George Sand: True Genius, True Woman


By Séverine Vidal & Kim Consigny, translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-20-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s a sad but inescapable fact that throughout history men have constantly belittled, gaslit, constrained, oppressed, repressed and sabotaged women, presumably in some misguided, malign and apparently pointlessly dick-fuelled campaign to keep them in their place and at our beck and call. It’s also a wonderful truism that over and again, despite personal danger and inevitable pain of consequences endured, many remarkable women have found ways to escape the trap.

Quite a few have done it by guile: simply pretending to one of the guys…

One such was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil (1st July 1804 – 8th June 1876) who defied, dodged and practically avoided almost all the arbitrary constraints of being a rich, propertied heiress in a strictly codified society where women (just like minors, criminals and imbeciles) had no rights.

Employing her brains, innate diplomatic acumen and passion for storytelling, Aurore made her own way all her life: writing books, plays, articles, literary criticism, and memoires whilst employing her growing influence and ever-expanding net of contacts to fight for social equality – and generally scandalise Europe – as “George Sand”.

She was also bold a pioneer in Gender Expression, defiantly smoking in public and drinking, dressing and acting as a man – an actual legal offense from 1800 onwards, albeit one typically ignored by the Parisian intelligentsia. This wilful civil disobedience won Sand access to many venues expressly barring women, as she also flouted the nation’s ethical foundations with “libertine” behaviour: exploring true sexual liberation and parity through a reputed “host” of male and female partners…

Daughter of a flighty Bohemian, raised by her autocratic paternal grandmother and married off to an appallingly typical rich husband (Baron Casimir Dudevant), Aurore rebelled and lived her own way. She became a staunch proponent of radical ideas, especially women’s rights to full equality under law, and freedom to love as they chose. She even claimed everyone had a right to self-declare a preferred gender and railed against Church-sanctioned strictures of marriage and over tumultuous decades, publicly risked everything to champion social freedoms. She battled bourgeois reactionary governments and sought to elevate the lower classes during the most politically volatile time in France’s history.

Internationally revered and reviled, but – partially – insulated by wealth and position, Sand only wanted to tell stories and live free, but – because that right was universal – became a powerful social commentator, agitator, noteworthy journalistic gadfly. An effective player of power politics at a time when women were relegated to a decorative but always submissive role (generally a means of transferring property and wealth from one man to another) Sand was a tireless reformer who at heart just wanted to live an unshackled life.

Aurore ceaselessly challenged the system: using as example the way she lived; employing rabble-rousing tactics and direct action; instigating subtle intrigue and debate amongst her intellectual peers, and in any other way that came to her – all whilst living a s guilt-free, hedonistic existence. Meanwhile, a steady stream of groundbreaking books and plays confronted these issues and made converts one reader at a time…

First released in Europe as George Sand, fille du siècle in 2019 and as closely detailed and diligently depicted by author Séverine Vidal (A Tale Off the Top of My Head, Le Manteau, J’ai une maison) and illustrated by frequent collaborator Kim Consigny (Forte, À l’orée du monde, L’été de mes 17 ans), this compelling and charming monochrome biography reads far more like a sprawling generational dramatic saga in the manner of Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair or Le Colonel Chabert rather than a dusty historical tract. Interleaved with excerpts from her own “tell-all” book Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand, her books and other scholarly sources such as The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters, the epic chronologically traces her torrid life, agonising mistakes, family struggles, literary and political successes: a riches to rags to riches story arc peppered with a tantalising smattering of enemies made at a time when France struggled against cultural annihilation and civil chaos.

Along the way George Sand wrote 70 novels, 13 plays, and 50 volumes worth of collected writings and speeches that are more relevant today than ever…

What’s most significant here is just how contemporaneous and readable modern audiences will find this true story. The subject and narrative are a treat for fans of racy modern bodice ripper dramas like Bridgerton or Succession – with a healthy helping of Les Misérables seasoning the mix. Incidentally, Victor Hugo numbered amongst her many intellectual – if not amatory – conquests. Other “close friends” and/or foes guest starring in these pages include Chopin, Liszt, Delacroix, Balzac, Baudelaire, the Emperor Louis Napoleon, Jules Sandeau, Prosper Mérimée, Marie Dorval, Flaubert and more. However, amidst trauma and tragedy are many moments of lasting true love and rewarding contentment – such as George’s idyllic 15-year relationship with adored partner “Mancel” – which counter any notion of this being a moralistic warning tale.

Although Sand’s astounding life was filled with enough drama, setbacks, family feuding, skulduggery, glamour, global travel and sheer celebrity cachet to make her a proper modern icon, with the added allure of being absolutely true and shaped by iniquity, inequality, triumph and heartbreak, this is ultimately the history of a winner beating the system and whose uncompromising life was lived triumphantly on her own terms: confirming that life doesn’t have to be endured on any terms but your own…
© Editions Delcourt 2019. All rights reserved.

