The Bluecoats volute 5: Rumberley

By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-108-2 (Album PB)

The myths and legends of the cinematic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunslingers. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential all-ages classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence.

Our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume Du Nord au Sud, the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18thalbum Blue retro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war). Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other (easier) option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Rumberley was the fifth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 15th European volume) and a far darker affair than usual. After a horrific battle, Union and Confederate forces are spent and exhausted, although the Blues have advanced far into the South as a result of the sustained slaughter. However, with dwindling food and little ammunition, the Generals opt to fall back and re-supply with fresh troops and munitions. The only problem is what to do with the wounded. After all, bringing them back to safety would only slow down the rearward advance. Then one bright, over-privileged spark has the notion of just billeting the unusable Union soldiers on the nearest – albeit enemy – town…

Amongst the dead and dying are grievously injured Chesterfield and war-crazy Captain Stark. Even Blutch is there, but his leg wound might be minor, self-inflicted or possibly utterly bogus…

Their reception by the women, children, aged and infirm of Rumberley is hostile to say the least, but the Union dregs have no place else to go and no strength left to leave anyway. Forcibly appropriating the livery stable as a field hospital, Blutch and Chesterfield aid the exhausted doctors and surgeons as best they can, but the simmering tensions and occasional assaults by the townsfolk indicates there is real trouble brewing and this kettle is about to boil over very soon…

And then the townsfolk start drifting away. Rumours spread that a Confederate force is approaching Rumberley. The doctors try to move their charges out, and Blutch finds himself in the uncanny position of staying behind as rearguard when Chesterfield decides to buy them time to get away…

When it comes, the battle is a bizarre affair. The Rebels are fit but have little ammunition so the Bluecoats give a good accounting of themselves, but are almost done for when Stark unexpectedly leads a life-saving cavalry charge of the Union wounded to save them. During the insane clash, town buildings are set afire and the citizens of Rumberley rush back to save their home and possessions.

And then something strange happens: the killing stops and Blues, Greys and civilians work together to save rather than destroy…

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

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story and Western which appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 1: My Dear Wilkinson

By De Groot & Turk translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905469-06-9 (Album PB)

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – especially the French and Belgians – are fascinated with us Brits. Gosh, I wonder if that’s still the case…?

Whether it’s Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, or the amassed amateur sleuths of the Detection Club, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles have cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the Continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for Le Journal de Tintin, the doughty troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959.

After three albums worth of short strip material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left the magazine to join arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou and the eccentric comedy crime-fighter floundered until Tintin revived and repurposed him at the height of the Swinging London scene courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg. These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

He was furloughed again until the mid-1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this –Ce cher Wilkinson: Clifton from 1978 – was the fifth.

From 1984 onward artist Bernard Dumont AKA Bédu limned De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores too until the series folded in 1995. In keeping with its rather haphazard but Diehard nature, Clifton resurfaced again in 2003, crafted by De Groot and Michel Rodrigue in four further adventures; a grand total of 26 to date.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty accommodating being put out to pasture in rural Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as a gentleman troubleshooter.

Sadly, for Clifton – as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – he is keenly aware that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots…

In this initial translated adventure first seen in 2005 – and at last available in digital formats – the forceful personality is seething at home one night, reading ghost stories when a sequence of odd events culminates in both he and his nationally celebrated cook and housekeeper Miss Partridge witnessing plates of food and glasses of wine flying about and crashing to the floor.

Fortifying themselves with the remaining sherry, the staunch duo repair to their separate beds unaware that a very live presence has been spying on them and playing pranks…

The next day finds the perplexed sleuth at the town library, scanning the stacks for reports of similar phenomena and tediously regaled by one of the whippersnapper counter-staff who just happens to be an amateur and closet psychokinetic: demonstrably and smugly able to move small objects with the power of his mind…

With proof of a rather more rational explanation for recent events and an appropriate reference tome, Clifton bones up and is soon made annoyingly aware of stage performer the Great Wilkinson who is reputedly the world’s greatest exponent of the art of psychokinesis.

