Benny Breakiron volume 1: The Red Taxis

By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-409-4

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics in Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After some time toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 he joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – who now used the nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as the Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960 Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman (check out that cover, fanboys!), the wry bucolic adventures star a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little French – or maybe Belgian? – town.

Quiet, well-mannered, gentle and a bit lonely, Benny is also the mightiest boy on Earth; able to crush steel or stone in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his only real weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches cold…

Benny never tries to conceal his powers but somehow the adults never catch on. They usually think he’s telling fibs or boasting and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles…

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a balloon and a shrug can topple trees...

Well-past it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing champion appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoît as the years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, François Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in and Jean Roba created many eye-catching Spirou covers, but by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all consuming and all the studio’s other strips were dropped.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down though, and, after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford and cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and his team between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, these gloriously genteel and outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers again, both as robust full-colour hardbacks and eBooks, and this initial exploit begins in the sedate city of Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the sweet kid goes about his rather solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can.

However, his sense of fair play is outraged when aging taxi driver Monsieur Dussiflard becomes the target of a dirty tricks campaign by new company Red Taxis. When he and the incensed cabbie challenge the oily company CEO in his flashy high-rise office, Benny is shooed away and the elderly driver later vanishes.

Suspicions aroused, the boy investigates and is attacked by a gang of thuggish Red Taxi employees. Only after thrashing and humiliating the goons does Benny realise that he still doesn’t know where Dussiflard is, so he throws the fight…

Just as he is imprisoned with his fellow abductee, the worst happens and the bombastic boy comes down with a stinker of a cold! As helpless as any other eight-year old, Benny is stuffed in a crate with the codger cabbie and loaded onto a freighter headed to the Galapagos Islands…

With all opposition ended, the boss and his Red Taxi stooges begin the final stage of their devilish plot, utterly oblivious to the dogged determination of Benny who must escape the ship and an alluring tropical paradise and impatiently wait for his cold to clear up, before setting off on a race against time, the elements and his own woefully-lacking knowledge of geography if he is to stop the ruthless criminals…

A superbly genteel spoof and fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, The Red Taxis offers a distinctly Old World spin to the concept of superheroes and provides a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Asterix and the Chariot Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s something not quite right about him…

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

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

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

Spirou and Fantasio volume 13: Z is for Zorglub

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

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

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

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

The eponymous young hero was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed in the Moustique Hotel – a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique – whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

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

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually ditching the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials. He also expanded the cast, introducing a broad band of engaging regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami to the mix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zorglub cannot believe or accept Champignac’s unflinching refusal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baker Street Peculiars

By Roger Langridge, Andrew Hirsh & Fred Stresing (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1608869282 (PB)             eISBN: 978-1-61398-599-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fresh New Romp to Enjoy Forever After… 9/10

Roger Langridge is a very talented gentleman with a uniquely beguiling way of telling stories. He has mastered every aspect of the comics profession from lettering (Dr. Who) to writing (Thor: The Mighty Avenger) to illustration (Knuckles the Malevolent Nun, Zoot!).

When he combines them (Fred the Clown, Popeye, Abigail and the Snowman), the approbation, accolades and glittering prizes such as Eisner and Harvey Awards can’t come fast enough.

He is also a bloody genius at making folk laugh…

The Baker Street Peculiars started life as an all-ages comicbook miniseries before being gathered in a titanic detective tome and craftily references a glittering reservoir of cool concepts encompassing the mythology of Sherlock Holmes, 1930s London, cosy crime mysteries, kid gangs and rampaging monster movies. Moreover, thanks to Langridge’s keen ear for idiom and slang, every page resonates with hilarious dialogue any lover of old films or British sitcoms will find themselves helplessly chortling over – if not actually joining in with…

Blimey, Guv’ner!

