Iznogoud Volume 1: The Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud


By René Goscinny & Jean Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-46-5

Lots of folks believe today’s unlucky! Bosh and tarradiddle! Let’s look at a really unfortunate comics icon and the genius who conceived him…

René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and therefore remains one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Paris-born – in 1926 – the immortal scribe was actually raised in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age the lad showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts. He graduated in 1942.

While working as a junior illustrator in an advertising agency in 1945, an uncle invited Goscinny to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France, young René settled in Brooklyn and pursued an artistic career. In 1948 he became an assistant for a little studio that included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”, with whom he produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977). Also temporarily in-house were Joseph Gillain (Jijé) and Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company providing comics for French magazine Spirou

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and ‘Jerry Spring’ Goscinny was made head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his life-long creative partner Albert Uderzo (Jehan Sepoulet, Luc Junior) as well as creating Sylvie and Alain et Christine (with “Martial”- Martial Durand) and Fanfan et Polo (drawn by Dino Attanasio).

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, creating magazines for general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and himself wrote and illustrated Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny seems to have invented the 9-day week. Using the pen-name Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 he began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing stories for many illustrators including Dino Attanasio, (Bob De Moor), Maréchal, Tibet, André Franquin and Berck, as well as crafting Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo.

Goscinny also wrote strips for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured his and Uderzo’s magnum opus Asterix the Gaul, and he also re-launched Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet whilst debuting Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard).

When Georges Dargaud bought out Pilot in 1960, Goscinny remained as editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television and in his spare time created a little something entitled Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962), illustrated by a Swedish-born artist named Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud after it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died in November 1977.

Jean Tabary was born in Stockholm, and began his epic comics career in 1956 on French mainstay Vaillant, illustrating Richard et Charlie. He graduated to the hugely popular boy’s adventure strip Totoche in 1959. The engaging head of a kid gang, Totoche spawned a spin-off, Corinne et Jeannot, and as Vaillant transformed into Pif, the lad even got his own short-lived comic; Totoche Posche.

Tabary drew the series until 1976, and has revived it in recent years under his own publishing imprint Séguinière /Editions Tabary.

In 1962 the illustrator teamed with René Goscinny to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was the villainous foil – power-hungry vizier Iznogoud – who stole the show… possibly the little rat’s only successful plot.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp, the revamped series moved to Pilote in 1968, evolving into a huge fan-favourite, spawning 30 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. Following their success, Goscinny & Tabary collaboratively created Valentin, and Tabary also wrote Buck Gallo for Delinx to draw.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary took over writing Iznogoud, moving to book length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short stories that typified their collaborations.

So, what’s it all about?

Like all the best comics it works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and translated here with the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the conniving little shyster has loftier ambitions – or as he is always shouting it – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The vile vizier is “aided” – and that’s me being uncharacteristically generous – in his schemes by bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf, and in this first album (available in paperback and eBook formats) they begin their campaign with ‘Kissmet’, wherein pandemonium ensues after a talking frog is revealed to be an ensorcelled Prince who can only regain human form if smooched by a human being.

Iznogoud sees an opportunity if he can only trick the simple-minded Caliph into puckering up; unfortunately but typically, the little rotter forgets that he’s not the only ambitious man in Baghdad…

‘Mesmer-Eyezed’ then finds him employing a surly stage hypnotist to remove the Caliph whilst ‘The Occidental Philtre’ sees him employ a flying potion obtained from a lost, jet-lagged western sorcerer, each with hilarious but painfully counter-productive results.

Tabary drew himself into ‘The Time Machine’ as a comic artist desperate to meet his deadlines who falls foul of a mystical time cabinet, but when he meets the vizier, that diminutive dastard can clearly see its Caliph-removing potential – to his eternal regret…

Soon after in ‘The Picnic’ Iznogoud takes drastic action, luring Haroun Al Plassid into the desert, but as usual his best-laid plans really aren’t, and the book then concludes with ‘Chop and Change’ as our indefatigable villain gets hold of a magic goblet which can switch the minds of any who drink from it, forgetting that Caliphs are important people who employ food-tasters…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully delightful word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales and the series has become a household name in France; said term has even entered French political life as a description for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and usually short in stature…

Eight albums were originally translated into English during the 1970s and 1980s without really making any little impact here, but since Cinebook’s revival the vile Vizier has finally caught on in a superb sequence of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy epics that found an appreciative audience among British kids of all ages.

Surely you and yours should number amongst them?
© 1967 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 12: The Rivals of Painful Gulch


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-60-1

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures.

His continuing exploits over seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (more than 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), 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 the dizzying heights of legend, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which 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 some 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 first amused British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun, and rode back into comics-town again in 1967 in Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as in numerous attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re well past sixty translated books and still going strong.

Lucky Luke – Les rivaux de Painful Gulch was the Dynamite Duo’s 10th collaboration (available in English on paper and as an e-book as The Rivals of Painful Gulch) and first published in Europe in 1962.

The outrageous tale draws on the legendary and infamous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families in West Virginia and Kentucky between 1863 and1891 and opens with our hero and his chatty horse peaceably proceeding until repeatedly stopped by bushwackers demanding the cowboy remove his hat.

With his patience rapidly evaporating Luke eventually learns the region and township of Painful Gulch is plagued with two warring families who shoot at each other at every opportunity. The O’Haras all have enormous red noses whilst huge wingnut ears are the genetic marker of every son of the O’Timmins clan…

The rest of the townsfolk live in fear of the ferociously feuding families because the only thing they have in common is a mutual inability to hit anything they aim at. They always miss their targets but the collateral damage to bystanders, building and livestock is appalling…

Ever keen to keep the peace, Lucky attempts to play peacemaker, but even he can’t stop the gun-crazed whackos from blasting way at each other and blowing up any civic amenity that might possibly benefit their hated foes.

Eventually, even Luke’s cool patience is exhausted and when the rapidly departing Mayor nominates our hero as his successor, the furious newcomer resorts to subterfuge, pandering and chicanery to establish a lasting détente.

