The Rainbow Orchid Volume 1 (the Adventures of Julius Chancer)

By Garen Ewing (Egmont UK)
ISBN:  978-1-4052-4853-2

Finally getting what he deserves is creator Garen Ewing whose delightful pastiche of the adventure genre pioneered by Hergé at last gets the full-colour album treatment with the first volume of The Rainbow Orchid.

The character of plucky young daredevil Julius Chancer and his adventuresome pals began popping up around 2003 in a self-published mini-comic and a few other small press publications (Gosh, I wish there was a less loaded or pejorative term for magazines produced by devoted, if unpaid, creators) and has been unfolding online ever since to rapturous praise from industry and public alike. Now Egmont, who also publish Tintin, (last time I mention him, I promise) have picked up the series and we should see this fabulous tale of old fashioned derring-do become a solid reader favourite on its own merits.

In a tale delightfully reminiscent of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion tale ‘Look to the Lady/the Gyrth Chalice Mystery’ (and wasn’t he originally a pastiche of Lord Peter Wimsey?) and with just a hint of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories, this first of three volumes set in 1920s Britain introduces Julius Chancer, young but capable assistant to Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, renowned historical researcher and gentleman breeder of orchids.

Sir Alfred is approached by Lord Reginald Lawrence, scion of an ancient and noble house, who has been tricked into an impossible wager by the dastardly entrepreneur Urkaz Grope. At stake is the “Trembling Sword of Tybalt Stone” a priceless antique that has been the seat of the family’s honour since 1445, and without which Lord Lawrence would have to surrender all his estates and titles…

To win the wager Lawrence needs an example of Iriode Orchino – the rainbow orchid, a mythical bloom last seen by Alexander the Great over two thousand years ago. Although Catesby-Grey pooh-poohs the whole story, Julius remains hopeful, perhaps as tempted by the prospect of adventure and paid bills as by the urgings of plucky Lady Lily, Lawrence’s daughter and a silent film actress recently returned from Hollywood to the bosom of Empire.

Grope is an ominous presence throughout, with a highly secret agenda of his own and no principles at all, whilst the vulgarly intrusive journalist William Pickle has no decency, no morals and definitely no fear as he sniffs out news and controversy like an obsessed ferret, whilst Lily’s Movie Publicity Agent Nathaniel Crumpole always seems in the thick of whatever trouble is brewing – can even an American be that determinedly naive?

The boy Chancer determines to risk all in tracking down the orchid and despite a series of viciously calculated ploys by Grope and his gang of cutthroats sets off with Lily and Crumpole for Karachi and the fantastic flower’s last known whereabouts…

Enchantingly engaging, astonishingly authentic and masterfully illustrated in the legendary Ligne Claire style, this is a wonderful tale that ranks amongst the very best all-ages graphic narratives and although the wait for the next volume might seem interminable the online presence and added value items which can be found at should keep your bated breath puffing along until then.

Magic, pure graphic magic. Where else could you get hot fresh nostalgia, just like your granddad used to love?

© 2009 Garen Ewing. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke: Billy the Kid

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

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

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

His continued exploits over more than 60 years have made him the best-selling comic character in Europe, (more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with spin-off games, computer games, animated cartoon and even live-action movies.

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

Before then, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist (to my eyes Lucky Luke looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many mid-1940s B-movie Westerns).

He quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” or Gang of Four, which comprised the creators Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin, and who were the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP

Jacobs and other artists in Tintin Magazine.

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

Working alone until 1955 when he reunited with Goscinny (see our recent Iznogoud review for the low-down on that most prolific of comics writers) Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before, working in perfect unison, Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the straight-shooter switched teams, leaving Spirou for Goscinny’s magazine Pilote with the tale ‘La Diligence’ (the Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from when Morris continued both alone and with other collaborators. Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan, and the team of Achdé and Laurent Gerra took over franchise, producing another three tales to date. In a most peculiar aside I feel I must mention that Morris was apparently voted the “79th Greatest Belgian” in the 2005 Walloon election of De Grootste Belg. If so, I demand a recount…

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

The latest attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook, and the first of the twenty (and counting) available albums is Billy the Kid, Morris and Goscinny’s eleventh collaboration.