A quick jaunt to London in the old red sports car soon sees the former spy getting along famously with a diminutive performer who happily agrees to come down to Puddington and recce the Colonel’s troubled home. To be perfectly frank, the smiling showman is far more interested in meeting celebrated chef Miss Partridge…

A pleasant afternoon is interrupted by old associate Chief Inspector John Haig of Scotland Yard who is drowning in an uncanny mystery and desperately needful of a second opinion from MI5’s most self-congratulatory alumnus. Giant safes are going missing, seemingly plucked from buildings as if by mighty, invisible hands…

Thus proceeds a wickedly fast-paced romp with a genuine mystery tale at its comedic core. Clifton and Co fumble their way past roguish red herrings and through a labyrinthine maze of clues to the lair of a canny criminal mastermind with what seems the perfect MO. However, long before justice triumphs, the tinderbox temper of the suave sleuth is repeatedly triggered by clodhopping cops, obnoxious officials, short-fused chefs, imbecilic bystanders and a succession of young fools and old clowns all getting in the way and utterly spoiling the thrill of the chase…

Delightfully surreal, utterly accessible and doused with daft slapstick in the manner of Jacques Tati or our own Carry Onfilms (sans the saucy “slap ‘n’ tickle” stuff), this light-action epic rattles along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit and Mr Bean if you’re a callow yoof – offering readers a splendid treat and loads of timeless laughs.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.

The Marsupilami volume 3: Black Mars

By Franquin, Batem & Yann; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-418-2 (Album PB)

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke’s creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945, all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu,Isabelle, The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently revolutionised 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, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week, fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, collaborating with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis, returning to Le journal de Spirou, and subsequently – in 1957 – co-creating Gaston Lagaffe, and now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too. From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures. In recent years the commercial world has triumphed again and since 2016 the universes of Marsupilami and Spirou have again collided allowing old firm to act out in shared stories again…

Now numbering 32 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the fourth of these was Mars le Noir, released in March 1989 and translated here as Marsupilami: Black Mars.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins aboard a ramshackle old freighter transporting a second-rate travelling show: The Great Zabaglione Circus. It has clowns, acrobats, and an assortment of animal acts including a rather unique elastic tailed anthropoid of uncertain origins and his clown trainer Noah

Meanwhile in the deepest tracts of the rain forest, the usual chaos has been overtaken by fresh calamity as the government commission corporate colossus Prometheus to carve a Trans-Palombian Highway through the heart of the green paradise…

As monolithic machines and hot asphalt daily desecrate the virgin verdure, Noah and his bizarre beastie Mars jump ship, just in time to ally with oddly worldly-wise jungle twins in an alliance to sabotage progress and invoke the fear of archaic god Marzu-pilcoatl in the superstitious roadbuilders. Prometheus then hits back in traditional evil empire manner…

Incipient calamity builds and builds but suddenly events take a strange and portentous turn after Mars espies something very interesting: a golden and black-spotted female of the same “unknown” species as he. We all know her as the mate of the Marsupilami and mother to his pups.

Can you guess where this is all going?

No you can’t, not really, but it will all be highly entertaining before a new status quo is established and the jungle settles back to what passes for normal…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this eccentric exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 1989 by Franquin, Yann & Batem. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Bigby Bear volume 3: The Explorer

By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Beausang-O’Griafa (BiG-Humanoids/Simon Icke)
ISBN: 978-1-64337-935-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding All-Ages Thoughtful Fun … 9/10

Born in Bordeaux in March 1960, writer, photographer and illustrator Philippe Coudray specialises in cartoons and books for children. Working with brother Jean-Luc, they co-crafted the Drôles sequence of books and comics series Théocrite. However, Philippe conceived and executed his glorious signature creation L’Ours Barnabé – the philosophically absurdist ruminations of an artistically-inclined bear and his woodland companions – all on his own…

