Lucky Luke volume 9: The Stage Coach


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-40-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Seasonal Adventure… 9/10

One could quite convincingly argue that the USA’s greatest cultural export has been the Western. Everybody everywhere thinks they know what Cowboys and Indians are and do, but the genre has migrated and informed every aspect or art and literature all over the planet. Comics particularly have benefited from the form, with Europe continuing to produce magnificent works even in these latter years when sagebrush sagas are less dominant in America than they have been for decades.

This side of the pond, westerns were a key component in every nook and cranny of popular fiction from the earliest days. Newspapers were packed with astoundingly high quality strips ranging from straight dramas such as Gun Law and Matt Marriott to uniquely British takes like Bud Neill’s outrageous spoof Lobey Dosser, whilst our weekly anthology kids comics abounded with the episodic exploits of Texas Jack, Desperate Dan, Colorado Kid, Davy Crockett, Kid Dynamite and more.

As previously mentioned, Europe especially embraced the medium and expanded the boundaries of the genre. In Italy Tex (Willer) remains as vital as ever as it approaches its 70th anniversary, far outdistancing later revered and much-exported series such as Captain Miki, Il Grande Blek, Cocco BillZagor, Larry Yuma, Ken Parker, Magico Vento and Djustine.

The Franco-Belgian wing also has a long tradition and true immortals amongst its ponderosa Pantheon: from all ages-comedic treats such as Yakari, OumPah-Pah, Chick Bill or The Bluecoats to monolithic and monumental mature-reader sagas like Jerry Spring, Comanche, Sergeant Kirk, La Grande Saga Indienne, Buddy Longway or the now-legendary Blueberry

Topping them all in terms of sales and fame however is a certain laconic lone rider…

Lucky Luke is seventy years old this year: a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast quick-draw cowboy who roams a fabulously mythical Old West on his super-smart 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 (83 albums selling well in excess of 300 million copies in 30 languages at the last count), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and even a passel of TV shows and live-action movies.

As alluded to above he was dreamed up in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) for that year’s Seasonal Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946 in the famed weekly comic.

Prior to that, Morris had become acquainted with future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio and by contributing caricatures to weekly magazine Le Moustique. He quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” (The 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 the Gang (all but Will) visited the USA, meeting American creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, encountering fellow Franco-tourist René Goscinny and 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 teaming up with Goscinny, who became the cool cowboy’s regular wordsmith. 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 1955 edition.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, 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 launching the spin-off comics careers of 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 carried on the undying tradition.

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 prodigiously, like all the cool cowboys and – if the stereotype still applies – most Frenchmen…

Lucky Luke was first seen in Britain syndicated to weekly comic 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 most recent. Cinebook – who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers – have translated 60 albums thus far with the 61st scheduled for a December release.

The Wagon Train was their ninth – still readily available both on paper and as an e-book – and first published on the Continent in 1964 as Lucky Luke – La Caravane: the 24th European release and Goscinny’s fifteenth collaboration with Morris. It’s also one of their most traditional tales; playing joyously with the tropes and memes of the genre and clearly having as much fun as the future readers were going to…

In begins in dusty Nothing Gulch as a bedraggled procession of “Prairie Schooners” limp into town. Expedition head Andrew Boston is arguing with unscrupulous guide Frank Malone who is demanding even more money before completing his commission to bring the hopeful settlers to California. When heated words are replaced with gunplay, a dusty observer ends the fracas before blood is shed…

Boston has heard a lot about Lucky Luke and promptly starts a multi-pronged charm offensive to get the Sagebrush Stalwart to take over guiding the party to the fabled Golden State. Our hero is flattered but not interested, until Boston wheels out his big guns and has the kids ask in their own unique ways…

Despite being prepared to use children to emotionally twist the cowboy’s arm, the twenty or so wagon-loads of pioneers are an affable if odd bunch from all over the world and soon Luke is leading them across prairies and through deserts and mountains.

However as the days pass an exceedingly large number of accidents and mishaps occur and before long it cannot be denied that somebody is clearly attempting to sabotage the expedition…

As close calls and near-death escapes mount Lucky splits his attention between blazing a trail and playing detective but the list of suspects is just so large. Anybody from the undertaker in his hearse to the inventor in his constantly evolving horseless converter-car (there’s more than a passing similarity to TV’s Whacky Races here!); the suspiciously French Barber/Surgeon, creatively foul-mouthed mule driver or even the no-nonsense School Marm could be the culprit. But then again there are so many others who act out of the ordinary…

Nevertheless, the voyage proceeds and as the would-be homesteaders survive the temptations of bad towns and other dens of vice and iniquity, bad food, and inclement weather a sense of community builds. Sadly that’s soon tested to the limit when word comes of that Sioux Chief Rabid Dog is on the warpath…

Despite all these traditional trials and tribulations Luke persists and before long the Promised Land is reached and a vile villain is finally exposed…

Cleverly barbed, wickedly ironic and joyously packed with classic cowboy set-pieces, this splendidly slapstick spoof of a crucial strand of the genre is another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff (maybe Paint Your Wagon, Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers for any kids who might have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a strong probability that they’ll be addicted to Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2007 Cinebook.