Asterix Omnibus volume 5: Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix in Spain & Asterix and the Roman Agent


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-488-5 (HB); 978-1-44400-490-8 (PB)

One of the most-read comics series in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, if you’re planning a trip…) spinning off from his hilarious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty potion-powered champion of Gallic Pride was created by two of the art form’s greatest proponents, writer René Goscinny & illustrator Albert Uderzo and although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment still continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Me, I still delight in a divinely delivered “Paff!” as much as any painfully potent pun or dryly searing jibe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the fantastic lands of the Empire and beyond…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Asterix and the Cauldron was the 13th saga, originally running in Pilote #469-491 throughout 1968 before being first translated into English in 1976.

It’s a convoluted tale of treachery, felony and dishonour as fellow Gaulish chieftain Whosemoralsarelastix – a cunning and conniving Roman collaborator – convinces the reluctant but big-hearted Vitalstatistix to guard the occupied cliff-top community’s treasury from Imperial tax collectors.

Despite knowing how untrustworthy the scoundrel is, Gaul must help Gaul and the rogue’s huge onion-soup cauldron, stuffed with his people’s golden Sestertii, is placed under the stewardship of the village’s greatest hero and most trustworthy warrior: Asterix.

However, that night, as a great inter-village feast is consumed, somebody cuts their way into the guard hut and steals the glittering contents of that mighty tureen. Of course, dodgy Whosemoralsarelastix wants his money back and the noble Vitalstatistix is honour-bound to replace the stolen horde and disgraced Asterix is banished until he can refill the empty cauldron with gold…

Trusty Obelix refuses to turn away from his friend and joins the quest, which first takes them to the garrison of Compendium, where the wily warrior intends to refill the empty churn with some of the gold the occupiers have been regularly collecting from Gauls.

Unfortunately, Caesar has been experiencing some cash-flow problems of his own and not only has he been rushing the takings to Rome, he hasn’t even paid his soldiers for months…

With disharmony, mutiny and strike action imminent among the legions, Asterix and Obelix realise they must look elsewhere for their loot.

Even their old acquaintances the pirates are cash-strapped – and all-too-soon traditionally thrashed – so the doughty duo must seek their fortune at the grand market in Condatum, briefly and disastrously becoming boar merchants, paid street boxers, actors and charioteers, before turning to crime and planning a bank robbery…

Even here our two just men fare badly. In desperation, they decide to rob Caesar’s tax collector, but Asterix discovers a strange thing. Not only has destitute Whosemoralsarelastix somehow paid his taxes, but the coins deposited smell of onion soup…

With realisation dawning, Asterix visits the cliff-dwelling villagers for a little chat and a mighty reckoning…

Rich with slapstick action and cutting commercial satire (for example the tax collector is a caricature of France’s then Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), this hilarious crime caper is a glorious example of dry yet riotous adventure comedy.

Astérix en Hispanie promptly followed (during 1969 and in Pilote #498-519) in France and was translated into English as Asterix in Spain two years later. It recounts how a valiant group of Iberian warriors are similarly holding-out against Caesar’s total conquest of that proud nation.

Chief Huevos Y Bacon is the noble warrior leading the resistance, but when his haughty son Pepe is captured, all seems lost. Fearing reprisal or rescue, the Romans hastily despatch the hostage lad to the garrison at Totorum, under the oversight of brutish Spurius Brontosaurus. He has no idea what the “pacified” Gauls of the area are like and has his hands more than full contending with the appallingly behaved and inspirationally vicious young prince…

When his guards encounter Gauls in the great forest, they are easily overwhelmed by playful Obelix. Asterix takes Pepe back to the village where – following an ill-advised and painful attempt by Brontosaurus and the legion to reclaim him – our heroes decide to return him to his father.

Most pertinent and urgent in reaching this decision is the spoiled brat’s obnoxious behaviour…

Brontosaurus has pragmatically decided the kid is perfectly safe with the Gauls, and, unaware of their planned jaunt to Hispania, smugly returns to his post. Meanwhile, after their mandatory encounter with pirates, Asterix, Obelix and faithful mutt Dogmatix make their leisurely way through the scenic countryside (offering many trenchant asides regarding the then popular French passion for Spanish touring holidays), until a chance encounter in an inn reveals to the General Brontosaurus how close they are to undoing all his plans.

Venal but no coward, the Roman joins their excursion party, captures Asterix and steals the Gaul’s magic potion: planning to destroy Huevos Y Bacon’s resistance once and for all. However, Obelix, Pepe – and Dogmatix – have a plan to spectacularly save the day…

Full of good-natured nationalistic pokes and trans-national teasing, liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

During 1970, Pilote #531-552 serialised La Zizanie. It translates as “strife”, but on making the jump to English in 1972, became the far less evocative Asterix and the Roman Agent. The tale featured more homeland insecurity as Caesar, under attack by the Roman Senate over the indomitable, unconquerable Gauls, deploys his greatest weapon: a double-edged sword named Tortuous Convolvulus, whose every word and gesture seems to stir ill-feeling and conflict in all who meet him.

