Comanche volume 3: The Wolves of Wyoming


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

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

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

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

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963, but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969, Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

Clifton volume 2 The Laughing Thief


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

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

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

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for iconic magazine Le Journal de Tintin, this doughty True Brit troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959. After three albums worth of material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot quit Tintin for arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou leaving his eccentric comedic crime-fighter to flounder until LJdT revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier).

Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until the early 1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this – Le voleur qui rit – Clifton (from 1973) – was their second collaboration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iznogoud and the Magic Carpet (volume 6)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yakari and the Beavers


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-09-0 (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/The Smurfs), working on strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Together at Le Crapaud à lunettes, Derib & Job created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their follow-up 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 40 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

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

Published in 1977, Yakari chez les castors became the third European album, released as the strip grew in prominence and popularity. A year after, the feature began running in Le Journal de Tintin, subsequently spawning two animated TV series (1983 and 2005), all the usual merchandising spin-offs and achieving monumental global sales in 17 languages to date.

Yakari and the Beavers opens in summer as the nomadic Sioux make camp at a confluence of rivers. The children are playing, testing their strength, speed and archery skills, but with burly Buffalo Seed winning most of the honours – and the fascinated attention of pretty Rainbow – physically less-developed Yakari soon slopes off to cavort with his faithful and forthright pony Little Thunder.

As they romp and swim in the river, they encounter a strange wooden construction ranging from bank to bank and unexpectedly arouse the ire of an excitable beaver named Thousand Mouths. He is the impatient and irascible foreman of a band of buck-toothed brethren, determined to finish the family home in record time, but his fellows are far less enthusiastic…

When one – Linden Tree – spots the palomino, it starts a stampede of rodents who would all rather ride horses than chew timber and move mud. Soon, while they’re all goofing around, their boss is going ballistic and a wise old beaver is teaching a rapt Yakari everything he needs to know about dam-building…

After more idle days in camp, Yakari’s thoughts return to the beavers. Before long he and Little Thunder are heading back to the dam, but are distracted by an astonishing noise. Tracing it, they discover extremely ambitious beaver Double-Toothfar from the river, attempting to chew down a colossal tree all alone…

This eager beaver confides his dreams of being a sculptor, but their conversation is curtailed when a bad-tempered grizzly bear wanders up, menacing little straggler Wild Rose. With the ursine interloper clearly not amenable to reason, Yakari drives the surly brute off with a rough-hewn jousting lance rapidly gnawed into shape by Double-Tooth’s flashing gnashers…

On escorting the kits back to the river, Yakari is astounded to see the progress made in the wood-and-mud abode and delighted to be asked to help. In actual fact most of the assistance comes from hard-pressed Little Thunder who reluctantly becomes the engine transporting trees and saplings from the woods to the river…

Returning late to camp, Yakari is observed by Rainbow who wants to know what her friend is up to. Next morning, she invites herself along as they return to the Beaver Lodge and cannot understand why, in the midst of listening to the hairy toilers chattering, Yakari spurs his pony away and races away.

Mounted behind him she listens incredulously as the boy explains that little Linden Tree is missing and then makes him backtrack to the really important bit. Yakari understands and can talk to all birds and beasts…

Racing downriver the children are soon joined by Yakari’s totem animal, sagacious Great Eagle, who provides a telling clue to the lost beaver’s whereabouts. However, after daring subterranean depths, the little brave eventually finds his lost friend but is himself trapped. Happily, the artistic skills of late-arriving Double-Tooth prove invaluable in devising a climbing device and soon everybody – even utterly bemused Rainbow – are all celebrating back at the Lodge.

With things back to normal the irrepressible, frustrated artist corners Yakari for one last secret project. Some days later, the busy beavers are stunned to see Double-Tooth’s river-borne aesthetic magnum opus poled into the lee of the dam by the proud Yakari…

The exploits of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, moving and inexpressibly entertaining adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

These gentle sagas are lost treasures of kids’ comics literature and Yakari is a series no fan of graphic entertainment should be without.
Original edition © 1977 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Kabul Disco volume 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Mark Bence & Fabrice Sapolsky (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-868-6 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Fallacious – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a superb case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to inform, charm and challenge in equal amounts. I’m re-recommending this remarkable testament today because once again the people who govern us – apparently anywhere on Earth that people are governed – have a complete inability to read a room, movement, public opinion or security briefing and have once more abandoned guts, principles and common sense in the name of saving money and not making a fuss.