…And when even that doesn’t work, the lone gunman plays his ultimate trump card and ropes in the weary, long-suffering wimmin-folk of the O’Timmins and O’Haras to settle the issue…

Slick, sly and sassy, The Rivals of Painful Gulch is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, lots of laughs and barrel-loads of buffoonery superbly crafted by comics masters, and offers a wonderful 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 © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths

By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)

Omnibus ISBN: 978-1-44400-423-6

Individual Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5: 978-0-75286-613-0 & 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export.

The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France…

In eager anticipation of the publication of the 37th Asterix volume next month, here a little refresher course for the classicist cognoscenti and a gentle but urgent plea to the uninitiated to get their collective fingers out and get au fait with one of Earth’s genuine comics phenomenons…

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977, and Uderzo no longer crafts the comedic chaos, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

In 1945 while working as junior illustrator in an ad agency his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time Rene created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo René generated Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and even illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny clearly patented the 40-hour day. Using the nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet, Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, as well as the fabulous and funny adventures of the inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) plus a little something called Asterix the Gaul, inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien Alberto dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. He showed artistic flair from an early age and became a French citizen when he was seven. At 13 years old he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

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

In the post-war rebuilding of France Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

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

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year later, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a little something called Asterix

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first ancient world adventure was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate dropped from two per year to one volume every three to five).

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

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

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the world-beating Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus, fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen, sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable resistors take the infiltrator in and, dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, the Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case and breaks into Compendium determined to teach the Romans a lesson. After driving them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale.

Be warned, however, that if pure continuity matters to you, only most recent British publisher Orion has released 36 albums in chronological order – and in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely artistic note, some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather unconventional approach to colour that might require you to wear sunglasses and put blinkers on your pets and staff…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there, Metallurgix the Smith, he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and tavern serving roast boar…

There is a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing…

Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format and the next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of Rome – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar.

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic duo track the kidnappers but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the permanent and imposing threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “obsessive”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British comic weekly Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) plus early issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232: 25th June 1966).

Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was a quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a rather radically altered state.

In these translations Asterix was “Beric”, Getafix the Druid “Doric” and Obelix was dubbed “Son of Boadicea”. More jingoistically, the entire village was editorially transported to England where a valiant population of True Brits never ever surrendered to the Roman Occupation!

Similar intellectual travesties occurred during two abortive early attempts to introduce the gutsy Gauls to America as a heavily re-edited family newspaper strip…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Jo, Zette & Jocko: THE STRATOSHIP H.22


Mr. Pump’s Legacy – Part 1 of THE STRATOSHIP H.22
ISBN 13: 978-0416015522(HB)                    978-1405212458(PB)

Destination New York – Part 2 of THE STRATOSHIP H.22
ISBN 13: 978-0-4160-1532-4 (HB)               978-1-4052-1243-4 (PB)

By Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)

George Remi, world famous as Hergé, had a long creative connection to Catholicism. At the behest of the Abbot Norbert Wallez, editor of Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, he had created Tintin before moving on to such strips as the mischievous Quick and Flupke, Tim the Squirrel in the Far West’, ‘The Amiable Mr. Mops’, ‘Tom and Millie’ and ‘Popol Out West’ – all while continuing the globe-trotting adventures of the dauntless boy reporter and his faithful little dog.

In 1935, between working on serialised Tintin epics The Blue Lotus and The Broken Ear, Remi was approached by Father Courtois, director of the French weekly newspaper Coeurs Vaillants. The paper already carried the daily exploits of Hergé’s undisputed star-turn, but Courtois also wanted a strip that would depict solid family values and situations that the seemingly-orphaned and independent boy reporter was never exposed to.

He also presumably wanted something less subversive than the mischievous, trouble-making working-class boy rascals Quick and Flupke

The proposed feature needed a set of characters that would typify a good, normal family: A working father, a housewife and mother, young boy, a sister, even a pet. Apparently inspired by a toy monkey called Jocko, Hergé devised the family Legrand. Jacques was an engineer, and son Jo and daughter Zette were average kids; bright, brave, honest, smart and yet still playful.

Mother stayed home, cooking and being rather concerned rather a lot. They had a small, feisty monkey for a pet – although I suspect as Jocko was tailless, he might have been a baby chimpanzee, which “As Any Fule Kno” is actually a species of ape.

The first adventure was the two-volume ‘The Secret Ray’ – only once published in English and consequently rarer than Hen’s teeth or monkey feathers. A ripping yarn of scientific bandits, gangsters, mad professors, robots and, regrettably, some rather ethnically unsound incidences of cannibal savages, this is very much a product of its time in too many respects. Although Hergé came to deeply regret (and wherever possible amend) his many early uses of that era’s racial stereotyping, the island dwelling natives in Le “Manitoba” Ne Répond Plus and L’ Éruption Du Karamako (which first ran in Coeurs Vaillants from January 19th 1936 to June 1937) will now always be controversial.

It’s a true pity that such masterful and joyous work has to be viewed with caution, read strictly in context and must be ascribed subtext and values which may never have been intended, merely because the medium is pictorial and its meaning passively acquired rather than textual, and which can therefore only be decoded by the conscious effort of reading.

I also wonder how much was a quiet, sensitive artist led by an aggressively proselytising, missionary Church’s doctrine and policy…

How much Church opposition was there to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 for example? And don’t get me started on Nazi Germany and the Vatican…

Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…

Mr. Pump’s Legacy is much less culturally – or commercially – troublesome. When the “American Collar-Stud King” John Archibald Pump dies in a car crash at 155 mph, he probably went surprised but happy.

That’s because he was a septuagenarian millionaire-technocrat and unrepentant speed-fiend (that’s velocity, not pharmacology) and adrenalin junkie. On his remarkably rapid passing he leaves a 10-million dollar prize: an incentive for the first person or persons to fly non-stop between New York and Paris at an average speed of 1000 kilometres per hour.

Accomplishing that modern miracle will secure said cash, but if nobody wins within one year the money will revert to his ne’er-do-well nephews…

The contest captures world imagination in the Age of Speed, and many try for the prize, including S.A.F.C.A., the aeronautical company that Jacques Legrand works for. Very soon both the engineer and his family become the targets of skulduggery and sabotage as his groundbreaking design gradually becomes a beautiful flying machine.

