The Campbells volume 1: Inferno

By Jose Luis Munuera, coloured by Sydas and translated by Emma Wilson (Europe Comics)
Digital Edition No ISBN:

Arrr! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day once morrrre, me Hearties! That gives me license to act like a complete berk whilst plugging a suitably themed graphic yarn. This ‘un be a real cracker, too…

As heavily influenced by a certain Disney movie franchise as continental Europe’s long-standing affection for the genre, and exhibiting a deft hand with the traditions and history of light-hearted freebooting romps, Inferno is the introductory salvo in a convoluted yet engaging family saga about a most unconventional bunch of buccaneers.

Crafted by Andalusian comics veteran Jose Luis Munuera (No Hay Domingos en el Infierno, Merlin, Walter le Loup, Spirou et Fantasio, P’tit Boule et Bill) who has been delighting readers since his debut in 1996, the epic voyage of discovery commences here with smart, snappy episodes introducing an extremely large cast of roguish characters.

First up are devious rapscallion “Captain” Carapepino and his trusty dogsbody Haggins. A very minor player with huge aspirations, the smooth talker is off burying his first chest of treasure on a sun-kissed tropical island when he is ambushed and hijacked by the infamous – and long-missing – Captain Campbell.

Through a most cunning ploy, the pirate’s pirate (with his two young daughters at his side) appropriates the gem-strewn chest and smugly paddles away to another paradisiacal atoll…

The next vignette sees the wonder man at ease in his luxurious haven on Garden Island, patiently watching teenaged Itaca explode again as her obnoxiously bratty sister Genova reads excerpts from her stolen secret diary…

Despite their acting out and outrageous feats of derring-do, the well-educated, ultra-fit kids love each other and desperately miss their mother…

Out in the briny depths, formidable Captain Inferno terrorises victims and his own men. He is a man of dark moods and soaring ambition, but haunted by visions of a dead woman who comes to him often to repeat three horrifying predictions that he cannot escape.

His night terrors are suppressed but not abated by the arrival of the unctuous Carapepino who reveals his encounter with the sea terror’s most despised enemy… and husband of the ghost who currently plagues him…

The Campbells might be a sea-wolves but they are most unconventional ones. Amongst those who love them most are the inhabitants of the Isle of Bakaloo, a leper colony the family regularly visit with supplies of food, books and other life-easing essentials.

On this latest trip, the canny corsairs bring along the latest chest of valuables: after all, what normal, superstitious rogues would risk their scurvy skins amongst the unclean and diseased?

Some days later, the family visit the fiercely neutral township of Bahia Cambalanche, Port Franc. Here all hawks of the seas can meet to trade, carouse and fence their stolen booty. Here and now, Itaca and Genova reluctantly attend lessons arranged by their father.

Right here, right now, Carapepino and a press gang provided by Inferno attempt to abduct the girls only to be beaten back by their unbridled fury and the late intervention of gorgeous teenager Blond Luca.

Itaca is instantly smitten by the glorious hero, blithely unaware that her saviour is a pawn in a dastardly long con…

The deception blossoms soon after as Garden Island is invaded by Carapepino’s borrowed forces. Nevertheless, the trio of Campbells fight free, humiliate the craven dogs and make a bold escape to a new sanctuary…

In the interim, Inferno has not been idle. By ruthless manipulation and scurrilous deals, he has ingratiated himself with English nobility – and Campbell’s oldest enemies – in order to have himself admitted to the top flight of the corrupt aristocracy.

Now invested as Baron of England, with a warrant to hunt all shipping but British vessels, Inferno moves quickly to consolidate power and replace the crown’s agents with his own people…

The Campbells have relocated to Bakeloo where Itaca broods over Luca’s betrayal and her father worries about her distress. Father is blithely oblivious to the passionate adoration of native lovely Nutel-La but the practical islander finally makes a big impression when she suggests that the devoted dad needs to have “the talk” with his swiftly maturing daughter…

Having lost yet another ship, Carapepino and his surviving crew at last link up with former employer Baron Inferno, just in time to become his first prisoners as the newly ennobled provincial ruler moves into his new Governor’s Palace.

