By J. F. Charles (Michel Deligne Co)
ISBN: 2-87135-020-5 and 2-87135-021-3
European comics are different. Despite the notable exceptions of Tintin and Asterix, a huge number of classy and wonderful strips and characters have flown over the heads of the English-speaking public and foundered.
These tragically hard-to-find (but worth the effort) albums are from 1985, when America briefly looked elsewhere for graphic entertainment and the publisher Editions Michel Deligne rushed a rather poorly translated version of Jean-François Charles’ (AKA Bof) utterly compelling 1982 adventure serial Les Pionniers du Nouveau Monde into production.
Set in America and Canada in 1755, the saga follows the life of Parisian wastrel Benjamin Graindall, a hothead whose predilection for duelling makes France too small and far too hazardous for him. Rapidly despatched to Montreal to make his fortune and keep out of trouble, Banjamin joins his uncle at the New France Company, bitter trading rival of England’s Hudson Bay Company.
War is brewing, and feuding native tribes have allied themselves with each Imperial nation, dividing along ancient tribal lines as bitter and hate-filled as Britain and France’s. Thus, when Graindall and experienced trapper Billy the Nantese go deep inland trading furs, they find that Europe’s cold war has turned hot and bloody in the new World.
Rescuing a number of French settlers – including a beautiful aristocrat’s daughter – they make their way towards Fort Niagara, but are captured by the British whose Ox River Fort lies directly opposite the French bastion at the great falls.
As prisoners, they must ensure that their enemies do not realize that the girl Louise is in fact the daughter of Fort Niagara’s commanding officer…
This is classic adventure and historical drama in the grand tradition: sparking with intensity, brim-full of captivating authenticity and yet still entrancingly readable. Charles is a master of incredible wilderness scenes and breathtaking battle sequences, and the story (written from the 7th album with his wife Maryse), is a broad-scoped and powerful one.
Pioneers of the New World Book 2: The Great Upheaval
Further detailing how the west was won or lost (depending on your geographical standpoint), this translation of Le Grand Dérangement resumes the tempestuous history of the struggle between France and Britain in the 18th century whilst relating the story of bourgeois wastrel Benjamin Graindall, who fled Paris for Canada to make his fortune.
At the close of The Pillory Graindall and other French survivors of a massacre are being held prisoners by the British at Fort Niagara. When French forces attack to rescue Louise, Benjamin’s lover and daughter of a French General, the ensuing following the assault provides an opportunity for rescue – at least for trapper Billy the Nantese and the bewildered, bereft woman. Graindall, though, seems to have been killed by cannon-fire…
The liberated French settlers are evacuated to Montreal and Louise, pregnant with the wastrel’s child, is taken by Billy to her aunt in Greenbay on the St Lawrence River.
The war is unrelenting and by 1756 the pair are overtaken by British forces. Until this time the joint Anglo-French Nova Scotia trading company controlled the resources of the New World region of Acadia, but the British advance allows the English to dispossess the French and keep everything for themselves.
Like the Highland Clearances in Scotland (from 1725 until well into the 19th century), French settlers were forced from their lands between 1755 and 1762, literally driven into the sea. Most Acadians made their way down the coast, eventually settling in Louisiana. Forced together by hardship and circumstance, Louisa and Billy grow closer and closer when their ship is forced into safe-harbour in Boston Bay…
Benjamin survived the attack on Fort Niagara. Wounded in the first attack, he was dragged to safety by the wayward firebrand Mary Shirley. Braving the horrors of New England winters and aided by friendly Indians, they make their torturous way to New York and ultimately Albany where Benjamin is astounded to discover that his lascivious wild-child companion is actually the daughter of a wealthy and extremely powerful family.
He grudgingly becomes Mary’s stud and boy-toy, but chafes under the witless pomp and snobbery of the English gentry. At one of the interminable social soirees he accidentally maims malignant Mr. Crimbel, manager of the Hudson Bay Company, during a drunken brawl and is forced to flee.
Frustrated Mary swears bitter vengeance but Benjamin is already in Boston just as a refugee ship carrying Acadians beaches to avoid a winter storm. On the sands the three companions are finally reunited but Louise is torn as her first love and the father of her child greets his long-lost best friend… her current lover…
This powerful adventure saga of classic adventure is an historical drama in the inimitable Franco-Belgian manner, compelling and entrancing. Charles is a master of his visual craft and here natural beauty is augmented by the veracity of historical grandeur he imparts into renditions of genteel English society.
Pioneers of the New World is a minor masterpiece. Translated here are Le Pilori and Le Grand Dérangement, the merest tip of a spectacular graphic narrative iceberg. There have been 20 albums to date in French – with the latest arriving in 2015 – and I sincerely believe this magnificent adventure is long overdue for some wise publisher to revive. After all, there’s plenty to catch up on…
I’d imagine these books are practically impossible to find nowadays, and to be honest the translation and re-lettering are a little disappointing and distracting. But since so much European material is accessible these days, I’d thought I’d mention this series as being one that is crying out for a decent shot from a considerate and dedicated patron. Cross your fingers, mes braves…
© 1985 Editions Michel Deligne SA and JF Charles. All Rights Reserved.