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

His deadly aptitude with a six-gun means that no one will swear out a complaint let alone testify against the vicious little bully, and when Luke accepts the job of sheriff it takes brains and cunning rather than his legendary skill with a shooting iron to free the town from the tiny grip of the world’s meanest 12 year old…

Although the dialogue is a trifle stiff in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Alias Smith and Jones or Evil Roy Slade are more your style?) superbly executed by master storytellers, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genres for kids of all ages.

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll want more Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © Cinebook Ltd.

Connective Tissue

By Bob Fingerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-143-5

The always innovative and entertaining Bob Fingerman turns his post-modern attentions to the burgeoning sector of illustrated novellas (picture books for grown-ups) with this classy, sassy and wickedly beguiling blend of Alice in Wonderland, Stranger in a Strange Land and Clerks with just a dash of Allan Moyle’s hugely underrated 1995 movie Empire Records.

There’s a whole other class in the world, eternally young, worldly-wise and yet unaccountably innocent. They dress oddly, know cool but useless things, don’t care about pension plans or job security and work only to live their outside lives. They are the disaffected tribe who work for minimum wage in the odd corners of modern retail: record stores, non-chain book shops, computer games stores, comic shops…

They’re not an underclass, just a different one.

Darla Vogel earns her living at Kwok’s Video rental store. As a cool and rudely healthy chick in a venue that attracts a lot of loners and weirdoes she often finds herself the object of fumbling attention and unwanted gifts, but one particular night when she gets home she finds herself abducted via a poster on her wall into a disturbing new universe: bleakly undulating, slightly skewed, grossly organic and filled with far too much of the wrong kind of nakedness. Darla wants to go home…

Fingerman takes a classic plot with a much funnier and more feisty heroine, adds a dollop of queasy otherworldliness, peppers it all with dry wit and an avalanche of contemporary references – everything from celebrity gossip to comic strips – before adding his own subversively funny tone-and-wash illustrations (a delightful remembrance of the best Mad Magazine pages) to produce a runaway delight for adult lovers of the outré and outrageous.

Get it: it’s good!

© 2009 Bob Fingerman. All Rights Reserved.

The Best of Roy of the Rovers: the 1980s

By Tom Tulley & David Sque (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576948-2

There was a time when comics in Britain reflected the interests of a much larger proportion of the youthful population, and when adults kept their bizarre reading habits a closely guarded secret. Now that it’s practically cool to read graphic narrative, one of the nation’s greatest heroes – sporting, as well as comic related – has been revived in a series of collections from Titan Books.

Roy of the Rovers began on the front cover of Tiger, a new weekly anthology comic published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and Fleetway Publications). Launched on September 11th 1954, “The Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, Amalgamated’s successful response to Hulton Press’ mighty Eagle (home of Dan Dare).

From the first Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also featuring The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others. In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined the more traditional, earthy strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue run it was “the comic with Roy of the Rovers”.

Created by Frank S. Pepper, who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn, and drawn by Joe Colquhoun, Roy was written for much of his early career by the comic’s Editor Derek Birnage (although credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years). In 1975 Roy became player-manager and the following year got his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 issues (ending 20th March 1993).

Roy Race started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and after may years of winning all the glories the beautiful game could offer, settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and triumphant adventure every Saturday…

This glossy oversized paperback covers the period September 20th 1980 to 4th June 1982, when the comic was regularly selling a million copies a week. The stories were always much more than simply “He shoots! He’s scored!!!” formulaic episodes: they’re closer to the sports-based TV dramas of later decades like Dream Team (litigiously so, in some cases…).

This segment begins with Melchester Rovers’ worst season ever. The team are knocked out of the FA Cup and even relegated, only to fight their way back to the top flight despite such distractions as spoilt-brat players, a TV company making a serial about the club and even Roy’s wife leaving him…

Weekly comics have a tremendous advantage when it comes to staying topical. From draught script to issue-on-sale can be as little as six weeks. This meant that with a judicious eye to the upcoming events diary a strip can comfortably lock into big public occasions and even short lived crazes. Two solid examples here are Roy’s attendance of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the dramatic sequence of events following the attempted murder of the indomitable player-manager.

