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.

The Paper Man


By Milo Manara (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-022-2

The lush and sensuous art of Milo Manara has always outshone his scripting – at least to English speaking sensibilities – but on occasion his pared-down writing produces genuine comic gems. One such is the egregiously STILL OUT OF PRINT monochrome wonder The Paper Man.

A sparse and gritty epic of Love and Death on the American frontier, the lavishly rendered graphic spectacle ostensibly tells the tragic tale of a young man looking for his Truly Beloved in a relentless trek across Arizona, and his chance meetings with pop-culture mile-markers.

These include a weather-crazed Preacher, a demented veteran of the long-past War of Independence, and the erotic and sensual Sioux maiden White Rabbit, all depicted against a backdrop of the most hallowed tropes and clichés of the Western, exported as cultural icons from Hollywood to the rest of the world.

By following a rather inept and innocent everyman through increasingly harsh incidents with US cavalrymen, wagon-trains, drunken and malevolent cow-pokes – plus, of course, marauding “Injuns” – none of whom actually conform to their stereotypes, Manara looks at the commonplace in a fresh if somewhat reductionist manner, without losing sight of the fact that the reader always wants an enthralling story, beautifully rendered.

This untypical western with its starkly sumptuous art and crushingly tragic ‘final reel’ owes more to Brecht than to Ford or Huston, but nonetheless remains powerfully true to its roots, and is achingly easy on the eyes. Minimal but wonderful, lush and Spartan, this is a Wild West story for every adult to enjoy, regardless of when they last put on a cowboy hat.

…So, for Pete’s Sake can’t somebody puh-lease re-release an English-language version, even if only as an electronic edition?
© 1982 by Dargaud Editeur, Paris for Milo Manara. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – 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…

Don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – designed to cash in on the epic movie from Luc Besson released this summer – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ comparing panels to stills from the films…

In case you were curious, other additional features include the photo and design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ and bullet-point historical lectures ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’

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). It was an instant hit. However, the 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, as Bad Dreams kicks off this volume, in its first ever English-language translation…

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 adventures, 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 eventually became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affable, capable, unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as ‘Les Mauvais Rêves – a blend of comedy and adventures as by-the-book time cop Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth but is soon rescued from a tricky situation by the fiery, capable young woman named Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of a vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and was soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure – until the 13th – was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus 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.)

The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; ‘La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes’ (#455 25th July to 468, 24th October 1968) and followed by ‘Terre en Flammes’ (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April to 10th July 1969).

Both are included in this compilation and the action opens here with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence and political chicanery and atomic holocaust – to recapture Xombul, still determined to undermine Galaxity and establish himself as Dictator of the Universe.

To attain his goal the renegade has travelled to New York after a nuclear accident has melted the ice caps and flooded the metropolis – and most of everywhere else. He is hunting hidden scientific secrets that will allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire from ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers believe…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are under water, jungle vines connect the deserted skyscrapers, Tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters are snatching up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has built his own deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delightful in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in the 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is still a timelessly witty delight of Science Fiction which closes on a moody cliffhanger…

Rapidly following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland and encounter hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of the super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets which originally ran in Pilote #520-541(October 23rd 1969 to March 19th 1970) and saw the veteran and rookie despatched to the fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent, capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline.

The mission is one of threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair are tasked with examining the first galactic civilisation ever discovered that has never experienced any human contact or contamination, but as usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market.

Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble soon attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies….

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship.

However, our dauntless duo are distracted and embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and exploring the mysterious outer planets, Valerian and Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is astonishingly revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly, yet unjustly, familiar this spectacular space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious.

Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Indian Summer


By Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt, translated by Jeff Lisle (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-030-2-8

Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15th 1927-August 20th 1995) was one of the world’s paramount comics creators, and his enthralling graphic narratives inventions since ‘Ace of Spades’ (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts) in 1945 were both many and varied.

