He Done Her Wrong


By Milt Gross (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-694-3(TPB)

The power of comics comes not just from wedding text to image but also in the power of illustration. You can have comics without words but if you leave the letters and subtract the pictures what you have is just… a book…

Milt Gross (March 4th 1895-November 29th 1953) was a trailblazing pioneer in both cartooning and the wider arena of popular comedy, specialising in vernacular while refining and popularising Yiddish folk humour and slang into a certified American export to world culture: “Yinglish”. You should really look him up…

Gross was also an early adept in the animation field, bringing his cartoon characters to silent life in numerous short filler features for John R. Bray Studious, Universal and MGM. Far too few of his many books are in print now, but happily, this astounding landmark is one of them and is even available in assorted eBook formats.

He left his mark in comics too, working for William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper chain on numerous syndicated strips including Dave’s Delicatessen, Banana Oil, Pete the Pooch, Count Screwloose from Tooloose, Babbling Brooks, Otto and Blotto, The Meanest Man, Draw Your Own Conclusion, I Did It and I’m Glad! and That’s My Pop! (which was promptly adapted into a radio show).

He Done Her Wrong (The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It – No Music, Too) was released in 1930, lampooning and cashing in on a notable trend of those troubled times: wordless novels. These woodcut-crafted parables derived from the German Expressionist art movement, and offered (generally left-leaning) pictorial epigrams and   studies addressing social injustice. The first was Belgian Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion in 1918, and 11 years later American Lynd Ward followed suit with God’s Man. Among the many emulatory efforts it inspired (such as Giacomo Patri’s White Collar) was this broad spoof of silent movie thrillers such as The Perils of Pauline, pitched perfectly for pathos, bathos and hilarity…

A facsimile edition released in 2005 by Fantagraphics, this paperback/digital edition is a complete unabridged restoration – which means the re-inclusion of some images, depictions and scenes that might appear a little controversial to modern sensibilities. It also offers a fascinating picture-packed Introduction by Craig Yoe (devoted friend and patron of all comics vintage and fabulous) and closing Appreciation by eminent cartoonist, writer and editor Paul Karasik.

What lies between those essays is a stunning masterclass in comedy staging, gag timing, magnificent caricaturing and timeless melodrama, delivered as a succession of silent pantomimic pages. It all begins after a hearty trustworthy young woodsman, trapper and prospector falls in love with a virtuous barroom singer. True love is thwarted by a dirty villain who swindles the hero and absconds to New York with his heartbroken, “abandoned” ingenue.

As hero and victim both fall foul of the lures of the big bad city, and vice mounts unstoppably in the woman’s benighted life, the hero overcomes every obstacle to find his lover, battling his way from the wilderness into truly savage civilisation where he will set things right no matter what the cost…

It all works out in the end, of course, but only after an astoundingly convoluted course of action, buckets of tears, some vengeance and forgiveness… and plenty of near-misses and lethally close calls. That sounds like a great thriller – and it is – but Gross played it strictly for laughs, and made a tale to rank with the best of his closest contemporary comedy peers: Charley Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

He Done Her Wrong is a superb yarn and perfect picture into a world that only seems simpler and less complicated than today, and if you love classics stories you should “Dun’t Esk” and just buy it…
He Done Her Wrong © 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2005 Craig Yoe. An Appreciation © 2005 Paul Karasik.

Asterix Omnibus volume 5: Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix in Spain & Asterix and the Roman Agent


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-488-5 (HB); 978-1-44400-490-8 (PB)

One of the most-read comics series 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, if you’re planning a trip…) spinning off from his hilarious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty potion-powered champion of Gallic Pride was created by two of the art form’s greatest proponents, writer René Goscinny & illustrator Albert Uderzo and although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment still continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works 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. (Me, I still delight in a divinely delivered “Paff!” as much as any painfully potent pun or dryly searing jibe…)

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 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the fantastic lands of the Empire and beyond…

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 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 rather 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.

Asterix and the Cauldron was the 13th saga, originally running in Pilote #469-491 throughout 1968 before being first translated into English in 1976.

It’s a convoluted tale of treachery, felony and dishonour as fellow Gaulish chieftain Whosemoralsarelastix – a cunning and conniving Roman collaborator – convinces the reluctant but big-hearted Vitalstatistix to guard the occupied cliff-top community’s treasury from Imperial tax collectors.

Despite knowing how untrustworthy the scoundrel is, Gaul must help Gaul and the rogue’s huge onion-soup cauldron, stuffed with his people’s golden Sestertii, is placed under the stewardship of the village’s greatest hero and most trustworthy warrior: Asterix.

However, that night, as a great inter-village feast is consumed, somebody cuts their way into the guard hut and steals the glittering contents of that mighty tureen. Of course, dodgy Whosemoralsarelastix wants his money back and the noble Vitalstatistix is honour-bound to replace the stolen horde and disgraced Asterix is banished until he can refill the empty cauldron with gold…

Trusty Obelix refuses to turn away from his friend and joins the quest, which first takes them to the garrison of Compendium, where the wily warrior intends to refill the empty churn with some of the gold the occupiers have been regularly collecting from Gauls.

Unfortunately, Caesar has been experiencing some cash-flow problems of his own and not only has he been rushing the takings to Rome, he hasn’t even paid his soldiers for months…

With disharmony, mutiny and strike action imminent among the legions, Asterix and Obelix realise they must look elsewhere for their loot.

