Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and the Banquet, Asterix and Cleopatra


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion and others)
ISBNs: 978-0-7528-6611-6, 978-0-7528-6609-3 and 978-0-7528-6607-9

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a wily wee warrior who resisted the iniquities, experienced the absurdities and observed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion which bestowed incredible strength, speed and vitality.

One of the most popular comics in the world, the chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even into a theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created as the transformative 1960s began by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though their perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

When Pilote launched in 1959 was Asterix was a massive hit from the start. For a while Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

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

Like all great literary classics the premise works on two levels: for younger readers as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies regularly getting their just deserts and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, enhanced here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Launched in Pilote #1 (29th October 1959, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, June 1st 1959), the stories was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the all-conquering Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

With these volumes a key pattern was established: the adventures would henceforth- like a football match – alternate between Home and Away, with each globe-trotting escapade balanced by an epic set in and around he happily beleaguered Gaulish village (if you’re counting, home tales were odd numbered volumes and travelling exploits even-numbered…)

Asterix the Gladiator debuted in Pilote #126-168 in 1963 and saw the canny rebel and his increasingly show-stealing pal Obelix (who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero) despatched to the heart of the Roman Empire on an ill-conceived mission of mercy…

When Prefect Odius Asparagus wanted to give Julius Caesar a unique gift he decided upon one of the indomitable Gauls who had been giving his occupying forces such a hard time.

Thus he had village Bard Cacofonix abducted and bundled off to Rome. Although in two minds about losing the raucous harpist, pride won out and the villagers mounted a rescue attempt, but after thrashing the Romans again they discovered that their lost comrade was already en route for the Eternal City…

Asterix and Obelix were despatched to retrieve the missing musician and hitched a ride on a Phoenician galley operated under a bold new business plan by captain/general manager Ekonomikrisis. On the way to Italy the heroes first encountered a band of pirates who would become frequent guest-stars and perennial gadflies.

The pirates were a creative in-joke between the close-knit comics creative community: Barbe-Rouge or Redbeard was a buccaneering strip created by Charlier and Victor Hubinon that also ran in Pilote at the time.

As Asterix and Obelix made friends among the cosmopolitan crowds of Rome, Caesar had already received his latest gift. Underwhelmed by his new Bard, the Emperor sent Cacofonix to the Circus Maximus to be thrown to the lions just as his chief of Gladiators Caius Fatuous was “talent-spotting” two incredibly tough strangers who would make ideal arena fighters…

Since it was the best way to get to Cacofonix our heroes joined the Imperial Gladiatorial school; promptly introducing a little Gallic intransigence to the tightly disciplined proceedings. When the great day arrived the lions had the shock of their lives and the entertainment-starved citizens of Rome got a show they would never forget…

As always the good-natured, comedic situations and sheer finesse of the yarn rattles along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s expansive, authentic and continually improving big-foot art-style.

Asterix and the Banquet originated in Pilote #172-213 (1963) and was inspired by the Tour de France cycle race.

After being continually humiliated by the intractable Gauls coming and going as they pleased, Roman Inspector General Overanxius instigated a policy of exclusion and built a huge wall around the little village, determined to shut them off from their country and the world.

Incensed, Asterix bet the smug Prefect that Gauls could go wherever they pleased and to prove it invited the Romans to a magnificent feast where they could sample the culinary delights of the various regions. Breaking out of the stockade and through the barricades, Asterix and Obelix went gathering produce from as far afield as Rotomagus (Rouen), Lutetia (Paris, where they also picked up a determined little mutt who would eventually become a star cast-member), Camaracum (Cambrai) and Durocortorum (Rheims), easily evading or overcoming the assembled patrols and legions of man-hunting soldiers. However, they didn’t reckon on the corrupting power of the huge – and growing – bounty on their heads…

Some Gauls were apparently more greedy than patriotic…

Even with Asterix held captive and all the might of the Empire ranged against them, Gaulish honour was upheld and Overanxius, after some spectacular fights, chases and close calls eventually was made to eat his words – and a few choice Gallic morsels – in this delightful, bombastic and exceedingly clever celebration of pride and whimsy.

