Quick & Flupke: Under Full Sail


By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4743-6

Once upon a time in Belgium and many other places, the adventures of two mischievous young scallywags rivalled the utterly irresistible adventurer Tintin in popularity. It wasn’t that big a deal for Hergé and his publishers as Quick & Flupke was being produced by the young master and his studio team in conjunction with the dashing boy reporter.

In fact the strip probably acted as a test lab for the humorous graphic elements so much a part of the future world classic and the little terrors even cameoed frequently in the star vehicle…

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky Tintin and his entourage of iconic associates, but the hero was by no means his only creation. Among the best of the rest are Jo, Zette and Jocko and the episodic all-ages – and in the majority criminally unavailable – comedy gems highlighted here today.

On leaving school in 1925 Hergé worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A dedicated boy scout himself, Georges produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 the artist was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

Hergé was unhappily illustrating L’Extraordinaire Aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (The Extraordinary Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonnet) – scripted by the staff sports reporter – when Abbot Wallez tasked him with creating a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues and rubbishing contradictory philosophies and ideologies?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi wanted to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He would create a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.

The strip generated a huge spike in sales and Wallez allowed Hergé to hire Eugène Van Nyverseel and Paul “Jam” Jamin as art assistants. Naturally the Editor wanted to see a return in terms of more product, and – according to Remi’s later recollections – he returned from a brief well-earned vacation to find his staff had played an office prank by announcing that he was about to launch a second weekly strip…

Briefly flummoxed, he rapidly concocted a strip starring a little rascal over a few days, based largely on his own childhood and French film Les Deux Gosses (The Two Kids), and the impertinent pair (or at least one of them) premiered in the Le Petit Vingtiéme for January 23rd 1930. The strip would become Quick & Flupke when, three weeks later, a pint-sized partner in peril debuted, initially answering to “Suske” before soon evolving into Flupke (which is Flemish for “little Phillip”)…

Unleashed in weekly 2-page monochrome exploits, two working class rapscallions in Brussels played pranks, got into mischief and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism in the kind of yarns that any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar. Readers everywhere loved them…

The strip was immensely successful, although Hergé paid it little heed and frequently only began each week’s episode a day or even mere hours before press-time. The fare was rapid-fire, pun-packed, stand-alone and often fourth-wall breaking which – as eny fule kno – never gets old…

Despite being increasingly sidelined after Hergé began The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko for Cœurs Vaillants at the end of 1935, our likely lads larked about for over a decade, becoming more an artefact of the assistants (and latterly artist Johan de Moor) until the war and the pressure of producing Tintin meant they had to go.

Quick & Flupke were rediscovered in 1985 and their remastered, collected escapades ran for 12 full-colour albums in Europe and India until 1991.

As English translations, we only ever saw a couple of volumes such as this oversized (221 x 295 mm) hardcover compendium from 2009: delighting us with nearly two dozen sparkling romps for laughter-starved lovers of classic comics comedy.

Hopefully, now we’ve got a burgeoning digital reading base, they will all be available for folk too lazy to learn French (or Dutch or German or…) as digital editions. These lost classics are certainly long-overdue for rediscovery and are perfect light reading for kids of all ages.
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1986. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Barbe


By André-Francois Barbe (Volksverlag)
ISBN: 3-88631-075-2

I’m not saying this is setting any precedent, but to be honest there’s so much great comic material I’d like to share, and it’s not just separated from us by a gulf of years and publisher’s timidity: Lots of it has simply never been collected in English language editions.

So when I rediscovered this mostly wordless little gem, packed away since our last house-move, I thought “there’s probably whole ‘nother generation of fans out there who have no idea such graphic wonders exist”… and this review of an actual foreign book is the result.

If you Google the name André Barbe you’ll probably see lots of stuff about “Shift-add correlation patterns of linear cellular automata” and the like.

I, however am talking about the other one, the artist and cartoonist fascinated both by sex and by the progression and sequencing of pictures which slowly transform from one state of meaning to another.

