Kabul Disco Book 2: How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Karyn Mencarelli (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-469-5 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Suspect – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a splendid case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts, and a superb addition to trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan is the second fabulous monochrome travel memoir further detailing the experiences of French writer/artist Nicholas Wild whose quest for regular employment took a wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005…

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters so our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals, adversaries, opponents or even those who simply disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas and his culture shock in adapting to a weird job in a wild place involved joining somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Zendagui Media as they worked to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Although the security situation was tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing. Ultimately, the artist was more concerned about the kind of people he was working for rather than the evil all-pervasive Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists apparently infesting the country…

All too soon the job was done and Wild had to go home…

Wilde’s adjustment to the primitive conditions and his superb gift for wry commentary afforded the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple and, after many astounding, heart-warming, ridiculous and often frightening moments, the artist realised his five months were over and it was time to leave, both physically and emotionally…

As Book Two begins, the artist is back in civilisation and chafing. Following his ‘Incomprehensible Summary of Book 1’ – offering a roundup of European history and contemporary experience – ‘Part Three: The War on Opium that Never Took Place’ finds the cartoonist back in Kabul… which he now thinks of as “Home”.

Back at Zendagui Media new hire Angele Lamborghini briefs the team on their next project: weaning the populace away from the only resource they have that anybody wants to buy. The American Embassy wants to end the commercial dependency on opium and needs the team to create a campaign to win minds if not hearts of ordinary folk…

That goes about as well as you’d expect, but in the process of research Wild does meet some fascinating people, visits more beautiful places, hears some scary stories and attends a few more parties…

And then it’s time for national elections…

Packed with quirky interactions and subtly inserting a little history and context into his revelations, Wild and his equally bemused and bewildered associates live from day to day until eventually ‘Part Four: Kabul Burning’ sees events overtake the First-worlders in their little enclave as Afghani deaths at government hands spark brutal riots…

The race to a fortified safehouse is simultaneously terrifying and farcical but the potential consequences are no joking matter…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home – or at least back to Europe – once more…

But is it really for good?

Rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco is warm, funny, distressingly informative and unobtrusively polemical: a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 2: Comment je ne suis pas devenu opiomane en Afghanistan © 2008 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings


By Ronald Searle with Geoffrey Willans, Timothy Shy & others (Penguin Modern Classics)
ISBN: 978-0-141-91285-1 (PB)

Britain has a fantastic and enviable history and tradition of excellence in the arts of graphic narrative and cartooning. Whether telling a complete story or simply making a point; much of the modern world’s most innovative, inspirational and trenchantly acerbic drawing has come from British pens powered by British hearts and minds.

If you’re quietly humming Rule Britannia or Jerusalem right now, and or heavy breathing and fingering a flag, pack it in. This is not the tone we want. I’m just stating a few facts.

3 March 1920 Ronald William Fordham Searle was one of a very gifted few (in modern times I’d number Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale, Murray Ball and Hunt Emerson among them) who can actually draw funny lines. No matter how little or how much they need to say, they can imbue the merest blot or scratch of ink with character, intent and wicked, wicked will.

Born in Cambridge on March 3rd 1920, Searle studied at Cambridge School of Art before enlisting in the Royal Engineers when WWII broke out. When he was captured by the Japanese in 1942 he ended up in the infamous Changi Prison. The second St Trinian’s cartoon was drawn in that hell-hole in 1944 and it survived – along with his incredible war sketches – to see print once peace broke out. Searle was a worker on the Siam-Burma Railroad (a story for another time and place) and risked his life daily both by making pictures and by keeping them.

He became a jobbing freelance cartoonist when he got home, acerbically detailing British life. Perhaps that why he moved to France in 1961 and became a globe-girdling citizen of the wider world.

By the 1980s he was established – everywhere but here – as not only a cartoonist and satirist but as a film-maker, sculptor, designer, travel-writer and creator of fascinating reportage. This man was a capital “A” Artist in the manner of Picasso or Hockney, and Scarfe and Steadman notwithstanding, he was the last great British commentator to use cartooning and caricature as weapons of social change in the caustic manner of his heroes Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and the rest.

This volume includes selections from assorted previous collections and includes political illustration, social commentary, arcane mordant whimsy and some of the most surreal, sardonic and grotesque funny pictures of the 20th century.