Asterix and Cleopatra ran from 1963-1963 in issues #215-257 and although deriving its title from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is actually a broad visual spoof of the 1963 movie blockbuster Cleopatra (the original collected album cover was patterned on the film poster).

Rome was a big empire to run but Caesar always had time to spare for the fascinating Queen of Egypt – even though she could be a little overbearing at times…

When Caesar called her people decadent, Cleopatra announced that her Egyptians would build a magnificent palace within three months to prove their continued ingenuity and vitality.

Her architect Edifis was less confidant and subcontracted the job, recruiting his old friend Getafix the Druid to help, with Asterix, Obelix and faithful pooch Dogmatix coming along to keep him out of trouble…

After another short, sharp visit with the pirates, the voyagers reached the Black Lands only to find the building site a shambles. Edifis’ arch rival Artifis had jealously stirred up unrest among the labourers and consequently sabotaged the supply-chain, entombed the visitors in a deadly tourist-trap and even framed Edifis by attempting to poison the Queen.

For all these tactics the ingenious Gauls had a ready solution and the Palace construction continued apace, but when Caesar, determined not to lose face to his tempestuous paramour, sent his Legions to destroy the almost-completed complex, it was up to the two smallest, smartest warriors to come up with a solution to save the day, the Palace and the pride of two nations…

Outrageously fast-paced and funny and magnificently illustrated by a supreme artist at the very peak of his form, Asterix and Cleopatra is one of the very best epics from a series that has nothing but brilliant hits.

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

Be warned though, that if pure continuity matters only Orion, the current British publisher, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – and are in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely aesthetic note some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather exuberant approach to colour that might require you to don sunglasses but could save you a fortune on lighting your house… and possibly heating it too…

This is supremely enjoyable comics storytelling and if you’re still not au fait with these Village People you must be as Crazy as the Romans ever were…

© 1964-1965 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Shorts


By Milo Manara, translated by Tom Leighton (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-087416-060-4

For some folks the graphic novel under review here will be unacceptably dirty. If that’s you, please stop here and come back tomorrow when there will something you’ll approve of but which will surely offend somebody else.

I’m in a mature and contemplative mood today, so here’s a review of a rather quirky and philosophical confection by one of the world’s greatest graphic eroticists. Originally translated into English from the French edition Courts Mệtrages by Catalan in 1989, it’s another inexplicably Out-of-Print graphic gem desperately in need of a English language release…

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink. He is best known for his wry and always controversial sexually explicit material – although that’s more an indicator of our comics market than any artistic obsession.

His training was in the classical arts of painting and architecture before succumbing to the lure of comics. In 1969, he started his career with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his adult career (see what I did there?) illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work, a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King was released as Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape).

By the end of the seventies he was working for Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as an A-list creator. It was while creating material for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman for A Suivre.

As the 80’s staggered to a close he wrote and drew, in his characteristic blend of bawdy burlesque and saucy slapstick, the eccentric selection of satirical, baroque tales gathered here as a wry and penetrating assault on modern media and bastardized popular cultural which were increasingly being used to cloak capitalist intrusions and commercial seductions.

In these absurdist, voyeuristic, fourth-wall breaking, intellectually-challenging and exceedingly sexy black and white vignettes Manara highlights the diminishing divisions between Art and Selling, with tales intended to make your head throb as much as your nether regions…

The sensorial incursion commences with ‘Commercial’, as couch-potato is inexorably drawn into the Casanovan drama he is watching and the drama’s TV-contained characters are impeded in their roles by the intrusive presence of the sponsor’s unsavoury product – adult diapers.