Assorted countries over centuries have made Afghanistan their football, only to get bored and leave it to even worse thugs. Lacking any power at all to make the callous bastards in charge everywhere pay or even feel discomfort, I’m opting to try and remind anyone who will listen that always, ALWAYS, us unimportant people suffer in the end. It’s just not right…

This seductive monochrome travel memoir was the debut episode in a sequence by French writer/artist Nicholas Wild, detailing his globe-trotting quest for employment: a worthy endeavour which took the wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005.

There’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters and Our Side – there’s no option to refuse to take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend you slip up and start thinking of rivals or adversaries or opponents or even those who disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad, he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas…

‘Part One: A Winter in Kabul’ follows the culture-shocked scribbler as he arduously transitions to a country in the throes of enforced reconstruction and modernisation, joining the somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO Zendagui Media as they work to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations. Wild’s proposed task is to help define the fancy notion of democracy for the still-largely illiterate populace through comicbook versions of Afghanistan’s new Constitution…

The artist’s early difficulties in adjusting to the primitive conditions and superb gift for wry commentary afford the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple as Wild succinctly unpicks Afghanistan’s convoluted history through the 20th century via a cartoon political primer that brilliantly defines how the place got to be such a corrupt mess. I certainly wish I’d had more comics like this when I studied modern history…

Days pass, and Nicholas settles in, toiling against impossible deadlines, conversely feeling locked in or anxiously exposed whenever he goes exploring; always aware that in this place foreigners go missing every day…

Although the security situation remains tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing in the stunning Bamiyan Valley…

All too soon the job is done and Wild is afraid he’s going to be let go…

‘Part Two: No Spring in Kabul’ finds him on April 1st 2005, happy to be retained, albeit on a 3-month contract as a graphic designer for Zendagui’s new project. The brief is to supply materials for a US military-sponsored push to recruit native Afghanis for the new National Army. The thought of crafting military propaganda is not a comforting or comfortable one…

Spiced with further insights about his improbable and unpredictable bosses and new eating experiences, the real kicker is meeting new recruit Laurie White: a political communications expert who worked with the 2000 Bush Election Campaign…

Trips to the University of Herat and enjoyable days amidst the villagers soon cement the visitor’s sense of belonging but that all takes a hard knock as the political situation intensifies and overconfidence leads to Wild getting lost in old Kabul…

When a fresh kidnapping results in a full lockdown for Zendagui staff, Laurie teasingly reveals the true story of Bush’s “victory” in Florida, but once the panic subsides it’s back to work. Even though Al Qaeda and the Taliban are ramping up their activities, Nick is sent to the far end of the Jalalabad Road to observe the filming of a recruitment ad just as Laurie is despatched to consult on the new voting form for a nation of more than two dozen different tribes and sects who don’t speak the same language and can’t read…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction relentlessly piling up but also with progress somehow being made… until it’s time to go home again…

But is it for good?

Primarily rendered in beguiling monochrome, Kabul Disco also offers a stunning, full colour ‘Bonus Section’ comprising candid personal photographs of Wild’s stay, plus extensive examples of Yassin & Kaka Raouf: the 10-volume educational comic book he illustrated to explain the new Constitution for the newly democratised country.

Captivating, warm, funny, scarily informative and unobtrusively polemical, Kabul Disco is a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature. I can’t comprehend how a celebration of such miraculous change and progress can be lost in the space of 16 years…
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 1: Comment je ne me suis pas fait kidnapper en Afghanistan, © 2007 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

Farewell, Brindavoine


By Tardi, translated by Jenna Allen (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-433-9 (Album HB)

Credited with creating a new style of expressionistic illustration dubbed “the New Realism”, Jacques Tardi is one of the greatest comics creators in the world, blessed with a singular vision and adamantine ideals. A strident anti-war activist, he apparently refused France’s greatest honour because he wanted to be completely free to say and create what he wants.

Tardi was born in the Commune of Valence, Drôme in August 1946 studying at École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and subsequently the prestigious Parisian École Nationale Supérieure des arts Décoratifs. He launched his comics career in 1969 at the home of modern French comics Pilote, with the series we’re looking at today first seen in 1972-1973.

From illustrating stories by Jean Giraud, Serge de Beketch and Pierre Christian, he moved on to westerns, crime tales and satirical works in magazines such as Record, Libération, Charlie Mensuel and L’Écho des Savanes all whilst graduating into adapting prose novels by Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Léo Malet.

The latter’s detective Nestor Burma was the subject of all-new albums written and drawn by Tardi once the established literary canon was exhausted, leading to the creation of Polonius in Métal Hurlant (1976) and the now-legendary Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec – an epic period fantasy adventure which ran in the daily Sud-Ouest. The series numbers ten volumes thus far and inhabits the same pocket reality as the star of this tome.

