The Magical History Tour volume 1: The Great Pyramid

By Fabrice Erre &Sylvain Savoia translated by Joseph Laredo (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-633-3 (HB)

Here’s the first instalment of a superb European export designed to make history even more compelling for kids. Originally edited by the fabulous Lewis Trondheim and Frédéric Niffle, Le Fil de l’Histoire is a series of handy introductions to pertinent periods starring an all-wise older sister and her little brother who visit key moments and learn lots.

This kiddies’ hand-sized hardback tome was originally Tome 2: La Pyramide de Khéops, and sees Annie turn young Nico’s Lego-building triumph into an immersive teaching moment, whisking them back to see the great Pyramid in all its glory, detailing how and why it was built and conducting a tour of the interior most Egyptologists would give their last scarab cartouche for…

Responsible adults are author/educator/newspaper columnist and Doctor of History Fabrice Erre while illustration honours go to diligent comics pro Sylvain Savoia, who will be further entertaining later this month when I review his magnificent Marzi series. Trust me, you can’t wait…

Today’s treat also offers building techniques, comparisons of other mastabas, mausoleums and tombs and traces the history of the magnificent edifice through the centuries. Herodotus’ misreading of facts, the Caliph of Baghdad’s brutal desecration of the site, tomb robbers, Napoleon’s obsession and others interactions are all covered as well as a peek into possible future of the site.

Adding extra value are biographies of Imhotep, Cheops, Hemiunu, Herodotus, plans of the Giza Plateau, the Six Other Wonders of the World (now lost) and a comprehensive Timeline.

History is fun and comics are great. This book is both. Add it to your shelves and brace yourself for the chronicles to follow.
© 2018- DUPUIS – Erre – Savoia. All other material © 2021 Papercutz.

Yakari volume 17: The Snow Bird

By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-460-1 (Album PB)

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 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; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40th albums: 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 has assumed the writer’s role from 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 the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1992, L’osieau de niege was the 18th 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 willingly yields focus to human companion Rainbow as the kids idly play at the debilitating heights of the summer. They are confined to one of the capacious rawhide tipis thanks to a sudden deluge when the storm suddenly picks up the entire tent – floor and all – and whisks them away into the sky…

The tipi heads steadily north at high altitude and eventually lands in frozen tundra where old pal and mystic spirit rabbit Nanabozho is waiting. He’s summoned them for fun and adventure…

Rapt in wonder, the little girl soon befriends a lemming and saves him from a hunting snowy owl before she and Yakari are separated. A long search for each other finds them exhausted and baffled as the sun never goes down…

After a long nap on the too-bright plains, Yakari has a long chat with the giant owl and joins an army of lemmings as they cross a stream. Rainbow, meanwhile, is caught in a similar migration, but the reindeer she’s wandered into are far larger and determined. Before long she’s been carried with them and dumped in a raging river. Thankfully, the owl is soaring above and drags her out before she can drown…

Reunited at last, the little wanderers seek out their tipi, and befriend a herd of musk oxen just as a snap snowstorm hits. Not only do the mighty beasts warm them until it passes, but they’re quite protective when a hungry and inquisitive pack of wolves considers them as the next meal…

When Nanabozho pops up again, the general consensus is that it might be time to return, but as the tipi takes off, the kids realise they have a stowaway…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this cheery travelogue of natural wonders allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming 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. English translation 2019 © Cinebook Ltd.

Skin Deep

By Charles Burns (Fantagraphics Books/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-167-1 (PB, Fantagraphics) 978-0-14016-543-2 (UK Penguin)

I’s nearly St. Valentine’s day, and the time for extreme efforts for little discernible reward, so here’s a classic treatise on love and affection, inexplicably unattainable in the its native English language. Worth the hunt though…

Charles Burns is a creative force with his roots firmly placed in 1950s kids’ culture (B-movies, cartoons, EC comics and especially Mad Magazine) and talented fingers in many areas of the creative media. As an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, film-maker and especially cartoonist, his slick, precise methodology tells stories and evokes responses from a place that is dark, skewed, beautiful and overwhelmingly nostalgic.

His comics work blends horror, true romance and Film Noir sensibilities with sensationalistic fascination for the grotesque and absurdist; all delivered in a slick, meticulous, heavy linear style reminiscent of woodcut prints; with huge swathes of solid black, like darkness and light suspended and perfectly balanced in a Cold War on every page.