All of these tales are visually influenced by icons of the Great Arts, such as Luciano Pavarotti and Fellini, whilst ‘Blue Period’ details the ruthless nature of commercialism as a photographic director goes to extraordinary lengths to reproduce a Picasso painting for an album cover. Sadly, under normal conditions, the human body just doesn’t bend that way…

‘X3’ offers to reveal your sex-portrait with a brief questionnaire survey carried out by aliens well-versed in the techniques of abduction and probing whilst ‘John Lennon’ delightfully describes what happened after the master musician got to Heaven and ‘Acherontia Atropos’ plays a very dark prank on a cameraman who signs up to film a genuine snuff-movie…

‘Untitled’ returns to the role of unsatisfied Casanova as the legendary lover suffers a unquantifiable loss and surreal challenge to his life-style, but ‘The Last Tragic Day of Gori Bau & the Callipygian Sister’ sinisterly shows the dark-side of underage explorations as a trio of kids invoke feelings and powers they are not equipped to cope with…

The allegorical ambuscade concludes with the calamitously comedic surreal science fiction yarn ‘And’ as an Earthman and an Arturian escape from a dying planet thanks to the power of a book which writes itself and predicts the future. If only the incredible chronicle had a spell-checker too…

Described in Manara’s beautifully rendered, lavish line-work this explicit, daringly deep and sexually charged selection makes intriguing points of social and creative commentary in an utterly seductive and fascinating manner, but even at its most raunchy, funny and challenging this tome is first and foremost a work of sublime pictorial entertainment desperately worthy of a new edition.
© 1989 Milo Manara/Staletti, agent, Paris. English Language edition © 1989 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)
Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5, 978-0-75286-613-0 and 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and, whenever necessary, a magical potion which imbued the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962) illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

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

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

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

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

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck.

He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a western starring a Red Indian that became the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart, for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer finesse of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style. From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale. Be warned though that if pure continuity matters only the most recent British publisher, Orion, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – which is how I intend to review them – and are even in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

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

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 (August 11th 1960-1961) and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic pair tracked the kidnappers but were mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans were no threat they could be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans and invade the Barbarian lands…

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

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “sad”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British boys comic Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) and issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232; 25th June 1966). Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was an quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a radically altered state.

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

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

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.

© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Ordinary Victories Complete Set


By Manu Larcenet, colours by Patrice Larcenet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Complete Set ISBN: 978-1-56163-600-6.  Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1-56163-423-1 Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1-56163-

One of the very best European comics series of recent times is now available as a complete bargain-priced banded set.

Ordinary Victories examines the introspective and incidental life of neurotic, left-leaning, change-dreading Marco Louis in the years before the conservative/centrist Sarkozy government came to power. In mesmerising, eulogistic and winningly comedic narrative and alternating modes of illustration ranging from brashly big-foot to sensitively realistic, the soul-searching isolationist examines himself, his past, his art and his family and consequently finds a future he can at least settle for…

The four albums released in France translate to two solidly satisfying tomes here and opens with Marco, who has been subject to devastating panic attacks for years, not getting through to his therapist before giving up visiting his happy, married and well-adjusted brother to get high, chill out and reminisce.

Marco is just the kind of guy who lets life get to him. Visiting his over-protective mum and frail dad only heightens his general tension, but he does get a hint of parts of his father’s life he never before knew.

Returning to his isolated rural cottage and Adolf, his maniacal cat, Marco tries to get back to his photo-journalism job, but the despair and hatred he feels for the whole rat-race won’t go away. Wracked by anxiety and nightmares Marco takes his cat for walks in the woods where he encounters an abusive, trespass-obsessed farmer and a wise old gentleman.

