Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 to Sydney


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Methuen/Little Brown Books)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-821-5 (HB) 978-0-31635-837-8 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Gotta Get ‘Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette – written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The last romp had finished serialisation in September 1962 and been collected as an album in 1963. Vol 714 pour Sydney began its weekly run in Le Journal de Tintin #936 – 27th September 1966 – and concluded in #997, cover-dated November 28th 1967. The inevitable book collection came in May 1968.

Flight 714 To Sydney appears to be a return to classic adventure, but conceals some ironic modernist twists, opening with our heroes hurriedly en route to Australia. During an intrigue-redolent stopover at Djakarta, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus are inveigled (almost duped) into joining unconventional and somewhat unpleasant aviation tycoon Laszlo Carreidas on his personal supersonic prototype. The petty-minded multi-millionaire obviously has some ulterior design but cannot be dissuaded.

However, due to the type of coincidence that plagues our heroes, that plane has been targeted by the villainous outlaw Rastapopoulos whose gang hijack the aircraft and land it on a desolate Pacific island. The former criminal mastermind has a crazy scheme to siphon off Carreidas’ fortune but has lost a lot of his old sinister efficiency…

After many ploys and countermoves between the opposing forces, and with danger a constant companion, the prisoners escape the villain’s clutches only to discover that the Island is volcanic and conceals a fantastic ancient secret that dwarfs the threat of mere death and penury before escalating to a spectacular climax no reader will ever forget…

Although full of Hergé’s trademark slapstick humour, there is also a sly undercurrent of self-examination that highlights the intrinsic futility of the criminals’ acts. As time has passed, the murderous human monsters have all been exposed as foolish, posturing and largely ineffectual.

Nevertheless, the yarn is primarily an extremely effective, suspenseful action thriller with science fiction roots as the author plays with the multifarious strands of international research then in vogue which led to Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and other lesser known tracts of cod science.

Once more the supernormal plays a large part in proceedings – but not as a malign force – and this time science and rationality, not the supernatural, are the basis of the wonderment. Flight 714 To Sydney is slick, compelling and astoundingly engaging: a true epic escapade no fan of fun could fail to adore.
Flight 714 To Sydney: artwork © 1968 Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1968 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)

ISBNs: 978-1-40910-134-5 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-425-0 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrating the Season with Historical Hysterics… 10/10

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

He became a French citizen at age seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

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

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a warning shot…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

When the heroes are playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resort to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for a decade and Uderzo was slowly but surely finding his own authorial voice…

Asterix and the Magic Carpet (originally and rather ponderously entitled Astérix chez Rahàzade ou Le compte des mille et une heures – which translates as Asterix meets Orinjade or the 1001 Hours Countdown) was released in 1987 and once again saw Asterix and Obelix undertake a long voyage into the unknown: one packed with exotic climes, odd people and bold adventure, all deliciously underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

Before the Arabian adventure begins, a delightful in-character portrait of Goscinny and Uderzo as their greatest creations Asterix and Obelix whets the appetite for the fun to come, after which the 28th saga starts with a friendly feast, abruptly ruined twice over by the musical efforts of raucous Bard Cacofonix.

Firstly, there’s the plain fact that he is singing at all, but the real problem is that his newly discovered vocal style summons up storms and creates violent downpours.

The thunderous deluge delivers a surprised visitor to the village. Watziznehm the Fakir was passing by far above on his flying carpet when the tempest tossed him to earth. It’s a painful but happy accident since the Indian wise man is on a mission to find some miraculous Gauls and a certified rainmaker…

Soon Asterix, Obelix and canine wonder Dogmatix are heading Due East to save beautiful princess Orinjade from the machinations of Guru Hoodunnit, who wants to sacrifice her to end a terrible drought and consequently seize the reins of power from her father Rajah Watzit. When the flying wizard left home, it was with a countdown of 1001 hours to doomsday…

Our heroes are only accompanying the real star of the Fakir’s quest: with a deadline looming to execute the princess, Watziznehm needs to get Cacofonix there in time to sing up a storm – or rather a monsoon…

Travel aboard a flying carpet is swift and comfortable but ever-hungry Obelix is continually holding up proceedings with many pit-stops to refuel his cavernous stomach, whilst the Bard’s practising frequently leads to stormy weather and unnecessary diversions…

After the usual dalliance with pirates, a bird’s eye tour of Rome and a brief voyage on a Greek trading ship, our tourists soar over Athens and get shot at above Tyre before a natural storm sets the carpet alight and they crash-land in Persia.

Despite being in the land of carpets, the travellers are unable to secure a replacement until a band of Scythian raiders attack the village. Once Asterix and Obelix negotiate a trade deal, the embattled villagers take charge of hundreds of pummelled plunderers in return for a freshly unbeatable new rug…

As the heroes plunge ever eastward, in the Valley of the Ganges Hoodunnit and his creepy mystic crony Owzat gloat at their impending takeover, even as poor Orinjade’s stout defiance begins to weaken.

When the Gauls and their Fakir chauffeur arrive with only a day to spare, it all seems over for the ghastly guru, but as the Bard begins his song, Cacofonix discovers that the arduous journey has given him laryngitis.

