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By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was overhauled and revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde (writing as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.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirou and Fantasio volume 11: The Wrong Head


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-313-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic 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 for rival outfit Casterman.

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

The eponymous boy was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by 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 sidelining the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials; introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the 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 at last 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, and 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 (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo 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 main 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 the 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) and 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 comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

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

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 on Tintin. 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 – 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.

Originally serialised in Spirou # 840-869 in 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1957 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 8La mauvaise tête, this sinister yarn begins as Spirou visits his short-tempered pal Fantasio and finds the house a shambles. The intrepid reporter has ransacked his home in search of missing passport photos but his insensate fury abates a bit after Spirou convinces him to come play paddleball.

However, whilst looking for a lost ball in the woods, Spirou finds one of the missing photos but thinks nothing of it…

That evening strange events begin: Spirou sees Fantasio acting oddly in town and when a jeweller is robbed, a brutalised merchant identifies Fantasio as the smash-and-grab thief…

Seeds of suspicion are sown and Spirou doesn’t know what to think when a solid gold Egyptian mask is stolen on live TV. The bandit is clearly seen to be his best pal…

Spirou is still trying to reason with Fantasio when the police arrive and, with nobody believing the reporter’s ridiculous story of being in Paris on a spurious tip, watches with helpless astonishment as the accused makes a bold escape bid…

Still astounded, Spirou wanders to the ramshackle house where he found the missing photo and finds a strange set-up: a plaster cast of Fantasio and weird plastic goo in a mixing bowl…

His snooping is suddenly disturbed by screams and sounds of a struggle. Following the cacophony he finds one man holding the stolen gold mask and another on the floor. The standing man is too quick to catch and drives away with a third stranger, but as Spirou questions the beaten victim he learns that the loser of the fight is a sculptor who was hired to make astounding life-like masks of a certain journalist…

Soon Spirou is hot on the trail of the criminal confederates and uncovers a diabolical scheme to destroy Fantasio by an old enemy they had both discounted and almost forgotten…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, the search for The Wrong Head is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

As if the criminal caper and its spectacular courtroom drama climax is not enough, this tome also includes a sweet early solo outing for the marvellous Marsupilami as ‘Paws off the Robins’ finds the plastic pro-simian electing himself guardian of a nestful of newborn hatchlings in Count Champignac’s copious gardens, resolved to defend the chicks from a marauding cat at all costs…

Stuffed with fabulously fun, riotous chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant tome is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is pure cartoon gold: an enduring comics treat, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1957 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 10: Virus


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-297-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. This tenth release is officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 33rd collected caper.

Originally serialised in Spirou #2305-2321 in 1982 and subsequently released as an album in 1984, this epic episode begins as a shady figure cases an icebreaker just back from the Antarctic. For some reason the HK Glacier has been placed in stringent quarantine and the observer – soon revealed as enquiring reporter Fantasio – discovers why as he trips over a very sick-looking mariner sneaking off the vessel.

It is old enemy and unscrupulous pirate John Helena – AKA “the Moray” – and he has been infected with a highly contagious disease…

In fact, it’s so virulent anyone in close proximity suffers from allergic attacks, even without contracting the primary sickness…

Knowing he’s on to something big, Fantasio rings partner-in-peril Spirou and has his comrade bring down a van to sneak Helena through the cordon of armed government troops. Safely ensconced in a chapel, the Moray tells them of Isola Red, a top-secret lab in the polar wastes where scientists are working with thousands of different viruses and exactly how he got infected with one of them. He completes his tale of woe by demanding that they take him to Count Champignac – the only man alive who can save him… and the world…

The fungal phenomenon is naturally up to the task but his proposed remedy is both complex and risky and involves the dauntless duo infiltrating Isola Red to use the cached toxins there as part of the cure. What the valiant adventurers don’t know is that the chateau is already under covert observation by a thoroughly shady-looking third-party…

Moreover and meanwhile, in a prestigious government building the mastermind behind everything is dispatching his own clean-up team to make the growing problem go away entirely…

Soon Spirou and Fantasio – with the rapidly declining Helena in tow in a hazmat suit – are touching down at Russian base Mirnov-Skaya. Spip is with them but also has to wear an isolation outfit since the vindictive little tyke couldn’t resist taking a bit of the Moray…

