Die Laughing


By Andre Franquin, translated by Jenna Allen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-091-1 (HB)

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all starts with Le Journal de Spirou. The magazine was first seen on April 2nd1938, with its engaging and eponymous lead strip created by Rob-Vel (François Robert Velter). In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the previously-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. He introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars: adding to the mix phenomenally popular rare beast and animal marvel Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right).

He continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. Throughout that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly Spirou comic and increasingly beset by depression and other mental health issues.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

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

Spirou & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. However, throughout all that time Fantasio was still a full-fledged reporter for Le Journal de Spirou and had to pop into the office all the time.

While there he conceived another landmark icon, a comedic foil and meta-real alter ego who was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe and through him Franquin expressed his unruly dissident opinions and tendencies…

Gaston – who debuted in #985, (February 28th 1957) – grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic. In terms of entertainment schtick and delivery, older readers will certainly recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion British readers will recognise from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em or Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy); Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Comanche, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Zig et Puce, Achille Talon), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio. In 1955, a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin briefly enlist with rivals Casterman on Le Journal deTintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the fashion/lifestyle domestic comedy gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Franquin almost immediately  patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known in Britain these days as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and this arcane convergence of bleak gallows humour, adult conceptual nihilism and impassioned social and ideological frustration lensed through comedy. If you’re aware of the later work of Spike Milligan, you’ll know instinctively what I mean. The strip and original series title Idées Noires has entered into common usage in French-speaking countries, as a term for gloomy or negative thoughts: dark ideas daily obsessing people in crisis expunged and expressed through strident manic humour…

It began as he recuperated from a heart attack in 1975. Idées Noires was part of an insert comic – Le Trombone illustré – he and Yvan Delporte produced for weekly Le Journal de Spirou beginning with the March 17th 1977 issue. After 30 mini-issues, and with the global situation looking increasingly fraught, a revitalised Franquin took the strip to mature reader magazine Fluide Glacial where it ran until 1983.

Plagued throughout his life by depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

In 2018, Fantagraphics gathered and translated the strips, releasing them as Die Laughing.

As seen in Cynthia Rose’s erudite and informative Introduction – ‘Liberty, Audacity, Hilarity: André Franquin’ – the peripatetic feature gave Franquin room to address his allegiances with issues of environmentalism, animal cruelty, political duplicity and plain old human insanity and strike back with the best weapons in his arsenal: sarcasm, mockery and despairing outrage.

To further demarcate the series from past works, the images are delivered in scratchy, shocking lines and solid blacks, with elements reversed out: it’s a world of silhouettes, deep shadows and brooding forward spaces and middle-grounds, with no extraneous detail: all delivered in eerie evocative, expressionist monochrome, rather than the shining and substantial Disney-inspired colour of Spirou and the Marsupilami…

This hardback and digital compilation consists of half and full page shorts plus a few longer cartoon strips lampooning and spearing, smug pomposity, business greed, military-industrial chicanery and ruthlessness, planetary abuse such as inflicted by oil companies and the global arms race. There are many mordant observations on sport, war for profit, the death penalty (still the guillotine, for Pete’s sake!), alien abduction, the rat race, sheer random surreal absurdism, all skewered by a sense of cosmic justice acknowledged, if not satisfied…

A constant theme returned to with merciless regularity is bloodsports and the kind of arsehole who finds fun and feels magnified by pointless slaughter. Especially singled out are those French “traditionalists” who simply must slaughter songbirds in their thousands every year as they migrate to and from Europe…

Franquin was a master of comedy in all its aspects from whimsically light to trenchantly black-edged. Come see how and why…
Die Laughing © 2018 by Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Comics © Editions Audie/Franquin Estate. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2018 by Cynthis Rose. Afterword © 2018 Gotlib Estate. All other images and text © 2018 their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud the Infamous


ISBN: 978-1-84918-074-0 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of – if not the – most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course, Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to those hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for youngsters it’s a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper, whilst older, wiser heads can revel in pun-filled, witty satires and marvellously accessible episodic comic capers. Just like our Parliament today.

This same magic formula made its more famous cousin Asterix a monolithic global success and, just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, the irresistibly addictive Arabian Nit was originally adapted into English by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to British tastes. As always the deliciously malicious whimsy is heavily dosed with manic absurdity, cleverly contemporary cultural critiques and brilliantly delivered creative anachronisms which serve to keep the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and hilariously inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Caliph of Ancient Baghdad Haroun Al Plassid, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or – as he is always declaiming – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly growing into a massive European hit, with 31 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary started scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from the 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

Originally released in 1969, Iznogoud l’infâme was the fourth Dargaud collection, the second volume published by Methuen in 1977, and the seventh splendid Cinebook album; offering a wry and raucous quintet of short tales with the Vile Vizier on top form as he schemes to seize power from his oddly oblivious Lord and Master.

The eternal drama begins with ‘The Sinister Liquidator’, which finds Iznogoud and his bumbling, long-suffering henchman and strong-arm crony Wa’at Alahf making their way through a malodorous swamp in search of a Djinn with the power to reduce all he touches to unliving liquid. Enduring the evil Ifreet’s ghastly manners and painful punning, the devilish diplomat strikes a bargain which spells doom for the Caliph… but first he has to get the demon back to the palace.