When not crafting kids’ comics or surreal otherworldly gags (such as Loin de Tout) Philippe writes articles and such like for magazines such as Capsule Cosmique, Psikopat, Perlin and Fripounet as well as books such as Guide to Hidden Animals: Treatise on Cryptozoology. His works have been used by the French government to combat illiteracy and translated into many languages; none more so than L’Ours Barnabé which has appeared in Japan, China, Germany, Sweden, and a couple of times in America. The first time was as Benjamin Bear (twice nominated for Eisner Awards and winning China’s 2012-2013 Panda Prize) and latterly here as the beguiling and frequently beguiled Bigby

Often employing puzzles and riddles, and as much children’s storybook of episodic vignettes as a graphic novel, these particular collected strips offer charming, visually challenging riffs on the theme of exploration and discovery, as seen through the eyes of an affably gentle bruin living wild, but mild, all the while honing his artistic skills and cognitive capacities.

Bigby and his animal entourage reside in a bucolic forest, coastal and mountain idyll, where they observe and tentatively interact with the wider world, pondering big questions in a surreal and often absurdist daze.

Visual tricks and double-takes abound as Bigby and his best rabbit chum play with universal constants, carve, sculpt, paint, compose, garden and wander for the sheer joy of creativity. Almost in passing the gags subtly pose questions to make youngsters think – about art, science, psychology, mathematics, ecology and much more – but Coudray never misses an opportunity to share a solid laugh with his readers and reinforce his message that life is great if we all just mellow out and cooperate with each other.

He’s also more than happy to pepper the strips with the occasional telling moment of social commentary if the chance arises…

In this third translated volume the beguiling reaches of outer space and the compelling depths of the oceans are the new playgrounds and thought labs for the bemused cast, with Bigby and Co wandering other worlds, scanning the skies and voyaging to the bottom of the seas, keenly observing and making notes, scientific, artistic and even musical…

When not scaling heights and plumbing depths, our jolly questors have fun in museums, zoos and aquaria; encounter a far from abominable snowman and find time to pass their knowledge and discoveries on to his cub and a rapt younger generation…

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a sublimely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is an excellent, irrepressible example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
Bigby Bear, Book 3: The Explorer © 2020 Humanoids. Inc. All rights reserved. First published in France as L’Ours Barnabé © 2012-2019 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection Volume One

By Morris with Louis De Bevere, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-454-0 (Album HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate All Ages Western Wonderment… 9/10

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon.

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, this wonderful hardback album (and digital delight) reveals we’ve been inadvertently lying to you all these years…

As revealed in the copious and fascinating-photo-filled essay accompanying the reprinting of the first three collected Lucky Luke Album compilations, the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

Morris’ life is carefully unpicked and shared by Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, whose text deftly covers the precocious, westerns-&-art-mad kid’s transition to comics idol with plenty of early art and family photos. This includes his education at the hands of Jesuits, his pre-comics cartooning career and forays into film animation before settling into his true vocation.

While working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist. Those days are extensively covered as Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo (with script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’(The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…)

Before all that, though, this wild and woolly delight features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who begins strutting his stuff after the essay concludes by filling us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and that eventful US sojourn…

Originally released as L’Intégrale 1, this scholarly collection re-presents the contents of the first three albums (Dick Digger’s Gold Mine, Rodeo and Arizona -1952) and abruptly switches from elucidation to all action mode for debut tale Arizona (LJdS #443-462) wherein a wandering cowboy tenaciously tracks down stagecoach bandits. He returned in Spirou #478-502) for the serial La Mine D’or de Dick Digger, wherein a map to a lost payload causes great grief until our hero returns it to the true owner.

As well as a treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, original art, designs and sketches, this tome also restores the many serial pages that were edited out of the first albums for brevity.

