Sartre


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

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

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

He also led a pretty racy and dangerous life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly Green volume 1: The Go-Between


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who is Kelly Green?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories of the West Book 1: Three Women at the Frontier


By Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri & Raffaele Ambrosio, translated by Alfred Blomgren & Tony Raiola (Blackthorne Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-932629-03-6

Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri was born in Venice on February 29th 1944, and grew up to study painting and architecture at the Fine Art Academy in Rome. After graduating in 1966 he became an acclaimed painter and artist before turning to comics in 1975, producing mainly glorious historical dramas of the American West.

Scripted by Raffaele Ambrosio, these were published in Lancio Story and Skorpio whilst the artist further broadened his horizons by illustrating biblical tales in Découvrir la Bible.

From 1980 onwards he embraced science fictional themes and material for L’Eternauta, Il Fumetto and Orient-Express, before creating his landmark signature character Druuna.

Her Junoesque proportions and fantastic adventures have captivated generations of readers all over the world in such classics of pulchritudinous fantasy as Morbus Gravis, Creatura, Carnivora, Mandragora, Aphrodisia, Obsession, Druuna X and Croquis.

In Europe – where such superlatives are cherished – Serpieri’s astonishing ability to capture the female form in line and in colour has won him the title (although who else would want it is moot) of “Master of the Ass”.

Many if not most of the far-out fetishistic adventures have subsequently found their way into English-language translations. As far as I can discover, almost none of his sublime western tales have been similarly embraced. This rare American translation monochrome collection featuring some of those early Western sagas certainly has a few beautiful nudes within its pages, but these two stories are worth looking at for more than that.

The eponymous ‘Three Women at the Frontier’ opens proceedings, detailing the arduous journey of a group of women literally exported to edge of American Civilisation at the close of the 19th century and how they wrested control of their lives and destinies from the callous, patronising men who thought they knew best.

It’s followed by ‘John and Mary, Mary and John’ which recounts the unique meeting and budding relationship of a grizzled old mountain man and a wild woman hermit. The slow thawing and re-civilising of the traumatised and troubled former squaw and slave is certainly one of the most intriguing and refreshing romances I’ve ever read…

Quirky, compelling and superbly underplayed, with some of the best drawing you’ll ever see, this is a fabulous lost treasure, only slightly marred by its appalling reproduction, slipshod translation and too-casual proofreading. These wonderful tales of the west (and all those others untranslated as yet) are desperately in need of a high-quality English language edition, but until then, this will have to suffice…
© 1985 Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri. All rights reserved.

The Lyrical Comics of Dillies Set: Betty Blues; Bubbles and Gondolas; Abelard


By Renaud Dillies & various translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Pack ISBN: 978-1-68112-106-2

Renaud Dillies belongs to that cool school of European artists who are keenly aware of the visual power imbued by using anthropomorphic characters in grown up stories – a notion we’ve all but lost here in Britain, and one primarily used for kiddie comics and pornography in the USA and Asia.

Dillies was born in Lille in January 1972, the inveterate dreamer, artist and storyteller in a brood of five kids. Music was a big part of his parents’ lives: British Pop – especially The Beatles and John Lennon – and Jazz: mostly Big Band, Swing and Satchmo. The impressionable lad listened, learned and inwardly digested…

After college – studying Humanities, Graphic and Decorative arts at Saint-Luc School of Fine Arts in Tournai – Dillies began his comics career, like so many others, at Spirou. He drew backgrounds for prolific cartoonist Frédéric Jannin (Rockman, Germain et Nous and many more) whilst also inking Frédéric “Clarke” Seron on sublime sorceress comedy Mélusine.

The young creator soon blended his twin passions for comics and music in his first solo work. Betty Blues – published by Paquet in 2003 – consequently took the “Best Debut” award at that year’s Angoulême Comics Festival.

He followed up with Sumato, Mister Plumb (with Régis Hautière) and Mélodie du Crépuscule (Melody of Twilight) before switching to publisher Dargaud in 2009. Here he devised Bulles et Nacelle ably assisted by colour artist Christophe Bouchard (available in English and reviewed below as Bubbles and Gondola) and, in 2011, created Abélard (again with Hautière and also available in translation from NBM/ComicsLit, as well as part of this gift-set package.