Assaults, poison-pen letters and threats, murder attempts, blackmail and even kidnapping; nothing can impede the project whilst canny Jo and Zette are around to foil them. Even when the completed plane is targeted by an aerial bombardment, the resourceful children have a solution. Starting the plane, they fly away from the bomber, but become lost in the night and clouds…

With their fuel almost exhausted they spot a tiny island in a vast sea and manage to land the plane safely. How can they return the ship in time to win the Prize? Without food, water, fuel or any idea where they are, can they survive long enough to be found?

Combining all-ages thrills and slap-stick comedy with magical art and superb designs, Hergé – a master-creator rapidly reaching the peak of his powers – produced in this cliff-hanging volume of adventure a true lost classic, and one worthy of much greater public attention.

 

A second oversized, fabulously-coloured volume concludes the saga in The Stratoship H.22, starring those capable Legrand children – and their pet monkey Jocko – who saved their father’s revolutionary high-speed plane from a bombing raid by flying it away only to emergency-land it on a tiny desolate island where they are marooned without food or fuel…

The islet is a desolate French Possession, and they discover from its only inhabitant that the next boat isn’t due for five months. Fortuitously, after a terrific storm, fuel drums wash ashore…

Scant weeks remain before the one-year deadline expires on Pump’s $10,000,000 death-bed challenge. Refuelling swiftly, Jo and Zette decide to return to France, even though they aren’t quite sure where it is…

Tragically the plucky youngsters overshoot and after a fearsome voyage, crash in the frozen Arctic where they are taken in by a tribe of Eskimos (yes, we’d call them Inuit now!). Jocko is separated from them and is rescued from an ice-floe by a passing ocean liner. Recognising the famous pet, the ship sends a message and the children are found. A rescue plane is dispatched with spare parts and the super-plane, once again piloted by the children, is returned to France.

With days remaining to make the attempt, the saboteurs step up their efforts to foil the French effort, but as ever childish ingenuity stymies their every dirty trick perpetrated as the super plane is restored to peak efficiency. With one day remaining, Jacques Legrand is finally ready to fly his brainchild into the history books. But when Jo and Zette come to see him off they find him and his crew all drugged into comas. With the deadline hard upon them, who can possibly fly the ship now..?

These beautiful graphic adventures are powerful and evocative fantasies for children, full of daring and accomplishment, and confirming the eternal truth that good kids will always defeat bad adults. If only the real world was as rewarding as these thrilling romps for the young-at-heart of all ages. And if only these superb classics were back in print…
© 1951, 1979, 2007 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai. All Rights Reserved.
English text © 1987, 2005, 2007 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Barracuda volume 1: Slaves


By Jean Dufaux & Jérémy Petiqueux translated by (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-165-5

Yo Ho-Ho, me Hearties: You know what day it is!

Pirates have been a cornerstone of popular fiction for centuries and these days the very best of the genre can usually be found issuing from European shores. An intriguing twist on the genre – simultaneously traditional and convention-challenging – is Barracuda, told in six volumes by prolific, edgy writer Jean Dufaux (Crusade, Monsieur Noir, Jessica Blandy, Murena) and sublime illustrator/colourist Jérémy Petiqueux (Complainte des landes perdues, Murena, The Knights of Heliopolis).

This first volume – Barracuda 1 – Esclaveswas released continentally in 2010 and translated for the benefit of English-speakers by Cinebook three years later. A lusty tale of barbaric acts by desperate men, Slaves opens as a Spanish vessel transporting gold and nobles of great merit is challenged by the ruthless pirate ship Barracuda. Aboard the raider, captain Blackdog encourages his murderously capable boy Raffy before the bloodletting commences…

Aboard the doomed transport Doña Emelia Sanchez Del Scuebo attempts to protect her children. There is little she can do for pretty Maria, but at least Emilio has a chance of avoiding death, after mother dresses her darling boy in the clothing of a female servant…

When the defenders finally falter, Blackdog finds a moment for sport and entertainment as valiant seaman De La Loya finds himself the last man standing. Refusing to surrender, he is challenged to duel by bold Raffy. The fight is fast and furious but fortune favours the older man and the boy is humiliated by being spared from a noble death in return for the sailor’s liberty and freedom…

Whilst dividing the spoils and heading back to the pirate nest on Puerto Blanco, Blackdog discovers something of great value. The Del Scuebos possess a cursed gem of immeasurable value and his new captive holds a map to its horrific hidden location…

Hunger for the Kasura Diamond grips the pirate captain, and when the Barracuda reaches the hidden haven of the corsairs, he remains aboard ship, consulting with the township’s witch-woman Madame If-No rather than re-immerse himself in the literally cut-throat politics of the island…

Fate has other plans however, and when the captured women reach slave-master Ferrango’s auction block the noble family are bought by agents of three covertly warring factions. The matron is purchased and rescued by the island’s supposedly neutral mission-monks The Companions of the Cross, but her pretty daughter is scooped up by the abusive slave-master himself.

Emilio – still considered by all to be mere maid-in-waiting Emilia – is sold for an astounding sum to the distant and incomprehensibly enigmatic Englishman Mr. Flynn

In the harbour, Blackdog readies to ship out in search of the cursed diamond even as assorted factions act against each other in Puerto Blanco. When a monk-sponsored rescue bid falters a desperate pursuit of little Maria goes brutally awry and Raffy is severely wounded. Although If-No saves his life, the boy is too ill to sail with his father and remains on the island as intrigues and double-dealing seem set to topple Puerto Blanco’s elected Governor.

As a woman in the Pirate Brotherhood, her position has always been precarious, but with rumours abounding of Blackdog’s mystery voyage tension and dissent mount to a deadly pitch.