Illustrated by Andy Hirsch (Science Comics: Dogs, Varmints, Adventure Time, Regular Show) and coloured by the inestimable Fred Stresing, ‘The Case of the Cockney Golem’ opens in foggy old 1933 London Town, which is currently enduring an odd spot of bother. Exceedingly odd…

‘A Beast in Baker Street’ reveals that famous statues are going missing. Now, as one of the bronze lions in Trafalgar Square comes to life and bolts away down Charing Cross Road -unlike the crowds rushing about in panic – three wayward children (and a dog) chase after it. Soon they are embroiled in the story of a lifetime… perhaps several lifetimes…

Tailor’s granddaughter Molly Rosenberg, orphan street thief Rajani Malakar and neglected filthy rich posh-boy Humphrey Fforbes-Davenport (and his canine valet Wellington) are all out long after bedtime and keen on a spot of adventure.

Having individually chanced upon the commotion, they spontaneously unite to doggedly track the animated absconder to Baker Street where they enjoy a chance encounter with a legendary investigator…

Molly is especially intrigued: she has read all the exploits of the famous consulting detective. When he rubbishes their claim of moving statues – and claims to be too busy with other cases – she angrily suggests they act as his assistants. The detective complies, but is actually hiding an incredible secret not even his fanciful new deputies could ever imagine…

As Molly’s grandfather suffers another visit from thugs running an extortion racket for the nefarious Chippy Kipper “the Pearly King of Brick Lane”, the kids’ bizarre quest continues in ‘The Lion, the Lord and the Landlady’ after the junior sleuths meet up at 221B Baker Street. Although consoled with a fine meal, they are disappointed to find their hoped-for mentor absent.

Receiving further instructions from the great detective’s elderly cook Mrs. Hudson, the youthful team learn that Mr Holmes believes the statues are simply being stolen and that he wishes the dauntless children to post guard on Boadicea at Westminster Bridge and Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square…

Their sentinel duty bears strange fruit, however, as East End thugs perform a strange and dangerous ritual and the beloved tourist attractions come to menacing life. As the kids follow the ambulatory landmarks back to Kipper’s hideout, Molly strives to recall a story her grandfather used to tell her: a fable about a Rabbi in old Prague who used a scroll to bring a giant avenging clay statue to life…

As the colossal Chippy shares his own unique origins with his army of thugs and sculptures the youngsters sneak in but are quickly captured. Stuck in a cell they can only watch in horror as Kipper uses ancient magic to make a new kind of monster…

‘The Old, Hard Cell’ brings the plot to a bubbling boil as the terrified tykes swallow simmering resentments and work together to escape their predicament, even as elsewhere, other, more mature truth-seekers are forced to change their stubbornly-held opinions…

Someone else with a keen eye and suspicious mind is enterprising lady journalist Hetty Jones of The Mirror. Her own patient, diligent enquiries have brought her to Baker Street in time to collaborate with the aged detective-in-charge. With all eventualities except the impossible exhausted, the grown-ups must accept the truth and soon track down the missing lion. It’s probably too late though, since an army of animated marble and bronze artefacts are rampaging through London towards the East End, with only three kids (and a dog) ready to confront them…

With Chippy Kipper in the vanguard, the chilling regiment invades Molly’s home turf but ‘The Battle of Brick Lane’ is no one-sided affair. The plucky tyke has remembered the secret of the Rabbi’s Golem and has conceived a daring stratagem to immobilise the monstrous invaders. As for Kipper’s human thugs, they’ve underestimated the solidarity of hundreds of poor-but-honest folk pushed just a bit too far…

And when the dust settles, Sherlock Holmes has one last surprise for his squad of juvenile surrogates…

Adding to the charm and cheer is a cover-&-variants gallery by Hirsch and Hannah Christenson, sketch and design feature ‘Meet the Peculiars’ and a delicious sequence of all-Langridge strips starring his unique interpretation of the Great Detective in ‘The Peculiar Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’.

Reverently refencing and spoofing beloved old films and our oh-so-idiosyncratic manners and parlance with a loving ear for an incongruous laugh, The Baker Street Peculiars is a sheer triumph of spooky whimsy, reinventing what was great about classic British storytelling.

