Adventures of Tintin: The Calculus Affair


By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-817-8 (HB) 978-1-40520-629-7 (TPB)

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

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

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

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

After a troubled period during the war years, the Boy Reporter and his companions became a staple of the European childhood experience through weekly trans-national magazine Le Journal de Tintin and regular album collections. The anthology comic regularly achieved a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, allowing the artist and his team to remaster past tales and create bold new romps reflecting the tone of the times.

Although Hergé’s later life was troubled by personal problems and health issues, this only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities. The later adventures are all sleek, polished thrillers, rife with intrigue and camaraderie; perfectly garnished with comedy set-pieces of timeless brilliance. Even after decades of working, the artist/auteur continued fresh and challenging, always seeking new arenas of drama to explore.
Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. That meant a return to observations of contemporary themes and situations, as in this effective treatise on the burgeoning Cold War…

L’Affaire Tournesol began in the Christmas issue of the Belgian edition of Le Journal de Tintin (dated December 22nd 1954) and ran uninterrupted until February 22nd 1956. The French editions ran it from February 1955, and the completed saga was collected as an album in 1956 and is notable for the introduction of three characters who would become semi-regular cast members: Jolyon Wagg, Cutts the Butcher, and recurring villain Colonel Spoons.

The Calculus Affair once again sees the zany Professor abducted from the palatial home of Captain Haddock, resulting in a dire and desperate chase through espionage-infested Europe. Our heroes are hampered in their efforts to save their friend by the introduction of the infinitely annoying and crushingly dull insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg and, more ominously, rival bands of relentless, ruthless spies.

As they doggedly pursue Calculus to Geneva, Tintin and Haddock encounter not only the insidious agents of Borduria but find that their erstwhile allies of Syldavia are also trying to make the Professor “disappear”. After frantic chases, pitched battles and assassination attempts, diplomatic duplicity defeats them, and Calculus becomes an unwilling guest of the totalitarian Bordurians, who are pleased to accept as a “gift” his new invention, which they intend to use as a weapon of mass destruction.

Temporarily stymied, Tintin and Haddock finagle their way into the country, and with the aid of Opera Diva and human tornado Bianca Castafiore, bamboozle the secret police to rescue the Professor and save the day.

Although all the elements in play are tried and trusted ingredients of the Tintin formula, the level of artistic achievement here is superb and the interplay of tense drama, slapstick comedy and breakneck action make this brooding thriller the most accomplished of Hergé’s tales. The simple fact that the contemporary Cold War fever is absent for modern readers makes no difference at all to the enjoyment of this magnificent graphic masterpiece.

The Calculus Affair: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1960 Methuen & Co Ltd/2012 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Troll King


By Kolbeinn Karlsson (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-061-2 (TPB)

The power of fairy tales and magical sagas has shaped human thought and psychology fully as much as science and philosophy, and as such is infinitely evergreen – especially when seen through the lens of a truly gifted artist.

Swedish artisan and imaginer Kolbeinn Karlsson was born in Uppsala in 1982, and studied at Malmö’s Kvarnby School of Comic Arts. From 2006 he began publishing mini-comics which quickly won him a far-ranging and appreciative global audience. His stylish renderings have been published throughout Europe in magazines such as Strapazin, Glömp and C’est Bon.

The Troll King (available in both paperback and digital formats) is his first book, released in 2009 and since then adapted into an animated film. It’s a superb marriage of bizarre situations and legendary fictions, illustrated in a compelling, evocative and unique style, all tied together with a superb sense of guided absurdity that no fan of narrative art of fantastic fiction could possibly resist.

It also gives the initial appearance of relating unrelated tales but that is not truly the case…

Two hairy overly-masculine hermits live together in the wilds: shunning civilisation, exercising, and secretly wishing they had a child. When they perform a rite to bind themselves together, a strange forest creature blesses their union and their greatest desire is made real…

Elsewhere, ‘Sleeping and Dreaming of Food’ a starving, hallucinating dwarf falls into the Black River and endures visions and strange transformations, even as in another elsewhere an ambulatory carrot invades an ornate indoor pool and begins to sprout uncontrollably…

And so unravels a fevered stream of peculiar pictorial encounters that demand the reader’s full attention and participation, with always that ponderous forest presence intersecting the story strands…

Blending humour with horror and salutary moral warnings with random acts of fate, The Troll King offers a truly unsettling but incredibly rewarding walk on the weird wild side thatwill haunt your dreams until you can no longer separate the surreal from the ridiculous…
© 2009 Kolbeinn Karlsson. All rights reserved.

Hungarian Rhapsody


By Vittorio Giardino (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-033-8 (TPB Album)

Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Vittorio Giardino was an electrician who switched careers at age 30. He initially worked for a number of comics magazines before his first collection – Pax Romana – was released in 1978. Giardino has toiled, slowly but consistently, on both feature characters such as the detective Sam Pezzo, saucy Winsor McKay homage Little Ego and cold-war drama Jonas Fin, as well as general fiction tales, producing over 43 albums to date.

