Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul; Asterix and the Golden Sickle; Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

I’ve just heard the sad news about Albert Uderzo, who has just passed away after 92 amazing, gloriously productive and fun-filled years. In the current climate of horrific global crisis, it’s ultimately just one more death, no more or less important than any other, but I’m compelled to mark his end with sadness, inexpressible gratitude and this rerun of a review for his greatest work.

In a career absolutely packed with joyous invention, Uderzo brought happiness and inspiration to generations of readers across the world through Asterix and his many other creations, so I can only say “thank you” to him and urge you to revisit his works if you’re already au fait. If you have never seen his genius in action – especially in conjunction with his perfect partner René Goscinny – this collection is the ideal place to start, and you won’t be sorry…

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters…

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant for a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, Rene also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio(Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martienand Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and – with Uderzo – the fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou(drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussahfor Record and illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen when he was seven and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

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

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

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

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first serial was collected in a single volume 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 of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every three-to-five).

By 1967, Asterix 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 had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story is set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC.

Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent 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…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus– fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and determined to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle was originally serialised in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar…

There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing. Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete and readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of the empire – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 380 million copies of 38 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 7 – The Curious Trio


By Roger Leloup (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-127-3 (PB Album)

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Le Journal de Spirou from the September 24th issue in 1970 and are still going strong, with 29 albums at the last count. The mind-blowing, eye-popping, extremely expansive multi-award-winning series was created by Belgian author, artist and novelist Roger Leloup, who was born in 1933 and worked as one of Hergé’s meticulous background assistants on the iconic Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told and superbly imaginative, whilst always framed in hyper-realistic settings and sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which began revolutionising European comics in the 1970s and 1980s and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The series has a complex history in English. Comcat previously released a few adventures – albeit poorly translated and adapted – before British-based Cinebook acquired the franchise and opened a comprehensive and entrancing sequence in 2007 with the seventh collected exploit (1976’s La frontière de la vie– AKA On the Edge of Life).

Moreover, in French and Dutch the first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all brief, introductory vignettes testing the waters. Miss Tsuno truly hit her stride with premier full-length epic Le trio de l’étrange, which started serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue. Translated as The Curious Trio, it was actually the 7th chronicle released by Cinebook and is still not available digitally…

The story opens in a busy TV studio at midnight (back when actual humans pushed, pulled and focussed the clunky paraphernalia) as young Director Vic Van Steen loses his rag with best pal Pol Paris for falling asleep on his camera. Later, still smarting from another fractious tiff, the pair walk home past a deserted construction site and espy what looks like an elegantly brilliant burglary…

The quietly flamboyant break-in is, in fact, a pre-arranged test by a sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer named Yoko Tsuno. She has been hired by the owners of a major company to test their new security. After apologising for nearly ruining her trial with their well-intentioned interference, the lads invite the enigmatic tech-bod to join their film crew as sound engineer on a proposed outside shoot.

The gig is to explore a region of flooded caves for a documentary and before the week ends the new friends are hauling equipment to a spectacular cavern, ready to work out the technical details. No sooner do they begin, however, than something goes terribly wrong when the trio are dragged deep underground by irresistible, swirling waters…

From here the achingly realistic and rationalist strip takes a huge leap into the uncanny as their subterranean submersion dumps them into a huge metal-shod vault where they are seized by blue-skinned humanoids.

The colossal complex is of incredible size and, as the captives are bundled into a fantastic vessel which runs on rails via magnetic levitation and driven even deeper underground, a handy translation helmet enables the only friendly-seeming stranger to explain. Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, have been sleeping deep beneath the Earth for almost half a million years…

However, since recently awakening, internecine strife has entered the lives of the colonists. Ambitious militaristic brute Karpan now constantly manoeuvres to seize power from the vast electronic complex known as The Centre, which regulates the lives of the colonists.

The humans’ first meeting with the blustering bully does not go well. When he attempts to beat Khany, martial artist Yoko gives him a humiliating and well-deserved thrashing…

Infuriated, Karpan tries to disintegrate them but is pulled away by security forces. As the newcomers resume their trip to the Centre, he secretly follows their magnetocarrier, resolved to destroy them…

As the maglev ship hurtles to unimaginable depths, Khany introduces the humans to a stowaway – her young daughter Poky – while relating the astounding tale of the Vineans’ escape from planetary doom and two-million-light-year voyage to Earth. Accustomed to subterranean living, on arrival the Vineans hollowed out a mountain and dug down even further.

