Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-7548-4

Asterix began life in the last year of the 1950s and is part of the fabric of French life. His adventures have touched billions of people all around the world over the decades. However when this particular tale was released it was like nothing anybody had ever seen before. It fact it is considered to be the most controversial and least well-regarded by purists. Some even hate it…

They are all welcome to their opinions. I must admit that I too found it a little unsettling when I first read it. So I read it some more and saw the elements that I’d initially had trouble with weren’t lax or lazy or bad but just not what I was expecting. Soon it became one of my favourites just because it was so different.

Uderzo was and is a comics creator par excellence. With Rene Goscinny he created, owned and controlled his intellectual property Asterix and used it to tell the tales he wanted to tell.

It was his right to say and draw whatever he wanted to through his creation and nobody has the right to dictate what he could or could not do with it as long as no laws were broken.

It’s a lesson the whole world needs to learn, now more than ever…

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. He dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic but even as a young child watching Walt Disney cartons and reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair.

Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. He was brought to that pivotal point by his older brother Bruno (to whom this volume is gratefully and lovingly dedicated for starting the ball rolling) but when World War II reached France he moved to Brittany, spending time with farming relatives and joining his father’s furniture-making business.

The region beguiled and fascinated Uderzo and when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, that beautiful countryside was the only possible choice…

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

Tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, dabbled in animation, worked as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the artistic prodigy first met Goscinny in 1951. Soon bosom buddies, they resolved to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was published in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, following which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart (also for La Libre Junior), replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new enterprise, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and devising – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a monumental hit from the start, Uderzo continued on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as both writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he gracefully retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the incomparable icon and his bellicose brethren are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want, or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. English-speakers are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last named just refuses to be pacified…

Whenever the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

This particular iconoclasm, Uderzo’s eighth solo outing (and originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of an ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from the unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale.

The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then currently typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious tale opens with the doughty little Gaul and his affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Only faithful canine companion Dogmatix and the old Druid Getafix have any life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else – as well as all the woodland creatures and especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if floats a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me). He is accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with the Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks and responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix the Nagma retreats and when Obelix dashes back to the village follows him. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix employ two Superclones to fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon the furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning(Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.
© 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Moomin: the Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 5


By Tove and Lars Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89729-994-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Moomins Aren’t Just For Christmas, But For Life… 10/10

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic components such as pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War. Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid.

Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which promptly captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975. The three strips in this volume were all scripted by Lars and illustrated by his sister.

Free of the strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

Her Moomin comic strips have long been available in Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly have translated these into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation.

Moomintrolls are easygoing free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Moominmama is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances whilst Moominpappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys. Their son Moomin is a meek and dreamy boy who adores their permanent guest Snorkmaiden – although that impressionable gamin prefers to play things slowly whilst waiting for somebody potentially better…

This fifth oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation gathers the 19th, 20th and 21st strip sagas and is a particular favourite, comprising a trio of epic length sequences commencing with ‘Moomin Winter’ as the worst snow season in living memory begins and the nonconformist family decide that this year they will return to traditional ways and hibernate as proper Moomintrolls should…

However happenstance and their own magnanimous natures work against them as other locals – less prepared for the winter’s icy blasts – keep turning up seeking succour, solace and shelter. Naturally no decent creature could turn away neighbours – or even complete strangers – in need…

First it’s timid Miss Fluffins nervously tapping on the door then a little later the quirkily obnoxious Gromf imposing himself upon them, but the truly disruptive influence only arrives after a most odd Christmas when the snow lies metres deep around the house. Delivered through an upstairs window by the indefatigable parcel post is a box containing a baby Nibling

Abandoning all hope of a successful hibernation, the Moomins become unwilling but polite hosts to them all although, as Niblings are such legendary troublemakers, it’s understandable that Moominmama first goes on a heroic expedition to all the neighbours, striving to find a suitable home (i.e. somebody else’s) for the little mite…

She even briefly considers the draconian local orphanage before relenting and returning home with the nosy, chaos-causing little critter…

As well as having voracious eating habits, the Nibling is less than welcome for its incessant curiosity and stunningly forthright rudeness. As the snowbound days pass the inquisitive meddler sniffs out every shameful secret of the household from Fluffins’ strangely masculine habits to Snorkmaiden’s binge eating, young Moomintroll’s aspirations to thespianism or the fearsome Gromf’s addiction to knitting doilies…

These secrets and others it uses to virtually run the house. Moominpapa retires to his study to reminisce and read the papers whilst his long-suffering wife resorts to the thankless tasks of housework to keep busy. Eventually however, as the months go by the Moomins decide it’s time for drastic action and try to starve all their increasingly unwelcome guests out…

Sadly, as ever, the hosts are too gracious and well-mannered to persist for long and soon the boy troll and incessant Nibling are skiing through the winter wilderness hunting grizzly and moose for the larder. A little later, things come to a comical head when the assemblage decides to share all their secret peccadilloes thus depriving the mischievous Nibling of its power…

This comedy of manners is followed by a boisterously sedate and surreal adventure as ‘Moomin Under Sail’ finds Moominpapa and family joining neighbour Too-Tikki (the eminently practical and capable lady was based on Jansson’s life partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, and first appeared in the novel Moominland Midwinter) in building a wooden sailing ship and going voyaging…

The construction is well underway, with everyone contributing in their own unique way, when a wandering poet appears and names the vessel “Mermaid” – which rash Moomin misspells as “Murmade” when painting the hull – before moving on, and all too soon the travellers are underway…

