Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Broken Ear


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-617-4 (HB)                    : 978-0-416-57030-5 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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 XXe 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 strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

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

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose 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 that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

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 – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

After six years of continuous week-by-week improvement, Hergé was approaching his mastery when he began The Broken Ear. His characterisations were firm in his mind, and the storyteller was creating a memorable not to say iconic supporting cast, whilst balancing between crafting satisfactory single instalments and building a cohesive longer narrative.

The version reprinted here (in either hardback or softcover as you prefer) was repackaged in colour by the artist and his studio in 1945, although the original ran as monochrome 2-page weekly instalments from 1935-1937, but there are still evident signs of his stylistic transition in this hearty, exotic mystery tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a boorish, po-faced amateur.

Back from China, Tintin hears of an odd robbery at the Museum of Ethnography and, rushing over, finds the detectives Thompson and Thomson already on the case in their own unique manner.

A relatively valueless carved wooden Fetish Figure made by the Arumbaya Indians has been taken from the South American exhibit. Bafflingly, it was returned the next morning, but the intrepid boy reporter is the first to realise that it’s a fake, since the original statue had a broken right ear.

Perhaps coincidentally, a minor sculptor has been found dead in his flat…

Thus begins a frenetic and enthralling chase to find not just who has the real statue but also why a succession of rogues attempt to secure the dead sculptor’s irreverent and troublesome parrot, with the atmospheric action encompassing the modern urban metropolis, an ocean-going liner and the steamy, turbulent Republic of San Theodoros.

Hhere the valiant lad becomes embroiled in an on-again, off-again Revolution. Eventually, though, our focus moves to the deep jungle where Tintin finally meets the Arumbayas and a long-lost explorer, finally getting one step closer to solving the pan-national mystery.

Whilst unrelenting in my admiration for Hergé I must interject a necessary note of praise for translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner here. Their light touch has been integral to the English-language success of Tintin, and their skill and whimsy is never better seen than in their dialoguing of the Arumbayas.

Just read aloud and think Eastenders

The slapstick and mayhem incrementally build to a wonderfully farcical conclusion with justice soundly served all around, all whilst solid establishing a perfect template for many future yarns: especially those that would perforce be crafted without a political or satirical component during Belgium’s grim occupation by the Nazis.

Here, however, Hergé’s developing social conscience and satirical proclivities are fully exercised in a telling sub-plot about rival armaments manufacturers using an early form of shuttle diplomacy to gull the leaders of both San Theodoros and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico into a war simply to increase company profits, and once again oil speculators would have felt the sting of his pen – if indeed they were capable of any feeling…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, there’s no better time to rectify that sorry situation.

The Broken Ear: artwork © 1945, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel


By Eoin Colfer &Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano with colour by Paolo Lamanna (Puffin Books)
ISBN: 978-0-141-32296-4

In an age when the boundaries of good guys and bad guys are constantly blurred and redefined, it’s well to keep your options open. One admirable player for the other side (mostly) is the captivating Artemis Fowl II. A criminal mastermind, scion of Ireland’s greatest family of rogues and villains, he is probably the greatest intellect on the planet.

The wee lad inherited the family business when his father mysteriously vanished on a caper, a loss from which Artemis’ mother has never recovered.

This Machiavellian anti-hero is a teenager so smart that he has deduced that fairies and mystical creatures actually exist and thus spends this first book stealing their secrets to replenish the family’s depleted fortunes and fulfil his greatest heart’s desire…

His greatest ally is Butler, a manically loyal and extremely formidable hereditary retainer who is a master of physical violence…

The first of the eight novels (with four so far making the transition to sequential narrative whilst production of the Disney movie nears completion) is here adapted by the author and Andrew Donkin; illustrated in a kind of Euro-manga style that won’t suit everybody but which nevertheless perfectly captures the mood and energy of the original.

This lavish adventure is also interspersed with comprehensive and clever data-file pages (by Megan Noller Holt) to bring everybody up to full speed on this wild, wild world…

Fowl is utterly brilliant and totally ruthless. Once determining that the mythological realm of pixies, elves, ogres and the like are actually a highly advanced secret race predating humanity and now dwelling deep underground, he “obtains” and translates their Great Book and divines all their secrets of technology and magic.

Artemis has a plan for the greatest score of all time, and knows that he cannot be thwarted, but he has not reckoned on the wit, guts and determination of Holly Short, an elf who works for the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Force.