In 1982 he began the tale of a quiet, bearded fellow recalled by the Deuxieme Bureau (the French Secret Service) to investigate the slaughter of almost every agent in the cosmopolitan paradise of Budapest. The series ran in four parts in the magazine Orient Express before being collected as Rhapsodie Hongroise Giardino’s thirteenth book and in no way unlucky for him. Reluctant spy Max Fridman (transliterated into Max Friedman for the English-speaking world), was dragged back into the “Great Game” in the years of uneasy peace just before the outbreak of World War II: a metaphor for the nations of Europe…

Over the course of ten years, the masterful Italian graphic novelist crafted two more individual tales and in 1999 added a stunning triptych of albums. The three volumes of No Pasarán! detailed a key moment during the conflict in Republican Spain and the dying days of the Civil War which revealed many clues into the life of the diffident and unassuming hero. Two further volumes have been added to the canon in 2002 and 2008, and I’m declaring they are all now long past due to be revived and revisited…

In Hungarian Rhapsody, Friedman debuts as a troubled, cautious man with a daughter he adores and a nebulous past that somehow stems from undisclosed experiences in the Spanish Civil War where he fought as a Republican in the International Brigades against Franco’s Nationalists.

He is no ideologue or man of action, but still, somehow, is convinced – call it blackmailed – to leave his idyllic home in Switzerland to investigate the plague of assassinations for his devious French taskmasters….

Friedman is a hero in the mould of John le Carré’s George Smiley: a methodical thinker and the very antithesis of such combat supermen as James Bond, Napoleon Solo or Jason Bourne. Arriving in Budapest, Friedman gently prods and pokes about, swiftly becoming the target of not just the mysterious killers, but seemingly every rabid faction in a city crammed full of spies of every type and description, from Soviet agitators to Nazi plotters.

In a city of stunning, if decadent, beauty and cultural extremes where East meets West, Friedman finds that like the spy-game itself, nobody and nothing can be trusted…

Somebody somewhere has a master-plan but who it is and what it is..?

That’s a mystery that could get even the most cautious agent killed…

Giardino is a powerfully subtle writer who lets tone and shaded nuance carry a tale, and his captivating art – a semi-representational derivation of Hergé’s “Ligne Claire” style – makes the lovingly rendered locations as much a character in this smart, gripping drama as any of the stylishly familiar operatives of a dark, doomed world on the brink of holocaust.

Although largely an agent unknown in the English-speaking world, Max Friedman is one of espionage literature’s greatest characters. Giardino’s work is like honey for the eyes and mind. Hungarian Rhapsody is a graphic novel any fan of comics or the Intelligence Game should know.

© 1986 Vittorio Giardino. All rights reserved.

Lost in Time volume 1: Labyrinths


By Jean-Claude Forest & Paul Gillon, with an introduction by Alex Toth (NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-91834-818-0 (HB)

France has had an ongoing love affair with science fiction that goes back at least to the works of Jules Verne and – depending upon your viewpoint – arguably even as far back as Cyrano de Bergerac’s posthumously published fantasy stories L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (The Other World: or the States and Empires of the Moon) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun) published in 1657 and 1662. Moreover, their comic iterations have always been groundbreaking, superbly realised and deeply enjoyable.

A perfect case in point is Les Naufragés du Temps (alternately translated as either Castaways in Time or, as here, Lost in Time) created in 1964 by Jean-Claude Forest and classical master-draughtsman Paul Gillon.

Forest (1930-1998) was a Parisian and graduate of the Paris School of Design who began selling strips while still a student. His Flèche Noire (Black Arrow) led to a career illustrating for newspapers and magazines such as France-Soir, Les Nouvelles Littéraires and Fiction in the 1950s, all whilst producing the Charlie Chaplin-inspired comic series Charlot and acting as chief artist for publisher Hachette’s science fiction imprint Le Rayon Fantastique. For this last client he produced illustrations and covers on translations of imported authors A. E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and others.

In 1962, Forrest created Barbarella for V-Magazine and his sexy-charged icon quickly took the country and world by storm, consequently generating an explosion of like-minded SF Bandes Dessinées features. Forest never looked back, subsequently creating Baby Cyanide and more serious tales like Hypocrite; the Verne-inspired Mysterious Planet; La Jonque Fantôme Vue de l’Orchestre and Enfants, c’est l’Hydragon qui Passe.

He also found time to script for other artists: Ici Même for Jacques Tardi, occult detective series Leonid Beaudragon for Didier Savard and, with Gillon, the subject of today’s review – a classic of both comics and science fiction inexplicably all-but-ignored by English language publishers since the 1980s. If you read French, however, all volumes are still available in print and digitally…

Paul Gillon (1926-2011) was also born in Paris but suffered from debilitating tuberculosis in early life. After his full recovery, the isolated shut-in became something of a brilliant wild child, expelled from many schools – including the prestigious Ecole des Arts Graphiques.

As a teenager he considered a career in film, theatre or fashion, but slipped almost accidentally into the world of cartooning and caricature, working freelance for such arts magazines as Samedi-Soir, France Dimanche and Gavroche.

The end of WWII created chaotic circumstances in France, subsequently spawning a whole new comics industry, and in 1947 Gillon began illustrating for the popular weekly Vaillant, both on existing adventures strips such as Wango and Lynx Blanc (both written by Roger Lécureux) and Jean Ollivier’s Le Cormoran, as well as the later spin-off Jérémie which Gillon also scripted. In 1950, he created Fils de Chine (Sons of China) with Lécureux which ran for three years.

Working in a refined and highly classicist style epitomised by the likes of global industry giants Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff and Hal Foster, Gillon also wrote and drew shorter complete pieces for titles such as 34 Camera, Femmes D’Aujourd’hui, Reves and Radar, but his big break came in September 1959 when he began illustrating a daily soap-opera strip for national newspaper France Soir.