Where Force of Arms has failed perhaps this living manifestation of disharmony and dissent might forever fracture the Gauls’ unshakable comradeship and solidarity with dose of Roman entente dis-cordiale

On the crossing, just two minutes with the conniving Convolvulus has the brotherhood of pirates at each other’s throats, and, even while discussing plan with Aquarium’s commander Felix Platypus, the agent’s unique gift sows dissonance and violence, so when he finally enters the village it’s not long before the high-spirited and fractious Gauls are at war with each other…

Women are cattily sniping at each other, traders are trading blows and even Asterix and Obelix are on the outs. But that’s not the worst of it: somehow the idea has gotten around that their sharp little champion has sold out to the Romans…

With unrest abounding and abundant, the Romans soon have the secret of the magic potion too (or do they?) but ingenious Convolvulus hasn’t reckoned on two things – the sheer dimness of Imperial troops and the invaluable power of true friendship – leaving Asterix and Obelix a way to overcome their differences, turn the tables and once more save the day.

At last, the agent provocateur is forced to realise that sometimes one can be too smart for one’s own good…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this yarn was reputedly based on lingering ill-feeling following an internal power-struggle at Pilote which almost cost editor Goscinny his job. The original title for the tale transliterates as “The Ill-feeling” or “The Dissension”. Seen through the lens of 40 years of distance, however, all that can be seen now is stinging, clever, witty observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, and surely that’s what matters most?

Asterix sagas are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1968-1970 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

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.

Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBNs: 978-0-82885-071-1 (HB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-624-2 (PB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-813-0 (HB Sun)
978-1-40520-625-9 (PB Sun)

Georges Prosper Remi – known universally as Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his astounding yarns tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout, produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928, Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme while discontentedly illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps thereby highlighting and exposing some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning in early January 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930. Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Anglophones), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in Belgium’s army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down. Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, appropriated and controlled by the Nazis). He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

Begun in conquered Belgium and running in daily instalments, Les Sept Boules de Cristal began in December 1943 but was abruptly shelved when the Allies arrived in September 1944. Hergé, tarred as a collaborator, was unable to work for two years. When he was cleared the story resumed, serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from September 26th 1946 to April 22nd 1948

In 1943 the artist had met Edgar P. Jacobs, who became his assistant. They began with this extended adventure-tale which is now divided into eerie thriller The Seven Crystal Balls and grandiose epic Prisoners of the Sun. These dates seem odd but once again the Nazi conquest holds the answers.

For Belgium. Liberation day was September 3rd 1944. When the occupiers fled, workers on Le Soir were arrested as potential collaborators or Nazi sympathizers and the newspaper was closed down. For the two years they were under suspicion, Hergé, Jacobs and Alice Devos spent their time adapting old Tintin adventures for release as colour albums. The Seven Crystal Balls remained unfinished and unpublished until Raymond Leblanc stepped in.

Anthological Le Journal de Tintin continued the tale before completing the saga with Le Temple du Soleil. During this period, Jacobs left Hergé when the artist supposedly refused him a by-line for his work. At that time, Jacobs was also producing his own science-adventure masterpiece Blake and Mortimer which also featured in the weekly Tintin.

The Seven Crystal Balls sees affable old soak Captain Haddock returned to family manse Marlinspike Hall where he is adjusting (poorly) to his new-found wealth, and the prospect of exasperating Professor Cuthbert Calculus as his house-guest.

When Tintin and Snowy visit, a trip to the theatre embroils them all in a baffling enigma wherein the survivors of the South American Sanders-Hardiman Expedition all successively fall into comas due to an Incan curse and some rather suspect strangers. Tintin soon determines someone more solid than ethereal is causing the tragedies, but even he can’t stop the attacks, and soon he and his friends are also on the mysterious malefactor’s “to-do” list…

When Calculus is abducted from under their very noses, Haddock gives up his life of luxury and resumes adventuring once more, determined to help Tintin rescue their friend and solve the mystery.

Giving chase. they narrowly miss the villains at a seaport but still have a chance to beat the ship carrying Calculus if they board a sea-plane for Peru…

This is classic hairsbreadth storytelling. The pace is spellbinding and the ever-present slapstick actually serves to heighten the tension of the chase. The tale ends on a cliff-hanger, which is only right and proper. Still, imagine how you’d have felt all those decades ago when the conclusion was months away…

 

The helter-skelter drama continues in as, in the Port of Callao, Tintin and Haddock anxiously await the arrival of the freighter Pachacamac. However, when it arrives, suspected of carrying their kidnapped friend Cuthbert Calculus, the vessel flies a plague-pennant. There is Yellow Fever aboard and nobody can approach her!

