Billy and Buddy volume 4: It’s a Dog’s Life


By Jean Roba & various translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-171-6

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

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

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

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

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, after Roba’s death in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading a lot of American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

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

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

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

Originally released in 1974, Une vie de chien was the 9th European collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless and evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. This time however, we’re left in no doubt as to who is running the show…

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

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the Machiavellian mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball. The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

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

Taking pride of place in this tome are numerous close escapes from kids intent on involving the dog in their crazy games of cowboys, hunting encounters, pranks and practical jokes, strange romantic encounters (with cats and other lower life forms) …

Unwise intrusions onto film sets abound this time and there are more brushes with belligerent birds, adoring girls, impertinent mannequins and voracious fleas (or at least so the humans think), as well as hitchhiking hilarity and an embarrassing almost-accident involving ancient automobiles and crusty dowagers.

The onset of snow season brings fresh confrontations with the neighbour’s cat Corporal and, humiliating ice-capades, skid patches and sliding competitions, snowball wars, indoor blizzards and the unique experience of romantically-inclined sleepwalking tortoises as well as Buddy’s debut as a soccer referee for schoolboy games and more displays of the dog’s social pulling power and food-procuring acumen.

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and slapstick to satire: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2010 by Roba. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero {with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Evil Cat’s cousin Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. With the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

The Bluecoats volume 6: Bronco Benny


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-146-4

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was an absolute devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even to colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

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

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

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

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

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

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

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

Bronco Benny is the sixth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 16th French volume) and opens with our surly stalwarts waiting at a rail depot for much-needed fresh materiel…

As usual the war has stalled due to lack of crucial resources. This time the dearth is horses to ride, but when the train carrying the replacement mounts unloads, what Chesterfield and Blutch find is a shambles which makes them want to laugh and cry…

The smugly-isolated General Staff quickly retire to their comfortable residence and are soon back in high-level conference. Callously obnoxious Young Turk Captain Stillman posits a most practical – if appallingly unethical – solution to the equine stalemate: don’t pay the soldiers until after the forthcoming battle and use the money to purchase mounts from horse traders beyond the western mountains. To make sure the sale and transport goes according to plan the Captain intends sending the smallest military detail possible, but they will be accompanied by Bronco Benny, the greatest horse-breaker in the world…

Next day, luckless Blutch and Chesterfield set out on the suicide mission they have been volunteered for with strong, silent Benny in attendance. They are astounded by how easily they pass through Confederate pickets and defences. They also have no idea that the enemy is well aware of the plan and is allowing them expedited passage…

Travelling the arid rocky region to the traders’ ranch our heroes are surprised when a band of Indians attack. The Bluecoats only escape through sheer dumb luck and after rendezvousing with the mustang-hunters discover the natives are in uproar because the horsemen have captured a magnificent white stallion the Indians revere as a god…

It’s love at first sight for Benny. He is utterly smitten with the mustang dubbed “Traveller” and the next few days fade to a bruised blur as he strives to break the mighty wonder horse. Sadly, after he does, the true nature of the horse-traders is exposed and Blutch and Chesterfield realise they’ve been suckered yet again…

However, even after being deprived of cash, horses and dignity and left to die at the hands of the furious Indians, Sarge has a plan to fix things and, whilst it doesn’t exactly work as expected, it does get him and his pals back to Union lines in time to witness one more horrific, pointlessly stupid battle and subsequent slaughter with no apparent winner…

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

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1980 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge volume 1: Pure Viewing Satisfaction


By Rodolfo Cimino, Alberto Savini, Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans, Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Romano Scarpa, Andrea Freccero, Luca Boschi, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Tony Strobl & various (Disney Comics/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-388-0

Scrooge McDuck premiered in the Donald Duck tale ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947): a mere disposable comedy foil to move along a simple tale of Seasonal woe and joy.

The old miser was crusty, energetic, menacing, money-mad and yet oddly lovable – and thus far too potentially valuable to be misspent or thrown away. Undoubtedly, the greatest cartoon creation of the legendary and magnificent story showman Carl Barks, the Downy Dodecadillionaire returned often and eventually expanded to fill all available space in the tales from scenic metropolis Duckburg.

The comicbook stories and newspaper strips of the Disney studios quickly travelled around the world and were particularly loved and venerated in Europe where Italy, Germany, The Low Countries (that’s the Benelux region of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), Britain and especially the Scandinavian countries all made them their own, with supplemental new adventures and frolics that often surpassed the efforts of all but Carl Barks himself.

