Portugal

By Cyril Pedrosa with additional colour by Ruby; translated by Montana Kane (NBM/Fanfare)

ISBN: 978-1-68112-147-5 (NBM)                 978-1-91209-703-6 (Fanfare)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Family Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some books are awful, many are pedestrian and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that kerfuffle is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Cyril Pedrosa was born in Poitiers in 1972, a child of Portuguese extraction. After pursuing science jobs and a career in animation (at Disney he worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules), in 1998 he moved into the world of comics with Ring Circus, following up with Les Aventures spatio-temporelles de Shaolin Moussaka, Three Shadows, Equinoxes and much more…

Since 2008 Pedrosa has devoted much of his time to fictionalised autobiography, beginning with with Autobio in Fluide Glacial, and that fresh string to his bow is at play in this newly translated, magnificently oversized (312 x 234 mm) hardcover (or digital edition): a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life…

Through the vehicle of artistic analogue Simon Muchat, Pedrosa revisits a moment of his own history when he had lost the taste and verve for creative expression. In France, Simon’s relationship with his partner is breaking down; he’s living through a crippling writer’s block – and doesn’t care. Muchat makes a pittance teaching art or disconsolately doing little ad or design jobs. There seems no point to anything, but then he grudgingly attends a minor comics convention in Portugal and is suddenly reawakened to the intoxications of Existence…

Uncontrollably subject to recurring memory-snatches of childhood visits to his ancestors’ homes, Simon inexplicably beguiles himself into staying. His interest in storytelling is revived through one-sided conversations (he can’t remember much of the language) and before long he’s relocated to the sunny land of shiny, happy people…

Divided into three acts – ‘According to Simon’, ‘According to Jean’ and ‘According to Abel’ – the euphoric images cascade through picturesque hamlets and towns, country scenes and beaches – and bars of all types – as the gentle pace of life and friendly folk break down Muchat’s crust of indifference.

He even loses sight of his own troubles after gradually immersing himself in the cacophonous hurly-burly of his large extended Portuguese family and becomes increasing absorbed in discovering how and why his father moved to France.

That taciturn, work-obsessed worthy is still around (albeit, only in brief, breathless bursts between meetings) but has never and will never provide Simon with the answers he craves more than food or air…

And then, just when he thinks he’s made his peace with that onion-skin enigma, Simon finds another, deeper, more insoluble mystery to gnaw on…

This a truly breathtaking venture, a book full of humour, warmth and conflict, but one where nothing really happens. It does, however, happen with such joyous and compelling style and amiability that you cannot help but be swept along in its wake…

Enchanting, redemptive and captivatingly rewarding, Portugal is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.

© Dupuis 2011 by Pedrosa. Dupuis 2015 for the English translation.

Portugal will be released on December 1st 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

A UK edition from Fanfare will be available from November 30th.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Yoko Tsuno volume 12: The Titans


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-302-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Alluring Epic of Understanding Overcoming Suspicion… 8/10

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno debuted in Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding, all-action, excessively accessible adventures are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the Japanese technologist-investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup, who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn – always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the vanguard of a wave of strips to change the face of European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue revolution centred on the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists, all taking their places as heroic ideals beside the boys; uniformly elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their endeavours are as timelessly engaging and potently empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Miss Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable electrical engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits generally range from explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – such as this one – with the secretive, disaster-prone alien colonists from planet Vinea.

There have been 28 European albums to date, with today’s tale originally serialised in 1977 and collected a year later as 8th album Les Titans. Technically the 13th Yoko Tsuno exploit – and the fourth to feature the extraterrestrial Vineans – it appears here via UK translation powerhouse Cinebook, offering a chilling clash of alien cultures tempered and ultimately quelled by human sentiment and empathy in equal measure…

In their first outing together, Yoko, Vic and frivolous Pol discovered a race of dormant extraterrestrials hibernating in the depths of the Earth. After freeing them from robotic tyranny the valiant humans helped the alien refugees rebuild their lost sciences. Eventually they even went with the Vineans on their first scouting mission when the awakened sleepers opted to return to their own system and the supposedly dying homeworld they had fled from two million years previously.

