Yakari and the Great Burrow


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-272-0

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who chose the working name “Derib”. He had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a couple of years later with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a young Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and before the coming of the modern White Man.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy, the beguiling strip explores a sublimely bucolic existence at one with nature and generally free from strife. For the sake of our entertainment however the seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, compassionate, brave… and can converse with all animals…

Derib – equally excellent in both enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of his stunning works over the decades feature his beloved Western themes, magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes and Yakari is considered by most fans and critics to be the feature which catapulted him to deserved mega-stardom.

Originally released in 1984, Le Grand Terrier was the tenth European album and recently became Cinebook’s lucky 13th, but chronology and continuity addicts won’t suffer unless they are of a superstitious turn of mind since this tale is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless; offering certain enjoyment from a minimum of foreknowledge…

It all begins one bright sunny morning as the boy brave boldly follows a succession of strange arrows in the grass: a unique trail designed to lure him into a cunning mystery.

Riding four-legged friend Little Thunder, Yakari treks far across the prairie but only finds a taunting voice challenging him to return tomorrow if he thinks he’s a “real Sioux”…

The next day, as he enters a wooded area he’s pelted with little stones and furiously chases two bear cubs into a deep tunnel in the earth. It’s merely the start of a vast network of tunnels and dead-ends: an underground maze which seems to promise a slow doom. Lost and despondent, when things look their very bleakest, Yakari learns the truth when his animal friends Linden Tree the beaver, Black Mask the raccoon and little bears Huckle and Berry erupt into the subterranean chamber. The fun-loving youngsters have turned an old hibernation hole into a terrific den for adventures and prank-playing…

With Yakari a willing partner, the assorted cubs then collaborate to drive the bears’ parents crazy. It works far too well, however, and when the ponderous hairy heavyweights collide in a frenzy of frustrated pursuit, their terrific impact shakes the earth and collapses the kids’ escape tunnels…

Bolting sunwards in panic, the youngsters head for the surface… but only three of them make it…

Now it’s a frantic race against time as Yakari assembles all his beastly buddies in a mammoth rescue attempt before time and air run out…

Always visually spectacular, seductively smart and happily heart-warming, Job’s smart yet spartan script again affords Derib a splendid opportunity to go wild with the illustrations; crating a momentous, claustrophobic scenario which only makes the eventual happy ending even more unlikely until it actually happens…

The exploits of this valiant little voyager who speaks to animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

These seductive sagas are true landmarks of comics and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © 1984 Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari: the Island Prisoners


By Derib & Job translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-010-8

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who chose the working name “Derib”. He had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a couple of years later with their next collaboration.

Premiering in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a little Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime between the Conquistadors’ introduction of horses and the coming of modern White Men.

Stuffed with bucolic whimsy, the beguiling series celebrates the generally simple and joyous existence of noble nomads in tune with nature and free from strife. The daily toil is occasionally punctuated with the odd crisis but these are usually resolved without fame or fanfare – usually by a little lad who is smart, compassionate and valiant.

He can also converse with all animals…

Derib – equally excellent in both enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s incomprehensible to me that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet.

Many of his stunning works over the fruitful decades featured his beloved Western themes, built on magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari considered by fans and critics alike as the feature which primed the gun.

Released in 1983, Les Prisonniers de I’Ile was the ninth European album (and, in 2008, Cinebook’s seventh British Yakari release): as always, a splendidly stand-alone mini-epic devoid of convoluted continuity. These heart-warming adventures work perfectly read in isolation: easily accessible for young kids and/or their adult minders meeting the bold little Brave for the first time…

The suspenseful saga begins with the boy marvel, his wonder horse Little Thunder and their friend Rainbow joyously playing on a beautiful promontory cutting into a lake. When a sudden storm erupts they take refuge in a cave and are stuck there for two terrifying days.

When the lightning and rain finally subside they emerge to find the spit of land is now and island. They – and many other animals – are trapped…

As the resourceful humans gather wood to make a signal fire they discover two elk with a big problem. Their calf is stuck under a fallen tree, but the Indians and their pony horse soon devise a way to free little Birch Shoot. Then the real problems start…

After the boy and girl splint the yearling’s broken leg and construct a branch bivouac to shelter him, searchers from the tribe come looking for them in a canoe. Yakari and Rainbow opt to hide, however, determined to stay and nurse the calf back to health…

That night Yakari’s totem Great Eagle visits for a chat and warns that the boy’s instincts were good, but further conversation is curtailed when worried father Proud Antlers realises that a hungry wolverine is on the island with them. He has past experience of how the wily hunters pick off the weak or wounded members of a herd…

Yakari has never heard of or seen such a creature and the elk’s tales are truly terrifying. Nevertheless, the little Brave appoints himself the family’s bodyguard, following them everywhere

His eager vigilance almost leads to catastrophe when he accidentally crowns old beaver pal Double-Tooth after the mighty swimmer ambles onto the islet in search of rare woods to carve. Soon however with his carpentry aid they have built a stout stockade around Birch-Shoot’s shelter.

Sadly, they have all severely underestimated the predator’s cunning and the wolverine simply proceeds to build devilish traps of his own. All he needs is the right moment to strike and feast…

Gripping with just the right amount of tension, this is a compelling yarn with a deliciously apt yet unforced denouement, one that will keep everybody sweet yet still delivers a satisfying kick for happy ending addicts…

This is one of Yakari’s most rewarding exploits, showing his warm benevolence, staunch determination and total commitment to his friends of variable leg-counts; a broad, bold romp no kid of any age could resist…

The evergreen exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic environment is an unmissable celebration of marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially warmth. These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © LE LOMBARD (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) 1983, by Derib + Job. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari and the Wolves


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-29-8

Le Crapaud à lunettes is children’s magazine founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who’d begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure gold two years later with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a little Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime between introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and the coming of modern White Men.