His signature character – based in large part on his own exotic early life – is the mercurial soldier (perhaps sailor would be more accurate) of fortune, Corto Maltese.

After working in both Argentinean and English comics for years Pratt returned to Italy in the 1960s. In 1967 he produced a number of series for monthly comic Sgt. Kirk. In addition to the Western lead character, he created pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, detective feature Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea).

The magazine folded in 1970, but Pratt took one of Ballata’s characters to the French weekly, Pif, before eventually settling into the legendary Belgian periodical Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career…

However, a storyteller of such vast capabilities as Pratt was ever-restless, and as well as writing and illustrating his own tales, he scripted for other giants of the industry. In 1983 he crafted a steamy tale of sexual tension and social prejudice set in the New England colonies in the days before the Salem Witch Trials. The tale is timeless, potent and – naturally – out of print in the English language. In a world of digital publishing I find that utterly incomprehensible…

Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana (released and known as Indian Summer – although a more appropriate and illustrative translation would be “All things begin again with an Indian Summer”) was brought to stunning pictorial life by fellow Italian graphic raconteur Milo Manara.

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is best known for his wry, controversial erotica – but that’s more an indicator of the English-speaking comics market than any artistic obsession. The compelling creator is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his erotic career illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape – a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King) was released.

By the end of the decade he was working for the Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as a first-rank creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman – which initially saw print in A Suivre.

The “HP” of the title is his good friend Hugo Pratt…

New England in the 17th century: The Puritan village of New Canaan slowly grows in placid, if uneasy, co-existence with the natives who have fished and hunted these coastal regions for centuries. When young Shevah Black is raped by two young Indians, outcast Abner Lewis kills them both. Taking the “ruined” girl back to his mother’s cottage in the woods, he introduces her to the entire family – mother Abigail, siblings Jeremiah, Elijah and Phyllis – a whole brood of damned sinners banished by her uncle the Reverend Pilgrim Black.

The mother was once a servant in the Black household, but has lived in the woods for twenty years, ever since Pilgrim Black’s father raped her. When Abigail fell pregnant she was cast out for her sin and her face still bears a sinner’s brand. Aided by the Indians the reluctant mother built a cabin, and over the years had three further children.

Her progeny are all wild creatures of nature; healthy, vital and with many close ties both to the natives (from choice) and the truly decadent Black family (by sordid, unwelcome history and association)…

Now blood has spilled and passions are roused: none of those ties can prevent a bloodbath, and as the day progresses many dark secrets come to light as the intolerance, hypocrisy and raw, thwarted lust of the upstanding Christians leads to an inexorable clash with the Indians – by far the most sensible and decent individuals in the place – with the pitifully isolated, ostracized and alienated Lewis clan stuck in middle and betrayed by everybody…

Beautiful, disturbing and utterly compelling, this thoroughly adult examination of sexual tension, attitudinal eugenics and destructive, tragic love is played out against the sweltering seductive heat and primitive glories of a natural, plentiful paradise which only needs its residents to act more like beasts and less like humans to achieve a perfect tranquillity.

Sadly, every Eden has serpents and here there are three: religion, custom and pride…

Pratt’s passion for historical research is displayed by the graphic afterword in which he not only cites his extensive sources – including a link to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter – but adds some fascinating insights and speculations on the fates of the survivors of the New Canaan massacre…

Although there is a 1994 NBM edition available, I’m reviewing from my 1986 Catalan copy principally because I own that one, but also because the Catalan copy has a magnificent four-page foldout watercolour cover (which I couldn’t fit onto my scanner no matter how I tried) and some pretty amazing sketches and watercolour studies gracing Javier Coma’s insightful introduction.

