Henry Speaks for Himself


By John Liney, edited by David Tosh (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-733-8 (TPB)

Created by veteran cartoonist Carl Anderson as a silent, pantomimic gag-panel first seen on March 19th 1932, Henry was one of the most venerated and long-lived of American newspaper comics strips.  It was developed for The Saturday Evening Post before being picked up by legendary strip advocate and propounder William Randolph Hearst.  He brought it and the then-69 year old Anderson to his King Features Syndicate in 1934. The first comic strip appeared on December 17th with a full colour Sunday half-page following on March 10th 1935.

The Saturday Evening Post had to content itself with a new feature entitled Little Lulu by Marjorie Henderson Buell. I wonder how that worked out…?

Being a man of advanced years, Anderson employed Don Trachte to assist with the Sundays whilst John J. Liney performed the same role for the Monday to Saturday black and white iteration. This continued until 1942 when arthritis forced Anderson to retire. Trachte and Liney became de facto creators of the feature – although the originator’s name remained on the masthead for the next two decades.

Liney (1912-1982) had started as a staff cartoonist on the Philadelphia Evening Ledger and began selling gag ideas to Anderson in 1936 before landing the full-time assistant’s job. After assuming the illustrator’s role in 1942 he took over sole writing responsibilities for the daily in 1945, continuing Henry until 1979 when he finally retired.

His own name had been adorning the strip since 1970.

Liney was also a passionate teacher and educator on comics and cartooning, with a position at Temple University. Nevertheless, he still found time to write and draw a comicbook iteration of the mute and merry masterpiece from 1946 to 1961.

Major licensing monolith Western Publishing/Dell Comics had been successfully producing comicbooks starring animation characters, film icons and strip heroes since the mid 1930s, and when they launched Henry – first in Four Color Comics #122 and #155 (October 1946 and July 1947) and then in his own 65 issue title from January 1948 – they successfully argued for a radical change in the boy’s make-up.

The newspaper strip had always been a timeless, nostalgia-fuelled, happily humour-heavy panoply of gags and slapstick situations wherein the frankly weird-looking little bald kid romped and pranked in complete silence, with superb cartooning delivering all the communication nuance the vast international audience needed.

Now however, with children seen as the sole consumers, the powers-that-be felt that the little mutant should be able to speak and make himself understood. Liney easily rose to the challenge and produced a sublime run of jolly, wild, weird and often utterly surreal endlessly inventive adventures – some approaching “Stream-of-Consciousness” progressions that perfectly captured the ephemeral nature of kids’ concentration. He also introduced a captivating supporting cast to augment the boy, and his appealingly unattractive, forthright and two-fisted inamorata Henrietta.

This splendid softcover (and ebook) collection gathers some of the very best longer tales from the comicbook run in the resplendent flat primary colours that are so evocative of simpler – if not better – days and begins after a heartfelt reminiscence in the Foreword by Kim Deitch, after which Editor, compiler and devotee David Tosh outlines the history of the character and his creators in ‘Henry – the Funniest Living American’.

He then goes on to explain ‘The Dell Years’ before offering some informative ‘Notes on the Stories’.

The magical story portion of this collection is liberally interspersed with stunning cover reproductions; all impressively returning to the quiet lad’s silent comedy gag roots, a brace of which precede a beautiful double-page spread detailing the vast and varied cast Liney added to mix.

Then from issue #7 (June, 1949) we find ‘Henry is Thinking Out Loud!’ as the boy keeps his non-existent mouth shut and explores the medium of first person narrative, inner monologues and thought-balloons whilst getting into mischief looking for odd jobs to do…

October’s edition, Henry #9, introduced the good-natured, cool but increasingly put-upon Officer Yako in ‘You Can’t Beat the Man on the Beat!’ in an escalating succession of brushes with the law, bullies, prospective clients and darling Henrietta.

That bald boy still hadn’t actually uttered a sound, but by #14 (August 1950) he had found his voice, much to the amusement of his layabout Uncle (he never had a name) who eavesdropped on the assorted kids comparing their ‘Funny Dreams’.

After a quartet of covers Henry #16 (December 1950) found Liney playing with words as ‘Rhyme Without Reason’ found all the characters afflicted with doggerel, meter, couplets and all forms poetic with Liney even drawing himself into the madcap procession of japes and jests, whilst ‘A Slice of Ham’ from issue #22 (December 1951) cleverly riffed on Henry’s ambitions to impress Henrietta by becoming an actor. This yarn includes a wealth of Liney caricatures of screen immortals such as Chaplin, Gable, Sinatra and more, whilst introducing a potential rival for Henry’s affections in cousin Gilda

In #24 (April 1952) Henry ‘Peeks into the Future’ by outrageously pondering on his possible careers as an adult, before plunging into Flintstone or Alley Oop territory – complete with cave city and dinosaurs – as a result of studying too hard for a history test in ‘The Stone Age Story’ from issues #29, February 1953.

After four more clever funny covers, growing up again featured heavily with ‘Choosing Your Career’ (#45, March 1956) as the little fool road-tested a job as a home-made cab driver and accidentally slipped into law enforcement by capturing a bandit.

In #48 (December 1956) Henry attended a fancy dress party and became ‘The Boy in the Iron Mask’, and this completely charming compilation closes by reprising that sojourn in the Stone Age with #49 (March 1957)’s ‘Rock and Roll’

Concluding the comedy capers is fond personal reminiscence ‘Henry and Me’ by David Tosh; a man justifiably delighted to be able to share his passion with us and hopefully proud that this book gloriously recaptures some of the simple straightforward sheer joy that could be found in comicbooks of yore.

Henry Speaks for Himself is fun, frolicsome and fabulously captivating all-ages cartooning that will enthral anyone with kids or who has the soul of one.
Henry Speaks for Himself © 2014 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2014 King Features, Inc. All other material © its respective creators. This book was produced in cooperation with Heritage Auctions.

Gomer Goof volume 2: It’s a Van Goof!


By André Franquin, Jidéhem & Delporte, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-365-9 (PB Album)

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou. The magazine had debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its engaging lead strip created by Rob-Vel (François Robert Velter). In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the previously-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. He introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars; creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right) to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. During that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly Spirou comic

Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smoothly functioning creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). He ran with it for the next two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons of the feature until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou &Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. However, throughout all that time Fantasio was still a full-fledged reporter for Le Journal de Spirou and had to pop into the office all the time.

Sadly, lurking there was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe

There’s a long history of fictitiously personalising the mysterious creatives and all those arcane processes they indulge in to make our favourite comics, whether its Stan Lee’s Marvel Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at the Beano and Dandy. Let me assure you that it’s a truly international practise and the occasional asides on text pages featuring well-meaning foul-up/office gofer Gaston – who debuted in #985, February 28th 1957 – grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic.

I’d argue, however, that current iteration Gomer Goof (his name is taken from an earlier, abortive attempt to introduce the character to American audiences) is an unnecessary step. The quintessentially Franco-Belgian tone and humour doesn’t translate particularly well (la gaffe translates as “the blunder”) and contributes nothing here. When the big idiot surprisingly appeared in a 1970s Thunderbirds annual as part of an earlier syndication attempt, he was rechristened Cranky Franky. Perhaps they should have kept the original title…

In terms of entertainment schtick and delivery, older readers will certainly recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion British readers will recognise from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em or Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

This second album-sized paperback compilation (available also in digital formats) consists of half-page shorts, longer cartoon strips and comedic text story “reports” from the comic’s editorial page as well as ultimately full episodes of madcap buffoonery.

