Spirou and Fantasio: The Marsupilami Thieves

y André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-167-9 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuisin response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

The legendary anthology Le Journal de Spirou was launched on April 21st 1938 with this other red-headed lad as lead of the anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

He began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip, eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and ultimately creating a phenomenally popular apparently-magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix, with the magic critter debuting in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952.

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.

By the 1980s, the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. Since their departure and as the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…), Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there are also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mostly concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this fifth edition (available in paperback and digitally and originally entitled Les voleurs du Marsupilami or The Marsupilami Robbers), they reached back all the way to 1952 to re-present the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

On January 3rd 1924, Belgian comics superstar André Franquin was born in Etterbeek. Drawing from an early age, the lad began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 and when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, Franquin found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (AKA Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. Throughout those early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé, at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They promptly revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (LJdS #427, June 20th 1946) and the eager lad ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio, as well as one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in the current English translation).

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

In 1955, a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin sign up with rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known here as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to on his departure – is Marsupilami, which, in addition to comics tales, has become a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Marsupilami Thieves was originally serialised in LJdS #729-761 (collected into an album in 1954); a sequel to previous adventure Spirou et les héritiers, in which the valiant lad and his inseparable companion colleague encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Palombia and brought the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation.

Franquin’s follow-up tale – crafted from an idea by fellow cartoonist Jo Almo (Geo Salmon) – sees the triumphant journalists visit the big City Zoo where their latest headline has ended up, only to be stricken with guilt and remorse at the poor creature’s sorry state of incarceration.

Resolved to free the poor thing and return him to his rainforest home, their plan is foiled when the critter suddenly dies in its cage. Distraught and suspicious, they muscle their way in to see the vet and discover the corpse has gone missing…

Acting quickly, Spirou and Fantasio rouse the authorities and the commotion prevents the body thief from escaping. All through the night the keepers and our heroes scour the institution and, in the deadly dark finally spook the mysterious malefactor from his cosy hiding place…

There follows a spectacular and hilarious midnight chase through the zoo, with the lads harrying a dark figure – who must be some kind of athlete – past a panoply of angry animals, hindered more than helped by inept keepers…

They almost catch the intruder, but a last burst of furious energy propels the bandit over a back wall, although not before Spirou snatches a paper clue from him…

The precious scrap takes the determined investigators to the flat of Victor Shanks, where his wife Clementine provides further information. Her man is flying off to the city of Magnana for his new job… and to deliver a package…

The boys’ frantic chase to the airport is plagued by manic misfortune and they miss Victor by mere moments, but, undeterred, borrow a neighbour’s car and attempt to follow overland. This leads to a fractious episode of fisticuffs with striking Customs Officers (they’re withholding their labour, not exceptionally attractive…).

After a night in jail, the undeterred duo and the kvetching Spip eventually fetch up in Magnana and the search begins.

A month later, they are frustrated and ready to throw in the towel when Spirou literally runs into Clementine Shanks and trails her to a football stadium where formerly unemployed, desperate Victor is now a star of the local soccer team…

Confronting the essentially good-hearted rogue, Fantasio and Spirou force the truth from him. In return for his new job Victor drugged and swiped the Marsupilami for ruthless showman The Great Zabaglione as a star attraction for his circus and travelling menagerie…

Determined to see the little creature free, the boys attempt to infiltrate the show but are quickly discovered and forcefully expelled. After a chance meeting with weird science master Count of Champignac they try once more, perfectly disguised as miraculous magic act Cam and Leon

This time the ruse succeeds, but after a phenomenally outrageous opening performance the brutal Zabaglione rumbles the reporters. Things look bleak for the lads and the Marsupilami until guilt-wracked Victor steps in to save the day. Once the dust settles the wondrous beast is free, but happily opts to stay with the boys and share their fun-filled, exciting exploits…

Soaked in superb slapstick comedy and with gallons of gags throughout, this exuberant yarn is packed with angst-free action, thrills and spills and also offers an early ecological message and an always-timely moral regarding the humane treatment of animals. There’s even a fascinating history and creative overview of the timeless wandering heroes in back-up feature ‘Spirou & Fantasio’s Stories Last Through Generations’.

The Marsupilami Thieves is the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller to delight readers who are fed up with a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive yet wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a truly enduring landmark tale from a long line of superb exploits, and deserves to be a household name as much as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1954 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 3 and 4: Running Scared and Valley of the Exiles


By Tome & Janry, colored by Stephane de Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-116-7 (Running Album PB), 978-1-84918-157-0 (Exiles Album PB)

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

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, this anthological magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938; neatly bracketed by DC Thomson’s The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937 and The Beano on July 30th 1938. It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Joined on June 8th 1939 by pet squirrel, Spip (the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself), the series was visually realised by French artist Robert Velter (who signed himself Rob-Vel). A Dutch language edition – Robbedoes debuted a few weeks later, running more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until cancellation in 2005.