During the latter part of the 20th century Disney US downsized their own comics output, and eventually Barks and latter-day American giants like Don Rosa graduated to producing new material for the monumental continental Disney Comics publishing machines such as the Gutenberghus Group and Disney Italia.

In recent years the best of that Continental canon has been seen stateside in comicbooks and collected albums such as this one celebrating the pecuniary parsimony and eccentric antics of the Richest Duck in the World… and about time too!

Bold, brash, lightning-paced, visually spectacular and hilariously funny, this compilation – reprinting the American IDW comicbooks Uncle Scrooge #1-3 (lettered throughout by Tom B. Long) – commences with the epic saga of ‘Gigabeagle: King of the Robot Robbers’ – translated and polished by Jonathan H. Gray from an original Italian epic written by Rodolfo Cimino, limned by Romano Scarpa & Giorgio Cavazzano with colours by Digikore Studios.

The monstrous nightmare begins with Scrooge wracked with worry. The nefarious Beagle Boys have escaped jail again and the tension of waiting for their inevitable raid on his mammoth Money Bin is moving the miserly mallard to distraction. Determined to calm the old coot down, Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie take him camping.

…And that’s where sleep-deprived Donald first encounters the gigantic robotic bandit the Beagles have built to empty Scrooge’s vault…

The Brobdingnagian brute is clearly unstoppable, but the bandits have foolishly built their ponderous puppet too well and before long the ducks are triumphant once again…

Longer yarns are counter-pointed with short, smart strips such as the eponymous ‘Pure Viewing Satisfaction’ (Alberto Savini & Andrea Freccero with translation and colours from David Gerstein over the original Disney Italia hues) which offers a unique interpretation of television luxury before ‘Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Sly’ – by Scarpa, Luca Boschi, Sandro Del Conte, Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Joe Torcivia – finds Scrooge hunting a shabby vagabond who keeps stealing the Fantabubillionnaire’s favourite coat.

It transpires that many years ago the mystery man hid a map to ancient Aztec artefacts in the lining and once the duck is appraised of the situation, a frantic race begins…

Crafted by Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans & Sanoma, ‘Shiver Me Timbers’ then finds three generations of Duck on a fishing trip and catapulted into a treasure hunt where three accursed ghost-pirates bedevil them whilst attempting to save themselves from damnation…

Single-page laundry lampoon ‘Yo!’ (Savini, Freccero Gerstein & Disney Italia) segues neatly into another fanatical financial feud with wealthy rival Flintheart Glomgold as the old enemies vie for possession of a fallen star in ‘Meteor Rights’ (by Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Comicup Studio, Sonoma, Long, Gerstein & Torcivia).

Scarpa & Cimino – with Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Torcivia – then detail Scrooge’s attempts to scupper the monetary reformation of three spendthrifts in ‘The Duckburg 100’

After Scrooge’s own bank gives $100 each to Donald, would-be wheeler-dealer Jubal Pomp and Beagle Boy 231-132 as a promotional stunt to encourage investment, the ancient miser moves heaven and earth to scupper their get-rich-quick schemes and get back “his” cash. Sadly, however, the fates are against him and their unlikely, if temporary, success near bankrupts the old fool…

These comic cavortings conclude with ‘Donald’s Gabby Guest’ by the legendary Tony Strobl – aided and abetted by Digikore and translator Thad Komorowski – as Scrooge’s latest plot to bend Donald to his grasping monetary philosophies goes sadly awry after the nephews cunningly reprogram the gift-parrot he had previously indoctrinated to constantly spout sound financial advice…

Graced with a superb art-gallery by Cavazzano, Gray & Jake Myler, Marco Rota, Disney Italia & Shelley Pleger, Andrew Pepoy, James Silvani, Derek Charm featuring nine-scintillating covers, this is an exciting, exotic and eye-popping riot of raucous romps in the wholesome yet compelling blockbusting Barks manner: blending wit, history, madcap invention, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into a rollicking rollercoaster ride for readers of every age and vintage.