He would render the stunningly beautiful human heartbreaks of 13, rue de l’Espoir until the end of 1972, becoming a household name in the process…

Based on the American serial The Heart of Juliet Jones and scripted by Jacques and François Gall, the feature followed the fortunes of vivacious Parisienne Françoise Morel, and unfolding daily took the heroine and the Family Morel through some of the most tumultuous years of modern European social change, in nearly 4200 strips which were naturally compiled into two collected Albums – something else which should be translated into English but probably won’t be…

Throughout that period Gillon continued in comics, producing Jérémie, working for the Disney comic Le Journal de Mickey and other magazines while trying out new venues and genres.

Les Naufrages du Temps first appeared in 1964, part of the line-up in short-lived French comic Chouchou. A decade after the periodical closed, the strip was reprinted and saga completed in France-Soir before being released as 2 bichromic (a two-coloured palette) albums from major publisher Hachette in 1974 and 1975. Two further full-colour book volumes followed in 1976.

In 1977 the saga was serialized in groundbreaking Sci-fi magazine Metal Hurlant, prompting publisher Les Humanoides Associes to re-release the four albums (L’Etoile Endormie/The Sleeping Star; La Mort Sinueuse/The Creeping Death; Labyrinthes/Labyrinths and L’Univers Cannibale/The Cannibal Universe) in colour, before continuing the series with Gillon scripting as well as illustrating until its end in 1989: a total of six further volumes.

Never idle, Gillon then created spy-thriller Les Leviathans (The Leviathans) for Les Humanoides and adult science fiction epic La Survivante (The Survivor) for L’Echo des Savanes. He also adapted literary classics such as Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and re-imagined the legend of Joan of Arc as the erotic epic Jehanne.

His later efforts included Processus de Survie (Survival Process) in 1984 and La Derniere des Salles Obscures (The Last of the Dark Rooms) in 1998. He was still creating comics well into the 21st century and remains one of France’s most honoured, celebrated and revered comics creators, so just why so few of his incredibly illustrated tales have been translated is an utter mystery to me.

One that did make the jump was Lost in Time: Labyrinths, released as a spectacular hardback by NBM in 1987 and one of the few European imports to be seen “cold” in the USA (i.e. without first running as a serial in Heavy Metal magazine). As cited above it was the third album of the French series and opened with a much-needed preamble…

So just to recap something we hadn’t actually seen: at the end of the 20th century, humanity was imperilled by “the Scourge”: a plague of extraterrestrial spores and/or a global sickness of its own negligent making.

Chris Cavallieri and Valerie Haurele were selected for a shot at survival and placed in suspended animation in individual space-capsules to preserve the best of our race and possibly reconstruct our lost glories in a newer age…

A thousand years later Chris was awakened into a bewildering but thriving multi-species civilisation in deadly danger. Earth was a derelict, plague world inhabited by mutant monsters whilst society abandoned it and grew to inhabit a hugely re-configured Solar system.

Helping the inhabitants of the patchwork “System” – ex-pat human, alien and genetically altered/hybridised animal-beings – to defeat an invasion by alien winged rats dubbed the Thrass, Chris fortuitously found Valerie’s lost capsule and revived her – but the longed-for happy reunion led to utter disaster.

Throughout their millennial slumber both ancient human lovers had dreamt of each other and a perfect meeting, but once they were together again in a furious new future, they discovered that they could not stand each other…

This tale begins after the defeated Thrass have fled the System and Valerie, rejected by Chris, has disappeared. The resurrected Ancient and his new-found true love Mara (one of the scientists who first recovered and rehabilitated Christopher) are the topic of much discussion amongst his new friends Dr. Otomoro and military cyborg Major Lisdal. Chris haunts morgues and seedy dives of the pan-cosmopolitan city of Roobo-ein-Sarra on System capital Limovan, unable to shake his destructive, obsessive fear for the fate of his millennial ex-lover…

Depressed, despondent and bitterly confused, Chris roams the exotic streets and bazaars where hordes of newly-liberated beings manically celebrate their hard-won freedom and security, unaware that he has been targeted by sinister plotters. An old “frenemy”, Morfina, accosts him and, past injuries and seductions forgotten, lures the old Earthman to the Mood Market, a vast, baroque area of bordellos run by a legendary criminal overlord. The Boar is a burly, erudite and unctuous humanoid with a Tapir’s head and plenty to hide…

(In the original this major series villain is in fact the Tapir – I’ve no idea why he was so erroneously renamed but have a sneaking suspicion that it involves European prejudices about English and American educational attainment…)

Completely off-guard, Chris succumbs to sybaritic release and is framed for the murder of a diplomat and his companion whilst out of his head. Once awake and panicked by the corpses around him, the Last Earthman accepts the extremely costly aid of the Boar to escape…

Even Christopher believes himself guilty until he discusses the affair with Mara, Lisdal and Otomoro in the cold light of day. However, even as the wool is pulled from his eyes and he realises his precarious predicament, the bamboozled human is utterly unaware that The Boar is working with compliant, vindictive Valerie, who is briefing the crime-lord on all Chris’s secrets…

When Lisdal suggests seeking help from brilliant scientific maverick Saravon Leobart, the friends are welcomed by the aged sage, but the Boar moves quickly, sending his gamin cyber-assassin Baby to quickly whisk Chris and Mara away under the pretext that the police have arrested Lisdal and Otomoro…

