Archie’s Weird Mysteries


By Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-74-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Seasonal Fear Fest… 8/10

MLJ were a publisher who promptly jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. They began their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders in November 1939, starting with Blue Ribbon Comics, and followed up by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were gradually nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

In six pages, eponymously entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story, as did the scenic small-town utopia Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

At the end of the last century, one of those fads was for savvy band of teens to fight Vampires and Demons in a small town…

It led to Archie’s Weird Mysteries: a French/American animated TV co-production with the regular cast encountering all manner of bizarre phenomena, creatures and situations after Archie starts writing a school newspaper column on mysteries and cryptozoology.

That small screen enterprise led to a comic book iteration mostly created by Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski – backed up by letterer Vickie Williams and colourists Rick Taylor Stephanie Vozzo – with parody and contemporary satire leading the thematic charge …although the company also used the broad church the series presented to reintroduce a number of those early MLJ super-doers; sadly, not included in this all-strange phenomena compilation…

In this splendidly entertaining paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into terror territory as Archie’s Weird Mysteries #2 (March 2000) reveals how the gang are targeted by a spooky movie monster in ‘Shriek’.

The deft – and suitably daft in appropriate places – spoof of film franchise Scream is followed here by a delightful and arch tribute to the incomparable Scooby-Doo phenomenon as ‘A Familiar Old Haunt’ (#6 July) sees Archie signing up for “Bo and Gus’s Paranormal Investigation Camp” with Jughead, Betty and Veronica joining him in a borrowed panel van. Even Jughead’s faithful mutt Hot Dog tags along. The freak du jour is a bizarre vegetable horror, but it’s no match for a bunch of pesky kids….

Archie’s Weird Mysteries #10 (July) found a fashion for many beards and chest hair at Riverdale High. However, hirsute attractiveness and rampant testosterone can’t explain why girls and boys are all going follicle crazy until Archie uncovers a ‘Bigfoot on Campus’

At the height of competitive sports season school principal Mr. Weatherbee is kidnapped by aliens who need his (sadly non-existent) baseball expertise to beat a band of bullying space jocks in ‘U.F.O. Uh-oh!’ (#7 August) after which ‘The Scarlet Chronicles’ (AWM #10 July) introduces vampire hunter Scarlet Helsing to readers who might have missed her starring role in the TV show. As seen in the brace of cartoon episodes reprised here, the beautiful young warrior was drawn to Riverdale and allied with the town’s reclusive paranormal expert Dr. Beaumont to battle the assembling forces of darkness…

New ground is broken with issue #12 (April 2001) as ‘The Return of Scarlet’ sees the slayer suborned by a cabal of bloodsuckers and set upon Beaumont and Archie. Naturally, Betty is ready to lead the gang in their counterattack…

Complimenting the chronicles is a lighthearted cartoon ‘Guide to Fighting Vampires’ from issue #15 (September 2001) wherein Scarlet lists a number of methods for defeating the Darkness before this fun-filled fear fest concludes with behind-the-scenes text feature ‘Scarlet’s Guide to Archie’s Weird Mysteries’; interviewing Castiglia and Ruiz on their role in the TV iteration and how the comic book spun out of it.

Co-starring all the crucial supporting characters we know and love, these smartly beguiling skits are a prime example of just why Archie has been unassailable for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2011 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Melusine volume 1: Hocus Pocus & volume 2: Halloween


By Clarke (Frédéric Seron) & Gilson, coloured by Cerise and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-20-5 (PB Album Hocus Pocus) 978-1-905460-34-2 (PB Album Halloween)

Teen witches have a long and distinguished pedigree in fiction and one of the most engaging of all first appeared in venerable Belgian magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1992. Mélusine is actually a sprightly 119 years old and spends her days working as an au pair in a vast monster-packed chateau whilst studying to perfect her craft at Witches’ School…

The feature ranges from one-page gag strips on supernatural themes to short tales detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and her large circle of peculiar family and friends.

Collected editions began appearing in 1995, with the 26thEn rose et noir – published in 2018. Five of those have thus far made it into English translations thanks to the fine folk at Cinebook.

The name derives from European folklore: in olden days Melusine or Melusina was term for a flighty female spirit or elemental inhabiting a sacred spring or well…

The strip was devised by writer François Gilson (Rebecca, Cactus Club, Garage Isidore) and top flight cartoon humourist Frédéric Seron – AKA Clarke – whose numerous features for all-ages Spirou and acerbic adult humour publication Fluide Glacial include RebeccaLes Cambrioleurs, Durant les Travaux, l’Exposition Continue… and Le Miracle de la Vie.

Under the pseudonym Valda, Seron also created Les Babysitters and, as Bluttwurst, Les Enquêtes de l’Inspecteur Archibaldo Massicotti, Château Montrachet, Mister President and P.38 et Bas Nylo.