Since the Djinn cannot completely leave his fetid fluid environment and glorious bustling Baghdad is beyond the Great Desert, Iznogoud and Wa’at Alahf must Djinngerly transport their secret weapon home. Moreover, as under no circumstances can they afford to be moistened by the monster themselves, a succession of buckets, bowls, bottles and vials inexorably diminish the watery wonder and the Vile Vizier’s chances of success until – as you’d expect – the inevitable occurs…

The pun-punctuated comedy of errors is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘The Invisible Menace’wherein the dictator-in-waiting learns a magic spell which will banish his imperial impediment from the sight of man. Of course, he still has to find and keep his target still long enough for the magic to work…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the next craftily convoluted saga. When Iznogoud deliberately accepts a cursed gem which brings catastrophic misfortune in the expectation that he can palm it off on his unsuspecting boss, he greatly underestimates the power of ‘The Unlucky Diamond’.

As soon the ghastly gem latches on to a truly deserving victim and unleashes a succession of punitive calamities, it determines to never let go…

A state visit by an African potentate allows the Vizier plenty of time to confer with his opposite number in ‘The Magic Doll’. Sadly, the bemused Witch Doctor has no idea that his numerous demonstrations of voodoo magic with a clay figurine are Iznogoud’s dry runs for a stab at the throne.

Of course, for the sorcery to work, the Vizier has to somehow obtain a lock of Haroun Al Plassid’s closely guarded and held-as-holy hair…

The manic mirth concludes by descending into sheer surreal absurdity (granting Tabary license to ascend to M.C. Escher-like heights of graphic invention) as an itinerant magician known as ‘The Mysterious Billposter’ crafts a magic advert which can transport people to an idealised paradisiacal holiday destination.

Iznogoud is far more interested in the fact that, once in, no-one can get out again…

Just for a change the plan succeeds perfectly and the blithely unaware Caliph is trapped in an inescapable, idealised extra-dimensional state. Then again – due to his extreme eagerness – so is his not-so-faithful Vizier…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently a little lacking in height.

When first released in Britain during the late 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comicbook) these tales made little impression, but certainly now these snappy, wonderfully beguiling strips have found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…

And Hansard…
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris, 1969 by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari volume 19: The Devil in the Woods


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-037-1 (Album PB)

Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo, working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators.

Many of Derib’s stunning works feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom. Debuting in 1969, it details the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains: set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of required familiarity or foreknowledge. The series – which has generated two separate animated TV series and a movie release last year – has achieved 40 albums thus far: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis. Generally they are resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave and can – thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – chat with all animals. This time, however, the conclusion is far from cheery or cosy and presages dark times ahead for some…

It begins in the depths of winter, with deep snow covering the plains and provender scarce for all. As the youngsters Rainbow, Buffalo Seed and Yakari amuse themselves with his pony Little Thunder, the talkative boy’s father Bold Gazeand hunter Taut Bow urgently seek food. Luck turns their way when a large hehaka (wapiti) rushes right into their arrows. By nightfall the entire tribe has eaten well and the leftovers are preserved and dressed to provide more food in the days to come.

The adults cannot shake the impression that their welcome repast was fleeing from something worse than their arrows, and that apprehension is confirmed in the morning when the tribe discover all the remaining food has gone. The fresh snow carries no trace of the thief…

Ever-inquisitive Yakari wants an explanation and sets out to ask his animal pals, eventually finding strange tracks that might belong to some sort of bear. Incautiously following, he sees the footprints peter out just as beaver chieftain Double-Tooth pops up.

The jolly rodent is disturbed by the news and helps in searching, but as Yakari and Double-Tooth follow tracks that constantly seem to vanish into thin air, Bold Gaze and Taut Bow are trailing the thief with the camp dogs. It’s  a horrific mistake as something unseen kills and eats the valiant hounds!

Dread haunts the humans huddled in their tents that night, but in the morning Yakari and Little Thunder check out and eliminate all the local bears – even the notoriously grumpy and insomniac Grizzly who’s having difficulty hibernating – from the suspect list, unaware that something sinister and malign is tracking them…

Baffled and scared that one of their ursine pals has gone mad, Yakari and the beaver clan build a wonderful trap to catch the mysterious thief, but again the stalker outwits them all: even diverting their suspicions to the most unlikely culprit whilst retaliating by destroying the beavers’ precious dam and home…

With all creatures equally endangered by the “devil”, Yakari and his allies convince the mighty and increasingly irate Grizzly to help them hunt, and before long the arrogant quarry rises to the challenge. It confronts its pursuers but the resultant battle is swift, terrible and sadly inconclusive as their brutal clash triggers an avalanche…

In the eerie aftermath, the Great Eagle arrives and shares some disturbing thoughts that may have terrible implications in days to come…

Originally released in 1994, Le diable des bois was the 20th European album, and although its suspenseful, ominous tone feels like a dark departure from the cheery norm, there’s still plenty of humour and slapstick hijinks to balance the grim proceedings, and – in deference to the younger readers – everything is carried out with sensitivity and wit.

As ever, Derib & Job display astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in this glorious graphic tour de force highlighting the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, in a visually stunning, seductively smart saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.

Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. All rights reserved. English translation 2021 © Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari volume 18: The Wall of Fire


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-591-2 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together, they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains and is set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate animated TV series and a movie release last year – has achieved 40 albums thus far: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1993, la barrière de feu was the 19th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

This time, the little wonder is embroiled in uncharacteristically dark deeds as a raiding party led by Wild Mane results in the loss of all the horses – except valiant pony Little Thunder who not only escapes but also raises the alarm and rouses the sleeping tribe.