As previously stated, Gomer is employed (let’s not dignify or mis-categorise what he does as “work”) at the Spirou offices, reporting to go-getting hero journalist Fantasio and generally ignoring the minor design jobs like paste-up and reading readers’ letters (the official reason why fans requests and suggestions are never answered…) he’s paid to handle.

He’s lazy, opinionated, forgetful and eternally hungry and his most manic moments stem from cutting corners or stashing and illicitly consuming contraband food in the office…

These characteristics frequently lead to clashes with police officer Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, but the office oaf remains eternally easy-going and incorrigible. Only two questions are really important here: why does Fantasio keep giving him one last chance, and what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the interfering, self-opinionated idiot?

Originally released in 1968 as sixth volume Gaston – Des gaffes et des dégâts, the translated chaos (available in paperback and digital formats) commences with a quartet of short, sharp two-tier episodes involving Gomer’s office innovations and war of nerves with Longsnoot, before the first illustrated text “report” from the comic’s editorial page details a catastrophe in glass in ‘Whistle While You Work’.

A second, entitled ‘Letter from the Countryside’ shares space with a calamitous seaside excursion and selection of rural escapades turned camping Armageddon…

Prose missive ‘Gomer Writes Us’ (on the joys of go-karting) leads to a ‘Conversation on a Street Corner’ and details on a new kind of music in ‘Honky-honk copper’, after which computer-assisted design is proved to be one more thing Gomer must never attempt in ‘Chorus and Bridge’

The remainder of the volume is all picture strip pandemonium as the imbecile’s attempts at rooftop cookery lead to aviation disasters, projectile peril, standoffs on staircases and a unique form of petty theft…

Rallying and racing capture his mayfly attention-span, but a hunt for a new vehicle never succeeds and Gomer always returns to his appallingly decrepit and dilapidated Fiat 509 auto(barely)mobile, but the fool is set in his ways and even doctors can’t fix or remove him…

However, somebody rational really should have foreseen what the slacker was capable of when he brought in a chemistry set…

Far better enjoyed than précised or described, these strips allowed Franquin and fellow scenarists Yvan Delporte and Jidéhem (in reality, Jean De Mesmaeker: his analogue is a regular in the strips as an explosively irate and unfortunate foil for the Goof) to flex their whimsical muscles and even subversively sneak in some satirical support for their beliefs in pacifism and environmentalism, but at their core the gags remain supreme examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with every re-reading.

What’s stopping you from Goofing off?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Der Struwwelmaakies


By Tony Millionaire and guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1560976547 (HB)

As a career and lifestyle, cartooning has far more than its share of individuals with a unique view of and response to the world. Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Gary Larson, Steve Bell, Richard Thompson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s the power to create entire sculptured worlds, coupled with the constant catharsis of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw – or maybe it’s simply the crucible of constant deadlines that makes their efforts so addictive and effective.

Der Struwwelmaakies is the fourth collection (featuring material from 2003-2004 and available in both landscape hardback and digital formats) of the magnificent Tony Millionaire’s impossibly addictive and distressingly wonderful weekly newspaper strip which ran in America and selected international venues from February 1994 to December 2016. Client papers included The New York Press, and the feature was widely syndicated in US alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and The Stranger, and comics magazines such as Linus and Rocky. There was even an animated series on Time-Warner’s Adult Swim strand.

It’s clear that Time never withered his infinitely grotesque variety and perspectives one little bit. It seems he was always Like That

The man loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, timeless children’s book illustration, Moby Dick and nautical adventure novels as well as an eclectic mix of pioneering comics draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman. The result of seamlessly blending their styles and sensibilities with European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the storytelling picture racket is a uniquely bracing cartoon experience…

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences.

With a variety of graphical strings to his bow – such as his own coterie of books for children (including the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series) – animations and his legendary Sock Monkey stories – Mr. Millionaire folded his strip when he felt that there were no longer enough newspaper and magazines to support it, but in its heyday Maakies was a deliciously deeply disturbing weekly treat detailing the riotously vulgar, violent, scatalogical and absurdly surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow macro-alcoholic and nautical mis-adventurer Drinky Crow.

They are abetted but never aided by a peculiarly twisted, off-kilter cast of reprobates, antagonists and confrontational well-wishers, such as Drunken Cop, old Wachtel, The Captain’s Daughter and avian Aunt Phoebe whilst constantly opposed by a nefarious French crocodile dubbed The Frenchman. Or not. It depends…

Also on hand and all at sea are a legion of monsters, devils and horrible hangers-on…

In the grand tradition of the earliest US newspaper cartoon features, each episode comes with a linked mini-feature running across the foot of the strip – although often that link is quite hard to ascertain.

Notionally based in a nautical setting of rip-roaring 19th century sea-faring situations, replete with maritime perils and stunning vistas, the dark-and-bitter comical instalments vary from staggeringly rude and crude through absolutely hysterical to conceptually impenetrable, with content and gags utterly unfettered by the bounds of taste or any acquiescence to wholesome fun-squelching decency.

Millionaire cheekily promoted his other creative endeavours in his Maakies pages, digressed into autobiography and personal rants, brought in selected guest creators to mess with his toys and invited the readership to contribute ideas, pictures and objects of communal interest to the mix – especially any tattoos his dedicated readership could be bothered to despatch…

This penetratingly incisive, witty and often poignant cartoon arena was his personal playground and if you didn’t like it, you should leave… but quietly please, ‘cause there’s a hangover going on here most days…

Continuity plays second fiddle to an avalanche of inventive ideas and outré action, so the strips can be read in almost any order, and the debauched drunkenness, manic ultra-violence (in the manner of the best Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy cartoons), acerbic view of sexuality and deep core of existentialist angst still finds a welcome with Slackers, Laggards, the un-Christian and all those scurrilous, lost Generations after X, as well as everyone addicted to bad taste tomfoolery.

This sizzling sampler provides – in indisputable monochrome – still more of the wonderful same with such spit-take, eye-watering, drink-coming-out-of-your-nose moments as how to sabotage and scupper circumcisions with Faux-Skin™, Zen Master’s Secret to Life, the danger of widdling in rivers during thunderstorms, Maakies Foto Funnies, The Amazing Spider-Fly, Albert Einstone, the Neanderthal Genius and numerous other reasons to welcome the inescapable alcoholocaust to come…

Guest artists this time around include Rick Detorie, Phoebe, Jim Campbell and Kaz and all the timeless themes Millionaire specialises in are on show: mandatory variations of sordid sexual encounters, ghastly interspecies progeny, assorted single entendres, bodily function lectures and misfires and gory death-scenes share space with some of literature’s greatest poets and sots – who never knew what hit them. There’s even room for a wealth of anti-war commentary from the early days of America’s 21st century Middle East misadventures…

If you’re not easily upset this is a spectacularly funny and rewarding strip, one of the most consistently creative and entertaining in existence, so if you can thrive on gorge-rousing gags and mind-bending rumination this is an experience you simply cannot deny yourself.
© Tony Millionaire. All rights reserved. This edition © 2005 Fantagraphics Books.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 6: “Me Li’l Swee’ Pea”


By Elzie Crisler Segar, with Doc Winner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-483-2 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. The lad worked as a decorator and house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and, later, Buster Brown.