And so begins Prisoners of the Sun, epic conclusion of the maddening mystery of Inca curses and the doomed Sanders-Hardiman Expedition to South America…

Suspecting a trick, Tintin sneaks aboard and finds the Professor, only to be driven away by gunfire. After telephoning Haddock, he chases the abductors, leaving the Captain and inept detectives Thompson and Thomson to catch up if they can. The chase takes them deep into the beautiful, rugged country where they finally reunite, only to become the target of many murder attempts, and other methods of dissuasion.

Undaunted, Tintin and Haddock continue their trek towards the mountains, and are befriended by Zorrino, a young lad who risks his own life to help them cross valleys, mountain-ranges and jungles, dodging death from both beasts and men, until they are all finally captured by the last remnants of a lost, wondrous and deeply cautious civilisation…

This is an epic staggering in scope and breathtaking in execution. Whether drawing a battle, choreographing a pratfall or delineating a golden temple, the clean precise line of the art and the simplified colour palette makes every panel “realer-than real”, whilst the captivating imagination of the storytelling makes this a truly graphic narrative.

These are two of the best comic adventures of all time and they demand a place on every fan’s bookshelves.

The Seven Crystal Balls: artwork © 1948, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.

Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Prisoners of the Sun: artwork © 1949, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-962-3

There are relatively few comic characters that have entered world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch. Elzie Crisler Segar had been producing the Thimble Theatre daily newspaper strip since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the ever-unfolding adventures of Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the heights that slouching walk-on would reach.

This third magnificent collection of Segar’s immortal – certainly unkillable – clay-footed reprobate reproduces one spectacular groundbreaking epic after another as the artist-auteur, in a whirlwind of creative inspiration, took the daily strip to new heights of cliffhanging thrills and absurdity. This he did whilst building unique and jovial character studies with the more humorous Sunday pages, generally set in the generic small seaside town of Sweethaven.

Following another erudite essay by Comics historian Donald Phelps, the daily delights (stretching from June 9th 1932 to December 9th 1933) begin with a rip-snorting mystery thriller full of action, tension, scares and laughs featuring a large portion of Thimble Theatre’s extensive cast. ‘The Eighth Sea’ finds Popeye, Castor, Olive, King Blozo of Nazilia and his idiot retainer Oscar all following the instructions of Oolong the Chinese Parrot to recover a fabulous lost treasure, aided by the incredible Merlock Jones, quick-change detective. This sinister sea saga was the one-and-only Segar tale to feature Popeye’s ultimate nemesis (in the animated cartoons at least) Bluto.

With breakneck pace – Segar never rested on his laurels or his plots – that adventure led the voyagers back to Nazilia for ‘Long Live the King or Gold and Goofs’ and a rematch with General Bunzo and his new Mata Hari Dinah Mow: a worldly-wise vamp even iron-willed Popeye couldn’t resisk…

After taking a well-aimed pop at popular democracy in ‘The Great Lection’ the old sea-dog sets up his own nation in ‘Popeye: King of Popilania’: another stinging satire which sees the increasingly irrepressible J. Wellington Wimpy expand beyond the Sunday pages to join the dailies cast, almost mooching the infant country away from its idealistic founder. Popilania’s problems are multiplied by an invasion of “furiners”, “emmygrunts” and even jungle-Neanderthals in ‘Wild Men and Wild Women’ before the well-meaning reformer learns his lesson. At least he never had to cope with Brexit…

The trenchant social commentary and barbed satire continued when he returns to America to become ‘Star Reporter’ for The Daily Blast, a periodical edited by Castor and “blessed” with Wimpy as photographer. This leads to the next big cast addition and our hero’s greatest advancement when a reader mails Popeye a baby in ‘Me Sweet Pea.’

Discovering the “infink’s” true history and heritage pits the sailor-man against some pretty ruthless types, and results in him suffering a serious brain injury in ‘Bonkus of the Konkus’ but his indomitable soul and noble heart win through as always in the turbulent desert debacle ‘Popeye’s Cure’

The Sunday Page selection follows a decidedly more domestic but no less riotous path. Running from 9th October to 23rd November 1933, the full-colour section was increasing given over to – or more correctly, appropriated – by the insidiously oleaginous Wimpy: ever hungry, always cadging, yet intellectually stimulating, casually charming and usually triumphant in all his mendicant missions.

Whilst still continuing his pugilistic shenanigans, the action of the Sunday strips moved away from Popeye hitting quite so much to alternately being outwitted by the unctuous moocher, and saving him from the vengeance of Diner owner Rough-house and passionately loathing George W. Geezil, an ethnic Jewish stereotype, who like all Segar’s characters swiftly developed beyond comedic archetype into a unique person with his own story… and another funny accent.

Wimpy was unstoppable – he even became a rival suitor for Olive Oyl’s scrawny favours – and his development owes a huge debt to his creator’s love and admiration of comedian W.C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for common-man-but-imperfect-champion, Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving rapacious greed, freed from all ethical restraint or consideration, and gloriously devoid of any impulse-control.

