The Bluecoats volume 6: Bronco Benny


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-146-4

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was an absolute devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even to colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – although still broadly comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and – after studying Fine Art in college – joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Bronco Benny is the sixth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 16th French volume) and opens with our surly stalwarts waiting at a rail depot for much-needed fresh materiel…

As usual the war has stalled due to lack of crucial resources. This time the dearth is horses to ride, but when the train carrying the replacement mounts unloads, what Chesterfield and Blutch find is a shambles which makes them want to laugh and cry…

The smugly-isolated General Staff quickly retire to their comfortable residence and are soon back in high-level conference. Callously obnoxious Young Turk Captain Stillman posits a most practical – if appallingly unethical – solution to the equine stalemate: don’t pay the soldiers until after the forthcoming battle and use the money to purchase mounts from horse traders beyond the western mountains. To make sure the sale and transport goes according to plan the Captain intends sending the smallest military detail possible, but they will be accompanied by Bronco Benny, the greatest horse-breaker in the world…

Next day, luckless Blutch and Chesterfield set out on the suicide mission they have been volunteered for with strong, silent Benny in attendance. They are astounded by how easily they pass through Confederate pickets and defences. They also have no idea that the enemy is well aware of the plan and is allowing them expedited passage…

Travelling the arid rocky region to the traders’ ranch our heroes are surprised when a band of Indians attack. The Bluecoats only escape through sheer dumb luck and after rendezvousing with the mustang-hunters discover the natives are in uproar because the horsemen have captured a magnificent white stallion the Indians revere as a god…

It’s love at first sight for Benny. He is utterly smitten with the mustang dubbed “Traveller” and the next few days fade to a bruised blur as he strives to break the mighty wonder horse. Sadly, after he does, the true nature of the horse-traders is exposed and Blutch and Chesterfield realise they’ve been suckered yet again…

However, even after being deprived of cash, horses and dignity and left to die at the hands of the furious Indians, Sarge has a plan to fix things and, whilst it doesn’t exactly work as expected, it does get him and his pals back to Union lines in time to witness one more horrific, pointlessly stupid battle and subsequent slaughter with no apparent winner…

This is another hugely amusing savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1980 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Man, I Hate Cursive – Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears


By Jim Benton (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7889-6                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-8414-9

I love cartoons. Not animated films, but short, visual (although most often text-enhanced) stylised drawings which tell a story or potently and pithily express a mood or tone. In fact most people do. That’s why many historians and sociologists use them as barometers of a defined time or era.

For nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were the universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence and ferocious power, these days the cartoon has been all but erased from printed newspapers – as indeed the physical publications themselves have dwindled in shops and on shelves.

However, thanks to the same internet which is killing print media, many graphic gagsters and drawing dramatists have enjoyed resurgence in an arena that doesn’t begrudge the space necessary to deliver a cartoon in all its fulsome glory…

Cartooning remains an unmissable daily joy to a vast, frequently global readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Even those stuck-up holdouts proudly boasting they have “never read a comic” certainly enjoy strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention. Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections like this one (and also in eBook editions) to enjoy over and over again…

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Now tirelessly earning a living exercising his creativity, he started self-promoting those weird funny things he’d dreamed up and soon was raking in the dosh from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny in a variety of magazines and other venues…

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded.

This particular collection was released at the end of last year and is still fresh, strange and irreverent enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

Here you will explore the innocently horrific inner world of children and monsters, learn to appreciate anew the contributions to society of teachers and experience Benton’s satirical side as bigots and racists are convicted out of their own mouths.

There are heaping helpings of animal antics – both wryly sardonic and barbarously slapstick – and wicked observations on the dating scene, plus true love pictured in all its infamy, how robots need a little tenderness too as well as the inside track on what it means to be Death…

You’ll see some of the strangest and most disquietingly surreal gags ever penned – such as the dysfunctional band made of animate body parts or the bizarrely extrovert characters comprising ‘The Sideshow’ and even a truly unique take on historical personages and superheroes of the screen and comics pages…

As ever, there are trenchant swipes at the worlds of Art and Big business as well as incisive explorations of the relationship between us and our pets, the perils of inventing stuff and a pants-wetting section on the downside of air travel…

And best of all, the artist sets aside time and space to share with us God’s Plan and proves that the Almighty’s sense of humour is both wicked and petty…

You might discover Not-Facts that will change your life after gleaning Benton’s take on loneliness, fast food, binge eating, farting, periods, disabilities, growing up, Big Pharma, and the business of medicine in single page giggle-bombs ranging from strident solo panels to extended strips; silent shockers to poetically florid and verbose tracts.