The celebrated cartoonist introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences.

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later known as just Ham Gravy).

In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?) which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s entire career and even surviving his untimely death, to eventually become the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf.

A born storyteller, Segar had, from the start, an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match: a brilliant ear for dialogue and accent which boomed out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre and sheer sparkle to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, lurched on stage midway through the protracted continuity ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!” and many happy returns sailor!). Once his part was played out, he simply refused to leave…

Within a year he was a regular and, as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, gradually took his place as the star. The strip title was changed to reflect the fact and most of the tired old gang – except Olive – were consigned to oblivion …

The Old Salt clearly inspired his creator. The near-decade of thrilling mystery-comedies he crafted and the madcap and/or macabre new characters with which he furiously littered the strips revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his wryly self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (375 x 268 mm) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales, and this sixth and final mammoth compendium augments the fun with another insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall exploring ‘The Continuity Style of E. C. Segar: Between “Meanwhile” & “To Be Continued” and closes with an absorbing end-piece essay describing the globalisation of the character in ‘Licensing and Merchandising Move to Center Stage of the Thimble Theatre: Popeye Fisks his way into American Culture plus a 1930 magazine feature graphically revealing the Sailor Man’s natal origins and boyhood in ‘Blow Me Down! Popeye Born at Age of 2, But Orphink from Start’ scripted by unknown King Features writers but gloriously and copiously illustrated by Segar himself.

As always, the black-&-white Daily continuities are presented separately to the full-colour Sundays, and the monochrome mirth and mayhem – covering December 14th 1936 to August 29th 1938 12th – begins with all-new adventure ‘Mystery Melody’, wherein Popeye’s shamefully disreputable dad Poopdeck Pappy is haunted and hunted by the sinister Sea Hag. Her ghastly Magic Flute is employed to irresistibly lure the old goat back into the clutches of the woman he loved and abandoned years ago…

The tension and drama mounts in second chapter ‘Tea and Hamburgers’, when the Hag approaches another old flame – J. Wellington Wimpy – and uses the reprobate’s insatiable lust (for food) to help capture Poopdeck. The plan works, but not quite as the sinister sorceress intended…

In ‘Bolo vs Everyone!’ events escalate completely beyond control as the Hag’s primordial man-monster attacks the crew and our grizzled mariner ends the fight in his own inimitable manner, whilst mystic marvel Eugene the Jeep (a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers) uses his uncanny gifts to – temporarily at least – settle the Sea Hag’s hash…

A decided change of pace began with the next storyline. ‘A Sock for Susan’s Sake’ showcases Popeye’s big heart and sentimental nature as he takes a destitute and starving waif under his wing: buying her clothes, breaking her out of jail and going on the run with her. However, his kind-hearted deeds arouse deep suspicions about his motives from friends and strangers alike…

It’s a tribute to Segar’s skills that the storyline perfectly balances social commentary and pathos with plenty of action (that sock in question is not footwear) and non-stop slapstick comedy. Their peregrinations again land Susan and the Old Salt in jail for vagrancy, but the wonderfully sympathetic and easily amused Judge Penny really makes the prosecution work hilariously hard for a conviction in ‘Order in the Court!’

Naturally, jealous Olive gets completely the wrong idea and uses the Jeep to track down her straying beau in ‘Who is That Girl?’, leading to the discovery of the ingénue’s origins and the restoration of her stolen fortune – a case calling for the return of ace detective and former strip star Castor Oyl…

The grateful child and her father burden Popeye with a huge reward, but as he has his own adequate savings at home he gives it all – with some unexpected difficulty – away to “Widdies and Orphinks”…

In the next sequence, the Sailor Man has reason to regret that generosity as, on returning to his house, he finds his hard-earned “Ten Thousing dollars” savings have been stolen…

Most annoyingly, he knows Poopdeck has taken it but the old goat won’t admit it, even though he has a new diamond engagement ring which he uses to bribe various loose young (and not so young) women into going out gallivanting with him and sowing ‘Wild Oats’

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rough, rude, crude and shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable paragon to idolise but a barely human brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority. Uneducated, opinionated, short-tempered, fickle (whenever hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or other movable bits thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society…and he wouldn’t want to be.

He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and somebody who took no guff from anyone.

As his popularity grew, he mellowed somewhat. He was still always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed. So, in 1936 Segar brought it all back again in the form of Popeye’s 99-year old unrepentantly reprobate dad…

The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line, and once the old billy goat (whose shady past possibly concealed an occasional bit of piracy) was firmly established, Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean and unfailingly funny task of civilising the geriatric sod…

They return to their odious chore here as Pappy’s wild carousing, fighting and womanising grow ever more embarrassing and lead to the cops trying – and repeatedly failing – to jail the senior seaman.

Poopdeck finally goes too far and pushes one of his fancy woman fiancées into the river. At last brought to trial, he pleads ‘Extenuvatin’ Circumsnances’

The final full Segar saga began on 15th November 1937 as ‘The Valley of the Goons (An Adventure)’ sees Popeye and Wimpy drugged and shanghaied. Even though he could fight his way back home, Popeye agrees to stay on for the voyage since he needs money to pay lawyers appealing Pappy’s prison sentence. He quickly changes tack, however, when he discovers the valuable cargo they’re hunting is Goon skins!

The Cap’n and his scurvy crew are planning to slaughter the hapless hulking exotic primitives for a few measly dollars…

After brutally driving off the murderous thugs, Popeye – and the shirking Wimpy – are marooned on the Goons’ isolated island…

The barbaric land holds a few surprises: most notably the fact that the natives are ruled over by Popeye’s dour old pal King Blozo (formerly of Nazilia) who, with his imbecilic retainer Oscar, is calling all the shots. It’s a happy coincidence, as Wimpy’s eternal hunger and relentless mooching have won him a death sentence and he’s in imminent danger of being hanged…

All this time Olive, guided by the mystical tracking gifts of the Jeep, has been sailing the seven seas in search of her man and she beaches her boat just as Popeye begins to get the situation under control. In doing so he unfairly earns the chagrin of the island’s unseen but highly voluble sea monster George

Shock follows shock as the eerie-voiced unseen creature is revealed as the horrendous Sea Hag who re-exerts her uncanny hold (some illusions but mostly the promise of unlimited hamburgers) upon Wimpy and tries to make him the ‘Bride of George’

In the middle of this tale Segar fell seriously ill with Leukaemia and his assistant Doc Winner assumed responsibility for completing the story: probably from Segar’s notes if not at his actual direction.

Although Winner’s illustrations carry ‘Valley of the Goons’ to conclusion, this tome excludes the all-Winner adventure ‘Hamburger Sharks and Sea Spinach’ before resuming with the May 23rd instalment by the apparently recovered Segar.