Set a few months after that initial bold excursion, The Titans finds Yoko, Vic and Pol back for a second visit; this time carrying samples of Earth fauna and pest control to help the Vineans regain control of a world that has grown wild and unmanageable in the intervening eons…

Old friend and boon companion Khany has a specific reason for requesting the curious trio bring samples of insect life and assorted chemical weapons. As the Vineans slowly expanded out into all the corners of their recovered world they found some strange and unsettling artefacts. Comparisons with Yoko’s Earth specimens confirm them as strikingly similar to Terran insect limbs: albeit two metres long and augmented by titanium medical implants…

The worrying assessment results in an exploratory expedition to the newly-recovered marshy region. Lying beyond the controlled environment of the artificially managed temperate zone, the are is a lush floral wonderland to be meticulously examined in search of the Vineans’ greatest fear: that in the millennia of their absence another sentient, scientifically advanced species has evolved on their world…

The expedition soon goes disastrously wrong. Gigantic aquatic centipedes attack the researchers, the base camp is wrecked, and eventually all but Khany and Yoko vanish without trace…

As the desperate pair search the mire forest of colossal abundant verdure, they encounter another centipede locked in mortal combat with a titanic insect. However, the metres-tall (25 at least!) grasshopper-like creature is not only intelligent but telepathic and Yoko refuses to let it be killed by a ravenous monster…

After ending the centipede with a disintegrator, Yoko and Khany befriend the Titan Xunk and learn of its space-faring culture, noting especially that the insectoids have established a base on Vinea with a view to colonial expansion…

With Xunk a willing ally, the humanoids invade the monumental starbase, striving to convince hive director The Great Migrator to release the Vineans and humans it holds and seek a peaceful solution before inevitable interspecies warfare destroys them all…

Sadly, before a diplomatic solution can be reached, the humans have to survive the self-preservation instincts, violent attacks and coldly rational scientific probing of the giant savants who have been examining the earthly exhibits – dead bugs pinned to boards – and reached the logical conclusion that the two-legged beings are masters of insect genocide…

Terse, suspenseful and action-packed, this moody “Big Sky” sci fi thriller combines drama with potent and never-more-timely messages about ecological ethics and the benefits of diversity and cooperation, and, as ever, the greatest advantage of this breathtaking yarn is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail.

A powerful fable and phenomenally engaging romp, The Titans is a life-affirming epic to delight and amaze any lover of wide eyed wonderment, stuffed with twists and revelations, and delivering a powerfully moving denouement.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1978 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 1


By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89493-780-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Ideal Family Fare for Family Affairs… 10/10

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically Bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th1914. Father Viktor was a sculptor, and her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson enjoyed a successful career as illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After a period of intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris), Tove became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the war.

Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood): a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

An over-achiever from the start, between 1930 and 1953 Tove worked as an artist and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books. She had also started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally. The lumpy, big-eyed goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks.

Over many years Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood was relatively unsuccessful but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own therapeutic benefit as any other reason, and in 1946 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published.

Many commentators believe this terrifying tale is a skilful, compelling allegory of Nuclear destruction, and both it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952, prompting British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet surreal surrogate family.

Jansson had no prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature and Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her message across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moominsagas that captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the strip ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she recruited her brother Lars to help. He proudly and most effectively continued the feature until its end in 1975.

Free of the strip she returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera, and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as thirteen books and short-story collections more obviously intended for grown-ups.

Her awards are too numerous to mention but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

She died on June 27th 2001.

Her Moomin comic strips were collected in seven Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly translated them into English for your sheer delight and delectation as a series of luxurious oversized (224 x 311 mm) hardback tomes.