And then the Barracuda is gone, slipping into the night in search of untold bounty and risking the wrath of hell itself…

To Be Continued…

Lavishly realised and deviously contrived, this carefully considered saga of sinister swashbucklers and fearsome freebooters gradually unfolds with measured pace, carefully nudging its ensemble cast – with not a hero in the bunch – towards an unknown but certainly violent and thrilling conclusion. Along the way the reader can enjoy the juggling of family tensions, wicked ambition, political chicanery, rapacious greed and obsessive vengeance with the spin only sea-action and supernatural terror can provide…

This is pure genre wonderment: unmissable stuff which could only be improved upon by being read on a sandy beach or near rocky caves with lapping surf and constantly crashing waves…
© Dargaud, Benelux (Dargaud – Lombard s. a. 2010 by Dufaux & Jérémy. All rights reserved. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd.

The Littlest Pirate King


By David B. & Pierre Mac Orlan, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-403-0

Just one more day, me Buckos!

Tim Burton has pretty much cornered the market on outlandish, spooky fairytales and edgy all-ages fantasy, but if you and your kids have a fondness for scary fables and macabre adventure with a uniquely European flavour you might want to seek out this supremely impressive yarn of unquiet buccaneers and phantom piracy.

Pierre Mac Orlan was one of the nom-de-plumes of celebrated French author, musician and performer Pierre Dumarchey who between his birth in 1882 and death in 1970 managed to live quite a number of successful, productive and action-packed lives.

As well as writing proper books for sensible folk, he also produced a wealth of artistic materials including children’s tales like this one, hundreds of popular songs and quite a bit of rather outré pornography.

A renowned Parisian Bohemian, Mac Orlan sang and played accordion in nightclubs and cabaret, and was wounded in the trenches in 1916, subsequently becoming a war correspondent. After the conflict ground to a conclusion he evolved into a celebrated film and photography critic as well as one of France’s most admired songwriters and novelists.

By contrast, David B. is a founder member of the groundbreaking strip artists conclave L’Association, and has won numerous awards including the Alph’ Art for comics excellence and European Cartoonist of the Year.

He was born Pierre-François “David” Beauchard on February 9th 1959, and began his comics career in 1985 after studying advertising at Paris’ Duperré School of Applied Arts. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism, visual metaphor, high and low cultural icons, as seen in such landmarks as Babel and Epileptic and Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations are augmented here by a welcome touch of morbid whimsy and stark fantasy which imbues this particular gem with a cheery ghoulish intensity only Charles Addams and Ronald Searle could possibly match.

Mac Orlan’s tale perhaps owes more to song than storybook, with its oddly jumpy narrative structure, but M’sieu B.’s canny illustration perfectly captures the true flavour and spirit of grim wit as it recounts the tale of the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman, damned sailors cursed to wander the oceans, never reaching port, destroying any living sailors they encounter and craving nothing but the peace of oblivion.

Their horrendous existence forever changes when, on one of their periodic night raids, they slaughter the crew of a transatlantic liner but save a baby found on board. Their heartless intention is to rear the boy until he is old enough to properly suffer at their skeletal hands, but as the years pass the eagerly anticipated day becomes harder and harder for the remorseless crew to contemplate…

Stark and vivid, scary and heartbreakingly sad as only a children’s tale can be, this darkly swashbuckling romp is a classy act with echoes of Pirates of the Caribbean (which it predates by nearly a century) that will charm, inspire and probably cause a tear or two to well up.
© 2009 Gallimard Jeunesse. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 3


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-357-4

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent blasted off in 1967 in the November 9th edition of Pilote (#420) in an introductory tale which ran until February 15th 1968. Although a huge hit, graphic album compilations only began with second tale – The City of Shifting Waters – as the creators concerned considered the first yarn more a work-in-progress and not quite up to their preferred standard.

You can judge for yourself, by getting hold of the first hardcover compilation volume in this cinematic tie-in sequence…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction comics triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable hits of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and the cosmic excursions of Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, which all – with Valérian – boosted public reception of the genre and led in 1977 to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series became) was a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really so much), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political social commentary, starring (at least at first) an affable, capably unimaginative by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual, incautious or criminally minded chrononauts…

In the course of that debut escapade Valerian picked up fiery, far smarter Laureline, who originated in the 11th century before becoming our hero’s assistant and deputy. The indomitable lass was hot-housed as a Spatio-Temporal operative and soon accompanying Val on missions throughout time and space… luckily for him…

Valérian adventures were initially serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of 13th mission The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending exploits simply premiered as all-new, complete graphic novels, until the saga ended in 2010.

(One clarifying note: in the canon “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Bad Dreams was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was designated number #0).

This terrific third oversized hardback compendium – released to capitalise on the summer’s spectacular movie adaptation from Luc Besson, and also available as an eBook – once again boasts a wealth of text features, including the final chapter of ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin’.

Stan Barets highlights the creative highpoints and methodology of illustrator Méziéres in his essay Méziéres, or the Art of Bande Dessinee’ with plenty of epic examples, garnishing those delights with sidebar ‘Méziéres Seen by Christin’ before throwing a well-deserved spotlight on ‘Évelyne. Tranlé: The One by Whom the Colour Comes’…

‘And Meanwhile’ then explores the artist’s mid-1970s other strips: specifically, semi-autobiographical ‘Mon Ameriqué à moi’ (Pilote, 1974) and sci fi shorts ‘Les Baroudeurs de l’espace’ (1976) and ‘Retour à la nature’ (1979), both seen in aforementioned Métal Hurlant. This is backed up by Méziéres’ own photo-feature reminisces of his 18 months living the American dream as a cattleman in Montana, Wyoming and Utah as recounted in ‘Far West 67 – The Adventures of a Parisian Cowboy’, before ‘The Stories in this Book’ provides context and a taste of things to come in the stories that follow…

Once more re-presenting a trio of classic formative fantasy-fests, the fabulous fun resumes here with Ambassador of the Shadows originally from Pilote July to October 1975.

The craftily subversive story finds the wide-ranging Spatio-Temporal agents assigned to an arrogantly obnoxious Terran diplomat transferring to the cosmically cosmopolitan space edifice known as Point Central.