When Adolf is savaged by a dog Marco meets a charming vet who inexplicably likes him, but life compensates for the nice event by getting Marco fired…

Unemployed but obsessed with his art, Marco still resists change: Emily is making noises about moving in together but the potential commitment terrifies him. He certainly can’t handle her outright demands for a baby…

The country seems to be heading for outright fascism too, his neighbour is a maniac and when he visits the old gentleman Marco discovers an unsettling connection to his dad’s mysterious war service. His paranoia goes into overdrive when he finds out what kind of a soldier old man Mesrin was and with his world spinning the angst-wracked artist is compelled to change or die…

The second part of volume 1 is ‘Negligible Amounts’ and sees the now officially-paired couple Emily and Marco visiting his parents where the son learns some unpleasant truths about his father’s health. The once vigorous and sharp-witted ship-worker is fading…

Marco’s shots of the dying Shipyard win him a Paris gallery show, but meeting his artistic and creative heroes proves a painful experience. Still the promise of a book might boost his reputation and save his dad’s old work comrades from redundancy, even if some of them are already talking of closures, unemployment and even changing their political allegiances…

With Right-wing radicalism in the streets and racism in the air Marco and his brother are pretty glum and soon after pretty drunk. When another panic attack hits hard the photographer only narrowly avoids an extended stay in a psychiatric unit… and then he gets the phone call about his father…

Volume 2 of Ordinary Victories opens with the eponymous ‘What is Precious’ as Marco slowly adjusts to his father’s death, getting even closer to Emily… at least when her incessant demands for a baby aren’t freaking him out.

With a book deal and a new analyst, things seem to be progressing but the contents of his dad’s diary provides fresh material for passive hysteria, as does his previously indomitable mother’s new attitude. Unable to stand the strain any longer, Marco confronts Mesrin and demands to know just what ghastly atrocities the old man and the deceased ship-builder actually committed…

The final chapter ‘Hammering Nails’ opens with new mum Emily and their delightful daughter Maude providing new and different anxieties for Marco, especially since he finally agreed to move the family into a bigger house…

The Shipyard is in its final days and as Marco photographs the resigned but striking workers his thoughts are more confused than ever. Everybody else either accepts or fights life’s vicissitudes: why can’t he do either?

There’s yet another election coming and everybody thinks a great change is coming – but for Marco that’s never been a comforting notion…

This is a subtle, funny and deeply contemplative tale, deftly understated and compellingly seductive. A commonplace guy handles nothing we blokes haven’t all faced and reacts pretty much as any guy would: astonished to make it safely through another day, always astonished that our partner seems to love us, claims to know us and yet stays anyway. Ordinary Victories is about frustration, loss, disappointment, and yes, occasional triumphs. These books are wonderful, sublime, magical comics and you really should read them…

© Dargaud 2005, 2007, 2008 by Larcenet. Translation © 2005, 2008 NBM.

Bigger Nothings: The Little Nothings Gift Set volumes 1-3


By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: vol. 1: 978-1-56163-523-8 vol. 2: 978-1-56163-548-1 vol. 3: 978-1-56163-576-4
Gift pack ISBN: 978-1-56163-599-3

I first became aware of Lewis Trondheim’s subtly enchanting vignettes in Fantagraphics’ Mome comics anthologies rather than through its internet presence and it’s an utter delight for this old duffer (me, not him) to see this blend of cartoon philosophy, personal introspection, whimsical inquiry and foible-filled observations gathered into such handy tomes for constant re-reading.

With over 100 books sporting his name, (which isn’t actually Lewis Trondheim but Laurent Chabosy) the writer/artist/editor and educator is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of such print successes as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky and editing the younger readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous works are the global hits ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey) and, with Joann Sfar, the Donjon (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years).

In his spare time he has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël),

He is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy and prefers to control scrupulously what is known and said about him…

A little while ago the well-travelled graphic introvert began drawing a deliciously intimate cartoon blog wherein all the people Trondheim knows are rendered as anthropomorphised  animals (with him a dowdy, parrot-beaked actor/director) which has been edited into a series of enchanting full-colour albums. Page after page of introspective, whimsical, querulous and enticingly intriguing reportage has emerged since, and thanks, presumably, to the global recession you can now pick up the first three in an extremely economical bargain gift pack…