Tove Jansson could use slim economical line and pattern to create sublime worlds of fascination, and her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols. In this first volume the miraculous wonderment begins with ‘Moomin and the Brigands’ as our rotund, gracious and deeply empathic hippo-like young troll frets about the sheer volume of free-loading visitors literally eating him out of house and home.

Too meek to cause offence and simply send them packing he consults his wide-boy, get-rich-quick mate Sniff, but when all their increasingly eccentric eviction schemes go awry Moomin simply leaves, undertaking a beachcombing odyssey that culminates with him meeting the beauteous Snorkmaiden.

When the jewellery-obsessed young lass (yes, she looks like a hippo too – but a really lovely one with long lashes and such a cute fringe!) is kidnapped by bandits, finally mild-mannered Moomin finds his inner hero…

‘Moomin and Family Life’ then reunites the apparently prodigal Moomin with his parents Moominpappa and Moominmamma – a most strange and remarkable couple. Mamma is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances, whilst Papa spends all his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth. Rich Aunt Jane, however, is a far more “acquired” taste…

‘Moomin on the Riviera’ finds the flighty Snorkmaiden and drama-starved Moominpappa dragging the extended family and assorted friends on an epic voyage to the sunny southern land of millionaires. On arrival, the small-town idiosyncrasies of the Moomins are mistaken for the so-excusable eccentricities of the filthy rich – a delightfully telling satirical comedy of manners and a plot that never gets old – as proved by the fact that the little escapade was expanded to and released as 2015’s animated movie Moomins on the Riviera

This first incomparable volume of graphic wonderment concludes with fantastic adventure in ‘Moomin’s Desert Island’, wherein another joint family jaunt leaves the Moomins lost upon an unknown shore where ghostly ancestors roam: wrecking any vessel that might offer rescue.

Sadly, the greatest peril in this knowing pastiche of Swiss Family Robinson might well be The Mymble – a serious rival for Moomintroll’s affections. Luckily Snorkmaiden knows where there are some wonderfully romantic bloodthirsty pirates who might be called upon to come to her romantic rescue…

These are truly magical and timeless tales for the young, laced with the incisive observation and mature wit that enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or biped with even a hint of heart and soul – can ever be content or well-read without them.
© 2006 Solo/Bulls. All Rights Reserved.

Beware of the Dog


By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L              BOO3UHYGAA

Pericle Luigi Giovannetti was a brief but transcendent star of the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages.

Born of Italian extraction on June 22nd 1916 in Basel, Switzerland, he was a talented draughtsman and painter who achieved vast fame after debuting – in April 1953 – his most beloved character in Britain’s most prominent satire periodical Punch.

Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster – or maybe a marmot – whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal icon for adults too: even stiff, ultra-reserved post-war Brits.

Imagine then how such a cartoonist’s observational acumen would bloom when he turned his dry, wry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend?

Luckily you don’t have to as this 1958 hardcover is still readily available from a number of on-line vendors: a fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn, rendered and limned in a variety of styles, captioned in two separate languages (French and English) and, thanks to your pedigree guides and contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, curated in three separate comedic styles!

After enduring being a sensation on a number of continents Giovannetti all but vanished at the end of the 1950s. Unknown to most of his fans he had returned to Switzerland and retired to the artists enclave of Ascona where he spent the remainder of the century painting. Apparently, he was pretty damn good at that too, but being extremely reclusive, only purchasers would know as he never exhibited his work.

According to some reports, he never sold or showed his work to anyone, preferring to discuss his other hobbies such as homeopathy, astrology and UFOlogy.

He died in Ascona, aged 85 on August 10th 2001.

As a cartoonist, Giovannetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book of doggy delights would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing but Max, The Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – but not one of these fabulous graphic gems is currently in print! Surely in this age of digital archives, the maestro’s mastery can all be collected, collated and brought back for a new generation of fans and aficionados?

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

Fetch!
© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Benny Breakiron volume 1: The Red Taxis


By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-409-4

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

After some time toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 he joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

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

In 1960 Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman (check out that cover, fanboys!), the wry bucolic adventures star a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little French – or maybe Belgian? – town.

