The Paper Man


By Milo Manara (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-022-2

The lush and sensuous art of Milo Manara has always outshone his scripting – at least to English speaking sensibilities – but on occasion his pared-down writing produces genuine comic gems. One such is the egregiously STILL OUT OF PRINT monochrome wonder The Paper Man.

A sparse and gritty epic of Love and Death on the American frontier, the lavishly rendered graphic spectacle ostensibly tells the tragic tale of a young man looking for his Truly Beloved in a relentless trek across Arizona, and his chance meetings with pop-culture mile-markers.

These include a weather-crazed Preacher, a demented veteran of the long-past War of Independence, and the erotic and sensual Sioux maiden White Rabbit, all depicted against a backdrop of the most hallowed tropes and clichés of the Western, exported as cultural icons from Hollywood to the rest of the world.

By following a rather inept and innocent everyman through increasingly harsh incidents with US cavalrymen, wagon-trains, drunken and malevolent cow-pokes – plus, of course, marauding “Injuns” – none of whom actually conform to their stereotypes, Manara looks at the commonplace in a fresh if somewhat reductionist manner, without losing sight of the fact that the reader always wants an enthralling story, beautifully rendered.

This untypical western with its starkly sumptuous art and crushingly tragic ‘final reel’ owes more to Brecht than to Ford or Huston, but nonetheless remains powerfully true to its roots, and is achingly easy on the eyes. Minimal but wonderful, lush and Spartan, this is a Wild West story for every adult to enjoy, regardless of when they last put on a cowboy hat.

…So, for Pete’s Sake can’t somebody puh-lease re-release an English-language version, even if only as an electronic edition?
© 1982 by Dargaud Editeur, Paris for Milo Manara. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that expansive and undoubtedly contentious statement.

Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – designed to cash in on the epic movie from Luc Besson released this summer – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ comparing panels to stills from the films…

In case you were curious, other additional features include the photo and design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ and bullet-point historical lectures ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Méziéres & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, the graphic album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all concerned considered the first yarn as a work-in-progress and not quite up to a preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as Bad Dreams kicks off this volume, in its first ever English-language translation…

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

Valérian and Laureline (as the series eventually became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affable, capable, unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as ‘Les Mauvais Rêves – a blend of comedy and adventures as by-the-book time cop Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth but is soon rescued from a tricky situation by the fiery, capable young woman named Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of a vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and was soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure – until the 13th – was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded 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 given the number #0.)

The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; ‘La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes’ (#455 25th July to 468, 24th October 1968) and followed by ‘Terre en Flammes’ (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April to 10th July 1969).

Both are included in this compilation and the action opens here with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence and political chicanery and atomic holocaust – to recapture Xombul, still determined to undermine Galaxity and establish himself as Dictator of the Universe.

To attain his goal the renegade has travelled to New York after a nuclear accident has melted the ice caps and flooded the metropolis – and most of everywhere else. He is hunting hidden scientific secrets that will allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire from ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers believe…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are under water, jungle vines connect the deserted skyscrapers, Tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters are snatching up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has built his own deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delightful in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in the 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is still a timelessly witty delight of Science Fiction which closes on a moody cliffhanger…

Rapidly following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland and encounter hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of the super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets which originally ran in Pilote #520-541(October 23rd 1969 to March 19th 1970) and saw the veteran and rookie despatched to the fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent, capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline.

The mission is one of threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair are tasked with examining the first galactic civilisation ever discovered that has never experienced any human contact or contamination, but as usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market.

Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble soon attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies….

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship.

However, our dauntless duo are distracted and embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and exploring the mysterious outer planets, Valerian and Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is astonishingly revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly, yet unjustly, familiar this spectacular space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious.

Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Indian Summer


By Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt, translated by Jeff Lisle (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-030-2-8

Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15th 1927-August 20th 1995) was one of the world’s paramount comics creators, and his enthralling graphic narratives inventions since ‘Ace of Spades’ (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts) in 1945 were both many and varied.

His signature character – based in large part on his own exotic early life – is the mercurial soldier (perhaps sailor would be more accurate) of fortune, Corto Maltese.

After working in both Argentinean and English comics for years Pratt returned to Italy in the 1960s. In 1967 he produced a number of series for monthly comic Sgt. Kirk. In addition to the Western lead character, he created pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, detective feature Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea).