The history lesson is interrupted by Karpan’s murderous attack, which is only thwarted by Yoko’s quick thinking and her companions’ near-insane bravery…

Eventually, after another, far more subtle murder attempt, the badly damaged magnetocarrier reaches its destination and the astonished visitors are brought before a stupendous computer to plead their case and expose Karpan’s indiscretions. The vast calculator dubbed The Centre controls every aspect of the colony’s life and will deliver judgement on the human invaders’ ultimate fate. After mind-scanning Yoko its pronouncement is dire: the strangers are to be placed in eternal hibernation…

When Pol plays his long-hidden trump card and threatens to destroy the machine with a stolen disintegrator, diplomatic Khany proposes a solution; suggesting simply waiting until they can all confront the still-absent Karpan. Yoko is still deeply suspicious and not convinced that Karpan is responsible for every attempt on their lives. That “night”, while Yoko’s resting, Poky sneaks into her habitation chamber and takes her on an illicit tour of the underside and innards of the impossibly huge complex. The jaunt verifies the engineer’s suspicions with a ghastly revelation. What they expose is a horrific threat not just to the Vineans – Karpan included – but to every human on the surface of Earth…

The eerie mystery then explodes into spectacular action and a third act finale worthy of a James Bond movie as Tsuno’s dramatic duel with an incredible malign menace settles the fate of two species…

Absorbing, rocket-paced and blending tense suspense with bombastic thrills, spills and chills, this is a terrific introduction to a world of rationalist mystery and humanist imagination with one of the most unsung of all female action heroes and one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.

Alone volume 1: The Vanishing


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-849181-96-9 (PB Album)

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and was a student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started being paid to draw them in 1988, after being hired by Spirou editor Patrick Pinchart on the strength of his portfolio alone. Before long he was illustrating Le Petit Spirou with Tome & Janry. In 1989, he and Tome created New York Cop Soda, which kept Gazzotti busy until 2005, when he resigned to co-create award-winning feature Seuls

Released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition is a superb example of a kids’ thriller suitable for all ages: evoking the eerie atmosphere of TV series Lost and the most disturbing elements of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Translated as The Vanishing, the first chapter show us peeks of an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business. Our swift glimpses show us a cross section of kids: Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never sees his dad any more and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always has time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Camille is studious and over-focussed on exams and achievement and Terry is pretty much still a baby. He certainly acts like one, trying to stay up late, binge watching TV and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Sadly, not all children in town have such typical lives. Dodzi has just been taken into the system. His early life has made him tough and resilient but won’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night…

Next morning dawns overcast and forbidding. The city is quiet. Roaming empty streets, Dodzi calls out to anybody who can hear and is met – or actually run over – by Leila and Terry on her bike. They are all pretty scared and have seen nobody else at all…

No one else is around. All the adults have gone, and all their child pals. The internet is down, television and radio only blare out static. Above, fearsome storm clouds gather. Within minutes fear turns to panic and violence but eventually Dodzi brutally enforces calm and leads them away, only to stumble into Camille being attacked by a dog. As the tough guy tries to fight it off, the rabid beast senses something in the shadows of an alley and flees…

As they wander, someone watches the waifs and after they joyously blow off steam in a fountain, they meet final lost boy Ivan. He invites them back to his mansion on the edge of town where they find food while being subjected to his theories on what’s happened: everything from a shared dream to an extinction event to the possibility that they’re dead and in hell…

Needing more information, Dodzi and Leila try to drive one of many cars on the estate while the smaller ones sort out a proper meal, but neither task goes well. The cooking is a disaster while the near-lethal reconnaissance only finds more empty streets, wrecked shop fronts and wild animals in the streets. While the motoring minors seek to evade two rhinos, Terry and Camille are almost eaten by a white tiger that’s got through the estate gates…

When Dodzi and Leila return – and following a burst of viciously released tensions – the kids modify and weaponize a 4 by 4 and head back to town. Ivan’s dad owns the tallest building in the city: somewhere stuffed with resources and easily fortified and defended…

As the first day alone ends, the kids are bloated with vending machine snacks and playing in the vast office block’s upper reaches, but de facto leader Dodzi is still uneasy.