Volume 1, The Curse of the Umbrella, features ruminations on gardening and possessing a vegetable death-touch, introduces his family, examines the love-hate relationship with technology and computer games and covers the dramas of becoming first time cat-owners at an advanced age. Hypochondria and the internet’s impact as an enabler of such recurs, as do work-processes for the self-employed, keeping fit, snacks, memory, death, bird-poop, the weather and travel to comics events in exotic locations such as the Reunion Islands and Edinburgh. The daily bulletins explore little events and really big themes and there are also purely visual moments that you just have to see to get…


In volume 2, The Prisoner Syndrome, the cascade of cartoon delights continues with more of the same whilst adding summer beach madness, floating with the fishes, exploring volcanoes, ecology and hotel wastefulness, comic convention memory (so different from the regular kind). There’s animal antics, travel, energy-saving, visiting Africa, Guadeloupe, Romania and London, the differences between men and women, global political crises and the heartbreaking helplessness and inevitable consequences of seeing your pet die.


Uneasy Happiness, the third and final volume in this collected set, sees the bird-faced gentleman amicably nit-picking and further musing his way through the life of an old and successful comic creator: travelling to conventions, making stories and dealing with the distressingly peculiar modern world, especially focusing on his increasing hoarding proclivities, concerns over his creative and financial legacy, mice in the bookshelves and packing…

The ruminations and anti-dramas regularly range from his inability to de-clutter (every comic maven’s weakness!), toilet etiquette (public and private), gadgets, marriage, parenthood, the actual science in TV shows, how mad cats are, brilliant ideas that come when you’re asleep, computers, and getting old, interspersed with reactions to the many wonderful places he has visited on the comics convention circuit (Venice, Portugal, Fiji, Australia and others in this volume).

All genteelly re-coloured for book publication, these Little Nothings have become some of my favourite 21st century graphic novels; gently contemplative, subtly pleasing…

I strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical yet hilariously existential spiritual refreshment you take advantage of this fortuitous collection with the utmost alacrity…

© 2010 Trondheim. English translation © 2010 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Buck Danny volume 2: The Secrets of the Black Sea


By Francis Bergése & Jacques de Douhet colours by Frédéric Bergése translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-84918-018-4

Here’s another of the latest translated versions of a favourite continental classic, courtesy of the fine people at Cinebooks; a publishing outfit dedicated to bringing the fabulous wealth and variety of European comics to we infamously resistant English-speaking graphic novel readers.

Buck Danny premiered in Spirou in January 1947 and continues soaring across the Wild Blue Yonder to this day. The strip describes the improbably long and historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and Jerry Tumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.

The Naval Aviator was created by Georges Troisfontaines whilst he was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency. The series was initially depicted by Victor Hubinon before being handed to the multi-talented Jean-Michel Charlier, then working as a junior artist. When Charlier, with fellow creative legends Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, formed the Édifrance Agency to promote the specialised communication benefits of comics strips, he continued to script Buck Danny and did so until his death.

From then on, his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took complete charge of the adventures of the All-American Air Ace, occasionally working with other creators such as in this captivating political thriller scripted by Jacques de Douhet.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A , Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. Bergése even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He finally retired in 2008, passing on the reins to illustrator Fabrice Lamy and scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Like all the Danny tales this second volume is astonishingly authentic: a suspenseful and compelling politically-charged adventure yarn originally published in 1994 as Buck Danny #45: Les secrets de la mer Noire and coloured by Frédéric Bergése) which blends mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old fashioned blockbuster derring-do.

It’s 1991 and in the dying days of the Soviet Empire a submarine incident leads the American Chief of Naval Operations to dispatch Buck into the newly open Russia of “Glasnost and Perestroika” to ascertain the true state and character of the old Cold War Foe. All but ordered to be a spy, Buck is further perturbed by his meeting with ambitious Senator Smight, the US dignitary who is supposed to be his contact and cover-story on the trip to heart of Communism.

