Buz Sawyer volume 3: Typhoons and Honeymoons


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-703-1 (HB)

I’m making an effort not to be snarky or political today. Powerless ranting and supposedly scathing asides don’t do much to change the world and nothing at all good for my blood pressure. What does is wonderful comics masterpieces. Here’s one now…

In these seen-it-all 21st century days, science is flashy: astounding and confounding us on a daily basis (I assume you’ve all seen the supermassive black hole doughnut by now?). It’s perhaps an effort, then, to remember simpler times when folk were impressed by amazing things we now take for granted, when human-scaled drama and adventure was enough to set pulses racing and hearts pounding… until you read a book like this one.

This third stout and sturdy hardcover edition re-presents more magnificent newspaper strip exploits of dynamic all-American everyman Buz Sawyer: war hero, globetrotting troubleshooter and here an imminent groom-to-be. The strips cover the epochal period from July 21st 1947 to October 9th 1949 wherein – after much procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed and sexy skulduggery – our boy clean-cut boy-next-door finally marries his extremely understanding sweetheart Christy Jameson.

Of course, he then dragged her into his lethally adventurous world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil – a company with fingers in many international pies…

Before the two-fisted romance kicks off, however, the ever-erudite Rick Norwood uses a letter from Crane’s personal papers (donated to Syracuse University) to examine the creator’s history, influence and opinions in his own forthright words in ‘The Life of a Professional Artist’.

Crane and his creative team (see Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tigerfor details) laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in monochrome through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a tricky mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb underlying drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

The colour Sundays were usually the province of ghost artist Hank Schlensker and starred Buz’s grizzled old sidekick Roscoe Sweeny, and this volume concludes with a brief selection that primarily guest-starred the named lead and Roscoe in wartime reminiscences and occasional contemporary gag goof-offs…

The never-ending rollercoaster of thrills, spills and chills picks up as Frontier Oil’s Mr. Fixit reels at the realisation that he’s at long last formally engaged to his girl…

Buz is only just coming to grips with the marriage in prospect, whereas avowed “Ladies Man” Chili Harrison is cynically unmoved that his former office-mate is on Cloud 9… at least until they get a desperate call from mutual Navy buddy Thirsty Collins. Their homely shipmate has a problem only Buz can solve…

The old salt had made good since hostilities ended and owns his own plantation on his own island. He has, however, been maimed in an accident whilst wooing a woman by post. Now she is coming to marry her Mr. Collins, based on his winning words and a single photo… of Buz. With the jig up, Thirsty deeds Patricia Patterson all his worldly goods, sets up Sawyer to marry her and attempts his own wildly flamboyant suicide…

Reluctantly flying down to Puerto Rico, Buz is soon embroiled in a ludicrous imbroglio as, even after having everything explained, Pat professes to prefer the hunk at hand rather than her timid, missing matrimonial mystery man.

Thankfully, a colossal hurricane and a conniving, lecherous playboy cad do more to convince Collins to fight for and win his baffled bride than all Buz’s indignant, infuriated, exasperated arguments…

In Roy Crane’s world there are no tidy beginnings and endings. Each adventure follows seamlessly on from the last and even as Buz makes his way back to New York the next escapade is well underway.

Patient sweetheart Christy has had enough waiting around and goes looking for a job, landing up as Chili’s secretary, but only after the unrepentant, blithely unaware hound-dog clears the way by promoting his own highly efficient but unsightly amanuensis – at great personal and financial cost – so that he can have unrestricted access to the pretty stranger joining Frontier Oil.

Naturally, sparks fly when Sawyer finds his fiancée toiling for his dissolute and (probably) degenerate former wingman, whilst Chili is horrified to find he had lost this particular hot babe to “old Buzzo” even before he had hired her…

As Buz lays his wedding plans and retirement, his crafty boss Mr. Wright convinces him to sideline all that mushy stuff for one last job, and soon Sawyer and Sweeney are in the Goat Islands off Portugal, hunting a devious gunrunning ring supplying rebels in Salvaduras.

Masquerading as itinerant writers on a yachting jaunt, our heroes don’t fool bombastic Brobdingnagian bully Hammerhead Gool or his puny, effete but Machiavellian boss Harry Sparrow for a moment. It’s only the diminutive mastermind’s overwhelming squeamishness and sensitivity to the thought of blood that prevents their immediate destruction.

Moreover, when deception, bribery and seduction fail to deter the undercover operatives, Sparrow resorts to abducting them whilst immediately despatching the cached ordnance and munitions to the revolutionaries wrecking Frontier’s Salvaduran oil fields.

That slow voyage of the damned only leads to the explosive loss of Sparrow’s ship and shipment, as well as the end of the coup…

Back in America, Buz has proved himself too valuable to lose, and Frontier’s most important executive J.J. Freeze finds herself – when all is said and done, a “mere woman” – compelled to employ him as a bodyguard on her secret mission to secure lucrative mineral rights deals in Java and points East.

Sawyer is just as reluctant, but the promise of enough money to retire in style proves too tempting. Yet again, patient, understanding Christy is again left behind to fret and worry. She has good reason: Sparrow is still alive and eagerly anticipating the prospect of a vast payoff and some sadistically-enacted vengeance…

Tracking Freeze and Sawyer from Ireland to Egypt to Singapore, the little weasel poisons Freeze, who orders Buz to go on to Surabaya alone, carrying a cash payment of $1,000,000 for the nation’s capricious and over-educated Maharaja.