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

Benny never tries to conceal his powers but somehow the adults never catch on. They usually think he’s telling fibs or boasting and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles…

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

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

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

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

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

However, his sense of fair play is outraged when aging taxi driver Monsieur Dussiflard becomes the target of a dirty tricks campaign by new company Red Taxis. When he and the incensed cabbie challenge the oily company CEO in his flashy high-rise office, Benny is shooed away and the elderly driver later vanishes.

Suspicions aroused, the boy investigates and is attacked by a gang of thuggish Red Taxi employees. Only after thrashing and humiliating the goons does Benny realise that he still doesn’t know where Dussiflard is, so he throws the fight…

Just as he is imprisoned with his fellow abductee, the worst happens and the bombastic boy comes down with a stinker of a cold! As helpless as any other eight-year old, Benny is stuffed in a crate with the codger cabbie and loaded onto a freighter headed to the Galapagos Islands…

With all opposition ended, the boss and his Red Taxi stooges begin the final stage of their devilish plot, utterly oblivious to the dogged determination of Benny who must escape the ship and an alluring tropical paradise and impatiently wait for his cold to clear up, before setting off on a race against time, the elements and his own woefully-lacking knowledge of geography if he is to stop the ruthless criminals…

A superbly genteel spoof and fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, The Red Taxis offers a distinctly Old World spin to the concept of superheroes and provides a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volume 5: The Strange Encounter


By Van Hamme & Benoit, coloured by Madeleine De Mille and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-75-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Dashing Deeds in the Grand Manner… 8/10

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) was one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific trouble-shooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish and thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues. He died on February 20th 1987, never having returned to or completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

That concluding volume was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes. The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio.

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the follow-up release, published in 1999, although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ credentials regarding threats in uncanny circumstances in The Voronov Plot by Yves Sente (Le Janitor, Thorgal) & André Juillard (Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek)…

Those charges can’t be levelled against Van Hamme & Benoit’s next outing. L’Étrange Rendez-Vous was released in 2001, the 15th official Blake and Mortimer tome and deftly combining elements of pure science fiction with sinister Cold War machinations and even the uncanny return of a former arch-fiend!

The story begins in October 1777 when British survivors of the Battle of Saratoga are fleeing for their lives. That night an uncanny light show shatters the sky and when it ends Major Lachlan McQuarrie has vanished, never to be seen again…

In Colorado 177 years later, another trio of light beams terrifies ranchers and cattle and investigation reveals the freshly expired and unaged cadaver of a British major in full War of Independence livery…

The case is discussed by Professor Philip Mortimer and his close friend Captain Francis Blake of MI5 as they wing over the Atlantic on separate missions to America. Blake has unspecified business with his US counterparts, whilst the boffin is travelling for a far more personal reason. Tried in absentia for desertion, Lachlan McQuarrie has been the black sheep of the Mortimer family for almost two centuries. Now, having been asked to identify the body recently recovered, the Professor harbours hopes of cleaning a stain off the clan’s escutcheon…

When they split up at the airport Mortimer heads to the SUFOS (Section of UFO Studies) Lab in Kansas whilst Blake heads to Washington DC. The scientist is accosted by rowdily over-friendly physicist Dr. Jeronimo Ramirez whereas the security man’s reception is far more dangerous since mysterious men in dark glasses trail him before targeting him with incredible futuristic weapons in an ambush he barely survives…

Meanwhile in Kansas, the Professor and Section Director Dr. Walter Kaufman convene and confirm with astonishment that the body under discussion is indeed McQuarrie. Born in 1743 he appears to have died of asphyxiation in the last couple of days. He still looks to be 34 years old.

