Lucky Luke Volume 17 – Apache Canyon

By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-92-2 (PB Album)

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before inevitably ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny. When he became regular wordsmith Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie). This began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous sidebar sagebrush sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages…

The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 73 translated books and still going strong.

Canyon Apache was Morris & Goscinny’s 28th collaboration, originally serialised in 1971 before becoming the 37th album release: a grimly hilarious saga of obsession and intransigence, fuelled by sworn enemies driven to extremes by past wrongs. As such, it’s also one of the most daftly slapstick and wonderfully ludicrous tales of the canon, spoofing particularly on the venerated, semi-sacrosanct cavalry trilogy of John Ford (that’s Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande to you. You really should see more old movies…).

Far, far out west stubborn Colonel O’Nollan and his worthy Irish lads of the US Cavalry man Fort Canyon. They’re caught in a constant spiral of attack and counterattack with renegade chief Patronimo, who leads his band of Kimikuris on raids into America from a base across the border in Mexico. It’s a war of perpetual attrition nobody can win but they will not listen to reason…

Most of the region is peaceful and the great chiefs have foresworn warfare, but the intensely personal duel between O’Nollan – whose son was abducted by raiders decades previously – and Patronimo threatens that détente even as it endlessly escalates in scale. The tit-for-tat attacks are constant and even endanger relations with the Mexican government.

Into that hostile mess shuffles laconic scout Mr Smith, soon exposed as an exceedingly put-upon Lucky Luke: despatched by Washington to end the strife at all costs. Sadly, the vendetta is too deeply ingrained. Even talking with the noble, misunderstood Kimikuris and especially their white-hating Medicine Man proves to be an uphill struggle.

His temper fraying, the hero tries joining the Indians, infiltrating Mexico and reasoning with the Colonel, but is branded a traitor and barely escapes execution by both sides before stumbling into a bizarre solution…

Tense as that sounds, this tale is an epic farce, heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of weird twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

Apache Canyon is wildly entertaining: another perfect all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.