The bulk of the periodical was taken up with cheap American imports – such as Fred Harman’s Red Ryder, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark 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), latterly accompanied by work from comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jijé”.

Legendarily, during World War II Jijé drew the entire comic by himself, including home grown versions of banned US imports, simultaneously assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created current co-star and partner Fantasio).

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944) Le Journal de Spirouand its boyish star – now a globe-trotting journalist – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory. Among other myriad major features that began within those hallowed pages are Jean Valhardi (by Jean Doisy & Jije), Blondin et Cirage (Victor Hubinon), Buck Danny, ‘Jerry Spring, Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs to you and me), Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof and a certain laconic cowboy named Lucky Luke.

Spirou the character (whose 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 voyages to exotic locales, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During WWII when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Publisher Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jijé who then 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 for Cinebook’s English translations), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his own departure in 1969 – was incredible magic animal Marsupilami. The miracle beast was first seen in Spirou et les héritiers (1952), and is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console… and albums too.

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spiroulimit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of 9 rousing yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times, telling tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s, the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. Since their departure, Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Running Scared is from 1988: originally entitled La frousse aux trousses or ‘Fear on the Trail’. It was their eighth and the 40th collection of the evergreen adventurers. Harking back to the Fournier years, it comprises the first of an excellent extended 2-part thriller which concluded in Valley of the Exiles (originally released as La vallée des bannis AKA ‘Valley of the Banished’ in 1989).

Running Scared opens with a frantic and mesmeric chase scene as our eponymous young star races across the city in splendid breakneck tribute to the silent movie chases of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. He’s late for a conference where he will recount his many harrowing, career-related escapes and show films of his numerous close shaves…

Barely making it, Spirou is disappointed by the reaction of the audience: those that don’t faint dead away from fear, flee the theatre in horror…

It’s a huge disappointment: the daring reporter was hoping to use the profits from the lecture tour to fund an upcoming expedition to discover the fate of two explorers who vanished in 1938. They were attempting to climb a mountain and discover the legendary “Valley of Exiles” in the mysterious Himalayan nation of Yurmaheesun-shan

Since 1950, the tiny country has been subject to numerous invasions by rival super-powers and is a hotbed of rebellion, insurgency and civil war. Nevertheless, ever-undaunted Spirou and Fantasio are utterly determined to solve the ancient mystery.

Happily, their plans are only temporarily derailed. One of the fainters at the conference is timid but esteemed Dr. Placebo: renowned authority on the medical condition Spasmodia Maligna and a man convinced that the only cure for the condition – prolonged, sustained and life-threatening synchronous diaphragmatic flutters (hiccups to you and me) – is to be scared out of one’s wits.

Having seen Spirou in action, Placebo wants the reporters to take his most chronic patients with them on the assignment and offers to fund the entire expedition to the war-torn hell-hole…

Over Fantasio’s cynical but sensible objections, a deal is struck and soon the lads, Spip and five disparate, desperate hiccupping victims are sneaking across the Nepalese border where diligent Captain Yi is tasked with keeping all foreigners – and especially western journalists – out of the country as it undergoes its pacification and re-education…

However, thanks to native translator Gorpah (a wily veteran guide who once proved invaluable to another red-headed reporter, as well as his little white dog and foul mouthed-sea captain pal) the daring band are soon deep in-country, but the occupying invasion forces are quickly hot on their trail in tanks, armoured cars and attack helicopters: providing plenty of opportunities for the annoyingly obnoxious singulitus flutterers to be terrified – but with little evidence of a cure…

And then, just as they find their first real clue as to the location of the lost Valley of Exiles, the explorers are captured by native partisans and rebels. Even this doesn’t scare off any hiccups, nor does the daring later escape attempt masterminded by Spirou and Fantasio.

As the liberated captives pile into a lorry, a huge storm breaks and the rebels give chase, but when one of their pursuer’s vehicles plunges over a cliff, the valiant fugitives frantically form a human chain to rescue the driver and in the horrendous conditions Spirou is washed away and lost in the raging torrent.

…And that’s when all the hiccupping finally stops…

To Be Continued…

Starting in superb slapstick comedy mode and with gallons of gags throughout, Running Scared quickly evolves into a dark-edged, cunningly shaded satirical critique of then current geo-political scandals like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture by the Chinese – which both of course still resonate in today’s world – as it unfolds an epic and utterly compelling rollercoaster of fun and thrills.

Valley of the Exiles! concludes the excellent exotic escapade with the roving reporters retracing the steps and uncovering the whereabouts of explorers who vanished climbing a mountain before discovering a legendary lost valley in the inscrutable, isolated Himalayan nation of Yurmaheesun-shan

The story resumes with the battered, weary duo entombed deep within a Himalayan mountain. Slowly, blindly, they grope their way towards a faint light, emerging through an ancient, barbaric idol’s head into the very place they’ve been seeking…

Utterly enclosed by peaks, the Valley is an idyllic paradise but its very isolation has led to the development of a number of truly unique species of flora and fauna. There are colossal carnivorous waterlily pads, ferociously determined man-eating turtles, electric geckoes, the seductive Hammock Flytrap and many more bizarre and potentially lethal creatures.