For the first time ever, somebody wants him to sing and he has lost his voice…

With time running out, the Rajah’s doctors’ diagnosis seems crazy: immersion in various unwholesome by-products of sacred elephants. Rather than settle for half-measures the Gauls decide to take Cacofonix to the jungle abode of Howdoo the Elephant Trainer and bury him in the curative well away from civilised senses…

This only gives the villains the opportunity they have been hoping for. When Watziznehm and the Gauls go to collect the Bard in the morning, Owzat engages the Fakir in a magical duel. Leaving them to their tricks Asterix and Obelix press on and find that the storm-singer has been kidnapped…

Happily, dashing Dogmatix is on hand to track down the Bard, an especially easy task as he now smells like he sings…

Hoodunnit is mirthfully preparing the stage for Orinjade’s sacrifice when, after the usual Gallic fisticuffs from our heroes, Cacofonix makes his Asian debut and sets everything – including the skies – to rights in the very nick of time…

Stuffed with light-hearted action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this tale is full of Eastern Promise, a sublime slice of whimsy and all you need to make any holiday excursion or comfy staycation unforgettable.

The 29th volume Asterix and the Secret Weapon (originally Astérix: La Rose et le Glaive) was released in 1991 and Uderzo’s fifth as solo creator. It begins in the boisterous, far from idyllic little hamlet with a multi-generational battle of the sexes in full swing…

The perpetual jockeying for position between males and females comes to a head when Chief’s wife Impedimenta and the village matrons fire Cacofonix from his role as teacher of their children and bring in a new educator more to their liking.

Bard Bravura is a woman – and someone who knows how to get things done properly. With the village men reluctant to get involved, Cacofonix has no choice but to resign in high dudgeon and go live in the forest…

The situation worsens when the massed mothers demand a party to welcome their new tutor and Chief Vitalstatistix is bullied into arranging it. At the feast, Bravura sings and is discovered to be just slightly less awful than Cacofonix ever was. At least her bellowing doesn’t result in instant thunderstorms…

Meanwhile in Rome, Julius Caesar is listening to another bright spark with an idea to defeat and destroy the Gallic Gadflies who won’t admit they are part of his empire. Wily Manlius Claphamomnibus is convinced he has discovered a fatal chink in the rebels’ indomitable armour…

Bravura is rapidly becoming unwelcome to at least half the village: enflaming the women with her talk of “masculine tyranny”, and aggravating the men by singing every morning before the sun comes up. She even manages to offend easygoing Obelix by refusing to let him bring Dogmatix to the kindergarten class his owner attends every day…

Most shocking of all, the Bard has convinced the women to wear trousers rather than skirts, and Impedimenta has taken to being carried around on a shield just like a proper – Male – Chief…
With the situation rapidly becoming intolerable, outraged Vitalstatistix orders his top troubleshooter to sort it out, but Bravura won’t listen to the diminutive warrior. She thinks Asterix is an adorable little man and bamboozles him into giving her his hut.

… And at sea a band of phenomenally unlucky pirates attack a Roman ship filled with Claphamomnibus’ secret weapons and quickly wish it had been the Gauls who usually thrash and sink them, instead of these monsters sending them to the bottom of the sea…

Relations have completely broken down in the village. The new Bard’s suggestion that Impedimenta should be chief has resulted in a massive spat and Vitalstatistix has repaired to the forest for the foreseeable future. It’s not long before every man in town joins him…

In an effort to calm the seething waters, Druid Getafix organises a referendum to decide who should rule, but whilst all the women naturally vote for Impedimenta, no men except Asterix and Obelix dare to vote for Vitalstatistix. After all, they don’t have wives…

When the little warrior confronts Bravura, she again belittles him: even suggesting that if they get together, they can rule the village jointly. Incensed beyond endurance, the furious hero slaps her when she kisses him and immediately crumbles in shock and horror.

He has committed the unpardonable sin. The Gaulish Code utterly forbids warriors to harm women or maltreat guests and in his honest outrage has betrayed his most sacred principles…

He’s still in shock when Getafix defends him at a trial where Bravura even angers the wise old sage to the point that he also storms off to join Cacofonix and Vitalstatistix…

Before day’s end the entire male contingent – overcome by a wave of masculine solidarity and “Sod This-ery” – is living a life of carefree joy under the stars and Impedimenta is rightly concerned with how the village can be defended without the Druid’s potions.

Bravura has an answer to that too: an infallible peace plan to present to the besieging Romans…

Meanwhile on the dock at Aquarium, the Secret Weapons are disembarking to the amusement and – quite quickly – sheer terror and consternation of the weary garrison. From the safety of some bushes, Asterix and Obelix watch in astonishment as an army of ferocious women – a female Legion of lethal warriors – takes over the running of the fort and prepares for total war…

Extremely worried, the spies quickly report back to the men in the trees. The situation is truly dire for no honourable Gaul could possibly fight a woman. Despite the ongoing domestic situation, Vitalstatistix decides the women of the village must be warned and despatches the horrified Asterix and still-bewildered Obelix to carry the message.

