Billy and Buddy volume 5: Clowning Around

By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-200-3

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy – the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way and developed a unique style and personality, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou. Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006. This edition is the first Cinebook translation to feature the series as crafted by “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel

As Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Originally released in 2003, Quel cirque! was the 29th European collection, and the first completed by Verron and his team, but it admirably continues in the approved manner: further exploring the timeless and evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a few more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in spats with pals, dodging baths, hunting and hoarding bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

As well as shorter skirts and more modern toys the majority of this tome involves even more successful raids against the family fridge and local butchers’ shops, a marked improvement in successful bath attempts and the rather foolish addition of a doggy door. Sentimental burglars regularly fall for the dog’s cunning wiles and mum persists in trying to civilise her man, her son and that mutt, and of course enemy neighbour Madame Stick and her evil cat Corporal are always on hand to provide effective opposition…

One big revelation is that Buddy understands sign language – although how he learned is a shock – and when romance is in the air both boy and dog are similarly smitten and we discover that tortoises are not immune to the barbs of jealousy…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2003 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.