The one that most imperils the lost boys is the diminutive Manic Midgie: a mosquito-like bug carrying the disease “raging hostiliasis”. Not long after one bites Fantasio, poor Spirou realises his best friend has become a homicidal maniac determined to kill him and everything else in range…

The deranged lad goes completely off the deep end, and only luck and a handy itching-powder boxing glove plant prevents our favourite reporter’s gory demise. Wounded, hunted by his best friend and perhaps the only human in the apparently inescapable enclosed wilderness, near-despondent Spirou – and Spip – begin exploring their incredible prison and find a rough shack, proving that at some time other humans have been there.

Further investigation reveals it to be the last resting place of the lost explorers Siegfried and Maginot. The mystery of the 1938 expedition is solved – even though Spirou has no way of filing this scoop!

More worryingly, Maginot’s copious notes on the creatures of the valley offer some grim hypotheses as to the nature of the nature in this fantastic hidden gorge: creatures inimical to both body and mind of man. Plants that cast illusions, murderous mammals mimicking harmless life, bugs whose bite produces madness…

Crazed beyond imagining – and burbling hilarious, fourth-wall breaking nonsense – Fantasio is determinedly hunting his old friend. The frantic chase drives our limping hero deep into a hidden temple where he uncovers the remnants of fantastic lost civilisation Backik: a race banished by Mongol conquerors to this distant valley. These reluctant settlers lived just long enough for the manic-midgies to bring their unlucky lives crashing down into doom and disaster…

As Spirou lurches through the eerie tombs of the fallen Backiks, Fantasio ambushes him and prepares to finish off his former friend when a mysterious figure attacks…

A little later, Spirou awakens in the warming sunlight of the valley, with deranged Fantasio securely bound beside him. Resolved to escape this fantastic trap and get his crazy pal back to civilisation and medical assistance, our red-headed hero begins to explore his best options only to feel the terrifying sting of a mosquito. Is all lost?

Of course not…

Packed with oodles of action and a host of incredible surprises and revelations, Valley of the Exiles is a truly splendid escapade, with thrills, chills, spills, a mountain of choice comedy moments and eccentric, surreal mysteries to keep readers spellbound.

This kind of engaging, lightly-barbed adventure comedy-thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, sordid cheesecake titillation, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive but wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and yes, even that other red-headed kid with the white dog…
Running Scared original edition © Dupuis, 1988 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.
Valley of the Exiles original edition © Dupuis, 1989 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 2: In New York


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-054-2 (Album PB)

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

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, this anthological magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938; neatly bracketed by DC Thomson’s The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937 and The Beano on July 30th 1938. It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from its lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Joined on June 8th 1939 by a pet squirrel, Spip (the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself) the series was visually realised by French artist Robert Velter (who signed himself Rob-Vel).

A Dutch language edition – Robbedoesdebuted 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 periodical was taken up with cheap American imports – such as Fred Harman’s Red Ryder, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark 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), latterly accompanied by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jijé”.

Legendarily, during World War II Jijé drew the entire comic by himself, including home grown versions of banned US imports, simultaneously assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created current co-star and partner Fantasio).

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

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

Spirou the character (whose 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 voyages to exotic locales, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During WWII when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Publisher Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jijé who then 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 for these current English translations), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his own departure in 1969 – was the incredible magic animal Marsupilami. The miracle beast was first seen in Spirou et les héritiers (1952), and is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums too.

From 1959, 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 9 rousing yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times, telling tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. This one from 1987, originally entitled Spirou à New-York, was their 7th and the 39th collection of the venerable comedy sagas.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Right here, right now, however, we’re off to the New World…

In the Big Apple there is war between two criminal factions. The Mafia are steadily losing ground and men to the insidiously encroaching Chinese Triad of the mysterious Mandarin.

Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone is advised that it’s due to an incredible run of bad luck and sensibly undertakes to find and “recruit” the luckiest person on Earth to turn his gang’s fortunes around…

Meanwhile in Paris Spirou and Fantasio are broke again. Starving with days until payday, they scrape just enough coins together from beneath the sofa cushions for one last frozen pizza…

The tasteless American import has a key inside which almost chokes Fantasio but also claims that they’ve won a million dollars. All they have to do is collect it in person from Lucky’s Bank in New York City. Their fortunes are rapidly changing: an assignment from the unscrupulous editor of Turbine Magazine gives them airplane tickets and the promise of work covering a car-ball match in NYC – but only if they leave immediately…

The world seems full of offers they simply cannot refuse…

Once they are in the New York Groove, the story shifts into lavishly ludicrous high gear: Cortizone – permanently stuck under a rain cloud which follows him everywhere – hides nothing from the continental kids but appeals to their greed and fellow feeling to help him out of his tight spot. The implacable, insidious Chinese are beating him at every turn. It’s almost like magic…

But as his made men continue to fall around him and Triad assassins keep getting closer and closer, The Don wants to carry out a few tests first – just to see how lucky Fantasio actually is…

Meanwhile, the Mandarin and his reluctant but particularly effective wizard stooge have gotten wind of the scheme and move to negate the Europeans’ influence by kidnapping Spip. Even if it doesn’t forestall their interference, at least the enigmatic mastermind will have something new and exotic to eat…

The diabolical cut-and-thrust shenanigans lead to a daring rescue mission on the Mandarin’s skyscraper citadel and an inevitably spectacular showdown in the skies over Manhattan…

With outrageous and improbable supernatural overtones, hilariously clever criminal capers, sly digs at American movies-as-culture and daring dabblings with racial and cultural stereotypes and archetypes, all leavened with witty in-jokes, spoofs, lampoons and visual puns, this fast-paced, riotous rollercoaster romp is sheer comic poetry that it would be a crime to miss.

Available in paperback and assorted digital formats, this blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick is a refreshingly reinvigorating 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 make Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits which should soon be as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1987 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2010 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasia volume 1: 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 Le Journal de 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.

First conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, a magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938 (three and a bit months before DC Thomson’s Beano, but still beaten by The Dandy which launched on December 4th 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 leading magazine, Le Moustique.

With his pet squirrel, Spip (who joined the cast on June 8th 1939; he’s the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself, so happy 80th anniversary, little dude!) the plucky kid 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’s cancellation in 2005.

Although some home-grown product crept in, the bulk of the comic was taken up with cheap American reprint imports: Red Ryder by Fred Harman, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark creation Superman. 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 supplemented by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jije”. During World War II Jije legendarily drew the entire comic by himself, continuations of the 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’ (Jean Doisy & Jije), ‘Blondin et Cirage’ (Victor Hubinon), Buck Danny, ‘Jerry Spring’, ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (AKA the Smurfs), Gaston Lagaffe (here seen as Gomer Goof) 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 succession of creators – into a simultaneously 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 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). The little perisher is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums all his own.

From 1959 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 Spirou 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 14 wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. This one, Spirou et Fantasio 34 – Aventure en Australie from 1985, was their second.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim, and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Yoann & Vehlmann, have brought the official album count to 55 (there also are a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Without further ado we plunge straight into the bizarre, treasure-hunting drama as dire doings Down Under segue into Spirou and Fantasio arriving 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 jet out 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 remains 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 drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling and readily available in both paperback album and eBook formats, this is a cracking read and the start of a long line of translated epics that should be 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.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 13: Z is for Zorglub


By André Franquin, with Jidéhem & Greg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-362-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterful Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin over at rival outfit Casterman.

Soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead feature in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous young hero was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed in the Moustique Hotel – a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique – whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually ditching the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials. He also expanded the cast, introducing a broad band of engaging regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush-toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was overhauled and revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde (writing as Tome) and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera. In 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 – with the exception of Peyo – they all signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the chief illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

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

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to dangerously exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio and the star of this particular tale, the maddest of scientists Zorglub.

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

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman for Tintin magazine. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 (and Cinebook’s latest translated comedy star under the oddly inelegant title of Gomer Goof – and coming soon to a review near you!) Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Z comme Zorglub was originally serialised in Spirou #1096-1136 between 1959-1960 before being released on the continent in 1961 as the 15th hardcover album.

This outrageous Bond Movie-flavoured sci fi rollercoaster ride begins as an oddly oblivious but extremely sturdy gentleman determinedly delivers a package to the home of our heroes. It looks like a hairdryer, but when vainglorious Fantasio tries it on his own unruly locks, the device plunges him into a coma.

In a panic, Spirou dashes for help and misses the next stage: a mind-controlled Fantasio leaving the house and getting into a remote-controlled car…

It isn’t very well remote-controlled however, and after a calamitous chase through the city crashes into a shop. A little later, baffled, angry and with a badly mangled foot, Fantasio angrily discharges himself from hospital, swearing vengeance on he knows not whom, but the hidden mastermind has not yet finished with the dauntless duo…

Spirou is the next and more successful victim of the mind-warping mystery villain, and the plan quickly becomes clearer: the evil predator is called Zorglub and he doesn’t care about the journalists. He’s simply using the adventurers to get at their inspirational acquaintance: mushroom-mad boffin Count Champignac…

When informed of the situation the sagacious tinkerer is not surprised, he remembers what Zorglub was like when they were at school together…

The enormity of the plot soon becomes clear when megalomaniacal Zorglub confronts his old chum at his mushroom-laden chateau in the generally placid hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. The wicked mastermind has conceived a grand plan. He will conquer Earth and dominate the solar system but first he requires just a little technical assistance from the Count.