At least they would be if they hadn’t built their boat on a hill and now can’t shift it. Fortunately Too-Tikki knows a rather irascible but polite giant Booble named Mr. Edward who she can convince to move the river for them…

And in a roar of waters they are off, hurtling out to sea in search of wonder, mystery and romance. It comes all too soon as food and whisky starts to vanish and – at least for the ever-imaginative Snorkmaiden – passion is found when the terrified shipmates discover that the beguiling, advantage-taking poet has stowed away…

Young Moomin is less than sanguine that his one and only has become besotted with the unscrupulous scribbler and is secretly delighted when a school of seagoing wild Niblings board the vessel and eat all his odes…

None too soon they depart, taking the poet with them whilst leaving one of their cubs behind. The rapacious tyke is rather sweet but has a disturbing taste for paper and leather goods…

Things begin to go further awry as the babe eats all the charts so Too-Tikki captures some clouds for the child to chew, accidentally precipitating a colossal hurricane which rips their sails away. Happily the clouds make a suitable substitute. There’s even some left to give to Mr. Edward when the aggrieved Booble suddenly shows up…

Sighting land the Moomins and Co go ashore to re-supply and hear worrying stories of a pirate marauder dubbed the “Bloody Mary” before heading back out to sea and encountering a Marie Celeste-like conundrum and inevitable encountering the dread privateers.

Imagine the surprise of the Murmade mariners when they discover the wild freebooters are in fact old acquaintances…

This amazing, enchanting collection concludes with a salutary tale of unrequited love as Moomin makes a new friend and becomes involved with ‘Fuddler’s Courtship’. The meek and rather scruffy young man is a collector of many things – but most especially buttons – and reveals to his new chum that he is hopelessly in love with quirky, overly romantic and lonely Mymble

Despite their misgivings over the clear mismatch, Moomin and Snorkmaiden attempt to facilitate affairs but the target of the Fuddler’s affections is currently enamoured of a dynamic strongman. Although she’s prepared to give any new suitor a chance, his clumsiness, diffidence, messiness and collecting habits soon drive Mymble back to her photos of the oblivious Sebastian

With his confidence crushed Fuddler retreats to his coffee-can home to be depressed, provoking Moomin and Snorkmaiden to call in newspaper psychiatrist Dr. Hatter. It is a terrible mistake…

The Shrink is a mass of complexes and neuroses and soon he has infected almost everybody with one of his problems. Moreover Mymble finds the tortured “genius” utterly fascinating.

Moomin then tries everything – even a helpful ghost – to drive Hatter away, but only succeeds in having his entire family locked up. Happily the Fuddler has a collection of keys and other cage-opening gimmicks amongst his copious possessions…

The course of true love continues to run anything but smoothly for all concerned until one night the Fuddler meets a sweet, confused and messily charming collector of shells and stones. Her name is The Jumble

Wrapping up the Wild Things wonderment is the short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase (PhD) which celebrates the incredible achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or carbon-based lifeform with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2010, 2014 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Asterix and the Actress


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-75284-658-8

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. He dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic but even as a young child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When World War II came he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo and when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, that beautiful countryside was the only choice…

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

Tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, dabbled in animation, worked as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the artistic prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon bosom buddies, they resolved to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first published collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, following which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new enterprise, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and devising – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued illustrating Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the hit series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album before serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the incomparable icon and his bellicose brethren are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with twelve animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want, or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. English-speakers are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last named just refuses to be pacified…

Whenever the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export from the mid-1960s onwards, Asterix the Gaul continues to grow in quality as new creators toil ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas and building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing battle with the woefully outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes share the same birthday and their friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop, the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females – and their potential mothers-in-law – and even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (see Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and thus proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish conspirator has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. The poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Druid Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, the freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As the heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their Gaulish nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently some heroes can successfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, clever targeted raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and the Actress proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.
© 2001 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One


By Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink Books/Dark Horse Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-61655-563-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Buy It Now, Love It Forever… 10/10

Well this is embarrassing…

About a month ago, after literally years of waiting impatiently, I finally reviewed one of the earliest classics of our art form, impetuously deciding that at least some of you might find and delight in Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book through second-hand and pre-owned suppliers.

Apparently, even as I was whining about the thing not being in print, superbly crafted copies of a wonderful new deluxe hardcover edition were winging their way around the planet thanks to the perspicacity of those fine people at Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink.

That will teach me to actually read some of the online reports and press releases we’re bombarded with here at Grumpy Old Luddite Central…

Still my humiliation is your good fortune as this magnificently oversized (297x184mm) masterpiece is ready to buy and just in time to make this Holiday Season a time of wickedly barbed merriment…

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with “The Great 1960s Satire Boom” producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs – there’s a Christmas Annual out even as we speak…).

Sadly our American cousins were not so magnanimously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty rib-tickling intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it is a very large country of excitable citizens, with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and outright lunatics…

Creative genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug cruelly defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material. That company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s phenomenally best-selling paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable to a gamble…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with far less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books packing bookshop shelves and newsstand spinners were always designed with one eye on the kids’ market.

This new stuff was strictly for adults who would happily follow newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a whole book of them. Duly enlightened, Kurtzman instead returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the aforementioned Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in many fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1986 when cartoonist, publisher and comics advocate Denis Kitchen released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

Adjudged by The Comics Journal as #26 in the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century”, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and this latest edition brilliantly gilds the graphic lily with a host of extra features and treats.