The interloper eases gracefully to the head of the aristocratic pack, gleaming in fine clothes, sparkling with newfound power and respectability. After all, aren’t these rich privileged fools just another gang of self-proclaimed predators? Especially the shockingly blunt and ruthlessly amoral Lady Helvetia, who soon becomes his boon companion and more…

However, when the revels end, the Baron’s mind races back decades to the docks of London where he and his bold, inventive, loyal brother picked pockets and sought to escape their monster of a father. How far they have come since then. How far they have drifted apart…

To Be Continued…

Only currently available in English in digital editions, The Campbells is a fabulously engaging rollercoaster of thrills and fun, as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and far more entertaining and satisfying than the rest of that franchise.

Combining smart and constant laughs with bombastic action, an enticing generational war, murder mystery and heartbreakingly winning characters – goodies and baddies! – the series goes from strength to strength. This first volume is captivating from the outset, with its hyper-kinetic Marcinelle School-derived art grabbing the attention and dragging readers along as though caught in a bow wave, with the raffish gags subtly counterbalancing a strong, and complex family-based conflict and just the merest hint of supernatural menace lurking in the shadows.

Don’t wait for a surely-inevitable print release, scour the electric waves and track down this book and series…
© DUPUIS – MUNUERA 2017. Al rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Broken Ear

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-617-4 (HB)                    : 978-0-416-57030-5 (PB)

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

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a 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 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

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

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot 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?

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

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

After six years of continuous week-by-week improvement, Hergé was approaching his mastery when he began The Broken Ear. His characterisations were firm in his mind, and the storyteller was creating a memorable not to say iconic supporting cast, whilst balancing between crafting satisfactory single instalments and building a cohesive longer narrative.

The version reprinted here (in either hardback or softcover as you prefer) was repackaged in colour by the artist and his studio in 1945, although the original ran as monochrome 2-page weekly instalments from 1935-1937, but there are still evident signs of his stylistic transition in this hearty, exotic mystery tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a boorish, po-faced amateur.

Back from China, Tintin hears of an odd robbery at the Museum of Ethnography and, rushing over, finds the detectives Thompson and Thomson already on the case in their own unique manner.

A relatively valueless carved wooden Fetish Figure made by the Arumbaya Indians has been taken from the South American exhibit. Bafflingly, it was returned the next morning, but the intrepid boy reporter is the first to realise that it’s a fake, since the original statue had a broken right ear.

Perhaps coincidentally, a minor sculptor has been found dead in his flat…

Thus begins a frenetic and enthralling chase to find not just who has the real statue but also why a succession of rogues attempt to secure the dead sculptor’s irreverent and troublesome parrot, with the atmospheric action encompassing the modern urban metropolis, an ocean-going liner and the steamy, turbulent Republic of San Theodoros.

Hhere the valiant lad becomes embroiled in an on-again, off-again Revolution. Eventually, though, our focus moves to the deep jungle where Tintin finally meets the Arumbayas and a long-lost explorer, finally getting one step closer to solving the pan-national mystery.

Whilst unrelenting in my admiration for Hergé I must interject a necessary note of praise for translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner here. Their light touch has been integral to the English-language success of Tintin, and their skill and whimsy is never better seen than in their dialoguing of the Arumbayas.

Just read aloud and think Eastenders

The slapstick and mayhem incrementally build to a wonderfully farcical conclusion with justice soundly served all around, all whilst solid establishing a perfect template for many future yarns: especially those that would perforce be crafted without a political or satirical component during Belgium’s grim occupation by the Nazis.

Here, however, Hergé’s developing social conscience and satirical proclivities are fully exercised in a telling sub-plot about rival armaments manufacturers using an early form of shuttle diplomacy to gull the leaders of both San Theodoros and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico into a war simply to increase company profits, and once again oil speculators would have felt the sting of his pen – if indeed they were capable of any feeling…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, there’s no better time to rectify that sorry situation.

The Broken Ear: artwork © 1945, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Survivors Book 2: The Eyes That Burned

By Hermann, translated by Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)

Hermann Huppen was born in 1938 in Bévercé, in what is now the Malmedy region of Liège Province, Belgium. He studied to become a furniture maker and worked as an interiors architect before finally settling on a career in comics.

