The late 1940s and the 1950s could be considered a golden age. But unlike with US comics it never winded down. Bande dessinée remains a thriving medium. Though as always the creators’ income can be meagre.
Gil Jourdan wasn’t an A-list creation like Tintin, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, Bob Morane, Gaston Lagaffe etc.. But during its heydays it was a solid B-lister, not unlike Luc Orient or Yoko Tsuno. The series started in 1956, but it was very much like the 1949-1956 Félix series by the same storyteller, Maurice Tillieux.
These are chiefly detective stories, with occasional adventure stories and some sci-fi intrusions. The plots can get complicated, considering that these were series for children’s magazines. They are more akin to those of mystery novels.
Tillieux’s art, as often with his generation of Belgian artists (the “Brussels school” and the “Charleroi school”), is much more detailed and expressive than it looks at first glance. It excels at conveying everyday life in 1960s and late 1950s France, particularly for the working class and lower middle class.
For older readers, this lifelike reminder of how things were — much of this stuff was gone by the mid-1980s or so — is interesting.
Due to the usual time constraints, this profile is based on the earliest Gil Jourdan graphic novels. Later material isn’t taken into account.
Specifically, our first Gil Jourdan entry uses the first two tomes of the Tout Gil Jourdan reprints collection — Premières Aventures and Enquêtes Françaises. That’s about 300 pages.
The second Gil Jourdan entry covers the third tome — Aventures Exotiques — as well as Gil’s companions Butterfly, Flyspeck and Inspector Crouton.
I’ll provide a quick recap for the plot of most stories. The idea is, as usual, to give an idea of the sort of adventures Gil Jourdan has. But it’s also useful for gamemasters looking for inspiration to write a mystery adventure.
Fantagraphics released a few Gil Jourdan stories during the 2010s. They’re in our Amazon recommendations. Note that their localization changes the name to Gil Jordan, no “u”.
I don’t have these, so I’m gonna use my own translations. A few language notes :
- “Gil” is pronounced with a soft “g”, like “Jill”. But flatter – there’s no plosive component at the beginning.
- As to Gil’s three core helpers :
- Libellule’s nickname is given on writeups.org as “Butterfly”. A literal translation would be “Dragonfly”, but that’s not right for the character. Calling him “Butterfly” serves as a bilingual joke about the classic Steve McQueen movie Papillon , resembles his actual last name so it’s credible, and matches the pale yellow suits he often wears.
- Flyspeck’s nickname is originally “Queue-de-Cerise”, literally “Cherry Stem”. It is often used to express the idea of very little, practically nothing (“For this job we were paid but cherry stems”). It also works as a reference to a popular, old-school-even-when-released-back-in-1968 song, Cuisse de mouche .
- “Crouton” has roughly the same sense in English, so I kept it. But in French it is more commonly used for the ends of a baguette – the least desirable part, since it’s all crust. It also evokes the phrase “vieux croûton”, for an out-of-touch old man from a gone-by era – which is what Crouton is.
- Real Name: Gilbert “Gil” Jourdan.
- Marital Status: Single.
- Known Relatives: None.
- Group Affiliation: Gil runs his own detective agency.
- Base of Operations: Paris, France. The Jourdan Agency is on the Boulevard des Italiens.
- Height: 5’8″ Weight: 140 lbs. Age: 21
- Eyes: Brown Hair: Light Brown.
Powers & Abilities
Jourdan is smart, and well-educated. He holds the equivalent of a Bachelor of Laws. This was notable back in the 1950s, especially since Jourdan seems to be from a blue collar background.
He excels at deductive reasoning and observation, making him a good sleuth.
He’s also fit, has a surprising power of recovery, and is a capable brawler. Jourdan’s modus operandi is more based on his brains than on his dukes, but he shows little hesitation when resorting to violence.
Jourdan has a number of shady contacts. He can have fake passports forged, learn which usual suspects are currently in or out of prison, have compromised cars be disposed of, etc.. He knows quite a few criminals and other dodgy types such as, you know, dry cleaners or journalists.
If the situation requires a gun (usually because they’re arresting a suspect who may be armed), Inspector Crouton will get his service pistol (a .32ACP Browning 1910) from his precinct and then… hand it to Jourdan, who’s obviously a better shot.