It’s all a colossal bluff: The Boar needs Chris to recover a deadly pre-Scourge secret weapon cached away at the time of humanity’s fall, and all the data needed to find and operate it lies buried in his Ancient subconscious. Chris is completely unaware that the thing even exists: his mind was re-programmed before his hibernation and only vengeful Valerie holds the secret of retrieving it…

Soon the Boar and his “guests” are hurtling deep into the outer system with Leobart, Morfina and Chris’ chums in hot pursuit. After a brutal clash in space, Chris and Mara are rescued but the Boar is ready and willing to retaliate. Moreover, benevolent Leobart is not all he seems…

To Be Continued…

This is a beautiful, stately and supremely authoritative adult fantasy thriller, tantalisingly teasing the reader with the promise of so much more. The second part was released in English as Lost in Time: Cannibal World in 1987, but even that only moved the saga forward without comfortably ending things. As far as I know, the only other Gillon works to make it into English are the first two volumes of The Survivor

Mature, solid science fiction with thoroughly believable and pettily human characters confronted with fantastic situations, lots of action and loads of gratuitous nudity: how on Earth has this sublime series remained a secret French Possession for so very long? And can we please end that particular embargo soon?
© Les Humanoides Associes. © NBM 1986 for the English edition.

Asterix Omnibus volume 7: Asterix and the Soothsayer; Asterix in Corsica; Asterix and Caesar’s Gift


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-835-7 (HB), 978-1-44400-836-4 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of Asterix’s many albums have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Le Devin was the 19th serialised epic, originally running in Pilote #652-673 throughout 1972, first translated into English album Asterix and the Soothsayer in 1975, and begins ominously whilst the village’s venerable mystic protector Getafix is away at his annual Druiding conference.

During a torrential storm, a nefarious soothsayer named Prolix turns up seeking shelter. His dark predictions instantly spread disharmony amongst the hospitable, hot-headed, painfully superstitious and credulous Gaulish stalwarts… except for level-headed, canny little Asterix.

As Prolix leaves, Chief’s wife Impedimenta sneaks after him, keen on a personal prediction, and the crafty charlatan soon discovers he’s on to a good thing and profitably cushy number…

Before long the entire village is under the soothsayer’s grimy thumb, but when he vanishes the ladies of the village accuse Asterix of driving him away.

In actuality, the unsavoury sage has been arrested by the Romans who have standing orders to deal harshly with all non-Roman prognosticators and troublemakers. Wily Prolix barters for his life with Centurion Arteriosclerosus, who sees a way to end his Indomitable Gaul problem by using the obviously fraudulent fortune-teller as a wedge to drive out the obstreperous resistors. Prolix returns to the village uttering a doom-laden pronouncement: the place has been cursed by the Gods and a pestilential stench will precede plague. Inevitable death will be their fate if they remain…

Panicked, the gullible Gauls head for the beach and take refuge on an off-shore island – all that is, except for Asterix, Obelix and chivalrous canine companion Dogmatix

With the Romans at last in possession of the village – and all Gaul finally conquered – the bold last rebels make their plans until Getafix returns. On his arrival the three men and a dog embark on an elaborate scheme to take back their home and teach their foolish fellows a much-needed lesson.

Concocting a stunningly malodorous vapour which drives the occupiers from the village, the druid convinces the Romans that Prolix is a real soothsayer and ambitious Arteriosclerosus sees a chance to become the next Caesar. Increasingly baffled, conman Prolix begins to believe his predictions are real…

After dressing down the refugee Gauls, Getafix leads them back to their beloved homes where the incensed and wiser villagers top up on magic potion before rushing off to teach the invaders – and Prolix – a much needed lesson. On this occasion, Impedimenta and the village women accompany their men, determined to expiate their embarrassing gullibility with a little cathartic violence of their own…

This delightfully arch and acerbic attack on gullibility and superstition is a splendid and long-overdue chance to see the minor characters play to their strengths and weaknesses, with Asterix and Obelix almost relegated to walk-on parts…

First translated two years earlier in England but chronologically following on from The Soothsayer in the original French serialisations, Astérix en Corse (Pilote #687-708, in 1973) was the 20th adventure and the best-selling French-language album of the series.

Another globe-trotting yarn, it begins with the Romans of the four occupying garrisons “deploying for manoeuvres” to avoid having to deal with Gauls’ painfully exuberant celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia. Unfortunately for Centurion Hippotamus and his men, they are delayed by the arrival of a party from Praetor Perfidius, Governor of Corsica, escorting a dangerous prisoner into exile. They are all still in Totorum when the high-spirited villagers (and many guest-star friends from previous tales) arrive, keen for a punch-up and a little annoyed that all the other Roman camps are deserted…

When the dust settles and the groans of pain subside, Asterix discovers and liberates the prisoner Boneywasawarriorwayayix and invites him back to the village for a slap-up feed. Over boar and beer, the Gauls hear how Perfidius had the popular Corsican leader exiled to prevent him revealing how the Praetor has been over-taxing the people and embezzling the gold for himself instead of sending it to Caesar in Rome.