She is the only female LEPRecon operative allowed to work on the world’s surface and has had to prove herself every moment of every day…

Combining sinister mastery, exotic locales, daring adventure, spectacular high fantasy concepts and appallingly low puns and slapstick, this tale has translated extremely well to the comics medium (but that’s no reason not to read the books too, especially as they’re all available in paperback and digital formats), offering a clever plot and characters that are both engaging and grotesquely vulgar – and thus perfect fare for kids.

I especially admire the kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggum, whose species’ biological self-defence mechanism consists of overwhelming, explosive flatulence…

Farting, fighting and fantasy are pretty much the perfect combination for kid’s fiction and boys especially will revel in the unrestrained power of the wicked lead character. This is a little gem from a fabulously imaginative creator and an unrelentingly rewarding publisher. Long may you all reign…
Text © 2007 Eoin Colfer. Illustrations © 2007 Giovanni Rigano. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1


By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others. These brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

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

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings and Other Royal Rotters


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-032-4

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The fabulous and effective conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down (or rather digs up) famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books), this regally-themed recollection is dedicated to not-so-private audiences with a succession of famous, infamous and utterly unforgettable royal rogues and rapscallions in what would almost certainly not be their own words…

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Ramesses II: Pharaoh of Egypt 1303 BCE – 1213 BCE’, who preferred to be called ‘Ramesses the Great’. Our intrepid interviewer incisively traces the “accomplishments” and gift for self-promotion of the dusty legend.

As always, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a key aspect of their lives such as here with ‘How to Make a Mummy’ scrupulously and systematically revealing the secrets of interring the definitely departed, after which we refocus on the ancient orient to quiz ‘Qin Shi Huang Di: Chinese Emperor 259 BCE 210 BCE’ on his reign and once more sifts truth from centuries of post-mortem PR briefings.

Backing up the inquiry ‘The Emperor’s Tomb’ details the layout of the vast City of Death Qin was buried in, as well as the Palace of Shadows and its terracotta army and the treasures it guarded…

‘Cleopatra: Pharaoh of Egypt 69 BCE – 30 BCE’ then outlines her incredible life, whilst ‘Barging In’ examines her astounding gold sea-craft and how it brought her to the attention of back-up lover/sponsor Mark Anthony.

A thankfully thoroughly sanitised account of the sordid exploits of ‘Nero: Roman Emperor 37-68’ is backed up by an exploration of one of his feasts in ‘Café Nero’, after which ‘Justinian II: Byzantine Emperor 669-711’ explains how his guile and determination enabled him to rule, lose, recapture and retake control of the mighty late Roman Empire. The impenetrable defences of 8th century Constantinople are then dissected in ‘The Walled City’

As well as a bit about burned cakes, ‘Alfred the Great: King of Wessex 849-6899’ reveals the remarkable military and civilising feats of the learning-obsessed ruler and expands the knowledge base by defining the fractured kingdoms of ‘The Dark Island’ of Britain at the time.

The Norman conquest is unpicked from the (one-eyed) view of the losing contender in ‘Harold Godwinson: English King 1022-1066’ accompanied by an extended look at the historical source document in Born on the Bayeaux’ whilst the first English civil war is remembered by formable Angevin matriarch ‘Empress Matilda: English Queen 1102-1167’. This is followed by a detailed deconstruction of the sturdy castle defensive system in The Old Bailey’.

The Crusades are represented rival legends made real. First up is the admirable and noble ‘Saladin: Sultan of Egypt and Syria 1137-1193’, who is bolstered by a catalogue of Moslem contributions to global civilisation in Gifts of Genius’, after which the unhappy truth about ‘Richard the Lionheart: English King 1157-1199’ is laid bare. After debunking centuries of self-aggrandising myths The Siege of Acre’ then traces one of the crusaders’ few actual heroic exploits…

‘Moctezuma II: Aztec Emperor 1456-1520’ relates how his timidity and sense of self-preservation contributed to the destruction of his dominions at the hands of the conquistadores before ‘Temple of Doom’ takes us into the deepest inner workings of the bloodstained ziggurats dedicated to human sacrifice on an industrial scale…

The most complex and contentious period in British history is taken apart by the royals at the heart of it all when ‘Henry VIII: English King 1491-1547’ tries to give us his spin on events leading to the reformation and – following Full Tilt – a History of Jousting’‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ – consecutively Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), Jane Seymour (1508-1537), Anne of Cleves (1525-1557), Catherine Howard (1523-1542) and Catherine Parr (1512-1548) – offer their side of the arguments and events.