During this period Dillies still toiled as a jobbing Bande Dessinée creator. Under the pen-name “Jack” he drew comedy sports features Les Foot Maniacs and Tout sur le Rugby for Bamboo and illustrated some of Arboris’ erotic short stories for the series Salut les coquinas.

With three of the very best of these eccentrically exotic confections now available in a supremely economical shrink-wrapped gift-set, you’d be crazy to not make the acquaintance of such a scintillating scribe/scribbler…

Betty Blues
Coming from the same dark place and cultural wellsprings as Benoît Sokal’s wry, bleak and witty Inspector Canardo detective duck tales, Betty Blues is both paean and elegy to the unholy trinity of Modern Cool and Shattered Idealisms: Noir, Jazz and Lost Love, all focused through the mythologising lens of cinematic Fifties Americana.

The tragic, flawed star of this intoxicating fable is Little Rice Duck, possibly the greatest bird ever to blow a trumpet in the seedy clubs and wild environs of the West Wood. Starring at the nightspots and making music are his life, but his hot girlfriend Betty is getting pretty tired playing second fiddle to his art.

She’s a pretty bird who needs lots of Loving Attention, the Good Life and Expensive Champagne, so on yet one more tedious night when Rice is deep in the spotlight blowing hot and loud, she calamitously listens to an unctuous, sleazy fat cat at the bar who offers her plenty of all three before sneaking off with him…

Her disappearance hits Rice as hard as he subsequently hits the bottle, and his all-too-late regrets shake him to the core. Going downhill fast, the despondent and always-angry little guy throws his magnificent trumpet – the thing which has cost him true love – off a high bridge and hops a train heading “anywhere but here”…

The hurtling horn hits a boat-riding sap and thus begins to affect the lives of a succession of other poor schnooks whilst, elsewhere uptown, Betty begins to reconsider her hasty decision as the downsides of being a rich guy’s trophy – or pet – start becoming apparent…

For Rice, the end of the line finds him deep in a forested nowhere-land dubbed “Kutwood” where he is befriended by the owl Bowen who is both lumberjack and radical environmental terrorist.

Slowly the broken musician is drawn into the affable agitator’s world of violence, sabotage and anti-capitalist polemic, but all he is really thinking about during so many late-night conversations is the tatty old trumpet nailed high up out of reach on Bowen’s cabin wall…

And Jazz: sweet, hot Jazz music…

Back in the city Betty starts to fear for life, soul and sanity on the chubby arm of her mercurial plutocrat-cat, as the portentous trumpet begins to reshape the lives of many ordinary folk innocent and venal. And then one day Betty meets an old friend of Rice’s who tells her he’s gone missing…

Sad, grim, brooding and surprisingly suspenseful, this captivating riff on complacency, ill-considered aspirations and lost chances is beguilingly constructed and subtly realised, with a smart undercurrent of bleakly cynical humour counter-pointing the Noir flavour and motif of inescapable doom.

Betty Blues will delight mature readers with a well-honed sense of the absurd and an abiding taste for the dark…

Bubbles and Gondola
A penetrating examination of the creative urge and the price of following a muse, Bubbles and Gondola follows the strivings of a mouse named Charlie who is gripped by an insatiable hunger to write great things. To better accomplish this, the mouse resides in a bleak windy garret in splendid isolation, ignoring the distractions of the world, and spending his brief moments of down-time strumming his guitar.

He constantly reminds himself that “solitude is cool” but as a crippling writer’s block increasingly torments him and the outside world insufferably impinges on his tortured brooding, Charlie’s views begin to imperceptibly shift.

That sense of change intensifies after a small blue bird named Mister Solitude starts to repeatedly show up uninvited. The debilitating ennui seems to abate – just a bit – and the author even leaves his lonely den on occasion just to watch a festival or dine with family… However, the unwanted but comforting creature eventually becomes a casualty of the writer’s creative frustration and vanishes after a bitter clash in the attic. Conflicted and inexplicably bereft, Charlie seeks help for his avian companion, but cannot find his solitude anymore. The mouse is compelled to search high low for his supposedly unwanted comrade, embarking on a life -changing odyssey…

A beguiling argosy and visual tour de force allegorically challenging preconceptions about work-life balance and simple human companionship, Bubbles and Gondola is a delicious treat tinged with bittersweet revelation.