A former fashion illustrator and nephew of comics veteran Pierre Seron, Clarke is one of those insufferable guys who just draws non-stop and is sublimely funny. He also doubles up as a creator of historical and genre pieces such as Cosa Nostra, Les Histoires de France, Luna Almaden and Nocturnes and apparently is free from the curse of having to sleep…

Hocus Pocus was the 7th Mélusine album, originally released in 2000, and offers a fine place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content is 1- or 2-page gags which – like a young, hot Broom Hilda – make play with fairy tale and horror film conventions and themes.

When brittle, moody Melusine isn’t being bullied for her inept cleaning skills by the matriarchal ghost-duchess who runs the castle, or ducking cat-eating monster Winston and frisky vampire The Count, she’s avoiding the attentions of horny peasants, practising her spells or consoling dreadfully unskilled classmate Cancrelune. Her boyfriend is a werewolf, so she only sees him a couple of nights a month…

Her days of toil are occasionally spiced up with and put in perspective by sports days such as blindfolded broom-flying contests and there’s always dowager Aunt Adrezelle who is eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries…

After a splendid succession of quick-fire japes and jests, things take on a touch of continuity here and even tension when scandalous cousin Melisande pops in for an extended visit.

Spurning the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan, Melisande becomes a Fairy Godmother: all sparkles, fairy-cakes, pink bunnies and love. She’s simplicity, sweetness and light itself in every aspect, so what’s not to loathe…?

No sooner does the twinkling twit start to grow on everybody, however, than she falls victim to one of The Count’s periodic bite-fests and slowly metamorphoses into a true witches’ witch: skin-tight black leather, batwings and always ready for wicked transformations and sorcery duels at the drop of a pointed hat…

The situation comes to a head and the cauldron boils over in eponymous extra-long episode ‘Hocus Pocus’ wherein Melusine and Melisande finally face off to decide which witch is worst…

Clever, wry, sly, fast-paced and uproariously funny – whether physically printed on traditional paper or in digital incarnations – this compendium of arcane antics is a great taste of the magic of European comics and a beguiling delight for all lovers of the cartoonist’s art…

The second English-language collection happily offers more of the same. Mélusine is still a sprightly 119-year old, spending the days au pairing in a vast monster-packed, ghost-afflicted chateau whilst diligently studying to perfect her hereditary craft at Witches’ School…

The long-lived feature and attendant books have become an annual event, with a new collection every year: always offering everything from single page gag strips to full-length comedy tales on supernatural themes detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and a large circle of exceedingly peculiar family and friends.

Halloween was the 8th European Mélusine album, originally released in 2001: gathering a wealth of superb seasonally sensitive strips, and another great place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content comprises short gags starring the sassy sorceress.

Daunting dowager Aunt Adrezelle is always eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries but so, unfortunately, is family embarrassment cousin Melisande who still spurns the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan to work in Fairy Godmothering field. She’s all insufferable sparkles, bunnies, love, it’s so hard not to loathe such a delirious confection of simplicity, sweetness and light itself…

This turbulent tome riffs mercilessly on the established motifs and customs of Halloween. Here, kids fill up to lethal levels on sweets and candies, monsters strive to look their worst, teachers try to keep the witches-in-training glued to their books and grimoires. Their over-excitable students rashly experiment on what to do with pumpkins – including how to grow, breed or conjure the biggest ones – all whilst the fearfully pious local priest and his flock endeavour to ruin all the magical fun…

Even ghastly Melisande gets in on the party atmosphere – in her own too nice-to-be-true manner – illuminating the happy shadows with too much sunshine and saccharine before the collection ends with extended, eponymous ‘Halloween’ wherein Melusine and Cancrelune learn the true meaning of the portentous anniversary after they inadvertently join the creaky, clacking cadavers of the Risen Dead as they evacuate their graves on the special night to fight and drive away for another year the Evil Spirits which haunt humanity…

Read before bedtime on paper or screen – and don’t eat any hairy sweets…
Original edition © Dupuis, 2000 by Clarke & Gilson. All rights reserved. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Pirate Penguin Vs Ninja Chicken: Troublems with Frenemies


By Ray Friesen (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-071-1 (HB)

Yo Ho-Ho, me Hearties! You know what day it be? International Burble like a Buccaneer Day! Or somesuch festival at least…

Pirates have been a cornerstone of popular fiction for centuries and these days the very best of the genre can usually be found issuing from European shores. However, even these salty swabs often aren’t enough to satiate modern attention-deficient little (sea) urchins, so it’s probably best to beef up the proceedings with an equally-prolific sub-set of thrillingly iconic evil-doers from the recent past, popular mythology and the New World…

Some cartoonists and childrens’ authors like to beguile and bemuse the readership: building mesmerising plots and seducing the attentions. Others – like Ray Friesen – instead choose to hit them with a million gags a minute, getting ‘em all shook up like fizzy, sugar-saturated drinks inexorably building to a big, bombastic explosion and imagination-overload coma…

Making his name with vibrant all-ages volumes such as Lookit! A Cheese Related Mishap, Another Dirt Sandwich or Fairy Tales I Just Made Up: Snarky Bedtime Stories for Weirdo Children, self-made zany Friesen here introduces lifelong foes and best buds each dedicated to propounding their own swashbuckling action-packed philosophies and fighting styles in initial outing ‘Smoothies and Scuffling’ in which the fowl fiends can’t help but prove that they can’t get on for long…