Their revelations are augmented by a breakdown of the duties of a Queen’s faithful attendants in The Waiting Game’.

‘Charles II: English King 1630-1685’ relates how he came to power following the Second Civil War and backs up the personal reveries with A Memoir on Monarchy’ running down the changing role of rulers, before we cross the channel to hear how it all went wrong for France’s final female autocrat in ‘Marie Antoinette: French Queen 1755-1793’. Her fall from grace is abutted by a chilling lesson on the guillotine in Decapitation Stations’.

Contemporary cousin ‘Catherine the Great: Russian Empress 1729-1796’ managed to run things largely her own way, but as back-up Tsars in their Eyes’ shows, was plagued by a constant stream of pretenders, all claiming to be true, proper, better qualified and, yes, male contenders for her throne.

South African rebel and strategic genius ‘Shaka Zulu: Zulu King 1787-1828’, recounts how he literally created a mighty nation from nothing whilst The Battle of Isandlwana’ covers how his innovations were used to humiliate the overwhelmingly powerful British Army before the procession of pomp and circumstance closes with ‘Queen Victoria: English Queen 1819-1901’, accompanied by a phenomenally absorbing family tree, branching out and into every royal bloodline in Europe: a true Game of Thrones’

Clever, cheeky, outrageously funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk unyieldingly tackles history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, royal-watcher or republican in waiting…
Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings will be released on 6th September 2018 and is available for pre-order now. Time to start thinking of Christmas Presents yet…?

Skeleton Key: the Graphic Novel – an Alex Rider Adventure


By Anthony Horowitz, adapted by Antony Johnston, Kanako & Yuzuru Takasaki (Walker Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4063-1345-2

If America is the spiritual home of the superhero, Britain is Great because of spies and detectives. Our popular literary heritage is littered with cunning sleuths and stealthy investigators from Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Campion and Lord Peter Wimsey to the Scarlet Pimpernel, George Smiley and Harry Palmer.  And Bond; James Bond

In 2000 Anthony Horowitz produced Stormbreaker, the first of eleven (with a TV series in the offing and Book 12 due in 2019) rip-snorting teen novels featuring 14 year old orphan Alex Rider: a smart, fit, sports-mad lad like any other, who suddenly discovers that his guardian Uncle Ian has also died. Moreover the deceased gentleman was apparently a spy of some distinction and had been surreptitiously teaching the lad all the skills, techniques and disciplines needed to become a secret agent…

Soon MI6 are knocking on his door…

As well as a major motion picture and video game, the books (five so far) have also been adapted to the comics medium; their easy blend of action, youthful rebellion and overwhelmingly comfortable 007-style pastiche winning many fans in the traditionally parlous older-boys book market. They’re really rather good…

Alex is a highly effective but reluctant agent, preferring the normal life of his boarding school to the clandestine machinations of espionage. However his occasional paymasters at MI6 are always looking for ways to exploit his obvious talents. A seemingly innocent offer to work as a ball-boy at the Wimbledon Tennis tournament leads to him foiling a huge gambling scam by a Chinese Triad.

Unfortunately this makes him a target for Triad vengeance, so his “boss” Mr. Crawford suggests a little trip to Cuba until the heat dies down.

Roll Credits…

Alex soon discovers he has been “borrowed” by the CIA to add camouflage to a reconnaissance mission involving Alexei Sarov, an old Stalinist Soviet general who is up to something particularly nasty with stolen atomic weapons from his isolated fortress on the Cayo Esqueleto or “Skeleton Key”.

Tasked with finding out what the old soldier is planning, the American agents at first make him less than welcome, resenting his presence and not trusting a “mere kid”, but I’m sure they changed their minds around about the moment when they got murdered…

Now the only operative in the game, Alex is soon captured by Sarov who proves to be an unbeatable opponent. Moreover, he has a most unique fate planned for the boy after his plans for global annihilation are achieved: he wants to adopt him…

This is an immensely entertaining romp, hitting all the thrill-buttons for an ideal Bank Holiday blockbluster, even though it’s told – and very convincingly – from the viewpoint of an uncertain boy rather than a suave, sophisticated adult. The adaptation is sharp and witty, capturing the insecurities and verve of the young hero perfectly whilst the art by sisters Kanako & Yuzuru Takasaki is in a full-colour, computer-rendered manga style that might not please everybody but does work exceedingly well in conveying the softer moments as well as the spectacular action set-pieces.

Be warned, however, even though this is a kid’s book there is a substantial amount of fighting and a large body count, whilst the violence is not at all cartoony in context. If you intend sharing the book with younger children, read it yourself first.

