The World of Pont

New, Revised Review

By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books 1983)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning he channelled his artistic bent into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother and trained as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Always dogged by ill-health Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for the Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. In August of that year he sold his first cartoon to that prestigious bulwark of British publishing Punch.

He was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place Laidler travelled the world and drew funny pictures, mostly of The English both at home and abroad generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus”…

His greatest gift was a surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and gentle, baroque and subtle picture plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humorist and draughtsman can still be felt.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format Pont’s true fully mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His cartoons exemplified the British to the world at large and to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell or Ronald Searle, you won’t regret the search.

Unbelievably, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive collection of his work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont and this magical compendium The World of Pont, which comprises the perfect primer by sampling the best of his drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’, ‘The British at War’, ‘Popular Misconceptions’, ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love good drawing and sharp observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.

Jak volume 15 (1983)


By Jak (Express Newspapers)
ISBN: 0-85079-133-2

The truly sad if not terrifying thing about rereading topical news cartoons this long after the fact is how distressingly familiar the subjects and hot topics still are.

For example this volume taken from 1983 features crass greed and duplicity amongst our financial elite, Prince Andrew starring in all the wrong sort of headlines, returning British soldiers, children easily subverting electronics systems designed to deny them access to things they shouldn’t see, all the wrong sorts of weather in the most inconvenient places, Sectarianism (Irish and otherwise), railways under-performing, overcharging and under the cosh, football violence and footballers peccadilloes (look it up if you must), Middle East madness, industrial action and business inaction, heat waves and water shortages, crises in Greece, controversies in definitions of rape, strangers making themselves at home in Buckingham Palace and a Tory Government that simply adored shooting off its collective mouth whilst simultaneously shooting itself in the foot…

This compendium even closes with looming public cynicism about an impending global sporting event…

Sometimes our industry is cruel and unjust. This collection of cartoons by Raymond Allen Jackson, who, as Jak, worked for thirty years as political cartoonist for London Evening Standard and its later incarnation The Standard – is one of many that celebrated his creativity, perspicacity and acumen as he drew pictures and scored points with and among the entire range of British Society.

His gags, produced daily to a punishing deadline as they had to be topical, were appreciated, if not feared, by toffs and plebs alike and were created with a degree of craft and diligence second to none. Even now, decades later, they are still shining examples of wit and talent… and they’re still bitingly funny too.

Artists like Jak who were commenting on contemporary events are poorly served by posterity. This particular volume (re-presenting a selection of single panel-gags from September 15th 1982 to August 12th 1983), like all of these books, was packaged and released for that year’s Christmas market, with the topics still fresh in people’s minds.

Decades later the drawing is still superb and despite perhaps the wry minutiae escaping a few the trenchant wit, dry jabs and outraged passion which informed these visual ripostes are still powerfully effective. And obviously human nature never changes and there’s nothing new under the sun…

It’s a terrible shame that the vast body of graphic excellence which topical cartoonists produce has such a tenuous shelf-life. Perhaps some forward looking educational institution with a mind to beefing up the modern history or social studies curricula might like to step in and take charge of the tragically untapped and superbly polished catalogue of all our yesterdays.

Clearly they’re all short of a bob or two these days and I’m pretty sure these cartoon gems could find a willing market eager to invest in a few good laughs…
© 1983 Express Newspapers Limited.

Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and the Banquet, Asterix and Cleopatra


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion and others)
ISBNs: 978-0-7528-6611-6, 978-0-7528-6609-3 and 978-0-7528-6607-9

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a wily wee warrior who resisted the iniquities, experienced the absurdities and observed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion which bestowed incredible strength, speed and vitality.

One of the most popular comics in the world, the chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even into a theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created as the transformative 1960s began by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though their perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

When Pilote launched in 1959 was Asterix was a massive hit from the start. For a while Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes since then.

