Maids


By Katie Skelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-368-4 (HB)

Sorry for the brief interruption. Disease and deadlines are things you just don’t dick with…

With Halloween pretty much on hold this year, our annual humour/horror fest has been pretty much decimated too. However, if you stretch a point, most of the recommendations over the next few days will qualify…

Illustrator Katie Skelly hails from Brooklyn by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and caught the comics bug early, thanks to her newsstand owner dad. Her Barbarella inspired series Nurse, Nurse began after graduating from Syracuse University with a BA in Art History and becoming a postgrad at City College of New York.

Thanks to her inquisitive insights, striking art style and potent narrative voice, Skelly has been the subject of many gallery shows and is a star on the global lecture circuit.

Her first graphic novel – again inspired by Jean-Claude Forrest but also horror-meister director Dario Argento – was My Pretty Vampire (2017), supplanted by the collection Operation Margarine and The Agency. All her works ask uncomfortable questions about the role and permitted position of women in society as seen through exploitation genres of mass entertainment, and that’s never been more effectively seen than in this “semi-autobiographical” tome (available in present-worthy luxury hardback and accessible eBook formats) recounting the true-crime story of the Papin sisters.

History says that on February 2, 1933, former convent girls Christine and Léa (working as maids for the wealthy Lancelin family in Le Mans) one night bludgeoned and stabbed to death Madame Léonie to and her daughter Genevieve. The case was open and shut but became a Cause Célebre in France after reports of the killers’ early lives and years of service and physical abuse became public. Intellectuals championed them and the case was cited as a perfect example of the dangers of inequality and privilege…

Here, Skelly brings her own incisive interpretation to the case, and it’s a little gem that you will find hard to put down and impossible to forget…
© 2020 Katie Skelly. This edition © 2020 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cinebook Recounts the Battle of Britain


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula


By Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (Plume/Penguin Group USA)
ISBN: 978-1-59463-058-3 (HB) 978-0-452-29675-2 (PB)

Here’s a handy “heads-up” Horrible History hint if you’re looking for something to set the tone for the Halloween we’re ALL NOT GOING TO ENJOY THIS YEAR, available in hardback, soft cover and digital editions.

As writer and editor, Sid Jacobson masterminded the Harvey Comics monopoly of strips for younger American readers in the 1960s and 1970s, co-creating Richie Rich and Wendy, the Good Little Witch among others, before working the same magic for Marvel’s Star Comics imprint, where he oversaw a vast amount of family-friendly material; both self-created – such as Royal Roy or Planet Terry – and a huge basket of licensed properties.

In latter years, he worked closely with fellow Harvey alumnus Ernie Colón on such thought-provoking graphic enterprises as The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation and its sequel, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror. In 2009 their epic Che: a Graphic Biography was released: separating the man from the myth of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, universal icon of cool rebellion.

Ernie Colón was born in Puerto Rico in 1931: a creator whose work has been loved by generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or editor his contributions have benefited the entire industry from the youngest (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost for Harvey Comics, and many similar projects for Marvel’s Star Comics), to the traditional comicbook fans with Battlestar Galactica, Damage Control and Doom 2099 for Marvel, Arak, Son of Thunder and Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, an Airboy revival for Eclipse, Magnus: Robot Fighterfor Valiant and so very many others.

There are also his sophisticated experimental works such as indie thriller Manimal and his seminal genre graphic novels Ax and the Medusa Chain. From 2005 until his death in 2019 he created the strip SpyCat for Weekly World News.

Jacobson and Colón together are a comics fan’s dream come true and their bold choice of biography and reportage as well as their unique take on characters and events always pays great dividends. Vlad the Impaler is by far their most captivating project: a fictionalised account of the notorious Wallachian prince who was raised by his enemies as a literal hostage to fortune, only to reconquer and lose his country not once, but many times.

The roistering, bloody, brutal life of this Romanian national hero and basis of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is a fascinating, baroque, darkly funny yarn, capturing a troubled soul’s battle with himself as much as the Muslim and Christian superpowers that treated his tiny principality as their plaything.

With startling amounts of sex and violence this book makes no excuses for a patriot and freedom fighter who was driven by his horrific bloodlust and (justifiable?) paranoia to become a complete beast: clearly the very worst of all possible monsters – a human one.

