The Mercenary – The Definitive Editions volume 1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire


By Vicente Segrelles, translated by Mary McKee (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-124-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mythic Masterpiece Returns… 9/10

Born in Barcelona in 1940, Vicente Segrelles Sacristán is a renowned illustrator of magazines and book covers on three continents and the creator of one of the world’s most popular graphic novel series.

His first comics album ‘El Mercenario’ (The Mercenary) was released in 1982; the tale of an itinerant knight-for-hire fighting his way through a fantastic world of science and sorcery, often on the back of a flying dragon.

Rendered initially in lush oil-paints (before graduating to creating art digitally from 1998 onwards), the epic tales blend visual realism and accuracy with fable, myth, historical weaponry, contemporary technology and classical science fiction themes. All these fantastic scenes are screened through the visual lens of a natural architect and engineer. Fourteen albums were released between 1982 and 2003, most of them seen by English-language readers through the auspices of publisher NBM.

Hugely in demand for his painted covers since the 1970s, Segrelles has created book covers for the works of such authors as H, Rider Haggard, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, G. F. Unger, Andre Norton, Joel Rosenberg, Charles DeLint, C.H. Guenter, Jason Dark, Terry Pratchett and a host of others.

European prose readers may also know him as the cover artist of Italian science fiction magazine Urania.

The artist came to comics relatively late in his career and the reasons for that can be learned in a prodigious “behind-the-scenes” section at the back of this stunning hardcover (and eBook) remastered reissue entitled ‘Meet Vicente Segrelles’, relating his life and career and breaking down his working methodology. That includes how this volume and the Mercenary series came into being, augmented with a wealth of illustrations from the artist’s early days, discarded paintings and drawings plus many detail-shots taken from the story that precedes it.

Originally serialised in Spanish magazine Cimoc in 1980, El Mercenario was one of the earliest European series NBM published in English and to celebrate forty years in business the company have finally rereleased the series in fabulous oversized (314 x 236 mm) remastered hardcover albums to once more set the world alight. If you prefer, you could instead pick up a thoroughly modern digital edition.

What’s it about?: in the mediaeval world, a region of Central Asia lies all but undiscovered. The Land of Eternal Clouds is an isolate region where life has taken a different turn at the highest mountain levels. Here reptilian fliers dubbed dragons abound and the outposts of humanity have turned them into beasts of burden. This setting is the backdrop to introduce a nameless action hero and problem-solver who is engaged in this premier tome by the puissant potentate of one super-cumulus city-state to rescue his queen from vile abductors…

Riding a gigantic bat-winged lizard, The Mercenary plucks the unfortunate lady from peril and defeats the dragon-riding guards who give chase but only at great personal and financial cost…

Happily, the wary warrior has made prior contingency plans and – even after they go awry following a clash with a predatory beast – is smart enough to build a mechanical flyer to replace the ones he has lost to this ill-fated mission…

This initial yarn is actually a tryptic of three interrelated vignettes, and the second begins once the hero-for-hire returns the comely bride to her rich but old and flabby husband. Safely re-ensconced in the lap of luxury, she repays her dutiful saviour for spurning her amorous attentions by accusing him of assaulting her…

Although the Mercenary escapes to his hastily constructed contraption, it is not enough to keep him airborne and slowly he plunges into the swirling cloud mass from which no man has ever returned…

Crashing to earth he finds a whole new and undiscovered world, and an old sage with a handy potion that soothes his wounds and allows him to breathe better in air that cloys like soup. He soon returns the favour when the oldster shares his woes: the family have also suffered a recent kidnapping.

This time a young woman has been taken by a mystery group demanding as ransom all the alcohol the village contains…

Soon the tireless adventurer has broached the cage in which she hangs above certain death only to find himself also a captive: this time inside a colossal and all but invisible floating city ruled by mysterious cloaked figures claiming to be the Cult of the Sacred Fire…

Before long the doughty champion has discerned the incredible rational secret behind all the seemingly magical phenomena and set the city on a course of appalling destruction and personal vengeance…

To Be Continued…

Although sometimes considered a little static, Segrelles’ vibrant, classical realism set a benchmark for illustrative narrative that has inspired generations of artists and millions of readers. This landmark series is a long overdue and welcome returnee to our bookshelves and seems certain to garner a whole new legion of fans and admirers.
© 2015 Vicente Segrelles. English Translation © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Asterix and the Chariot Race


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, colored by Thierry Mébarki and translated by Adriana Hunter (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-5101-0401-3 (HB)                    eISBN: 978-1-5101-0402-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrate the Season in Classical Style… 9/10

Asterix debuted in 1959 and has since become part of the fabric of French life. His exploits have touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for almost all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years dissemination as weekly serials (subsequently collected into book-length compilations), in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete, original album prior to serialisation.