There are also loads of jokes about bears….

Another uproarious compilation to make the sourest persimmon laugh as sweetly as pie (there are no joke about pies in this volume)…
© 2016 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Stuff about Sex for Guys Who Are Not Like, Total Idiots


By David Mellon (Top Shelf Productions)
ASIN: B01BMV519A

Whilst not actually a graphic novel, I couldn’t resist adding this outrageous little comicbook essay to my St. Valentines Day celebrations, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any oldster who likes a gentle, knowing laugh or any young man in need of a little understanding pep talk before setting out to find a mate – either for a night, a while or a lifetime…

In the manner of a relatively non-judgemental older sibling, David Mellon talks frankly and in the most simple of terms on how to start having sex and the onset of adult relationships; dispelling myths, addressing if not positively coddling neuroses and especially bestowing actual useful advice (yes, really! Wash often and wear clean clothes!) to help nervous neophytes meet women and not nauseate them…

Beautifully rendered in accessible monochrome cartoons, Mellon takes us through the initial obstacle of ‘Shame!’, arguing that ‘It’s the Same for Everybody’ and claiming ‘Everybody Wants to Drop that Mask!’

Nothing is held back as the author sensibly deals with ‘Personal Hygiene’ and tackles issues such as ‘Premature Ejaculation’, ‘Masturbation’, the pros and cons of ‘Virginity’ and even asks the big question… ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’

Even the great imponderables get a look in as we examine ‘Normal’ and discuss ‘What Women Want’

Smart, sensible, unflinching but never harsh or mean, Mellon’s mature approach to an age-old traumatic experience and rite of passage should be mandatory reading in schools (but won’t be because of all the naked men and women he’s drawn here) as a serious aid to sex education.
Stuff about Sex ™ & © 2012 David Mellon. All rights reserved.

Because I’m the Child Here and I Said So


By Pat Byrnes (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5738-9

A daily chuckle prompted by a wry cartoon seductively rendered remains an unmissable joy to a vast – frequently global – readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even the ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Newspaper cartooning – even its modern online iteration – has always primarily been about family entertainment. As such, kids and their relationships with parents have taken top spot in terms of subject matter whether in one-off gag-panels or serial cartoon strips.

Soon after becoming a parent himself, Pat Byrnes (Monkeyhouse, Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Illustrated Edition), an impressively educated-&-accomplished, award-winning doodler and ad-man seen in The New Yorker and other prestigious magazines, gathered a bunch of his child-related efforts into a follow-up book to the memorable What Would Satan Do? Cartoons About Right, Wrong, and Very, Very Wrong.

He later returned to the all-consuming arena of jovial child-exploitation with Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Subtitled “A Joke Book for Parents (Because You Need a Laugh!)” this brief full-colour tome addresses the bewildering and frankly rather terrifying post-millennial generation: a time of compulsively over-achieving kids and their ferociously competitive Tiger Parents in a society where conspicuous wealth and measurable status are more important than air or food.

To effect a degree of balance and argue that there’s still hope for mankind, there are also wittily acerbic barbs and warm, weird moments to placate the holdouts from simpler times just trying to get by and ensure their spawn learn how to unwind and chill out a bit before that all-important first heart attack…

Following the author’s Introduction the gags come thick and fast: glimpses of households where love is conditional on sporting success, Ritalin has replaced milk as the secret of building better children and duct tape is the solution to so many different emotional meltdowns.

This a society familiar to many oldsters like me where television is a suitable substitute for attention or babysitters; where passive-aggression starts early and becomes a family heirloom and taking pictures is more important than hugs or cuddles, but these cruel observations are marvellously manipulated to make the best kind of jokes: ones with a point and a purpose…

There is also a non-stop string of cracking verbal punch-lines which would make a potent line in slyly sardonic slogan-motif-ed apparel for surly teenagers…

Sharp, smart and shockingly timeless, these gags are a splendid example of the family cartoon at its most engaging and acerbic: a true treat for any adult who’s been there, done that and still has the headaches…
© 2006 Pat Byrnes. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 3: Friends First


By Jean Roba, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-124-2

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (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.

He crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his rather clever 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, after Roba’s death in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading a lot of American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like our 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 – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip has 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.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip debuted en Angleterre in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009: introducing a late 20th century-sitcom nuclear family 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…

Les copains d’abord was the 3rd European 1980s collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless relationships for our delight and delectation.

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in snowball fights, dodging baths, hording a treasure trove of 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 boy, although he’s overly fond of bones and rather protective of them. He also does not 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…

The dog also has a fondly paternal relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this largely winter and Christmas-themed compilation finds her largely absent and probably hibernating) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever dad has one of his increasingly common meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

Also on parade in this tome are brushes with burglars and bandits, fearless fire-fighters and foolish photographers as well a selection of unique displays of Buddy’s social pulling power and money-making acumen. There’s even a greater role for Officer 22; the hard-pressed cop on the corner who always seems to be around during Billy and Buddy’s most egregious excesses and is slowly making himself one of the family…

However, the most important events included here depict the arrival of a new neighbour. Mrs. Stick is an upright, forthright and uptight military widow with definite views on absolutely everything. The most ardently held and expressed of these involve the nature of boys and dogs and how her vile cat Corporal can do no wrong. Oh, if she only knew…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and rewarding family-oriented compote of comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

Archie’s Classic Christmas Stories


By Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-10-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Those Who’ve Been Extra Good This Year… 9/10

As long-term readers might recall, my good lady wife and I have a family ritual we’re not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we barricade the doors, draw the shutters, stockpile munchies, stoke up the radiators and lazily subside with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear.

(Well, I do: she also insists on a few monumental feats of cleaning and shopping before manufacturing the world’s most glorious and stupefying meal to accompany my reading, gorging and – eventually – snoring…)

The irresistible trove of funnybook treasures generally comprises older DC’s, loads of Disney’s and some British annuals, but the vast preponderance is Archie Comics.

From the earliest days this American institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” through a fabulously funny, nostalgically charming, sentimental barrage of cannily-crafted stories capturing the spirit of the season through a range of cartoon stars from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say “comicbooks” people’s thoughts turn to steroidal blokes – and women – in garish tights hitting each other, bending lampposts and lobbing trees or cars about. That or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans.

Throughout the decades though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned. One that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television these days – is the genre of teen-comedy begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following-up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make a little history with its first lead feature The Shield, who was the American industry’s first superhero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield)

After initially revelling in the benefits of the Fights ‘N’ Tights game, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, duh!) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the costumed cavorters and two-fisted adventurers were gently nudged aside – just a fraction at first – by a wholesome, improbable and far-from-imposing new hero; an unremarkable (except, perhaps, for his teeth) teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular Andy Hardy movies, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. Their precocious new notion premiered in Pep #22: a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead Jones and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a multi-media brand which encompasses TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global pop smash. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The Andrews boy is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming house of luurve (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly re-imagining its core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and, over the decades, the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner always both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom have contributed to a wide and appealingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie easily cleared the American industry’s final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream Kids’ comics.

One of the most effective tools in the company’s arsenal has been the never-failing appeal of seasonal and holiday traditions. In Riverdale it was always sunny enough to surf at the beach in summer and it always snowed at Christmas…

The Festive Season has never failed to produce great comics stories. DC especially have since their earliest days perennially embraced the magic of the holiday with a decades-long succession of stunning and sentimental Batman thrillers – as well as many other heroic team-ups incorporating Santa Claus, Rudolph and all the rest.

Archie also started early (1942) and kept on producing year-end classics. The stories became so popular and eagerly anticipated that in 1954 the company created a specific oversized title – Archie’s Christmas Stocking – to cater to the demand, even as it kept the winter months of its other periodicals stuffed with assorted tales of elves and snow and fine fellow-feeling…

This splendidly appealing, full-colour bonanza (recently re-released as an eBook), gathers and re-presents a superb selection of Cool Yule extravaganzas – many by the irrepressible team of Frank Doyle & Harry Lucey – from those end-of-year annuals, beginning, after a jolly, informative Foreword from Kris Kringle himself with ‘Christmas Socking!’ (Archie’s Christmas Stocking #3, 1956) wherein Betty and Veronica throw a Christmas party and convince shy Midge that she should let other boys kiss her should the mistletoe demand it…