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

On view today is another digital-only edition from pan-continental collective imprint Europe Comics, which has brought a wealth of fresh and sublimely innovative material to English-speaking fans – at least those in the know. Moreover, if you like your books solid and substantial, it’s a happy note to discover many adventures are being picked for English translation by companies like Cinebook, Top Shelf and IDW.

Not this one, though. At least not yet…

Illustrator Ximo Abadía Pérez was born in Alicante in 1983, and reared in both that bucolic countryside rural idyll and the (seasonally) cosmopolitan resort metropolis of Benidorm. Upon reaching 18 years of age, Abadía migrated to Madrid for his further education. His first graphic novel – Cartulinas de colores – was published in 2009. Two years later 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 ancient 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 and subversive children’s primer, Frank: La increble 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 to or even comfortable about discussing those lost years when the country seemingly vanished from the wider world…

Stunningly evocative, and brain-blasting potent, the parade of iconic images deftly presents events and synthesises opinion: making no judgements but nevertheless delivering shattering testimony and an awe-inspiring appraisal of the depths some men may 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 should be comfortable acknowledging. And as we all know: things left to fester don’t get better, they erupt in poison and spread further…
© 2019 DIBBUKS EDICIONE – Abadía. All rights reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 8: A Giant Among Goofs


By Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-021-0 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Like so much else in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou, which debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its iconic lead strip created by François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel. In 1943, publisher Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, and comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (Jijé) took the helm for the redheaded kid’s further exploits as the magazine gradually became a cornerstone of European culture.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin was handed creative control and slowly abandoned short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. Franquin introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars and created the phenomenally popular Marsupilami. Debuting in 1952 (Spirou et les héritiers) the beast became a spin-off star of screen, plush toy stores, console games and albums in his own right. Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. He was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When WWII forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels and met Maurice de Bévére (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at LJdS. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative team known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They ultimately revolutionised and reshaped Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” graphic style.

Over two decades he had enlarged Spirou & Fantasio’s scope and horizons, until it became purely his own. Constantly, fans met startling new characters as the strip evolved into the saga of globetrotting journalists who visited exotic places, exposed crimes, explored the incredible and clashed with bizarre and exotic arch-enemies. Throughout it all, Fantasio remained a full-fledged – albeit entirely fictional – reporter for Le Journal de Spirou: regularly popping back to the office between cases. Sadly, lurking there was an arrogant, accident-prone, junior tasked with minor jobs and general dogs-bodying. He was Gaston Lagaffe – Franquin’s other immortal invention…

There’s a hallowed tradition of comics personalising fictitiously mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in, whether it’s Marvel’s Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at The Beano and Dandy – it’s a truly international practise. At first cameos in Spirou yarns and occasional asides on text pages featured well-meaning foul-up and ostensible office gofer “Gaston” who debuted in issue #985, cover-dated February 28th 1957. The affable conniving dimwit grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic, whether as guest in Spirou’s adventurous comics cases or his own comedy strips and faux reports on the editorial pages he was supposed to paste up.

In terms of actual schtick and delivery, older readers will recognise favourite beats and timeless elements of well-intentioned self-delusion as seen in Benny Hill and Jacques Tati and recognise recurring riffs from Some Mothers Do Have ’Em and Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, infernal ingenuity and inspired invention, all to mug smugness, puncture pomposity, lampoon the status quoi? (there’s some of that punning there see?) and ensure no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

As previously stated, Gaston/Gomer obtains a regular salary (let’s not dignify what he does as “earning” a living) from Spirou’s editorial offices: reporting to top journalist Fantasio, or complicating the lives of office manager Léon Prunelle and the other, more diligent, staffers, whilst effectively ignoring those minor jobs he’s paid to handle. These include page paste-up, posting (initially fragile) packages and editing readers’ letters… and that’s the official reason fans’ requests and suggestions are never acknowledged or answered…

Gomer is lazy, over-opinionated, ever-ravenous, impetuous, underfed, forgetful and eternally hungry, a passionate sports fan and animal lover, with his most manic moments all stemming from cutting work corners and stashing or consuming contraband nosh in the office. This leads to constant clashes with colleagues and draws in seemingly notionally unaffiliated bystanders like traffic cop Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, as well as many simple passers-by who should know by now to keep away from this street.

Through it all our office oaf remains eternally affable, easy-going and incorrigible. Only three questions really matter here: why everyone keeps giving him one last chance, what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the self-opinionated idiot, and will ever-outraged capitalist financier De Mesmaeker ever get his perennial, pestiferous contracts signed?