The mystery of “Who Shot Roy Race” mirrored the “Who Shot JR?” furore generated by TV soap Dallas, although with a far more logical conclusion…

Old football comics are never going to be the toast of the medium’s Critical Glitterati, but these were astonishingly popular strips in their day, and produced for maximum entertainment value by highly skilled professionals. They still have the power to enthral and captivate far beyond the limits of nostalgia and fashion. If your footy-mad youngster isn’t reading enough, this might be the cunning tactic to catch him – or her – totally offside…

© 2008 Egmont UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League Unlimited Sticker Book

By various (Alligator Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84750-335-0

It’s never too soon to get your young ‘uns hooked on the hard stuff as this wonderful black and white activity book for the three-and-up crowd proves with its selection of word puzzles, drawing grid exercises, recognition tests, mazes, join-the-dot puzzles and good old-fashioned colouring pages, all based on the DC characters who made up the cartoon Network version of the Justice League of America – that’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, the John Stewart/Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and my personal feisty favourite, Hawkgirl.

This attention-riveting tome is also a Sticker Book, which means that there are loads of very cool, full-colour, peel-off adhesive images (Reusable! It says on the front so you know it must be true!) which can be placed in relevant – or not – places to great effect.

Produced by the collective efforts of Brian Augustyn, Jason Hernandez Rosenblatt, Bob Rozakis, Jason Armstrong, Dan Davis, Mike DeCarlo, John Delaney, Craig Rousseau and Joe Staton this great package is another perfect tool in the never-ending crusade to teach kids to love comics, books and reading. And some of the kids who get this book will undoubtedly want to graduate to the comic afterward…

In a world where books are increasingly alien to people, the combination of great characters, compelling pictures and every darn attention-seizing trick in the book is a welcome tactic for getting kids reading and not Wii-ing. Forget video games, buy that child a book! And if you’re worried about exercise, make ’em do the colouring-in standing up…
TM and © 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hanna-Barbera’s Shazzan: The Glass Princess

By Don Christiansen & Dan Spiegle (Whitman)

Big Little Books were first produced by the Whitman Publishing Company in 1932: compact square-bound tiny tomes, typically 3⅝″ wide and 4½″ tall by 1½″ thick (hand-sized for kids, right?) anything from 212 to 432 pages long, retailing for the magical 10 cents (eventually hiking up to 15 cents) that even the poorest kids could find. Designed as blocks of text on one side accompanied by a full page illustration across the gutter they simply screamed “great value” to the budget-conscious kid who could find the adventures of his/her favourite radio, movie, literary, carton, newspaper strip and eventually toy or comicbook star within those stiffened pages. The very first was The Adventures of Dick Tracy, released in December 1932.

Quickly followed by other publishers such as Saalfield, Goldsmith, World Syndicate and others, the diminutive hardbacks were soon filling the shelves of retail chain shops such as Woolworths with the gaudy dramas of such luminaries as The Shadow, The Gumps, John Carter of Mars, Lone Ranger, Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Popeye and hundreds more. The format proved popular until the 1960s by which time Whitman was the lone survivor, producing TV (including comicbook properties that had made the jump to the small screen such as Aquaman, Fantastic Four and Batman) and toy tie-ins such as the Monkees, Bonanza and Major Matt Mason.

Whitman, based in Racine, Wisconsin had been part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, and could draw on the commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York. Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938 Western’s comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the imprint Dell Comics -and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little and Little Golden/Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western reinvented its comics division as Gold Key, but as always, its strong licenses allowed it to explore other book formats (see our review of Superman Smashes the Mad Director).

From 1968 comes this spiffy little adventure of based on a popular cartoon adventure show in which siblings Chuck and Nancy find two magic rings in a cave. Each has half a coin on it and when the rings are brought together they spell the name Shazzan – mightiest of all Genies!

Transported back to fabled Arabia the kids have been told by the genie that they must return the rings to the true owner before they can go home again, leading to many splendid adventures in the world of the 1,001 Nights…

In this remarkably entertaining and engrossing tale the kids, aided by their flying camel Kaboobie, get one step closer to their final destination when they battle barbarous sky-pirates, winged monsters and the villainous Shalagar, whose spells have enslaved a nation, turned the beautiful Princess Nada Tia into a crystal statue and whose Diamond Sword is the only weapon that can kill a Genie!