Over eons many races and species have converged there for commerce and social intercourse by the simple expedient of bolting their own prefabricated and constructed segment to the colossal, continually expanding higgledy-piggledy whole…

With no central authority, different species take turns presiding over the amassed multitudes via the immense Hall of Screens. However, no decent species would ever physically leave its own tailor-made environment…

And now it is Earth’s turn to take the lead, but, as they vector in for landing, the pompous martinet they are escorting informs Valerian and Laureline of a slight modification in their orders. They are still to act as the Ambassador’s bodyguards but must stay extra-vigilant as Earth is going to uses its term in office to bring “order and discipline” to the lackadaisical way the universe is run.

Think of Britain in the months leading up to the Brexit referendum, if you like…

The assembled races will be invited to join a federation run – and policed – by Earth …and just to make sure, there’s a Terran space fleet of 10, 000 warships manoeuvring just out of Point Central’s sensor range…

Laureline is outraged, but like Valerian can do nothing except acquiesce. For her pains, she is put in charge of the mission’s funds: a Grumpy Transmuter from Bluxte, which can mass-excrete any currency or object of trade or barter forcibly swallowed by its always-scowling other end…

All kitted-out, the human trio and living cash-machine spacewalk to Point Central, but before the mission can begin an alien ambush occurs. Mystery warriors using Xoxos cocoon guns inundate the attending officers and dignitaries and only Valerian escapes plastic entombment.

As the raiders make off with the Ambassador, the Spatio-Temporal Agent gives chase but is easily captured and dragged off too…

By the time Laureline breaks loose they are long gone and she is left to pick up the pieces with stiff-necked human bureaucrat Colonel Diol, Under-Chief of Protocol. Determined but with little to go on, Laureline is cautiously optimistic when a trio of aliens come knocking. Ignoring Diol’s protest at the shocking impropriety, she invites the scurrilous Shingouz into the Earth Segment. They are mercenary information-brokers and claim to have been invited by the Ambassador before his abduction…

From them – and thanks to the discomforted efforts of the Grumpy Transmuter – she purchases a few hints and allegations as well as a map of Point Central which might lead to Earth’s secret allies in the cosmopolis…

With the constantly bleating Diol reluctantly in tow, Laureline undertakes a quest through the underbelly of the station, seeing for the first time the mute but ubiquitous Zools: a much-ignored under-race who have been maintaining Point Central for millennia.

The Earthlings’ perambulations take them to the centaur-like Kamuniks: barbaric feudal mercenaries allied to Galaxity and appreciative of humanity’s martial prowess. Over a lavish feast – liberally augmented by another painfully exotic payment courtesy of the overworked Transmuter – the warriors steer Laureline towards potential suspects the Bagulins: low grade muscle-for-hire who frequent the tawdry red-light sector run by The Suffuss

Despite Diol’s nigh-apoplexy, the adamant and inquisitive Laureline follows the trail to the sin segment where she experiences the particular talents of the hosts: amorphous shapeshifters who can make any carnal dream literally come true.

Well into overtime now, the exhausted Grumpy buys the help of one Suffuss who smuggles the junior Spatio-Temporal operative into a Bagulin party and the next link in the chain…

And so it goes as, with occasional prodding from the Shingouz, Laureline gets ever closer to the enigmatic beings truly pulling all the strings on Point Central whilst elsewhere Valerian frees the Ambassador from bizarre, ethereal captivity only to find the doctrinaire war-maker is undergoing a peculiar change of heart.

Seemingly landing their deserted ship on a paradisiacal “world with no name” they bask in an idyllic paradise and converse with noble primitives who have an uncanny aura of great power.

These beings built the original section of Point Central – and ruled the universe – before withdrawing from mundane material affairs, but they still maintain a watch over their creation from the shadows and won’t allow any race or species to dominate or conquer their pan-galactic melting pot of space…

In a more physical portion of reality, Laureline follows her final clues to reach the strange central area where Val and the Ambassador lie dazed and confused. By the time they all return to the Earth Segment a few major changes have taken place in the governance of the immense star station but, oddly, the Ambassador doesn’t seem to mind…

Socially aware and ethically crusading, this is one of the smartest, most beguilingly cynical comics tales to catch the 1970s wave of political awareness and still ranks amongst the very best to explore the social aspects and iniquities of colonialism.

And, of course, there’s the usual glorious blend of astounding action, imaginative imagery and fantastic creatures to leaven the morality play with space-operatic fun-filled, visually breathtaking and stunningly ingenious wide-eyed wonderment…

On the False Earths first ran in the newly monthly Pilote (issues #M31 to M34, from 30th November 1976 to March 1st 1977) before being collected as seventh album Sur le terres truquées – spectacularly reinforcing the “Spatio-Temporal” aspect of our heroes through a beguiling cosmic conundrum…

The mission starts in frantic full flow as a very familiar figure fights valiantly and dies ignominiously during a pitched battle in 19th century Colonial India. He doesn’t go easy, however, using his ray gun to disintegrate an attacking tiger before beaming back crucial data stolen from a sinister maharaja equipped with technology he simply shouldn’t have…

In deep space, distraught Laureline sees her man die, but her protests are ignored by heartless, man-despising historian Jadna. The scholar cares little for the oafish warrior undertaking a top-secret mission for her. After all, there’s plenty more where he came from…

That’s literally the case as, a little later, another Valerian infiltrates Victorian London Society; breaking into a swank Gentleman’s Club and crashing a meeting of the Empire’s greatest movers and shakers. Once again, these potentates are communicating with a hidden high-tech master, and once again the star-cop expires trying to determine the mastermind’s exact whereabouts.

He resurfaces in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1895 where enquiries arouse the wrath of the local tongs. This Valerian perishes after noting an increasing number of anachronisms – such as an Easy Rider on a chopped Harley Davidson motorbike…

From their secure vantage point on a vast satellite, Jadna and Laureline see their agent expire in another artificially constructed historical microcosm. The callous historian ruminates on their mystery opponent: a being capable of reshaping matter, crafting perfect little worlds and recreating human eras with the skill of a master artist whilst remaining utterly hidden from all their probing searches.