Harry even brazenly confronts Buz; putting our hero off guard as he instigates his latest master-plan: hiring a double to blacken Sawyer’s name and reputation in prim and proper Javanese High Society.

With the deal effectively scuppered, Sparrow maroons Buz on a desert island to force him to surrender the cash – unsuccessfully – before playing his final stroke: drugging the valiant Yank with a solution that causes amnesia…

Back in America, when word comes that the deal has flopped and both Buz and a million bucks are missing, Christy refuses to accept the slanderous stories and sells everything she owns to buy passage to Java. Soon she is an innocent abroad searching the dives and alleys of Surabaya for her man. When she is targeted by bandits and worse, Christy’s frantic escape brings her into contact with a crazy old lady who collects stray cats – and did the same for a derelict American with no name or memory…

The action seamlessly shifts into romantic melodrama as Christy tries to win back Buz from the lonely and dangerous harridan he has come to love, but even after that struggle heart-wrenchingly succeeds, the greater fight to clear his mind and good name continues…

When that minor miracle is finally accomplished, the restored Buz at last begins the oft-postponed wedding plans, only to be kidnapped by his rich, crazy and somehow not dead stalker Sultry, the Maharani of Batu.

In no mood to be balked, however, the impatient two-fisted groom-to-be fights his way out of her palace and onto a Honolulu-bound plane…

Back in their rural hometown in time for Christmas, Buz and Christy finally tie the knot and prepare for the rest of their lives but the new Mrs. Sawyer is still terrified that domesticity might kill her over-active husband…

As the newlyweds enjoy a carefully sequestered and discreet honeymoon off-panel, Sweeney appropriates the daily strip for a few weeks for a hilarious comedy sequence as he attempts to find them the perfect wedding present and ends up hunting Longhorn Sheep off-season in the near-arctic conditions of the Rocky Mountains in December…

A turning point began in early 1948 as Wright and the Frontier Oil brass track down Buz to offer him a life-threateningly dull desk job or a perilous field assignment in Darkest Africa.

Perfect wife Christy, understanding Buz’s needs, bravely ignores her own feelings and talks him into the latter, offering to share his addiction to danger and the unknown…

Soon the couple are trekking across the Veldt: pioneers tasked with carving an airport and oil installation out of the jungle, but the natural wonders and threats of Africa are as nothing compared to the murderously conniving schemes of their nearest neighbour.

Dashing, debonair Kingston Diamond is solicitous in advice and unctuous in his welcome of the young Americans, but his patient game includes sabotage, terrorism, slaughtering Christy’s menagerie of pets and even murdering Buz to eventually win him the only white woman in 100 miles…

As previously mentioned, also included here are fourteen of the best Sundays – all notionally with appearances by Buz (spanning July 29th 1945 to 17th February 1963) – a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully turn one day into an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the Grandmasters of our art form.

Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons is a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder and an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and enthralling, these adventures influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always offering comics tale-telling that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 4: Plunder Island


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-169-5 (HB)

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always fighting a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

In the less than ten years Elzie Crisler Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929, until the creator’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), he built an incredible meta-world of fabulous lands and locations, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. His was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying and frequently both at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or sunken kingdom there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily swung fists.

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

The sailor-man is the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and a man who takes no guff from anyone. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

With this fourth magnificent hardcover collection of Segar’s comic masterpiece the Sunday Colour pages take precedence as, for the first time ever, his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ is reprinted in its full, unexpurgated totality. The reprinted selection covers the period December 3rd 1933 to April 7th 1935, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment).

It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island; land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag has reared her homely head once more…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps Professor Cringly. He is an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location, and Popeye’s latest voyage is seemingly over before it has begun….

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, Rough-House, Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye swiftly give chase, but all seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake. When she sends the Goon to take hostages, the uncanny beast returns with the indomitable Popeye and an inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her Goon (who is apparently a rather decent – if unprepossessing – lady named Alice…)

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and riotous comedy have never been better blended than in this tale, but even when the victorious crew finally return home the fun doesn’t stop. Next, we examine the bitter aftermath and how the various heroes dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy, for example, simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his away, prompting his return to the world of extreme prize-fighting…

Baby Swee’pea made his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced during a riotous sequence in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight”), becoming the focus of many outrageous gags once Popeye, Wimpy and Olive slip back into their slapstick shtick, allowing the audience to comfortably decompress before the next big drama-drenched story…

The ubiquitous Sappo topper strip became even more imaginative in this period, with demented Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle’s mad science exploits leading to ever-crazier results and the continual breaking of the Fourth Wall. For the unprepared, this was a strip that could regularly make your brain, as well as your sides, split…

The added extra feature ‘Funny Films’ (dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema) eventually gave way to the fascinatingly informative and entertaining ‘Popeye’s Cartoon Club’, which provided tips and encouragement to budding artists – and Segar’s approach and advice is as sound today as it ever was…

Just because he was setting the world alight with his innovative Sunday adventure serials and complete gag strips is no reason to suppose his daily feature suffered. In fact, the breakneck pace seemed to inspire Segar, as in short order Popeye and his ever-expanding cast of clowns and reprobates rollicked through a memorable run of captivating tales in monochrome from Mondays to Saturdays.