In 1972 Gaston – Le géant de la gaffe became the 10th European album and in 2021 was Cinebook’s 8th translated compilation: again focussing on non-stop, all-Franquin comics gags in single-page bursts. Our well-meaning, overconfident, overly-helpful know-it-all office hindrance invents more stuff making life unnecessarily dangerous and continues his pioneering and perilous attempts to befriend and boost fauna and flora alike and improve the modern mechanised world…

Despite resolute green credentials and leanings, Gomer is colour-blind to the problems his antiquated automobile causes, even after numerous attempts to soup up, cleanse, and modify and mollify the motorised atrocity he calls his car. The decrepit, dilapidated Fiat 509 is more in need of merciful execution than his many well-meant engineering interventions as seen here in a range of cold weather exploits proving the indomitable optimism of office editor Léon Prunelle who really should know by now the cost of accepting lifts from his incorrigible subordinate… especially in light of Gomer’s pioneering seat belt invention and obsession with solving road pollution.

…And when not actually the cause of automotive disasters, Gomer’s car attracts the Ahab-like attentions of increasingly obsessed traffic cop Longsnoot

At the office, work avoidance is masked as “improving” perfectly functional equipment, speeding up these newfangled copiers, printers and the like, but his monorail messaging system – adjusted to average head height – proves to be the next best thing in concussion causation…

One evergreen strand of anarchic potential is a subgenre of strips involving “guest-shots” by other LJdS stars. Previously falling foul of the fool were creators such as Lambil (Bluecoats) and Roba (Billy & Buddy), and here the gofer’s disturbing tendency to don mascot costumes and paying heavily for it continues as Gomer garbs himself as (cartoonist Charles DeGotte’s) big yellow bird The Flagada and rapidly regrets it…

Just as much fun if not actually safer are the feral creatures Gomer’s big heart compels him to adopt. These include a sassily savage alley cat and nastily nefarious black-headed gull to accompany illicit studio companions Cheese the mouse and goldfish Bubelle.

Here the combined critter chaos factor repeatedly lands the oaf in hot water… and swamp mud and potholes and wild woodland paths and rooftops and… Gomer almost adds a skunk to the menagerie before animal instinct and nature convince him otherwise…

However, their hyperactive gluttonous presences are as nothing compared to the spiky depredations of a rapidly mutating cactus Gomer rescued from his Aunt Hortense’s home and which is increasingly dominating the Spirou offices. It doesn’t fit there either, but at least has plenty of fresh victims to puncture and terrify. When he also introduces Hortense’s creeper, it soon becomes a case for applying the un-soothing, discomforting tones of his manic musical WMD the Brontosaurophone…

Heavily featured are episodes of (imagined) sporting glory, dalliances with fishing and clay pigeon shooting plus an extended run of strips with Gomer and opposite number Jules-from-Smith’s-across-the-street seeking to smuggle a radio into work to follow the football. Old habits die hard however and there are still moments of culinary catastrophe and inventive debacle – like when he beefs up the office chainsaw or creates tomato soup gas…

The holidays and Year’s End festivities offer their own hazards, generating much mayhem but still prevent benighted business bod De Mesmaeker getting an even break whenever he brings contracts for poor Prunelle to sign.

Far better enjoyed than described, these strips let Franquin flex his sardonically whimsical creative muscles and subversively propound his views on environmentalism, pacifism and animal rights. These gags are sublime examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with each re-reading.

So… fancy a bit of Goofing off yet?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2009 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

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)

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, with his first official appearance being October 29th in Pilote #1, even though he had actually debuted in a pre-release teaser – or “pilot” – some weeks earlier. Bon Anniversaire mon petit brave!

René Goscinny was 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 in a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis & 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 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. Here he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, René also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (“Martial”) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio. In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier & Jean Hébrad formed independent syndicate Édifrance/Édipresse, creating magazines for business and general industry like 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 Martien and Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and with Uderzo fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. Goscinny also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édifrance/Édipresse launched Pilote, and René 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, still making time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustré (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx). He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips like Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record – 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 at age seven and dreamed of being an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII came, 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 France’s post-war rebuilding, 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- Françoise Calvo (The Beast is Dead). Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated novels, worked in animation, as a journalist, as 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 devised 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 October 1959, Uderzo was its major creative force, 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 historical serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it was clear 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 3-to-5).

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 the best 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 serialised in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959 – 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0 distributed from June 1st 1959), the story is set in the year 50 BC (not BCE!) on the outermost tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete the 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 heavily fortified permanent garrisons – 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 pre-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 and wily Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but crafty Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and resolved 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. They 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 originally unfolded in Pilote #42-74, recounting disastrous consequences after Getafix loses 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.

Since Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he volunteers for the trip too and the punning pair are swiftly away, 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 too.

When Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner they 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 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 a 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 Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered despite the might of the Empire – have crossed into pacified Roman territory. These 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 & Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the Conference competition round 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 & Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

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

Astérix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages, with a host of animated and live-action movies, games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). Approaching 400 million copies of 40 Asterix books and a handful of spin-off volumes 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 those statistics 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.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Mézières & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlê: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Although I still marginally plump for Flash Gordon, another strong contender for the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including Buck Rogers in this tautological turmoil – is Valérian. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips actually formed the genre itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie (or indeed any sci fi flic from the 1980s onwards) has seen some of Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the film industry has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the Millennium Falcon’s look to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Please don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – originally released to cash in on the epic Luc Besson movie – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ confirming and comparing panels to film stills.