More generally, a significant part of early Jourdan’s efficiency comes from his friends. Butterfly has a bunch of underworld contacts and top B&E skills, Crouton has prerogatives and manpower as a cop, and Flyspeck is a capable detective on her own.
Jourdan likes nice cars, and will often drive a sportsy second-hand model. During this era he usually drives a bright yellow Renault Dauphine . Back then it was a cool-looking-yet-affordable, new-generation modern car with good performance.
He’s also a good swimmer, and speaks some English.
Lessee, something to evoke France in 1956… Okay, let’s go with a tune that was considered all brand-new and shiny. Just like Gil’s Dauphine and his “American style” swept-back haircut. Preferably something that has a beat to it, so you don’t have to be Francophone.
This song was written by Boris Vian, an influential polymath. Vian’s legacy in music was mostly in jazz and in poetry-set-to-music. But he also was sweet-talked into writing what is considered the first French attempt at rock ‘n’ roll – though Vian meant it as a parody.
The singer is Henri Salvador, who had a loooong career as a popular French entertainer with surprising range. The sound is… scrunched but heh, 1956.
At age 21, just after graduating, Gil Jourdan took his stab at a private detective career. His funds were limited, so he took a cheap office in an old working class neighbourhood of Paris.
Like any hardboiled detective he had a secretary. But in Gil’s case it was a petite 17-year old tomboy going by “Flyspeck”. One suspects there was no contract and she was paid in cash.
Even with the low burn rate, Jourdan only had the funds to last for six months. He knew that his first case had to be big, or he’d have to admit failure and find more ordinary employment.
She don’t lie, she don’t lie – popaine
The French police was after the mob behind a new narcotic, nicknamed “popaine”. Legwork led Jourdan to a credible suspect with ties to Italian mobs. But the young PI needed help to go further.
Going all out, Jourdan helped renowned thief André Papignolles, who went by “Butterfly”, escape from prison. He did so by tricking the inept Inspector Crouton during a prisoner transfer.
Butterfly reluctantly agreed to help Gil so he wouldn’t return behind bars. Still, Gil forced him to return stolen jewels – the crime for which Butterfly had been arrested.
Butterfly was reputed for his skill with locks and safes. Thus, Jourdan now had serious B&E capabilities. These allowed for confirming that their suspect was a good lead. Jourdan and Butterfly shadowed him all the way to Genoa . There they established key facts about the smuggling ring.
On a narc lark
Gil was nearly murdered by the mob they were observing. But, after considering fleeing, Butterfly decided that he owed him – and saved Gilbert’s life. That was the turning point where they became friends.
Whilst Gil and Butterfly tricked Crouton into taking them back to France, Flyspeck dug up more intelligence about the smuggling circuit. Jourdan and his companions then kidnapped a famous Greek painter and his agent. They impersonated the pair to break into a secure manor during a high society party.
Though it was close call, they collected the proof they were after – and the police came in just in time. Jourdan handed the proof over to Crouton, and Flyspeck sold an exclusive about the case to the France Lundi newspaper.
The sunken automobile
Jourdan’s detective career was now financially viable, and press coverage brought a rep. Furthermore, Crouton became a friend of Jourdan and Butterfly. Arresting the popaine smuggling network had been a personal and professional triumph for him.
A client then came in to investigate the death of his uncle. This rich collector of antiquities had drowned on a subtidal road (similar to the Passage du Gois ). No foul play seemed involved. Yet the client’s intuition was proven right by the Jourdan Agency.
The vic’s aide had been secretly stealing artworks to feed a gambling addiction. But he wasn’t careful enough, which led to murders to cover his tracks.
Though the kills were clever ones, the aide was ultimately an amateur. He made enough mistakes for the Jourdan Agency to expose everything – though they and Crouton were also nearly killed on the subtidal road.
The twilight of freighters
(This story is the first where sci-fi elements appear).
An attorney was being threatened by escaped convict Joe the Needle. Though the lawyer was already receiving police protection, Gil Jourdan offered his services. However, even with the police and the PI being present, the principal was kidnapped. Worse, numerous witnesses asserted that Joe the Needle had… superhuman leaping powers !
Doggedly investigating, Gil narrowly escaped being killed on several occasions. He eventually exposed an incredible plot :
- The attorney was actually behind it all. It was a big-time life insurance fraud.
