Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents – A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights


ISBN: 978-1-68112-162-8

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

He was born Pierre-François “David” Beauchard on February 9th 1959 and began his comics career in 1985 after studying advertising at Paris’ Duperré School of Applied Arts. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism, visual metaphor, high and low cultural icons, as seen in such landmarks as Babel, Epileptic and Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations has utterly reinvigorated and rejuvenated the visual aspect of European sequential art.

His latest translated offering from NBM – available as an oversized (312 x 235 mm) full-colour hardback and in all digital formats – takes us into primal storytelling country to sagely examine the very nature of the process by referencing one of the most potent and primal story sources in human history.

One Thousand and One Nights (or more commonly The Arabian Nights) is an anonymous aggregation of folk stories from many cultures of the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent. Its root material traces back to Arabic, Greek, Jewish, Persian, Turkish, South Asian, and West, Central and North African folklore and was first translated into English in 1706 as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment, firing western and European imaginations ever since. The one constant throughout is the framing sequence wherein wily bride and imminent murder victim Scheherazade tells her new husband and supreme ruler Shahryār a story to postpone her own execution.

In this stunning graphic tour de force, rendered in vivid colours and sublimely reminiscent of oriental shadow-theatre puppet shows (if you’re old enough to remember Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s Noggin the Nog, think of that in full HD with the monstrous imagination turned up to 11!), that tenuous relationship sets the scene as – on the 422nd night – captivating Scheherazade begins the tale of a sage named Daniel who had not yet sired a son…

He roamed the world and lost almost everything before his wife fell pregnant. Daniel died before the birth but not before delivering a prophecy: the boy would be called Hasib Karim al-Din and be educated and adventurous. One day he would inherit all that Daniel cherished: long pent in a mysterious chest…

Hasib grew up to be an apprentice but – lazy and lacking ambition – fell in with a band of unscrupulous woodcutters. One day they found a golden hoard of honey in a deep cavern and the lumberjacks abandoned their comrade, leaving him to the tender mercies of a scorpion who lured him into the clutches of the fabulous and terrifying Serpent Queen. Deep below the earth Hasib feared for his life and soul but, in exchange for his own sorry life-story, the Queen began to tell him a tale of a king of far-off Banu Isra’il

That saga leads into another and another and yet another (teeming with battles and journeys and princes and wanderers and monsters and wonderful creatures) and we are carried along on a sea of fable and incidence: an interwoven series of nested stories each concealing the next, like layers on an onion and every one peeled back to expose a new hero or fool.

This seemingly endless progression has a point and purpose however, and just when the whimsical tension can be stretched no tighter the tale-telling tide turns and each episode miraculously resolves and we move small steps closer to Hasib and his long-deferred inheritance…

Or so says Scheherazade as she weaves her own spellbinding yarn…

Bold, vivid and graphically mesmerising, this enthralling progression of history, myth and imagination is a wry and loving examination of the act of telling stories.
© 2015-2016 Gallimard Jeunesse. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents will be published on June 18th 2018 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com

Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets


By Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-158-1

NBM’s magnificent line of European-created modern biographies always offers a treasure-trove of potent wonderment and this latest luxury hardcover release (also available in all eBook formats) is arguably one of the most beguiling graphic releases of the year.

Catherine-Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle was born on October 29th 1930 and for most of the 20th century towered over the fickle world of Avant Garde art as Niki de Saint Phalle.

She was a model, actress, writer, filmmaker, painter and sculptor, but made her greatest visual impact as a creator of gigantic assemblages and themed gardens. She was also a passionate and strident activist and advocate of cultural, political and women’s issues. She died on May 21st 2002.

That species of dry facts and lists of her creations and accomplishments you can find all over the internet – or even in books if you’re that way inclined – but in Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets graphic collaborators Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin unpick their subject’s torrid and too-often turbulent life through a procession of dreamy childlike chapter-plays and vignettes divided into the major arcana of the Tarot that so fascinated Niki.

French writer, artist and graphic novelist Dominique Osuch (Amours fragiles, Les Cinq de Cambridge, Tomoë) was born in 1962. She and took a literary degree in 1980 and an Illustration qualification from l’École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg four years later.