If the enigma hadn’t been detected rifling through Terran time zones – presumably for research – no one would even know of its existence…

The enigmatic creator’s simulacrums are progressively advancing through brutal yet always significant periods of Terran history, but each visit by Valerian brings the investigation team closer to the mysterious maker’s actual location. Soon our hero is cautiously exploring a slice of Belle Époque France, but his enigmatic quarry is cognizant of the constant intrusions and has taken a few liberties with verisimilitude.

Waiting in ambush for Valerian are American gangsters with Tommyguns…

Rubbed out before he can even begin, Valerian is swiftly replaced by another short-lived duplicate whilst the original and genuine lies comatose in a clone-command tank. This last rapid substitution, however, finally allows the watching women to zero in on their target’s true location and they instantly shift their ship through the Universal Continua to reach the incredible being’s astounding base… and none too soon, as Jadna posits that the creature’s next construction will most likely be World War I…

She is proved painfully correct. As they ready themselves for a confrontation with the maker, Laureline and the scholar realise that the astral citadel is a perfect replica of a Great War battlefield. Seizing the initiative, Jadna activates and musters all the remaining clones – as well as the original real McCoy – programming them to play the marauding “boche” in an apocalyptic re-enactment simply as a diversion to allow her to get to the impossibly powerful being she so admires…

Caught up in the incomprehensible slaughter and its bizarre aftermath the Spatio-Temporal agents can only watch in astonishment as Jadna and the seemingly all-powerful artisan discover just how much they have in common…

Trenchant, barbed, socially aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and On the False Earths is one of the sharpest, most intriguing sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb twist in the tale to delight and confound even the most experienced starfarer…

Wrapping up the interstellar ultra-cosmic antics is Heroes of the Equinox: a sparkling, over-the-top spoof of superheroes and political ideologies which also found time and space to take a good-natured, gentle poke at the eternal battle of the sexes. It was originally serialised in monthly Pilote #M47 – M50 (covering March 21st to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as eighth album Les héros de l’équinoxe.

Spectacularly designed and inspirationally conceived, the story starts as a quartet of vastly disparate planetary champions depart for the distant and distressed world of Simlane, where an ancient and cultivated civilisation is experiencing a uniquely tragic crisis…

The heroes comprise three dedicated nigh-fanatical supermen, whilst Galaxity – far more concerned with courting public opinion than actually helping – have packed off a handy and presently unoccupied Spatio-Temporal agent named Valerian, just to show willing…

With Laureline mocking him for the entire trip, Earth’s Prime Champion touches down on Simlane to be greeted by a crowd of effusive doddering oldsters from a glorious city of once-magnificent but now crumbling edifices all with an incredible story to tell.

The inhabitants of the derelict tourist trap are uniformly old, sterile and desperately in need of a new generation of children to repopulate the world, but their manner of achieving their goal is unique. For the lifetime of their civilisation, every hundred equinoxes the best and bravest males of Simlane venture to isolated Filine, Island of Children in a fierce and often deadly competition. The winner then somehow spawns a whole new generation in incredibly quick time, who sail back on little boats to re-people the world.

That didn’t go entirely according to plan last time, so the planetary leaders have invited four prime specimens from other worlds to do the necessary this time – much to the anger and dismay of a creaky host of crotchety, doddering indigenous elderly would-be sire-heroes…

At the packed but painfully weathered Great Theatre the assembled geriatrics are treated to a destructive floor show as the brazen alien warriors display their prowess.

Bombastic Irmgaal of Krahan is a godlike superman wielding a flaming sword whilst proletarian technological wonder Ortzog of worker’s paradise Boorny reveals the power of a united people through his blazing, flailing chains. Mystic nature boy Blimflim of elysian, Arcadian Malamum calmly displays the gentle irresistibility of the spirit harnessed to willpower. Each couldn’t be more different yet the result of each display is catastrophic destruction.

When eager eyes turn to Galaxity’s representative, Valerian simply shoots a chip off a distant stone cornice with his blaster… to tumultuous disinterest…

Dwarfed by Herculean alien supermen, he shambles off to prepare for the great contest and dawn finds him with his fellow contestants, ready to brave the stormy skies for the grand prize and glory…

This is one of the most visually extravagant and exuberant of all the albums, with a huge proportion of the book dedicated to the fantastic foursome overcoming their particular challenges and monstrous foes in astounding demonstrations of bravura puissance and awesome might… well, three of them anyway. The earthman’s travails are generally nasty, dirty, smelly and ingloriously dangerous…

Eventually however, all the warriors prove themselves a credit to their particular lineage and system before facing one final test. It’s in the form of a simple question: “If you sired the next generation how do you envision their future?”

Each strange visitor propounds a glorious agenda of expansion according to the customs and principles of his own culture but it’s the rather diffident and lacklustre vision of the Terran slacker that wins the approval of the incredible being who is the eternal mother of Simlane’s repopulation…

When the trio of failed supermen wash up on the shores of the city, the people realise who has fathered their soon-to-arrive new sons and daughters and patiently wait for the equinox tide to bring them over.

Laureline, horrified to discover that each successful father is never seen again, quickly sails to the Island of Children and navigates with comparative ease the trials which so tested the wonder men. She arrives at the misty citadel atop Filine in time to see an army of disturbingly familiar-looking toddlers tumble into little sailboats…

Broaching the idyllic paradise further she finally meets the Great Mother and sees what the breeding process has made of her reprehensible, sleazy, typically male partner…

Reaching an accommodation with the gargantuan progenitor, Laureline negotiates the release of her partner and soon they are winging home to Terra, with him having to listen to just what she thinks of him whilst praying Galaxity’s medical experts can make him again the man he so recently was…

Sharp, witty and deliciously over-the-top, this tale is a wry delight, spoofing with equanimity human drives, notions of heroism and political and philosophical trendiness with devastating effect.