Sharp, witty, robust and engaging, with a quirky twist in the tale, this is a good old-fashioned shocker that any history-loving gore-fiend will adore.
Text © 2009 Sid Jacobson. Art © 2009 Ernie Colón. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 4: The Greenhorn


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-014-6 (Album PB)

The modern myths and legends of the filmic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics such as Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara and Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted every best-selling volume – Les Tuniques Bleues (we know them as The Bluecoats) debuted as the 1960s closed. The strip was specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote. The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

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

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and, before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960, studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The 62 current volumes of Les Tuniques Bleues alone has sold in excess of 15 million copies.

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

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

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

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

The Greenhorn was the fourth album translated by Cinebook (chronologically 14th Franco-Belgian volume Les Tuniques Bleues: Le blanc-bec) and opens with a grand Officer’s Ball in distant, desolate Fort Bow. As the festivities continue, out in the moonlit desert two weary cavalrymen wend their way towards the stockade…

Chesterfield and Blutch have just returned for three weeks leave and are infamous amongst the troops as regular survivors of the quite mad Captain Stark’s Suicide Regiment – as well as for their own reputation for starting fights.

It’s for that reason the guards don’t want to mention that Colonel Appleton’s lovely daughter Emily has been dancing with a dashing young Lieutenant named George. Every man there knows Chesterfield is smitten with her and has subsequently developed a hair-trigger temper these days…

The news nearly incites him to mass-murder and it takes all Blutch’s guile to convince his pal to ride into town – and Charlie’s Saloon – instead. Sadly, Chesterfield’s well-earned reputation for trouble is just as feared there, and when an Indian boy is bullied by local drunks, the spoiling-for-trouble sergeant – subtly prodded by underdog-loving Blutch – gleefully steps in…

By the time the harried barman reaches Fort Bow and brings back a contingent of troops, Chesterfield has decimated most of the saloon and all of the patrons and is hungry for more. When brash neophyte Lieutenant George slaps the enraged enlisted man, all hell breaks loose…

Events spiral even further out of control after the patrol final drags the unrepentant sergeant back to the Fort. When the Indian – dragged along as a witness – takes his chance to escape, he is shot by the flustered “greenhorn” officer.

It is both a tragedy and a disaster: the boy is the son of Chief Gray Wolf who, on discovering what’s happened, demands that whoever perpetrated the appalling act be surrendered to his justice.

…Or else it’s war…

When Chesterfield and Blutch discover exactly who George is, the little corporal flees, rushing off to the encamped hostiles and claiming he was responsible. Chesterfield, not to be outdone in the guilt stakes, also owns up and baffled Gray Wolf is nearly driven crazy when bold, brave, stupid and honourable Colonel Appleton also rides into camp to take the blame…

A tense compromise is reached as Gray Wolf agrees to let the “Long Knives” treat his gravely wounded boy; decreeing that if he lives they will be no war. If the morning brings bad news, the entire fort and town will suffer…

With a little time bought, the Colonel deals with his most immediate problem. After a ferocious dressing down, Chesterfield and Blutch are sent back to Stark’s Suicide Regiment and – over Emily’s hysterical protestations – George goes with them…

Days later, the trio rendezvous with Stark’s dispirited contingent as he manically battles Confederate forces. The Captain’s sole tactic is to have his men charge straight at their artillery, presumably in the certain knowledge that the enemy must run out of ammunition eventually…

Blutch and Chesterfield have developed a countermeasure which has kept them alive so far and, having sworn to Emily to keep George safe, force him to employ it too. However, the guilt-ridden, hero-struck fool is unhappy with the shameful strategy and soon starts throwing himself into the thick of battle, intending to die with dignity…

When word comes of the recovery of Gray Wolf’s son, their ordeal seems over and, with honour satisfied, all three make a grateful departure from Stark’s depleted forces. Typically however, just as a peace (and quiet) seem likely, Blutch and Chesterfield find another way to set the West ablaze and drive the natives to the brink of war…

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

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, in either paperback of digital formats, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit. And don’t we all need a bit of that these days?
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 5: The Anger of the Great Sphinx


By Lucien De Geiter: colours by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-115-0 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the rapturously beguiling masterwork of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums and consequently spawned a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy Pony, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

In the 1960s, De Gieter launched mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, thereafter deep-sixing the Smurfs to expand his horizons by going to work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst he perfected his newest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the following four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic fantasy and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditional “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Moreover, each tale readily blends light fantasy escapades with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who quickly rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek.