I won’t spend too much time on his other achievements as his work should be seen and his thoughts and opinions should be understood in his chosen language: Art. At least, he still has enough fans to fill the internet with all the information you could need, so go search-engining after you read this if you wish.

Why his creations are so under-appreciated I do not know. Why this book is out of print: Ditto. That he will remain a relative unknown despite the clutch of movies about his St Trinian’s girls… Not if I can help it.

Anyone who considers themselves a devotee of the arts of graphic narrative should know of Searle’s work, even if not necessarily love – although how could you not? Just be aware of the tremendous debt we all owe to his vision, dedication and gifts.

This compilation traces the rise of his star following his POW years. Post-war, his mordantly funny cartoons appeared in venues such as Punch, Lilliput and The Sunday Express, and in hugely successful collections like Hurrah for St. Trinian’s!, The Female Approach, Back to the Slaughterhouse, The St. Trinian’s Story, Which Way Did He Go?,Pardong m’sieur, In Perspective and The Non Sexist Dictionary.

Searle’s work has influenced an uncountable number of other cartoonists too. His unique visualisation and darkly comic satirical cynicism in the St. Trinian’s drawings as well as his utterly captivating vision of boarding school life as embodied in the classically grotesque Nigel Molesworth quartet: influencing generations of children and adults, and even playing its part in shaping our modern national character and language.

And have I mentioned yet that his drawings are really, really funny?

This superb collection of monochrome cartoons samples choice cuts from a number of his book collections, all delivered with stunning absurdist candour and the peculiarly tragic passive panic and understated warmth that only Searle could instil with his seemingly wild yet clearly-considered linework.

Fronted by an impassioned Introduction from fan and proper grown up journalist/columnist Nicholas Lezard, this paperback and digital collection offers a sweet taste of dark design in haunting and hilarious images culled from a number of sources, opening (un)naturally with macabre treats from St Trinian’s: blending the comforting traditional bonhomie of a girl’s boarding school with the accoutrements of a sex dungeon, the atavists of a charnel house and the fragrant atmosphere of The Somme two days after all the shooting stopped…

Having proved that for some crime Does pay, focus shifts to Merry England, etc., where class, toil, occupations, hobbies, and the ardours of life are ferociously scrutinised before diverting into mirthful metaphysics with a damning disembodied judge dubbed The Hand of Authority

Mare satirical body-blows from Souls in Torment lead delightfully to a montage of misspelled madcap moments of terror-tinged nostalgia as Molesworth extracts snippets of sheer genius from the books he co-created with Geoffrey Willans for Punch and which were subsequently released to enormous success as Down With Skool!, How to be Topp!, Whizz For Atomms! and Back in the Jug Agane.

As I said, Searle was a devotee of satirist William Hogarth and in 1956 adapted the old master’s series of condemnatory cartoons (painted in 1732-34 and released as staggeringly popular engraved prints in 1735) to modern usage and characterisation. Included here in its entirety to conclude our fun, The Rake’s Progress follows the rise and fall of a number of contemporary figures – The Athlete, The Girlfriend, The Soldier, The Poet, The Trade Union Leader, The Actor, The Painter (he based this one on himself), The Don (an English academic, not an American gangster but such confusion is easy to understand), The Dramatic Critic, The Doctor, The MP, The Clergyman, The Novelist, The Humourist, The Master of Foxhounds and The Great Lover – with all the excoriating venom and wit you’d expect from a master of people watching…

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant stuff! See for yourself, whatever side of the battle lines you cower behind…
© 1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959 by Ronald Searle.

This selection © Ronald Searle 2000, 2006. Introduction © Nicholas Lezard, 2000. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 11: Asterix and the Actress, Asterix and the Class Act, Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books)
ISBNs: 978-0-75289-156-9 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-426-7 (PB Album)

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marn. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, the lad dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

After becoming a French citizen at age seven, Uderzo found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business.

Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is still long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a timely warning shot in these frighteningly familiar-feeling times…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, and as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche. He created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir and in 1950, even illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right, or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth from their fevered brows.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a wry western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and, in 1957, added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a permanent home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments, Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier onTanguy et Laverdure whilst producing with Goscinny a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for almost a quarter of a century and Uderzo had found his own authorial voice, whilst keeping the immortal characters rock steady in their natures…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata: released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village, laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing contretemps with the woefully-outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes coincidentally share the same birthday and their garrulous Gaulish friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their respective mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts (culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop) – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females and their potential mothers-in-law. They even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all, they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (from Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly, the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and incontrovertible proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish plotter has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. Apparently, the poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon, her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately, the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime, Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As our heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their usual nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course, it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently, some heroes cansuccessfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, cleverly applied raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art.

Diminutive, doughty daredevil Asterix is one of the Ninth Art’s greatest achievements, and by the mid-1960s had become a global brand and premium French export. He continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. As such prominent and ever-ascending stars, their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise. Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades: features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (originally seen in Pilote #363 October 6th, 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for headmaster Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory explanatory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. Taken from October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distraught husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European stalwarts in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’, detailing the struggle between the village’s ruling rooster and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided, but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempting to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon comes to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolves into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicts how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul fails because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) is an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968), revealing how the constantly-thrashed Romans decide to acquire a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) takes a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186, wherein Mssrs. Goscinny & Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

Everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…

Uderzo’s controversial eighth solo outing (originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language edition was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale. The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious iconoclasm opens with the doughty little Gaul and affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Somehow faithful canine companion Dogmatix and aged Getafix have some life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else and all the woodland creatures – especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if drifts a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me), accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and promptly learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in a blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks. He responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix, the Nagma retreats. When Obelix dashes back to the village it follows. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated, the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix have two Superclones fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon, furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning (Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.

If you still haven’t experienced the sublime example of graphic élan that is Asterix, it’s never too late…
© 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Saint Young Men volume 01


By Hikaru Nakamura, translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley (Kodansha)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-936-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: ‘Tis the Season to be Thoughtful… 9/10

Here’s a divine treat and global sensation with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild eclecticism to boost its appeal, all neatly released in English just in time to make your day and make you think…

Born in April 1984 in Shizoku Prefecture, Japan, Hikaru Nakamura is one of the world’s most successful manga creators, thanks mostly to her thought-provoking yet inviting conceptions such as Arakawa Under the Bridge and the bizarrely engaging buddy-comedy under review today.

In September 2006 Seinto Oniisan began as an occasional gag feature in Morning 2 magazine where, due to its rapturous reception, it grew into an unmissable regular narrative strip that remains to this day. The divine comedy has filled 17 tankōbon collections plus all the usual mass-media iterations that follow such popularity: a brace of anime DVDs and films, a live-action series and much more.

In this premiere stunning and sturdy hardback English compilation (or its ethereal digital equivalent), more extensive detail and context can be found in the effusive Foreword Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men Power’ by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere (who curated a Japanese Exhibition at the British Museum in which Saint Young Men played a major role). Whilst this aids overall comprehension, the book also graciously provides a comprehensive set of Translation Notes for each chapter episode, offering cultural comparison points, theological points of interest and even general notes on modern life in the East.

It sounds like the opening of a joke – and, in fact, it is – but the narrative premise is simple: one day after a particularly arduous millennial turnover, Jesus Christ and Guatama Buddha opt to take a break from Paradise/Nirvana/the Great Beyond and indulge in a kind of gap year experience by re-manifesting as two young guys in Tokyo: living as anonymous mortals; chasing rent, getting picked on, playing with fashions and new technologies and just generally being human. What could possibly go wrong?

The trials begin in ‘Buddha’s Day Off’ as the impoverished pair settle into their tawdry dwelling and ardently discuss the unexpected ways other people respond to them, after which they try adjusting to culture shock but endure even stranger reactions and responses on overcrowded trains and subways in ‘Most Holy Travels’

Man-Toys, gadgets and fashions are perennial fascinations for the pair – their near-infinite logo T-shirt collection often acts as a barometer and commentary for what’s about to occur – but it’s hard to leave their pasts behind and the pair as often visit shrines and churches as theme parks. Sometimes – such as in ‘Another Paradise’ – it’s hard to tell them apart. Moreover, although earthbound, their transcendental natures still adversely affect everything around them, leading to unearthly surprises when they become overfocussed on mundane delights such as shopping in ‘Debut Performance’