Stuffed with bucolic whimsy, the beguiling series celebrates the generally simple and joyous existence of noble wanderers in tune with nature and free from strife. Things are punctuated with the odd crisis but usually resolved without fame or fanfare – usually by a little lad who is smart, compassionate and valiant, and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustration – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Many of his stunning works over the fruitful decades have featured his beloved Western themes, built on magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, and Yakari is considered by fans and critics alike to be the feature which primed the gun. With the uncharacteristically moodily and atmospheric tale unfolding here, that transition to his more dramatic milieux has never been more evident…

Yakari au Pays des Loups was first serialised from June 1981 to April 1982 and promptly became the eighth European album, (and Cinebook’s sixth British Yakari release in 2008 and as always by being fabulously free of tight continuity, the epic encounter works perfectly read in isolation: easily accessible for young kids and/or their adult minders meeting the bold little Brave for the first time…

The tale begins as the seasons turn and winter hits the nomads. Moving camp, they return to a place one man knows too well. Three winters past he had a terrible experience and now becomes obsessed with expiating a long-carried burden of shame…

The kids are all delighted to be rambunctiously sporting in the snow, but when Yakari casually reports something he saw, Tormented Wolf rides off in a fury. The wary brave drives deeper into the snowy passes and soon finds what he dreaded: tracks of a large wolf with a limp…

Puzzled Yakari discusses the experience with many adults and his pony Little Thunder, and has real fright later when, gathering firewood, a grizzled old wolf with a limp starts eying him up…

Tormented Wolf again erupts onto the beast’s trail only to return once more, frustrated and angry. He isn’t staying, but only returned to get supplies and don his ceremonial hunting headdress. Yakari doesn’t really understand why the other grown-ups look upon his departure with pity…

That night, safe in his tent Yakari has one of his special dreams about wolves and their driven stalker. He awakes next morning to see the limping lupine’s tracks all around his tepee. Little Thunder absolutely refuses to take him into the foothills after the predator, so the lad gamely trudges off alone, even as far ahead, Tormented Wolf again replays in his head that fateful battle with a mighty opponent which left them both scarred and broken…

Far behind Yakari fearfully continues. For his entire life he has heard scary stories about wolves but when his totem Great Eagle appears with some sage words the boy begins to reassess his prejudices…

It’s a timely meeting, because as soon as the bird takes flight the limping wolf appears for a chat. “Three legs” then initiates Yakari into the secret world of the “Singing Clan” and shares their founding legend before inviting him to play with the pack’s new cubs…

He then asks the brave boy to arrange one final, fateful meeting between Tormented Wolf and the four-footed tribe he so remorselessly hunts, in the certain knowledge that this climactic confrontation will end the animosity forever…

Darker in tone than most Yakari yarns, this is also one of the most heart-warming and rewarding, with a subtle moral hiding inside a grand tale of redemption and reformation…  The evergreen exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic environment is an unmissable celebration of marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially warmth. These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © LE LOMBARD (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) 1981, by Derib + Job. English translation 2008 © Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke volume 7: Barbed Wire on the Prairie


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-24-3

Lucky Luke is a good-natured, lightning-fast gunslinger who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (over 80 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

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

Prior to that, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and joined weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of la Bande des quatre or “The Gang of Four” comprising Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose, free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which predominated in Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists on Tintin magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited the USA, meeting American comics creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, linking up with fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the hero’s regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

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

Morris himself 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 a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

He was first seen in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun during the late 1950s and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-mauled 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 Ma Dalton was the seventh of their 58 (and counting) albums, now available both on paper and as e-books.

Chronologically the album Des barbelés sur la prairie, first appeared in 1967: Luke’s 29th chronicle and Goscinny’s 20th collaboration with Morris, offering an engagingly classic confrontation and deviously diabolically bloodless solution wherein all the laconic lawman’s legendary speed proved as nothing when battling bad men with numbers, tradition and intransigence on their side…

It all begins with a suitably mock-heroic paean to western mythology, eulogizing the role of cattle and birth of cowboys before introducing overfed, self-satisfied cattle baron Cass Casey, casually chowing down on cow meat in boisterous cow-town Cow Gulch.

The big man is blissfully unaware that salad-farmers Vernon and Annabelle Felps are currently building a home and planting their crops on the small parcel of the prairie they recently purchased. That means nothing to Casey’s men as they indifferently guide a mooing massive herd through house and garden alike…

When the vegetable man heads into town to remonstrate with the cattle king, Vernon would have killed for his impertinence but for the quiet yet lethally loaded intervention of a wanderer trying to eat his steak in peace…

Casey thinks he’s powerful enough to do whatever he wants, but within seconds he’s the only man drawing down on the legendary Lucky Luke. A little whilst the burly boss’ hand is healing, the Lone Rider is accompanying Vernon back to a home-cooked meal of tasty greens. He’s still there when vengeful Casey sends his thundering herd back to trample everything.

