Frank: The Incredible Story of a Forgotten Dictatorship


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benny Breakiron volume 2: Madame Adolphine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good thing Benny is made of sterner stuff…

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

Toys in the Basement


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorgal volume 0: The Betrayed Sorceress & Almost Paradise


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orient Gateway


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

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

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

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

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

And why are they so willing to kill for him?

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

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

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

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

Yakari and Great Eagle (volume 1)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cedric volume 6: Skating on Thin Ice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick & Flupke: Fasten Your Seatbelts


By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4742-9 (PB Album)

Georges Prosper Remi – known to all as Hergé – created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he crafted 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Globally renowned for these magnificent Tintin adventures, Hergé also did much to return comics to the arena of mass entertainment, a position largely lost after the advent of television, video-recording and computer games.

However, the bold boy and his opinionated dog were by no means his only creation. The author was a prodigious jobbing cartoonist in the years before the junior journalist finally assured him immortality and he generated a minor pantheon of other topical strips and features such as Tim the Squirrel in the Far West, The Amiable Mr. Mops, Tom and Millie and Popol Out West.

Among the best of the rest were the tales of Jo and Zette Legrand and their chimpanzee Jocko in much the same wholesome action vein as Tintinand the episodic, all-ages shenanigans of a pair of mischievous ragamuffins in pre-WWII Belgium.

In 2005 Egmont translated three escapades of Jo, Zette and Jocko into English (although there are more just sitting out there, all foreign and unreadable by potential fans too lazy to learn French or any of a dozen other civilised languages…) so in 2009 the publisher tried again with two collections of the Master’s second most successful creation: Quick et Flupke, gamins de Bruxelles.

These rambunctiously subversive, trouble-making working-class rapscallions and scallywags were precursors and thematic contemporaries of such beloved British boy acts as The Bash Street Kids, Winker Watson, Roger the Dodger et. al., and for more than a decade – January 1930 to May 1940 – rivalled the utterly irresistible Tintin in popularity and almost certainly acted as a rehearsal room for all the humorous graphic and slapstick elements which became so much a part of future Tintin tales.

Ten years ago Egmont had a brief stab at reviving the likely lads and it was only the general public’s deplorable lack of taste and good sense which stopped the kids from taking off again…

On leaving school in 1925, Hergé began working for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, falling under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter, when Abbot Wallez asked him to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He created a strip both modern and action-packed – and heavily anti-communist. From January 10th 1929, weekly episodes of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.

Around this time the cartoonist also began crafting weekly 2-page gag strips starring a pair of working-class rascals on the streets of Brussels. They played pranks, got into good-natured trouble and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism: the sort of antics any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar.

Originally seen in black-&-white in Le Petit Vingtiéme, the lads larked about for over a decade until the war and mounting pressures of producing Tintin meant they had to go. They were only rediscovered in 1985 and their collected adventures ran to a dozen best-selling albums… so there’s still plenty left out there to be translated into English…

Fasten Your Seat Belts contains a superbly riotous celebration of boyish high spirits, beginning with hose-pipe pranks in ‘The Big Clean’, before a rare good deed leads to strife with ‘A Poor Defenceless Woman’ and a day ‘At the Seaside’ results in another round of boyish fisticuffs after which their arch-foe the policeman succumbs to the irresistible temptations of a handy catapult in ‘Everyone Gets a Turn’.

Quick – the tall one in the beret – then learns to his cost ‘How Music Calms the Nerves’ and discovers the drawback of ‘Pacifism’, whilst portly Flupke tries tennis and finds himself far from ‘Unbeatable’

‘Advertising’ then proves to be a dangerous game and an annoying insect meets its end in ‘Instructions for Use’, before ‘Quick the Clock Repairer’, proves to be something of an overstatement and ‘Football’ becomes just another reason for the pals to fall out…

Although unwelcome ‘At the Car Showroom’, some Eskimos (you’re going to have to suspend some of your modern sensitivities every now and again, remember) seem happy to share in ‘A Weird Story’ whist Hergé himself turns up in ‘A Serious Turn of Events’, even as the kids are disastrously ‘At Odds’ over a funny smell in their proximity.

Then, ‘Quick the Music Lover’ cleverly deals with an annoying neighbour, Flupke goes Christmas skiing in ‘That’s How It Is’ and another good turn goes bad in ‘All Innocence’ before a sibling spat gets sorted through ‘Children’s Rights’ and Quick cocks up cuisine even with ‘The Recipe’

A handy ‘Yo-yo’ causes traffic chaos and a milk run goes spectacularly awry in a buttery ‘Metamorphosis’ before this magical blast from the past concludes with cleverly appealing ‘Tale Without a Tail’.