As the adults set out on foot to recover their steeds and reclaim their honour, little Yakari tracks his equine friend and is amazed to find Little Thunder is trailing his stolen herdmates. As he follows, the loquacious lad meets a flying squirrel who kindly offers to act as an advance scout…

While the grown-ups are stymied by their cunning quarry’s tactics, the tiny tree-hugger rapidly reunites the boy with his horse and the trio set off together after the thieves. All too soon they have located the raiders, but instead of useless heroic gestures they sagely seek out Yakari’s father and lead his team to the thieves.

Dauntingly, it’s a nomadic convocation of thousands, and a retaliatory raid seems impossible. Moreover, something is shadowing the stalkers themselves, ever unseen but even getting close enough to steal supplies while they’re being carried! The adults are seriously considering swallowing their shame and retreating, but Yakari cannot let go of the notion that something is smarter than he is…

Ultimately, with help from his bestial buddies, the mystery is solved and the boy meets a new friend: a wounded lynx. The beautiful, cunning creature shows the curious kid a new trick: a sticky black liquid that oozes out of the ground and is ideal for sealing wounds.

When the shaman sees it he recognises it for all its many properties, including a tendency to burn, which gives Yakari’s father an inspired idea for countering the raiders’ superior numbers and getting back the tribe’s most treasured possessions…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this boldly action-packed and splendidly spectacular yarn sees Yakari’s gifts not only used to benefit his people and animal friends but also with the full acknowledgement of the adults he’s previously been unknowingly slighted by. Is our boy finally on the path to being a man?

Once again, Derib & Job display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in another glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 1993. All rights reserved. English translation 2020 © Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection volume 3


By Morris, with René Goscinny; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-455-7 (Album HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Thrills No Movie Could Match… 8/10

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. Whilst tracing the lost origins of a true global phenomenon, this hardback and digital compilation celebrates the formulative early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, and it’s also timely in that this worldwide western wonder celebrates his 75th Anniversary this year…

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures and icons.

His ongoing exploits have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (upwards of 80 collected books, plus spin-off series, archival collections and specials, translated into more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far). He’s also accrued all the usual merchandise spin-offs: toys, computer games, puzzles, animated cartoons, TV shows and live-action movies.

Lucky debuted in 1946, courtesy of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For many years we all believed his first appearance was in a Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual – L’Almanach Spirou 1947 – before being catapulted into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

However, the initial volume in this superb archival series (in hardback album and digital editions) revealed the strip actually premiered earlier that year in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

This third curated outing exhibits – in strict chronological order – strips created between December 1952 and February 1955, with all the art and pages here restored, rejiggled and remastered to achieve maximum contemporary authenticity with the original weekly serialisation. The stories were subsequently gathered as albums L’Élixir du Docteur DOXEY (November 1955, with successive volumes launching every year in that month), Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer (1956) and Des rails sur la Prairie (1957) and this tome even offers a little something extra at the end…

Previous volumes have detailed Morris’s life, career, and achievements, paying particular attention to his alternate duties as an illustrator and caricaturist for magazine Le Moustique and at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, where he met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo.

Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and Franquin: leading proponents of a new, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow émigré René Goscinny, scoring work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and constantly making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

His ongoing works are further detailed and  his “American Period” is extensively explored here in another lavishly illustrated essay from researchers Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, who relate the Morris family’s jaunts and travels, paying particular attention to the movies they saw and how cinematic flourishes were transformed and recycled on the pages of Lucky Luke. Also on view are examples of work done for American consumption, such as children’s book Puffy Plays Baseball.

Crucially, there’s a detailed section on Goscinny, featuring his artwork – like so many, he was originally a cartoonist who realised his true strengths were plots and words – and side gigs in the USA: foreign correspondent, copywriter, business manager and more. At this time he created evergreen kids feature Le Petit Nicolas with Sempé in Le Moustique and his partnership with Morris formally began. What began as casual assistance eventually became a team effort that changed both their lives after they returned to Europe…

Accompanied by published cartoons and covers, contemporary ads, family photos and tons of original art, the in-depth treatise also focuses on the how and why of edited comics pages; reveals the artist’s film memorabilia (from movies that especially influenced his stories in this collection) and also includes both artwork from European and US publications by Goscinny. There’s even an in-depth analysis of how What Morris Saw became What Lucky Did, closely referencing the comics stories that follow…

Working solo (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush parody and action before uniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie), in Le Journal de Spirou in August 1955.

Before we get there though, there’s all-Morris action to enjoy, starting with Doc Doxey’s Elixir which was originally serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #765-808, from December 11th 1952 to 8th October 1953. It relates the predatory journeys of a charlatan physician dispensing disgusting and often lethal liquid cure-alls, aided and abetted by his athletic stooge Scraggy, who gulls the public with his disguises and semi-miraculous instantaneous “recuperations” and fast exits.

