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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jazz: sweet, hot Jazz music…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He, too, once knew an Eppily…

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

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

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

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

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

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 2


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

Valérian is arguably the most influential pictorial science fiction series ever published – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that expansive and undoubtedly contentious statement.

Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Méziéres & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). Although it was a huge hit, graphic album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all concerned considered the first yarn as a work-in-progress and not quite up to a preferred standard.

You can judge for yourself, by getting hold of the previous hardcover compilation volume…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane cosmic excursions, which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

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

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

Valérian adventures were initially serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of 13th adventure The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending exploits were simply premiered as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent saga concluded in 2010.

(One clarifying note: in the canon “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Bad Dreams was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick & Flupke: Under Full Sail


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbe


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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbe died on February 9th 2014.

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

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

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

Mondo Erotica – the Art of Roberto Baldazzini


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoko Tsuno volume 11: The Three Suns of Vinea


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athos in America


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

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his Mjau Mjau strip and the next year turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has numerous major awards from such disparate locales as France, Slovakia and the USA.

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

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

As always, the visual/verbal bon mots unfold in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity. That delight is augmented here by a varied and beguiling palette ranging from stark pastels to muted primary colours to moody duotone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bluecoats volume 8: Auld Lang Blue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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