‘King Swee’Pea’ saw the feisty baby – who had been left with Popeye – become the focus of political drama and family tension when he was revealed to be heir to the Kingdom of Demonia

After a protracted tussle with that nation’s secret service and bombastic kingmaker F.G. Frogfuzz Esquire, the Sailor Man has himself appointed regent and chief advisor before taking most of the cast with him and relocating to the harsh land where only Ka-babages grow.

Popeye soon finds that his mischievous little charge has started to speak: increasingly crossing and contradicting his gruff guardian and others, much to the annoyance of blustering bully King Cabooso of neighbouring (rival) nation Cuspidonia

Before long, another unique crisis manifests in ‘Rise of the De-Mings’ as smugly sassy subterranean critters begin devastating the Ka-babage crop even as Swee’Pea and Caboosa escalate their war of insults…

Sadly, although coming back strongly, within three months Segar had relapsed. The adventures end here with his last strip and a précis of Winner’s eventual conclusion…

Segar passed away six weeks after his final Daily strip was published.

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume run from 20th September 1936 to October 2nd 1938, a combination of star turn and intriguing footers.

After an interlude with a new wry and charming feature – Pete and Patsy: For Kids Only – the artist settled once again upon an old favourite to back up Popeye.

The bizarrely entertaining Sappo (accompanied by scene-and show-stealing Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip returned in a blaze of imaginative wonder, as Segar also benched the cartooning tricks section which allowed him to play graphic games with his readership and again pushed the boundaries of Weird Science as the Odd Couple – and long-suffering spouse Myrtle – spent months exploring other worlds.

The assorted Saps also dabbled with robot dogs, brain-switching machines and fell embarrassingly foul of such inventions as long-distance spy-rays, anti-gravity devices, limb extending “Stretcholene”, “Speak-no-Evil” pills, Atom-Counters and the deeply disturbing trouble magnet dubbed “Dream Solidifier”, whilst Sappo’s less scientific but far more profitable gimmicks kept the cash rolling in and the arrogant Professor steaming with outrage…

Above these arcane antics Sunday’s star attraction remained fixedly exploring the comedy gold of Popeye’s interactions with Wimpy, Olive Oyl and the rest of Segar’s cast of thousands (of idiots).

The humorous antics – in sequences of one-off gag strips alternating with the occasional extended saga – saw the Sailor-Man fighting for every iota of attention whilst his mournful mooching co-star became increasingly more ingenious – not to say surreal – in his quest for free meals…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s frequent boxing matches. The scurrilous but polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to take bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘Let’s you and him fight’ – he was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show, just like anything else unless it was firmly nailed down…

There was also a long-suffering returning rival for Olive’s dubious and flighty affections: local charmer Curly

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money (for food) were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the saga of ‘The Terrible Kid Mustard’ (which ran from December 27th 1936 to February 28th 1937) and pitted the prize-fighting Sea Salt against another boxer who was as ferociously fuelled by the incredible nourishing power of Spinach…

Another extended endeavour starred the smallest addition to the cast (and eponymous star of this volume). The rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea was never an angel and when he began stealing jam and framing Eugene the Jeep (March 7th through 28th) the search for a culprit proved he was also precociously smart too.

The impossible task of civilising Poopdeck Pappy also covered many months – with no appreciable or lasting effect – and incorporated an outrageous sequence wherein the dastardly dotard become scandalously, catastrophically entangled in Popeye’s mechanical diaper-changing machine…

On June 27th Wimpy found the closest thing to true love when he met Olive’s friend Waneeta: a meek, retiring soul whose father owned 50,000 cows. His devoted and ardent pursuit filled many pages over the following months, as did the latest scheme of his arch-nemesis George W. Geezil, who bought a café/diner with the sole intention of poisoning the constantly cadging conman…

Although starring the same characters, the Sunday and Daily strips ran separate storylines, offering Segar opportunities to utilise the same good idea in different ways.

On September 19th 1937 he began a sequence wherein Swee’ Pea’s mother returned, seeking to regain custody of the boy she had given away. The resultant tug-of-love tale ran until December 5th and displayed genuine warmth and angst amidst the wealth of hilarious antics by both parties to convince the feisty “infink” to pick his preferred parent…

On January 16th 1938 Popeye was approached by scientists who had stumbled upon an incipient Martian invasion. The invaders planned to pit their monster against a typical Earthman before committing to the assault so the Boffins believed the grizzly old pug was the planet’s best bet…

Readers had no idea that the feature’s glory days were ending. Segar’s advancing illness was affecting his output – there are no pages reproduced here between February 6th and June 26th – and although when he resumed drawing the gags were funnier than ever (especially a short sequence where Pappy shaves his beard and dyes his hair so he could impersonate Popeye and woo Olive), the long lead-in time necessary to create Sundays only left him time to finish 15 more pages.

The last Segar signed strip was published on October 2nd 1938. He died eleven days later.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t go away But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

Popeye and the bizarre, surreally quotidian cast that welcomed and grew up around him are true icons of international popular culture who have grown far beyond their newspaper strip origins. Nevertheless, in one very true sense, with this marvellous yet painfully tragic final volume, the most creative period in the saga of the true and only Sailor Man closes.

His last strips were often augmented or even fully ghosted by Doc Winner, but the intent is generally untrammelled, leaving an unparalleled testament to Segar’s incontestable timeless, manic brilliance for us all to enjoy over and over again.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. There was only ever one by Elzie Segar – and don’t you think it’s time you sampled the original and very best?
© 2012 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud and the Day of Misrule (volume 3)


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3 (PB album)

In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Death has barely slowed him down and he still is.

Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul. In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when he teamed with the superb Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was prototypical villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little scrote’s only successful scheme…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, the feature jumped ship to Pilote: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly hogged the limelight.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The revamped series started in Pilote in 1968, rapidly becoming a huge success, with 30 albums so far, a TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than compilations of short punchy stories which typified their collaborations.

This third translated album – also available in digital formats) was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and offers the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20-page epic, disclosing the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a city festival dictates that for one day masters and servants swap roles.

All Iznogoud has to do is ensure that the Caliph isn’t around to reclaim his position at the end of the day: What could be simpler?

This is followed by a delightful 8-page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his sublime simpleton superior in a duel… with the usual insane outcome.

Thereafter, ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators’ solid grasp of classic slapstick as an undefeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, before the book concludes with a sharp political spoof that also takes a good-natured poke at unions.

In ‘Elections in the Caliphate’ we discover that only the Caliph can vote; but when Iznogoud gets the notion that he can get a fakir or magician to make Haroun Al Plassid vote for absolutely anybody and not just himself as usual, it opens a truly chaotic can of worms – which is quite handy, since on polling day most of Baghdad traditionally goes fishing…

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on multiple levels. Much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and similarly translated on these pages by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue – for younger readers Iznogoud is a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a well-deserved cropper, but hides its credentials as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads,

Here the translators’ famed skills recall the best – and least salacious – bits of the legendary Carry On films as well as some peculiarly Tommy Cooper-ish surreal, absurdity…

Snappy, fast-paced hijinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) patter abound in this mirthfully infectious series: a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Asterix Omnibus Volume 8 Asterix and the Great Crossing; Obelix and Co.; Asterix in Belgium


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-837-1 (HB) 978-1-44400-838-8 (TPB)

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with a dozen animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…); all stemming from his gloriously absurd exploits.