This André-Francois Barbe was born in Nimes on St. Valentine’s day in 1936 and became a cartoonist in 1958, selling his comedic work to Le Rire, Hara-Kiri, Charlie Mensuel and Pilote. Fascinated by science and history he was a potent political activist and produced varied pictorial works encompassing volcanism, palaeontology, cinema, opera, history and other seemingly unconnected arenas of interest. He could draw really, really well.

Barbe died on February 9th 2014.

Much of Barbe’s output is lasciviously erotic, with many overtones and similarities to the designs and vision of Vaughn Bodé, but the silent panoramas collected in this ridiculously rare tome indicate very personal obsessions.

The fascination with minute pictorial changes which lead to a total transformation, not just of the physical representations but usually also the mental or spiritual state of the subject – as well as the content – make his drawings and strips a mesmerising, languid journey of discovery. He also has a wicked, sly, sardonic sense of humour.

I honestly don’t know where or even if you can find examples of his work. Perhaps some of our European readers might be able to offer some suggestions? All I know is that this is brilliant and innovative use of the techniques that are uniquely the province of graphic narrative and sequential art, and that such visual virtuosity should be applauded, appreciated and seen as widely as possible.
Artwork © 1981 André Barbe and Volksverlag. All rights reserved or Alles Rechte vorbehalten, if you prefer…

Mondo Erotica – the Art of Roberto Baldazzini


By Roberto Baldazzini, edited and translated by Nicola D’Agostino & Serena Di Virgilio (Korero Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99333-743-7

Please pay careful attention: this art book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of vulgar language most kids are fluent in by the age of eight.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us can peacefully enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon and gallery art ever created, without you.

Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then.

Roberto Baldazzini is an Italian illustrator, comics and mainstream artist whose works are deeply personal, immensely passionate and startlingly evocative. As such they have often been controversial. This electrifying hardcover compiles strips, commissions and gallery pieces created over the last three decades.

In colour and monochrome, this stunning retrospective of gloriously designed and delineated imagery recapitulates a true master’s fascinations: beautiful women, Pop Art, the golden age of cinema, Art Nouveau and those rare creatures who inhabit the borders and fringes of human sexuality…

This superb and long-overdue collection gathers and translates a mere smattering of his beguiling strip work and intoxicating covers – although any is more than welcome – but also includes a vast selection of the artist’s magnificent exotic and erotic paintings and drawings.

Following Nicola D’Agostino’s informative Foreword – citing influences such as Italian photonovels, fashion magazines, Hollywood and the comics trinity of Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Hergé – we can metaphorically meet the craftsman himself through a candid, thoughtful and pulchritudinously picture-packed ‘Interview with Roberto Baldazzini’ before the extremely graphic narratives commence.

Baldazzini first started making waves in 1984 with period thriller Stella Norris, a feature he continued until 1992. Expanding his horizons, he began appearing in prestigious international magazines such as Glamour, Blue, Diva, Penthouse Comix and Geisha and from 1995 began concentrating almost exclusively on erotic comics whilst garnering a global reputation for his exquisitely explicit Ligne Claire-styled paintings. Even though his gallery status was constantly growing, he never stopped crafting comic strips…

Delivered in stark and meticulous monochrome, ‘The Ring’ is set at a glitzy party in 1950s Hollywood and deconstructively scrutinises a supposed theft and proposed seduction from the individual viewpoints of the participants: untouchable, predatory and promiscuous star ‘Mrs. Marjorie Dobrovsky’, rising, scheming starlet ‘Miss Phoebe Costello’ and secretive, over-attentive maid ‘Miss Rebecca’

‘Macao’ then describes the seamier side of Tinseltown as Stella Norris’ “evil twin” Greta explores the debauched lifestyle of a celluloid porn star in the era of black and white films and attitudes…

‘Divas, Dommes and Lost Girls’ focuses on some of the artist’s other signature characters; colourfully exploring select snippets of material from Baldazzini babes such as ‘Stella Norris’, ‘Chiara Rosenberg’ and ‘The Orphan’ before ‘Scene of the Crime’ reprints an astounding monochrome strip created in conjunction with Studio Sottsass for a 1988 architectural exhibition in Milan.