The hunt for appropriate animal companions comes to a typical conclusion in ‘Pet Store Peer Pressure’ and gender identity is cautiously explored in ‘Sticks and Stones and Sugar and Spice’ before ‘Shiny Power Costs Extra’ sees the fighting fools one-upping each other in the armaments race…

A cunning third force and potential mutual adversary debuts in ‘Chameleon Short Circuit’, after which the war of wills resolves into a ‘Question Inquizition’, but halts to allow re-provisioning. Sadly, the clash with ‘Selfish Shellfish’ leaves Ninja Chicken ‘All Alone’ with a deadly yoyo, before the Penguin privateer pops back for tonsorial advice in ‘Follicle Follies’ and makes the ninja deal with a pushy spider in ‘Arachnophobia’

An untitled origami lesson – tricky if you’ve got a hook instead of flippers – then finds ‘Ninja Chicken Vs Somebody Else’ after which ‘Quick! Everybody Disco!’ sees a battle dance off result in a clear victory for one of the ancient adversaries…

Following a fraught and inflammatory ‘Breakfast of Champions’, reality itself gets a soft makeover in ‘Tough yet Fluffy’, after which the dire disadvantages of a ‘Night Fight’ soon become painfully apparent whilst packets of gum cause ‘Bubble Problems’ and inspire a musical interlude in ‘Revenge! The Musical’ as well as a petty encore in ‘Revenge! Revenge Against Stupid Dry Cleaners!’

A flurry of silent gags follows under the umbrella heading of ‘Pirate Penguin Vs Ninja Chicken: Card Trick or Treat’ after which the war goes wide screen in ‘The Biggest, Giantest, Epicest Pirate Penguin versus Ninja Chicken Story Evar!’ (consider yourself warned…)

It all starts over ‘Breakfast’ when Astronaut Armadillo comes to call and the Chicken heads to Vegas for a Ninja convention…

Feeling abandoned, Penguin has ‘More Breakfast’ whilst learning there are worse things than an eternal frenemy. The Chicken also has second thoughts. After enduring an ‘Inflight Snack’, ‘Telephone Calls’ and ‘Walking Calamari’ the allure of hotel accommodation is beginning to pall, but by now the restless pirate soulmate has headed off-planet, encountering ‘Sandwich Inna Tube’, ‘Fancy Space Chocolates’ and a ringside seat to a clash of titans in ‘Astronaut Armadillo versus Cosmonaut Capybara’. Meanwhile, the evil genius behind all the mayhem shares his Machiavellian schemes and things start getting a bit strange…

It all wraps up in blistering fight fashion in ‘Land Ho!’ with a trans-dimensional ‘Epilogue’, offering clarity and the “Endingest End” imaginable…

Added attractions to occupy anybody left capable of coherent thought or movement include an Activities section revealing ‘How to Make a Pirate Hat’, ‘How to Draw Pirate Penguin {both the Quick and Geometric methods!})’, mazes, puzzles, ‘Ninja Chicken’s Extra Hard SuDontku’ and ‘How to Make a Pair of Nunchuks’. Capping it all is a vast (Avast! Gettit?) gallery of guest drawings by the likes of Roger Langridge, Katie Cook and others of the cast and a Fumetti Outroduction from Friesen himself…

Frantic fun, ferociously daft, and available on paper or via the electric ethers, this is a cartoon corsair no kid of any age should steer clear of…
© 2011 Ray Friesen. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and Great Eagle (volume 1)


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-004-5 (PB Album)

Westerns of every sort have always captivated consumers in Europe and none more so than the assorted French-speaking sections who also avidly devour comics. Historically, we Brits have also been big fans of sagebrush sagas and the plight of the “noble savage”…

In 1964, French-Swiss journalist André Jobin founded children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes and began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired young fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre, who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo, (home of Les Schtroumpfs/The Smurfs) where the promising lad had worked on a number of Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

As “Derib”, Claude co-created with Job Adventures of the Owl Pythagore for Le Crapaud à lunettes.

Two years later they struck pure glittering gold with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari told the compassionate, whimsical tale of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man.

Delib, equally adept in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon big-foot style and a devastatingly evocative meta-realistic mannerism, went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated, honoured and beloved artists – mostly of western-themed tales with astounding and magnificent geographical backdrops and landscapes – and Yakari is considered by many to be the feature that catapulted him to mega-stardom.

It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

The series has reached 39 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, although Job has finally relinquished scripting to French writer Joris Chamblain (Les Carnets de Cerise) for the upcoming 40th tome….

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

The eponymous first collected edition was released in 1973 and the strip rapidly rose to huge prominence. In 1978 it began running in Le Journal de Tintin, spawning two animated TV series (1983 and 2005), the usual merchandising spin-offs and monumental global sales in 17 languages to date. There’s also a movie…

In 2005 that translated first volume – Yakari et le grand aigle – was released by Cinebook as part of their opening salvo in converting British audiences to the joys and magic of Euro-comics and is still readily available for you and your family to enjoy on paper or digitally.