The camp is the last official outpost of civilisation and its gregarious commander Captain Sergeiev is delighted to offer every assistance to reach the secret base somewhere deep in the icy interior. After all, the polar explorer is an old friend of the well-travelled inventor Count Champignac…

After a few embarrassing moments of hilarity, the heroes set off as an official rescue party in borrowed snow-cats, with the camp doctor Placebov, hulking guide/driver Nadia Tovarich and even Sergeiev’s action-loving pet seal Vasily along for the ride. The desperate first-responders are sadly unaware that their unknown adversary’s money has bought a traitor who now rides along with them…

Things seem completely hopeless when the mastermind’s clean-up squad explosively ambush the convoy but the killers too are in the dark: they have been followed by yet another interested party…

Although the assassins are soon driven off, it seems they have done enough: the partial cure Spirou was carrying is wrecked and Helena’s suit is breached. They are all now probably exposed to the virus’s full effects…

Back in Europe, Champignac has been making some waves and his efforts, combined with certain journalistic endeavours, have brought low the hidden mastermind and a government official running a clandestine biological weapons plant at the bottom of the world. With the news still breaking, the Count, a military taskforce and a horde of reporters all set off for Antarctica…

In the meantime the doomed heroes have pushed on to Isola Red, in a hopeless attempt to find some miracle cure. What they encounter is truly shocking but does point the way to a solution to all their problems.

Unless of course, the freshly-reinforced mercenary clean-up squad kills them all first…

Blending rambunctious slapstick, riotous chases and gallons of gags with thrills, spills and – wait for it – chills; this is a terrific tale packed with laughs and superb action, deftly wielding a potently satirical anti-war, anti-capitalist message.

Fast-paced and exuberant, Virus is a joyous yet suspenseful romp happily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1984 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 9: The Dictator and the Mushroom


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-267-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Mirth and madcap melodrama in a true comics classic… 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 for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as the lead of an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous lead character was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew 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 sidelining the well-established short gag-like vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right). Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing 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 with 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 at last 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, and 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, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 and when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main 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 the 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) and he 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 comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio.

Incidentally, The Dictator and the Mushroom features the second appearances of Zantafio and strong, capable, female (!) rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine for these English translations)…

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 on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although he soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – 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 Spirou 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.

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

Originally serialised in Spirou #801-838, between 1953 and 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1956 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 7 – Le Dictateur et Le Champignon, this epic episode begins as globe-trotting troubleshooter Spirou and his short-tempered pal Fantasio approach the isolated home of eccentric inventor Count Champignac, resolved to return the mischievous Marsupilami to its natural habitat in the jungles of Palombia

Whilst they discuss their plan with the elderly savant, however, the mischievous monkey he’s been safeguarding has swiped the inventor’s latest mycoprotein marvel and headed for town…

Champignac calls the gaseous form of his newest mushroom extract “metalsoft” and that’s exactly what the stuff does: reduce the solidity of iron, brass, bronze, tin or whatever to the consistency of hot wax. By the time the prankish primate has finished innocently playing with the pump dispenser, the locals are in uproar and their village is practically a puddle…

With nobody in Europe objecting, the lads book passage on a South America-bound cruise ship, where once again the elastic-tailed terror causes a cacophony of comedic chaos. Eventually though, the increasingly irate and exhausted adventurers at last head in-country towards sleepy Palombia where a big surprise is waiting for them…

Thanks to Marsupilami, they are forced to travel the last ten miles to capital city Chiquito on foot and are astonished to observe the sheer number of military vehicles which constantly overtake them. In the city, an altercation with soldiers then leads to their arrest and interview with new supreme dictator General Zantas. The meeting is both a huge shock and unhappy reunion…

Fantasio’s cousin Zantafio had been only a little mean and perhaps misguided when they were all first hunting for the Marsupilami, but since then he has reinvented himself and graduated into a full-blown murderous megalomaniac: a cheap thug in a flashy uniform determined to carve himself a bloody empire and vast wealth through the conquest of his national neighbours.