Their pernicious peregrinations come to an end after poisoning the frontier town of Green Valley, which puts dogged Lucky on their trail. Packed with classic and episodic chase gags, the hunt concludes with the sneaky snake oil peddler behind bars. Of course, he doesn’t stay there long as sequel saga ‘Manhunt’ details his cunning escape, change of identity – but not modus operandi – and ultimately unsuccessful plot to murder the wandering cowboy…

Follow-up album Lucky Luke contre Phil Defer (or Lucky Luke: Phil Wire in Britain) also comprised two tales, but this time taken from the company’s general entertainment periodical. It introduced deadly gunslinger Phil Wire “The Spider” – based on legendary cinematic bad man Jack Palance – in a strip taken from Le Moustique #1464-1494 (14thFebruary-12th September 1954).

Phil Defer “LE FAUCHEUX” sells his lethal talents to sinister saloon owner O’Sullivan who’s looking to remove a rival. Fate – or perhaps the gods of comedy – unfortunately decree that another tall guy good with guns gets to Bottleneck Gulch first and is mistaken for the rather idiosyncratic notoriously superstitious killer…

Lucky and Wire have already clashed once before and – despite all the hero’s efforts to deter O’Sullivan – meet once more after all “the Spider’s” schemes to remove rival barkeep O’Hara are foiled. It comes down to a showdown on main street and only one man walks away…

The album also features a second serial from Le Moustique #1508-1516 (spanning 19th December 1954 to 13th February 1955): originally entitled Lucky Luke et Pilule.

As Lucky Luke and The Pill it here details a camp fire story told by the rangy gunman, relating how a short-sighted, diminutive hypochondriac tenderfoot with no discernible fighting ability or action acumen became a true gun-toting town-tamer

It was back to Le Journal de Spirou for the final album reprinted here: gathering material from #906-929 and spanning 25th August 1955 to 2nd February 1956 before launching in November 1957 as ninth album Des rails sur la Prairie. Although uncredited, it was cowritten by Morris and fellow tourist Goscinny: auguring an astounding creative partnership to come…

In 1967 the six-gun star switched publishing teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Also in 1967, Lucky Luke appeared in British comic Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. He had previously been seen here in weekly comic Film Fun. Before all that, though, this wild and woolly transitional delight features a far more boisterous and raw hero, offering the lighter side of another mythic western scenario…

When track-laying for the Transcontinental Railroad stalls, outraged train moguls demand action and Dead Ox Gulch, Nebraska becomes the crunch point of confrontation. The construction problems are actually caused by a traitor at home. Although a board-member in good standing Black Wilson is also secretly sabotaging the project to protect his other business: a stage coach company…

He contacts the nefarious Wilson Boys gang to keep up the bad work, just as a tall, laconic stranger rides into town. Before long, he is spearheading the march of progress and civilisation by foiling every dirty trick the gang can conceive…

Once the renewed efforts have moved beyond town and onto the prairie and inching closer to California, a train carries Lucky, passengers and the navvies ever-westward, negotiating and stymying hostile natives, greedy townships and the still-active Wilson boys’ shady tactics and stratagems.

Ultimately, Black Wilson takes personal charge and boards a stagecoach westward to destiny. Despite his every trick, though, the showdown is a foregone conclusion…

Adding extra value here is a short Luke lark that first appeared in Risque-Tout #5 (December 1955). A monochrome vignette, ‘Ruckus in Pancake Valley’ has been redrawn and coloured here and details how Lucky tracks down a miscreant who stole his horse…

Packed with contemporaneous extras, commentary, creator biographies, a special ‘Christmas in the Far West’ feature and more, this is perfect for older kids who have gained a bit of historical perspective and social understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than any Laurel and Hardy film – perfectly understandable as Morris was a huge fan of the duo. These early exploits are a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again or Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon Anniversaire, Lucky!
All pages relating to Doc Doxey’s Elixir, Phil Wire and Ruckus in Pancake Valley are © Morris/Dupuis 2018. 1949 to 1954 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou. All pages relating to Rails on the Prairie © Morris/Goscinny/Dupuis 2018. English translation © 2019 Cinebook Ltd.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volumes 9 and 10: The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent parts 1 & 2


By Yves Sente & André Juillard, coloured by Madeleine DeMille & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-067-2 (Album PB) 978-1-84918-077-1 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Thrills No Movie Can Match… 9/10

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a daunting variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers blending science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted on 26th September 1946: gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin: an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world-famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world. Bon anniversaire, Chaps!…

Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of Britain’s Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the 11th album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987, never having returned to extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō. That concluding volume was only released in March 1990, after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio who would produce complete books rather than weekly serials.

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined, familiar mid-1950s for a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing. The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the follow-up release, published in 1999, although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ fantasy credentials in Yves (XIII, Le Janitor, Thorgal) Sente & André (Arno, Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek) Juillard’s La machination Voronov.