Not long after, Cass’ men are all trussed up, those steers are stampeding though Cow Gulch and Vernon has done the unthinkable…

As the authors brilliantly detail, back then the battle between settlers and ranchers reached obsessive fever pitch after barbed wire was invented. Despite being used to fence off legally owed property, the stuff was so contentious to free ranging cattlemen that shops stocking it would be destroyed and cowboys reacted with unimaginable fury when it was used…

The very mention of it causes local stores to shut for business but Vernon is implacable and mail-orders a few bales. In response, the coach carrying it to him is robbed and vandalised and the Felps’ house is razed to the ground… again.

Hating bullies, Luke adopts a cunning disguise and sneaks a shipment past the ever-vigilant vigilantes and before long the wide open prairie has its first enclosure…

Casey reacts in the expected manner and before long a full-fledged war is brewing.

When Luke organises and trains all the other crop-growing Settlers, Casey increases his night raids and shattering cattle stampedes.

Once Luke decides to get personally involved and bring in more wire, the Cow King calls in all the other cattle barons who congregate in town for a big dinner before taking decisive final action. The prognosis looks bleak for everybody…

And then the Western Wonder has a most intriguing notion which seems certain to end the mounting crisis in a bloodless manner and give all parties concerned an appetite for conciliation…

Fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour beef up this splendidly trope-heavy tribute to classic westerns: another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Cat Ballou, superbly executed by sublime storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids 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 © 2007, Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari and the Stranger


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-27-4

European children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who’d begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure gold two years later with their next collaboration.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a little Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime between introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and the coming of modern White Men.

Stuffed with bucolic whimsy, the beguiling all-ages series celebrates the existence of noble wanderers in tune with nature and free of strife, punctuated with the odd crisis but generally resolved without fame or fanfare – usually by a little lad who is compassionate, smart, valiant and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and also with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustration – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators, crafting such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic about AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne). Many of his stunning works over the decades feature his beloved Western themes, built on magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, and Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the feature which primed the gun.

With the boldly visual story under review here, the steady transition to his more epic milieux has never been more evident…

Yakari et l’Etranger was first released as a European album in 1982 and became Cinebook’s 5th Yakari volume in 2007, but that as ever won’t be a problem for chronology or continuity mavens as the tale works perfectly read in isolation: wondrously welcoming and easily accessible for young kids and/or their adult minders meeting the bold little Brave for the first time…

One day in the woods, the beavers are beginning a major construction project under the stern foremanship of Thousand Mouths, with Yakari and his faithful pony companion Little Thunder gleefully watching when a strange bird with a huge beak crash-lands in their midst. It is very large, very clumsy and has the worst cold anybody has ever seen.

In between earth-shaking sneezes the stricken visitor explains that he is a White Pelican who flew far too high and got lost, catching this awful affliction in the process…

After their usual bout of squabbling with each other the hospitable beavers offer to put him up until he gets better, but after one night of continual ear-shattering sneezes the mammals are all sleep-derived and tetchy, so Yakari smuggles the bird into his people’s encampment.

This is not an ideal solution either, but does give the little lad an idea: curing that colossal cold by treating the pelican to a night in a sweat lodge…

The camp’s sacred building is out of bounds but the weary beavers are happy to construct their own affair and, after a steamy night, the heat treatment seems to do the trick. However, before the day is out the cold returns with greater force and even bigger sneezes.

The real problem is that the stranger is weak from lack of food, but Yakari’s pals the ever-playful otters are happy to catch a few fish for him. None of them have ever seen how much a pelican can eat though, and before long the entire stream is empty even though the snuffling bird is still starving.

Moreover, a night in the open results in every animal in the forest being kept awake by thunderous sneezing…

The next morning, Yakari is confronted by a horde of frazzled creatures all demanding he get rid of the feathered nuisance. Disappointed and angry Yakari furiously storms off with his unfortunate new friend and as he and Little Thunder carry the weakened bird away, the boy brave has an inspiration; he will take his patient upriver to visit his old friend the grizzly bear.

It’s spawning season and the shallows are overflowing with salmon which the jolly colossus is delighted to share with a fellow fish aficionado. The nourishment soon works its magic and the big white bird makes a rapid and complete recovery. Soon he’s arcing through the air and determined to settle accounts.

Despite the churlish way they acted, the grateful pelican pay back the animals for the way he’s been treated. Soaring down, he scoops up a bucket-sized beak-full of fish from the stream just as the otters are about to catch one…

The solitary pelican has thanks not vengeance in mind however as he dumps enough fish to feed the whole family: a day’s worth of hunting in one minute. He’s equally generous with the beavers, giving spectacular, sky-soaring rides to each one in return for their taking him in.

His gratitude expressed the lost bird rests, but good deeds beget good deeds and sculpting genius Thousand Mouths is inspired to express his own talents with a series of statues starring the sneezing bird: a new and novel landmark which catches the eyes of a passing flock of big-beaked fishing birds who have been looking for a lost comrade…

Depicted with stunning skill and verve, incorporating just the right amount of pathos to leaven the bonhomie and dry humour, Yakari and the Stranger is a compelling fable about hospitality and friendship which demonstrates the meaning and rewards of generosity with Job’s whimsical story allowing Derib another glorious opportunity to prove his astonishing mastery of comics-staging and Earth’s natural wonders …

The evergreen exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is an unmissable celebration of marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially warmth.