His true vocation commenced in 1963 when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal) and in 1969 expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, oneiric fantasy Bonnes Nuits, Nic!, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16, Afrika and many more.

However, Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Prince (but stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip. That was legendary European comics impresario (and Hermann’s agent) Ervin Rustemagic, who slotted his new dystopian thriller into German magazine Zack. Soon the strip was appearing in translation all over the world.

By my count there are 34 volumes and one Special Edition (most of which can be read as stand-alone tales) in circulation globally and has been serialised in Journal de Spirou, Metal Hurlant, Stripoteka and Politikin Zabavnik amongst others.

Jeremiah is a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world – with all the trappings of later hits like Mad Max – but inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, has never really caught on in the US.

Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – in the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series vanished after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions. These are harder to find than hen’s teeth (even after a civilisation ending nuclear exchange) so now I’m having another go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, somehow track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982.

It describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries-old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing, formidably-stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he was late home. Locked out and stuck in the desert wastelands, the callow boy encountered youthful nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and wound up beaten and unconscious. The assault saved his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah found the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all able-bodied men. women and children…

Assuming Kurdy at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracked the wanderer and saved him from being tortured by other outlaws in the desert wastes. A cack-handed rescue resulted in them establishing an uneasy truce whilst Kurdy taught the kid the necessities of life on the run.

Determined to find his people, Jeremiah and Kurdy followed their trail to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The makeshift metropolis was divided in two: ordinary folk and an army of thugs led by a debauched madman Mr. W. E. Birmingham

From a central citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but before long the newcomers stoked resentment and anger into full rebellion…

When the shooting stopped the settlers were in control and Jeremiah convinced Kurdy to invade the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Due to the exigencies of Fantagraphics’ licensing deal, the second translated volume was actually fourth Euro-Album Les Yeux de fer rouge (first released in 1980), but the jump is barely noticeable.

In Du sable plein les dent and Les Héritiers sauvages the lads successfully infiltrate and escape from tyrannical insular Indian country, but without freeing any captives. Now they are wandering the vast, malformed wastelands in search of a prisoner who has escaped the Red Dictatorship…

The Eyes That Burned opens in those eerie expanses with the brutalised boys uneasily catching glimpses of something strange dogging them. As night falls they meet a pioneer family whose wagon has become bogged down, but, even after tense, untrusting introductions slowly resolve into uneasy alliance, the combined stragglers are unable to free the conveyance.

The situation changes when macabre showman Pinkus L. C. Khobb pops up out of nowhere and has his heavily-cloaked performer and companion Idiamh lift the vehicle free. The weird strangers are gone before the party can thank them, but doughty matron Faye has had some kind of seizure and now sits comatose and unresponsive…

Unable to help, Jeremiah and Kurdy press on, tracking their target to a grim hell-hole town dubbed Lerbin’s Gate. Although they ride horses, they are amazed to find Pinkus has got there ahead of them. As they unsuccessfully enquire about the Indian escapee, the showman and his act perform spectacularly. The crowds are suitably enthralled but some of the visitors are taken strangely ill immediately afterwards…

When the boys decide to return to the wastes and scout around the Indian borderland, Pinkus is watching…

The altered terrain is a terrifying hellscape of sand, dust and petrified flora and before long, the lads are pretty sure their increasingly close calls with death are no accidents…

Eventually, they cross the barrier back into Indian territory and encounter motorised war parties rounding up escaped slaves. After a brutal skirmish they also face an utterly unexpected outcome: survivors from Bend’s Hatch being helped by a traitor in the Indian military and covertly running an underground railroad for fleeing slaves…

The reunion and exultancy only last until Pinkus pops up again, revealing his cruel conniving connection to the slaver state before turning his deadly mutant monster on the fugitives…

Sadly for the vile vaudevillian, Jeremiah is fast, observant, deeply intuitive and just as ruthless…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging, with wry and positively spartan writing and fantastic twists on classic cinema tropes, The Eyes That Burned uses beautiful pictures to tell a compelling story that is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume Two: The Eyes That Burned © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.