The youthful champion’s first task was to free supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble…

Avaliable in paperback and digital editions, The Anger of the Great Sphinx is the fifth Cinebook translation (20th album of the series and originally released in 1997 as La Colère du grand Sphinx); a spooky testing of faith through vile supernatural villainy, all eventually thwarted by unflinching daring and honest devotion…

The eerie escapade opens when restless Papyrus discovers the princess sleepwalking in the corridors of Pharaoh’s great Palace in Memphis. Cautiously following, he trips over court jester Puin. By the time he recovers his feet, Theti-Cheri has seized a waiting chariot and hurtled into the dark desert beyond the gates. Extremely alarmed, the lad leaps astride Puin’s phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot and rushes after her…

In the bleak wastes, Papyrus is attacked by a living sandstorm threatening to end the line of Pharaohs, but successfully drives it off with his magic sword, just as terrified Puin catches up. As the sun rises, they see they’re near the venerable complex of pyramids and Re Harmakhis, Guardian of the Horizon. The mighty monuments and the Great Sphinx are all but buried under the eternally shifting sands…

Nervous Puin wants to return to the city, leaving such great concerns to Pharaoh and the gods, but Papyrus refuses to abandon the mesmerised princess who can be seen between the paws of the great statue. As he approaches, the stone beast roars that Theti-Cheri now belongs to him because her father has broken an ancient pact to keep the sands from covering him and his temples.

As assign of his dissatisfaction, the princess will die at sunset…

Desperate for a solution, our hero agrees to give the insidious sandstorm his magic sword if it will save the princess and the swirling devil advises the lad to find Anty, the Divine Ferryman and seek passage to the Island of the Gods where he can petition the Divinities for merciful intervention…

Dashing to the Nile with Puin and Khamelot in hot pursuit, Papyrus matches wits with the duplicitous Ferryman – a conniving talking crocodile boat with a grudge against the boy from previous encounters.

Once again, the rogue vessel tries to cheat and bamboozle the boy. Whilst ostensibly taking the trio to the gods’ home, Anty plies the humans with a hallucinogenic drink – resulting in a stunning and baroque display of the author’s spectacular imagination and artistic virtuosity – before leaving them unconscious in a bed of reeds.

Here they are discovered by trio of sibling dotards – dubbed Pepi I, Pepi II and Pepi III – who minister to them. They are in turn saved by Papyrus when bullying brigands try to rob their hovel. The elders are fishermen now, but once they were paid by Pharaoh to keep the Sphinx and pyramids clear of sand. In recent years though they appear to have been forgotten…

With horror the boy realises they have been left back near the Sphinx and the day is fast fading. With ho hope left of gaining the gods’ aid, he rushes off to find Anty and teach the conniving Ferryman the error of his wicked ways before returning to hand his wonderful sword over to the smugly triumphant sandstorm…

At his most despondent moment, through the roaring sand Papyrus sees the Pepis. The elderly janitors have organised the entire village: young and old alike are toiling amid the storm to clear the Sphinx for the sake of their beloved princess.

When Khamelot inadvertently reminds the frantically labouring peasants of a tried-and-true – albeit noxious – way to dampen down the swirling grains and make them more manageable, the furiously screaming storm devil is at last beaten and blows away…

In the quiet still morning, the Sphinx is again free from obstruction and obscurity, but Papyrus is heartbroken to see that it is all too late.