Moreover, Zantafio/Zantas wants his countrymen to join him in the campaign of conquest, a horrific demand the reporters initially refuse.

Locked in jail, Spirou and Fantasio ponder how to stop the murderous scheme and realise the perfect counter to Zantas’ burgeoning war machine is Champignac’s Metalsoft. All they have to do is get a message to the inventor and have him send enough of the wonder stuff to destroy the ever-growing army…

Thus they apparently switch sides and are promptly installed as high ranking officers, but Zantafio is no fool and sets his most cunning spy to watch them; just waiting for the moment when they betray themselves.

Of course it’s not our heroes’ first rodeo either and, aware of their shadow, the lads engage in a prolonged and hilarious game of cat-&-mouse with the spook, all the while fretting that D-Day is approaching and still they have not been able to smuggle a message out…

A solution presents itself when go-getting journalist Cellophine makes contact. She’s been secretly covering the crisis for ages – without being caught like her mere male rivals – and offers to get the request for Metalsoft to Champignac ASAP…

Things aren’t all going Zantafio’s way. Even though weapons dealers are frantically auditioning their death-dealing wares for the General, Colonels Spirou and Fantasio are especially diligent and somehow able to find dangerous faults in everything on offer…

And then one night Cellophine sneaks back into Palombia with the secret weapon which will end Zantas’ dreams of empire…

Following a fantastical fight with the mushroom gas-wielding trio battling an entire modern military and a tense yet inconclusive showdown with Zantafio, peace and democracy breaks out and the boys finally complete their original mission.

Having at last safely returned the Marsupilami to his natural wilderness, Spirou and Fantasio wearily head back to civilisation, content in the knowledge that the lovable little perisher is back where he belongs.

Of course, the pestilential primate has his own ideas on the matter…

Stuffed with superb slapstick situations, riotous chases and gallons of gags, but barely concealing a strongly satirical anti-war message, this exuberant yarn is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is another enduring comics treat from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1956 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 8: Tough Luck Vito


By Tome & Janry, colour by Stephane De Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-248-5

For the majority of English-speaking comics readers Spirou might be Europe’s biggest secret. The phenomenally long-lived character was a rough contemporary – and shrewdly calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s globally popular Tintin, whilst the fun-filled periodical he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano.

Conceived in 1936 at Belgian Printing House Éditions Dupuis by boss-man Jean Dupuis, the proposed new enterprise homed in on juvenile audiences and launched on April 21st 1938; debuting neatly between DC Thomson’s The Dandy (4th December 1937) and The Beano (July 30th 1938) in the UK.

In America at that time a small comicbook publisher was preparing to release a new anthology entitled Action Comics. Ah, good times…

Spirou the publication was to be edited by 19 year-old Charles Dupuis and derived its name from the lead feature, which related improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy and lift operator employed at the glamorous Moustique Hotel (an in-joke reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Spirou the hero – whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language – was first realised by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his pen-name Rob-Vel to counter the runaway success of Hergé’s carrot-topped boy reporter. Tintin had been a certified money-spinning phenomenon for rival publisher Casterman ever since his own launch on January 10th 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, the kids’ supplement to Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.

Spirou magazine premiered with the plucky bellboy and his pet squirrel Spip as the headliners in a weekly anthology which bears his name to this day; featuring fast-paced, improbable incidents which eventually evolved into high-flying, surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of major 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 aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over. In 1944 he introduced Fantasio as Spirou’s new best friend and companion-in-adventure: a blonde headed reporter with a quick temper, uncontrolled imagination and penchant for finding trouble.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the shorter, gag-like vignettes in favour of extended light-hearted adventure serials whilst introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars.

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

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction so three different creative teams were commissioned to alternate on the serial, until settling at last upon Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

Their winning approach was to carefully adapt, reference and, in many ways, return to the beloved Franquin era. These sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes, resulting in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

This one, originally entitled Vito la Déveine from 1991, was their 11th collaboration and the 43rd collected exploit of the tireless wanderers, whose exploits have filled more than sixty albums, specials and spin-off collections.

With the customary cavalcade of gags soft-pedalled in favour of scintillating suspense and riotous action this tale commences with former Mafia mastermind Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone (last seen in Spirou & Fantasio in New York and now known as “Tough Luck Vito”) attacking his shady pilot Von Schnabbel after the unprincipled scoundrel tries to gouge the gangster for more money.