- Joe the Needle was also in on it since the beginning. His feud against the lawyer had been staged.
- Though nobody believed it, Joe could indeed make superhuman leaps. An old friend of the attorney was a scientist. His strange research, involving mutated grasshoppers, had led to enhancing Joe the Needle’s legs.
- The attorney and the scientist used Joe the Needle as a catspaw. As per the plan, Joe was enhanced, escaped from his cell, and pretended to kidnap the attorney. However, he was then murdered by his accomplices, and thrown under a train. The mangled body was identified as the attorney’s based on his wallet.
- From there the scientist would earn the life insurance money, and share it with the “deceased” attorney.
Black hounds and sedan deliveries (part 1)
A misposted letter then sent Gil Jourdan across France. He wanted to investigate what turned out to be the prep work for a cunning heist… But this plot turned out to be a cover for an even more cunning heist !
At first, it seemed that there was a plot to force out the rugged owner of a country house with a colourful history. This was an elaborate stratagem, and used a local anecdote about a preternatural black hound to scare the target. As the deadline set by the anonymous letters approached, a seemingly unkillable, huge dog started prowling around the house.
The dog thing would eventually be determined to be the work of the gardener working at the house. He had been paid to run the charade, using such means as :
- Using small strips of meat to have the dogs follow a specific path.
- Actually having two hounds, so the dog would seemingly be back after having been killed.
- Using the audial cover of strong winds among the trees to dig up the corpse of the first dog. And arranging things so it looked like the dead dog had returned to life and dug its way free.
- Removing the buckshot from the house owner’s shotgun shells, so the dog now seemed bulletproof.
At this point, it appeared that the goal of the plot was to use tunnels under the house to reach the basement of a bank. Though it was just a small village bank, it was holding a huge sum in cash due to an investment project.
Black hounds and sedan deliveries (part 2)
Back in Paris, there was a wave of Juvaquatre sedan deliveries getting stolen.
Meanwhile, Jourdan had — through complete accident — found a remote explosives testing site, with many parked Juvaquatres.
This is how he deduced the truth. The plot with the house and the tunnel was a red herring. The goal was to convince the bank and the police to move the money to another bank, using a Juvaquatre. Another accomplice within the bank would know when the money would move.
The stolen Juvaquatres were used for testing artisanal land mines, under the cover of a fake explosives company. The goal was to produce a roadside explosion that would shove a Juvaquatre on its side, but without destroying the money inside. The IED expert among the gang ran enough tests to reliably produce this.
His colleagues also modified another car to look exactly like a police car, which would be used to whisk the money away.
Jourdan’s deductions allowed Inspector Crouton and his colleagues to trap the ambushers, and arrest them.
The crimson monks
The Jourdan Agency’s new client was a minuscule, dying Breton village. They claimed that a local ruin, the Crimson Monks abbey, was haunted. However, Gil quickly determined that this was just an inept, if harmless, attempt by the Mayor to drum up some tourism revenue.
Howbeit, during this short investigation, Gil was attacked by a mysterious crimson monk. Intrigued, he continued to investigate.
As it turned out, the “monk” was actually an escaped mental patient. This sick man was a descendant of a family with historical ties to the abbey. Being paranoid, he was convinced there was a treasure underneath and Jourdan wanted to steal it.
Jourdan soon discovered that the “treasure” was military supplies hidden by the French Resistance during the war. Increasingly unstable, the madman set fire to everything to prevent theft, but was accidentally knocked out.
With Butterfly and Crouton’s help, Gil narrowly escaped the inferno. They also managed to evacuate the unconscious “crimson monk” before the secret crypts under the abbey exploded.
More cases will feature in our second Gil Jourdan character profile !
The fresh-faced Jourdan looks about 20, which may lead to underestimating him. He’s slim, but possesses a good amount of wiry strength.
As per the style of the day, he’ll almost always wear a blue suit with a bowtie. Blue suits were hip !
Gil Jourdan is cunning, confident, and has a swagger to him. He knows how resourceful he is, and trusts these talents to keep control of any situation. He’s the charismatic, assertive, exemplary sort.
Jourdan is a risk-taker. He’s not reckless, but he’s willing to go all out if the risk/reward ratio seems favourable. On the other hand, this daring sometimes end up being overconfidence, putting him inches away from death. Which is when he’ll use his Hero Points , to narrowly escape.