Corsica is officially the most troublesome spot in the Empire and the exile is determined to return and expose the hated Governor, so proud, haughty Boneywasawarriorwayayix is delighted when Asterix and Obelix – with faithful canine companion Dogmatix – determine to help him sneak back to his fiercely over-fortified and contained island (most volumes of this album have a map of Corsica instead of the traditional Gaulish village, and the tiny nation contains four towns and forty-six Roman camps)…

Hilariously obtaining passage on the pirate ship of Redbeard, the voyagers soon find themselves on the island – but by no means unnoticed…

Soon the dissolute and lazy soldiery are hunting the heroes as they make their way inland to the exile’s home village to rally the populace, whilst in the city of Aleria Perfidius reckons the jig is up and prepares to flee with his ill-gotten gains…

Attempting to rally the natives, Boneywasawarriorwayayix comes up against the age-old dilemma: most Corsicans are involved in centuries-long vendettas and would much rather fight each other – at least when they’re not taking a siesta – than unite to attack the invaders. However, eventually – and almost too late – a determined band of warriors march on Aleria. Perfidius has been secretly loading his loot onto a ship, but when his soldiers discover the riches, they realise their leader is planning to abandon them to the fiercely furious Corsicans – at least if overtaxed diplomatic Asterix can keep the natives from killing each other first…

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner.

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured trans-national teasing of perceived (and generally treasured) national characteristics; celebrating the terrifying power of Corsican cheeses and liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

In 1974 Le Cadeau de César was the first tale to be published as a complete album prior to being serialised, with British translation Asterix and Caesar’s Gift appearing in 1977. The saga begins in Rome where two 20-year veteran legionaries drunkenly celebrate being honourably discharged. Tremensdelirious and Egganlettus eagerly look forward to being given their service reward: a parcel of land each.

Unfortunately, Tremensdelirious is overheard disparaging Caesar, but the sardonically cruel Emperor does not punish the old soldier or even withhold his pension. In fact, he gives the veteran a lovely portion of the Gaulish coast in Armorica: all he has to do is shift a few recalcitrant Gauls from their village on his new small holding…

A drunk but not a fool, the old soldier knows his fate is sealed and soon trades his dispensation to Lutetian inn-keeper Orthopaedix to settle his outstanding and prodigious bar-bill…

The first that the Indomitable Gauls know of this is when Orthopaedix, wife Angina and daughter Influenza roll up in their cart and try to take possession. After some hilarity the villagers go back about their business and the inn-keeper is left to suffer the fury of his wife at the uprooting of the family to a barbaric hovel where nobody acknowledges their claim.

No stranger to such a tongue-lashing, Chief Vitalstatistix takes pity on Orthopaedix, offering to let them stay and open an inn in the hamlet, but the standoffish villagers are angered by Angina’s superior airs and a riot breaks out on opening night…

The world-weary publican is ready to quit, but now humiliated Angina is in a status duel with Impedimenta and, determined to stay, forces Orthopaedix to challenge Vitalstatistix for the post of village Chief. As the campaign to win the support of the always-argumentative villagers intensifies, all manner of shoddy tactics, dubious lobbying and outright bribery takes place, with each party frantically trying to curry political favour from the fickle but extremely astute potential voters who know the value of their own support…

Meanwhile, simple, gentle, oafish Obelix has fallen under the spell of the lovely Influenza, and she leads him on cruelly to help out her mother’s naked ambition, leading to a clash with his best friend. Only Asterix seems aware that the discord could well be the death of the village and lead to Caesar’s ultimate triumph and before long the waters are further muddied when elderly Lothario Geriatrix declares himself a third party, splitting the potential vote even further.

The political crisis reaches boiling point when Tremensdelirious turns up, demanding his land-grant back: after all it’s illegal to sell them to Gauls, and Orthopaedix has no say in the matter…

When the ex-legionary turns violent, Asterix steps in to save the day and the old sot is driven off at sword-point. He doesn’t go far – only to the garrison of Laudanum where old comrade Egganlettus has re-enlisted – and together they blackmail Centurion Tonsillitus into attacking the Gauls to uphold Roman law and get back that “official” pension land which is every soldier’s right…

That kind of military intervention usually ends disastrously, but this time the village is hopelessly divided by political intrigue and backstabbing and even Asterix cannot unite them against their real and common foe. It seems that the Gauls must lose everything until Orthopaedix makes a supreme sacrifice to save the day…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this outrageous political thriller and satire on modern electioneering is as pertinent and punchy as it ever was, proving once again that these Gallic graphic masterpieces are perfect comics which everyone should read over and over again.
© 1972-1974 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories


By Jason, edited and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-934-0 (TPB)

John Arne Sæterøy works under the pen-name Jason. He was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and exploded onto the international cartoonists scene at age 30 with a series of short – often autobiographical – strips and graphic novels. His anthological first book, Lomma Full av Regn won the Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize) and forms the meat of this review. This is it translated into English and you can read it in paperback or digital editions.

He followed up with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is now an international icon, basking in fame and critical status, winning seven major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia and the USA and all areas in-between.

Later stories utilise a small repertory cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (as well as occasional movie and pop culture monsters), delivered in highly formal page layouts telling dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – rendered in a coldly austere and Spartan manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a simply vast range of emotionally telling tales on a wide spectrum of themes and genres to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make readers smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, but here fans and students can see the development of that unique vision in a series of pictorial tales – many clearly experimental in nature from – taken from Mjau Mjau, Forresten, Fidus, TEGN, Lomma Full av Regn and Humorparaden as the young artist grasps his muse but still hunts for a style vehicle to carry his thoughts…

An Introduction by novelist and educator James Sturm is preceded by an observational encounter with a human derelict and followed by short absurdist slice-of-life moments including an unpleasant confrontation in the desert and a manhunt across the world and beyond it that evolves into an examination of love.