Worried and nervous at their potential reception, the unlikely lads wander into a rather embarrassing fashion show and are greeted with a wave of questions from the women who are missing their men more that they realised…

Bravura arrogantly refuses the offer to provide the women with their own magic potion, confident in her peace plan, but when she meets with Claphamomnibus she is beaten, abused and humiliated by the cocky Roman. She surprisingly finds a sympathetic ear and keen collaborator in Asterix, who has a scheme to take appropriate vengeance and send the notionally irresistible female furies packing…

It will, of course, mean the men and women of the village working closely together…

Although quite heavy-handed by today’s standards, this is at its core a superb lampooning of the endlessly entertaining “Battle of the Sexes”: combining swingeing satire, broad slapstick and surreal comedy in a delicious confection of sexual frisson and eternally evergreen “My Wife…” jokes.

Bravura is one of Uderzo’s most enigmatic caricatures, bearing resemblances to a number of high profile female public figures of the time, including then-French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Belgian tele-journalist Christine Ockrent and German operatic star Diana Damrau, but the grievances of both male and female combatants are as unchanging and perennial as the characters here who enact and – for a short time at least – embody them…

Uderzo’s sixth solo session was Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (released in 1996 as La Galère d’Obélix) and the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga.

It opens in the cruel and callous capital of civilisation wherein the Master of the World is having a bit of a bad day. Not as bad, however, as his Grand Admiral Crustacius, who has just allowed a bunch of galley slaves to mutiny and steal Julius Caesar’s personal galley…

As the severely tongue-lashed mariner and his browbeaten aide Vice-Admiral Nautilus scurry away to pursue the fugitives, aboard the magnificent vessel magnificent Greek rebel Spartakis – bearing a striking resemblance to the magnificent Kirk Douglas in all his glory – debates with his recently-liberated comrades from many nations on where in the Rome-ruled world they can go to remain free…

A British oarsman then suggests a certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica which the empire has never conquered…

Meanwhile in the faraway subject of the rebels’ discussions, Asterix and Obelix are in an argumentative mood too, but their clash is put aside when word comes that the entire complement of all four encircling garrisons are massing on the far side of the forest…

Always eager for a little martial recreation, the villagers dose up on Getafix the Druid’s strength-boosting magic potion. Once again, Obelix is frustrated in his attempt to get a share of the tantalising elixir and stumbles off in high dudgeon. The generally genial giant had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and grown up a permanently superhuman, eternally hungry hulk who hates being told no and doesn’t believe more of the mouth-watering miracle mixture might harm him…

The Romans are utterly unaware of the danger insouciantly sauntering towards them, engaged as they are in military drills to celebrate the imminent arrival of Admiral Crustacius. Thoroughly thrashing the amassed legions, the victorious Gauls wonder why Roman-bashing addict Obelix is absent and Getafix, dreading the worst, dashes back to discover his greatest fears realised.

The intransigent idiot has foolishly imbibed deeply from the potion and been turned to stone…

Nothing the Druid can conceive seems able to cure the calcified colossus and it’s during this time of trouble that Spartakis and his freed slaves arrive, requesting sanctuary. As the welcoming villagers carry the huge ornate galley into the village, the Obelix ordeal takes a strange turn as his stony spell wears off and the former fighting fool returns to flesh and blood – albeit as the puny helpless little boy he was before ever falling into the potion pot. The little wimp can’t even eat roast boar anymore…

The puny pipsqueak is the darling of the town but cannot abide his weak ineffectual status. The situation becomes truly intolerable after the boy is captured by Crustacius and shipped off to Rome. After suitably castigating the soldiery, Asterix, Getafix and faithful mutt Dogmatix give chase in Caesar’s ship, crewed by Spartakis and his valiant band of brothers.

Powered by potion, the pursuers easily overtake the Romans, who have been hampered by the obnoxious antics of Obelix and the predations of the perennially, phenomenally unlucky pirates to whom – after a period of traditional chastisement – Asterix gives Caesar’s stolen galley.

Crucially, however, in his haste the little warrior leaves behind a barrel of potion when his comrades and little Obelix all transfer to a new, less conspicuous vessel.

As the Gauls sail off in the pirate’s ship, Getafix has an inspired idea and suggests to Spartakis that they make for the last remnant of Atlantis, explaining that the idyllic Canary Islands survived the inundation of the magic continent and the people living there now are reclusive beings of great power and knowledge who might be able to restore Obelix to his natural state…

When they arrive in that beautiful land of miracles, they are greeted by aged Absolutlifabulos and hordes of beautiful, happy children riding dolphins, centaurs, swans and winged cattle. The jolly dotard explains that the Atlanteans reverted themselves to carefree immortal childhood, but their powers cannot do anything to cure Obelix. As the downhearted Gauls make their way home, Spartakis and his men opt to stay and become forever kids too…

Meanwhile on Caesar’s galley, Crustacius has discovered Getafix’s stashed potion and powered up, dreaming of ousting his foul-tempered boss and making himself Emperor, even as leagues away, a Roman boarding party invades the pirate galley and menaces the powerless Gauls.

