Harold LeDoux had always wanted to go to Angoulème, France.
The capital of the comic strip, as the place is known, was originally a paper-producing town, and where you have paper, you have newspapers and comics. Each year, the city hosts the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée à Angoulème, which is essentially the Oscars of the cartooning world. LeDoux liked to draw comics, and he did so for over 50 years in more than 200 newspapers as the renowned illustrator of the popular soap opera strip Judge Parker. But he never made it to Angoulème. Not physically, anyway.
“My sister and I grew up with his studio at home seeing the comic strip world,” said Lorraine Gachelin, daughter of LeDoux and director of community development at Dallas International School. “I even worked with him on the strip in his last five years. I did lettering, the layout, cleaned up the strip and prepared it for publication. So not only did I grow up with it, but I had the honor of helping him work on it.”
After LeDoux’s death in 2015, Gachelin and her sister, Noelle Wheeler, ended up with 50 years’ worth of original comic strips drawn by their father stacked on the living room floor. The strips were priceless and poignant, and they weren’t sure what to do with them.
“After he passed away, I went to visit Angoulème in his honor,” Gachelin said. “I went to the Musée de la Bande Dessinée, which is the museum of the comic strip. When I went there and saw the work of some of my father’s contemporaries, I knew that his work had to appear in that museum.”
Energized by this new idea to honor their father, Gachelin set to work organizing and preparing the strips for donation.
“I went back in 2016, and my sister and I donated some originals to the museum and to a university there called IUT Angoulème,” Gachelin said. “My former colleague here at DIS, Emilie Remond, works there. The strips were donated there for pedagogical purposes so that students can understand how a comic works and how it’s designed.”
The strips were donated directly to the mayor of the city, who distributed the work to the museum and the university. He also announced that for the next Festival International de la Bande Dessinée à Angoulème in January 2017, the strips would be displayed at the Palais de Justice, the city courthouse, in honor of the main character of Judge Parker. Gachelin returned to Angoulème in January to give two conferences honoring her father, one to the public and one to the university’s professors and students.
“My father worked with precision,” Gachelin said. “His work was his life and it wasn’t for the money, but it was for the actual experience. He became a cartoonist because that’s what was innate in him. He knew since the time that he was a little boy that he wanted to go to art school and draw cartoons.”
LeDoux inspired countless people around the world through his daily drawings in the newspaper. Now, his work resides permanently in the one place he had always wanted to go.
“Judge Parker lives on,” Gachelin said. “Harold LeDoux made it to Angoulème.”
Author’s Note: Mrs. Wheeler and Ms. Gachelin didn’t donate every strip to the museum in Angoulème. Some have been kept for posterity, and they have generously donated one of Harold LeDoux’s elaborate and detailed original Sunday edition comics to this year’s Celebrate Our World gala. Attendees will be able to bid on this priceless piece from one of the most respected artists from the golden age of comics on March 25th.