This is very bad idea as they are currently flying over the Pacific Ocean, ferrying the Don’s enigmatic “get-rich-again-quick” cargo, brazenly swiped from the Chinese Triads…

After kicking the conniving extortionist out of the plane, the infuriated Mafiosi is unable to prevent the craft crashing into a lagoon on a deserted atoll. At least there’s an abandoned hotel to shelter in and plenty of crabs to eat…

Months later Spirou and Fantasio are navigating stormy seas nearby in a sailing boat. Well, one of them is: Fantasio is too depressed and heartbroken over a girl he met in Tahiti to be of any use.

She was far more interested in the guy who rented them the good ship Antares and now the journalist is pining away his tragic existence, a soul-shattered, broken man…

As a result of the tropical typhoon the vessel is soon in a similar condition and barely limps into the shaded waters of an isolated lagoon. The shaken mariners are astounded to find the lovely isle surrounding it has a population of one: a ragged, skinny guy with a weird accent, hungry for food and companionship.

Physically Vito is unrecognisable and as the vessel limps into the sheltered, shark-infested waters he makes his plans to kill whoever’s aboard and sail away. As he laces the lush vegetation with deadly traps and pitfalls he thinks only of coming back and retrieving his precious cargo from the ocean floor.

Those plans swiftly alter when he realises that his rescuers are the interfering whelps who cost him his criminal empire…

They alter again after he walks into one of his own booby-traps and Spirou and Fantasio come to his aid. The do-gooders have no idea who he is and take him back to their boat to recuperate. Spirou even offers to dive down to the plane wreck and retrieve his cargo whilst they’re repairing the Antares’ damaged rudder…

Everything seems to be turning around for the hard-luck kid, but as he gorges on the ship’s stores and shaves, he soon starts to resume his former appearance and, after his first attempt to murder Spirou fails, the duplicitous Don opts for a more subtle revenge…

Drugging the sharp-witted red-haired lad, he then tells Fantasio who he is but claims his privations have made him a new, repentant and changed man. With Spirou apparently bedridden by “tropical fever”, Vito has the utterly gulled reporter finish salvaging the cargo in search of a spurious antidote supposedly packed in one of the sunken crates.

After all there’s plenty of time to kill them both once Vito has all his precious loot back…

Naturally things don’t quite work as he intended, but before our heroes can properly turn the tables on Tough Luck Vito, fate proves the aptness of his nickname when Von Schnabbel and the extremely put out original owners of the contentious cargo turn up, hungry for vengeance and not too worried about the odd case of collateral damage…

Swiftly switching from tense suspense to all out action, events spiral out of control and our now fully recovered heroes only need the right moment to make their move…

This kind of lightly-barbed, keenly-conceived, fun thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and their ilk so compelling, this is another cracking read from a series with a stunning pedigree of superb exploits; one certain to be as much a household name as those series, and even that other pesky red-headed kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1991 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 7: The Rhinoceros’ Horn


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-224-9

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

The legendary title was launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as the lead of an anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

The character began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his associates 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 feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, gradually sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating a phenomenally popular magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and now a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums all his own).

He crafted increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until he resigned in 1969.

He was succeeded 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 with 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 at last 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 consequently 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 main vehicle were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mainly translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for the fifth episode (The Marsupilami Thieves), they reached all the way back to 1952 and the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

With that brave experiment clearly having paid dividends they repeated the experiment here, but with times and taste having changed so radically felt the need to issue a heartfelt warning and carefully considered apologia regarding some content of The Rhinoceros’ Horn

I’ll précis it here: it was sixty years ago and our attitudes to hunting, minorities and especially the modern obscenity of killing for ivory and horn have thankfully changed. Please read this book with that in mind. The publishers, of course, phrased it much better…

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

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

All during those early days Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four” who 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) and the lad 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 comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio. This particular tale saw the debut of one of the first strong, capable female characters in European comics; rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine for this translation).

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.

In 1955 – around the time this story was collected into an album – contractual conflicts with Dupuis forced Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

He soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic Marsupilami with him…

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 on his departure – is Marsupilami.

