Papyrus volume 5: The Anger of the Great Sphinx


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurdles


By Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-832-8 (HB)

The power of strip and picture books is that they can jump right through your eyes, bombarding but bypassing your brain and lodging straight into your heart. If you don’t believe me, just read Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods, A Wish for Wings That Work, Usagi Yojimbo, The Moomins and the Great Flood, Bone, Copper, The Squickerwonkers, Pogo or The Velveteen Rabbit.

In fact, read them anyway. You can never read enough.

You should also add to that list this splendidly eerie, all-ages cartoon tale from illustrator and animator Rob Goodin (Duckman, The Wild Thornberries, American Dad!) which blends – in the best tradition of the genre – crippling loneliness, astounding wonder and the finding of a new family; all delivered in a gloriously illustrated, magnificently oversized (305 x 222 mm) full-colour hardback tome that will take your breath away. It just as much a menace to respiration if you consume digitally, so you might do that too…

When little Ellie starts acting up again, poor Sally Bear gets flung out the car window on a cold, rainy night and left in the wilds to rot.

The trenchant little toy is made of far sterner stuff, however and, picking herself up, gamely wanders the terrifying great outdoors, narrowly avoiding doom and destruction from assorted beasts and natural hazards.

Battered and bedraggled, Sally eventually finds her way deep into a swamp where a bizarre conurbation exists. More accurately, one of the denizens of Kurdleton finds her, dragging the bedraggled bear back to a band of little weirdoes who extend jolly hands of friendship the damaged bear is too proud and standoffish to accept with any grace at all…

Claiming all she needs are directions back to the road, Sally is nevertheless soon embroiled in the jovial strangers’ ongoing crisis: their magnificent dwelling has contracted a strange malady and is growing hair and eyes…

Soon a case of Casa Pilosa – an infamous “Disease of the American Home” – is diagnosed. This house is coming alive…

That’s all the plot you get, and you’ll thank me for that when you see for yourselves this fabulously moving, suspensefully thrilling and wryly funny fractured fable of outcasts banding together into a potently different modern family.

Bold, beguiling and beautiful, The Kurdles is the kind of book you will remember forever.
The Kurdles © 2015 Robert Goodin. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Jaimie Smart’s Bunny vs Monkey volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Papyrus volume 4: The Evil Mummies


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-027-6 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the masterfully evocative magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 collected albums, and consequently spawning a wealth of merchandise, including an animated television show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through “mini-récits” (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserted into LJdS, starring his jovial little cowboy Pony, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis. After that he joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

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

From 1972-1974, De Gieter assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his latest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years…

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, blending Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration, through means of light fantasy romps always leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

The named star is a fearlessly forthright peasant lad (specifically, a fisherman by trade) favoured by the gods who rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

As a youngster the plucky Fellah was blessed by the divine powers and given a magic sword, courtesy of a daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. The lad’s first task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom. However, his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is protecting Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

The Evil Mummies is the fourth Cinebook tome (of, inexplicably, only six thus far). Available in paperback and in eBook formats, it translates the 19th European album in the run, which was originally released in 1996 as Les Momies maléfiques: a riotous rollercoaster of all-out action and fearsome fantasy which begins in the rocky fastnesses of the deep sands. Here Pharaoh’s headstrong daughter impatiently leads an expedition to retrieve the revered mummies of the fabled Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa from the lost Hammamat mines, who legendarily fell defending the nation from the invading Hyksos.

The bodies are to be returned in honour and interred in Thebes, but first they have to find them…

Cheekily joining Theti-Cheri, her protector Papyrus and all the assorted, hurrying specialists is sometime court jester Puin, charged with caring for the precious pack animals – although it would be more accurate to say that his phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot is actually guiding all those reins…

In their haste to finish the mission, the party are shamefully negligent and forget to make proper obeisance to divine Seth, Master of the Desert Wastes, and soon a furious cloud image warns of the dark overlord’s wrath. Nervously shrugging it off, the expedition prepares for sleep but is suddenly devastated by a terrifying flash-flood manifesting from nowhere and brutally scattering the impious intruders.

