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.

Isle of 100,000 Graves


By Fabien Vehlmann & Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-442-9 (TPB)

Not much chance of a hearty communal “Yo-Ho-Ho” or any satisfactory plundering or pillage this International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Best to stay tucked and layin’ low, with some age-appropriate grog, a few hearty nibbles and a good book on the subject… like this one, perhaps…

Multi-award-winning French comics author Fabien Vehlman was born in 1972, began his comics career in 1996 and has been likened to the legendary René Goscinny. He’s best known for the wonderful Green Manor< series (illustrated by Denis Bodart), Seven Psychopaths with Sean Phillips, Seuls (drawn by Bruno Gazzotti and available in English as Alone) and Wondertown with Benoit Feroumont. In 2011 Vehlmann assumed the writing reins on legendary series Spirou et Fatasio.

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize). He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau before in 2002 turning almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is a global star among the cognoscenti and blokes like me, and has won numerous major awards from all over the planet.

This was his first collaboration with a writer, and Jason adds his uniquely laconic anthropomorphic art-stylings to a surprisingly edgy, deliciously dark and blackly comedic tale of sundered families, sinister secrets and bombastic buccaneers.

Holding his signature surreality in check, Jason perfectly captures the odd tale of homely little girl Gwenny, who leaves her appalling mother to search for her long-lost father: gone for many a year in search of pirate treasure.

The self-assured and devious lass tricks her way onto a sea-rovers vessel, outwits the murderous corsairs long enough to reach the eponymous Isle of 100,000 Graves – even tricking one of that scurrilous brotherhood into becoming her unwilling protector – and then abandons them to a horrendous fate as the uncanny denizens of the lost land attack…

The island is home to a cult of torturers and killers called the Hangman’s Academy: an institution dedicated to preserving the traditions and teaching the myriad skills necessary to becoming a top-flight inquisitor and officially-sanctioned executioner. Moreover, the scary school has recently run out of live specimens for maiming and murdering…

As Gwenny single-mindedly searches for signs of her missing dad, she meets Tobias, a killer-in-training sadly out of place amongst his fellow students. With his aid the doughty maid survives incalculable horrors before freeing the surviving pirates as a callous distraction. When they escape, a colossal battle with the hooded executioner ensues.

Gwenny, however, is not distracted: she’s found the answer to her questions…

Mordantly hilarious, this superbly cynical fable rattles along in captivating fashion: a perfect romp for older kids and a huge treat for fans looking for something a little bit different…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using his beastly repertory company to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is. His collaboration here with the slyly sardonic Vehlmann produced a genuine classic that we’ll all be talking about for years to come…
© Jason and Fabien Vehlmann. All rights reserved.

School Spirits


By Anya Davidson (Picturebox)
ISBN: 978-1-939799-02-9 (HB)

Sometimes art – and especially comics – defy dull ration analysis and, just like the music your parents didn’t like, grabs you way below any conscious level. Such is the case here as prodigious printmaker, mini comics auteur and cult musician Anya Davidson (Barbarian Bitch/Kramer’s Ergot, Child of the Sun, Coughs & Cacaw, Band for Life) who emerged into the major leagues with this cool, cruel monochrome hardback which lifts the lid on those terrible teenager people through a wry and macabre quartet of tales defining modern School Spirits.

Through freewheeling progressions, flashbacks, daydreams and conceptual digressions, David carries her girl of the moment Oola and BFF Garf through vicious, monstrous, demonic, occasionally surreal stream-of-consciousness hallucinatory everyday escapades which eerily recapitulate and invoke the best of underground commix and modern independent cartoonists from S. Clay Wilson to Johnny Ryan…

It all begins with a quick pictorial introduction in ‘School Spirits Picturebox Brooklyn’ before ‘Ticket Thicket’ introduce our cast when radio DJ Weird Wally Walczac galvanises a generation by offering a pair of phone prize tickets to the hottest gig in town: Hrothgar’s Halloween concert…

At ‘Vinyl Command’ we get a quick glimpse at the imagined, nigh-mythological life of the rock god Renaissance Man who wrote Blasphemous Corporeal Stench and Rotting Abortion before Oola wakes up and faints, after which the largely silent ‘Battle for the Atoll’ reveals the powers and mysteries of Primal Woman and leads us to a seat of learning…

‘No Class’ opens with a frantic chase before retreating to school where Oola’s hunger for knowledge and passionate drooling over class stud-muffin Grover is ruined by mouthy dick Jason, who spoils Art and Ceramics only to die hideously in our heroine’s fevered thoughts…

Further bouts of noxious reality – such as the affair between teachers Miss DeLeon and Mister Kirbowski – fall prey to imagination and horny supposition, all similarly despatched and destroyed in dreamscape, until break when the girls can continue planning the big magic spell they’re concocting to really shake up the town…

And thus the time passes progress until the day of the gig when Oola is caught shoplifting and stabs a guard before fleeing into another miasmic multi-reality chase which culminates at the life-changing Hrothgar show ‘In the Great Riff Valley’

Like some fervent Archie Comics of the Damned, School Spirits readily blends the profane with the arcane, and the regimented tedium of waiting to be in charge of your life with the terrors and anticipation of the moment it all becomes Your Own Fault, in a rollercoaster ride of eclectic images Davidson describes as ‘“Beavis and Butthead” meets James Joyce’s “Ulysses”’. What I know is this: the pace, style and sheer ingenuity of this book is brutally addictive and, despite constantly playing with the vertical and horizontal holds of Reality, never slips up and never loses narrative focus.

Strong, stirring stuff, full of sex and violence, and outrageously amusing all round. So, if you’re one of the millions of parents agonising over whether your kids are safe back at school, just remember they never have been…
© 2013 Anya Davidson. All rights reserved.

Storm


By Tim Minchin, DC Turner, Tracy King & various (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5209-5 (HB), 978-1-4091-5625-3 (TPB), eISBN: 978-1-4091-5210-1)

The world is a magical, wondrous place stuffed with miracles and mysteries.