Abelard
Far more poignant and concealing a far more painful message, Abelard is ostensibly a simple fable of unrequited love in simpler times. The eponymous hero is an impressionable young chick living in a swampy backwater. He has a hat which grants him a prophetic epigram every day, but other than that he is quite unremarkable.

The little lad’s life changes forever when a group of rich city types in search of good fishing briefly vacation in the morass he calls home. Although she barely notices him, Abelard’s meeting with the so-sophisticated Eppily sets the poor young fool on a path he cannot escape…

Her companions seal his fate by trying to let the lovesick fool down easily. Fyodor warns the chick that girls like Eppily can only be seduced by those who offer her the moon or suchlike. Abelard has never heard of a metaphor…

Determined to win his true love, buy unable to supply the goods, the little dreamer hears the older swamp inhabitants discussing the news from America. Two ingenious fellows have invented a flying machine. That’s Americans for you: before long they’ll be wanting to go to the moon…

With love as his spur and a suitably encouraging message from his hat, Abelard turns away from the swamp and starts walking westward…

His patient peregrinations bring him into the company of a band of gypsy performers and he shares their life and the painful prejudice they endure. Eventually he leaves them, unwilling to accept the reading of the heartbroken fortune-teller who peers into his tomorrows…

A lonely nomad, he goes into a bar and meets a bitter, broken, belligerent bear. Foul-mouthed surly scrapper Gaston has seen it all, hates everyone and has nothing but bile for the entire world.

He, too, once knew an Eppily…

Against all odds the old warrior and untutored waif implausibly unite and head for America together, taking ship on a migrant vessel where fate plays the cruellest trick on them…

Ultimately both travellers get to fulfil their dreams, but not in way they ever expected or wanted…

Beautiful, moving and eternally optimistic in the face of crushing experience, Abelard philosophically examines the unrelenting trials of life and demonstrates the power of hope and poetic idealism against insurmountable odds.

This trio of anthropomorphic tales comprise a masterclass in graphic narrative used to explore the nature of humanity: offering pride, wonder, resilience and heart as an antidote to the worst reality can challenge us with. They are also stunning lovely to look at and every fan of art or storytelling should see so for themselves.

Betty Blues © 2003 Editions Paquet. English translation © 2013 NBM.
Bubbles and Gondola © 2009 by Dillies – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2011 NBM.
Abelard © – 2011 Dillies – Hautière – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2012 NBM.

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 2


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-356-7

Valérian is arguably the most influential pictorial science fiction series ever published – 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…

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). Although it was a huge hit, 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, by getting hold of the previous hardcover compilation volume…

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 cosmic excursions, 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 became) was a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really all that much), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political social commentary, starring (at least at first) an affable, brawny, capably unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers…

In the course of the first escapade Valerian picked up fiery, capable Laureline – originating in the 11th century but later becoming our hero’s (far smarter) assistant and deputy. The indomitable girl trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and was soon an accompanying Val on missions throughout time and space… luckily for him…

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

This splendid second oversized hardback compendium – designed to cash in on this summer’s spectacular movie adaptation from Luc Besson – once again boasts a wealth of text features. These include the next chapter of the continuing ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin’, after which Stan Barets picks out the creative highpoints and methodology of the creators in his essay ‘The Intergalactic Unites the Human Race!’.

‘Valerian in His Own Time’ traces the development of the strip in France, with unseen and remastered art examples. Between 1981 and 1985, Dargaud-Canada and Dargaud-USA published a quartet of albums in English (with a limited UK imprint from Hodder-Dargaud) under the umbrella title Valerian: Spatiotemporal Agent. Written by Will Eisner and Daniel Richie, the original Introductions to two pertinent early editions are included here after which ‘The Stories in this Book’ offers context and a taste of things to come…

Once more re-presenting a trio of classic formative fantasy-fests, the fabulous fun recommences here with The Land Without Stars. This originally ran in Pilote #570-592 (October 8th 1970 to March 11th 1971) and follows the Spatio-Temporal agents as they undertake a tedious pro forma inspection of a cluster of new Terran colonies in the Ukbar star-system at the very edge of inter-galactic space…

However, the mission soon goes awry when a wandering world is detected on a collision course with the system and Valerian, still labouring under the effects of too many local alcoholic “diplomatic protocols”, decides that they should investigate at close quarters…

Despite being pickled, the rather insufferable lead agent lands with his long-suffering assistant on the runaway planet and discovers that this celestial maverick is hollow. Moreover, a thriving ancient culture or three thrive there, utterly unaware that they are not the only beings in all of creation…

Typically, however, of sentient beings everywhere, two of the civilisations are currently locked in a millennia-old war, armed and supplied by the third…

After an accident wrecks their exploratory scout ship Valerian and Laureline deduce the constant warfare originally caused the hollow world to tumble unchecked through space and will eventually result in its complete destruction, so in short order the professional meddlers split up to infiltrate the warring nations of Malka and Valsennar.