Carrying the corpse of Theti-Cheri into the desert he denies his faith, screaming at the gods who have been so unfair… and they answer, revealing the foolish mistake the passionate, impatient lad has made…

With the princess joyously restored and Re Harmakhis gleaming in all his golden glory, Pharaoh at last arrives in a blare of trumpets to reaffirm his dynasty’s obligations and devotion to the gods, elevating the three Pepis to the exalted station of Eternal Guardians of the Sphinx. The newly appointed opponents of the shifting sands have recently taken possession of a certain magic sword and gratefully return it to the boy who restored their family fortunes…

Epic, chilling, funny, enthralling and masterfully engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintinand Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add these classic chronicles to their dusty, well-beloved bookshelves. Let’s hope Cinebook will soon resume translating the rest for our eager eyes…
© Dupuis, 1997 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by Ryan Hill & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-820-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-63008-360-1

As we’re confronted with the prospect of our own extinction-level event – yes, that’s hyperbole, but tell that to the scared millions who can’t actually envisage a world without themselves in it – let’s enjoy ourselves whenever and however we can. For me that’s comics, so let’s look at a classic paperback tome now available in digital editions…

There’s an irresistible, nigh-visceral appeal to dinosaurs. Most of us variously – and too often haphazardly – over-evolved apes seem to be irresistibly drawn to all forms of education and entertainment featuring monster lizards of our primordial past.

Designed as a purely visual experience, the beguiling series of sequences from Ricardo Delgado still represents one of the most honestly enchanting brushes with prehistory ever imagined. His initial run of Age of Reptiles opened a window onto distant eons of saurian dominance and – completely devoid of sound or text – provided a profound, pantomimic silent movie focusing on everyday experiences which simply have to be exactly how it was, way back then…

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) the dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offered – even in comics – a unique reading experience which must be seen to be believed. The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 a titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

And in 2015 Delgado found time to do it all over again utilising fresh facts unearthed about a unique region of the antediluvian world…

Collecting that 4-issue miniseries Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians opens with an enthusiastic Foreword from author Alan Dean Foster and another text piece from Barbara S. Grandstaff (PhD) explaining what Egypt was like at the height of the Cenomanian Era, when this saga is stirringly set…

The brutal struggle to survive and procreate is followed by Delgado’s original essays from the miniseries, affording us a view into his process and influences via ‘The Revolver and the Katana’, ‘The Agony of Gwanji in Alajuela’ and ‘The Bahariya Formation… and Other Stuff’, as well as offering a gallery of wraparound covers and ‘Character Sketches and Color Guides’. So, what happens in the middle? Life, Death and Everything…

Once upon a time, a lonely Araripesuchus (Rat Croc to me and thee) took a stroll down a river. He met some Carcharodontosuars, Deltadromeus, Paralititans, Rugops, Spinosaurs, Stomatosuchus and others. Not everything wanted to kill or eat him…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the river and plains are ever-eager to take momentary advantage …

Delgado has an unquestioned and incredibly infectious love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this ensures the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in this brilliantly simple primal time drama…
Text & illustration of Age of Reptiles™: Ancient Egyptians © 2015, 2016 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

Comanche volume 2: Warriors of Despair


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. Digital only edition

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with a self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Best known as Greg, Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer editor and publisher sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (scripting the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999, leaving behind an astounding and beautiful legacy of drama and adventure.

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969, Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate upwards of 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums, but I bet I’m falling short).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this second translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here resumes with no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his new friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on an on-its-uppers cattle spread in Wyoming. The heart of the ranch crew are crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1978, ‘Warrior of Despair’ sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast prepare steers for hungry railway workers rapidly build their way across the plains. The backbreaking toil is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a party of Cheyenne who want the beef the cowboys are guarding…

A fractious but peaceful conference reveals the Indians are starving: the supplies they’ve been promised by treaty haven’t arrived and no one can locate the Government’s Indian Agent to sort out the problem…

After the warriors rush off with the cattle, she and Red join them at their camp in a last attempt to prevent a mess becoming a crisis. The upshot is that Dust has three days to find the Agent and restore the missing provisions. For that time Comanche will remain a “guest” of the tribe…

And so begins a desperate chase with double-dealing, ingrained mistrust and sheer bad luck on all sides hindering the quest and leading to the inescapable conclusion that the plains will soon be awash in flame and blood…

An epic tale in the classical manner of the western genre, this yarn also has plenty of European style and ingenuity to recue it from the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury old tropes that make even venerated old movie an uncomfortable experience in these enlightened days.

