By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4742-9 (PB Album)
Georges Prosper Remi – known to all as Hergé – created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he crafted 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.
Globally renowned for these magnificent Tintin adventures, Hergé also did much to return comics to the arena of mass entertainment, a position largely lost after the advent of television, video-recording and computer games.
However, the bold boy and his opinionated dog were by no means his only creation. The author was a prodigious jobbing cartoonist in the years before the junior journalist finally assured him immortality and he generated a minor pantheon of other topical strips and features such as Tim the Squirrel in the Far West, The Amiable Mr. Mops, Tom and Millie and Popol Out West.
Among the best of the rest were the tales of Jo and Zette Legrand and their chimpanzee Jocko – in much the same wholesome action vein as Tintin – and the episodic, all-ages shenanigans of a pair of mischievous ragamuffins in pre-WWII Belgium.
In 2005 Egmont translated three escapades of Jo, Zette and Jocko into English (although there are more just sitting out there, all foreign and unreadable by potential fans too lazy to learn French or any of a dozen other civilised languages…) so in 2009 the publisher tried again with two collections of the Master’s second most successful creation: Quick et Flupke, gamins de Bruxelles.
These rambunctiously subversive, trouble-making working-class rapscallions and scallywags were precursors and thematic contemporaries of such beloved British boy acts as The Bash Street Kids, Winker Watson, Roger the Dodger et. al., and for more than a decade – January 1930 to May 1940 – rivalled the utterly irresistible Tintin in popularity and almost certainly acted as a rehearsal room for all the humorous graphic and slapstick elements which became so much a part of future Tintin tales.
Ten years ago Egmont had a brief stab at reviving the likely lads and it was only the general public’s deplorable lack of taste and good sense which stopped the kids from taking off again…
On leaving school in 1925, Hergé began working for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, falling under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.
He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter, when Abbot Wallez asked him to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?
Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He created a strip both modern and action-packed – and heavily anti-communist. From January 10th 1929, weekly episodes of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.
Around this time the cartoonist also began crafting weekly 2-page gag strips starring a pair of working-class rascals on the streets of Brussels. They played pranks, got into good-natured trouble and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism: the sort of antics any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar.
Originally seen in black-&-white in Le Petit Vingtiéme, the lads larked about for over a decade until the war and mounting pressures of producing Tintin meant they had to go. They were only rediscovered in 1985 and their collected adventures ran to a dozen best-selling albums… so there’s still plenty left out there to be translated into English…
Fasten Your Seat Belts contains a superbly riotous celebration of boyish high spirits, beginning with hose-pipe pranks in ‘The Big Clean’, before a rare good deed leads to strife with ‘A Poor Defenceless Woman’ and a day ‘At the Seaside’ results in another round of boyish fisticuffs after which their arch-foe the policeman succumbs to the irresistible temptations of a handy catapult in ‘Everyone Gets a Turn’.
Quick – the tall one in the beret – then learns to his cost ‘How Music Calms the Nerves’ and discovers the drawback of ‘Pacifism’, whilst portly Flupke tries tennis and finds himself far from ‘Unbeatable’…
‘Advertising’ then proves to be a dangerous game and an annoying insect meets its end in ‘Instructions for Use’, before ‘Quick the Clock Repairer’, proves to be something of an overstatement and ‘Football’ becomes just another reason for the pals to fall out…
Although unwelcome ‘At the Car Showroom’, some Eskimos (you’re going to have to suspend some of your modern sensitivities every now and again, remember) seem happy to share in ‘A Weird Story’ whist Hergé himself turns up in ‘A Serious Turn of Events’, even as the kids are disastrously ‘At Odds’ over a funny smell in their proximity.
Then, ‘Quick the Music Lover’ cleverly deals with an annoying neighbour, Flupke goes Christmas skiing in ‘That’s How It Is’ and another good turn goes bad in ‘All Innocence’ before a sibling spat gets sorted through ‘Children’s Rights’ and Quick cocks up cuisine even with ‘The Recipe’…
A handy ‘Yo-yo’ causes traffic chaos and a milk run goes spectacularly awry in a buttery ‘Metamorphosis’ before this magical blast from the past concludes with cleverly appealing ‘Tale Without a Tail’.
Regrettably hard to find now (and past time for a digital edition if not paper reissue), this book and the simple, perfect gags it contains show another side to the supreme artistry of Hergé – and no lover of comics can consider life complete without a well-thumbed copy of their own…
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1991. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.