However, there’s not one single atom of it that depends on the eldritch or supernatural and none of it – or even the greater universe around it – is wrought from the efforts of supreme beings. Nor does it operate on principles of forgotten lore denied us common folk…

It’s all explainable, utterly rational and absolutely subject to revision by us every time we find out or disprove something that previously has been a puzzle or misunderstood. To do otherwise is nothing less than a crime against humanity.

No gods, no ghosts, no witchcraft, no magic crystals. Got it?

It’s amazing how many people haven’t and how the latest anti-science fad or fashion can cause genuine harm to the world, deprive generally sensible folk of their money and too often make dinner parties a theatre of war. That’s especially relevant at a time when a new lifeform is predating upon large sections of humanity in a manner we haven’t anticipated or properly categorised yet…

Tim Minchin is an Australian creative whirlwind and multi-media entertainment polymath who performs musical stand-up comedy, acts in edgy sitcoms, composes award-winning stage musicals like Matilda and acts in hit shows like Jesus Christ, Superstar.

He’s very smart, very funny and doesn’t believe in goblins or faith-healing.

In 2006 his 90-second diatribe ‘If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)’ – a “refutation of the plausibility of astrology, psychics, homeopathy and an interventionist God” impressed and delighted fans.

In 2008, after a close encounter with a pontificating new-agey nitwit at a party where the reasonable, rationalist Mr. Minchin politely opted not to contest a stream of bubble-headed nonsense, he took his ire and indignation and turned it into a piece of true inspiration: a beat poem, Socratic dialogue and “anthem for critical thinkers”…

It’s a very funny, edgy slice of entertaining refutation and I-wish-I’d-said-that-ism which was used as the closer for the Ready For This? Tour for more than two years.

In Britain animators/illustrators/producers Dan “DC” Turner and Tracy King saw that show and determined that at all costs they must turn that paean to logic and sense into an animated film. As described in Minchin’s Introduction to this book (available in trade paperback and eBook formats as well as a 1000 copy Limited Edition Deluxe Hardback with extra content) and the Afterword by Turner and King, after some wheeler-dealing, they did just that…

Storm became an internet sensation with many million hits on YouTube after its launch in 2011. The artists and Mr. Minchin then completely reworked that cartoon sensation into an astoundingly compulsive and scathingly funny graphic novel which opens at an intimate soiree in North London where the narrator and his wife sit down to sup with friends and are force-fed a stream of nonsensical blather by a beautiful girl with a tattoo of a fairy.

Her name is Storm and this time the quiet man she inanely and arrogantly lectures is not going to hold his tongue…

By turns tense, barbed, hilariously evocative and furiously cathartic, this stunning visual feast delivers the barrage of scathing sense we’ve always wanted (but been too polite) to unleash on evolution-deniers, pseudo-scientists, astrological aromatherapy advocates, vaccination-withholders, ghost-chasers and every other stripe of pontificating irrationalist in a graphic tumult of colour, line and typography that will simultaneously stun and galvanise.

This magnificent reinterpretation includes a Foreword by Neil Gaiman, Biography pages for Minchin, Turner & King and – because it’s all about the fun – a selection of variant covers by Ricky Earl, Freya Harrison, Andy Herd, Dave “Swatpaz” Ferguson and Stuart Mason & Rachael King which might have graced the issues had this yarn been serialised as comic periodicals rather than released as a complete book…

There has been and always will be a valuable and cherished place for fantasy, imagination and all the wild and woolly boggles and phantasms of a rich realm of tradition and ignorance. Indeed I believe it’s absolutely necessary for every child to be fully acquainted with all aspects of fairies and spectres and wish-fulfilling rings and lamps, but there comes a time when they must retire to a place of nostalgia and fun, regularly revisited for amusement but never, never, never used to dictate the content of school curricula, divert funds from genuine medical research or be employed as justification to persecute whole sectors of society or even one single “different” individual…

Storm is an edgy pictorial tour de force to delight and enchant readers who love the funny and fantastic but never forget where the horizons of fantasy end and the borders of imagination begin…
Text © Tim Minchin 2014. Illustrations © Tracy King and Daniel Charles Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection


By Max Fleischer, Bud Counihan, with Hal Seeger, & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-707-8 (HB)

Betty Boop is one of the most famous and long-lived fictional media icons on the planet and probably the one who has generated the least amount of narrative creative material – as opposed to simply merchandise – per year since her debut.

She was created at the Fleischer Cartoon Studios, most likely by either by Max Fleischer himself or top cartoonist and animator Grim Natwick – depending on whomever you’ve just read – and had a bit part in the monochrome animated short feature Dizzy Dishes: the seventh “Talkartoon” release from the studio. It screened for the first time on August 9th 1930. Happy Anniversary, Ms Boop!

A calculatedly racy sex-symbol from the start, albeit anthropomorphised into a sexy French Poodle, Betty was primarily based on silent movie star and infamous “It-Girl” Clara Bow. Or, according to some historians, it was far more than just her distinctive sound Betty took from popular contemporary star Helen Kane. In those pioneering days of “the talkies” Betty was voiced by a succession of actresses including Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild and ultimately Mae Questel who all mimicked Bow’s soft and seductive (no, really!) Brooklyn accent. Or possibly Kane’s. There’s a court case involved in this history so opinions are hard held and very divided…

Although frequently appearing beside early Fleischer Studios stars Bimbo (a homely puppy dog also called Fitz) and Koko the Clown – who had both debuted in Fleischer’s earliest screen offerings Out of the Inkwell – Betty had become a fully, if wickedly shaped, human girl by 1932’s Any Rags and she quickly  co-opted and monopolised all the remaining Talkartoons, before graduating to the Screen Songs featurettes. She ultimately won her own animated cartoon series to become “The Queen of the Animated Screen”, reigning until the end of the decade.

