Almost Silent


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)

ISBN: 978-1-606-99315-6

John Arne Saeterrøy, who works under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and appeared on the international cartoonists’ scene at age 30 with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) which won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He followed with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now an international star of comics, he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Thankfully the fine folks at Fantagraphics have collected four of his earliest graphic novels in a superb hardback companion to the 2009 classic [Low Moon] which provides more of Jason’s surreal and cinematic, darkly hilarious anthropomorphic ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of silent movie archetypes, cinematic monsters and sad sack chumps.

Told in pantomimic progressions rather than full stories – and often as classical chase scenes reminiscent of Benny Hill – the wonderment begins with breakthrough album ‘Meow, Baby’ wherein a mummy goes walkabout from his museum sarcophagus encountering bums and gamins, vampires, aliens, angels, devils, skeletons and cops – always so many cops – in hot pursuit…

This primarily monochrome collection is called Almost Silent because it mostly is: and what dialogue appears is never informative or instructive, merely colour or window dressing. The artwork is displayed in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity unwinding like an unending, infinite zoetrope show. These early works are collections of gags and situations best experienced rather than read.

A second untitled tale follows the perceived social inadequacies of males hungry for love: a werewolf, caveman – complete with courting cudgel, a Martian, Frankenstein’s monster and even Elvis. All try and die in the modern dating whirl.

The next sequence introduces cannibal ghouls and a movie-buff Travis Bickle/Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe also starving for acceptance, and continues with the bleakly comedic ‘Return of the Mummy’ and a delightfully tongue in cheek pastiche of Tintin and Blake and Mortimer entitled ‘The Mummy’s Secret’, featuring the entire ghastly cast, before ending with a fascinating selection of three panel gag strips.

The next featured volume is ‘Tell Me Something’ a more ambitiously visual outing that acknowledges its antecedents and influences by using silent movie dialogue cards instead of word balloons and follows a plucky heroine as she searches for affection in all the wrong places with her Harold-Lloyd-like would-be beau. Also in attendance are the usual cast of filmic phenomenons…

‘You Can’t Get There from Here’ concentrates mainly on the Frankenstein cast: the monsters, their equally artificial wives, their lovelorn and covetous creators and even the Igors, misshapen wizened assistants also all seeking that one special person – or thing. Here the art is supplanted by the startling and highly effective addition of bronze inks for a compelling duo-tone effect that sits oddly well with the beast’s bittersweet search for his stolen, bespoke bride.

The collection concludes with a rather riotous adventure romp ‘The Living and the Dead’ wherein the perfect first date is interrupted by the rising of the unquiet dead and the end of civilisation in the rotting teeth of carnivorous zombies on their final march – possibly the funniest and most romantic yarn in the whole book

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using the beastly and unnatural to ask gentle questions about basic human needs in a wicked quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is.

His comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any fan should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list, so consider this superb hardback your guaranteed entry into his fabulous fun world…

© 2009 Jason. All rights reserved.

Little Nothings volume 3: Uneasy Happiness


By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-576-4

With over 35 books in just about ten years, Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators, a writer for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (‘Le Roi Catastrophe’, Vénézia’), Manu Larcenet (‘Les Cosmonautes du futur’), José Parrondo (‘Allez Raconte’ and ‘Papa Raconte’) and Thierry Robin (‘Petit Père Noël’), the originator of such global hits as the Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot sequence and, with Joann Sfar, the ‘Donjon’ (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: The Early Years) and also a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy.

This third collected volume of his anthropomorphic cartoon blog sees him amicably nit-picking and musing his way through the life of an old comic creator: travelling to conventions, making stories and dealing with the distressingly peculiar modern world.

Evocatively recoloured for book publication these one and two page ruminations and anti-dramas range from his inability to de-clutter (every comic maven’s weakness!), public toilet etiquette, gadgets, marriage, parenthood, mice in the bookshelves, how mad cats are, brilliant ideas that come when you’re asleep, computers and getting old, interspersed with reactions to the many wonderful places he has visited on the comics convention circuit (Venice, Portugal, Fiji, Australia and others in this volume).

I first became aware of Trondheim’s subtly enchanting vignettes in Fantagraphics’ Mome comics anthologies, and it’s a sheer delight to see his cartoon philosophy gathered into such handy tomes for constant re-reading. This is probably the most pleasing graphic novel I’ve reviewed this year, and I’m off now to get the previous two volumes.

I strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical spiritual refreshment you do the same…

© 2010 Trondheim. English translation © 2010 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Indian Summer


By Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt, translated by Jeff Lisle (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-030-2-8

Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15th 1927 – August 20th 1995) was one of the world’s paramount comics creators, and his inventions since ‘Ace of Spades’ (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts) in 1945 were both many and varied. His most famous character, based in large part on his own exotic early life, is the mercurial soldier – perhaps sailor would be more accurate – of fortune, Corto Maltese.

After working in both Argentinean and English comics for years Pratt returned to Italy in the 1960s. In 1967 he produced a number of series for the monthly comic Sgt. Kirk. In addition to the Western lead character, he created a pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, the detective strip Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea). The magazine folded in 1970, but Pratt took one of Ballata’s characters to the French weekly, Pif, before eventually settling into the legendary Belgian comic Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career.

However a storyteller of such vast capabilities as Pratt was ever-restless, and as well as writing and illustrating his own tales he has written for other giants of the industry. In 1983 he crafted a steamy tale of sexual tension and social prejudice set in the New England colonies in the days before the Salem Witch Trials.

Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana (released and known as Indian Summer – although a more appropriate and illustrative translation would be “All things begin again with an Indian Summer”) was brought to stunning pictorial life by fellow Italian graphic raconteur Milo Manara.

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is best known for his wry, controversial erotica – but that’s more an indicator of the English-speaking comics market than any artistic obsession; an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his erotic career illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work Lo Scimmiotto (‘The Ape’ – a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King) was released.

By the end of the decade he was working for the Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as a first-rank creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman – which saw print in A Suivre. The “HP” of the title is his good friend Hugo Pratt…

New England in the 17th century: the Puritan village of New Canaan slowly grows in placid, if uneasy, co-existence with the natives who have fished and hunted these coastal regions for centuries. When young Shevah Black is raped by two young Indians, outcast Abner Lewis kills them both. Taking the “ruined” girl back to his mother’s cottage in the woods the girl meets the entire family – mother Abigail, siblings Jeremiah, Elijah and Phyllis – a whole brood of damned sinners banished by her uncle the Reverend Pilgrim Black.

The mother was once a servant in the Black household, but has lived in the woods for twenty years, ever since Pilgrim Black’s father raped her. When Abigail fell pregnant she was cast out for her sin. Her face bears a sinner’s brand. Aided by the Indians the mother built a cabin, and over the years had three further children. Her progeny are all wild creatures of nature; healthy, vital and with many close ties both to the natives (from choice) and the truly decadent Black family (by sordid, unwelcome history).

Now blood has spilled and passions are roused: none of those ties can prevent a bloodbath, and as the day progresses many dark secrets come to light as the intolerance, hypocrisy and raw, thwarted lust of the upstanding Christians leads to an inexorable clash with the Indians – by far the most sensible and decent individuals in the place – with the pitifully isolated, ostracized and alienated Lewis clan stuck in middle and betrayed by both…

Beautiful, disturbing and utterly compelling, this thoroughly adult examination of sexual tension, attitudinal eugenics and destructive, tragic love is played out against the seductive heat and primitive glories of a natural, plentiful paradise which only needs its residents to act more like beasts and less like humans to achieve a perfect tranquility. Sadly, every Eden has serpents and here there are three: religion, custom and pride…

Pratt’s passion for historical research is displayed by the graphic afterword in which he not only cites his extensive sources – including a link to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter – but adds some fascinating insights and speculations on the fates of the survivors of New Canaan massacre…

Although there is a 1994 NBM edition readily available I’m reviewing from my 1986 Catalan copy principally because I own that one, but also because the Catalan copy has a magnificent four-page foldout watercolour cover (which I couldn’t fit onto my scanner no matter how I tried) and some pretty amazing sketches and watercolour studies gracing Javier Coma’s insightful introduction.