The passionate creator has crafted many crushingly powerful anti-war books and stories (C’était la guerre des tranchées, Le trou d’obus, Moi René Tardi, prisonnier de guerre au Stalag IIB and other) dealing with the common soldier’s plight; written novels, created radio series, worked in movies, and co-created – with writer Jean Vautrin – Le Cri du Peuple: a quartet of albums about the Parisienne revolt of the Communards.

Far too few of this French master’s creations are available in English (barely a dozen out of more than fifty) but, thanks to NBM, iBooks and Fantagraphics, we’re catching up.

This lavish full-colour hardback (also available digitally) began life as Adieu Brindavoine, with its obscure yet complex Victoriana, shady political intrigues, dastardly plutocratic plotters and cast-iron-&-clockwork chic, leading to Tardi being proclaimed in later years the Godfather of Steampunk. His surreally-structured absurdist episodes and incidents – strung together in an almost stream-of-consciousness mode – work best on the visual perceptions with dialogue used only to ensure clarity or bemuse perception…

Following a context-supplying appreciation in Benoít Mouchart’s Preface, we begin in Neuilly-Sur-Seine in May 1914, as an aged messenger braves the cluttered and controversial home of gentleman photographer Lucien Brindavoine. Surly Basil Zarkhov has a startling – and potentially life-changing – proposition, but is gunned down by a skylight-shattering intruder before he can share it. However, thanks to his deathbed exposition, Lucien is soon heading by steamship for Istanbul, and another risky meeting…

Constantly encountering strikingly odd individuals, he is soon unwillingly partnered with effetely obnoxious intoxicated Englishman Mr. Oswald Carpleasure and hurtling across the desert towards Afghanistan in a battered motor vehicle. In their immediate future is a fantastic lost city, but the sinister gunman is in hot pursuit and wicked Olga Vogelgesang is determined to destroy them with her deadly state-of-the-military-art biplane…

After much privation and bewilderment, Lucien finally reaches the lost Iron City and is greeted by the orchestrators of many of his woes. Learning of an incredible plutocratic plot affords him little comfort, but before long the baroque devils in nominal charge fall upon each other like deranged wolves, enabling, if not compelling Brindavoine to flee in the most advanced passenger craft in the world…

Thanks to a breaking world war, he doesn’t get far…

Following the tale’s conclusion, a compelling comic epilogue from a previously unseen narrator (think Rocky Horror Show) deviously adds to the confusion by “explaining” what’s happened and Lucien’s ultimate fate before introducing a thematic follow-up.

‘Lambs to the Slaughter’ is set in November 1914 with deserters from all the armies involved holing up in a shattered church. Plagued by visions of perfect pasts and potential tomorrows, they are completely unprepared for when the mad military of today finds them…

Bizarre, visually resplendent, darkly funny, evocative and deliciously challenging, Farewell, Brindavoine is a comic tour de force on every level and a sublime example of how fashion, fantasy and futurism can work miracles when woven together by a master craftsman.
This edition of Farewell, Brindavoine © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Adieu Brindavoine © 2011 Casterman. Translation © 2021 Jenna Allen. Preface © 2021 Benoít Mouchart. All rights reserved.

Farewell, Brindavoine is physically released on August 26th 2021 and available for pre-order. Digital editions can be purchased now.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection volume 2


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

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the formulative 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. It’s also timely in that the worldwide western wonder celebrates his 75th Anniversary this year…

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

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

This wild and woolly delight – originally released in 2017 as L’Intégrale 2 – features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who hits his stride and struts his stuff after a preliminary text feature fills us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and an eventful US sojourn…

Lucky Luke 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, the previous volume in this superb archival series (in hardback album and digital editions) revealed the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

This second outing re-presents – in strict chronological order – strips created between October 1949 and December 1952 before being collected in albums Under a Western Sky (1952), Lucky Luke versus Poker Pat (1953) and Outlaws (1954). Here all the art and pages have been restored, rejiggled and remastered to achieve maximum contemporary authenticity with the original weekly serialisation.

The previous collection covered how the neophyte auteur became a dependable staple of the Euro-comics scene whilst toiling as a caricaturist for magazine Le Moustique and working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, where he met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo. Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: leading proponents of a new, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (excluding Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and always making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. Morris stayed for six years, an “American Period” seeing him chase an outsider’s American Dream while winning fame and acclaim in his own country. That glittering sojourn is carefully unpicked and shared by expert researchers Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault.