Whether super-heroic fascism, totalitarian socialism or even the woolly mis-educated, miscomprehensions of new age eco-fundamentalists who think aromatherapy cures broken legs or that their kids are too precious to be vaccinated and too special to share herd immunity, no sacred cow is left soundly unkicked…

However, no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and Heroes of the Equinox is one of the most entertaining sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb sting in the tale…

These stories are some of the most influential comics in the world, timeless, thrilling, funny and just too good to be ignored. The time is now and there’s no space large enough to contain the sheer joy of Valerian and Laureline, so go see what all the fuss is about right now…
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Thorgal volume 4: The Archers and Alinoe


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-067-0

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison became chief scribe. In 2016, he and Rosiński released the 35th epic-album Le Feu écarlate.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985 American publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover book translations (that’s where I first encountered The Archers) but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgium series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fourth double-album edition (comprising 7th saga Alinoë and 8th epic Les Archers from 1985 and 1986 respectively) finds Thorgal Aegirsson and his new family trying to rebuild their lives in splendid – and secure – isolation…

What Has Gone Before: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne. For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety…

Alinoe opens on those idyllic shores as Thorgal notices his rapidly growing boy Jolan has somehow learned how to write the runes of the Viking people. The lonely lad has been growing increasingly strange of late, relating things he cannot possibly know, and the parents are painfully aware that the blood of alien supermen runs in his veins…

Short on supplies, Thorgal ships off to the mainland for a few days intense trading, leaving Aaricia and Jolan to fend for themselves, and almost immediately strange events begin to trouble the apprehensive mother…

Firstly, Jolan claims he has been playing with a strange, green-haired boy named Alinoe. Aaricia is prepared to chalk that up to a life starved of companionship, but the new, strangely inscribed bracelet her son wears is certainly real enough, and when Jolan suddenly changes his story she begins to fear the worst…

Carefully spying on her boy, she soon discovers that Alinoe is a solid breathing boy, but a mute, mysterious and increasingly menacing one…

After cornering the green-haired stranger, she is horrified to see the stranger commit suicide and utterly terrified when Alinoe returns and attacks her in the homestead. Slowly the realisation creeps in that the demon child is a manifestation of Jolan’s latent telepathic powers, but things rapidly escalate when the creature grows beyond the boy’s conscious and unconscious control, manifesting as a real and present danger to both mother and child…

A classic horror yarn with a startling and stunning conclusion, Alinoe neatly segues into a bold action romp as The Archers switches to the mainland where bold bandits Kriss of Valinor and Sigwald the Burnt swipe a holt relic from a Caledonian tribe before heading south.

Thorgal meanwhile is again making a supply run from his island home but has the dire misfortune to encounter a savage squall…

Close to drowning, Thorgal is saved by a bombastic youth who braves the storm to guide him to land. Tjall the Fiery is a likable rogue who takes the stranded, suddenly impoverished viking to see his uncle Argun; a brilliant weapon-smith and armourer known to all as Tree Foot.

A master maker of unique arrowheads and other clever gadgets, the old man has a potential solution to Thorgal’s plight. An archery contest in nearby Umbria offers enough gold to buy a new, weapons and supplies. With nothing to lose, the shipwrecked mariner considers the proposition but only agrees after sinister Sigwald and Kriss drop by Tree Foot’s forge in search of fresh weapons.

The bandits make a big impression on Thorgal, but Kriss makes an even bigger one on lusty, impressionable young Tjall…

Later, after setting off for Umbria, the archers encounter the bandits once more: captives of a band of vengeful Caledonians seeking redress for a stolen religious relic. Thorgal’s scheme to free them is almost flawless, and only founders because outraged, liberated Kriss demands reparations in blood…

Following an utterly unnecessary slaughter the thieves and heroes have a falling out over Kriss’ mad behaviour…

The tournament in Umbria is a masterclass in martial skill, competitor-skulduggery and regal cruelty with the local king delighting in humiliating and endangering his contestants in equal measure. However, after days of competition the purse is finally awarded collectively to Tree Foot, Thorgal, Tjall and Kriss, but the bandit – never a fan of sharing – quickly absconds with it all…

Unsurprised but resolute, her fellow champions set off in pursuit only to find their quarry and Sigwald have been cornered by another, far larger band of Caledonians. The barbarians only want their holy gem back and a rightful measure of retribution: All Thorgal and his companions have to do is ride away…

How can they choose any other course but the most sensible one?

Fierce, funny and phenomenally gripping, this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant hero.

Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1985 Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard). English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Sartre


By Mathilde Ramadier & Anaïs Depommier, with supplemental colour by Nawelle Saidi and translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-101-7

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created biographies. The latest release is certainly one of the most challenging yet, closely examining the life and career of one of the most influential and controversial figures of the 20th century.

Political activist Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (June 21 1905-April 15 1980) emerged from a mixture of humble and elevated ancestors, rejected religion, staunchly championed pure Marxism, wrote plays, novels, biographies, critiques and intellectual tracts to become one of France’s greatest literary and philosophical figures. He simultaneously refined and honed the rationalist disciplines of Phenomenology and Existentialism until they became arguably the major motivational forces of the era.

He also led a pretty racy and dangerous life…

Originally released in 2015 as Sartre – Une existence, des libertés, the introspective inspection of the man, his moments and his amazing fellows was lovingly crafted by lifelong friends Mathilde Ramadier (writer) and Anaïs Depommier (artist), and begins – after Introduction ‘A Philosopher’s Life’ by scholar Marc Crépon – with a detailed graphic genealogy all culminating in the arrival of the star of our piece: “A whole man, composed of all men and as good as all of them and no better than any”

Sartre was an extraordinary mind in extraordinary times and ‘Part One: “I was never taught to be obedient”’ scrupulously traces – through small telling incidents and vignettes of conversation – his early years and relationships with fellow star academicians-in-waiting such as Simone de Beauvoir…

‘Part Two: “The Constellation of the Beaver”’ deconstructs the pre-war years and French occupation when Sartre and fellow writers such as Albert Camus turned their particular gifts into sustained acts of rebellion as publishers of Resistance newspapers and pamphlets, even as the shockingly open relationship with Simone pulled our unlikely hero in some very strange directions…

And all the while, Sartre’s ideas were crystallising, his works multiplied and his impact took him from Europe to all corners of the world. As social unrest and political iniquity became increasing important, a next generation matured in an increasingly totalitarian Gaullist France.