The Provocative Colette

By Annie Goetzinger, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created contemporary arts histories and dramatized graphic biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most enticing yet; diligently tracing the astoundingly unconventional early life of one of the most remarkable women of modern times.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28th January 1873 – 3rd August 1954) escaped from rural isolation via an ill-considered marriage and, by sheer force of will and an astonishing gift for self-expression, rose to the first rank of French-language (and global) literature through her many novels and stories. The one you probably know best is Gigi, but you should really read a few more such as La Vagabonde or perhaps The Ripening Seed

For her efforts she was elected to the Belgian Royal Academy in 1935 and the French Académie Goncourt ten years later. She became its President in 1949, the year after she was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her grateful country also celebrated her as Chevalier (1920) and Grand Officer (1953) of the Légion d’honneur.

Her unceasing search for truths in the arena of human relationships – particularly in regard to women’s independence in a hostile and patronising patriarchal society – also led her to pursue freedom of expression through dance, acting and mime, film and drama and as a journalist.

The fact that for most of her early life men controlled her money also prompted her far-reaching career path until she finally managed to win control of her own destiny and coffers…

Our drama unfolds in 1893 as 20-year old Sidonie-Gabrielle readies herself for her wedding to the prestigious and much older music journalist Henry Gauthier-Villars. The great man is celebrated nationally under his nom de plume “Willy”.

That’s also the name under which he will publish his wife’s first four hugely successful Claudine novels whilst pocketing all the profits and attendant copyrights…

Eventually breaking free to live a life both sexually adventurous and on her own terms, Colette never abandons her trust in love or reliance on a fiercely independent spirit. And she shares what she believes about the cause of female liberty with the world through her books and her actions…

This bold and life-affirming chronicle was meticulously crafted by the superb and much-missed Annie Goetzinger (18th August1951 – 20th December 2017) and was tragically her last.

The award-winning cartoonist, designer and graphic novelist (see for example The Girl in Dior) supplies sumptuous illustration that perfectly captures the complexities and paradoxes of the Belle Epoque and the wars and social turmoil that followed, whilst her breezy, seductively alluring script brings to vivid life a wide variety of characters who could so easily be reduced to mere villains and martinets but instead resonate as simply people with their own lives, desires and agendas…

The scandalous escapades are preceded by an adroit and incisive Preface from journalist and author Nathalie Crom and are bookended with informative extras such as ‘Literary References’, a full ‘Chronology’ of the author’s life and potted biographies of ‘Colette’s Entourage’ offering context and background on friends, family and the many notables she gathered around her.

Additional material includes a suggested Further Reading and a Select Bibliography.

Another minor masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any girl who’s thought “that’s not fair” and “why do I have to…”, The Provocative Colette is a forthright and beguiling exploration of humanity and one you should secure at your earliest convenience.
© DARGAUD 2017 by Goetzinger. All rights reserved. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see NBM Publishing.

Gomer Goof volume 1: Mind the Goof!

By André Franquin with Delporte & Jidéhem and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-358-1

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all starts with Spirou. In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to anthology comic Le Journal de Spirou and its eponymous star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant and legend-in-waiting André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the well-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials, introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right) to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. During that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly comic.

Franquin 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 and, when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA 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/illustrator, generating 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 Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA “Will” (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They would later reshape and revolutionise Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946), who ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. But throughout all that time Fantasio was still a reporter and had to pop into the office. And lurking there was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe

There’s a long history of fictitiously personalising the mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in to make our favourite comics, whether its Stan Lee’s fabled Marvel Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at the Beano and Dandy. Let me assure you that it’s a truly international practise and the occasional asides on text pages featuring junior office gofer and well-meaning foul-up Gaston (who debuted in #985, February 28th 1957) grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of Le Journal de Spirou.

