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.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge volume 1: Pure Viewing Satisfaction


By Rodolfo Cimino, Alberto Savini, Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans, Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Romano Scarpa, Andrea Freccero, Luca Boschi, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Tony Strobl & various (Disney Comics/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-388-0

Scrooge McDuck premiered in the Donald Duck tale ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947): a mere disposable comedy foil to move along a simple tale of Seasonal woe and joy.

The old miser was crusty, energetic, menacing, money-mad and yet oddly lovable – and thus far too potentially valuable to be misspent or thrown away. Undoubtedly, the greatest cartoon creation of the legendary and magnificent story showman Carl Barks, the Downy Dodecadillionaire returned often and eventually expanded to fill all available space in the tales from scenic metropolis Duckburg.

The comicbook stories and newspaper strips of the Disney studios quickly travelled around the world and were particularly loved and venerated in Europe where Italy, Germany, The Low Countries (that’s the Benelux region of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), Britain and especially the Scandinavian countries all made them their own, with supplemental new adventures and frolics that often surpassed the efforts of all but Carl Barks himself.

During the latter part of the 20th century Disney US downsized their own comics output, and eventually Barks and latter-day American giants like Don Rosa graduated to producing new material for the monumental continental Disney Comics publishing machines such as the Gutenberghus Group and Disney Italia.

In recent years the best of that Continental canon has been seen stateside in comicbooks and collected albums such as this one celebrating the pecuniary parsimony and eccentric antics of the Richest Duck in the World… and about time too!

Bold, brash, lightning-paced, visually spectacular and hilariously funny, this compilation – reprinting the American IDW comicbooks Uncle Scrooge #1-3 (lettered throughout by Tom B. Long) – commences with the epic saga of ‘Gigabeagle: King of the Robot Robbers’ – translated and polished by Jonathan H. Gray from an original Italian epic written by Rodolfo Cimino, limned by Romano Scarpa & Giorgio Cavazzano with colours by Digikore Studios.

The monstrous nightmare begins with Scrooge wracked with worry. The nefarious Beagle Boys have escaped jail again and the tension of waiting for their inevitable raid on his mammoth Money Bin is moving the miserly mallard to distraction. Determined to calm the old coot down, Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie take him camping.

…And that’s where sleep-deprived Donald first encounters the gigantic robotic bandit the Beagles have built to empty Scrooge’s vault…

The Brobdingnagian brute is clearly unstoppable, but the bandits have foolishly built their ponderous puppet too well and before long the ducks are triumphant once again…

Longer yarns are counter-pointed with short, smart strips such as the eponymous ‘Pure Viewing Satisfaction’ (Alberto Savini & Andrea Freccero with translation and colours from David Gerstein over the original Disney Italia hues) which offers a unique interpretation of television luxury before ‘Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Sly’ – by Scarpa, Luca Boschi, Sandro Del Conte, Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Joe Torcivia – finds Scrooge hunting a shabby vagabond who keeps stealing the Fantabubillionnaire’s favourite coat.

It transpires that many years ago the mystery man hid a map to ancient Aztec artefacts in the lining and once the duck is appraised of the situation, a frantic race begins…

Crafted by Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans & Sanoma, ‘Shiver Me Timbers’ then finds three generations of Duck on a fishing trip and catapulted into a treasure hunt where three accursed ghost-pirates bedevil them whilst attempting to save themselves from damnation…

Single-page laundry lampoon ‘Yo!’ (Savini, Freccero Gerstein & Disney Italia) segues neatly into another fanatical financial feud with wealthy rival Flintheart Glomgold as the old enemies vie for possession of a fallen star in ‘Meteor Rights’ (by Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Comicup Studio, Sonoma, Long, Gerstein & Torcivia).

