Yakari volume 19: The Devil in the Woods

By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-037-1 (Album PB)

Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who 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, working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators.

Many of Derib’s stunning works feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom. Debuting in 1969, it details the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains: set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of required familiarity or foreknowledge. 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 they are 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 – chat with all animals. This time, however, the conclusion is far from cheery or cosy and presages dark times ahead for some…

It begins in the depths of winter, with deep snow covering the plains and provender scarce for all. As the youngsters Rainbow, Buffalo Seed and Yakari amuse themselves with his pony Little Thunder, the talkative boy’s father Bold Gazeand hunter Taut Bow urgently seek food. Luck turns their way when a large hehaka (wapiti) rushes right into their arrows. By nightfall the entire tribe has eaten well and the leftovers are preserved and dressed to provide more food in the days to come.

The adults cannot shake the impression that their welcome repast was fleeing from something worse than their arrows, and that apprehension is confirmed in the morning when the tribe discover all the remaining food has gone. The fresh snow carries no trace of the thief…

Ever-inquisitive Yakari wants an explanation and sets out to ask his animal pals, eventually finding strange tracks that might belong to some sort of bear. Incautiously following, he sees the footprints peter out just as beaver chieftain Double-Tooth pops up.

The jolly rodent is disturbed by the news and helps in searching, but as Yakari and Double-Tooth follow tracks that constantly seem to vanish into thin air, Bold Gaze and Taut Bow are trailing the thief with the camp dogs. It’s  a horrific mistake as something unseen kills and eats the valiant hounds!

Dread haunts the humans huddled in their tents that night, but in the morning Yakari and Little Thunder check out and eliminate all the local bears – even the notoriously grumpy and insomniac Grizzly who’s having difficulty hibernating – from the suspect list, unaware that something sinister and malign is tracking them…

Baffled and scared that one of their ursine pals has gone mad, Yakari and the beaver clan build a wonderful trap to catch the mysterious thief, but again the stalker outwits them all: even diverting their suspicions to the most unlikely culprit whilst retaliating by destroying the beavers’ precious dam and home…

With all creatures equally endangered by the “devil”, Yakari and his allies convince the mighty and increasingly irate Grizzly to help them hunt, and before long the arrogant quarry rises to the challenge. It confronts its pursuers but the resultant battle is swift, terrible and sadly inconclusive as their brutal clash triggers an avalanche…

In the eerie aftermath, the Great Eagle arrives and shares some disturbing thoughts that may have terrible implications in days to come…

Originally released in 1994, Le diable des bois was the 20th European album, and although its suspenseful, ominous tone feels like a dark departure from the cheery norm, there’s still plenty of humour and slapstick hijinks to balance the grim proceedings, and – in deference to the younger readers – everything is carried out with sensitivity and wit.

As ever, Derib & Job display astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in this glorious graphic tour de force highlighting the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, in 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.) 2000. All rights reserved. English translation 2021 © Cinebook Ltd.