Like all great literary classics the premise works on two levels: for younger readers as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies regularly getting their just deserts and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, enhanced here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Launched in Pilote #1 (29th October 1959, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, June 1st 1959), the stories was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the all-conquering Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

With these volumes a key pattern was established: the adventures would henceforth- like a football match – alternate between Home and Away, with each globe-trotting escapade balanced by an epic set in and around he happily beleaguered Gaulish village (if you’re counting, home tales were odd numbered volumes and travelling exploits even-numbered…)

Asterix the Gladiator debuted in Pilote #126-168 in 1963 and saw the canny rebel and his increasingly show-stealing pal Obelix (who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero) despatched to the heart of the Roman Empire on an ill-conceived mission of mercy…

When Prefect Odius Asparagus wanted to give Julius Caesar a unique gift he decided upon one of the indomitable Gauls who had been giving his occupying forces such a hard time.

Thus he had village Bard Cacofonix abducted and bundled off to Rome. Although in two minds about losing the raucous harpist, pride won out and the villagers mounted a rescue attempt, but after thrashing the Romans again they discovered that their lost comrade was already en route for the Eternal City…

Asterix and Obelix were despatched to retrieve the missing musician and hitched a ride on a Phoenician galley operated under a bold new business plan by captain/general manager Ekonomikrisis. On the way to Italy the heroes first encountered a band of pirates who would become frequent guest-stars and perennial gadflies.

The pirates were a creative in-joke between the close-knit comics creative community: Barbe-Rouge or Redbeard was a buccaneering strip created by Charlier and Victor Hubinon that also ran in Pilote at the time.

As Asterix and Obelix made friends among the cosmopolitan crowds of Rome, Caesar had already received his latest gift. Underwhelmed by his new Bard, the Emperor sent Cacofonix to the Circus Maximus to be thrown to the lions just as his chief of Gladiators Caius Fatuous was “talent-spotting” two incredibly tough strangers who would make ideal arena fighters…

Since it was the best way to get to Cacofonix our heroes joined the Imperial Gladiatorial school; promptly introducing a little Gallic intransigence to the tightly disciplined proceedings. When the great day arrived the lions had the shock of their lives and the entertainment-starved citizens of Rome got a show they would never forget…

As always the good-natured, comedic situations and sheer finesse of the yarn rattles along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s expansive, authentic and continually improving big-foot art-style.

Asterix and the Banquet originated in Pilote #172-213 (1963) and was inspired by the Tour de France cycle race.

After being continually humiliated by the intractable Gauls coming and going as they pleased, Roman Inspector General Overanxius instigated a policy of exclusion and built a huge wall around the little village, determined to shut them off from their country and the world.

Incensed, Asterix bet the smug Prefect that Gauls could go wherever they pleased and to prove it invited the Romans to a magnificent feast where they could sample the culinary delights of the various regions. Breaking out of the stockade and through the barricades, Asterix and Obelix went gathering produce from as far afield as Rotomagus (Rouen), Lutetia (Paris, where they also picked up a determined little mutt who would eventually become a star cast-member), Camaracum (Cambrai) and Durocortorum (Rheims), easily evading or overcoming the assembled patrols and legions of man-hunting soldiers. However, they didn’t reckon on the corrupting power of the huge – and growing – bounty on their heads…

Some Gauls were apparently more greedy than patriotic…

Even with Asterix held captive and all the might of the Empire ranged against them, Gaulish honour was upheld and Overanxius, after some spectacular fights, chases and close calls eventually was made to eat his words – and a few choice Gallic morsels – in this delightful, bombastic and exceedingly clever celebration of pride and whimsy.

Asterix and Cleopatra ran from 1963-1963 in issues #215-257 and although deriving its title from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is actually a broad visual spoof of the 1963 movie blockbuster Cleopatra (the original collected album cover was patterned on the film poster).

Rome was a big empire to run but Caesar always had time to spare for the fascinating Queen of Egypt – even though she could be a little overbearing at times…

When Caesar called her people decadent, Cleopatra announced that her Egyptians would build a magnificent palace within three months to prove their continued ingenuity and vitality.

Her architect Edifis was less confidant and subcontracted the job, recruiting his old friend Getafix the Druid to help, with Asterix, Obelix and faithful pooch Dogmatix coming along to keep him out of trouble…

After another short, sharp visit with the pirates, the voyagers reached the Black Lands only to find the building site a shambles. Edifis’ arch rival Artifis had jealously stirred up unrest among the labourers and consequently sabotaged the supply-chain, entombed the visitors in a deadly tourist-trap and even framed Edifis by attempting to poison the Queen.

