Bluecoats volume 1: Robertsonville Prison

By Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-71-7

The mythology of the American West has never been better loved or more honourably treated than by Europeans. Hergé (see Tintin in America among so many other early works) was a passionate devotee, and the range of incredible comics material from Tex Willer to Blueberry to Lucky Luke displays over and over again our fascination with all aspects of that legendary time and place.

‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius and scripted by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 52 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace Lucky Luke when he defected from prominent weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and is one of the most popular series on the Continent. After its initial run Bluecoats graduated to the collected album format (published by French publishing powerhouse Dupuis) that we’re all so familiar with in Un chariot dans l’Ouest (‘A Wagon in the West’ 1972).

Salvé was an artist proficient in the Gallic style of big-foot/big-nose humour cartooning, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually leavened the previous broad style with a more realistic – but still comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936, and after studying Fine Art, joined Dupuis as a letterer in 1952. In 1959 he created Sandy about an Australian teen and a kangaroo, and self parodied it and himself with Hobby and Koala and the later Panty et son kangaroo and the comics industry satire ‘Pauvre Lampil’.

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and after studying Lithography joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 before beginning his glittering and prolific writing career. Almost exclusively a humorist and always for Spirou, as well as Bluecoats he has written at least 22 other long-running and award winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfied and Corporal Blutch, a hopeless double act of buffoons in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, or perhaps Abbot & Costello or our own Morecambe & Wise: two hapless and ill-starred cavalrymen posted to the wilds of the arid frontier.

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with the second volume Du Nord au Sud (‘North and South’) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military). All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

Blutch is your average little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant and ever-critical of the army – especially his inept commanders. Ducking, diving, deserting when 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 man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and eprit-de-corp. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Robertsonville Prison, the first release in the series from that wonderful purveyor of translated European gems Cinebooks, is actually the sixth French volume, and is loosely based on the actual Confederate-run Andersonville Prison compound in Georgia. It finds the irascible, inseparable pair captured after a calamitous battle and interned with many other Union soldiers. However these two aren’t prepared to stay put – albeit for vastly differing reasons – and a series of increasingly bold and bonkers escape ploys eventually result in a crazy if appropriate reversal of fortunes…

The secret to the unbelievable success of ‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ is that it is an anti-war comedy like M.A.S.H. or Catch 22 cleverly pitched at a young and less cynical audience. Historically authentic, uncompromising in terms of portrayed violence but always in good taste, the attitudes expressed by our oafish, down-to-earth anti-heroes never make glorious war 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.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and tellingly worthy, Bluecoats is the kind of battle book that any parent would be happy to let their children read – if they can bear to let go of it themselves…

© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Yragael: Urm

By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream)
ISBN: 9-063-325210

The fantasy tales of Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not only in Europe but especially in Britain and America when the baroque and bizarre cosmic odysseys began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that “Old World” comics had to offer. By the time French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes launched the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant in 1975, Philippe Druillet, one of their visual and philosophical big guns, had been creating new myths for nearly a decade…

Born in Toulouse in 1944, Druillet was born and raised in Spain, a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced the doom-tainted Earthling, intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Jack Kirby and Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his mercurial star-rover for a number of short pieces which were first gathered together as a graphic novel in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane and the later compilation Lone Sloane: Delirius).

Following these early epics he further stretched himself with the astounding, nihilistic, “End of Days” cosmic tragedies of the doomed prince Yragael and his child of ill fortune Urm.