These books and their comic counterparts are a fine addition to our fiction tradition. Alex Rider will return… why don’t you join him?

Text and illustrations © 2009 Walker Books Ltd. Based on the original novel Skeleton Key © 2002 Anthony Horowitz. All rights reserved.

Star Comics All-Star Collection


By Lennie Herman, Sid Jacobson, Stan Kay, Bob Bolling, Warren Kremer, Howard Post & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4291-1

Once upon a time the American comicbook industry for younger readers was totally dominated by Gold Key with their TV and Disney licenses, and Harvey Comics who had largely switched from general genres to a wholesome, kid-friendly pantheon in the mid-1950s. They totally owned the pre-school sector until declining morals, television cartoon saturation and rising print costs finally forced them to bow out.

Gold Key suffered a slow erosion, gradually losing valuable prime properties like Popeye, Star Trek, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers cartoon stars plus sundry other treasures until parent company Western Publishing called it a day in 1984. Harvey had already shut up shop in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

The latter’s vast archived artwork store was sold off and, with the properties and rights up for grabs, Marvel Comics (who had already secured those lost Star Trek and Hanna-Barbera rights) was frontrunner for licensing the family firm’s iconic characters. These included Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack, Hot Stuff – the Little Devil, Wendy the Good Little Witch and many others.

When the bid failed, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, recognising a huge gap in the market, launched a cloned imprint of the Harvey stable (which would also encompass new TV and toy properties such as Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock, Alf, Madballs, Care Bears, Thundercats, Ewoks and such like) to devise the next generation of worthy, wholesome, entry-level comics for entertainment-hungry young minds and their concerned parents.

Marvel’s Star Comics line launched in 1985, edited by ex-Harvey head-honcho Sid Jacobson, with oddly familiar titles and an incontestably similar look and feel – achieved primarily by hiring former Harvey stalwarts such as Jacobson, Lennie Herman, Warren Kremer, Howard Post and others.

Millionaire prince and all-around good kid Royal Roy especially invoked the ire of the Harvey heirs who sued for copyright infringement of their astonishingly prolific Richie Rich: a glittering prize who had shone in more than 55 separate titles between his debut in 1953 and the bust of 1982.

Roy was cancelled after 6 issues – as were many Star series – in a brutal “Survival of the Funnest” publishing policy – and the suit was quietly dropped.

None of which affects the fact that those Eighties child stars were, in their own right, a superb agglomeration of all-ages fun, excitement and adventure joyously revisited in this sturdy digest collection from 2009: gathering that first wave of titles.

Featuring Planet Terry #1-2, Top Dog #1-3, Royal Roy #1-2 and Wally the Wizard #1-2 in a veritable nova of bubbly contagious thrills and frolics, the eccentric escapades open with a star who was just a little lost boy in space…

Planet Terry was created by Lennie Herman (who passed away just before the big Star Comics launch) and the truly magnificent Warren Kremer – whose animation-based art style became the defining look of Harvey Comics during its happy heyday – and starred a young lad searching the universe for the parents he had never known.

Introduced in ‘The Search’ (Herman, Kremer & Vince Colletta), Planet Terry was something of a nuisance, periodically landing on alien worlds, pestering the inhabitants and asking “Has anyone seen my mother and father?”

Found wandering in a life-pod which raised and educated him, the only clues Terry had to his past is a name bracelet and an empty picture frame…

However, this time when he returns to the obnoxious planet Bznko Terry accidentally drives off a menace which bores folks to death with bad jokes, so the inhabitants give him a junked lady robot as a reward.

This proves to be a blessing in disguise as Robota inadvertently leads the lonely lad to ‘A Clue’ when they all crashland on a mining asteroid and meet aged Enoch Diggs who recognises the life-pod the infant Terry was found in…

‘Some Answers’ are forthcoming as the dithery prospector reveals he once worked on a Confederation Cosmos Cruiser called the Space Warp where the captain’s wife was going to have a baby. Needing a sterile environment for the newborn infant, the crew placed him in the emergency life-boat, but his jubilant father accidentally triggered it whilst celebrating his son’s birth and the baby was rocketed into deep space.