This gigantic softcover (297mm high x 224mm wide) was the third in a series collecting all the artist’s work prior to the landmark publication of the incredible Black Hole, with the three interlinked – or rather perhaps, overlapping – stories here all originating between 1988 to1992. They were slightly revised after debuting in his Big Baby weekly strip and – in the case of ‘A Marriage Made in Hell’ – the legendary Raw Magazine. All in their own manner examine the theme of love in the modern world.

Leading off is ‘Dog-Boy’, the simple tale of a young man who has a cut-rate heart transplant and finds himself increasingly taking on the characteristics of the canine who provided his new ticker. Just because he acts a little differently, does this mean that there is no girl out there for him? This tale formed the basis of a 1991 MTV serial for the Liquid Television TV programme…

This leads to the outrageously funny and deeply unsettling ‘Burn Again’ wherein reformed televangelist Bliss Blister once more falls under the influence of his huckster father, as well as his own wife, who use him to con the religiously gullible. Unfortunately, what only Bliss knows is that God – in the form of a hideous, diabolical extraterrestrial Cyclops – is coming to end mankind’s self-inflicted woes…

The book ends with the aforementioned and intensely disturbing story-within-a-story ‘A Marriage Made in Hell’. When horny new bride Lydia finally marries her war-hero husband she regretfully discovers that he won’t consummate their union. Just what is the fantastic secret of battle-scarred veteran John Dough, and how does Lydia cope with the incredible situation she finds herself trapped in?

As well as these staggeringly dry, wry and funny tales there is also a selection from the Burns sketchbook, a look at some of those altered story-pages and a brief commentary from the artist himself.

This volume is also available as a hardback edition and was previously released as a Penguin book in 1992. You stand more chance of finding that these days, but if you’re intrigued and can read almost any European tongue, this stuff can be yours in the twinkling of a search engine. Funny old world, isn’t it?
© 1988-1992 Charles Burns. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 7: Beware of (Funny) Dog!

By Roba, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-457-1 (Album PB)

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Le Journal de Spirou.

The perennial family fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality and becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years. He had launched the feature as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a huge hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older Brits might recognise the art as some early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie were awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling well in excess of 25 million copies of the 40 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel, before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

Originally released in 1974, Attention chien marrant! was the 15th European collection, comfortingly resuming in the approved manner and further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. Available in paperback and digital editions and delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire, single-page gags with titles like Cleaned Out’, Bad Mood’ and Schoolyard Blues’, Beware of (Funny) Dog! Is packed with visual puns, quips and jolly “dad-joke” jests: affirming the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food, buried bones (ownership frequently to be determined) and ferociously protective of boy, pet Tortoise and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (this autumnal collection finds her largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

The inseparable duo interact with pals, play pranks, encounter other unique pets, dodge baths, hunt and hoard bones, rummage in bins, misunderstand adults, cause accidents and cost money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

This time, the capacity for chaos is heightened by vacation frolics involving mountains and fondue – wanna guess where the family are? – but there’s also plenty of domestic distress involving burglars, dog licenses and the onset of Christmas snows to foster a fond feeling of lost golden days…

Roba was a master of this cartoon artform. The strips are genially paced, filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes running the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa. This is a supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Dupuis 1974 by Roba © Studio Boule & Bill 2019. English translation © 2019 Cinebook Ltd.

Benny Breakiron volume 3: The Twelve Trials of Benny Breakiron

By Peyo, with Yvan Delporte & Walthéry, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-492-6 (HB Album)

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics licensed to Le Journal de Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After time spent toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 Culliford joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time, he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers.

His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlout, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes to the tale. They were called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – by now using nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as The Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960, Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker and/or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Le Journal de Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman, the wryly bucolic adventures celebrated a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little Belgian town.

Quiet, well-mannered, gentle and a little lonely, Benny just happens to be the mightiest boy on Earth; able to crush steel in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his fatal and rather ubiquitous weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches a cold…

Benny never tries to conceal his abilities but somehow no adults ever catch on. They generally think he’s telling fibs or boasting, and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands, the unlucky lad gets another case of the galloping sniffles…

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a balloon and a shrug can topple trees…

Well-past-it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing champion appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoît as the years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, François Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in and Jean Roba created many eye-catching Spirou covers, but by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all-consuming and all the studio’s other strips were retired.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down, though, and after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford and cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and his team between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, the first four of those gloriously genteel and outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers – both as robust full-colour hardbacks and as all-purpose eBooks – and this third exploit begins in the sedate city of Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the kid goes about his solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can….