These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) 2000. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Blackhawk Album #1


By Dick Dillin, Chuck Cuidera, Jack Kirby, Sheldon Moldoff, George Roussos, Mort Meskin, Nick Cardy, Frank Frazetta, Bill Ely, Bob Brown & various (Strato Publications)
No ISBN:

Here’s another long-lost oddity of the eccentric and exotic British comics market that might be of passing interest to curio collectors and unrepentant comics nerds like me.

The early days of the American comicbook industry were awash with both opportunity and talent and those factors happily coincided with a vast population hungry for cheap entertainment.

The new medium of comicbooks had no acknowledged fans or collectors; only a large, transient market open to all varied aspects of yarn-spinning and tale-telling – a situation which publishers believed maintained right up to the middle of the 1960s. Thus, in 1940 even though America was loudly, proudly isolationist and more than a year away from any active inclusion in World War II, creators like Will Eisner and publishers like Everett M. (“Busy”) Arnold felt Americans were ready for a themed anthology title Military Comics.

Nobody was ready for Blackhawk.

Military #1 launched at the end of May 1941 (with an August cover-date) and included in its gritty, two-fisted line-up Death Patrol by Jack Cole, Miss America, Fred Guardineer’s Blue Tracer, X of the Underground, The Yankee Eagle, Q-Boat, Shot and Shell, Archie Atkins and Loops and Banks by “Bud Ernest” (actually aviation-nut and unsung comics genius Bob Powell), but none of these strips, not even Cole’s surreal and suicidal team of hell-bent fliers, had the instant cachet and sheer glamour appeal of Eisner and Powell’s “Foreign Legion of the Air” led by the charismatic Dark Knight of the airways known only as Blackhawk.

Chuck Cuidera, already famed for creating the original Blue Beetle for Fox, drew ‘the Origin of Blackhawk’ for the first issue, wherein a lone pilot fighting the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 was shot down by Nazi Ace Von Tepp; only to rise bloody and unbowed from his plane’s wreckage to form the World’s greatest team of airborne fighting men…

This mysterious paramilitary squadron of unbeatable fliers, dedicated to crushing injustice and smashing the Axis war-machine, battled on all fronts during the war and – once the embattled nations had notionally laid down their arms – stayed together to crush international crime, Communism and every threat to democracy from alien invaders to supernatural monsters, consequently becoming one of the true milestones of the US industry.

Eisner wrote the first four Blackhawk episodes before moving on and Cuidera stayed until issue #11 – although he triumphantly returned in later years. There were many melodramatic touches that made the Blackhawks so memorable in the eyes of a wide-eyed populace of thrill-hungry kids. There was the cool, black leather uniforms and peaked caps. The unique, outrageous – but authentic – Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket planes they flew from their secret island base and of course their eerie battle-cry “Hawkaaaaa!”

But perhaps the oddest idiosyncrasy to modern readers was that they had their own song (would you be more comfortable if we started calling it an international anthem?) which Blackhawk, André, Stanislaus, Olaf, Chuck, Hendrickson and Chop-Chop would sing as they plummeted into battle. (To see the music and lyrics check out the Blackhawk Archives edition but just remember this catchy number was written for seven really tough leather-clad guys to sing while dodging bullets…

Quality adapted well to peacetime demands: superheroes Plastic Man and Doll Man lasted far longer than most of their Golden Age mystery man compatriots and rivals, whilst the rest of the company line turned to tough-guy crime, war, western, horror and racy comedy titles.

The Blackhawks soared to even greater heights, starring in their own movie serial in 1952. However the hostility of the marketplace to mature-targeted titles after the adoption of the self-censorious Comics Code was a clear sign of the times and as 1956 ended Arnold sold most of his comics properties to National Publishing Periodicals (now DC) and turned his attentions to becoming a general magazine publisher.

Most of the purchases were a huge boost to National’s portfolio, with titles such as GI Combat, Heart Throbs and Blackhawk lasting uninterrupted well into the 1970s (GI Combat survived until in 1987), whilst the unceasing draw and potential of characters such as Uncle Sam, the assorted Freedom Fighters costumed pantheon, Kid Eternity and Plastic Man have paid dividends ever since.

The “Black Knights” had also been a fixture of the British comics reprint industry since the early 1950s, with distributor-turned publisher Thorpe & Porter releasing 37 huge (68-page, whilst the US originals only boasted 36 pages) monochrome anthologies to entrance thrill-starved audiences under their Strato imprint.

This commodious British collection combines a flurry of tales featuring the Air Aces, balanced out by an assortment of mystery and science fiction tales from DC’s wide selection of weird adventure anthologies (primarily culled in this instance from September and October 1957) and kicks off with the contents of (US) Blackhawk #117 and ‘The Fantastic Mr. Freeze’ wherein the paramilitary aviators battle a chilling criminal maniac with a penchant for cold crimes before tackling smugglers masquerading as Vikings in ‘The Menace of the Dragon Boat’.