Thereafter each new tome became an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees. The eager anxiety hasn’t diminished any even now that Uderzo’s handpicked replacements – scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) have taken up the creative role since his retirement in 2009.

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a sly and wicked satire for older-if-no-wiser heads, these new yarns are just as engrossing as the established canon.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics take place in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the alternating rest are set in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany where, circa 50 BC, a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Although the country is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Armorica, the very tip of the last named stubbornly refuses to be properly pacified. The otherwise dominant overlords, utterly unable to overrun this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – and yet the irksome Gauls come and go as they please.

Thus, a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

Their “prisoners” couldn’t care less; daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine by uncaringly going about their everyday affairs, bolstered by magic potion brewed by resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits and strategic aplomb of diminutive dynamo Asterix and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Astérix et la Transitalique was released on October 17th 2017, and simultaneously or soon after hurtled off the shelves of many nations as Asterix and the Chariot Race – or whatever the local language equivalent of the many nations addicted to these epics might be…

This time the narrative horsepower comes from sport, and as always there is a healthy helping of satirical lampooning of current affairs, administrative, political and regional and nationalistic…

Before this away game eventually takes in all of Italy it opens bombastically in the Roman Senate where shifty political chancer Lactus Bifidus is fiercely challenged about the appalling state of the Empire’s roads. Yes, they all still lead to Rome, but their maintenance is a major issue riddled with potholes that are a public disgrace and hazard to safe navigation…

Roused from a sneaky slumber and thinking too fast, the overly-defensive corrupt bureaucrat instantly declares a grand chariot race to span all of Italy and thereby prove the perfection of the byways under his management.

His big mistake is publicly declaring his magnificent trans-Italian rally open to “all the peoples of the known world”…

As a seething Julius Caesar is quick to point out in private, a competition spanning the entire Italic Peninsula is liable to stir up subject races and even other Italian cities if it’s won by anyone but a purebred Roman Citizen.

The Emperors then advises Lactus that it’s now the Senator’s sole responsibility to guarantee no barbarian crosses the finish line first…

In Gaul, the residents of a certain indomitable village are rowdily enjoying themselves at a huge market festival. Amidst the tooth pullers, weapons-sellers, fortune tellers and other vendors, one canny salesman spies an easy mark and lumbers gullible giant Obelix with a flashy racing chariot.

The superhuman simpleton’s friends soon cease their good-natured teasing at his foolish purchase after the announcement of the great Trans-Italic Race is read out and Chief Vitalstatistix agrees that it would be nice to bother the Romans on their own turf for a change…

Soon Asterix, Obelix and canine companion Dogmatix are off on those bumpy deplorable roads and heading for the border. From Modica they will pit themselves against a horde of teams hungry for victory as they chase down to the “boot of Italy” to the finish line at Neapolis under the grumbling fire mountain Vesuvius…

Most of their competitors seem decent enough folk, but amongst the racers from Breton, Lusitania, Kush, Liguria, Calabria and other desolate points of the Empire, Asterix notes a few teams to watch closely: the devious Cimbri, the rowdy Normans and Sarmatians but most especially the Roman squad and their always-masked, unbeaten charioteer Coronavirus…

There’s something not quite right about him…

And then, with wealthy sponsors Lupus Garum (the Fermented Fish-gut Sauce of Champions!) adjudicating every stage of the contest the valiant Aurigae (you know that means charioteers, right?) are off!

Spoofing sporting corruption, the ephemeral venalities of corporate sponsorship and the sordid power of petty nationalism, this rocket-paced rollercoaster ride is awash with sneaky plots, dirty tricks and rapid switches of allegiance; providing plenty of thrills and spills to garnish the madcap chase to the finish line, and even incorporates spacious room for plenty of twists, turns and deliciously doled-out just deserts.

With Asterix and Obelix at their most disingenuously heroic and charming, this unbeatable Race of the Century is furiously funny and hilariously jam-packed with and timeless jibes and cracking contemporary swipes, plus an enchanting double-surprise ending. Asterix and the Chariot Race is a sure win and another triumphant addition to the mythic canon for laugh-seekers in general and all devotees of comics.
© 2017 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2017 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 13: Z is for Zorglub


By André Franquin, with Jidéhem & Greg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-362-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterful Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin over at rival outfit Casterman.

Soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead feature in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous young hero was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed in the Moustique Hotel – a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique – whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal 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 ditching the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials. He also expanded the cast, introducing a broad band of engaging regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush-toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was overhauled and revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde (writing as Tome) and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera. In 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 – with the exception of Peyo – they all signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the chief illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The new guy ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as staunch comrade and rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to dangerously exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio and the star of this particular tale, the maddest of scientists Zorglub.

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

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman for Tintin magazine. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 (and Cinebook’s latest translated comedy star under the oddly inelegant title of Gomer Goof – and coming soon to a review near you!) Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Z comme Zorglub was originally serialised in Spirou #1096-1136 between 1959-1960 before being released on the continent in 1961 as the 15th hardcover album.

This outrageous Bond Movie-flavoured sci fi rollercoaster ride begins as an oddly oblivious but extremely sturdy gentleman determinedly delivers a package to the home of our heroes. It looks like a hairdryer, but when vainglorious Fantasio tries it on his own unruly locks, the device plunges him into a coma.

In a panic, Spirou dashes for help and misses the next stage: a mind-controlled Fantasio leaving the house and getting into a remote-controlled car…

It isn’t very well remote-controlled however, and after a calamitous chase through the city crashes into a shop. A little later, baffled, angry and with a badly mangled foot, Fantasio angrily discharges himself from hospital, swearing vengeance on he knows not whom, but the hidden mastermind has not yet finished with the dauntless duo…

Spirou is the next and more successful victim of the mind-warping mystery villain, and the plan quickly becomes clearer: the evil predator is called Zorglub and he doesn’t care about the journalists. He’s simply using the adventurers to get at their inspirational acquaintance: mushroom-mad boffin Count Champignac…

When informed of the situation the sagacious tinkerer is not surprised, he remembers what Zorglub was like when they were at school together…

The enormity of the plot soon becomes clear when megalomaniacal Zorglub confronts his old chum at his mushroom-laden chateau in the generally placid hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. The wicked mastermind has conceived a grand plan. He will conquer Earth and dominate the solar system but first he requires just a little technical assistance from the Count.

Zorglub cannot believe or accept Champignac’s unflinching refusal…

And thus begins an escalating duel of intellects and war of nerves and inventions as the smug madman tries ploy after ploy to force the Count’s compliance: capturing Fantasio, turning the Champignac-in-the-Sticks citizens into a rampaging mob hungry for blood and even creating an army of mind-warped “zorglmen” to pilot his incredible war machines against the Count and his doughty defenders…

The maniac is, however, caught completely off guard when Spirou, Spip and the Marsupilami enact a bold and rather rash counter offensive with Champignac, just as Zorglub triggers his grand plan and sends his fleet of rockets hurtling towards the Moon!

The end is a sudden, shocking, twist-laden comeuppance but the good guys have not seen the last of Zorglub…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, Z if for Zorglub is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

Stuffed with an astounding array of astonishing hi-tech spoofery, riotous chases and gazillions of sight gags and verbal ripostes, this exultant escapade is a fabulous fiesta of angst-free action and thrills. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductive élan, this is pure cartoon gold, truly deserving of reaching the widest audience possible.

Buy it for you, get another for the kids and give copies to all your friends…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1961 by Franquin, Jidéhem & Greg. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Monet: Itinerant of Light


By Efa & Salva Rubio, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-139-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Present for Art and Comics Lovers… 10/10

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most engaging yet; powerfully deconstructing the hard, shockingly unconventional life, artistic torments and eventual triumph of mercilessly driven painter and truth-seeker Oscar-Claude Monet (14th November 1840 – December 5th 1926).

This treatise is crafted by Salva Rubio: an award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist with a penchant for past times and period themes. He is besotted with the work of Monet – as is his collaborator. This is his first graphic novel.

Ricard Fenandez quit school to found the fanzine Realitat Virtual before becoming an animator and freelance illustrator. His prior comics work includes Les Icariades (with Toni Termens in 2001) and self-penned Rodriguez and L’Âme du Vin. He is passionate about art history and signs his many, many works “Efa”.

