Yakari volume 18: The Wall of Fire

By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-591-2 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together, they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains and is set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate animated TV series and a movie release last year – has achieved 40 albums thus far: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1993, la barrière de feu was the 19th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

This time, the little wonder is embroiled in uncharacteristically dark deeds as a raiding party led by Wild Mane results in the loss of all the horses – except valiant pony Little Thunder who not only escapes but also raises the alarm and rouses the sleeping tribe.

As the adults set out on foot to recover their steeds and reclaim their honour, little Yakari tracks his equine friend and is amazed to find Little Thunder is trailing his stolen herdmates. As he follows, the loquacious lad meets a flying squirrel who kindly offers to act as an advance scout…

While the grown-ups are stymied by their cunning quarry’s tactics, the tiny tree-hugger rapidly reunites the boy with his horse and the trio set off together after the thieves. All too soon they have located the raiders, but instead of useless heroic gestures they sagely seek out Yakari’s father and lead his team to the thieves.

Dauntingly, it’s a nomadic convocation of thousands, and a retaliatory raid seems impossible. Moreover, something is shadowing the stalkers themselves, ever unseen but even getting close enough to steal supplies while they’re being carried! The adults are seriously considering swallowing their shame and retreating, but Yakari cannot let go of the notion that something is smarter than he is…

Ultimately, with help from his bestial buddies, the mystery is solved and the boy meets a new friend: a wounded lynx. The beautiful, cunning creature shows the curious kid a new trick: a sticky black liquid that oozes out of the ground and is ideal for sealing wounds.

When the shaman sees it he recognises it for all its many properties, including a tendency to burn, which gives Yakari’s father an inspired idea for countering the raiders’ superior numbers and getting back the tribe’s most treasured possessions…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this boldly action-packed and splendidly spectacular yarn sees Yakari’s gifts not only used to benefit his people and animal friends but also with the full acknowledgement of the adults he’s previously been unknowingly slighted by. Is our boy finally on the path to being a man?

Once again, Derib & Job display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in another glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 1993. All rights reserved. English translation 2020 © Cinebook Ltd.