That harmless tradition carries its own perils, however, as her possessive boyfriend Moose tends to pound anybody who even looks at her funny, but the girls think they can keep the jealous lummox leashed. They’re wrong in believing the Jock is as dumb as he looks, though…

Four tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #4 (1957) lead off with ‘I Pine Fir You and Balsam’ as our hero convinces Veronica’s millionaire dad to save a few bucks by cutting down his own tree rather than buy one. Mr. Lodge knows Archie of old so he only has himself to blame for the cascade of costly catastrophes that ensue…

‘Dis-Missile’ then sees Betty & Veronica intercepting their friends’ letters to Santa and unable to resist making some wishes come true whilst ‘Idiot’s Delight’ finds Betty employing devastating strategy to monopolise Archie’s attentions in the run-up to Christmas.

‘Dressed to Kill’ closes that year’s festivities with a rarely seen prose vignette with Archie’s girls hosting rival parties on the same night and re-declaring their ongoing war…

There’s a trio of strip sagas from 1958 too as Archie’s Christmas Stocking #5 provides a superb slapstick ‘Slay Ride’ wherein Archie and a borrowed horse make much manic mischief in the Lodge Mansion after which ‘Ring That Belle’ confirms the perils of eavesdropping when Betty gets the wrong idea about Archie’s surprise for Ronnie…

Following a chronological aberration to review ‘Veronica’s Pin-up Page’ from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #15 (1962) we return to 1958 for a ‘Seasonal Smooch’ crafted by Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo, which sees Reggie abusing mistletoe privileges with Midge and sustaining agonising consequences when Big Moose gets wise…

‘The Feather Merchant’ (Archie’s Christmas Stocking #6, 1959) finds Archie in the doghouse after trying to impress bird-collector Mr. Lodge with a shoddy and shambolic selection of Avian Xmas gifts before ‘Those Christmas Blues!’ leads off a triptych of topical tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #10, 1961.

Here Archie’s parents lament that they’ve been sidelined in favour of the girls in their boy’s life but have a wonderful surprise awaiting them whilst ‘Not Even a Moose’ finds Reggie playing foolish pranks on the naïve giant and discovering the danger of telling people there is such a man as Santa.

Next up is an important milestone in Archie continuity. Jingles the Elf has been a seasonal Archie regular for decades and ‘A Job For Jingles’ in ACS #10 was his debut appearance by Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo with the playful imp – who cannot be seen by adults – spending his day off just like any normal lad schmoozing around Riverdale and checking out the “attractions”…

Christmas with the Andrews boy always leads to disaster and injury for Mr. Lodge so in Archie’s Christmas Stocking #20 (1963) he opts for ‘Escape’ to a sunny resort. Sadly, Archie’s ability to jinx the best-laid plans, like Santa Claus, knows no limits of time or distance…

Closing out this tinsel-tinged tome is ‘The Return of Jingles’ (Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #20, 1963), which sees the workshop elf resurface in Riverdale only to be upstaged by a brace of workbench associates who want to see for themselves how much fun humans have…

These are joyously effective and entertaining tales for young and old alike, crafted by some of Santa’s most talented Helpers, epitomising the magic of the Season and celebrating the perfect wonder of timeless all-ages storytelling. What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their kids’ stocking (from where it can most easily be borrowed)?
© 2002 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Dandy Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-605-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Another Crucial Christmas Staple… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Dandy Annual and Beano Book (although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool) and both are available this year to continue a magnificent Seasonal tradition.

The Dandy comic actually predated the Beano by eight months, completely revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read. Over the decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted generations and their end of year celebrations were bumper bonanzas of the comic’s weekly stars in brief or extended stories.

The Dandy Annual 2017 is a particularly welcome occasion for traditionalists since the actual comic was cancelled in 2010, subsequently failed as an online edition and now only exists in the minds and failing memories of old folk like me. Moreover the frantic, helter-skelter gag making continues here unabated, just as it always has…

Following the star-studded front (and back) double-page spreads by the Sharp Brothers, timeless superstar super cowboy Desperate Dan gets into more trouble with his colossal Cow Pies thanks to Ken W. Harrison.

Offering four complete strips per page, Funsize Funnies are fast and furious minicomics providing multiple bangs for your buck, with veteran characters such as Korky the Cat, Corporal Clott, Greedy Pigg, Smasher, Bully Beef and Chips and Dirty Dick joining newer turns like Kid Cops and Pinky’s Crackpot Circus. These generally three-panel-wonders come courtesy of modern mirth masters AR!, Lew Stringer, Nick Brennan, Karl Dixon, Nigel Aucterlounie and others and segue neatly into an episodic comedy thriller as Secret Agent Sally and her hapless hunky sidekick Gus investigate an Arctic Science Station and encounter a monster, before the laughs loop back with Nigel Parkinson’s terrible twins Cuddles and Dimples, priming the taste-buds for a team-up tale featuring most of the cast in ‘The Great Dandy Bake-Off’

Desperate Dan experiences some banking woes before the deeply surreal Pepperoni Pig eludes Big Bad Wolf to deliver her first pizza of the season whilst Beryl the Peril looks for a hobby and only finds trouble. Then Andy Fanton’s Bad Grandad and Mason & Stringer’s Postman Prat pay for their sins and skateboard addict Ollie Fliptrik (Dixon) turns beach sand adversity to his advantage

A lengthy exploit of canine marvel Agent Dog 2 Zero frustrating feline felonies leads to tonsorial terror for Cactusville residents when Aunt Aggie decides it’s time Desperate Dan had a haircut, after which Pepperoni Pig rides her Vespa hard and The Jocks and the Geordies renew their age-old class war…

After Secret Agent Sally turns monster-hunter, Jamie Smart’s My Dad’s a Doofus proves the folly of fast food and Bad Grandad nearly spoils Christmas, as a prelude to another octet of Funsize Funnies. More parental grief is provided by Cuddles and Dimples before schoolboy Charley Brand and his robot pal Brassneck resurface to play one too many classroom pranks…

Postman Prat has a snow day after which Wilbur Dawbarn revives devious child of privilege Winker Watson to again wreak terror on the masters at his boarding school whilst Beryl the Peril goes ballooning with Greedy Pigg and Corporal Clott.

Boy boffin Blinky modernises letter writing to Santa, Pepperoni Pig clashes with the wolf again and snow proves no obstacle to wheel-crazy stunter Ollie Fliptrik.

There are plenty of reprise opportunities for Brassneck, My Dad’s a Doofus, the Funsize Funnies gang, Desperate Dan, Blinky, Bad Grandad and Cuddles and Dimples before Secret Agent Sally and Gus broach a master villain’s icy lair and the Jocks and the Geordies finally find something to agree on…

Another colossal star-studded collaboration finds all the Dandy regulars competing in dire dance-off ‘Sickly Come Dancing’. Then it’s back to jolly solo strips for Brassneck, Winker Watson, My Dad’s a Doofus, Pepperoni Pig, Postman Prat, Blinky and the Funsize crowd before Ollie Fliptrik makes merry mayhem…

The cataclysmic conclusion of Secret Agent Sally’s icy escapade follows short stints from Beryl, Grandad, Dan and Cuddles and Dimples and then it’s one more wave of madcap mirth from the cast in solo stories before Desperate Dan closes the book and brings the house down for another year…

A great big (285 x 215 mm), full colour hardback, The Dandy Annual provides an unmissable Xmas treat; as it has for generations of kids and grandparents, and this year the wealth of talent and accumulations of fun are as grand as they ever were.

Fast, funny and timelessly exuberant, this is a true bulwark of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

Beano Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-603-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: No Christmas Complete Without One… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Beano Book and/or its companion tome The Dandy – although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool. Happily in these parlous times of uncertainty both are available this year to maintain a magnificent Seasonal tradition and a smidgen of comforting stability.

Unmissable treats for generations of kids and grandparents, this year both great big (285 x 215 mm) full-colour hardback Annual offerings are packed with a wealth of talent and as great as ever…

Beano Annual 2017 takes us through key points of the year and offers a wildly anarchic gathering of stars, opening and closing with chaotically star-stuffed double page spreads by Nigel Parkinson.

The panoply of perilous perishing kids unleashes Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, David Sutherland’s Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Gnasher and Gnipper!, Calamity James, Minnie the Minx and Bananaman in daily doses of crime and punishments – and the cartoon attractions do so on a regular basis throughout the book as they track through a year in the life of the characters…

However, colossal themed team-ups are all the rage these days, so we have some of those too, as Beanotown Adventures offers a shocking mash-up of little horrors amusing in unison.