I’d argue, however, that current iteration Gomer Goof (taken from an earlier abortive attempt to bring the character to American audiences) is an unnecessary step. The quintessentially Franco-Belgian tone and humour doesn’t translate particularly well (la gaffe translates as “the blunder”) and contributes nothing. When the big idiot appeared in a 1970s Thunderbirds annual he was redubbed Cranky Franky. Perhaps they should have kept the original title…

In terms of delivery older readers will recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion Brits might recognise in Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em

It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

This premier compilation consists of half-page shorts and comedic text story “reports” from the comic’s editorial page and ultimately full episodes of madcap buffoonery. As previously stated Gomer is employed (let’s not dignify his position by calling it “work”) at the Spirou office, reporting to go-getting hero journalist Fantasio and in charge of minor design jobs like paste-up and reading readers’ letters (the official reason why fans requests and suggestions are never answered).

He’s lazy, opinionated, forgetful and eternally hungry. Many of his most catastrophic actions revolve around cutting corners and caching illicit food in the office…

These characteristics frequently lead to clashes with police officer Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, but the office oaf remains eternally easygoing and incorrigible.

The real question is why Fantasio keeps giving him one last chance…

Following 26 short, sharp two-tier gag episodes – involving Gomer’s office innovations, his hunt for food, assorted pets and livestock, sporting snafus and his appallingly decrepit and dilapidated Fiat 509 auto(barely)mobile – the first of numerous prose vignettes ‘On the Line’ exposes the fool’s many delusional attempts to become an inventor…

Other text forays – punctuated by more pint-sized gag-strips – follow. These comedy briefs include ‘More Than One String to his Bow’, ‘Police Report’, ‘Open Letter to Mr De Mesmaeker’ (Jean De Mesmaeker being the real name of collaborator and background artist Jidéhem and taken for the self-important businessman who became Gomer’s ultimate arch enemy and foil), ‘Winter Stalactites’, ‘Red vs Blue’, ‘Noise Pollution’, ‘Presence of Mind’, ‘Gomer’s stethoscope’, ‘The Firebug Fireman’, ‘Gas-powered bicycle’ and ‘Definitely-not-surreptitious advertising’. The print then gives way to a long-running procession of half-page strips with the editorial idiot causing a cataclysm of cartoon chaos.

Further prose pieces slip into extended continuity when Fantasio embargoes all canned food (potentially explosive and always a bio-hazard) and Gomer applies all his dubious ingenuity to beating the ban in ‘The tin wars’, ‘Ticking tin bombs’, ‘Diary of a War correspondent’ and ‘Blockade’ before one final flurry of strips brings the hilarity to a temporary pause…

Far better enjoyed than précised or described, these strips allowed Franquin, his fellow scenarist Yvan Delporte and Jidéhem to flex their whimsical muscles and even subversively sneak in some satirical support for their political beliefs in pacifism and environmentalism, but at their core remain supreme examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with every re-reading.

So why not start now?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari volume 15: The First Gallop

By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-369-7

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

Derib – equally at home with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that 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…

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

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

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and is in pre-production for a movie release – recently celebrated its 39th album Le jour de silence: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators.

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

Originally released in 1990, Le premier galop was the 16th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

Today’s tale begins as dutiful Yakari struggles to carry water back to his mother as she prepares dinner. Always thinking, the boy believes he’s come up with a more efficient method to transport the clay pitchers, but his dog Drooping Ear refuses to play along…

Discussing the minor debacle with onlooking sage Tranquil Ear, Yakari gets a history lesson on the time before the People discovered horses and decides to use his young colt Little Thunder as his proposed beast of burden.

So enthused is he with his scheme and cleverness, that when the pony objects and runs away from the corral, Yakari feels both betrayed and baffled…

That night the boy writhes in a guilty dream in which Tranquil Ear takes him on a journey to a desert wilderness. Bored and lonely, the lad crafts incredible but unsatisfactory beasts out of clay before stumbling onto a familiar shape which comes fully alive and returns with him to his home where they become the greatest of friends. When he awakes Yakari is lonely again, despite all his (human) friends trying to comfort him.

Eventually, it takes the intervention of Great Eagle to make the crestfallen lad realise that it is his own selfishness and lack of respect that drove Little Thunder to run away and the boy resolves to hunt him down wherever he is and beg him to return. First though, Yakari needs to apologise to Drooping Ear and earn his much-needed assistance…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and compellingly instructional, this salutary fable allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing humanity of our diminutive hero, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2002. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

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

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a 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 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

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

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme; unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot 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?