Yakari and Great Eagle begins one quiet night on the plains whilst the little boy is deep in dreams. In that sunny ethereal world, he is walking to meet his totem spirit who greets him with a grand flourish and presents him with a huge feather enabling the child to soar like a bird. The rendezvous is tinged with joy and sadness as the sagacious raptor informs him that he will no longer come to him in dreams, but if the boy becomes as much like an eagle as possible, they will meet again in the living world…

Awake and excited, Yakari rushes about the camp trying to decide what the riddle means. Hunt like a raptor? Wear a feather-filled war-bonnet? Every eager attempt leads to disappointment and embarrassment and sleepy loafer Eye-of-Broth can’t even be bothered to wake up and share the benefit of his years of idle contemplation…

However, when young friend Rainbow loses the puma cub she is carrying, Yakari gallantly dashes after it and only quick thinking saves them both from the baby’s furious mother…

The next day Yakari asks his father Bold Gaze, but the warriors are all too busy preparing to capture a new herd of wild horses. Sneaking off into the rocky desert with older boy Buffalo Seed to watch the roundup, Yakari wonderingly observes how nimble pinto Little Thunder easily avoids all the experienced wranglers’ traps.

As the adults drive the new intake back to the encampment, Yakari follows Little Thunder high into the rocky escarpments and frees the panicked pony from a rockslide that’s pinned a hind leg.

Great Eagle appears and for this selfless act awards the boy a feather, but when Yakari returns home his father takes it from him, admiring his imagination but explaining that only those who have accomplished great deeds – for which read grown-ups – have a right to wear one. Nothing the stern but loving parent can do will change the stubborn boy’s story that a talking eagle awarded him the singular honour…

Days pass and the despondent – featherless – lad wanders alone when he is suddenly engulfed in a stampede and trapped by a brushfire. Immediately Great Eagle is there, guiding him to safety and advising him that soon his father will return the feather to him. The lad is grateful but confused. How is he ever meant to become like his totem spirit? Moreover, how will he ever find his way home from the strange region he now finds himself in?

As the tribe searches for lost Yakari, the hungry child has a close encounter with a bear; finds food by observing her cubs; falls into and subsequently escapes from a deep bear trap and narrowly escapes becoming supper for a lone wolf.

Eventually, he finds a river and rides a makeshift canoe until washed up on a shore where horses are drinking. Spotting Little Thunder, the boy tries to capture him, but the tricks and tactics Yakari has seen working for his elders are useless against the wily horse. The lad is utterly gobsmacked when Little Thunder refuses to be his captive but offers to be his friend…

With his new comrade, it’s not long before Yakari comes riding proudly home out of the wilderness astride a pony no man can tame and justifiably reclaims his honour-feather… Thus begins the gloriously gentle and big-hearted saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and who enjoys a unique place in an exotic world: a 50-year parade of joyous, easygoing and inexpressibly fun adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

A true masterpiece of children’s comics literature, Yakari is a series no fan should be without and here is just the place to start…
Original edition © 1973 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Cedric volume 6: Skating on Thin Ice


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-408-3 (PB Album)

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, by 1960 he was working in the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the print production technique of Lithography.

Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou.

While there he concocted (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Comedy-Western Bluecoats plus dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums.

His collaborator on superbly sharp and witty kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca, who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his own break into bandes dessinée.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, as “Laudec” he landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built that into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the comic’s other regular strips. In 1987, he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and from then on all was child’s play…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too, but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief. He’s also afflicted with raging amour…

Collected albums (31 so far) of variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989, and remain amongst the most popular and best-selling in Europe, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

…A little Word to the Wise: this is not a strip afraid to suspend the yoks in favour of a little suspense or near-heartbreak. Our bonny boy is almost-fatally smitten with Chen: a Chinese girl newly arrived in his class yet so very far out of his league, leading to frequent and painful confrontations and miscommunications.

Whilst the advice given by his lonely, widowed grandpa is seldom of any practical use, it can pick open scabs from the elder’s long, happy but now concluded marriage which can reduce normal humans to tears…

This sixth Cinebook translation (available in paperback album and digital formats) was continentally released in 1994 as Cédric – Comme sur des roulettes and opens with a typically chaotic school Christmas play which is anything but a ‘Holy Night, Silent Night’, after which select parents and kids attend a downtown school carnival. Contrary to the notion that ‘Everyone’s a Winner…’, there’s a lot of pain and resentment come close of play…

Cedric’s belief that his grandad walked with dinosaurs is painfully refuted in ‘Showing His Age’, after which a ‘Recycling Report’ and river clean-up exhumes some report cards thought lost forever, before the diminished energy of the young and old leave mum and dad with some unexpected ‘Snuggling Time’… but not for long…

A bone of domestic contention is the elder’s bitterly-expressed belief that his son-in-law’s career in lowly retail is not real work. However, ‘Carpet Diem’ reveals how a young rug seller made his mark and met his true love – albeit at risk of life, limb and sanity – before Cedric and co-conspirator Freddy devise a new way to hide bad news from the teacher in ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’…