When Leia reports little Terry is missing, he heads out to search and finds to his horror where all the animals have come from: a scene of destruction that distracts him enough that a hidden stalker almost takes him.

Thankfully, the others have ignored his orders and followed so it isn’t Dodzi that dies…

Thus begins a spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination with the bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation…

Alone rapidly became one of the biggest critical and commercial comics hits of the decade and if you love eerie enigmas and powerful tale-telling, you’ll soon be buying this and seeing why for yourself…
© Dupuis 2006 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

The Bluecoats volume 2: The Navy Blues


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-82-3 (Album PB)

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

Les Tuniques Bleues or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius with scripts by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 63 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace the aforementioned Lucky Luke when the great gunslinger defected from prominent weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and became another one of the most popular series on the Continent.

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

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

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

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and, after studying Lithography, joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. His glittering and prolific writing career began soon after. Almost exclusively a humourist and always for Le Journal de Spirou, other than Bluecoats he has written more than 20 long-running and award-winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold in the region of 23 million copies.

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

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album Blue retro which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military). All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

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

The Navy Blues, second book in this translated series, is actually the 7th French volume ‘Les Bleus de la marine’, and finds the lads as usual in the midst of a terrible battle. However, when Blutch is wounded, his cavalry commanders prefer to save his horse rather than aid a fallen soldier, and Chesterfield finds all his cherished dreams of camaraderie and loyalty ebbing away.

Disillusioned, he demands a transfer to the infantry and with the never-happy Blutch beside him tries to adapt to his lowered status. Sadly, Chesterfield discovers officers are the same everywhere and stupidity and cupidity are rife throughout the armed forces. A progression of calamitous transfers eventually lands the pair in the Union Navy at a time of intriguing technological advancement, playing an unfortunately ill-omened part in the development of both Submarines and armoured battleships. As always, their misadventures result in pain, humiliation and not a few explosions…

The secret of Les Tuniques Bleues success…? This is a hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting younger less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and the Lake Monster


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-423-6 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagorebefore striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – recently celebrated its 40th album Le jour de silence: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain has assumed the writers’ role from 2016.

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

Originally released in 1991, Le monstre du lac was the 17th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

It all begins on a blustery Autumn day after heavy rains as Yakari rides his young colt Little Thunder. Reaching the swollen river, they see his old friends the Beavers busily toiling to get their home ready for winter. At least, most of them are, under the ferocious supervision of strident martinet Thousand Mouths

As diligent elder Rough Bark soon discloses – but without ceasing his efforts – his rambunctious son Linden Tree is out of sorts and not contributing to the group effort. And he’s not the only one: a large number of the usual workers are mysteriously missing…

After talking to Linden Tree’s mother Wild Rose, the little warrior enters the vast dam structure to see for himself that the hyperactive little beaver has become a listless and despondent malingerer: depressed and with no zest for life.

After consulting with wise elder Wooden Dam, Yakari thinks he has a solution to the youngster’s debilitating melancholy and calls upon a shared mutual acquaintance…

Before long – but only after much pleading and cajoling – Linden Tree is enduring and soon after actually enjoying his second ever flight in the bill of a giant bird. The plan succeeds and the little nipper is again filled with joie de vivre, but that’s almost immediately replaced by terror as his aerial jaunt leads to his spotting a colossal monster sleeping in the middle of the river…

When the rest of the clan are informed, Thousand Mouths is convinced that’s where his missing workers have ended up but Yakari refuses to be frightened or despondent and leads them all in a mission to find and save the workers and solve the mystery of the great beast…

The answer is truly shocking…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational (thanks to an in-story history lesson from the all-knowing Great Eagle) and compellingly entertaining, this cheery romp allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing courage of our diminutive hero, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. English translation 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 2: In New York


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-054-2 (Album PB)

For most English-speaking comic fans and collectors Spirou is probably Europe’s biggest secret. The character is a rough contemporary – and calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s iconic Tintin, whilst the comic he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano and America’s Detective Comics.

