Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection Volume One

By Morris with Louis De Bevere, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-454-0 (Album HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate All Ages Western Wonderment… 9/10

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon.

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, this wonderful hardback album (and digital delight) reveals we’ve been inadvertently lying to you all these years…

As revealed in the copious and fascinating-photo-filled essay accompanying the reprinting of the first three collected Lucky Luke Album compilations, the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

Morris’ life is carefully unpicked and shared by Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, whose text deftly covers the precocious, westerns-&-art-mad kid’s transition to comics idol with plenty of early art and family photos. This includes his education at the hands of Jesuits, his pre-comics cartooning career and forays into film animation before settling into his true vocation.

While working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist. Those days are extensively covered as Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo (with script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’(The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…)

Before all that, though, this wild and woolly delight features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who begins strutting his stuff after the essay concludes by filling us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and that eventful US sojourn…

Originally released as L’Intégrale 1, this scholarly collection re-presents the contents of the first three albums (Dick Digger’s Gold Mine, Rodeo and Arizona -1952) and abruptly switches from elucidation to all action mode for debut tale Arizona (LJdS #443-462) wherein a wandering cowboy tenaciously tracks down stagecoach bandits. He returned in Spirou #478-502) for the serial La Mine D’or de Dick Digger, wherein a map to a lost payload causes great grief until our hero returns it to the true owner.

As well as a treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, original art, designs and sketches, this tome also restores the many serial pages that were edited out of the first albums for brevity.

Le Journal de Spirou #505 (18th December 1947) began the third adventure, by which time the Lonesome Cowboy was clearly here to stay. Running until #527 (May 20th 1948) ‘Lucky Luke’s Double’ was the second feature half of first album Dick Digger’s Gold Mine in 1949: another riotous slapstick chase and comedy of errors as our hero is constantly mistaken for deadly desperado Mad Jim, much to the profit of minor crooks Stan Strand and Tiny Charley Chick. Big mistake…

‘Rodeo’ ran in #528-545, ending in September 1948 and becoming the title tale of the second album in 1950. The art took a major upturn towards the style we are familiar with today as Lucky competes in a legendary competition and uncovers both skulduggery and poor sportsmanship. Without a pause, new escapade ‘Lucky Luke in Desperado City’ followed (LJdS #546-566, ending 17th February 1949), wherein Lucky becomes sheriff of an embattled frontier town to defeat tyrannical owlhoots The Pistol Brothers.

‘The Buffalo Creek Goldrush’ (LJdS #567-584, ending 23rd June 1949), filled out that second album with a delicious satire on greed as a simple mistake turns a barren wasteland into an ephemeral metropolis of miners – until the penny finally drops…

It was back to outright villains for ‘Lucky Luke versus Cigarette Cesar’ (#585-601, ending October 20th 1949 and included in third album Arizona in November 1951), as Lucky trails a deadly and devious escaped convict south of the border (and indulges in the kind of animal cruelty gags we just don’t tolerate these days where bullfighting is largely discredited – so be warned…) to conclude this initial vintage voyage to the Wild West Neverlands.

Packed with contemporaneous extras, commentary, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than any Laurel and Hardy film (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

The first forays of an indomitable hero: this grand old hoot sits in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller, and is a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!

© Morris/Dupuis, 1946 to 1949 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.

© Morris/Dupuis 2016 for this collected edition. All other material © 2016 its respective creators/owners.