Wimpy literally took candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar made us love him. He was Popeye’s other half: weld them together and you have an heroic ideal… (and yes, those stories are true: British Wimpy burger bars are built from the remnants of a 1950s international merchandising scheme that wanted to put a J Wellington Wimpy-themed restaurant in every town and city).

The gags and exploits of the two forces of human nature build riotously during this period, ever-more funny; increasingly outrageous. The laugh-out-loud antics seem impossible to top, and maybe Segar knew that. Either he was getting the stand-alone gag-stuff out of his system, or perhaps he was clearing the decks and setting the scene for a really big change.

Within weeks (or for us, next volume) the Thimble Theatre Sunday page changed forever. In a bold move, the blood-and-thunder serial-style adventure epics of the dailies transferred to the Technicolor splendour of the “family pages” and all stops would be pulled out…

Topper strip Sappo actually increased its page-share during this period, going from two to three tiers, as the unstoppable scientist O.G. Watasnozzle took the little feature into increasingly surreal and absurdist realms. On a rocket ship journey, Sappo and his insufferable but long-suffering wife Myrtle experienced incredible thrills, chills and spills during an extended trip around the solar system; experiencing all the goofy wonders and embarrassments Segar’s fevered mind could concoct.

Always innovating, the restless creator also began adding extra value for his readers: incorporating collector stamps, games and puzzles to his Sunday pages. In an era with no television – and indeed, with only the very first prototype comicbooks just starting to appear – radio-shows and Sunday pages were the home entertainment choices of most Americans. Many strips offered extras in their funny-pages and Segar excelled in creating paper-based toys and amusements.

In this book alone there are stamps, play money “lucky bucks”, cartooning tips, drawing lessons and ‘Funny Films’ – dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema!

As an especially welcome bonus, this volume concludes with an incredibly rare piece of Popeye memorabilia: one I’d heard of but never thought I’d ever see. In 1934 the Chicago World’s Fair was held in the Windy City, and for two weeks before, at the end of 1933, it was advertised and promoted in the Hearst papers with an original full-page, monochrome Popeye serial. That’s terrific enough but the extended yarn was given extra push by escaping the funny-pages ghetto to run for that fortnight in the Sports section, as Popeye and crew explored the wonders of the World’s Fair in a truly spectacular and irresistible enticing prom feature – possibly the first of its kind.

This work is among the finest strip narrative ever created: reading it should be on everybody’s bucket list, and even when you do there’s still more and better yet to come…

In this anniversary year, you owe it to yourself to make the acquaintance of this icon of cartooning.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 2: Imhotep’s Transformation


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Colette De Geiter: translated by Luke Spear (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-50-2

Once you get a certain taste in your mind you just can’t stop – well I can’t – so here’s another all-ages Euro-classic saga just not available through American funnybooks these days – although you can now get it digitally…

British and European comics have always been happier with historical strips than our cousins across the pond (a pugnacious part of me wants to say that’s because we have so much more past to play with – and yes, I know they’re responsible for Prince Valiant, but it’s an exception, not a rule) and our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing art form out of days gone by.

The happy combination of past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and especially broad humour has resulted in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes. Don’t take my word for it – just check out Asterix, Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Towers of Bois-Maury, Iznogoud or Thorgal to name the merest few which have made it into English, or even our own much missed classics such as Olac the Gladiator, Dick Turpin, Heros the Spartan or Wrath of the Gods …all long overdue for collection in mass market album form and on the interweb-tubes….

Papyrus is the spectacular magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It began in 1974 in the legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums, plus a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

The plucky “fellah” (look it up) was blessed by the gods and gifted with a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. His original brief was to free supreme Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and thereby restore peace to the Two Kingdoms. More immediately however the lad was also charged with protecting Pharaoh’s wilful and high-handed daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unmatchable talent for finding trouble…

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

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

In the mid-1960s he created South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit even as Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, so De Gieter deep-sixed his Smurfs gig to expand his horizons producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst putting the finishing touches to his new project. This creation would occupy his full attention – and delight millions of fervent fans – for the next 40 years.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieus: blending boys-own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology, gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Throughout, these light fantasy romps depict a fearlessly forthright boy fisherman favoured by the gods as a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

Imhotep’s Transformation was the second Cinebook translation (and 8th yarn, originally released in 1985 as La Métamorphose d’Imhotep): opening with our hero and his one-legged friend Imhotep (no relation) paddling a canoe through the marshes of the Nile.

The peaceful idyll is wrecked when Theti-Cheri and her handmaidens hurtle by in their flashy boat, but the boys don’t mind as they have a message for the princess.

The new holy statue of her father has arrived from the Priests of Memphis and the daughter of Heaven is required at the ceremony to install it at the pyramid of Saqqara before the annual “Heb Sed” King’s Jubilee.