When you see the name Monet you probably think “Water Lilies”, but there was so much more that went on before those days of placid triumph. Here, with the master’s catalogue of paintings inspiring a vivid and vivacious pictorial biography, the tale of an uncompromising, obsessed genius who battles the haughty, stratified status quo with a small band of fellow world-changers unfolds…

Starting from a point in 1923 when Monet was recovering from eye cataract surgery, the man addicted to “capturing light” casts his mind back: reviewing years of abject poverty and lack of success. Struggling as a despised rebel battling a hidebound artistic intelligentsia to establish a new manner of painting and new way of seeing, suffering heartbreaking loss while raising two families, in conflict with his own allies in the Impressionist Movement as much as the reactionaries of the art world, all Monet wanted was to explain light and colour through paint and canvas.

The obsession cost him friends, family and a fortune; forcing him to move his usually-neglected loved ones from country to country one step ahead of creditors, enemies and even wars…

Despite the human cost, Monet believed it was all worth it. You can make up your own mind after reading this staggeringly lovely, uncompromisingly forthright visual synopsis of his chromatic crusade…

The scintillating history lesson leads off with a Preface from Hugues Gall (Director of the Claude Monet Foundation and the Giverny Museum) and is closed with Rubio’s Afterword ‘Monet’s Mirror: Behind the Canvas’, and additional material includes a Bibliography, Creator Biographies plus a vast illustrated text feature reproducing the dozens of paintings and photographs which informed Efa’s visual odyssey. All scenes are fully annotated and contextualised for greater understanding.

A minor masterpiece and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any art historian studying the Impressionists and modern art, Monet: Itinerant of Light is a magic window into another world and one you should seek out at your earliest convenience.
© EFA/RUBIO/Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S.A.) 2017. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

Monet: Itinerant of Light is published on November 1st 2017 and is available for order now.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Streak of Chalk


By Miguelanxo Prado, translated by Jacinthe Leclerc & Mary McKee (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-116-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For Magic All Year ‘Round… 10/10

With the season of moody weirdness well upon us now I’m absolutely delighted to focus on a work of truly groundbreaking import and astounding beguilement making a welcome return to bookshelves and whatever their digital equivalents are. I’m also pretty stoked to be adding a Magical Realist work of genuine global importance to our annual Halloween spooky soiree…

Miguelanxo Prado was born in A Coruña in 1958, and studied architecture before moving into the comics industry. The multi award-winning Galician graphic prodigy has worked for Les Humanoïdes Associés and other European publishers, and released numerous albums such as Chienne de Vie (1988), Manuel Montano (1989), Chroniques absurdes and Ardalén (2012).

He illustrates for others – such as Esquivel’s The Law of Love – and in his other lives writes novels, works as a commercial painter and makes animated movie such De Profundis. If you mainly read mainstream English-language comics you might have enjoyed Prado’s phenomenal painted storytelling on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Endless Nights where he limned ‘Dream: The Heart of a Star’.

His most celebrated work is unarguably Trait de craie, which took Europe by storm in 1993, garnering a boatload of prestigious prizes and trophies from the numerous translated editions (including the one I can read) as Streak of Chalk, which became NBM’s initial ComicsLit Imprint release in 1994…

Now, to celebrate 40 years in the business, NBM have released a new-&-improved hardback edition packed with all-new extras that you’d be bonkers to miss.

A moody lyrical and deliciously brooding dark affair, the story deals with a remote island and its effect on the two regular inhabitants when strangers arrive…

Beautiful and desolate, the expansive rock appears on no maps and offers little more than an abandoned lighthouse, a general store and a huge jetty where occasional visitors (seldom more than two boats a year) scrawl graffiti messages and bon mots before sailing away again…

When solitary sailor Raul ties up at the height of summer, the wall of scrawls fascinates him. Soon he is sharing the sullen but expansive hospitality of the trading post/hotel run by dowdy Sara and her brutish son Dimas. Everyone seems to be mutually looking for company, gossip and something else. Something intangible…

There is another mariner visiting, but she is a returnee and a woman who fiercely treasures her privacy. Despite Raul’s awkward preoccupation with Ana, the blond enigma wants nothing to do with the newcomer. His conviction is that persistence will eventually win her over…

The sultry, sluggish tension grows more oppressive when a third vessel arrives, carrying two boisterous and unsavoury men. Sara is even more withdrawn: nothing good has ever happened when three boats moor at the same time…

Tragically, she is quickly proved right in the most appalling manner, but after the bloodletting stops, Raul incredulously discovers that something impossible is happening and that he is bewilderingly mired right in the middle of it all…

Enticing and intoxicating, this tale unfolds at the pace of a seeping wound and is as impossible to ignore. A graphic narrative masterpiece in every sense of the term, Streak of Chalk gets under your skin and stays with you long after the final page is turned.