Le Journal de Spirou #505 (18th December 1947) began the third adventure, by which time the Lonesome Cowboy was clearly here to stay. Running until #527 (May 20th 1948) ‘Lucky Luke’s Double’ was the second feature half of first album Dick Digger’s Gold Mine in 1949: another riotous slapstick chase and comedy of errors as our hero is constantly mistaken for deadly desperado Mad Jim, much to the profit of minor crooks Stan Strand and Tiny Charley Chick. Big mistake…

‘Rodeo’ ran in #528-545, ending in September 1948 and becoming the title tale of the second album in 1950. The art took a major upturn towards the style we are familiar with today as Lucky competes in a legendary competition and uncovers both skulduggery and poor sportsmanship. Without a pause, new escapade ‘Lucky Luke in Desperado City’ followed (LJdS #546-566, ending 17th February 1949), wherein Lucky becomes sheriff of an embattled frontier town to defeat tyrannical owlhoots The Pistol Brothers.

‘The Buffalo Creek Goldrush’ (LJdS #567-584, ending 23rd June 1949), filled out that second album with a delicious satire on greed as a simple mistake turns a barren wasteland into an ephemeral metropolis of miners – until the penny finally drops…

It was back to outright villains for ‘Lucky Luke versus Cigarette Cesar’ (#585-601, ending October 20th 1949 and included in third album Arizona in November 1951), as Lucky trails a deadly and devious escaped convict south of the border (and indulges in the kind of animal cruelty gags we just don’t tolerate these days where bullfighting is largely discredited – so be warned…) to conclude this initial vintage voyage to the Wild West Neverlands.

Packed with contemporaneous extras, commentary, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than any Laurel and Hardy film (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

The first forays of an indomitable hero: this grand old hoot sits in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller, and is a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!

© Morris/Dupuis, 1946 to 1949 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.

© Morris/Dupuis 2016 for this collected edition. All other material © 2016 its respective creators/owners.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

By Alex Nikolavitch & Felix Ruiz, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-266-3(HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-267-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it’s not Christmas without magic castles in the air… 9/10

When it comes to biography, Walt Disney is a true “Marmite” figure, with writers and historians pretty evenly divided between effusive hagiography and excoriating exposés.

As fully discussed in author Alex Nikolavitch’s Introduction, the genius who nurtured and nourished the childhood dreams of generations across the globe is an immensely polarising figure: a sensitive creator and twice-burned artisan who grew increasing and equally obsessed with micromanaging all around him and spreading heartfelt joy.

What this superb graphic summation of the fantasy overlord’s complex and contradictory life adds is the necessary balance quietly provided throughout and beyond Walt’s life by his nigh-invisible brother Roy

Alex Nikolavitch is a French author, screenwriter, essayist and educator, who writes comics and has a steady sideline translating English-language books like V for Vendetta, Tank Girl and Spawn to supplement his own series such as Burton and Les Canaux du Mitan. His collaborator here is mercurial Spanish artist and colourist Felix Ruiz (Savage Wolverine, Agents of Atlas: Marvel Boy, The Uranian, Halo) who reverts to a charmingly compelling and effective École de Marcinelle bigfoot style to trace the career of America’s greatest dream factory…

In episodic bursts of vivid scenes preceded by a potted history of animation, the story opens with ‘Of a Mouse and Men’as cartoon pioneers Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks – reeling from having their creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit taken from them by unscrupulous money men – bounce back with a new character… a mouse.

More crucially, Walt asks his brother Roy to join the team. He is an accountant, with his feet planted firmly on the ground and his hands on the financial tiller.

…And then “Talkies” revolutionise the film industry and Walt has another good idea just as the Great Depression looms…

Second Chapter ‘Childhood Dreams’ covers the turbulent period after Snow White was released, as Roy secures global distribution in some very unwholesome places, balanced with the brothers’ fruitless attempts to rationalise their new lifestyles to their pious, old-fashioned doctrinaire parents. This leads to revelatory flashbacks of the boys growing up in rural religious Missouri and Walt’s transformative first encounter with Movies…

The war years and infamous union-busting strike of Disney’s animation studio is covered in ‘Turbulence’, as well as the post war years of expansion, as the arch creator increasingly seeks to control every aspect of his ever-expanding kingdom.