The dailies section here covers 11th December 1933 to 24th July 1934, beginning with the sailor-man – accompanied by Swee’pea, Olive and Wimpy – moving to Puddleburg, ‘The Laziest Town on Earth’ to run their local newspaper and granting the self-deprecating and wickedly trenchant Segar an opportunity to lampoon himself and his profession with the creation of B. Loony Bullony: World Famous Cartoonist…

When Olive inherits 20 million dollars, her marital prospects increase dramatically, but since one of the most ardent converts to her previously well-hidden charms is a certain. J. Wellington Wimpy, she soon realises that money isn’t everything in ‘Romances and Riches’ – especially after Popeye rescues debutante June Vanripple from drowning and becomes the unwilling toast of the “Sassiety Crowd”

This extended morality play on the evils and travails of wealth contains some of the funniest screwball comedy set-pieces of the entire 1930s (books, movies, strips, everything!) with such memorable moments as Popeye in drag (particularly a rather fetching ladies’ swimsuit), the elder Vanripple and the sailor in a wild-oat sowing contest and Olive as a singing, dancing movie star – complete with fake “million-dollar-legs”…

Another classic and beloved sequence is ‘Unifruit or White Savages’ wherein the shock of losing her loot sends Olive into the convulsive shock syndrome of Aspenitis. The only cure is a therapeutic berry that grows on the wacky island of Nazilia, deep in the territory of a lost tribe of hulking man-beasts…

The frantic antics and comedy continue when June and Mr. Vanripple ask Popeye to go west and crush cowboy bandits plundering their gold mines in ‘Black Valley’ (and if you think drag is outrageous, check out Popeye in a tutu as a saloon dance-girl).

Fair warning though: this was an era where casual racial stereotyping was considered completely acceptable and a key part of cartooning. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was far more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk spoke. George W. Geezil wasn’t merely a cheap Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any one of nearly fifty supporting cast members could be within the constrictions of page and panel count.

In ‘Black Valley’, Castor Oyl has a Negro manservant called Eclipse, who, although superficially little different in speech pattern and appearance from less-enlightened cartoonists’ portrayal of coloured people, played an active role in proceedings. He wasn’t there for cheap easy laughs, but even so it’s clear Segar wasn’t comfortable with him and he wasn’t a permanent addition. He may be quite disquieting to you and I, but please try and recall the tone of the times and – even though there’s still a whole lot of prejudice still to be dealt with today – just how far we’ve come…

The old salt’s greatest “emeny” returned in another bombastic fantasy romp entitled ‘The Sea Hag’s Sister or The Pool of Youth’, as the vile villainess, her scurvy band of cutthroats and Alice the Goon try to seize control of a literal fountain of youth from her own unsavoury sister and 20,000-year-old caveman, Toar.

Unfortunately, Popeye, Castor, Olive and Wimpy are caught in the crossfire…

One less than wonderful “treat” can be experienced at the end of this volume: one that tormented the kids of all ages addicted to Popeye nearly 90 years ago. ‘Popeye’s Ark’ was another spectacular 6-month long lark, wherein the sailor-man attempts to emulate the Biblical mariner who built “Nora’s Ark” to sail the seas in a giant vessel filled with beasts until he found the promised land of “Spinachova”. Sadly, we all get to “enjoy” cliffhanging tension until the next instalment as this sequence ends 12 weeks into the saga. Oh, the unrelenting tension of it all…

At least you can buy this book and its sequel simultaneously now and not wait for my next excessively excitable recommendation…

There is more than one Popeye: most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. Elzie Crisler Segar’s comic strip masterpiece features the very best of them all and you’d be crazy to deny it… or miss him.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Land of Black Gold


By Hergé, and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-814-7 (HB) 978-1-40520-626-6 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible 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 created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

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

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. But although these freedoms seemed to guarantee a new beginning the life of the creator was far from trouble-free.

In 1949 he returned to Tintin au pays de l’or noir which had been abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East…

Now safely able to resume the tale – with some necessary updating – the story began afresh on 16th of September 1948 and ran to its conclusion on February 23rd 1950, and was promptly collected into a full-colour album the same year. It remained problematical: and publication was suspended on August 4th 1949 until 27th October. Hergé had suffered a nervous breakdown and could not work for months. As he recuperated in Switzerland, the magazine turned disaster into a publicity stunt: declaring “Shocking News! Hergé has Disappeared!” It is a tribute to his skills and those of his studio team that the finished tale reveals none of his personal problems, but is an almost seamless and riveting yarn of political and criminal gangsterism; exotic, rocket-paced, surreal, hilarious and breathtakingly exciting.

The story concerns a plot to destabilise global peace by sabotaging petrol. All oil is somehow made more flammable, causing engines to explode when refuelled. Tintin traces the sabotage to the freighter Speedol Star, which he joins as Radio Officer. The dim-witted detectives Thomson and Thompson are also aboard, but much less discreetly, and soon all three are the targets of a numbers of attacks and assaults. When the ship reaches the Arabian port of Khemikhal they are all framed as drug smugglers and arrested.

At that moment Tintin is abducted by rebel tribesmen who believe he is a gunrunner and the now-vindicated detectives go in search of their friend in the desert. After many hardships the intrepid boy and Snowy discover villainous spymaster Doctor Müller (last seen in The Black Island) is trying to ingratiate himself with the oil-rich Emir. Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab is wise and tolerant, but “blessed” with a wilful and spoiled son, Abdullah, who is kidnapped when he rejects the doctor’s offers. Tintin befriends the Ruler and goes undercover to find the Prince.

