Benny Breakiron volume 1: The Red Taxis

By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will: translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-409-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics in Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills, but war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 he joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time he submitted comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. The first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians which saw print in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – now using the nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as the Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960, Benoit Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker (Steven Sterk in Dutch) – debuted in LJdS #1183 (December 1960). With some slyly added tips of the beret to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman (check out that cover, fanboys!), what gently unfolds are wry bucolic romps of an extraordinary little lad living a generally quiet life in an unassuming little French – or maybe Belgian? – town.

Quiet, well-mannered and a bit lonely, Benny is the mightiest boy on Earth: able to crush steel or stone in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his only real weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches cold… which he does with frightening ease and great frequency…

Benny never tries concealing his powers but somehow the adults never catch on. They usually think he’s telling fibs or boasting, and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles!

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a soap bubble and a shrug can topple trees...

Well-past-it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as both Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing wonder appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoit as years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, Françoise Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in, and Jean Roba created many eye-catching LJdS covers. However, by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all consuming and all the studio’s other strips were dropped.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down though and, after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford & cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and Co. between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to US publisher Papercutz, some – but not yet all! – of the gloriously genteel, outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers again, both as robust full-colour hardbacks and eBooks, and this initial exploit begins in sedate micro-metropolis Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the sweet kid goes about his solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can.

However, his sense of fair play is outraged when aging taxi driver Monsieur Dussiflard becomes the target of a dirty tricks campaign by new company Red Taxis. When he and the incensed cabbie challenge the oily company CEO in his flashy high-rise office, Benny is shooed away and the elderly driver vanishes.

Suspicions aroused, Benny investigates and is attacked by thuggish Red Taxi employees. Only after thrashing and humiliating the goons does Benny realise that he still doesn’t know where Dussiflard is, so he retroactively throws the fight…

Just as he is imprisoned with his fellow abductee, the worst happens and the bombastic boy comes down with a stinker of a cold! Helpless as any other 8-year old, he’s stuffed in a crate with the codger cabbie and loaded onto a freighter headed to the Galapagos Islands…

With all opposition ended, the Boss and his Red Taxi stooges begin the final stage of a devilish plot, utterly oblivious to the dogged determination of Benny – who escapes the ship and an alluring tropical paradise, impatiently waits for his cold to clear up and none too soon sets off on a race against time, the elements and his own woefully-lacking knowledge of geography if he is to stop the ruthless criminals…

A superbly sweet and sassy spoof and fabulously winning fantasy of childhood validation and agency, The Red Taxis offers a distinctly Old World spin to the notion of superheroes and provides a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of astounding adventure and incredible comics excellence.
© Peyo, 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.