This is a classic tale of humanity frailty, haunting, dark and startlingly lovely. Whatever version you find, you must read this superb story.
© 1986 Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 2: The Navy Blues


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-82-3

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was a devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such French and Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara and Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ or The Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius and Raoul Colvin – who has written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

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

Writer Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian, born in 1938 and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – beginning his glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written more than 22 other long-running, award winning series including ‘Cédric’, ‘Les Femmes en Blanc’ and ‘Agent 212’ – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The stars of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfied and Corporal Blutch, a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy: two hapless and ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (‘North and South’) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, although ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant, mouthy 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 man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and eprit-de-corp. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little 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…

The Navy Blues, second book in this translated series is actually the seventh French volume ‘Les Bleus de la marine’, and finds the lads as usual in the midst of a terrible battle. However, when Blutch is wounded, his cavalry commanders prefer to save his horse rather than aid the fallen soldier, and Chesterfield finds all his cherished dreams of camaraderie and loyalty ebbing away.

Disillusioned, he demands a transfer to the infantry and with the never happy Blutch beside him tries to adapt to his lowered status. Sadly Chesterfield discovers that officers are the same everywhere and stupidity and cupidity are rife throughout the armed forces. A progression of calamitous transfers eventually finds the pair in the Union Navy at a time of intriguing technological advancement, playing an unfortunately ill-omened part in the development of both Submarines and armoured battleships. As always their misadventures result in pain, humiliation and not a few explosions…

The secret of ‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ success…? This is a hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the 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.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to best, not worst, of the human spirit.

© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Bluecoats volume 1: Robertsonville Prison


By Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-71-7

The mythology of the American West has never been better loved or more honourably treated than by Europeans. Hergé (see Tintin in America among so many other early works) was a passionate devotee, and the range of incredible comics material from Tex Willer to Blueberry to Lucky Luke displays over and over again our fascination with all aspects of that legendary time and place.

‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius and scripted by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 52 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace Lucky Luke when he defected from prominent weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and is one of the most popular series on the Continent. After its initial run Bluecoats graduated to the collected album format (published by French publishing powerhouse Dupuis) that we’re all so familiar with in Un chariot dans l’Ouest (‘A Wagon in the West’ 1972).

Salvé was an artist proficient in the Gallic style of big-foot/big-nose humour cartooning, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually leavened the previous broad style with a more realistic – but still comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936, and after studying Fine Art, joined Dupuis as a letterer in 1952. In 1959 he created Sandy about an Australian teen and a kangaroo, and self parodied it and himself with Hobby and Koala and the later Panty et son kangaroo and the comics industry satire ‘Pauvre Lampil’.

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and after studying Lithography joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 before beginning his glittering and prolific writing career. Almost exclusively a humorist and always for Spirou, as well as Bluecoats he has written at least 22 other long-running and award winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfied and Corporal Blutch, a hopeless double act of buffoons in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, or perhaps Abbot & Costello or our own Morecambe & Wise: two hapless and ill-starred cavalrymen posted to the wilds of the arid frontier.

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with the second volume Du Nord au Sud (‘North and South’) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military). All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

Blutch is your average little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant and ever-critical of the army – especially his inept commanders. Ducking, diving, deserting when 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 man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and eprit-de-corp. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little 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…

Robertsonville Prison, the first release in the series from that wonderful purveyor of translated European gems Cinebooks, is actually the sixth French volume, and is loosely based on the actual Confederate-run Andersonville Prison compound in Georgia. It finds the irascible, inseparable pair captured after a calamitous battle and interned with many other Union soldiers. However these two aren’t prepared to stay put – albeit for vastly differing reasons – and a series of increasingly bold and bonkers escape ploys eventually result in a crazy if appropriate reversal of fortunes…

The secret to the unbelievable success of ‘Les Tuniques Bleues’ is that it is an anti-war comedy like M.A.S.H. or Catch 22 cleverly pitched at a young and less cynical audience. Historically authentic, uncompromising in terms of portrayed violence but always in good taste, the attitudes expressed by our oafish, down-to-earth anti-heroes never make glorious war 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.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and tellingly worthy, Bluecoats is the kind of battle book that any parent would be happy to let their children read – if they can bear to let go of it themselves…

© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Yragael: Urm


By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream)
ISBN: 9-063-325210

The fantasy tales of Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not only in Europe but especially in Britain and America when the baroque and bizarre cosmic odysseys began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that “Old World” comics had to offer. By the time French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes launched the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant in 1975, Philippe Druillet, one of their visual and philosophical big guns, had been creating new myths for nearly a decade…

Born in Toulouse in 1944, Druillet was born and raised in Spain, a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced the doom-tainted Earthling, intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Jack Kirby and Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his mercurial star-rover for a number of short pieces which were first gathered together as a graphic novel in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane and the later compilation Lone Sloane: Delirius).