‘Oh My Hobby’ finds the holy goofs seeking further homogeneity as Buddha tries screen printing to round out his days whilst Jesus further pursues his dream of being a comedian whilst attempting to curtail his unhappy tendency to make miracles if his concentrates too hard or laughs too much…

Cooling down and discussing their slow assimilation leads to more confusion in ‘Summer Jam at the Community Center’when their oblique mutterings convince a mobbed-up eavesdropper that he’s stumbled into two Yakuza princes trying to get out of “The Life”, after which ‘Buddha and Jesus’s “Can I Do It?”’ reveals how their escalating heavenly energies compel the pair into staying home and trying new pastimes such as drawing manga and throwing pottery…

There’s another innocently bewildering clash with celebrity, commercialism and gangsterism when the inquisitive waifs attend a ‘Sacred Fall Festival’ before Christmas (in its thoroughly formulated Japan-ised form, and celebrated here by a partial conversion to full-colour for their generally monochrome exploits) intersects with an unfortunate ‘Holy Birthday’for Jesus.

That debacle leads to dabbling with disguises to attend the ‘New Year’s Self-Worship’ ceremony, segueing into a nasty brush with human frailty and disease in ‘Hospital Fever’.

Manly vanity rears its inevitable head when Buddha rashly responds to accusations of becoming a ‘Portly Prince?!’, but it’s his scatty roommate who makes an unlikely public scene by losing concentration in ‘The Park Nearest Heaven’. This leads to a necessary but unwise ‘Pilgrimage’ to the shopping mall before these initial devotions conclude with a catastrophic bout of tonsorial ablutions and accidental miracle-making for the ‘Thrice Stranded Bath Drinker’

It’s true to say that in fiction, there are precious few original ideas whereas tone and treatment are everything. Whilst not a new notion, the concept of divine beings popping back to Earth is one that has plenty of antecedents but also infinite appeal and permutations, and here at least, there’s been a vast amount of research undertaken to confirm canonical veracity and deep thinking to keep the jokes fresh and outcomes original.

Charming, funny, brash and subtly challenging, Saint Young Men is a delightful peek into other realms that will leave you hungry for further scriptures and might even lead to a lifelong conversion…
© 2008 Hikaru Nakamura. English translation © 2009 Hikaru Nakamura. All rights reserved.

Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
Saint Young Men volume 01will be released on December 19th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Asterix Omnibus volume 10: Asterix and the Magic Carpet, Asterix and the Secret Weapon, Asterix and Obelix all at Sea


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)

ISBNs: 978-1-40910-134-5 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-425-0 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrating the Season with Historical Hysterics… 10/10

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

He became a French citizen at age seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a warning shot…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right, or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for a decade and Uderzo was slowly but surely finding his own authorial voice…

Asterix and the Magic Carpet (originally and rather ponderously entitled Astérix chez Rahàzade ou Le compte des mille et une heures – which translates as Asterix meets Orinjade or the 1001 Hours Countdown) was released in 1987 and once again saw Asterix and Obelix undertake a long voyage into the unknown: one packed with exotic climes, odd people and bold adventure, all deliciously underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

Before the Arabian adventure begins, a delightful in-character portrait of Goscinny and Uderzo as their greatest creations Asterix and Obelix whets the appetite for the fun to come, after which the 28th saga starts with a friendly feast, abruptly ruined twice over by the musical efforts of raucous Bard Cacofonix.

Firstly, there’s the plain fact that he is singing at all, but the real problem is that his newly discovered vocal style summons up storms and creates violent downpours.

The thunderous deluge delivers a surprised visitor to the village. Watziznehm the Fakir was passing by far above on his flying carpet when the tempest tossed him to earth. It’s a painful but happy accident since the Indian wise man is on a mission to find some miraculous Gauls and a certified rainmaker…

Soon Asterix, Obelix and canine wonder Dogmatix are heading Due East to save beautiful princess Orinjade from the machinations of Guru Hoodunnit, who wants to sacrifice her to end a terrible drought and consequently seize the reins of power from her father Rajah Watzit. When the flying wizard left home, it was with a countdown of 1001 hours to doomsday…

Our heroes are only accompanying the real star of the Fakir’s quest: with a deadline looming to execute the princess, Watziznehm needs to get Cacofonix there in time to sing up a storm – or rather a monsoon…

Travel aboard a flying carpet is swift and comfortable but ever-hungry Obelix is continually holding up proceedings with many pit-stops to refuel his cavernous stomach, whilst the Bard’s practising frequently leads to stormy weather and unnecessary diversions…

After the usual dalliance with pirates, a bird’s eye tour of Rome and a brief voyage on a Greek trading ship, our tourists soar over Athens and get shot at above Tyre before a natural storm sets the carpet alight and they crash-land in Persia.