Fast, funny, slyly witty and with plenty of twists, it is an absolute delight from start to finish and another sublime example of comics at its most welcoming.

Don’t be surprised if it turns up as a movie or BBC TV special one of these days…
™ & © 2016 Roger Langridge & Andrew Hirsch All rights reserved.

Iznogoud Volume 1: The Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucky Luke volume 12: The Rivals of Painful Gulch

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

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures.

His continuing exploits over seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (more than 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

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

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

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

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

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

In all these venues – as well as in numerous attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

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

Lucky Luke – Les rivaux de Painful Gulch was the Dynamite Duo’s 10th collaboration (available in English on paper and as an e-book as The Rivals of Painful Gulch) and first published in Europe in 1962.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dracula Marries Frankenstein! – An Anne of Green Bagels Story

By Susan Schade & Jon Buller (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-62991-815-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Those Who’ve Been Extra Good This Year… 9/10

Based in New York, Papercutz are a company committed to publishing comics material for younger readers, combining licensed properties such as The Smurfs and Nancy Drew with intriguing and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and this tasty tantalising gem, released just in time for Halloween.

In her first adventure – where she found her long-missing dad – Anne Blossom and her family moved to the sleekly antiseptic metropolis and model community of Megatown. It was initially an uncomfortable fit. On her first day at school the other kids dubbed her Anne of Green Bagels because of the health-food spirulina lunch her grandmother had baked…

Eventually, however, she settled in, the town grew more human, she made some friends…

In this follow-up tale she and one of those pals – Otto Immaculata – decide to make a movie, and, being fans of spooky stories opt for a thriller-feature starring Frankenstein and Dracula.

As is always the way in these ventures, whilst scouting shooting venues, the plot evolves and by the time they have convinced the exceedingly eccentric owner of gothic mansion Herringbone Hall (which actually predates the entire city of Megatown) the project has morphed into a comedy romance entitled Dracula Marries Frankenstein.

The project proceeds apace but when the usually sweet dowager Augusta Herringbone realises the kids are contemplating and condoning “same-sex marriage” she reacts in a most peculiar and astounding manner!

And when her over-the-top response goes viral, Herringbone Hall suddenly catches fire! Has the kid’s innocent summer-fun project unleashed a wave of hatred and intolerance in Megatown, or is there an even more incredible secret to be exposed? Maybe this ill-starred tale is a horror story after all…

Smart, funny and warmly inclusive whilst tackling adult issues in an accessible manner, Dracula Marries Frankenstein blends mystery, laughs and adventure in the grand style, all delivered by creative – and wedded – couple Susan Schade & Jon Buller in their hybrid graphic novel (alternating illustrated text chapters with cartoon strip episodes, in the manner of our own Rupert Bear Annuals) format.

An excellent children’s romp for modern times and forward-thinking families.
© 2017 Susan Schade & Jon Buller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle Classics: Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent

By John Ryan (Hawk Books -1990)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-822-1

The son of a diplomat and irrefutable True Gent, John Ryan was born in 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a teaching post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to comics such as Girl and legendary weekly comic The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a glossy new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Mesmerised children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day as well as a plethora of strips illustrating some of their favourite radio shows.

The Eagle was a tabloid sized paper with full photogravure colour inserts alternating with text and a range of other comic features. Tabloid is a big page and you can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome folio was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash, the story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many sticky ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran until issue #19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship as Ryan had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent which began as a full page (tabloid, remember – an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) in #16.

Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and deftly repositioned as a purely comedic venture. For our purposes and those of the book under review it’s those first three years we’re thinking of.