Even their old acquaintances the pirates are cash-strapped – and all-too-soon traditionally thrashed – so the doughty duo must seek their fortune at the grand market in Condatum, briefly and disastrously becoming boar merchants, paid street boxers, actors and charioteers, before turning to crime and planning a bank robbery…

Even here our two just men fare badly. In desperation, they decide to rob Caesar’s tax collector, but Asterix discovers a strange thing. Not only has destitute Whosemoralsarelastix somehow paid his taxes, but the coins deposited smell of onion soup…

With realisation dawning, Asterix visits the cliff-dwelling villagers for a little chat and a mighty reckoning…

Rich with slapstick action and cutting commercial satire (for example the tax collector is a caricature of France’s then Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), this hilarious crime caper is a glorious example of dry yet riotous adventure comedy.

Astérix en Hispanie promptly followed (during 1969 and in Pilote #498-519) in France and was translated into English as Asterix in Spain two years later. It recounts how a valiant group of Iberian warriors are similarly holding-out against Caesar’s total conquest of that proud nation.

Chief Huevos Y Bacon is the noble warrior leading the resistance, but when his haughty son Pepe is captured, all seems lost. Fearing reprisal or rescue, the Romans hastily despatch the hostage lad to the garrison at Totorum, under the oversight of brutish Spurius Brontosaurus. He has no idea what the “pacified” Gauls of the area are like and has his hands more than full contending with the appallingly behaved and inspirationally vicious young prince…

When his guards encounter Gauls in the great forest, they are easily overwhelmed by playful Obelix. Asterix takes Pepe back to the village where – following an ill-advised and painful attempt by Brontosaurus and the legion to reclaim him – our heroes decide to return him to his father.

Most pertinent and urgent in reaching this decision is the spoiled brat’s obnoxious behaviour…

Brontosaurus has pragmatically decided the kid is perfectly safe with the Gauls, and, unaware of their planned jaunt to Hispania, smugly returns to his post. Meanwhile, after their mandatory encounter with pirates, Asterix, Obelix and faithful mutt Dogmatix make their leisurely way through the scenic countryside (offering many trenchant asides regarding the then popular French passion for Spanish touring holidays), until a chance encounter in an inn reveals to the General Brontosaurus how close they are to undoing all his plans.

Venal but no coward, the Roman joins their excursion party, captures Asterix and steals the Gaul’s magic potion: planning to destroy Huevos Y Bacon’s resistance once and for all. However, Obelix, Pepe – and Dogmatix – have a plan to spectacularly save the day…

Full of good-natured nationalistic pokes and trans-national teasing, liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

During 1970, Pilote #531-552 serialised La Zizanie. It translates as “strife”, but on making the jump to English in 1972, became the far less evocative Asterix and the Roman Agent. The tale featured more homeland insecurity as Caesar, under attack by the Roman Senate over the indomitable, unconquerable Gauls, deploys his greatest weapon: a double-edged sword named Tortuous Convolvulus, whose every word and gesture seems to stir ill-feeling and conflict in all who meet him.

Where Force of Arms has failed perhaps this living manifestation of disharmony and dissent might forever fracture the Gauls’ unshakable comradeship and solidarity with dose of Roman entente dis-cordiale

On the crossing, just two minutes with the conniving Convolvulus has the brotherhood of pirates at each other’s throats, and, even while discussing plan with Aquarium’s commander Felix Platypus, the agent’s unique gift sows dissonance and violence, so when he finally enters the village it’s not long before the high-spirited and fractious Gauls are at war with each other…

Women are cattily sniping at each other, traders are trading blows and even Asterix and Obelix are on the outs. But that’s not the worst of it: somehow the idea has gotten around that their sharp little champion has sold out to the Romans…

With unrest abounding and abundant, the Romans soon have the secret of the magic potion too (or do they?) but ingenious Convolvulus hasn’t reckoned on two things – the sheer dimness of Imperial troops and the invaluable power of true friendship – leaving Asterix and Obelix a way to overcome their differences, turn the tables and once more save the day.

At last, the agent provocateur is forced to realise that sometimes one can be too smart for one’s own good…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this yarn was reputedly based on lingering ill-feeling following an internal power-struggle at Pilote which almost cost editor Goscinny his job. The original title for the tale transliterates as “The Ill-feeling” or “The Dissension”. Seen through the lens of 40 years of distance, however, all that can be seen now is stinging, clever, witty observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, and surely that’s what matters most?

Asterix sagas are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1968-1970 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Lupin Leaps In: A Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-5130-9 (HB) 978-1-4494-9522-0 (PB) 978-1-5248-5252-8 (eISBN)

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet.

Those of us “blessed” with appointed feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

A few years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy house mates earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is a second collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and rather moving moments starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters that share space with them.

If you’re a returning customer or follow the strip online, you’re already au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than which the author intends……

Thus, you can learn that ‘The Man Has Lost his Tail’, the repercussions of ‘There are Other Cats in the Building!’ and that ‘The People Bought a Bird Magnet’, or question just why ‘The People Went Out and Bought us Expensive Cat food’

Life meets art – and sports – in ‘The Baby is Finally Asleep, which means it’s time for…’ and ‘Reports of Slander are Coming in from the Living Room’ whereas ‘The People are having a Quiet Night In’ and other seasonal treats lead to the shocking revelation that ‘The Annual Gourd Sacrifice has begun’, and the terrible consequences as ‘We’ve Been Forced into Stupid Little Suits’

Domestic equilibrium is eventually restored, but ‘There’s a Mysterious Lump in the Bed’ only piles on the drama as ‘The Ceiling Cats are Everywhere tonight!’. Typically, just as ‘The Woman is Reporting in the Nursery’ calms things down, the territory abruptly expands after ‘A Tower has been Erected in the Living Room!’ and chaos ensues when ‘There’s a Cricket Somewhere in the Apartment’

Hilarity mounts with in-depth scoop ‘CN News Investigative Report: Who’s a Good Boy?’, scare-story ‘The Vacuum Cleaner is Back!’ and ‘Lupin got into a Pen’, while ‘The Man is Doing Push-ups’, ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why does the water in People Glasses taste So Much Better?’ and ‘Delicious Smells are coming from the Kitchen’ herald the approach of another festive occasion and a sharp change in tone after ‘A Tree Grew in the Living Room!’

Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and the trauma of a loved one being lost in the snow at Christmas hits like a hammer. ‘Elvis is Missing!’ is surprisingly powerful so mind out how you let the kids (and grandparents) read this unsupervised. Tough guys like you should be okay though…

The rolling news continues in ‘We’re Nearing 3 Hours since Elvis got Outside’ and ‘We’re 4 Hours into “Elvis Watch”’, but unlike the home-bodies you can see how the lost lad survives… and because of whom…

Events come to a head in ‘Puck Here. Still Awake’ and ‘Elvis is Back Inside!’ but the story can’t end until it ends happily, so ‘ELVIS WENT BACK OUTSIDE!’ sees the prodigal save his saviour in ‘There’s a Woman at the Door!’

Christmas miracles safely covered, its back to business in ‘The Baby is Mobile!’, ‘The People have erected Hurdles!’ and ‘That Cat is in the Backyard again!’, before domestic issues come to the fore in ‘And in Local News, the People went Grocery Shopping’

Another extended adventure begins after ‘Lupin found a Tiny Door in the Bathroom Closet’ escalates into ‘Lupin fell down a Laundry Chute or some nonsense’ and ‘Unexpected Developments in the Laundry Room!’ introduce a rival Hispanic feline reporting contingent…

The epic escapade only ends after ‘Elvis has just Joined Lupin in the Laundry Room!’ and ‘The People are Looking for Lupin and Elvis’, result in international cooperation before ‘Elvis and Lupin have to Escape the Laundry Room’

Security re-established, what we’ll define as normality returns in ‘A Can of Whipped Cream has been heard in the Kitchen!’, ‘Elvis has been in a Standoff with the Man’s Feet for 45 minutes’ and ‘The People have brought home a Thing of Beauty’ and extra hilarity comes in ‘The Heat is On!’, ‘The Woman is Folding Laundry’ and ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why do open books make the best Cat Beds?’

Health matters are tackled in ‘Studies have shown Regular Ankle Reinforcement is crucial to People’s Confidence’ and ‘The People have dressed Elvis up like a Lamp’, after which ‘Another People Holiday is Happening’ sees the kitties go green and heralds ‘Signs of Spring have been spotted in the Back Yard!’

With the reporting team augmented by a new and jolly journalist, the year moves on. ‘Lupin is playing with the Baby’s Toys’ and hints of another human addition as ‘The Woman keeps getting up off the Couch’ are confirmed in ‘The Baby is turning into a Toddler’ and ‘The People are Missing!’. ‘There’s an Intruder in the Kitchen’ inevitable resolves into banner headlines when ‘The People have returned – with a New Baby!’

‘The Woman is trying to have Plants Again’ brings us back to solid ground and everybody shares human elation when the strip marks a real-world moment of triumph in ‘There are Rainbows Everywhere!’, after which ‘The Man is being attacked!’, ‘There’s been a Kibble Spill in the Kitchen!’ and ‘Cats everywhere have been locked out of the Bedroom’ restore the madcat madcap japery.

‘Lupin is Invisible when he’s in the Sink’ takes us to ‘It’s that hot time of the year again’ while ‘The Woman is sewing a Blanket’ sees Elvis take on more family responsibility before ‘A Can Opener was heard in the Kitchen’, ‘There’s a Great, Big Box in the Living Room’ and ‘THAT JUNE BUG IS BACK!’ add some action to the comedy. We’re in mellow mood for ‘Today has been Canceled, due to rain’ which only grows after ‘The People Bought a Tiny Cat Couch!’, before Puck reveals the astounding news that There’s a Button under the Computer Desk that makes the Man scream’

‘This Reporter Read the News. What happened next will Shock you’ offers a bunch of clickbait and vox-pops before ‘There’s a Tear in the Kitchen window screen’ sparks a dispute in reportage methodology and ‘The Toddler is Sick’ leads to some in-depth number crunching… and sniffing.

A true crisis looms when ‘There has been a Hairball’ and anxiety increases as ‘Flowers are flying out of the Garden’, but tidings that ‘There’s a new Toy in the Bathroom!’ soon deescalates the tensions to conclude this segment of the far from fake fur news for a while…

Some In-Depth packages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore! close out this tome starting with Georgia Dunn’s tips to begin cartooning’, developing into ‘How to draw the Good Boys of BCN’ – following from rough pencilling to inks and colour – and splendidly culminating with ‘Drawing Face Expressions’, ‘Drawing your pet as a Reporter’ and expanding the franchise to ‘Other News Affiliates’ as fish, birds, rats, lizards, dogs and ferrets join the quest for truth and fun…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Lupin Leaps In is a glorious all-ages romp of joy. Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. Chase it! Catch it!, Who’s a Good People?
© 2019 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Tiny Titans volume 3: Sidekickin’ it…


By Art Baltazar & Franco with (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2653-4 (TPB)

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and others.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of their proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Supergirl and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the imprint’s finest release – and one which has a created a sub-genre recreated at many different publishers – was a series ostensibly aimed at beginning readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans …and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily mixed up together, Tiny Titans is a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks and (ultimately) the entire DC Universe to little kids and their parents/guardians in the wholesome kindergarten environment of Sidekick City Elementary School.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #13-18 (spanning April to September 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this third volume begins on a petulant note with Pet Club at Wayne Manor.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) have mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with the assorted characters getting by and trying to make sense of the great big world, having “Adventures in Awesomeness”. The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After a handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page, ‘Tough Cookie’ features Raven feeding the park critters but desperately striving to keep her hard-as-nails rep intact, after which bubble-headed Psimon goes to science club and gets caught in some uncool name-calling. The main event kicks off with the kids and their pets convening at Stately Wayne Manor and incurring the wrath of dapper, long-suffering manservant Alfred. The Penguins don’t help… no, wait, they actually do…

‘A Hot Spot’ then finds Raven and Kid Devil trading power sets with firestarter Hotspot and evoking the joys of being a Bird Scout, after which The Kroc Files shows ultimate butler Alfred and the roguish reptilian each demonstrating ‘How to Pick up the Dry Cleaning’, before the issue ends with a Tiny Titans Bubble Squares puzzle and a pinup of bird-themed champions Hawk, Dove and Raven.