Augmented by a wealth of candid photos, covers and sketches from other works, this new chronicle of craziness offers an effusive Introduction by Gilbert Shelton and a fascinating and informative essay by Kitchen entitled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There!’ which reveals the tone of the times and discloses the background behind the novel novel’s creation.

Also included is the 1986 Kitchen Sink edition’s ‘Intro’ by rabidly devoted fan Art Spiegelman and, after the words and picture-fest concludes, a captivating ‘Epilogue’ ensues in the form of a scholarly ‘Conversation between Peter Poplaski and R. Crumb’

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent, probing questions about the world rapidly changing all around him.

Each tale in the quartet is prefaced by Kurtzman’s own commentary as shared with comics historian Dave Schriener for the 1986 Edition…

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving, hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece (barely) contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

In creating ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for low-rent publishers and bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc.

The quasi-autobiographical, impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative average business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the ends of the Earth…

The cartooning wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre or assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

The tale was inspired by the time Kurtzman spent in Paris, Texas during his wartime service…

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us’n sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, sommin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah some snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turns up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon vi’lint passions is furtha aroused and nuthin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth, ambition and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (Essential Kurtzman Volume One) © 2014 Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. All contents © and/or ™ their respective creators or rights holders. All artwork and stories © the estate of Harvey Kurtzman unless noted.  All rights reserved.

Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Possibly the Best Comic Strip Collection in the World… 10/10

Books of this stature and calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you should just hit the shops or online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m honoured to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney funnybook license amongst others at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series even began…

In this third and much delayed (due to the sudden death of much missed editor and publisher Kim Thompson) volume of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured, but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation hardback (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from ward winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm), a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ which also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing regular biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (which some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day to day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right thinking and true looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiment peaks following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans.

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fell out and triggered their own downfall with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity returned and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuted, but suffered a great loss when Albert accidentally ingested the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurred after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish acted billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy was a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wandered in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generated a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually led to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole had already reared his unseeing head again, causing only minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encountered the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then current US Vice-President Richard Nixon) the scene was set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah had in mind as she set out with Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred to hunt down the scoundrel who had left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the hunt for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A Bombs…

In his time satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous sweethearts such as J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. Generally though he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently caused Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife was not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (she was no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert then fell afoul of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse led the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all got very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – resulted in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians had taken over Georgia.

The panicked reaction of the chumps then led to their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who decided to start celebrating Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually everybody caught up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 really took hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tried to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ – despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert was mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once the alligator was finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner did that catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicked off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the other two.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods


By Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-746-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a new classic to add to the “Every Kid Must Read” list… 10/10

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey first appeared as a Dark Horse comicbook in 1998. Since then the cast of characters within have achieved a bizarre notoriety as adored favourites of gentle lovers of whimsy and the degenerate darlings of clued-in cynical post-moderns.

Confused? Then by all means read on…

The original tales (recently repackaged in a sumptuous 336 page hardback) featured a lovable handmade simian puppet, a toy crow with button eyes and a much repaired doll in multiple award-winning, all-ages adventures published as occasional miniseries between 1998 and 2007 as well a couple of hardcover storybooks Millionaire created in 2002 and 2004. He later recycled and repurposed the durably distinct stars for an adult-oriented (by which I mean surreal and clever, not tawdry and titillating) newspaper strip…

Tony Millionaire comes from a dynasty of exemplary artists, loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, the acme of children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman.

His own creative endeavours – words and pictures – seamlessly blend their styles and sensibilities with European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket.

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences. That is particularly obvious from the range of stunning pictures in this latest work starring his inimitable plushy paragons in a winning and memorable collaboration with animator, screen writer and director Matt Danner (whose past credits include Ren & Stimpy, Loony Toons, Monster High and The Drinky Crow Show).

With a variety of graphical strings to his bow such as various animation shows, his own clutch of books for children – particularly the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series – and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies (which details the aforementioned, riotously vulgar, absurdly surreal adventures of an nautically-inclined Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and fellow über-alcoholic and nautical adventurer Drinky Crow: grown-up world iterations and mirror universe equivalents of the sweet and simple stars herein), every Millionaire project seems to be a guarantee of endless excitement and quality.

This one certainly is and may well push the featured creatures into the rarefied atmosphere previously inhabited solely by such esteemed and established children’s favourites as the Moomins, Wonderland, The Velveteen Rabbit and the assorted chronicles of Oz

A prose tale scripted primarily by Danner with ideas, contributions and 46 stunning monochrome illustrations (in a variety of media from soft pencil tones to crisp stark pen & ink) from Millionaire, the sublime saga details how one day in a Victorian House by the sea, an old Sock Monkey named Gabby and his constant companions Crow and dilapidated, oft-repaired doll Inches discover that their beloved guardian Ann-Louise is missing and presumed taken by the recently discovered monstrous beast dubbed the Amarok

Determined to save her, the ill-prepared trio plunge into the terrifying Deep Woods, armed only with maps and a compass from the library of Ann-Louise’s grandfather Professor Rimperton. Braving all manner of terrors – and with the occasional assistance of strange creatures such as the wood-elf Trumbernick, a partly digested sea captain and an undersized bear carpenter – the toybox heroes defeat, or more usually narrowly escape, such threats as Venomous, Triple-Spiked, Hog-Faced Caterpillars, stormy seas, a Sea Serpent, horrid Harpies and the unpleasantly ursine Eastern Mountain Guards of Bear Town, until they find her.