Fast-paced, fanciful and exceedingly well-written, Don Christiansen’s story is perfectly complimented by 123 colour plates from the astoundingly talented Gold Key mainstay Dan Spiegle, working in his patented Alex Toth TV cartoon style.

These little gems are long overdue for some sort of collective retrospective, but at least this fine tale can still be found at relatively low prices from various internet retailers, so if you’re intrigued, enthused or simple starved for nostalgia, you know what to do…
© 1968 Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director

By George S. Elrick and anonymous (Whitman)

I bang on a lot about comics as an art form and (justifiably, I think) decry the fact that they’ve never been given the mainstream recognition other forms of popular creative expression enjoy. I also encourage all and sundry to read more graphic narrative (I’m blurring my own terms here by including any product where text and image work co-operatively to tell a story, rather than simply a sequence of pictures with words attached), and I’m judicious and even selective (really and truly – there’s stuff I’m never going to share and recommend because by most critical criteria, it’s better off ignored and forgotten).

However sometimes I’m caught in a bind: I tend to minimise the impact of nostalgia on my beloved world of “funnybooks”, but so often that irresistible siren call from the Golden Years will utterly trump any hi-falutin’ aesthetic ideal and proselytising zeal for acceptance and recognition.

Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director is such a product from a simpler time when it could be truly said that everybody had seen some sort of comic in their lives (not so easy to claim these days, I fear): a standard paperback more probably released to capitalise on the groundbreaking Saturday morning cartoon series ‘The New Adventures of Superman’ (first hit for the fledgling Filmation Studios) than on the periodical delights of the “World’s Best Selling Comics Magazine!”

The half-hour cartoon show was a huge success, running three seasons; initially piggybacked with Superboy in its first year, (beginning September 10th 1966), expanding into The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure in 1967 and finally The Superman/Batman Hour in 1968. It was cancelled in September 1969 due to pressure from the censorious Action For Children’s Television who agitated against it for its unacceptably violent content!

As was the often the case in those times Big Little Books were produced under license by Whitman Publishing (the print giant that owned Dell and Gold Key Comics) in a mutually advantageous system that got books for younger readers featuring popular characters and cartoon brands (Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Monkees, Shazzan!, Flintstones, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Batman, even the Fantastic Four amongst literally hundreds of others) into huge general store chains such as Woolworth’s, thus expanding recognition, product longevity – and hopefully sales.

Don Markstein’s superb Toonopedia site defines Big Little Books as: a small, square book, usually measuring about 3″x3″, with text on the left-hand pages and a single full-page illustration on the right. Big Little Books were originally created in the 1930s, to make use of small pieces of paper that had formerly gone to waste when magazines were trimmed after printing. By running a separate publication on paper that would otherwise go in the trash, the printer was able to create a salable product almost for free.

Big Little Books were an ideal way to merchandise comic strip characters, as the drawings could simply be taken directly from the strips themselves. Big Little Books flourished during the days of pulp magazine publishing, which mostly came to an end after World War II. The form was revived in the 1960s, partly as a nostalgia item, and has been used sporadically ever since. These latter-day Big Little Books are generally printed on better paper, and some, at least, have color illustrations.

This novel for children, written by BLB mainstay George S. Elrick, is slightly different, having no colour illustrations on its 166 interior pages and reformatted like a bookstore paperback of the sort that proliferated during the 1960s “Camp Superhero Craze” (check out our archived review for High Camp Super-Heroes – B50 695 – for a handy example), and tells a rather good action/mystery yarn about a demented movie maker whose search for ultimate realism draws investigative reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane into a pretty pickle…

To be frank the illustrations are pretty poor, originals not clipped pictures, but ineptly traced from reference material provided by comics drawn by the great Kurt Schaffenberger. Still, the wholesome naivety, rapid pace and gentle enthusiasm of the package surprised and engrossed me – even after the more than forty years since I last read it.