For all these tactics the ingenious Gauls had a ready solution and the Palace construction continued apace, but when Caesar, determined not to lose face to his tempestuous paramour, sent his Legions to destroy the almost-completed complex, it was up to the two smallest, smartest warriors to come up with a solution to save the day, the Palace and the pride of two nations…

Outrageously fast-paced and funny and magnificently illustrated by a supreme artist at the very peak of his form, Asterix and Cleopatra is one of the very best epics from a series that has nothing but brilliant hits.

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats and earlier editions going all the way back to the 1969 Brockhampton editions are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale.

Be warned though, that if pure continuity matters only Orion, the current British publisher, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – and are in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely aesthetic note some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather exuberant approach to colour that might require you to don sunglasses but could save you a fortune on lighting your house… and possibly heating it too…

This is supremely enjoyable comics storytelling and if you’re still not au fait with these Village People you must be as Crazy as the Romans ever were…

© 1964-1965 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Shorts


By Milo Manara, translated by Tom Leighton (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-087416-060-4

For some folks the graphic novel under review here will be unacceptably dirty. If that’s you, please stop here and come back tomorrow when there will something you’ll approve of but which will surely offend somebody else.

I’m in a mature and contemplative mood today, so here’s a review of a rather quirky and philosophical confection by one of the world’s greatest graphic eroticists. Originally translated into English from the French edition Courts Mệtrages by Catalan in 1989, it’s another inexplicably Out-of-Print graphic gem desperately in need of a English language release…

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink. He is best known for his wry and always controversial sexually explicit material – although that’s more an indicator of our comics market than any artistic obsession.

His training was in the classical arts of painting and architecture before succumbing to the lure of comics. In 1969, he started his career with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his adult career (see what I did there?) illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work, a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King was released as Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape).

By the end of the seventies he was working for Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as an A-list creator. It was while creating material for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman for A Suivre.

As the 80’s staggered to a close he wrote and drew, in his characteristic blend of bawdy burlesque and saucy slapstick, the eccentric selection of satirical, baroque tales gathered here as a wry and penetrating assault on modern media and bastardized popular cultural which were increasingly being used to cloak capitalist intrusions and commercial seductions.

In these absurdist, voyeuristic, fourth-wall breaking, intellectually-challenging and exceedingly sexy black and white vignettes Manara highlights the diminishing divisions between Art and Selling, with tales intended to make your head throb as much as your nether regions…

The sensorial incursion commences with ‘Commercial’, as couch-potato is inexorably drawn into the Casanovan drama he is watching and the drama’s TV-contained characters are impeded in their roles by the intrusive presence of the sponsor’s unsavoury product – adult diapers.

All of these tales are visually influenced by icons of the Great Arts, such as Luciano Pavarotti and Fellini, whilst ‘Blue Period’ details the ruthless nature of commercialism as a photographic director goes to extraordinary lengths to reproduce a Picasso painting for an album cover. Sadly, under normal conditions, the human body just doesn’t bend that way…

‘X3’ offers to reveal your sex-portrait with a brief questionnaire survey carried out by aliens well-versed in the techniques of abduction and probing whilst ‘John Lennon’ delightfully describes what happened after the master musician got to Heaven and ‘Acherontia Atropos’ plays a very dark prank on a cameraman who signs up to film a genuine snuff-movie…

‘Untitled’ returns to the role of unsatisfied Casanova as the legendary lover suffers a unquantifiable loss and surreal challenge to his life-style, but ‘The Last Tragic Day of Gori Bau & the Callipygian Sister’ sinisterly shows the dark-side of underage explorations as a trio of kids invoke feelings and powers they are not equipped to cope with…

The allegorical ambuscade concludes with the calamitously comedic surreal science fiction yarn ‘And’ as an Earthman and an Arturian escape from a dying planet thanks to the power of a book which writes itself and predicts the future. If only the incredible chronicle had a spell-checker too…

Described in Manara’s beautifully rendered, lavish line-work this explicit, daringly deep and sexually charged selection makes intriguing points of social and creative commentary in an utterly seductive and fascinating manner, but even at its most raunchy, funny and challenging this tome is first and foremost a work of sublime pictorial entertainment desperately worthy of a new edition.
© 1989 Milo Manara/Staletti, agent, Paris. English Language edition © 1989 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)
Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5, 978-0-75286-613-0 and 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and, whenever necessary, a magical potion which imbued the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most read writers of comicstrips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