However even after the dauntless searchers have finished dodging pursuers, roaming the wilds and soaring the skies to be reunited with Ann-Louise, there is still one final trial as the remorseless Amarok tracks them to the beloved little girl they would lay down their lives for…

Like the very best children’s classics, this is a book that isn’t afraid to confront dark matters and actively embraces fear and sadness amidst the wonders in an effort to craft a better story.

Compelling, beguiling and visually intoxicating, this latest Sock Monkey yarn judiciously leavens discovery with anxiety, heartbreak with gleeful imaginative innocence and terror with bold triumph.

Millionaire has described his works as intended for “adults who love children’s stories” but this collaboration with Matt Danner may just have turned that around by concocting a tall tale of adult intent which is one of the greatest kids’ books of modern times.
Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods © 2014 Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon & Paul Neary (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-621-2

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on Warrior and it was an incredible learning experience. However, producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence and some of those comrades in arms barely talk to each these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior we all thought the bloody thing was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and/or ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This British premier hardback from Marvel/Panini UK is a lavish, remastered re-presentation of the original A Dream of Flying trade paperback, stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind the scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long court case between them and National/DC over copyright infringement ended at the same time the superhero trend nosedived in America, Fawcett simply closed down most of its comics line, overnight depriving the British firm of one of its most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman; detailing their simplistic , charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and eventually magic was created…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”.

A truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising, frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

The insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls and Mike remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was caught in the same atomic blast which eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning kid partner never changed back but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. The appalling supra-normal duel devastates much of London, only ending in ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (pencilled by Alan Davis with Leach inking) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s thought eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant…

Davis took over all the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as highly capable hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Mike. By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ the enigmatic killer has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another, lesser superhuman and more.

‘Inside Story’ reveals recovered and reversed engineered alien DNA technologies, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and a deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies in ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with intriguing snippets and sidebars from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device from the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures (sadly not included here) and a fascinating peek into what might have been in A Glimpse into the Future

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982 and led with a bold fill-in set three years in the then-future. The long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Davis, Steve Dillon and Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn ferrying Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career and harvesting the expended energies of the combats to use against their unstoppable future foe…

Following that tantalising and portentous introduction The Warpsmiths eventually received their own 2-part tale, reproduced here in captivating full colour and introducing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend.

Tragically the unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency in as ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ (gloriously rendered and hued by Leach).

The nomadic multiplanar policemen returned in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of that story as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

With the story portion concluded, this bonanza chronicle devotes the remaining 59 pages to ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’, offering an wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach and Mick Austin.

Finishing off the show is spectacular covers and variants gallery of the 26 new images by Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean Dean White, Leach, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Davis, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Asterix and Obelix All at Sea


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-75284-778-8

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. As a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair from an early age and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When World War II broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the recovering nation’s burgeoning comics industry.

His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own masterpiece The Beast is Dead is far too long overdue for a commemorative reissue…).

The tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album before serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the indomitable are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with twelve animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in Uderzo’s beloved Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last just refuses to be pacified…

Whenever the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export from the mid-1960s onwards, Asterix the Gaul continues to grow in quality as new creators toil ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas and building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold…

Uderzo’s sixth session as sole creator was Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (originally entitled La Galère d’Obélix): released in 1996 and the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. It began in the cruel and callous capital of civilisation wherein the Master of the World was having a bit of a bad day. Not as bad however as his Grand Admiral Crustacius, who has just allowed a bunch of galley slaves to mutiny and steal Julius Caesar’s personal galley…

As the severely tongue-lashed mariner and his browbeaten aide Vice-Admiral Nautilus scurry away to pursue the fugitives, aboard the magnificent vessel magnificent Greek rebel Spartakis – bearing a striking resemblance to the magnificent Kirk Douglas in all his glory – debates with his recently-liberated comrades from many nations on where in the Rome-ruled world they can go to remain free…

A British oarsman then suggests a certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica which the empire has never conquered…

Meanwhile in the faraway subject of their discussions, Asterix and Obelix are in an argumentative mood too, but their clash is put aside when word comes that the entire complement of all four encircling garrisons are massing on the far side of the forest.

Always eager for a little martial recreation the villagers dose up on Getafix the Druid’s strength-boosting magic potion. Once again Obelix is frustrated in his attempt to get a share of the tantalising elixir and stumbles off in high dudgeon.

The generally genial giant had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and grown up a permanently superhuman, eternally hungry hulk who hated being told no and didn’t believe more of the mouth-watering miracle mixture could harm him…

The Romans are utterly unaware of the danger insouciantly sauntering towards them, engaged as they are in drill to celebrate the imminent arrival of Admiral Crustacius. Thoroughly thrashing the amassed legions, the victorious Gauls wonder why Roman-bashing addict Obelix is absent and Getafix, dreading the worst, dashes back to discover his greatest fears realised.

The intransigent idiot has imbibed deeply from the potion and been turned to stone…

Nothing the Druid can conceive seems able to cure the calcified colossus and it’s during this time of trouble that Spartakis and his freed slaves arrive, requesting sanctuary. As the welcoming villagers carry the huge ornate galley into the village, the Obelix ordeal takes a strange turn as his stony spell wears off and the former fighting fool returns to flesh and blood – albeit as the puny helpless little boy he was before ever falling into the potion pot. The little wimp can’t even eat roast boar anymore…

The little lad is the darling of the town but cannot abide his weak ineffectual status. The situation becomes truly intolerable after the boy is captured by Crustacius and shipped off to Rome. After suitably castigating the soldiery, Asterix, Getafix and faithful mutt Dogmatix give chase in Caesar’s ship, manned by Spartakis and his valiant crew.