Tracking down Müller, Tintin attempts to rescue the prince (whose incessant practical jokes have made him a most unpopular but un-chastisable captive), only to be trapped in a brutal fire-fight in the catacombs beneath the spy’s villa. From nowhere, Captain Haddock (a supremely popular mainstay of latter adventures but unknown at the time of the first iteration) effects a rescue and the plot is revealed and thwarted. He bombastically first appeared after the original Land of Black Gold was abandoned, in The Crab with the Golden Claws and would increasingly steal the spotlight from his goody-goody juvenile partner…

Action-packed and visually delightful, this breezy mystery-thriller is full of humour and chases, with only the last-minute arrival of the dipsomaniac sea captain to slightly jar the proceedings. Presumably the original pages were recycled as much as possible with the popular Haddock inserted at a new breakpoint.

Studio Hergé was formed in 1950 to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features and Bob De Moor became an invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, filling in backgrounds and most notably rendering the unforgettable Lunar landscapes that feature in the next extended adventure. He was also a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market. Frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions, De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. The 1950s book was set in British-Occupied Palestine, but history and taste dictated the creation of a fictitious nation and erasure of many dated and contentious background scenes…

Surviving a troubled genesis, this short tale remains a grand adventure romp, full of epic events and hilarious moments once seen can never be forgotten. This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy.

Land of Black Gold: artwork © 1950, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1972 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBNs: 978-0-82885-071-1 (HB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-624-2 (PB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-813-0 (HB Sun)
978-1-40520-625-9 (PB Sun)

Georges Prosper Remi – known universally as Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his astounding yarns 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout, produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928, Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme while discontentedly illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps thereby highlighting and exposing some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning in early January 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930. Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Anglophones), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in Belgium’s army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down. Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, appropriated and controlled by the Nazis). He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

Begun in conquered Belgium and running in daily instalments, Les Sept Boules de Cristal began in December 1943 but was abruptly shelved when the Allies arrived in September 1944. Hergé, tarred as a collaborator, was unable to work for two years. When he was cleared the story resumed, serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from September 26th 1946 to April 22nd 1948

In 1943 the artist had met Edgar P. Jacobs, who became his assistant. They began with this extended adventure-tale which is now divided into eerie thriller The Seven Crystal Balls and grandiose epic Prisoners of the Sun. These dates seem odd but once again the Nazi conquest holds the answers.

For Belgium. Liberation day was September 3rd 1944. When the occupiers fled, workers on Le Soir were arrested as potential collaborators or Nazi sympathizers and the newspaper was closed down. For the two years they were under suspicion, Hergé, Jacobs and Alice Devos spent their time adapting old Tintin adventures for release as colour albums. The Seven Crystal Balls remained unfinished and unpublished until Raymond Leblanc stepped in.

Anthological Le Journal de Tintin continued the tale before completing the saga with Le Temple du Soleil. During this period, Jacobs left Hergé when the artist supposedly refused him a by-line for his work. At that time, Jacobs was also producing his own science-adventure masterpiece Blake and Mortimer which also featured in the weekly Tintin.

The Seven Crystal Balls sees affable old soak Captain Haddock returned to family manse Marlinspike Hall where he is adjusting (poorly) to his new-found wealth, and the prospect of exasperating Professor Cuthbert Calculus as his house-guest.

When Tintin and Snowy visit, a trip to the theatre embroils them all in a baffling enigma wherein the survivors of the South American Sanders-Hardiman Expedition all successively fall into comas due to an Incan curse and some rather suspect strangers. Tintin soon determines someone more solid than ethereal is causing the tragedies, but even he can’t stop the attacks, and soon he and his friends are also on the mysterious malefactor’s “to-do” list…

When Calculus is abducted from under their very noses, Haddock gives up his life of luxury and resumes adventuring once more, determined to help Tintin rescue their friend and solve the mystery.

Giving chase. they narrowly miss the villains at a seaport but still have a chance to beat the ship carrying Calculus if they board a sea-plane for Peru…

This is classic hairsbreadth storytelling. The pace is spellbinding and the ever-present slapstick actually serves to heighten the tension of the chase. The tale ends on a cliff-hanger, which is only right and proper. Still, imagine how you’d have felt all those decades ago when the conclusion was months away…

 

The helter-skelter drama continues in as, in the Port of Callao, Tintin and Haddock anxiously await the arrival of the freighter Pachacamac. However, when it arrives, suspected of carrying their kidnapped friend Cuthbert Calculus, the vessel flies a plague-pennant. There is Yellow Fever aboard and nobody can approach her!

And so begins Prisoners of the Sun, epic conclusion of the maddening mystery of Inca curses and the doomed Sanders-Hardiman Expedition to South America…

Suspecting a trick, Tintin sneaks aboard and finds the Professor, only to be driven away by gunfire. After telephoning Haddock, he chases the abductors, leaving the Captain and inept detectives Thompson and Thomson to catch up if they can. The chase takes them deep into the beautiful, rugged country where they finally reunite, only to become the target of many murder attempts, and other methods of dissuasion.