The script she provides for this mesmerising biographical account captures the raw relentless wonderment of a woman who always viewed the world with open-minded eyes but still sought to make it a better place…

Sandrine Martin also illustrates children’s books. She graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Decoratifs, Paris in 2004 and began selling illustrations to Le Monde, Libération, Psychologies Magazine, Bayard and Gallimard as well as creating short stories for comics magazine Lapin.

In 2012 she released a collection of her artwork entitled La Montagne de sucre and after completing the biography I’m plugging here released a book of illustrated short stories entitled Petites Niaiseuses.

A child conflicted and shaped by abuse, neglect and a strict Catholic upbringing, Niki de Saint Phalle grew up in America and France during the Great Depression, married young and unwisely and, through broad and deep friendships and recurring life-threating physical maladies and mental illness, discovered her true calling was exploring existence through the making of art.

She created towering monumental monoliths, whimsical parks, deviously themed art gardens and iconic soft and hard statuary venerating and exposing female form and functions. The tireless virtuoso and inveterate world traveller also collaborated with many of modern art’s greatest visionaries, wrote plays and made films to address and ameliorate her own childhood traumas. Whilst always championing and raising funds for the creation of galleries and exhibitions to bolster public health and wellbeing, Niki became one of the earliest advocates of AIDS Awareness, creating a book intellectually targeted at her young son which forthrightly explained the situation. It was released to great acclaim and success worldwide.

In the same vein, she also designed colourful artistic condoms that people would be eager to wear…

This book – which also offers additional material such as a succinct yet detailed Chronology, Suggested Further Reading and Creator Biographies – is a loving and extremely enticing celebration of one of the most important female artists of all time: a champion of innovation, modern technology, timeless sensuality and unbridled honest emotion. How can you not enjoy this superb introduction to a truly unique example of humanity at its most fundamentally alive?

Trust me, you can’t.
© 2014 Casterman. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

The Marsupilami volume 2: Bamboo Baby Blues


By Franquin, Batem & Greg; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-364-2

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs/The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac.

In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Le journal de Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957, but was now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures.

Now numbering 30 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the second of these was Le Bébé du bout du monde, released in 1988 and translated here as Marsupilami: Bamboo Baby Blues.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins in bustling, politically unstable capital city La Grande Ciudad where two young Chinese envoys attempt to charter an aircraft to deliver a very special animal to its ultimate destination in adjoining South American country Palo-Plagia.

The very junior and fiercely idealistic officials have not been prepared for the very shaky – if not shady – nature of all transactions in this part of the capitalist world and, after falling foul of an airline strike, are forced to complete their mission through regrettably “extra-legal” channels.

That’s why they are soon bouncing around in a decrepit ex-WWII bomber piloted by demented drug-runner and former German war criminal Helmut Ersatzauweis von Lilimarlehn who can’t tell their legitimate mission from his usual clandestine recreational pharmaceuticals deliveries…

After taking a most circuitous and totally unnecessary route, the ramshackle Aguila del Paradisio falls apart in mid-air over a certain patch of dense jungle and the befuddled captain ditches, leaving the diligent envoys to their fate. Without a qualm the Democratic People’s Servants attach their parachutes to the baby Giant Panda they have been escorting, trusting it to fate. Their last thoughts are of a particularly worrisome fact: the Panda can only eat bamboo and there is none in Palombia.

All known growing areas in the rogue state have been turned over to the cultivation of poppies and cannabis…

In the green fastness below the commotion is detected by a native fisherman who might be able to turn the tragedy to his advantage. Yafegottawurm is up for the change of pace too; anything is better than sitting on a log waiting for the vile and voracious piranha to bite…

Another witness with far more sympathetic motivations is also quick to react: the infernal, eternally mischievous, big-hearted Marsupilami…

When the golden beast brings the Panda cub back to his family he is disappointed to find the little creature reluctant to eat until it encounters Yafegottawurm’s recently abandoned fishing poles.

Apparently, bamboo is not quite extinct in the verdant interior: the Havoca natives secretly cultivate the grass in enclosed areas. It is a material crucial to their daily existence, highly prized and practically sacred…

That’s a fateful fact Helmut now shares, having being brought to the Havoca village by Yafegottawurm and taken under the wing of local witch doctor Yajussashahm. That dubious charlatan was originally educated at Harvard and Heidelberg and now, after years scamming the natives of their “useless” emeralds, plans on returning to civilisation to enjoy his last years in utter luxury.