Papyrus awakes battered and bruised above a lofty precipice. He has been saved from crushing doom by a great silver falcon, favoured beast of mighty Horus

In trying to retrieve his magic sword the boy-hero triggers a flaming omen which points him a certain direction. Setting off into the scorching desert, he slowly follows a treacherous trail and with the falcon’s timely aid uncovers a deep crevice and shaft into a deep, long-forgotten mine. In a chamber far within the abandoned workings is a golden statue of Seth and ten roughly hewn coffins in a makeshift temple…

Curiosity overcoming caution, Papyrus uncovers a ghastly, poorly-preserved mummy in one but the second – already opened – casque holds Theti-Cheri herself: alive, but bound and gagged. When he cuts the princess loose, she descends into utter panic, frantically warning that she had been captured by walking corpses: the angry archers of Sekenenre Taa…

The boy warrior is saved from a lethal arrow by the ever-present falcon, but in his panicked flight is separated from his rattled companion, before plunging into open air and landing in the mine’s ancient water-filled well.

Recovering his wits, he trails Theti and finds her and the bird on a rooftop. She claims to have been saved by Horus himself.

Sadly, the aroused mummies are determined and unstoppable. With his magic sword useless against the already dead, Papyrus is about to be crushed by the restless revenants and is only rescued when the princess plunges one of the monsters’ own arrows into a dusty body…

Before long though, the buried temple is crawling with revived and raging mummy murderers and the terrified youths are again racing in panic. Spotting a trickle of water on a stony rock face, Papyrus smites the wall with his sword and a watery tumult catapults them to relative safety in the well.

With the water flooding away, however, the pair can see two huge golden statues of Horus at the bottom and realise that they must restore them to the temple to quiet the still-marauding mummies…

Seth unleashes more magical mischief to deter the already overwhelmed children, but Papyrus’ defiance and the fortuitous appearance of Khamelot quickly turn the tables after the unthinking dead things mistake the donkey for their own ghastly long-eared, long-nosed dark lord and rapidly retreat…

With aid from the faithfully following pack animals, the Horus statues are quickly restored to their rightful stations but Theti insists that the now-dormant archer mummies must be respectfully gathered up and transported to their proper resting place in Thebes as per her father’s plans…

As the bizarre entourage makes its laborious way back across the burning sands, more strange encounters plunge both princess and protector into another hidden tomb. This one holds the real, righteous, sacredly-interred Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa. But if that’s the case, who or what have they been shipping back at such tremendous, exhausting effort?

Solving that enigma, the pair still have to defeat an army of bandits and pillagers even as the battle leads them to the impossible plain where the lost members of the original expedition have been enduring the slow punishment of Seth…

Epic, funny, enthralling and frenetically paced, this amazing adventure will thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions wedding heroism and humour with wit and charm. Anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to unearth and acquire all these classic chronicles.
© Dupuis, 1996 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

A Carrot for Iznogoud (Iznogoud volume 5)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beano and the Dandy: Favourites from the Forties


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Matt Wayne, J. Torres, Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, Carlo Barberi, Dan Davis & Terry Beatty (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2650-3 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now-legendary Viking Prince. Soon, the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but the manly adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman, Strange Sports Stories and the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow & Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding ones: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII Battle Stars Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad & Kid Flash, evolved after further try-outs into the Teen Titans and after, Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, brand new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

From then it was back to the extremely popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no gone realised it at the time, this particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman & Black Canary and Wonder Woman witth Supergirl, an indication of things to come materialised as Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away…

Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men, Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 Spectre</Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his decades-long publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title.

With constant funny book iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page.

One relatively recent incarnation was Batman: the Brave and the Bold, which gloriously teamed up the all-ages small-screen Dark Knight with a torrent and profusion of DC’s other heroic creations, and once again the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s comic book full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar premier collection (available in paperback but aggravatingly not in digital editions) gathers the first 6 issues in a hip, trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages and, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience (and they’re pretty good too)…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #1 has the Caped Crimebuster and Aquaman putting paid to robotic rogue Carapax. This feeds into main feature ‘The Panic of the Composite Creature’ (by Matt Wayne, Andy Suriano & Dan Davis) wherein Batman and the pulchritudinous Power Girl save London from Lex Luthor’s latest monster-making mechanism.

Phil Moy illustrates Superman and the Gotham Guardian mopping up the terrible Toyman before ‘The Attack of the Virtual Villains’ finds the Bat and Blue Beetle in El Paso battling evil Artificial Intellect The Thinker, in a compelling and extremely challenging computer-game world…

After an introductory battle between Wonder Woman , Dark Knight and telepathic tyrant Dr. Psycho’s zombie villains, ‘President Batman!’ (Wayne, Suriano & Davis) sees the Great Detective substitute for the Commander-in-Chief, with Green Arrow as bodyguard when body-swapping mastermind Ultra-Humanite attempts to seize control of the nation.