A Jazz Age flapper in the Depression Era, the delectable Boop was probably the first sex-charged teen-rebel of the 20thCentury, yet remained winningly innocent and knowledgably chaste throughout her career. Maybe that’s why she became so astoundingly, incredibly popular – although her appeal diminished appreciably once the censorious Hayes Production Code cleaned up all that smut and fun and sophistication oozing out of Hollywood in 1934 – even though the Fleisher Studio was proudly New York born and bred…

Saucy singer Helen Kane – who had performed in a sexy “Bow-esque” Brooklyn accent throughout the 1920s and was billed as “The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl” – famously sued for “deliberate caricature” in 1932. As well as a renowned actor, she was sharp enough to briefly steal the show and become the star of the first Betty newspaper strips…

When Kane’s lawsuit failed, Betty took over the paper outlets in her own name, but couldn’t withstand a prolonged assault by the National Legion of Decency and the Hayes Code myrmidons. With all innuendo removed, salacious movements restricted and wearing much longer skirts, Betty gained a boyfriend and family whilst the newspaper strip scripts consciously targeted a younger audience. The tabloid feature folded in 1937 and her last animated cartoon stories were released in 1939. The only advantage to Betty’s screen neutering and new wholesome image was that she suddenly became eligible for inclusion on the Funnies pages of family newspapers, alongside the likes of Popeye, Little Orphan Annie and Mickey Mouse.

This superb hardback edition (also available in digital formats) gathers every pre-war iteration associated with Betty Boop – including ones she isn’t in – and is augmented by fond remembrances from Mark Fleischer and Virginia Mahoney in their Foreword ‘About our grandad, Max Fleischer…’ and comes with an informative Introduction tracing Betty’s wild ride of a career.

Supplementing his text with candid behind-the-scenes photos and contemporary art as well as advertising and memorabilia of the time, cartoonist Brian Walker (son of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois creator Mort Walker) traces the celluloid and tabloid star’s creation, rise, fall and latter day resurgence in ‘Made of Pen and Ink, she can win you with a Wink’.

There was a brief flurry of renewed activity during the 1980s, which led to a couple of TV specials, a comic book from First Comics – Betty Boop’s Big Break (1990) and a second newspaper strip. Betty Boop and Felix was crafted by Walker and his brothers Neal, Greg, and Morgan, wherein the glamour queen shared adventures with fellow King Features nostalgia icon Felix the Cat. It ran from July 23rd 1984 – January 31st 1988, but even counting those – and we aren’t here – that’s still a pretty meagre complete comics canon for a lady of Betty’s longevity, pedigree and stature…

Confusion and contention abound in Betty’s print career and that’s mirrored in this book. Her first regular strip was as a Daily feature in black-&-white, but you’ll see that last, because the comics experience begins in full colour with an experimental Out of the Inkwell Koko the Klown Sunday strip starring the manic mime in silent surreal romps that have the cachet of being Fleischer’s first work for King Features Syndicate.

They ran from November 25th – December 15th 1934 and are followed by The Original Boop Boop-A-Doop Girl: a Sunday feature spanning August 5th to October 12th 1934. As negotiations between Fleischer and King Features stalled in 1933, Helen Kane approached the Syndicate and offered herself as a straight knock-off for the cartoon star. The resultant domestic comedy strip ran for just 11 weeks, and only in the tabloid New York Sunday Mirror. It was dropped as soon as Fleischer signed with King Features…

Attributed to Kane and drawn by Ving Fuller, the succession of manic gag pages are basic, innocently racy vaudeville one-liners, but do still evoke a certain nostalgic charm…

Whilst we’re on a possibly touchy subject: a lot of attitudes to women and visualisations of minorities won’t really pass an earnest examination here, and readers should be aware that these were all created in a different time for far less enlightened audiences. A little patience and forbearance will be your best guides on some pages…

Running from November 25th 1934 to November 27th 1937, the full colour Sunday strips starring the original and genuine Betty Boop were drawn by Bud Counihan: a veteran ink-slinger who had created the Little Napoleon strip in the 1920s before becoming Chic Young’s assistant on Blondie. They commenced a few months after the Daily feature and might be a little confusing as they encompass a large supporting cast for aspiring starlet Betty as she navigates a tiresome and treacherous career in Hollywood. I’d advise reading the dailies first and ending your reading enjoyment here, but it’s your choice…

These gag episodes feature the freshly-sanitised, family-oriented heroine of the post-Hayes Code era, but for devotees of the period and comics fans in general, the strip still retains a unique and abiding charm. Counihan’s Betty is still oddly, innocently coquettish yet confidant: a saucy thing with too-short skirts and skimpy apparel. Some of the outfits – especially bathing costumes – would raise eyebrows even now, and although the bald innuendo that made her a star is absent, these tales of a street-wise young thing trying to “make it” in Tinseltown are plenty sophisticated when viewed through the knowing and sexually adroit eyes of 21st century readers…

Produced as full-page strips, the Sundays are broadly slapstick, with moments of cunning wordplay: single joke stories regarding the weirdness of acting and the travails of fandom.

There’s a succession of blandly arrogant romantic leading men (usually called “Van” something-or-other) but none stick around for long as Betty builds her career, and eventually the scenario changes to a western setting as cast and crew begin making Cowboy Pictures, leading to many weeks’ worth of “Injun Jokes”, but ones working delightfully and hilariously counter to the expected unpleasant stereotypes of the times. However, the introduction of fearsome lower-class virago Aunt Tillie – chaperone, bouncer and sometime comedy movie extra – moves the strip into an unexpected direction and begins Betty’s life as an extra in her own show…

Soon, a clear and unflinching formula sets in with Bubby (see below), Aunt Tillie and her diminutive new beau Hunky Dory increasingly edging Betty out of the spotlight and even occasionally off the page entirely.