The latter team eventually won the plum job of detailing the early days and origins of Blake & Mortimer in Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 1: La Menace universelle and Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 2: Le Duel des Esprits. The albums were the 16th and 17th published exploits of the peerless pair: a boldly byzantine epic spanning decades and stretching from India under the Raj to Cold War Europe and deep beneath Antarctic ice…

Retitled The Global Threat for English speakers, our mystery opens in Simla, former summer capital of India when Britain ruled the vast, disparate nation. It is February 1958, and a decade after independence and partition, a glittering conclave of rich men and maharajas has gathered, in splendour and secrecy…

Surveilling the ominous meeting of truculent minor warlords are agents of the Indian government, led by veteran warrior Lieutenant Ahmed Nasir. The mission goes badly wrong, but before the end, the operatives observe a fantastic demonstration of power from a masked demagogue who claims to be immortal Emperor Ashoka, and claims to hold an ultimate weapon that will make him – and them – the rightful rulers of all they desire…

As the discovered spies are ruthlessly dealt with, Ashoka heads for another meeting: this one with Soviet representative Major Varich (last seen in Blake and Mortimer: The Voronov Plot). The disgraced soldier soon realises his melodramatic new ally has an even greater hatred of the British do-gooders…

In a flashback to the last days of the empire, young graduate Philip Angus Mortimer travels home to Simla to stay with his military doctor father and elites of their social circle. India is in turmoil however, with independence agitators everywhere. In Bombay, he saves the life of a fellow English traveller and has an impromptu encounter with an aged gentleman called “the Mahatma” by the gathering crowd. Francis Percy Blake is also the son of a soldier and is seeing his father for the first time in years, so they agree to travel on together. After they separate at Ambala, Mortimer’s adventures continue when he is attacked by a mysterious stalker. The assault actually saves his life as the connecting train he was supposed to catch is blown up…

Despite everything, the young man eventually reaches Simla, but his fondly-remembered childhood days have clearly ended. His first clue is how lifelong friend Sushil treats him, later bolstered by a friendly warning from his mother to stay away from the natives…

That doesn’t stop him from trying to bridge barriers, but only leads to heartbreak after he meets Princess Gita, daughter of local rajah and militant the great Emperor Ashoka. Irresistibly drawn together, their brief romance stoked deadly tensions between the races and led to her death and his being cursed by the allegedly immortal rebel leader. For his own safety, the heartbroken boy is sent from India to lose himself in the study of physics at university…

February 1958, and older, sadder Mortimer wakes from a horrific familiar nightmare of the home and love he lost. Oddly, it has not gripped him for years but he has no time to ponder, as he is imminently to depart for Belgium: part of the British Pavilion contingent attending the Universal Exposition. As the cultural, scientific and trade fair of the world’s nations, it will be a hotbed of intrigue and propaganda…

Meanwhile in Antarctica, an Indian team are setting up their own science colony, aided by neighbouring British outpost Halley Station. However, “Gondwana Base” has been compromised from the start, and transformed – with the logistical assistance of Soviet technology and Major Varich – into a sub-surface citadel housing Emperor Ashoka’s fabled secret weapon. The last component to arrive is villainous Colonel Olrik, but the nemesis of Blake and Mortimer is a far from willing participant…

Day later, Mortimer is in Brussels, meeting Blake and supervising the breakthrough radio experiment connecting them to Halley Station, unaware that the expo – and his own team – are riven with spies and saboteurs. He is troubled by another dream, one where Olrik was menaced by Ashoka and the trained apes that followed him everywhere in long-ago Simla.

After quieting his friend’s concerns, the MI5 Intelligence Chief is introduced to the rest of the British contingent given a privileged tour of the whole site and meets again old ally Labrousse (S.O.S. Meteors). The French meteorologist has a bold new venture underway and is actually in transit to South Africa and ultimately Antarctica…

It’s a “busman’s holiday” for Blake too. He’s actually at the Expo to prevent the illegal transfer of uranium from a foreign power to a nebulous new independent threat and is working with the Indian government…

His seemingly casual meet-&-greet with representatives from third world countries soon bears fruit, even as, at Gondwana Base, Olrik is reluctantly encased in a high tech coffin. His previous susceptibility to the telecephalscope of Professor Septimus (The Yellow M) makes him an ideal candidate for Ashoka’s weapon: a system capable of turning cerebral energy into planet-spanning power capable of affecting electrical devices, heavy machinery and solid objects with tremendous force.

The results are catastrophically and almost instantly experienced at the Expo as a weird energy wrecks buildings and exhibits. Only technical difficulties at the base prevent more death and destruction in Brussels, but before it ends Olrik commandeers Pavilion TV screens to send a threatening message to his despised foes…

Mortimer canvases other countries’ science teams and while seeking to quash resurgent national rivalries and unrepentant suspicions soon forms a hypothesis which is suddenly confirmed by Nasir. Their old comrade has covertly made his  way to Europe to warn them and brings also the name of the traitor in the British party. They are too late to stop the uranium transfer, but now know it is southbound to Antarctica and meant to power a doomsday weapon. Without a moment’s pause the trio take a plane to South Africa in desperate pursuit…

Concluding volume The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent part 2: Battle of the Spirits opens with our heroes initially frustrated. Their plan had been to join old friend Labrousse as he transported his atomic powered-ice-boring submersible to the frozen continent, but his ship has already sailed. Their dashed hopes are restored after eccentric millionaire ecological advocate and adventurer Lord Archibald McAuchentoshan offers them his ship and crew.

Their hopes are even further elevated when the vessel turns out to be a capacious flying boat, not a luxury yacht. Three hours later they are reunited with Labrousse aboard the freighter Madeline and en route to Halley Base, but they have not reckoned with storms and icebergs. The stormy conditions prove fortuitous however, as they allow them to catch up to the uranium-carry traitor’s ship and a little cunning allows them to secrete Nasir aboard as a wounded sailor…

Ahead of them climate and geology are playing tricks on all concerned. A minor earthquake wrecks the British loading dock and a polar storm looms, prompting Ashoka’s minions into attacking Halley Base and abducting the staff. The Eternal Emperor knows Mortimer is coming and seeks time for his agent to deliver the uranium, but has again underestimated the determination and ingenuity of his foes. Even though the Professor is captured on arrival, Blake escapes into the icy wastes. His epic pursuit leads him to Varich and exposes Ashoka’s Soviet support system, before he eventually links up with Labrousse’s team and is offered the use of his ice-sub for a counterattack.