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, this anthological magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938; neatly bracketed by DC Thomson’s The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937 and The Beano on July 30th 1938. It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from its lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Joined on June 8th 1939 by a pet squirrel, Spip (the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself) the series was visually realised by French artist Robert Velter (who signed himself Rob-Vel).

A Dutch language edition – Robbedoesdebuted a few weeks later and ran more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until it was cancelled in 2005.

The bulk of the periodical was taken up with cheap American imports – such as Fred Harman’s Red Ryder, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark Superman – although home-grown product crept in too. Most prominent were Tif et Tondu by Fernand Dineur (which ran until the1990s) and L’Epervier Blue by Sirius (Max Mayeu), latterly accompanied by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jijé”.

Legendarily, during World War II Jijé drew the entire comic by himself, including home grown versions of banned US imports, simultaneously assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created current co-star and partner Fantasio).

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944) Spirou and its boyish star – now a globe-trotting journalist – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

Among the other myriad major features that began within those hallowed pages are Jean Valhardi (by Jean Doisy & Jije), Blondin et Cirage (Victor Hubinon), Buck Danny, ‘Jerry Spring , Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs to you and me), Gaston Lagaffe and a certain laconic cowboy named Lucky Luke.

Spirou the character (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving under a series of creators into an urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour. With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou voyages to exotic locales, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During WWII when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Publisher Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jijé who then handed it to his assistant André Franquin in 1946. It was the start of a golden age.

Among Franquin’s innovations were the villains Zorglub and Zantafio, Champignac and one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine for these current English translations), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his own departure in 1969 – was the incredible magic animal Marsupilami. The miracle beast was first seen in Spirou et les héritiers (1952), and is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums too.

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of 9 rousing yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times, telling tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. This one from 1987, originally entitled Spirou à New-York, was their 7th and the 39th collection of the venerable comedy sagas.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Right here, right now, however, we’re off to the New World…

In the Big Apple there is war between two criminal factions. The Mafia are steadily losing ground and men to the insidiously encroaching Chinese Triad of the mysterious Mandarin.

Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone is advised that it’s due to an incredible run of bad luck and sensibly undertakes to find and “recruit” the luckiest person on Earth to turn his gang’s fortunes around…

Meanwhile in Paris Spirou and Fantasio are broke again. Starving with days until payday, they scrape just enough coins together from beneath the sofa cushions for one last frozen pizza…

The tasteless American import has a key inside which almost chokes Fantasio but also claims that they’ve won a million dollars. All they have to do is collect it in person from Lucky’s Bank in New York City. Their fortunes are rapidly changing: an assignment from the unscrupulous editor of Turbine Magazine gives them airplane tickets and the promise of work covering a car-ball match in NYC – but only if they leave immediately…

The world seems full of offers they simply cannot refuse…

Once they are in the New York Groove, the story shifts into lavishly ludicrous high gear: Cortizone – permanently stuck under a rain cloud which follows him everywhere – hides nothing from the continental kids but appeals to their greed and fellow feeling to help him out of his tight spot. The implacable, insidious Chinese are beating him at every turn. It’s almost like magic…

But as his made men continue to fall around him and Triad assassins keep getting closer and closer, The Don wants to carry out a few tests first – just to see how lucky Fantasio actually is…

Meanwhile, the Mandarin and his reluctant but particularly effective wizard stooge have gotten wind of the scheme and move to negate the Europeans’ influence by kidnapping Spip. Even if it doesn’t forestall their interference, at least the enigmatic mastermind will have something new and exotic to eat…

The diabolical cut-and-thrust shenanigans lead to a daring rescue mission on the Mandarin’s skyscraper citadel and an inevitably spectacular showdown in the skies over Manhattan…

With outrageous and improbable supernatural overtones, hilariously clever criminal capers, sly digs at American movies-as-culture and daring dabblings with racial and cultural stereotypes and archetypes, all leavened with witty in-jokes, spoofs, lampoons and visual puns, this fast-paced, riotous rollercoaster romp is sheer comic poetry that it would be a crime to miss.

Available in paperback and assorted digital formats, this blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick is a refreshingly reinvigorating joy in a market far too full of adults-only carnage and testosterone-fuelled breast-beating. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that make Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits which should soon be as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1987 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2010 © Cinebook Ltd.

Comanche volume 1: Red Dust


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. ASIN: B000O15YBK

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with an self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Best known as Greg, Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer editor and publisher, sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (where he scripted the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999.

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha(scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969 Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At his time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums thus far).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this first translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here introduces a wandering gunslinger who finds a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on a cattle-spread in Wyoming.

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, originally published in 1978, ‘Red Dust’ finds the eponymous, lethally capable shootist wandering into a desolate cowtown just as trouble seems to be brewing.

In fact, even before he gets into Greenstone Falls, the enigmatic Mr Dust has to kill manic mercenary Wally Hondo who refuses to share “his” stagecoach with a shabby drifter…

Moreover, when the stage finally pulls into what passes for civilisation, Red is approached by unctuous fixer Mr Cathrellwho erroneously assumes him to be the latest addition to his growing army of pitiless hired guns…

The mistake is soon cleared up after the newcomer unexpectedly reacquaints himself with Cathrell’s top stooge. Red Dust and the Kentucky Kid have unsettled scores and old grievances in common…

Before long Red learns that the killer elite have all been commissioned to deal with a stubborn rancher refusing to sell out to their mysterious and always unseen boss. Mind made up, the taciturn nomad heads for the 666 Ranch and inveigles a job with crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new ranch owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

She is determined to make her inheritance a successful going concern, but has been having lots of bad luck. Red Dust soon determines it’s not her luck that’s at issue after a new herd of cattle she has bought apparently come down with a mystery sickness. As well as exposing a cruel trick, Red also recruits new hands Toby and Tenderfoot following the exposure of a nefarious scam.

That, in addition to decimating Cathrell’s gunslingers when they ambush the ranchers on a shopping trip to town, soon forces the mystery mastermind into the open and reveals just why the 666 is such a valuable property… but only after a few of those old scores are finally settled…

A splendid confection of tradition western themes combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Red Dust is the kind of timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 18: The Escort


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-98-4 (PB Album)

Doughty, Dashing and Dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, implacably even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… thus far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

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

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

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

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators. The artist died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous sidebar sagebrush sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper Giggle, using the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix– Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

Strictly for the sake of historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages. The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re beyond 75 translated books and still going strong. That’s not even considering the hefty compilations of early adventures and the inclusion of spin-offs such as Kid Lucky

L’escorte was Morris & Goscinny’s 19th collaboration, originally serialised in 1966 before becoming the 28th album release in the same year: a wittily hilarious outing incorporating a little in-story continuity as the dutiful volunteer lawman is called upon to deal with a troublesome old acquaintance…

In the very first Cinebook translation, Lucky ended the shameful depredations of juvenile delinquent and legend in the making Billy the Kid. The young offender was sentenced to 1247 years at hard labour and our hero thought the matter ended.

Now, two years later, as Lucky and Jolly Jumper show their mettle in a rodeo competition, word comes of a judicial crisis which compels the gentle gunman to take the Kid from penal servitude in Texas to stand trial for further crimes in in New Mexico…

The usually cheery champion’s patience is tested to the limits as he rides with the smug thug who takes every opportunity to terrify the populace, rile his guard and, of course, escape…

While locked up overnight in the Gun Gulch jail, Billy even gulls petty thief Bert Malloy into following them and attempt to free him on numerous occasions…

The ongoing instances of ineptitude and accidental hilarity all ultimately fail – even when Malloy recruits real outlaws to help – and eventually Billy is handed over to the authorities in Bronco Pueblo, NM and that when the real surprises begin…

Trigger-fast pacing and amply packed with set-piece slapstick and pun routines, The Escort is a potent blend of daft wit and rapid action heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of canny twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

This is another wildly entertaining all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Kabul Disco Book 2: How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Karyn Mencarelli (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-469-5 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Suspect – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a splendid case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts, and a superb addition to trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan is the second fabulous monochrome travel memoir further detailing the experiences of French writer/artist Nicholas Wild whose quest for regular employment took a wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005…

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters so our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals, adversaries, opponents or even those who simply disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas and his culture shock in adapting to a weird job in a wild place involved joining somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Zendagui Media as they worked to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Although the security situation was tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing. Ultimately, the artist was more concerned about the kind of people he was working for rather than the evil all-pervasive Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists apparently infesting the country…

All too soon the job was done and Wild had to go home…

Wilde’s adjustment to the primitive conditions and his superb gift for wry commentary afforded the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple and, after many astounding, heart-warming, ridiculous and often frightening moments, the artist realised his five months were over and it was time to leave, both physically and emotionally…

As Book Two begins, the artist is back in civilisation and chafing. Following his ‘Incomprehensible Summary of Book 1’ – offering a roundup of European history and contemporary experience – ‘Part Three: The War on Opium that Never Took Place’ finds the cartoonist back in Kabul… which he now thinks of as “Home”.

Back at Zendagui Media new hire Angele Lamborghini briefs the team on their next project: weaning the populace away from the only resource they have that anybody wants to buy. The American Embassy wants to end the commercial dependency on opium and needs the team to create a campaign to win minds if not hearts of ordinary folk…

That goes about as well as you’d expect, but in the process of research Wild does meet some fascinating people, visits more beautiful places, hears some scary stories and attends a few more parties…

And then it’s time for national elections…

Packed with quirky interactions and subtly inserting a little history and context into his revelations, Wild and his equally bemused and bewildered associates live from day to day until eventually ‘Part Four: Kabul Burning’ sees events overtake the First-worlders in their little enclave as Afghani deaths at government hands spark brutal riots…

The race to a fortified safehouse is simultaneously terrifying and farcical but the potential consequences are no joking matter…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home – or at least back to Europe – once more…

But is it really for good?

Rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco is warm, funny, distressingly informative and unobtrusively polemical: a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 2: Comment je ne suis pas devenu opiomane en Afghanistan © 2008 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 11: Asterix and the Actress, Asterix and the Class Act, Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books)
ISBNs: 978-0-75289-156-9 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-426-7 (PB Album)

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marn. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, the lad dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

After becoming a French citizen at age seven, Uderzo found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business.

Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is still long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a timely warning shot in these frighteningly familiar-feeling times…).

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

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

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

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

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier onTanguy et Laverdure whilst producing with Goscinny a little something called Astérix le gaulois

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

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

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

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

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

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

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

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

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

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

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for almost a quarter of a century and Uderzo had found his own authorial voice, whilst keeping the immortal characters rock steady in their natures…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata: released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village, laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing contretemps with the woefully-outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes coincidentally share the same birthday and their garrulous Gaulish friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their respective mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts (culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop) – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females and their potential mothers-in-law. They even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all, they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (from Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly, the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and incontrovertible proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish plotter has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. Apparently, the poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon, her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately, the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime, Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As our heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their usual nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course, it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently, some heroes cansuccessfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, cleverly applied raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art.

Diminutive, doughty daredevil Asterix is one of the Ninth Art’s greatest achievements, and by the mid-1960s had become a global brand and premium French export. He 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. As such prominent and ever-ascending stars, their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise. Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades: features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (originally seen in Pilote #363 October 6th, 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for headmaster Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory explanatory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. Taken from October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distraught husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European stalwarts in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’, detailing the struggle between the village’s ruling rooster and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided, but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempting to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon comes to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolves into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicts how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul fails because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) is an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968), revealing how the constantly-thrashed Romans decide to acquire a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) takes a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186, wherein Mssrs. Goscinny & Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

Everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…

Uderzo’s controversial eighth solo outing (originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language edition was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale. The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious iconoclasm opens with the doughty little Gaul and affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Somehow faithful canine companion Dogmatix and aged Getafix have some life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else and all the woodland creatures – especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if drifts a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me), accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and promptly learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in a blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks. He responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix, the Nagma retreats. When Obelix dashes back to the village it follows. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated, the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix have two Superclones fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon, furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning (Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.

If you still haven’t experienced the sublime example of graphic élan that is Asterix, it’s never too late…
© 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.