The magazine folded in 1970, but Pratt took one of Ballata’s characters to the French weekly, Pif, before eventually settling into the legendary Belgian periodical Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career…

However, a storyteller of such vast capabilities as Pratt was ever-restless, and as well as writing and illustrating his own tales, he scripted for other giants of the industry. In 1983 he crafted a steamy tale of sexual tension and social prejudice set in the New England colonies in the days before the Salem Witch Trials. The tale is timeless, potent and – naturally – out of print in the English language. In a world of digital publishing I find that utterly incomprehensible…

Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana (released and known as Indian Summer – although a more appropriate and illustrative translation would be “All things begin again with an Indian Summer”) was brought to stunning pictorial life by fellow Italian graphic raconteur Milo Manara.

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is best known for his wry, controversial erotica – but that’s more an indicator of the English-speaking comics market than any artistic obsession. The compelling creator is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his erotic career illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape – a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King) was released.

By the end of the decade he was working for the Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as a first-rank creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman – which initially saw print in A Suivre.

The “HP” of the title is his good friend Hugo Pratt…

New England in the 17th century: The Puritan village of New Canaan slowly grows in placid, if uneasy, co-existence with the natives who have fished and hunted these coastal regions for centuries. When young Shevah Black is raped by two young Indians, outcast Abner Lewis kills them both. Taking the “ruined” girl back to his mother’s cottage in the woods, he introduces her to the entire family – mother Abigail, siblings Jeremiah, Elijah and Phyllis – a whole brood of damned sinners banished by her uncle the Reverend Pilgrim Black.

The mother was once a servant in the Black household, but has lived in the woods for twenty years, ever since Pilgrim Black’s father raped her. When Abigail fell pregnant she was cast out for her sin and her face still bears a sinner’s brand. Aided by the Indians the reluctant mother built a cabin, and over the years had three further children.

Her progeny are all wild creatures of nature; healthy, vital and with many close ties both to the natives (from choice) and the truly decadent Black family (by sordid, unwelcome history and association)…

Now blood has spilled and passions are roused: none of those ties can prevent a bloodbath, and as the day progresses many dark secrets come to light as the intolerance, hypocrisy and raw, thwarted lust of the upstanding Christians leads to an inexorable clash with the Indians – by far the most sensible and decent individuals in the place – with the pitifully isolated, ostracized and alienated Lewis clan stuck in middle and betrayed by everybody…

Beautiful, disturbing and utterly compelling, this thoroughly adult examination of sexual tension, attitudinal eugenics and destructive, tragic love is played out against the sweltering seductive heat and primitive glories of a natural, plentiful paradise which only needs its residents to act more like beasts and less like humans to achieve a perfect tranquillity.

Sadly, every Eden has serpents and here there are three: religion, custom and pride…

Pratt’s passion for historical research is displayed by the graphic afterword in which he not only cites his extensive sources – including a link to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter – but adds some fascinating insights and speculations on the fates of the survivors of the New Canaan massacre…

Although there is a 1994 NBM edition available, I’m reviewing from my 1986 Catalan copy principally because I own that one, but also because the Catalan copy has a magnificent four-page foldout watercolour cover (which I couldn’t fit onto my scanner no matter how I tried) and some pretty amazing sketches and watercolour studies gracing Javier Coma’s insightful introduction.

This is a classic tale of humanity frailty, haunting, dark and startlingly lovely. Whatever version you find, you must read this superb story and if any print or digital publisher is reading this, you know what you should do…
© 1986, 1994 Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

The Last Musketeer


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books) ISBN: 978-1-56097-889-3

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature and pulp fiction all feature equally with no sense of hierarchy and his puckish mixing and matching of his inspirational sources always produces a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a beguiling palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours. This delicious caper is one of his best yarns ever and even spawned a prequel…

The Last Musketeer is an epic gem rife with his signature surreality; populated with his quirkily quotidian cast of darkly comic anthropomorphic regulars, and downplaying his signature themes of relationships and loneliness to produce a wild action-adventure for a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps to romp through…

The brief full-colour thriller opens with a drunk in a Paris bar. He claims to be the musketeer Athos, still alive after four centuries… and he is.