Walt’s anti-communist mania blatantly manifests in ‘Builder of Empires’, as the company moves into television and theme parks and the aging autocrats faces his own mortality…

Skilfully negotiating the complex web of beguiling creativity that always warred with a ruthless struggle for autonomy, political control and money, The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is a superbly delivered balancing act between reportage and drama. Evoking amazement, glee, sympathy and moral outrage in turn, the tale – delivered in jolly, velvetxglove-over-lead-lined-blackjack cartoon manner – is available in substantial hardback and various digital formats and is supplemented with an historical critique by author Jarett Kobek in ‘Afterword: How to Build a Media Empire’ plus suggested Further Reading.

This is a splendid work no fan of comics or film history should miss.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is scheduled for release on November 26th 2020 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see,

Melusine volume 2: Halloween

By Clarke (Frédéric Seron) & Gilson, coloured by Cérise and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-34-2 (Album PB)

Teen witches have a long and distinguished pedigree in fiction and one of the most engaging first appeared in venerable Belgian magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1992.

Mélusine is actually a sprightly 119 year-old who spends her days working as an au pair in a vast, monster-packed, ghost-afflicted chateau whilst diligently studying to perfect her craft at Witches’ School…

The long-lived feature offers everything from one-page gag strips to full-length comedy tales on supernatural themes detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and her large circle of exceedingly peculiar family and friends.

Collected editions began appearing annually or better from 1995, with the 27th published in 2019 and hopefully more to come. Thus far five of those have transformed into English translations thanks to the fine folk at Cinebook.

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

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

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

Halloween – available in paperback and in digital formats – was the eighth European-released Mélusine album, originally released in 2001, and gathers a wealth of stunning seasonally sensitive strips. This makes it a great place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content comprises one or two-page gags starring the sassy sorceress who – like a young but hot Broom Hilda – makes excessive play with fairy tale and horror film conventions and themes. Not that what she looks like should make a (witch’s) wit of difference, but hey, it’s comics and it’s France…

When brittle, moody Melusine isn’t being bullied for her inept cleaning skills by the matriarchal ghost-duchess who runs the castle, or ducking cat-eating monster Winston and frisky vampire The Count, she’s avoiding the attentions of horny peasants, practising her spells or consoling and coaching inept, un-improvable and lethally unskilled classmate Cancrelune.

Mel’s boyfriend is a werewolf so he only bothers her a couple of nights a month…

Daunting dowager Aunt Adrezelle is always eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries but so, unfortunately, is family embarrassment cousin Melisande, who spurned the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan to become a Fairy Godmother; all sparkles, fairy-cakes, pink bunnies and love. She’s simplicity, sweetness and light itself in every aspect, so what’s not to loathe…?

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

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

Wry, sly, fast-paced and uproariously funny, this compendium of arcane antics is a great taste of the magic of European comics and a beguiling delight for all lovers of the cartoonist’s art. Read before bedtime and don’t eat any hairy sweets…
Original edition © Dupuis, 2000 by Clarke & Gilson. All rights reserved. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Cinebook Recounts the Battle of Britain

By Bernard Asso, illustrated by Francis Bergése with colours by Frédéric Bergése: translated by Luke Spear(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-84918-025-2 (Album PB)

Originally titled Le Bataille d’Angleterre and first seen here as Biggles and The Battle Of Britain, the material in this album sprang out of the continent’s decades-long love affair with the plucky British aviator.