Moreover, Buck is an old target of the KGB and knows that no matter what the official Party Line might be, a lot of Soviet Cold Warriors have long and unforgiving memories…

No sooner does he make landfall than his greatest fears are realised. Shanghaied to a top secret Russian Naval super-vessel Buck knows he’s living on borrowed time: but his death is apparently only a pleasant diversion for the KGB renegade in charge, whose ultimate plans involve turning back the clock and undoing all the reforms of the Gorbachev administration… and the key component to the scheme is a conveniently dead American spy in the wrong place at the right time…

Of course the ever-efficient US Navy swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds a political victory but there’s only so much Tumbler and Tuckson can do from the wrong side of the re-drawn Iron Curtain. Luckily Buck has some unsuspected friends amongst the renegades too…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension, packed with spectacular air and sea action and delivered like a top-class James Bond thriller, The Secrets of the Black Sea effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense. This is a superb slice of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle that enthrals from the first page to the last panel and shows just why this brilliant strip has lasted for so long.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages, the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enchanting tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Chocks Away, me hearties…

© Dupuis, 1994 by Bergése& de Douhet. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Little Ego


By Vittorio Giardino, translated by Jean-Jacques Surbeck (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-094-3

Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Italian electrician Vittorio Giardino changed careers at age 30 and began his true life’s work as one of the world’s most gifted graphic storytellers. Initially working for many European comics magazines, his first collection, Pax Romana, was released in 1978. There have been many more since.

Giardino has worked slowly but consistently on intriguing and complex characters such as detective Sam Pezzo, the cold-war hero Jonas Fink and diffident super-spy Max Fridman as well as general fiction tales, producing more than 35 albums to date.

In January 1984 Italian Popular Arts and nostalgic style magazine Glamour International featured an engaging ingénue in a sexually charged yet delightfully innocent homage to Winsor McKay’s immortal fantasy strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Little Ego then graduated to in her own occasional series in Comic Art (July 1985 to November 1989) which was reprinted in this saucy little collection and Heavy Metal and Penthouse Comics.

As well as some of the most clean-lined and sublime narrative art produced in the last half century Giardino’s unique ability to inform and suggest with nuanced expression and gesture plus his scrupulous devotion to research and historical accuracy elevates his work far above the usual adults-only one-handed reading matter whilst his clearly heartfelt homage to a past master and lost age reveals a sly, dry sense of humour and deliciously whimsical bent. Whenever his frankly frustrated heroine dreams the world is full of wickedly animated flowers, an amorous crocodile in her bath, mischievously narcissistic mirror-images, persistent but extremely handy umbrellas and the double-edged problems of ultra efficient bust-enhancement creams.

As all the vignettes end with Ego wondering what her therapist will think, it’s clear that psychological “hot-button topics” played a big part in the strip’s make-up…

Eventually the two-page complete adventures gave way to longer and even continued escapades, beginning with an embarrassing public nudity dream – but one with a happy ending – followed by the introduction of dream companion Onis, whose bold and boisterous nature inevitably got her and Ego into lots of sticky scrapes and situations as they went on an extended dream-vacation through the labyrinths of erotic imagery and her suppressed subconscious…

With wing-walking, the exotic Middle-East, lost palaces, Bedouin encampments, Big City fashion houses, night clubs and the permanent promise of the enigmatic Green Sheik and his under-used and over zealous harem to tantalise and titillate Little Ego (and her readers) this is a book open-minded adults will yearn to own.

Lucky for one and all then that even though out of print this seductive slim tome is still readily available…
© 1989 Vittorio Giardino. English edition © 1989 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Metropolis


By Thea von Harbou, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta (Donning/Starblaze)
ISBN: 0-89865-519-6

People who work in comics adore their earliest influences, and will spout for hours about them. Not only did they initially fire the young imagination and spark the drive to create but they always provide the creative yardstick by which a writer or artist measures their own achievements and worth. Books, comics, posters, even gum cards (which mysteriously mutated into “Trading Cards” in the 1990s) all fed the colossal hungry Art-sponge which was the developing brain of the kids who make comics.