More than 325 million copies of unforgettable Asterix books have sold worldwide (not counting the five non-canonical tomes most fans also own), making his joint originators France’s best-selling international authors. There is even the tantalising yet frightening promise of a new – 38th – volume sometime this year by follow-up creative team Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

The diminutive, doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride was created by two of the industry’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, as a weekly strip in Pilote, swiftly becoming a national success and symbol. Although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment continued until 2010 from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

After nearly 15 years as a comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s countless aficionados…

The comics magic operates on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (pour moi, though, a perfectly produced physically poetic “Paf!” to the phizzog is as welcome and wondrous as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipes…)

More than half of the canon occurs on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where, circa 50 B.C., a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land had been divided by the conquerors into the provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last-cited just refused to be pacified…

The remaining epics take place in various legendary locales throughout the Ancient World, as the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visited all the fantastic lands and corners of civilisations of the era…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

La Grande Traversée was the 22nd saga and second original book release in France, premiering in 1975, with a British hardcover edition – Asterix and the Great Crossing – launching here the following year.

It begins with another typical village kerfuffle as to the true and relative vintage of Unhygienix the fishmonger’s wares before descending into the standard-issue, boisterous, all-comers-welcome brawl.

However, the situation is rather more serious this time as Druid Getafix needs really fresh fish for the magic potion that keeps them all free of Rome…

A merchant but not a fisherman, Unhygienix refuses to catch his own stock so Asterix and Obelix eventually volunteer to take to sea in old Geriatrix’s dilapidated skiff to replenish the wizard’s stores, even though a big storm is brewing. Sadly, our heroes aren’t fishermen either, and after losing the nets the neophyte seamen are blown far from home…

Lost at sea and starving, they encounter their old pals the Pirates, but Obelix eats all their provisions in one go and soon the mismatched mariners – and faithful mutt Dogmatix – are in even direr straits as another storm blows them ever further westward.

Just as death seems inevitable, the Gauls wash up on an island of the Empire they have never seen before. In this strange outpost the Romans have red skins, paint their faces and wear feathers in their hair. Most terrifyingly, there are no wild boar to eat, only big ugly birds that go “gobble, gobble”…

After the usual two-fisted diplomacy with the “Iberians, or perhaps Thracians?”, Asterix and Obelix settle down comfortably enough, but the situation changes when the chief decides the big paleface is going to marry his daughter. Desperately, the Gauls steal a canoe one night and strike out across the Big Water towards home but only get as far as a little islet where they’re picked up by Viking explorers Herendethelessen, Steptøånssen, Nøgøødreåssen, Håråldwilssen and their valiant Great Dane Huntingseåssen, who are all jointly looking for unmapped continents…

Convinced their odd discoveries are natives of this strange New World, the Danes try to entice the oddly eager indigenes to come home with them as proof of Herendethelessen’s incredible discovery. Braving icy Atlantic seas, the dragon ship is soon back in cold, mist-enshrouded Scandinavia where gruff, dismissive Chief Ødiuscomparissen is suitably amazed and astounded…

However, when Gaulish slave Catastrofix reveals they are from his European homeland, tempers get a bit heated and another big fight breaks out…

Taking advantage of the commotion, Asterix, Obelix and Catastrofix – an actual fisherman by trade – steal a boat and head at last for home, picking up some piscine presents for Getafix en route…

This is a wittily arch but delightfully straightforward yarn, big on action and thrills, packed with knowing in-jokes and sly references to other French Western strips such as Lucky Luke and Ompa-pa (Oumpah-pah in French) as well as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and ultimately formed the basis of the animated feature film Asterix Conquers America.

Strong, stinging satire was the foundation of the next saga. Obélix et Compagnie debuted in 1976 with English-language hardcover Obelix and Co. launching in 1978: once again dealing with frustration-wracked Julius Caesar’s attempting to end the aggravating resistance of the indomitable Gauls.

To that effect the most powerful man in the world dispatches a bold, brash go-getter from the Latin School of Economics to destroy their unity forever. Financial whiz-kid Preposterus has a plan that simply can’t fail and will incidentally pay huge dividends to the Empire.

Meanwhile, the replacing of the Totorum Garrison with fresh troops has allowed the Gauls to give Obelix a truly inspired birthday gift. After beating up the entire contingent on his own and without having to share the soldiers, the delighted big man goes back to carving and delivering Menhirs before meeting a strange young Roman.

Preposterus – a cruelly effective caricature of France’s then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac – intends to destroy the villagers by making them as greedy, lazy and corrupt as any Roman Patrician, all through the introduction of Capitalism and Market Forces…

To that end he pretends to be a Menhir buyer, willing to pay any amount for the giant stone obelisks (which have no appreciable use or worth and were normally swapped for small treats or favours), telling the big gullible oaf that money makes men important and powerful.

Without really understanding, easygoing Obelix begins accepting ever-larger sums for each standing stone, forcing himself to work harder and never stop. He doesn’t know what to do with the money but is caught up in an ever-hastening spiral of production.

Too busy to have fun hunting wild boars or play with Dogmatix, he begins hiring his equally gullible friends and neighbours: first to hunt for him and later to help sculpt Menhirs. All does is work and spend his growing mountain of cash on increasingly daft fancy clothes as he drives himself to miserable exhaustion.

Before long most of the village is caught in the escalating economic bubble, all except wily Asterix, who attempts to bring his old pal to his senses by suggesting to his friends that they set up as rival Menhir manufacturers. The little man is inadvertently helped in this by the status-obsessed village wives who push their men to become as “successful and influential” as the fat oaf…

In Totorum, the megaliths are beginning to pile up as Preposterus proceeds to exhaust all Rome’s funds purchasing Menhirs. Centurion Ignoramus is ecstatic that the plan to destroy the Gauls through cutthroat competition is working, but wants the growing mountain of shaped stones out of his camp, so Preposterous has them shipped back to Rome and starts selling them to rich trendies as indispensable fashion accessories.

The whiz-kid has nearly emptied Caesar’s coffers but his swish and intensive advertising campaign looks sets to recoup the losses with a folk-art sales boom… until sleazy Italian entrepreneur Meretricius starts selling cut-rate Rome-manufactured Menhirs and the Boom leads to a ruthless price war and inevitable Bust which almost topples the Empire…

Meanwhile, success has not made Obelix happy and he’s thinking of quitting, just as the desperate Preposterous returns and inconsiderately, immediately stops buying Menhirs. Of course, being simple peasants the Gauls don’t understand supply and demand or the finer principles of a free market: they’re just really annoyed and frustrated.

Luckily there’s lots of Romans around to help deal with their pent-up tensions…

Soon the air is cleared and the villagers have returned to their old-fashioned ways so Asterix and Getafix can laugh at news of a financial crisis wracking Rome…

This hilarious and telling parody and unashamed anti-Capitalist tract shows Goscinny & Uderzo at their absolute, satirical best, riffing on modern ideologies and dogmas whilst spoofing and lampooning the habits and tactics of greedy bosses and intransigent workers alike. Many politicians and economists have cited this tale – which is as always, stuffed with cameos and in-joke guest shots. I’m reliably informed that the beautiful page 36, which featured Preposterus explaining his ad campaign, was also the 1000th page of Asterix since his debut in 1959.