Whatever your opinions on the corporate mega-colossus that is today’s Disney, the sheer quality of the material derived from and generated by “The House that Walt Built” is undeniable, and no fan of comics and old-fashioned fun should avoid any opportunity to revel in the magic – preferably over and over again…
© 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mouse Guard volume 1: Fall 1152


By David Petersen (Archaia Studios Press/Boom Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-932386-74-5

Mouse Guard was first seen in 2005: a superb anthropomorphic fantasy tale which quickly garnered acclaim and many favourable comparisons to literary classics such as Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, although a fairer, more accurate – not to say obvious – comparison would be Robert C. O’Brien’s wonderful novel Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of Nimh.

It’s still magnificent and has expanded into a series of superb collected tales, games and other mass-entertainment media.

A world rich in tantalising back-history and fascinating tradition, the setting is a feudal society of mice, maintaining a precarious nation beset on all sides by predators. Within the borders of the Territories, independent city states prosper through trade, protected by the vigilant peacekeeping force known as the Mouse Guard. They keep the roads clear of danger, patrol the borders and provide intelligence on everything from weather patterns to new inventions to animal migrations.

In a world that generally views mice as vermin, victims and lunch, cooperation is vital and accurate Intelligence is fundamental to the survival of their society. The Guard was formed as a force of warriors: Border Guards, scouts, policemen, guides and messengers. They are the glue that binds together the scattered cities, enclaves and outposts of mouse civilisation.

In the year 1152 ‘The Belly of the Beast’ introduces Lieam, Saxon and Kenzie; tried and trusty members of the fabled Guard who go in search of an overdue and presumed missing merchant. After valiantly despatching the monstrous invader which killed him, they then stumble onto a devious, almost-fully-accomplished plot which threatens the existence of their home city and Guard Citadel Lockhaven… and perhaps all mice everywhere. Worse still, there is clearly a traitor hidden deep within their own sacrosanct ranks behind the appalling scheme…

The plot thickens in ‘Shadows Within’ as Mouse Guard Commander Gwendolyn sends key operative Sadie to the far-flung shoreline where her agent Conrad has gone missing. After extreme travails she locates him, but nearly too late and must battle for her life against an horrific army of monsters…

Saxon, Lieam and Kenzie have meanwhile backtracked the merchant’s trail to the city of Barkstone, resolved to tell no one of the imminent danger until they have ferreted out the traitor. Their search exposes a sinister secret army led by a masked mouse who has co-opted and pirated the reputation of a legendary Guard Hero.

The ‘Rise of the Axe’ is his scheme to draw disaffected members of the militia to his cause: overthrowing Gwendolyn and turning the Territories into a united kingdom…

As Lieam infiltrates the Axe army, Saxon and Kenzie are captured and almost killed by the insurgents. Left for dead, they are saved by the abrasive hermit Celanawe.

‘The Dark Ghost’ harbours an incredible secret, one the vile traitor and his co-conspirators could not possibly have anticipated. Ancient and venerated Mouse Guard champion The Black Axe never died… he simply faded away for a while…

Cresting a wave of bravado, the traitor escalates his plans and commits his entire army to capturing Lockstone: hoping to eradicate Gwendolyn and her faithful retinue in ‘Midnight’s Dawn’ but he has utterly underestimated the valour of the defenders, the cunning of Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon and the sheer determination of a true hero intent on bringing ‘A Return to Honor’ to his once-hallowed name…

With the natural order restored, a fulsome ‘Epilogue’ then details the rapid repairs to Lockstone as its weary inhabitants make frantic efforts to restore their depleted resources before the crippling deadly winter begins…

To Be Continued…

A classic adventure of heroes and villains, full of valiant deeds, glorious battles and spellbinding spectacle, this is a charming and brilliantly paced fantasy yarn, illustrated in achingly beautiful painted panels with clear, forthright storytelling. It will captivate children and adults alike.

Also included are beguiling extras such as a comprehensive and lovely ‘Map of the Mouse Territories’ circa 1150, an evocative prose and picture ‘Guide to Barkstone’ plus a similar plan and rundown of its rival in ‘Guide to Lockhaven’. Cultural cues are examined in a fabulous examination of ‘Mouse Trades’ – including Stone Mason, Carpenter, Potter (complete with examples of mouse pottery), Miller and Baker – with the entire affair capped by a ‘Pinup Gallery’: six superb images lovingly crafted by Guy Davis, Rick Cortes & anjindesign.com, Mark Smylie and Jeremy Bastian.