Meanwhile at Gondwana Base, gloating Ashoka is attempting to use Mortimer as a second living battery in his diabolical machine, until long-forgotten Nasir – who had infiltrated the base as the traitor agent – intervenes. In the chaos that ensues, the ice-borer breaks into the control room from below. Amidst bloodshed and tectonic turmoil, Mortimer is cut off and leans from a dying acolyte the true story of Gita’s death, shaking him from decades of guilt and shame, but is forced by an unrepentant and finally exposed Ashoka to man the second electronic sarcophagus. Soon, his consciousness joins the ether inhabited by Olrik’s personality, resolved to stop the crazed villain from wreaking havoc at the Universal Exposition, in a mind-bending and literal battle of wills…

Thankfully, the Professor’s allies are as swift-thinking and indomitable as he, and one final sally against the Emperor saves him as he saves the Expo and as Gondwana erupts and vanishes in a welter of fire and ice.

…But what happened to Olrik?…

Binding many vivid facets of the heroes’ prestigious past exploits and achievements into a vibrant sci fi romp, this epic extravaganza blends Cold War tension with modern ethical and ecological concerns in a rip-roaring chase yarn to delight fans of many genres.

These Cinebook editions – available in paperback album and digital formats – also include previews for other albums, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombardgreet s.a.) 2003, 2004 by André Juillard & by Yves Sente. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010, 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

The Bluecoats volume 10: The Blues in Black and White


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-341-3 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Read Some Pictures: It’ll Last Longer… 8/10

The myths and legends of the cinematic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunslingers. 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 all-ages 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 scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de 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 in 1952 as a letterer.

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 scripted 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 65 (and counting) album sequence.

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 – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil 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 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 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 medal-wearing 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…

The Blues in Black and White was the 10th translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 11th European volume) and as Les Tuniques Bleues: Des bleus en noir et blanc was first seen on the continent in 1975, serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #1965 to #1975 before becoming an album collection two years later.

It opens with another spectacular yet pointless battle, with Blutch in fine whining form after a string of horrific near-death experiences. His mood is further tested when he finds a civilian prowling about, pointing a weird box at casualties and other scenes of horror…

The oblivious, self-absorbed stranger is Matthew Brady, who has been sent by President Lincoln to record the war through the strange new medium of photography. After becoming an unwilling subject and accidental laughing stock, Chesterfield is deeply suspicious and, soon after, resentfully resistant as his vain superiors and battle-weary comrades embrace the technological marvel. Before he can react, he and Blutch are appointed bodyguards and dogsbodies: compelled to escort the oblivious, practically-suicidal snapper anywhere and everywhere he wants…

Soon, however, the surly sergeant has all the combat his warrior’s heart can cope with – and even the long-desired prospect of a gong – whilst the sly, shirking corporal has found a way to utterly avoid battle by becoming the photographer’s assistant. He even dresses like a civilian now!

As the daily carnage continues, Chesterfield becomes increasingly irked at the effect of the picture maker. Almost everyone wants to be captured for posterity, to the detriment of actual fighting. While Brady is gone, Blutch “immortalises” everyone, and the sergeant teeters on the brink of madness. He even takes charge of charging whilst his officers are too busy preening and primping for their next heroic pose…

The lethal status quo returns with a bump when the President shows up to decorate Chesterfield. Brady is with him and ready to take his own shots again, meaning Blutch can get back to fighting – just as the Confederate forces rally to retake all the ground they’ve lost while the Sarge was secretly in command…

Things go from bad to worst, as the Rebel response swiftly overwhelms the Union forces. When Lincoln and Brady are almost captured, Blutch and Chesterfield show just what they’re made of… and pay a heavy price…

A shade darker than usual, this wry treatise on fame and pride is a hugely amusing poke at the glory boys of history, deftly delivering an anti-war saga cleverly targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by our down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly. 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 kind of war-story and Western that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1977 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Comanche volume 3: The Wolves of Wyoming


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. Digital only edition

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with a self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first saw way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer, editor and publisher sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and – calling himself “Greg” – followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (scripting the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999, leaving behind an astounding and beautiful legacy of drama and adventure crying out for revisiting in English…

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963, but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de 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, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann an industry superstar – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate upwards of 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums, but I’m probably short-changing the man).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this third translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic starring no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his growing band of friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely string of comradely outcasts on a struggling cattle-spread in Wyoming

The heart of the ranch crew are crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new owner he dotes upon: a young, immensely determined woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1974, The Wolves of Wyoming sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast embroiled in a classic cinematic scenario that begins with a stagecoach hurtling over dusty plains with ruthless bandits slinging lead in hot pursuit.