Powered by potion, the pursuers easily overtake the Romans, who have been hampered by the obnoxious antics of Obelix and the predations of the perennially, phenomenally unlucky pirates to whom – after a period of traditional chastisement – Asterix gives Caesar’s stolen galley.

Crucially, however, in his haste the little warrior leaves behind a barrel of potion when his comrades and little Obelix all transfer to a new, less noticeable vessel.

As the Gauls sail off in the pirate’s ship, Getafix has an inspired idea and suggests to Spartakis that they make for the last remnant of Atlantis, explaining that the idyllic Canary Islands survived the inundation of the magic continent and the people living there now are reclusive beings of great power and knowledge who might be able to restore Obelix to his natural state…

When they finally arrive in that beautiful land of miracles they are greeted by old man Absolutlifabulos and hordes of beautiful, happy children riding dolphins, centaurs, swans and winged cattle. The jolly dotard explains that the Atlanteans have reverted themselves to carefree immortal childhood, but their powers cannot do anything to cure Obelix.

As the downhearted Gauls make their way home, Spartakis and his men opt to stay and become forever kids too…

Meanwhile on Caesar’s galley Crustacius has discovered Getafix’s stashed potion and powered up, dreaming of ousting his foul-tempered boss and making himself Emperor, even as leagues away a Roman boarding party invades the pirate galley and menaces the powerless Gauls.

With Asterix about to be killed, little Obelix goes berserk and the emotional overload restores him to his corpulent, hyper-charged self, much to the distress of the terrified soldiers…

By the time Crustacius reaches Rome he has made the same mistake Obelix did and his rapid overdosing on potion only provides Julius Caesar with another statue for the Circus Maximus

In Gaul however, Obelix, with a lot of frustration to work through, debarks at recently repaired Aquarium for a spot of cathartic violence before he accompanies his faithful chums back to the village for a celebratory feast…

Packed with thrilling action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking fantasy and paean to true friendship cements Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch. © 1996 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translations © 1998, 2002 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Enemy Ace


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Dennis O’Neil, John Severin, Howard Chaykin, Frank Thorne, Ed Davis, Russ Heath, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1721-1

The first recorded aerial dogfight between powered aircraft occurred sometime during the Battle of Cer sometime between August 15th and 24th 1914 in the skies over Serbia.

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in DC’s flagship war comic Our Army at War: home of the instantly legendary Sergeant Rock. The tales, loosely based on “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, were a magnificent and thought-provoking examination of and tribute to the profession of soldiering whilst simultaneously condemning the madness of war, produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert during a period when the ongoing Vietnam conflict was beginning to tear American society apart.

An immediate if seminal hit, the series told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans Von Hammer: a hidebound but noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the business of government sanctioned mass-killing.

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres too numerous to cover here. A restlessly creative writer, he frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts.

Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank, The Losers and the controversial star of this stupendously compelling war-journal.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last turbulent temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting vigilante who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When the taste for mystery-men had faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved seamlessly into adventure yarns, westerns and war: becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles.

As well as scripting for All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War, he created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 before adding G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956. This was whilst still working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world. Drawn by Carmine Infantino, the risky experiment included multi-talented veteran Joe Kubert as inker for the crucially important debut issue…

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn.

His folks encouraged Joe to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943, whilst still dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Beretsfrom 1965 to 1968.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents the blockbusting exploits of Von Hammer from Our Army at War #151, 153, 155, Showcase #57-58, Star Spangled War Stories #138 -145, 147-150, 152, 158, 181-183, 200, Men of War #1-3, 8-10, 12-14, 19-20, The Unknown Soldier #251-253, 260-261, 265-267 plus an intriguing tribute from Detective Comics #404: a period spanning February 1965 to August 1982.

The canon encompasses a period during which superheroes were supplanted by horror stories before bouncing right back again, whereas the genre of combat chronicles soldiered on regardless and largely unbothered by vagaries of reader fashion.

To be brutally frank, the stories are infinite variations on the same theme and, despite being illustrated by many of the greatest artists of two generations, might feel a little samey. If so, just stop every now and then to cogitate a little. This isn’t a book to blaze through; its one to savour in sensible portions…

It all kicked off in the back of Our Army at War #151 ((cover-dated February 1965), which introduced the ‘Enemy Ace’ in a short, sharp shocker set in 1918 wherein celebrated aerial warrior Rittmeister Von Hammer was hospitalised after downing a succession of Allied aircraft.

The coldly stoic hero was simultaneously admired by comrades and nurses whilst being shunned and feared by them: they all inevitably came to characterise Germany’s greatest hero as cold and a “human killing machine”…

Von Hammer took recuperative solace in hunting the wilds of the Schwartzwald, where he met a solitary black wolf who seemed to understand and share his lonely life of death and honour…

When his wounds were fully healed the dark knight returned to prowl once more “the Killer Skies”…

That fifteen page yarn perfectly defined everything that could be said about the character but the public could not get enough, so Von Hammer returned in #153 as ‘Flaming Bait!’ Dialled back to 1917 now (scripter Kanigher was never slavishly tied to tight or formal continuity), the cautionary tale featured the superstitious Rittmeister’s attempts to offset a wave of deaths which occurred each time a photographer took a pilot’s picture…

Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) featured ‘Fokker Fury!’, which saw the fanatically fair and scrupulous air ace accidentally shoot down an unarmed British fighter. After some excoriating self-castigation, Von Hammer was compelled to reclaim his honour in a valiant display of mad bravado…

Mere months later, he was the star of a brace of full-length thrillers in prestigious tryout vehicle Showcase.Issue #57 (July/August 1965) offered ‘Killer of the Skies!’ which recapitulated all that had gone before whilst introducing  a potential equal in the form of Canadian ace “The Hunter”.