During the annual fair, his elderly friend Monsieur Dussiflard meets an old chum from their days in a jazz band. In the course of catching up, they learn that another mutual pal has become emir of an Arabian kingdom. Long ago, he gave the members of the band a charter granting them rights to a piece of desert… one that is now worth billions in oil revenues…

Back then, the comrades thought it hilarious to scrupulously divide the precious paper into nine parts, but none of them ever threw way their scrap…

As the adults chat and Benny listens, dark deeds are underway. Dussiflard’s home is burgled, triggering a frantic race around the world, with our heroes one step behind a cunning mastermind who will baulk at nothing to secure the entire document and the riches it promises…

All over the globe, Little Benny performs a succession of incredible feats – each one completely missed by Dussiflard and his beleaguered Jazz men – to stymie the malevolent schemer, before arriving home to deal the villain his just desserts…

Fast-paced, wry and sporting a fine eye for the dafter side of super-heroics, this is another fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, providing a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volute 5: Rumberley

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

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 has 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 went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18thalbum Blue retro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war). Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

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

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

Rumberley was the fifth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 15th European volume) and a far darker affair than usual. After a horrific battle, Union and Confederate forces are spent and exhausted, although the Blues have advanced far into the South as a result of the sustained slaughter. However, with dwindling food and little ammunition, the Generals opt to fall back and re-supply with fresh troops and munitions. The only problem is what to do with the wounded. After all, bringing them back to safety would only slow down the rearward advance. Then one bright, over-privileged spark has the notion of just billeting the unusable Union soldiers on the nearest – albeit enemy – town…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clifton volume 1: My Dear Wilkinson

By De Groot & Turk translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905469-06-9 (Album PB)

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – especially the French and Belgians – are fascinated with us Brits. Gosh, I wonder if that’s still the case…?

Whether it’s Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, or the amassed amateur sleuths of the Detection Club, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles have 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 Le Journal de Tintin, the doughty troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959.

After three albums worth of short strip material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left the magazine to join arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou and the eccentric comedy crime-fighter floundered until Tintin revived and repurposed him at the height of the Swinging London scene courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg. These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

He was furloughed again until the mid-1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this –Ce cher Wilkinson: Clifton from 1978 – was the fifth.

From 1984 onward artist Bernard Dumont AKA Bédu limned De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores too until the series folded in 1995. In keeping with its rather haphazard but Diehard nature, Clifton resurfaced again in 2003, crafted by De Groot and 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 and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty accommodating being put out to pasture in rural Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as a gentleman troubleshooter.

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

In this initial translated adventure first seen in 2005 – and at last available in digital formats – the forceful personality is seething at home one night, reading ghost stories when a sequence of odd events culminates in both he and his nationally celebrated cook and housekeeper Miss Partridge witnessing plates of food and glasses of wine flying about and crashing to the floor.

Fortifying themselves with the remaining sherry, the staunch duo repair to their separate beds unaware that a very live presence has been spying on them and playing pranks…

The next day finds the perplexed sleuth at the town library, scanning the stacks for reports of similar phenomena and tediously regaled by one of the whippersnapper counter-staff who just happens to be an amateur and closet psychokinetic: demonstrably and smugly able to move small objects with the power of his mind…

With proof of a rather more rational explanation for recent events and an appropriate reference tome, Clifton bones up and is soon made annoyingly aware of stage performer the Great Wilkinson who is reputedly the world’s greatest exponent of the art of psychokinesis.

A quick jaunt to London in the old red sports car soon sees the former spy getting along famously with a diminutive performer who happily agrees to come down to Puddington and recce the Colonel’s troubled home. To be perfectly frank, the smiling showman is far more interested in meeting celebrated chef Miss Partridge…

A pleasant afternoon is interrupted by old associate Chief Inspector John Haig of Scotland Yard who is drowning in an uncanny mystery and desperately needful of a second opinion from MI5’s most self-congratulatory alumnus. Giant safes are going missing, seemingly plucked from buildings as if by mighty, invisible hands…

Thus proceeds a wickedly fast-paced romp with a genuine mystery tale at its comedic core. Clifton and Co fumble their way past roguish red herrings and through a labyrinthine maze of clues to the lair of a canny criminal mastermind with what seems the perfect MO. However, long before justice triumphs, the tinderbox temper of the suave sleuth is repeatedly triggered by clodhopping cops, obnoxious officials, short-fused chefs, imbecilic bystanders and a succession of young fools and old clowns all getting in the way and utterly spoiling the thrill of the chase…

Delightfully surreal, utterly accessible and doused with daft slapstick in the manner of Jacques Tati or our own Carry Onfilms (sans the saucy “slap ‘n’ tickle” stuff), this light-action epic rattles along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit and Mr Bean if you’re a callow yoof – offering readers a splendid treat and loads of timeless laughs.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.