However, before that happens this expanded Second Edition offers an enchanting Epilogue chapter plus an Afterword by Prado, a tribute sequence set on the island starring International Treasure Corto Maltese in ‘A Tribute to Hugo Pratt’ and a wealth of Additional Material, offering sketches, roughs designs, maps of the island, framing studies in ink and paint and covers for various foreign language editions.

One of comics’ most powerful achievements, this is a grown-up book no fan should ignore.
© 2003, 2017 Miguelanxo Prado, represented by Norma Editorial S.A. © 1994, 2017 NBM for the English translation.

Iznogoud Volume 1: The Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud


By René Goscinny & Jean Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-46-5

Lots of folks believe today’s unlucky! Bosh and tarradiddle! Let’s look at a really unfortunate comics icon and the genius who conceived him…

René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and therefore remains one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Paris-born – in 1926 – the immortal scribe was actually raised in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age the lad showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts. He graduated in 1942.

While working as a junior illustrator in an advertising agency in 1945, an uncle invited Goscinny to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France, young René settled in Brooklyn and pursued an artistic career. In 1948 he became an assistant for a little studio that included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”, with whom he produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977). Also temporarily in-house were Joseph Gillain (Jijé) and Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company providing comics for French magazine Spirou

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and ‘Jerry Spring’ Goscinny was made head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his life-long creative partner Albert Uderzo (Jehan Sepoulet, Luc Junior) as well as creating Sylvie and Alain et Christine (with “Martial”- Martial Durand) and Fanfan et Polo (drawn by Dino Attanasio).

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

Goscinny seems to have invented the 9-day week. Using the pen-name Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 he began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing stories for many illustrators including Dino Attanasio, (Bob De Moor), Maréchal, Tibet, André Franquin and Berck, as well as crafting Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo.

Goscinny also wrote strips for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured his and Uderzo’s magnum opus Asterix the Gaul, and he also re-launched Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet whilst debuting Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard).

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

He also wrote frequently for television and in his spare time created a little something entitled Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962), illustrated by a Swedish-born artist named Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud after it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died in November 1977.

Jean Tabary was born in Stockholm, and began his epic comics career in 1956 on French mainstay Vaillant, illustrating Richard et Charlie. He graduated to the hugely popular boy’s adventure strip Totoche in 1959. The engaging head of a kid gang, Totoche spawned a spin-off, Corinne et Jeannot, and as Vaillant transformed into Pif, the lad even got his own short-lived comic; Totoche Posche.

Tabary drew the series until 1976, and has revived it in recent years under his own publishing imprint Séguinière /Editions Tabary.

In 1962 the illustrator teamed with René Goscinny to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was the villainous foil – power-hungry vizier Iznogoud – who stole the show… possibly the little rat’s only successful plot.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp, the revamped series moved to Pilote in 1968, evolving into a huge fan-favourite, spawning 30 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. Following their success, Goscinny & Tabary collaboratively created Valentin, and Tabary also wrote Buck Gallo for Delinx to draw.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary took over writing Iznogoud, moving to book length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short stories that typified their collaborations.

So, what’s it all about?

Like all the best comics it works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and translated here with the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the conniving little shyster has loftier ambitions – or as he is always shouting it – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The vile vizier is “aided” – and that’s me being uncharacteristically generous – in his schemes by bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf, and in this first album (available in paperback and eBook formats) they begin their campaign with ‘Kissmet’, wherein pandemonium ensues after a talking frog is revealed to be an ensorcelled Prince who can only regain human form if smooched by a human being.

Iznogoud sees an opportunity if he can only trick the simple-minded Caliph into puckering up; unfortunately but typically, the little rotter forgets that he’s not the only ambitious man in Baghdad…

‘Mesmer-Eyezed’ then finds him employing a surly stage hypnotist to remove the Caliph whilst ‘The Occidental Philtre’ sees him employ a flying potion obtained from a lost, jet-lagged western sorcerer, each with hilarious but painfully counter-productive results.

Tabary drew himself into ‘The Time Machine’ as a comic artist desperate to meet his deadlines who falls foul of a mystical time cabinet, but when he meets the vizier, that diminutive dastard can clearly see its Caliph-removing potential – to his eternal regret…

Soon after in ‘The Picnic’ Iznogoud takes drastic action, luring Haroun Al Plassid into the desert, but as usual his best-laid plans really aren’t, and the book then concludes with ‘Chop and Change’ as our indefatigable villain gets hold of a magic goblet which can switch the minds of any who drink from it, forgetting that Caliphs are important people who employ food-tasters…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully delightful word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales and the series has become a household name in France; said term has even entered French political life as a description for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and usually short in stature…

Eight albums were originally translated into English during the 1970s and 1980s without really making any little impact here, but since Cinebook’s revival the vile Vizier has finally caught on in a superb sequence of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy epics that found an appreciative audience among British kids of all ages.