It’s also so beautifully rendered the images will stay with you forever…

A splendid confection of Cowboys and Indians combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Warriors of Despair is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History


By T.J. Kirsch, Coşkun Kuzgun, Jeremy Massie, Håvard S. Johansen, Jesse Lonergan, Jason Pittman, J.T. Yost,Adam Walmsley & various (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-262-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-263-2

I live a pretty blessed life these days. I love history and am addicted to comics and many of the best ones are just sent to me. The present trend is to combine both of my passions in graphic biographies – or even autobiographies. Our continental cousins have pretty much collared the market on the former, with a range of personal histories featuring the great, the good and especially the extremely cool, but just for a change here’s an all American(ish) confection that deftly hits that elusive sweet spot.

Whether you’re a fan or not of the music, you can’t deny the tenacity and enormous spirit of musician, writer, actor, filmmaker and activist Willie Nelson: an outsider’s outsider.

Utilising the talents of a group of indie artists writer T.J. Kirsch has compiled an effective and moving monochrome testament to the troubadour’s determination and talent which begins in 1933 in ‘Hill County, Texas’. Rendered throughout in monochrome, the history begins with Coşkun Kuzgun detailing a hard life for a young boy wedded to mischief and addicted to music…

As they grew, Willie and sister Bobbie became local celebrities – but not rich – performing, so he began a career in radio, using the opportunity to plug his own material. Never finding that elusive hit, Willie joined the Air Force in 1951 until a persistent back injury forced him out of the services, just in time to stumble into matrimony…

‘A Humble Picker’ (by Jeremy Massie) traces that tempestuous relationship and Willie’s attempts to feed his family in and out of showbiz, before sliding back into disc jockeying and discovering marijuana…

The slow painful climb begins in Håvard S. Johansen’s ‘Country Willie’, continues in ‘Grinding Away’ (Jesse Lonergan) and culminates in professional breakthroughs and personal breakdowns in Austin, Texas (by Jason Pittman) as 1970 sees the true commencement of the legend…

J.T. Yost depicts a life hard-lived but well-worth the effort in ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and the saga sparkles to a close – for now – in the all-T.J. Kirsch chapter ‘Elder Statesman’, revealing that music and legends just keep on going…

With Intro, Outro, Chapter and Endpaper illustrations by Adam Walmsley plus a bibliography and full ‘Song Credits’listing, this is an immensely likable tract that feels like a journey shared with a most interesting stranger. You may not like the music – yet – but you’ll be unable to not love the indomitable, irrepressible man.

© 2020 T.J. Kirsch and each respective artist. All rights reserved and managed by NBM Publishing, Inc.
First printing September 2020

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History is scheduled for release in hardback and digitally on September 15th 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

 

The Bluecoats volume 3: The Skyriders


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-014-6 (Album PB)

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

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

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

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian, and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – beginning his glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric (which translates, funnily enough, into English as Cedric), Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The 62 current volumes of Les Tuniques Bleues alone has sold in excess of 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a brace of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, two hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale rewritten in the 18th album Blue retro to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war).

All subsequent adventures, although ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

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

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

The Skyriders was the third album of the translated Cinebook series (chronologically the eighth French volume Les cavaliers du ciel when released in 1976) and opens with Chesterfield dashing to see his severely wounded pal. However, when he finds out Blutch has bribed a surgeon to declare him unfit for duty, the doughty sergeant goes through the roof…

Dragging the scurvy dodger back to the Front lines, the sergeant is just in time to be ordered by frankly quite mad Captain Stark to join him in another heroic cavalry charge against the massed Rebel infantry. However, as the division has suffered a few losses recently, this unstoppable wave of valiant Union horsemen will number exactly three…

The assault naturally fails and the deranged officer is captured, with Blutch and the deeply-shaken Chesterfield making it back to their own lines more by luck than skill.