Franquin, plagued in later life by bouts of depression, passed away on January 5th 1997 but his legacy remains, a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Rhinoceros’ Horn was originally serialised in two sequences in Spirou: #764-787 (Spirou et la Turbotraction) and #788-797(La corne de rhinocéros), spanning late 1952 and early 1953 before being united in hardback album La corne de rhinocéros in 1955.

The story begins with Spirou exulting over the success of Fantasio’s latest enterprise – personal helicopters worn as backpacks – but his pal is rather down in the dumps. He’s just been dressed down by his editor on The Mosquito and warned that the paper has hired a new reporter: a real go-getting hotshot…

Dejected and desperate Fantasio determines to revive his career by staging a publicity stunt: robbing the Good Bazaar Department Store

As the rattled reporter draws up his plans and sends a warning to the store of his intentions, a colossal explosion shakes the town. Persons unknown have blown up the nearby Turbot car plant. With even more to prove now, Fantasio proceeds…

Dragged along for the ride to photograph the stunt, Spirou and Spip reluctantly join their pal in the hare-brained venture. Landing on the roof of the emporium courtesy of the petrol-powered “Fantacopters”, they deftly break in through the fire-door, Spirou recording everything with his gigantic flash camera.

Typically the lead-footed burglars make an appalling clatter and tremendous mess but no night-watchmen confront them. They’ve all been incapacitated and tied up by real robbers…

Hearing the villains approach, the lads take refuge in a wardrobe in the bedrooms department and discover an old acquaintance already there. Behring works for Turbot and was wounded in the explosion earlier. Moreover, he’s carrying blueprints for the company’s latest advancement and the burglars in the darkened store are actually bandits trying to finish him off to get them…

Handing the boys an envelope and begging them to get it to his employer Mr. Martin, the troubleshooter loses consciousness just as the nervous heroes are challenged by a shadowy figure demanding the precious prize. It’s not the bad guys however, but Fantasio’s new journalistic nemesis…

Cellophine is already streets ahead of them: she knows of the plot to steal Turbot’s revolutionary supercar. All she needs is the address Behring muttered to secure an interview with the in-hiding Martin and her next terrific scoop…

And that’s when the gun-toting bandits make their move, demanding blueprints and rendezvous address. Thankfully Spirou is still holding the camera and super-bright flashgun…

Hilariously and calamitously fleeing for their lives through the darkened store, the boys eventually make their escape via fantacopters from the top storey, allowing Cellophine to lock the bandits up on the roof before dragging Behring to safety.

The next morning the boys are in Whistleton but Martin has already fled. His note reveals nothing, but later a sinister stranger in a café advises them to surrender the blueprints and warns them not to join Martin in Bab-el-bled in North Africa.

Ignoring him and returning home, they encounter the distressingly persistent Cellophine and Spirou clues her in. Sadly the thugs have tracked them down and overhear the plans. When the boys catch a jet liner to Africa, the heavily disguised heavies are in the seats behind them…

They villains are on their tails all though the streets of Bab-el-bled, but a wig malfunction in the Souk warns Spirou they’re being followed and another hectic chase ensues.

Thinking they’ve at last shaken their pursuers our heroes go to Martin’s house only to learn he was ambushed by the bandits…

Happily the troubled Turbot exec escaped and fled further into North Africa. He’s rushing off to the M’saragba Animal Reservation but as the boys try to follow Cellophine appears and pips them to the last spot on the plane – stowed away in the baggage hold…

Forced to follow by train, it is eight days later when Fantasio and Spirou finally reach the Reserve and yet again – as the infinitely annoying Cellophine explains – they’ve just missed Martin. He was chased into the bush by the implacable bandits…

The youngsters go after him and, later that afternoon, find him just after the thugs do. Having shot Martin, the villains are smugly gloating when the sinister stranger from the café in Whistleton appears. He’s a cop and finally has enough evidence to arrest them for blowing up the factory…

They are all too late. The harassed entrepreneur has already got rid of his portion of the plans, giving them to a native friend to hide.