With Asterix about to be killed, little Obelix goes berserk and the emotional overload restores him to his corpulent, hyper-charged older self, much to the distress of the terrified soldiers…

By the time Crustacius reaches Rome, he has made the same mistake Obelix did and his rapid overdosing on potion only provides Julius Caesar with another statue for the Circus Maximus…

In Gaul however, Obelix – with a lot of frustration to work through – debarks at recently repaired Aquarium for a spot of cathartic violence before he accompanies his faithful chums back to the village for a celebratory feast…

This rollicking fantasy and paean to family and true friendship cemented Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch. If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1996 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002-2003 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Tamba, Child Soldier


By Marion Achard & Yann Dégruel & various; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-236-6 (HB album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 9/10

It may be a wonderful world but modern Earth is far too often a terrible place, especially if you’re weak and powerless.

The global scandal and shame of children forcibly co-opted into paramilitary and terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history boys and girls have fought in adult wars. Comic books are full of them, but there’s two big differences: they all “volunteer” without being groomed by cruel power-obsessed scum and THEY’RE NOT REAL.

So prevalent and pernicious was the practise of African and Asian militias, religious groups and other factions (even governments), that in 2000 the civilised world agreed to an Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict. The OPAC accord restricts armed forces recruitment to adults of 18 years or over and has become known as the Straight 18 standard.

It’s a good start but hasn’t stopped ambitious war-criminals and monsters raiding villages for kids, who they drug, beat and starve; enslaving and brutalising them to use as cannon fodder and shock troops in hope of securing their own evil ends.

Rather than concentrate on any specific case or example (there are so damned many) this stunning oversized (216 x 279 mm) full-colour hardback and/or digital book gathers and synthesises many true incidents into the dramatised testimony of Tamba Cisso: taken aged eight from his African village – along with all of his young friends – and forcibly inducted into a scavenging band of killers.

The specifics of the tragically documented events he participated in – and the unhappier fates of his fellow abductees – are revealed through the venue of his later testimony to an initially hostile crowd at a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. Tamba’s account of everyday life as a reluctant warrior for a jumped-up rebel warlord is no less harrowing for being one step removed from our own world’s actual atrocities…

Acutely examining the greater effect of kidnappings on generations of citizens, Young Adults author Marion Achard (Je veux un chat et des parents normaux, Pourquoi je suis devenu une fille) brings bitterness, barely harnessed anger, righteous indignation and potent empathy to an appalling subject. Tamba, l’enfant soldat is her first graphic novel – hopefully not her last – rendered with vivid virtuosity and great subtlety by artist and animator Yann Dégruel (Genz Gys Khan, Sans Famille).

Augmenting their visual narrative is Achard’s text essay Child Soldiers: describing what happens to these shunned victims of violence and sharing some extremely disturbing facts and figures, and is augmented by features on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Professor Laure Borgomano’s (Department of Defense, NATO) breakdown of the purpose and functions of The UN High Commissioner for Refugees: UNHCR…

Compellingly engaging and boldly, beautifully illustrated, this is a chilling, sobering yet ultimately encouraging reading experience everyone with a stake in a less toxic future must seek out and share.
© 2018 Edition Delcourt. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great and challenging reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-820-8(HB) 978-1-40520-632-7(Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Get ’Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a timeless masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed Remi and his growing studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist occupiers and reluctantly added to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

Sadly, Hergé’s personal life was less satisfactory, but although plagued by physical and mental health problems, the travails only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities…

Le Bijoux de la Castafiore was serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from 4th July 1961 to September 4th 1962 with the inevitable book collection released in 1963. For the first time, The English edition was published in the same years as its European original…

The Castafiore Emerald is quite a departure from the eerie bleak thriller that preceded it (Tintin in Tibet) and the general run of globetrotting tales. The resolution of that icy escapade seemed to have purged much of the turmoil and trauma from the artist’s psyche.

His production rate – but not the quality – slowed to a leisurely crawl as he became a world traveller himself, visiting America, Taiwan and many other places he had featured in the exploits of his immortal boy reporter. Fans would wait fifteen years for these last three adventures to be done.

When the blithely unstoppable operatic grand dame Bianca Castafiore imposes herself on Captain Haddock at Marlinspike Hall – complete with fawning entourage and a swarm of reporters in hot pursuit – she turns the place upside down, destroying the irascible mariner’s peace-of-mind.

A flighty force of nature claiming to crave isolation and quiet recuperation, the Diva floods Marlinspike with anxiety, just as Tintin and the Captain are attempting to win fair treatment for a roving band of gipsies (let’s call them Roma now, shall we?).

Much to the chagrin of the irascible mariner, when the pride of Castafiore’s fabulous jewels is stolen, events take a constantly escalating, surreal and particularly embarrassing turn before Tintin finally solves the case through calm, cool deduction.

Unlike the rest of the canon, this tale is restricted – like a drawing room mystery – to one locale: the impressive house and grounds inherited by Haddock as inhabited by a hilarious cast of regulars including acerbic, long-suffering butler Nestor and deranged genius Professor Calculus. It reads very much like an Alfred Hitchcock sparkling thriller from the 1950s: Light, airy, even frothy in places, with the emphasis always on laughs…

There are no real villains but plenty of diabolical happenstance generating slapstick action and wry humour while affording Hergé plenty of opportunities to take pot-shots at the media, Society – High and low – and even the then-pervasive and ever-growing phenomenon of television itself.