Tweed was a bluff and blundering caricature of the “military Big Brass” Ryan had encountered during the war. In gentler times the bumbler with a young, never-to-be-named assistant known only as ‘Boy’, solved mysteries and captured villains to general popular acclaim. Thrilling and often macabre adventure blended seamlessly with sly yet cheerful schoolboy low comedy in these strips, since Tweed was in fact that most British of archetypes, a bit of a twit and a bit of a sham…

His totally undeserved reputation as detective and crime fighter par excellence, and his good-hearted yet smug arrogance – as demonstrated elsewhere by the likes of Bulldog Drummond, Dick Barton – Special Agent, or Sexton Blake somehow endeared the arrogant, posturing buffoon to a young public which would in later years take to its heart Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army and, more pointedly perhaps, Peter Sellers’ numerous film outings as Inspector Clouseau.

Ryan’s art in these strips is particularly noteworthy. Deep moody blacks and intense, sharp, edgy inking creates a mood of fever-dream intensity. There are anachronistic echoes and nuances of underground cartoons of more than a decade later, and much of the inevitable ‘brooding, lurking horror’ atmosphere found in the best works of Basil Wolverton. Ryan knew what kids liked and he delivered it by the cartload.

This too-slim, oversized (324 x 234mm x) paperback compilation is all that’s readily available these days, but surely in these days of electronic publishing some enterprising fan with a complete Eagle Collection can link up with a perspicacious publisher someway, somehow and produce a comprehensive compilation of the nation’s most self-lauded sleuth?

I know a lot of aging 10-year olds and their grandchildren who would leap at the chance to see the old team back in action…
Harris Tweed © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.

The Littlest Pirate King

By David B. & Pierre Mac Orlan, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-403-0

Just one more day, me Buckos!

Tim Burton has pretty much cornered the market on outlandish, spooky fairytales and edgy all-ages fantasy, but if you and your kids have a fondness for scary fables and macabre adventure with a uniquely European flavour you might want to seek out this supremely impressive yarn of unquiet buccaneers and phantom piracy.

Pierre Mac Orlan was one of the nom-de-plumes of celebrated French author, musician and performer Pierre Dumarchey who between his birth in 1882 and death in 1970 managed to live quite a number of successful, productive and action-packed lives.

As well as writing proper books for sensible folk, he also produced a wealth of artistic materials including children’s tales like this one, hundreds of popular songs and quite a bit of rather outré pornography.

A renowned Parisian Bohemian, Mac Orlan sang and played accordion in nightclubs and cabaret, and was wounded in the trenches in 1916, subsequently becoming a war correspondent. After the conflict ground to a conclusion he evolved into a celebrated film and photography critic as well as one of France’s most admired songwriters and novelists.

By contrast, David B. is a founder member of the groundbreaking strip artists conclave L’Association, and has won numerous awards including the Alph’ Art for comics excellence and European Cartoonist of the Year.

He was born Pierre-François “David” Beauchard on February 9th 1959, and began his comics career in 1985 after studying advertising at Paris’ Duperré School of Applied Arts. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism, visual metaphor, high and low cultural icons, as seen in such landmarks as Babel and Epileptic and Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations are augmented here by a welcome touch of morbid whimsy and stark fantasy which imbues this particular gem with a cheery ghoulish intensity only Charles Addams and Ronald Searle could possibly match.

Mac Orlan’s tale perhaps owes more to song than storybook, with its oddly jumpy narrative structure, but M’sieu B.’s canny illustration perfectly captures the true flavour and spirit of grim wit as it recounts the tale of the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman, damned sailors cursed to wander the oceans, never reaching port, destroying any living sailors they encounter and craving nothing but the peace of oblivion.

Their horrendous existence forever changes when, on one of their periodic night raids, they slaughter the crew of a transatlantic liner but save a baby found on board. Their heartless intention is to rear the boy until he is old enough to properly suffer at their skeletal hands, but as the years pass the eagerly anticipated day becomes harder and harder for the remorseless crew to contemplate…

Stark and vivid, scary and heartbreakingly sad as only a children’s tale can be, this darkly swashbuckling romp is a classy act with echoes of Pirates of the Caribbean (which it predates by nearly a century) that will charm, inspire and probably cause a tear or two to well up.
© 2009 Gallimard Jeunesse. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.