Amongst his possessions is a leather baldric with a hastily inscribed but baffling message – “Yellow King, 8061, Danger, Light, Plutonian, H, Poplar Trees, Temple 1954”. Also found with the body was a strange pair of dark glasses and a metal rod that projects an unknown energy causing unconsciousness…

And thus begins a twist-packed, fast-paced mystery yarn of time-travel invasions, alien incursions, atomic armageddon, nuclear piracy and a bizarre scheme to resurrect and reinstate the most despised despot of the 20th century, with Blake and Mortimer battling separately on two fronts to save not only the precariously imperilled present but also prevent the worst of all possible futures from coming to pass…

Balancing suspenseful drama with blazing action, and fantastic science with scurrilous skulduggery and paranoiac espionage, this wild ride is a splendid tribute to 1950s B-Movie sci fi such as Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers: a devilishly devised conundrum overflowing with period style and grittily terse adventure. The Strange Encounter is another superbly entertaining addition to the captivating canon of the Gentleman Adventurers and one no fan of comics or entertainment should miss.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 2001 by Ted Benoit & Jean Van Hamme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Satania


By Vehlmann & Kerascoët, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-143-7

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

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

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

Since then his star has grown brighter and brighter, especially on his collaborations with husband-&-wife team Kerascoët: Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, who work in advertising, animation and fashion when not rendering such glorious comics treats as Beauty, Beautiful Darkness, Miss Don’t Touch Me and the epically expansive Dungeons franchise of inter-linked albums.

Their most recent joint escapade is Satanie, translated into English as the equally disquieting Satania. A seemingly bright and shiny bauble, the tale offers a dark glimpse into inner worlds both physical and psychical as troubled Charlie convinces a disparate band of potholers to help her find her missing brother Christopher.

Rendered in a captivating primitivist style that conceals a potent emotional punch, the unfolding saga finds young Charlotte, elderly priest Father Monsore, Mr Lavergne, Legoff and a handful of other intrepid souls delving deep beneath a mountain in search of the young scientist.

Scientist Christopher held radical evolutionary theories positing that Hell is real and exists far beneath the earth, populated by corporeal beings adapted over eons of natural selection to their harsh subterranean existence. The devils and demons of history and superstition are simply fellow creatures awaiting our discovery and classification and extended arms of friendship and welcome…

However, when a flash flood fills the caverns and forces the explorers deep into uncharted regions, an incredible series of tribulations and revelations begin. A fantastic underground odyssey with lost human civilisations, incredible monsters and unimaginable macro-organisms is boldly undertaken, but as ill-fortune and death constantly dog the party, the survivors quickly realise that although the fantastic creatures they encounter may not be supernally evil, the god-fearing humans have brought their own demons with them into a fresh kind of hell …

An astounding voyage of discovery with breathtaking vistas and inventions, Satania explores the human condition in ways both uncomfortable and wondrous.
© Editions Soleil/Vehlmann/Kerascoët 2016. © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Tex: The Lonesome Rider


By Claudio Nizzi & Joe Kubert. English-language adaptation by Pete Carlsson & Philip R. Simon (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-620-4(HC)                      eISBN: 978-1-63008-169-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure Poetry in Perfectly Rendered Motion… 10/10

One of the most popular western strips ever created, Tex premiered in September 1948, the brainchild of writer Gian Luigi Bonelli and artist Aurelio Galleppini. Very much an Italian synthesis of the classic Hollywood western, the strip is both mythically traditional and unflinchingly dark in a way US material wasn’t until the advent of the filmic “spaghetti westerns” of the 1960s and later. Gosh, I wonder if there’s some kind of connection there?

Bonelli was a prolific writer of books, articles screenplays and comics for more than fifty years and artist Galleppini eventually dropped a prestigious career as a book illustrator to draw approximately 200 issues of Tex and four hundred covers.

Comics featuring Tex Willer and his legendary allies Kit Carson, Kit Willer and Tiger Jack have been translated far and wide for decades, scoring big not only all over Europe but also in Brazil, Finland, Turkey, India and elsewhere. Guest artists for specials have included Ivo Milazzo, Jordi Bernet and the masterful Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America where he grew up a Brooklyn kid. Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious prodigy began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager.

Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943. A canny survivor of the Great Depression, Joe also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets (1965-1968). From then, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks. He also drew his fair share of westerns such as DC’s incarnation of Firehair, Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk. He later created a host of superb. Hard-hitting mature reader graphic novels such as Fax from Sarajevo, Jew Gangster and Yossel: April 1943.

In his quiet moments he also created and ran the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, training and mentoring a host of new funnybook superstars beside many of his fellow comics veterans.

Hugely popular and venerated in Europe, Kubert stretched his wings in 2000 by adding Tex to his list of achievements, written by Claudio Nizzi for Sergio Bonelli Editore’s premier Tex Albo Speciale/Texone imprint. Nizzi began writing comics in 1963, and created many popular series – such as Larry Yuma, Captain Erik and Rosco & Sonny – before moving to Bonelli in 1983 to craft stories of Mr. No, Nick Raider and Tex.

As is the case with all such long-lived action icons, the working premise of the Western Wonder is devilishly uncomplicated. Former outlaw Tex Willer clears his unjustly besmirched name and joins the Texas Rangers. He marries an Indian maiden and becomes an honorary chief of the Navajo (called “Eagle of the Night”) after she dies.

Over the years, Tex travels far and wide to dispense justice and has encountered every kind of peril you might have seen in western films, but like any great comics character also has a few outlandish arch-enemies such as evil prestidigitator Mefisto, piratical foreign prince Black Tiger and master of disguise Proteus.

After being published to great success and acclaim as The Four Killers in Italy in 2001, this particular tale finally became available to English speakers in 2015 as a sturdily redoubtable hardback (and latterly, ephemeral eBook) packing the entire pulse-pounding saga into one fearsome fable of electrifying energy and dogged determination…

Following an informative and appreciative Foreword by co-translator and letterer Pete Carlsson, the drama opens with the aging lawman approaching the remote farm of his old friends the Colters. He will not get there in time…

On finding the slain and defiled bodies of the family, doctored to appear the victims of an “injun” outrage, Tex reads the trail signs and deduces the killers are three white men and a renegade Indian, before setting off to arrest them. At this stage he is ready to let the law judge them. However, after being ambushed and thrown him off a cliff, the miraculously still surviving manhunter is ready to do whatever is necessary…

When the killers split up, the patiently remorseless peacekeeper becomes repeatedly embroiled in the webs of brutal violence the quartet spin around them and many more people will die before justice is finally served…

Raw, primal and visually grandiose, Tex: The Lonesome Rider is a stripped-down epic of the genre in the manner of Unforgiven and Once Upon a Time in the West; a masterclass in civilisation triumphing over chaos and greed, played out in a pitiless arena shaped by Big Sky Country aesthetics with the iconic scenery honed by a matchless craftsman into a major player and contributor to the mood of the story.

This is the genre at its most potent, pure and powerful: perhaps the best and credible cowboy comic you’ll ever see.
© 2001, 2005, 2015 Sergio Bonelli Editore. Licensed through Panini SpA All rights reserved.

The Mercenary – The Definitive Editions volume 1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire


By Vicente Segrelles, translated by Mary McKee (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-124-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mythic Masterpiece Returns… 9/10

Born in Barcelona in 1940, Vicente Segrelles Sacristán is a renowned illustrator of magazines and book covers on three continents and the creator of one of the world’s most popular graphic novel series.

His first comics album ‘El Mercenario’ (The Mercenary) was released in 1982; the tale of an itinerant knight-for-hire fighting his way through a fantastic world of science and sorcery, often on the back of a flying dragon.

Rendered initially in lush oil-paints (before graduating to creating art digitally from 1998 onwards), the epic tales blend visual realism and accuracy with fable, myth, historical weaponry, contemporary technology and classical science fiction themes. All these fantastic scenes are screened through the visual lens of a natural architect and engineer. Fourteen albums were released between 1982 and 2003, most of them seen by English-language readers through the auspices of publisher NBM.