But by the 1970s an odd phenomenon was increasingly apparent. It became clear that new talent coming into the industry was increasingly aware only of comic-books as a source of pictorial fuel. The great illustrators and storytellers who had inspired the likes of Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, Mike Grell, and a host of other top professionals were virtually unknown to many youngsters and aspirants. I suspect the reason for this was the decline of illustrated fiction in magazines – and general magazines in general.

Photographs became a cheaper option than artwork in the late 1960s and as a broad rule populations read less and less each year from that time onwards.

In the late 1980s publisher Donning created a line of oversized deluxe editions reprinting “lost” prose classics of fantasy, illustrated by major comics talents who felt an affinity for the selected texts. Charles Vess illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, P. Craig Russell created magic for The Thief of Bagdad and Mike Grell depicted the word’s greatest archer in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Arch period stylist Mike Kaluta worked on something a little more exotic; illustrating the original film scenario (a broad shooting script used by movie-makers in the days before dialogue) written by Thea von Harbou after her husband returned from a trip to America.

Herr “von Harbou” was German expressionist genius Fritz Lang, and his account of his fevered impressions, responses and reminiscences became the ultimate social futurist fiction film Metropolis – possibly the most stirring, visually rich and influential movie of the silent era – and officially the most expensive film ever made during the pre-talkies era.

If you haven’t seen the film… Do. Go now, a new re-re-restored version was released in 2010 – the most complete yet. I’ll wait…

The plot – in simple terms – concerns the battle between proletarian workers and the rich, educated elite of a colossal city where workers toil in hellish, conformist subterranean regiments to provide a paradise for the bosses and managers who live like gods in the lofty clouds above.

It would be the perfect life for Freder, son of the grand architect Joh Fredersen, except for the fact that he has become besotted with Maria, an activist girl from the depths. The boy will move Heaven and Earth to have her love him. He even abandons his luxuries to become a worker near her…

Distraught Fredersen renews his tempestuous relationship with the crazed science-wizard Rotwang, once ally and rival for the love of the seductive woman Hel.

Rotwang offers his aid but it is a double-edged sword. He kidnaps Maria and constructs an incredible robotic replacement of her, to derail her passive crusade and exact his own long-deferred revenge…

This “novelisation” – for want of a better word – is as engrossing as the film in many ways but the story is elevated by the incredible illustrations produced by Kaluta -5 full page artworks in evocative chalk-and-pastel colour, two incredible double-page spreads in black line plus 32 assorted monochrome half-frames and full pages rendered in black & white line, grey-tones, charcoal, chalk monotones and pastel tints – an absolute banquet for lovers of art deco in particular and immaculate drawing in general.

Whilst no substitute for the filmic experience, this magnificent book is a spectacular combination of art and story that is the perfect companion to that so-influential fantasy masterpiece beloved by generations of youngsters.
© 1988 by the Donning Company/publishers. Art © 1988 Michael W. Kaluta. All rights reserved.

Buck Danny volume 1: Night of the Serpent


By Francis Bergése, colours by Frédéric Bergése translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-905460-85-4

I’ve finally picked up some of the newest translated versions of a favourite continental classic serial, courtesy of the wonderful Cinebooks; a fine publishing outfit dedicated to bringing more of the fabulous wealth and variety of European comics to the infamously resistant English-speaking World.

All-American Naval Aviator Buck Danny was created by Georges Troisfontaines and drawn by Victor Hubinon before being handed to Jean-Michel Charlier, then working as a junior artist. Troisfontaines was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency whilst Charlier’s fascination with human-scale drama and rugged realism had been seen in such “true-war” strips as L’Agonie du Bismark (‘The Agony of the Bismark’– published in Spirou in 1946).

With fellow master-storytellers Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, Charlier formed the Édifrance Agency, which promoted and specialised in communication arts and comics strips. Charlier and Goscinny were editors of Pistolin magazine (1955 to 1958) and created Pilote in 1959.