‘How Not to Enjoy a Vacation’ was seen in many places; a Public Service feature probably written by Jack Schiff and definitely illustrated by Rueben Moreira, followed by prose poser ‘I Was a Human Missile’, relating a technician’s account of when he was trapped during the test firing of a missile – and how he escaped – after which ‘The Seven Little Blackhawks’ become the targets of a ruthless mastermind exploiting their fame and reputations to plug his new movie…

Regrettably most records are lost so scripter-credits are not available (likely candidates include Ed “France” Herron, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Bill Woolfolk, Jack Schiff and/or Dave Wood) but the art remained in the capable hands of veteran illustrators Dick Dillin & Chuck Cuidera: a team who meshed so seamlessly that they often traded roles with few any the wiser…

Moreover although broadly formulaic, the gritty cachet, exotic crime locales, Sci Fi underpinnings and international jurisdiction of the team always allowed great internal variety within the tales…

Here however the uniformed escapades pause as House of Mystery #67 (October 1957) offers the sorry saga of ‘The Wizard of Water’ – a scurvy conman who accidentally gets hold of King Neptune’s trident as drawn by Bill Ely – and, after an always-engaging ‘Science Says You’re Wrong’ page and text terror tale ‘The Mummy’s Revenge’, counts down ‘Five Days to Doom’ (illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff from House of Mystery #66, September 1957) wherein a printer discovers a seemingly-prophetic calendar and uses it to track down aliens planning to destroy Earth.

‘The Legend of the Golden Lion’ (HoM #67 again and illustrated by George Roussos) then described a Big Game Hunter’s confrontation with a leonine legend of biblical pedigree whilst from the same issue the ever-excellent Bob Brown depicted a weird science-tinged crime caper about ‘The Man Who Made Giants’ before the Blackhawks soared back into action battling ‘The Bandit with a Thousand Nets’ – yet another audacious costumed thief with a novel gimmick (from Blackhawk #118, October 1957).

That issue also provided ‘The Blackhawk Robinson Crusoes’ wherein the Pacific Ocean proved to be the real enemy when an accident marooned the Aviators as they hunted the nefarious pirate Sting Ray, followed by much-reprinted western classic ‘The Town Jesse James Couldn’t Rob’ limned by Frank Frazetta and itself a reprint from Jimmy Wakely #4.

Text feature ‘From Caveman to Classroom’ charted the history of map-making after which Blackhawk #118 continues to completion as ‘The Human Clay Pigeons’ found the entire squadron helpless targets of international assassin/spymaster the Sniper, leaving the rest of this collection to astound and amuse with more genre-specific tales such as the Roussos illustrated psychological crime thriller ‘Sinister Shadow’ from House of Mystery #66 Sept 1957.

Also in that issue is Jack Kirby’s eerie mystery of best friends turned rivals ‘The Thief of Thoughts’, Moldoff’s jungle trek chiller ‘The Bell that Tolled Danger’ and Mort Meskin & Roussos’ tragic supernatural romance ‘The Girl in the Iron Mask’.

Rounding out the collection are selections from House of Mystery #64 (July 1957) beginning with Nick Cardy’s irony-drenched riff on the curse of Midas wherein a criminal subjects himself to ‘The Golden Doom’ – pausing briefly for Jack Miller’s prose expose of mind-readers ‘A Clever Code’ (from HoM #66) and another Public Service ad with teen star Binky explaining ‘How to Make New Friends’ (Schiff & Bob Oksner) – before Bill Ely delivers a murderous revelation regarding ‘The Artist Who Painted Dreams’.

A brace of Henry Boltinoff gag pages starring ‘Professor Eureka’ and ‘Moolah the Mystic’ then segues into Bernard Baily’s macabre depiction of criminal obsession in ‘My Terrible Twin’ (HoM #64) to bring the fun to a close on a spooky high note.

These stories were produced – and reprinted here – at a pivotal moment in comics history: the last showing of broadly human-scaled action-heroes and two-fisted mystery-solvers in a marketplace increasingly filling up with gaudily clad wondermen and superwomen. The iconic blend of weary sophistication and glorious, juvenile bravado where a few good men with wits, firearms and an occasional trusty animal companion could overcome all odds was fading in the light of spectacular scenarios and ubiquitous alien encounters.

These are splendidly engaging tales that could beguile and amaze a whole new audience if only publishers would give them a chance. But whilst they won’t your best bet is to seek out books like this in specialist comic shops or online.

Go on; let your fingers do the hard work…

Despite there being no copyrights included in this tome, I think it’s safe to assume:
All material © 1957, 1958, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Super Summer Holiday Annual (No. 1)


By various (Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd.)
No ISBN:

It took the British a very long time to get the hang of American-style superheroes – just ask any old UK-based fan about Tri-Man, Gadget Man and Gimmick Kid or the Phantom Viking if you doubt me – but we never had any trouble with more traditional genre standards, which is why this delightful oddment of UK reprint publishing boasts such a decidedly eclectic all-star line up.

Probably released in 1961, it’s a monochrome affair with soft card-covers, gathering select licensed snippets from National Comics/DC, presumably thought to be appealing or of interest to us junior limeys. The decidedly quirky special offers choice late-1950s escapades of Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, The Viking Prince, Superman & Lois Lane and Davy Crockett, bundled up as a marvellously mixed bag of tales which must have frankly baffled and bedazzled the kids of Britain in equal amounts.

The book was (probably) released in 1961 by UK based Atlas Publishing and Distribution, re-reprinting material licensed to Australian outfit KG Murray Publishing Company – one of many small outfits repackaging American strips for the anything-goes UK marketplace…

In America during the 1950s, when superheroes were in a seemingly inescapable trough, comicbook companies looked to different types of leading men in their action heroes. In 1955 writer/editor Robert Kanigher created a traditional adventure comic entitled The Brave and the Bold which featured historical strips and stalwarts.

The Golden Gladiator, illustrated by Russ Heath, was set in the declining days of the Roman Empire, The Silent Knight fought injustice in Norman Britain, courtesy of Irv Novick, and the already-legendary Joe Kubert was drawing the exploits of a valiant young Norseman dubbed the Viking Prince.