Their heavily-illustrated essay covers his East-to-West trek, family life and quest to experience the wonderland of his fantasies. The in-depth treatise is packed with intimate photos and his published illustrations of the period, culled from Le Moustique, plus comics pages, film memorabilia (from the movies that so influenced his stories at that time) and also includes both art work from European and US publications by fellow expat and eventual collaborator Rene Goscinny. There’s even an in-depth analysis of how what Morris Saw became what Lucky Did closely referencing the comics stories that follow…

Working solo (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush parody and action before formally uniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

Before we get there though, there’s plenty of solo action to enjoy beginning with ‘The Return of Trigger Joe’ from LJdS #602-618 (October 27th 1949-February 16th 1950) and collected in 1952’s Sous le Ciel de l’ouest/Under a Western Sky) album. Here the lonesome wanderer meets another prairie nomad who’s his match in all cowboy disciplines, who becomes a rather ruthless competitor when they sign up for the Nugget Gulch horse race. Of course, “John Smith” believes he’s a shoo-in since he’s riding the stolen Jolly Jumper, but hasn’t counted on Luke’s close relationship with the wonder horse. Once that scheme fails – but not before extended slapstick shenanigans in the race scenes – Smith falls back on his old ways as bank robber Trigger Joe, but his pilfering the prize money only leads to disaster when Lucky trails him deep into the searing desert…

Next up chronologically and also from Under a Western Sky, ‘Round Up Days’ (LJdS #619-629; February 23rd – May 4th 1950) sees Lucky actually working as a cowboy, hiring on for a cattle round-up (lots of rodeo style comedy here!) before encountering rustlers and cleaning up cow town Bottleneck City…

Closing the first album, ‘The Big Fight’ (LJdS #630-646; May 11th – August 31st 1950) sees Luke briefly adopt a two-fisted simpleton with the strength of Hercules and school him in the arts of pugilism for a prize-fight against infamous Killer Kelly. Things are going well until bookmaker Slats “Slippery” Nelson tries to fix the outcome. Thankfully, Lucky is his match in cunning and a faster gun than the gambler’s hirelings…

The next album release was December 1953’s Contre Pat Poker/ Lucky Luke versus Pat Poker, but its contents – ‘Clean-up in Red City’ and ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ were reprinted out of chronological order so here the former (from LJdS #685-697; May 31st – August 23rd 1951) and detailing how Lucky becomes a sheriff after being embarrassingly robbed, and kicks out all the gamblers, shysters and crooked saloon owners led by sinister charlatan Pat Poker – is followed by the eponymous lead adventure from 1954 album Hors-la-loi/Outlaws: a highly significant action romp signalling the debut of Lucky’s greatest foes.

The strip ‘Outlaws’ originally ran in LJdS #701-731 from September 20th 1951 to April 17th 1952 with our hero hired by the railroad companies to end the depredations of Emmett Bill, Grat and Bob Dalton – real life badmen who plagued the region during the 1890s, imported into the strip and given a comedic, but still vicious spin. The cat & mouse chase across the west sees Luke constantly frustrated by close calls and narrow escapes in superbly gripping movie set-pieces until, inevitably, justice claims the killers.

Morris ended the gang forever, but they were insanely popular with fans and the ideal foils for Lucky, so eventually they returned in the form of their own cousins, but we’ll tell that tale another time and place…

Here it’s back to ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ (LJdS #735-754; May 15th – September 25th 1952) as sheep farmers are harassed and imperilled by cattlemen. Luke’s attempts to broker peace are swiftly derailed after escaped convict Pat Poker slips into town and uses his gift for cheating to take over the local saloon and hire shepherd-hating gunslinger Angelface to remove their mutual enemy. Sadly for them, even this alliance of evil is insufficient to tame the wily western wonder…

By now a certified Christmas must-have item, December 1954’s Lucky Luke album Outlaws also carried the ‘Return of the Dalton Brothers’ as first seen in LJdS #755-764 (October 2nd – December 4th 1952). Here, a fraud named Bill Bonney campaigns to become sheriff of a prosperous frontier town by claiming to be the killer of the infamous owlhoots, and seems unstoppable until Lucky orchestrates a brief and equally fraudulent resurrection of the bandit brothers…

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus spin-off yarns 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 more tales of the immortal cowboy.

A treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, designs and sketches, contemporaneous extras, commentary, original art, 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 most Laurel and Hardy films (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

These youthful forays of an indomitable hero offer grand joys in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller: 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, 1949 to 1954 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.
© Morris/Dupuis 2017 for this volume of the collection. All other material © 2017 its respective creators/owners.