The content and themes of the artist’s work always pushed social boundaries: increasingly highlighting gender anomalies, bondage rites and fetishism. ‘Baldazzini’s Fantasies’ features one of his most challenging, controversial and funny pieces – a deliriously silly Who’s Whose of genitalia – after which ‘Seduction and Pain, Malice and Innocence’ opens a catalogue of his most exotic and esoteric eidolons. Broken down into mini-chapters we can see the many forms of ‘Sultrane’, assorted illustrations made for 18th century French classic Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chatreux in ‘Saturnino’ plus a stunning series of visions inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s renditions of ‘Salome’

The extreme limits of fantasy and pleasure are then scrupulously detailed in images from ‘The Castle of Pain’ before plasticised product ‘Ines’ cavorts for the delectation of her clients…

A commission for architecture magazine Terrazzo, ‘Hotel Majestic’ again proves that location is as much a component of death and seduction as human nature, whilst Baldazzini’s ‘Exotic and Incredible Creatures’ segues into an examination of the artist’s most seditious tales and creations – the transgender, transsexual and trans-comfort zone depiction of the protagonists, antagonists and victims who inhabit tales of ‘Trans/Est’ and ‘Casa HowHard’.

The show closes with a fetishist’s dream as ‘The Education of Angela’ finds the star of Casa HowHard back in her singularly exclusive college and suffering strict discipline for her wayward nature…

Supplemented by a full list of Roberto Baldazzini’s Awards and Exhibitions plus a complete Bibliography to date, this tome also strives to keep the whimsy-factor high, and many of the stars are depicted as naked cut-out paper dolls, complete with suitably unsuitable outfits… This long-past-due celebration of a truly unique artistic pioneer is both beautiful and shocking, but also something no mature-minded devotee of graphic excellence should miss.
© 2017 Korero Press Limited. All rights reserved.

Mondo Erotica will be released on August 1st 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Yoko Tsuno volume 11: The Three Suns of Vinea


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-302-4

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno debuted in Spirou in September 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding, all-action, excessively accessible exploits are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the slim, slight Japanese technologist-investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn – always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were the vanguard of a wave of strips that changed the face of European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue revolution featured the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists, all taking their places as heroic ideals beside the boys and uniformly elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their exploits are as timelessly engaging and potently empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Yoko Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable electrical engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits generally alternate between explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – such as this one – with the secretive, disaster-prone alien colonists from planet Vinea.

There have been 27 European albums to date, with another eagerly anticipated for 2017…

Today’s tale was originally serialised in 1975 (Spirou #1932-1953) and collected a year later as 11th album Les Trois soleils de Vinéa. It appears here nearly 40 years later through Cinebook as The Three Suns of Vinea: a captivatingly intergalactic romp of mystery and redemption in equal measure…

It begins with Yoko, Vic and frivolous cameraman pal Pol impatiently awaiting an increasingly rare meeting with an old friend. Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, had been hibernating in the Earth for almost half a million years until meeting the curious trio on their first adventure together…

After freeing them from robotic tyranny the humans had helped the survivors rebuild their lost sciences and now a new milestone has been reached. The Vineans are preparing to return to their own system, to see if the dying homeworld they fled two million years ago still exists.

Moreover, there’s room on the experimental scout-ship for three enquiring humans…

All too soon – in strictly scientific, relativistic terms – the explorers are witnessing marvels and miracles as Khany and her comrades discover their binary star-system has stabilised from the stellar catastrophe which threatened to eradicate them so long ago. Miraculously, even their planet of origin survives – albeit in a fantastically altered state…

Emboldened, the astounded cosmonauts survey cosmically-beleaguered Vinea and discover indigenous life still exists. Sadly, the debased primitives are in the thrall of an electronic overlord much like the one that dominated Khany’s people under Earth, but Yoko and her comrades know how to deal with that.