In 1945 while working as junior illustrator in an ad agency his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom Goscinny produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé). He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met life-long creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time Rene created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine and illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny clearly patented the 40-hour day. Using the nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Dino Attanasio (Signor Spagetti ), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric ), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet, Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, as well as the fabulous and funny adventures of the incredible Indian brave Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) plus a little something called Asterix the Gaul, inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962) illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, the son of Italian immigrants. As a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic and showed artistic flair from an early age. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13 as an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region became the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s – and my – closer attention).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck.

He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a western starring a Red Indian that became the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart, for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year later, he made his debut in Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also worked Poussin et Poussif, La Famillle Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine with the series Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a little something called Asterix

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first adventure was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes since then.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, he is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959- 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1, 1959), the story was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the world-beating Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire has resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this perfect scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus, fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen, sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable resistors take the infiltrator in and dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, the Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case and breaks into Compendium determined to teach the Romans a lesson. After driving them crazy for awhile by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer finesse of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style. From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale. Be warned though that if pure continuity matters only the most recent British publisher, Orion, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – which is how I intend to review them – and are even in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely artistic note some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather unconventional approach to colour that might require you to wear sunglasses and put blinkers on your pets and staff…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 (August 11th 1960-1961) and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there, Metallurgix the Smith, he also volunteers and the two are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit the many roadside inns and tavern serving roast boar…

There is a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing the prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and more worrying still master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing…

Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format and the next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the plot-thread of the Druid Conference. As Getafix, new golden sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete, on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of Rome – crossed into pacified Roman territory intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar.

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion the Goths struck, abducting him in his moment of triumph.

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic pair tracked the kidnappers but were mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans were no threat they could be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans and invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator, and when Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the permanent and imposing threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that succeeded for almost two thousand years…

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “sad”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British boys comic Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) and issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232; 25th June 1966). Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was an quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a radically altered state.

In these translations Asterix became “Beric”, Getafix was “Doric” and Obelix was dubbed “Son of Boadicea”. More jingoistically the entire village was editorially transported to England where a valiant population of True Brits never ever surrendered to the Roman Occupation!

Similar intellectual travesties occurred during two abortive early attempts to introduce the gutsy Gauls to America as a heavily re-edited family newspaper strip…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.

© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Ordinary Victories Complete Set


By Manu Larcenet, colours by Patrice Larcenet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Complete Set ISBN: 978-1-56163-600-6.  Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1-56163-423-1 Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1-56163-

One of the very best European comics series of recent times is now available as a complete bargain-priced banded set.

Ordinary Victories examines the introspective and incidental life of neurotic, left-leaning, change-dreading Marco Louis in the years before the conservative/centrist Sarkozy government came to power. In mesmerising, eulogistic and winningly comedic narrative and alternating modes of illustration ranging from brashly big-foot to sensitively realistic, the soul-searching isolationist examines himself, his past, his art and his family and consequently finds a future he can at least settle for…

The four albums released in France translate to two solidly satisfying tomes here and opens with Marco, who has been subject to devastating panic attacks for years, not getting through to his therapist before giving up visiting his happy, married and well-adjusted brother to get high, chill out and reminisce.

Marco is just the kind of guy who lets life get to him. Visiting his over-protective mum and frail dad only heightens his general tension, but he does get a hint of parts of his father’s life he never before knew.

Returning to his isolated rural cottage and Adolf, his maniacal cat, Marco tries to get back to his photo-journalism job, but the despair and hatred he feels for the whole rat-race won’t go away. Wracked by anxiety and nightmares Marco takes his cat for walks in the woods where he encounters an abusive, trespass-obsessed farmer and a wise old gentleman.