This is a classic tale of humanity frailty, haunting, dark and startlingly lovely. Whatever version you find, you must read this superb story and if any print or digital publisher is reading this, you know what you should do…
© 1986, 1994 Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

The Last Musketeer


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books) ISBN: 978-1-56097-889-3

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 the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature and pulp fiction all feature equally with no sense of hierarchy and his puckish mixing and matching of his inspirational sources always produces a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds 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 augmented here by a beguiling palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours. This delicious caper is one of his best yarns ever and even spawned a prequel…

The Last Musketeer is an epic gem rife with his signature surreality; populated with his quirkily quotidian cast of darkly comic anthropomorphic regulars, and downplaying his signature themes of relationships and loneliness to produce a wild action-adventure for a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps to romp through…

The brief full-colour thriller opens with a drunk in a Paris bar. He claims to be the musketeer Athos, still alive after four centuries… and he is.

The contemplative warrior dreams of past glories and inseparable old comrades but things aren’t just the same anymore…

As he muses on a bench, destructive balls of energy rain down on the city and Athos realises he is needed again and might just have one last adventure in him…

Despite failing to get the old gang back together, he persists in his quest and, after fighting a couple of green-skinned invaders, induces them to take him to their world…

All too soon he is making friends, battling the flamboyantly evil King of the Red Planet, helping a Princess of Mars foment an Earth-saving revolution and encountering an enemy from home he had long forgotten…

And we’re all still here so he must have triumphed in the end…

Outrageously merging the worlds of Alexander Dumas with Edgar Rice Burroughs whilst gleefully borrowing Flash Gordon’s props and work ethic, The Last Musketeer is a superbly engaging pastiche that is pure nostalgia and pure Jason.

Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Jason. All rights reserved.

Cedric volume 5


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-253-9

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, by 1960 he was working in the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the print production technique of Lithography.

Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Spirou.

While there he concocted (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Comedy-Western Bluecoats plus as dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums.

Bluecoats alone has achieved sales well north of 15 million copies thus far…

His collaborator on this superbly sharp and witty kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca, who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his own break into bandes dessinée.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, Laudec landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built that into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the comic’s other regular strips.

In 1987, he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and from then on it was all child’s play…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief.

Collected albums (29 so far) of variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling in Europe, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

…A little Word to the Wise: this is not a strip afraid to suspend the yoks in favour of a little suspense or near-heartbreak. Cedric is almost-fatally smitten with Chen: a Chinese girl newly arrived in his class yet so very far out of his league, leading to frequent and painful confrontations and miscommunications.

Whilst the advice given by his lonely widowed grandpa is seldom of any practical use it can pick open scabs from the elder’s long, happy but now concluded marriage which will reduce any normal human to tears…

This fifth Cinebook translation – from 2015 although first continentally released in 1994 as Cédric 7: Pépé se mouille – opens with ‘Democratic Debate’ as election fever sweeps the classroom after Miss Nelly tells her kids to choose a Representative for the school council. Of course, passions soon run high and dirty tricks start to replace reasoned argument…

‘A Fertile Imagination’ and an Oscar-winning performance allow the little rascal to skate on a very bad report card before the kid proves a very ‘Difficult Patient’ after coming off his board. At least that is until Chen comes to visit and sees him sans trousers…

‘Snowed In…’ explores how simple snowball fights can escalate into something quite earthshattering whilst ‘Make it Look Real…’ extends the ice-capades when the kids “borrow” Grandpa’s clothes for a snowman…

Cedric finds himself ‘In Hot Water’ when he can’t stop interfering in Chen’s first swimming lesson and still causing grief by ‘Dyeing With Laughter’ when Grandpa decides to get rid of his grey hair, after which ‘It’s a Fare Cop…’ sees Cedric and best bud Christian try to avoid a scouting hike by hitchhiking…

Christian’s umbrella almost causes a riot on a wet school morning, leaving Cedric ‘Fuming in the Rain…’ before Grandpa delights in a little family revenge when the young master gets a ‘Slick Cut…’ from the hairdresser, but still comes to the rescue when ‘The Apple of Their Eye…’ goes missing…

The old geezer’s dreams of skateboard glory come closer to fruition after a series of unfortunate circumstance result in a ‘Slam Dunk…’ in the park.