In case you’re curious, additional features include photo & design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ plus bullet-point historical briefings ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’. Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Mézières & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all creatives concerned considered their first yarn as a work-in-progress, not quite up to their preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as that prototype – Bad Dreams – kicks off this volume, in its first English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series was boosted by a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane tales (our reviews are coming soon!), which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as it became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist, political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affably capable but unimaginative, by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by reckless casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as Les Mauvais Réves – a blend of comedy and action as dry dullard Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist: a maverick seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth until rescued from a tricky situation by a fiery, capable young woman/temporal native called Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of the vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trains as a Spatio-Temporal operative and is soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure until the 13th was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st – September 1st 1985) after which the mind-wrenching sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the 12th tale, due to collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Les Mauvais Réves was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0. The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes (#455-468, 25th July – 24th October 1968) followed by Terre en Flammes (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April – 10th July 1969).

Both are included here and the action opens with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence, political chicanery and atomic holocaust. Their orders are to recapture Xombul, still hellbent on undermining Galaxity and establishing himself as Dictator of the Universe. To attain this goal the renegade travelled to New York after the nuclear accident melted the ice caps and flooded the city – and almost everywhere else. He’s hunting lost scientific secrets that would allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers assume…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are submerged, jungle vines connect deserted skyscrapers, tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters snatch up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has constructed deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delicious in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is a timelessly witty Science Fiction delight which climaxes in a moody cliffhanger…

Immediately following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland, encountering hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships, they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of a super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets (originally seen in Pilote #520-541, October 23rd 1969 – March 19th 1970) as veteran and rookie are despatched to fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent. It is the capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline. The mission is threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair must examine the first galactic civilisation ever discovered which has never experienced any form of human contact or contamination. As usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian & Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the cheekily acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market. Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble quickly attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies.

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship. Sadly, our dauntless duo are distracted, embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and visiting the mysterious outer planets, Valerian & Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly familiar and always innovative, this savvy space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, spectacular, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious. Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Mézières & Tranlê. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – The Official Classic Children’s Illustrated Mystery Adventure Series


By Hergé translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Farshore)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) which have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without an official conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked. It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 70 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle where he apparently fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siècle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme. He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nènesse and Poussette and Cochonette (written by a staff sports reporter) when Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues? Also, perhaps he might also highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats?

Having recently discovered word balloons in imported newspaper strips, Remi opted to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work, producing a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin au pays des Soviets AKA Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930: meaning that as well as celebrating 95 years of existence Tintin remains one of the very first globally successful strip characters, barely preceded by Tarzan and Buck Rogers (both January 17th 1929) and Popeye on January 17th of that year…

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us English speakers) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”. The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme and opens with the pair arriving in Russia. The dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by “the Soviets” to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular support and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse – a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen cohering on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast, flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters: a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself appears very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something; an intriguing hint of glories to come. Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in a range of hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and probably not ideal for an official target market of 8-years old and up), Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text ©1999, 2007 Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 9: Symphony in Buddy Major


By Christophe Cazenove & Jean Bastide, in the style of Roba, coloured by Luc Perdriset & Bastide: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-129-3 (Album PB/Digital)

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least the French speaking bits – the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy first debuted at Christmas in 1959. Bon anniversaire 65th, mes braves!

The perennial family favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director/Ideas Man, who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during an astoundingly productive decades-long career at the periodical. Intended as an Old World answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality to become Roba’s main occupation for the next 45 years. He had launched the feature as a mini-récit (32-page, half-sized freebie inserts) in the December 24th edition of Le Journal de Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a monster hit from the start, and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. It was even syndicated to competitor publishers and a popular feature in Le Journal de Mickey, rubbing shoulders with Walt Disney’s top stars. Older Brits might recognise the art as early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant weekly from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, B&B has generated a live-action movie, four animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. As with a select few immortalized Belgian comics creations, Bollie en Billie were awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels…

Large format album compilations began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s & 1970s from publisher Dupuis. These were completely redesigned and re-released in 1985 when Roba moved to Dargaud and became his own editor. The standard albums (44 to date) are supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Assorted collections are available in 15 languages, selling well in excess of 25 million copies.