Following these early epics he further stretched himself with the astounding, nihilistic, “End of Days” cosmic tragedies of the doomed prince Yragael and his child of ill fortune Urm.

Readers of Moorcock, August Derleth and particularly Jack Vance will recognise shared themes in the woeful tale of the last times of Earth where declining humanity is beset by gods and demons keen on recovering their lost power, on a blasted planet where men still intrigue and kill each other for gain. From this guttering chaos arises Yragael, a potential messiah who founders and falls due to pride and a ghastly liaison with the dire Nereis, witch queen of the living city Spharain…

One hundred years later in the devastated wastelands of the world, the grotesque hunchbacked spawn of that illicit union falls under the spell of mendacious demons and attempts to reclaim both parts of his heritage. Urm is stupid but passionate and his cataclysmic visit to the horrendous city reveals that the Last Men are just as much playthings of the gods as the monstrous bastard himself…

This is a graphic odyssey of utterly Byzantine narrative and Brobdignagian, baroque scale and scope. The storytelling is reduced to the merest plot, as the text (more pictorial accoutrement than dialogue facilitator) and art goes into emotional overdrive. This isn’t a tale told, it’s a mesmerising, breathless act of graphic expression. If it helps think of it as ballet or a symphony rather than a novel or play: you’re supposed to go “wow!” not “a-ha!”

The visual syntax and techniques originated in these non-stories dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for decades. Character and plot are again pared to pure fundamentals so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that churned within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

His brand of universal Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled, and this is another work crying out for re-release in large format with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until that distant tomorrow this book will have to do – and do very well.

Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1974 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. © 1975 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasia: Adventure Down Under


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-011-5

For most English-speaking comic fans and collectors Spirou is probably Europe’s biggest secret. The character is a rough contemporary – and bald commercial  response – to Hergé’s iconic superstar Tintin, whilst the comic he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and creativity by our own Beano and Dandy.

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, a magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938 (three and bit months before DC Thomson’s Beano, but still beaten by The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937), it was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to the publisher’s chief magazine, Le Moustique). With his pet squirrel, Spip (joining the cast on June 8th 1939, he’s the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself) he was the idea of French artist Robert Velter,  who signed himself Rob-Vel.

A Dutch language edition Robbedoes’ debuted a few weeks later and ran more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until it was cancelled in 2005.

The bulk of the comic was taken up with cheap American imports: Red Ryder by Fred Harman, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s ‘Brick Bradford’ and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark creation ‘Superman’ although home-grown product crept in too. Most prominent were ‘Tif et Tondu’ by Fernand Dineur (which ran until the1990s) and ‘L’Epervier Blue’ by Sirius (Max Mayeu) and they were soon joined by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jije” (during World War II Jije legendarily drew the entire comic by himself, banned US imports included, as well as assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created the current co-star Fantasio).

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944 when the Allies liberated Belgium) Spirou and its boyish star – now a globe-trotting reporter – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

Among the other myriad major features that began within those pages are ‘Jean Valhardi’ (by Jean Doisy & Jije), ‘Blondin et Cirage’ (Victor Hubinon), ‘Buck Danny’, ‘Jerry Spring’, ‘Les Schtroumpfs’, ‘Gaston Lagaffe’ and a certain laconic cowboy named ‘Lucky Luke’.

Spirou the character (the name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving under a series of creators into an urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour. With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou travels to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During the War when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jije who handed it to his assistant André Franquin in 1946. It was the start of a golden age.

Among Franquin’s innovations were the villains Zorglub and Zantafio, Champignac and one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in this current English translation), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his departure in 1969 – was the incredible magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952), now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums all his own.