The experimental procession is followed by edgy cartoon hijinks and therapeutic café discourses in anthropomorphic yarn ‘Carl Cat in What Time is It?’, after which an age-old masculine dilemma is covered in ‘What Shall I Do When I Lose My Hair?’

Autobiographical introspection informs single pagers ‘Film’, ‘Night’ and an untitled gag about playing solitaire, before ‘Bus’ and croquet-playing nuns give way to the tragic tale of ‘Edwin!’ whilst ‘Two Yrs’ deals with isolation and meagre youthful aspirations and ‘Invasion of the Giant Snails’ offers an early mash-up of genre movie scenes before we see that the Truth is not necessarily Out anywhere in spoof strip ‘XPilt’.

‘Corto Meowtese’ provides a loving salutation to classic European strips before ‘Space Cat’ offers similar tribute to Basil Wolverton’s legendary Space Hawk, whilst echoes of Samuel Beckett shade a tense situation involving Earnest Hemingway in ‘Papa’. Mordant laughs trace ‘My Life as a Zombie’ and penal absurdity triumphs in extended act of whimsy ‘10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …Lift Off!’ before relationship woes and human interaction are scrutinised in ‘Falling’.

Nightmarish surrealism underpins vignettes ‘Kill the Cat’, school shocker ‘Chalk’, home invasion chiller ‘Glass’ and police drama ‘the thief’ to conclude the narrative efforts but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The tales thus far have been monochrome strips interspersed with pin-up style images and found art and they are now supplemented with a wealth of multihued material including Colour covers for Mjau Mjau (#2, 4, 5), hilariously irreverent strip ‘Playing Trivial Pursuit with God’, Sleppefest and so much more.

A full Table of Contents then lists the origins of each offering with publishing information and author’s commentary.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery.

He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2008 Jason. Lomma Full av Regn and Mitt Liv Som Zombie published in Norway by Jippi Forlag. All right reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 16 – The Black Hills


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-83-0 (PB Album)

Doughty but dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie). This began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization. For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on the interior pages…

The Kent-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 73 translated books and still going strong.

Les collines noires was Morris & Goscinny’s 12th collaboration, originally serialised in 1963 (and the 21st album release in 1971): a tale of epic exploration and devious skulduggery that begins in Washington DC as a senate proposal to invite settlers into the untrammelled wilderness of the Cheyenne-infested Wyoming territory is provisionally passed despite the ardent proselytizing of passionate Senator Orwell Stormwind.

The measure is, however, made contingent upon a full scientific expedition and feasibility study of the region. All they need is a skilled guide to lead and defend the assessing team of cityfied scientists… someone tough, brave and extremely capable…

As Lucky Luke prepares for the expedition – consisting of utterly unprepared, naive and aging Professors Simeon Gurgle (Biology), Ira Doublelap (Geology), Darryl Bundlofjoy (Geometry) and Gustav Frankenbaum (Anthropology) – he is unaware that certain wealthy parties are taking steps to ensure that the expedition comes to a nasty end…

The trek west begins – and almost immediately concludes – with a lengthy and eventful rail journey with shady gunman Bull Bullets commencing a cunning campaign of sabotage. He has not reckoned on the perspicacity of Luke…

When framing the boffins for heinous crimes fails, the owlhoot steals the train, but even wrecking the “Iron Horse” proves insufficient to halt the convoy as the researchers take stagecoaches, other wheeled overland vehicles and even dabble painfully with horseback in their determined progression to the fabled and deadly Black Hills…

By the time they reach the Great Plains of the Midwest, Bull is running out of ploys and simply subcontracts to local killer the Nebraska Kid, but the plan to kill the ancient sages in highly-suspect duels comes a cropper at the first hurdle when old Frankenbaum reveals some unsuspected but still handy skills gained during his student days in Vienna…

Against all odds, the bumbling boffins make it to the edge of civilisation and open their appraisal of the terra incognita of Wyoming, forcing Bull Bullets to take direct action. His schemes to incite the Cheyenne to bloody slaughter don’t go the way he intended, though. The quartet of wise men – with the covert aid of Lucky – soon have the Indians on side and providing a full explanation of who and why their expedition has been targeted by villains unknown…

This is another perfect all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Yellow “M”


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-21-2

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless and universally engaging Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new anthology was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Le Marque Jaune was the third astounding exploit of the peerless pair, originally serialised from August 6th 1953 to November 3rd 1954, before being collected as the sixth drama-drenched album in 1956.

This moody stand-alone extravaganza was the first in the modern Cinebook sequence with the True Brits for once on home soil as they struggle to solve an eerie mystery and capture an apparently superhuman criminal…

The tale begins a few days before Christmas on a night raining cats and dogs. The guards at the Tower of London are dutifully going about their appointed tasks when a sudden power cut douses all the lights.

By the time Beefeaters and Yeomen can find alternative lighting the damage is done. The Jewel Room is ransacked, the Imperial Crown missing and the wall is defaced: emblazoned with a large letter M in a bold circle of yellow chalk.

The shocking travesty is but the latest in an outrageous series of incredible crimes by a mysterious malefactor the newspapers have taken to calling The Yellow M

Incensed and humiliated by the latest outrage, the Home Office assigns MI6 to the case and their top man Blake is seconded to assist Chief Inspector Glenn Kendall of Scotland Yard. So serious is the matter that Blake instantly cables his old comrade Professor Mortimer, dragging the bellicose boffin back from a well-deserved vacation in Scotland.