Sea-themed issue #14 opens with a proudly shouted ‘Aw Yeah Titans!’ and class trip to Paradise Island. The boys just can’t understand why they have to stand on tables while the girls can run about freely wherever they like and play with the all the weird animals…

Back in Sidekick City, Cyborg’s vacuum cleaning invention runs amok while Beast Boy and infant Miss Martian stage a shapeshifting duel, even as on Paradise Island ‘Stay for Dinner’ sees Wonder Girl and the other Wonder Girl guests for lunch – as lunch – of Mrs. Cyclops.

Wrapping up affairs is another Kroc Files (‘How to Bake a Chocolate Cake’), a string of gags in Time for Jokes by the Riddler’s daughter Enigma plus a ‘Paradise Island Pet Club Pin-up!’

The next issue finds ‘Bunnies, Bunnies, Everywhere Bunnies’ and again opens at Wayne Manor, where Alfred has opted to stay home and watch the kids and their pets. Sadly, magician Zatara joins the fun and once more loses his magic wand to playful Beppo the Super Monkey. Cue rapid rabbit reproduction…

Elsewhere, Deathstroke’s daughter Rose lands her share of babysitting duties, and soon learns how to handle the Tiny Terror Titans before a ‘Tiny Titans Epilogue’ reveals a marvellous secret regarding one of those proliferating bunnies, before the issue concludes with more activity freebies: ‘Pet Club Mammal Travel’ and a bonus pin-up of Rose and those Tiny Terrors…

Issue #16 revisits a perennial puzzle of comics, specifically ‘Who’s the Fastest?!’ as Coach Lobo sets his heart on making the Sidekick Elementary kids ultra-fit. Part of the regimen includes a footrace around the entire world, and Supergirl, Inertia and Kid Flash all think they have it nailed…

Lesser-powered tykes find unique ways to cope with natural obstacles – such as the ocean – in ‘As the Race Continues…’ while the Coach takes a load off with coffee and comics and the Wonder Girls and Shelly trade costume tips. Down south, late starters Mas y Menos join the final dash to the finish where a non-starter surprisingly triumphs…

In the aftermath, shrinking-hero contingent The tiny Tiny Titans indulge in ‘One more Contest’ before an ‘Aw Yeah Pin-up’ of Supergirl and Kid Flash is preceded by a Tiny Titans Coin Race activity page.

‘Raven’s Book of Magic Spells’ starts as a play date but is bewilderingly disrupted when Trigon’s devilish daughter shows off her latest present in ‘Mixin’ it Up’: accidentally manifesting unlikely mystical heavyweight Mr. Mxyzptlk. And so, hilarity and impish insanity ensue…

Back in what passes for the land of reason, Robin, Beast Boy and Cyborg are tasked with recovering Batman’s cape and mask in ‘Battle for the Cow’ (if you read DC regularly, you know how painful a pun that is…).

Naturally, Starfire and Bumblebee have a sensible, pain-free solution to their woes, after which the Boy Wonder’s birthday party displays a fashion parade of alternative costumes in the presents giving portion of festivities…

Those tiny Titans go clothes hunting in ‘Shop Shrinking’ while Kid Flash, Robin and Cyborg ask ‘Hey, What’s Continuity?’ Wrapping up is another Kroc Files contrasting how butler Alfred and the lizardly lout cope with ‘Walking in the Rain’, topped off with Special Bonus Pin-up ‘The Return of the Bat-Cow!’

Concluding the juvenile japery is a fall from grace which can only be called ‘Infinite Detention’ as lunch lady Darkseid is demoted to Janitor for the Day and typically overreacts to boisterous behaviour in the hallways. With both good kids and bad suffering after-class incarceration, arguments ensue and the stern Monitor increase the tally for the slightest infraction. Soon the kids are facing days of detention…

Sadly for the Monitor, his nemesis Anti-Monitor has popped by with coffee and more stupid pranks…

One final Kroc Files reveals ‘How to go Bowling’ and Enigma offers another session of ‘Aw Yeah Joke Time!’ before the tome terminates with a selection of character sketches and studies repackaged as ‘Class Photos’.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure comicbookery – are an unforgettable riot of laughs no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating. What more do you need to know?
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mort: A Discworld Big Comic


By Terry Pratchett & Graham Higgins (VG Graphics/Gollancz)
ISBN: 978-0-57505-697-8 (HB)                    978-0-57505-699-2 (PB)

Us old codgers have always maintained that a good comic needs a good artist and this superb adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel proves that point.

Just in case you’ve been living on another world: The Discworld is a flat planet supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the universe. Magic works there and the people are much too much like us.

This, of course, makes it an ideal location for spleen-venting, satire, slapstick and social commentary…

Scripted by the so-very-much-missed author and brilliantly illustrated by Graham Higgins, it tells a complex and darkly witty tale of Death (big grim chap, carries a scythe, nobody gets his jokes, always has the last laugh) and hapless, literal-minded, sort-of-useless young oaf Mort, whom he hires as his apprentice.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it, with sub-plots including an orphaned princess and her dangerously ambitious guardian, Death’s vacation, the daughter he adopted and the mystery of his most peculiar servant Albert to season a very impressive spin on a very familiar myth.