It’s a crying shame that the world doesn’t take comics seriously nor appreciate the medium’s place and role in global society and the pantheon of Arts. Still, as long as graphic narrative has the power to transport such as me to faraway, better places I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it…

© 1966 National Periodical Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Iznogoud Volume 1: the Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud

By René Goscinny & Jean Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-46-5

René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and therefore remains one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Born in Paris in 1926, he was raised in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age he showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

While working as junior illustrator in an ad agency in 1945 an uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After his National Service in France he settled in Brooklyn and pursued an artistic career becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio that included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”, with whom he produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé). He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and ‘Jerry Spring’ Goscinny was made head of World Press’Paris office where he met his life-long creative partner Albert Uderzo (Jehan Sepoulet, Luc Junior) as well as creating Sylvie and Alain et Christine (with “Martial”- Martial Durand) and Fanfan et Polo (drawn by Dino Attanasio).

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, creating magazines for general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and himself wrote and illustrated Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny seems to have invented the 9-day week. Using the pen-name Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 he began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing stories for many illustrators including Signor Spagetti (Dino Attanasio), Monsieur Tric (Bob De Moor), Prudence Petitpas (Maréchal), Globule le Martien and Alphonse (both by Tibet), Modeste et Pompon (for André Franquin), Strapontin (Berck) as well as Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote strips for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue starred his and Uderzo’s instant masterpiece Asterix the Gaul, and he also re-launched Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet and began Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard). When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television. In his spare time he created a little strip entitled Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962) illustrated by a Swedish-born artist named Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – aged 933, in November 1977.

Jean Tabary was born in Stockholm, and began his comics career in 1956 on Vaillant, illustrating Richard et Charlie, before graduating to the hugely popular boy’s adventure strip Totoche in 1959. The engaging head of a kid gang, Totoche spawned a spin-off, Corinne et Jeannot, and as Vaillant transformed into Pif, the lad even got his own short-lived comic; Totoche Posche. Tabary drew the series until 1976, and has revived it in recent years under his own publishing imprint Séguinière /Editions Tabary.

In 1962 he teamed with René Goscinny to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah but it was the villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud that stole the show – possibly the little rat’s only successful plot.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp the revamped series moved to Pilote in 1968, becoming a huge favourite, spawning 27 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie in 2005. Following their success Goscinny and Tabary created Valentin, and Tabary also wrote Buck Gallo for Mic Delinx to draw. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary took over writing Iznogoud as well, moving to book length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short stories that typified their collaboration.

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best comics it works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and translated here with the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little tyke has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting it “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The vile vizier is “aided” – and that’s me being uncharacteristically kind – in his schemes by his bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf, and in this first album they begin their campaign with ‘Kissmet’, wherein pandemonium ensues after a talking frog is revealed to be an ensorcelled Prince who can only regain human form if kissed by a human. Iznogoud sees an opportunity if he can only trick the simple-minded Caliph into puckering up; unfortunately he forgets that he’s not the only ambitious man in Baghdad…

‘Mesmer-Eyezed’ finds him employing a surly stage hypnotist to remove the Caliph whilst ‘The Occidental Philtre’ sees him employ a flying potion obtained from a lost, jet-lagged western sorcerer, each with hilarious but painfully counter-productive results.

Tabary drew himself into ‘The Time Machine’ as a comic artist desperate to meet his deadlines who falls foul of a mystical time cabinet, but when he meets the vizier, that diminutive dastard can clearly see its Caliph-removing potential – to his eternal regret… In ‘The Picnic’ Iznogoud takes drastic action, luring Haroun Al Plassid into the desert, but as usual his best-laid plans aren’t, and the book concludes with ‘Chop and Change’ as the villain gets hold of a magic goblet which can switch the minds of any who drink from it, forgetting that Caliphs are important people who employ food-tasters…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully delightful word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales and the series has become a household name in France; said the name has even entered French Political life as a term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and usually short.

Eight albums were translated in the 1970s and 1980s, but made little impact here: hopefully this new incarnation of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy epics will finally find an appreciative audience among British kids of all ages. I’m certainly going to be one of them…
© 1967 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Pop-Up

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel/Templar Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-84011-670-0

Here’s a hunk of sheer comic extravagance that will appeal to the great, big kid so inadequately buried in us all. Part of a line of publications first released in 2008 (and just now making it into book remainder stores around the country, but also still available online) I got this masterpiece of “paper technology” or pop-up book as part of my recent 50th birthday commiserations.