London is ablaze with rumour and speculation about the super-bandit. The crafty old warhorses adjourn to the Centaur Club in Piccadilly to discuss events, but as they settle in for a chinwag, Mortimer gets a fleeting impression that they are being spied upon…

Suddenly they are interrupted by four fellow members also hotly debating the case. Sir Hugh Calvin is a judge at the Central Criminal Court; Leslie Macomber edits the Daily Mail and Professor Robert Vernay is a prominent figure in the British Medical Association. They are all hotly disputing Dr Jonathan Septimus – of the Psychiatric Institute – who propounds a theory that the phantom felon is a prime example of his pet theory of “The Evil Influence of Cellular Development”…

The enlarged group continues the verbal back-and-forth into the small hours, and when they finally break up Vernay follows his habit of walking home. He does not make it. The police find only his hat and a chalked letter in a circle…

The flamboyant rogue seems to be everywhere. When Blake and Mortimer interview Macomber, Calvin and the terrified Septimus next day, the invisible enigma somehow gets close enough to leave his mark on the MI6 officer’s coat, before sending a mocking cable warning the Mail’s Editor that more and worse is coming…

That night Macomber is abducted from his office in plain view of his staff and Kendall is found in a dazed state after failing to protect Judge Calvin from a mystery intruder…

Septimus concludes that he is next and convinces Blake to get him out of London. The pair board a train for Suffolk with a complement of detectives, but even these precautions are not enough. The psychiatrist is impossibly plucked from the Express before it is wrecked in a horrific collision with another train.

In London, cerebral Mortimer has been researching another angle with the assistance of Daily Mail archivist Mr. Stone. The veteran investigator has found a decades-old link between the missing men…

It all revolves around a controversial medical text entitled “The Mega Wave” and a scandalous court case, but when the Professor tries to secure a copy of the incredibly rare volume from the British Museum Library, he is confounded by the Yellow M who invisibly purloins the last known copy in existence…

That evening Mortimer shares his thoughts with the returned Blake, unaware that his house has been bugged. Hours later, a mysterious cloaked intruder breaks in but has a fit after passing some of Mortimer’s Egyptian souvenirs. The noise arouses the household and the masked burglar is confronted by Blake, Mortimer and burly manservant Nasir. Incredibly, the villain defeats them all with incredible strength and electrical shocks, even shrugging off bullets when they shoot him…

Exploding through a second story window, the M laughs maniacally as they continue futilely firing before running off into the London night. In their shock the adventurers return to the drawing room and trip over the intruder’s listening devices…

Later, the recovered Kendall visits just as a package arrives. It contains an anonymous note from someone wishing to share information and directs Blake to a late-night rendezvous at Limehouse Dock. The message also contains a desperate note from the missing Septimus begging Blake to comply…

Well aware that it’s a trap and over Mortimer’s strenuous protests, Blake and Kendall lay plans to turn the meeting to their advantage. Left at home, the Professor is surprised by a late visit from Stone. The remarkably efficient researcher has found a copy of The Mega Wave and rushed over to show Mortimer.

As Blake manfully braves the foggy waterfront and walks into deadly danger, Mortimer is reading the tome, deducing who is behind the plot and perhaps even how the malign miracles are pulled off…

In Limehouse, the empty commercial buildings become a spectacular battleground as Blake and the police confront the masked man. The villain easily holds them all at bay with incredible feats of speed and strength, before breaking out of the supposedly impenetrable blue cordon and escaping.

However, in his destructive flight he tumbles into the frantic Mortimer who is dashing to warn his old friend. Changing tack, the boffin gives chase, doggedly following the superhuman enigma through parks and sewers. Eventually the pursuit leads underground and he finds himself in a hidden basement laboratory being assaulted by mind-control devices devised by the sinister mastermind actually behind the entire campaign of vengeance and terror…

As the smirking villain gives an exultant speech of explanation, triumph and justification, Mortimer sees the fate of the abducted men and meets the human guinea pig who has been terrorising London at the behest of a madman. It is the very last person he ever expected to see again, but even as he reels in shock, Blake and Kendall are on his trail, thanks to the efforts of an avaricious cabbie with a good memory for faces…

As Christmas Day dawns, Blake and Kendall lead a raid on the hidden citadel to rescue Mortimer, but the wily savant has already taken dramatic steps to secure his own release and defeat his insane, implacable opponent…

Fast-paced, action-packed, wry and magnificently eerie, this fabulously retro weird science thriller is an intoxicating moody mystery and a sheer delight for lovers of fantastic fiction. Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of the Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: All valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

In 1986 this story was reformatted and repackaged in a super-sized English translation, the last of six volumes with additional material (mostly covers from the weekly Tintin added to the story as eye-catching splash pages): part of a European push to win some of the lucrative Tintin and Asterix market here. They failed to find an audience and there were no more translations until January 2007 when Cinebook released this tome to far greater approval and much success. We’re now at 25 translated volumes and counting…

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.

This Cinebook edition – available in paperback album and digital formats – also includes a selection of colour cover sketches and roughs, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

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

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

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

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

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

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

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

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Omnibus 6: Asterix in Switzerland, The Mansions of the Gods, Asterix & the Laurel Wreath


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-489-2 (HB), 978-1-44400-491-5 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales began to increasingly show signs of trenchant satire and more directed social commentary…

As Astérix chez les Helvètes was the 16th serialised saga, originally running in Pilote #557-578 throughout 1970 and first translated into English as Asterix in Switzerland in 1973. It opens with the attempted murder of Roman official Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus; dispatched to Gaul to audit the corrupt, embezzling and utterly decadent Governor Varius Flavus.