Higgin’s light, dry touch adds volumes of texture to the mix, and his deft sense of timing and comedy pacing – reminiscent of Hunt Emerson – marvellously match Pratchett’s unmistakable, acerbic dialogue and plot.

Incomprehensibly unavailable digitally and only physically in editions from the last century, if you have to have adaptations of great novels, this is how they should be done.
Text © 1994 Terry and Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1994 Graham Higgins. All Rights Reserved

Bluecoats volume 1: Robertsonville Prison


By Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-71-7

The mythology of the American West has never been better loved or more honourably treated than by Europeans. Hergé was a passionate devotee, and the range of incredible comics material from Tex Willer to Blueberry, Yakari to Lucky Luke display over and over again our fascination with all aspects of that legendary time and place.

Les Tuniques Bleues or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius and scripted by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 62 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace the aforementioned Lucky Luke when the gunslinger defected from prominent weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and is one of the most popular series on the Continent.

After its initial run, Bluecoats graduated to the collected album format (published by French publishing powerhouse Dupuis) that we’re all so familiar with in Un chariot dans l’OuestA Wagon in the West – in 1972).

Salvé was an artist proficient in the Gallic style of big-foot/big-nose humour cartooning, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually leavened the previous broad style with a more realistic – but still comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936, and after studying Fine Art, joined Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

In 1959 he created Sandy – about an Australian teen and a kangaroo – later self-parodying it and himself with Hobby and Koala and Panty et son kangaroo as well as creating the comics industry satire ‘Pauvre Lampil’.

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and, after studying Lithography joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. His glittering and prolific writing career began soon after. Almost exclusively a humourist and always for Le Journal de Spirou, other than Bluecoats he has written at least 22 other long-running and award-winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold in the region of 20 million copies.

The protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a hopeless double act of buffoons in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, or perhaps Abbot & Costello or our own Morecambe & Wise: two hapless and ill-starred cavalrymen posted to the wilds of the arid frontier.

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album Blue retro which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military).

All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

Blutch is your average little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant and ever-critical of the army – especially his inept commanders. Ducking, diving, deserting when he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available. Chesterfield is a big man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and esprit de corps. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Robertsonville Prison, the first release in the series from Cinebooks, is actually the sixth French volume. Available in paperback and digital formats, it’s loosely based on the actual Confederate-run Andersonville Prison compound in Georgia. It finds the irascible, inseparable pair captured after a calamitous battle and interned with many other Union soldiers. However, these two aren’t prepared to stay put – albeit for vastly differing reasons – and a series of increasingly bold and bonkers escape ploys eventually result in a crazy but appropriate reversal of fortunes…

The secret to the unbelievable success of Les Tuniques Bleues is that it is an anti-war comedy like M.A.S.H. or Catch 22, cleverly pitched at a young and less cynical audience. Historically authentic, uncompromising in terms of portrayed violence but always in good taste, the attitudes expressed by our oafish, down-to-earth anti-heroes never make glorious war anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and tellingly worthy, Bluecoats is the kind of battle book that any parent would be happy to let their children read – if they can bear to let go of it themselves…
© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 4: Asterix the Legionary; Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield; Asterix at the Olympic Games


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-428-1 (HB)                    978-1-44400-487-8 (PB)

Asterix the Gaul is one of Europe’s – more specifically France’s – most exciting and rewarding contributions to global culture: a cunning little paragon of the underdog spirit who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion bestowing incredible strength, speed and vitality. The savvy smarts are all his own…

One of the most-read comics in the world, his chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages (including Latin and ancient Greek for educational purposes); with 14 live-action and animated movies, 55 board and video games and even into his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris).

More than 370 million copies of 37 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo who were already masters of the form and at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of the terrifying prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

Asterix launched in 1959 in the very first issue of Pilote (with a teaser premiere page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0). The feature was a massive hit from the start. Initially Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was, after much effort, convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

Like all great literary classics, the premise works on multiple levels: younger readers enjoying an action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts whilst crustier readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly and witty satire, enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light and innovative touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Personally, I still thrill to a perfectly delivered punch in the bracket as much as a painfully swingeing string of bad puns and dry cutting jibes…)

Asterix the Gaul is a cunning underdog who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion. The stories were set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast around the year 50 BCE, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resist all efforts of the Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French comics 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.

In late 1966 they began Asterix the Legionary (running in Pilote #368-389), which was later adapted as half of the plot for the movie Asterix Vs Caesar (the other album incorporated into the animated epic being Asterix the Gladiator).

This clever romp introduced the destabilising concept of true romance to the doughty hero and his prodigious pal Obelix as, whilst boar hunting in the great forest around their unconquerable village, they encounter the fabulously beautiful Panacea picking mushrooms.