Surely destined to become a classic, Mouse Guard is a comic which – like Usagi Yojimbo and Bone – has grown far beyond its periodical origins to become a phenomenon all story lovers will adore.
Mouse Guard ™ & © 2005, 2009 David Petersen. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, George Pérez, Don Heck, Adrian Gonzalez, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3822-3

In my most instinctual moments I am at heart a child of the Silver Age. The material I read as a kid shaped me and I cannot honestly declare myself a completely impartial critic on comics of the time. The same probably applies to the brave and bold continuances that stretched all the way to the 1980s reinventions of Marvel, DC and the rest of America’s costumed champions.

That’s especially true of the Julie Schwartz-edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details – including, of course, past posts of this blog. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the invention of the JLA – which in turn inspired the Fantastic Four and Marvel’s entire empire – changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausibly rationalistic concepts which quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of the baby-boomer generation.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis…

This volume reprints a magnificent mass-gathering from issues #195-197 (October-December 1981, and edited by Len Wein), plus a sprawling team-up and chronal crossover encompassing Justice League of America #207-209 and the WWII set All-Star Squadron #14-15 (October-December 1982): epics which set new standards even while proving that the escalating efforts of constantly topping the previous year’s Big Thing was starting to tax the creators’ imaginative resources…

The action and intrigue opens in ‘Targets on Two Worlds’ by scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez & John Beatty, wherein Earth-2 mad scientist and serial body-snatcher the Ultra-Humanite gathers a coterie of villains from his own world and Earth-1 into a new incarnation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

The wily super-genius has divined that by removing five specific Leaguers and JSA-ers from their worlds he can achieve an alteration of the Cosmic Alignment and create a world utterly devoid of all superheroes. Selling the plan to his suspicious pawns Monocle, Psycho Pirate, Brain Wave, Rag Doll, the Mist, Cheetah, Signalman, Killer Frost and Floronic Man is relatively easy. They can see the advantages and have no idea that the duplicitous savant is playing them all for his own ultimate advantage…

Inked by Romeo Tanghal, the plan seems to successfully conclude in ‘Countdown to Crisis!’ as Earth-1’s Batman, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Firestorm and Atom are individually ambushed with their other-world guests Flash, Hourman, Hawkman, Superman and Johnny Thunder and despatched to an inter-dimensional void, but after the longed-for Realignment results in a hero-free planet the miscreants fall out. Similarly banished, Earth-1’s villains spitefully retaliate by freeing the lost champions from a ‘Crisis in Limbo!’ (art by Keith Pollard, Pérez & Tanghal) and join them in crushing the Ultra-Humanite to restore the previous status quo…

One year later, the annual scenario expanded into a multi-title extravaganza.

Spanning alternate universes and divergent histories, the drama commenced in Justice League #207 as ‘Crisis Times Three!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Tanghal) finds members of the JSA diverted from a trans-dimensional exchange and rendezvous with the JLA.

They are deposited on a terrifying post-apocalyptic alternate Earth where the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had resulted in atomic war, whilst the JLA are smashed by the unexpected arrival of their evil counterparts the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3…

As the lost JSAers explore the nuclear nightmare the story unfolds and an old enemy is exposed. This Earth was devastated due to the intervention of malign time meddler Per Degaton

Having barely survived the attack of the Syndicators, a team of Justice Leaguers – Superman, Zatanna, Firestorm, Hawkman and Aquaman – crosses dimensions to Earth-2 and discovers a fascistic society which has been ruled by Degaton since the 1940s. Barely escaping, they then plunge back down that timeline to January 1942 to solve the mystery and stumble upon the JSA’s wartime branch: the All-Star Squadron

After the creation of Superman and the very concept of Super-Heroes, arguably the next most groundbreaking idea for comicbooks was to stick a whole bunch of individual stars into a team. Thus when anthology title All Star Comics #3 revealed its previously solo line-up interacting as a comradely group, the very nature of the genre took a huge leap in evolution.

The Justice Society of America inspired innumerable similar iterations over the decades but for many of us tragically nostalgia-paralysed fans, the original and genuine pioneers have always been Simply the Best.

Possibly their greatest living fan, advocate and perpetuator is writer, editor and historian Roy Thomas who has long championed – when not actually steering – their revivals and continued crusades against crime, tyranny and injustice.