Helmut would a useful companion for the return trip but their schemes are suddenly scotched when all that sacred bamboo starts vanishing and the enraged tribesmen demand their shaman sort out the escalating chaos and sacrilege…

The puzzled pilot thinks the Chinese might still be alive and behind the thefts, so all too soon he is despatched to his downed plane to check, while Yajussashahm does his magic act using his huge stockpile of fireworks and explosives. However, things come to a cataclysmic head when the frantically foraging Marsupilamis are cornered during another bamboo raid for their voracious new cub…

Even as the Havoca are painfully reminded why they have never successfully captured the frenetic yellow perils, the situation worsens for Helmut and the Witch Man when the River Police turn up on a diplomatic rescue mission…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this fresh exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin, Greg & Batem. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Tintin in America


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-802-4 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-614-3 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi, known the world over as Hergé, began the boy-hero’s third adventure Tintin in America (which ran from 1931-1932), he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer. Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of broad comedy and seemingly directionless, action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, his ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative was still developing.

Georges Prosper Remi created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy-scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine.

By 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

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

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Following directly on from Tintin in the Congo the valiant juvenile journalist heads for Chicago to sort out the gangster Al Capone, whose diamond smuggling enterprise he had inadvertently scotched whilst in Africa. However, Capone and his hoods are ready and waiting…

Thwarting the plots and schemes of the legendary gangster make for thrilling, uproarious reading, full of chases, fights and hairsbreadth escapes, but events take a darker turn – and broad detour – once Capone’s biggest rival Bobby Smiles enters the picture.

Head of the Gangsters Syndicate of Chicago, Smiles first tries to buy Tintin off and, when he is furiously rebuffed, tries repeatedly to have the nosy, crime-busting reporter killed.

Setting a trap with the police, Tintin smashes the GSC and chases Smiles out west to Redskin City, only to fall foul of a tribe of Indians the mobster has hoodwinked into attacking the indomitable lad.

Hergé had a life-long fascination with the American West, and it featured in many of his works (such as Tim the Squirrel and Popol Out West). It’s also clear that he watched a lot of movies, as many signature Western set-pieces are adapted to strip format as Tintin and Snowy hunt Smiles – a thrilling pursuit involving railroad chases, dynamite sabotage, a prairie wildfire and even tying our heroes to the tracks before the boy and his dog finally capture the desperate thug.

Returning to Chicago, Tintin is once more the target of the remaining criminal gangs, but they prove no match for his resourceful ingenuity, and the brave Belgian leaves America a better, cleaner place…

With this somewhat long and rambling series of exploits – still not quite a cohesive narrative – Hergé begins to pepper the instalments with sly, dry social commentary, beginning the process of sophisticating the stories. He also adds satire to the breakneck slapstick – an acknowledgement that adults, too, were devout fans and followers of the strip.

The comedy of such moments as the rush of speculators when oil is found on the Indian Reservation, or the inept way in which cowboys try to lynch Tintin and Snowy (is that PC these days? – Can’t decide, but it is still awfully funny), is graphically interesting, but surely aimed at a more worldly and cynical consumer.

Like your kids, or you…

Tintin in America: artwork © 1945, 1973, 2016 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1978, Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 9: El Padre


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-286-7

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 Le Journal de 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 towards an edgier, more 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 centred 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 as seen in previous volume Auld Lang Blue. 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.

Les Tuniques Bleues: El Padre was first seen on the continent in 1980, serialised in Spirou #2192-2202. Originally the 17th Euro-compilation, it comprises Cinebook’s 9th compellingly charming Bluecoats translated album of 60 thus far released in French…

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 an old married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

It opens on the Rio Grande as our heroes are pursued by a determined party of Confederate troops. The pair have stumbled upon critical military information and the Greycoats are resolved they will not get back to their own lines…

With no other options, Chesterfield and Blutch cross into Mexico, painfully aware what might happen if they are captured by the nation’s own army, or – worse yet – its rampaging bandits…

With the Rebs posted all along the US riverbank, the lads have no choice but to head inland and eventually – with Blutch whining all the way – are forced to make camp. It’s actually a ploy to distract the vigilant Southern soldiery, but instead draws the attention of a roaming band of Indian renegades, forcing the Bluecoats even further south and into the clothing of a murdered monk and peon they discover near an abandoned mule cart.