As Martin is carried to hospital, Spirou and Fantasio volunteer to retrieve the accursed documents but they have not reckoned on the quirky ingenuity of the chief of the Wakukus, the vastness of the reserve and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the local flora and fauna.

After days of unpleasant and painful adventures they finally locate the tribe and, following even more nerve-wracking moments convince the chief that they too are friends of Martin. That’s when the king delivers his bombshell.

Tasked with keeping safe the plans – now contained on a spool of microfilm – the wily Wakuku had his men capture a live rhino before drilling a hole in its horn and sealing the container within. He then released it back into the wild. He has no idea where it is now or even which of the 200 in the park it might be…

Determined to complete their mission, the lads spend months tracking and capturing the assorted beasts. The task becomes only slightly easier after they find a dipsomaniac white trader who sells them hunting gear and latterly, yellow paint so that they can tell the rhinos they’ve already checked from the ones so cunningly evading them…

It’s a backbreaking, heartbreaking and increasingly pointless task but only when their resolve crumbles and they brokenly give up and head for home do they find the prize in the very last place they looked…

Even the trip back is a tribulation, and eventually they collapse only to awake in a nice clean hospital with Martin and Cellophine offering to fill in the blanks on this baffling case…

Six weeks later the lads are recuperating at home when Behring shows up. He’s got a little reward for them from the grateful Turbot Company but, as usual, Cellophine is on hand to spoil it for Fantasio…

Stuffed with superb slapstick situations, riotous keystone kops chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant yarn is a true celebration of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another enduring comics treat from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1955 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2014 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio in Moscow


By Tome & Janry, colour by Stephane De Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-193-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a Wild Ride for Cold Winter Nights… 8/10

For the majority of English-speaking comics readers Spirou might be Europe’s biggest secret. The phenomenally long-lived character was a rough contemporary – and shrewdly calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s iconic Tintin, whilst the fun-filled periodical he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano.

Conceived in 1936 at Belgian Printing House Éditions Dupuis by boss-man Jean Dupuis, the proposed new magazine homed in on juvenile audiences and launched on April 21st 1938; debuting neatly between DC Thomson’s The Dandy (4th December 1937) and The Beano (July 30th 1938) in the UK.

In America at that time a small comicbook publisher was preparing to release a new anthology entitled Action Comics. Ah, good times…

Spirou the publication was to be edited by 19 year-old Charles Dupuis and derived its name from the lead feature, which related the improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed at the glamorous Moustique Hotel (a sly in-joke reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Spirou the hero – whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language – was first realised by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his pen-name Rob-Vel for his Belgian bosses in response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s carrot-topped boy reporter, who had become a guaranteed money-spinning phenomenon for rival publisher Casterman since his own launch on January 10th 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, the kids’ supplement to Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.

Spirou magazine premiered with the plucky bellboy – and pet squirrel Spip – as the leads in an anthology weekly which bears his name to this day; featuring fast-paced, improbable cases which gradually eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals 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 aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the shorter, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer adventure serials whilst introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars.

Eventually he created a phenomenally popular magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and now a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums all his own), crafting increasingly fantastic tales until he resigned in 1969.

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

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction and three different creative teams were commissioned to alternate on the serial, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

Their winning approach was to carefully adapt, reference and, in many ways, return to the beloved Franquin era. Their sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

This one, originally entitled ‘Spirou & Fantasio à Moscou’ from 1990, was their tenth collaboration and the 42nd collected exploit of the tireless wanderers.

Set just after the fall of the Berlin Wall – and effective end of Soviet socialism – there’s a lot of editorial footnoting gong on to maintain understanding and sustain context but it’s all done in a witty and amusing manner, so there’s no loss of narrative traction…

The drama begins with Spirou, Fantasio and Spip heading for a much deserved vacation in the sweltering heat of Tahiti when they are suddenly abducted by a gang of spooks. As the lads groggily recover from cruelly applied chemical coshes, their assailants offer a (hilariously shaded) review of Russian character and recent history since the end of the Communist State, paying especial attention to the fact that even in the newly capitalist country the KGB are still in charge…

Russia is in trouble. The fall of the Iron Curtain has resulted in an influx of gangsterism, with the Mafia paramount in seeking out new territory for their nasty old rackets. Lacking experience in this kind of struggle, the security forces have requested the assistance of experts, and the French government – for it is they who have shanghaied our heroes – are happy to serve up Spirou and Co in return for the return of a couple of well-connected teenagers who got themselves arrested for protesting in the Kremlin…

By the time the press-ganged press-men are conscious enough to refuse they are already on the chilly tarmac of Moscow Airport and being handed badges as fully-accredited – if temporary – members of the KGB…

As they drive – via a torturous and convoluted secret route – into the city under the care of rowdily boisterous Colonel Dubyoutyev, they are briefed on the untenable situation.

