Review by Frank Plowright
Gil Jourdan, as he’s known in Europe, is a Franco-Belgian classic created by Maurice Tillieux in the mid-1950s, but finding lasting fame due to Tillieux’s work from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Two Fantagraphics English language presentations begin by combining Tillieux’s third and fourth crime mysteries in hardcover.
Tillieux pulls off a clever trick by working in a lush ligne claire style and featuring the occasional slapstick gag. It disguises that drawn in a different way the Gil Jordan adventures would be noir crime. Jordan himself in tightly tied trenchcoat might bear a superficial resemblance to Tintin, but there’s an abiding cynicism to him. He never smiles, is regularly coshed, and glamour is absent from his life unless stylish secretary Miss Midge is taken into account.
An artistic eye for detail matches that of the notoriously precise Hergé of later years, Tillieux’s small panels packed with incidental elements that now render his work as perfectly created period pieces. The furnishings, hairstyle, fabric and anglepoise lamp seen on the left hand sample page have equivalents throughout the book, while Jordan in his bow tie strangely echoes earlier times in this otherwise up to the minute 1950s world. Tillieux loves cars, the then ordinary Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults as lovingly crafted as the exotic Facel Vega opening the first story. It’s sometimes the case that creators whose detail is so accurately and elaborately presented have problems with people, but Jordan and associates are equally deftly drawn, whether standing still or in action, a sense of athletic movement a great artistic strength. Tillieux’s also a master of shadow, creating fabulously atmospheric scenes in darkness with just the single light shining, or using silhouettes. The cartooning is sumptuous and carries Gil Jordan a long way.
Jordan’s adventures are plotted to have him follow one clue to the next, but they were serialised before album publication, and the need for artificial cliffhangers is apparent in places. However, they’re also matched by an elegance whereby Tillieux almost rubs the readers’ faces in elements of later significance, yet still manages to sneak them by in the first instance. The eventual major danger in the title story is dragged out wonderfully, and matched by a cinematic chase sequence during Catch as Catch Can. Not quite as effective all these years later is Jordan’s assistant Crackerjack in the comedy relief role, where he’s no Captain Haddock, the farce forced by 21st century standards.
The three pages it takes us to meet Jordan himself in the opening story is extended to five in the second, a brave move for a tale first serialised under Jordan’s name in 1959. It opens up into a mystery with an element of the fantastic about it as Jordan trails an escaped criminal. The suspense is maintained until the final pages, when Tillieux relies on a two page information dump to explain everything. This lack of finesse was a developmental glitch, and strangely repeated as Tillieux continued Jordan’s adventures, next in Ten Thousand Years in Hell. The trail to that point, however, is accomplished, switching from one impeccably illustrated location to the next, the storytelling brilliantly clear and always fast paced. It’s good news that each hardcover Fantagraphics volume presents two Gil Jordan stories, but the downside is that only two hardcovers were issued.