By Roba, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-457-1 (Album PB)
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 Le Journal de Spirou.
The perennial family 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. He had launched the feature 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 Brits might recognise the art as some early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary 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 were 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 well in excess of 25 million copies of the 40 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 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.
Originally released in 1974, Attention chien marrant! was the 15th European collection, comfortingly resuming in the approved manner and further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. Available in paperback and digital editions and delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire, single-page gags with titles like ‘Cleaned Out’, ‘Bad Mood’ and ‘Schoolyard Blues’, Beware of (Funny) Dog! Is packed with visual puns, quips and jolly “dad-joke” jests: affirming 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, buried bones (ownership frequently to be determined) and ferociously protective of boy, pet Tortoise 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 (this autumnal collection finds her 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 interact 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, the capacity for chaos is heightened by vacation frolics involving mountains and fondue – wanna guess where the family are? – but there’s also plenty of domestic distress involving burglars, dog licenses and the onset of Christmas snows to foster a fond feeling of lost golden days…
Roba was a master of this cartoon artform. The strips are genially paced, filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes running 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 a supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Dupuis 1974 by Roba © Studio Boule & Bill 2019. English translation © 2019 Cinebook Ltd.