Readers of Moorcock, August Derleth and particularly Jack Vance will recognise shared themes in the woeful tale of the last times of Earth where declining humanity is beset by gods and demons keen on recovering their lost power, on a blasted planet where men still intrigue and kill each other for gain. From this guttering chaos arises Yragael, a potential messiah who founders and falls due to pride and a ghastly liaison with the dire Nereis, witch queen of the living city Spharain…

One hundred years later in the devastated wastelands of the world, the grotesque hunchbacked spawn of that illicit union falls under the spell of mendacious demons and attempts to reclaim both parts of his heritage. Urm is stupid but passionate and his cataclysmic visit to the horrendous city reveals that the Last Men are just as much playthings of the gods as the monstrous bastard himself…

This is a graphic odyssey of utterly Byzantine narrative and Brobdignagian, baroque scale and scope. The storytelling is reduced to the merest plot, as the text (more pictorial accoutrement than dialogue facilitator) and art goes into emotional overdrive. This isn’t a tale told, it’s a mesmerising, breathless act of graphic expression. If it helps think of it as ballet or a symphony rather than a novel or play: you’re supposed to go “wow!” not “a-ha!”

The visual syntax and techniques originated in these non-stories dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for decades. Character and plot are again pared to pure fundamentals so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that churned within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

His brand of universal Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled, and this is another work crying out for re-release in large format with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until that distant tomorrow this book will have to do – and do very well.

Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1974 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. © 1975 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasia: Adventure Down Under

By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-011-5

For most English-speaking comic fans and collectors Spirou is probably Europe’s biggest secret. The character is a rough contemporary – and bald commercial  response – to Hergé’s iconic superstar Tintin, whilst the comic he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and creativity by our own Beano and Dandy.

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, a magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938 (three and bit months before DC Thomson’s Beano, but still beaten by The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937), it was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to the publisher’s chief magazine, Le Moustique). With his pet squirrel, Spip (joining the cast on June 8th 1939, he’s the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself) he was the idea of French artist Robert Velter,  who signed himself Rob-Vel.

A Dutch language edition Robbedoes’ debuted a few weeks later and ran more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until it was cancelled in 2005.

The bulk of the comic was taken up with cheap American imports: Red Ryder by Fred Harman, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s ‘Brick Bradford’ and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark creation ‘Superman’ although home-grown product crept in too. Most prominent were ‘Tif et Tondu’ by Fernand Dineur (which ran until the1990s) and ‘L’Epervier Blue’ by Sirius (Max Mayeu) and they were soon joined by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jije” (during World War II Jije legendarily drew the entire comic by himself, banned US imports included, as well as assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created the current co-star Fantasio).

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944 when the Allies liberated Belgium) Spirou and its boyish star – now a globe-trotting reporter – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

Among the other myriad major features that began within those pages are ‘Jean Valhardi’ (by Jean Doisy & Jije), ‘Blondin et Cirage’ (Victor Hubinon), ‘Buck Danny’, ‘Jerry Spring’, ‘Les Schtroumpfs’, ‘Gaston Lagaffe’ and a certain laconic cowboy named ‘Lucky Luke’.

Spirou the character (the name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving under a series of creators into an urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour. With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou travels to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During the War when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jije who handed it to his assistant André Franquin in 1946. It was the start of a golden age.

Among Franquin’s innovations were the villains Zorglub and Zantafio, Champignac and one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in this current English translation), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his departure in 1969 – was the incredible magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952), now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums all his own.

From 1959 the writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

As the series entered the 1980s it seemed to stall: three discrete creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the creators of the graphic novel under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. This one, ‘Adventure Down Under’ from 1985, was their second.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim and the team of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera have brought the official album count to fifty (there also are a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

As Spirou and Fantasio arrive home exhausted from their latest assignment they are intercepted by Cellophine at the airport: odd things are occurring in the depths of the Outback and the always-newsworthy Count of Champignac is right at the heart of it. Instantly awake again all three fly to Australia where nefarious deeds are occurring at the desolate Albuh Opal Mine.

The crazy inventor is there on the verge of a fabulous and incredible discovery far more precious than jewels, but the ruthless miners don’t seem that impressed, although they are worried by disappearing diggers, inexplicable accidents, men driven crazy and, if some observers are to be believed, levitating aborigines…

This classy blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick is a pure refreshing joy in a market far too full of adults-only carnage and testosterone-fuelled breast-beating. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a cracking read and hopefully the start of a long line of translated epics that will become as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…

Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Art of Hergé – Inventor of Tintin: volume 2 1937-1949

By Philippe Goddin (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-724-2

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his 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 other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created twenty three 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.