‘Part Three: “Passions and Impossibility”’ traces Sartre’s increasing global station and adherence to resistance of oppression – physical or intellectual – and culminates here with the how and why of his refusal of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964…

There’s an uncomfortable jump then to an ‘Epilogue’ set on Saturday, April 19th 1980 when all of Paris assembled to mourn his passing – which tempts me to believe a follow-up volume is in the offing – after which the bonus features start with text-essay ‘Summary of Events from 1964-1980’ before embellishing the overall learning experience with an illustrated list of the movers and shakers in ‘About those who stood alongside Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’ and offering a ‘Selective Bibliography’ for further study…

Impassioned, engaging, sophisticate and perhaps just a little too intellectual in places (Yes; I Know! How can anything possibly be Too Intellectual?), Sartre is a superb entrée into the mind and world of an inveterate rebel. This enticing rendezvous with a singular creative individual is an unmissable treat for lovers of comics with more than mere flash and dazzle to recommend them.
© Dargaud 2015. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Kelly Green volume 1: The Go-Between


By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 978-2-205-06574-2

After years of crafting superb – if thematically anodyne – wholesome family comic strips, two of America’s most gifted graphic storytellers were given the chance to work on a far more adult and potentially controversial feature with no creative restrictions. The result was the second-best female adventurer (after Modesty Blaise) in comics history.

Leonard Starr was born in 1925 and began a long and illustrious creative career in the Golden Age of American comicbooks, before transiting to legitimacy by working in advertising and eventually settling in the challenging but acceptable arena of newspaper strips.

Starr cut his teeth on Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch and the immensely popular yet now all-but forgotten Don Winslow of the Navy during the 1940s, perfected his skills drawing stories for Simon & Kirby’s landmark Romance line and crime stories for EC, and freelanced extensively for ACG and DC Comics until he left the industry for Madison Avenue.

He returned to graphic narrative in 1955 when he ghosted newspaper monolith Flash Gordon.

In 1957 he created On Stage, a soap-opera strip starring aspiring actress Mary Perkins for The Chicago Tribune. He left the globally syndicated feature in 1979 to revive Harold Gray’s legendary landmark Little Orphan Annie (continuing until his retirement in 2000), whilst simultaneously creating ‘Cannonball Carmody’ for Belgium’s Tintin magazine.

An experienced TV scripter since 1970, Starr worked as head writer on Thundercats, and briefly returned to comicbooks in the 1980s. He received the National Cartoonists Society Story Comic Strip Award for On Stage in 1960 and 1963, and their Reuben Award in 1965. He died in 2015.

Stan Drake (1921-1997) was another vastly experienced cartoonist who began his career in the 1940s. His two most famous series are the superbly compelling romantic drama-strip The Heart of Juliet Jones (co-created in 1953 and initially written by Elliot Caplin) and the iconic Blondie which he took over illustrating in 1984.

Drake started drawing career for the pulps, specifically Popular Detective and Popular Sports, before moving on to newly formed Timely Comics and The Black Widow. His path was briefly diverted in 1941 after he enlisted in the US Army, and when hostilities ceased he also worked in advertising until 1953 and the regular pay-check of Juliet Jones. In September 1956, Drake barely survived the road accident which took the life of Alex Raymond, but was soon quickly back at his drawing board.

In the late 1970s he began Pop Idols – a syndicated series of celebrity biographies – whilst still working on Juliet Jones (which he left in 1989) and Blondie (which he drew until his death in 1997). During that incredibly productive time – between 1982 and 1988 – he found the odd moment to work on Kelly Green as well as the occasional job for Marvel Comics.

To relax, he painted portraits of his cartoonist friends (now on display in the Comic Artists Museum in Sarasota, Florida). He received the National Cartoonists Society Story Comic Strip Award for 1969, 1970, and 1972 for The Heart of Juliet Jones.

So, who is Kelly Green?

Debuting in 1981 as a black-&-white serial in legendary French magazine Pilote, the comics serial was a boldly contemporary antiheroic drama, with a deft, light tone and grimly mature themes. Within a year, colour Kelly Green albums were flying off shelves across Europe, and eventually in the English-speaking world, too.

The eponymous lead is a woman with a past. Literally cursed by her looks, Kelly is a stunning redhead men would kill and die for. She only escaped her traumatic, mysterious history and foredoomed future when she married Dan Green, a respected New York cop.

Tragically her comfortable redemptive world comes crashing down when he’s set-up by one of his own superiors and killed during a high-profile raid…

Devastated, Kelly is pulled out of a suicidal depression by Spats Cavendish, Jimmy Delocke and the man-mountain called “Meathooks”: three career felons the straight-shooting cop had not only busted but then successfully rehabilitated.

Owing their new lives to the dead hero, this trio of honourable rogues take the grieving, angry widow under their collective wing, teaching her all the tricks of survival in a dirty world and even finding her a new occupation…

Despising the criminals that Dan fought and who finally murdered him, but loathing even more the corrupt police force that orchestrated his death, the bereft woman becomes a professional “Go-Between”: a paid intercessionary navigating the gulf dividing crooks and victims who don’t want police involvement. Apparently, this liaising job is completely legal and there’s never a shortage of clients…

Her first case involves paying off a blackmailer and safely retrieving his damaging “evidence” for a prominent Miami millionaire, but in a dazzling blur of twists and counter-twists the job leads to the murderer of her beloved husband in a tense, terse thriller full of drama and action, and brimming with humour and good old-fashioned style.

This beautifully executed crime thriller is still powerful, gritty stuff, and strictly for grown-ups (it was tailored to European tastes and sensibilities so there’s lots of lovingly rendered nudity and even “adult situations”).

Copies of all 4 paperback albums are still readily available and a hardcover complete collection was released in 2016, so Going Green is not that difficult, although dedicated disciples of digital editions are still going to have to wait a little longer until they can share the wealth of comics wonderment on display here.
© 1982 Dargaud Editeur. All right reserved.