The tale was published in 1961. It would be five years until the next one.

At least you don’t have to wait: this comics masterpiece can – and should – be yours as soon as possible.
The Castafiore Emerald: artwork © 1963 by Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1963 Methuen & Co Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Bugle Boy


By Alexandre Clérisse, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBN – digital only edition

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What All Those War Stories Really Mean… 9/10

The dead don’t care what we do, but how we treat and remember them defines who we are as a culture and species. Inspired by a true story, Trompe la mort was first published in 2009, offering a humorous, whimsical tone to what must have been a pretty depressing situation…

Translated by digital-only Europe Comics, The Bugle Boy is a story of debts paid and brothers-in-arms honoured, which begins as an ageing veteran decides to settle some long outstanding affairs…

Marcel is a surviving participant of WWII, and as a surly bugger of 85-years vintage, is inexplicably moved by an impending notion to sort out unfinished business before he joins the rest of his generation in the boneyard.

Back in the war, he was a dashing young company bugler and is now increasingly unsettled at the events which forced him to bury his beloved instrument on a battlefield. As memories of those fraught, often humiliating days keep coming to him, the gritty old sod, with his feisty and unwillingly dutiful granddaughter Andrea, embark on an unpleasant, cross-country bus trek to the distant rural region where – in 1940 – he and his comrades fought their first and last battle.
Before being captured, the idealistic lad he was buried that bugle before it could be employed as it should, and now all he can think of is getting it back.

Sadly, once all the tedious and painful travails of the journey are completed, Marcel has a still-more difficult problem to solve. The instrument has been already found and turned by the Mayor into a tourist-trap badge of French patriotism. It’s grandly installed in the local town museum – which is now dedicated to bugles of all sorts – as the heart and soul of the town’s rebirth. With elections coming, the wily demagogue is planning on exploiting it and the glorious – if comfortably mis-defined – past, as the clarion symbols of his re-election campaign. He has no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

But not if Marcel and Andrea have anything to say about it…

Writer/artist Alexandre Clérisse was born in 1980 and began seriously making comics in 1999 through a series of experimental fanzines. In 2002 he graduated from EESI school of Visual Arts in Angoulême – where he still resides – and began releasing such superbly readable Bande Dessinee as Jazz Club, Souvenir de l’empire de l’atome (seen in English as IDW’s Atomic Empire) and all-ages Seek-&-Find book Now Playing

Heartwarming and irreverent, poignant and deeply funny, The Bugle Boy has all the force and gently subversive wit of classic Dad’s Army episodes and cannot fail to hit home with any reader possessing grandparents who remember and kids who wonder what war is really like…
© 2019 – Dargaud – Clérisse. All rights reserved.

Who Killed Kenny? – 45 Cases to Solve


By Pera Comics (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2224-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Crime Cartooning… 8/10

There’s an irreverent, adult-oriented animated TV show about really unpleasant kids that’s quite popular around the world. It’s got a number of catch-phrases that people in the know often quote to each other. This book is nothing to do with that show in any way at all and besides, imitation as the cheapest sincerest form of flattery…

Seriously though, this tiny (130x 160 mm) hardback – or digital – diversion is as much game and quizbook as comics extravaganza, and although tipping its hat to the iconic South Park, is in fact a hugely popular fair play mystery game developed by cartoonist Alessandro Perugini and unleashed periodically on Instagram.

As “Pera Comics”, the artist explains it all in ‘Who is Pera’ and ‘Who is Kenny?’ but unless I’ve already convinced you to dash off and buy, I’ll blather on a bit and describe how the eponymous latter is a perpetual victim cast adrift in time and space and how each easily-accessible cartoon adventure finds him dead. From clues visual and verbal, participants must decide whether his fate is accident, suicide or murder. You get points for correct answers and rise up the rankings from Simple Agent through various Detective grades to, ultimately, a Pera Detective!

The eccentric exploits begin in ancient Rome with lengthy introductory adventure ‘The Ides of Kenny!’, to be followed by a flood of rapid-fire, funny, quirky brain-teasers such as ‘Who Killed Kenny? Devil or God?’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? Beethoven or Mozart’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? A, B, or C?’, ‘Homicide or Suicide?’, and ‘Who Killed Kenny? Zombie or Vampire?’.

The enjoyment and bloodletting never seem to end!
Deliriously daft, morbidly macabre and insanely addictive, this is a splendid treat for the easily bored with idle hands and will make for an ideal stocking-stuffer.
© 2018 Pera Comics/Tunué S.r.l. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Who Killed Kenny? will be published on November 14th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, coloured by Thierry Mébarki and translated by Adriana Hunter (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-51010-713-7 (HB) 978-1-51010-714-4 (PB Album) eISBN: 978-1-5101-0720-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrate the Season in Classical Style… 9/10

Asterix le Gaulois debuted in 1959 and has since become part of the fabric of French life. His exploits have touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for almost all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years dissemination as weekly serials (subsequently collected into book-length compilations), in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete, original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new tome became an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees.