Then, in full-length thriller ‘Menace of the Time Thief!’, Aquaman and his bat-eared chum prevent well-intentioned Dr. Cyber from catastrophically rewriting history, following a magical and too brief prologue wherein sorcerer Felix Faust is foiled by a baby Batman and the glorious pushy terrible toddlers Sugar and Spike

Torres, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty stepped in for both the chilling vignette wherein the nefarious Key is caught by Batman and a Haunted Tank whilst ‘The Case of the Fractured Fairy Tale’ opens as the awesome Queen of Fables starts stealing children for her Enchanted Forest and the Caped Crusader needs the help of both Billy Batson and his Shazam!-shouting adult alter ego Captain Marvel

This initial outing concludes with a preliminary clash between Hourman and Batman against the crafty Calculator, after which ‘Charge of the Army Eternal!’ (Torres, Suriano & Davis) finds villainous General Immortus at the mercy of his own army of time-lost warrior bandits and desperately seeking the help of the Gotham Gangbuster and ghostly Guardian Kid Eternity..

Although greatly outnumbered, the Kid’s ability to summon past heroes such as The Vigilante, Shining Knight, Viking Prince and G.I. Robot proves invaluable, especially once the General inevitably betrays his rescuers…

This fabulously fun rollercoaster ride also includes informative ‘Secret Bat Files’ on Luthor, Power Girl, Thinker, Blue Beetle, Ultra-Humanite, Green Arrow, Dr. Cyber, Aquaman, Queen of Fables, Captain Marvel, General Immortus and Kid Eternity, and the package is topped off with a spiffy cover gallery courtesy of James Tucker, Scott Jeralds & Hi-Fi.

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

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV viewing kids, these short, sweet sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers, making this terrific tome a perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2009 DC Comics. Compilation © 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Little David


By David Cantero (Northwest Press)
eISBN: 978-1-9438900-0-2 (digital only)

Families are important: by all metrics the foundation of human society. If we swallow our arrogant exceptionalism for a moment, it’s also the binding concept of all mammalian life and a fair bit of the rest of Earth’s breathing occupants. You just need to be flexible, amenable to change and willing to re-examine and where necessary loosen any old hidebound definitions you might have acquired while growing up…

The concept is one we’re finally shedding: escaping centuries of oppressive preconditioning and the diktat of whatever autocratic – or, more usually, theocratic – hegemony presumes to run your life.

I’ll restate that just in case I wasn’t clear: human beings are all about families and what constitutes a family is open to interpretation…

David Cantero Berenguer (The Little Swallow Light, Cunitoons, People) was born in Cartagena, Spain and – after graduating in 1996 from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège – embarked on a stellar career as an author, cartoonist, illustrator, concept artist, designer and games maker. He is a prolific creator of books and graphic novels for kids and adults. Many of his works involve gay themes, ranging from inclusive all-ages chronicles (like the one under review here) to beguiling adult erotica.

First released in 2015 and deftly referencing Winsor McCay’s classic fantasy Little Nemo in Slumberland, Little David is a delicious selection of short gags wherein the ever-inquisitive titular star cavorts, chats and interacts with nine other kids, all cumulatively representing the wealth of options qualifying as family units today.

David himself has two dads, and pal Ulysses has a widowed mother, a stepdad and two half-brothers, whilst forthright Marie just has her mum. Abrasive Big Harry is full-nuclear in a biological clan of mum, dad and one sister, whereas Lenais a result of artificial insemination undertaken by her already-divorced mother. Anastasia has a mum and dad who conceived her in vitro, and PJ was adopted. Completing the menu, Ian has a trans dad and a mum whilst twins Yoko and Keiko have two mums and are the result of natural insemination…

That’s a heady mix and the subject of exactly the kind of innocently incisive, hilarious conversations you’d imagine a bunch of smart, curious kids to indulge in when the adults are absent and they’re trying to get to know each other.