Zorglub cannot believe or accept Champignac’s unflinching refusal…

And thus begins an escalating duel of intellects and war of nerves and inventions as the smug madman tries ploy after ploy to force the Count’s compliance: capturing Fantasio, turning the Champignac-in-the-Sticks citizens into a rampaging mob hungry for blood and even creating an army of mind-warped “zorglmen” to pilot his incredible war machines against the Count and his doughty defenders…

The maniac is, however, caught completely off guard when Spirou, Spip and the Marsupilami enact a bold and rather rash counter offensive with Champignac, just as Zorglub triggers his grand plan and sends his fleet of rockets hurtling towards the Moon!

The end is a sudden, shocking, twist-laden comeuppance but the good guys have not seen the last of Zorglub…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, Z if for Zorglub is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

Stuffed with an astounding array of astonishing hi-tech spoofery, riotous chases and gazillions of sight gags and verbal ripostes, this exultant escapade is a fabulous fiesta of angst-free action and thrills. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductive élan, this is pure cartoon gold, truly deserving of reaching the widest audience possible.

Buy it for you, get another for the kids and give copies to all your friends…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1961 by Franquin, Jidéhem & Greg. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?


By Tome & Janry translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-355-0

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention came at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and frequently surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969, and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio or perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed fourteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. Who Will Stop Cyanide? is the twelfth English-language release and officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 35th collected collaborative caper; originally published continentally as Qui arrêtera Cyanure? in Spirou #2427-2448 in 1984 before being subsequently released as Tome & Janry’s third album a year later.

Funny, frenetically-paced and potently sinister when most appropriate, the tale leans heavily on science fiction paranoia and opens as photojournalist Fantasio tries to return a defective new camera. After some truly appalling customer service he is fobbed off with a bizarre bucket of bolts which seems to be a semi-sentient little robot that takes polaroid snaps…

The “screwball gizmo” is a mischief-maker with a mind of its own and finds a kindred spirit in Spirou’s pet squirrel Spip, but that doesn’t stop it making a cunning bid for freedom at the first opportunity. In hot pursuit, the adventuresome lads frantically trail the demented droid out to worryingly familiar territory: the far from peaceful hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. However, this time it’s not the mushroom-mad Count who’s behind an increasingly nerve-wracking situation…

Following a stern warning from the harassed Mayor – already well-acquainted with the kind of chaos that follows in Spiro and Fantasio’s wake – the jaunty journalists find the little gizmo at the dilapidated railway station. A furtive search through dank back rooms soon exposes an horrific scene: a beautiful woman tied to a chair and hooded.

The outraged heroes free the distressed damsel and are immediately attacked; both by her and a number of ordinary mechanical objects suddenly imbued with terrifying, violent animation…

After the former captive explosively escapes, the stunned lads meet dowdy Stationmaster Catenaire and hear an incredible story…

The little man is something of an unsung scientific tinkerer and when railway cutbacks left him with time on his hands he started dabbling in robotics. Firstly, he built the little droid – dubbed “Telesphore” – but eventually, craving a more exotic and comforting companion, moved on to formulate a comely android for his personal use.

Sadly, the Marilyn Monroe doppelganger he crafted gained instant sentience and an abiding abhorrence for humankind.

Calling herself Cyanide she played vicious jokes on people and even attacked them. When she started possessing machinery, Catenaire was forced to shut her down. Now, thanks to the gallant impulses of Spirou and Fantasio, she’s free and determined to make all meat-things pay…

And so unfolds a splendidly compelling and frantic game of cat-&-mouse as the lads chase the wicked automaton and she – thanks to the recent unwelcome advent of a huge fully-automated factory in the village – unleashes an army of mechanical monstrosities to crush them before expanding her horizons to encompass the village and eventually the rest of humanity…

Fast-paced and exuberant, Who Will Stop Cyanide? is a funny, thrilling rollercoaster romp easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 11: The Wrong Head


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-313-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous boy was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials; introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

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

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio.

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

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Originally serialised in Spirou # 840-869 in 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1957 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 8La mauvaise tête, this sinister yarn begins as Spirou visits his short-tempered pal Fantasio and finds the house a shambles. The intrepid reporter has ransacked his home in search of missing passport photos but his insensate fury abates a bit after Spirou convinces him to come play paddleball.