A new wrinkle had also been added to the mix as Von Hammer now perpetually agonised and bemoaned his inability to save the human conveyor belt of naive, foolish replacement pilots to his Jagdstaffel from killing themselves through enthusiasm, bravado and youthful stupidity…

The following issue (#58, September/October) explored ‘The Hunters – and the Hunted!’, detailing how, after a blazing succession of kills, Von Hammer took a recreational trip to his beloved Black Forest and renewed acquaintances with his lupine companion. Here he had a brief encounter with a beautiful lady whose passion for the celebrity hero died as she soon as apprehended his cold, apparently emotionless executioner’s nature…

With all forms of human warmth clearly denied him, the Hammer of Hell reluctantly returned to the aerial killing fields…

Things went quiet after that as Enemy Ace clearly didn’t sell highly enough to garner its own continuing feature. Time passed and anti-war sentiment increasingly gripped the nation. In 1968 bimonthly war-mag Star Spangled War Stories – a title with a reputation for and history of offbeat material (Mlle. Marie, The War that Time Forgot) – revived Von Hammer for a spectacular run of mesmerising tales which conclusively proved, time after time, that any War was Hell…

It began in #138 (April/May) with the visually intoxicating epic ‘The Slayers and the Slain!’, which introduced a French counterpart to the Teutonic Terror in the forbidding form of the masked and hooded, eerily anonymous Hangman.

This sombre sky-warrior flew a sinister coal-black Spad and threw the German pilots into a paralysing psychological funk, but a conclusive duel with Von Hammer was postponed until the German could recover from yet another bout of wounds won in the Killer Skies…

With room to explore their timeless theme of a good man forced into wicked actions, SSWS #139 flashed back to the boyhood of the Air Ace in ‘Death Whispers… Death Screams!’ Here the austere life of a noble Junker was revealed; the manly pursuits of a Junker in training drummed into young Hans by his severe but loving father.

That grizzled old warrior, from a proud family of patriotic heroes, inculcated in the last of his line an overarching dedication to duty and honour above all other considerations, beliefs which carried him in his present endeavours though the shock of being humiliatingly shot down by the Hangman.

When they met again in the skies it was the Frenchman who crashed to earth, but he too survived to fly another day…

Also included here is a superb Kubert pictorial fact feature Battle Album: Fokker DR-1 and Spad S.13 to add to the already technically overwhelming ambiance…

In #140 the next clash of equals hideously exposed ‘The Face of the Hangman’, resulting in both men crashing on the French side of the lines and becoming respectful intimates as Hammer recuperated in his rival’s chateau before the call of country and duty resulted in one final, fateful airborne showdown…

Star Spangled War Stories #141 was inked by Frank Giacoia & Joe Giella, taking a hard look at the men who flew with Von Hammer. ‘The Bull’ was an ambitious new flier in the Jagdstaffel who endangered and even killed his own comrades in a pitiless quest for fame and glory. Eventually the Rittmeister had to take decisive and fatalistic action…

‘Vengeance is a Harpy!’ then saw the impossible return of the Hangman to sow death and terror amongst the German pilots, forcing Von Hammer into a battle he did not want with a person he had come to admire, if not love…

In ‘The Devil’s General’, after more time spent with the wolf in the woods, the brooding Rittmeister returned to duty, harrying ground troops and spectacularly eradicating opposing fliers. His composure was soon blighted by elderly General Von Kleit, who forced his son Werner into the Squadron, expecting Von Hammer to keep the boy safe in the pitiless skies.

When the callow youth was shot down and captured, The Hammer of Hell moved Heaven and Earth to bring him back alive…

For #144 Kubert inked hot new penciller Neal Adams on ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ wherein another death-dealing macabre French Ace – dressed as a skeleton – terrorised and slaughtered the Jagdstaffel’s pilots, forcing the German Ace into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

With Kubert back on solo art duties, SSWS #145 saw Von Hammer plagued by nightmares of his greatest opponent, as he attempted to school a trio of veteran pilots for the inevitable day when one would replace him. However the actual ‘Return of the Hangman’ shattered those plans forever…

Another baroque opponent surfaced in #147 as an obsessive English lunatic who believed himself St. George put on a suit of armour and shot down far too many of the Rittmeister’s pilots as part of his scheme to give the infallible Hammer of Hell ‘A Grave in the Sky!’ However that particular vendetta concluded on the ground with ancient swords drawn…

Kanigher was never above using wrenching melodrama and sheer sentimentality to his advantage. The moving saga in #148 describes how a little puppy becomes a mascot for solitary, isolated Von Hammer, but the cute little tyke’s inescapable horrific ending is just another hammer-blow of heartbreak in ‘Luck is a Puppy named Schatzi!’

Despite immense critical acclaim, the series was dwindling in popularity. Star Spangled War Stories 149 (February/March 1970) saw Viking Prince join the eclectic comic’s line up with Enemy Ace reduced to fifteen pages. ‘Reach for the Heavens’ – inked by Sid Greene – found Von Hammer meeting again with hated flying school rival Heinrich Müller, a complex sadistic killer who redeemed himself after committing war crimes in a tale tinged with supernatural overtones…

The run truly ended with #150 and ‘3 Graves to Home!’, as the Enemy Ace was shot down over rural France and had to fight his way back to his own lines. He encountered a succession of civilians all putting a human face on the war he usually fought so far above them, but his time in the sun was almost over…

With Star Spangled War Stories #151(June/July 1970), a new feature replaced Enemy Ace as star feature, running until the magazine changed its name with the 204th (February 1977) issue to reflect the newcomer’s popularity. As The Unknown Soldier, it continued for a further 64 episodes until it too died with #268 (October 1982).