Our boy’s constant quest to impress Chen plumb new depths when the ‘Budding Artist’ attempts to make a clay bust of his inamorata and, unabashed by that debacle, then idiotically agrees to teach her how to skateboard in ‘Balancing Act…

When Grandpa gets sick, Cedric offers to babysit for the most selfish of motives in ‘The Labourer is Worthy of his Hire’ and is similarly selfish in sabotaging Chen’s attempts to get fit in ‘Miss Muscle’ but is totally outmatched when Mum gets out a crystal ball to detail his latest crimes in ‘Misfortune Teller’…

As Chen’s birthday rolls around again, Cedric determines to win the humiliating war of gifts and ‘Put a Ring on it’, after which Grandpa feel invisible thanks to a familial loss of ‘Listening Skills’, even as an acrobatic new kid’s showing off turns all the female classmates’ heads. His attempts to steal back the limelight end in the usual aggrieved fashion in ‘Hanging in There…’ before this slice of school life closes with the lad’s latest psychological ploy to lighten his egregious learning load collapsing in failure when he discovers ‘It’s All in the Delivery’…

Sharp, rapid-paced, warmly witty yet unafraid to explore the harsher moments of life, the exploits of this painfully keen, beguilingly besotted rapscallion are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters of every vintage…
© Dupuis 1994 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Quick & Flupke: Fasten Your Seatbelts


By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4742-9 (PB Album)

Georges Prosper Remi – known to all as Hergé – created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he crafted 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Globally renowned for these magnificent Tintin adventures, Hergé also did much to return comics to the arena of mass entertainment, a position largely lost after the advent of television, video-recording and computer games.

However, the bold boy and his opinionated dog were by no means his only creation. The author was a prodigious jobbing cartoonist in the years before the junior journalist finally assured him immortality and he generated a minor pantheon of other topical strips and features such as Tim the Squirrel in the Far West, The Amiable Mr. Mops, Tom and Millie and Popol Out West.

Among the best of the rest were the tales of Jo and Zette Legrand and their chimpanzee Jocko in much the same wholesome action vein as Tintinand the episodic, all-ages shenanigans of a pair of mischievous ragamuffins in pre-WWII Belgium.

In 2005 Egmont translated three escapades of Jo, Zette and Jocko into English (although there are more just sitting out there, all foreign and unreadable by potential fans too lazy to learn French or any of a dozen other civilised languages…) so in 2009 the publisher tried again with two collections of the Master’s second most successful creation: Quick et Flupke, gamins de Bruxelles.

These rambunctiously subversive, trouble-making working-class rapscallions and scallywags were precursors and thematic contemporaries of such beloved British boy acts as The Bash Street Kids, Winker Watson, Roger the Dodger et. al., and for more than a decade – January 1930 to May 1940 – rivalled the utterly irresistible Tintin in popularity and almost certainly acted as a rehearsal room for all the humorous graphic and slapstick elements which became so much a part of future Tintin tales.

Ten years ago Egmont had a brief stab at reviving the likely lads and it was only the general public’s deplorable lack of taste and good sense which stopped the kids from taking off again…

On leaving school in 1925, Hergé began working for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, falling under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter, when Abbot Wallez asked him to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He created a strip both modern and action-packed – and heavily anti-communist. From January 10th 1929, weekly episodes of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.

Around this time the cartoonist also began crafting weekly 2-page gag strips starring a pair of working-class rascals on the streets of Brussels. They played pranks, got into good-natured trouble and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism: the sort of antics any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar.

Originally seen in black-&-white in Le Petit Vingtiéme, the lads larked about for over a decade until the war and mounting pressures of producing Tintin meant they had to go. They were only rediscovered in 1985 and their collected adventures ran to a dozen best-selling albums… so there’s still plenty left out there to be translated into English…

Fasten Your Seat Belts contains a superbly riotous celebration of boyish high spirits, beginning with hose-pipe pranks in ‘The Big Clean’, before a rare good deed leads to strife with ‘A Poor Defenceless Woman’ and a day ‘At the Seaside’ results in another round of boyish fisticuffs after which their arch-foe the policeman succumbs to the irresistible temptations of a handy catapult in ‘Everyone Gets a Turn’.

Quick – the tall one in the beret – then learns to his cost ‘How Music Calms the Nerves’ and discovers the drawback of ‘Pacifism’, whilst portly Flupke tries tennis and finds himself far from ‘Unbeatable’

‘Advertising’ then proves to be a dangerous game and an annoying insect meets its end in ‘Instructions for Use’, before ‘Quick the Clock Repairer’, proves to be something of an overstatement and ‘Football’ becomes just another reason for the pals to fall out…

Although unwelcome ‘At the Car Showroom’, some Eskimos (you’re going to have to suspend some of your modern sensitivities every now and again, remember) seem happy to share in ‘A Weird Story’ whist Hergé himself turns up in ‘A Serious Turn of Events’, even as the kids are disastrously ‘At Odds’ over a funny smell in their proximity.