Dreading the prospect of Mexican prison, the lads seek another river crossing but are quickly captured by Apache outlaw Jacomino before being saved by an even more deadly murdering cutthroat…

Sadistic but (sort of) devout bandito El Señor Diaz urgently needs a priest. He has subjugated a local village for his own nefarious purposes, but the Peones are refusing his demands for food and tribute until their new overlord replaces their recently murdered holy father…

The obviously-Americano Padre will have to do and with the help of the villagers – who aren’t fooled for a moment by the feisty, two-fisted cleric in a badly-fitting, blood-stained robe – Chesterfield goes about his secular and temporal duties.

Father Chesterfield’s plan is to keep the peons safe until he can get back to the war, despite the constant harassment of Jacomino’s monk-hating band, but events cascade out of control once he learns that Diaz has a hidden treasure that will earn him vast wealth and a constant supply of weapons and ammunition from the Bluecoat Army…

A little dutiful prying by Blutch exposes the horrific secret: the prize is Emily Appleton, daughter of his commanding colonel and the blithely unaware object of the bluff sergeant’s unrequited affection…

With no other option, the enraged soldier resolves that he and Blutch will steal her back and make a break for the border. As usual the plan almost works but before too long both Diaz and Jacomino are in hot in pursuit even as the confederates await at the river’s edge for the fugitives.

If there was ever a moment for a last-minute cavalry rescue this would be it…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite an 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. Nevertheless, the scope for light-hearted, hot-blooded adventure is always high and this wild ride is also 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.

Lucky Luke volume 14: The Dashing White Cowboy


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan & Simone Kunzig (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-66-3

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

His unceasing exploits over 70 years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating in excess of 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has generated the usual mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

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

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

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

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

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

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 69 translated books and still going strong.

As Le Cavalier Blanc The Dashing White Cowboy was Morris & Goscinny’s 33rd collaboration, originally serialised in 1974 (and the hero’s 43rd album release a year later): a brash and engaging comedy of errors with the laconic freelance lawman encountering cunning bandits with a seemingly unbeatable modus operandi…

In the desolate wilds between frontier towns Luke and Jolly Jumper cross trails with a small but determined travelling troupe. The merry band consists of actor/impresario Whittaker Baltimore and his repertory company of the range: ingenue/leading lady Gladys Whimple, character (villain) player Barnaby Float and props man, set shifter and applause-starter Francis Lusty.

An affably welcoming bunch, they gift the wanderer with a complimentary ticket for their next performance in the nearby town of Nothing Gulch

Following a sardonic and satirical aside describing the nature of theatrical entertainment at this time and place, the story resumes with that much-anticipated melodrama “The Dashing White Cowboy” before the rowdy a not-particularly-au-fait Nothing Gulch crowd hungry for a break from everyday monotony.

Also eagerly lapping up the raucous entertainment are Luke and good friend Hank Wallace, but the boisterous audience participation turns ugly after a horrified cry of “The bank’s been robbed!” starts a riot…

Despite Lucky’s best efforts, the crime goes unsolved and soon after the motley crew up stakes for the next town. Coincidentally Miner’s Pass is Luke’s next port of call, too. At least it is now…

When the same performance is identically disrupted, the coincidence is too much to swallow… and then Luke – present at both crimes – is accused of robbery!

Barely escaping being lynched, our hero sets off after the Whittaker Company, Catching up to them in Indian Flats, he joins the cast, but when another bold theft occurs, he is once again the prime suspect…

By the time he gets out of jail, the trail has gone cold. Can it be that he has at last met his match?

Of course not, and, following a fortuitous break, the vengeance of the affronted justice-rider finally falls upon the deserving party… or is that parties?

Wry and devious, The Dashing White Cowboy is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, vaudevillian chicanery, dirty double-dealing and barrel-loads of hilarious buffoonery. Superbly crafted by comics masters, this performance affords another enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1975 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Papyrus volume 1: The Rameses’ Revenge


By Lucien De Gieter, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-35-9

British and European Comics have always been keener on historical strips than our American cousins, and the Franco-Belgian contingent in particular have made an art form out of combining the fascinations of past lives with drama, action and especially broad humour in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, it eventually ran to 35 collected albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

De Gieter was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on September 4th 1932 and, after attending Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels, worked as an industrial designer and interior decorator before moving into comics in 1961.