When Adolf is savaged by a dog Marco meets a charming vet who inexplicably likes him, but life compensates for the nice event by getting Marco fired…

Unemployed but obsessed with his art, Marco still resists change: Emily is making noises about moving in together but the potential commitment terrifies him. He certainly can’t handle her outright demands for a baby…

The country seems to be heading for outright fascism too, his neighbour is a maniac and when he visits the old gentleman Marco discovers an unsettling connection to his dad’s mysterious war service. His paranoia goes into overdrive when he finds out what kind of a soldier old man Mesrin was and with his world spinning the angst-wracked artist is compelled to change or die…

The second part of volume 1 is ‘Negligible Amounts’ and sees the now officially-paired couple Emily and Marco visiting his parents where the son learns some unpleasant truths about his father’s health. The once vigorous and sharp-witted ship-worker is fading…

Marco’s shots of the dying Shipyard win him a Paris gallery show, but meeting his artistic and creative heroes proves a painful experience. Still the promise of a book might boost his reputation and save his dad’s old work comrades from redundancy, even if some of them are already talking of closures, unemployment and even changing their political allegiances…

With Right-wing radicalism in the streets and racism in the air Marco and his brother are pretty glum and soon after pretty drunk. When another panic attack hits hard the photographer only narrowly avoids an extended stay in a psychiatric unit… and then he gets the phone call about his father…

Volume 2 of Ordinary Victories opens with the eponymous ‘What is Precious’ as Marco slowly adjusts to his father’s death, getting even closer to Emily… at least when her incessant demands for a baby aren’t freaking him out.

With a book deal and a new analyst, things seem to be progressing but the contents of his dad’s diary provides fresh material for passive hysteria, as does his previously indomitable mother’s new attitude. Unable to stand the strain any longer, Marco confronts Mesrin and demands to know just what ghastly atrocities the old man and the deceased ship-builder actually committed…

The final chapter ‘Hammering Nails’ opens with new mum Emily and their delightful daughter Maude providing new and different anxieties for Marco, especially since he finally agreed to move the family into a bigger house…

The Shipyard is in its final days and as Marco photographs the resigned but striking workers his thoughts are more confused than ever. Everybody else either accepts or fights life’s vicissitudes: why can’t he do either?

There’s yet another election coming and everybody thinks a great change is coming – but for Marco that’s never been a comforting notion…

This is a subtle, funny and deeply contemplative tale, deftly understated and compellingly seductive. A commonplace guy handles nothing we blokes haven’t all faced and reacts pretty much as any guy would: astonished to make it safely through another day, always astonished that our partner seems to love us, claims to know us and yet stays anyway. Ordinary Victories is about frustration, loss, disappointment, and yes, occasional triumphs. These books are wonderful, sublime, magical comics and you really should read them…

© Dargaud 2005, 2007, 2008 by Larcenet. Translation © 2005, 2008 NBM.

Dungeon Quest Book 2


By Joe Daly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-436-8

Cartoonist and animator Joe Daly has come a long way and won a lot of friends with his eccentric, eclectic comics narratives since he broke into the American market with the beguiling and memorable Scrublands in 2006. British born and raised in South Africa, Daly quirkily blends elements as diverse as drug-culture, dead-pan comedy, penetrating soul-searching, the irrepressible ebullience of youth, and wry social commentary in a dreamy primitivist manner reminiscent of the truly great Underground Commix (and, for me at least, captivating touches of Bryan Talbot in his Brainstorm Comics days) and absurdist art and music.

His latest, award-winning, on-going project Dungeon Quest is a delightful combination of nerdy discipline and pharmaceutical excess wherein a group of stoner Dungeons and Dragons disciples actually undertake a fantasy voyage to realms fantastical, dangerous and excessively violent.

Now with volume 2, the prime mystical quest to find and reassemble the incredible Atlantean Resonator Guitar takes Millennium Boy (the smart one), Steven (the capable one), Lash Penis (the steroid-fuelled warrior) and Nerdgirl (who doesn’t talk much) through the spider-haunted Fireburg forest to a hidden Masonic temple filled with fresh weapons, cosmic mysteries and even a few rewards and answers – at least to their secondary sub-quest: finding the gender ambiguous prophet-poet Bromedes and returning his magnificent penis-sheath…

Overcoming hunger, privation, a lack of latrines, ancient puzzles, river trolls, a sea of vegetable detritus and a giant leaf monster whilst taking every possible opportunity to get brain-bustingly wasted, the post-modern Argonauts make great strides in their mission and eventually achieve their secondary goal. Nevertheless, there are still miles to go and much to see, snort or kill before they quest is over…

Happily marrying the sensibilities of post-grunge, teenaged waste-lads as typified by Jay and Silent Bob, Harold and Kumar or the assorted boy loons in films like Without a Paddle or even Dude, Where’s My Car? with the meticulous and finicky obsessions of role-playing gamers and the raw thrill of primal myths, this captivating and wittily indulgent yarn is enchantingly rendered in solid, blocky friendly black and white and garnished with lashings of smart-ass attitude.