When he moved from Marvel to DC in the early 1980s, Thomas created Arak, Son of Thunder and Captain Carrot, wrote Batman and Wonder Woman and inevitably revived the world’s original Super-Team. Moreover, he somehow convinced DC’s powers-that-be to put them back where they truly belonged – battling for freedom and democracy in the white-hot crucible of World War II.

The All-Star Squadron was comprised of minor characters owed by DC/National and All American Comics, retroactively devised as an adjunct to the main team and indulging in “untold tales” of the War period…

The action resumes in All-Star Squadron #14, courtesy of writer Thomas and illustrators Adrian Gonzales & Jerry Ordway. In ‘The Mystery Men of October!’ they are an unknown quantity to the recently arrived Leaguers who have come in search of Degaton. Their arrival coincides with the rogue recovering his erased memories, stealing his boss’s time machine (long story: buy the book for more details) and heading into the time stream where he encounters and liberates Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring from the energy-prison the JLA and JSA had created for the defeated Crime Syndicate…

Joining forces, the murderous monsters then foray forward and across the realities until they arrive in a 1962 and steal all the nuclear missiles Russia had stockpiled in Cuba, precipitating a clash of wills between President John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that ended in atomic Armageddon…

Sadly, none of this is known to the JLA or All-Stars in 1942 who see costumed strangers and instantly attack…

That battle ends in JLA #208 after Degaton makes his ultimatum known: America and the world’s total surrender or the successive detonation of dozens of atomic super explosives in many nations…

Happily the heroes of two eras are ready to stifle ‘The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World’ (Conway, Heck & Sal Trapani) and deploy accordingly. They are soon joined by their JSA comrades from 1982 who have escaped their dystopian prison dimension and headed back forty years for the beginning of the end in A-SS #15’s all-action clash of titans ‘Masters of Worlds and Time!’ (Thomas, Gonzales & Ordway).

The senses-shattering conclusion comes in JLA #209 with Conway & Heck detailing the cautious restoration of all consensus realities in ‘Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot…’

This a blistering wave of nostalgic delight for those who love costumed heroes, crave carefully constructed modern mythologies and crave an indulgent dose of fantastic adventure, great causes and momentous victories.

These are instantly accessible yarns: captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist. And besides, surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?
© 1981, 1982, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Cedric volume 3: What Got Into Him?


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-081-8

Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. In 1960 he joined the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the dying – and much-missed – print production technique of Lithography.

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

While there he devised (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Bluecoats as well as dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has achieved sales well in excess of 15 million copies thus far…

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

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

In 1987 he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and the rest is history… and poetry and science and geography and maths and…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief. Collected albums of the variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 (with 29 released so far) and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling on the Continent, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

This third Cinebook translation – from 2011 and first continentally released in 1992 as Cédric 5: Quelle mouche le pique? – opens with ‘A Pebble in the Shoe…’: a moving and uplifting generational collaboration as Grandpa tells his daughter’s son stories of his dearly-departed wife that has the eavesdropping household (and you, too, if you have any shred of heart or soul) in emotional tatters…

A return to big laughs comes next as a dose of unwelcome homework results in ‘A Big Fat Zero’ whilst ‘A Lousy Story’ details the pros and cons of a school nit epidemic before pester power is employed to secure an addition to the household in ‘Man’s Best Friend’.

The crusty elder statesman of the family learns a painful lesson as ‘Grandpa Takes a Turn’ finds the creaky reactionary suckered into chaperoning at a school dance, after which little Cedric has a beguiling and potentially life-altering experience when his adored Chen marches through town in the uniform of ‘The Majorettes’

Grandpa and Cedric unite to shame Dad into purchasing ‘The Board that Skates’ but it’s every man for himself when the kid comes cadging for cash in ‘You Wouldn’t Have a 20?’ whilst ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ playfully shows that although the boy’s love for Chen is all-abiding and true, it isn’t necessarily reciprocated…

When Chen’s mother accidentally prangs Dad’s car, Cedric goes violently berserk until the families have demonstrably agreed détente and rapprochement and reached ‘An Amicable Arrangement’, before the pesky kid accidentally boosts his hard-pressed papa’s earning potential through inadvertent confidence trickery in ‘Business is Business’.