Initially he worked on inserts (fold-in half-sized-booklets known as ‘mini-récits’) for Spirou, such as the little cowboy Pony, and produced scripts for established Spirou creators such as Kiko (Roger Camille), Jem (Jean Mortier), Eddy Ryssack and Francis (Bertrand). He then joined Peyo’s (Pierre Culliford) studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs – which you’ll know as The Smurfs – and soloed as latest creator on long-running newspaper comic cat strip Poussy.

After originating mermaid strip Tôôôt et Puit in 1966 and seeing Pony graduate to the full-sized pages of Spirou in 1968, De Gieter relinquished his Smurfs gig, but kept himself busy producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey. From 1972-1974 he assisted Flemish cartooning legend Arthur Berckmans (AKA Berck) on comedy science-fiction series Mischa for the German Rolf Kauka Studios anthology magazine Primo, whilst preparing the serial which would occupy his full attention – as well as that of millions of avid fans – for the next four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieu; mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The enthralling Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated the latest historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rises against all odds to become an infallible champion and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah (peasant or agricultural labourer, fact fans) was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was liberating supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to his current duties: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Rameses’ Revenge is actually the seventh collected album, originally released on the Continent in 1984 as La Vengeance des Ramsès and finds Papyrus en route to the newly finished temple at Abu-Simbel on a royal barge; part of a vast flotilla destined to commemorate the magnificent Tomb of Rameses II.

Although his sedate Nile journey is plagued with frightful dreams, great friend and companion Imhotep tells him not to worry. Nevertheless, the boy hero dutifully consults a priest and is deeply worried when the sage declares the dreams are a warning…

That tension only grows when headstrong, impatient Theti-Cheri informs him that she has permission to go on ahead of the Pharaoh’s retinue in a small, poorly-armed skiff. Unable to dissuade her, Papyrus is furious when she imperiously orders him to remain behind. As they set off, the Princess and Imhotep are blissfully unaware that a member of her small guard has been replaced by a sinister impostor…

The vessel is well underway before they discover Papyrus has stowed away, but before the furious girl can have him thrown overboard, the boat is hit by an implausibly sudden storm and attacked by a pair of monsters.

Although boy hero Papyrus valiantly drives them away with his sword, Theti-Cheri sees nothing, having been knocked out in the storm. Still seething, she refuses to believe him or Imhotep and orders the expedition onward to Abu-Simbel. The next morning Papyrus and the guards are missing…

Pressing on anyway, the Princess and her remaining attendants reach the incredible edifice only to be seized by the band of brigands who have captured it. They want the enormous treasure hidden within the sprawling complex and already hold Papyrus prisoner.

If Theti-Cheri or the hostage Temple Priests won’t hand over the booty, the boy will die horribly…

The repentant Princess cannot convince the clerics to betray their holy vows, however, and in desperation declares that she will surrender herself instead. Appalled and moved by her noble intention, High Priest Hapu determines that only extreme measures can avenge the bandits’ sacrilegious insult and calls on mighty Ra to inflict the vengeance of the gods upon them…

The astounding, spectacular, terrifying result perfectly concludes this initial escapade and will thrill and delight lovers of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure.

Papyrus is another superb addition to the all-ages pantheon of continental champions who combine action and mirth with wit and charm, and even though UK publisher Cinebook haven’t released a new adventure since The Amulet of the Great Pyramid in 2015, anybody who has worn out their cherished Tintin, Spirou and Fantasio, Lucky Luke and Asterix collections would be well rewarded by checking out the six epic volumes still available (in paperback or eBook editions) and even harassing the publishers to start translating the rest of the fantastic canon…
© Dupuis, 1984 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Tintin in the Congo


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-2-20309-650-9 (2016 HB)           :978-0-78595-830-7 (1987 HB)
:978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known universally as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

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

Like Charles Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

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

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

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce 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, eventually running until May 8th 1930. The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial exploits – to follow. At least that was the plan…

Whereas the originally serialised tale was simply black and white and episodic, Tintin in the Congo as a book is much more stylistically familiar to modern readers. This saga, which originally ran in Le Petit Vingtiéme from June 1930 to June 1931, was radically restructured in 1946 for release as a collected album, and later, a rather shocking page featuring a rhinoceros, a hand-drill and a stick of dynamite was deftly replaced with a much funnier scene…

Moreover, this tale was unavailable to English-readers for years due to its depiction of ethic people and its white Eurocentric bias: a situation confronted and addressed head-on in the 2016 Collectors Edition in a forthright and contextualising Forward

So, making allowances for the time frame, what’s here?