The Marsupilami volume 3: Black Mars

By Franquin, Batem & Yann; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-418-2 (Album PB)

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke’s creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945, all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu,Isabelle, The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently 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, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week, fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

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/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, collaborating with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis, returning to Le journal de Spirou, and subsequently – in 1957 – co-creating Gaston Lagaffe, and now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too. From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures. In recent years the commercial world has triumphed again and since 2016 the universes of Marsupilami and Spirou have again collided allowing old firm to act out in shared stories again…

Now numbering 32 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the fourth of these was Mars le Noir, released in March 1989 and translated here as Marsupilami: Black Mars.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins aboard a ramshackle old freighter transporting a second-rate travelling show: The Great Zabaglione Circus. It has clowns, acrobats, and an assortment of animal acts including a rather unique elastic tailed anthropoid of uncertain origins and his clown trainer Noah

Meanwhile in the deepest tracts of the rain forest, the usual chaos has been overtaken by fresh calamity as the government commission corporate colossus Prometheus to carve a Trans-Palombian Highway through the heart of the green paradise…

As monolithic machines and hot asphalt daily desecrate the virgin verdure, Noah and his bizarre beastie Mars jump ship, just in time to ally with oddly worldly-wise jungle twins in an alliance to sabotage progress and invoke the fear of archaic god Marzu-pilcoatl in the superstitious roadbuilders. Prometheus then hits back in traditional evil empire manner…

Incipient calamity builds and builds but suddenly events take a strange and portentous turn after Mars espies something very interesting: a golden and black-spotted female of the same “unknown” species as he. We all know her as the mate of the Marsupilami and mother to his pups.

Can you guess where this is all going?

No you can’t, not really, but it will all be highly entertaining before a new status quo is established and the jungle settles back to what passes for normal…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this eccentric exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 1989 by Franquin, Yann & Batem. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Bigby Bear volume 3: The Explorer

By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Beausang-O’Griafa (BiG-Humanoids/Simon Icke)
ISBN: 978-1-64337-935-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding All-Ages Thoughtful Fun … 9/10

Born in Bordeaux in March 1960, writer, photographer and illustrator Philippe Coudray specialises in cartoons and books for children. Working with brother Jean-Luc, they co-crafted the Drôles sequence of books and comics series Théocrite. However, Philippe conceived and executed his glorious signature creation L’Ours Barnabé – the philosophically absurdist ruminations of an artistically-inclined bear and his woodland companions – all on his own…

When not crafting kids’ comics or surreal otherworldly gags (such as Loin de Tout) Philippe writes articles and such like for magazines such as Capsule Cosmique, Psikopat, Perlin and Fripounet as well as books such as Guide to Hidden Animals: Treatise on Cryptozoology. His works have been used by the French government to combat illiteracy and translated into many languages; none more so than L’Ours Barnabé which has appeared in Japan, China, Germany, Sweden, and a couple of times in America. The first time was as Benjamin Bear (twice nominated for Eisner Awards and winning China’s 2012-2013 Panda Prize) and latterly here as the beguiling and frequently beguiled Bigby

Often employing puzzles and riddles, and as much children’s storybook of episodic vignettes as a graphic novel, these particular collected strips offer charming, visually challenging riffs on the theme of exploration and discovery, as seen through the eyes of an affably gentle bruin living wild, but mild, all the while honing his artistic skills and cognitive capacities.

Bigby and his animal entourage reside in a bucolic forest, coastal and mountain idyll, where they observe and tentatively interact with the wider world, pondering big questions in a surreal and often absurdist daze.

Visual tricks and double-takes abound as Bigby and his best rabbit chum play with universal constants, carve, sculpt, paint, compose, garden and wander for the sheer joy of creativity. Almost in passing the gags subtly pose questions to make youngsters think – about art, science, psychology, mathematics, ecology and much more – but Coudray never misses an opportunity to share a solid laugh with his readers and reinforce his message that life is great if we all just mellow out and cooperate with each other.