However, whilst looking for a lost ball in the woods, Spirou finds one of the missing photos but thinks nothing of it…

That evening strange events begin: Spirou sees Fantasio acting oddly in town and when a jeweller is robbed, a brutalised merchant identifies Fantasio as the smash-and-grab thief…

Seeds of suspicion are sown and Spirou doesn’t know what to think when a solid gold Egyptian mask is stolen on live TV. The bandit is clearly seen to be his best pal…

Spirou is still trying to reason with Fantasio when the police arrive and, with nobody believing the reporter’s ridiculous story of being in Paris on a spurious tip, watches with helpless astonishment as the accused makes a bold escape bid…

Still astounded, Spirou wanders to the ramshackle house where he found the missing photo and finds a strange set-up: a plaster cast of Fantasio and weird plastic goo in a mixing bowl…

His snooping is suddenly disturbed by screams and sounds of a struggle. Following the cacophony he finds one man holding the stolen gold mask and another on the floor. The standing man is too quick to catch and drives away with a third stranger, but as Spirou questions the beaten victim he learns that the loser of the fight is a sculptor who was hired to make astounding life-like masks of a certain journalist…

Soon Spirou is hot on the trail of the criminal confederates and uncovers a diabolical scheme to destroy Fantasio by an old enemy they had both discounted and almost forgotten…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, the search for The Wrong Head is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

As if the criminal caper and its spectacular courtroom drama climax is not enough, this tome also includes a sweet early solo outing for the marvellous Marsupilami as ‘Paws off the Robins’ finds the plastic pro-simian electing himself guardian of a nestful of newborn hatchlings in Count Champignac’s copious gardens, resolved to defend the chicks from a marauding cat at all costs…

Stuffed with fabulously fun, riotous chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant tome is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is pure cartoon gold: an enduring comics treat, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1957 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 10: Virus


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-297-3

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969 and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio and perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed thirteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. This tenth release is officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 33rd collected caper.

Originally serialised in Spirou #2305-2321 in 1982 and subsequently released as an album in 1984, this epic episode begins as a shady figure cases an icebreaker just back from the Antarctic. For some reason the HK Glacier has been placed in stringent quarantine and the observer – soon revealed as enquiring reporter Fantasio – discovers why as he trips over a very sick-looking mariner sneaking off the vessel.

It is old enemy and unscrupulous pirate John Helena – AKA “the Moray” – and he has been infected with a highly contagious disease…

In fact, it’s so virulent anyone in close proximity suffers from allergic attacks, even without contracting the primary sickness…

Knowing he’s on to something big, Fantasio rings partner-in-peril Spirou and has his comrade bring down a van to sneak Helena through the cordon of armed government troops. Safely ensconced in a chapel, the Moray tells them of Isola Red, a top-secret lab in the polar wastes where scientists are working with thousands of different viruses and exactly how he got infected with one of them. He completes his tale of woe by demanding that they take him to Count Champignac – the only man alive who can save him… and the world…

The fungal phenomenon is naturally up to the task but his proposed remedy is both complex and risky and involves the dauntless duo infiltrating Isola Red to use the cached toxins there as part of the cure. What the valiant adventurers don’t know is that the chateau is already under covert observation by a thoroughly shady-looking third-party…

Moreover and meanwhile, in a prestigious government building the mastermind behind everything is dispatching his own clean-up team to make the growing problem go away entirely…

Soon Spirou and Fantasio – with the rapidly declining Helena in tow in a hazmat suit – are touching down at Russian base Mirnov-Skaya. Spip is with them but also has to wear an isolation outfit since the vindictive little tyke couldn’t resist taking a bit of the Moray…

The camp is the last official outpost of civilisation and its gregarious commander Captain Sergeiev is delighted to offer every assistance to reach the secret base somewhere deep in the icy interior. After all, the polar explorer is an old friend of the well-travelled inventor Count Champignac…

After a few embarrassing moments of hilarity, the heroes set off as an official rescue party in borrowed snow-cats, with the camp doctor Placebov, hulking guide/driver Nadia Tovarich and even Sergeiev’s action-loving pet seal Vasily along for the ride. The desperate first-responders are sadly unaware that their unknown adversary’s money has bought a traitor who now rides along with them…

Things seem completely hopeless when the mastermind’s clean-up squad explosively ambush the convoy but the killers too are in the dark: they have been followed by yet another interested party…

Although the assassins are soon driven off, it seems they have done enough: the partial cure Spirou was carrying is wrecked and Helena’s suit is breached. They are all now probably exposed to the virus’s full effects…

Back in Europe, Champignac has been making some waves and his efforts, combined with certain journalistic endeavours, have brought low the hidden mastermind and a government official running a clandestine biological weapons plant at the bottom of the world. With the news still breaking, the Count, a military taskforce and a horde of reporters all set off for Antarctica…

In the meantime the doomed heroes have pushed on to Isola Red, in a hopeless attempt to find some miracle cure. What they encounter is truly shocking but does point the way to a solution to all their problems.