The eager anxiety hasn’t diminished any even now that Uderzo’s handpicked replacements -scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) have properly settled into the creative role since his retirement in 2009.

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a sly and wicked satire for older-if-no-wiser heads, these new yarns are just as engrossing as the established canon.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics take place in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the alternating rest are set in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany where, circa 50 BC, a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Although the land is divided by the conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Armorica, the very tip of the last-named region stubbornly refuses to be properly pacified. The otherwise supreme overlords, utterly unable to overrun this last little bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – even though the irksome Gauls come and go as they please…

Thus, a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

Those contained couldn’t care less; daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine by going about their everyday affairs, bolstered by magic potion brewed by resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits and strategic aplomb of diminutive dynamo Asterix and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Ferri & Didier’s fourth album (and 38th canonical chronicle of Asterix) La Fille de Vercingétorix was released on October 17th 2018, with an English edition hitting shelves – and the digital emporia – as Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter on the 24th.

It similarly debuted that day in 19 other languages with an initial global print run of more than 5,000,000 copies.

As proof that time marches and on that youth will ultimately have its day, the narrative focus here is on a new generation of characters, but as always, action, suspense and comedy are very much in evidence. There’s a healthy helping of satirical lampooning of the generation gap, fads and trends as well as the traditional regional and nationalistic leitmotifs…

It all begins one evening when elderly Averni warriors Monolithix and Sidekix arrive at the village in search of Chief Vitalstatistix. They are aged survivors of the climactic battle of Alesia which culminated in the Romans taking control of Gaul. That occurred after great Vercingetorix ignominiously capitulated to Julius Caesar: a shame so great that most Gauls can no longer speak his name aloud…

In his grand hut, Vitalstatistix hears out his old comrades and agrees to take in a young girl. Surly teenager Adrenalin is the daughter of the defeated commander in chief and wears the great gold torc that symbolised his rule. Resolved that she will one day lead a liberating revolt, Monolithix and Sidekix have reared the girl in secret, but recently learned that a Gaulish traitor – Binjwatchflix – has informed Caesar of her existence.

Now the emperor wants the torc and the girl – whom he plans to indoctrinate into Roman ways and use as a puppet proxy – so the wrinkly resistance fighters need time to arrange a smuggled flight to Britain for their juvenile charge.

The skulking traitor is not the only problem: truculent Adrenalin is currently rebelling against her destiny and tends to run away at every opportunity. Suitably warned and worried, the Chief assigns his two top men – and their canine companion Dogmatix – to watch over her…

As the girl is assimilated into the village, nefarious Binjwatchflix steals into the garrison of Totorum and drafts the unwilling commander into a nasty scheme to capture the unwary, unruly child…

Back in the village, Adrenalin is causing a bit of a stir amongst the younger crowd. She’s rude, insolent and dresses in men’s clothes: the local lads just can’t stop following her about…

She’s especially interesting to the sons of Unhygienix the fishmonger and his great rival Fulliautomatix the blacksmith. Little Crabstix thinks she’s cool, but his elder sibling Blinix and the armourers’ boy Selfipix both know she’s far more than that…

Soon there’s a new gang in town, rejecting all the old ways and sassing their elders – and their music is just appalling and incomprehensible. Raucous bard Cacofonix is the only adult they can tolerate…

Already overmatched, Asterix and Obelix try to stay close, but although the massive menhir man is extremely childlike, he’s no teenager and is soon well out of his depth. Doughty Asterix just doesn’t understand what’s happening these days…

Adrenalin has already planned her escape: she’s going to ditch all the expectations of her elders, the plans to fight and liberate the land and run away to fabled Thule…

Oblivious to the rapidly-coalescing plot of vile Binjwatchflix, she convinces the village lads to help, just as the far-from-eager soldiers from Totorum infiltrate the forest surrounding the town and the long-suffering, lethally-optimistic and unlucky sea pirates make a disastrous foray upriver and unwittingly provide her with the one thing her plans lacks thus far: a ship…

As Monolithix and Sidekix covertly sail back from Britain with gorgeous mariner Captain Peacenix to retrieve their regal charge, all the enemy forces arraigned against Adrenalin close in.

Realising almost too late that she’s gone, odd-men-out Asterix and Obelix follow in their own boat, but happily, they’re not the only magic-potioned players in action as the Roman navy intercepts: further complicating a rapidly escalating catastrophe in the making…

Cue, glorious, uproarious action and a host of twisty, turny surprises…

Despite Asterix, Obelix and old our favourites very much playing second fiddle in this riotous tale of kids in revolt, the result is refreshingly off-kilter yet still suitably engaging. Teen-oriented, heavy on sardonic caricatures and daft wordplay – especially pop tunes given the old Crackerjack! (“Crackerjack! ..ack! …ack! …ack!!”*) – punny-rewrite treatments – and cannily sentimental, this yarn is awash with sneaky diversions, dirty tricks and vile villainy; providing non-stop thrills and spills to as we battle our way to the most effective of happy endings.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter is a sure win and another triumphant addition to the mythic canon for laugh-seekers in general and all devotees of comics.
© 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.
*You must be British, at least 40 years old or aware of what’s coming in 2020 to understand this reference…

Halloween Tales


By O.G. Boiscommun & D-P Filippi, translated by Montana Kane (HumanoidsKids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-654-5 (HB)

The trauma-tinged, gluttonously anarchic ceremonies of Halloween are celebrated far and wide these days, and although the basic principles are fairly homogenised now, different regions can throw up a few enticing variations that are well worth noting.