Surely you and yours should number amongst them?
© 1967 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 12: The Rivals of Painful Gulch


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-60-1

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably 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 (more than 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

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

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying 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, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus 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 rode back into comics-town again in 1967 in Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as in numerous attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – 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 – Les rivaux de Painful Gulch was the Dynamite Duo’s 10th collaboration (available in English on paper and as an e-book as The Rivals of Painful Gulch) and first published in Europe in 1962.

The outrageous tale draws on the legendary and infamous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families in West Virginia and Kentucky between 1863 and1891 and opens with our hero and his chatty horse peaceably proceeding until repeatedly stopped by bushwackers demanding the cowboy remove his hat.

With his patience rapidly evaporating Luke eventually learns the region and township of Painful Gulch is plagued with two warring families who shoot at each other at every opportunity. The O’Haras all have enormous red noses whilst huge wingnut ears are the genetic marker of every son of the O’Timmins clan…

The rest of the townsfolk live in fear of the ferociously feuding families because the only thing they have in common is a mutual inability to hit anything they aim at. They always miss their targets but the collateral damage to bystanders, building and livestock is appalling…

Ever keen to keep the peace, Lucky attempts to play peacemaker, but even he can’t stop the gun-crazed whackos from blasting way at each other and blowing up any civic amenity that might possibly benefit their hated foes.

Eventually, even Luke’s cool patience is exhausted and when the rapidly departing Mayor nominates our hero as his successor, the furious newcomer resorts to subterfuge, pandering and chicanery to establish a lasting détente.

…And when even that doesn’t work, the lone gunman plays his ultimate trump card and ropes in the weary, long-suffering wimmin-folk of the O’Timmins and O’Haras to settle the issue…

Slick, sly and sassy, The Rivals of Painful Gulch is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, lots of laughs and barrel-loads of buffoonery superbly crafted by comics masters, and offers a wonderful glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths

By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)

Omnibus ISBN: 978-1-44400-423-6

Individual Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5: 978-0-75286-613-0 & 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export.

The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France…

In eager anticipation of the publication of the 37th Asterix volume next month, here a little refresher course for the classicist cognoscenti and a gentle but urgent plea to the uninitiated to get their collective fingers out and get au fait with one of Earth’s genuine comics phenomenons…

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977, and Uderzo no longer crafts the comedic chaos, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

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

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

He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

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

Be warned, however, that if pure continuity matters to you, only most recent British publisher Orion has released 36 albums in chronological order – and in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic duo track the kidnappers but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

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

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “obsessive”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British comic weekly Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) plus early issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232: 25th June 1966).

Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was a quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a rather radically altered state.

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

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

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

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Jo, Zette & Jocko: THE STRATOSHIP H.22


Mr. Pump’s Legacy – Part 1 of THE STRATOSHIP H.22
ISBN 13: 978-0416015522(HB)                    978-1405212458(PB)

Destination New York – Part 2 of THE STRATOSHIP H.22
ISBN 13: 978-0-4160-1532-4 (HB)               978-1-4052-1243-4 (PB)

By Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)

George Remi, world famous as Hergé, had a long creative connection to Catholicism. At the behest of the Abbot Norbert Wallez, editor of Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, he had created Tintin before moving on to such strips as the mischievous Quick and Flupke, Tim the Squirrel in the Far West’, ‘The Amiable Mr. Mops’, ‘Tom and Millie’ and ‘Popol Out West’ – all while continuing the globe-trotting adventures of the dauntless boy reporter and his faithful little dog.

In 1935, between working on serialised Tintin epics The Blue Lotus and The Broken Ear, Remi was approached by Father Courtois, director of the French weekly newspaper Coeurs Vaillants. The paper already carried the daily exploits of Hergé’s undisputed star-turn, but Courtois also wanted a strip that would depict solid family values and situations that the seemingly-orphaned and independent boy reporter was never exposed to.

He also presumably wanted something less subversive than the mischievous, trouble-making working-class boy rascals Quick and Flupke

The proposed feature needed a set of characters that would typify a good, normal family: A working father, a housewife and mother, young boy, a sister, even a pet. Apparently inspired by a toy monkey called Jocko, Hergé devised the family Legrand. Jacques was an engineer, and son Jo and daughter Zette were average kids; bright, brave, honest, smart and yet still playful.

