Papyrus volume 1: The Rameses’ Revenge

By Lucien De Geiter, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-35-9

British and European Comics have always been keener on historical strips than our American cousins, and the Franco-Belgian contingent in particular have made an art form out of combining the fascinations of past lives with drama, action and especially broad humour in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

One ideal example of this is the long-running Papyrus by Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter, which began in Spirou in 1974. It subsequently spawned more than 30 collected albums, a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and a video game through its progression of light fantasy adventures starring a simple child fisherman favoured by the gods who became the hero of Egypt and a friend to Pharaohs.

De Gieter was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on September 4th 1932 and, after attending Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels, worked as an industrial designer and interior decorator before moving into comics in 1961.

Initially he worked on inserts (fold-in half-sized-booklets known as ‘mini-récits’) for Spirou, such as the little cowboy ‘Pony’, and produced scripts for established Spirou creators such as Kiko (Roger Camille), Jem (Jean Mortier), Eddy Ryssack and Francis (Bertrand) before joining Peyo’s (Pierre Culliford) studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ – which you’ll know as The Smurfs – and soloed on long-running newspaper comic cat strip ‘Poussy’.

After creating mermaid strip ‘Tôôôt et Puit’  in 1966 and seeing Pony graduate to the full-sized pages of Spirou in 1968, De Gieter relinquished his Smurfs gig, but kept himself busy producing work for Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey. From 1972-1974 he assisted Flemish cartooning legend Arthur Berckmans (AKA Berck) on comedy science-fiction series ‘Mischa’ for the German Rolf Kauka Studios magazine Primo, whilst he prepared the creation which would occupy his full attention – and millions of avid fans – for the next four decades.

The stories of Papyrus encompass a vast range of themes and milieus, blending boys-own adventure with historical fiction and living mythology, gradually evolving from a traditionally welcoming and inclusive “Bigfoot” cartooning content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration.

That’s not a concern in this first Cinebook translation as The Rameses’ Revenge (actually the seventh collected album, originally released in 1984 as La Vengeance des Ramsès) finds Papyrus en route to the newly finished temple at Abu-Simbel on a royal barge, part of a vast flotilla destined to commemorate the magnificent Tomb of Rameses II.

The worthy peasant had been given a magic sword by the daughter of crocodile-headed god Sobek to free Horus from imprisonment in the black pyramid of Ombos and restore peace to the Two Kingdoms – but that’s a tale for another tome. The lad was also charged with being lifelong protector of wilful Pharaoh’s daughter Theti-Cheri

Here his sedate Nile journey is plagued with frightful dreams but good friend Imhotep tells him not to worry. Nevertheless the boy hero consults a priest and is deeply worried when the sage declares the dreams are a warning…

That tension only grows when headstrong, impatient Theti-Cheri informs him that she has permission to go on ahead of the Pharaoh’s retinue in a small, poorly-armed skiff. Unable to dissuade her, Papyrus is ordered to remain behind. The Princess and Imhotep are blissfully unaware that a member of her small guard has been replaced by a sinister impostor…

The vessel is well underway before they discover Papyrus has stowed away, but before the furious girl can have him thrown overboard, the boat is hit by an impossibly sudden storm and attacked by a pair of monsters.

Although the boy hero drives them away with his sword, Theti-Cheri sees nothing, having been knocked out in the storm. Still seething, she refuses to believe him or Imhotep and orders them onward to Abu-Simbel. The next morning Papyrus and the guards are missing…

Pressing on anyway, the Princess and her remaining attendants reach the incredible edifice only to be seized by the band of brigands who have captured it. They want the enormous treasure hidden within the sprawling complex and already hold Papyrus prisoner.

If Theti-Cheri or the hostageTemple Priests don’t hand it over the boy will die horribly…

The repentant Princess cannot convince the clerics to betray their holy vows, however, and in desperation declares that she will hand herself over instead. Appalled and moved by her noble intention, High Priest Hapu determines that only extreme measures can avenge the bandits’ sacrilegious insult and calls on mighty Ra to inflict the vengeance of the gods upon them…

The astounding, spectacular, terrifying result perfectly concludes this initial escapade and will thrill and delight lovers of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure. Papyrus is another superb addition to the all-ages pantheon of continental champions who combine action and mirth with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out the Tintin and Asterix collections would be well rewarded by checking out these epic tales.

© Dupis, 1984 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.