Charlier’s greatest triumph is the iconic Western Blueberry (created in 1963 with Jean Giraud/Moebius). Charlier wrote Buck Danny until his death whereupon his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took sole charge of the adventures of the Yankee Air Ace.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his early twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A , Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. When Charlier died Bergése took over the writing too and even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He retired in 2008, passing on the creative chores of Buck Danny to illustrator Fabrice Lamy and scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Buck Danny premiered in Spirou in January 1947 and continues to this day. The strip describes the improbably long and historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and Jerry Tumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.

Like all the Danny tales this premier edition is astonishingly authentic: a breezy and compelling action thriller – originally published as Buck Danny #49: La nuit du serpent in 2000 – with colouring by Frédéric Bergése (I’m assuming that’s his son, but I’m not certain) which blends mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old fashioned blockbuster adventure.

At Kunsan Airbase, South Korea a veteran American pilot goes on dawn border patrol only to be hit by an uncanny light which blinds him and seems to negate all his F-16’s guidance systems. Despite his best efforts the jet crashes in the De-Militarized Zone and the North Koreans claim a flagrant breaking of the truce and a huge publicity coup.

Strangely though, the downed Colonel Maxwell is still missing. The Communists don’t have him and the pilot’s tracking devices indicate he’s still out there somewhere: lost in the No Man’s land between North and South.

The American military swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds either a tangible or political victory. Danny, Tumbler and Tuckson are at a Paris air show when they get the call and are soon en route to Korea for a last-ditch face-saving mission.

However as the trio prepare to join the covert rescue mission, evidence emerges which casts doubt on the authenticity of the alleged super-weapon. Meanwhile Colonel Maxwell has stumbled into a fantastic secret under the DMZ…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension and spectacular action, this is a classically designed thriller which effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense before its captivating conclusion.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enthralling tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Bon chance, mes braves…

© Dupuis, 2000 by Bergése. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Stigmata


By Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-409-2

In his latest magnificent endeavour, European giant of graphic narrative Lorenzo Mattotti (see Fires) has teamed with novelist and screenwriter Claudio Piersanti to produce one of the most powerful and evocative examinations of religious experience in recent times with their evocative collaboration Stigmata.

This impressive hardback describes the Job-like trials and tragedies of a brutal, alcoholic shipwreck of a man pushed beyond the brink of tolerance and sanity who finds a kind of peace and resolution, but unlike his Old Testament antecedent the protagonist here begins in misery with nothing before losing even those graces and by the end of his travails has found precious little knowledge or understanding but a sort of peace…

Drunken, brutal, dissolute, middle-aged and heading nowhere, the last thing he needed was holes in his hands that bled but wouldn’t heal. Already despised and feared, the lonely bum worked at a bar, but the wounds and the blood were upsetting even those gin-soaked sots. Moreover people were following him, thinking he possessed some divine secret or power to heal…

Eventually he snapped, wrecking the bar and confronting the vicious gangster who ran it… Some folks were calling him “the Saint”. He didn’t think it was funny…

As the city becomes even more savage and ugly he takes off; tracking down his uncle who worked in a carnival. When he finds the travelling show his uncle is gone – arrested for stealing – but the Carnies accept him and he strikes up a romance with the vivacious Lorena. Even working as a handyman his bleeding hands interfere, but the canny show-people turn it their advantage and set him up in a booth dispensing piety and miracle from his shabby, tawdry “House of Blessings.”

Travelling from town to town he finds a kind of peace but the Carnies’ secret sideline of burglary brings police attention. When his old gangster boss tracks him down and delivers a hideous punishment he destroys the Stigmatic’s last shred of hope and Lorena’s life forever…

And then the storm hits… a tempest of Biblical proportions that changes everything…

Stunning and evocative and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny which asks uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. Are these trials, so like Job’s cruel yet purposeful tests, the tough love of a benevolent father, the whims of a despicable devil or the random vagaries of an uncaring fate?

Emotive, shocking and utterly compelling, Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight.

© 2010 Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti. All rights reserved.