Regrettably hard to find now (and past time for a digital edition if not paper reissue), this book and the simple, perfect gags it contains show another side to the supreme artistry of Hergé – and no lover of comics can consider life complete without a well-thumbed copy of their own…
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1991. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke Volume 17 – Apache Canyon


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-92-2 (PB Album)

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before inevitably ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

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

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

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

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

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

For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages…

The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 73 translated books and still going strong.

Canyon Apache was Morris & Goscinny’s 28th collaboration, originally serialised in 1971 before becoming the 37th album release: a grimly hilarious saga of obsession and intransigence, fuelled by sworn enemies driven to extremes by past wrongs. As such, it’s also one of the most daftly slapstick and wonderfully ludicrous tales of the canon, spoofing particularly on the venerated, semi-sacrosanct cavalry trilogy of John Ford (that’s Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande to you. You really should see more old movies…).

Far, far out west stubborn Colonel O’Nollan and his worthy Irish lads of the US Cavalry man Fort Canyon. They’re caught in a constant spiral of attack and counterattack with renegade chief Patronimo, who leads his band of Kimikuris on raids into America from a base across the border in Mexico. It’s a war of perpetual attrition nobody can win but they will not listen to reason…

Most of the region is peaceful and the great chiefs have foresworn warfare, but the intensely personal duel between O’Nollan – whose son was abducted by raiders decades previously – and Patronimo threatens that détente even as it endlessly escalates in scale. The tit-for-tat attacks are constant and even endanger relations with the Mexican government.

Into that hostile mess shuffles laconic scout Mr Smith, soon exposed as an exceedingly put-upon Lucky Luke: despatched by Washington to end the strife at all costs. Sadly, the vendetta is too deeply ingrained. Even talking with the noble, misunderstood Kimikuris and especially their white-hating Medicine Man proves to be an uphill struggle.

His temper fraying, the hero tries joining the Indians, infiltrating Mexico and reasoning with the Colonel, but is branded a traitor and barely escapes execution by both sides before stumbling into a bizarre solution…

Tense as that sounds, this tale is an epic farce, heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of weird twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

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

Asterix Omnibus volume 9: Asterix and the Great Divide; Asterix and the Black Gold; Asterix and Son


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-967-5 (HB), 978-1-44400-966-8 (PB)

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they devised a western starring a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, before in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

More than 370 million copies of 37 (soon to be 38) Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for three years and Uderzo soldiered on alone…

Asterix and the Great Divide was the 25th volume, released in 1980 as Le Grand Fossé, and in many ways something of a departure and stylistic compromise.

In another Gaulish village, internecine strife is brewing. Political rivals Cleverdix and Majestix have split the sleepy hamlet down the middle, with an election for chief ending in a dead tie. They then make the figurative literal by having a huge trench dug through the centre of town, cutting the tribe in two, with the population resolved into uncompromising Leftists and stubborn Rightists…

It’s a tragedy in many ways, with friends and families split into feuding camps, but the most heartrending separation concerns dashing Histrionix, son of Leftist Cleverdix and his one true love Melodrama, daughter of Majestix. Their warring sires refuse to concede or compromise and that simmering Cold War has frustrated their children’s happiness forever…

The lover’s pleas cannot move either deadlocked party leader and the intolerable situation is further exacerbated by the insidious, coldly calculating advisor to Majestix who secretly eggs on the old warrior for his own purposes.

Wily toady Codfix’s latest idea is to get their Roman overlords to intervene, installing Majestix as sole ruler by force. In return, Codfix would be given Melodrama in marriage. Of course, that would make him next in line for the ruler’s position. Codfix is both patient and ambitiously far-sighted…

When Melodrama learns of the plan, she immediately informs Histrionix and the prince tells Cleverdix – who knows full well he cannot resist the overwhelming might of the Romans. The former soldier then remembers an old war-buddy who still successfully resists the conquerors. His name was Vitalstatistix

As Histrionix heroically dashes to the village of Indomitable Gauls – everything he does is heroic – Codfix has gone to the local garrison with his request. Centurion Umbrageous Cumulonimbus, however, has his own problems: discipline is lax and the soldiers are grumbling because of the menial chores they are forced to perform. Codfix has the perfect solution. If the Romans put Rightist Majestix in charge, they could take the pacified Leftists as slaves…

In the meantime, Histronix has returned with Vitalstatistix’ best men. Asterix, Obelix and Getafix the Druid are discussing the matter with Cleverdix when Roman soldiers arrive. Codfix however, has overstepped himself and underestimated the nobility of Majestix…

The doughty Rightist refuses to let any Gaul be enslaved – even political opponents – so the uncaring Romans grab him and his followers instead. Impressed with his rival’s integrity, Cleverdix accepts Asterix’ offer of assistance and our heroes infiltrate the garrison as volunteer slaves using an elixir that revitalises the body but causes a touch of amnesia…

Having fun by exploiting these new Romans’ ignorance of their true identities, the infilitrators feed the imprisoned Gauls soup fortified with the Druid’s strength potion before Asterix and Obelix lead a mass breakout which soon finds the prisoners back in their divided hamlet but no closer to an amicable resolution.