Mother stayed home, cooking and being rather concerned rather a lot. They had a small, feisty monkey for a pet – although I suspect as Jocko was tailless, he might have been a baby chimpanzee, which “As Any Fule Kno” is actually a species of ape.

The first adventure was the two-volume ‘The Secret Ray’ – only once published in English and consequently rarer than Hen’s teeth or monkey feathers. A ripping yarn of scientific bandits, gangsters, mad professors, robots and, regrettably, some rather ethnically unsound incidences of cannibal savages, this is very much a product of its time in too many respects. Although Hergé came to deeply regret (and wherever possible amend) his many early uses of that era’s racial stereotyping, the island dwelling natives in Le “Manitoba” Ne Répond Plus and L’ Éruption Du Karamako (which first ran in Coeurs Vaillants from January 19th 1936 to June 1937) will now always be controversial.

It’s a true pity that such masterful and joyous work has to be viewed with caution, read strictly in context and must be ascribed subtext and values which may never have been intended, merely because the medium is pictorial and its meaning passively acquired rather than textual, and which can therefore only be decoded by the conscious effort of reading.

I also wonder how much was a quiet, sensitive artist led by an aggressively proselytising, missionary Church’s doctrine and policy…

How much Church opposition was there to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 for example? And don’t get me started on Nazi Germany and the Vatican…

Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…

Mr. Pump’s Legacy is much less culturally – or commercially – troublesome. When the “American Collar-Stud King” John Archibald Pump dies in a car crash at 155 mph, he probably went surprised but happy.

That’s because he was a septuagenarian millionaire-technocrat and unrepentant speed-fiend (that’s velocity, not pharmacology) and adrenalin junkie. On his remarkably rapid passing he leaves a 10-million dollar prize: an incentive for the first person or persons to fly non-stop between New York and Paris at an average speed of 1000 kilometres per hour.

Accomplishing that modern miracle will secure said cash, but if nobody wins within one year the money will revert to his ne’er-do-well nephews…

The contest captures world imagination in the Age of Speed, and many try for the prize, including S.A.F.C.A., the aeronautical company that Jacques Legrand works for. Very soon both the engineer and his family become the targets of skulduggery and sabotage as his groundbreaking design gradually becomes a beautiful flying machine.

Assaults, poison-pen letters and threats, murder attempts, blackmail and even kidnapping; nothing can impede the project whilst canny Jo and Zette are around to foil them. Even when the completed plane is targeted by an aerial bombardment, the resourceful children have a solution. Starting the plane, they fly away from the bomber, but become lost in the night and clouds…

With their fuel almost exhausted they spot a tiny island in a vast sea and manage to land the plane safely. How can they return the ship in time to win the Prize? Without food, water, fuel or any idea where they are, can they survive long enough to be found?

Combining all-ages thrills and slap-stick comedy with magical art and superb designs, Hergé – a master-creator rapidly reaching the peak of his powers – produced in this cliff-hanging volume of adventure a true lost classic, and one worthy of much greater public attention.

 

A second oversized, fabulously-coloured volume concludes the saga in The Stratoship H.22, starring those capable Legrand children – and their pet monkey Jocko – who saved their father’s revolutionary high-speed plane from a bombing raid by flying it away only to emergency-land it on a tiny desolate island where they are marooned without food or fuel…

The islet is a desolate French Possession, and they discover from its only inhabitant that the next boat isn’t due for five months. Fortuitously, after a terrific storm, fuel drums wash ashore…

Scant weeks remain before the one-year deadline expires on Pump’s $10,000,000 death-bed challenge. Refuelling swiftly, Jo and Zette decide to return to France, even though they aren’t quite sure where it is…

Tragically the plucky youngsters overshoot and after a fearsome voyage, crash in the frozen Arctic where they are taken in by a tribe of Eskimos (yes, we’d call them Inuit now!). Jocko is separated from them and is rescued from an ice-floe by a passing ocean liner. Recognising the famous pet, the ship sends a message and the children are found. A rescue plane is dispatched with spare parts and the super-plane, once again piloted by the children, is returned to France.

With days remaining to make the attempt, the saboteurs step up their efforts to foil the French effort, but as ever childish ingenuity stymies their every dirty trick perpetrated as the super plane is restored to peak efficiency. With one day remaining, Jacques Legrand is finally ready to fly his brainchild into the history books. But when Jo and Zette come to see him off they find him and his crew all drugged into comas. With the deadline hard upon them, who can possibly fly the ship now..?