When a relative has her beloved pet stuffed, Cedric gets strange ideas about Grandpa in ‘Straw Man…’ after which a calamitous contretemps ensues after Chen becomes the latest victim of Cedric’s bullying ‘Cousin From Hell…’

Yolanda – AKA Yeti – is spoiled, nasty and just a bit racist, but ultimately no match for the quick-thinking, razor-tongued Chinese girl of Cedric’s dreams, after which a ‘Stormy Night…’ leads to sleeplessness and unnecessary inundation before father and son endure the ‘Exposed Nerve!’ of a joint dental check-up…

The mirthful moments wrap up with a smart salvo of telling sentiment when neglected Grandpa wants to share a trip down ‘Memory Lane…’ with his descendants and a box of faded photographs…

Sharp, rapid-paced, warmly witty yet unafraid to explore isolation or loss, the exploits of this painfully keen, beguilingly besotted rapscallion are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters of every vintage…

© Dupuis 1994 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.

Billy and Buddy volume 5: Clowning Around


By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-200-3

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy – the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way and developed a unique style and personality, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou. Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006. This edition is the first Cinebook translation to feature the series as crafted by “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel

As Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Originally released in 2003, Quel cirque! was the 29th European collection, and the first completed by Verron and his team, but it admirably continues in the approved manner: further exploring the timeless and evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a few more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in spats with pals, dodging baths, hunting and hoarding bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

As well as shorter skirts and more modern toys the majority of this tome involves even more successful raids against the family fridge and local butchers’ shops, a marked improvement in successful bath attempts and the rather foolish addition of a doggy door. Sentimental burglars regularly fall for the dog’s cunning wiles and mum persists in trying to civilise her man, her son and that mutt, and of course enemy neighbour Madame Stick and her evil cat Corporal are always on hand to provide effective opposition…

One big revelation is that Buddy understands sign language – although how he learned is a shock – and when romance is in the air both boy and dog are similarly smitten and we discover that tortoises are not immune to the barbs of jealousy…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2003 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke volume 11: Western Circus


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-55-7

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures.

His continuing exploits over seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (68 individual adventures totalling more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

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

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

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

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

Lucky Luke first amused British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

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

Lucky Luke – Western Circus was the 25th collaboration – and now available both in English on paper and as an e-book – first published in Europe in 1970. The story is a classic range rider spoof of B-Movie westerns, with the laconic wanderer in fine form as he helps the (outlandishly) needy and deals with an iconic baddie in a most unique manner…

It all begins as our hero flees an Indian war party until saved by a most unlikely benefactor: soused circus impresario Captain Erasmus Mulligan (a deft tribute to the legendary W.C. Fields) and his pal Andy – a rather threadbare and motheaten Indian Elephant…

Soon Luke is helping fix a broken wagon and enjoying a free show courtesy of the far-travelled Western Circus; a talented band a bit past their best, who all came west to avoid clashing with insufferable showman P.T. Barnum…

The genial gunman’s private viewing is suddenly interrupted by an attack from the still-incensed braves of Chief Lame Bull, but Luke – and Andy – soon convince the raging warriors to watch the performance instead. Further violence is then forestalled by the arrival of a cavalry troop who escort the entertainers to Fort Coyote, a thriving township controlled by skeevy entrepreneur Corduroy “Diamond Tooth” Zilch.

The circus hits town just as the ambitious Zilch is promoting his annual Grand Rodeo, and when the populace seem more enthralled by even these tatty newcomers rather than Zilch’s old familiar festival, the big man decides The Show must not go on…

Before long his increasingly insidious antics devolve into utter farce and even a small-scale Indian war, and Luke and Jolly are compelled to slap on the greasepaint and join in with motley…

A deliriously rambunctious romp, Western Circus offers fast-paced, seductive slapstick and dry wit in copious amounts for another merry caper in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Blazing Saddles. Superbly crafted by comics masters, it provides a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1970 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.