Hugely in demand for his painted covers since the 1970s, Segrelles has created book covers for the works of such authors as H, Rider Haggard, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, G. F. Unger, Andre Norton, Joel Rosenberg, Charles DeLint, C.H. Guenter, Jason Dark, Terry Pratchett and a host of others.

European prose readers may also know him as the cover artist of Italian science fiction magazine Urania.

The artist came to comics relatively late in his career and the reasons for that can be learned in a prodigious “behind-the-scenes” section at the back of this stunning hardcover (and eBook) remastered reissue entitled ‘Meet Vicente Segrelles’, relating his life and career and breaking down his working methodology. That includes how this volume and the Mercenary series came into being, augmented with a wealth of illustrations from the artist’s early days, discarded paintings and drawings plus many detail-shots taken from the story that precedes it.

Originally serialised in Spanish magazine Cimoc in 1980, El Mercenario was one of the earliest European series NBM published in English and to celebrate forty years in business the company have finally rereleased the series in fabulous oversized (314 x 236 mm) remastered hardcover albums to once more set the world alight. If you prefer, you could instead pick up a thoroughly modern digital edition.

What’s it about?: in the mediaeval world, a region of Central Asia lies all but undiscovered. The Land of Eternal Clouds is an isolate region where life has taken a different turn at the highest mountain levels. Here reptilian fliers dubbed dragons abound and the outposts of humanity have turned them into beasts of burden. This setting is the backdrop to introduce a nameless action hero and problem-solver who is engaged in this premier tome by the puissant potentate of one super-cumulus city-state to rescue his queen from vile abductors…

Riding a gigantic bat-winged lizard, The Mercenary plucks the unfortunate lady from peril and defeats the dragon-riding guards who give chase but only at great personal and financial cost…

Happily, the wary warrior has made prior contingency plans and – even after they go awry following a clash with a predatory beast – is smart enough to build a mechanical flyer to replace the ones he has lost to this ill-fated mission…

This initial yarn is actually a tryptic of three interrelated vignettes, and the second begins once the hero-for-hire returns the comely bride to her rich but old and flabby husband. Safely re-ensconced in the lap of luxury, she repays her dutiful saviour for spurning her amorous attentions by accusing him of assaulting her…

Although the Mercenary escapes to his hastily constructed contraption, it is not enough to keep him airborne and slowly he plunges into the swirling cloud mass from which no man has ever returned…

Crashing to earth he finds a whole new and undiscovered world, and an old sage with a handy potion that soothes his wounds and allows him to breathe better in air that cloys like soup. He soon returns the favour when the oldster shares his woes: the family have also suffered a recent kidnapping.

This time a young woman has been taken by a mystery group demanding as ransom all the alcohol the village contains…

Soon the tireless adventurer has broached the cage in which she hangs above certain death only to find himself also a captive: this time inside a colossal and all but invisible floating city ruled by mysterious cloaked figures claiming to be the Cult of the Sacred Fire…

Before long the doughty champion has discerned the incredible rational secret behind all the seemingly magical phenomena and set the city on a course of appalling destruction and personal vengeance…

To Be Continued…

Although sometimes considered a little static, Segrelles’ vibrant, classical realism set a benchmark for illustrative narrative that has inspired generations of artists and millions of readers. This landmark series is a long overdue and welcome returnee to our bookshelves and seems certain to garner a whole new legion of fans and admirers.
© 2015 Vicente Segrelles. English Translation © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Asterix and the Chariot Race


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, colored by Thierry Mébarki and translated by Adriana Hunter (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-5101-0401-3 (HB)                    eISBN: 978-1-5101-0402-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrate the Season in Classical Style… 9/10

Asterix debuted in 1959 and has since become part of the fabric of French life. His exploits have touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for almost all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years dissemination as weekly serials (subsequently collected into book-length compilations), in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete, original album prior to serialisation.

Thereafter each new tome became an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees. The eager anxiety hasn’t diminished any even now that Uderzo’s handpicked replacements – scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) have taken up the creative role since his retirement in 2009.