The little darling has freshly returned to the village after years away in Condatum, and the sheltered Obelix is instantly smitten. Dazed and confused by the only force that could ever affect him, the gentle giant is teased by Asterix and venerable druid Getafix, but innocently undaunted, Obelix begins bringing the oblivious lass a succession of inappropriate presents…

When the befuddled buffoon finds Panacea crying, he dashingly volunteers to mend her woes. Tragically for him, the problem is a boyfriend named Tragicomix, who has been pressed into military service with the Roman Army…

Where other men would take advantage of the hopeless situation, Obelix, afflicted with True Crush, determines to make her happy and rushes off to rescue her lost beau. Ever faithful, Asterix and diminutive canine companion Dogmatix accompany the big oaf… to keep him out of trouble…

In Condatum, they discover Tragicomix has already been shipped out to Africa where Caesar battles fellow Roman Scipio in a clandestine Civil War. Asterix realises the only way to find Tragicomix is to enlist in the Roman Army, too…

In Basic Training they meet a motley assortment of fellow recruits – all gently-contrived national stereotypes – allowing for a broad bombardment of friendly ethnic comedy and graphic accent humour. There was Neveratalos the Greek, Goths Allegoric and Hemispheric, Gastronomix from Belgium, Selectivemploymentax the Briton and poor Ptenisnet the Egyptian, who doesn’t know the language and thinks he joined a holiday package tour…

After lashings of their unique brand of anarchy disrupting regulation army life, Asterix, Obelix and crew ship out to Africa. When they arrive, the war is going badly for Caesar, but more importantly, Tragicomix has gone missing: believed captured by Scipio’s forces…

With magic potion in hand, Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix take matters in hand…

A hilariously engaging yarn with delicious overtones of the iconic British comedy Carry On Sergeant, this action-packed farce is big on laughs but harbours a bittersweet core that will tug at the heartstrings of young and old alike…

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield (originally entitled Le bouclier arverne) was the 11th epic outing for the Greatest French Hero of Them All: debuting in Pilote #399 and running until #421 in 1967. It acts as a tongue-in-cheek patriotic history lesson and opens years before the usual setting of Asterix tales as Gaulish over-chief Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar at the Battle of Alesia. This he does by throwing down his weapons and armour at the Conqueror’s feet. It’s the start of a lengthy running gag…

Such is the shame of the defeated Gauls that the location of the clash is excised from their memories. Now, nobody remembers where Alesia was…

After the battle, the accoutrements lay where they fell until a greedy Legionary stole the Great Shield, subsequently losing it in a game of dice. From there, the legendary buckler passes through many scurrilous hands before fading into legend…

Jumping to “modern” times, in the village of indomitable Gauls Chief Vitalstatistix is terribly ill: a sedentary life of over-indulgence has ruined his liver and since Getafix’s druidic potions can’t help him, he has to go to the spa town of Aqua Calidae (Arverne) for a rest-cure and diet.

It isn’t all bad though, since his forthright wife Impedimenta has to stay behind….

As a chief he needs an honour guard and Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix are happy to accompany him, especially as the chief uses the journey to test all the inns and taverns en route. Once there though, the warriors’ robust consumption and boisterous high jinks appals all the dieting dignitaries and impatient patients, so Asterix and Obelix are summarily kicked out of the Health Resort.

Footloose and fancy-free, the boys tour the local countryside of Gergovia, idly trying to find the lost site of Alesia until they encounter Roman envoy Noxius Vapus and his cohort. After indulging in their favourite sport of Roman-bashing, the lads befriend local merchant Winesandspirix – a veteran of Alesia – while Noxius hightails it to Rome to tell Caesar the Gauls are revolting…

({   } This space provided for you to fill in your own joke)…

Set on putting the Gauls in their place and reminding them who’s boss, Caesar determines to hold a Roman Triumph with the shield of Vercingetorix as the centrepiece. He’s none too happy when he discovers it’s been missing for years…

And thus begins the second stage of this hilariously thrilling detective mystery as the Romans frantically hunt for the missing artefact and Asterix and Obelix set out to thwart them at every turn…

No prizes for guessing which faction succeeds and who scurries home in defeat and disgust in this marvellously slapstick saga with a delightfully daft twist ending…

Asterix at the Olympic Games first appeared weekly in Pilote #434-455, serialised in 1968 to coincide with and capitalise upon the Mexico City Games. The translated British album was released four years later, just before the 1972 Munich Olympiad.

The Romans of Aquarium garrison are in an ebullient mood. Their comrade Gluteus Maximus has been selected to represent Rome at the Greeks’ Great Games in Olympia. Centurion Gaius Veriambitius is happy too, because he knows if Gluteus wins, they can both write their ticket in Rome…

It all starts to go horribly wrong when the Roman superman is bested and humiliated by Asterix and Obelix whilst training in the Great Forest. His confidence shattered, Gluteus returns to Aquarium and only regains a modicum of his old form when Veriambitius reminds him that the potion-fuelled Gauls won’t be at the Games…

Meanwhile, the men of the village have decided to go to Olympia and have a go themselves…

There follows an uproarious and nigh-scandalous sequence of events as the unbeatable Greeks try to placate their Roman overlords; the Latin competitors undergo the tortures of the arrogant damned to cheat, wheedle and somehow exclude the all-conquering Gauls, whilst the basically honest and honourable Asterix devises a cunning yet fair way to beat the politically motivated, greed-inspired “sportsmen” and still uphold the best traditions and ideals of the Olympic Games.

Guess who wins…

Spoofing package tours, obnoxious tourists, self-serving sports authorities and doping scandals in equal proportion, this sparkling escapade features some of Uderzo’s most inspired art as he recreates the grandeur and glory of the Ancient World whilst simultaneously graphically lampooning the haughty elites of the Sporting World, the Military and Politics. A genuine classic far more valuable than any medal and a bit sturdier than laurel leaf crowns…

Asterix volumes are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal action and splendidly addictive adventure, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1967-1969 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud volume 2: The Caliph’s Vacation


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-61-8

During his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and is still one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. 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 Goscinny teamed with Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah but it was the villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, that stole the show – possibly the conniving little devil’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. A modest success, it was transferred to Pilote: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was remodelled to give more emphasis to the scurrilous little weasel who had increasingly stolen the show.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp, the revamped series – retitled Iznogoud – commenced in Pilote in 1968, becoming a huge favourite, with 29 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie in 2005.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary took over writing the strip, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and also translated here by the master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Here their famed skills conjure up the best, wackiest – and least salacious – bits of the legendary Carry On films…