Roba crafted over a thousand pages of gag-strips in his beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and the exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel he shared his endless days with. Long before his death in 2006, the auteur wisely appointed successors for the strip, which has thus continued to this day. He began by surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003, and the successor subsequently took on the scripting upon Roba’s passing. Verron was soon joined by gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel whilst this relatively recent tome (2017’s volume 38, Symphonie en Bill majeur) comes courtesy of Christophe Cazenove & Jean Bastide. In this collection Verron is again present as illustrator of the “cabochons”: illustrated icons at the top of each strip. They’re what old folks like us employed before emoticons…

Redesignated Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in 2009: stars of enticing Cinebook compilations introducing 21st century readers to an endearingly bucolic sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering dad, a warmly compassionate but constantly wearied and distracted mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog with a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

Primarily a selection of musically themed single gags, Symphony in Buddy Major opens preceded by a handy character catch-up chart offering briefings on Billy, Buddy, their close human associate Pat and sultry mysterious tortoise Caroline. Thereafter the old magic resumes in the approved manner, further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) via the usual mix of events comprising school, home, pals, play, parties and chores, each packed with visual puns, quips, slapstick and jolly jests and japes. These affirm the gradual socialisation and behaviour of little Billy measured in carefree romps with four-footed friends in an even split between parental judgements and getting away with murder…

Buddy is the perfect pet for our imaginative boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined or “found” food, buried bones (ownership frequently disputed), and – as seen often in this volume – sleeping where he really shouldn’t in a war that can only end one way. When not being the problem, Buddy’s ferociously protective of his boy, tortoise and ball but simply cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy’s propensity for burying and digging up stuff remains paramount, as does his relationship with canine cohort Scamp, Brice and Chips. The mutt’s fondly platonic relationship with Caroline is refined and extended here but when Billy learns how dogs express affection that goes badly wrong…

Principally these episodes focus on Billy getting his first musical instrument (called a “flute” here but I’m not fooled – I know a thrice-bedamned recorder when I see one!) and early lessons in how to make pleasant sounds. Of course, Dad prides himself on his own musical youth and when he’s not frantically whittling instruments he’s regaling Billy with tales of his expertise on the provincial bagpipes of horror called a “bodèga”.

Nobody appreciates Buddy’s attempts to join the family chorus – even though he’s proficient (at least on his own terms) on drums, cymbals, maracas. the flute and vocals…

Happily, the pooch is adept at clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns, generally to coach Billy and Pat on how to talk to human girls like Celia and Hazel, but he draws the line at intervening whenever hostile neighbour Madame Stick and her evil cat Corporal are on the warpath. Buddy’s a pretty good life coach, and his grooming tips quickly make his human the most popular boy in school, but strangely, not on St Valentine’s day…

The revels end for the meanwhile with an extended vacation yarn that sees the family on a hiking tour where the biggest bone of contention is exactly what the definition of Hiking entails…

Roba was a master of this cartoon art form and under his successors the feature remains genially paced, packed with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes running the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft.

This collection is exactly what fans would expect and deserve: another charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa. This is a supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.

Original edition © Dargaud, 2017 by Cazenove & Bastide in the style of Roba. © Studio Boule & Bill 2017. English translation © 2023 Cinebook Ltd.

The Last Queen


By Jean-Marc Rochette, translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-19-5 (HB)

In conjunction with scripters such as Jacques Lob, Matz, Oliver Bocquet, Bejamin Legrand and others, painter/illustrator Jean-Marc Rochette (Altitude, Bestiaire des alpes, Les loup, Les Aventures Psychotiques de Napoléon et Bonaparte, Le Transperceneige/Snowpiercer sequence) rapidly became one of the key bande dessinée artists to watch.

In 2022 he confirmed that status and surmounted it with the release of La Dernière Reine: a self-contained naturalist epic which quickly garnered many major awards. It was named “Book of the Year” by Lire Magazine Littéraire and Elle Magazine, was radio station RTL’s Grand Prix for Comics winner and was an Official Selection of the lauded Angoulême Festival 2023.

As can be seen in this new translation from SelfMadeHero, even in English, it’s a bloody good read.

Rendered in moody colour washes and stark line, The Last Queen took Rochette three years to complete and explores all the passions of its creator: love of wilderness, scaling mountains, contemplative solitude and the balance between humanity and nature.

Those fascinations are expressed here in the millennial history and last gasp of a clan of red-headed outsiders living on the Vercors Massif of the French Prealps since neolithic times. Often regarded as witches, the ancestors of doomed outcast Édouard Roux have lived with and in the wilds throughout history. His kind enjoyed a particular affinity for the great bears that were indisputable masters of the range for all of time, until as a child he witnesses the end of the last mighty monarch of the peaks.

As the 19th century closed, a she-bear dubbed “the Last Queen” is killed by a shepherd and her carcass gloatingly desecrated by villagers. The other kids cruelly call little Édouard “son of the bear” and say vile things about his mother, but he’s used to it.