Strength: vulgar. Intelligence: witty. Dexterity: compelling. Mana: absolutely. Status: unmissable.

© 2011 Joe Daly. All rights reserved.

Celeb


By Charles Peattie, Mark Warren & Russell Taylor (Private Eye/Corgi)
ISBN: 0-552-13858-4

In terms of taste, as in so many other arenas, our modern world seems to be heading for Heck in a hand-basket, so  I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a little lost gem of British cartooning delight that’s increasing re-relevant in these appalling days of fame campaigns and dodgy talent show democracy.

Celeb was a strip which ran in that evergreen gadfly Private Eye, beginning in May 1987, created by Mark Warren and the team of Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor (who were simultaneously crafting the abortive first iteration of greed-glorifying mini-classic Alex for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News).

For years credited to the pseudonymous “Ligger”, the pithy and hilarious episodes followed the day to day life of Swinging Sixties survivor and disgracefully declining rock-legend Gary Bloke as he dealt with a changing world, thinning hair, parenthood and inexorable middle age.

These days with 24/7 reality shows, desperate celebrities enduring career-resuscitating humiliations in locked houses and jungle clearings and a host of other self-inflicted, double-edged B-list exposé freak-shows everywhere, the outrageous pronouncements and antics of Gary seem pretty tame but in the days before Ozzy Osbourne became more famous for parenting and not singing whilst footballers’ performance off the field took precedence over goals scored on it, the sozzled, crass, befuddled, and pitifully pompous cocky cockney-boy-made-good was the very epitome of affably acceptable, ego-bloated, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandizing, drug-fuelled idiocy.

Within this collection from 1991 the legendary “Man of the Peeple” distributes kernels of hard-won wisdom to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Clive James, Cilla Back, Ruby Wax, Barry Norman, Anne Diamond, Selena Scott, Michael Aspel and other interviewers of lesser longevity, tackles world poverty and the environment head-on (and eyes tight shut), learns how to cope with those new-fangled rock videos, adapts to the needs of his burgeoning family and, of course, consumes a phenomenal quantity of recreational pharmaceuticals…

Including a selection of interviews from the Sunday Times (October 1989), The Sun (Wednesday August 3rd 1988) and candid shots of Gary with Bob Geldof and George Michael at Live Aid, the collection concludes with the infamous days during which Gary was dead of an overdose and met both God and Elvis, plus the sordid truth behind his numerous brushes with the law, leading to his 18-month stretch At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and subsequent key role in a terrible prison riot for better conditions and macrobiotic food…

The heady cocktail of drink, sex, drugs, money, sport, music, adoration and always-forgiven crassness is perhaps the reason so many folks are seduced by celebrity. If you want to see another side to the fame-game and have a hearty laugh into the bargain Gary Bloke is your man…
© 1991 Peattie, Taylor & Warren. All Rights Reserved.

Max


By Giovanetti (Macmillan, New York)
No ISBN

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II and one look at his work will instantly show you why. Born in 1916 in Switzerland, this doyen of brilliant penmen launched his most famous character in Punch in April 1953 – from whence most of these scintillating escapades sprang (the remaining pieces are courtesy of Nebelspalter and Glamour).

Max is a small, round furry creature most likened to a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were both cute and whimsical – as well as trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride brought low and pomposity punctured, but he did. The weekly incidents were also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality; a funny animal for adults and children.

Max was syndicated across the world, (known as Mr. Makkusu-san in Japan) numbering such diverse luminaries as Jason Robards and Charles Schulz as fans and even lending its image and cache to the British Navy and Swiss Air Force as mascot and figurehead.