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a sly and wicked satire for older-if-no-wiser heads, these new yarns are just as engrossing as the established canon.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics take place in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the alternating rest are set in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany where, circa 50 BC, a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Although the country is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Armorica, the very tip of the last named stubbornly refuses to be properly pacified. The otherwise dominant overlords, utterly unable to overrun this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – and yet the irksome Gauls come and go as they please.

Thus, a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

Their “prisoners” couldn’t care less; daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine by uncaringly going about their everyday affairs, bolstered by magic potion brewed by resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits and strategic aplomb of diminutive dynamo Asterix and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Astérix et la Transitalique was released on October 17th 2017, and simultaneously or soon after hurtled off the shelves of many nations as Asterix and the Chariot Race – or whatever the local language equivalent of the many nations addicted to these epics might be…

This time the narrative horsepower comes from sport, and as always there is a healthy helping of satirical lampooning of current affairs, administrative, political and regional and nationalistic…

Before this away game eventually takes in all of Italy it opens bombastically in the Roman Senate where shifty political chancer Lactus Bifidus is fiercely challenged about the appalling state of the Empire’s roads. Yes, they all still lead to Rome, but their maintenance is a major issue riddled with potholes that are a public disgrace and hazard to safe navigation…

Roused from a sneaky slumber and thinking too fast, the overly-defensive corrupt bureaucrat instantly declares a grand chariot race to span all of Italy and thereby prove the perfection of the byways under his management.

His big mistake is publicly declaring his magnificent trans-Italian rally open to “all the peoples of the known world”…

As a seething Julius Caesar is quick to point out in private, a competition spanning the entire Italic Peninsula is liable to stir up subject races and even other Italian cities if it’s won by anyone but a purebred Roman Citizen.

The Emperors then advises Lactus that it’s now the Senator’s sole responsibility to guarantee no barbarian crosses the finish line first…

In Gaul, the residents of a certain indomitable village are rowdily enjoying themselves at a huge market festival. Amidst the tooth pullers, weapons-sellers, fortune tellers and other vendors, one canny salesman spies an easy mark and lumbers gullible giant Obelix with a flashy racing chariot.

The superhuman simpleton’s friends soon cease their good-natured teasing at his foolish purchase after the announcement of the great Trans-Italic Race is read out and Chief Vitalstatistix agrees that it would be nice to bother the Romans on their own turf for a change…

Soon Asterix, Obelix and canine companion Dogmatix are off on those bumpy deplorable roads and heading for the border. From Modica they will pit themselves against a horde of teams hungry for victory as they chase down to the “boot of Italy” to the finish line at Neapolis under the grumbling fire mountain Vesuvius…

Most of their competitors seem decent enough folk, but amongst the racers from Breton, Lusitania, Kush, Liguria, Calabria and other desolate points of the Empire, Asterix notes a few teams to watch closely: the devious Cimbri, the rowdy Normans and Sarmatians but most especially the Roman squad and their always-masked, unbeaten charioteer Coronavirus…

There’s something not quite right about him…

And then, with wealthy sponsors Lupus Garum (the Fermented Fish-gut Sauce of Champions!) adjudicating every stage of the contest the valiant Aurigae (you know that means charioteers, right?) are off!

Spoofing sporting corruption, the ephemeral venalities of corporate sponsorship and the sordid power of petty nationalism, this rocket-paced rollercoaster ride is awash with sneaky plots, dirty tricks and rapid switches of allegiance; providing plenty of thrills and spills to garnish the madcap chase to the finish line, and even incorporates spacious room for plenty of twists, turns and deliciously doled-out just deserts.

With Asterix and Obelix at their most disingenuously heroic and charming, this unbeatable Race of the Century is furiously funny and hilariously jam-packed with and timeless jibes and cracking contemporary swipes, plus an enchanting double-surprise ending. Asterix and the Chariot Race is a sure win and another triumphant addition to the mythic canon for laugh-seekers in general and all devotees of comics.
© 2017 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2017 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.