A graphic series that proved a huge European best-seller when released in 2017, the three stories comprising this magnificent hardback compilation are also available digitally in the original 3-album format, albeit translated into English for your delectation and approval.

Snob and eco-supporter that I am, these days, I’m going to say buy or gift the book if you like: I’m reviewing the electronic editions here…

Devised by writer/artist Olivier Boiscommun (Renaissance: Children of the Nile) and full-time screenwriter/scenarist Denis-Pierre Filippi (Gregory and the Gargoyles, Muse, Fondation Z, John Lord), the overlapping adventures focus on a band of kinds in an oddly archaic city of indeterminate vintage. It’s a place of towers and cathedrals, strange moods and winding streets, perfectly captured by Boiscommun’s exaggerated painting style…

The first album – Halloween Tales: Halloween – finds a gaggle of adolescent children gathering to celebrate the night with frolics and mischief: elaborately costumed and frightening each other. However, gauntly-garbed Asphodel remains gloomy and aloof and soon heads off alone. Her thoughts are locked on death, until she is accosted by a strange clownish figure who seems barely real and seeks to alter her mood and mind with a strange philosophy…

Second volume Halloween Tales: The Story of Joe is delivered in eerie monochrome tones and hues and returns us to the mountainous outskirts of that dreaming city where little Bea can’t understand why her playmate Joe is being so mean. As they idle about on the rooftops, the boy and his new pet cat survive a close encounter with a huge bat that leaves Joe scarred and bleeding.

His doting dad is too busy working these days, so it’s Bea who first notices the bizarre changes – physical as well as emotional – that afflict her friend and culminate in him dealing with the bullies who persecute them with terrifying power…

Only when Joe’s awful transformation is nearly complete do Bea, the cat and his father find a way to challenge the tainted child’s descent into nocturnal isolation and monstrosity…

Scripted by D-P Filippi, Halloween Tales: The Book of Jack completes the trilogy with a return to vibrant colour as a pack of children led by overbearing Stan dare little runt Jack to break into a spooky haunted mansion. As the group approaches the dilapidated pile through a statuary-infested overgrown garden – or is it a graveyard? – lanky Sam tries to reason with her little companion. She has plenty of misgivings and a really bad feeling about all this…

Bravado and peer pressure win out though, and Jack enters the derelict building and soon discovers the biggest library in the world in its centre.

Suddenly panicking, he snatches up a tatty tome to prove he succeeded and dashes for the door. Only when they are all safely back outside the gates does Sam realise there’s something odd about the book. Many pages are blank, but gradually filing with spindly writing every moment – each unfolding line magically recording what Jack is doing as he does it.

Mean, jealous Stan sees an opportunity for mischief…

Next morning the book has vanished, and Jack is slowly transforming into a gigantic savagely uncontrollable beast. Sam instantly knows what’s happened and starts searching the city for the miraculous chronicle, determined to get it and literally rewrite her friend’s appalling future…

With All Hallows festive celebrations inexorably installed in so many modern cultures, it’s grand to see an alternative to the almost-suffocating commercialising and movie tropes where heart, sentiment and yes, unease and outright fear can be safely experienced and expunged.

These moody escapades are a true treat, in darkness or in light, and that’s no mean trick …
© 2017 Humanoids, Inc. Los Angeles (USA) All rights reserved.

Scared to Death volume 2: Malevolence and Mandrake


By Mauricet & Vanholme, with Lee Oaks: colours by Laurent Carpentier and translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978- 1-905460-77-9 (PB Album)

There’s a grand old tradition of scaring, empowering and entertaining kids through carefully crafted horror stories starring junior protagonists, and this occasional series is one of the better modern examples.

Conceived and executed by journalist Virginie Vanholme and youthful yet seasoned illustrator Alain Mauricet, the Mort de Trouille albums launched through Casterman in the year 2000. There have been seven sinister sorties thus far…

Whilst I’ve not been able to find out much about the author, the artist is rather well travelled, having worked for CrossGen, Image and DC in America as well as on a wide variety of features in Europe.

He’s also seen in David Lloyd’s magnificently wonderful digital delight Aces Weekly

Born in 1967, Mauricet originally inherited the comic bug from his parents and, after studying at the Academy of Fine Arts under legendary creator Eddy Paape, began his own career aged 20 at Le Journal de Spirou.

From spot cartoons he graduated to strips, creating superhero parody Cosmic Patrouille with Jean-Louis Janssens and Les Rastafioles with Sergio Salma. Following the aforementioned stateside sojourn, he resumed his Franco-Belgian efforts with the strip under review here, as well as basketball comedy Basket Dunk (with Christophe Cazanove) and Boulard (with Erroc) and others.