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) 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

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

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 15 – The Daltons in the Blizzard

By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-76-2

Doughty cowboy Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating in excess of 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has generated the usual mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947 (of weekly Le Journal de Spirou), Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

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

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

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

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 69 translated books and still going strong.

Le Dalton dans le blizzard was Morris & Goscinny’s 13th collaboration, originally serialised in 1963 (and becoming the hero’s 22nd album release in 1971): a dogged tale of determination and tomfoolery brimming with daft riffs on the classic plot of a manhunt in arctic climes.

The drama begins when a birthday party at a Texas penitentiary is brought to an abrupt halt when the guards realise the appalling Dalton Brothers have once again escaped. By the time a desperate telegram reaches Luke at Awful Creek, his intolerable arch-enemies and owlhoot miscreants Averell, Jack, William and devious, slyly psychotic, overly-bossy diminutive brother Joe have shucked their shackles and embarked on a strange switch in modus operandi…

Instead of indulging in another rampage of robbery and riot, the quartet have assumed fake identities and steadily, inconspicuously, made their way north, into Canada and beyond Lucky’s notice and jurisdiction. Or so they think…

A little bit fed up with continually having to recapture the bandit brothers, Luke has grudgingly accepted the help of prison guard dog Rin Tin Can, a pathetic pooch who has past experience with the Daltons.

The mutt is vain, lazy, friendly and exceedingly dim and utterly loyal to absolutely everybody so Lucky uses him as a compass heading exactly opposite to the direction the dog wants to go…

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in many adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title.

Before long the starving fugitives have crossed the border – albeit mere hours ahead of their pursuer – and met their first northern lawman. The elderly Mountie seems harmless and has no beef with them as they haven’t committed any crimes… yet.

Corporal Pendergast is quite a stickler for rules though, and the boys have reason to amend their first impressions after he stops a brutal bar fight and has the perpetrators surrender themselves to custody on their own recognizance. Canadians are tough and fierce but incredibly polite and law-abiding…

Emboldened, they rob a saloon and then the chase is on over icy wastes with Luke and the Corporal chasing hard and with dog determinedly trying to drag them in the wrong direction…

After a string of hold-ups, our heroes finally arrest them but Pendergast has never met felons who refused to stay locked up and, after another bold breakout, the chase resumes. Heading ever northwards, the Daltons hide out as lumberjacks, betray generous First Nation Indians who save them from a waterfall and take over the most remote outpost of gold rush miners in Canada, but the lawmen just won’t quit coming.

Eventually, with nothing but arctic ice and deadly snowstorms facing them, the fugitives have no choice but to turn and fight or be eaten by wolves…

Although perfectly packed with the mandatory slapstick antics and appalling puns, The Daltons in the Blizzard is primarily an action romp with buckets of engaging spectacle and sly pokes and national stereotypes, replete with dirty double-dealing and barrel-loads of hilarious buffoonery.

This is another perfect all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Young, Talented… Exploited!

By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus, this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

In this case however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog ( about and sharing her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: An Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learned anything useful.

Such positions are unpaid and eventually most employers realised that they could get free low-grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses. Even those employers who originally played fair had to change at some stage, because the exploitative tactics gave business rivals an unfair financial advantage…

I used to know of only one large company where interns were paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted. When he retired and the company was sold the intern program quickly shifted to the new normal…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks one exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, zero thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via vivid and memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great Because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons compiled here we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this beguiling collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but, tellingly not Job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Originally collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations were published in English a few years ago (so are long overdue for a new edition) and make for fascinating reading.

Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

The Beast is Dead: World War II Among the Animals

By Edmond-François Calvo, Victor Dancette & Jacques Zimmerman (Abi Melzer Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-40766-637-2

As the European phase of World War II staggered to its bloody and inevitable conclusion, the enslaved nations began to reclaim their homelands and rebuild various national prides in a glorious wave of liberation.

All over the Old World, long suppressed stories and accounts – true or otherwise – began to be shared. During France’s occupation publishing was strictly controlled – even comics – but the Nazis couldn’t suppress creative spirit and many conquered citizens resisted in the only ways they safely could.