Undaunted, Tintin and Haddock continue their trek towards the mountains, and are befriended by Zorrino, a young lad who risks his own life to help them cross valleys, mountain-ranges and jungles, dodging death from both beasts and men, until they are all finally captured by the last remnants of a lost, wondrous and deeply cautious civilisation…

This is an epic staggering in scope and breathtaking in execution. Whether drawing a battle, choreographing a pratfall or delineating a golden temple, the clean precise line of the art and the simplified colour palette makes every panel “realer-than real”, whilst the captivating imagination of the storytelling makes this a truly graphic narrative.

These are two of the best comic adventures of all time and they demand a place on every fan’s bookshelves.

The Seven Crystal Balls: artwork © 1948, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.

Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Prisoners of the Sun: artwork © 1949, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-962-3

There are relatively few comic characters that have entered world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch. Elzie Crisler Segar had been producing the Thimble Theatre daily newspaper strip since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the ever-unfolding adventures of Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the heights that slouching walk-on would reach.

This third magnificent collection of Segar’s immortal – certainly unkillable – clay-footed reprobate reproduces one spectacular groundbreaking epic after another as the artist-auteur, in a whirlwind of creative inspiration, took the daily strip to new heights of cliffhanging thrills and absurdity. This he did whilst building unique and jovial character studies with the more humorous Sunday pages, generally set in the generic small seaside town of Sweethaven.

Following another erudite essay by Comics historian Donald Phelps, the daily delights (stretching from June 9th 1932 to December 9th 1933) begin with a rip-snorting mystery thriller full of action, tension, scares and laughs featuring a large portion of Thimble Theatre’s extensive cast. ‘The Eighth Sea’ finds Popeye, Castor, Olive, King Blozo of Nazilia and his idiot retainer Oscar all following the instructions of Oolong the Chinese Parrot to recover a fabulous lost treasure, aided by the incredible Merlock Jones, quick-change detective. This sinister sea saga was the one-and-only Segar tale to feature Popeye’s ultimate nemesis (in the animated cartoons at least) Bluto.

With breakneck pace – Segar never rested on his laurels or his plots – that adventure led the voyagers back to Nazilia for ‘Long Live the King or Gold and Goofs’ and a rematch with General Bunzo and his new Mata Hari Dinah Mow: a worldly-wise vamp even iron-willed Popeye couldn’t resisk…

After taking a well-aimed pop at popular democracy in ‘The Great Lection’ the old sea-dog sets up his own nation in ‘Popeye: King of Popilania’: another stinging satire which sees the increasingly irrepressible J. Wellington Wimpy expand beyond the Sunday pages to join the dailies cast, almost mooching the infant country away from its idealistic founder. Popilania’s problems are multiplied by an invasion of “furiners”, “emmygrunts” and even jungle-Neanderthals in ‘Wild Men and Wild Women’ before the well-meaning reformer learns his lesson. At least he never had to cope with Brexit…

The trenchant social commentary and barbed satire continued when he returns to America to become ‘Star Reporter’ for The Daily Blast, a periodical edited by Castor and “blessed” with Wimpy as photographer. This leads to the next big cast addition and our hero’s greatest advancement when a reader mails Popeye a baby in ‘Me Sweet Pea.’

Discovering the “infink’s” true history and heritage pits the sailor-man against some pretty ruthless types, and results in him suffering a serious brain injury in ‘Bonkus of the Konkus’ but his indomitable soul and noble heart win through as always in the turbulent desert debacle ‘Popeye’s Cure’

The Sunday Page selection follows a decidedly more domestic but no less riotous path. Running from 9th October to 23rd November 1933, the full-colour section was increasing given over to – or more correctly, appropriated – by the insidiously oleaginous Wimpy: ever hungry, always cadging, yet intellectually stimulating, casually charming and usually triumphant in all his mendicant missions.

Whilst still continuing his pugilistic shenanigans, the action of the Sunday strips moved away from Popeye hitting quite so much to alternately being outwitted by the unctuous moocher, and saving him from the vengeance of Diner owner Rough-house and passionately loathing George W. Geezil, an ethnic Jewish stereotype, who like all Segar’s characters swiftly developed beyond comedic archetype into a unique person with his own story… and another funny accent.

Wimpy was unstoppable – he even became a rival suitor for Olive Oyl’s scrawny favours – and his development owes a huge debt to his creator’s love and admiration of comedian W.C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for common-man-but-imperfect-champion, Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving rapacious greed, freed from all ethical restraint or consideration, and gloriously devoid of any impulse-control.

Wimpy literally took candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar made us love him. He was Popeye’s other half: weld them together and you have an heroic ideal… (and yes, those stories are true: British Wimpy burger bars are built from the remnants of a 1950s international merchandising scheme that wanted to put a J Wellington Wimpy-themed restaurant in every town and city).

The gags and exploits of the two forces of human nature build riotously during this period, ever-more funny; increasingly outrageous. The laugh-out-loud antics seem impossible to top, and maybe Segar knew that. Either he was getting the stand-alone gag-stuff out of his system, or perhaps he was clearing the decks and setting the scene for a really big change.

Within weeks (or for us, next volume) the Thimble Theatre Sunday page changed forever. In a bold move, the blood-and-thunder serial-style adventure epics of the dailies transferred to the Technicolor splendour of the “family pages” and all stops would be pulled out…

Topper strip Sappo actually increased its page-share during this period, going from two to three tiers, as the unstoppable scientist O.G. Watasnozzle took the little feature into increasingly surreal and absurdist realms. On a rocket ship journey, Sappo and his insufferable but long-suffering wife Myrtle experienced incredible thrills, chills and spills during an extended trip around the solar system; experiencing all the goofy wonders and embarrassments Segar’s fevered mind could concoct.