This last feature appeared in almost every issue and eventually took over Brave and the Bold entirely, until the resurgent superhero boom saw B&B retooled as a try-out title with its 25th issue. Before that, however, those fanciful, practically “Hollywoodish” Viking sagas were among some of the finest adventure comics of all time (and they’re long overdue for a definitive collection of their own).

The valiant Jon has long been a fan favourite, intermittently returning in DC’s war titles and often guest-starring in such varied venues as Sgt. Rock and even Justice League of America.

Here at the height of his popularity, the lonely wanderer and his companion the Mute Bard kick off proceeding in fine fettle, accepting ‘The Challenge of the Flying Horse’ (B&B #19 Aug/Sep 1958 by Bob Haney & Kubert) and invading Valhalla to aid the comely Valkyries against an invasion of menacing Moon Vikings…

Tales from the censorious 1950s (with just a little overlapping touch of the 1960s) always favoured plot over drama – indeed, a strong argument could be made that all DC’s post-war costumed crusaders actually shared one personality (and yes I’m including Wonder Woman) – so narrative drive focused on comfortably familiar situations or outlandish themes and paraphernalia, but as a kid they simply blew me away.

They still do.

The Gotham Gangbusters especially had to perpetually think and act outside the box as they fought crime and worse with kid gloves on. ‘Batman… Superman of Planet X!’ (from Batman #113, February 1958 by France Herron, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris) offers fantastic science fiction fantasy and perhaps the best ever art job ever seen in an incredible, spectacular stupendous romp with the Cowled Crimebuster shanghaied to a distant galaxy to save an advanced civilisation from invasion…

At a time when the rise of television had made the colonial west crucial viewing, almost every publisher who had survived the birth of the Comics Code had their own iteration of Davy Crockett. National/DC joined the party rather late with Frontier Fighters, which ran for 8 issues between summer 1955 and the end of 1956.

The anthological title supplemented the man of the moment with the equally public-domain likes of Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill, Buck Skinner and similar mythic types whilst incorporating all the tropes and ingrained stereotypes you’d expect of the times, but cover-featured Crockett was always the main attraction.

‘The Renegade Fur-Traders’ was first seen in #6 (July-August 1956), by an unnamed author and illustrated with captivating authenticity by the excellent John Prentice, not long before he would begin ghosting the Rip Kirby newspaper strip. It told of how Davy and his mountainous pal Sam Willoughby saved a tribe of Piegan Indians from being swindled by wicked white men…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times. I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m often simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Of course I’m (painfully) aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse. They’re great, great comics but still…

I’m just saying…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 launched at the start of 1958) and became the regular venue for stunning yarns illustrated by sleek, slick Kurt Schaffenberger whose distinctive art-style would quickly become synonymous with the reporter. In this yarn from the second issue (April/May) Lois was apparently appalled to uncover ‘Superman’s Secret Sweetheart’ (possibly written by Bill Finger), but was in fact on her very best mettle, helping a bullied college girl fight back against her mean sorority sisters…

Prince Jon then became ‘The Viking Genie’ (Bill Finger & Joe Kubert from B&B #14 Dec 1958/Jan 1958) as he is sealed in a barrel by his enemies and washes up some time later on the shores of distant Araby.

Freed from his prison by an old man and his beautiful daughter, the golden-haired Northman uses ingenuity and superb physicality to grant the dotard’s three wishes, consequently unseating a tyrant and restoring the old man to the throne of Baghdad…

Detective Comics #249 (November 1957) was the original setting for Finger & Sheldon Moldoff’s ‘The Crime of Bruce Wayne’ wherein civic-minded Bruce Wayne agrees to Commissioner Gordon’s scheme to impersonate masked criminal The Collector. Sadly things go badly awry: Gordon is hospitalised and Wayne is sentenced to death, with Robin and Batwoman frantically trying to find the real Collector before time runs out for the incarcerated, incognito Caped Crusader…

Davy Crockett was then captured by ‘Two Little Paleface Indians’ (Frontier Fighters #3 Jan Feb 1956, art by Prentice) stolen and raised by the warlike Creek. Not only does he have to escape imminent execution but also return the bellicose little waifs to their true parents, after which ‘The Bombshell of the Boulevards’ (Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger) sees Lois Lane donning a peroxide wig to deceitfully secure a Hollywood interview.

Apparently blondes not only have more fun but also make more trouble and soon she has provoked a death-duel between rival enflamed suitors. Of course, it was only another scheme by Superman and Jimmy Olsen to teach her a lesson in journalistic ethics. Good thing reporters are so much less unscrupulous these days…

The Viking Prince returns to frozen climes to confront the ‘Threat of the Ice-King’ (Haney & Kubert from B&B #18, June/July 1958) and spectacularly rescues a Rose Princess from the icy ogre’s legion of arctic monsters before Davy Crockett tackles ‘The Indian Buccaneers’ (Frontier Fighters #5, May/June 1956 Prentice) dragooned into raiding Louisiana with infamous pirate Swampfox Cy

The weirdly enticing array of adventures ends with charming Public Service ad ‘Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, wrapping up the all-ages fun on a cautionary note every hoarder of highly inflammable collectibles should heed…

Although I’ve been nostalgically self-indulgent and a touch jocund throughout, there’s no denying the merit of these ancient tales, especially since they’re presented in staggeringly powerful and beautifully composed black and white: all marvellous examples of a level of artistic individuality and virtuosity we’re losing today as computer-colour advances and digital shortcuts are increasingly homogenising the craft and design of graphic narrative.