As the girls and boys race back, an old peasant is attacked by a crocodile. Diving after him, Papyrus wrestles the reptile away and is about to kill it when Sobek appears, beseeching him to spare it.

On the surface Theti-Cheri and her attendants are ministering to the aged victim and the princess can’t help noticing how he bears an uncanny resemblance to her dad…

By the time they all reach the pyramid, the monumental task of hauling the statue into place is well under way, but suddenly blood begins pouring out of the monolith’s eyes. Terrified workers panic and the colossal effigy slips, crashing to destruction. The populace are aghast and murmurs of curses and ill omens abound…

Rather than running away, Imhotep heads for the rubble and discovers the statue’s head is hollow. Moreover, inside there is a dead dwarf and a smashed flask which had held blood…

Papyrus is in the royal compound where the recent events have blighted the anticipation of the court. During Heb Sed, the Pharaoh has to run around the sacred pyramid three times and fire his bow at the four corners of the kingdoms to prove his fitness to rule, but now it appears the gods have turned against their chosen emissary on Earth…

Papyrus is not so sure and when he tries to speak to a royal server the man bolts. Giving chase, the lad is in time to prevent the attendant’s murder, but not his escape.

And then a cry goes up: Pharaoh has been poisoned…

Knowing there is no love lost between the Memphis Priests of Ptah and the loyal Theban clerics doctoring the fallen king, Papyrus warns of a possible plot, but has no proof. What is worse, Chepseska, leader of the Memphis faction, is of royal blood too and will inherit if Pharaoh is unable to complete the Heb Sed ritual…

As loyal physicians and priests struggle to save their overlord’s life, Theti-Cheri remembers the old man in the swamp. If only the crocodile bite has not left him too weak to run…

The doughty dotard is willing to try and also knows of a wise woman whose knowledge of herbs can cure Pharaoh, but ruthless Chepseska is on to the kids’ ploy and dispatches a band of killers to stop Papyrus and Imhotep.

The gods, however, are behind the brave lads and after the assassins fall to the ghastly judgement of Sobek, the boys rush an antidote back to Saqqara, only to fall into the lost tomb of Great Imhotep, first Pharaoh, builder-god and divine lord of the Ibis.

With time running out for his distant descendent, the resurrected ruler rouses himself to administer justice for Egypt and inflict the punishment of the gods upon the usurpers…

This is an amazing exploit to thrill and astound fans of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure. Papyrus is a brilliant addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who marry heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin or Asterix volumes would be wise beyond their years in acquiring these classic chronicles tales.

…And Cinebook would be smart to keep on translating these magical yarns, too…
© Dupuis, 1985 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Asterix Omnibus volume 4: Asterix the Legionary; Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield; Asterix at the Olympic Games


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-428-1 (HB)                    978-1-44400-487-8 (PB)

Asterix the Gaul is one of Europe’s – more specifically France’s – most exciting and rewarding contributions to global culture: a cunning little paragon of the underdog spirit who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion bestowing incredible strength, speed and vitality. The savvy smarts are all his own…

One of the most-read comics in the world, his chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages (including Latin and ancient Greek for educational purposes); with 14 live-action and animated movies, 55 board and video games and even into his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris).

More than 370 million copies of 37 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo who were already masters of the form and at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of the terrifying prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

Asterix launched in 1959 in the very first issue of Pilote (with a teaser premiere page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0). The feature was a massive hit from the start. Initially 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, after much effort, convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

Like all great literary classics, the premise works on multiple levels: younger readers enjoying an action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts whilst crustier readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly and witty satire, enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light and innovative touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Personally, I still thrill to a perfectly delivered punch in the bracket as much as a painfully swingeing string of bad puns and dry cutting jibes…)

Asterix the Gaul is a cunning underdog who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion. The stories were set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast around the year 50 BCE, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resist all efforts of the Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French comics export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

In late 1966 they began Asterix the Legionary (running in Pilote #368-389), which was later adapted as half of the plot for the movie Asterix Vs Caesar (the other album incorporated into the animated epic being Asterix the Gladiator).

This clever romp introduced the destabilising concept of true romance to the doughty hero and his prodigious pal Obelix as, whilst boar hunting in the great forest around their unconquerable village, they encounter the fabulously beautiful Panacea picking mushrooms.

The little darling has freshly returned to the village after years away in Condatum, and the sheltered Obelix is instantly smitten. Dazed and confused by the only force that could ever affect him, the gentle giant is teased by Asterix and venerable druid Getafix, but innocently undaunted, Obelix begins bringing the oblivious lass a succession of inappropriate presents…

When the befuddled buffoon finds Panacea crying, he dashingly volunteers to mend her woes. Tragically for him, the problem is a boyfriend named Tragicomix, who has been pressed into military service with the Roman Army…

Where other men would take advantage of the hopeless situation, Obelix, afflicted with True Crush, determines to make her happy and rushes off to rescue her lost beau. Ever faithful, Asterix and diminutive canine companion Dogmatix accompany the big oaf… to keep him out of trouble…

In Condatum, they discover Tragicomix has already been shipped out to Africa where Caesar battles fellow Roman Scipio in a clandestine Civil War. Asterix realises the only way to find Tragicomix is to enlist in the Roman Army, too…

In Basic Training they meet a motley assortment of fellow recruits – all gently-contrived national stereotypes – allowing for a broad bombardment of friendly ethnic comedy and graphic accent humour. There was Neveratalos the Greek, Goths Allegoric and Hemispheric, Gastronomix from Belgium, Selectivemploymentax the Briton and poor Ptenisnet the Egyptian, who doesn’t know the language and thinks he joined a holiday package tour…

After lashings of their unique brand of anarchy disrupting regulation army life, Asterix, Obelix and crew ship out to Africa. When they arrive, the war is going badly for Caesar, but more importantly, Tragicomix has gone missing: believed captured by Scipio’s forces…

With magic potion in hand, Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix take matters in hand…

A hilariously engaging yarn with delicious overtones of the iconic British comedy Carry On Sergeant, this action-packed farce is big on laughs but harbours a bittersweet core that will tug at the heartstrings of young and old alike…

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield (originally entitled Le bouclier arverne) was the 11th epic outing for the Greatest French Hero of Them All: debuting in Pilote #399 and running until #421 in 1967. It acts as a tongue-in-cheek patriotic history lesson and opens years before the usual setting of Asterix tales as Gaulish over-chief Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar at the Battle of Alesia. This he does by throwing down his weapons and armour at the Conqueror’s feet. It’s the start of a lengthy running gag…

Such is the shame of the defeated Gauls that the location of the clash is excised from their memories. Now, nobody remembers where Alesia was…

After the battle, the accoutrements lay where they fell until a greedy Legionary stole the Great Shield, subsequently losing it in a game of dice. From there, the legendary buckler passes through many scurrilous hands before fading into legend…

Jumping to “modern” times, in the village of indomitable Gauls Chief Vitalstatistix is terribly ill: a sedentary life of over-indulgence has ruined his liver and since Getafix’s druidic potions can’t help him, he has to go to the spa town of Aqua Calidae (Arverne) for a rest-cure and diet.

It isn’t all bad though, since his forthright wife Impedimenta has to stay behind….

As a chief he needs an honour guard and Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix are happy to accompany him, especially as the chief uses the journey to test all the inns and taverns en route. Once there though, the warriors’ robust consumption and boisterous high jinks appals all the dieting dignitaries and impatient patients, so Asterix and Obelix are summarily kicked out of the Health Resort.

Footloose and fancy-free, the boys tour the local countryside of Gergovia, idly trying to find the lost site of Alesia until they encounter Roman envoy Noxius Vapus and his cohort. After indulging in their favourite sport of Roman-bashing, the lads befriend local merchant Winesandspirix – a veteran of Alesia – while Noxius hightails it to Rome to tell Caesar the Gauls are revolting…

({   } This space provided for you to fill in your own joke)…

Set on putting the Gauls in their place and reminding them who’s boss, Caesar determines to hold a Roman Triumph with the shield of Vercingetorix as the centrepiece. He’s none too happy when he discovers it’s been missing for years…

And thus begins the second stage of this hilariously thrilling detective mystery as the Romans frantically hunt for the missing artefact and Asterix and Obelix set out to thwart them at every turn…

No prizes for guessing which faction succeeds and who scurries home in defeat and disgust in this marvellously slapstick saga with a delightfully daft twist ending…

Asterix at the Olympic Games first appeared weekly in Pilote #434-455, serialised in 1968 to coincide with and capitalise upon the Mexico City Games. The translated British album was released four years later, just before the 1972 Munich Olympiad.

The Romans of Aquarium garrison are in an ebullient mood. Their comrade Gluteus Maximus has been selected to represent Rome at the Greeks’ Great Games in Olympia. Centurion Gaius Veriambitius is happy too, because he knows if Gluteus wins, they can both write their ticket in Rome…

It all starts to go horribly wrong when the Roman superman is bested and humiliated by Asterix and Obelix whilst training in the Great Forest. His confidence shattered, Gluteus returns to Aquarium and only regains a modicum of his old form when Veriambitius reminds him that the potion-fuelled Gauls won’t be at the Games…

Meanwhile, the men of the village have decided to go to Olympia and have a go themselves…

There follows an uproarious and nigh-scandalous sequence of events as the unbeatable Greeks try to placate their Roman overlords; the Latin competitors undergo the tortures of the arrogant damned to cheat, wheedle and somehow exclude the all-conquering Gauls, whilst the basically honest and honourable Asterix devises a cunning yet fair way to beat the politically motivated, greed-inspired “sportsmen” and still uphold the best traditions and ideals of the Olympic Games.

Guess who wins…

Spoofing package tours, obnoxious tourists, self-serving sports authorities and doping scandals in equal proportion, this sparkling escapade features some of Uderzo’s most inspired art as he recreates the grandeur and glory of the Ancient World whilst simultaneously graphically lampooning the haughty elites of the Sporting World, the Military and Politics. A genuine classic far more valuable than any medal and a bit sturdier than laurel leaf crowns…

Asterix volumes are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal action and splendidly addictive adventure, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1967-1969 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 2


By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-897299-19-7

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive in pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson: a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) Tove became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War.

Intensely creative in many fields, Jansson published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood): a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A prodigy and constant over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, achieving some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II.

She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood was relatively unsuccessful but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear destruction. Just about time to read that again, I fear…

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid.

Mumintrollet och jordens undergäng Moomintrolls and the End of the World was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which promptly captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975.

Free of the strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and another 9 Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as 13 books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Her awards are too numerous to mention but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency? She died on June 27th 2001.

Her Moomin comic strip has been collected in 7 Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly translated them into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation.

This second oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation commences with ‘Moomin’s Winter Follies’ wherein the rotund, gracious and deeply considerate young troll has an accident on ice which prompts the family to begin their preparations for the winter’s hibernation.

However, after these efforts lead to nothing but petty disaster, boldly unconventional Moomin Pappa decides that tradition isn’t everything and decrees that they shall all stay awake for the icy months ahead…

The family and their many friends are soon bedevilled by the obnoxiously enthusiastic Mr. Brisk who cajoles the easy-going Moomins to indulge in his abiding passion for winter sports. The results are painful and far from impressive, but the ruggedly athletic Brisk does turn the head of the overly romantic and lonely Mymble

As usual, the object of her affections is blithely oblivious, caring only for the upcoming Winter Games, but when beauteous Snorkmaiden also begins to succumb to Brisk’s physical charms, Moomin is compelled to take up ski-jumping to win back her attention.

When that goes poorly, he is tempted into contemplating murder until cooler heads, his own gentle nature and the onset of spring produces a milder and more suitable solution…

Moomins are placid free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Mamma is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances, whilst Pappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys.

However, when prideful snobbish Mrs. Fillyjonk moves in next door, her snooty attitudes unfavourably affect the entire family, resulting in the hiring of ‘Moomin Mamma’s Maid’.

The search for a suitable servant results in disruption and discontent before the dour, distressed and doom-obsessed Misabel – along with her direly depressed dog Pimple – begin to further blight the formerly happy household.

Misabel suffers from secrets and a persecution complex, and when Fillyjonk goes missing a detective starts hanging around, adding to the general aura of anxiety until Moomin Mamma shakes herself out of her status-induced funk and starts a campaign to cheer up and change the latest additions to her wildly imaginative, but oddly welcoming, home…

‘Moomin Builds a House’ sees Mymble’s eccentrically forgetful but fruitful mother come to visit, inflicting her latest batch of wild and wilful youngsters – 17, or thereabouts – on the normally compassionate and understanding trolls.

The children are, to put it mildly, little monsters: destructive, practical joking arsonistic hellions who would put the Belles of St. Trinian’s to shame and to rout…

Soon, impressionable Moomin is driven out of his home and – egged on by the worst of the brood Little My – attempts to build his own house in the woods.

Possessing none of Moomin Pappa’s artisan or craft skills, the lad’s efforts are far from satisfactory but nonetheless his flighty paramour Snorkmaiden soon joins him, intent on making the shaky edifice their romantic hideaway. Sadly, with Little My still around, their best laid plans quickly come unstuck…

This utterly incomparable and heartwarming box of graphic delights concludes with a brilliantly satirical salutary romp as ‘Moomin Begins a New Life’, wherein an itinerant thinker enters the valley, sharing his secret recipe for “How to be Happy”.

The Prophet is remarkably convincing and, seeing how his pronouncements and suggestions have changed the lives of all their friends and neighbours, the graciously impressionable Moomins try to adjust their behaviour to maximise their joy, unaware that they are already as happy and content as anyone can be…

With the entire locality blissed out, the well-intentioned Prophet then convinces the constable to release all the folk in jail, allowing mischievous trickster and scofflaw Stinky to resume his prankish shenanigans…

After convincing Moomin Pappa to set up an illicit still producing hard liquor – which incites Snorkmaiden to run off with another young man – Stinky then convinces desolate, deserted Moomin to turn to the dark side by becoming a glamorous highwayman and jewel thief to win her back.

Having spread malice and disorder, Stinky’s next stunt is badly misjudged as he invites a puritan, fire-and-brimstone rival philosopher dubbed the Black Prophet to come and save all the sinners…

Thankfully, as the rival Prophets’ war of words escalates, Moomin Mamma at last reaches the end of her patience and intervenes…

Wrapping up the Wild Things wonderment is short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase PhD celebrating the astound achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor-sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or biped with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2007 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud volume 2: The Caliph’s Vacation


By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-61-8

During his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and is still one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul.

In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when Goscinny teamed with Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah but it was the villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, that stole the show – possibly the conniving little devil’s only successful scheme.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue. A modest success, it was transferred to Pilote: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was remodelled to give more emphasis to the scurrilous little weasel who had increasingly stolen the show.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp, the revamped series – retitled Iznogoud – commenced in Pilote in 1968, becoming a huge favourite, with 29 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie in 2005.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary took over writing the strip, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and also translated here by the master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Here their famed skills conjure up the best, wackiest – and least salacious – bits of the legendary Carry On films…

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to 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 vile vizier is “aided” – that’s sarcasm, that is – in his schemes by bumbling and extremely reluctant assistant Wa’at Alahf… Available in printed and eBook editions, this second delightful translation from Cinebook (which was originally third Dargaud album Les vacances du calife from 1968), opens the daft duo’s latest campaign of insurrections with ‘Summer Vacation or Never Say Die.’ As the holidays come ‘round again, the vizier persuades the Caliph to forego his usual Summer Palace in favour of a quiet bed-sit by the seaside, where an unwary ruler could easily drown or be buried in the sand or lost at sea or be eaten by sharks or…

As expected, plans go painfully awry and it’s back to Baghdad for ‘Good Sports in the Caliphate’ as a hapless magician/weatherman accidentally creates enough snow in the desert to open a ski resort. It doesn’t take much – it never does – to convince Haroun to sample the chilly thrills of skiing, snowboarding, crevasses and avalanches, but as usual it’s not the Big Chief who sustains any crippling injuries.

The vacation theme continues with ‘The Caliph’s Cruise’ but, after booking passage for Haroun with the unluckiest sea captain alive, the vile vizier doesn’t get off the ship quickly enough and the selection of cannibals, monsters, savages and sea creatures the voyagers encounter find him a far more suitable subject for their unique attentions…

The vengeful comeuppances conclude in ‘Lihkwid’s Bottle or the Bottle of Lihkwid’ as a travelling merchant provides an infallible elixir that will transform the affable potentate into a louse – but only if Iznogoud can trick him into drinking all three gallons of the foul-tasting stuff…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully punny word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales, and this series is a household name in France; where the title has even entered common usage as a term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When first released here in the 1970s, Iznogoud made little impression but hopefully this snazzy new incarnation of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy vignettes can finally find an audience among today’s more internationally aware comics-and-cartoon savvy British Kids of All Ages.

I’m already one of them: How about you…?
© 1968 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 1: Billy the Kid


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (CineBook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-11-3

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and long-running comics characters being in any way controversial, but when the changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the hero moved with them, it made the news headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, laconic, good, natured cowboy endlessly roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his whip-smart horse Jolly Jumper and Rantanplan (the “dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over more than 70 years have filled 95 albums to date and made him the best-selling comic character in Europe (countless millions of albums in more than 30 languages thus far), with spin-off games, computer games, animated cartoons and even live-action movies.

He was created by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère – who signed himself Morris – for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, subsequently launching into his first adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Before then, 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 (to my eyes, Lucky looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many mid-1940s B-movie Westerns).

Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” or Gang of Four, which comprised creators Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: 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, E P. Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 the Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation, Mad, and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly disappearing Old West. His research henceforward resonated on every page of his life’s work…

Morris was a one-man band producing nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody until 1955 when he reunited with Goscinny who took over the scripts. Working in perfect unison, they steered Luke to 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 straight-shooter switched teams, leaving Spirou for Goscinny’s magazine Pilote with La Diligence (the Stagecoach).

Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from when Morris continued both alone and with other collaborators. Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 yarns, plus spin-off adventures of Rantanplan, with the team of Achdé & Laurent Gerra taking over. In a most peculiar aside I feel I must mention that Morris was apparently voted the “79th Greatest Belgian” in the 2005 Walloon election of De Grootste Belg. If so, I demand a recount…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain in the early 1960s, syndicated in 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-traveled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook: the first album (available in paperback and eBook formats) is Billy the Kid, Morris and Goscinny’s eleventh collaboration.

As Luke rides into the troubled town of Fort Weakling, he finds the populace cowed and broken by the vile depredations of the infamous William Bonney. The desperado robs the bank every couple of days, and the stagecoach every time it leaves town, helps himself to caramels without paying, and won’t let the saloon serve anything but drinking chocolate.

His deadly aptitude with a six-gun means that no one will swear out a complaint, let alone testify against the vicious little bully…

When Luke accepts the job of sheriff, it takes brains and cunning rather than his legendary skill with a shooting iron to free the town from the tiny grip of the world’s meanest 12-year old…

Although the dialogue is a trifle stiff in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by master storytellers, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for kids of all ages.

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 want more Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © Cinebook Ltd.