The Marsupilami volume 2: Bamboo Baby Blues


By Franquin, Batem & Greg; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-364-2

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs/The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac.

In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

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

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Le journal de Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957, but was now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures.

Now numbering 30 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the second of these was Le Bébé du bout du monde, released in 1988 and translated here as Marsupilami: Bamboo Baby Blues.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins in bustling, politically unstable capital city La Grande Ciudad where two young Chinese envoys attempt to charter an aircraft to deliver a very special animal to its ultimate destination in adjoining South American country Palo-Plagia.

The very junior and fiercely idealistic officials have not been prepared for the very shaky – if not shady – nature of all transactions in this part of the capitalist world and, after falling foul of an airline strike, are forced to complete their mission through regrettably “extra-legal” channels.

That’s why they are soon bouncing around in a decrepit ex-WWII bomber piloted by demented drug-runner and former German war criminal Helmut Ersatzauweis von Lilimarlehn who can’t tell their legitimate mission from his usual clandestine recreational pharmaceuticals deliveries…

After taking a most circuitous and totally unnecessary route, the ramshackle Aguila del Paradisio falls apart in mid-air over a certain patch of dense jungle and the befuddled captain ditches, leaving the diligent envoys to their fate. Without a qualm the Democratic People’s Servants attach their parachutes to the baby Giant Panda they have been escorting, trusting it to fate. Their last thoughts are of a particularly worrisome fact: the Panda can only eat bamboo and there is none in Palombia.

All known growing areas in the rogue state have been turned over to the cultivation of poppies and cannabis…

In the green fastness below the commotion is detected by a native fisherman who might be able to turn the tragedy to his advantage. Yafegottawurm is up for the change of pace too; anything is better than sitting on a log waiting for the vile and voracious piranha to bite…

Another witness with far more sympathetic motivations is also quick to react: the infernal, eternally mischievous, big-hearted Marsupilami…

When the golden beast brings the Panda cub back to his family he is disappointed to find the little creature reluctant to eat until it encounters Yafegottawurm’s recently abandoned fishing poles.

Apparently, bamboo is not quite extinct in the verdant interior: the Havoca natives secretly cultivate the grass in enclosed areas. It is a material crucial to their daily existence, highly prized and practically sacred…

That’s a fateful fact Helmut now shares, having being brought to the Havoca village by Yafegottawurm and taken under the wing of local witch doctor Yajussashahm. That dubious charlatan was originally educated at Harvard and Heidelberg and now, after years scamming the natives of their “useless” emeralds, plans on returning to civilisation to enjoy his last years in utter luxury.

Helmut would a useful companion for the return trip but their schemes are suddenly scotched when all that sacred bamboo starts vanishing and the enraged tribesmen demand their shaman sort out the escalating chaos and sacrilege…

The puzzled pilot thinks the Chinese might still be alive and behind the thefts, so all too soon he is despatched to his downed plane to check, while Yajussashahm does his magic act using his huge stockpile of fireworks and explosives. However, things come to a cataclysmic head when the frantically foraging Marsupilamis are cornered during another bamboo raid for their voracious new cub…

Even as the Havoca are painfully reminded why they have never successfully captured the frenetic yellow perils, the situation worsens for Helmut and the Witch Man when the River Police turn up on a diplomatic rescue mission…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this fresh exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin, Greg & Batem. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.