Still hampered by his weekly, episodic format, Tintin and Snowy take ship for the Belgian Congo where they perforce have many little adventures, but also incredibly uncover a plot by US gangster Al Capone to take control of Africa’s diamond trade…

The book version features a Tintin retrofitted for both artistic and commercial reasons. By 1946 Hergé had completed thirteen full Tintin adventures and the characters were fully developed. It was both logical and preferable that new readers be presented with a consistent vision. Moreover, as Hergé had grown as both author and artist, the album editions gave him an opportunity to rectify some earlier decisions that he had long regretted.

When producing work for a perpetual deadline not only are you trapped by the urgent need to finish and move on, but you are imprisoned in the context of your own times. When ‘The Congo’ ran in 1930-1931, representations of ethnicities and more importantly the attitudes of a Belgium that was still a Colonial and Imperial Power informed the text and indubitably influenced the Catholic newspaper then paying for the strip.

In later years Hergé admitted to deeply regretting much of his early work and took every opportunity to repair it.

A scene in which natives are taught that they are happy Belgians was gladly replaced with a maths lesson and many images and scenes were subtly altered to enhance the standing and image of native Africans. The ongoing controversy regarding ethnic depictions in historical comics (and remember, this tale is almost ninety years old) seems doubly cynical and politically self-serving when one considers that Hergé was rectifying what he saw as racial slurs in the 1940s whilst modern society is still denying that there’s a problem. For every black African waving a spear and shield in this story there’s another in a suit, a uniform or tee shirt.

This yarn might be potentially controversial but it is also the transitional outing that confirmed the boy-hero’s drawing power: a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative adventure romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

And, although each exploit can be read singly, since Hergé was an early proponent of extended continuity, this early epic is actually necessary reading if you want a better understanding of the Tintin masterpieces to come.

Tintin in the Congo: artwork © 1946, 1974, 2016 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Kabul Disco Book 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Mark Bence & Fabrice Sapolsky (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-868-6

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Fallacious – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a superb case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts. It is also the initial release of trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ new Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

This fabulous monochrome travel memoir is the debut episode in a sequence by French writer/artist Nicholas Wild and details his globe-trotting quest for employment: a worthy endeavour which took the wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005.

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters and our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals or adversaries or opponents or even those who disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas…

‘Part One: A Winter in Kabul’ follows the culture-shocked scribbler as he arduously transitions to a country in the throes of enforced reconstruction and modernisation, joining the somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO Zendagui Media as they work to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Wild’s proposed task is to help define the fancy notion of democracy for the still-largely illiterate populace through comicbook versions of Afghanistan’s new Constitution…

The artist’s early difficulties in adjusting to the primitive conditions and superb gift for wry commentary then afford the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple as Wild succinctly unpicks Afghanistan’s convoluted history through the 20th century via a cartoon political primer that brilliantly defines how the place got to be such a corrupt mess. I certainly wish I’d had more comics like this when I studied modern history…

Days pass and Nicholas settles in, toiling against impossible deadlines, conversely feeling locked in or anxiously exposed whenever he goes exploring; always aware that in this place foreigners go missing every day…

Although the security situation remains tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing in the stunning Bamiyan Valley…

All too soon the job is done and Wild is afraid he’s going to be let go…

‘Part Two: No Spring in Kabul’ finds Wild on April 1st 2005, happy to be retained, albeit on a 3-month contract as a graphic designer for Zendagui’s new project. The brief is to supply materials for a US military-sponsored push to recruit native Afghanis for the new National Army. The thought of crafting military propaganda is not a comforting or comfortable one…

Spiced with further insights about his improbable and unpredictable bosses and new eating experiences, the real kicker is meeting new recruit Laurie White: a political communications expert who worked with the 2000 Bush Election Campaign…

Trips to the University of Herat and enjoyable days amidst the villagers soon cement the visitor’s sense of belonging but that all takes a hard knock as the political situation intensifies and overconfidence leads to Wild getting lost in old Kabul…

When a fresh kidnapping results in a full lockdown for Zendagui staff, Laurie teasingly reveals the true story of Bush’s “victory” in Florida but once the panic subsides it’s back to work. Even though Al Qaeda and the Taliban are ramping up their activities, Nick is sent to the far end of the Jalalabad Road to observe the filming of a recruitment ad even as Laurie is despatched to consult on the new voting form for a nation of more than two dozen different tribes and sects who don’t speak the same language and can’t read…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home again…

But is it for good?