Star Spangled War Stories #152 however offered one more uncompromising mission from which only the Hammer of Hell returned. ‘Rain Above… Mud Below!’, illustrated by Russ Heath, was supplemented by another informative Kubert Battle Album starring the Lafayette Escadrille

Although gone, the iconic German warrior was far from forgotten. SSWS #158 featured a stunning Kubert ‘Special Pin-up: Enemy Ace – the Hammer of Hell’ whilst issue #181-183 held a compelling 3 part back-up serial by Kanigher & Frank Thorne which pitted the noble intellectual against maverick American Ace Steve Savage – “The Balloon Buster” in ‘Hell’s Angels Part One: The Hammer of Hell!’, ‘Hell’s Angels Part Two: The Maverick Ace!’ and the savage but inconclusive finale ‘Hell’s Angels Part Three: To End in Flames!’(June/July to November/December 1974)…

Von Hammer resurfaced in the anniversary Star Spangled War Stories #200 (June/July 1976) in ‘Shooting Star’ written and drawn by Joe Kubert, as a German innovation in rocket-propelled aircraft catastrophically proved to be an invention whose time had not yet come…

A new anthology comicbook debuted inAugust 1977. Men of War starred Gravedigger, a black American GI in WWII, but had alternating back-ups. Enemy Ace copped the first slot in issues #1-3 (by Kanigher, Ed Davis & Juan Ortiz) as ‘Death is a Wild Beast!’ saw Von Hammer down a devil-themed British pilot who accomplished a miraculous ‘Return from Hell!’ before exhibiting ‘The Three Faces of Death’ in the final instalment.

As ever, the real meat of the macabre missions was the toll on the minds and bodies of the merely mortal fliers that died whilst Von Hammer lived on…

Another triptych featured in #8-10. ‘Silent Sky… Screaming Death!!’ – illustrated by Larry Hama & Bob Smith – began a trenchant tale of a family at war before Howard Chaykin took over the art as a duel in the sky resulted in attack by vengeful siblings and the return of Von Hammer’s father in ‘Brother Killers!’

It all ended badly in a fateful ‘Duel at Dawn!’

Men of War #12-14 offered more of the same as ‘Banner of Blood!’ saw the troubled Rittmeister strive to retrieve the Von Hammer family flag from a cunning French air ace who was an ancestral foe of ‘The Last Baron!’ The centuries-long vendetta with the Comtes de Burgundy finally ended in one last honourable ‘Duel!’

Issues #19-20 (August and September 1979) finished another run with one more tale of idiotic honour and wasted young lives as Von Hammer made ‘A Promise to the Dying’ and sought to return a contentious souvenir to its rightful owner in ‘Death Must Wait!’

In the May 1981 Unknown Soldier – #251 – Enemy Ace began an occasional series of adventures illustrated by the phenomenal John Severin.

First was ‘Hell in the Heavens Part One: I, the Executioner’ wherein Von Hammer’s whirlwind romance with Fraulein Ingrid Thiesse hit a bump after he told of the British boy pilot who died in his arms. Having sworn to find his valiant foe’s sister and return an heirloom, Hans soon found himself under attack in #252’s ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Two: the Midnight Spy’,before shocking answers were forthcoming in the concluding ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Three: Midnight and Murder’…

A far more imaginative yarn unfolded in #260 (February 1982) with ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part One: Stolen Face – Stolen Ace!’ when the German High Command brought in a doppelganger to replace the national hero Von Hammer as he recovered from wounds.

Unfortunately the impostor was not only a sadistic butcher but crazy as a loon and the real deal had to defy his doctors and military superiors before shooting the maniac out of the skies – for the sake of the country and his own besmirched good name – in #261’s ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part Two: Death of a Double!’

The last flight of the war-weary warrior came in Unknown Soldier #265-267 (July to September 1982) as the British Government put a huge price on Von Hammer’s head in ‘A Very Private Hell Part One: the Bounty Hunters!’

The resultant furore led to a return engagement for Yankee white trash Steve Savage in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Two: the Substitute Ace’ and the death of a brave but foolhardy fake ace before the drama ended – again inconclusively – in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Three: Debt of Blood’

Although the grim conflicts of the chivalrous cavalry of the clouds conclude here, this epic tome holds one last treat in reserve: a rather outré but definitively classy tribute to the Hammer of Hell which originally appeared Detective Comics #404 (October 1970).

‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano found the Masked Manhunter attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about German WWI fighter ace Hans von Hammer.

All evidence seemed to prove that the killer could only be a vengeful phantom, but in the killer skies over Central Spain the mighty Batman uncovered almost incontrovertible evidence of a malign human intelligence behind the deaths.

…Almost incontrovertible…

These often bizarre but always moving and utterly unforgettable stories reveal a true high point in the annals of combat comics: crafted by masters of the art form and who never failed to ram home the point that war is not a profession for anybody who enjoys it, and that only the lucky, the mad and the already-doomed have any chance of getting out at all…
© 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 2008 DC Comics All Rights Reserved.

Asterix and the Secret Weapon


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-75284-716-0

The son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne. As a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair from an early age but dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When World War II broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the recovering nation’s burgeoning comics industry.