However, they are in for more surprises. Both city-states are divided on gender grounds, with Malka home to prodigious warrior women who subjugate their effete and feeble males whilst the aristocratically foppish but deadly dandies of Valsennar delight in beautiful, proficient and lethally lovely ladies – but only as totally compliant servants and chattels…

The highly-trained Galaxity operatives quickly rise in the ranks of each court – from slaves and toys to perfectly placed, trusted servants – and soon have ample opportunity to change the nature of the doomed civilisations within the collision-course world, after which the heroes even concoct a cannily cunning method of ending the planet’s random perambulations; giving it a stable orbit and new lease on life…

All in a day’s work, naturally, although it does take a few months to sort out: still what’s time to a couple of brilliant Spatio-Temporal agents?

Happily, this mind-boggling socio-sexual satire is packed with astounding action, imaginative imagery and fantastic creatures to provide zest to a plot that has since become rather overused – sure proof of the quality of this delightful, so-often imitated original yarn – but, as always, the space-opera is fun-filled, witty, visually breathtaking and stunningly ingenious. Drenched in wickedly wide-eyed wonderment, science fiction sagas have never been better than this.

Welcome to Alflolol was first seen in Pilote #631-652 (December 1971-May 1972) and starts as the Spatio-Temporal agents depart from Technorog, a desolate industrial planet whose vast resources are crucial to the running of human civilisation.

So vital in fact, that Galaxity sends her best agents just to inspect it every now and then…

As the S-T agents carefully negotiate the immense forcefield and lethal asteroid belt that surrounds the harsh, ferociously capitalistic factory world, Laureline is repeatedly possessed by an uncanny force. The fits draw the couple to an immense ship which has foundered between the floating rocks and searing energy screen…

Investigating the vessel, which is purposely open to hard vacuum, Laureline again lapses into a glowing coma and eerily drifts towards a family of incredibly powerful yet rustically affable alien primitives sitting on the hull of their seemingly derelict vehicle.

Valerian, closely following behind, prevents a terrible accident to his companion and is warmly greeted by the strangers, who explain that the eldest of their contingent is very ill and in her fevered throes has locked minds with his female. If they’re not careful, both might die…

Garrulous, easy-going Argol agrees to let Valerian treat the problem, so his wife Orgal telekinetically transports the Earthlings, her entire family and their pet Gumun back to the Earthlings’ astroship in mere moments. Soon, Terran technology has saved both human and alien and Argol settles back to explain what has happened…

These wanderers are naively friendly and immensely long-lived – like all their species – and are simply returning to their homeworld Alflolol after an amusing and gentle perambulation through space. However, since their departure – 4,000 Earth years ago – somebody else has moved in…

Problems soon occur. Despite the Technorog Governor’s outraged protests, Galaxity law is clear and the Alflololians must be allowed back on their planet, no matter the cost to productivity or profits…

However, the wheedling plutocrat – secure in his job’s importance to the empire – realises he doesn’t have to hand over the keys, just make room for five meekly polite cosmic gypsies. The nomadic returnees, meanwhile, simply cannot grasp the concept of business and don’t understand why anybody would put up lots of flimsy, ugly buildings which spoil the hunting……

As Valerian allows the businessmen to walk all over the aliens’ rights, Laureline goes berserk: arguing for Argol’s family whilst indulging in a little light-hearted sabotage because the gentle giants won’t do it for themselves…

She needn’t bother though: their mere presence and incredible abilities are enough to disrupt the Governor’s precious productivity, especially when they get bored of sterile human accommodations and return to their ancestral ranges…

The real crisis only begins when the rest of the nomadic Alflololians return: one hundred separate ships full of natives protected by law and fully entitled to reclaim their homes.

The humans won’t leave, however, and soon the Governor is herding the wanderers onto a reservation and demanding they work if they want to eat.