When war comes in 1914, Roux marches off and is a hero of the Somme trenches. All it costs is the lower part of his face…

In 1920, the despondent pensioned-off warrior is on his uppers: a despised, pitiable gueule cassée – “broken face” – shrouding his disfigurement and shame beneath a sack-like hood. He is but one of thousands…

When Roux hears of a woman artist who helps injured soldiers, he travels to Paris and meets Jeanne Sauvage who builds a new lower face for Roux based on the visage of a Greek god. Based on actual sculptor and proto-feminist Marie Marcelle Jane Poupelet, Sauvage has been making supple, lifelike masks for France’s defaced heroes and – refusing payment he cannot afford – does the same for Édouard.

Soon they are lovers and she introduces him to her circle of artist friends in Montmartre …more dangerously disruptive outsiders in a world increasingly governed by inconspicuous wealth, covert prestige and urbane uniformity: one that simultaneously tolerates, despises and exploits them all.

When the city life grinds them down and spits them out, Roux takes Jeanne to the mountains and shows her the secrets of the massif and a long-held family secret: stone age cave paintings and a neolithic carved bear lost from human knowledge for hundreds of years. The bounty of wonders inspire her great artistic breakthrough but Jeanne’s creative triumph is swindled from her by the elegant, cultured elite of modern civilisation. She and Édouard retreat from the emerging world for a timeless natural idyll that is paradise on Earth, but their days of true happiness are already numbered…

Uncompromising, deeply poignant and painfully sad, this is a saga of love and extinction: a testament to the passing of the past, with raw nobility lost to greed, crushing conformity and rise of mass mediocrity. It’s a struggle with no room for mercy or grace allowed for the unconventional or out-of-step. A paean to the fading call of the wild, uncomfortable or troublesome heritage, these lovers’ loss encapsulates and symbolises so many small wonders destroyed by progress, with revenants and outsiders pushed beyond even the few oases of fringe and margins not taken from them yet…

In a world that has no place for so much any longer, The Last Queen is a powerful call to cherish and preserve what can so easily die and never be regained…
La Dernière reine © Casterman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Trent volume 8: Little Trent


By Rodolphe & Léo, coloured by Marie-Paule Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-398-7 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Continental audiences adore the mythologised American experience, both in Big Sky Wild Westerns and crime dramas of later eras. They enjoy a profound historical connection to the northernmost parts of the New World, generating many great graphic extravaganzas…

Born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th 1944, “Léo” is artist/storyteller Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho. Upon attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Puerto Alegre, in 1968 he became a government employee for three years until forced to flee Brazil because of his political views. Whilst military dictators ran the homeland he lived in Chile and Argentina before illegally returning in 1974. He worked as a designer and graphic artist in Sao Paulo whilst creating his first comics art for O Bicho magazine, and in 1981 migrated to Paris to pursue a career in Bande Dessinée. He worked on Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as handling advertising and graphic design jobs, until the big break when Jean-Claude Forest (Bébé Cyanure, Charlot, Barbarella) invited him to draw stories for Okapi.

This brought regular illustration work for Bayard Presse and, in 1988, Léo began his association with scripter/scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe. Prolific and celebrated, Léo’s writing partner had been a giant of comics since the 1970s: a Literature graduate who left teaching and running libraries to create poetry, criticism, novels, biographies, children’s stories and music journalism.

On meeting Jacques Lob in 1975, Jacquette expanded his portfolio: writing for many artists in magazines ranging from Pilote and Circus to à Suivre and Métal Hurlant. Amongst his most successful endeavours are Raffini (with Ferrandez) and L’Autre Monde (with Florence Magnin), but his triumphs in all genres and age ranges are far too numerous to list here.

In 1991 “Rodolph” began working with Léo on a period adventure of the “far north” starring a duty-driven loner. Taciturn, introspective, bleakly philosophical and relentlessly driven, Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion. He starred in eight moving, hard-bitten, love-benighted, beautifully realised albums until 2000, with the creative collaboration sparking later fantasy classics Kenya, Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac

Cast very much in the pattern perfected by Jack London and John Buchan, Trent is a man of few words, deep thoughts and unyielding principles who gets the job done whilst stifling the emotional turmoil boiling within him: the very embodiment of “still waters running deep”.

As Petite Trent in 2000, Little Trent was the 8th and final saga to date, offering a marked change in fortune. After years of second-guessing, procrastination and prevarication, he had finally won and wed the love of his life and now basked in connubial bliss – until the opening of this tale.

Years previously, the lovelorn peacekeeper had saved Agnes St. Yves (but not her beloved brother) and was given a clear invitation from her, albeit one he never acted upon. In the interim, Agnes met and married someone else. As before, Trent was unable to save the man in her life when banditry and destruction manifested during an horrific murder spree. The ball was again in Philip’s court and once more he fumbled it through timidity, indecision and inaction. He retreated into duty, using work to evade commitment and the risk of rejection…

Now even though he has fulfilled his dream and won the woman he loves, she is still missing.