The result is a charming and wittily compelling string of spit-take moments, especially as David (and his beloved stuffed unicorn Little Poo Poo) not only learn about many other ways of living but also explore various ways of dressing and expressing his own developing personality, interests and choices…

As innocently enchanting as Peanuts, as astute as Bloom County and as revelatory as Calvin and Hobbes, this peewee playground of family fun offers as sincerely inclusive and heartwarming kindergarten of comics messaging as you’d ever want your kids to see and is also a superb example of top rate cartooning to gladden the eyes.

Little David is a book every home and elementary school should have and use.
© 2015 David Cantero. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio: The Marsupilami Thieves

y André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-167-9 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuisin response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

The legendary anthology Le Journal de Spirou was launched on April 21st 1938 with this other red-headed lad as lead of the anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

He began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip, eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and ultimately creating a phenomenally popular apparently-magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix, with the magic critter debuting in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952.

He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s, the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. Since their departure and as the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…), Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there are also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mostly concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this fifth edition (available in paperback and digitally and originally entitled Les voleurs du Marsupilami or The Marsupilami Robbers), they reached back all the way to 1952 to re-present the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

On January 3rd 1924, Belgian comics superstar André Franquin was born in Etterbeek. Drawing from an early age, the lad began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 and when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, Franquin found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (AKA Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. Throughout those early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé, at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They promptly revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (LJdS #427, June 20th 1946) and the eager lad ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio, as well as one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in the current English translation).

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Zig et Puce, Achille Talon), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955, a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin sign up with rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known here as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to on his departure – is Marsupilami, which, in addition to comics tales, has become a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Marsupilami Thieves was originally serialised in LJdS #729-761 (collected into an album in 1954); a sequel to previous adventure Spirou et les héritiers, in which the valiant lad and his inseparable companion colleague encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Palombia and brought the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation.

Franquin’s follow-up tale – crafted from an idea by fellow cartoonist Jo Almo (Geo Salmon) – sees the triumphant journalists visit the big City Zoo where their latest headline has ended up, only to be stricken with guilt and remorse at the poor creature’s sorry state of incarceration.

Resolved to free the poor thing and return him to his rainforest home, their plan is foiled when the critter suddenly dies in its cage. Distraught and suspicious, they muscle their way in to see the vet and discover the corpse has gone missing…

Acting quickly, Spirou and Fantasio rouse the authorities and the commotion prevents the body thief from escaping. All through the night the keepers and our heroes scour the institution and, in the deadly dark finally spook the mysterious malefactor from his cosy hiding place…

There follows a spectacular and hilarious midnight chase through the zoo, with the lads harrying a dark figure – who must be some kind of athlete – past a panoply of angry animals, hindered more than helped by inept keepers…

They almost catch the intruder, but a last burst of furious energy propels the bandit over a back wall, although not before Spirou snatches a paper clue from him…

The precious scrap takes the determined investigators to the flat of Victor Shanks, where his wife Clementine provides further information. Her man is flying off to the city of Magnana for his new job… and to deliver a package…

The boys’ frantic chase to the airport is plagued by manic misfortune and they miss Victor by mere moments, but, undeterred, borrow a neighbour’s car and attempt to follow overland. This leads to a fractious episode of fisticuffs with striking Customs Officers (they’re withholding their labour, not exceptionally attractive…).

After a night in jail, the undeterred duo and the kvetching Spip eventually fetch up in Magnana and the search begins.

A month later, they are frustrated and ready to throw in the towel when Spirou literally runs into Clementine Shanks and trails her to a football stadium where formerly unemployed, desperate Victor is now a star of the local soccer team…

Confronting the essentially good-hearted rogue, Fantasio and Spirou force the truth from him. In return for his new job Victor drugged and swiped the Marsupilami for ruthless showman The Great Zabaglione as a star attraction for his circus and travelling menagerie…

Determined to see the little creature free, the boys attempt to infiltrate the show but are quickly discovered and forcefully expelled. After a chance meeting with weird science master Count of Champignac they try once more, perfectly disguised as miraculous magic act Cam and Leon

This time the ruse succeeds, but after a phenomenally outrageous opening performance the brutal Zabaglione rumbles the reporters. Things look bleak for the lads and the Marsupilami until guilt-wracked Victor steps in to save the day. Once the dust settles the wondrous beast is free, but happily opts to stay with the boys and share their fun-filled, exciting exploits…

Soaked in superb slapstick comedy and with gallons of gags throughout, this exuberant yarn is packed with angst-free action, thrills and spills and also offers an early ecological message and an always-timely moral regarding the humane treatment of animals. There’s even a fascinating history and creative overview of the timeless wandering heroes in back-up feature ‘Spirou & Fantasio’s Stories Last Through Generations’.