Scarpa & Cimino – with Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Torcivia – then detail Scrooge’s attempts to scupper the monetary reformation of three spendthrifts in ‘The Duckburg 100’

After Scrooge’s own bank gives $100 each to Donald, would-be wheeler-dealer Jubal Pomp and Beagle Boy 231-132 as a promotional stunt to encourage investment, the ancient miser moves heaven and earth to scupper their get-rich-quick schemes and get back “his” cash. Sadly, however, the fates are against him and their unlikely, if temporary, success near bankrupts the old fool…

These comic cavortings conclude with ‘Donald’s Gabby Guest’ by the legendary Tony Strobl – aided and abetted by Digikore and translator Thad Komorowski – as Scrooge’s latest plot to bend Donald to his grasping monetary philosophies goes sadly awry after the nephews cunningly reprogram the gift-parrot he had previously indoctrinated to constantly spout sound financial advice…

Graced with a superb art-gallery by Cavazzano, Gray & Jake Myler, Marco Rota, Disney Italia & Shelley Pleger, Andrew Pepoy, James Silvani, Derek Charm featuring nine-scintillating covers, this is an exciting, exotic and eye-popping riot of raucous romps in the wholesome yet compelling blockbusting Barks manner: blending wit, history, madcap invention, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into a rollicking rollercoaster ride for readers of every age and vintage.

Whatever your opinions on the corporate mega-colossus that is today’s Disney, the sheer quality of the material derived from and generated by “The House that Walt Built” is undeniable, and no fan of comics and old-fashioned fun should avoid any opportunity to revel in the magic – preferably over and over again…
© 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cedric volume 3: What Got Into Him?


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-081-8

Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. In 1960 he joined the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the dying – and much-missed – print production technique of Lithography.

Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Spirou.

While there he devised (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Bluecoats as well as dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has achieved sales well in excess of 15 million copies thus far…

His collaborator on sharp, witty, kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his own break into bandes dessinée.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, Laudec landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built that into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the comic’s other regular strips.

In 1987 he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and the rest is history… and poetry and science and geography and maths and…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief. Collected albums of the variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 (with 29 released so far) and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling on the Continent, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

This third Cinebook translation – from 2011 and first continentally released in 1992 as Cédric 5: Quelle mouche le pique? – opens with ‘A Pebble in the Shoe…’: a moving and uplifting generational collaboration as Grandpa tells his daughter’s son stories of his dearly-departed wife that has the eavesdropping household (and you, too, if you have any shred of heart or soul) in emotional tatters…

A return to big laughs comes next as a dose of unwelcome homework results in ‘A Big Fat Zero’ whilst ‘A Lousy Story’ details the pros and cons of a school nit epidemic before pester power is employed to secure an addition to the household in ‘Man’s Best Friend’.

The crusty elder statesman of the family learns a painful lesson as ‘Grandpa Takes a Turn’ finds the creaky reactionary suckered into chaperoning at a school dance, after which little Cedric has a beguiling and potentially life-altering experience when his adored Chen marches through town in the uniform of ‘The Majorettes’

Grandpa and Cedric unite to shame Dad into purchasing ‘The Board that Skates’ but it’s every man for himself when the kid comes cadging for cash in ‘You Wouldn’t Have a 20?’ whilst ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ playfully shows that although the boy’s love for Chen is all-abiding and true, it isn’t necessarily reciprocated…

When Chen’s mother accidentally prangs Dad’s car, Cedric goes violently berserk until the families have demonstrably agreed détente and rapprochement and reached ‘An Amicable Arrangement’, before the pesky kid accidentally boosts his hard-pressed papa’s earning potential through inadvertent confidence trickery in ‘Business is Business’.

‘Jealousy’ rears its ugly head when Chen starts ballet and literally jumps into the arms of Cedric’s bitterly despised romantic rival The Right Honourable Alphonse Andre Jones-Tarrington-Dupree – with catastrophic repercussions for all concerned – whilst ‘Short of Breath’ sees the entire family play a mean but hilarious trick involving Dad’s birthday cake…

‘Solemn Communion’ wastes a much-need opportunity to salve Cedric’s already-tarnished soul when the lad’s first Catholic sacrament ceremony devolves into a drunken debacle for the attending adults, after which we come full circle as amorous memories are tickled and ‘The Quarrel’ resumes when Cedric asks how Mum and Dad got together before everything returns to bittersweet tears when the old man is asked for more reminiscences of Grandma Germaine in moving finale ‘Remember, Gramps…’

Rapid-paced, warm and witty, and not afraid to explore sentiment or loss, the exploits of this painfully keen, bemusingly besotted rascal are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters and old folk alike…
© Dupuis 1992 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Little Tulip


By Jerome Charyn & François Boucq (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80872-7

Some creative teams spend all their time collaborating: crafting works that constantly remind us why we are wise to await their every effort. Other artisans only link up at agonisingly rare intervals, and when their newest works are finally finished we hungry lovers of their art can only breathe a huge sigh of relief and release.