There were four collections between 1954 and 1961: this one, Max Presents, Nothing But Max and the Penguin Max. Like these, two other collections, Beware of the Dog and Birds without Words, are also criminally out of print.

In this initial 96 page hardback the hairy hero happily demonstrates the challenges inherent in assorted musical instruments, ink-pens, all kind of cooking, drink, hats, hobbies and a host of other occupations and interests…

For all his trenchant ability to convey meaning and offer salutary warnings without uttering a sound, Max’s origins – and indeed species – was a subject of much dispute in the four corners of the globe until Clive King and Giovanetti revealed all in the magical children’s book Hamid of Aleppo, (written in 1958) which delightfully revealed the little wonder’s true origins, antecedents, taxonomy and species: Max is a Syrian Golden Hamster!

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see and the fact that his work should be forgotten is a travesty and a crime. If you ever find a collection of his work do yourself the biggest favour of your life and grab it with both hands.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Just as it finally provided me with a book I’d been hunting out for decades it also revealed that I’d been a short-sighted idiot for not looking further afield – or indeed across the Channel.

A French edition was released in 2003 (ISBN-13: 978-2-21107-074-4) because our Gallic cousins have a far more informed opinion of comics and cartooning than us Anglos – and since all these glorious cartoons are wordless masterpieces that shouldn’t hinder anybody wishing to make the acquaintance of this magical superstar of yesteryear – and, hopefully tomorrow…
© 1954 Pericle Luigi Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Jak volume 13 (1981)


By Jak (Express Newspapers)
ISBN: 0-85079-117-0

I reviewed one of Jak’s earliest collections a few years back and churlishly bemoaned the lack of contextual grounding, utterly forgetting that a brief time later the editors of the series began doing just that so here’s another bite of a superb cartoon cherry that’s still not impossible for the determined fan to find.

The truly sad if not terrifying thing about rereading topical news cartoons years if not decades later is how distressingly familiar the subjects and hot topics are.

For example this volume taken from 1981 features an impending Royal Wedding, bombings in Ireland, nuclear contamination, BP cocking up the planet, banking scandals, insane cuts in military spending, increased unemployment – especially for school and college leavers, brutal spending cuts, a chancellor who couldn’t add up (Geoffrey Howe back then), cynical disinformational bitching about overpaid Council and public sector workers plus a Tory government falling apart and attacking itself and its partners.

However, that time the Government saved itself by fighting a war with somebody thousands of miles away over oil, but there’s no chance of that happening aga…

Hey, wait a minute…

Even the quirky “silly season” stories seem afflicted by generational déjà vu then and now: ITV’s breakfast show was suffering a star-strapped meltdown, the space shuttle was big news (the first not last ever flight into orbit), Prince Andrew was embarrassing us in the eyes of the world, a major acting star went spectacularly off the rails and we were “all in it together” with even rich people cutting down on luxuries (slightly) and England had an appalling football team…

This compendium even closes with the threat of impending war in Libya…

Sometimes our industry is cruel and unjust. This collection of cartoons by Raymond Allen Jackson, who, as Jak, worked for thirty years as political cartoonist for London Evening Standard – renamed by this time as The Standard – is one of many that celebrated his creativity, perspicacity and acumen as he drew pictures and scored points with and among the entire range of British Society.

His gags, produced daily to a punishing deadline as they had to be topical, were appreciated, if not feared, by toffs and plebs alike and were created with a degree of craft and diligence second to none. Even now, decades later, they are still shining examples of wit and talent. Most of them are still scathingly funny too.

Artists like Jak who were commenting on contemporary events are poorly served by posterity. This particular volume (re-presenting a selection of single panel-gags from September 5th 1980 to October 19th 1981), like all of these books, was packaged and released for that year’s Christmas market, with the topics still fresh in people’s minds. Thirty years later – although the drawing is still superb – although the minutiae might escape a few – the trenchant wit, dry jabs and outraged passion which informed these pictorial puncture wounds is still powerfully present. And clearly human nature never changes…

It’s just a huge shame that the vast body of graphic excellence that news cartoonists produce has such a tenuous shelf-life. Perhaps some forward looking university with a mind to jazzing up their modern history or social studies curricula might want to step up and take charge of the tragically untapped and superbly polished catalogue of all our yesterdays…
© 1981 Express Newspapers Limited.