The Marsupilami Thieves is the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller to delight readers who are fed up with a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive yet wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a truly enduring landmark tale from a long line of superb exploits, and deserves to be a household name as much as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1954 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Archie Comics Presents… The Complete Cosmo, the Merry Martian


By Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics, with Tom DeFalco, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Ian Flynn, Jeff Schultz, Tracy Yardley & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-895-9(TPB)

MLJ were a publisher who promptly jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. They began their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders in November 1939, starting with Blue Ribbon Comics, and followed up by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the masked champions and rugged he-men were gradually but insistently nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. The slapstick teen travails of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, Archie’s unconventional best friend/confidante Jughead Jones and filthy rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge in scenic small-town utopia Riverdale were the components of the comic book industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman and superheroes being the first).

By 1946, the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit Sugar, Sugar (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

Throughout that meteoric rise, however, the company never left all its eggs in one basket. Its superhero line periodically resurfaces and reboots and their forays into all-ages supernatural thrillers and straightforward adult-themed horror comics are always worth reading. Archie Comics also periodically sought to repeat the success of its original humour breakthrough with titles such as Katy Keene, Wilbur, Super Duck, Pat the Brat, That Wilkin Boy and many others. Each attempt took inspiration from the tone of the times…

In 1958, the world was abuzz with science, science fiction and the accelerating space race, and the time seemed right for an amusing series about a bold but affable explorer from the Red Planet. The result was Cosmo the Merry Martian by Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics.

Seymour Victory Reit (1918-2001) was an accomplished humourist, children’s author, historian, cartoonist and animator. His many clients and employers included Mad Magazine and his greatest claim to fame now is co-creating – with Joe Oriolo – Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Comics veteran Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005) was an Archie mainstay until the mid-1960s when he was apparently summarily fired for daring to moonlight (on Tower Comics’ Tippy Teen). He had a keen eye for sight gags, a deft line in monster-design and a slick accessible style as seen in this years-ahead-of-its-time gently satirical comedy sci fi series… Often, that term is mere hyperbole, but it’s true here, as Cosmo the Merry Martian was revived in 2014, and has been with us ever since…

Running between September 1958 and October 1959, the series began with ‘Destination Earth!’ as all Mars watches spacer Cosmo and his extremely reluctant co-pilot Orbi blast off on the first flight to another planet. Ship designer Professor Thimk is anxious, and Cosmo’s girlfriend Astra is still trying to finagle her way onto the ship with the astronauts…

Eventually however the ship blasts off, exploiting the close proximity of the worlds to cut travel time. They are only 2000 miles from their destination when a meteor punctures the fuel tanks and forces them to crash land on Luna…

‘Moon Merriment’ then manifests as the explorers are rescued by bizarre, fractious, pun-obsessed but scientifically advanced moon people called Oogs. After much fuss and kerfuffle they ferry Cosmo and Orbi to their intended destination just in time to take in and disastrously disrupt a baseball game. As confusion reigns, the ‘Planet Playmates!’ hastily return to Luna…

When the Martians decide to explore the Dark Side of the Moon in #2 (November 1958), they are drawn into ‘The Great Gillywump Hunt!’: encountering a dread beast with an undeserved reputation and very bad cold. Seeking to placate centuries of misunderstanding in ‘Sneezy Does It!’ our heroes again cadge a lift ‘Down to Earth!’ to secure a cure for that pestilential cold, but the attempt again triggers chaos on the third rock from the Sun…

Meanwhile on Mars, Thimk and Astra board a spare rocket to save Cosmo and Orbi…

The issue then finds time and space for a brace of quick complete tales: one featuring egghead alien jimmy jupiter and his hand-made robot girlfriend whilst the second sees cuboid ET Squarehead pick up a rather unique method of travel…

Cosmo the Merry Martian #3 didn’t launch until April 1959 and found the moon-marooned astronauts ‘Venus Bound!’ after Thimk’s rescue rocket arrives on Luna and delivers orders to explore the second planet. Setting out, the ship carries the quartet of Red Planeteers, a contingent of Oogs, Orbi’s dog Jojo and a subtle stowaway… the bellicose Gillywump…

Arrival on the mysterious misty planet denotes ‘Trouble for Orbi!’ in the form of a sleeping giant, until his comrades rush ‘To the Rescue!’ Eventually, cooperation and communication with the residents offset a ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’ and the adventure ends with the voyagers rushing to meet the boss…

The interplanetary antics then conclude with mathlete jimmy jupiter finding the upside of a hit-&-run in ‘Lovely Day!’