Although they searched everywhere, the heartbroken spacemen never located the pod and assumed baby Terry was lost forever…

Although Enoch can’t remember the names of Terry’s parents he suggests that another old crewman might and the re-energised searchers rush to another asteroid to find him, only to instead encounter ‘The Malt Shop Menace’. Nevertheless, they recruit another voyager when Robota saves the brutish monster Omnus who gratefully joins their decidedly odd family. Little do they know that a sinister conspiracy is at work to keep the whereabouts and secret of the Space Warp lost forever…

Issue #2, by Herman, Kremer & Jon D’Agostino continues the quest as the family of outcasts encounter sabotage and opposition before landing their freshly repaired ship on the lost world of the Gorkels where the trio clumsily fulfil an ancient prophecy in ‘The Saga of Princess Ugly’.

In return for repairing Terry’s downed vessel, he, Robota and Omnus must rescue the abducted Princess by battling hostile jungles, shape-shifting beasts, killer vines, a whirlpool and a volcano – all controlled by arch-villain Vermin the Vile in ‘Too Close (enough) for Comfort’ before saving the girl from ‘The Doom of the Domed City’ and discovering the final resting place of the elusive Space Warp…

Also by Herman, Kremer & D’Agostino, Royal Roy debuted on his birthday in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Crown’ wherein the Prince of wealthy Ruritanian Cashalot discovers that the traditional, venerable Royal Highness Crown has gone missing on the day of his investiture. Whilst King Regal and Queen Regalia understandably panic, super-cool bodyguard Ascot diligently investigates, assorted resplendent relatives dither and interfere, so Roy and his pet crocodile Gummy keep their heads by ‘Picking up the Scent’. They soon expose a supernatural agency at work after ‘A Midnight Visit’ by ghostly ancestor William the Warhorse

Topping off the first issue was a snappy, snazzy short fun yarn starring the reptilian Gummy in ‘Crocadog’.

‘The Grand Ball’, scripted by Stan Kay, occupied most of Roy’s attention in the second issue as the underage but still eligible Prince took a fancy to simple commoner Crystal Clear whilst ambitious and mean social climber Lorna Loot spent all her time – and considerable cash – unsuccessfully attempting to beguile the boy by turning herself into a modern-day Cinderella in ‘A Strange Stranger’

‘Maneuvers!’ sees Roy fulfil his hereditary duties by joining the Cashalot army on dawn exercises, but as ruler-in-waiting of a rich and peaceful nation, the plucky lad isn’t too surprised to find that the entire armed forces consisted of one reluctant prince and a keen but aging general…

Top Dog featured a far more contemporary and pedestrian situation, depicting the lives of average American boy Joey Jordan and the mutt he brought home one day.

‘The Dog-Gone Beginning’ by Herman, Kremer & Jacqueline Roettcher revealed how, whilst looking for a lost baseball, the kid had accidentally seen a dog reading the newspaper and talking to himself. Exposed, the canny canine begged the boy to keep his secret else all the four-footed wonder could expect was a short and painful life being poked, prodded and probed by scientists…

When the lad swears to keep his secret, Top Dog agrees to come live with Joey in ‘House About a Dog, Mom?’, and whilst the boy tries to teach the pooch to bark – one of the few languages he can’t speak! – his accommodating family gradually get used to the seemingly normal dog and his boy.

However, when Mervin Megabucks – the richest and meanest kid in town – overhears the pair playing and conversing, the spoiled brat refuses to believe Joey is a ventriloquist. When the junior Jordan refuses to sell, Mervin steals Top Dog as the perfect addition to his palatial high-tech house.

Even torture won’t make the purloined pooch speak again however, and when Joey stages ‘The Big Breakout’ Mervin’s mega-robots prove no match for dogged determination and the plutocrat brat is left baffled, bamboozled and dog-less…

Issue #2 exposed ‘Spies!’ when the restless dog of a thousand talents appears to harbour a dark side. Going out on nightly jaunts, the marvellous mutt seemingly leads a double life as a security guard in a Defence Plant, triple-crossing everybody by photographing military secrets for a foreign power.

Of course, it is actually a diminutive enemy agent in a dog suit but Vladimir’s handlers hadn’t reckoned on a real dog looking – and speaking – just like their hairy operative. Thus they accidentally give their purloined plans to the chatty all-American canine…

After spectacularly trapping the sinister spies – without revealing his own astounding intellect – Top Dog is framed in #3 by Joey’s best friend Larry who is feeling rejected and neglected since the Brilliant Bow-wow moved in.

With a feral hound dubbed ‘The Mad Biter’ on the prowl and attacking people, it’s simple to send the perspicacious pup to the Pound, where he encounters lots of bad dogs who probably deserve to be ‘Caged’.