And both sides know that the Romans will soon come, eager for revenge…

Codfix has sensibly stayed with the garrison and found the last of Getafix’ elixir, left behind during the liberation. When he sneaks back into the village, he also discovers a fresh batch of power-potion whipped up in advance of the impending attack… and steals it.

The next day, the Gauls wake to find invaders marching upon them, fortified by the elixir which has erased the punishing memory of their recent defeat, and simultaneously super-charged by power potion.

Left with nothing but Obelix and Gaulish courage, the villagers unite to fight and fall with honour, but are astonished when a bizarre series of transformations wrack the empowered Romans. It takes a long time to become a Druid and apparently the first thing you learn is to never mix potions…

Codfix has used the distraction to kidnap Melodrama. Demanding ransom and safe passage, he has not reckoned on Histrionix’ determination, Asterix’s ingenuity or Obelix’ strength and – after a climactic confrontation involving our perennially luckless Pirates – gets what’s coming to him…

With the Romans routed and Codfix suitably punished, Cleverdix and Majestix settle their differences with a traditional Gaulish duel after which someone else becomes chief of the reunified village. The former divide is transformed into an appropriate symbol of their unity and life goes on happily…

Asterix and the Great Divide was devised by Uderzo as a critique on current affairs and metaphorical attack on the Berlin Wall which had, since 1961, split the city physically, Europe symbolically and the world ideologically. His earnest tale was more dramatic and action-oriented than previous Asterix fare, with the regulars frequently reduced to subordinate roles, but for all that there are still cunning laughs and wry buffoonery in welcome amounts.

 

Asterix and the Black Gold (L’Odyssée d’Astérix) debuted in 1981 and again saw Asterix and Obelix embarking on a long voyage into the unknown, rife with bold adventure and underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

The 26th saga begins with a brace of wild boar demonstrating that they are canny opponents for voracious Obelix. Whenever the gigantic Gaul encounters these particular pigs in his daily hunts, they escape by leading him to the nearest Roman patrol. The only thing Obelix loves more than eating pork is bashing Romans…

Back in Rome, Julius Caesar is livid. He’s just received news that the insufferable, indomitable Gauls are training wild boars to lead Roman patrols into Gaulish ambushes…

The raging ruler’s continued attempts to end the aggravating resistance always fail and in a fit of fury he charges his chief of the Roman Secret Service M.I.VI (geddit?) with ending his galling Gallic grief – or else…

M. Devius Surreptitius has just the man for the job. Dubbelosix is of Gaulish-Roman extraction and has, by persistence and deviousness, qualified as a Druid. He is wily, charming, debonair and comes with a host of cunning hidden gadgets – and he’s also the spitting image of Sean Connery…

Dispatched on a mission to stop the French resisting, Dubbelosix is secretly working with his boss M to supplant Caesar, and also harbours ambitions to rule Rome alone …but first he has to destroy the infernal Gauls. His chance comes almost as soon as he arrives in that little village…

Getafix is in a near-panic. The Druid has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Phoenician merchant Ekonomikrisis who is bringing a vital ingredient for the magic potion that keeps the Romans at bay. When the ship at last arrives and the peddler apologises for forgetting the fabled rock oil, the highly strung Getafix has a fit and passes out.

Luckily a young Druid dubbed Dubbelosix is passing and, after a minor skirmish with a Roman patrol, accompanies Asterix and Obelix back to their comatose friend…

The spy might be a double agent, but he knows his stuff and soon cures the ailing Getafix, who explains that the generally useless black ooze from the Middle East is vital to the potion: without a fresh supply they are all doomed…

When Asterix and Obelix – and faithful hound Dogmatix, of course – volunteer to obtain some of the crucial rock oil, Dubbelosix insists on accompanying them. But as they commandeer the Phoenician’s ship for the emergency mission, Getafix clandestinely warns Asterix to watch the too-good-to-be-true young Druid…

Expediting matters by selling off Ekonomikrisis’ wares at prices nobody – even Pirates – dare refuse, our heroes make their way to Mesopotamia, unaware that Dubbelosix, using his unique messaging service, has briefed Caesar and M to stop the ship at all costs.

After a succession of military vessels are sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the joyfully belligerent Gauls, the Ruler of the World is forced to change tactics and blockade all ports to prevent Asterix and Obelix from disembarking.