It is not only the newcomers’ past record of success against the Mob which has brought them, albeit unwillingly, to this sorry state of affairs, but also the fact that they aren’t Russian.

When the Mafia first started operating, they were quickly infiltrated by KGB operatives, whilst the gangsters did exactly the same thing to the state police. Now nobody can trust anybody else and the authorities are forced to outsource credible and dependable assistance…

Just as they are pulling up at the Kremlin the Colonel shows them a fuzzy photo of a strangely familiar face: suspected top mobster and fellow outsider Ivan Ivanovich Tanaziof. Then a shot rings out and the chauffeur slumps down. With the out-of-control car crashing onto the frozen river, in an office of the ministry, Count Nikita Bloyuredov places a call to his boss to claim “mission accomplished”…

Crawling from the wreckage, our battered but still intrepid lads opt to use their freshly-minted credentials to get to the French Embassy. En route in a commandeered taxi, Spirou shares his suspicions. Perhaps the ruthless westerner Tanaziof has some previous connection to them? Perhaps he’s Fantasio’s insane and merciless cousin Zantafio, back with another murderous scheme to grab power and wealth no matter who has to suffer?

They arrive just as a grand Fancy Dress Ball commences and the security guards refuse to let them enter. They do however let them see the Embassy Chief of Protocol and Count Bloyuredov is absolutely delighted to meet them… until he sees his master Prince Tanaziof crash the party with a gang of armed heavies…

Happily Spirou and Fantasio also spot the intrusion and take cover whilst the mobsters boldly rob the gathering and the jumped-up aristocrat arrogantly boasts that his next move to reclaim Russia for his family will be to steal the sacred relic of Lenin’s embalmed body from its utterly secure tomb in Red Square…

As the gangsters gleefully exit, agents “Spirov” and “Fantasiev” are contacted by the miraculously alive and rather wisely deep, deep, deep undercover Dubyoutyev who has also survived the crash…

Trading information, they all agree that Tanaziof/Zantafio is fraudulently proclaiming himself “White Prince of the Russian Mafia” whilst attempting to pass himself off as the next Tsar. The KGB Colonel is horrified to hear of the sacrilegious plot to desecrate Lenin’s mausoleum and dashes off to implement the appropriate security measures but his reluctant agents know it won’t be enough…

Returning to the now quiet Embassy the rightly suspicious visitors finally meet the Ambassador, who merely tells them it’s a Russian matter. On their way out the disgruntled pair receive an anonymous note promising the whereabouts of Tanaziof. Despite the certain knowledge that it’s a trap the neophyte spies later rendezvous at the spectacular outdoor spa known as the Moskva Pool

After a horrific “accident” once again kills the wrong people, delighted and oblivious Bloyuredov heads straight for Tanaziof’s palatial hideout to share the good news, utterly unaware of the two men and a squirrel on his tail…

The plan to steal Lenin is about to commence and without a moment’s pause Spirou and Fantasio disguise themselves and join the raiding party…

Cannily blending wry humour, broad slapstick, light-hearted action and rollicking adventure with a swift-paced espionage caper, all topped-off with the so-satisfying return of a world-class arch villain to sweeten the deal, this rollercoaster romp builds to a brilliantly madcap conclusion as funny as it is breathtaking and all lavishly smothered in oodles of wicked irony…

Since Tome & Janry’s departure both Lewis Trondheim and the team of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera have brought the official album count to over fifty as well as a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots (official and otherwise), creating a vast pool of superb comedy-adventure romps that simply cannot be translated fast enough for my liking.