While we’re all revelling in the variety and creative freedom of today’s technology, let’s never forget the sheer force and potent efficiency of the lone line and an artist’s innate sense of flair and individuality. These are things of magical beauty and infinite potential…

Although there are no copyrights included I think it’s safe to assume:
All material © 1956, 1957, 1958, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and Little Thunder’s Secret


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-223-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding Spectacle with a Potent Message… 9/10

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who began writing for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure gold two years later with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a little Sioux lad on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man.

Abundantly packed with gentle whimsy, the beguiling strip celebrates a bucolic existence of noble wanderers in tune with nature and free of strife, punctuated with the odd crisis generally resolved without fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, compassionate, valiant… and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and with devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustration – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Many of his stunning works over the decades feature his adored Western themes, built on magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, and Yakari is considered by most fans and critics to be the feature which primed the gun. With the boldly visual story under review here, the steady transition to his more epic milieux has never been more evident…

Le secret de Petit Tonnerre was first released as a European album in 1981 and became Cinebook’s 12th Yakari volume in 2014, but that won’t be a problem for chronology or continuity addicts as the tale is both stunningly simple and effectively evergreen; easily accessible and welcoming for young kids and/or their adult minders meeting the bold little Brave for the first time…

It all begins one bright sunny day as Yakari races in a fever of excitement through the Arcadian landscape on his faithful steed Little Thunder: both equally lost in a joyously exhilarating paroxysm of speed and excitement, running to the max just because they can…

Once they have pushed themselves to their physical limits, the weary, jubilant friends return to camp and Little Thunder joins the corral for the night, but when morning comes and the lad rushes to greet his beloved pony again Yakari experiences a shocking sight…

Little Thunder is gone and none of the other horses can tell him where the wonder-horse has gone. Heartbroken and scared the forlorn lad searches the camp and scours the surrounding countryside, but his best friend has vanished without trace…

Miles away the superb stallion is pressing on, gripped by an uncanny instinctive urgency to follow an ancient route far out into the desert. Narrowly avoiding capture by human hunters from another tribe, Little Thunder relentlessly advances, meeting other magnificent horses also overcoming ferocious hardships to gather in a distant place for an incredible rendezvous.

Meanwhile back in the village, Yakari is setting out to search for his missing friend, accompanied by another pony eager to help in what might be a long and hazardous quest. Their tracking is assisted by helpful prairie dogs who chatted with Little Thunder when he passed. None have any idea why the pony was so determined, only that his mission was one of tremendous importance…

Far, far ahead, the arduous journey and increasingly brutal terrain have winnowed out all but the fittest and most determined equine pilgrims. Eventually the trek even forces Yakari and his new four-footed companion to turn back, but Little Thunder and a few other horses push on, resolved to complete their meeting with destiny.

Eventually the hardiest survivors arrive on a strange plain and as the sun sets they are hailed by a staggeringly beautiful black stallion: the Spirit of the Horse People

The gathered herd are the latest to have been called to “The Rock of the Hoof” to undergo the four lethally testing trials which will transform them into the acme and pinnacle of what horses can aspire to be. The ritual has been held since time immemorial and only the greatest amongst them will succeed and survive…

The epic undertaking further diminishes the gathering and those who triumph are changed forever.

Some time later Little Thunder trots back into Camp but can say nothing of his obvious ordeal. Yakari doesn’t mind: he is ecstatic that his greatest friend has returned and although he is burning to know where he went and what caused the fresh scars that mar that beautiful hide. He is content to accept that the events must always be Little Thunder’s Secret…

Visually captivating and edged with fearsome tension, this a potently compelling mystery which favours thrills and chills over laughs but remains happily heart-warming: Job’s mystical plot allowing Derib another unmissable opportunity to prove his astonishing mastery of mood, scene and action-illustration by crafting a powerful fable of trust and friendship, unafraid to show youngsters that not every story is without tragedy and triumph often comes at a price…

The exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks to animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s.a.) 1981, 2002. English translation 2014 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Bluecoats volume 4: The Greenhorn


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-014-6

The modern 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 Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics such as Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara and Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

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 style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still broadly 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 58 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 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 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…

The Greenhorn was the fourth translated Cinebook album (chronologically 14th Franco-Belgian volume Les Tuniques Bleues: Le blanc-bec) and opens with a grand Officer’s Ball in distant, desolate Fort Bow. As the festivities continue, out in the moonlit desert two weary cavalrymen wend their way towards the stockade…

Chesterfield and Blutch have just returned for three weeks leave and are infamous amongst the troops as regular survivors of the quite mad Captain Stark’s Suicide Regiment – as well as for their own reputation for starting fights.

It’s for that reason that the guards don’t want to mention that Colonel Appleton’s beautiful daughter Emily has been dancing with a dashing young Lieutenant named George. Every man there knows Chesterfield is smitten with her and has a hair-trigger temper these days…

The news nearly incites the sergeant to mass-murder and it takes all Blutch’s guile to convince his pal to ride into town – and Charlie’s Saloon – instead. Sadly Chesterfield’s well-earned reputation for trouble is just as feared there and when an Indian boy is bullied by local drunks the spoiling-for-trouble sergeant – subtly prodded by underdog-loving Blutch – gleefully steps in…

By the time the harried barman reaches Fort Bow and brings back a contingent of troops, Chesterfield has decimated most of the saloon and all of the patrons and is hungry for more. When brash neophyte Lieutenant George slaps the enraged enlisted man, all hell breaks loose…

Events spiral even further out of control after the patrol final drags the unrepentant sergeant back to the Fort. When the little native lad, dragged along as a witness, takes his chance to escape, he is shot by the flustered “greenhorn” officer.