He’s also more than happy to pepper the strips with the occasional telling moment of social commentary if the chance arises…

In this third translated volume the beguiling reaches of outer space and the compelling depths of the oceans are the new playgrounds and thought labs for the bemused cast, with Bigby and Co wandering other worlds, scanning the skies and voyaging to the bottom of the seas, keenly observing and making notes, scientific, artistic and even musical…

When not scaling heights and plumbing depths, our jolly questors have fun in museums, zoos and aquaria; encounter a far from abominable snowman and find time to pass their knowledge and discoveries on to his cub and a rapt younger generation…

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a sublimely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is an excellent, irrepressible example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
Bigby Bear, Book 3: The Explorer © 2020 Humanoids. Inc. All rights reserved. First published in France as L’Ours Barnabé © 2012-2019 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection Volume One

By Morris with Louis De Bevere, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-454-0 (Album HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate All Ages Western Wonderment… 9/10

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon.

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 and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, this wonderful hardback album (and digital delight) reveals we’ve been inadvertently lying to you all these years…

As revealed in the copious and fascinating-photo-filled essay accompanying the reprinting of the first three collected Lucky Luke Album compilations, the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

Morris’ life is carefully unpicked and shared by Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, whose text deftly covers the precocious, westerns-&-art-mad kid’s transition to comics idol with plenty of early art and family photos. This includes his education at the hands of Jesuits, his pre-comics cartooning career and forays into film animation before settling into his true vocation.

While working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist. Those days are extensively covered as Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated 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 traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo (with script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before reuniting 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), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched 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.

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…)

Before all that, though, this wild and woolly delight features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who begins strutting his stuff after the essay concludes by filling us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and that eventful US sojourn…

Originally released as L’Intégrale 1, this scholarly collection re-presents the contents of the first three albums (Dick Digger’s Gold Mine, Rodeo and Arizona -1952) and abruptly switches from elucidation to all action mode for debut tale Arizona (LJdS #443-462) wherein a wandering cowboy tenaciously tracks down stagecoach bandits. He returned in Spirou #478-502) for the serial La Mine D’or de Dick Digger, wherein a map to a lost payload causes great grief until our hero returns it to the true owner.

As well as a treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, original art, designs and sketches, this tome also restores the many serial pages that were edited out of the first albums for brevity.

Le Journal de Spirou #505 (18th December 1947) began the third adventure, by which time the Lonesome Cowboy was clearly here to stay. Running until #527 (May 20th 1948) ‘Lucky Luke’s Double’ was the second feature half of first album Dick Digger’s Gold Mine in 1949: another riotous slapstick chase and comedy of errors as our hero is constantly mistaken for deadly desperado Mad Jim, much to the profit of minor crooks Stan Strand and Tiny Charley Chick. Big mistake…

‘Rodeo’ ran in #528-545, ending in September 1948 and becoming the title tale of the second album in 1950. The art took a major upturn towards the style we are familiar with today as Lucky competes in a legendary competition and uncovers both skulduggery and poor sportsmanship. Without a pause, new escapade ‘Lucky Luke in Desperado City’ followed (LJdS #546-566, ending 17th February 1949), wherein Lucky becomes sheriff of an embattled frontier town to defeat tyrannical owlhoots The Pistol Brothers.

‘The Buffalo Creek Goldrush’ (LJdS #567-584, ending 23rd June 1949), filled out that second album with a delicious satire on greed as a simple mistake turns a barren wasteland into an ephemeral metropolis of miners – until the penny finally drops…

It was back to outright villains for ‘Lucky Luke versus Cigarette Cesar’ (#585-601, ending October 20th 1949 and included in third album Arizona in November 1951), as Lucky trails a deadly and devious escaped convict south of the border (and indulges in the kind of animal cruelty gags we just don’t tolerate these days where bullfighting is largely discredited – so be warned…) to conclude this initial vintage voyage to the Wild West Neverlands.

Packed with contemporaneous extras, commentary, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than any Laurel and Hardy film (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

The first forays of an indomitable hero: this grand old hoot sits in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller, and is 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!

© Morris/Dupuis, 1946 to 1949 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.

© Morris/Dupuis 2016 for this collected edition. All other material © 2016 its respective creators/owners.