Doughty driver Sid Bullock is hit, but the lone passenger is more than holding his own with a sixgun, and when Triple 6 ranch-hands Toby and Clem intercept the chase, the predatory Dobbs Brothers peel off and flee…

Diverting to the homestead, the party formally meet self-confessed lay preacher Brian Braggshaw; a notorious former gunslinger with an extremely unforgiving attitude to sin and sinners and who takes an instant dislike – fully reciprocated – to Red…

As Ten Gallons doctors Bullock, Comanche learns that the Dobbs were after a cash shipment to the Ranchers Union – money Greenstone Falls depends on. The gang have bled the town dry with their recent raids. It’s like they have an inside man informing them of key shipments…

Compounding the problem is that fact that wily Sid actually diverted the latest money: carrying an empty decoy strongbox while legendary old drunk Pharoah Colorado carried the cash by a circuitous route. It’s a cunning, brilliant plan that only falls short on one point. Finishing his booze early, Colorado has been forced to make a detour, visiting local moonshine maker Trapper Hans even as the Triple 6 hands split up into search parties to find the leathery soak and precious funds…

Covering many potential routes, they are being secretly observed. The Dobbs are mostly cruel brutes, but oldest Dobbs brother Russ is as smart as he is sadistic and quickly deduces what the ranchers are hunting for: money he feels is his by right.

Red has been paired with the vengeance-happy Braggshaw, and their heated debates over morality bring them close to blows. It’s not enough to stop the preacher killing Melvin Dobbs when he tries bushwhacking them, and as they backtrack to the gang’s cabin, they observe the entire clan riding off. Investigating the cabin, Red finds missing Indian Affairs Commissioner Howard Calhoun, who embezzled funds and almost sparked a war. His cunning hideaway amongst the Dobbs Boys has clearly proved there’s no honour among thieves, and their treatment of their criminal “comrade” has resulted in what can only be regarded as divine justice…

Russ meanwhile has gathered the clan to scour the region, whilst Red has made a few deductions of his own. Trapper Hans’ sturdy shack is the only place to find booze in the Wyoming wilds so he and Braggshaw head there. As night falls, Comanche and Toby are already there, preparing to fight for their lives against the besieging Dobbs gang.

As the bloodshed begins, the rest of the Triple 6 men converge on the scene. With battle joined it’s not long before a hero dies and the gang turn tail. In the aftermath, Red Dust rides off, having embraced the Preacher’s unforgiving doctrine and now determined to destroy all the “wolves of Wyoming”…

To Be Continued…

A classic saga of the filmic western genre, this yarn is drenched in European style and ingenuity, elevating it above the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury tropes that make even venerated old movies an uncomfortable experience for most of us in these enlightened days.

It’s also so beautifully depicted, the images will stay with you forever…

A splendid confection of the Wild West blended with sleek yet gritty European style, this is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lovers will adore. Don’t miss one of the most celebrated comics cowboys of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 2 The Laughing Thief


By De Groot & Turk, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-07-4 (Album PB)

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – most especially French and Belgians – seem fascinated with us Brits. Maybe it’s our shared heritage of Empires lost and cultures in transition? An earlier age would have claimed it’s simply a case of “Know your Enemy”…

Whether we look at Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the Continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for iconic magazine Le Journal de Tintin, this doughty True Brit troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959. After three albums worth of material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot quit Tintin for arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou leaving his eccentric comedic crime-fighter to flounder until LJdT revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene, 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 the early 1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this – Le voleur qui rit – Clifton (from 1973) – was their second collaboration.

From 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont – AKA Bédu – limned De Groot’s scripts; eventually assuming the writing chores as well, persevering until the series ended in 1995. In keeping with its rather haphazard nature and typically undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed once again in 2003, crafted by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue in four further adventures; a grand total of 26 to date.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF, former Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rurally bucolic Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth.

Sadly for Clifton – as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – he is convinced that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots…

In this second translated album from 2005, the Gentleman Detective is embroiled in not one but two uncanny incidences, beginning with eponymous epic ‘The Laughing Thief’ wherein the still much-missed lawman rather forcefully inserts himself into a current case baffling Scotland Yard.

London is wracked by devilishly clever crimes executed with infallible precision by a crack crew of blaggers, but the profits of each caper seem far below what such expert criminals should be bothering with. Moreover, each perfectly executed heist is preceded by a telephone warning from a braying braggart with the most annoying and distinctive laugh imaginable…

These felons are incredibly bold and arrogant. Even after Clifton intervenes in the second robbery, the scoundrels easily outwit him, leaving the dapper sleuth unconscious with dozens of other peculiarly proud and strangely supportive victims…

Moreover, although police “higher-ups” welcome Clifton’s help, officer-in-charge Lieutenant Hardfeeling doesn’t want the show-stealer around and is doing all he can to impede the Colonel’s investigations, despite protests from senior colleagues and the bobbies on the beat…

Nevertheless, persistence is its own reward, and when Clifton finally deduces the true reasons for the publicity-seeking crime-spree, the resultant confrontation is spectacularly satisfying and hilariously rewarding…

Being British and an ex-spy, Clifton has hung on to the odd gadget or two, such as an amazingly tricked out umbrella which plays a major part in this volume’s second tale ‘The Mystery of the Running Voice’. A suspenseful spooky yarn, it begins when the unhappy pensioner meets old comrade Donald McDonald Muckyduck, who appears to have worn out every vestige of verve and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown…

Close consultation reveals that the former Police Inspector is being haunted by a robber ghost; one that has already claimed six victims. However, upon viewing crime scene photos Clifton gains an inkling into how the trick is done and temporarily moves to sedate and sedentary village Flatfish-on-Apron, setting himself up as bait for a diabolical genius with a penchant for clever gimmicks…

Visually spoofing Swinging Sixties London and staidly stuffy English Manners with wicked effect, these gentle thrillers are big on laughs but also pack loads of consequence-free action into their eclectic mix. Delightfully surreal, instantly accessible and doused with daft slapstick à la Jacques Tati and intrigue like Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, this brace of romps rattle along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit if you’re of a later generation – offering splendid fun and timeless laughs for all.
Original edition © 1973 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.

