Today, 21. December, is the eightieth birthday of Jean De Mesmaeker, known as Jidéhem (from the initials JDM). To Spirou readers he is best known as Franquin’s assistant, who drew most of the backgrounds of the adventures starting with La Peur au bout du fil (“Fear at the End of the Line”) and then Le Prisonnier du Bouddha (Spirou & Fantasio #14, “Prisoner of the Buddha”) in 1958. But Jidéhem was also an important contributor to the Journal de Spirou in his own right.
He began (appropriately!) with the series Starter, originally an illustrated car section, later a comic proper. It was also the launching board for his own original character, Sophie Karamazout, who became the star of his most popular series.
Furthermore, Jidéhem was Franquin’s designated artist for the Gaston series when the initial series of gags was turned into an ongoing comic, and he drew most of the early strips. Even after Franquin took it back as his own project, Jidéhem continued to assist for quite some time. Famously, the businessman Fantasio is always trying to sign a contract with was named after Jidéhem’s father (based on physical resemblance), and became Monsieur De Mesmaeker.
On Spirou & Fantasio, Jidéhem’s backgrounds added a higher level of detail and realism, as well as both rigor and atmosphere. Particularly with the Z comme Zorglub and L’Ombre du Z albums, he contributed a modern flair to the setting. As Franquin’s style evolved to become looser, with almost all straight lines replaced by curves and all elements of the scene exaggerated and caricatured, it became harder to harmonize with Jidéhem’s “dry” style, but Jidéhem kept contributing until Franquin left the series.
Before the Journal, Jidéhem got his first start in comics with the more realistic detective series Ginger, and he returned to it with his last published album to date in 2000. He has also contributed fresh interviews and insights to recent books that delve into comics history. With a long and illustrious career, Jean De Mesmaeker is a living link to the golden age of Franco-Belgian comics. Happy birthday, Jidéhem!