By 1937 the show was over…

The Betty Boop daily strip began on July 23rd 1934: a raw and raucous comedy gig that ran until March 18th 1935 in an extended sequence of gag-a-day encounters blending into an epic comedy-of-errors as Betty’s lawyers do litigious battle with movie directors and producers to arrive at the perfect contract for all parties. That’s clearly a war that still rages to this day and once again it’s happening under the cost restrictions of what is, after all, another Great Depression like the one Betty was a constant momentary antidote to…

The jokes come thick and fast in the same vein, with lawyers, entourage and all extras providing the bulk of the humour whilst Betty stands in for the Straight Man in her own strip…

…Except for a recurring riff about losing weight to honour her contract, which stipulates she cannot be filmed weighing more than 100 pounds! Geez! Her head alone has got to weigh at least… sorry, I know… just a comic…

Like most modern stars, Betty had a dual career and there’s a lot of recording industry and song jokes as well as fan affrontery and boyfriend woes, as well as the introduction of the first of an extended cast: Betty’s streetwise baby brother Bubby (originally Billy). He’s a riotous rapscallion intended to act as a chaotic foil to the star’s affably sweet, knowingly dim complacency, and he’s another celluloid wannabe in waiting…

By no means a major effort of the Golden Age of Comics Strips, Counihan’s Betty Boop (like most licensed syndicated features the strip was “signed” by the copyright holder, in this case Max Fleischer) remains a hugely effective, engaging and entertaining work, splendidly executed and well worthy of the attentions of fans with a penchant for history or feeling for fashion.

With the huge merchandising empire built around the effervescent cartoon Gamin/Houri, (everything from apparel to wallpaper, clocks to drinking paraphernalia) surely there’s room today to address her small brief but potent contributions to the comics arts. If you think so, this book is for you…
Betty Boop © 2015 King Features Syndicate, Inc./Fleischer Studios, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc./ Fleischer Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Foreword © 2015 Mark Fleischer & Ginny Mahoney. Introduction © 2015 Brian Walker.

Jaimie Smart’s Bunny vs Monkey volume 1


By Jaimie Smart, with Laura Bentley & Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-177-2 (PB)

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British periodical sensation The Phoenix from the very first issue: a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood. Those trend-setting, mind-bending antics were rapidly retooled as graphic albums and are now being re-released in remastered, double-length digest editions. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 1 & 2, entitled Let the Mayhem Begin and Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th

With precious little unnecessary build-up, the manic happy returns commence with a ‘Prologue!’ introducing placid, wise, helpful Bunny and not-so-smart pals Pig and Weenie Squirrel. The foolish innocents and lifelong residents of idyllic Crinkle Woods have found a hibernating bear which Bunny really wants them to stop trying to wake up…

Meanwhile, over the hill and not so far away, a bunch of boffins are attempting to launch a really annoying monkey into space…

This prompts a barrage of seasonal silliness in ‘Bunny vs. Monkey’, as the proposed launch goes hideously awry and the loud, stroppy, obnoxious simian lands in the snow-covered glade and instantly declares himself king of this strange alien world…

Monkey loves noise, strife, chaos and trouble and incessantly needs to raise a rumpus – everything genteel, contemplative Bunny abhors – so when our apish astronaut introduces techno music in ‘Keep it Down!’, the lines of battle are irrevocably drawn…

Thing escalate in ‘When Monkey Met Skunky’. This latter is a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-inspired terror weapons such as the Cluck Cluck Zeppelin used to bomb the woods with 10-year-old rotten eggs or the giant metal robot hands which give the destructive Monkey ‘Fists of Fury’

Winter draws on with ‘Soggy ‘n’ Froggy’ wherein a monstrous Frog-O-Saurus becomes the wicked duo’s latest Weapon of Meadow Destruction, after which poor Pig is transformed into cyborg sensation Pig-O-Tron 5000 in ‘Robo-Chop’ as a simple change of pace sees Weenie and Pig put on a circus show to counter all the nasty animosity before getting painfully caught ‘Clowning Around’

Up until now Monkey has been risking his own pelt road-testing all Skunky’s inventions, but when a bewildered former stuntman turns up, the sneaky simian is happy to leave all the dangerous stuff to ‘Action Beaver’

March leads to a profusion of beautiful buds and blossoms which delight the soul of nature-loving Bunny.

Tragically they utterly disgust Monkey, who tries to eradicate all that flora in ‘Down with Spring!’ until he comes a-cropper thanks to a sack of spiky “Hodgehegs”, whilst in ‘Bonjour, Le Fox’, the spacy invader finally goes too far, forcing Bunny to align with a rather radical environmentalist possessed of a big, bushy tail and an outrrrrrageous French accent…

Some of Bunny’s friends are their own worst enemies. ‘Race to the Moon!’ sees Weenie and Pig build their own spaceship – out of natural materials like moss and mushrooms – only to have Monkey disastrously commandeer it, after which Skunky builds a terrifying cyber crocodile dubbed ‘Metal Steve!’ which ignores its perfidious programming to spend the day swimming. Such shameful failures thus compel Monkey to steal a steamroller to personally get rid of all that hateful, ugly cherry blossom infesting the trees in ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’!’

The war against nature intensifies as ‘Eat Your Greens!’ sees Skunky’s Caterpillar-Zilla devouring forest foliage until an authentic creepy-crawly steps in, whilst ‘The Whuppabaloo!’ shows the niffy tinkerer’s softer side as he drags Monkey on a wilderness trek to track down the most amazing thing in nature…

‘Hide and Squark!’ depicts the rabbit’s fightback, thanks to the double-dealing help of a certain giant parrot, after which a momentary détente for a spot of angling inevitably turns into another heated duel in ‘Fish Off!’ after which a brief falling out of the axis of evil in May ends as ‘Invisi-Monkey’ sees the strident simian squabbling with Skunky to possess a sneaky stealth suit. The status quo sees the villains reuniting to spoil a joyous game of Cake-Ball with their monolithic, monstrous ‘Mole-a-Rolla!’

‘Black Gold’ finds Monkey attempting to turn the Wood into an oil field, before spoiling Bunny’s dream of a ‘Quiet Day!’with a giant Robot Cockroach

Blazing June opens with ‘Bring Him Back!’ as Action Beaver attempts to retrieve watery wanderer Metal Steve whilst simple souls Weenie and Pig accidentally kick off an invention Armageddon which only intensifies after that long-slumbering ursine finally wakes up in ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear?’