On leaving school in 1925 he worked for the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked him to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history, and for such a pivotal figure who better to recount it than Philippe Goddin, friend and acclaimed expert and the man who directed the Hergé Studio research and archives for a decade?

This intermediate volume of three follows the artist’s progress week by week and year by year through the heady successes of his major creations, diarising key events, clarifying the various tasks of a jobbing periodical cartoonist and noting the key personal moments of the man’s life – such as his affair with a friend of his wife Greg and the moment he discovered his agent had been embezzling from him.

Liberally illustrated with original art, printed and retouched pages and frames, copies of the comics and magazines the strips first appeared in and many photographs this is a fascinating insight into the working process of a graphic genius. The hundreds of pencil drawing and layouts alone are priceless to anyone with aspirations of a career in comics. If only other artists had been as scrupulously meticulous in preserving the many stages of their creations!

Beginning in 1937 the chapters follow the progress and output of all five Jo, Zette and Jocko tales from The Secret Ray through to Valley of the Cobras, new Tintin from The Broken Ear and Black Island to Land of Black Gold (ten albums), and the slapstick japes of Belgian urchins Quick and Flupke (twelve volumes), plus all the revision to the previous output that kept his work fresh – and available – to his growing legion of fans.

Covering the tumultuous war years, his temporary ostracising as a “collaborator”, his depression, breakdown and return to success and popularity this is a book that no fan can be without and no would-be storyteller can fail to profit from.

Art © Hergé/Moulinsart 2009. Text © Moulinsart 2009. All rights reserved.

The Man From Harlem

By Guido Crepax, translated by Tom Leighton (Catalan)
ISBN: 0-87416-040-5

Born in Milan in 1933 the son of a noted cellist, Guido Crepax grew in an environment flooded with art and music (his closest childhood friend was the noted musician and conductor Claudio Abado). Inevitably the boy became a creative artist. Whilst studying architecture in the 1950s he freelanced as a graphic designer, illustrator and printmaker, producing book, medical texts and magazine covers, posters and record sleeves most notably for Classical and Jazz musicians ranging from Charlie Parker and Fats Waller to Domenico Modugno.

He won acclaim and advertising awards, but still felt the urge to do more. In 1963 he began drawing comics, and two years later created his most famous character Valentina for the second issue of Linus. She was initially the lead character’s girlfriend, but whereas superhero Neutron soon lost the interest of readers, the sexy, psychedelic, culturally bold and accessible distaff evolved to become an evocative, fantastic, sophisticated, erotic zeitgeist of the 1960s and far, far beyond.

Although noted – if not always revered – for his strongly erotic female characters, Crepax was an astute and sensitive tale-teller and examiner of the human condition, and all his varied works vibrate with strong themes of charged sexuality and violence. There can also be seen a deep understanding of history and moment, particularly in regard to the popular arts. In The Man from Harlem (based I strongly suspect on the old Cab Calloway standard) a young black musician in 1946 New York City faces the biggest dilemma of his life and is forever changed…

Little Johnny Lincoln was just like any other young negro in a white man’s world, but now with the war over, that world has changed, and in certain areas black people are finally getting a chance to show what they can do. Leaving the Stadium where Joe Louis has once more defended his World Heavyweight title, he stumbles into a fracas and knocks out a white man chasing a white woman.