It’s not a problem he can fix. Agnes has been called away with her mother to minister to a dying relative in Europe. She might be gone as much as eight months and Trent cannot shake the conviction that it will be much longer…

Nevertheless, duty always calls and the Mountie resolutely buries himself in his next case: protection duty for a mother and child he must escort to the Pacific coast – despite every effort of the estranged husband to stop them.

Poet Rodney Taylor is the alcoholic wastrel who abused his family and utterly refuses to accept the divorce he drove his wife to seek. Due to his repeated threats the authorities have agreed to safeguard the fugitives over the wishes of the extremely violent but exceeding charming drunk. The fleeing mother and child are daughter and grandson to retired Senator Charles Priestly and if Trent can deliver them to distant Whitehorse, the bigwig’s estate household can properly protect them thereafter. The slow tedious passage by rail to Prince Rupert Sound is punctuated by constant excited questions from boisterous, hero-struck and deeply impressionable Jeremy and Trent is further distracted by a letter from Agnes which has overtaken him and waits at the Post Office in Prince Rupert, from where they will travel up river on paddle steamer Reginald

Before Trent can read the missive from Agnes, Jeremy falls into the harbour and her precious words are soaked and ruined after the sergeant fishes him out. All Trent can make of the pulp is scraps and the phrases “wonderful news” and perhaps “expecting a happy event…”

Immediately his attitude to the pesky lad softens. Although dour and dutiful in public, Trent’s dreams are troubled, as the boy’s tireless exuberance combines with the new husband’s longing for his bride, sparking distracting notions of an heir of his own…

The journey takes a dire turn when Rodney Taylor also embarks on the Reginald playing the aggrieved husband and subtly threatening his former family. Seeking to avoid conflict, the Mountie soft peddles his responses and is caught off guard when Rodney’s initial warning and punishment provoke even greater acts of bullying and terror. When the stalker hires a band of thugs events quickly escalate and the entire ship is lost.

Still refusing to see sense or back off Rodney follows them to the very gates of the Priestly estate and Trent is forced to an action that crushes Jeremy’s hero-worshipping attitude forever.

Technically successful but feeling as if he failed, Trent makes his way home to find Agnes waiting. It has been nearly a year since they were together and her news is nothing like what her husband has imagined…

Another beguilingly introspective voyage of internal discovery, where human nature is a hostile environment, Little Trent delivers suspense, sentiment, riveting action and crushing poignancy in a compelling epic to delight all fans of widescreen cinematic entertainment. This is a sensitive contemplative graphic narrative series no fan of mature drama can afford to ignore.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 2000 by Rodolphe & Leo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

The Trials of Agrippina & Agrippina and the Ancestor


By Claire Bretécher, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBNs: digital only

Social satirist and cartoon cultural commentator Claire Bretécher (April 17th 1940 – February 10th 2020), was born in Nantes to a middle class Catholic family. Her heavy-handed father was a jurist whilst mother stayed home to run the house – even as she always encouraged her daughter to be free, autonomous, strong and independent. As a child, Claire read the usual children’s magazines girls were supposed to, but also (boys) comics such as Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Spirou, and drew her own pages until abandoning the “inferior” discipline for abstract art when she began studies at Nantes’ Academy of Fine Arts. On graduation in 1959 she moved to Montmartre, Paris, supplementing with babysitting her main job as a high school drawing teacher, while seeking a proper career in journalism. When her drawings were published in Le Pèlerin, she began contributing to magazines and by the mid-1960s was regularly in publications from Bayard Presse, Larousse and Hatchette. She also worked in advertising as her early comics influences – Will, Hergé and Franquin – expanded to include American “scratchy-line” strip stars Brant Parker (Wizard of Id), Johnny Hart (B.C.), Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts) as well as satirists like James Thurber (The New Yorker, Walter Mitty) and Jules Feiffer (Sick, Sick, Sick, Explainers, Kill My Mother).

Her big bande dessinée break came in 1963 when René Goscinny asked her to illustrate his Le facteur Rhésus for humour magazine L’Os à moelle. Although short-lived, the prestigious partnership brought more work: cartoons, gags, illustration and Claire et Pétronille in Record, pantomimic exploits of adolescent troublemaker Hector in Le Journal de Tintin, Peanuts-derived comedy Les Gnangnan and Les Naufragés (with fellow star-in-waiting Raoul Caunin) at Spirou, and the first of her many medieval satire strips Baratine et Molgaga.

In 1969 at Pilote Bretécher debuted her first great strip character Cellulite (a barbed feminist, “un-beautiful” feudal princess, regarded as the first female antihero in Franco-Belgian comics). After an editorial change, the increasing socially aware-and-active auteur joined fellow creators Nikita Mandryka and Gotlib (Marcel Gottlieb) in quitting to publish their own short-lived but iconic magazine: L’Echo de Savanes which debuted in May 1972. When it folded, Bretécher escaped the comics ghetto and began working in left-leaning mainstream publications with features such as Les Amours Écologiques du Bolot Occidental in ecological monthly Le Sauvage (May 1973) and her second popular masterpiece Les Frustrés which launched in weekly Le Nouvel Observateur as anecdotal cartoon cultural commentary La Page des Frustrés from October 15th of that year. It ran in assorted forms and venues until 1981 by which time she was firmly established as a multi-award-winning author and self-publisher of dozens of books and hundreds of magazine features.