The contemplative warrior dreams of past glories and inseparable old comrades but things aren’t just the same anymore…

As he muses on a bench, destructive balls of energy rain down on the city and Athos realises he is needed again and might just have one last adventure in him…

Despite failing to get the old gang back together, he persists in his quest and, after fighting a couple of green-skinned invaders, induces them to take him to their world…

All too soon he is making friends, battling the flamboyantly evil King of the Red Planet, helping a Princess of Mars foment an Earth-saving revolution and encountering an enemy from home he had long forgotten…

And we’re all still here so he must have triumphed in the end…

Outrageously merging the worlds of Alexander Dumas with Edgar Rice Burroughs whilst gleefully borrowing Flash Gordon’s props and work ethic, The Last Musketeer is a superbly engaging pastiche that is pure nostalgia and pure Jason.

Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Jason. All rights reserved.

Cedric volume 5


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-253-9

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, by 1960 he was working in the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the print production technique of Lithography.

Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Spirou.

While there he concocted (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Comedy-Western Bluecoats plus as dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums.

Bluecoats alone has achieved sales well north of 15 million copies thus far…

His collaborator on this superbly sharp and witty kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca, who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his own break into bandes dessinée.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, Laudec landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built that into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the comic’s other regular strips.

In 1987, he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and from then on it was all child’s play…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief.

Collected albums (29 so far) of variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling in Europe, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

…A little Word to the Wise: this is not a strip afraid to suspend the yoks in favour of a little suspense or near-heartbreak. Cedric is almost-fatally smitten with Chen: a Chinese girl newly arrived in his class yet so very far out of his league, leading to frequent and painful confrontations and miscommunications.

Whilst the advice given by his lonely widowed grandpa is seldom of any practical use it can pick open scabs from the elder’s long, happy but now concluded marriage which will reduce any normal human to tears…

This fifth Cinebook translation – from 2015 although first continentally released in 1994 as Cédric 7: Pépé se mouille – opens with ‘Democratic Debate’ as election fever sweeps the classroom after Miss Nelly tells her kids to choose a Representative for the school council. Of course, passions soon run high and dirty tricks start to replace reasoned argument…

‘A Fertile Imagination’ and an Oscar-winning performance allow the little rascal to skate on a very bad report card before the kid proves a very ‘Difficult Patient’ after coming off his board. At least that is until Chen comes to visit and sees him sans trousers…

‘Snowed In…’ explores how simple snowball fights can escalate into something quite earthshattering whilst ‘Make it Look Real…’ extends the ice-capades when the kids “borrow” Grandpa’s clothes for a snowman…

Cedric finds himself ‘In Hot Water’ when he can’t stop interfering in Chen’s first swimming lesson and still causing grief by ‘Dyeing With Laughter’ when Grandpa decides to get rid of his grey hair, after which ‘It’s a Fare Cop…’ sees Cedric and best bud Christian try to avoid a scouting hike by hitchhiking…

Christian’s umbrella almost causes a riot on a wet school morning, leaving Cedric ‘Fuming in the Rain…’ before Grandpa delights in a little family revenge when the young master gets a ‘Slick Cut…’ from the hairdresser, but still comes to the rescue when ‘The Apple of Their Eye…’ goes missing…

The old geezer’s dreams of skateboard glory come closer to fruition after a series of unfortunate circumstance result in a ‘Slam Dunk…’ in the park.

When a relative has her beloved pet stuffed, Cedric gets strange ideas about Grandpa in ‘Straw Man…’ after which a calamitous contretemps ensues after Chen becomes the latest victim of Cedric’s bullying ‘Cousin From Hell…’

Yolanda – AKA Yeti – is spoiled, nasty and just a bit racist, but ultimately no match for the quick-thinking, razor-tongued Chinese girl of Cedric’s dreams, after which a ‘Stormy Night…’ leads to sleeplessness and unnecessary inundation before father and son endure the ‘Exposed Nerve!’ of a joint dental check-up…

The mirthful moments wrap up with a smart salvo of telling sentiment when neglected Grandpa wants to share a trip down ‘Memory Lane…’ with his descendants and a box of faded photographs…

Sharp, rapid-paced, warmly witty yet unafraid to explore isolation or loss, the exploits of this painfully keen, beguilingly besotted rapscallion are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters of every vintage…

© Dupuis 1994 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.