Although rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco also provides a stunning, full colour ‘Bonus Section’ comprising candid personal photographs of Wild’s stay, plus extensive examples of Yassin & Kaka Raouf: the 10-volume educational comicbook he illustrated to explain the new Constitution for the newly democratised country.

Captivating, warm, funny, scarily informative and unobtrusively polemical, Kabul Disco is a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature. I can’t wait for the second volume scheduled for later this year – although I’m just going to have to.

Moreover, the quality of this book augers exceedingly well for Life Drawn’s other imminent releases (Vietnamese Memories: Leaving Saigon by Clément Baloup; Louisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel &‎ Mariko Tamaki; Madame Cat by Nancy Peña): a barrage of personal stories certain to challenge any comics fan’s definition of fantastic fiction and true-life drama.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 1: Comment je ne me suis pas fait kidnapper en Afghanistan, © 2007 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

W.E. Johns’ Biggles and the Golden Bird


By Björn Karlström, translated by Peter James (Hodder and Stoughton)
ISBN: 978-0-34023-081-7(HB)                      0-340-23081-9(PB)

In acknowledgement of today’s Centenary of the Royal Air Force, I’m reviewing a captivating combat classic starring one of the Service’s most glittering – albeit fictional – stars.

Although one of the most popular and enduring of all True Brit heroes, air detective Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth – immortally known as “Biggles” – has never been the star of British comics you’d reasonably expect.

Whilst the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Dick Turpin, Sexton Blake, Dick Barton and others have regularly made the jump to sequential pictorials, as far as I can determine the only time Biggles hit the funny pages was as a beautiful strip illustrated firstly by Ron Embleton and later Mike Western for the lush, tabloid-sized photogravure weekly TV Express (issues 306-376, 1960-1962). Even then the strip was based on the 1960 television series rather than the armada of books and short stories generated over Johns’ 56-year career.

Much of this superb stuff has been reprinted in French and other European editions but remains criminally uncollected in the UK. Indeed Biggles is huge all over the Continent, particularly Holland, Belgium and France, which makes it doubly galling that only a short-lived Swedish interpretation of Biggles has ever made the transition back to Blighty…

Created by World War 1 flying veteran and aviation enthusiast William Earl Johns (February 5th 1893-June 21st 1968), the airborne adventures of Biggles, his cousin the Hon. Algernon Montgomery Lacey AKA “Algy”, Ginger Hebblethwaite and their trusty mechanic and dogsbody Flight Sergeant Smyth ran as prose thrillers in the magazines Modern Boy, Popular Flying and Flying – periodicals which Johns designed, edited and even illustrated.

Initially aimed at an older audience, the Biggles stories quickly became a staple of boys’ entertainment in anthology and full novels (nearly 100 between 1932-1968) as well as a true cultural icon. Utilising the unique timeless quality of proper heroes, Biggles and Co. have waged their dauntless war against evil as combatants in World Wars I and II, as Special Air Detectives for Scotland Yard in the interregnum of 1918-1939 and as freelance agents and adventurers in the Cold War years…

“Captain” W.E. Johns was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century and wrote over 160 books in total as well as innumerable features and articles ranging from gardening to treasure-hunting, aviation, crime fiction, pirates and historical fact and fiction.

He created many heroic novel series which shared the same continuity as Biggles: 6 “Steeley” novels starring Deeley Montfort Delaroy, a WWI fighter ace-turned-crimebuster between 1936-1939, 10 volumes of commando Captain Lorrington King AKA Gimlet (1943-1954) and a 10 volume science fiction saga starring retired RAF Group Captain Timothy ‘Tiger’ Clinton, his son Rex and boffin Professor Lucius Brane who voyaged among the stars in a cosmic ray powered spaceship between 1954 and 1963.