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner. Such was certainly the case with Astérix chez les Belges, the 24th adventure and Goscinny’s last. The indefatigable writer passed away in 1977 halfway through the book’s completion. You can even commemorate the tragic event as just as Uderzo did, by drawing sullen, stormy skies for the rest of the tale he was completing: marking the moment, and incorporating one last wry shared dig at Belgian weather…

The story is a grand old romp of friendly rivalries – released in Britain in 1980 as Asterix in Belgium – and begins when a relief troop takes over the garrison of Laudanum. These soldiers are delighted to be in Amorica, because it means they are no longer fighting the Belgians. Those barbarians are even worse than the indomitable villagers in Amorica. Caesar himself has called them “the bravest of all the Gaulish Peoples”…

Perplexed by the laid-back attitude of the new occupiers, who consider their new posting a “rest cure”, Asterix and Obelix question one of the replacement Romans. They report his unbelievable news to Vitalstatistix, who is beside himself with indignation. Most of the others don’t really care, but when the furious Chief storms off for the border to see for himself, the old pals follow to keep him out of trouble…

Soon they have crossed the border and encounter the fabled warriors, led by their chiefs Beefix and Brawnix. They are indeed mighty fighters but awfully arrogant too, and soon Vitalstatistix has become so incensed with their boasting that he proposes a competition to see who can bash the most Romans and prove just who are the Bravest Gauls.

Obelix doesn’t mind: the Belgians are just like him. The only thing they like more than hitting Romans is eating and they seem to do the latter all day long…

Before long, however, there are no more Roman forts in the vicinity and the matter of honour is still unsettled. What they need is an unbiased umpire to judge who is the greatest and – fortuitously – Julius Caesar, moved to action by the terrible news from Belgium and rumours that the Amoricans (three of them at least) are also rising in revolt, has rushed to the frontier with the massed armies of the Empire…

Against such a force the squabbling cousins can only unite to force Caesar to admit who’s best…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing over cherished perceived national characteristics and celebrating the spectacular illustrative ability of Uderzo, this raucous, bombastic, bellicose delight delivers splendid hi-jinks and fast-paced action, and is perhaps the most jolly and accessible of these magical all-ages entertainments: a fitting tribute to the mastery of Goscinny and Uderzo.
© 1975-1979 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2005 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke Volume 2: Ghost Town


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-12-0 (PB Album)

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and long-running comics characters being in any way controversial, but when the changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie). This began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own periodical magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus many spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization. For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on the interior pages…

The Kent-based Euro-publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 74 translated books and still going strong…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky, to misappropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones “in all that time he never shot or killed anyone”…

Originally collected in 1965 as La Ville fantôme, the 25th adventure and Goscinny’s 16th collaboration with Morris is available in English as an oversized paperback – and digitally too as Ghost Town: the second of the Cinebook series.

It all begins as Luke rides the range and encounters tarred-and-feathered gamblers Denver Miles and Colorado Bill. Despite instantly assessing their scurrilous natures – and naturally they subsequently try to rob him – Lucky gives them assistance and a ride to the nearest outpost of civilisation.

That happens to be the deserted mining town of Gold Hill where they encounter embittered aged miner Old Powell who chases them off at gunpoint.

A little further on they reach Bingo Creek and discover the mad old coot was once the victim of a gold-salting scheme (hiding gold on worthless land and getting a sucker to buy it) but stubbornly refused to quit, convinced that somewhere in his mountain the motherlode still lies hidden…

Denver and Colorado are incorrigible crooks and after Lucky exposes their fleecing of the townsfolk the bent gamblers try to backshoot him, only to fall foul of Powell’s skill with a rifle…

Eternally grateful, Lucky determines to befriend and assist the irascible old coot, despite all his surly protests, whilst Denver and Colorado sketch out the perfect revenge by attempting to steal his mine to re-salt and sell on to some other sucker…

To this end they try to buy up the claim, have Old Powell hanged for witchcraft, frame him for cattle-rustling and even plant the stolen cash-register from the saloon in his mine. The scoundrels haven’t reckoned on the ingenuity of Lucky Luke, however…

Against the masterful wits and wicked wits of our indomitable hero the gamblers are ultimately helpless in this splendidly intoxicating blend of all-ages action, slapstick and wry cynical humour.

Although the dialogue is perhaps a bit dry in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Paint Your Wagon,Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers and offering a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the mythical Wild West.

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll want more to binge on loads more Lucky Luke…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2006 Cinebook Ltd.

Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944: “He Nods in Quiescent Siesta”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-932-6 (TPB)

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation: a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive archival Fantagraphics tomes, is a creation which must always be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst delineating the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It certainly went over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – by sheer dint of the overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice joe public and the general populace.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s unshakable patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unhampered by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944.

This final collection covers the final days of the feature as Herriman succumbed slowly and painfully to cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing the standard policy of finding a substitute to carry on the strip, Hearst decreed that Krazy Kat would die with its creator and sole ambassador.

It was no real sacrifice to profit, but the culmination to years of grand tribute to unique mastery. The strip had declined in syndication for years. By the 1930s it was featured in only 35 papers, but despite that the publisher – acting more as renaissance-era artistic patron than hard-bitten businessman – refused Herriman’s every earnest request that his salary be reduced to fit his dwindling circulation. In 1935 Hearst responded to the requests by promoting the feature to the full-page, full-colour glory it enjoyed until the end.

The epic’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten apparently always misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

By the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse still spends most of his time, energy and ingenuity in launching missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen. However, in these concluding episodes even that fiery warped passion has somewhat cooled: often attempted in perfunctory manner and frequently resulting in failure: just like any loving couple in their twilight years together…

The final critical element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: utterly besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating an ever-mutable stage are a big supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and snoopy sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“goldin moom bims” or “there is a heppy lend, furfur away…”).

Yet for all our high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, outrageously hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This bittersweet final chapter covers all the strips from 1943 to the middle of 1944 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a suitably serene digital edition.

With far fewer strips to catalogue, this edition is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: plenty of candid photos, personal correspondence, vast stores of original strip art and many astounding examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), as well as a section on the rare merchandising tie-ins and unofficial bootleg items.

Tribute, commentary and analysis is provided by Bill Blackbeard’s final Introduction ‘The Tragedy of a Man with an Absent Mind’ and Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand’s heavily-illustrated essay ‘Herriman’s Last Days (or, All Kats are Gray in the Dark)’ offering superb analysis of the unique talent celebrated herein. This inevitably leads to those superb cartoons, resuming with January 3rd 1943 and a tumultuous exchanging of gifts between cast regulars…

Due to the author’s declining health and perhaps the several personal tragedies that afflicted him in later life, the story atmosphere is mostly ruminatory and philosophical. It is also tinged with topical anxieties as World War II touches even the distant hills and mesas of Coconino. The trials of torrid triangular romance still play out as painfully and hilariously ever, but are balanced by more considered gags. Oblique references to the real world abound: a tortoise named Tank shambles about, Krazy is castigated for growing pretty flowers in the Victory Garden, and Ignatz is perforce compelled to handle bricks on a rationed, time-shared basis…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen still abound, but pell-mell action, devious schemes and frantic chase gradually give way to comfortable chats and the occasional debate before inevitably concluding at the jail house…

Ignatz endures regular incarcerations and numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions, whereas the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many regular characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of drive, often reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many strips.