Despite being in the land of carpets, the travellers are unable to secure a replacement until a band of Scythian raiders attack the village. Once Asterix and Obelix negotiate a trade deal, the embattled villagers take charge of hundreds of pummelled plunderers in return for a freshly unbeatable new rug…

As the heroes plunge ever eastward, in the Valley of the Ganges Hoodunnit and his creepy mystic crony Owzat gloat at their impending takeover, even as poor Orinjade’s stout defiance begins to weaken.

When the Gauls and their Fakir chauffeur arrive with only a day to spare, it all seems over for the ghastly guru, but as the Bard begins his song, Cacofonix discovers that the arduous journey has given him laryngitis.

For the first time ever, somebody wants him to sing and he has lost his voice…

With time running out, the Rajah’s doctors’ diagnosis seems crazy: immersion in various unwholesome by-products of sacred elephants. Rather than settle for half-measures the Gauls decide to take Cacofonix to the jungle abode of Howdoo the Elephant Trainer and bury him in the curative well away from civilised senses…

This only gives the villains the opportunity they have been hoping for. When Watziznehm and the Gauls go to collect the Bard in the morning, Owzat engages the Fakir in a magical duel. Leaving them to their tricks Asterix and Obelix press on and find that the storm-singer has been kidnapped…

Happily, dashing Dogmatix is on hand to track down the Bard, an especially easy task as he now smells like he sings…

Hoodunnit is mirthfully preparing the stage for Orinjade’s sacrifice when, after the usual Gallic fisticuffs from our heroes, Cacofonix makes his Asian debut and sets everything – including the skies – to rights in the very nick of time…

Stuffed with light-hearted action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this tale is full of Eastern Promise, a sublime slice of whimsy and all you need to make any holiday excursion or comfy staycation unforgettable.

The 29th volume Asterix and the Secret Weapon (originally Astérix: La Rose et le Glaive) was released in 1991 and Uderzo’s fifth as solo creator. It begins in the boisterous, far from idyllic little hamlet with a multi-generational battle of the sexes in full swing…

The perpetual jockeying for position between males and females comes to a head when Chief’s wife Impedimenta and the village matrons fire Cacofonix from his role as teacher of their children and bring in a new educator more to their liking.

Bard Bravura is a woman – and someone who knows how to get things done properly. With the village men reluctant to get involved, Cacofonix has no choice but to resign in high dudgeon and go live in the forest…

The situation worsens when the massed mothers demand a party to welcome their new tutor and Chief Vitalstatistix is bullied into arranging it. At the feast, Bravura sings and is discovered to be just slightly less awful than Cacofonix ever was. At least her bellowing doesn’t result in instant thunderstorms…

Meanwhile in Rome, Julius Caesar is listening to another bright spark with an idea to defeat and destroy the Gallic Gadflies who won’t admit they are part of his empire. Wily Manlius Claphamomnibus is convinced he has discovered a fatal chink in the rebels’ indomitable armour…

Bravura is rapidly becoming unwelcome to at least half the village: enflaming the women with her talk of “masculine tyranny”, and aggravating the men by singing every morning before the sun comes up. She even manages to offend easygoing Obelix by refusing to let him bring Dogmatix to the kindergarten class his owner attends every day…

Most shocking of all, the Bard has convinced the women to wear trousers rather than skirts, and Impedimenta has taken to being carried around on a shield just like a proper – Male – Chief…
With the situation rapidly becoming intolerable, outraged Vitalstatistix orders his top troubleshooter to sort it out, but Bravura won’t listen to the diminutive warrior. She thinks Asterix is an adorable little man and bamboozles him into giving her his hut.