Then, ‘Quick the Music Lover’ cleverly deals with an annoying neighbour, Flupke goes Christmas skiing in ‘That’s How It Is’ and another good turn goes bad in ‘All Innocence’ before a sibling spat gets sorted through ‘Children’s Rights’ and Quick cocks up cuisine even with ‘The Recipe’

A handy ‘Yo-yo’ causes traffic chaos and a milk run goes spectacularly awry in a buttery ‘Metamorphosis’ before this magical blast from the past concludes with cleverly appealing ‘Tale Without a Tail’.

Regrettably hard to find now (and past time for a digital edition if not paper reissue), this book and the simple, perfect gags it contains show another side to the supreme artistry of Hergé – and no lover of comics can consider life complete without a well-thumbed copy of their own…
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1991. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke Volume 17 – Apache Canyon


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-92-2 (PB Album)

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, even-tempered 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 wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades 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 albums and 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 inevitably 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. When he became regular wordsmith 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 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 numerous sidebar sagebrush 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 history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper 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 interior pages…

The Canterbury-based 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 73 translated books and still going strong.

Canyon Apache was Morris & Goscinny’s 28th collaboration, originally serialised in 1971 before becoming the 37th album release: a grimly hilarious saga of obsession and intransigence, fuelled by sworn enemies driven to extremes by past wrongs. As such, it’s also one of the most daftly slapstick and wonderfully ludicrous tales of the canon, spoofing particularly on the venerated, semi-sacrosanct cavalry trilogy of John Ford (that’s Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande to you. You really should see more old movies…).

Far, far out west stubborn Colonel O’Nollan and his worthy Irish lads of the US Cavalry man Fort Canyon. They’re caught in a constant spiral of attack and counterattack with renegade chief Patronimo, who leads his band of Kimikuris on raids into America from a base across the border in Mexico. It’s a war of perpetual attrition nobody can win but they will not listen to reason…

Most of the region is peaceful and the great chiefs have foresworn warfare, but the intensely personal duel between O’Nollan – whose son was abducted by raiders decades previously – and Patronimo threatens that détente even as it endlessly escalates in scale. The tit-for-tat attacks are constant and even endanger relations with the Mexican government.

Into that hostile mess shuffles laconic scout Mr Smith, soon exposed as an exceedingly put-upon Lucky Luke: despatched by Washington to end the strife at all costs. Sadly, the vendetta is too deeply ingrained. Even talking with the noble, misunderstood Kimikuris and especially their white-hating Medicine Man proves to be an uphill struggle.

His temper fraying, the hero tries joining the Indians, infiltrating Mexico and reasoning with the Colonel, but is branded a traitor and barely escapes execution by both sides before stumbling into a bizarre solution…

Tense as that sounds, this tale is an epic farce, heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of weird twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

Apache Canyon is wildly entertaining: another perfect all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.

Asterix Omnibus volume 9: Asterix and the Great Divide; Asterix and the Black Gold; Asterix and Son


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-967-5 (HB), 978-1-44400-966-8 (PB)

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they devised a western starring a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, before in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, 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 millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

More than 370 million copies of 37 (soon to be 38) Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

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, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

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

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled 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 is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: 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 Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix 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…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for three years and Uderzo soldiered on alone…

Asterix and the Great Divide was the 25th volume, released in 1980 as Le Grand Fossé, and in many ways something of a departure and stylistic compromise.

In another Gaulish village, internecine strife is brewing. Political rivals Cleverdix and Majestix have split the sleepy hamlet down the middle, with an election for chief ending in a dead tie. They then make the figurative literal by having a huge trench dug through the centre of town, cutting the tribe in two, with the population resolved into uncompromising Leftists and stubborn Rightists…

It’s a tragedy in many ways, with friends and families split into feuding camps, but the most heartrending separation concerns dashing Histrionix, son of Leftist Cleverdix and his one true love Melodrama, daughter of Majestix. Their warring sires refuse to concede or compromise and that simmering Cold War has frustrated their children’s happiness forever…

The lover’s pleas cannot move either deadlocked party leader and the intolerable situation is further exacerbated by the insidious, coldly calculating advisor to Majestix who secretly eggs on the old warrior for his own purposes.

Wily toady Codfix’s latest idea is to get their Roman overlords to intervene, installing Majestix as sole ruler by force. In return, Codfix would be given Melodrama in marriage. Of course, that would make him next in line for the ruler’s position. Codfix is both patient and ambitiously far-sighted…

When Melodrama learns of the plan, she immediately informs Histrionix and the prince tells Cleverdix – who knows full well he cannot resist the overwhelming might of the Romans. The former soldier then remembers an old war-buddy who still successfully resists the conquerors. His name was Vitalstatistix

As Histrionix heroically dashes to the village of Indomitable Gauls – everything he does is heroic – Codfix has gone to the local garrison with his request. Centurion Umbrageous Cumulonimbus, however, has his own problems: discipline is lax and the soldiers are grumbling because of the menial chores they are forced to perform. Codfix has the perfect solution. If the Romans put Rightist Majestix in charge, they could take the pacified Leftists as slaves…

