, entitled here « Leap of Faith ») and « Ten Thousand Years in Hell ». Fans of clever and suspenseful noir should not miss these babies.

Fudging a bit here, this is a panel from « La voiture immergée », aka « Murder by High Tide ». Please forgive this old sinner.



This being a Hallowe’en post, I’ve squarely put the emphasis on mood rather than action, but let me assure you that these bédés contain plenty of action, and of the highest calibre. Fantagraphics’ promotional blurb gets it right (except that the Hergé comparison is perhaps a bit lazy, but probably necessary given the audience): « Another never-before-translated classic from the Golden Age of Franco-Belgian comics, finally brought to American readers. Imagine the beautifully crisp images of Hergé (Tintin) put in service of a series of wise-cracking, fast-paced detective stories —punctuated with scenes of spectacular vehicular mayhem (including in this volume a dockside pursuit via car and bulldozer) — and you’’ll see why 50 years later Gil Jordan is still considered a masterpiece in Europe. »
– RG
*I can’t help but think that the detective’s renaming to « Gil Jordan » was a bit of a Fantagraphics inside joke, given that the publisher employed, for a couple of decades or so, a news correspondent/translator/editor by the name of… Gil Jordan. It’s not as if « Jourdan» is such an unknown name to Americans.


Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 7

« Why do four skeletons and a coffin cross a small fishing village? The question has been asked! »

How’s this for setting the mood? Here’s a quintet of panels from Belgians Maurice Tillieux (script) and Willy Maltaite (aka Will, pencils and inks) gently ripped from the exploits of Tif et Tondu, a series that ran in the weekly bandes dessinées magazine Spirou from 1938 to 1997.

This standalone illustration originally saw print on the cover of Spirou no. 1789, in 1972. Incidentally, the guy on the left is just a passing acquaintance, a soap salesman who also found himself stranded in Brittany, some foggy night.

« In Egypt, at least it’s dry! »

« There’s still a cottage beyond the old castle. Let’s give it our last shot. »  « Talk about a nest for ghosts. He’s straight out of a Perrault fairy tale, that one. »

These three come from the Les Ressuscités (‘The Resurrected”), Tif et Tondu’s 54th adventure overall, but no.20 in the album series), as only the post-1954 stories (when the series’ tone gained some gravitas, as well as its first significant scripter in Rosy) are considered, shall we say… canonical.

Panels from Le retour de la bête (“Return of the Beast”), serialized in issues 1988 to 1999 of Spirou magazine in 1976,  sort-of sequel to 1971’s Sorti des abîmes (“Out of the Abyss”).


This is drawn from the 59th Tif et Tondu story (but no.25 in the collection). We’ve already been introduced to the Beast in question, as well as to Tif et Tondu, one misty Tentacle Tuesday last October.

Regrettably, nothing supernatural occurs, but talk about atmosphere! The series does veer into some pretty dark science-fiction at times, especially under Tillieux’s watch (1968-1978, his death).

The mysterious events are set in the fictive village of Grimwood, near the actual town of Grimsby, which is dear, perhaps sarcastically, to Sir Elton John.


Tentacle Tuesday, Franco-Belgian Edition

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday comes to us courtesy of France and its long-suffering neighbour, Belgium. There’s an easy joke one could make about the reputation Frenchmen possess of having hands like grabby tentacles, but instead I’ll concentrate on their wonderful comic writers and artists and the classic bande dessinée. Let’s gracefully step over all the obscene connotations of a “French edition” and delve into exhibit A:

“So that’s it, your real face?” asks the old man. “What were you expecting?” asks the emerald-eyed cephalopod.  This is a page from Les chercheurs de trésor, volume 2: La ville froide, David B. (2004, Dargaud).

David B. is the nom de plume of Pierre-François David Beauchard. Non-Francophone audiences might know him from Epileptic, an autobiographical graphic novel that won accolades and awards from an international audience. And yet it’s not his most interesting œuvre, as far as I’m concerned. Although Epileptic is full of imagery and allegories, it’s when David B. lets his imagination soar without the constraints of real life that he creates his most dazzling worlds and astonishing stories. He’s one of those rare comic artists whose art is as accomplished as their storytelling.

Here’s a bonus “tentacle” from Monsieur B.:

La lecture des ruines was published by Dupuis in 2001. (It loosely translates to “reading the ruins”, “study of the wreckage”.) It’s the story of a mad scholar who tries to find a mathematical equation for violence in the decayed rubble that war has left behind. Excerpted material from an imaginary periodical is appended, Les incidents de la nuit (Incidents of the Night). This tentacled worm – Le Grand Ver, the Great Worm – is one of the creatures that lurk within…

Give a hand of applause, ladies and gentlemen, to David B., and let’s move to our next topic.

“Sorti des abîmes” translates to something like “Risen from the abyss” – and what sort of thing rises from an abyss? Why, tentacles, of course!

Tif et Tondu: Sorti des abîmes (1972)

Tif and Tondu, an intrepid team of private investigators, were originally created by Fernand Dineur, but their most popular incarnation is by writer Maurice Tillieux and artist Willy Maltaite (who mostly went by the nickname Will), which is what you’re currently admiring. The strip saw birth in 1938 in journal Spirou and lasted a whopping number of years, ending in 1997, one year short of its 60th birthday.

Things are a bit tricky with the numbering, because Tif et Tondu are popular enough to have been anthologized several times. Sorti des abîmes appeared as the series’ 19th entry (1972), after being serialized in Spirou no. 1746 (September, 1971) to no. 1764 (February, 1972).

A closer look at the creature from the abyss: not exactly an octopus, but in distinct possession of tentacles. “Armed and dangerous”, as they say! The poor thing is dissolved at the end of the story by some infrared rays.

Incidentally, “Tif” is slang for hair in French, and “Tondu” means “shaven, sheared”. Naturally, Tif is the bald guy, and Tondu is the hairy one.

Now that we’ve had our fill of scary, destructive tentacles, I’ll move on to something friendlier.

Pif Poche no.72 (Aug. 1971) The last panel says “Paws off… Don’t touch! You’ve got cold hands!”

Pif Poche no.72 (Aug. 1971) “This creature is starting to annoy me with its tickling!”

Pif the dog was the mascot of the kid’s magazine Pif Gadget (« gadget » referred to the fact that each issue of the magazine was accompanied by some thingamabob to amuse the youngsters). Pif Poche were pocket-sized collections of short Pif strips, as well as jokes, games and such. The character was created by José Cabrero Arnal in 1948, who gradually abandoned the strip by the 1960s while other artists took over.

 Pif Poche no.72 (Aug. 1971) “Even in a can… I adore seafood! Ripoff… it’s octopus!” Story and art by Arnal’s immediate and worthiest successor, the prolific Roger Mas (1924-2010)

~ ds