However, faithful Joey never gives up and after bailing his canine comrade out, the pair convince the guilt-ridden perjurer to see the light by treating him to an impromptu midnight ‘Ghost Story’

Even with Larry recanting his lies the neighbourhood families don’t trust Top Dog, but that all changes once the maligned mutt tracks down the real Biter and engages him in ‘A Fight to the Finish’

The final initial entry was written and illustrated by veteran Archie Comics artist Bob Bolling (probably most famous for creating and producing the first eight years’ worth of the award-winning Little Archie spin-off series), who concocted a fabulous medieval wonderland for Wally the Wizard to play in.

In #1’s ‘A Plague of Locusts’ mystical Merlin’s older, smarter brother Marlin is having trouble with his stubbornly inquisitive apprentice. Wally wants to know everything now, has no discipline and is full of foolish ideas and misconceptions. As a serious scientist, Marlin has no time for silly superstitions so after the lad accidentally releases a time-travelling demon from an age-old prison the mage refuses to believe him.

Gorg however swears faithfully to repay the favour before disappearing…

Despatched to deliver a potion to King Kodger, Wally also helps a dragon save his hatchling from a deep well, only just reaches the sovereign in time and has a feed on the Royal Barge where he once again fails to impress beauteous Princess Penelope

Meanwhile in distant Bloodmire Castle, wicked plotters Vastar the Vile, his sister Sybilious the Bilious and wicked warlock Erasmo are conspiring to conquer the kingdom by unleashing a gigantic metal locust to consume all in its path…

Even the noble knights led by invincible Sir Flauntaroy are helpless before the brazen beast and Wally realises only Marlin can save them. Unfortunately, the boy gets lost on route to fetch him, but happily for everybody the dragon and demon which the rationalist sorcerer refuses to believe in are ready to pay their debts to the apprentice…

Sid Jacobson, Howard Post & Jon D’Agostino took over for the second issue as Wally enters the annual apprentice’s games with Marlin now suddenly transformed into a traditional magic-making mage. In fact, Marlin, as a three-time champion of ‘The Magic-a-Thon!’ is secretly regretful that Wally is too inexperienced to compete, a fact his disciple discerns and tries to fix…

Desperately cramming for a week and eventually – with the coaching of his proud master -Wally sets off to compete but a lovelorn barbarian accidentally cleaves the kid’s crib notes in twain, leaving the lad able to create only half-spells and materialise semi-monsters…

Undaunted Wally continues and – even after a huge storm deprives him of the demi-directions and his back-up pouch of herbs and potions – perseveres, determined to win using nothing but his wits, guts and unflagging optimism…

This clutch of classic children’s tales also includes the enchanting covers and the original house-ads which introduced the characters to the Kids in America and more than three decades later is still a fabulous blast of intoxicating wonder and entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love…

With contemporary children’s comics on the rise again after too long a fallow period, it’s still sensible and fun to acknowledge the timeless classics we used to draw upon and which drew kids in. Historical compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every funnybook-loving parent and even those lonely couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes…
© 1985 and 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tiny Titans volume 2: Adventures in Awesomeness


By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2328-1

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 Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 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 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 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 became 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 eventually 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 #7-12 (spanning October 2008 – March 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this fourth volume begins on a romantic note with Deep in Like.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted (sort-of familiar) characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world.

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page ‘Meet the… Tiny Titans’ the pint-sized tomfoolery opens with ‘Ya Think?’ with transparent-headed Psimon deliberating over his checkers game with similarly glass-fronted The Brain… until Kid Flash and Wonder Girl start heckling…

Meanwhile, at school Starfire gets a text from her dad telling her to come home. Of course, she invites all her friends and two-and-a-half days later the entire class is wandering around alien planet Tameran…

Once they get back Robin convenes a meeting of his new avian themed ‘Bird Scouts’ only to find his alternate identities causing a little contention and confusion…

The issue ends with a Franco Tiny Titans pinup preceded by a return confrontation between Psimon and his hecklers in ‘To Get to the Other Side’. Sadly, once again his tormentors get the last word…

‘Report Card Pickup!’ finds the adult Justice Leaguers confronting Principal Slade (AKA Deathstroke) and substitute teacher Trigon over the grades of the little folk whilst introducing a new intake from Sidekick City Preschool ominously dubbed the Tiny Terror Titans

Starfire gives Blue Beetle an unwanted makeover in ‘Happy Feeling Blue’ whilst Robin, Batgirl and Ace the Bat-hound get invitations to BB’s birthday party in ‘Joke’s on You’.

Elsewhere, the other Wonder Girl (the series plays extremely fast-&-loose with continuity so suck it up if you’re expecting serious logic, ok?) and tiny winged Bumblebee indulge their ‘Book Smarts’ until Beast Boy shows up even as, under the sea, Aqualad opens a meeting of ‘Pet Club, Atlantis’ until Raven and The Ant spoil things by breaking the first rule…

Concluding with a Puzzler page and a bonus Pinup, #8 gives way to a ninth issue and an inescapable predicament as the kids go ape because of ‘Monkey Magic’

When Beppo the Super-Chimp gets hold of a magic wand at Robin’s Comic Book Party the attendees are soon reduced to hirsute ancestral forms. Thankfully Batgirl and Bumblebee are meeting with the size-shifting Atom family (The Atom, Mrs. Atom, Crumb, Dot, baby Smidgen and dog Spot) and initially missing the ensuing chaos.

The bad boys of the Brotherhood of Evil aren’t so lucky when Beppo flies over and suddenly Brain and Psimon are as simian and banana-dependent as their talking-gorilla comrade M’sieu Mallah and before long Starfire and Batgirl also get monkey-zapped…

Resolute, bureaucratic Robin then institutes the first meeting of ‘the Titan Apes’ but that only provokes the pesky Super-Chimp to really see what his wand can do and even after Raven’s magic sorts everything out, Beppo rises to the challenge…

Closing with another Tiny Titans Puzzler Page and pinup of the diminutive ‘Atom’s Family’ the animal antics carry over into the next month as ‘World’s Funnest!’ finds Supergirl entertaining Batgirl at ‘Tea Time’.

Tragically the Girl of Steel has forgotten to feed her pet cat Streaky and her guest has been equally derelict in her duties to Ace, forcing the powers pets to seek redress as the little ladies set out on a global jaunt, meeting annoying monsters Kroc and Bizarro

A Tiny Titans Word Link Puzzler and Bonus Pinup of the eventually-reconciled stars wraps up the issue before the penultimate outing sees romantically declined Beast Boy in the throes of ‘Terra Trouble’.

The green Romeo’s intended inamorata is a feisty lass with refined tastes and in ‘Counting on Love Rocks’ she shows him the depth and density of her disaffection after which Robin greets visiting Russian student Star Fire and gets wrapped up in a tempestuous ‘Name Exchange’ dilemma. Terra meanwhile is not fooled by a viridian ‘Rock Dog’ and Beast Boy ends up with more bruises. Wiser, younger heads (mask, helmets, etc) just go to a carnival and leave them to it, whilst the lovesick loser escalates his campaign with a little ‘Rock Show’ whereas Aqualad and scary blob Plasmus just attend a monster movie ‘Double Feature’

Agonisingly undaunted, Beast Boy decides on a costume makeover and new origin. Dressed like Superman he builds a ‘Rocket Box’ but yet again fails to kindle a spark…

Silent mirth then illuminates ‘Tiny Titans Presents… The Kroc Files: Changing a Lightbulb’ before another TT Puzzler and a ‘Super Bonus Pin-Up! of Alfred and the Penguins’ escort us smartly to the final outing in this smart and sassy trade paperback or eBook extravaganza…

‘Faces of Mischief’ concentrates on the school staff as ‘Morning with the Trigons’ sees the substitute teacher and demonic overlord called in on short notice. It’s ‘Monday Morning’ and as the Principal and Trigon goof off to a baseball game, Slade leaves cafeteria server Darkseid in charge. This is the chance the Apokolyptian Lord of Destruction has been waiting for…

With the adult slackers listening to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, the kids are forced to endure exams and their ‘Finals Crisis’ seems eternal. After apparent ages, Robin needs a ‘Hall Pass’ but is soon accosted by not just the official Monitor but also the diabolical Anti-Monitor (trust me, if you’re wedded to DC Lore and minutiae, this is comedy gold: for the rest of you, it’s still hilariously drawn…)

Finally, the dread day ends for the kids, but as Raven heads home with Slade’s kids Rose and Jericho, she hears something that could ruin her life and takes drastic steps to ensure ‘Our Little Secret’, just as their dads concoct a sinister do-over for the following week…

Bringing the graphic glee to a halt is a new silent ‘Kroc Files: Sending an E-Mail’, a TT Baseball Unscramble Puzzler and a pin-up of the entire nefarious ‘Sidekick City Elementary Faculty’.