‘The Bat!’ apparently introduces a nasty new faction to the ongoing conflict (but all is not as it seems!), and there’s no confusing the stakes when Bunny agrees to a winner-take-all fight in ‘Wrestlepocalypse!’ and Monkey learns that cheats never prosper…

Just when things seem likely to settle down, fresh chaos ensues when a violent piratical rabbit – with an eye-patch – storms in to cause stir up trouble in ‘Bunny B!’

With battle reports spanning July to December, hostilities reach new heights and depths as Monkey and Skunky fail to make proper use of ‘The Wish Cannon!’ This reality-warping gun could change the world, but also makes really good cakes…

A far better terror-tool is colossally ravening robot ‘Octo-blivion!’, which ruins Bunny’s boating afternoon, but sadly the tentacled doom-toy becomes an irresistible object of amorous intent for irrepressible cyber crocodile Metal Steve before it can complete its nefarious machinations…

A hot day inspires Monkey to demand his bonkers boffin whip up some volcanoes, but their ‘Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th!’ only unearths chilly regions and crazily cool creatures before the scene shifts to those not-so-smart but astonishingly innocent bystanders Pig and Weenie.

An afternoon playing with crayons results in a lovely drawing of a crown, and soon everyone is bowing down and obeying ‘King Pig’, after which surly radical environmentalist ‘Fantastique Le Fox!’ finds time to share his incredible origin stories with the dumbfounded woodland denizens. Yes, that’s right: stories, plural…

Hyperkinetic carnage is the order of the day when a cute little dickens turns up inside spiffy running-toy ‘Hamsterball 3000!’, providing Skunky with the perfect power source for his latest devastating mechanical marauder: the horrendous Hamster Mobile

Puns, peril and a stinging hidden moral then inform proceedings when all the animals celebrate ‘Bee-Day!’ whilst a certain happily brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman turns into a tormented super-genius when he accidentally falls under the influence of Skunky’s Smarty Helmet in ‘Action Beever2.

Happily for everyone, before it wears off the increased cognition – in conjunction with a handy lemon puff – demolishes an unleashed Doomsday Device which might just have ended everything…

From September onwards the stories drop to four pages a pop as ‘Gone with the Wind!’ finds Pig and Weenie making trouble with their windsurfing cart after which ‘I, Robot Crocodile!’ sees Metal Steve on a destructive rampage until Bunny and Monkey team up to show the steel berserker the simple joys of dance…

‘There’s a Moose Loose!’ depicts Skunky back on bad form and trying to fool his enemies with a vast Trojan Elk before Monkey spoils everyone’s September by going big after being introduced to a sweet childhood game in ‘Conkers Bonkers!’ after which – with the Beaver temporarily bedridden – the perfidious pair of animal evildoers employ the rather dim ‘Action Pig!’ to test pilot their devilish Dragonfly 5000. Such a bad idea…

Tidy-minded Bunny has no hope of sweeping up all autumn’s golden detritus in ‘Leaf it Alone!’ once friends and enemies start helping out, and an extended sub-plot opens in ‘Duck Race!’ as impetuous Monkey pries into Skunky’s most deadly and diabolical secrets all stashed behind a locked door. In a frantic attempt to deflect attention, the smelly scientist then unleashes the colossal Lord Quack-Quack!

The saga sequels in a surprisingly downbeat follow-up as Bunny, Pig and Weenie dare the fiend’s lair to check out ‘Door B’ before scheduled insanity resumes as ‘Hypno-Monkey!’ finds the hirsute horror misusing a memory ray and briefly assuming godlike power…

Who doesn’t like igniting marshmallows and telling scary stories around a campfire? Not Bunny, Pig and Weenie after hearing the tale of ‘Monster Pants!’ leading to the local idiots deciding to join Monkey’s gang in ‘Bad Influence!’

The monkey is no one idea of a role model – except perhaps for painful ineptitude – as seen in ‘Lost in the Snow!’, but the winter fun expands to encompass everyone when Skunky’s ‘Chemical X!’ unleashes a chilled tidal wave of blancmange leading to seasonal silliness as ‘The Small Matter of the End of the World!’ exposes time-travelling madness as the true story of the demise of the Doomsday Device is finally exposed in an extra-length yarn…

Everything changes when ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Monkey!’ sees peace and goodwill grip the woods – or perhaps it’s just that the simian seditionist has gone missing? When the innocent inhabitants go looking for Monkey, they find him far beyond the forest associating with strange two-legged beings, singing carols and swiping mince pies, but nobody realises just how dangerous ‘Hyooomanz!’ can be as the year ends with plans found proclaiming the demolition of Crinkle Wood and the coming of a new motorway…

To Be Continued…

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Bunny’ and ‘How to Draw Monkey’, so, as well as beguiling your littl’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, Bunny vs. Monkey is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Why isn’t that you, yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2020. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 3: Dalton City


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (CineBook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-13-7 (Album PB)

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

His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and even a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946.

Prior to that, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – which comprised creators Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

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

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

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

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

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

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

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

The most recent attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…) and Dalton City was the third of 76 albums (and counting), available both on paper and as e-book editions.

It was the 34th comic cowboy chronicle and Goscinny’s 25th collaboration with Morris, originally appearing in 1969 and featuring the first appearance of that most stupid of do-gooding doggy sidekicks Rantanplan. You have been warned…

The saga commences in Fenton Town, a city of utter depravity and villainy run by and for crooks, badmen and owlhoots by the cunning mastermind Dean Fenton; a mean man with the unsavoury hobby of collecting Sheriff’s stars… from their bullet-riddled bodies…

The night a lean, laconic lone rider ambled into town the murderous gambler’s fortunes changed forever, and when Luke spectacularly delivered the gang boss to justice, Fenton got 1223 years hard labour at Texas penitentiary, an imposing edifice already crammed with dozens of other varmints who failed to take Lucky Luke seriously.