Pupp suffers with his age, repeatedly trying labour-saving new policing appliances such as electrically booby-trapped or glue-drenched bricks and termites trained to chew on fired clay, and as a steady stream of displaced royals from conquered lands set up in the desert paradise and the phenomenon of zoot-suiters manifests, the forces of law and order seem harder-pressed every day.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk further expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; confirming her status as a leading player. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, and whilst laconic vagabonds such as Bum Bill Bee continue their scams and schemes, the primary cast-members seem inclined to sit back and let them all get on with it……

Welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous or inspiration or simple aesthetic gratification, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity. As arthritis, increasing migraines and age took some of the artist’s physical dexterity, it seemed to liberate his eyes and compositional sensibilities. The later strips are astounding sleek graphic exemplars of cunning design and hue on which the regulars play out their final lines…

The wonderment concludes with ore unearthed artistic treasures and one last instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.

© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 5: Wha’s a Jeep?


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-404-7 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a handyman and Elzie’s early life was filled with the types of solid, earnest blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. The younger Segar worked as a decorator and house-painter and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house, he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others of that “can-do” era, Segar studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The senior artist introduced him around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916. In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop. Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to the Manhattan headquarters of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. In its earliest incarnation the strip was a pastiche/knock off of Movie features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory cast to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for huge daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average melodrama adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the introduction of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through nautical adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his very minor part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually, the strip title was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to near-oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of thrilling mystery-comedies which followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (almost 260 mm by 372mm) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. Over and above the increasingly incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips, this vibrantly enticing fifth volume also contains an insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall – ‘Character and Personality in Thimble Theatre’ – a captivating article of the period (‘Segar’s Hobbies Put Punch in Popeye Comics’) reprinted from Modern Mechanix and Inventions, plus a fascinating end-piece covering assorted original art teasers editors used to promote upcoming tales in the magical days before television or viral ad campaigns.

The monochrome Monday to Saturday section opens this volume, (covering July 25th 1935-December 12th 1936), encompassing one-and-a-half major storylines, and begins with the eagerly-anticipated conclusion of ‘Popeye’s Ark’, wherein our bold sailor-man carries out an ambitious plan to set up his own country of Spinichovia. The incredible scheme is funded by misogynist millionaire Mr. Sphink who insists that the new country be absolutely without women, and Popeye goes along with it, recruiting a host of disaffected guys looking for a fresh start…

Soon however, the thousands of able-bodied men populating the country are starving for any kind of female companionship: – even Olive Oyl, currently exiled on an island of her own. Things get very strange when the lonely Spinichovians discover a tribe of mermaids frolicking off the coast, but romance is soon forgotten when Brutian despot King Zlobbo decides the new nation must be his in ‘War Clouds’.

To scout out potential opposition, Zlobbo dispatches enticing spy Miss Zexa Peal, but as the most beautiful woman in the country – and comprising 50% of Spinichova’s female population – she isn’t exactly inconspicuous…

When war breaks out, it results in Popeye’s greatest victory – with just a little excessively violent help from feisty “infink” baby Swee’ Pea

By the conclusion of that epic tale all the players have returned to America, just in time for the introduction of the star of this tome.

‘Eugene the Jeep’ debuted on March 20th 1936: a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers that Olive and Wimpy use to get very rich, very quickly, only to lose it all betting on the wrong guy in another of Segar’s classic and hilarious set-piece boxing matches between Popeye and yet another barely-human pugilist…

These tales come from an astonishingly fertile period for the strip’s long history. On August 4th, Eugene was instrumental in kicking off another groundbreaking and memorable sequence as the entire ensemble cast took off on as haunted ship to undertake ‘The Search for Popeye’s Papa’.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable icon to idolise. A brute who thinks with his fists and doesn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society… and he wouldn’t want to be.

Popeye was the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not. He was a joker who wants kids to be themselves, but not necessarily “good”, and a man who takes no guff from anyone.

Of course, as his popularity grew, he somewhat mellowed. He was always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed by 1936 – so Segar brought it back again…

This memorably riotous tale introduced ancient, antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy and his diminutive hairy sidekick Pooky Jones during another fabulous voyage of discovery. The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line…

Once that old goat was firmly established, Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean task of ‘Civilizing Poppa’ which is where the monochrome adventures here conclude…

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume span April 4th 1935 to September 13th 1936, and see the bizarrely entertaining Sappo (and mad scientist lodger Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip gradually diminish to allow the Popeye feature even more room to excel and amaze.

Eventually Sappo became a cartooning tricks section allowing Segar to play graphic games with his readership. Popeye’s Cartoon Club also disappeared, as the focus inexorably shifted to Popeye and Co. in alternating one-off gag strips and extended sagas. However, the Sailor-Man had to fight for space with his mooching co-star J. Wellington Wimpy

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive Oyl with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

The engaging Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman was first seen on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s regular boxing matches. The scurrilous but ever-so-polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Eternally hungry, always eager to take a bribe and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “let’s you and him fight”, Wimpy was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and often stole the entire show.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money for food were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the cast’s gold-prospecting venture to the inhospitable western desert of ‘Slither Creek’ (April 14th – August 25th 1935) and a sequel sequence wherein the temporarily wealthy but eternally starving Wimpy buys his own diner – the ultimate expression of blind optimism and sheer folly…

The uniquely sentimental monster Alice the Goon returned to the strip on February 23rd 1936, permanently switching allegiance and becoming nanny to rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea. She was a cast regular by the end of April.

August 9th saw Eugene the Jeep make his Sunday debut, and a few demonstrations of the fanciful beast’s incredible powers to make money and cause chaos fill out this fifth fantastic tome…

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. Don’t you think it’s about time you sampled the original and very best?
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 7: Asterix and the Soothsayer; Asterix in Corsica; Asterix and Caesar’s Gift


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-835-7 (HB), 978-1-44400-836-4 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of Asterix’s many albums have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The truculent Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Le Devin was the 19th serialised epic, originally running in Pilote #652-673 throughout 1972, first translated into English album Asterix and the Soothsayer in 1975, and begins ominously whilst the village’s venerable mystic protector Getafix is away at his annual Druiding conference.

During a torrential storm, a nefarious soothsayer named Prolix turns up seeking shelter. His dark predictions instantly spread disharmony amongst the hospitable, hot-headed, painfully superstitious and credulous Gaulish stalwarts… except for level-headed, canny little Asterix.

As Prolix leaves, Chief’s wife Impedimenta sneaks after him, keen on a personal prediction, and the crafty charlatan soon discovers he’s on to a good thing and profitably cushy number…

Before long the entire village is under the soothsayer’s grimy thumb, but when he vanishes the ladies of the village accuse Asterix of driving him away.