Iznogoud and the Magic Carpet (volume 6)


By Goscinny and Tabary (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918- 044-3 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977), René Goscinny was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts as Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah. However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on many levels: as a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper for the youngsters, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire of marvellously accessible episodic comic capers.

The same magic formula had made its more famous cousin Asterix a global success, and just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nitwit is adapted by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover, the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly delivered creative anachronism which keeps the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious antihero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always declaiming “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, and soon became a massive European hit, with 30 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas); his own solo comic, computer games, animated films, a TV cartoon show and even a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary began scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

There haven’t been any new translated volumes since 2017, but this sixth Cinebook album (actually the ninth French album, released in 1973 as Le Tapis Magique) is now available in digital formats and opens with lead tale ‘The Magic Carpet’: an exceptional, extended 20-page epic bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the unusual suspects…

It all starts in gloriously bustling Baghdad where the verminous Vizier unaccountably encounters a few famous faces (moonlighting from their day jobs in Le Journal de Tintin) before returning to plotting how to remove the gentle, isolated and very dim obstacle to power …

It’s the birthday of corpulent oaf Haroun Al Plassid and a nasty notion finally occurs: employing impecunious Fakir Khaledonyahn to make a very special kind of rug. Flying carpets are no big deal in the empire and the skies of Baghdad are crammed with them, but the Fakir’s are extraordinary…

They only travel one way. Anybody standing on one of these when the trigger word is pronounced takes a flight to who-knows-where and never returns…

Who-knows-where is actually Ancient Peking (you can say Beijing if you want) and soon the venerably inscrutable and imperturbable citizens there are having their legendary patience and implacability tested as rug after rug arrives because untrusting Iznogoud continually demands proof of concept before parting with cash. Meanwhile, the gullibly hapless Caliph can’t get the hang of the magic word his trusted advisor wants him to repeat…

This sharply convoluted pun-punctuated yarn is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘Incognito’. The well-meaning Caliph has no idea of the dire depredations Iznogoud inflicts upon the populace in his name, or that his beloved people fear, despise and revile the Caliphate because of excessive taxes, prisons filled with tortured citizens and schools empty of children. When chimerically inquisitive Haroun Al Plassid decides to go out amongst the populace in all his regal splendour, he is disappointed and surprised to find the streets utterly deserted by the terrified common folk…

Asking his precious Iznogoud for advice, the Commander of the Faithful is then convinced to sneak out alone dressed as a common beggar. Unable to believe his luck, the venal Vizier quickly briefs bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahfand orders the guards to throw into the deepest dungeon any beggars who approach the palace.

On his fact-finding mission, the shabby Caliph learns a lot he doesn’t like and determines to fix things as soon as he gets back. Unfortunately, being a newcomer in his own city he gets lost…

Soon Iznogoud is going insane with suspense. Al Plassid should be back and languishing in jail by now, but as long as he’s out there somewhere the coup cannot begin. Thus, the despot-in-waiting and his fatuous flunky are forced to disguise themselves as beggars, covertly creeping out into Baghdad to search for their missing lord.

In the meantime, the Caliph has the brilliant notion of asking for directions and shambles home just as the Guard is being changed. Nobody even notices the scruffy indigent who shambles back to his apartments and becomes again The Caliph. Down in the city the tired and frustrated plotters give up and head for home, just as the order to arrest all beggars becomes law…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the perfectly paced saga of ‘The Tiger Hunt’ when Iznogoud convinces his boss to go for a low key safari – just him, the Vizier and faithful Wa’at Alahf, all armed with bows and blunt arrows – to bag the perfect bedside rug.

Typically, the murder plot goes hideously awry as a succession of hunters provide perfectly suitable, already skinned rugs to the happy ruler and the only living apex predators they can find are just not interested.

Forced to improvise, Iznogoud resorts to digging a huge pit, but whilst he’s at the bottom of it Haroun at last finds a way to really tick off a tiger – just before it tumbles into a great big hole in the ground…

The manic mirth concludes with ‘The Box of Souvenirs’ as a visitor from distant Nippon visits Baghdad with a strange device. Judoka Karate is a destitute tourist whose incredible hand-held cube can turn solid objects into two-dimensional pictures.

Instantly sensing an opportunity Iznogoud – after much spirited dickering – acquires the mystic souvenir-maker, but hasn’t fully considered the details. To turn a jug, jewel or Caliph into a black-&-white image, the object has to be the proper distance from the lens and the subject absolutely must keep completely still for a minute or two.

Confident he can cope, the Vizier has utterly underestimated the Caliph’s mayfly attention span and ingrained vanity which has led to large mirrors being placed all over the palace…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

When first released in Britain in the 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comic book) these tales made little impression, but this snappy, wonderfully beguiling strip deserves an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids of All Ages…
Original edition © Editions TABARY 1991, by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.