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 vile vizier is “aided” – that’s sarcasm, that is – in his schemes by bumbling and extremely reluctant assistant Wa’at Alahf… Available in printed and eBook editions, this second delightful translation from Cinebook (which was originally third Dargaud album Les vacances du calife from 1968), opens the daft duo’s latest campaign of insurrections with ‘Summer Vacation or Never Say Die.’ As the holidays come ‘round again, the vizier persuades the Caliph to forego his usual Summer Palace in favour of a quiet bed-sit by the seaside, where an unwary ruler could easily drown or be buried in the sand or lost at sea or be eaten by sharks or…

As expected, plans go painfully awry and it’s back to Baghdad for ‘Good Sports in the Caliphate’ as a hapless magician/weatherman accidentally creates enough snow in the desert to open a ski resort. It doesn’t take much – it never does – to convince Haroun to sample the chilly thrills of skiing, snowboarding, crevasses and avalanches, but as usual it’s not the Big Chief who sustains any crippling injuries.

The vacation theme continues with ‘The Caliph’s Cruise’ but, after booking passage for Haroun with the unluckiest sea captain alive, the vile vizier doesn’t get off the ship quickly enough and the selection of cannibals, monsters, savages and sea creatures the voyagers encounter find him a far more suitable subject for their unique attentions…

The vengeful comeuppances conclude in ‘Lihkwid’s Bottle or the Bottle of Lihkwid’ as a travelling merchant provides an infallible elixir that will transform the affable potentate into a louse – but only if Iznogoud can trick him into drinking all three gallons of the foul-tasting stuff…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully punny word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales, and this series is a household name in France; where the title has even entered common usage as a term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When first released here in the 1970s, Iznogoud made little impression but hopefully this snazzy new incarnation of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy vignettes can finally find an audience among today’s more internationally aware comics-and-cartoon savvy British Kids of All Ages.

I’m already one of them: How about you…?
© 1968 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 1: Billy the Kid


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (CineBook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-11-3

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 hero moved with them, it made the news headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, laconic, good, natured cowboy endlessly roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his whip-smart horse Jolly Jumper and Rantanplan (the “dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over more than 70 years have filled 95 albums to date and made him the best-selling comic character in Europe (countless millions of albums in more than 30 languages thus far), with spin-off games, computer games, animated cartoons and even live-action movies.

He was created by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère – who signed himself Morris – for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, subsequently launching into his first adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Before then, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist (to my eyes, Lucky looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many mid-1940s B-movie Westerns).

Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” or Gang of Four, which comprised creators Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, E P. Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 the Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation, Mad, and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly disappearing Old West. His research henceforward resonated on every page of his life’s work…

Morris was a one-man band producing nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody until 1955 when he reunited with Goscinny who took over the scripts. Working in perfect unison, they steered Luke to dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the straight-shooter switched teams, leaving Spirou for Goscinny’s magazine Pilote with La Diligence (the Stagecoach).

Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from when Morris continued both alone and with other collaborators. Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 yarns, plus spin-off adventures of Rantanplan, with the team of Achdé & Laurent Gerra taking over. In a most peculiar aside I feel I must mention that Morris was apparently voted the “79th Greatest Belgian” in the 2005 Walloon election of De Grootste Belg. If so, I demand a recount…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain in the early 1960s, syndicated in weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books, Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – substituted a piece of straw for the much-traveled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook: the first album (available in paperback and eBook formats) is Billy the Kid, Morris and Goscinny’s eleventh collaboration.

As Luke rides into the troubled town of Fort Weakling, he finds the populace cowed and broken by the vile depredations of the infamous William Bonney. The desperado robs the bank every couple of days, and the stagecoach every time it leaves town, helps himself to caramels without paying, and won’t let the saloon serve anything but drinking chocolate.

His deadly aptitude with a six-gun means that no one will swear out a complaint, let alone testify against the vicious little bully…

When Luke accepts the job of sheriff, it takes brains and cunning rather than his legendary skill with a shooting iron to free the town from the tiny grip of the world’s meanest 12-year old…

Although the dialogue is a trifle stiff in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by master storytellers, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for kids of all ages.

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 Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © Cinebook Ltd.

Asterix Omnibus volume 3: Asterix and the Big Fight; Asterix in Britain; Asterix and the Normans


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-427-4 (HB)                    978-1-44400-475-5 (PB)

Asterix the Gaul is one of Europe’s – more specifically France’s – most exciting and rewarding contributions to global culture: a cunning little paragon of the underdog spirit who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion bestowing incredible strength, speed and vitality. The savvy smarts are all his own…

One of the most-read comics in the world, his chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages (including Latin and ancient Greek for educational purposes); with 14 live-action and animated movies, 55 board and video games and even into his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris).

More than 370 million copies of 37 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo who were already masters of the form and at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of the terrifying prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

Asterix launched in 1959 in the very first issue of Pilote (with a teaser premiere page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0). The feature was a massive hit from the start. Initially Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was, after much effort, convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

Like all great literary classics, the premise works on two levels: younger readers enjoy an action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts whilst crustier readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly and witty satire, enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light and innovative touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world.

The stories were set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50 BCE, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resist all efforts of the Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

By the time Asterix and the Big Fight first ran in Pilote #261-302 in 1964 (originally entitled Le Combat des chefs or ‘The Battle of the Chiefs’) the feature was a fixture in millions of lives.

Here another Roman scheme to overwhelm the hirsute hold-outs begins when Totorum’s commander Centurion Nebulus Nimbus and his aide-de-camp Felonius Caucus try using an old Gaulish tradition to rid themselves of the rebels.