Canciones – Federico García Lorca Drawn by Tobias Tak


Adapted and translated by Tobias Tak (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-274-8 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68112-275-5

These days a seemingly infinite variety of subjects fit under the umbrella of modern graphic novels – everything from superheroes, sci fi and the supernatural to philosophy, journalism and education. Thanks to its global reach and outlook, NBM are at the forefront of this welcome revolution, bringing a range of visions to the English-speaking table that apparently daunt most mainstream publishers here and in America.

Today’s book is a perfect case in point: a sequence of visual adaptations of one of the world’s most celebrated modern poets, brought to scintillating life by a renowned scholar and a multidisciplinary artist. The result is an utterly enticing hardback treasure, and there’s not a single tragic supervillain in sight…

Federico García Lorca was born in 1898 and died in 1936: winning acclaim in Spain and across the world for his plays, music and poems during a life both dramatic and perilously brief. A strident socialist reformer, he was executed on the orders of fascist dictator General Franco, but his works and observations remain relevant and challenging to this day.

Here, Boston University-based official translator and Lorca expert Christopher Maurer (The Collected Poems of Garcia Lorca) offers crucial background in his Introduction ‘Cloudscapes’, whilst Holland’s cartooning national treasure Joost Swarte (Horst Serie; Modern Papier; Jopo de Pojo; Modern Art) ponders the cultural and creative similarities between the poet and his visual interpreter before the bilingual wonderment begins.

We lost Tobias Eduard Tak (Tante Leny; Gaboon’s Daymare; Upside Down; The Spirit of Saturn) far too early. The Dutch choreographer, dancer, singer, author and illustrator was born in January 1954 in Voorburg and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Hague. Graduating in the late 1970s, he moved to London and began contributing to comics publications across the world, as well as successfully pursuing stage creative disciplines. Delivered in Dutch and Spanish, Canciones was his last completed work. “Tobi” died in Amsterdam on January 7th 2020.

Lorca’s most popular work, Canciones is a collection of Andalusian folk songs and ballads, which lend themselves easily to Tak’s lifelong fascination with dream states and fairy tales.

With English replacing Dutch text on these vividly intoxicating pages, and the Spanish lines cunningly woven into the gently meandering designs, twenty fanciful moments of wistful rumination and longing are yours to share. Preceded by an enchanting ‘Preludio/Prelude’, ‘Song of November and April’, ‘The Deceiving Mirror’, ‘Conch!’, ‘It’s True’, ‘Fable’, ‘First Anniversary’ and ‘Second Anniversary’ carry us through a bizarre and beguiling voyage of discovery with fantastical creatures and characters tirelessly looking… but for what?

The search shifts to ploys of conquest as we learn what is said ‘In a Girl’s Ear’ and experience despondency from the ‘Song of the Barren Orange Tree’, after which the hunt for truth and contentment resumes in ‘Debussy’, ‘The Mute Boy’, ‘Schematic Nocturne’, ‘A Song Sung’, ‘Riverside Songs’ and ‘The Moon Comes Up’.

Temptation comes calling on ‘The Street of the Mute’, leading to painful introspection and fresh insights in ‘Foolish Song’, ‘Farewell’ and ‘Song of the Departing Day’ before we arrive at a deeply personal Mise en Abyme (just look it up: it’s never too late to learn things) in concluding ode ‘In Another Manner’

Wild, near-hallucinogenic vistas and characters blend history with mythology to depict ephemeral situations and timeless moments in this evocative picture hymnal dedicated to the human condition. It’s a beautiful achievement and the ideal gift for the sensitive ones in your life.
© 2017 Tobias Tak/Scratch Books. Foreword © 2017 Christopher Maurer. Introduction © 2017 Joost Swarte.

Canciones – Federico García Lorca Drawn by Tobias Tak will be released on August 19th 2021 and is available for pre-order now

Blake and Mortimer: Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Parts One (Mortimer in Tokyo) & Two (Mortimer versus Mortimer)


By Edgar P. Jacobs and Bob De Moor: with colours by Paul-Serge Marssignac, translated by Jerome Saincantin(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-292-8 (Album PB Pt 1) 978-1-84918-303-1(Album PB Pt 2)

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

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

Les 3 formules du professeur Satō was a tragically extended affair and Jacob’s last hurrah. What became the 11th album was originally serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, after which the author abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 and soon after, Bob de Moor was commissioned by the family and estate to complete the final tale from Jacob’s pencil roughs and script notes. The concluding album was finally released in March 1990. This led to a republishing of all the earlier exploits and eventually fresh adventures from a variety of creative teams…