Biggles is huge all over Europe, particularly in Holland, Germany, Belgium and France, which makes it doubly galling that apart from a big run of translations in India, only a short-lived Swedish interpretation of his comicbook exploits (see W.E. Johns’ Biggles and the Golden Bird) and a paltry few from the Franco-Belgian iteration licensed by British outfit Red Fox in the mid-1990s – which included this very volume – have ever made the move back to Blighty…

Hopefully some enterprising publisher will be willing to brave the Intellectual Property rights minefield involved and bring us all more of his superb graphic adventures one day…

Happily, as this tome is more of a documentary than a drama and the Air Ace doesn’t feature, publisher Cinebook have twice released this fine and visually erudite mini epic by historian Bernard Asso and the utterly compelling Francis Bergése.

Like so many artists involved in aviation stories, Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first air strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A, Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating venerable, globally syndicated Buck Danny. In the 1990s the seemingly indefatigable Bergése split his time, producing Danny dramas and Biggles books. He retired in 2008.

In this double-barrelled dossier delight from 1983, his splendidly understated, matter-of-fact strip illustration is used to cleverly synthesise the events following the defeat at Dunkirk to the Battle of Britain (1940) and the eventual turnaround in May 1941. Combining and counterpointing the works of famous figures like Churchill, Hitler, Douglas Bader and Goering with key tactical players such as Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Galland and Mölders and relating actual tales of individual valour in the skies, the fact-packed narrative tracks the actions and experiences of specious winged warriors Leutnant Otto Werner and True Brit Flight Lieutenant James Colby as they struggle to survive in the skies over England.

The saga deals with the early days of terrifying air duels, later Blitz bombings, Albion’s logistical trials and eventual triumphs with factual expertise, but also affords a human face on each side of the conflict…

The latter half of the book then switches time and focus as Asso & Bergése detail The Bombing of Germany (1943-1945)paying especial attention to Air Chief Marshal Harris’ controversial tactic of “Terror Bombing” and its effects on allies and enemies – and innocents.

Here Colby has transferred to Britain’s Bomber Command, trading Hurricanes and Spitfire for Lancasters, Halifaxes and B-17 Flying Fortresses. Major Werner is there too, as the Allies’ campaign slowly destroys the Nazi War Machine and the embattled Ace graduates from prop-powered Fockers and Messerschmitts to the first jet-planes – but too late…

Cunningly converting dry dusty history into stellar entertainment, Asso & Bergése brilliantly transform statistical accounts and solid detail into powerful evocative terms on a human scale that most children will easily understand, whilst never forgetting the war had two sides, but no “us” or “them”…

Whilst perhaps not as diligent or accurate as a school text, Cinebook Recounts: Battle of Britain (part of a graphic history strand that also includes The Falklands War and The Wright Brothers making distant events come alive) offers a captivating and memorable introduction to the events that no parent or teacher can afford to miss, and no kid can fail to enjoy.
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard SA), 2003 by Marazano & Ponzio. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

City of Crocodiles

By Knut Larsson (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-725-9 (PB)

Born in 1972, Swedish cartoonist, artist, filmmaker and teacher – at the prestigious Comics Art School of Malmö – Knut Larsson is blessed with a unique vision and talent to spare (just check out his graphic albums Canimus, Lokmannen (Locomotive Man), Biografmaskinisten (The Projectionist), Kolonialsjukhuset – En kolonialläkares anteckningar (Colonial Hospital – A Colonial Doctor’s Notebook) or the tract Triton.

If you’re a keen devotee of Euro-comics you’ll have seen his stories in C’est Bon Anthology, Electrocomics, Galago, Glömp, Rayon Frais, Strapazin, Stripburger, Turkey Comix, or Bild & Bubbla amongst others, and may well have visited his international exhibitions as far afield as Angoulême, Tokyo, Erlangen or St. Petersburg. Typically, he is not a household name in Britain or America…

Sadly, that means a lot of brilliant works – like this book – are also unavailable in digital formats yet…

Back in 2008 Larsson crafted Krokodilstaden: an eerie, post-apocalyptic, horror-tinged love story devoid of all dialogue or sound effects: a neo-symbolist paean to the end times (Gee, I wonder when those are due?) combining brutish, callous survivalism, ghostly mysticism, unchanging human passions, stubborn self-inflicted loneliness and the tenacious capacity of life to adapt to changing situations. Borderline Press released it in an English Edition as the deliciously eerie City of Crocodiles

Rendered in muted greys and brown monotones, one panel per page, the tale focuses on a drowned Earth where the waters have risen, relegating humanity to the top floors of buildings whilst toothy amphibians have proliferated all around and below them. Adamant Mankind is still hanging on, turning crocodiles into the primary natural resource: affording food, clothing, tooled utensils and even objects of cultish worship.