Always innovating, the restless creator also began adding extra value for his readers: incorporating collector stamps, games and puzzles to his Sunday pages. In an era with no television – and indeed, with only the very first prototype comicbooks just starting to appear – radio-shows and Sunday pages were the home entertainment choices of most Americans. Many strips offered extras in their funny-pages and Segar excelled in creating paper-based toys and amusements.

In this book alone there are stamps, play money “lucky bucks”, cartooning tips, drawing lessons and ‘Funny Films’ – dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema!

As an especially welcome bonus, this volume concludes with an incredibly rare piece of Popeye memorabilia: one I’d heard of but never thought I’d ever see. In 1934 the Chicago World’s Fair was held in the Windy City, and for two weeks before, at the end of 1933, it was advertised and promoted in the Hearst papers with an original full-page, monochrome Popeye serial. That’s terrific enough but the extended yarn was given extra push by escaping the funny-pages ghetto to run for that fortnight in the Sports section, as Popeye and crew explored the wonders of the World’s Fair in a truly spectacular and irresistible enticing prom feature – possibly the first of its kind.

This work is among the finest strip narrative ever created: reading it should be on everybody’s bucket list, and even when you do there’s still more and better yet to come…

In this anniversary year, you owe it to yourself to make the acquaintance of this icon of cartooning.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. 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.

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.

Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-810-9 (HB Unicorn) 978-1-40520-622-8 (PB Unicorn)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-811-6 (HB Rackham) 978-1-40520-623-5 (PB Rackham)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his astounding yarns 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning in early January 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930. Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to the occupiers’ preferred daily newspaper Le Soir. He diligently continued producing stories for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

These adventures come from the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is potent and remarkable.

After his homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when called up, but the collapse of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to Black Gold, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

Le Secret de La Licorne ran from June 11th 1942 to January 14th 1943: a rip-roaring adventure mystery of light-hearted, escapist thrills, to create a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life. It and its continuation remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day. It’s also the first co-created with cartoonist, journalist and full-time ghost writer Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet) who silently collaborated on Blake & Mortimer, Hassan et Kaddour, Corentin, Les Farces de l’Empereur and many others.

On completion it was collected as a full-colour book in 1943, re-mastered in 1946 and serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants from Mach 19th 1944.

After the dramatic and fanciful far-fetched exploits of The Shooting Star, Hergé returned to less fantastical fare with The Secret of the Unicorn which begins as Tintin buys an antique model galleon at a street market. He intends presenting it to Captain Haddock, but even before he can pay for it an increasingly desperate number of people try to buy, and even steal it from him.

Resisting all efforts and entreaties, he tells his effulgent friend of the purchase, ‘though not that a minor accident has broken one of the masts. The Captain is flabbergasted to hear of the model! He has a portrait of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, painted in the reign of King Charles II, in which the exact same ship features!

On returning home Tintin finds the model has been stolen, but on visiting the first and most strident of the collectors who tried to buy it from him finds that the man already has an exact duplicate of the missing model.

After much hurly-burly Tintin and Haddock discover that Sir Francis was once a prisoner of infamous pirate Red Rackham, but escaped with the location of the villain’s treasure horde. Subsequently making three models of his vessel “The Unicorn”, the sea dog placed part of a map in each and gave them to his three sons…

Someone else obviously has divined the secret of the ships and that mysterious mastermind becomes ever more devious and ruthless in his attempts to obtain the complete map. Events come to a head when Tintin is kidnapped, which is a big mistake, as the intrepid lad brilliantly turns the tables on his abductors and solves the mystery. With the adventure suitably concluded, the volume ends with our heroes ready to embark on the no-doubt perilous voyage to recover Red Rackham’s Treasure

For which we must turn to the next volume in this glorious repackaging of one of the World’s greatest comic strip treasures… Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin!
The Secret of the Unicorn: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The concluding tome of an epic saga, Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge ran in Le Soir from February 9th to September 23rd 1943 and topped that thrilling mystery chase to secure three sections of a pirate map with a glorious all-out, all-action romp in search of the loot itself. During that period the artist met Edgar P. Jacobs, who became his assistant on the daily strip…

Tintin and Haddock are quietly assembling the requirements for their proposed treasure hunt. However, when a loose-lipped sailor is overheard by an enterprising reporter, the endeavour becomes a cause celebré with a horde of opportunists claiming descent from Red Rackham.

A more persistent but innocently intentioned distraction is a deaf and daffy Professor named Cuthbert Calculus who wants to use the expedition to test his new invention. He continually accosts Tintin and Haddock. Although his offer is rejected the Professor is not a man to be easily dissuaded. Mostly because he can’t hear the word “no” – or any others…

With the detectives Thompson and Thomson aboard (in case of criminal activity) the small team sets sail on their grand adventure…

This is a rich and absorbing yarn in the classic manner, full of exotic islands, nautical drama, mystery and travail, brilliantly timed comedy pieces and even a surprise ending. The restrictions of Belgium’s occupation necessitated Hergé’s curtailment of political commentary and satire in his work, but it apparently freed his Sense of Wonder to explore classic adventure themes with spectacular and memorable results. Although not the greatest of stand-alone Tintin tales, in conjunction with The Secret of the Unicorn this story becomes one of the best action sagas in the entire Hergé canon.

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their unflagging popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature, and stories you and your entire clan should know.
Red Rackham’s Treasure: artwork © 1945, 1973 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tiger


By Roy Crane & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-499-3

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible weapon to guarantee sales and increase circulation, the strips seemed to find their only opposition in the short-sighted local paper editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into advertising and frequently drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes over the years.

From the very start comedy was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane produced pages of stunning, addictive high-quality yarn-spinning for years, until his eventual introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This in turn led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4).

Practically improving minute by minute, the strip benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection: his imaginative, fabulous compositional masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comicbook masters such as Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The material was obviously as much fun to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so Crane stopped making them.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page to concentrate on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features, lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was a contemporary aviation strip set in the then still-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but largely comedic Lothario and his pal Easy a surly, tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a joyous amalgam of the two: a good-looking, popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him…

Buz was a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot daily risking his life with his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney: a bluff, brave and simply ordinary Joe – and one of the most effective comedy foils ever created.

The wartime strip was – and still is – a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. However when the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot and girl-chasing rival Chili Harrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their penchant for adventure and romance wherever they could find it…

Crane was a master of popular entertainment, blending action and adventure with smart drama and compellingly sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes.

He and his team of creative assistants – which over the decades comprised co-writer Ed “Doc” Granberry and artists Hank Schlensker, Clark Haas, Al Wenzel, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin and Bill Wright – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in the signature monochrome textures of line-art and craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones to the superb drawing for miraculous depths and moods) as well as the prerequisite full-colour Sunday page.

This primarily black-&-white tome contains an impressive selection of those colour strips – although Crane came to regard them only as a necessary evil which plagued him for most of his career…

The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either Dailies or Sunday strips, but not both) meant that most creators had to produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Whereas Dailies needed about three weeks lead-in time, hand-separated colour plates for the Sabbath sections meant the finished artwork and colour guides had be at the engravers and printers a minimum of six weeks before publication.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb; using Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created the prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met, whilst in Buz Sawyer he turned the slot over to Roscoe Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on slapstick laughs and situation comedy.

During the war years it was set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship: a far more family-oriented feature and probably much more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically sexy sagas that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

A year before Steve Canyon began, Crane tried telling a seven-days-a-week yarn in Buz Sawyer – with resounding success, to my mind, and you can judge for yourself here – but found the process a logistical nightmare. At the conclusion he retuned to weekday continuity whilst Sundays were restored to Roscoe with only occasional guest-shots by the named star.

This second lush and sturdy archival hardback re-presents the tense and turbulent period from October 6th 1945 to July 23rd 1947 wherein de-mobilised adrenaline addict Buz tries to adjust to peacetime life whilst looking for a job and career – just like millions of his fellow ex-servicemen…

Before getting out, he had returned home on leave and ended up accidentally engaged. Buz was the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that ostensibly egalitarian environment the school sporting star became the sweetheart of ice-cool and stand-offish Tot Winter, the richest girl in town,

Now when her upstart nouveau riche parents heard of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turned it into a publicity carnival. Moreover the ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspired with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage.

Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing were enemies Buz and Sweeney were ill-equipped to fight, but luckily annoying tomboy-brat girl-next-door Christy Jameson had blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman.

She’d scrubbed up real pretty too and showed Buz that his future was rife with possibility. Mercifully soon, the leave ended and he and Sweeney returned to the war. The Sawyer/Winter engagement fizzled and died…

When their discharge papers finally arrived (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle was over. However that only meant that the era of globe-girdling adventure was about to begin…

Before the comics wonderment resumes, Jeet Heer and Rick Norwood take some time here discussing ‘The Perfectionist and his Team’. Concentrating initially on ‘After the War’ the fascinating explorations then delve deep into the detail of the artist’s troubled and tempestuous relationship with ‘Crane’s Team’ before offering ‘A Word on Comic Strip Formats’ and the censorious iniquities local newspaper editors would regularly inflict upon Crane’s work…

With all the insightful stuff over, the cartoon adventure begins anew as the newly civilian Mr. Sawyer goes home to a life of indolence before his own restless nature starts him fretting again. The old town isn’t the same. Tot has inherited her father’s millions and moved to New York and even Christy is gone: away attending his old alma mater…

After a brief interlude wherein he visits the cheery Co-Ed and debates the merits of returning to college on the G.I. Bill, Buz instead opts for fulltime employment and heads to the Big Apple where Chili Harrison has a new job offer and an old flame waiting.

As he heads East, Buz chooses to ignore his instincts and the huge mysterious guy who seems to turn up everywhere he goes…

In NYC the aloof, alluring Tot is the cream of polite “arty” society but her wealth and clingy new fiancé – opera singer Count Franco Confetti – are all but forgotten when “the one who got away” hits town and she finds her interest in her High School beau rekindled.

Buz has moved in with Chili, blithely unaware that the strange and ubiquitous giant has inveigled himself into the apartment next door and is now actively spying on him…

Sawyer wants a job flying but is only one of hundreds of war-hero pilots looking for a position at International Airways. Moreover his reputation as a hot-shot risk-taker makes him the last person a commercial carrier might consider. However after well-connected Chili intercedes with a major player in the company – something does come up…

The truth about Buz’s hulking stalker comes out when the Maharani of Batu’s yacht docks in New York. The exotic Asian princess is one of the wealthiest women on Earth and cuts a stunning figure with her tiger on a leash. However when Buz first met her she was simply “Sultry”: a ferocious, remorseless resistance fighter helping him kill the occupying Japanese on her Pacific island.

She never forgot him and will ensure no other woman can have him…

Sultry moves into the penthouse adjoining Tot’s and is witness to the ploys of the Winter woman as she sidelines Confetti and makes a play for Buz. She is also a key figure in the tragic heiress’ sudden death…

Just prior to Tot’s gruesome demise Buz had finally met the unconventional Mr. Wright of International Airways. The doughty executive had no need for pilots but wanted a quick-thinking, capable fighter who could solve problems in the world’s most troubled conflict zones. He even has a spot open for good old Roscoe Sweeney…

Buz is all set for his first overseas assignment when the cops decide he’s the other prime suspect in Tot’s murder and, with Sawyer and Count Confetti in jail, Sultry tries to flee America before the truth comes out.

However Sweeney and the freshly exonerated Buz soon track her down, but Sultry turns the tables on them and shanghais her erstwhile lover, imprisoning him on her yacht, determined to make him her permanent boytoy, far, far away from American justice…

Never short of an idea and blessed with the luck of the damned, Buz’s escape results in a terrifying conflagration and the seeming death of his obsessed inamorata – but Sultry’s body isn’t recovered…

It takes a lot of pleading to get Mr. Wright to give him another chance but, soon after, Buz and Sweeney are winging north to Greenland to stop a crazed sniper taking pot-shots at aircraft passing over the “Roof of the World”.

This savage, visceral extended saga soon reveals the shooter to be a deranged leftover Nazi and his hapless attendants, but the heroes’ astonishing hunt for and capture of the Teutonic trio is as nothing compared to the harrowing trek to get them back to civilisation: especially since poor Roscoe is putty in the hands of Frieda, beautiful devil-daughter of the utterly mad Baron von Schlingle.

Before Buz get the survivors home safely, he loses his plane, has to forcibly trek across melting floes, gets them all stranded on a iceberg and even has his pretty-boy face marred forever…

Worst of all by the time he gets back to civilisation his job no longer exists. Mr. Wright has quit and moved on to another company…

It’s not all bad news: Wright has euphemistically become “Personnel Director” for Frontier Oil, a truly colossal conglomerate active all over Earth and wants Buz to carry on his unique problem-solving career for his new employers.

Despite a large bump in salary, the weary war hero is undecided – until he hears Christy is helping her father in the Central American nation of Salvaduras in his role as a geologist for Frontier Oil. This happily ties in with an outstanding missing persons case; said vanished victim being Bill Daniels, playboy son of a prominent company executive.

It takes very little to convince Wright to despatch Buz and Roscoe south of the border to investigate, opening the floodgates to a spectacular epic of light-hearted romantic adventure a world apart from the previous harrowing tale…

The story also saw Crane and Co. merging the Daily and Sunday strips into a single storyline (with the Sundays primarily illustrated by Schlensker) as the boys tried to trace the missing American in a country that seems locked in fear and poverty…

After initially hitting a wattle-and-daub wall, Buz takes time off for a picnic with Christy and, after a close call with a faux Mexican bandit (in actuality a Yankee fugitive from justice with an atrocious fake accent), declares his undying lover for her.

He is not rebuffed and there’s the hint of wedding bells in the air…

First however he and Sweeney need to finish their mission, and help comes from a brave peon who breaks the regional code of silence to put them on the trail of the mysterious Ranch of the Caves and its American émigré who runs the isolated canton with blood and terror.

After romancing the daughter of vicious “Don Jaime” Buz and Roscoe infiltrate the desolate fiefdom and the gang boss’ international band of thugs, discovering not only the very much alive missing playboy but an incredible lost Mayan treasure trove…

Mission accomplished, Buz returns to New York to marry Christy, only to find he’s already needed elsewhere. Christy too is having doubts, worried that she will always play second fiddle to her man’s lust for action, whereas in truth the real problem is that trouble usually comes looking for Buz…

Boarding a Frontier plane for the Yukon, Sawyer is merely a collateral casualty when the ship’s other passenger is kidnapped. The mysterious men abducting plastic surgeon Dr. Wing take their helpless hostages all the way to deepest Africa where they expected the medic to change the face of an infamous madman everybody in the world believes died in a Berlin Bunker…

Tragically the fanatics are not prepared for the physician’s dauntless sense of duty and sacrifice nor Buz’s sheer determination to survive…

The latter part of this tale describes Buz’s epic river trek with mercenary turncoat honey-trap Kitty as they flee from the vengeful Nazis, but even after reaching the coast and relative safety the insidious reach of the war-criminals is not exhausted and one final attack looms…

Eventually Buz returns to New York alone and wins time from the slave-driving Mr. Wright to settle things with Christy. He follows her to Nantucket Sound but even their romantic sailboat ride turns into a life-changing adventure…

This splendid collection is the perfect means of discovering – or reconnecting with – Crane’s second magnum opus: spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate romps that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: stirring, thrilling, outrageously funny and deeply moving tale-telling that is irresistible and utterly unforgettable.
Buz Sawyer: Sultry’s Tiger © 2012 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © 2012 the respective copyright holders. All Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc All rights reserved.