She is just street trash, a hooker, but somehow the musician is drawn to the abrasive desperate young woman and tries to protect her. She claims to have seen her pursuer murder a man, but Lincoln is still determined to shield her – even from the disapprobation of his own kind, as well the guns of the mob who want her silenced…

White gangsters are trying to move in on the Harlem action: a mob war is brewing and even the club where Lincoln plays is smashed up in the turf-battles. Polly becomes a virtual prisoner in his home; she knows that she is bringing trouble to Lincoln and his family, but can’t find the nerve to run or testify to the cops until she has a bitter confrontation with Lincoln’s girlfriend Bessie. Knowing there’s no place for her anywhere Polly heads for the local police station. She doesn’t make it…

Pushed to the edge of endurance, seeing the pitifully few advances and freedoms blacks have won being taken away again, Little Johnny Lincoln picks up a gun and with visions of the Klan blazing in his head goes out to take a White Man’s vengeance…

For anybody else this would be an impressive Noir tale of human dignity, intolerance and justice, but Crepax, ever-experimental, went beyond the twists and turns of his plot (and don’t imagine you’ve guessed the ending: it’s a real surprise) and by innovative design and sharp intercutting with shots of hot Jazz numbers turned the art into an entrancing freeform, tension-building visual soundtrack (much as Bill Sienkiewicz attempted a little later in the Moon Knight tale ‘Hit It!’).

This is a powerful saga magnificently told, using the language, terms and racial epithets prevalent in the 1940s. If the “N” word is going to offend you don’t seek out this superb adult thriller, depicted in a truly unique style and manner: everybody else with their senses of drama, history and perspective intact should go ahead and enjoy a brilliant tale: one desperately in need of reprinting…
© 1978, 1987 Editoriale CEPIM, Milan. English translation © 1987 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Lone Sloane: Delirius

By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream/Heavy Metal)
ISBN: 2-205-00632-0

The seminal fantasy icon Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not so much in his own country but in Britain and America when his adventures began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that European comics had to offer. In 1975 French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes began publishing the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant, but one of their visual mainstays had begun nearly a decade earlier…

Philippe Druillet, born in Toulouse in 1944, and raised in Spain, is a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced a doom-tainted intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his cosmic and deeply baroque star-rover in a number of short pieces which were gathered together in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane) this cool and memorable album was the only place they could be found in an English translation, and yet they are merely a prelude for the fantastic fantasy that makes up the rest of Lone Sloane: Delirius.

So by way of recapitulation those Six Voyages were ‘The Throne of the Black God’ wherein Sloane is captured by a demonic chair and dumped on a desolate world to await possession by a cosmic god of chaos, whilst in ‘The Isle of the Doom Wind’ he thwarts space pirates. In ‘Rose’ he is trapped on a world of robotic junk and faces oppressive piracy in ‘Torquedara Varenkor: the Bridge over the Stars’.

In ‘O Sidarta’ Sloane regained control of his long-lost super-spaceship and began a quest to return to Earth and overthrow the despotic Imperium, a quest that culminated in startling revelations of his destiny in ‘Terra’: a portentous prelude before the main event…

‘Delirius’ was scripted by celebrated comics writer Jacques Lob (Jerry Spring, Ténébrax, Blanche Épiphanie and Superdupont among others) and in a jarring cacophony of visual Sturm und Drang pitched the intergalactic vagabond into the midst of a power struggle between the Imperator of all Galaxies and his own clergy, the deeply fundamentalist Red Redemption.

Delirius was a useless mudball until the supreme overlord found a way to make it pay. By converting the entire world into a highly-taxed cash-cow of legal debauchery “The Planet of a Hundred Thousand Pleasures” became a perfect way to placate the populace and generate revenue for further conquests. Now the priests have approached Sloane with a perfect plan to steal all the cash and thereby remove the planetary governor: but priests can’t be trusted, nothing can be planned for on a world of utter licentious chaos and Sloane always has his own agenda…

This is a graphic odyssey of truly Byzantine scale and scope: the twists and turns, the visual syntax and tone created here dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for the next two decades. Character and plot were winnowed to bare essentials so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that seemed to churn within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

As the scheme went inevitably, utterly awry the sheer energy of the artist’s cosmic Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled. This is a tale crying out for re-release in large format and with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until then this book will have to do – and do very well. Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1972, 1973 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur.