The poisoning only fails due to the efforts of Getafix, but to keep the Roman alive – and further thwart Flavus – the sage needs a rare flower which only grows in the mountains of neighbouring country Helvetia (and that’s Switzerland, mein kinder). Always keen for a road trip, Asterix and Obelix quickly volunteer to fetch the fabled “silver star” or Edelweiss …

With Sinusitus sheltered in the village of the indomitable Gauls, Flavus’ only hope is to stop the happy voyagers. To that end he sends his most unscrupulous man to warn the equally repugnant and devious Curius Odus, Governor of Helvetia, to stop the Gauls at all costs…

Asterix and Obelix cannily avoid Roman sabotage plots, beat up many, many thugs and bullies, whilst marvelling at the quirkiness of their newfound Helvetian friends, with their mania for cleanliness, passion for melted cheese, yodelling, tidy, solicitous brand of medical treatments, cultured beverages, cultivated villages, lakes and banks and their fruit-based archery training programs for the young…

Although a far darker tale than most previous escapades, all the familiar gentle spoofing of national characteristics, cartoon action and hilarious lampoonery is incorporated into this splendid and beautifully rendered yarn. The search for the silver-star is, of course ultimately successful, despite an entire battalion of troops racing up a mountain after them, with a stunning alpine climax and an exceptionally different kind of ending…

 

Translated that same year was Le Domaine des Dieux (from Pilote #591-612, in 1971) wherein Caesar, determined to eradicate the last remnant of Gaulish resistance, tries to win by social planning and cultural imperialism. To that end he plans to cut down the great forest which surrounds the village and build a new town of lavish Roman apartments in the stylish, modern Roman manner: The Mansions of the Gods

Whiz kid architect Squaronthehypotenus leads the project, but his immigrant army of slave labourers soon founders when boar-loving Obelix strenuously objects to having his favourite hunting preserve torn down and paved over…

However, the massed might of Rome is insurmountable, and eventually many mighty oaks are felled. To counter this Getafix simply grows instant new ones whilst Asterix shares his magic potion with the increasingly fed up slaves…

This stalemate is only overcome when the wily Gauls seemingly surrender and allow the “Mansions of the Gods” to be built and stocked with middle-class colonists from Rome. After a rapid bump in trade as the villagers become tourist-trappers, the complacent property developers make their greatest mistake and rent an apartment to the Gaul’s uniquely gifted bard Cacofonix, leading to a rapid exodus of tenants and an inevitable and breathtaking final clash with the garrison of Aquarium, who had moved into the luxurious vacant apartments…

Drenched in trenchant observation of and jibes at the industrial relations conflicts, the then runaway speculation in new developments in France and the inexorable growth of “planning blight” (still painfully relevant today anywhere in the industrialised world), this tremendously effective satire is packed with gags and action and displays artist Uderzo’s sublime gift for caricature and parody – especially in the wonderful spoofs of real estate advertising campaigns…

 

Also debuting in Pilote, Les Lauriers de César came from issues #621-642, in 1971 and was given the fabulous Bell/Hockridge treatment in 1974 to become Asterix and the Laurel Wreath. It begins in Rome where Asterix and Obelix are arguing…

During a visit to Chief Vitalstatistix’s wealthy, snobbish and city-dwelling brother-in-law Homeopathix, the crusty old warrior gets too drunk and boasts that he can get something which all the merchant’s money cannot buy – a stew seasoned with Caesar’s fabled wreath of office.

Sober now and in dire danger of eternal embarrassment as well as the unflinching approbation of his sharp-tongued wife Impedimenta, the Chief has no option but to allow his two best men – the larger of whom had drunkenly egged him on at the family gathering and then volunteered to fetch the leafy headpiece – to travel to the heart of Caesar’s power and attempt the impossible…

At least Asterix knows it’s impossible; Obelix is quite happy to storm the Imperial Palace and just grab the wreath…

Luckily, reason prevails and the wily little warrior determines their only chance is infiltration, to which end Asterix sells them both as slaves. Unfortunately, they are bought by the wrong Roman. Osseus Humerus is an innocuous Patrician with a troublesome family, but as Asterix tries every trick to get their unsuspecting owner to return them to the Slave Auctioneer, he only endears himself even more to his very satisfied customer. So much so in fact, that Humerus entrusts them with a message to be delivered to Caesar himself.

Jealous major-domo Goldendelicius then accuses them of planning assassination and the heroes are locked in the dungeons – leaving them complete access to the entire palace…

Before long, the indomitable duo are wreaking havoc in the Imperial Court and playing hob with the usually predictable proceedings in the Arena of the Circus Maximus.

Seemingly untouchable, but no nearer the Laurel Wreath, the despondent Gauls finally seize their chance when they encounter again the recently promoted Goldendelicius. Rewarded by Caesar, the major-domo now holds a position of great responsibility: holder of the triumphal floral arrangement at Caesar’s next public engagement…

Sharp and deeply intriguing, this comedy of errors is spectacularly illustrated by Uderzo at the very top of his game, whilst Goscinny’s dry, wry script seamlessly rockets from slapstick set-piece to penetrating observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, with our unlikely heroes inevitably, happily victorious in every instance. Just as it should be…

Asterix epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1970, 1972-3 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.