From 1987, she began primarily concentrating on the life of a Gen X French teenager in self-inflicted crisis mode during those difficult years spanning self-declared independence and becoming more or less mature. Simultaneously pompous, angry, spoiled, privileged, resentful, uncertain, intransigent, self-important, trend-seeking, bolshy and determined not to consider the future, Agrippine – or as here Agrippina – roared through dozens of strips that filled 8 albums between 1988 and 2009.

Think of it as a female teen version of Dennis the Menace (UK version) with swearing, scatology, unlovely and messy sex, constant arguments, staggering hilarious rudeness and hysteria and every shocking domestic non-crisis you can imagine… or worse yet remember…

She hates her life and her closest friends, loathes her younger brother and wishes her parents had divorced years ago when she could have got some mileage out of it…

The series always provides sharp and telling observations on generation gaps of every stripe and thus quite naturally made the leap to television for a 26-episode series in 2001.

Most of that unmissable comics cleverness is denied to English-only speakers and readers, but Europe Comics has culled some of the best bits into two albums which any parent would benefit from.

The Trials of Agrippina was first released in 2008 but hasn’t dated at all, serving as a primer with mostly 1-page strips detailing just how bad life can be ‘In the Spotlight’ for ‘Teens’ like ‘Me’, detailing the temptations of ‘Polaroid’ and ‘The Crisis’ of a self-adjudged ‘Success Story’

Wry and pithy, episodes like ‘Complaints’, ‘Seeing Things’, ‘Blooper’, ‘We Are the Champions’, ‘Candid’ and ‘Myths and Legends’ generally leave our girl ‘Clueless’ and requiring emotional ‘Cleanup’, certain someone has ‘Eyes on You’. The ‘Outpouring’ of misery and bile about the latest ‘Fiasco’ to anyone who will care about being ‘Madly in Love’ is certainly a ‘Challenge’, leaving her ‘Taken for a ride’ at ‘The Beach’, waiting for ‘Miracles’

Perennial questions confound her generation as they have all others. Quandaries of life like ‘Liver Failure’, ‘Love Letters’, and the eternal ‘Riddle’ of ‘Lurid Nights’, ‘Stars’, ‘The Oath’, being ‘Born Again’, feeling ‘The scream’, ‘The scoop’, or allure or ‘Deadly Arts’ and romantic ‘Strategy’ all show that although she’s always right, Agrippina can never really win…

Even when she finally finds a suitably cool boyfriend – in ghastly pretentious intellectual Morose Mince – it all turns out to be another monumental disappointment and drag from initial ‘Bonding’, through ‘Sweet Nothin’s’, ‘Othello’, with teen ‘High Treason’ hitting ‘The Last Nerve’ as ‘The Specialist’ provokes growing dissatisfaction and musical tastes no longer in ‘Harmony’, and a preference of condoms in ‘Gimmick’ leads to ‘Domestic Strife’, a paucity of ‘Prospects’ and the ‘End of the Line’

At least mum and dad can now safely offer advice in ‘Aurores’

Sharp and so very funny – unless you’re a teen reading it – The Trials of Agrippina is a masterpiece of observational comedy no parent can be without.

The absolute best seller in the series was fifth album Agrippine et l’Ancêtre first published in 1998 and which we can enjoy as Agrippina and the Ancestor. Here the tale is told in one long epic as our long-suffering lass is dragged into unsuspected maternal dramas when her grandmother – who hasn’t yet coughed up any birthday dough for Agrippina – has an emotional meltdown (and emergency face-lift) after learning her own estranged and despised mother has finally gone into a care home. Now grammy is feeling the weight of years and is after much pressure from daughter and grandchildren – even Agrippina’s vile little brother Byron who also scents guilt money in the air – is convinced to visit Great Grandma Zsa Zsa and reconcile…

Thus opens a manic domestic farce as Commie-hating fireball of prejudice Zsa Zsa runs roughshod over her reunited clan and everyone else in range in an escalating procession of bizarre escapades. These include feeding time at the home, the many downsides of the care professions and the old termagant’s introduction and rapid conquest of computers, virtual reality and robot dogs with her generations of offspring dragged along in her wake. At least studiously sanguine Agrippina gets to meet a kind-of dream lover in the process…

And of course, the teen’s many attempts at explaining the chaos and finding support amongst her own friends are no help at all…

Weird, wild and wonderfully fun, these adventures are pure joy and a lasting tribute to one of the most important women in comics history. Check them out and see for yourself.
© 2015, 2016 – DARGAUD-BENELUX (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – Bretécher. All rights reserved.