Lucky Luke Volume 8 Calamity Jane


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Pablo Vela (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-25-0

Lucky Luke is seventy years old this year: a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast quick-draw cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West on his super-smart and stingingly sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, having light-hearted adventures and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

He’s probably the most popular Western star in the world today. His unbroken string of laugh-loaded exploits has made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (82 albums selling in excess of 300 million copies in 30 languages at the last count), with spin-off toys, computer games, assorted merchandise, animated cartoons and even a passel of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) for L’Almanach Spirou 1947 of Le Journal de Spirou (the Christmas Annual), before springing into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Prior to that, Morris had met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio and contributing caricatures to weekly magazine Le Moustique. He quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” (Gang of Four) comprising creators Jijé, Will and Franquin: all leading proponents of the loose, free-wheeling art-style dubbed the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in rival magazine Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow tourist René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad whilst making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research resonates on every page of his life’s work.

A solo act until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate parody before formally partnering with Goscinny, who became his regular wordsmith. Lucky Luke rapidly attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began serialisation in Spirou with the August 25th of 1955. In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter changed horses in midstream, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny & Morris produced 45 albums together before the author’s death in 1977, after which Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators. Morris passed away in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus beginning spin-off adventures for Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin).

The immortal franchise was left to fresh hands, beginning with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac who have produced another ten tales to date.

Curiously, apart from the initial adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”. He did however smoke, like all the cool cowboys did…

Lucky Luke was first seen in Britain syndicated to weekly comic anthology Film Fun, then reappeared in 1967 in Giggle, renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

Unquestionably, the most successful attempt at bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves is the current incarnation. Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…) have translated 58 albums thus far. Calamity Jane was their eighth, still readily available both on paper and as an e-book edition.

It was first published Continentally in 1967: the 30th European offering and Goscinny’s twenty-first collaboration with Morris. It’s also one of the team’s better tales, blending historical personages with the wandering hero’s action-comedy exploits and as such it’s a slice of Horrible Histories-tinged Americana you can’t afford to miss.

It all begins with our hero taking a welcome bath in a quiet river, only to be ambushed by a band of Apaches spoiling for a fight. Their murderous plans are ruined by a bombastic lone rider who explosively drives off the raiders in a hail of gunfire before stopping to laugh at the embarrassed Luke. His cool, confidant rescuer is tough, bellicose, foul-mouthed, tobacco-chewing and infamous: although born Martha Jane Cannery most folk just call her Calamity Jane

She’s becomes more amenable after learning who Luke is and over coffee and a scratch meal, mutual respect develops into real friendship. Recounting her (remarkably well-researched) history she learns in return why Luke is in the region: someone has been supplying the Indians with guns just like the ones that almost killed him earlier…

Keen to help, Calamity joins Lucky and they ride into frontier town El Plomo and another little crisis. The saloon prefers not to serve ladies… until Jane convinces them to change the policy in her own unique manner.

The glitzy dive is owned and operated by unctuous, sleazily sinister August Oyster who instantly suspects that legendary lawman Luke is there because of his own underhand, under-the-counter activities…

As the cowboy heads off to check in with the sheriff, Calamity gets into games of chance and skill with the sleazy Oyster and his hulking henchman Baby Sam, swiftly causing an upset by winning his hotel and saloon. Happily, Lucky is back on the scene by the time the grudging grouse has to officially hand over his money-making venture.

Flushed with success, the new proprietor starts making changes and no man cares to object to the Calamity Jane Saloon and Tearoom (Reserved for Ladies). They’ll happily buy her beer and whiskey too, but not even at gunpoint will they eat her crumpets…

Oyster and Baby Sam are frantic, however: the saloon was crucial to their side business selling guns to renegade Apaches and they have to get it back before increasingly impatient Chief Gomino takes matters into his own bloodstained hands…

Still hunting for the gunrunners and pretty certain who’s behind the scheme, Luke is constantly distracted by the petty acts of sabotage and even arson plaguing Calamity, but even as he finds his first piece of concrete proof, Oyster instigates his greatest distraction yet: organising the haughtily strait-laced Ladies Guild of El Plomo to close down the insalubrious saloon and run its new owner out of town…

Never daunted, Luke calms his tack-spitting pal down and deftly counterattacks by sending for an etiquette teacher to polish rough diamond Jane enough to be accepted by the ferocious and militant guildswomen. It is the greatest challenge urbane and effete Professor Robert Gainsborough (an outrageously slick caricature of British superstar actor David Niven) has undertaken and his eventual (partial) success leaves him a changed and broken man…

Stymied at every turn, the panicking August Oyster is soon caught red-handed by the vigilant vigilante, but it is too late. Frustrated and impatient, Gomino has decided to raid the town in broad daylight and seize his long-promised guns and ammo from their hiding place.

The terrifying marauders however have not reckoned on the steely fighting prowess of Lucky Luke and the devil woman they superstitiously call “Bang! Bang!”…

Cleverly barbed, wickedly witty and spectacularly playing with the key tropes of classic sagebrush sagas, this raucous romp is another grand escapade in the comedic tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by master storytellers as a wonderful introduction to a venerable genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…

Also included here is a photo pin-up of the actual Martha Jane Cannery in her gun-toting prime and, in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero drawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of any reader craving a quick snout (or crumpets wild west style), but quite a strong likelihood that they’ll be addicted to Lucky Luke albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.