All that’s needed is courage, determination, luck and an ally on the inside…

And when the mighty struggle is over and the war won, Yoko has two more fantastic surprises for her beloved alien companions…

Expansive, suspenseful and phenomenally engaging, this enthralling “Big Sky” sci fi romp roars along with the same kind of wide-eyed astronomical wonderment that made 1950s Dan Dare stories such unmissable entertainment. Packed with thrills and revelation, the story also delivers a powerfully moving denouement, again affirming Yoko Tsuno as a top flight troubleshooter, at home in all manner of scenarios and easily able to hold her own against any fantasy superstar you can name.

As ever the greatest asset in these breathtaking tales is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail.

The Three Suns of Vinea is an epic speculative spectacle to delight and amaze any devotee of Neil R. Jones’ Professor Jameson stories, E. E. Smith’s Lensman novels or the mind-boggling technological treats of Larry Niven as well as any wonder-depleted kid for whom the sky is still no limit…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1976 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?


By Tome & Janry translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-355-0

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention came at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and frequently surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969, and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio or perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed fourteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. Who Will Stop Cyanide? is the twelfth English-language release and officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 35th collected collaborative caper; originally published continentally as Qui arrêtera Cyanure? in Spirou #2427-2448 in 1984 before being subsequently released as Tome & Janry’s third album a year later.

Funny, frenetically-paced and potently sinister when most appropriate, the tale leans heavily on science fiction paranoia and opens as photojournalist Fantasio tries to return a defective new camera. After some truly appalling customer service he is fobbed off with a bizarre bucket of bolts which seems to be a semi-sentient little robot that takes polaroid snaps…

The “screwball gizmo” is a mischief-maker with a mind of its own and finds a kindred spirit in Spirou’s pet squirrel Spip, but that doesn’t stop it making a cunning bid for freedom at the first opportunity. In hot pursuit, the adventuresome lads frantically trail the demented droid out to worryingly familiar territory: the far from peaceful hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. However, this time it’s not the mushroom-mad Count who’s behind an increasingly nerve-wracking situation…

Following a stern warning from the harassed Mayor – already well-acquainted with the kind of chaos that follows in Spiro and Fantasio’s wake – the jaunty journalists find the little gizmo at the dilapidated railway station. A furtive search through dank back rooms soon exposes an horrific scene: a beautiful woman tied to a chair and hooded.

The outraged heroes free the distressed damsel and are immediately attacked; both by her and a number of ordinary mechanical objects suddenly imbued with terrifying, violent animation…

After the former captive explosively escapes, the stunned lads meet dowdy Stationmaster Catenaire and hear an incredible story…

The little man is something of an unsung scientific tinkerer and when railway cutbacks left him with time on his hands he started dabbling in robotics. Firstly, he built the little droid – dubbed “Telesphore” – but eventually, craving a more exotic and comforting companion, moved on to formulate a comely android for his personal use.

Sadly, the Marilyn Monroe doppelganger he crafted gained instant sentience and an abiding abhorrence for humankind.

Calling herself Cyanide she played vicious jokes on people and even attacked them. When she started possessing machinery, Catenaire was forced to shut her down. Now, thanks to the gallant impulses of Spirou and Fantasio, she’s free and determined to make all meat-things pay…

And so unfolds a splendidly compelling and frantic game of cat-&-mouse as the lads chase the wicked automaton and she – thanks to the recent unwelcome advent of a huge fully-automated factory in the village – unleashes an army of mechanical monstrosities to crush them before expanding her horizons to encompass the village and eventually the rest of humanity…

Fast-paced and exuberant, Who Will Stop Cyanide? is a funny, thrilling rollercoaster romp easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Athos in America


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books) ISBN: 978-1-60699-478-8

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 his Mjau Mjau strip and the next year turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has numerous major awards from such disparate locales as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature, low life, real life and pulp fiction all feature equally with no sense of hierarchy, and his puckish mixing and matching of these evergreen founts of inspiration always results in a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

A master of short-form illustrated tales, many Jason yarns are released as snappy little albums which are perfect for later inclusion in longer anthology collections such as this one which gathers a half-dozen sharp of the very best.