‘Jealousy’ rears its ugly head when Chen starts ballet and literally jumps into the arms of Cedric’s bitterly despised romantic rival The Right Honourable Alphonse Andre Jones-Tarrington-Dupree – with catastrophic repercussions for all concerned – whilst ‘Short of Breath’ sees the entire family play a mean but hilarious trick involving Dad’s birthday cake…

‘Solemn Communion’ wastes a much-need opportunity to salve Cedric’s already-tarnished soul when the lad’s first Catholic sacrament ceremony devolves into a drunken debacle for the attending adults, after which we come full circle as amorous memories are tickled and ‘The Quarrel’ resumes when Cedric asks how Mum and Dad got together before everything returns to bittersweet tears when the old man is asked for more reminiscences of Grandma Germaine in moving finale ‘Remember, Gramps…’

Rapid-paced, warm and witty, and not afraid to explore sentiment or loss, the exploits of this painfully keen, bemusingly besotted rascal are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters and old folk alike…
© Dupuis 1992 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Billy & Buddy volume 3: Friends First


By Jean Roba, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-124-2

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

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

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

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

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, after Roba’s death in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading a lot of American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like our Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

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

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

As Billy and Buddy, the strip debuted en Angleterre in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009: introducing a late 20th century-sitcom nuclear family consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Les copains d’abord was the 3rd European 1980s collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless relationships for our delight and delectation.

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in snowball fights, dodging baths, hording a treasure trove of bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative boy, although he’s overly fond of bones and rather protective of them. He also does not understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

The dog also has a fondly paternal relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this largely winter and Christmas-themed compilation finds her largely absent and probably hibernating) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever dad has one of his increasingly common meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

Also on parade in this tome are brushes with burglars and bandits, fearless fire-fighters and foolish photographers as well a selection of unique displays of Buddy’s social pulling power and money-making acumen. There’s even a greater role for Officer 22; the hard-pressed cop on the corner who always seems to be around during Billy and Buddy’s most egregious excesses and is slowly making himself one of the family…

However, the most important events included here depict the arrival of a new neighbour. Mrs. Stick is an upright, forthright and uptight military widow with definite views on absolutely everything. The most ardently held and expressed of these involve the nature of boys and dogs and how her vile cat Corporal can do no wrong. Oh, if she only knew…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and rewarding family-oriented compote of comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

The Phoenix Presents Long Gone Don Book 2: The Monstrous Underworld


By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-78-4

Kids love to be scared and they thrive on imaginative adventure, especially if it comes liberally dosed with oodles of wry sardonic comedy. Such being the case, it’s quite understandable how Long Gone Don came to be such a popular and enduring feature of British comicstrip phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run from the first issue.

Since 2012 David Fickling Books have published a traditional weekly anthology comic for girls and boys which has successfully restored the glorious heyday of picture-story entertainment; embracing the full force of modernity whilst telling old-fashioned fun and thrilling stories.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, puzzles and educational strips and material in an exultation of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the people who really matter – the utterly engaged kids and parents who read it…

As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past successes include Malcolm Magic and Yore (in The Dandy), Monkey Nuts, Baggage and the brilliant puzzle-venturer Von Doogan – this thrilling and hilarious spooky romp stars unlucky Don Skelton, whose proper life of adventure didn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances ended it.

The hapless schoolboy drowned in a bowl of Oxtail Soup and was instantly despatched on an uncomfortable voyage to the most netherly of Infernal Regions. Upon arrival, the bewildered waif discovered his unruly hair had turned milk-white, which looked really striking against the fantastic, green-sanded landscape dotted with familiar objects all super-sized to most unlikely proportions: an uncanny land of strange things and stranger folk…

None more so than a rather lugubrious and excitable crow dubbed Castanet, who took the newcomer under his scabby wing whilst strongly stressing the urgency of getting off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian Causes of Expiration tend to land with a crash every moment…

Castanet introduced Don to his bizarre afterlife, escorting him around the chaotic pit of peril known as Broilerdoom (“Afterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifying”) where they promptly earned the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spode

At least boy and bird won a few allies amongst the denizens of the grotty avenues and alleyways: most especially demonic outlaw/tavern-keeper Lewd and his agile assistant Safina who prowl the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville when not running the iniquitous inn known as the Demon Drink.

Don soon learned his companions were more rebels than rogues and they took his arrival as a sign of the despotic General’s imminent overthrow…

After a handy recap and reintroduction section this second exotic eccentric escapade finds our expired hero and his crafty crow companion visited by an implacable, seemingly invulnerable stranger who tries to steal something from Don’s room at the Demon Drink before being driven off.