The Big Fight is a hand-to-hand duel between chiefs, with the winner becoming ruler of the loser’s tribe. All the Romans have to do is find a puppet, have him defeat fat, old Vitalstatistix and their perennial problem goes away for good. Luckily, just such a man is Cassius Ceramix: chief of Linoleum, a hulking brute and, most importantly, a keen lover of all things Roman…

Even such a cunning plan is doomed to failure whilst Vitalstatistix uses magic potion to increase his strength, but what if the Druid Getafix is taken out first?

When the Romans attempt to abduct the old mage, Obelix (who fell into a vat of potion as a baby and grew into a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry goliath) accidentally bounces a large menhir off the druid’s bonce, causing amnesia and a touch of insanity…

Although not quite what they intended, the incapacitation of Getafix emboldens the plotters and the Gallo-Roman Ceramix’s challenge is quickly delivered and reluctantly accepted. With no magic potion, honour at stake and the entire village endangered, desperate measures are called for. Asterix and Obelix consult the unconventional sage (even for druids) Psychoanalytix – who specialises in mental disorders – and Vitalstatistix is forced to diet and begin hard physical training!

Unfortunately, when Obelix shows Psychoanalytix how Getafix sustained his injury the net result is two crazy druids, who promptly begin a bizarre bout of magical one-upmanship. As the crucial combat begins and Vitalstatistix valiantly battles his hulking, traitorous nemesis, Getafix accidentally cures himself, which is lucky as the treacherous Nebulus Nimbus and Felonius Caucus have no intention of losing and have perspicaciously brought along their much-abused Legions to crush the potion-less Gauls, should Ceramix let them down…

Manic and deviously cutting in its jibes at the psychiatric profession, this wildly slapstick romp is genuinely laugh-a-minute and one of the very best Goscinny tales.

Following the established pattern, after a “home” adventure our heroes went globe-trotting in their next exploit -although not very far…

Asterix in Britain originated in 1965 (Pilote#307-334) and followed Caesar’s conquest of our quirky country. It was never a fair fight: Britons always stopped in the afternoon for a cup of hot water and a dash of milk and never at the weekend, so those were the only times the Romans attacked…

Just so’s you know: by this time the Gallic wonders were already fairly well known on our foggy shores. The strips had been appearing in UK weekly anthology Valiant since November 1963, graduating to Ranger (1965-66) and Look & Learn (1966). Set in Britain circa 43 AD and entitled Little Fred and Big Ed, Little Fred, the Ancient Brit with Bags of Grit, Beric the Bold, Britons Never, Never, Never Shall Be Slaves! and In the Days of Good Queen Cleo. The first true Asterix album was subsequently released in 1969 by Brockhampton Press, with all names and locations just as we know them today.

After the conquest, in Cantium (Kent) one village of embattled Britons hold out against the invaders and they send Anticlimax to Gaul where his cousin Asterix has successfully resisted the Romans for absolutely ages. Always happy to oblige, the Gauls whip up a barrel of magic potion and the wily warrior and Obelix accompany Anticlimax on the return trip. Unfortunately, during a brief brouhaha with a Roman galley in the channel, the invaders discover the mission and begin a massive hunt for the rebels and their precious cargo…

As the trio make their perilous way to Cantium, the entire army of occupation is hard on their heels and it isn’t long before the barrel goes missing…

Simply stuffed with good natured jibes about British cooking, fog, the Tower of Londinium, warm beer, council estates, the still un-dug Channel tunnel, boozing, the Beatles (it was the swinging Sixties, after all), sport, fishing and our national beverage, this action-packed, wild frenetic chase yarn is possibly the funniest of all the Asterix books… if you’re British and possess our rather unique sense of humour, eh, wot…?

Asterix and the Normans debuted in Pilote #340-361 (1966) and showed how Vikings (who would eventually colonise parts of France as Northmen or “Normans”) first encountered our heroic Gauls and learned some valuable lessons…

The action opens with Chief Vitalstatistix reluctantly taking charge of his spoiled teenaged nephew Justforkix, intending to make a man of the flashy brat from Lutetia (Paris). The country girls go for his style and modern music (spoofing Elvis Presley in the original and the Rolling Stones in the English translation) and the lad’s glib tongue even convinces the Bard Cacofonix that his “unique” musical talent would be properly appreciated in the big city…

Meanwhile, a shipload of Vikings have fetched up on the beach, looking for the answer to a knotty question.

Rough, tough and fierce, the Scandinavians have no concept of fear, but since they have heard that the emotion can make people fly, they’re determined not to leave until they have experienced terror first hand…

They’ve met their match in the Gaulish villagers, but Justforkix is a different matter. The once-cool lad is a big ball of cowardy-custardness when confronted by the Normans, so the burly barbarians promptly snatch him, insisting he teach them all about that incomprehensible emotion…

Canny Asterix knows fighting Normans is a waste of time, but reasons the only way to get rid of them is to teach them what fear is like. If violence won’t work then what’s needed is something truly horrible… but Cacofonix and his assorted musical instruments are already on their way to fame and fortune in Lutetia. If only Obelix and Dogmatix can find him and save the day…

Daft and delicious, this superbly silly tale abounds with comedy combat and confusion; a perfect mix of gentle generational jibing and slaphappy slapstick with a twist ending to boot…

Outrageously fast-paced, funny and magnificently illustrated by a supreme artist at the very peak of his form, these historical high jinks cemented Asterix’s growing reputation as a world treasure and as these albums are available in a wealth of differing formats and editions – all readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors or even your local charity shop – there’s no reason why should miss out on all the fun.

Asterix is sublime comics storytelling and if you’re still not au fait with these Village People you must be as Crazy as the Romans ever were…
© 1964-1965 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.