In the meantime, Histronix has returned with Vitalstatistix’ best men. Asterix, Obelix and Getafix the Druid are discussing the matter with Cleverdix when Roman soldiers arrive. Codfix however, has overstepped himself and underestimated the nobility of Majestix…

The doughty Rightist refuses to let any Gaul be enslaved – even political opponents – so the uncaring Romans grab him and his followers instead. Impressed with his rival’s integrity, Cleverdix accepts Asterix’ offer of assistance and our heroes infiltrate the garrison as volunteer slaves using an elixir that revitalises the body but causes a touch of amnesia…

Having fun by exploiting these new Romans’ ignorance of their true identities, the infilitrators feed the imprisoned Gauls soup fortified with the Druid’s strength potion before Asterix and Obelix lead a mass breakout which soon finds the prisoners back in their divided hamlet but no closer to an amicable resolution.

And both sides know that the Romans will soon come, eager for revenge…

Codfix has sensibly stayed with the garrison and found the last of Getafix’ elixir, left behind during the liberation. When he sneaks back into the village, he also discovers a fresh batch of power-potion whipped up in advance of the impending attack… and steals it.

The next day, the Gauls wake to find invaders marching upon them, fortified by the elixir which has erased the punishing memory of their recent defeat, and simultaneously super-charged by power potion.

Left with nothing but Obelix and Gaulish courage, the villagers unite to fight and fall with honour, but are astonished when a bizarre series of transformations wrack the empowered Romans. It takes a long time to become a Druid and apparently the first thing you learn is to never mix potions…

Codfix has used the distraction to kidnap Melodrama. Demanding ransom and safe passage, he has not reckoned on Histrionix’ determination, Asterix’s ingenuity or Obelix’ strength and – after a climactic confrontation involving our perennially luckless Pirates – gets what’s coming to him…

With the Romans routed and Codfix suitably punished, Cleverdix and Majestix settle their differences with a traditional Gaulish duel after which someone else becomes chief of the reunified village. The former divide is transformed into an appropriate symbol of their unity and life goes on happily…

Asterix and the Great Divide was devised by Uderzo as a critique on current affairs and metaphorical attack on the Berlin Wall which had, since 1961, split the city physically, Europe symbolically and the world ideologically. His earnest tale was more dramatic and action-oriented than previous Asterix fare, with the regulars frequently reduced to subordinate roles, but for all that there are still cunning laughs and wry buffoonery in welcome amounts.

 

Asterix and the Black Gold (L’Odyssée d’Astérix) debuted in 1981 and again saw Asterix and Obelix embarking on a long voyage into the unknown, rife with bold adventure and underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

The 26th saga begins with a brace of wild boar demonstrating that they are canny opponents for voracious Obelix. Whenever the gigantic Gaul encounters these particular pigs in his daily hunts, they escape by leading him to the nearest Roman patrol. The only thing Obelix loves more than eating pork is bashing Romans…

Back in Rome, Julius Caesar is livid. He’s just received news that the insufferable, indomitable Gauls are training wild boars to lead Roman patrols into Gaulish ambushes…

The raging ruler’s continued attempts to end the aggravating resistance always fail and in a fit of fury he charges his chief of the Roman Secret Service M.I.VI (geddit?) with ending his galling Gallic grief – or else…

M. Devius Surreptitius has just the man for the job. Dubbelosix is of Gaulish-Roman extraction and has, by persistence and deviousness, qualified as a Druid. He is wily, charming, debonair and comes with a host of cunning hidden gadgets – and he’s also the spitting image of Sean Connery…

Dispatched on a mission to stop the French resisting, Dubbelosix is secretly working with his boss M to supplant Caesar, and also harbours ambitions to rule Rome alone …but first he has to destroy the infernal Gauls. His chance comes almost as soon as he arrives in that little village…

Getafix is in a near-panic. The Druid has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Phoenician merchant Ekonomikrisis who is bringing a vital ingredient for the magic potion that keeps the Romans at bay. When the ship at last arrives and the peddler apologises for forgetting the fabled rock oil, the highly strung Getafix has a fit and passes out.

Luckily a young Druid dubbed Dubbelosix is passing and, after a minor skirmish with a Roman patrol, accompanies Asterix and Obelix back to their comatose friend…

The spy might be a double agent, but he knows his stuff and soon cures the ailing Getafix, who explains that the generally useless black ooze from the Middle East is vital to the potion: without a fresh supply they are all doomed…

When Asterix and Obelix – and faithful hound Dogmatix, of course – volunteer to obtain some of the crucial rock oil, Dubbelosix insists on accompanying them. But as they commandeer the Phoenician’s ship for the emergency mission, Getafix clandestinely warns Asterix to watch the too-good-to-be-true young Druid…

Expediting matters by selling off Ekonomikrisis’ wares at prices nobody – even Pirates – dare refuse, our heroes make their way to Mesopotamia, unaware that Dubbelosix, using his unique messaging service, has briefed Caesar and M to stop the ship at all costs.