And that’s where the trouble really starts…

Amongst the inmates are stupid sandbagging scallywags Averell, Jack and William Dalton and their smart, psychotic, bossy and short brother Joe, who had made things hot for our hero in the past. As they all crack rocks together the Dalton Gang are particularly influenced by Fenton’s tales of his little kingdom.

Contentedly ambling away from the prison, Luke and Jolly Jumper have no idea that an idiotic, incompetent telegraph operator is about to make their lives impossibly difficult. Handed a mis-transcribed message from the Governor to free inmate Joe Milton for Good Behaviour, the baffled Warden forcibly ejects the furiously insulted Dalton head honcho. Eventually calming down – at least as much as Joe Dalton ever can – the wily skunk promptly blows up an outer wall to liberate his scurrilous simpleton siblings and they all make tracks for the now-deserted Fenton Town.

Search parties of course trail them, but when vain, friendly and exceedingly dim prison hound Rin Tin Can absently-mindedly forgets himself and joins his quarry, the shame-faced guards have to return empty-handed…

Regretfully, the Warden sends a telegram to Lucky Luke – again appallingly garbled – and the normally unflappable gunhawk is less than amused. It takes the pleadings of the Governor of Texas himself to convince him to go after his old enemies…

In the renamed Dalton City, Joe and the boys have big plans. They’re going to operate a Mecca for all the criminals in the state: a safe place for badmen to hide and spend their stolen loot. Joe will be in charge, Jack will operate the hotel, William the stables and Averell will run the restaurant. He even has faithful, omnivorous Rin Tin Can to test all his recipes on…

After much unlikely and unfamiliar hard work the place is starting to come together when they get an even bigger boost by capturing their nemesis Lucky Luke spying on them. The hero had forgotten how stupid Rin Tin Can could be…

The hapless prisoner is then put to work testing their wares: surely if the service is good enough for Luke it will be perfect for the scum of the West? However the boys make the foolish mistake of listening to his suggestions for improvement…

The beginning of the end comes when Joe writes off to hire a singer and troupe of dancing girls. When the bombastic virago Lulu Breechloader and her associates Belle, Sugar Linda and Pearl arrive Lucky has all he needs to drive an amorous wedge into the solidarity of the felonious fellowship and, as an army of bandits and killers steadily roll into town looking for sanctuary and entertainment, they are invited to the wedding of the century…

The only persons unaware of the impending – and hard-fought for – nuptials of Joe Dalton and Lulu are the bride herself and her blithely unaware piano-playing husband…

In the ensuing chaos and explosive gunplay it isn’t hard for a smart cowboy crusader to make the biggest capture of wanted criminals in Texas’ history and ride off into the sunset with a new four-footed canine companion…

Once again the masterful wit and wicked deviousness of the indomitable hero triumphs in a splendidly intoxicating blend of all-ages action, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour.

This grand old hoot sits in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Paint Your Wagon, Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll be addicted to Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1969 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2006 Cinebook Ltd.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls volume 1: Girl on Fire


By Jeremy Whitley & Jamie Noguchi (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-492-6 (HB) 978-1-54580-493-3 (TPB)

Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output. By the end of the 20th century the sector had all but faded from the English-speaking world, but enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence.

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project. This supremely enticing premier volume from Jeremy Whitley (The Unstoppable Wasp, Princeless) & Jamie Noguchi (Erfworld) is home grown, but magnificently captures a few contemporary zeitgeists that seem certain to generate huge interest and probably a TV series…

Tara Smith is 15-years old, smart, diligent and extremely hard-working. She obeys her rather strict, cold parents and strives at all times to be good and succeed in all her endeavours. In her most private moments, she stares at the stars and feels that one day she will be extraordinary, especially if she manages to fulfil her longed-for destiny…

She is admittedly a bit odd. Her life is totally regulated and Tara takes special medicine every day. She also wears an electronic medical alarm bracelet 24/7 as well as an heirloom necklace. She never, ever takes them off…

However, even though her life is one of unremitting routine, one day the alarm clock doesn’t go off and Tara will never be the same again…

As a result of the timing malfunction and rushing for the school bus, Tara forgets to take her pills. It’s a day for disasters. She trips, breaks her bracelet and, even after frantically making it to school on time, feels weird all day. After terrorising her classmates and making an exhibition of herself, Tara ends the day by catching on fire, rushing through the school like a human torch and passing out in the showers…

When she awakens, she’s in a freezer with her bracelet missing and confronted by the formidable presence of female MIB Agent Stone. When she makes Tara remove the necklace the terrified girl instantly transforms into a reptilian being and catches fire again. Suspicions confirmed, Stone swiftly explains some unsavoury facts of life to her shellshocked captive…

Before long Tara is despatched to a very special top-secret school built to house and safeguard girls just like her: young alien refugees abandoned or trapped on Earth and educated under the directives of numerous clandestine treaties, all unsuspected by the greater mass of humanity which still believes itself to be the only life in the universe…

Thus begins a thrilling epic as Tara gradually assimilates into her new school (Blacksite 513 AKA The School for Extraterrestrial Girls), making friends, enemies and many, many mistakes as she slowly uncovers the secrets of her hidden past and an awful truth regarding her own existence on Earth…

And as if just surviving being the new girl isn’t hard enough, as she continues hiding in human form and denying her true saurian self, events spiral out of control when Tara’s “parents” stage a deadly raid to reclaim their “property”. That’s when the confused reptilian finally learns who her real friends are…

Moreover, in the aftermath Stone decides the campus has been fatally compromised and that for security she must move students and faculty into a facility already occupied by Extraterrestrial boys…

To Be Continued…

Championing diversity and tolerance, whilst subtly addressing issues of gender, puberty and peer acceptance, this rollicking action romp successfully blends and updates the traditional girls boarding school/extraordinary chums model that was the backbone of British girls comics for decades and now seems set to shape the lives of another generation of youngsters looking for understanding and a few appropriate role models.

Irresistible fun no one should miss and available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is drama and thrills in perfect balance to delight any young adult or wistfully nostalgic parent or guardian.
© 2020 Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi. All other editorial material © Papercutz.

A Carrot for Iznogoud (Iznogoud volume 5)


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-021-4 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short life, René Goscinny (1926-1977) was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Incredibly, he still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery all proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to concoct the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; the first episode appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a cropper for younger readers, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire: the same magic formula which made its more famous cousin Asterix such a global success.

…And just like the saga of the indomitable little Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nonsense is adapted here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The revamped series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a massive European hit, with 30 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and even a live action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary added the scripting to his sublimely stylish illustration (from the 13th album onwards), moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified the collaborations.

This fifth Cinebook English language edition was actually the seventh French album (released in 1971 as Une carotte pour Iznogoud) with the lead tale an exceptional, extended epic comprising half the book, bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the usual suspects…

The eponymous A Carrot for Iznogoud’, is a rare bird indeed as the verminous Vizier is all but absent from proceedings which commence when gentle, isolated and very dim Haroun Al Plassid finally gets an inkling of what his trusted deputy is truly like…

Stealing out into Baghdad disguised as an insurance salesman, the Caliph finally gets the message that his beloved people fear, despise and revile his precious Iznogoud. Shocked and dismayed, he ponders what to do before – politely – accidentally aiding an ancient wizard (or perhaps crazy old coot…).

In gratitude the dotard tells him of a fabled vegetable that makes people nice. Desperately keen to redeem and “cure” his advisor, the Caliph instantly dashes off on a monumental solo voyage of discovery to secure some of the legendary “Carrot”.

The logic is simple: if eating carrots makes you nice all he has to do is find a place where people are pleasant, kind, honest and generous. The deed is nowhere near as simple as the thought – or indeed, the Caliph…

After exhausting and enraging the grocers and market sellers of his own lands, the search takes the determined Haroun Al Plassid to neighbouring kingdoms, across deserts and even oceans (where he encounters a certain band of pirates moonlighting from their damp and dangerous day jobs in Asterix), but everywhere all he finds are conmen, chancers, rude brutes and impatient surly types just like the ones at home in Baghdad.

He is almost ready to give up when he is sold as a slave to lordly Rhu’Barbfoul in distant Lastyearatmarienbad and sent to the kitchens to grate carrots for soup.

Excited beyond belief he begs his master to give him a carrot and release him, which after hearing the tale of woe and (perhaps) thanks to the steady diet of nice-making veg, the nervous lord does…

The journey home is no less dramatic or magical, though fraught with painful ironies, but even after the Caliph reclaims his vacated throne, the ameliorating herb he fought so hard to secure does not at the last find its way to its intended target…

Wry and deliciously surreal, the epic is an especial change of pace as the evil architect of all woes only appears in two panels over the 19 hilarious pages…

He is completely present for the three venal vignettes which follow, beginning with an outrageously bizarre close encounter in the desert entitled ‘Magic-Fiction’.

When Iznogoud and bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahf are taking a break from the sorcery-besotted city of Baghdad they stumble across a couple of Martian explorers. The curious, affable alien explorers want facts and data for their records but, after seeing the power of their Spatial-Temporaliser ray-guns, all the Vizier can envisage is the effect the weapons would have on the royal simpleton he wants to replace: an indolent oaf who couldn’t answer a straight question if his dinner depended on it…

Sadly, after sneaking the E.T.’s back to the palace, Iznogoud’s intemperate temperament gets the better of him before his plan can succeed…

Baghdad is a city that suffers with an excess of heat but in ‘Iznogoud on Thin Ice’the vile vizier hears tell of a drinks seller whose wares are always freezing cold. Ever inquisitive and always looking for an angle he investigates and discovers that the unfortunate lady in charge is so unseemly that anyone who glimpses her face is frozen solid with shock. She just stacks the chilled out victims in her cellar and stores her drinks beside them…

The infernal imp’s heart soars! All he has to do is get the Caliph to peek under the appalling and enigmatic Gehtorehd’s ever-present veil and the throne is his…

Sadly, her gift doesn’t work on anyone with an elevated temperature, so even after getting the gorgon into the palace Iznogoud has to wait for the doctors to cure the Caliph who has a touch of fever. All he has to do is wait a while, but Iznogoud is a very impatient potentate-in-waiting…

There’s more direct skulduggery afoot in ‘Tried and Tsetsed’ which closes this compilation of crazy criminality. When bribe-taking Iznogoud officially greets an embassage from Africa he is given the most dangerous beast they know as a placating present by the chief ambassador who came ill-prepared to grease palms.

He is less than impressed until he is advised that the dread Tsetse Fly can put victims into a permanent slumber with one little bite. Now seeing his dreams falling into place at last, the Vizier lays his plans to introduce the bug to his boss, but is distracted by his idiot servant Wa’at Alahf and releases the flying terror in the wrong room…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and abundantly stocked with gloriously agonising pun-ishments (see what I did there?), this mirthfully infectious series is a household name in Europe, and especially in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

Still a cartoon barometer for chicanery and inanity, Iznogoud is a masterpiece of savvy commentary in a world where realpolitik has finally caught up and – inconceivably – surpassed the fertile imaginations of comics’ premiere wits.
© 1971 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.

The Beano and the Dandy: Favourites from the Forties


By many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-821-0 (HB)

I couldn’t let the occasion pass unremarked, so here’s a suggestion of better times and more carefree entertainments to celebrate Britain’s longest running comic. On July 30th 1938, The Beano was unleashed upon the Great British Public…

Released in 2003 as part of the DC Thomson’s Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations for their children’s periodicals division – which has more than any other shaped the psyche of generations of kids – this splendidly oversized (296 x 204mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history. Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Admittedly the book goes through some rather elaborate editing and paste-up additions whilst editorially explaining for modern readers the vast changes to the once-commonplace that have occurred over eight decades, and naturally the editors have expurgated a few of the more egregious terms that wouldn’t sit well with 21st century sensibilities (Mussolini lampoon Musso the Wop becomes the far-less ethnically unsound “Musso”, for instance) but otherwise this is a superb cartoon commemoration of one of the greatest morale-building initiatives this nation ever enjoyed.

They’re also superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A huge success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938 – and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941, only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The rascally rapscallions only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949.

This superb tribute of Celtic creativity is packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips and the mirth starts on the inside front with a wonderful Biffo the Bear exploit, illustrated by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins, followed by a sharp Korky the Cat gag-page by James Crichton and a listing of ‘Forty from the 40’s’, before the vintage fun properly proceeds, sensibly sub-divided into themed chapters.

Sadly, none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

Then and Now offers a smart selection of comparisons to life in the past measured against 21st century existence, with hilarious examples and contributions from Lord Snooty – by the incredibly prolific Watkins – cowboy superman Desperate Dan at the doctor’s, ostrich antics with Big Eggo (by Crichton or perhaps Reg Carter), Wild West woman sheriff Ding-Dong Belle – from Bill Holroyd – and a glimpse at primitive fast-food courtesy of Dandy’s Bamboo Town duo Bongo and Pongo as limned by Charlie Gordon.

There’s medical mirth with Desperate Dan, wash day blues with Mickey’s Magic Book (Crichton?) and a prose yarn pinpointing the funnier points of the class war in The Slapdash Circus – with a stirring illustration by Toby Baines – before Charlie Chutney the Comical Cook (Allan Morley) plays pie-man, whilst Watkins produces another Biffo blast.

Next comes The Horse That Jack Built, a rousing medieval adventure yarn starring a clockwork charger by Holroyd, and the chapter concludes in another Desperate Dan fable about messing around growing vegetables…

Entertainment explores how fun was had in the war years – i.e. before television – beginning with a phonographic Korky yarn and the first fine example of licensed film feature Our Gang illustrated by that man Watkins.

In case you were wondering… Our Gang (later known as Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in Film history. Beginning in 1922, they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in times both safer and simpler. The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942, Dell Comics in the USA released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of short tales that elevated the lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy Gale in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Long before then, however (1937 and in The Dandy #1, in fact), DC Thomson had secured the British rights to produce their own uniquely home-grown weekly escapades of Alfalfa Switzer, Scotty Becket, Spanky McFarland, Darla Hood,Buckwheat Thomas and the rest, such as the quirky keep-fit frolic included here…

Desperate Dan then endures some cool radio fun with Aunt Aggie whilst Keyhole Kate (Allan Morley) has trouble with a Magic Lantern show, and Biffo’s juggling act brings nothing but pain and strife.

As depicted by the wonderful Eric Roberts, Podge find drumming is unwelcome around the village and the not-so-wild animals of Bamboo Town strike up – and out – the band, after which both Biffo and Korky suffer terribly for their R-and-R.

Posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz (Charles Holt) comes a-cropper in a brace of telling tales after which the aforementioned dictator of Italy is mercilessly lambasted in a cruel quartet of Musso strips from Sam Fair, even as Charlie Chutney bakes to excess, Our Gang take vengeance on a bullying boxer and Podge foils a bunch of schoolboy cheats.

How the daily travails of conflict were relieved is examined in Wartime 1 with Jimmy and his Magic Patch (Watkins) accidentally visiting bellicose Lilliput, whilst Lord Snooty’s pals battle a Nazi spy and his pigeons and barmy barber Hair Oil Hal (by John Brown) cuts up in a clever quartet.

Sam Fair was in excoriating top form with the superbly manic Addie and Hermy slapstick assaults on Adolf Hitler and Hermann Wilhelm Göring/Goering, Meddlesome Matty (Fair or Malcolm Judge?) becomes a different sort of siren and Mickey’s Magic Book proves more hindrance than help during an air raid…

The complex world of Fashion begins with a plethora of Korky on parade, Beano’s Ding-Dong Belle offers some six-gun hints on good manners, Doubting Thomas (by Roberts) is overwhelmed by a shop dummy and Meddlesome Matty went shoe shopping… for a horse…

Hugh McNeil’s Pansy Potter, the Strongman’s Daughter was legendary for her unique looks – as seen in three strips here – but Swanky Lanky Liz, Charlie Chutney, Musso, Hair Oil Hal and Biffo all offer their own stylistic visions to round out this section before the un-PC past is more fully and shamefacedly explored in Out of Fashion. Here Biffo, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy, the Clockwork Boy (by the Torelli Brothers), Meddlesome Matty, Korky, Doubting Thomas, Bamboo Town and Mickey’s Magic Book all exhibit behaviours we just don’t condone nowadays…

Strips depicting Transport follow with Multy the Millionaire (Richard Cox), Korky and Biffo all experiencing some distress and delay after which Watkins displays his superb dramatic style for 1946 fantasy adventure Tom Thumb.

There are also more travel travails for Korky, Ding-Dong Belle, Doubting Thomas, Podge, Swanky Lanky Liz and Desperate Dan before a prose chapter from an epic Black Bob serial (a Lassie-like wonder dog illustrated by Jack Prout) precedes a Big Eggo pantomime romp and a 1944 Watkins spectacular starring Jimmy and his Magic Patch as a slave on a Roman ship.

Our trip down memory lane concludes with another bout of combat fever in Wartime 2, offering stunning contributions from Bamboo Town and Desperate Dan plus a treat for Pansy Potter fans: four fill-in strips illustrated by different artists who might or might not be McNeil, Basil Blackaller, Sam Fair, James Clark and/or Charles Grigg.

The campaign continues with a 1942 Tin-Can Tommy tale plus more Podge, Keyhole Kate, Doubting Thomas, Desperate Dan, and Korky strips as well as more Jimmy and his Magic Patch and a lovely Lord Snooty and his Pals yarn – with the kids helping the Home Guard – before Biffo ushers us out just as he had invited us in…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.
© 2003 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.