By selecting pages and scenes from the glory days of Stan and Jack, such as the cover of Fantastic Four #1, the origin of Doctor Doom, the battle against the Molecule Man (FF#20) and many others, the creators have produced a startling, quite literally three-dimensional dossier of the World’s Greatest Magazine heroes and their most dastardly foes. These snippets of King Kirby at his bombastic best include Victor Von Doom, Mole Man, Puppet Master, Sub-Mariner, Super-Skrull, Mad Thinker, and even the incredible Fantasticar, all augmented by the very latest in folding, spindling, sliding and even plastic enhancing techniques.

Delightfully ingenious, fabulously fun and capable of reducing sour old coots to fits of gleeful burbling this is just plain fun and you really, really need it…

TM and © 2008 Marvel Characters inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol 1

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol 1

By Hergé (Egmont UK)
ISBN 10: 1-4052-2894-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-4052-2894-7

This lavish new series of editions collects the Adventures of Tintin in chronological order beginning with Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, which was one of the last to be released in English.

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his 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, he created twenty three 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, he died while working, and 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 and Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925 he worked for the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A dedicated boy-scout himself, Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme. He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Abbot Wallez asked him to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme running until May 8th 1930.

The boy – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul, a soldier in the Belgian Army – and his dog Milou (‘Snowy’ to us Brits) reported back from the Godless Russias. The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was the foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme.

Arriving in Russia the dog and his boy are subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain attempt by the Soviets to prevent the truth of their economic progress, popular feeling and world aspirations being revealed to the Free World. In a progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and vain attempts to bribe and corrupt him, a hint of the capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen.

As Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast machines, lovingly rendered in a stylised meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters (an obvious forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Clairé drawing style) and makes his way back across Europe to his rapturous welcome in Belgium the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself is very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something… an intriguing hint of things to come.

Where the first tale is simple black and white, Tintin in the Congo is much more stylistically familiar to modern readers. This tale, which originally ran in Le Petit Vingtiéme from June 1930 until June 1931, was radically restructured in 1946 for release as a collected album, and later, a page featuring a Rhino, a hand-drill and a stick of dynamite was replaced with a much funnier scene.

Still hampered by his weekly, episodic format Tintin and Snowy take ship for The Belgian Congo where they perforce have many little adventures, but also uncover a plot by Al Capone to take control of Africa’s diamond trade. This revised version features a Tintin retrofitted for both artistic and commercial reasons. By 1946 there had been thirteen full adventures and the characters were fully developed. It was both logical and preferable that new readers be presented with a consistent vision. And as Hergé had grown as both author and artist the album editions gave him an opportunity to rectify some earlier decisions that he regretted.

When producing work for a perpetual deadline not only are you trapped by the urgent need to finish and move on, but you are imprisoned in the context of your own times. When ‘The Congo’ ran in 1930-1931, representations of ethnicities and more importantly the attitudes of a Belgium that was still a Colonial Power informed the text and probably influenced the Catholic newspaper that paid for the strip. In later years Hergé admitted to deeply regretting much of his early work, and took every opportunity to repair it.

A scene in which natives are taught that they are happy Belgians was gladly replaced with a maths lesson and many images and scenes were subtly altered to enhance the standing and image of native Africans. The recent controversy regarding ethnic depictions in historical comics (and remember this tale is seventy-seven years old) seems doubly cynical and politically self-serving when one considers that Hergé was rectifying what he saw as racial slurs in the 1940s whilst modern society only acknowledged there might be a problem less than thirty years ago. For every black African waving a spear and shield in this story there’s another in a suit, a uniform or tee shirt.

These two adventures might be faux-controversial but they are also highly readable, joyous, thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative for any fan of the comic strip medium. And although they can be read singly, since Hergé was an early proponent of extended continuity, the early tales are actually necessary reading if you want a better understanding of the Tintin masterpieces to come.

But I do have one wistful caveat…

Many older readers were exposed to these stories in gorgeous, brilliantly coloured, oversized editions – myself included – and I wish these lovely little hardbacks weren’t quite so little, and were a bit less muted in the colour reproduction. Nothing blows a kid away quite as much as turning a big page and seeing a great big superbly rendered image.

Still, these new editions do fit in a jacket pocket…

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai.
Text ©1999, 2007Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.
Tintin in the Congo: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.