In actuality, the unsavoury sage has been arrested by the Romans who have standing orders to deal harshly with all non-Roman prognosticators and troublemakers. Wily Prolix barters for his life with Centurion Arteriosclerosus, who sees a way to end his Indomitable Gaul problem by using the obviously fraudulent fortune-teller as a wedge to drive out the obstreperous resistors. Prolix returns to the village uttering a doom-laden pronouncement: the place has been cursed by the Gods and a pestilential stench will precede plague. Inevitable death will be their fate if they remain…

Panicked, the gullible Gauls head for the beach and take refuge on an off-shore island – all that is, except for Asterix, Obelix and chivalrous canine companion Dogmatix

With the Romans at last in possession of the village – and all Gaul finally conquered – the bold last rebels make their plans until Getafix returns. On his arrival the three men and a dog embark on an elaborate scheme to take back their home and teach their foolish fellows a much-needed lesson.

Concocting a stunningly malodorous vapour which drives the occupiers from the village, the druid convinces the Romans that Prolix is a real soothsayer and ambitious Arteriosclerosus sees a chance to become the next Caesar. Increasingly baffled, conman Prolix begins to believe his predictions are real…

After dressing down the refugee Gauls, Getafix leads them back to their beloved homes where the incensed and wiser villagers top up on magic potion before rushing off to teach the invaders – and Prolix – a much needed lesson. On this occasion, Impedimenta and the village women accompany their men, determined to expiate their embarrassing gullibility with a little cathartic violence of their own…

This delightfully arch and acerbic attack on gullibility and superstition is a splendid and long-overdue chance to see the minor characters play to their strengths and weaknesses, with Asterix and Obelix almost relegated to walk-on parts…

First translated two years earlier in England but chronologically following on from The Soothsayer in the original French serialisations, Astérix en Corse (Pilote #687-708, in 1973) was the 20th adventure and the best-selling French-language album of the series.

Another globe-trotting yarn, it begins with the Romans of the four occupying garrisons “deploying for manoeuvres” to avoid having to deal with Gauls’ painfully exuberant celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia. Unfortunately for Centurion Hippotamus and his men, they are delayed by the arrival of a party from Praetor Perfidius, Governor of Corsica, escorting a dangerous prisoner into exile. They are all still in Totorum when the high-spirited villagers (and many guest-star friends from previous tales) arrive, keen for a punch-up and a little annoyed that all the other Roman camps are deserted…

When the dust settles and the groans of pain subside, Asterix discovers and liberates the prisoner Boneywasawarriorwayayix and invites him back to the village for a slap-up feed. Over boar and beer, the Gauls hear how Perfidius had the popular Corsican leader exiled to prevent him revealing how the Praetor has been over-taxing the people and embezzling the gold for himself instead of sending it to Caesar in Rome.

Corsica is officially the most troublesome spot in the Empire and the exile is determined to return and expose the hated Governor, so proud, haughty Boneywasawarriorwayayix is delighted when Asterix and Obelix – with faithful canine companion Dogmatix – determine to help him sneak back to his fiercely over-fortified and contained island (most volumes of this album have a map of Corsica instead of the traditional Gaulish village, and the tiny nation contains four towns and forty-six Roman camps)…

Hilariously obtaining passage on the pirate ship of Redbeard, the voyagers soon find themselves on the island – but by no means unnoticed…

Soon the dissolute and lazy soldiery are hunting the heroes as they make their way inland to the exile’s home village to rally the populace, whilst in the city of Aleria Perfidius reckons the jig is up and prepares to flee with his ill-gotten gains…

Attempting to rally the natives, Boneywasawarriorwayayix comes up against the age-old dilemma: most Corsicans are involved in centuries-long vendettas and would much rather fight each other – at least when they’re not taking a siesta – than unite to attack the invaders. However, eventually – and almost too late – a determined band of warriors march on Aleria. Perfidius has been secretly loading his loot onto a ship, but when his soldiers discover the riches, they realise their leader is planning to abandon them to the fiercely furious Corsicans – at least if overtaxed diplomatic Asterix can keep the natives from killing each other first…

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner.

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured trans-national teasing of perceived (and generally treasured) national characteristics; celebrating the terrifying power of Corsican cheeses and liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

In 1974 Le Cadeau de César was the first tale to be published as a complete album prior to being serialised, with British translation Asterix and Caesar’s Gift appearing in 1977. The saga begins in Rome where two 20-year veteran legionaries drunkenly celebrate being honourably discharged. Tremensdelirious and Egganlettus eagerly look forward to being given their service reward: a parcel of land each.

Unfortunately, Tremensdelirious is overheard disparaging Caesar, but the sardonically cruel Emperor does not punish the old soldier or even withhold his pension. In fact, he gives the veteran a lovely portion of the Gaulish coast in Armorica: all he has to do is shift a few recalcitrant Gauls from their village on his new small holding…

A drunk but not a fool, the old soldier knows his fate is sealed and soon trades his dispensation to Lutetian inn-keeper Orthopaedix to settle his outstanding and prodigious bar-bill…

The first that the Indomitable Gauls know of this is when Orthopaedix, wife Angina and daughter Influenza roll up in their cart and try to take possession. After some hilarity the villagers go back about their business and the inn-keeper is left to suffer the fury of his wife at the uprooting of the family to a barbaric hovel where nobody acknowledges their claim.

No stranger to such a tongue-lashing, Chief Vitalstatistix takes pity on Orthopaedix, offering to let them stay and open an inn in the hamlet, but the standoffish villagers are angered by Angina’s superior airs and a riot breaks out on opening night…

The world-weary publican is ready to quit, but now humiliated Angina is in a status duel with Impedimenta and, determined to stay, forces Orthopaedix to challenge Vitalstatistix for the post of village Chief. As the campaign to win the support of the always-argumentative villagers intensifies, all manner of shoddy tactics, dubious lobbying and outright bribery takes place, with each party frantically trying to curry political favour from the fickle but extremely astute potential voters who know the value of their own support…

Meanwhile, simple, gentle, oafish Obelix has fallen under the spell of the lovely Influenza, and she leads him on cruelly to help out her mother’s naked ambition, leading to a clash with his best friend. Only Asterix seems aware that the discord could well be the death of the village and lead to Caesar’s ultimate triumph and before long the waters are further muddied when elderly Lothario Geriatrix declares himself a third party, splitting the potential vote even further.

The political crisis reaches boiling point when Tremensdelirious turns up, demanding his land-grant back: after all it’s illegal to sell them to Gauls, and Orthopaedix has no say in the matter…

When the ex-legionary turns violent, Asterix steps in to save the day and the old sot is driven off at sword-point. He doesn’t go far – only to the garrison of Laudanum where old comrade Egganlettus has re-enlisted – and together they blackmail Centurion Tonsillitus into attacking the Gauls to uphold Roman law and get back that “official” pension land which is every soldier’s right…

That kind of military intervention usually ends disastrously, but this time the village is hopelessly divided by political intrigue and backstabbing and even Asterix cannot unite them against their real and common foe. It seems that the Gauls must lose everything until Orthopaedix makes a supreme sacrifice to save the day…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this outrageous political thriller and satire on modern electioneering is as pertinent and punchy as it ever was, proving once again that these Gallic graphic masterpieces are perfect comics which everyone should read over and over again.
© 1972-1974 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.