Unless of course, the freshly-reinforced mercenary clean-up squad kills them all first…

Blending rambunctious slapstick, riotous chases and gallons of gags with thrills, spills and – wait for it – chills; this is a terrific tale packed with laughs and superb action, deftly wielding a potently satirical anti-war, anti-capitalist message.

Fast-paced and exuberant, Virus is a joyous yet suspenseful romp happily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1984 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 9: The Dictator and the Mushroom


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-267-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Mirth and madcap melodrama in a true comics classic… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as the lead of an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous lead character was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the well-established short gag-like vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right). Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator Specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 and when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

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

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio.

Incidentally, The Dictator and the Mushroom features the second appearances of Zantafio and strong, capable, female (!) rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine for these English translations)…

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

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although he soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Franquin, plagued in later life by bouts of depression, passed away on January 5th 1997 but his legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Originally serialised in Spirou #801-838, between 1953 and 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1956 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 7 – Le Dictateur et Le Champignon, this epic episode begins as globe-trotting troubleshooter Spirou and his short-tempered pal Fantasio approach the isolated home of eccentric inventor Count Champignac, resolved to return the mischievous Marsupilami to its natural habitat in the jungles of Palombia

Whilst they discuss their plan with the elderly savant, however, the mischievous monkey he’s been safeguarding has swiped the inventor’s latest mycoprotein marvel and headed for town…

Champignac calls the gaseous form of his newest mushroom extract “metalsoft” and that’s exactly what the stuff does: reduce the solidity of iron, brass, bronze, tin or whatever to the consistency of hot wax. By the time the prankish primate has finished innocently playing with the pump dispenser, the locals are in uproar and their village is practically a puddle…

With nobody in Europe objecting, the lads book passage on a South America-bound cruise ship, where once again the elastic-tailed terror causes a cacophony of comedic chaos. Eventually though, the increasingly irate and exhausted adventurers at last head in-country towards sleepy Palombia where a big surprise is waiting for them…

Thanks to Marsupilami, they are forced to travel the last ten miles to capital city Chiquito on foot and are astonished to observe the sheer number of military vehicles which constantly overtake them. In the city, an altercation with soldiers then leads to their arrest and interview with new supreme dictator General Zantas. The meeting is both a huge shock and unhappy reunion…

Fantasio’s cousin Zantafio had been only a little mean and perhaps misguided when they were all first hunting for the Marsupilami, but since then he has reinvented himself and graduated into a full-blown murderous megalomaniac: a cheap thug in a flashy uniform determined to carve himself a bloody empire and vast wealth through the conquest of his national neighbours.

Moreover, Zantafio/Zantas wants his countrymen to join him in the campaign of conquest, a horrific demand the reporters initially refuse.

Locked in jail, Spirou and Fantasio ponder how to stop the murderous scheme and realise the perfect counter to Zantas’ burgeoning war machine is Champignac’s Metalsoft. All they have to do is get a message to the inventor and have him send enough of the wonder stuff to destroy the ever-growing army…

Thus they apparently switch sides and are promptly installed as high ranking officers, but Zantafio is no fool and sets his most cunning spy to watch them; just waiting for the moment when they betray themselves.

Of course it’s not our heroes’ first rodeo either and, aware of their shadow, the lads engage in a prolonged and hilarious game of cat-&-mouse with the spook, all the while fretting that D-Day is approaching and still they have not been able to smuggle a message out…

A solution presents itself when go-getting journalist Cellophine makes contact. She’s been secretly covering the crisis for ages – without being caught like her mere male rivals – and offers to get the request for Metalsoft to Champignac ASAP…

Things aren’t all going Zantafio’s way. Even though weapons dealers are frantically auditioning their death-dealing wares for the General, Colonels Spirou and Fantasio are especially diligent and somehow able to find dangerous faults in everything on offer…

And then one night Cellophine sneaks back into Palombia with the secret weapon which will end Zantas’ dreams of empire…

Following a fantastical fight with the mushroom gas-wielding trio battling an entire modern military and a tense yet inconclusive showdown with Zantafio, peace and democracy breaks out and the boys finally complete their original mission.

Having at last safely returned the Marsupilami to his natural wilderness, Spirou and Fantasio wearily head back to civilisation, content in the knowledge that the lovable little perisher is back where he belongs.

Of course, the pestilential primate has his own ideas on the matter…

Stuffed with superb slapstick situations, riotous chases and gallons of gags, but barely concealing a strongly satirical anti-war message, this exuberant yarn is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is another enduring comics treat from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1956 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 8: Tough Luck Vito


By Tome & Janry, colour by Stephane De Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-248-5

For the majority of English-speaking comics readers Spirou might be Europe’s biggest secret. The phenomenally long-lived character was a rough contemporary – and shrewdly calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s globally popular Tintin, whilst the fun-filled periodical he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano.

Conceived in 1936 at Belgian Printing House Éditions Dupuis by boss-man Jean Dupuis, the proposed new enterprise homed in on juvenile audiences and launched on April 21st 1938; debuting neatly between DC Thomson’s The Dandy (4th December 1937) and The Beano (July 30th 1938) in the UK.