For sculptor, artist, caricaturist and social satirist Edmond-François Calvo (26th August 1892 – 11th October1958) that was by drawing. Watched by his adoring apprentice-artist Albert (Asterix) Uderzo and inspired by the Gallic graphic giant Daumier, the venerable creator of such joyous anthropomorphic classics as ‘Patamousse’, ‘Anatomies Atomiques’, ‘Les Aventures de Rosalie’, ‘Monsieur Royal Présente’, ‘Grandeur et Décadente du Royaume des Bêtes’ and ‘Cricri, Souris d’Appartement’ worked quietly and determinedly on his own devastating secret weapon for the war-effort.

In later years he specialised in sparkling, socially aware and beautiful family-friendly strips such as ‘Moustache et Trottinette’, ‘Femmes d’Aujourd’hui’, ‘Coquin le Petit Cocker’ and a host of fairy tale adaptations for Le Journal de Tintin, Baby Journal, Cricri Journal, Coq Hardi, Bravo!, Pierrot Âmes Vaillantes and Coeurs Vaillants.

Beginning as a caricaturist for Le Canard Enchaîné in 1938, Calvo eventually moved into strip stories, but also had to moonlight with “real” jobs such as woodcarver and innkeeper. By the time France fell to the Germans in June 1940 he was working for Offenstadt/S.P.E. press group, contributing ‘Le Chevalier Chantecler’, ‘D’Artagnan’, ‘Les Grandes Aventures’, ‘Robin des Bois’, ‘Les Voyages de Gulliver’ and the initial three chapters of ‘Patamouche’ to Fillette, L’Épatant, L’As and Junior plus‘La Croisière Fantastique’, ‘Croquemulot’ and ‘Un Chasseur Sachant Chasser’ to Éditions Sépia.

Most of this anodyne material was produced under the stern scrutiny of the all-conquering censors – much like his comics contemporary Hergé in Belgium – but Calvo somehow found time to produce material far less placatory or safe.

With both Editor Victor Dancette and writer Jacques Zimmermann providing scripts, and beginning as early as 1941, Calvo began translating the history of the conflict as seen from the sharp end into a staggeringly beautiful and passionately vehement dark fable, outlining the betrayal of the European nations by literal Wolves in the Fold.

After years of patient creation – and presumably limited dissemination amongst trusted confreres – the first part of La Bete est Mort!‘When the Beast is raging’ was published in 1944, followed a year later with the concluding ‘When the Animal is Struck Down’. Both were colossal hits even before the war ended and the volumes were continually reprinted until 1948 when the public apparently decided to move on with their lives and look forward rather than back…

The saga is related in epic full-page painted spreads and captivating, luscious strip instalments with the smooth, slick glamour of Walt Disney’s production style co-opted to present the list of outrages to be addressed and a warning to the future, with each nation being categorised by a national totem.

The French were rabbits, the Italians hyenas and the Japanese monkeys. Britain was populated by bulldogs, Belgium by lions, Russia by polar bears and America by vast herds of buffalo…

Hitler’s inner circle of monsters got special attention: such as Goering the Pig and Himmler the Skunk, but so did the good guys: General de Gaulle was depicted as a magnificent Stork…

A fiercely unrepentant but compellingly lovely polemic by a bloody but unbowed winning side, The Beast is Dead was forgotten until republished in 1977 by Futuropolis. This particular English-language, oversized (225 x 300mm or 9 inches x 12) hardback edition was released in 1985 and includes the introduction from a contemporaneous Dutch edition plus a dedication from Uderzo and a monochrome selection of Calvo’s wartime and post-war cartoons.

With the current political scene as fractious and volatile as it is, how this epic remains unreprinted totally bewilders me. Magnificent, compelling radiant, hugely influential (without this there would never have been Maus), astoundingly affecting and just plain gorgeous, this modern horror tale of organised inhumanity is out of print but still available if you look hard or speak languages other than English.
© 1944-1945 Éditions G.P. © 1977 Éditions Futuropolis. © 1984 Abi Melzer Productions.