Big mistake…

Poignantly challenging if not actually ruthlessly crusading, this is one of the earliest comics tales to catch the 1970s wave of ecological awareness and still ranks amongst the very best to explore the social iniquities which beset indigenous peoples at a time when most European ex-empires were still grudgingly divesting themselves of their colonial possessions.

The theme of Capitalism versus Native Culture and the eternal struggle between territorial imperatives, moral rights and holy profit have seldom been dealt with in such an effective, sardonic and hilariously surreal manner. Ending on an outrageous twist, the story has lost none of its wit and punch forty years later.

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

Concluding the intergalactic investigations this go-round is Birds of the Master (originally serialised in Pilote #710-720 from June 14th to September 16th 1973) rejoining our now perpetually bickering odd couple as they are drawn into an eerie space Sargasso and marooned on a planetoid that has become a cemetery for spaceships.

Swept away by a tidal wave over a colossal waterfall, they are drowning amidst beds of kelp when a motley band of fisherfolk – comprised of many different species – haul the Spatio-Temporal agents aboard a ramshackle boat. In the skies high above, a vast cloud of malevolent birds circle, the same incredible creatures which had brought down their astroship.

Compelled to join in gathering the seaweed, the humans soon learn that the crop is destined for a mysterious unseen overlord dubbed The Master and the critically circling ugly avians are his enforcers: violent creatures inflicting madness with a bite…

The workers are nothing but despondent slaves. Bitterly discontented recent arrival Sül takes it upon himself to teach Valerian and Laureline what they need to know to survive as the slimy cargo is torturously shipped across bleak, unforgiving and forlorn terrain. As they toil onwards the newcomers observe an entire society all dedicated to providing vast amounts of food for the hidden overlord.

At the central gathering point where assorted food items from a hundred different sources are reduced to a liquid mass dubbed “Klaar” one of the starving toilers cracks, seeking to consume a morsel of the Master’s provender, and is immediately set upon by the sinister Birds of Madness. Furious Sül breaks too and – dashing to the worker’s aid – is similarly accosted. Cautious Valerian can barely stop his partner using her concealed ray-weapons in a futile attempt to save them…

When the Birds are done the battered survivors can barely speak. The first rebel now believes he can fly whilst Sül is left a babbling, aggressive shadow of his former self.

With the Klaar safely dispatched through a complex system of pipes to a distant hidden destination, the emaciated workers fall upon the spilled scraps before hurling the latest victims of the birds into the Pit of Crazies. Despite being thoroughly beaten in the melee, our heroes follow and join Sül in a peculiar enclave of deranged beings, each manifesting their own brand of bewilderment yet all sharing the same strange and disturbing speech impediment…

Valerian and Laureline are again viciously attacked when they seek aid from the “sane” slaves, and instead opt to follow the pipeline with the most ambulatory of the insane, heading deep into increasingly inhospitable country to confront the hidden cause of all their woes.

At first frantically followed by the outraged slave force, the strange crew eventually outdistance their pursuers as they head deeper into the harsh, barren wastelands until they are attacked by the ever-circling birds. As a result, the Spatio-Temporal agents are also infected by the speech-wrecking madness…

Pressing on regardless, the raving rovers follow an eerie glowing mist and at last face the vile creature which has lured, trapped and enslaved so many sentient beings. Subjected to an overwhelming psychic assault that no single mind – sane or otherwise – could resist, all hope seems lost.

Happily, the Master has never faced anyone as ingenious as Laureline and her desperate plan enables the assembled “Loonies” to fight back and drive the predatory horror off-planet and into the depths of space…

With the creature’s pernicious influence dispelled, the voyagers’ senses return and the victims head back to the settlements where the slaves have descended into a food-fuelled debauch. Surprisingly, once Valerian and Laureline have freed and repaired their astroship from the stellar graveyard, only Sül wants to leave with them…

Expansive, thrilling, funny, clever and holding back one last wry twist in the tale, The Birds of the Master might be one of the lesser galactic classics of this superb series, but it still packs a gripping narrative punch and some of the most impressive artwork ever to grace sci-fi comics.

These spectacular space-opera romps are fun-filled, action-packed, conceptually engaging and mind-bogglingly ingenious: drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, this is a slice of sheer science fiction heaven that has never been bettered…
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

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.