Likewise, he has little problem with breaking the law if it seems worthwhile, or even just expedient. He wants to help people, not enforce the law.
Gil always retains his cool head and an air of mastery. Looking like he’s on top of any situation often helps actually get the upper hand, even if he was bluffing.
He thrives on challenges and mysteries.
Another time, another place
Jourdan embodies a number of common values for his time, place and social class. These can be different from those of contemporary US comics.
- The police can be useful… in moderation. But they certainly aren’t upheld as a heroic force of good. There’s little doubt that they mostly serve the rich and powerful. Outmaneuvering them — especially in the pursuit of justice, as Gil does — is laudable.
- Likewise, respecting the law is something nobody bothers with. What is important is a/ whether somebody was unjustly hurt and b/ finding ways to pay the rent.
- Speaking in a witty, wise-cracking manner with a barrage of bons mots is a popular and admirable ideal. Most people react well to amusing repartee, rather than feel insulted.
It feels that every single character, even extras with but two lines, is a comedian. Being able to deliver snappy patter is considered more important than, say, being financially successful.
- Keeping one’s word, repaying favours and never squealing are key virtues. Having an ego is bad – people are expected to forget, forgive and keep moving.
- Our heroes have numerous grey connections in Paris. There’s a whole scene of small businesses who routinely break the law to pay the bills, and deal with each other by keeping tabs on who owes whom.
However, they will not commit what *they* consider to be crimes. Such as seriously hurting somebody without connections (or whose connections are too scary).
Likewise, Jourdan’s behaviour is at times confrontational, aggressive and almost ruthless. Without money or police, people have to be assertive and unhesitatingly duke it out. There are enough thugs and would-be thugs around that if they don’t, they’ll forever be pushed around.
The same dynamics are why Jourdan often is remarkably generous with those who provide him with decisive information. The little people have to stick together, and acting honourably is more important than hoarding money.
The shady scene, the less-than-legal arrangements, etc. tend to recede as the series continue. Out of universe, this is likely linked to the friction with censors. In-universe, this may be because Gil no longer needs to hustle for resources.
“Just think about it… Such an organisation cannot exist without any accounting. They need to keep books. And that’s what we’re after.”
“Holy mackerel ! I wouldn’t have thought about that ! So *this* is how popaine is smuggled into France !”
“You see, I simply put the network’s accounting book on this bookshelf here. Where better to hide a book, than among other books ?”
“He’s going to try to kill us again. We might as well use that to our advantage.”
DC Universe History
Mr. Jourdan would be active before the Silver Age of Comics – the same generation as, say, the Challengers of the Unknown.
He would have met Dr. Mist and/or Belphégor during an early case, and played a small role in helping establish the Dome. This organisation would hired him several times as a consultant detective, explaining some of his stranger cases.
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
|Dex: 03||Str: 02||Bod: 03||Motivation: Thrill/Justice/Mercenary|
|Int: 06||Wil: 06||Min: 04||Occupation: Private detective|
|Inf: 03||Aur: 04||Spi: 04||Wealth: 004|
|Init: 012||HP: 025|
Bonuses and Limitations:
Regeneration is Form Function, and can only be used to lessen recovery times and healing rolls frequency.
Accuracy (Thrown knife): 06, Acrobatics (Dodging, Athletics)*: 03, Artist (Actor): 03, Detective (Legwork, Law): 05, Martial Artist (EV): 03, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Firearms): 04
Bonuses and Limitations:
Accuracy is never used for combat (which is why it’s not a Weaponry Skill). But it has been used as a Force Manoeuvre for Intimidation purposes.
Buddies (Flyspeck, Butterfly, Crouton), Familiarity (Surveillance, Voice mimicry, Auto mechanics), Language (Thickly-accented English).
Street (Low), Underworld (Low), France Lundi newspaper (Low).
- Inspector Crouton’s 7.65mm Browning [BODY 02, Projectile weapons: 03, Ammo: 07, Miniaturisation: 01, R#04]. This isn’t a normal part of Gil’s (or Crouton’s) equipment. Police detectives are only armed as needed.
- A good car. But it’s used only for transportation, not action.
Source of Character: Gil Jourdan graphic novels.
Writeup completed on the 26th of November, 2018.