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 unadulterated nerdish comic-bookery – are unforgettable gags and japes no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating to readers of any age and temperament. What more do you need to know?
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari volume 15: The First Gallop


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-369-7

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who chose the working name “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally at home with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and is in pre-production for a movie release – recently celebrated its 39th album Le jour de silence: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1990, Le premier galop was the 16th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

Today’s tale begins as dutiful Yakari struggles to carry water back to his mother as she prepares dinner. Always thinking, the boy believes he’s come up with a more efficient method to transport the clay pitchers, but his dog Drooping Ear refuses to play along…

Discussing the minor debacle with onlooking sage Tranquil Ear, Yakari gets a history lesson on the time before the People discovered horses and decides to use his young colt Little Thunder as his proposed beast of burden.

So enthused is he with his scheme and cleverness, that when the pony objects and runs away from the corral, Yakari feels both betrayed and baffled…

That night the boy writhes in a guilty dream in which Tranquil Ear takes him on a journey to a desert wilderness. Bored and lonely, the lad crafts incredible but unsatisfactory beasts out of clay before stumbling onto a familiar shape which comes fully alive and returns with him to his home where they become the greatest of friends. When he awakes Yakari is lonely again, despite all his (human) friends trying to comfort him.

Eventually, it takes the intervention of Great Eagle to make the crestfallen lad realise that it is his own selfishness and lack of respect that drove Little Thunder to run away and the boy resolves to hunt him down wherever he is and beg him to return. First though, Yakari needs to apologise to Drooping Ear and earn his much-needed assistance…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and compellingly instructional, this salutary fable allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing humanity of our diminutive hero, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2002. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Earthling!


By Mark Fearing, with Tim Rummel; coloured by Ken Min (Chronicle Books)
ISBN:  978-0-81187-106-8(HB)   978-1-45210-906-0(PB)

For the longest  time I banged on about the dearth of good comics for kids – as opposed to the vibrant and thriving children’s prose book markets or the slavish and impenetrable dead-end niche-genres and daunting cross-marketing of contemporary comicbooks – but nowadays some interesting developments in strip-book publishing look like setting that imbalance to rights…

Earthling! is the first graphic novel by animator Mark Fearing (with some initial creative input from TV producer Tim Rummel) and tells the tale of solitary, nerdy lad Bud, dragged by his astronomer dad to the literal middle of nowhere to take up residence at the vast Von Lunar Radio Telescope Array in the dry wilds of New Mexico.

The place is weird and a little spooky, but with his Mum gone and his father preoccupied with work Bud’s getting used to coping on his own…

The real trouble starts the next morning when he dashes for the school bus. Late and in the middle of a storm Bud inadvertently stumbles into the wrong vehicle and finds himself stuck on a malfunctioning intergalactic shuttle taking a bunch of alien students to Cosmos Academy where all the kids in the Galactic Alliance are educated.

Being the new kid in school is always bad news, but when you’re the only one of your species…

Luckily geeky pariah Gort GortGort McGortGort takes Bud under his wing and steers him through the worst of the culture shock, but the human’s urgent desire to go home is countered by one overwhelming fact: Earth is the most feared planet in the Galaxy, its inhabitants are despised and reviled by every sentient race in creation and its spatial coordinates are a closely guarded secret…

Thinly disguised as a sporty, athletic Tenarian, Bud tries desperately to fit in and luckily fellow outcast Gort is determined to help him return home, but the Academy is almost as dangerous as an Earth school.

There are jocks and bullies and cliques everywhere, the cool sapients run everything and snarky sarcasm is a deadly threat at all times. Although there are some decent and friendly teachers, the robots, rogue or escaped science experiments and especially the cafeteria make daily life an incredible and potentially lethal prospect.

Moreover, Principal Lepton and his administration are brutal bureaucrats with an excessive punishment regime (this is one deep-space satellite school you do not want to be “expelled” from) who have a pretty cavalier attitude to student safety – or even survival – and a hidden agenda which involves using Academy resources to build super-weapons for use against Bud’s lost or hidden home-world…

Gradually though, the boy adjusts, even finding an unexpected flair for the terrifying null-gravity sport of ZeroBall, which is lucky as Gort has deduced that the immensely prestigious championship Tournament is being held tantalisingly close to the diabolical Planet Earth – close enough that a stolen space-pod could reach it, if by some miracle Bud’s team qualified for the finals…

Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of animated movies such as Despicable Me, Home and Monsters vs Aliens to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff.

This is a book (or ebook if you prefer) any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…
© 2012 by Mark Fearing. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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 XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

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

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose 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 that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

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 – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.