From 1959 the writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

As the series entered the 1980s it seemed to stall: three discrete creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the creators of the graphic novel under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. This one, ‘Adventure Down Under’ from 1985, was their second.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim and the team of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera have brought the official album count to fifty (there also are a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

As Spirou and Fantasio arrive home exhausted from their latest assignment they are intercepted by Cellophine at the airport: odd things are occurring in the depths of the Outback and the always-newsworthy Count of Champignac is right at the heart of it. Instantly awake again all three fly to Australia where nefarious deeds are occurring at the desolate Albuh Opal Mine.

The crazy inventor is there on the verge of a fabulous and incredible discovery far more precious than jewels, but the ruthless miners don’t seem that impressed, although they are worried by disappearing diggers, inexplicable accidents, men driven crazy and, if some observers are to be believed, levitating aborigines…

This classy blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick is a pure refreshing joy in a market far too full of adults-only carnage and testosterone-fuelled breast-beating. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a cracking read and hopefully the start of a long line of translated epics that will become as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…

Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Art of Hergé – Inventor of Tintin: volume 2 1937-1949


By Philippe Goddin (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-724-2

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world 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 created twenty three splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925 he worked for the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

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

The rest is history, and for such a pivotal figure who better to recount it than Philippe Goddin, friend and acclaimed expert and the man who directed the Hergé Studio research and archives for a decade?

This intermediate volume of three follows the artist’s progress week by week and year by year through the heady successes of his major creations, diarising key events, clarifying the various tasks of a jobbing periodical cartoonist and noting the key personal moments of the man’s life – such as his affair with a friend of his wife Greg and the moment he discovered his agent had been embezzling from him.

Liberally illustrated with original art, printed and retouched pages and frames, copies of the comics and magazines the strips first appeared in and many photographs this is a fascinating insight into the working process of a graphic genius. The hundreds of pencil drawing and layouts alone are priceless to anyone with aspirations of a career in comics. If only other artists had been as scrupulously meticulous in preserving the many stages of their creations!

Beginning in 1937 the chapters follow the progress and output of all five Jo, Zette and Jocko tales from The Secret Ray through to Valley of the Cobras, new Tintin from The Broken Ear and Black Island to Land of Black Gold (ten albums), and the slapstick japes of Belgian urchins Quick and Flupke (twelve volumes), plus all the revision to the previous output that kept his work fresh – and available – to his growing legion of fans.

Covering the tumultuous war years, his temporary ostracising as a “collaborator”, his depression, breakdown and return to success and popularity this is a book that no fan can be without and no would-be storyteller can fail to profit from.

Art © Hergé/Moulinsart 2009. Text © Moulinsart 2009. All rights reserved.

The Man From Harlem


By Guido Crepax, translated by Tom Leighton (Catalan)
ISBN: 0-87416-040-5

Born in Milan in 1933 the son of a noted cellist, Guido Crepax grew in an environment flooded with art and music (his closest childhood friend was the noted musician and conductor Claudio Abado). Inevitably the boy became a creative artist. Whilst studying architecture in the 1950s he freelanced as a graphic designer, illustrator and printmaker, producing book, medical texts and magazine covers, posters and record sleeves most notably for Classical and Jazz musicians ranging from Charlie Parker and Fats Waller to Domenico Modugno.

He won acclaim and advertising awards, but still felt the urge to do more. In 1963 he began drawing comics, and two years later created his most famous character Valentina for the second issue of Linus. She was initially the lead character’s girlfriend, but whereas superhero Neutron soon lost the interest of readers, the sexy, psychedelic, culturally bold and accessible distaff evolved to become an evocative, fantastic, sophisticated, erotic zeitgeist of the 1960s and far, far beyond.

Although noted – if not always revered – for his strongly erotic female characters, Crepax was an astute and sensitive tale-teller and examiner of the human condition, and all his varied works vibrate with strong themes of charged sexuality and violence. There can also be seen a deep understanding of history and moment, particularly in regard to the popular arts. In The Man from Harlem (based I strongly suspect on the old Cab Calloway standard) a young black musician in 1946 New York City faces the biggest dilemma of his life and is forever changed…

Little Johnny Lincoln was just like any other young negro in a white man’s world, but now with the war over, that world has changed, and in certain areas black people are finally getting a chance to show what they can do. Leaving the Stadium where Joe Louis has once more defended his World Heavyweight title, he stumbles into a fracas and knocks out a white man chasing a white woman.