… And at sea a band of phenomenally unlucky pirates attack a Roman ship filled with Claphamomnibus’ secret weapons and quickly wish it had been the Gauls who usually thrash and sink them, instead of these monsters sending them to the bottom of the sea…

Relations have completely broken down in the village. The new Bard’s suggestion that Impedimenta should be chief has resulted in a massive spat and Vitalstatistix has repaired to the forest for the foreseeable future. It’s not long before every man in town joins him…

In an effort to calm the seething waters, Druid Getafix organises a referendum to decide who should rule, but whilst all the women naturally vote for Impedimenta, no men except Asterix and Obelix dare to vote for Vitalstatistix. After all, they don’t have wives…

When the little warrior confronts Bravura, she again belittles him: even suggesting that if they get together, they can rule the village jointly. Incensed beyond endurance, the furious hero slaps her when she kisses him and immediately crumbles in shock and horror.

He has committed the unpardonable sin. The Gaulish Code utterly forbids warriors to harm women or maltreat guests and in his honest outrage has betrayed his most sacred principles…

He’s still in shock when Getafix defends him at a trial where Bravura even angers the wise old sage to the point that he also storms off to join Cacofonix and Vitalstatistix…

Before day’s end the entire male contingent – overcome by a wave of masculine solidarity and “Sod This-ery” – is living a life of carefree joy under the stars and Impedimenta is rightly concerned with how the village can be defended without the Druid’s potions.

Bravura has an answer to that too: an infallible peace plan to present to the besieging Romans…

Meanwhile on the dock at Aquarium, the Secret Weapons are disembarking to the amusement and – quite quickly – sheer terror and consternation of the weary garrison. From the safety of some bushes, Asterix and Obelix watch in astonishment as an army of ferocious women – a female Legion of lethal warriors – takes over the running of the fort and prepares for total war…

Extremely worried, the spies quickly report back to the men in the trees. The situation is truly dire for no honourable Gaul could possibly fight a woman. Despite the ongoing domestic situation, Vitalstatistix decides the women of the village must be warned and despatches the horrified Asterix and still-bewildered Obelix to carry the message.

Worried and nervous at their potential reception, the unlikely lads wander into a rather embarrassing fashion show and are greeted with a wave of questions from the women who are missing their men more that they realised…

Bravura arrogantly refuses the offer to provide the women with their own magic potion, confident in her peace plan, but when she meets with Claphamomnibus she is beaten, abused and humiliated by the cocky Roman. She surprisingly finds a sympathetic ear and keen collaborator in Asterix, who has a scheme to take appropriate vengeance and send the notionally irresistible female furies packing…

It will, of course, mean the men and women of the village working closely together…

Although quite heavy-handed by today’s standards, this is at its core a superb lampooning of the endlessly entertaining “Battle of the Sexes”: combining swingeing satire, broad slapstick and surreal comedy in a delicious confection of sexual frisson and eternally evergreen “My Wife…” jokes.

Bravura is one of Uderzo’s most enigmatic caricatures, bearing resemblances to a number of high profile female public figures of the time, including then-French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Belgian tele-journalist Christine Ockrent and German operatic star Diana Damrau, but the grievances of both male and female combatants are as unchanging and perennial as the characters here who enact and – for a short time at least – embody them…

Uderzo’s sixth solo session was Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (released in 1996 as La Galère d’Obélix) and the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga.

It opens in the cruel and callous capital of civilisation wherein the Master of the World is having a bit of a bad day. Not as bad, however, as his Grand Admiral Crustacius, who has just allowed a bunch of galley slaves to mutiny and steal Julius Caesar’s personal galley…

As the severely tongue-lashed mariner and his browbeaten aide Vice-Admiral Nautilus scurry away to pursue the fugitives, aboard the magnificent vessel magnificent Greek rebel Spartakis – bearing a striking resemblance to the magnificent Kirk Douglas in all his glory – debates with his recently-liberated comrades from many nations on where in the Rome-ruled world they can go to remain free…

A British oarsman then suggests a certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica which the empire has never conquered…

Meanwhile in the faraway subject of the rebels’ discussions, Asterix and Obelix are in an argumentative mood too, but their clash is put aside when word comes that the entire complement of all four encircling garrisons are massing on the far side of the forest…