His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own masterpiece The Beast is Dead is far too long overdue for a commemorative reissue…).

The tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

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

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the indomitable are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with twelve animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in Uderzo’s beloved Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last just refuses to be pacified…

Whenever the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny and latterly Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas and building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

The 29th volume was Asterix and the Secret Weapon (originally titled Astérix: La Rose et le Glaive); released in 1991 and Uderzo’s fifth as a solo creator. It began in the boisterous and far from idyllic little hamlet with a multi-generational battle of the sexes in full swing…

The perpetual jockeying for position between males and females comes to a head when Chief’s wife Impedimenta and the village matrons fire the Bard Cacofonix from his role as teacher of the children and bring in a new educator more to their liking.

The Bard Bravura is a woman – and someone who knows how to get things done properly. With the village men reluctant to get involved Cacofonix has no choice but to resign in high dudgeon and go live in the forest…

The situation worsens when the mothers demand a party to welcome their new Bard and Chief Vitalstatistix is bullied into arranging it. At the feast Bravura sings and is discovered to be just slightly less awful than Cacofonix ever was. At least her bellowing doesn’t result in instant thunderstorms…

Meanwhile in Rome Julius Caesar is listening to another bright spark with an idea to defeat and destroy the Gallic Gadflies who won’t admit they are part of his empire. Wily Manlius Claphamomnibus however is convinced he has discovered a fatal chink in the rebels’ indomitable armour…

Bravura is rapidly becoming unwelcome to at least half the village: enflaming the women with her talk of “masculine tyranny”, and aggravating the men by singing every morning before the sun comes up. She even manages to offend easygoing Obelix by refusing to let him bring canine wonder Dogmatix to the kindergarten class he attends every day…

Most shocking of all, the Bard has convinced the women to wear trousers rather than skirts and Impedimenta has taken to being carried around on a shield just like a proper Chief…

With the situation rapidly becoming intolerable, outraged Vitalstatistix orders his top troubleshooter to sort it out but Bravura won’t listen to the diminutive warrior. She thinks Asterix is an adorable little man and bamboozles him into giving her his hut.

… And at sea a band of phenomenally unlucky pirates attack a Roman ship filled with Claphamomnibus’ secret weapons and quickly wish it had been the Gauls who usually thrash and sink them instead of these monsters sending them to the bottom of the sea…

Relations have completely broken down in the village. The Bard’s suggestion that Impedimenta should be chief has resulted in a massive spat and Vitalstatistix too has repaired to the forest for the foreseeable future. It’s not long before every man in town has joined him…

In an effort to calm the seething waters Druid Getafix had organised a referendum to decide who should rule, but whilst all the women naturally voted for Impedimenta, no men except Asterix and Obelix dared to vote for Vitalstatistix. After all, they weren’t married…

When the little warrior confronts Bravura she again belittles him and even suggests that if they get together they could rule the village jointly. Incensed beyond endurance the furious hero slaps her when she kisses him and immediately crumbles in shock and horror.

He has committed the unpardonable sin. The Gaulish Code utterly forbids warriors to harm women or maltreat guests and in his rage he has betrayed his most sacred principles…

He’s still in shock when Getafix defends him at a trial where Bravura even angers the wise old sage to the point that he also storms off to join Cacofonix and Vitalstatistix…

Before day’s end the entire male contingent – overcome by a wave of masculine solidarity and “Sod This-ery” – is living a life of carefree joy under the stars and Impedimenta is rightly concerned with how they village can be defended without the Druid’s magic potions.

Bravura has an answer to that too: an infallible peace plan to present to the besieging Romans…

Meanwhile on the dock at Aquarium, the Secret Weapons are disembarking to the amusement and – quite quickly – sheer terror and consternation of the weary garrison. From the safety of some bushes Asterix and Obelix watch in astonishment as an army of ferocious women – a female Legion of lethal warriors – take over the running of the fort and prepare for total war….

Extremely worried the spies quickly report back to the men in the trees. The situation is truly dire for no honourable Gaul could possibly fight a woman. Despite the ongoing domestic situation Vitalstatistix decides the women of the village must be warned and despatches the horrified Asterix and still-bewildered Obelix to carry the message.

Worried and nervous at their potential reception the unlikely lads wander into a rather embarrassing fashion show and are greeted with a wave of questions from the women who are missing their men more that they realised…

Bravura arrogantly refuses the offer to provide the women with their own magic potion, confident in her peace plan, but when she meets with Claphamomnibus she is beaten, abused and humiliated by the cocky Roman but finds a sympathetic ear and keen collaborator in Asterix who has a scheme to take vengeance and send the notionally irresistible female furies packing…

It will, of course, mean the men and women of the village working closely together…

Although quite heavy-handed by today’s standards, this is at its core a superb topical lampooning of the endlessly entertaining “Battle of the Sexes”, combining swingeing satire, broad slapstick and surreal comedy in a delicious confection of sexual frisson and eternally evergreen “The Wife…” jokes.

Bravura is one of Uderzo’s most enigmatic caricatures, bearing resemblances to a number of high profile female public figures of the time, including then French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Belgian tele-journalist Christine Ockrent and even German operatic star Diana Damrau, but the grievances of both male and female combatants are as unchanging and perennial as the characters here who enact and – for a short time at least – embody them…

Stuffed with light-hearted action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this tale again celebrates the spectacular illustrative ability of Uderzo and proves that the potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride will never lose its potent punch.
© 1991 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translations © 1991, 2002 Les Editions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.