As always, the visual/verbal bon mots unfold 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. That delight is augmented here by a varied and beguiling palette ranging from stark pastels to muted primary colours to moody duotone…

Available as a sturdily comforting hardback and exciting eBook edition, the stream of subtle wonderment opens with understated crime thriller ‘The Smiling Horse’ as the last survivor of a kidnap team endures decades of tense anticipation before their victim’s uncanny avenger finally dispenses long-deferred justice, after which Jason examines his own life, career and romantic failings in harsh, uncompromising detail in ‘A Cat from Heaven’

B-Movie Sci Fi informs ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf’ as a scientist spends years killing women whilst looking for a body that won’t reject the mean-spirited, constantly carping head he keeps alive in his laboratory, before ‘Tom Waits on the Moon’ inexorably draws together a quartet of introspective, isolated loners who spend too much time thinking not doing into a web of fantastic horror…

A cunning period gangster pastiche rendered in subdued shades of red and brown, ‘So Long, Mary Anne’ sees a decent woman helping a vicious escaped convict flee justice. After they snatch a hostage the “victim” soon begins to exert an uncanny influence over the desperate killer, but is she just wicked or is there a hidden agenda in play?

Most welcome attraction here is eponymous final story ‘Athos in America’. This is a fabulously engaging “glory days” yarn acting as a prequel to the author’s spellbinding graphic romp The Last Musketeer.

That epic detailed the final exploit of the dashing Athos, who met his end bravely and improbably after four hundred years of valiant adventure. But what was he doing in the years before that?

A guy walks into a bar… It’s America in the 1920s and the oddly-dressed Frenchman starts chatting to Bob the barman. As the quiet night unfolds the affable patron relates how he came to America to star in a movie about himself and his three greatest friends. Sadly, after he enjoyed a dalliance with the Studio’s top star, things quickly started to go wrong…

Effortlessly switching back and forth between genre, milieu and narrative pigeon holes, this grab-bag of graphic goodies again proves that Jason is a creative force in comics like no other: one totally deserving as much of your time, attention and disposable income as possible.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2011 Jason. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 8: Auld Lang Blue


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-245-4

Les Tuniques Bleues began in 1968; an occasional comedy western strip created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The feature was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic lone gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to comic rival Pilote.

His rapidly-rendered replacements swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée stars on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement – Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte – gradually moved to a more edgy and realistic (although still broadly comedic) illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and studied Lithography before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: amassing more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War.

That origin was discarded and rewritten a decade later, finally and canonically describing how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war and appears here as Auld Lang Blue: Cinebook’s 8th astoundingly attractive Bluecoats album.

All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

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

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

But as this witty yarn elaborates, such was not always the case…

Les Tuniques Bleues: Blue rétro was first seen on the continent in 1980, serialised in Spirou #2222-2232. It was the unlikely lads’ 29th adventure, and became the 18th best-selling collected album a year later (of 58 and counting, thus far).

It opens here as dutiful son Cornelius is awakened by his doting but domineering mother. She’s thoroughly excited by her boy’s upcoming nuptial merger with butcher’s daughter Charlotte Graham. Bewildered Cornelius still can’t work how, let alone why, he’s all-but-inescapably betrothed to his boss’ far from comely child…

The boy’s rowdy, wheelchair-bound dad Joshua Chesterfield is less cheery. He fondly remembers his military years and, as a proud survivor of the Alamo, wishes his son had more gumption and get-up-and-go…

There’s no winning against his mother though, so Cornelius heads for the butchers’ shop, arriving just in time to deftly avoid Charlotte by delivering a large order to the new Pacific Bar that has just opened on Main Street. The little guy behind the gleaming bar is a bit of an annoyance but young Chesterfield’s initial distaste is soon swallowed up by the chatter of the patrons discussing the Secession War.

