Billy and Buddy volume 6: Buddy’s Gang

By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Ferri; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-314-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Childhood Capers for Young and Old Alike… 8/10

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Journal de Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality and becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a huge hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as some early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 37 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel, before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip had returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

This edition is the second translation to feature “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel. The kit and paraphernalia might be marginally updated, but the warmth and humour remain timelessly faithful. Just like a pet, in fact…

Originally released in 2005, La bande à Bill was the 30th European collection, completed by Verron and his team, and even adding a soupcon of continuity (via a few returning circus cronies as seen in the previous volume): admirably resuming in the approved manner and further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire, single-page gags with titles like ‘Of Mice and Shame’, ‘Tailspin’ and ‘Peek-a-Bone’, visual puns, quips and jests abound: confirming that the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

The inseparable duo indulge in spats with pals, play pranks, encounter other unique pets, dodge baths, hunt and hoard bones, rummage in bins, misunderstand adults, cause accidents and cost money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above. This time, however, the capacity for chaos is radically increased as an entire menagerie of circus beasts pop up whenever it’s most comedically expedient and young Billy is becoming awkwardly, painfully aware of girls. One girl in particular, actually…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2005 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.