Nigel Parkinson delineates the Valentine’s Day calamity after Minnie gets hold of Cupid’s machine gun and starts dispensing love-bullets to all and sundry, providing unspeakable horror and embarrassment to the other characters all over town…

Shorter strips that follow include Nigel Aucterlounie’s The Numskulls, more Bash Street Kids, Wilbur Dawbarn’s Billy Whizz and return engagements for Roger, Dennis, Gnasher, and Minnie, whose time-travel caper takes us from January to St. George’s Day. Then Ball Boy and Bananaman endure inclement weather and the hay fever rites of Spring…

Easter with the Bash Street Kids leads to another multi-star Beanotown Adventure set on a flatulence-filled May Fourth – yes! Star Wars Day

The recurring cast pop up thick and fast in quick solo japes or extended excursions such as Bananaman’s clash with the book’s recurring masked villain “Boy Genius

Amongst the storm of madcap mayhem, Laura Howell’s know-it-all Angel Face puts her foot down and The Numskulls endure even more allergy aggro in Edd’s Head before the Bash Streeters have their own brush with Boy Genius.

More solo strips from old pals then carry us into high summer as ‘Beach Bother’ sees the entire unsavoury cast hit the seaside for another aggregated Beanotown Adventure…

Diverse hands take all those sullen kids ‘Back to School’ and all too soon Halloween rears its misshapen, badly carved orange heads; but even doughty Bananaman can’t stop the little louts sneaking out to a stone age monument for a mass Beanotown party only to encounter ‘The Creature from the Big Rocks Henge!’

All too soon it’s Yule time again and after a silly streak of solo stories, the cast all reunite for the big closer as the esteemed Mr. Dickens gets a hilarious kicking in ‘A Christmas Beano Carol’

Fast, irreverent and timelessly exuberant, The Beano Annual is a cornerstone of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

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.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 11: The Wrong Head


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-313-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous boy was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials; introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946) and the new guy ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio.

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio over the years.

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Originally serialised in Spirou # 840-869 in 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1957 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 8La mauvaise tête, this sinister yarn begins as Spirou visits his short-tempered pal Fantasio and finds the house a shambles. The intrepid reporter has ransacked his home in search of missing passport photos but his insensate fury abates a bit after Spirou convinces him to come play paddleball.

However, whilst looking for a lost ball in the woods, Spirou finds one of the missing photos but thinks nothing of it…

That evening strange events begin: Spirou sees Fantasio acting oddly in town and when a jeweller is robbed, a brutalised merchant identifies Fantasio as the smash-and-grab thief…

Seeds of suspicion are sown and Spirou doesn’t know what to think when a solid gold Egyptian mask is stolen on live TV. The bandit is clearly seen to be his best pal…

Spirou is still trying to reason with Fantasio when the police arrive and, with nobody believing the reporter’s ridiculous story of being in Paris on a spurious tip, watches with helpless astonishment as the accused makes a bold escape bid…

Still astounded, Spirou wanders to the ramshackle house where he found the missing photo and finds a strange set-up: a plaster cast of Fantasio and weird plastic goo in a mixing bowl…

His snooping is suddenly disturbed by screams and sounds of a struggle. Following the cacophony he finds one man holding the stolen gold mask and another on the floor. The standing man is too quick to catch and drives away with a third stranger, but as Spirou questions the beaten victim he learns that the loser of the fight is a sculptor who was hired to make astounding life-like masks of a certain journalist…

Soon Spirou is hot on the trail of the criminal confederates and uncovers a diabolical scheme to destroy Fantasio by an old enemy they had both discounted and almost forgotten…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, the search for The Wrong Head is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

As if the criminal caper and its spectacular courtroom drama climax is not enough, this tome also includes a sweet early solo outing for the marvellous Marsupilami as ‘Paws off the Robins’ finds the plastic pro-simian electing himself guardian of a nestful of newborn hatchlings in Count Champignac’s copious gardens, resolved to defend the chicks from a marauding cat at all costs…

Stuffed with fabulously fun, riotous chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant tome is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is pure cartoon gold: an enduring comics treat, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1957 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.