Billy and Buddy volume 5: Clowning Around


By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-200-3

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

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

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way and developed a unique style and personality, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou. Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

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

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

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

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006. This edition is the first Cinebook translation to feature the series as crafted by “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel

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

Originally released in 2003, Quel cirque! was the 29th European collection, and the first completed by Verron and his team, but it admirably continues in the approved manner: further exploring the timeless and evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a few more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in spats with pals, dodging baths, hunting and hoarding bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

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

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

As well as shorter skirts and more modern toys the majority of this tome involves even more successful raids against the family fridge and local butchers’ shops, a marked improvement in successful bath attempts and the rather foolish addition of a doggy door. Sentimental burglars regularly fall for the dog’s cunning wiles and mum persists in trying to civilise her man, her son and that mutt, and of course enemy neighbour Madame Stick and her evil cat Corporal are always on hand to provide effective opposition…

One big revelation is that Buddy understands sign language – although how he learned is a shock – and when romance is in the air both boy and dog are similarly smitten and we discover that tortoises are not immune to the barbs of jealousy…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2003 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke volume 11: Western Circus


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-55-7

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who 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 (68 individual adventures totalling more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching 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 the 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, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny 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 again in 1967 in Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – no doubt 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 – Western Circus was the 25th collaboration – and now available both in English on paper and as an e-book – first published in Europe in 1970. The story is a classic range rider spoof of B-Movie westerns, with the laconic wanderer in fine form as he helps the (outlandishly) needy and deals with an iconic baddie in a most unique manner…

It all begins as our hero flees an Indian war party until saved by a most unlikely benefactor: soused circus impresario Captain Erasmus Mulligan (a deft tribute to the legendary W.C. Fields) and his pal Andy – a rather threadbare and motheaten Indian Elephant…

Soon Luke is helping fix a broken wagon and enjoying a free show courtesy of the far-travelled Western Circus; a talented band a bit past their best, who all came west to avoid clashing with insufferable showman P.T. Barnum…

The genial gunman’s private viewing is suddenly interrupted by an attack from the still-incensed braves of Chief Lame Bull, but Luke – and Andy – soon convince the raging warriors to watch the performance instead. Further violence is then forestalled by the arrival of a cavalry troop who escort the entertainers to Fort Coyote, a thriving township controlled by skeevy entrepreneur Corduroy “Diamond Tooth” Zilch.

The circus hits town just as the ambitious Zilch is promoting his annual Grand Rodeo, and when the populace seem more enthralled by even these tatty newcomers rather than Zilch’s old familiar festival, the big man decides The Show must not go on…

Before long his increasingly insidious antics devolve into utter farce and even a small-scale Indian war, and Luke and Jolly are compelled to slap on the greasepaint and join in with motley…

A deliriously rambunctious romp, Western Circus offers fast-paced, seductive slapstick and dry wit in copious amounts for another merry caper in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Blazing Saddles. Superbly crafted by comics masters, it provides a wonderful introduction to 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 1970 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.

Sshhhh!


By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-497-0

Jason is John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won Norway’s biggest comics prize: the Sproing Award.

He won another in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. A global star among the cognoscenti, he has many more major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

All his tales brim with bleak isolation and are swamped with a signature surreality; largely pantomimic progressions populated with cinematically-inspired, darkly comic anthropomorphs ruminating on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and cartoon critters.

A perfect example of his oeuvre is ‘Sshhhh!’: a deliciously evocative, extended romantic melodrama created without words; the bittersweet tale of boy-bird meeting girl-bird in a world overly populated with spooks and ghouls and skeletons but afflicted far more harshly by loneliness and regret. Of course, it’s not just that. It’s also boy-bird loses girl-bird to death, other men, his own inadequacies and the vagaries of parenthood. It’s about how money fixes nothing and how Death is ever at your elbow and can be – quite frankly – a bit of a pest…

It’s sex and death and discontentment and bloody ungrateful kids; aliens, being invisible, miserable vacations, disappointing locations, guys who are sexier than you and The Devil… and birds-nests…

The enchantingly formal page layouts are rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style: solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here, his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily display the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This comic tale is best-suited for adults but makes us all look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. Don’t even wait for a physical copy, buy a digital edition ASAP, just so you can see immediately what all the fuss is about…
All characters, stories and artwork© 1998, 1999, 2008 Jason. All rights reserved.

Lieutenant Blueberry: The Man with the Silver Star


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by R. Whitener (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 2-205-06578-5

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded by generating some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. So here’s another ancient but superb album for you to track down. At least these gems still turn up in back-issue bins and in second-hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips. He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business/industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which he and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). After a trip to America Charlier created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

In 1977 Egmont/Methuen had published four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

After serialisation in Pilote the Fort Navajo adventure L’Homme à l’étoile d’argent became the sixth Blueberry album and this translation was released in America and Canada in 1983.