With time running out, Ekonomikrisis eventually sneaks the Gauls and Dubbelosix ashore in distant Judea. The trio travel overland to Jerusalem where they are befriended by the locals who have no love for the Romans. The oppressors are always just one step behind the voyagers, though. It is as if someone is telling them every time the questers alter their plans…

After a memorable night in a village called Bethlehem, the Hebrews’ attempt to smuggle the Gauls into Jerusalem is sabotaged by Dubbelosix. However, the Middle Eastern garrisons have never seen fighters like Asterix and Obelix and the doughty heroes escape, leaving the scurrilous double agent behind.

With time running out at home and no word of the fate of their friends, the Gauls are hidden by friendly merchants, and learn that the Romans have seized and burned all the rock oil in the city – and probably the entire region. Their only chance to secure some of the previously worthless black goo is to get it from the source – in Babylon, where it just seeps out of the ground…

Assisted by brave, helpful guide Saul ben Ephishul (a loving visual tribute to Uderzo’s deeply-missed partner René Goscinny, who was Jewish) Asterix and Obelix undertake another perilous journey into the deep desert, frolicking in the Dead Sea and encountering a procession of fanatical tribes all warring on each other for long-forgotten reasons in a savage lampoon of modern Middle East strife…

Eventually, the Gauls become completely lost; waterless and without hope under the scorching sun. However when little Dogmatix starts digging in the sand, the resultant oil gusher provides more than enough to buoy up their hopes and they battle on to rendezvous with Ekonomikrisis for a frantic return to Gaul.

Unfortunately, Dubbelosix has tracked them down again and has one last trick to play…

This return to the style and format of classic collaborations features hilarious comedy set-pieces, thrilling drama and a bitingly gentle assault on the madness of keeping ancient feuds alive, intransigence of religious tensions and the madness of recurring oil crises; lampooning ideologies and dogmas whilst showing how great it is when people can just get along.

Fast, furious and funny-with-a-moral, this is one of the artist/author’s very best efforts and even manages a double-shock ending…

 

Asterix and Son was released in 1983, the 27th saga and another unconventional step off the well-worn path as it touches on a rather touchy subject…

One particularly fine morning in the Village of Indomitable Gauls, Asterix and Obelix awake to discover someone has left a baby in a basket on their doorstep. Nonplussed and bewildered, they try to care for the infant – much to the horror of the local cows who would be delighted to provide sustenance if milked in a normal manner – but human tongues in the village are beginning to wag…

Things only get worse after the feisty tyke develops a taste for magic potion and somehow keeps finding new supplies of it…

Determined to clear his name and find the real parents, Asterix begins his investigations at the four Roman Garrisons, even as Crismus Cactus, Prefect of Gaul begins a suspiciously sudden emergency census of the local villages…

Hyper-charged on potion, the baby keeps getting out and following Asterix and Obelix, who discover that the Romans seem to be looking for one child in particular…

After a painful encounter with our heroes, Crismus Cactus retires to his villa where a VIP from Rome is waiting. Marcus Junius Brutus is Caesar’s adopted son and is most insistent that the mystery baby is found and turned over to him – even if he has to raze all Gaul to achieve his aim…

The infant in question is still causing trouble for the villagers and Brutus marshals an army near the isolated hamlet, successfully confirming the child’s location with a rather inept spy. The kid’s treatment of the intruder prompts Asterix to seek out a nanny, but as the village women are still suspicious and condemnatory, he hires a rather unsavoury stranger named Aspidistra for the task…

This provokes even more vicious tongue-wagging amongst the women, who assume the worst of both her and Asterix. Inexplicably, nobody notices the ferocious childminder’s astonishing resemblance to the Prefect of Gaul…

Unfortunately, once Crismus has successfully infiltrated the village he can’t get out again, and spends a punishing time amusing the infant horror until his nerve breaks. Drained of patience, Brutus then attacks with the full might of Rome, torching the village and bombarding it with catapults.

As the men tank up on potion and counterattack, the village women head for the beach. Sadly, Brutus is willing to sacrifice his entire army, and is waiting to grab the baby…

Once the Roman Legions are crushed, Asterix and Obelix return and discover what has occurred. Filled with rage, they set off in deadly pursuit and save the child just in time for his real mother and father to arrive. Two of the most powerful people in the world, they are extremely angry with somebody…

Laced with a dark and savage core, this rollicking rollercoaster ride combines tragedy with outrageous slapstick, transforming historical facts into a compelling comedy-drama that is both delightful and genuinely scary in places…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing, featuring famous caricatures to tease older readers whilst the raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and riotous action astounds and bemuses the younger set, these tales celebrate the illustrative ability of Uderzo, confirming his potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride to be a true national and cultural treasure.

If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1983 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002 Hachette. All rights reserved.