Aquablue & Aquablue: the Blue Planet

By Cailleteau & Vatine; translated by Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier (Dark Horse)
ISBNs: 978-1-87857-400-8 and 1-87857-404-3

I’m tempted to file these little crackers under “unfinished business” as these slim translated French albums feature the first two instalments of a classy, stylish science fiction saga that sadly hit a reef before its conclusion, despite being one of the most long-lived and impressive epics from a country that seems to specialize in successfully exporting edgy, clever comic fantasies.

In Aquablue the Starliner Silver Star is lost due to a meteor strike and in the rush to the life pods a baby is left behind. Rescued by a robot the boy is reared in space until, eight years later, he finds a planet. The world only has 3% landmass, but is inhabited by a primitive, amiable race of humanoids, and incredibly huge marine species.

In ten years the boy grows to manhood and as Tumu-Nao, becomes a valued member of the tribe. He is even betrothed to the chief’s daughter, Mi-Nuee, and the natives believe him blessed by their god, a gigantic whale-like creature called Uruk-Uru. Unfortunately Nao’s idyllic life forever alters when an Earth survey ship lands and Terran Ethnologist Maurice Dupre discovers that the young man is Wilfred Morgenstern: lost heir to Earth’s greatest financial empire, the United Energy Consortium.

However, that Consortium has already enacted a shady deal to turn Aquablue into a vast hyper-station, which will result in the watery globe becoming a gigantic ice-ball, and they certainly don’t need a naive boss who has gone native to queer their big score. Nao’s own aunt puts out a hit on the rediscovered heir, but nobody realises that his connection to the “gods” of Aquablue is real and shockingly powerful…

The Blue Planet finds Nao returning to Earth not so much to claim his birthright as to safeguard his adopted homeworld from human incursion. While he is away the Consortium has resorted to the same tactics European imperialists used as they absorbed indigenous Earth cultures – destroying them with free booze and cheap baubles.

Noa’s father-in-law organizes a resistance movement, fleeing with the entire tribe to the polar regions, but on Earth Nao/Wilfred is having trouble resisting the allure of technological civilisation, until Mi-Nuee, who had stowed away on a starship, rises like a gleaming message from Uruk-Uru out of the Ocean swell. With the help of Dupre they return in time for the final battle against the Consortium forces that have hunted the natives into the frozen wastelands…

And that was that.

Thierry Cailleteau & Olivier Vatine first teamed to produce the outlandishly comedic Adventures of Fred and Bob but really hit their peak on these superb eco-thrillers, based tellingly on the colonial outrages of Western Civilisation: especially in their treatment of Polynesian cultures. The series continued for another nine volumes with artists Ciro Tota and Stéphane Brangier replacing Vatine from the fifth book, moving beyond the original storyline into fascinating areas of conservation and space opera!

Although these slender pearls are worth a look just for the superb quality of art and narrative I’m plugging them here in the greedy hope that with so much European material finally crossing the channel into English, somebody will pick up and complete the translation of this delicious adventure series. Cross your fingers…
© 1988, 1990 Guy Delcourt Productions. English translation © 1989, 1990 Dark Horse Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane

By Philippe Druillet, translated by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier (NBM)
ISBN: 0-918348-97-8

Comics and fantasy story-telling took a huge leap forward in 1975 when French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes began publishing the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant. However one of their visual mainstays had begun nearly a decade earlier.

Philippe Druillet was a photographer and artist who had started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced a doom-tainted intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt.

Druillet was born in Toulouse in 1944, and raised in Spain, and his comics work is panoramic, cosmic and deeply baroque. He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his star-rover in a number of short pieces gathered together as The Six Voyages in 1972. This collection from 1991 presents them in English and perfectly captures the Gothic intensity of the saga which inspired so many artists.