The saurians are everywhere and everybody and everything – humans, birds, surviving mammalian pets – are missing limbs or appendages…

In this world, one particular croc-hunter ekes out his solitary existence, trading reptiles for booze and gasoline, haunted by his memories until the day he captures a strangely enticing woman in his nets. She is young, beautiful, exotic… and has a vestigial reptilian tail.

Avoiding the spooky, crazy crocodile cultists that also proliferate, he takes her back to his place and endeavours to dress her in the garb and form of his dead lover before she seduces him…

Sadly, that’s when his dearly departed darling returns, bristling with malice and ready for some spirited revenge…

Wry, moving, nightmarish yet ethereally lovely, City of Crocodiles is a masterpiece of visual storytelling that will astound and delight all lovers of the weird and macabre. If you love to be disturbed and distressed, this is a treat you must track down…
© 2008, 2014 Knut Larsson.


By Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-409-2 (HB)

It’s rather hard not to think that it’s the end of days at the moment, and naturally that’s affecting what I’m reading. You too, I expect.

In that spirit, here’s a book you simply must read before you die, and if you already have, it truly stands another go.

In his latest magnificent endeavour, Lorenzo Mattotti is a giant of European graphic narrative with a back catalogue of truly stunning confections. In 1999 he teamed with novelist and screenwriter Claudio Piersanti for the first of two potent yarns (the other being the still untranslated Anonymes): to produce one of the most powerful and memorable examinations of religious experience with Stigmata.

This impressive hardback (still no digital edition yet) describes the Job-like trials and tragedies of a brutal, alcoholic shipwreck of a man pushed beyond the brink of tolerance and sanity. The pariah finds a kind of peace and resolution, but unlike his Old Testament antecedent, what begins in misery with nothing, only proceeds to forfeit even his last remaining graces. By the end of his travails, the sinner has found precious little knowledge or understanding, but some sort of peace…

Drunken, brutal, dissolute, middle-aged and heading nowhere, the last thing he needed was holes in his hands that bled but wouldn’t heal. Already despised and feared, the lonely bum works at a bar, but the wounds and the blood upset even those gin-soaked sots. Moreover, people follow him, thinking he possesses some divine secret or power to heal…

Eventually he snaps, wrecking the bar and confronting the vicious gangster who runs it… Some folks call him “the Saint”. He doesn’t think it’s funny…

As the city becomes even more savage and ugly, he takes off; tracking down an uncle who worked in a carnival. When he finds the travelling show his uncle is gone – arrested for stealing – but the Carnies accept him and he strikes up a romance with the vivacious Lorena. Even working as a handyman, his bleeding hands interfere, but the canny show-people turn it to their advantage, setting him up in a booth dispensing piety and miracle from his shabby, tawdry “House of Blessings.”

Travelling from town to town, he finds a kind of contentment, but eventually the Carnies’ secret sideline of burglary brings police attention. When his old gangster boss tracks him down and delivers a hideous punishment, he destroys the Stigmatic’s last shred of hope and Lorena’s life forever.

And then the storm hits… a tempest of Biblical proportions that changes everything…

Brooding, compelling and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny asking uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. Are these trials, so like Job’s cruel yet purposeful tests, the tough love of a benevolent father, the whims of a despicable devil or the random vagaries of an uncaring fate?

Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really, really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight.
© 2010 Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti. All rights reserved.