In America at that time a small comicbook publisher was preparing to release a new anthology entitled Action Comics. Ah, good times…

Spirou the publication was to be edited by 19 year-old Charles Dupuis and derived its name from the lead feature, which related improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy and lift operator employed at the glamorous Moustique Hotel (an in-joke reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Spirou the hero – whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language – was first realised by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his pen-name Rob-Vel to counter the runaway success of Hergé’s carrot-topped boy reporter. Tintin had been a certified money-spinning phenomenon for rival publisher Casterman ever since his own launch on January 10th 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, the kids’ supplement to Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.

Spirou magazine premiered with the plucky bellboy and his pet squirrel Spip as the headliners in a weekly anthology which bears his name to this day; featuring fast-paced, improbable incidents which eventually evolved into high-flying, surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of major creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939.

She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over. In 1944 he introduced Fantasio as Spirou’s new best friend and companion-in-adventure: a blonde headed reporter with a quick temper, uncontrolled imagination and penchant for finding trouble.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the shorter, gag-like vignettes in favour of extended light-hearted adventure serials whilst introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars.

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.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction so three different creative teams were commissioned to alternate on the serial, until settling at last upon Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

Their winning approach was to carefully adapt, reference and, in many ways, return to the beloved Franquin era. These sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes, resulting in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

This one, originally entitled Vito la Déveine from 1991, was their 11th collaboration and the 43rd collected exploit of the tireless wanderers, whose exploits have filled more than sixty albums, specials and spin-off collections.

With the customary cavalcade of gags soft-pedalled in favour of scintillating suspense and riotous action this tale commences with former Mafia mastermind Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone (last seen in Spirou & Fantasio in New York and now known as “Tough Luck Vito”) attacking his shady pilot Von Schnabbel after the unprincipled scoundrel tries to gouge the gangster for more money.

This is very bad idea as they are currently flying over the Pacific Ocean, ferrying the Don’s enigmatic “get-rich-again-quick” cargo, brazenly swiped from the Chinese Triads…

After kicking the conniving extortionist out of the plane, the infuriated Mafiosi is unable to prevent the craft crashing into a lagoon on a deserted atoll. At least there’s an abandoned hotel to shelter in and plenty of crabs to eat…

Months later Spirou and Fantasio are navigating stormy seas nearby in a sailing boat. Well, one of them is: Fantasio is too depressed and heartbroken over a girl he met in Tahiti to be of any use.

She was far more interested in the guy who rented them the good ship Antares and now the journalist is pining away his tragic existence, a soul-shattered, broken man…

As a result of the tropical typhoon the vessel is soon in a similar condition and barely limps into the shaded waters of an isolated lagoon. The shaken mariners are astounded to find the lovely isle surrounding it has a population of one: a ragged, skinny guy with a weird accent, hungry for food and companionship.

Physically Vito is unrecognisable and as the vessel limps into the sheltered, shark-infested waters he makes his plans to kill whoever’s aboard and sail away. As he laces the lush vegetation with deadly traps and pitfalls he thinks only of coming back and retrieving his precious cargo from the ocean floor.

Those plans swiftly alter when he realises that his rescuers are the interfering whelps who cost him his criminal empire…

They alter again after he walks into one of his own booby-traps and Spirou and Fantasio come to his aid. The do-gooders have no idea who he is and take him back to their boat to recuperate. Spirou even offers to dive down to the plane wreck and retrieve his cargo whilst they’re repairing the Antares’ damaged rudder…

Everything seems to be turning around for the hard-luck kid, but as he gorges on the ship’s stores and shaves, he soon starts to resume his former appearance and, after his first attempt to murder Spirou fails, the duplicitous Don opts for a more subtle revenge…

Drugging the sharp-witted red-haired lad, he then tells Fantasio who he is but claims his privations have made him a new, repentant and changed man. With Spirou apparently bedridden by “tropical fever”, Vito has the utterly gulled reporter finish salvaging the cargo in search of a spurious antidote supposedly packed in one of the sunken crates.

After all there’s plenty of time to kill them both once Vito has all his precious loot back…

Naturally things don’t quite work as he intended, but before our heroes can properly turn the tables on Tough Luck Vito, fate proves the aptness of his nickname when Von Schnabbel and the extremely put out original owners of the contentious cargo turn up, hungry for vengeance and not too worried about the odd case of collateral damage…

Swiftly switching from tense suspense to all out action, events spiral out of control and our now fully recovered heroes only need the right moment to make their move…

This kind of lightly-barbed, keenly-conceived, fun thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and their ilk so compelling, this is another cracking read from a series with a stunning pedigree of superb exploits; one certain to be as much a household name as those series, and even that other pesky red-headed kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1991 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.