She is just street trash, a hooker, but somehow the musician is drawn to the abrasive desperate young woman and tries to protect her. She claims to have seen her pursuer murder a man, but Lincoln is still determined to shield her – even from the disapprobation of his own kind, as well the guns of the mob who want her silenced…

White gangsters are trying to move in on the Harlem action: a mob war is brewing and even the club where Lincoln plays is smashed up in the turf-battles. Polly becomes a virtual prisoner in his home; she knows that she is bringing trouble to Lincoln and his family, but can’t find the nerve to run or testify to the cops until she has a bitter confrontation with Lincoln’s girlfriend Bessie. Knowing there’s no place for her anywhere Polly heads for the local police station. She doesn’t make it…

Pushed to the edge of endurance, seeing the pitifully few advances and freedoms blacks have won being taken away again, Little Johnny Lincoln picks up a gun and with visions of the Klan blazing in his head goes out to take a White Man’s vengeance…

For anybody else this would be an impressive Noir tale of human dignity, intolerance and justice, but Crepax, ever-experimental, went beyond the twists and turns of his plot (and don’t imagine you’ve guessed the ending: it’s a real surprise) and by innovative design and sharp intercutting with shots of hot Jazz numbers turned the art into an entrancing freeform, tension-building visual soundtrack (much as Bill Sienkiewicz attempted a little later in the Moon Knight tale ‘Hit It!’).

This is a powerful saga magnificently told, using the language, terms and racial epithets prevalent in the 1940s. If the “N” word is going to offend you don’t seek out this superb adult thriller, depicted in a truly unique style and manner: everybody else with their senses of drama, history and perspective intact should go ahead and enjoy a brilliant tale: one desperately in need of reprinting…
© 1978, 1987 Editoriale CEPIM, Milan. English translation © 1987 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Lone Sloane: Delirius


By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream/Heavy Metal)
ISBN: 2-205-00632-0

The seminal fantasy icon Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not so much in his own country but in Britain and America when his adventures began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that European comics had to offer. In 1975 French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes began publishing the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant, but one of their visual mainstays had begun nearly a decade earlier…

Philippe Druillet, born in Toulouse in 1944, and raised in Spain, is a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced a doom-tainted intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his cosmic and deeply baroque star-rover in a number of short pieces which were gathered together in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane) this cool and memorable album was the only place they could be found in an English translation, and yet they are merely a prelude for the fantastic fantasy that makes up the rest of Lone Sloane: Delirius.

So by way of recapitulation those Six Voyages were ‘The Throne of the Black God’ wherein Sloane is captured by a demonic chair and dumped on a desolate world to await possession by a cosmic god of chaos, whilst in ‘The Isle of the Doom Wind’ he thwarts space pirates. In ‘Rose’ he is trapped on a world of robotic junk and faces oppressive piracy in ‘Torquedara Varenkor: the Bridge over the Stars’.

In ‘O Sidarta’ Sloane regained control of his long-lost super-spaceship and began a quest to return to Earth and overthrow the despotic Imperium, a quest that culminated in startling revelations of his destiny in ‘Terra’: a portentous prelude before the main event…

‘Delirius’ was scripted by celebrated comics writer Jacques Lob (Jerry Spring, Ténébrax, Blanche Épiphanie and Superdupont among others) and in a jarring cacophony of visual Sturm und Drang pitched the intergalactic vagabond into the midst of a power struggle between the Imperator of all Galaxies and his own clergy, the deeply fundamentalist Red Redemption.

Delirius was a useless mudball until the supreme overlord found a way to make it pay. By converting the entire world into a highly-taxed cash-cow of legal debauchery “The Planet of a Hundred Thousand Pleasures” became a perfect way to placate the populace and generate revenue for further conquests. Now the priests have approached Sloane with a perfect plan to steal all the cash and thereby remove the planetary governor: but priests can’t be trusted, nothing can be planned for on a world of utter licentious chaos and Sloane always has his own agenda…

This is a graphic odyssey of truly Byzantine scale and scope: the twists and turns, the visual syntax and tone created here dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for the next two decades. Character and plot were winnowed to bare essentials so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that seemed to churn within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

As the scheme went inevitably, utterly awry the sheer energy of the artist’s cosmic Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled. This is a tale crying out for re-release in large format and with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until then this book will have to do – and do very well. Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1972, 1973 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur.