Lupin Leaps In: A Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-5130-9 (HB) 978-1-4494-9522-0 (PB) 978-1-5248-5252-8 (eISBN)

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet.

Those of us “blessed” with appointed feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

A few years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy house mates earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is a second collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and rather moving moments starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters that share space with them.

If you’re a returning customer or follow the strip online, you’re already au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than which the author intends……

Thus, you can learn that ‘The Man Has Lost his Tail’, the repercussions of ‘There are Other Cats in the Building!’ and that ‘The People Bought a Bird Magnet’, or question just why ‘The People Went Out and Bought us Expensive Cat food’

Life meets art – and sports – in ‘The Baby is Finally Asleep, which means it’s time for…’ and ‘Reports of Slander are Coming in from the Living Room’ whereas ‘The People are having a Quiet Night In’ and other seasonal treats lead to the shocking revelation that ‘The Annual Gourd Sacrifice has begun’, and the terrible consequences as ‘We’ve Been Forced into Stupid Little Suits’

Domestic equilibrium is eventually restored, but ‘There’s a Mysterious Lump in the Bed’ only piles on the drama as ‘The Ceiling Cats are Everywhere tonight!’. Typically, just as ‘The Woman is Reporting in the Nursery’ calms things down, the territory abruptly expands after ‘A Tower has been Erected in the Living Room!’ and chaos ensues when ‘There’s a Cricket Somewhere in the Apartment’

Hilarity mounts with in-depth scoop ‘CN News Investigative Report: Who’s a Good Boy?’, scare-story ‘The Vacuum Cleaner is Back!’ and ‘Lupin got into a Pen’, while ‘The Man is Doing Push-ups’, ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why does the water in People Glasses taste So Much Better?’ and ‘Delicious Smells are coming from the Kitchen’ herald the approach of another festive occasion and a sharp change in tone after ‘A Tree Grew in the Living Room!’

Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and the trauma of a loved one being lost in the snow at Christmas hits like a hammer. ‘Elvis is Missing!’ is surprisingly powerful so mind out how you let the kids (and grandparents) read this unsupervised. Tough guys like you should be okay though…

The rolling news continues in ‘We’re Nearing 3 Hours since Elvis got Outside’ and ‘We’re 4 Hours into “Elvis Watch”’, but unlike the home-bodies you can see how the lost lad survives… and because of whom…

Events come to a head in ‘Puck Here. Still Awake’ and ‘Elvis is Back Inside!’ but the story can’t end until it ends happily, so ‘ELVIS WENT BACK OUTSIDE!’ sees the prodigal save his saviour in ‘There’s a Woman at the Door!’

Christmas miracles safely covered, its back to business in ‘The Baby is Mobile!’, ‘The People have erected Hurdles!’ and ‘That Cat is in the Backyard again!’, before domestic issues come to the fore in ‘And in Local News, the People went Grocery Shopping’

Another extended adventure begins after ‘Lupin found a Tiny Door in the Bathroom Closet’ escalates into ‘Lupin fell down a Laundry Chute or some nonsense’ and ‘Unexpected Developments in the Laundry Room!’ introduce a rival Hispanic feline reporting contingent…

The epic escapade only ends after ‘Elvis has just Joined Lupin in the Laundry Room!’ and ‘The People are Looking for Lupin and Elvis’, result in international cooperation before ‘Elvis and Lupin have to Escape the Laundry Room’

Security re-established, what we’ll define as normality returns in ‘A Can of Whipped Cream has been heard in the Kitchen!’, ‘Elvis has been in a Standoff with the Man’s Feet for 45 minutes’ and ‘The People have brought home a Thing of Beauty’ and extra hilarity comes in ‘The Heat is On!’, ‘The Woman is Folding Laundry’ and ‘CN News Investigative Report: Why do open books make the best Cat Beds?’

Health matters are tackled in ‘Studies have shown Regular Ankle Reinforcement is crucial to People’s Confidence’ and ‘The People have dressed Elvis up like a Lamp’, after which ‘Another People Holiday is Happening’ sees the kitties go green and heralds ‘Signs of Spring have been spotted in the Back Yard!’

With the reporting team augmented by a new and jolly journalist, the year moves on. ‘Lupin is playing with the Baby’s Toys’ and hints of another human addition as ‘The Woman keeps getting up off the Couch’ are confirmed in ‘The Baby is turning into a Toddler’ and ‘The People are Missing!’. ‘There’s an Intruder in the Kitchen’ inevitable resolves into banner headlines when ‘The People have returned – with a New Baby!’

‘The Woman is trying to have Plants Again’ brings us back to solid ground and everybody shares human elation when the strip marks a real-world moment of triumph in ‘There are Rainbows Everywhere!’, after which ‘The Man is being attacked!’, ‘There’s been a Kibble Spill in the Kitchen!’ and ‘Cats everywhere have been locked out of the Bedroom’ restore the madcat madcap japery.

‘Lupin is Invisible when he’s in the Sink’ takes us to ‘It’s that hot time of the year again’ while ‘The Woman is sewing a Blanket’ sees Elvis take on more family responsibility before ‘A Can Opener was heard in the Kitchen’, ‘There’s a Great, Big Box in the Living Room’ and ‘THAT JUNE BUG IS BACK!’ add some action to the comedy. We’re in mellow mood for ‘Today has been Canceled, due to rain’ which only grows after ‘The People Bought a Tiny Cat Couch!’, before Puck reveals the astounding news that There’s a Button under the Computer Desk that makes the Man scream’

‘This Reporter Read the News. What happened next will Shock you’ offers a bunch of clickbait and vox-pops before ‘There’s a Tear in the Kitchen window screen’ sparks a dispute in reportage methodology and ‘The Toddler is Sick’ leads to some in-depth number crunching… and sniffing.

A true crisis looms when ‘There has been a Hairball’ and anxiety increases as ‘Flowers are flying out of the Garden’, but tidings that ‘There’s a new Toy in the Bathroom!’ soon deescalates the tensions to conclude this segment of the far from fake fur news for a while…

Some In-Depth packages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore! close out this tome starting with Georgia Dunn’s tips to begin cartooning’, developing into ‘How to draw the Good Boys of BCN’ – following from rough pencilling to inks and colour – and splendidly culminating with ‘Drawing Face Expressions’, ‘Drawing your pet as a Reporter’ and expanding the franchise to ‘Other News Affiliates’ as fish, birds, rats, lizards, dogs and ferrets join the quest for truth and fun…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Lupin Leaps In is a glorious all-ages romp of joy. Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. Chase it! Catch it!, Who’s a Good People?
© 2019 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Tiny Titans volume 3: Sidekickin’ it…


By Art Baltazar & Franco with (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2653-4 (TPB)

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and others.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of their proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Supergirl and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the imprint’s finest release – and one which has a created a sub-genre recreated at many different publishers – was a series ostensibly aimed at beginning readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans …and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily mixed up together, Tiny Titans is a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks and (ultimately) the entire DC Universe to little kids and their parents/guardians in the wholesome kindergarten environment of Sidekick City Elementary School.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #13-18 (spanning April to September 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this third volume begins on a petulant note with Pet Club at Wayne Manor.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) have mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with the assorted characters getting by and trying to make sense of the great big world, having “Adventures in Awesomeness”. The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After a handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page, ‘Tough Cookie’ features Raven feeding the park critters but desperately striving to keep her hard-as-nails rep intact, after which bubble-headed Psimon goes to science club and gets caught in some uncool name-calling. The main event kicks off with the kids and their pets convening at Stately Wayne Manor and incurring the wrath of dapper, long-suffering manservant Alfred. The Penguins don’t help… no, wait, they actually do…

‘A Hot Spot’ then finds Raven and Kid Devil trading power sets with firestarter Hotspot and evoking the joys of being a Bird Scout, after which The Kroc Files shows ultimate butler Alfred and the roguish reptilian each demonstrating ‘How to Pick up the Dry Cleaning’, before the issue ends with a Tiny Titans Bubble Squares puzzle and a pinup of bird-themed champions Hawk, Dove and Raven.

Sea-themed issue #14 opens with a proudly shouted ‘Aw Yeah Titans!’ and class trip to Paradise Island. The boys just can’t understand why they have to stand on tables while the girls can run about freely wherever they like and play with the all the weird animals…

Back in Sidekick City, Cyborg’s vacuum cleaning invention runs amok while Beast Boy and infant Miss Martian stage a shapeshifting duel, even as on Paradise Island ‘Stay for Dinner’ sees Wonder Girl and the other Wonder Girl guests for lunch – as lunch – of Mrs. Cyclops.

Wrapping up affairs is another Kroc Files (‘How to Bake a Chocolate Cake’), a string of gags in Time for Jokes by the Riddler’s daughter Enigma plus a ‘Paradise Island Pet Club Pin-up!’

The next issue finds ‘Bunnies, Bunnies, Everywhere Bunnies’ and again opens at Wayne Manor, where Alfred has opted to stay home and watch the kids and their pets. Sadly, magician Zatara joins the fun and once more loses his magic wand to playful Beppo the Super Monkey. Cue rapid rabbit reproduction…

Elsewhere, Deathstroke’s daughter Rose lands her share of babysitting duties, and soon learns how to handle the Tiny Terror Titans before a ‘Tiny Titans Epilogue’ reveals a marvellous secret regarding one of those proliferating bunnies, before the issue concludes with more activity freebies: ‘Pet Club Mammal Travel’ and a bonus pin-up of Rose and those Tiny Terrors…

Issue #16 revisits a perennial puzzle of comics, specifically ‘Who’s the Fastest?!’ as Coach Lobo sets his heart on making the Sidekick Elementary kids ultra-fit. Part of the regimen includes a footrace around the entire world, and Supergirl, Inertia and Kid Flash all think they have it nailed…

Lesser-powered tykes find unique ways to cope with natural obstacles – such as the ocean – in ‘As the Race Continues…’ while the Coach takes a load off with coffee and comics and the Wonder Girls and Shelly trade costume tips. Down south, late starters Mas y Menos join the final dash to the finish where a non-starter surprisingly triumphs…

In the aftermath, shrinking-hero contingent The tiny Tiny Titans indulge in ‘One more Contest’ before an ‘Aw Yeah Pin-up’ of Supergirl and Kid Flash is preceded by a Tiny Titans Coin Race activity page.

‘Raven’s Book of Magic Spells’ starts as a play date but is bewilderingly disrupted when Trigon’s devilish daughter shows off her latest present in ‘Mixin’ it Up’: accidentally manifesting unlikely mystical heavyweight Mr. Mxyzptlk. And so, hilarity and impish insanity ensue…

Back in what passes for the land of reason, Robin, Beast Boy and Cyborg are tasked with recovering Batman’s cape and mask in ‘Battle for the Cow’ (if you read DC regularly, you know how painful a pun that is…).

Naturally, Starfire and Bumblebee have a sensible, pain-free solution to their woes, after which the Boy Wonder’s birthday party displays a fashion parade of alternative costumes in the presents giving portion of festivities…

Those tiny Titans go clothes hunting in ‘Shop Shrinking’ while Kid Flash, Robin and Cyborg ask ‘Hey, What’s Continuity?’ Wrapping up is another Kroc Files contrasting how butler Alfred and the lizardly lout cope with ‘Walking in the Rain’, topped off with Special Bonus Pin-up ‘The Return of the Bat-Cow!’

Concluding the juvenile japery is a fall from grace which can only be called ‘Infinite Detention’ as lunch lady Darkseid is demoted to Janitor for the Day and typically overreacts to boisterous behaviour in the hallways. With both good kids and bad suffering after-class incarceration, arguments ensue and the stern Monitor increase the tally for the slightest infraction. Soon the kids are facing days of detention…

Sadly for the Monitor, his nemesis Anti-Monitor has popped by with coffee and more stupid pranks…

One final Kroc Files reveals ‘How to go Bowling’ and Enigma offers another session of ‘Aw Yeah Joke Time!’ before the tome terminates with a selection of character sketches and studies repackaged as ‘Class Photos’.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure comicbookery – are an unforgettable riot of laughs no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating. What more do you need to know?
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals


By Martin Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-53-7 (HB) 978-1-910989-56-2 (PB)

It’s a beautiful, wonderful world which we humans – sadly, the temptation to say You Humans grows stronger in me every day – don’t appreciate enough. Thankfully, there are still many studious, thoughtful types – many of them rather artistic in temperament – who are aware of the astounding fascinations of flora and fauna for the public, and remain joyously eager to share what they know.

Available in hardcover and paperback, this glorious book is the phenomenally compelling and generally hilarious efforts of one of the best of them…

Martin Brown hails from Melbourne (that’s in Australia where they have loads of amazing, little-known and generally deadly bugs and critters) but made his name as a designer, cartoonist and illustrator in the United Kingdom (not so many dangerous beasts, but far too many idiots).

After training as a teacher and working for television in Oz, Brown put on a backpack and travelled around the world for a bit. He stopped when he got to Britain, and lived by doing drawings: greetings cards, cartoons, magazines and book illustrations. The books included Coping with Parents (by Peter Corey), Philip Pullman’s New Cut Gang and a series of popular children’s tomes written by Terry Deary entitled Horrible Histories. Those light-hearted factoid files sold upwards of 20 million copies…

Brown draws good and he draws funny: very, very funny.

A couple of years back, the artist compiled a bright and breezy bestiary of the creatures less well-represented on TV and in environmental and ecological campaigns: animal underdogs – although there’s not one of those included here – that always get pushed out of the limelight by glamour-pusses like Lions, and Tigers and Bears.

Oh. Why?

It’s certainly not because they’re dull, boring or inconsequential…

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals is an award-winning graphic treatise which highlights and introduces a host of creatures that will take your breath away: described and delineated with wit, empathy and proper facts like Size; What they eat; Where they live; their Status (from Critically Endangered to We don’t know) as well a specific fact on each that will delight or disgust, depending on your age or maturity…

Fabulously, hilariously illustrated, please meet here and be besotted by the Numbat, Cuban Solenodon, Lesser Fairy Armadillo, Zorilla, Silvery Gibbon, Dagger-Toothed Flower Bat, Long Tailed Dunnart, Russian Desman, Speke’s Pectinator, the Onager, Banded Linsang, Yellow-Footed Rock-Wallaby, Gaur, Sand Cat, Southern Right Whale Dolphin, Three Monkeys (Red-Faced Spider Monkey, Grey-Shanked Douc Langur and Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey), Hirola, Crabeater Seal, Ili Pika, Zebra Duiker and Black-Footed Ferret: all topped off with an extremely accessible Glossary

Sure, you can look them all up online but there they’ll just be cute or awesome, not funny…

An utterly enticing piece of work that could only be improved by an accompanying set of badges, greetings or post cards…
Text and illustrations © 2016 Martin Brown. All rights reserved.

Mort: A Discworld Big Comic


By Terry Pratchett & Graham Higgins (VG Graphics/Gollancz)
ISBN: 978-0-57505-697-8 (HB)                    978-0-57505-699-2 (PB)

Us old codgers have always maintained that a good comic needs a good artist and this superb adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel proves that point.

Just in case you’ve been living on another world: The Discworld is a flat planet supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the universe. Magic works there and the people are much too much like us.

This, of course, makes it an ideal location for spleen-venting, satire, slapstick and social commentary…

Scripted by the so-very-much-missed author and brilliantly illustrated by Graham Higgins, it tells a complex and darkly witty tale of Death (big grim chap, carries a scythe, nobody gets his jokes, always has the last laugh) and hapless, literal-minded, sort-of-useless young oaf Mort, whom he hires as his apprentice.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it, with sub-plots including an orphaned princess and her dangerously ambitious guardian, Death’s vacation, the daughter he adopted and the mystery of his most peculiar servant Albert to season a very impressive spin on a very familiar myth.

Higgin’s light, dry touch adds volumes of texture to the mix, and his deft sense of timing and comedy pacing – reminiscent of Hunt Emerson – marvellously match Pratchett’s unmistakable, acerbic dialogue and plot.

Incomprehensibly unavailable digitally and only physically in editions from the last century, if you have to have adaptations of great novels, this is how they should be done.
Text © 1994 Terry and Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1994 Graham Higgins. All Rights Reserved

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 4


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-391-8

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent first took to the skies and timestream in 1967 in the November 9th edition of Pilote (#420): in an introductory tale which ran until February 15th 1968. Although a huge hit, graphic album compilations only began with second tale – The City of Shifting Waters – as the creators concerned considered the first yarn more a work-in-progress and not quite up to their preferred standard.

You can judge for yourself by getting hold of the first hardcover compilation volume in this cinematic tie-in sequence. Or you can consider yourself suitably forward-looking and acquire one of the eBook editions…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction comics triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable hits of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and the cosmic excursions of Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, which all with Valérian in the vanguard – boosted public reception of the genre and led, in 1977, to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series became) was a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really so much), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political social commentary. The star – at least initially – was an affable, capably unimaginative by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal timelines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual, incautious or criminally minded chrononauts…

In the course of that debut escapade, Valerian picked up impetuous, sharp-witted peasant lass Laureline, who originated in the 11th century before becoming our hero’s assistant and deputy. In gratitude for truly invaluable assistance, he brought her back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital, Galaxity, where the feisty firebrand took a crash course in spatiotemporal ops before accompanying him on his cases…. luckily for him.

This fabulous fourth oversized hardback compendium – also available digitally – once again boasts a wealth of text features, beginning with Stan Barets’ deconstructive assessment ‘Whimsical Stories with Strong Themes…’ More follows with further discourse, all supplemented with photos sketches, designs and reference material in ‘Towards the End of History?’, ‘Constantly Renewed Questions’ and retrospective overview ‘Châtelet Station: A Great Spatial and Temporal Shift’. Glittering prizes are assessed in ‘The Consecration of Angoulême’ and are followed by ‘Space Grunts’: a short complete war story from Metal Hurlant, highlighting the creative highpoints and methodology of author/illustrator Méziéres before the main event kicks off…

The opening shot in the series’ first truly extended saga, Châtelet Station Destination Cassiopeia, was originally serialised in the monthly Pilote (#M47 to M50: 21st March to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as 8th album Métro Châtelet Direction Cassiopée. The story concluded in follow-up album Brooklyn Line Terminus Cosmos which happily follows…

It all begins with the partners far apart in time and space. Laureline pensively journeys to the fabulous Cassiopeia system, just for once enjoying the many wonders of space as she travels at sub-light speed through the phenomenally populous yet cosmically fragile region.

Her trip to Solum is broken up by many stopovers as she cautiously gathers snippets of gossip which cohere to reveal an unsettling trend: subtly voiced concerns that some merchants are pushing strange and dangerous technologies on buyers extremely unsuited to possess them…

Although separated by centuries and light-years, Laureline and Valerian are enjoying impossibly intimate contact. Thanks to Terran ingenuity – and recent neurosurgeries – the partners are telepathically linked and sharing information on the mission.

His mission is playing out in Paris of 1980, where Valerian idly observes the variety of human types frequenting the café he impatiently haunts; constantly reminded how little he knows or understands the people and history of his birthworld.

Things aren’t helped by the volubly affable, infuriatingly unrushed and always tardy Mr. Albert. Galaxity’s man-in-the-moment is a sort of human X-Files: investigating, sifting and collating incalculable amounts of data on everything Fringe, Strange or Whacky which occurs in the 20th century he has adopted as a home-away-from-home.

Breaking contact with Laureline, Valerian learns from the verbose nerd that appalling, monstrous manifestations have been terrorising the world and now this city’s subway system. Sensing action at last, the impulsive hero rushes to the site of the latest occurrence, abandoning Albert to follow up on something which has piqued the elder’s scholarly curiosity. Both are blithely unaware that a suspect band of not-so-ordinary Parisians with similar interests are mere metres ahead of them…

What Valerian confronts is a horrific thing out of the inferno, but even it is not immune to the futuristic weaponry he’s carrying in kit form. All he has to do is assemble it before being eaten…

In the aftermath, Albert acts quickly to extract the wounded hero from hospital before doctors and cops start asking too many of the right questions. Later, over a luxurious dinner, the epicurean investigator shares a sheaf of files and clippings of monster and UFO sightings which only hint at why Valerian is stuck in a temporal backwater whilst his partner is covering colossal Cassiopeia alone…

Synching up again later despite constant headaches, Valerian hears Laureline tell of the incredible inhabitants of Solum and her candid interview with the living memory of the race, as well as sundry other wonders before contact is explosively ended by a phone call from Albert warning him that he is being watched…

After deftly dodging his tail, Valerian receives a most distressing communication from Laureline. Her pleasant chat with the memory of Solum has uncovered news of a planet which long ago endured a similar plague of mysterious manifestations. It doesn’t exist anymore…

Therefore, she’s off to incomprehensibly vile universal garbage dump Zomuk in pursuit of another promising lead, but before Val can warn her to stay away from the junk world, mind-contact is lost…

At that 20th century moment, Val and Mr. Albert are embarking on a bus ride to rural wetland idyll Doëre-la Rivière in search of marsh-monsters and dragons, only to surprisingly discover no accommodation available in the usually dead-in-the-off-season resort.

All rooms have been taken by scientists working for W.A.A.M (World American Advanced Machines): a mega-corporation in contention with the ubiquitous multinational Bellson & Gambler.

Both companies keep cropping up in Albert’s files of the weird and unexplained…

Soon the mismatched spatio-temporal operatives are trudging through acres of misty mire, encountering young Jean-René who offers to lead them to the infamous monster everybody is searching for.

When they find the Brobdingnagian beast, only Valerian’s disintegrator saves their lives. They quickly return to Albert’s paper-&-scrap-packed Paris flat, where the quirky researcher decides its time his impatient young colleague meets the secret source: a bizarre modern mystic and seer named Chatelard who cannily points out affinities between the manifestations met so far and the classical ancient concept of The Four Elements

He also points out that one could call highly ranked corporate businessmen the “hidden high priests of today’s world”, whilst mentioning that a pretty blonde woman from abroad recently offered him a lot of money for the same insights…

Later, as Albert sifts through the precious papers, reviewing all he has on Bellson & Gambler, frantic Valerian finally re-establishes contact with Laureline, just as she concludes an epic struggle against ghastly odds and enters a hidden shrine to gaze upon fantastic representations of Four Elemental Forces which underpin the universe…

Once again contact is broken and in a petulant rage the astral adventurer storms out into the Parisian night. Utterly oblivious to the fact that he is being followed by enigmatic figures in an expensive automobile, he accepts a lift from a pretty girl in a sports car…

To Be Concluded…

Bold, mind-boggling and moodily mysterious, this splendid change of pace accentuates the deadly dangers which underscore this astonishingly imaginative series; eschewing the usual concentration on witty japery and politico-philosophical trendiness in favour of mounting suspense, bubbling paranoia and stark suspense with mesmerising effect…

Brooklyn Line Terminus Cosmos was the tenth Cinebook translation: originally serialised in Pilote #M70 – M73 (March to June 1980) before being released as an album.

After a full recap the story resumes some relative hours later as Laureline finally wakes her slumbering, cosmically distant partner. She is psychically aware of the woman sleeping beside him and takes great pleasure in razzing him on his conquest “in the line of duty”…

Fun over, Laureline imparts crucial information: the puissant yet debased ancients of Zomuk now seemingly worship two strange new godlike beings and are sharing with them the awesome power of Elemental artefacts they have preserved for centuries. Sadly, she suspects the lordly strangers are far from divine and have extremely venal – if not outright criminal – motives for their attentiveness.

Moreover, when the deities started squabbling over the potent offerings, the native Zoms start smelling rats too…

As Laureline tracks the impostors deep into a region dominated by astral pirates and fugitives, Valerian returns to his new companion, suspicious that she also is not what she seems…

He’s not wrong. The highly competent Miss Cynthia Westerly is highly placed in one of the corporations pursuing the uncanny phenomena plaguing Paris, but is oblivious to the fact that the big oaf she thought safely seduced and abandoned is actually following when she heads for the Pompidou Centre to attempt capture of the next Elemental manifestation.

As he trails her, Valerian becomes aware that her rivals are in pursuit and plays a very deft trick to throw them all off guard…

Rendezvousing with Albert, the Spatio-Temporal Agent gets his hands on the surprisingly compact “Creature of Air and Dreams” before anybody else, but the brief contact leaves him changed and damaged…

As Albert hustles him away, Valerian slips into tenuous contact with Laureline but the communication is oddly garbled, since his consciousness is simultaneously wandering the timelines: glimpsing events from his past and many which have yet to occur…

His bewildering loss of temporal continuity continues even as Albert drags the dazed hero onto a jet, heading for a final confrontation with the warring corporate cliques. The entire journey is punctuated with bizarre visions which Laureline is forced to share, and on arrival in New York Albert takes the debilitated agent to see an old friend: aged Kabbalah scholar Schlomo Meilsheim who has some ideas on a remedy for the increasingly escalating condition…

The situation has not gone unnoticed by the voracious corporations either. With their grand schemes of profitable new proprietary energy sources threatened, they have instigated a mass convocation of every fringe scientist, modern mystic, seer, religious nut and new age quack in the country: a last-ditch attempt to regain control of those elemental forces currently tormenting Valerian…

Naturally Schlomo is invited too and brings his friends along to the desolate, snow-swept reaches of Brooklyn. When Val wanders off, terse communication with Laureline reveals the truth about his latest visions and the dangers she’s been battling single-handed in pursuit of the faux gods.

Now as Elementals catastrophically manifest amongst the massed mystics, she enacts a bold plan to cut off the problem at source; severing the uncanny connection between devastating forces devised by the Zoms and its unfortunate link to unwary, unhappy 20th century Earth…

Sly, subtle, brilliantly mind-boggling and moodily mysterious, this sharp saga is a trans-time tale of subtle power, dripping with devilish wit, but no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware or ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline yarns never allow message to overshadow excitement or entertainment. This is one of the most memorable romps you could ever imagine and there’s even better to come…

Les Spectres d’Inverloch originally appeared in Pilote #M110-117, (spanning July 1983 to February 1984) and opens here as Laureline enjoys the comforts of a palatial manor in Scotland, somewhere at the tail end of the 20th century. Unflappable dowager Lady Charlotte is a most gracious host and happily shares every benefit of life in Clan McCullough, even though her young charge can’t help but wonder why she has to cool her heels with the old biddy in this odd time and place…

Once again, the Spatio-Temporal partners-in-peril are separated by eons and light years. Valerian is at the other end of everything: impatiently stuck on water-world Glapum’t, trying to capture a hulking aquatic beast who easily defies his every stratagem. Finally, once brute force, commando tactics and super-science have all proved ineffectual, the frustrated agent tries bribery. Naturally, the tasty morsels he offers are heavily drugged…

However, as he carries the second phase of his orders, a real problem crops up. Valerian can’t establish contact with Galaxity…

Far ago and elsewhere, London is enduring a paralysing wave of industrial actions. The strikes are particularly galling to volubly affable, infuriatingly unrushed and always tardy Mr. Albert. Galaxity’s 20th century information gatherer/sleeper operative is trying to get to Scotland, but wonders if he’s ever going to get out of the English capital…

On far-flung Rubanis, dictatorial secret police chief Colonel Tlocq is having a duel of wits with the engagingly ruthless data-brokers known as the Shingouz. Naturally, the spymaster is utterly outmanoeuvred by the devious little reptiles who gleefully take off with the secret they required. All-in-all, they are rather enjoying working for Earth…

Way back in West Virginia, Lady Charlotte’s husband Lord Seal is consulting with the CIA. The dapper Briton is a past master of “tradecraft” and remains unperturbed even after reviewing the terrifying situation facing both Communist Bloc and Free World. Something is making all persons in charge of nuclear weapons – politicians and military alike – go mad. There have been numerous near-misses and even a couple of swiftly hushed-up actual disasters on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Moreover, the Americans have got hold of strange little devices used to cause the insanity. Somebody is deliberately trying to spark atomic Armageddon…

Only the veteran spy’s swift actions prevent the entire assembly going the same way, when a concealed insanity-gadget goes off during their top-secret meeting…

As Seal jets off home, the scene switches to Galaxity. The super-city, impregnable bastion of human dominance, is deserted. Only its supreme master remains, and as the fortress and Terran empire start dissolving into nothingness, he makes a desperate jump into time…

On a clear autumn afternoon, Lady Charlotte and Laureline are enjoying the view from Castle Inverloch’s rear windows when the immaculate, lovingly-manicured-for-centuries lawns are wrecked by the crash-landing of a Shingouz shuttle. Naturally, the visitors are granted every gracious vestige of hospitality, even after Lord Seal arrives in flamboyantly bombastic fashion and sees what’s become of his beloved grass…

Aplomb and grace under pressure alone cannot account for the elderly couple’s acceptance, and when Albert pops in and Valerian shows up – much to the detriment of what remains of the lawns – it becomes clear that the elderly gentry know much more about the workings of the universe than everybody else in this century…

Even the previously-captive Glapumtian – who likes to be called “Ralph” – has a part to play in the baffling, pre-ordained proceedings.

What exactly that means starts to become clear after Lord and Lady Seal introduce their outré guests to the legendary ghost of Inverloch. Valerian usually just calls him “boss”…

Soon the Spatio-Temporal Agents are being made painfully aware of a monumental threat to the universe which has already unmade the events leading to the birth of Galaxity and the Terran Empire and which now poses a threat to all that is…

To Be Concluded…

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, this sharp trans-time tale beguilingly lays the groundwork for an epic escapade. This is one of the most memorable romps Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, and heralded the start of a whole new way to enjoy the future…

The Wrath of Hypsis concludes a landmark tale and marks a turning point in the ongoing epic. Initially every Valérian adventure began as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but after this adventure from 1985, the publishing world shifted gears. From the next tale and every one thereafter, the mind-bending sagas were released as all-new complete graphic novels. The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarification: canonically, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

Les Foudres d’Hypsis originally appeared in Pilote #M128-135, (January to September 1985): an action-packed yet trenchant romp resetting a growing paradox that had been slowing building since The City of Shifting Waters

In previous volume The Ghosts of Inverloch, Galaxity was eradicated from reality by agents unknown, leaving only the Chief of the Spatio-Temporal Service to plunge back in time to 1986: the chronal crisis-point which triggered the disaster.

Spatio-Temporal partners-in-peril Valerian and Laureline joined him by extremely convoluted paths after gathering a trio of Shingouz traders and affable, aquatic super-mathematician Ralph from different eras and galactic backwaters.

They all met up at Inverloch Castle, far from escalating petty crises and a mounting unrest afflicting Earth that would soon peak with the melting of the polar ice-caps, destruction of modern human civilisation and consequent birth-pangs of Galaxity.

The Scottish citadel was home to British intelligence supremo Lord Seal, his brilliant wife Lady Charlotte and guest Mr. Albert. This distinguished, exceptional band had gathered to prevent Earth’s devastation but Galaxity’s sudden disappearance added even greater urgency to the mission…

The tale continues here as the strange crew review the worsening situation. Nuclear powers across Earth are experiencing inexplicable, potentially fatal malfunctions. Alien objects keep appearing in random locations and – thanks to the extraterrestrial input of Seals visitor’s – they can now lay blame upon the machinations of Hypsis: an enigmatic planet constantly perambulating from system to system, quadrant to quadrant…

Seal’s contacts have narrowed down the potential crisis point to one of a number of ships in the Arctic. Soon the odd allies are covertly heading north in British weather ship HMS Crosswinds

Thanks to Ralph’s talents and growing friendship with a pod of Orcas, the maritime search is gradually narrowed down and before long Crosswinds closes in on a quaint schooner named Hvexdet… and none too soon.

The time-displaced Chief has locked himself in his cabin, Valerian is wracked by nightmares of vanished Galaxity and numerous doomed Earths whilst the gambling-addicted Shingouz have almost won or traded everything aboard ship not bolted down or welded on…

Cornering the Hvexdet in a field of pack ice, dauntless Captain Merryweather gives orders to ram, spooking the schooner into blasting off into space and instituting devastating retaliation. It’s what the Chief has been waiting for. With Crosswinds sinking and the crew heading for the lifeboats, he orders Valerian, Laureline, Seal, Albert, the Shingouz and Ralph to join him in the astroship: following the invaders’ flight to find nomadic Hypsis…

Pursuit is erratic and convoluted until Valerian has the idea of linking Ralph to the ship’s systems to predict Hvexdet’s final destination. It works perfectly and before long the astroship touches down on a strange, rocky world with immense towers dotting the landscape.

And that’s where things get really strange as Valerian learns why Earth was scheduled for nuclear meltdown, meets the incredible true owners of the troubled birthplace of humanity and watches in astonishment as Albert, Laureline and the Shingouz negotiate an unbelievable deal which saves Earth, but not (necessarily) his beloved and much-missed home Galaxity…

Astute fans will realise that this ripping yarn was writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Méziéres’ way of rationalising the drowned Earth of 1986 (as seen in 1968 adventure The City of Shifting Waters) with the contemporary period that they were now working in. It also gave them an opportunity to send Valerian and Laureline in a new direction and uncharted creative waters…

To Be Continued…

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, these sharp trans-time tales beguilingly blend outrageous satire with blistering action, and deft humour with cosmic apostasy: utterly reenergising what was already one of the most thrilling sci fi strips in comics. The Wrath of Hypsis and its successors are the most memorable romps Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, heralding the start of a whole new way to go back to the future…

These stories are some of the most influential comics in the world, timeless, thrilling, funny and just too good to be ignored. The time is now and there’s no space large enough to contain the sheer joy of Valerian and Laureline, so go see what all the fuss is about right now…
© Dargaud Paris, 2017 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Pogo Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB)

Now is a strange, insane and dangerous time in politics and world affairs… but when hasn’t that been true?

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he relocated to California and joined the Disney Studio. He worked on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics who held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 the other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sagaciously retaining the copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine.

Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, in the more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, launching on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes (available in resoundingly comforting hardcover editions and as eBook tomes) reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, probably the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This was a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years, whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering.

It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of this two-year period, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the following decades…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents.

Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as the less loathsome likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery of course includes the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

As Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, this tome offers a magical, magnificent treatment of all the problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics: dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the Presidency…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus çachange, plus c’est la même chose

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Davos…

Gosh, I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight. Tragically, here at least, we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement.

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

The Smurfs Anthology volume 1


By Yvan Delporte & Peyo, smurflated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-417-9

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

After toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 the eager teen joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, Pierre briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising.

In his off hours he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his bold young knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit – after the inclusion of a scene-stealing comedy foil – the strip prospered and, in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – now using the childhood nom de plume Peyo – would gradually succumb to popular demand and turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as The Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as titanic tyke Benoît Brisefer (translated recently as Benny Breakiron), and also stuck with Johan until 1977 (13 albums-full) when the pressure of creating more Smurf stuff grew too much. Even then his son Thierry with artist Alain Maury revived the series, bring the count to 17 albums

Yvan Delporte (24th June 1928-5th March 2007) was a Belgian comics writer whose greatest gift was an invisible one. He was editor of Le Journal de Spirou between 1955 and 1968: shaping strips and creator’s during Europe’s golden age of excellence. One feature he did script was Peyo’s spin-off fantasy Les Schtroumpfs, and he also found a bit of time to write René Follet’s Steve Severin and co-create Franquin’s Gaston Lagaffe and Idées noires.

We English-speakers mostly have visions of the Smurfs fostered and shaped by the animated shows, films and toys, but the comics – although aimed at an all-ages audience – were packed with social commentary and sly satire that can still take the breath away if you’re a parent reared on anodyne censored US cartoon fodder.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, those gloriously outrageous medieval masterworks are available to discerning fans, both as individual albums and in superb, anthologically robust, full-colour hardback (and eBook) compilations, kitted out and filled with little extras such historical essays and all presented in the original publication order Peyo dictated. A huge bonus as far as I’m concerned is the inclusion of original artwork and (French) covers of the period…

First album ‘The Purple Smurfs’ comes with a comprehensive Introduction by Smurfologist Matt. Murray explaining the tone of those distant times and how we post-PC patrons got here from original 1959 solo saga ‘Les Schtroumpfs noirs’…

Full of fun, action, slapstick and frenetic thrills, the eponymous lead tale – by Delporte & Peyo; as are all the entries here – reveals how the idyllic hidden mushroom-styled village of the little blue folk falls to a rapidly-spreading plague. The horrific ailment is transmitted by irresistible biting and characterised by a radical shift in colouration and behaviour. Soon, only wise wizardly patriarch Papa Smurf is left to combat the Smurfie Apocalypse, and he’s running out of options…

Two shorter yarns follow as ‘The Flying Smurf’ finds one little slacker absconding from walnut-gathering duties to pursue ever more complex and obsessive ways to soar like a bird in the sky after which ‘The Smurfnapper’ finds archenemy sorcerer Gargamel and his cat Azrael hunting for the last crucial ingredient to create a Philosopher’s stone. It’s a Smurf, of course, but catching and keeping one of the little blue perishers are two entirely different things…

The second album is quite infamous in certain circles and very much a product of its era: one generation since WWII ended and right in the midst of escalating Cold War tensions. Following another Matt. Murray Introduction, discussing the heavy political and social implications of Le Schtroumpfissime, ‘The Smurf King’ details how, when Papa Smurf goes on an extended provisions hunt, his decision not to leave anyone in charge leads to rapid and radical political unrest. A half-assed and wholly inept attempt to elect a new boss goes typically awry until one bright spark realizes he can get others to vote for him by lying, making promises he can’t keep and applying heavy doses of flattery.

Soon, he’s living in a palace built by the suckers and indulging in all the perks of totalitarianism, but some Smurfs are muttering discontent and forming a rebel army…

Social satire gives way to surreal whimsy ‘The Smurfony’ then details the formation of an orchestra. One poor Smurf though has plenty of enthusiasm but no talent and his efforts make him extremely unwelcome… until Gargamel returns with soporific sound sorcery and only a bit of discord can save the day…

As previously stated, the Smurfs debuted in La Flûte à six trous, a 1958 tale of feudal comedy-adventurers Johan and Peewit. The little guys were phenomenally popular and reappeared many times before winning their own series, and when that finally happened the origin tale was rushed into album form as the third Schtroumpfs book release, suitably reimagined as La Flûte à six Schtroumpfs.

In ‘The Smurfs and the Magic Flute’ court jester Peewit – another would-be musician whose melodies induce pain and hysteria – gets hold of a flute with six holes that forces all who hear it to dance uncontrollably until they pass out. His pranks are disruptive enough but the instrument is then stolen by vile villain Matthew Oilycreep, who goes on a plundering spree, amassing stolen wealth to buy an army of mercenaries to take over the kingdom.

Young knight Johan and Peewit re at a loss to stop the usurper until they are approached by little blue men who tell them an incredible tale and invite them back to their mystical home.

They have all the answers and a plan but there’s no time to waste if disaster is to be avoided…

Wrapping up with ‘The Aftersmurf’ from Papercutz Smurf-in-Chief Jim Salicrup, this stunning collection of fun and fantasy is a magnificent example of all-ages comics wonderment no serious aficionado could do without.

Go on, You Smurf you want to…
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasia volume 1: Adventure Down Under


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

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

First conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, a magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938 (three and a bit months before DC Thomson’s Beano, but still beaten by The Dandy which launched on December 4th 1937). It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel: a reference to the publisher’s leading magazine, Le Moustique.

With his pet squirrel, Spip (who joined the cast on June 8th 1939; he’s the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself, so happy 80th anniversary, little dude!) the plucky kid was the idea of French artist Robert Velter, who signed himself Rob-Vel.

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

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

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

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

Spirou the character (the name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving – under a succession of creators – into a simultaneously urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour.

With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou travels to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

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

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

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

As the series entered the 1980s Spirou seemed to stall: three discrete creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the creators of the graphic novel under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

These last adapted and referenced the beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. This one, Spirou et Fantasio 34 – Aventure en Australie from 1985, was their second.

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

Without further ado we plunge straight into the bizarre, treasure-hunting drama as dire doings Down Under segue into Spirou and Fantasio arriving home exhausted from their latest assignment. They are intercepted by Cellophine at the airport: odd things are occurring in the depths of the Outback and the always-newsworthy Count of Champignac is right at the heart of it. Instantly awake again, all three jet out to Australia where nefarious deeds are occurring at the desolate Albuh Opal Mine.

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

This classy blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick remains a pure refreshing joy in a market far too full of adults-only carnage and testosterone-fuelled breast-beating. Easily accessible to readers of all ages drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling and readily available in both paperback album and eBook formats, this is a cracking read and the start of a long line of translated epics that should be as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Adventures of Jo, Zette & Jocko: The Valley of the Cobras


By Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Mammoth)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-1244-1 (HB)                    978-0-74970-385-1 (PB)

George Remi, world famous as Hergé, had a long creative connection to Catholicism. At the behest of Abbot Norbert Wallez, editor of Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, he had created Tintin before moving on to such strips as the mischievous Quick and Flupke, Tim the Squirrel in the Far West’, ‘The Amiable Mr. Mops’, ‘Tom and Millie’ and ‘Popol Out West’ – all while continuing and expanding the globe-trotting adventures of the dauntless boy reporter and his faithful little dog.

In 1935, between working on serialised Tintin epics The Blue Lotus and The Broken Ear, Remi was approached by Father Courtois, director of the French weekly newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (Valiant Hearts). The paper already carried the daily exploits of Hergé’s undisputed star-turn, but Courtois also wanted a strip depicting solid family values and situations that the seemingly-orphaned and independent boy reporter was never exposed to.

He also presumably wanted something less subversive than the mischievous, trouble-making working-class boy rascals Quick and Flupke

The proposed feature needed a set of characters typifying a decent, normal family: A working father, a housewife and mother, young boy, a sister, even a pet. Apparently inspired by a toy monkey called Jocko, Hergé devised the family Legrand.

Jacques was an engineer, and son Jo and daughter Zette were average kids; bright, brave, honest, smart and yet still playful. Mother stayed home, cooking and being rather concerned rather a lot. They had a small, feisty monkey for a pet – although I suspect as Jocko was tailless, he might have been a baby chimpanzee, which “As Any Fule Kno” is actually a species of ape.

The first adventure was a two-volume treasure: ‘The Secret Ray’ – only once published in English and consequently rarer than Hen’s teeth or monkey feathers. A ripping yarn of scientific bandits, gangsters, mad professors, robots and, regrettably, some rather ethnically unsound incidences of cannibal savages, this is very much a product of its time in too many respects.

Although Hergé came to deeply regret (and wherever possible amend) his many early uses of that era’s racial stereotyping, the island dwelling natives in Le “Manitoba” Ne Répond Plus and L’ Éruption Du Karamako (which originally ran in Coeurs Vaillants from January 19th 1936 to June 1937) will now always be controversial.

It’s a true pity that such masterful and joyous work has to be viewed with caution, read strictly in context and must be ascribed subtext and values which may never have been intended, merely because the medium is pictorial and its meaning passively acquired rather than textual, and which can therefore only be decoded by the conscious effort of reading.

I also wonder how much was a quiet, sensitive artist led by an aggressively proselytising, missionary Church’s doctrine and policy…

How much Church opposition was there to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 for example? And don’t get me started on Nazi Germany and the Vatican…

Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…

The last completed adventure of the boldly capable Legrand family came out in the 1950’s, when Hergé was at the peak of his creative powers. Although he found the concept a difficult one to work with, devoid of the opportunities for satire or social commentary, the wholesome derring-do of this series still provides thrilling and funny entertainment for kids of all ages.

Whilst vacationing in the Alps, Jo and Zette inadvertently fall foul of the whimsical and capricious Maharajah of Gopal, who is infuriated that they are better skiers than he. Matters only worsen when Jo accidentally hits the Maharajah with a snowball.

The spoiled, rich bully’s appalling behaviour escalates until eventually their father Jacques administers a long overdue spanking to the middle-aged potentate which completely changes his attitude. The much friendlier Maharajah promptly commissions the engineer to construct a bridge across the fabled Valley of the Cobras that divides his mountainous kingdom.

As the family embark for the sub-continent, all are unaware that the villainous Prime Minister of Gopal has colluded with a greedy Fakir to sabotage the project…

Begun in 1939 but shelved for nearly two decades, this is still a light exuberant romp, full of thrills and packed with laughs, executed with the captivating artistry that has made Tintin a global phenomenon. This is a book any child will adore and it baffles me why it and its companion volumes are out of print. Hopefully not for long though
© 1957, 2007 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. All rights reserved. English text © 1986, 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 2: Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and the Banquet, Asterix and Cleopatra


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4440-0424-3

It’s been a painful year for lovers of comics, with many of our greatest practitioners – famous or otherwise – leaving us. I’m going to spend the remainder of the year dwelling on them and recommending examples of their work we can read to commemorate them in the best way possible… through enjoyment.

Suffolk-born Anthea Bell OBE came from prestigious stock. She was born in 1936 and translated numerous works from history books such as WG Siebald’s Austerlitz to the works of Hans Christian Andersen to fantasies such as Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld books Either singly or with Derek Hockridge, however, she found true immortality: translating thousands of pages of European comics and Bande Dessinée. She was a smart and dedicated woman and brilliantly adroit with worlds and concepts in many tongues. Her creative punning and naming techniques in the Asterix books garnered praise all over the world and many aficionados believe the strip is actually funnier in English than in any other language.

I can certainly confirm that’s the case with German…

Among her many triumphs are the aforementioned Asterix, Le Petit Nicolas, Lieutenant Blueberry and Iznogoud.

She died on 18th October 2018 and can never be replaced.

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a wily wee warrior who resisted the iniquities, experienced the absurdities and observed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion which bestowed incredible strength, speed and vitality.

One of the most popular comics in the world, the chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even into a theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created as the transformative 1960s began by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though their perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

When Pilote launched in 1959 was Asterix was a massive hit from the start. For a while Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes since then.

Like all great literary classics, the premise works on two levels: for younger readers as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies regularly getting their just deserts and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, enhanced here by the brilliantly light touch of the translators who played such a massive part in making the indomitable Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Launched in Pilote #1 (29th October 1959, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, June 1st 1959), the stories were set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the all-conquering Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Aquarium, Laudanum, Petibonum and Barbaorum (the latter two becoming Compendium and Totorum for us Brits).

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

With these volumes a key pattern was established: the adventures would henceforth – like a football match – alternate between Home and Away, with each globe-trotting escapade balanced by an epic set in and around he happily beleaguered Gaulish village (if you’re counting, home tales were odd numbered volumes and travelling exploits even-numbered…)

Asterix the Gladiator debuted in Pilote #126-168 (1963) with the canny rebel and his increasingly show-stealing pal Obelix (who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero) despatched to the heart of the Roman Empire on an ill-conceived mission of mercy…

When Prefect Odius Asparagus seeks to give Julius Caesar a unique gift he decides upon one of the indomitable Gauls who had been giving his occupying forces such a hard time.

Thus, he has village Bard Cacofonix abducted and bundled off to Rome. Although in two minds about losing the raucous harpist, pride wins out and the villagers mount a rescue attempt, but after thrashing the Romans again they discover that their lost comrade is already en route for the Eternal City…

Asterix and Obelix are despatched to retrieve the missing musician and hitch a ride on a Phoenician galley operated under a bold new business plan by captain/general manager Ekonomikrisis. On the way to Italy the heroes first encounter a band of pirates who would become frequent guest-stars and perennial gadflies.

The pirates were a creative in-joke between the close-knit comics community: Barbe-Rouge or Redbeard was a buccaneering strip created by Charlier & Victor Hubinon that also ran in Pilote at the time.

As Asterix and Obelix make friends among the cosmopolitan crowds of Rome, Caesar has already received his latest gift. Underwhelmed by his new Bard, the Emperor sends Cacofonix to the Circus Maximus to be thrown to the lions just as his chief of Gladiators Caius Fatuous is “talent-spotting” two incredibly tough strangers who would make ideal arena fighters…

Since it’s the best way to get to Cacofonix, our heroes join the Imperial Gladiatorial school; promptly introducing a little Gallic intransigence to the tightly disciplined proceedings. When the great day arrives, the lions get the shock of their lives and the entertainment-starved citizens of Rome “enjoy” a show they will never forget…

As always, the good-natured, comedic situations and sheer finesse of the yarn rattles along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s expansive, authentic and continually improving big-foot art-style.

Asterix and the Banquet originated in Pilote #172-213 (1963), inspired by the Tour de France cycle race.

After being continually humiliated by the intractable Gauls coming and going as they please, Roman Inspector General Overanxius instigates a policy of exclusion and builds a huge wall around the little village, determined to shut them off from their country and the world. Modern world leaders might get a clue from this book, here… if they read books. Even books with pictures…

Incensed, Asterix best the smug Prefect that Gauls can go wherever they please and to prove it invites the Romans to a magnificent feast where they can sample the culinary delights of various regions. Breaking out of the stockade and through the barricades, Asterix and Obelix gather produce from as far afield as Rotomagus (Rouen), Lutetia (Paris, where they also picked up a determined little mutt who would eventually become a star cast-member), Camaracum (Cambrai) and Durocortorum (Rheims), easily evading or overcoming the assembled patrols and legions of man-hunting soldiers. However, they don’t reckon on the corrupting power of the huge – and growing – bounty on their heads and some Gauls are apparently more greedy than patriotic…

Even with Asterix held captive and all the might of the Empire ranged against them, Gaulish honour is upheld and Overanxius, after some spectacular fights, chases and close calls, eventually is made to eat his words – and a few choice Gallic morsels – in this delightful, bombastic and exceedingly clever celebration of pride and whimsy.

Asterix and Cleopatra ran from 1963-1963 in issues #215-257 and, although deriving its title from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is actually a broad visual spoof of the 1963 movie blockbuster Cleopatra (the original collected album cover was patterned on the film poster).

Rome is a big empire to run but Caesar always has time to spare for the fascinating Queen of Egypt – even though she can be a little overbearing at times…

When Caesar calls her people decadent, Cleopatra announces that her Egyptians will build a magnificent palace within three months to prove their continued ingenuity and vitality.

Her architect Edifis is less confidant and subcontracts the job, recruiting his old friend Getafix the Druid to help, with Asterix, Obelix and faithful pooch Dogmatix coming along to keep him out of trouble…

After another short, sharp visit with the pirates, the voyagers reach the Black Lands only to find the building site an utter shambles. Edifis’ arch rival Artifis has stirred up unrest among the labourers and consequently sabotaged the supply-chain, entombing the visitors in a deadly tourist-trap and even frames Edifis by attempting to poison the Queen.

For all these tactics the ingenious Gauls have a ready solution and the Palace construction continues apace, but when Caesar – determined not to lose face to his tempestuous paramour – sends his Legions to destroy the almost-completed complex, it’s up to the two smallest, smartest warriors to come up with a solution to save the day, the Palace and the pride of two nations…

Outrageously fast-paced and funny and magnificently illustrated by a supreme artist at the very peak of his form, Asterix and Cleopatra is one of the very best epics from a series that has nothing but brilliant hits.

This is supremely enjoyable comics storytelling and if you’re still not au fait with these Village People you must be as Crazy as the Romans ever were…
© 1964-1965 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.