It is both a tragedy and a disaster: the boy is the son of Chief Gray Wolf who, on discovering what’s happened, demands that whoever perpetrated the appalling act be surrendered to his justice.

…Or else it’s war…

When Chesterfield and Blutch discover exactly who George is, the little corporal flees, rushing off to the encamped hostiles and claiming he was responsible. Chesterfield, not to be outdone in the guilt stakes, also owns up and baffled Gray Wolf is nearly driven crazy when bold, brave, stupid and honourable Colonel Appleton also rides into camp and takes the blame…

A tense compromise is reached as Gray Wolf agrees to let the “Long Knives” treat his gravely wounded boy; decreeing that if he lives they will be no war, but if the morning brings bad news the entire fort and town will suffer…

With a little time bought, the Colonel deals with his most immediate problem. After a ferocious dressing down Chesterfield and Blutch are sent back to Stark’s Suicide Regiment and – over Emily’s hysterical protestations – George goes with them…

Days later the trio rendezvous with Stark’s dispirited contingent as he manically battles Confederate forces. The Captain’s sole tactic is to have his men charge straight at their artillery, presumably in the certain knowledge that the enemy must run out of ammunition eventually…

Blutch and Chesterfield have developed a tactic which has kept them alive so far and, having sworn to Emily to keep George safe, force him to employ it too. However the guilt-ridden, hero-struck fool is unhappy with the shameful strategy and soon starts throwing himself into the thick of battle, intending to die with dignity…

When word comes of the recovery of Gray Wolf’s son, their ordeal seems over and, with honour satisfied, all three make a grateful departure from Stark’s depleted forces. Typically however just as a peace (and quiet) seems likely, Blutch and Chesterfield find another way to set the West ablaze and drive the natives to the brink of war…

This is another hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, and 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 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 6: Ma Dalton


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-14-4

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and evergreen comics characters being in any way controversial, but when changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (over 80 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

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

Prior to that, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and joined weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of la Bande des quatre or “The Gang of Four” comprising Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose, free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which predominated in Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists on Tintin Magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited the USA, meeting American comics creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, linking up with fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

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

Morris himself 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 a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun during the late 1950s and once again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…) and Ma Dalton was the sixth of their 54 (and counting) albums, now available both on paper and as e-books.

Chronologically it was the cowboy’s 38th chronicle and Goscinny’s 29th collaboration with Morris, offering an engagingly riotous romp and a stupendously shocking showdown situation wherein all the laconic lawman’s legendary speed proved as nothing when facing a foe he could not draw against…

It all begins after another suitably heroic escapade with our hero is relaxing in boisterous Cactus Junction when he stumbles upon the strangest hold-up he’s ever seen, as a little old lady holds up the local butcher at gunpoint and gets away with a steak and some scraps for her cat. Baffled, he tracks her to the store next door where a similar scenario occurs.

On questioning the shopkeepers Luke is informed that proud old Ma Dalton has fallen on hard times and the sympathetic merchants have all agreed – even though her creaky old six-gun doesn’t work – to let her “rob” them whenever she runs out of the necessities of life such as tea, soap, food and scraps for her horrible cat “Sweetie”…

And yes, the engaging old biddy is indeed the mother of Luke’s intolerable arch-enemies: those vile owlhoot miscreants Averell, Jack, William and their devious, slyly psychotic, overly-bossy shorter brother Joe

Sadly, Ma isn’t as sweet as everybody thinks. She knows full well what the infamous Dalton Gang are all about. Her lads are still in jail after the last time the tall busybody put them there, but as she writes them a letter they are again making a break for it. It’s easier than usual this time since the prison is a multi-story affair made mostly from wood…

As it burns to the ground the warden thinks he’s pretty smart chaining Joe to faithful prison hound Rin Tin Can but has forgotten that the vain, friendly and exceedingly dim pooch is utterly loyal to absolutely everybody.

The outraged authoritarian only realises his mistake when the boys abscond, taking the deliriously unresisting mutt with them…

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in Luke’s adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title. The moronic mutt earns his spurs here, being a literal drag on the villains’ progress until he tries chasing Sweetie after the boys sneak home. Ma however is a stern and commanding pet owner who paralyses the pooch with one curt command…

As they lay low, old family pressures build again at the Dalton shack. Dim, sneaky Averell was always Ma’s favourite and as he again sops up all her attention Joe, Jack and William settle upon a scheme to make some cash whilst they’re hiding out. It revolves around the fact that Daltons all look remarkably similar and, once the moustaches are off and they’re wearing her old dresses, the boys can pass for their mum in any shop or bank in the region with Lucky Luke none the wiser…

However when Averell starts joining in and queering the guileful gig, the “old dear” is seen in stores miles apart in Alfalfa City and Tumbleweed Town, swiping cash and guns rather than vegetables and soap, and the canny cowboy quickly puts two and two together…

Soon the infamous family are on the run with Lucky and Jolly Jumper hard on their heels. But it’s guile and not gunplay that will win the day since nobody expects the gangling gunfighter to draw down on a little old lady. She just might end up as “the one who got away”…

Fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour colour this splendidly mad ride: another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Cat Ballou, superbly executed by master storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids 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.