June 1959 saw the release of issue #4 and an audience with ‘The Queen of Venus’. The gorgeous monarch sets Astra’s hackles rising and causes ‘Trouble for Cosmo!’ by declaring her intention to marry him…

His fellow explorers soon devise a way to ‘Rescue in Peace!’ culminating in another example of ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’, but the frantic flight from Venus damages their ship and the appalled escapees find themselves shooting straight for deep space with no way to turn, stop or even decelerate…

The tense cliffhanger is slightly offset by another jimmy jupiter/Squarehead double bill featuring calculus chuckles and cubic cartoon whimsy…

‘Stand by for Saturn!’ opens #5 (August 1959), with the out-of-control Mars ship hurtling towards the planet’s rings. Happily, the collision is not fatal and the voyagers make relatively harmless planetfall before meeting the friendly vegetable inhabitants. All too soon though, the explorers fall foul of ‘The Magic Gumdrops!’ Cosmo’s reluctant co-pilot undergoes shocking transformations in ‘Pardon My Size!’, culminating in ‘A Ride for Orbi!’ to those rings and then astoundingly ‘On to Mars!’, leaving his companions to hitch a lift home with the Saturnians, whilst Squarehead closes the issue with ‘The Mirror the Merrier!’

The series was abruptly curtailed with the October 1959 release, as ‘Make Mine Mars!’ saw the Red Planet hosting a convocation of visitors from Luna and Saturn only to be imperilled by a potential world-conquering villain as ‘Meet Dr. Beatnik!’ introduces a Martian mad scientist intent on conquering Earth.

His horrified compatriots are determined to thwart his plans, resulting in ‘The Great Space Chase!’ and an outer space confrontation in ‘Fire Away!’ before a multi-world coalition finally accomplishes ‘The End of Dr. Beatnik!’ and opts to land on Earth for a friendly visit…

Fun and thrilling, packed with easily-relatable facts and astronomical data, the saga was a splendid example of family-friendly entertainment, but had failed to find sufficient readership over a year of continuous frolicsome adventure. Although it ended there, the series was fondly remembered and was revived in the space-friendly 21st century.

In Archie #655 (June 2014) Tom DeFalco, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski reintroduced a more take-charge iteration of the jolly voyager in short story ‘The Good Guys of the Galaxy!’ Here, Archie and Jughead teamed up with past characters such as Captain Sprocket, Cat-Girl, Captain Pumpernik and Super Duck in a multiversal action romp to save creation from the reality-warping threat of the Miracle Mitten…

The Martian then popped up in ‘From Mars with Love’ (Jughead & Archie Double Digest #15, October 2015, by Ruiz & Bob Smith) with a disastrous gift suggestion for Veronica’s birthday and again as a computer game in ‘Cosmo Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #275 February 2017, by Dan Parent & Jim Amash).

The game version reappeared in ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #285 February 2018 by Parent, Jeff Schultz & Amash), before the Martian finally reclaimed his own comic book series in January 2018. Cosmo #1 was crafted by Sonic the Hedgehog team Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley & Matt Helms who reinvented the Red Rover as a space cop and leader of a team of cosmic heroes in ‘Space Aces!’

If you’re only interested in the vintage tales, you might want to pick up the cheaper Pep Digital #42 which gathers the Reit & White ‘50’s series and also includes a snippet from 2011’s Archie & Friends: Night at the Comic Shop by Alfonso Ruiz, Bill Galvan & Amash.

In the chapter ‘Comic Cosmosis’ the original Cosmo, Orbi and Jojo explosively arrive in Riverdale’s PEP Comics store at the vanguard of a wave of comics characters from alternate realms – and MLJ/Archie’s back catalogue. It’s a great teaser for the introduction of Archie’s own multiverse…

Packed with charm, elucidation and restrained action, the exploits of Cosmo offer a happy view of the Martian way that will delight fun-lovers and wonder-addicts everywhere.
© 1958-2018 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.