The Union generals are in a bit of a tizzy. They have plenty of artillery and ground troops but are being worn down by the swift-moving Confederate cavalry’s harrying tactics. What they need is some method of observing the enemy’s position. Also, with news of Stark’s capture comes the apprehension of his revealing key positions, so the strategists are forced into trying something new. All they need are a big gasbag and a couple of expendable idiots…

The first observation flight is a huge success, so much so that the generals go up themselves after the principle is proved. Sadly, the Brass are far better fed than Blutch and Chesterfield and the wicker basket they crowd into proves painfully insufficient to their needs…

Broken and battered, the big bosses choose to keep their bandaged feet on the ground from then on and our Bluecoats remain the army’s only airborne soldiery, enduring shot and shell as they spy on the enemy from above…

Stark, meanwhile, has not talked and the Confederates are beginning to lose traction in the battle. Correctly blaming the balloon for their reversals of fortune, the Gray commanders determine to destroy their aerostatic nemesis at all costs and a daring sortie on the observation post enables them to cut the balloon free from its moorings…

Adrift in the sky, the hapless duo try everything to get down safely – consequently causing great consternation to the Rebel forces – before finally crashing to earth on top of their own already balloon-damaged commanding officers.

Ordered to rescue Captain Stark or face a firing squad, Chesterfield then devises an audaciously suicidal plan: using the balloon at night, he and Blutch will infiltrate the Confederate camp and bust their mad boss out.

What could possibly go wrong?

As always, their manic midnight misadventures result in pain, humiliation and not a few explosions but – incredibly – also victory and success… of a sort…

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

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit…
© Dupuis 1976 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World


By Marwan Kahil & Ariel Vittori, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-259-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-260-1

Some people are simply so famous that everybody thinks they already know all about them. That’s what makes biographies like this one such a tricky proposition. As always, talent will tell and the narrative gifts of writer Marwan Kahil and illustrator Ariel Vittori are more than sufficient to breathe fresh life into a much-told tale of one of the most accomplished men in world history…

Kahil (A. Einstein – the Poetry of Real) studied at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and Simon Boudvin’s prestigious Graphic Art Workshops before deciding to split his time and efforts between comics and film and theatre. Rome-based Ariel Vittori (Quelques pincées de désir) is an artist and designer who numbers Disney, Campari and Monadori amongst her satisfied clients, although her true calling is narrative illustration. She is co-founder and President of Attacapanni Press: an independent publisher matching rising stars with seasoned comics veterans…

Available in English in both sturdy hardback and assorted digital formats, Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World opens with a querulous preface from Kahil before the Maestro’s eventful life begins to unfold in glorious colour as the elder reminisces in Rome 1515 anno domini…

It begins with ‘Chapter 1: A Young Man Unlike Any Other’ in April 1452 at the hamlet of Anchiano (near Vinci) with the welcoming of a very observant baby to loving extended family. Time passes and a doting grandfather passes, leaving the special child apprenticed to a painter in Florence…

The present interrupts as the elderly Leonardo falls foul of the Roman clergy and is forced to flee to France…

‘Chapter 2: The Most Handsome Man in Florence’ then follows the seemingly blessed teenager as he excels and overtakes his mentor Andrea del Verrocchio, roistering his way through Florence and making many friends and far more enemies as he courts rich, powerful and essentially dangerous patrons. Throughout it all he is driven by his unconventional romantic drive and fanatical compulsion to see more and understand everything…

In ‘Chapter 3: The Sforza’s Man’ the itinerant ideas man reaches Milan and works for the powerful duke, even as his older self in 1515 must deal with the so-different responses of his two apprentices Salaì and Francesco to their impending arrest and excommunication…

The sage concludes as the great man finally achieves a measure of peace and security under the patronage of lifelong admirer Francis I, allowing Leonardo to end his days in ‘Chapter 4: In the Service of the King of France’

Although many scenes and snippets are taken from non-chronological key moments, the overall effect reveals a life both frustrating and often dangerous, but lived very much on the scholar’s own terms and with few regrets. The tale is also liberally dosed with revelatory secrets on the creation of the Masters greatest artworks and scientific discoveries, adding a degree of enthralling vitality to proceedings.

This beguiling dramatized biography is splendidly augmented by educational extras, such as with ‘Leonardo da Vinci – Works’: a commentary on many of his creations, supplemented by a crucial illustrated menu of ‘Principal Players’, a fulsome list of further reading in ‘More on Leonardo’ and a copious illustrated collection of ‘Quotes of Leonardo da Vinci’.

Seen here is a visual delight celebrating a unique mind and personality, and one you should reacquaint yourself with as soon as you can.

© 2017 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads go to NBMpub.com