Giving chase the gang discover there’s been a rash of thefts throughout Broilerdoom but the populace have bigger things to worry about. The godlike Great Worm Thanatos – whose power is believed to sustain the entire underworld – is dead…

On closer investigation Don discovers his almighty, limbless and prodigious new pal is only “nearly dead” and – after a few more unnerving encounters – learns that someone has stolen the heart of Thanatos so that final expiration is not long off.

If Thanatos is gone for good young Skelton can forget any dream of finding the way back to Earth and back to life…

Determined to recover the purloined heart, Don and Castanet quickly find themselves in the middle of another crisis: everybody in town is going crazy…

Safina reveals the reason in hushed whispers. Everybody in the underworld has a totem carried over from their breathing days: a knick-knack or keepsake which serves to stabilise them in the afterlife and remind them of former, happier times. Now, however, some unknown force has been taking the totems so people are forgetting themselves and going mental as a consequence…

Faced with two impossible tasks before breakfast, Don gets weaving with his undercover underworld investigations and soon sees that a bunch of huge, hulking, mute figures are behind the thefts. Before he can do anything about it though, the silent strangers kidnap Safina…

Castanet thinks he knows where allies can be found, but hates dragging his family into the mess… not because of filial feeling, but because his relatives are really appalling and quite dangerous to know…

Meanwhile an unctuous and unsavoury character named Bone Dry Henson has cockily approached the overwhelmed authorities with a plan to off set the mounting chaos. The fact that he is one of the worst villains in the realm’s history but gets the go-ahead anyway is a sign of just how desperate the times are…

Of course he’s the untrammelled rogue everyone expects him to be, but if the populace had any idea of Henson’s true involvement and the nature of his peacekeeping Porcelain Army they would never have let him become the new Mayor…

Soon doom and disaster are running amok in the crowed shabby streets and the intervention of Don and his new allies have resulted in a completely new kind of monster rampaging through Broilerdoom…

But with splattery death mere moments away Don conceives a bold plan…

Tensely suspenseful, imaginative, enthralling and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is delivered in a beguiling, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.

Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights should ever miss.
Text © Robin Etherington, 2017. Illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington, 2017. All rights reserved.

Long Gone Don Book 2: The Monstrous Underworld will be published on January 5th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk

The Bluecoats volume 5: Rumberley


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-108-2

The myths and legends of the filmic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential children’s classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted every best-selling volume – Les Tuniques Bleues (or as we know them The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 60 (and counting) album series.

As translated for English audiences, our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18th album Blue rétro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war).

Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

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

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

Rumberley was the fifth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 15th Franco-Belgian volume) and a far darker affair than usual. After a horrific battle Union and Confederate forces are spent and exhausted, although the Blues have advanced far into the South as a result of the sustained slaughter. However, with dwindling food and little ammunition the Generals decide to fall back and re-supply with fresh troops and munitions.

The only problem is what to do with the wounded. After all, bringing them back to safety would only slow down the rearward advance…

Then one bright privileged spark has the notion of just billeting the unfit Union soldiers on the nearest – albeit enemy – town…

Amongst the dead and dying are grievously injured Chesterfield and war-crazy Captain Stark. Even Blutch is there, although his leg wound might be minor, self inflicted or possibly even utterly bogus…

Their reception by the women, children, aged and infirm of Rumberley is hostile to say the least, but the Union dregs have no place else to go and no strength left to leave anyway. Forcibly appropriating the livery stable as a field hospital, Blutch and Chesterfield aid the exhausted doctors and surgeons as best they can but the simmering tension and occasional assaults by the townsfolk indicates that there is real trouble brewing and this kettle is about to boil over very soon…

And then the townsfolk start drifting away and rumours spread that a Confederate force is approaching Rumberley. The doctors opt to move their charges out, and Blutch finds himself in the uncanny position of staying behind as rearguard when Chesterfield decides to buy them time to get away…

When it comes, the battle is a bizarre affair. The Rebs are fit but have little ammunition so the Bluecoats give a good accounting of themselves, but are almost done for when Stark unexpectedly leads a life-saving cavalry charge of the Union wounded to save them. During the insane clash the town buildings are set afire and the citizens of Rumberley rush back to save their home and possessions…

And then something strange happens: the killing stops and Blues, Greys and civilians work together to save rather than destroy…

Here is another hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story and Western which appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.