After a succession of military vessels are sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the joyfully belligerent Gauls, the Ruler of the World is forced to change tactics and blockade all ports to prevent Asterix and Obelix from disembarking.

With time running out, Ekonomikrisis eventually sneaks the Gauls and Dubbelosix ashore in distant Judea. The trio travel overland to Jerusalem where they are befriended by the locals who have no love for the Romans. The oppressors are always just one step behind the voyagers, though. It is as if someone is telling them every time the questers alter their plans…

After a memorable night in a village called Bethlehem, the Hebrews’ attempt to smuggle the Gauls into Jerusalem is sabotaged by Dubbelosix. However, the Middle Eastern garrisons have never seen fighters like Asterix and Obelix and the doughty heroes escape, leaving the scurrilous double agent behind.

With time running out at home and no word of the fate of their friends, the Gauls are hidden by friendly merchants, and learn that the Romans have seized and burned all the rock oil in the city – and probably the entire region. Their only chance to secure some of the previously worthless black goo is to get it from the source – in Babylon, where it just seeps out of the ground…

Assisted by brave, helpful guide Saul ben Ephishul (a loving visual tribute to Uderzo’s deeply-missed partner René Goscinny, who was Jewish) Asterix and Obelix undertake another perilous journey into the deep desert, frolicking in the Dead Sea and encountering a procession of fanatical tribes all warring on each other for long-forgotten reasons in a savage lampoon of modern Middle East strife…

Eventually, the Gauls become completely lost; waterless and without hope under the scorching sun. However when little Dogmatix starts digging in the sand, the resultant oil gusher provides more than enough to buoy up their hopes and they battle on to rendezvous with Ekonomikrisis for a frantic return to Gaul.

Unfortunately, Dubbelosix has tracked them down again and has one last trick to play…

This return to the style and format of classic collaborations features hilarious comedy set-pieces, thrilling drama and a bitingly gentle assault on the madness of keeping ancient feuds alive, intransigence of religious tensions and the madness of recurring oil crises; lampooning ideologies and dogmas whilst showing how great it is when people can just get along.

Fast, furious and funny-with-a-moral, this is one of the artist/author’s very best efforts and even manages a double-shock ending…

 

Asterix and Son was released in 1983, the 27th saga and another unconventional step off the well-worn path as it touches on a rather touchy subject…

One particularly fine morning in the Village of Indomitable Gauls, Asterix and Obelix awake to discover someone has left a baby in a basket on their doorstep. Nonplussed and bewildered, they try to care for the infant – much to the horror of the local cows who would be delighted to provide sustenance if milked in a normal manner – but human tongues in the village are beginning to wag…

Things only get worse after the feisty tyke develops a taste for magic potion and somehow keeps finding new supplies of it…

Determined to clear his name and find the real parents, Asterix begins his investigations at the four Roman Garrisons, even as Crismus Cactus, Prefect of Gaul begins a suspiciously sudden emergency census of the local villages…

Hyper-charged on potion, the baby keeps getting out and following Asterix and Obelix, who discover that the Romans seem to be looking for one child in particular…

After a painful encounter with our heroes, Crismus Cactus retires to his villa where a VIP from Rome is waiting. Marcus Junius Brutus is Caesar’s adopted son and is most insistent that the mystery baby is found and turned over to him – even if he has to raze all Gaul to achieve his aim…

The infant in question is still causing trouble for the villagers and Brutus marshals an army near the isolated hamlet, successfully confirming the child’s location with a rather inept spy. The kid’s treatment of the intruder prompts Asterix to seek out a nanny, but as the village women are still suspicious and condemnatory, he hires a rather unsavoury stranger named Aspidistra for the task…

This provokes even more vicious tongue-wagging amongst the women, who assume the worst of both her and Asterix. Inexplicably, nobody notices the ferocious childminder’s astonishing resemblance to the Prefect of Gaul…

Unfortunately, once Crismus has successfully infiltrated the village he can’t get out again, and spends a punishing time amusing the infant horror until his nerve breaks. Drained of patience, Brutus then attacks with the full might of Rome, torching the village and bombarding it with catapults.

As the men tank up on potion and counterattack, the village women head for the beach. Sadly, Brutus is willing to sacrifice his entire army, and is waiting to grab the baby…

Once the Roman Legions are crushed, Asterix and Obelix return and discover what has occurred. Filled with rage, they set off in deadly pursuit and save the child just in time for his real mother and father to arrive. Two of the most powerful people in the world, they are extremely angry with somebody…

Laced with a dark and savage core, this rollicking rollercoaster ride combines tragedy with outrageous slapstick, transforming historical facts into a compelling comedy-drama that is both delightful and genuinely scary in places…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing, featuring famous caricatures to tease older readers whilst the raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and riotous action astounds and bemuses the younger set, these tales celebrate the illustrative ability of Uderzo, confirming his potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride to be a true national and cultural treasure.

If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1983 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002 Hachette. All rights reserved.

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.