This kind of lightly-barbed, keenly-conceived, fun thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and even that other pesky kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1990 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2014 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio: The Marsupilami Thieves


By André Franquin,translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-167-9

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

The legendary anthology was launched on April 21st 1938 with this other red-headed lad as the lead of the anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

He began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals 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 aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’sassistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating a phenomenally popular magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and now a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums all his own), crafting increasingly fantastic tales until he resigned in 1969.

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

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the serial, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts best known as Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era. Their sterling efforts consequently 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 main vehicle were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann and Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this fifth edition (originally entitled Les voleurs du Marsupilami or ‘The Marsupilami Robbers’), they’ve reached back all the way to 1952 and translated the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

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

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

All during those early days Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four” who 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) and the eager lad 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 comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio as well as one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in this current English translation).

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.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin sign up with rivals Casterman on Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

He soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 but was obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

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 on his departure – is Marsupilami, which in addition to comics tales has become a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums.

Franquin, plagued in later life by bouts of depression, passed away on January 5th 1997 but his legacy remains, a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Marsupilami Thieves was originally serialised in Spirou #729-761 (collected into an album in 1954); a sequel to previous adventure Spirou et les héritiers in which the valiant lad and his inseparable companion colleague encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Palombia and brought the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation.

Franquin’s follow-up tale – crafted from an idea by fellow cartoonist Jo Almo (Geo Salmon) – sees the triumphant journalists visit the big City Zoo where their latest headline has ended up, only to be stricken with guilt and remorse at the poor creature’s sorry state of incarceration.

Resolving to free the poor thing and return him to his rainforest home, their plan is foiled when the poor thing suddenly dies in its cage. Distraught and suspicious, the boys muscle their way in to see the vet and discover the corpse has gone missing…

Acting quickly Spirou and Fantasio rouse the authorities and the commotion prevents the body thief from escaping. All through the night the keepers and our heroes scour the institution and in the dark of night finally spook the mysterious malefactor from his cosy hiding place…

There follows a spectacular and hilarious midnight chase through the zoo, with the lads harrying a dark figure who must be some kind of athlete past a panoply of angry animals, hindered more than helped by inept keepers…

They almost catch the intruder, but a last burst of furious energy propels the bandit over a back wall, but not before Spirou snatches a paper clue from him…

The precious scrap takes the determined investigators to the flat of Victor Shanks, where his wife Clementine provides further information. Her man is flying off to the city of Magnana for his new job and to deliver a package…

The boys’ frantic chase to the airport is plagued by manic misfortune and they miss Victor by mere moments, but undeterred borrow a neighbour’s car and attempt to follow overland.

This leads to a fractious episode of fisticuffs with striking Customs Officers. After a night in jail, the undeterred duo and the kvetching Spip eventually fetch up in Magnana and the search begins.

A month later they are frustrated and ready to throw in the towel when Spirou literally runs into Clementine Shanks and tracks her to a football stadium where formerly unemployed desperate Victor is now a star of the local soccer team…

Confronting the essentially good-hearted rogue Fantasio and Spirou force the truth from him. In return for his new job Victor drugged and swiped the Marsupilami for ruthless showman The Great Zabaglione as a star attraction for his circus and travelling menagerie…

Determined to see the little creature free, the boys attempt to infiltrate the show but are quickly discovered and forcefully expelled, but after a chance meeting with weird science master Count of Champignac try once more disguised as miraculous magic act Cam and Leon

This time the ruse works but after a phenomenally outrageous opening performance the brutal Zabaglione rumbles the reporters and things look bleak for the lads and the Marsupilami until guilt-wracked Victor steps in to save the day.

…And once the dust settles the wondrous beast is free, but happily opts to stay with the boys and share their fun-filled, exciting exploits…

Soaked in superb slapstick comedy and with gallons of gags throughout, this exuberant yarn is packed with angst-free action, thrills and spills and also offers an early ecological message and an always-timely moral regarding the humane treatment of animals. There is even a fascinating history and creative overview of the timeless wandering heroes in the back-up feature ‘Spirou & Fantasio’s Stories Last Through Generations’.

The Marsupilami Thieves is the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller to delight readers who are fed of a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive but wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a true and enduring landmark tale from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1954 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.