He now lives in Brussels, and also designs for computer games whilst working on a more personal graphic enterprise entitled Une Bien Belle Nuance de Rouge

Back in early 2000, though, he was detailing a sequence of spooky yarns starring studious Robin Lavigne, son of an esteemed forensic scientist and boisterous, overly-imaginative, horror-story obsessed Max Mornet: a couple of lads with an infallible instinct for ferreting out the weird and uncanny and increasing dependent – though they’d never admit it – upon the wit and bravery of Robin’s brilliant little sister Sophie

Cinebook’s second translated selection was third French chilling chronicle Mort de Trouille: Maléfice et mandragora: suitably set around All Hallows Eve and posing uniquely terrifying problems for the youthful, trouble-magnets…

It all begins a little before the much-anticipated night with the Elizabeth Simon Secondary School abuzz with worries over missing student Thomas and seemingly simultaneous arrival of oddly-attractive, exotic new student Emma Corpescu. She comes from Romania and Max is strangely antipathic to her at first, but that soon changes…

Robin also feels a bit off as the newcomer blatantly insinuates herself into their lives, paying particular attention to Max. Soon, so-savvy Sophie is paying close attention. Far more so than the idiot boys…

She’s very wise to do so: Emma soon revealed as an ancient shapeshifting sorceress named Malevolence, who steals the youth of boys to restore her own life force and to one day resurrect her dead sister Mandrake

After doing research online, Sophie arms herself with anti-witch tricks and gadgets and, after discovering the incredible fate of Thomas, ultimately convinces her incredulous brother to stalk the wicked enchanter to her lair in Deadwater Swamp to rescue the now missing Max. The poor lad has succumbed to Emma’s wiles and now resides in her lair transformed into the same uncanny form as Thomas…

Arriving just in time, his rescuers are set for an incredible clash of wills and powers – especially Sophie, who’s borrowed a few supernatural forces for the ordeal…

Of course, good triumphs in the end, but can such seductive evil truly die?

Deliciously delivered in the manner of Goosebumps and Scooby-Doo, this is a superb slice of all-ages spooky fun in the classic mould, seamlessly mixing fear with hilarity to enthral and enchant all generations equally.
Original edition © Casterman, 2003 by Mauricet & Vanholme. English translation © 2008 by Cinebook Ltd.

The Marquis of Anaon volume 1: The Isle of Brac


By Vehlmann & Bonhomme: coloured by Delf and translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-255-3 (PB Album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of History… 9/10

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Scion of an artistic family, Matthieu Bonhomme received his degree in Applied Arts in 1992, before learning the comics trade working in the atelier of western and historical strip specialist Christian Rossi. Le Marquis d’Anaon was Bonhomme’s first regular series, running from 2002-2008, after which he began writing as well as illustrating a variety of tales from L’Âge de Raison, Le Voyage d’Esteban, The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke and others.

So, what’s it about? Imagine the X-Files set circa 1720s in France during the Age of Enlightenment, and played as a solo piece by a young hero growing reluctantly into the role of crusading troubleshooter…

Nomadic, middle class Jean-Baptiste Poulain is the son of a merchant, a disciple of Cartesian logic and former medical student. Educated but impoverished, he accepts a post to tutor the son of the mysterious Baron of Brac.

As he approaches the windswept, isolated island off the Brittany Coast, he cannot understand the fear and outrage he sees in the downtrodden villagers who secretly call their master “the Ogre”, and believe him to be a visiting nobleman. He is utterly astounded by how violently overprotective they are regarding their children…

The story gradually unfolds under ever-mounting tension, as the young man endures suspicion and hostility from the lowest classes, whilst slowly fostering a deep appreciation for the forward-thinking rationalist Baron. Soon, however, his student Nolwen is found murdered and, amid the heightened tensions, Poulain learns that this is not the first body to be found…

From then on, it’s hard to determine who is friend or foe and although a trained rationalist, Poulain begins to suspect unworldly forces are in play…

Conversations with the mariner known as the Storyteller lead to the tutor being attacked by villagers – or perhaps just thieves? – and, after barely escaping, the scholar sees murdered Nolwen before passing out…

He wakes under the Baron’s care and resolves to leave at the first opportunity. When housemaid Ninon begs him to take her with him, an incredible saga of unremitting horror is exposed, leading to Brac hunting his fleeing employees and trapping them in his hidden laboratory.

Here Poulain discovers the appalling experiments the Baron has indulged in, and the astounding answer to the “ghosts” who walk the island. When the Baron and his terrifying flunkey come for him, fortune favours the tutor and apparently divine justice is rendered unto all…

In the aftermath, Poulain escapes the island alone, as much to avoid the grateful fearful villagers as to resume his life. He cannot, sadly, outrun the title they have bestowed upon him: Le Marquis d’Anaon – the Marquis of Lost Souls…

With potent overtones of Jane Eyre and similar traditional gothic romances, L’Île de Brac was the first of five albums (all available in paperback and digital formats) tracing the development of a true hero against darkness and human venality. Moody, compelling and utterly enthralling, this is a spooky series well-deserving of a greater audience.
Original edition © Dargaud Paris 2002 by Vehlmann & Bonhomme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 by Cinebook Ltd.