These beautiful graphic adventures are powerful and evocative fantasies for children, full of daring and accomplishment, and confirming the eternal truth that good kids will always defeat bad adults. If only the real world was as rewarding as these thrilling romps for the young-at-heart of all ages. And if only these superb classics were back in print…
© 1951, 1979, 2007 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai. All Rights Reserved.
English text © 1987, 2005, 2007 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Barracuda volume 1: Slaves


By Jean Dufaux & Jérémy Petiqueux translated by (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-165-5

Yo Ho-Ho, me Hearties: You know what day it is!

Pirates have been a cornerstone of popular fiction for centuries and these days the very best of the genre can usually be found issuing from European shores. An intriguing twist on the genre – simultaneously traditional and convention-challenging – is Barracuda, told in six volumes by prolific, edgy writer Jean Dufaux (Crusade, Monsieur Noir, Jessica Blandy, Murena) and sublime illustrator/colourist Jérémy Petiqueux (Complainte des landes perdues, Murena, The Knights of Heliopolis).

This first volume – Barracuda 1 – Esclaveswas released continentally in 2010 and translated for the benefit of English-speakers by Cinebook three years later. A lusty tale of barbaric acts by desperate men, Slaves opens as a Spanish vessel transporting gold and nobles of great merit is challenged by the ruthless pirate ship Barracuda. Aboard the raider, captain Blackdog encourages his murderously capable boy Raffy before the bloodletting commences…

Aboard the doomed transport Doña Emelia Sanchez Del Scuebo attempts to protect her children. There is little she can do for pretty Maria, but at least Emilio has a chance of avoiding death, after mother dresses her darling boy in the clothing of a female servant…

When the defenders finally falter, Blackdog finds a moment for sport and entertainment as valiant seaman De La Loya finds himself the last man standing. Refusing to surrender, he is challenged to duel by bold Raffy. The fight is fast and furious but fortune favours the older man and the boy is humiliated by being spared from a noble death in return for the sailor’s liberty and freedom…

Whilst dividing the spoils and heading back to the pirate nest on Puerto Blanco, Blackdog discovers something of great value. The Del Scuebos possess a cursed gem of immeasurable value and his new captive holds a map to its horrific hidden location…

Hunger for the Kasura Diamond grips the pirate captain, and when the Barracuda reaches the hidden haven of the corsairs, he remains aboard ship, consulting with the township’s witch-woman Madame If-No rather than re-immerse himself in the literally cut-throat politics of the island…

Fate has other plans however, and when the captured women reach slave-master Ferrango’s auction block the noble family are bought by agents of three covertly warring factions. The matron is purchased and rescued by the island’s supposedly neutral mission-monks The Companions of the Cross, but her pretty daughter is scooped up by the abusive slave-master himself.

Emilio – still considered by all to be mere maid-in-waiting Emilia – is sold for an astounding sum to the distant and incomprehensibly enigmatic Englishman Mr. Flynn

In the harbour, Blackdog readies to ship out in search of the cursed diamond even as assorted factions act against each other in Puerto Blanco. When a monk-sponsored rescue bid falters a desperate pursuit of little Maria goes brutally awry and Raffy is severely wounded. Although If-No saves his life, the boy is too ill to sail with his father and remains on the island as intrigues and double-dealing seem set to topple Puerto Blanco’s elected Governor.

As a woman in the Pirate Brotherhood, her position has always been precarious, but with rumours abounding of Blackdog’s mystery voyage tension and dissent mount to a deadly pitch.

And then the Barracuda is gone, slipping into the night in search of untold bounty and risking the wrath of hell itself…

To Be Continued…

Lavishly realised and deviously contrived, this carefully considered saga of sinister swashbucklers and fearsome freebooters gradually unfolds with measured pace, carefully nudging its ensemble cast – with not a hero in the bunch – towards an unknown but certainly violent and thrilling conclusion. Along the way the reader can enjoy the juggling of family tensions, wicked ambition, political chicanery, rapacious greed and obsessive vengeance with the spin only sea-action and supernatural terror can provide…

This is pure genre wonderment: unmissable stuff which could only be improved upon by being read on a sandy beach or near rocky caves with lapping surf and constantly crashing waves…
© Dargaud, Benelux (Dargaud – Lombard s. a. 2010 by Dufaux & Jérémy. All rights reserved. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd.