The Marquis of Anaon volume 1: The Isle of Brac


By Vehlmann & Bonhomme: coloured by Delf and translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-255-3 (PB Album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of History… 9/10

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

Scion of an artistic family, Matthieu Bonhomme received his degree in Applied Arts in 1992, before learning the comics trade working in the atelier of western and historical strip specialist Christian Rossi. Le Marquis d’Anaon was Bonhomme’s first regular series, running from 2002-2008, after which he began writing as well as illustrating a variety of tales from L’Âge de Raison, Le Voyage d’Esteban, The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke and others.

So, what’s it about? Imagine the X-Files set circa 1720s in France during the Age of Enlightenment, and played as a solo piece by a young hero growing reluctantly into the role of crusading troubleshooter…

Nomadic, middle class Jean-Baptiste Poulain is the son of a merchant, a disciple of Cartesian logic and former medical student. Educated but impoverished, he accepts a post to tutor the son of the mysterious Baron of Brac.

As he approaches the windswept, isolated island off the Brittany Coast, he cannot understand the fear and outrage he sees in the downtrodden villagers who secretly call their master “the Ogre”, and believe him to be a visiting nobleman. He is utterly astounded by how violently overprotective they are regarding their children…

The story gradually unfolds under ever-mounting tension, as the young man endures suspicion and hostility from the lowest classes, whilst slowly fostering a deep appreciation for the forward-thinking rationalist Baron. Soon, however, his student Nolwen is found murdered and, amid the heightened tensions, Poulain learns that this is not the first body to be found…

From then on, it’s hard to determine who is friend or foe and although a trained rationalist, Poulain begins to suspect unworldly forces are in play…

Conversations with the mariner known as the Storyteller lead to the tutor being attacked by villagers – or perhaps just thieves? – and, after barely escaping, the scholar sees murdered Nolwen before passing out…

He wakes under the Baron’s care and resolves to leave at the first opportunity. When housemaid Ninon begs him to take her with him, an incredible saga of unremitting horror is exposed, leading to Brac hunting his fleeing employees and trapping them in his hidden laboratory.

Here Poulain discovers the appalling experiments the Baron has indulged in, and the astounding answer to the “ghosts” who walk the island. When the Baron and his terrifying flunkey come for him, fortune favours the tutor and apparently divine justice is rendered unto all…

In the aftermath, Poulain escapes the island alone, as much to avoid the grateful fearful villagers as to resume his life. He cannot, sadly, outrun the title they have bestowed upon him: Le Marquis d’Anaon – the Marquis of Lost Souls…

With potent overtones of Jane Eyre and similar traditional gothic romances, L’Île de Brac was the first of five albums (all available in paperback and digital formats) tracing the development of a true hero against darkness and human venality. Moody, compelling and utterly enthralling, this is a spooky series well-deserving of a greater audience.
Original edition © Dargaud Paris 2002 by Vehlmann & Bonhomme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 by Cinebook Ltd.

1066: William the Conqueror


By Patrick Weber & Emanuele Tenderini, translated by Pierre Bison and Rebekah Paulovch-Boucly (Europe Comics)
No ISBN:

Although I’ve never for a moment considered history dry or dull, I can readily appreciate the constant urge to personalise characters or humanise events and movements, especially when the job is undertaken with care, respect, diligence and a healthy amount of bravado.

Excellent case in point is this superb, digital-only retelling from 2011, postulating on individual motives and actions whilst relating the events leading up to the most significant moment in English – if not full-on British – history (apart from all the other ones). Other individual and national opinions may apply…

In case you were one of those who were asleep, surreptitiously ogling a classmate who didn’t even acknowledge your existence, or carving your name into a desk or a body part: on October 14th 1066, a force of French invaders led by William, Duke of Normandy clashed with the forces of Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson in East Sussex near Hastings (most historians agree that the actual bloodletting happened in a place later dubbed “Battle” and commemorated thereafter by the edifice of Battle Abbey).

Translated into a compelling and lovely digital edition thanks to the benevolence of the collective imprint Europe Comics, 1066: William the Conqueror opens with historian and author Patrick Weber’s foreword ‘Before Setting Sail’, revealing how the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry closely inspired the fictionalised account he crafted with veteran comics illustrator Emanuele Tenderini (Dylan Dog, Wondercity, World of Lumina).

The story is gripping and savvy, putting flesh and bones on a wide range of complex characters all trapped in a web of royal intrigue and savage power politics, long before Halley’s comet appeared in the skies over northern Europe more than a millennium ago. The war of nerves between the kings and kingmakers of proto-England, machinations of the ferocious Godwinson clan and untrammelled ambitions of the Norman Duke play out against the pitiful backdrop of a rich and powerful country suffering for lack of coherent – or even barely capable – leadership. The parallels to today are painful to behold and we all know how it turned out.

Here though is a possible explanation of why…

Most marvellous of all, this is also a brilliantly compelling adventure yarn with readers not sure who to root for before the big action finish…

Adding lustre to the tale is bonus section ‘Deep Within the Inner Stitchings’: an accessible exploration of the Tapestry accompanied by character sketches and designs.

Potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising, this a retelling any fan of history and lover of comics will adore,
© 2015 – Le Lombard – Tenderini & Weber. All rights reserved.

Melusine volume 1: Hocus Pocus & volume 2: Halloween


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank: The Incredible Story of a Forgotten Dictatorship


By Ximo Abadía, translated by Esther Villardón Grande (Europe Comics)
No ISBN (digital-only edition)

In these days of unrelenting crisis, a relentless harrowing of democratic principles and the seeming triumph of imbecilic venality, it’s perhaps of some comfort to realise that, in many ways, it’s always been like this…

On view today is another Europe Comics digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English-speaking fans. Moreover, if you like your books solid and substantial, it’s a happy note to discover some adventures are being picked by companies like Cinebook, Top Shelf and IDW.
Not this one, though. Not yet…

Illustrator Ximo Abadía was born in Alicante in 1983, and reared in both that rural countryside idyll and the seasonally-cosmopolitan resort metropolis of Benidorm. Upon reaching 18 years of age he moved to Madrid for his further education. His first graphic novel – Cartulinas de colores – came out in 2009, and in 2011 follow-up CLONk saw him nominated for the Best New Author Prize at the Barcelona Comics Festival. That was topped a year later by La Bipolaridad del chocolate.

In 2018, he turned his masterful eye for stunning visuals and compelling symbolic design onto a period in his country’s recent history that seems to have been carefully, wilfully and voluntarily whitewashed from history. That book earned Abadía the Best Illustrated Album award at the 2018 Heroes Comic Con.

Feeling like a seditiously subtle children’s primer, Frank: La increíble historia de una dictadura olvidada examines with garish glee and irresistible simplicity, the rise and demise of Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde and his Nazi/Italian National Fascist Party backed totalitarian reign as Caudillo of Spain from 1939-1945. In strident imagery the author also asks why nobody in the country today is willing or comfortable to talk about those years when the country seemingly vanished from the wider world…

Stunningly evocative, the parade of iconic images deftly presents events and synthesises opinion: making no judgements but nevertheless delivering a shattering testimony and appraisal of the depths some men can descend to, and how entire populations and nations can be complicit in cover-ups in the name of an easy life…

This not a history book. It’s a giant, irritant question mark no one is comfortable acknowledging. And as we all know: things left to fester don’t get better, they erupt in poison and soon spread…
© 2019 DIBBUKS EDICIONE – Abadía. All rights reserved.

Benny Breakiron volume 2: Madame Adolphine


By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-436-0 (HB Album)

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics licensed to Le Journal de Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After some time toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 Culliford joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time, he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers.

His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlout, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – who now used the nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as The Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960 Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker and/or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Le Journal de Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman, the wryly bucolic adventures celebrated a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little Belgian town.

Quiet, well-mannered, gentle and a bit lonely, Benny just happens to be the mightiest boy on Earth; able to crush steel or stone in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his fatal and rather ubiquitous weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches a cold…

Benny never tries to conceal his abilities but somehow no adults ever catch on. They generally think he’s telling fibs or boasting and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands, the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles…

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a balloon and a shrug can topple trees…

Well-past-it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing champion appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoît as the years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, François Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in and Jean Roba created many eye-catching Spirou covers, but by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all-consuming and all the studio’s other strips were retired.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down, though, and after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford and cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and his team between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, the first four of those gloriously genteel and outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers again – both as robust full-colour hardbacks and as all-purpose eBooks – and this second translated exploit begins in the sedate city of Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the kid goes about his rather solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can….

After another day of being shunned by everyone around, disconsolate Benny heads for the park and is befriended by a sweet old lady named Adolphine. No respecter of old graceful retirement, the old dear romps boisterously and disgracefully with the lad – to the disgust of the other park patrons. Eventually, Benny escorts her to his home where she has a strange fit and collapses.

When even a doctor refuses to help, Benny finds a phone number in her bag and a rather strange gentleman comes to collect her. He’s none too gentle in his behaviour and even throws the old lady in the boot of his car…

Even more distressingly, when Benny sees her in the street next day, Madame Adolphine claims to have never met him before…
Baffled but unwilling to let the matter go, Benny tracks her down to a toyshop run by inventor Serge Vladlavodka and finds her standing over the tinkerer’s unconscious body with a massive mallet in her hand. Moreover, her manner is brusque and almost callous…

The belligerent biddy bustles off whilst Benny is trying to revive her prone victim, but when Serge recovers, he also rushes off, fearing the harm she might cause. Accompanying him, Benny learns a starling secret…

There are two Adolphines and one is indeed a sweet old lady. Unfortunately, the other is an increasingly unstable, aggressive and just plain mean robot doppelganger who soon begins robbing banks and terrorising the public, so guess which one the police subsequently arrest?

As indignant Benny single-handedly breaks the organic pensioner out of prison, the automaton Adolphine forms a gang of professional thugs and goes on a crime spree the cops are helpless to stop.

Good thing Benny is made of sterner stuff…

This superbly surreal spoof has delicious echoes of classic Ealing Comedies such as The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob as it follows the little wonder boy’s resolute, dynamic and spectacular campaign to save his friend: blending deft wit with bombastic and hilarious slapstick. Madame Adolphine is another fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, offering a distinctly Old-World spin to the concept of superheroes and providing a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Toys in the Basement


By Stéphane Blanquet, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-402-6 (HB)

It’s a bumper time if you have kids who love the grimmer side of storytelling.  Here’s a superb slice of macabre all-ages Euro-whimsy, courtesy of the wildly talented and incredibly prolific Stéphane Blanquet (more than 64 art books, graphic novels, collaborative works and books for kids published since 1994 including Dungeon: Monstres volume 2, Kramer’s Ergot, and Zero Zero).

Do you remember the heart-wrenching scene in the 1964 stop-motion television classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer when he finds the Island of Misfit toys? Do you recall how all they wanted was children to love them? Hold on to that thought…

At a Halloween fancy-dress party a disgruntled little boy is sulking. In his heart he’s a vicious pirate king, but his cheapskate mother would only pay for a pink bunny costume nobody else wanted…

As the other kids tease and bully him, he retreats to a corner where he meets a geeky kid in a chicken suit.

Poultry boy has a broken leg and a raging thirst, but his friend – a girl in a kitten outfit – has been down in cellar fetching drinks for ages. After some pleading, Pink Bunny, keen to avoid further embarrassment, or to be seen with a nerd dressed like a chicken, goes after her.

At the bottom of the stairs he finds her paralysed with fear: the basement is filled with maimed and broken toys, alive, angry and determined to wreak bloody vengeance on the cruel children who maltreated and abandoned them. Luckily, because of their stupid outfits, the toys assume the kids too are dolls, because if they were real children…

Playing for time, Catgirl and Bunnyboy follow the maladjusted playthings to a vast underground cavern where all broken toys are massing, readying for the day they will rise and take over. The children gasp in horror at the artificial army’s secret weapon – a gigantic ravenous Frankensteinian beast named Amelia, cobbled together from thousands of discarded toy fragments, all hungry for righteous slaughter…

It’s at that moment Chicken-boy stumbles upon them and blows their cover…

Dosed with dry, mordant wit and just the right tone of macabre Ghost Train suspense, Toys in the Basement is a simply terrific goose-bumpy thriller rendered magical by the wildly eccentric, brilliantly imaginative and creepily fluid artwork of Blanquet. This dark delight – sadly only available in physical hardback form – also has the perfect moral message for loot-hungry, attention-deprived youngsters – and their kids and grandchildren too.
© 2005 Editions La Joie de Lire SA. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Thorgal volume 0: The Betrayed Sorceress & Almost Paradise


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Europe Comics/Cinebook)
No ISBN (Europe Comics digital-only edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-443-4 (Cinebook PB Album)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Le Journal de Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison wrote one before Yann became chief scribe. In 2019, he and Rosiński released the 37th epic-album L’Emite de Skellingar.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) all clustered under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985, US publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover translations, but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgian series meandered back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s translated run began with the 7th and 8th albums combined in a double-length premiere edition. By that time the saga of wandering enigma Thorgal Aegirsson had properly gelled, but there were a few books before then, with the hero still finding his literary and graphic feet…

What you’ll learn from later volumes: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious usurper Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne.

For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety… or so they thought…

Here, however, in these harder-hitting, initial escapades from 1980, the largely unexplained and formulaic Viking warrior is simply a hero in search of a cause. La Magicienne Trahie becomes eponymous debut book The Betrayed Sorceress, opening with a full-grown Thorgal tortured and left to die of exposure and drowning by arch enemy Gandalf.

He is fortuitously rescued by a red-haired woman who demands he work in her service for a year…

Accompanied by a loyal wild wolf, formidable mystic matron Slive is consumed with a hunger for vengeance and orders her reluctant vassal to undertake an arduous quest and great battles to retrieve a hidden casket and its mystical contents. Only after succeeding, does the warrior discover that the target of her ire is Gandalf…

The complex scheme almost succeeds but the witch’s plans eventually lead to bloodshed, calamity, an unsuspected connection to the hero’s beloved Aaricia and the exposure of long-hidden secrets.

As the final clash climaxes, Gandalf is near death and the lovers witness the sorceress’ last voyage into the coldest regions on Earth in a dragonship made of ice…

Follow-up exploit ‘Almost Paradise’ continues the saga and completes the first volume with Thorgal living again amongst Gandalf’s band, but only on sufferance and in constant daily hardship.

Here, a lone ride through winter snows leads to his being hunted by ravening wolves before plummeting into a fantastic time-lost and timeless enclave at the bottom of an icy crevasse. In that tropical Eden he finds a trio of mysterious maidens. Two vie for his attention and argue the seductive benefits of eternal life in a vast garden free of want and danger, but youngest girl Skadia secretly craves the freedom of the outside world and is willing to lead the homesick warrior into horrendous peril to achieve her ends. Desperate to return to his true love, Thorgal escapes with the third immortal, suffering a nightmare journey back to the real world, but not without paying a painful price…

Second collected album L’lle des Mers gelées is also included here as The Island of the Frozen Seas, and begins in spring as Aaricia readies herself to wed Thorgal and leave Gandalf’s lands forever. Those dreams are suddenly shattered when a brace of giant eagles fly down and snatch her away. Soon the entire band of warriors are pursuing in their Drakkars (dragonships), heading ever northwards…

The chase leads to fractious moments aboard ship and imminent mutiny is only forestalled when the Vikings encounter a fantastic vessel that moves without oars or sails. Despite valiant resistance, the barbarians are soon all captives beside Aaricia. All, that is, save for Thorgal and future brother-in-law Bjorn Gandalfson who escaped capture by taking to a lifeboat…

At the top of the world, they meet strange tribes-folk perfectly adapted to arctic existence and Thorgal continues his hunt for his intended bride, meeting and defeating her abductor, discovering an incredible secret citadel and uncovering an incredible story about his long-occluded origins before he can bring his beloved back home to her people…

Although lacking the humour of later tales these works in progress are fierce, inventive and phenomenally gripping: cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive episodes gradually building towards a fully-realised universe of wonder and imagination whilst offering insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly unwilling hero.

Thorgal is every action fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?

This Europe Comics volume is a digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English speaking fans. Many of their selections are picked up by established print publishers such as Top Shelf or Cinebook. In fact, this volume will be added to Cinebook’s stable of titles at the end of the year, under special enumeration as Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress, so if you’re already a fan you can wait until then to add the book to your collection. If you can’t wait, though, the past awaits you, only a few keystrokes away…

© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1980 Rosiński & Van Hamme. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.
Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress is scheduled for a November 2019 release by Cinebook.

Orient Gateway


By Vittorio Giardino (Catalan Communications/NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-041-3 (Catalan PB Album) 978-1-56163-184-1 (NBM PB Album)
Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Vittorio Giardino was an electrician who switched careers at age 30. He initially worked for a number of comics magazines before his first collection – Pax Romana – was released in 1978. Giardino has toiled, slowly but consistently, on both feature characters such as the detective Sam Pezzo, saucy Winsor McKay homage Little Ego and cold-war drama Jonas Fin, as well as general fiction tales, producing over 43 albums to date.

Way back in 1982 as the Cold War tottered to an end, he began the tale of a quiet, bearded fellow recalled by the Deuxieme Bureau (the French Secret Service) to investigate the slaughter of almost every agent in the cosmopolitan paradise of Budapest. The series ran in four parts in the magazine Orient Express before being collected as Rhapsodie Hongroise. It was Giardino’s 13th book and in no way unlucky for him. In it, reluctant yet competent spy Max Fridman (transliterated into Max Friedman for the English-speaking world), was dragged back into the “Great Game” in the years of uneasy peace just before the outbreak of World War II…

Within three years he returned to the subtly addictive pre-war drama with follow-up La Porta d’Oriente – Orient Gateway to you and me.

Summer 1938: All the espionage agencies in the world know war is coming and nothing can stop it. Frantically jockeying for the most favourable position, they’re all seeking every advantage for when the balloon goes up. Soviet engineer Mr. Stern has become just such a preferred asset of too many rival organisations, so he runs, losing himself in the teeming, mysterious city of Istanbul.

Once again diffident, canny operative Max is drawn into the murky miasma of spycraft, but now, beside exotic, bewitching Magda Witnitz, is he the only one to ask why so many dangerous people want to acquire Stern?

And why are they so willing to kill for him?

Subtle, entrancing and magnificently illustrated, this is an entrancing, slow-boil thriller with all the beguiling nostalgic panache of Casablanca and labyrinthine twists and turns of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which no fan of the genre, let alone comics aficionado, can afford to miss.

Over the course of a decade, the masterful Italian graphic novelist crafted two further individual tales and in 1999 added a stunning triptych of albums. No Pasarán! detailed a key moment during the conflict in Republican Spain and dying days of the Civil War, revealing many clues into the life of the unassuming antihero. Two more volumes were added to the canon in 2002 and 2008, and I’m declaring they are all now long past due to be revived and revisited…

Giardino is a smart and confident writer who makes tone and nuance carry a tale and his art – a more representational derivation of Hergé’s ligne claire (clean line) – makes the lovingly rendered locations as much a character as any of the stylish operatives in a dark, doomed world on the brink of holocaust.

Although still largely an agent unknown in the English-speaking world, Max Friedman is one of espionage literature’s greatest characters, and Giardino’s work is like honey for the eyes and mind. This is another graphic novel every fan of comics or the Intelligence Game should know.
© 1986 Vittorio Giardino. All rights reserved.

Yakari and Great Eagle (volume 1)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cedric volume 6: Skating on Thin Ice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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