A sublime case-in-point are the all-too-rarely seen concoctions of American crime author and graphic novelist Jerome Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, I Am Abraham, Citizen Sidel, Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories) and French illustrator François Boucq (Bouncer, Sente, Jérôme Moucherot, Bouche de diable) who together created Femme du magicien/The Magician’s Wife and Billy Budd, KGB: uniquely compelling graphic novels which have won popular acclaim and numerous awards all over the world.

Now their latest dark masterpiece – published in French in 2014 – is at last available in a remastered English translation by Charyn himself.

A ferocious and captivating blend of bleak reverie, coming-of-age drama, noir thriller and supernatural vengeance tale, the action opens in New York City in 1970 where tattooist Pavel plies his trade under the admiring gaze of fascinated teen Azami.

She too is enslaved to the act of drawing, and wants to know everything: how to mark the skin, the secrets of adapting a past design, where and how the master got his own skinful of stories…

The city is in a growing panic. A serial-killing rapist dubbed Bad Santa is terrorising the night; targeting late working women such as Azami’s mother, so Pavel is keeping a quiet eye on them both. He’s actually far more informed than most citizens, as his uncanny ability to draw likenesses from the barest of witness accounts makes the old man a crucial component of the cops’ war on crime.

This almost magical ability has been consistently failing in regard to the Bad Santa killings, however, and the tension makes Pavel dream of his own appalling childhood…

Just after WWII ended, his artist father emigrated from Washington Heights, USA to the Soviet Union to work with legendary film-maker Sergei Eisenstein.

In those constrained environs Pavel absorbed a love of drawing and hunger for creative expression that was not crushed even when a political shift in climate saw him and his family arrested as spies and shipped off to the horrific Siberian gulag of Kolyma.

The daily casual atrocities of the corrupt guards were worse than what the boy experienced at the hands of the rival criminal gangs who actually ran the prisons. Soon he was alone, but his instinct for survival and gifts as an artist set him upon a new path, creating the sacrosanct, almost-holy tattoos the inmates used to define, embolden and characterise themselves.

It was not the only art Pavel learned. As he grew older he became the top gladiator of his gang: a fast deadly warrior with a blade in pitch darkness or broad daylight…

As the wave of killings continue in the blighted Big Apple, Pavel’s thoughts keep returning to the unceasing stream of hardships and atrocities he experienced in the camp. Slowly a grim conclusion comes to him about the nature of the Bad Santa… but too late for him to save the people nearest and dearest to him…

Bleak, uncompromising, seductive and painfully authentic whilst tinged with a smear of supernatural mystery, the story of Little Tulip is an unforgettable peek into the forbidden and the profane that will take your breath away.

Also included in this album-sized (280 x 210 mm) full-colour paperback is a glorious selection of sketches and working drawing in an entrancing display of ‘Artwork by François Boucq’ to inspire you to making your own meaningful marks on paper – or any preferred medium…
© 2014 Jerome Charyn and François Boucq. © 2014 Le Lombard. Lettering © 2016 Thomas Mauer. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip is officially released January 27th 2017 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist government still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994. As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips starring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and with Juan Miguel Aguilera devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

His earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history (El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 – his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali – and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro).

These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles, which was adapted into an equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie.

More astounding stuff you’ll definitely want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from newspaper Las Provincias or El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and understanding of human nature, Roca can be found making animated films and hosting his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime and elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – which magically celebrates the solace of imagination and recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

As the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and the wounded youngster has no intention of being interned or worse.

After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and after passing out finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, he finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The old man’s good humour is infectious and gradually even infects battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and begins to share Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting: supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, sketches and production art – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and would be the perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

The Lighthouse will be published on February 17th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Afrika


By Hermann (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-844-6 (HC)                    eISBN: 978-1-62115-865-3

Hermann Huppen is a master of comics storytelling, blending gritty tales of human travail and personal crisis with astoundingly enticing illustration and seamless storytelling. His past masterpieces include Bernard Prince, Comanche, Jeremiah, Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many others.

Far too little of his work exists in English translation but this brief yet potent contemporary excursion into the Heart of Darkness is undoubtedly one of his most evocative.