Mortimer in Tokyo opens at Haneda Airport, where Air Traffic Controllers experience a unique problem when a UFO disrupts their carefully plotted flight courses. With disaster imminent, jets are scrambled to pursue the meteoric anomaly. Just before they perish, the pilots radio back that they are being attacked by a dragon…

As the news filters around the world, renowned cyberneticist Professor Akira Satō argues with assistant Dr. Kim, deeply remorseful that his latest breakthrough has been the cause of such tragedy. Kim only barely dissuades his Sensei from turning himself in to the authorities but is utterly unable to convince or prevent Satō from involving visiting colleague Philip Mortimer in his crisis of conscience…

The British scholar is in Kyoto attending a succession of scientific conferences, and when an ominous outsider overhears Satō’s intentions through hidden surveillance methods, the reaction is both explosive and potentially murderous…

The first Mortimer knows of the problem is when a gang of gunmen attempt to kidnap him off the streets, but after fighting them off and escaping, the old warrior returns to his hotel and finds a telegram waiting for him…

An urgent request to join old friend Satō immediately seems impossible due to stringencies of train timetabling, but an accommodating journalist overhears and offers a speedy compromise. Mortimer is suspicious of the happy accident… but not suspicious enough…

Surviving another assassination attempt by sheer force of will, the professor is then lost in the wilds of Japan before eventually battling his way to Satō’s lab outside Tokyo where he witnesses a series of astonishing sights.

His host has worked miracles in the fields of robotics – including the dragon which so recently and horrifically malfunctioned – but is at a loss to explain how his incredible creations have gone wrong at such a late stage. Worldly-wise Mortimer soon deduces the causes: espionage and sabotage…

As the British boffin sends for doughty comrade-in-arms Captain Blake, Satō is comforted by the fact that the key formulae for producing his mechanical marvels have been divided and deposited at three different banks in Tokyo. The Sensei breathes even easier after arranging that only Mortimer can retrieve them, but this only prompts their hidden enemy to accelerate his plans and reveal himself as one of Mortimer’s greatest foes…

Unable to induce or force Mortimer to retrieve the scientific goldmine, the mastermind has an android double constructed to fool the banks, but the rush-job breaks down before the task is completed. Now the vile villain has only more card to play before the formidable Blake arrives…

This edition – available as always in paperback album and digital formats – concludes with excerpts from other B & M albums, plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts to whet the appetite for further treats in store…

Cunning and convoluted, this devilishly devious tale unfolds with potent authenticity and ever-escalating tension, building to an explosive conclusion which eventually took eighteen years to conclude. At least we don’t have to wait that near-lifetime for the epic denouement…

Part 2: Mortimer versus Mortimer
Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (March 30th 1904-February 20th 1987) is deservedly considered a founding father of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised epic formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish, thoroughly British stars were conceived for the premier issue of Le Journal de Tintin, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – in exactly the same way Dan Dare was for 1950s Britain.

Jacobs was Brussels-born: a precocious child perpetually drawing, but even more obsessed with music and performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but loathed the idea of office work, avidly pursuing arts and drama jobs after graduation in 1919.

A succession of such at opera-houses (scene-painting, set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented his private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing. His dreamed-of operatic career was thwarted by the Great Depression. When arts funding suffered massive cutbacks following the global stock market crash, he was compelled to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing.

In 1940, Jacobs switched to commercial illustration, winning regular work in the magazine Bravo, as well as illustrating short stories and novels. He famously took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip after the occupying German authorities banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and the publishers desperately sought someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.

Jacobs’ ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation fun-police, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U: a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip, the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips of The Shooting Star (originally published in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was also contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic we know as The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.

After the war and Europe was liberated, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comic strip stars to work for his proposed new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also commissioned Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with simultaneous editions in Belgium, France and Holland to be edited by Hergé and starring the intrepid boy reporter and a host of new heroes.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

As revealed in an enticing, photo-packed essay closing this Cinebook volume, Blake and Mortimer were a lucky compromise. Jacobs had wanted to create a period historical drama entitled Roland the Bold but changed genres due to an overabundance of such strips…

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs since their time together on Bravo, and the first instalment of the epic thriller serial Le secret de l’Espadon starred a bluff, gruff British scientist and an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on Laudy himself…

The initial storyline ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to September 8th 1949): cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right.

In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release, with the concluding volume published three years later. The albums were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, in addition to a single omnibus edition released in 1964.

Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material they had collaborated on, but since the two remained friends for life and Jacobs continued to produce Blake et Mortimer for the weekly, I think it’s fair to assume that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat. I rather suspect that the Eccentric Englishmen were simply taking up more and more of the diligent artist’s time and attention…

Cinebook have made the Gentleman Heroes a bankable proposition, releasing the 29-and-counting albums, but suffice to say that the concluding instalment of Professor Satō’s Three Formulae was a long time coming …

Les 3 formules du professeur SatōMortimer contre Mortimer was a tragically extended affair and only credited Jacobs as writer and layout artist. The 11th album had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972, after which the author simply dropped the story.

He died on February 20th 1987 and as cited veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Cori le Moussaillon, Balthazar, Barelli and so many others) was commissioned to complete his final tale from pencils and notes.

The concluding album was released in March 1990, sparking a republishing renaissance and new adventures from a variety of creative teams…

As previously described, boisterous boffin Mortimer is in Japan when contacted by robotics pioneer and cyberneticist supreme Professor Akira Satō. The savant has performed miracles in mass-production of highly specialised mechanoids and androids, but his discoveries – parsed down into three crucial processes and deposited in three separate banks – are targeted by a ruthless gang led by Blake and Mortimer’s greatest enemy.

The villains infiltrated Satō’s home and laboratory, tried to murder Mortimer numerous times and unleashed a robot duplicate of the scientist, but have been unable to stop a summons for help going out to his Secret Service ally. Now, with Blake imminently expected, the gang radically accelerate their timetable…

Blake is watched from the moment he disembarks at Haneda Airport and hidden enemies are already in place at his hotel. The MI5 chief has a suite next to Mortimer’s, and although his comrade is missing, finds plenty of clues as to what has happened to him. The diligent search also uncovers the video surveillance gear infesting both rooms and sets his watchers running for the exits in panic…

A hasty pursuit only leads to his own capture but, with fortune ever favouring the brave, Blake turns the tables on his foes in a deadly clash at the hotel garages, before sending them all fleeing for their lives.

By the time he has connected with Police Superintendent Hasumi and briefed Colonel Mitsu of the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency, the assailants have vanished, but Blake is building a picture of what is going on. To end the Englishman’s threat forever, a diabolical and desperate scheme is devised and a second Mortimer robot is built to assassinate Blake…

Turncoat assistant Kim is nervous. Although happy to use Satō’s incredible inventions to detain Mortimer and his former employer, the traitor is not conversant enough with production procedures to guarantee success. Nevertheless, a deadly doppelganger of the Professor is soon despatched to kill Blake…

The real Mortimer has not been idle. With Satōs aid he has escaped the lab prison, rushing to intercept the android assassin, but unaware that behind him, unqualified hands have meddled with the duplication processes and a legion of horrific misfit mechanoids are tumbling off the conveyor belts…

What follows is a succession of spectacular chases, frantic battles and a final shattering showdown between Blake, Mortimer and the man who has bedevilled them since the Swordfish case – a fitting end to their exploits and, thanks to the graphic efforts of De Moor, a perfect, revitalising stepping stone for other creators to continue the feature…

Rocket-paced, suspenseful and cathartically action-packed, this is an enthralling changing-of-the-guard, building to an explosive conclusion and satisfying final flourish: another superbly stylish blockbuster to delight every adventure addict and Jacobs purist.

As well as the aforementioned historical overview – ‘Jacobs: 1946, the Swordfish, starting point of a masterful work’ – this Cinebook edition also includes excerpts from two other albums, a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Vol 1: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1977 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.
Vol. 2: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s. a.) 1990 by E.P. Jacobs & Bob De Moor. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Yoko Tsuno volume 10: Message for Eternity


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-251-5 (Album PB)

The uncannily edgy yet excessively accessible exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno first graced the pages of Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong, with 29th album Anges et Faucons (Angels and Falcons) released in 2019.

The eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi-award-winning series is the brainchild of Roger Leloup, another hugely talented Belgian who worked as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin before striking out on his own. Compellingly told, astoundingly imaginative yet always grounded in hyper-realistic settings whilst sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the vanguard of a wave of comics featuring competent, clever and brave female protagonists that revolutionised Continental comics from the last third of the 20th century onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The initial Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were short introductory vignettes prior to the superbly capable Miss Tsuno and her always awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades Pol and Vic truly hitting their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange (which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue).

That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of many European albums, with the one here first serialised in LJdS #1882-1905 (from 9th May-17 October 17th 1974) and released a year later as Message pour l’éternité. A skilfully crafted suspenseful mystery thriller, the chronologically fifth album over there reaches us as Cinebook’s 10th translated chronicle.