The Northern States are taking a terrible beating on all fronts, but neither butcher’s boy or barman care all that much about a subject so far removed from their own lives…

That quickly changes after Army Recruiters proudly parade their latest crop of raw material down the thoroughfare. Diminutive, canny Blutch is bemused, but Cornelius sees glory, adventure and escape from matrimonial servitude in the gleaming column of callow blue boys…

All the same, mother and Mr. Graham have Cornelius’ life utterly mapped out, and despite his fervent desires, soon after Cornelius M. Chesterfield is all dandied-up and despatched to make a formal proposal to Charlotte. Unwilling, unhappy and contemplating years of being bossed around by women, Cornelius stops off at the Pacific Bar to intestinally fortify himself before the ordeal.

Being a comradely, consoling type, barman Blutch keeps him company in a tot or two and they are both extremely amenable when – some hours later – the Army Recruiters enter the bar. Joining the festivities, the soldiers soon realise that their still woefully-unfilled quotas might benefit from a bit of blather and a couple of hastily modified application forms…

And so it begins: by the time they are conscious again our two new warriors are well on the way to becoming infantrymen: each adapting to the appalling situation in their own unique manner as they reluctantly adjust to the daily madness of army life.

However, even before basic training is over, they both realise their lives are now governed by elitist idiots who don’t care if they live or die. Unable to avoid being cannon-fodder, they conspire to transfer into the far safer and more glamorous cavalry. All they need to do now is learn to ride before anyone finds out they don’t know one end of a horse from the other…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

This particular tome is heavy on comedy too: a fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable yarn to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1981 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volume 8: The Voronov Plot


By Yves Sente & André Juillard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-048-1

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific trouble-shooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 before completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

The concluding volume was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes. The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio. The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the next release: Le machination Voronov by Yves Sente (Le Janitor, Thorgal) & André Juillard (Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek) published in 1999 – although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ credentials regarding threats in uncanny circumstances…

It all begins in a top-secret Soviet rocket base in January 1957 where a test-launch results in disaster as the missile smashes into a comet before crashing back to Earth. It’s not just prestige at stake here, though. It soon becomes apparent that the downed wreckage has picked up a deadly contagion from space. The region is quarantined and the exposed wreckage rushed to KGB medical specialist Professor Voronov at the Cosmodrome…

Working with his assistant Comrade Nastasia Wardynska, the brusque physician quickly determines that a bacterial strain from the comet produces a fast-acting, inevitably fatal haemorrhagic fever in adult humans…

In London as March ends, Captain Francis Blake engages in high level talks with Commander William Steele, his opposite number in MI6. Disturbing news is coming out of Moscow: many high-ranking members of the Politburo have died suddenly and a warning from a highly-placed mole reveals that Voronov has stockpiled a deadly new bio-weapon.

The agent plans on getting a sample to the West, but needs help to accomplish the crucial task…

Later whilst dining with old friend Professor Mortimer, a hasty plan is hatched after Blake learns his pal has been invited to attend a scientific Symposium in Moscow…

And thus unfolds a canny, deviously Byzantine tale of Cold War intrigue as Blake and Mortimer strive to get a sample of alien pathogen Bacteria Z, themselves and all their undercover allies out of the insidious clutches of the KGB before solving a baffling mystery that threatens all of humanity.

As frantic chases lead to desperate battles and inevitable casualties in the shadows, critical questions emerge. If the Russians have an unbeatable bio-weapon, why are only Soviet officials dying? And what part does their oldest and most malevolent enemy play in the convoluted scheme?

Just when the dapper due think they have a handle on the swiftly-developing crisis, Western scientists start succumbing to Bacteria Z and it appears that further investigation into the insidious Voronov is necessary before the plot can be foiled and the true danger to Britain and the Free World finally crushed…

Strongly founded upon and in many ways a loving tribute to John Buchan’s classic thrillers, by way of a delicious tip of the hat to Space Age Cold War movie thrillers such as the Quatermass Experiment and Seven Days to Noon, this is a devious and convoluted spook-show to astound and delight espionage aficionados and a solidly entertaining addition to the captivating canon of the Gentleman Adventurers.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1999 by André Juillard & Yves Sente. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

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.