Although much of his work is afflicted with the parochial British jingoism and racial superiority that blights so much of the fiction of the early 20th century, Johns was certainly ahead of his time in areas of class and gender equality. Although Algy is a purely traditional plucky Toff, working class Ginger is an equal partner and participant in all things, whilst Flight Officer Joan Worralson was a WAAF pilot who starred in 11 “Worrals” novels between 1941 and 1950, commissioned by the Air Ministry to encourage women to enlist in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

In 1977, veteran Swedish author and cartoonist Björn Karlström returned to comics when publisher Semics commissioned him to produce four new Biggles adventures; ‘Het Sargasso mysterie’, ‘Operatie goudvis’, ‘De tijger bende’ and ‘Ruimtestation Aries’ (The Sargasso Mystery; Operation Goldfish; The Tiger Gang and Space Station Aries, respectively). These were picked up by Hodder and Stoughton in 1978, deftly translated by Peter James and released as Biggles and the Sargasso Triangle, Biggles and the Golden Bird, Biggles and the Tiger and Biggles and the Menace from Space

In 1983, two further albums were released, created by Stig Stjernvik.

Although deeply mired in the stylisation and tone of Hergé’s Tintin, to my mind the most authentic-seeming to Johns’ core concept was the second, highlighted here for today’s celebrations…

Swedish designer, author and aviation enthusiast Björn Karlström began working in comics for the vast Scandinavian market in 1938, producing scale-model plans and drawings for the magazine Flygning. In 1941 he created the adventure strip Jan Winther for them before devising international speculative fiction hit Johnny Wiking: followed up with another SF classic which closely foreshadowed the microscopic missionaries of (Otto Klement, Jerome Bixby and Isaac Asimov’s) Fantastic Voyage in ‘En Resa i Människokroppen’ (1943-1946), before taking over Lennart Ek’s successful super-heroine strip Dotty Virvelvind in 1944.

Karlström left comics at the end of the war and returned to illustration and commercial design, working on jet fighters for Saab and trucks for Scania.

Whereas most of his earlier comics were rendered in a passable imitation of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, when he was convinced to produce the Biggles quartet Karlström adopted a raw, lean version of Hergé’s Ligne Claire style which adds a welcome sense of period veracity to the tales but often offends and upsets Tintin purists…

Biggles and the Golden Bird is set in the early 1930s and begins when the aerial adventurers are asked to pilot a new super-plane in an attempt to break the world long-distance flying record. Fact freaks might be intrigued to discover that the “Fairview” of this story is closely based on the record-smashing Fairey Long Range Monoplane, which stars in a splendid plans-&-diagrams section at the back that also includes the De Havilland C-24 Autogiro also featuring prominently in this ripping yarn…

When mysterious intruders brazenly steal the Fairview, intelligence supremo General Raymond dispatches Biggles, Algy and Ginger to track them down and retrieve the prototype air-machine. A crashed light plane and a rustic witness point the trio in the direction of Scotland and, dashing North in a ministry-provided autogiro (that’s a cross between a plane and an early kind of helicopter), they rendezvous with a fishing boat whose captain also witnessed strange sky shenanigans only to be attacked and overcome…

Their enigmatic adversaries had anticipated the pursuit and laid a trap, but with a typical display of pluck and fortune, Ginger turns the tables and drives off the thugs. The real Captain Gilbert then imparts his information and the autogiro brings them to a desolate ruined castle on a rocky headland, where Ginger and Algy are captured by an armed gang even as poor Biggles plunges over a cliff to certain doom…

Naturally the Ace Aviator saves himself at the last moment and subsequently discovers a sub-sea cavern – complete with deep-sea diving operation – just as his pals cunningly escape captivity. Fortuitously meeting up, the trio follow their foes and find a sunken U-Boat full of gold…

The uncanny reason for the theft of the Fairview and the mastermind behind it all is revealed when arch-enemy and all-around Hunnish blackguard Erich von Stalhein arrives to take possession of the recovered bullion before fleeing to a new life in distant lands. Having none of it the plucky lads strike, leading to a blistering battle and spectacular showdown…

Fast and furious, full of fights and hairsbreadth chases – although perhaps a touch formulaic and too steeped in the old-fashioned traditions for modern comics purists – this light and snappy tale would delight newer readers and general action fans and is readily available in both hardback and softcover editions, since the books were re-released in 1983 in advance of the star-studded but controversial British film-flop Biggles: Adventures in Time.

Perhaps it’s time for another revival and even some fresh exploits?
Characters © W.E. Johns (Publications). Text and pictures © 1978 Björn Karlström. English text © 1978 Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.