In ‘The Throne of the Black God’ Sloane’s ship is destroyed by a demonic chair that kidnaps him to a desolate world to await possession by a cosmic god of chaos, whilst in ‘The Isle of the Doom Wind’ the throne-riding sidereal vagabond thwarts space pirates. In the macabre romance ‘Rose’ he is trapped on a world of robotic junk and the occasional series leapt into interstellar overdrive with the oppressive battle-thriller ‘Torquedara Varenkor: the Bridge over the Stars’.

In ‘O Sidarta’ Sloane recaptured his long-lost super spaceship and began a quest to return to Earth and overthrow the despotic Imperium, a quest that culminated in startling revelations of his destiny in ‘Terra’: all of which were simply preludes for his next ambitious epic ‘Delerius.’

The stories here are mere skeletons for the high-concepts which fascinate the artist, and their true appeal lies in the startling graphic innovations in design and layout Druillet seemed to let explode from his pen and brain. Moreover the sheer energy of his work scintillates when reproduced on extra-large pages (310mm x 233mm). This is book every art lover of fan of the fantastic simply must have. Surely it’s time for another luxury collection to be released?
© Humanoides Associes 1991. English Translation © 1991 Dark Horse.


By Jordi Bernet & various, edited by Manual Auad (Auad Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-96693-812-8

¡Perfect Christmas Present Alert! For him or her if they’re “Of Age”

When you’re a thrill starved kid enchanted by comics the first stage of development is slavishly absorbing everything good, bad and indifferent. Then comes the moment that you see subtle nuances which inexplicably makes some features favourites whilst others become simply filler.

I first recognised Jordi Bernet’s work on The Legend Testers. By “recognised” I mean the very moment I first discerned that somebody actually drew the stuff I was adoring, and that it was better than the stuff either side of it. This was 1966 when British comics were mostly black and white and never had signatures or credits so it was years before I knew who had sparked my interest.

Jordi Bernet Cussó was born in Barcelona in 1944, son of a prominent and successful humour cartoonist. When his father died suddenly Jordi, aged 15, took over his father’s strip Doña Urraca (Mrs. Magpie). A huge fan of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and particularly the expressionist genius Milton Caniff he yearned for less restrictive horizons; he left Spain in the early 1960s and moved into dramatic storytelling.

He worked for Belgium’s Spirou, Germany’s Pip and Primo, before finding work on English weeklies. Bernet worked for British publishers between 1964 and 1967, and as well as the Odhams/Fleetway/IPC anthologies Smash, Tiger and War Picture Library he also produced superlative material for DC Thomson’s Victor and Hornet.

He even illustrated a Gardner Fox horror short for Marvel’s Vampire Tales #1 in 1973, but mainstream America was generally denied his mastery (other than a few translated Torpedo volumes and a Batman short story) until the21st century reincarnation of Jonah Hex – where he still occasionally works.

His most famous strips include thrillers Dan Lacombe (written by his uncle Miguel Cussó), Paul Foran (scripted by José Larraz) the saucy Wat 69 and spectacular post-apocalyptic barbarian epic Andrax (both with Cussó again).

When General Franco died Bernet returned to Spain and began working for Cimoc, Creepy and Metropol, collaborating with Antonio Segura on the sexy fantasy Sarvan and the dystopian SF black comedy Kraken, and with Enrique Sánchez Abulí on the gangster and adult themes tales that have made him one of the world’s most honoured artists, and which culminated on the incredibly successful crime saga Torpedo 1936.

This magnificent commemoration of his career thus far spans those years when he first echoed his father’s style through to the sleek minimalist, chiaroscuric, emphatic line economy that bores into readers hindbrains like hot lead from a smoking 45. Also on view as well as the violence there’s ample example of his sly, witty (and just as hot!) sex comedy material: Bernet is an absolute master of the female form and his adult material – created with Carlos Trillo – such as Custer, Clara De Noche and Cicca is truly unforgettable.