The tale is actually a bog-standard western fable of greedy land-grabbers and a doughty town-tamer but the glimmerings of Blueberry’s unique character shine through the familiar tropes and trapping and make for a rip-raring if perhaps slightly dated read…

Two days ride from Fort Navajo, the sheriff of Silver Springs is gunned down from ambush. He’s the third in a year and the latest to tell the immensely rich and powerful Bass brothers they cannot do whatever they want.

With a cowed township and a bought-and-paid-for Judge in their pockets, the Bass boys and their pack of hired gunslingers think it’s only a matter of time before they own everything, but when pretty schoolmarm Katie Marsh swears to testify to the sheriff’s murder, nomadic old rum pot Jim MacClure convinces the honest members of the town council to send for a certain cavalryman he’s encountered in his sordid past…

After a perilous foray to the fort, the Colonel – after much effort – is convinced to despatch his troublemaking junior officer Lieutenant Mike Blueberry to investigate MacClure’s claims.

Before long the wily trouble-shooter is using all his gifts to rouse and inspire the town’s broken populace whilst whittling down the Bass brothers’ mercenary army. And when they disbelieving villains eventually try to push back, they soon realise this temporary sheriff doesn’t need the US Army to keep the peace and administer justice…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as later episodes, this sagebrush epic of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn rife with gallows humour and packed with action: a stunning confirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1969, 1983 Dargaud Editeur Paris. English language text these editions © 1983 D.I,P. All rights reserved.

Valerian and Laureline volume 14: The Living Weapons


By Méziéres &Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-319-2

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin’s creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

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: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In recent episodes, the time-bending immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

Now Les Armes Vivantes (the 14th Cinebook translation, first released Continentally in 1990) sees Valerian and Laureline forced to use their last assets – a damaged astroship, some leftover alien gadgets and their own training – to eke out a perilous existence as intergalactic, trans-temporal mercenaries.

Despite the misbehaviour of a few fractious inter-dimensional circuits in the much-travelled ship, tour celestial voyagers are en route to distant and disreputable planet Blopik where Valerian has agreed to hand-deliver some livestock-improvement supplies.

Moralist Laureline is deeply suspicious of the way her man is behaving: it’s as if he’s doing something he knows she will disapprove of…

After a pretty hairy landing, she explores the burned-out pest-hole on her own and makes the acquaintance of a trio of unique individuals: intergalactic performers stranded in their worst nightmare – a world without theatres and an absentee manager…

Before long they are all travelling together. The showbiz trio – malodorous metamorphic artiste Britibrit from Chab, indestructible rock-eater Doum A’goum and the indescribable Yfysania are looking for a venue to play and an appreciative audience to admire them, whilst taciturn Valerian is simply seeking the proposed purchaser of the wares in his case.

Laureline is, by now, frankly baffled. The centaurs who inhabit Blopik only understand and appreciate one thing – combat – and the planet’s cindered state is due to them setting fire to everything during the annual war between rival tribes. She can’t imagine what such folk would want with farming gear. For that matter, she also can’t imagine why Valerian keeps arguing with whatever he has in his travel-case…

Eventually, however, the alien Argonauts all reach a grassy plain to be met by a bombastic centaur general. By “met”, I actually mean attacked without warning, but the astounding abilities of the performers soon gives pause to the hooved hellions and warlord Rompf agrees to parlay. He’s a centaur with a Homeric dream and Shakespearean leanings as well as the proposed purchaser of the bio-weapon in Valerian’s case. The thing has come direct from Katubian arms dealers and Laureline is appalled that Val has sunk so low and been devious enough to keep her out of the loop…

Rompf has declared War on War. He wants to unify the tribes of Blopik by beating them all into submission and needs the flame-spitting, foul-mouthed Schniafer couriered here by the shamefaced former Spatio-Temporal peacekeeper. However, now that he’s seen what the offworld clowns can do, Rompf wants them too…

The various vaudevillians are not averse to the idea, but pride demands they put on a show too… and they even have ideas how Laureline can be part of the fun.

…And that gives Valerian a chance to redeem himself too…

This charming caper allowed writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ to reposition their tumultuous team in a new and rapidly evolving narrative universe and again ends with our heroes stranded on present-day Earth, with no idea what the future – any future – may hold.

Smart, subtle, complex and hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline mix outrageous satire with blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to forge one of the most thrilling sci fi strips ever seen. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.