It all begins as Yoko perfects her skills in a new hobby. Gliding high above Brittany. she fortuitously sets down in a field near a vast telecommunications complex. Offered a tour of the space-probing facility, she learns from one of the scientists of a fantastic “ghost message” recently picked up by their satellites: a Morse code signal from a British plane lost in 1933. Moreover, the signal is still being regularly broadcast…

As Yoko tries to arrange for her glider to be collected, a mysterious Englishman offers her a lift in his private helicopter but he has an ulterior motive. He works for the company which insured the lost flight and is looking for someone with certain exacting qualifications to trace the downed flight and recover a fortune in jewels from it. Her fee will be £20,000…

His firm has known where the plane went down for quite some time, but geographical and logistical difficulties have prevented them from undertaking a recovery mission until now. Moreover, although they have now started the process, the petite engineer is physically superior to the candidates the company are currently working with…

Cautiously accepting the commission, Yoko starts planning but even before Pol and Vic can join her the following day, strange accidents and incidents impact and imperil her life…

The boys are understandably reluctant but that attitude turns to sheer frustration and terror after someone tries to shoot Yoko down as she practises in her glider. This only makes her more determined to complete the job at all costs…

Two weeks later the trio are heading to the daunting Swiss fortress the company uses as a base, when another spectacular murder attempt almost ends their lives. Yoko remains undaunted but not so Vic and Pol, especially after overhearing that two of her fellow trainees recently died in similar “accidents” in the mountains…

Carrying on regardless, she assesses the technologically sophisticated glider-&-launch system which will take her to the previously unattainable crash site and perfects her landing technique in a fantastic training simulator. Eventually more details are provided and the real story unfolds.

In November 1933, the Handley-Page transport they are hunting was conveying diplomatic mail from Karachi to London before vanishing in a storm over Afghanistan. Decades later, a satellite somehow picked up a broken radio message stating it had landed…

Somewhere…

The businessman the trio call “Milord” identifies himself as Major Dundee – a spymaster from Britain’s Ministry of Defence – who explains how a shady American former U2 pilot approached the British government, claiming to have spotted the downed ship during a clandestine overflight of Soviet territories.

He provided purloined photos showing the plane in the centre of a vast circular crater on the Russo-Chinese border, but subsequent reconnaissance flights revealed nothing in the hole so the decision was taken to make a physical assessment, even though the already inaccessible site was deep in hostile enemy territory. Since then, it has become clear that some unidentified agent or group is acting against the recovery project, presumably intent on retrieving the ship’s mysterious but valuable cargo for a foreign power.

Events spiral out of control when a traitor in the training team attempts to kill Yoko and “Operation Albatross” is rushed to commencement before the unknown enemy can try again…

Within a day she is transported in a speedy manner around the world before her space-age glider prototype is secretly deployed over the enigmatic crater…

Narrowly avoiding patrolling Soviet jets, Yoko deftly manoeuvres into the mist-covered chasm and plunges into one of the most uncanny experiences of her life.

The old plane is certainly gone. The floor of the crater is strangely  cracked and at the centre stands a burned and blackened monolith; there are uncharacteristic animal bones everywhere and at one end of the vast cavity is a primitive but large graveyard…

When the astounded girl goes exploring, she is ambushed by her treacherous fellow trainee who has raced after her by conventional means before parachuting into the bizarre basin. However, his original plans have changed drastically since arrival, and despite the machine gun he wields, he needs Yoko’s help. He’s already located the Handley-Page – somehow manually dragged under an unsuspected overhang in the crater – but is mortally afraid of what he describes as the “tiny people” infesting the terrifying impact bowl…

As the unlikely allies head towards the eerily preserved plane, the truth about the terrifying homunculi is shockingly revealed and they encounter the last human survivor of the downed Diplomatic Flight, discovering to their cost the uncanny and ultimately deadly atmospheric anomaly which has kept the plane a secret for decades and turned the crater into a vast geological radio set…

When the dust settles, Yoko realises she is trapped in the subterranean anomaly. With all her escape plans rendered useless she must align herself with the bizarre sole survivor and his bestial, rebellious servants, but she also refuses to give up on the recovery mission. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she has to trust anything the old relic in the hole or Major Dundee has said. With that in mind she lays her own plans to settle matters…

As ever, the most potent asset of these breathtaking dramas is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail, honed through years of working on Tintin.

With this sleekly beguiling tale Yoko proved that she was a truly multi-faceted adventurer, equally at home in all manner of dramatic milieux and able to hold her own against the likes of James Bond, Modesty Blaise, Tintin or any other genre-busting super-star: as triumphantly capable thwarting spies and crooks as alien invaders, weird science effects or unchecked forces of nature…

This is a splendidly frenetic, tense thriller which will appeal to any fan of blockbuster action fantasy or devious espionage exploit.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.