This glorious deluxe hardback gathers together a vast quantity of covers, book illustrations, sketches, drawings, pin-ups and studies, advertising work, and that Batman stuff, with a separate chapter on Bernet’s Beauties, a biography (which could, I must admit, have done with one last proof-read before going to press) and full check-listing of his works and awards. There are heartfelt artistic contributions and tributes from some of his vast legion of fans: Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Jordi Langaron, Carlos Nine, Josep M. Bea, Luca Biagnini. Al Dellinges, Josep Toutain, Eduardo Risso, Horacio Altuna, Carlos Gimenez, Sergio Aragonés, Carlos Trillo, Juan Gimenez and Hobie MacQuarrie, but the true delights here are the 16 complete stories: Torpedo 1936, Sarvan, Custer, Clara De Noche, and Kraken as well as westerns, war stories, comedies and crime thrillers.

This is an incredible tribute to an incredible creator, and one no artist with professional aspirations can afford to miss: but parents be warned – there’s lots of nudity and violence beautifully depicted here – so be sure to read it yourselves first, Just in case…

All art and characters © 2009 their respective copyright holders. All Rights Reserved.

Orbital volume 1: Scars & volume 2: Ruptures

By Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-61-8 & ISBN: 978-905460-61-8

The truest thing that can be said about French science fiction is that it always delivers amazing style and panache even when the plots may be less than original. In Serge Pellé and Sylvain Runberg’s beautiful Orbital series a seemingly mismatched pair of Peacekeeper agents are dispatched to quell an incipient brushfire war – just like marshals in a western – but the tale is delivered with such skill and artistry that it’s as fresh as the first time I encountered the notion.

After years of galactic exclusion Earth in the 23rd century has finally been allowed to join a vast confederation of interstellar civilisations despite grave concerns about humanity’s aggressive nature and xenophobic tendencies. A militant isolationist faction on Earth had moved from politics to horrific terrorism in the immediate run-up to joining, committing atrocities both on Earth and distant worlds where they had developed colonies and mining bases, but ultimately they failed to prevent humanity’s inclusion in the pan-galactic union.

One particular Confederation worry was the way humans had treated aliens like the Sandjarrs, whose world was invaded in Earth’s all-consuming drive for territory and exploitable resources. The subsequent atrocities almost exterminated the stoic, pacifistic desert creatures…

Interworld Diplomatic Office agents are assigned in pairs to troubleshoot throughout the galaxy, defusing crises before they can become flashpoints. Now Caleb, IDO’s first human operative, is teamed with Mezoke, a Sandjarr, a situation clearly designed as a high-profile political stunt, as is their initial mission: convincing an Earth mining colony to surrender their profitable operation back to the aliens who actually own the moon it’s situated on…

Moreover, even though Earth is a now a member of the Confederation, with humans well placed in all branches of interstellar service, the Isolationist cause is still deeply cherished by many, needing only the slightest spark to ignite…

In Scars Caleb and Mezoke, still learning to cope with each other, are too-quickly dispatched to the ghastly mud-ball moon Senestam to convince belligerent human colonists to pack up and leave quietly. The naked hostility they meet is transformed to sheer terror when the situation escalates and monstrous beasts begin attacking. An armada of rapacious creatures capable of boring through rock and steel are likely to eat every sentient in town before the IDO agents can broker any kind of deal…

The crisis takes a decidedly tricky turn in the concluding album Ruptures when the marauding beasts are discovered to have been lured into attacking the colonists. The crisis has been manufactured as part of a greater scheme: but who really profits from this developing tragedy?

Sabotage and murder are swiftly added to the miners’ woes, and whilst Caleb and Mezoke desperately seek a solution satisfactory to all sides, an anti-human faction of the Confederation makes its first move to oust Earth from the interstellar alliance. Perhaps they’re not misguided though, since an Isolationist coup is also kicking off in the torrential skies above Senestam…

Fast-paced, action-packed, gritty space-opera with delightfully complex sub-plots fuelled by political intrigue and infighting elevates this tale for older readers to lofty heights, and although Caleb and Mezoke come off a little less than fully rounded characters in this initial tale, Orbital looks like a being a series to watch closely.

© 1968 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.