Delivered in an oversized full-colour hardback edition, stand-alone tale Afrika is set on a Tanzanian Wildlife preserve, tracing the final fate of irascible man of mystery Dario Ferrier.

This passionate and dedicated preserver of the continent’s most iconic animals is facing the prospect of outliving the magnificent creatures under his protection. All his team’s efforts mean nothing in the face of the constant depredations of well-funded poachers and the callous indifference of world governments.

Their slide into extinction is inexorable and the battle all but lost yet Dario carries on day after day, bolstered only by the passionate attentions of his woman Iseko and the determination of his comrades-in-arms. However even they are under constant pressure to abandon him…

When a headstrong but gullible European photo-journalist is foisted upon him, Dario sees the end in sight. Charlotte dogs his heels and challenges his cynical assumptions all across the veldt, but when she accidentally films atrocities and war-crimes perpetrated by unassailable people of wealth and authority, the stunned Europeans quickly find themselves the quarry in a pitiless hunt through the bush.

Sadly for the pursuers, however, they have no conception of how dangerous Dario truly is…

Determined to get Charlotte to safety, the world-weary guardian knows his own life is over: all he hopes for is to go out his way…

Plotted with deceptive subtlety, packed with visceral, uncompromising action and painted with breathtaking skill, this glorious tale is a phenomenal vision of modern infamy and the oldest of motivations.

Afrika is a truly perfect adventure comic.
© 2007 SAF Comics.

Clifton volume 6: Kidnapping


By Turk & de Groot, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-87-8

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly Tintin. Our doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums worth of strip material – all compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic buffoon was benched.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten more tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Never Say Never Again…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Originally released in 1983, Kidnapping was Turk & De Groot’s last collaboration and wrapped up their mock-heroic shenanigans in fine and foolish style…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. As a young man he became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Raymond Macherot’s moribund Clifton.

In 1989 de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Michel Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befit a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the young generation…

This rollicking comedy crime caper begins with the old soldier and his fiery, ferociously competent, multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge preparing for a big camping trip for a motley crew of fresh-faced boy scouts.

Even after his own haphazard preparations are finally completed, Scoutmaster Clifton’s departure is further delayed by the stylishly late arrival of the troublesome son of wealthy and obnoxiously prestigious Sir Abylas Chickenpiece

Finally, however, the troop is under way and before too long they are setting up camp in an isolated patch of woodland. After organising jobs for the lads Clifton begins his own chores, setting tests for the boys trying out to win merit badges and catching a crafty snooze when he thinks nobody is looking…

It’s a very bad move. When the spoiled and appropriately codenamed “Distinguished Peacock” sets off to gather firewood, he’s pounced on by thugs working under the careful instructions of an obsessive porcelain collector who is well aware of the worth of the Chickenpiece Fortune…

A furtive observer to the crime, poor but honest “Thrifty Duckling” sees his companion being abducted and cunningly hides himself inside the getaway car, so when Clifton is made aware of the crisis he feels painfully responsible for the loss of two boys in his care…

Angry and insulted, the irascible Colonel eschews contacting the police and determines to give his remaining charges a lesson in the value of his scouting techniques by tracking the kidnappers to their lair and personally apprehending them.

The only real complication he envisages is apprising the victims’ fathers of the perilous current status of their sons and heirs…

A classic chase, memorable confrontation and Boys Own conclusion is the happy result of Clifton and his diminutive team working together, and when the action ends the reunions and subsequent outdoor celebrations are all any stout-hearted lad could hope for…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Kidnapping shows our Old Soldier in his most engaging and flattering light with this craftily-concocted adventure romp in the grandly enticing manner of Charles Crichton’s Hue and Cry or Launder & Gilliat’s The Belles of St Trinian’s; sufficient to astound and delight devotees of simpler times whilst supplying a solid line in goofy gags for laughter-addicts of every age to enjoy.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 1984 by Turk & De Groot. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

The Survivors! volume one: Talons of Blood

talons
By Hermann, translated by Kim Thompson and Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN. ASIN: B000O15YBK

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with an indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in 1982, crafted by a Belgian master of graphic narrative.

Hermann Huppen’s comics career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal). In 1969 Hermann expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more.

However, in 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince (he stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip.

The result was Jeremiah: a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world created for German magazine Zack. Another instant hit, the series has subsequently seen print in Spirou, Metal Hurlant and many other places around the world and subsequently gathered in 33 Albums to date, most of which can be read as stand-alone tales.

Inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, the series has never really caught on in the US. Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – with this volume from the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series ended after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing two of the later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions…

So now I’m having a go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982, and describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he didn’t get home before the gates were locked. Stuck in the desert wastelands the callow boy encounters nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and ends up beaten and unconscious. The assault saves his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah finds the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all the able-bodied men women and children…

Assuming Kurdy to be at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracks the wanderer and finds him being tortured by other outlaws is the desert wastes. A rather botched rescue results in them establishing an uneasy truce and Kurdy begins training the kid in the necessities of life on the run.

Jeremiah is determined to find his people and their trail leads to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The sordid, makeshift metropolis is divided in two: ordinary folk trying to get by and a small army of thugs led by a debauched and baroque madman named Mr. W. E. Birmingham… and never, ever call him “Fat-Eye”…

A ruthless egomaniac, Birmingham only feels affection – warped but genuine – for his collection of steely-eyed raptors kept in a vast aviary atop his colossal fortress-castle in the centre of town. From this citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but recently the body-count has been rising too quickly and tempers are fraying. There’s a whiff of potential revolution in the air…

That’s soon amplified into a ferocious storm of outright rebellion as wily Kurdy’s unconventional tactics stir things up amongst the transient whores and desperadoes whilst Jeremiah’s accusations incite the resident populace. Birmingham has been selling white slaves to the detestable and resurgent savages of the Red Nation and when the Indians’ chief is spotted in town, a riot leads to lynchings…

Impatient for vengeance, inexperienced, impetuous Jeremiah sneaks into Birmingham’s castle and almost ruins everything by getting caught, but Kurdy has another devious plan in mind…

When the shooting subsides the settlers are bloody but triumphant and Kurdy has been convinced – against his own best judgement and self-interest – to join Jeremiah in invading the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging with wry and positively spartan writing, Talons of Blood lets beautiful pictures tell a thrilling story and is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume one: Talons of Blood © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.

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.

The Bluecoats volume 5: Rumberley


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-108-2

The myths and legends of the filmic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential children’s classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted every best-selling volume – Les Tuniques Bleues (or as we know them The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and 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 Cauvin is also Belgian and before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of 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 of its 60 (and counting) album series.

As translated for English audiences, our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18th album Blue rétro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war).

Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, 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 professional fighting 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 troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Rumberley was the fifth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 15th Franco-Belgian volume) and a far darker affair than usual. After a horrific battle Union and Confederate forces are spent and exhausted, although the Blues have advanced far into the South as a result of the sustained slaughter. However, with dwindling food and little ammunition the Generals decide to fall back and re-supply with fresh troops and munitions.

The only problem is what to do with the wounded. After all, bringing them back to safety would only slow down the rearward advance…

Then one bright privileged spark has the notion of just billeting the unfit Union soldiers on the nearest – albeit enemy – town…

Amongst the dead and dying are grievously injured Chesterfield and war-crazy Captain Stark. Even Blutch is there, although his leg wound might be minor, self inflicted or possibly even utterly bogus…

Their reception by the women, children, aged and infirm of Rumberley is hostile to say the least, but the Union dregs have no place else to go and no strength left to leave anyway. Forcibly appropriating the livery stable as a field hospital, Blutch and Chesterfield aid the exhausted doctors and surgeons as best they can but the simmering tension and occasional assaults by the townsfolk indicates that there is real trouble brewing and this kettle is about to boil over very soon…

And then the townsfolk start drifting away and rumours spread that a Confederate force is approaching Rumberley. The doctors opt to move their charges out, and Blutch finds himself in the uncanny position of staying behind as rearguard when Chesterfield decides to buy them time to get away…

When it comes, the battle is a bizarre affair. The Rebs are fit but have little ammunition so the Bluecoats give a good accounting of themselves, but are almost done for when Stark unexpectedly leads a life-saving cavalry charge of the Union wounded to save them. During the insane clash the town buildings are set afire and the citizens of Rumberley rush back to save their home and possessions…

And then something strange happens: the killing stops and Blues, Greys and civilians work together to save rather than destroy…

Here is another hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an 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.

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story and Western which appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.