Always eager for a little martial recreation, the villagers dose up on Getafix the Druid’s strength-boosting magic potion. Once again, Obelix is frustrated in his attempt to get a share of the tantalising elixir and stumbles off in high dudgeon. The generally genial giant had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and grown up a permanently superhuman, eternally hungry hulk who hates being told no and doesn’t believe more of the mouth-watering miracle mixture might harm him…

The Romans are utterly unaware of the danger insouciantly sauntering towards them, engaged as they are in military drills to celebrate the imminent arrival of Admiral Crustacius. Thoroughly thrashing the amassed legions, the victorious Gauls wonder why Roman-bashing addict Obelix is absent and Getafix, dreading the worst, dashes back to discover his greatest fears realised.

The intransigent idiot has foolishly imbibed deeply from the potion and been turned to stone…

Nothing the Druid can conceive seems able to cure the calcified colossus and it’s during this time of trouble that Spartakis and his freed slaves arrive, requesting sanctuary. As the welcoming villagers carry the huge ornate galley into the village, the Obelix ordeal takes a strange turn as his stony spell wears off and the former fighting fool returns to flesh and blood – albeit as the puny helpless little boy he was before ever falling into the potion pot. The little wimp can’t even eat roast boar anymore…

The puny pipsqueak is the darling of the town but cannot abide his weak ineffectual status. The situation becomes truly intolerable after the boy is captured by Crustacius and shipped off to Rome. After suitably castigating the soldiery, Asterix, Getafix and faithful mutt Dogmatix give chase in Caesar’s ship, crewed by Spartakis and his valiant band of brothers.

Powered by potion, the pursuers easily overtake the Romans, who have been hampered by the obnoxious antics of Obelix and the predations of the perennially, phenomenally unlucky pirates to whom – after a period of traditional chastisement – Asterix gives Caesar’s stolen galley.

Crucially, however, in his haste the little warrior leaves behind a barrel of potion when his comrades and little Obelix all transfer to a new, less conspicuous vessel.

As the Gauls sail off in the pirate’s ship, Getafix has an inspired idea and suggests to Spartakis that they make for the last remnant of Atlantis, explaining that the idyllic Canary Islands survived the inundation of the magic continent and the people living there now are reclusive beings of great power and knowledge who might be able to restore Obelix to his natural state…

When they arrive in that beautiful land of miracles, they are greeted by aged Absolutlifabulos and hordes of beautiful, happy children riding dolphins, centaurs, swans and winged cattle. The jolly dotard explains that the Atlanteans reverted themselves to carefree immortal childhood, but their powers cannot do anything to cure Obelix. As the downhearted Gauls make their way home, Spartakis and his men opt to stay and become forever kids too…

Meanwhile on Caesar’s galley, Crustacius has discovered Getafix’s stashed potion and powered up, dreaming of ousting his foul-tempered boss and making himself Emperor, even as leagues away, a Roman boarding party invades the pirate galley and menaces the powerless Gauls.

With Asterix about to be killed, little Obelix goes berserk and the emotional overload restores him to his corpulent, hyper-charged older self, much to the distress of the terrified soldiers…

By the time Crustacius reaches Rome, he has made the same mistake Obelix did and his rapid overdosing on potion only provides Julius Caesar with another statue for the Circus Maximus…

In Gaul however, Obelix – with a lot of frustration to work through – debarks at recently repaired Aquarium for a spot of cathartic violence before he accompanies his faithful chums back to the village for a celebratory feast…

This rollicking fantasy and paean to family and true friendship cemented Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch. If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1996 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002-2003 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Wildcat Anarchist Comics


By Donald Rooum & guests (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62963-1-271 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because the Good Fight Never Ends… 10/10

I’m afraid I’m going to overshare a bit here.

This summer was a time of great personal upset and travail for me and mine: a succession of unwelcome events that culminated in the death of a beloved pet, one family funeral, an eventually happily-resolved health scare and another literally hours-from-death life-saving heroic intervention by doctors and nurses of the National Health Service.

How any plutocratic, greedy, self-serving scum can denigrate, gaslight or deny these true heroes decent pay and conditions and job security in the name of economy or ideology is beyond my capacity to understand and I will mock and maim any agent of authority seeking to sell them out…

Sorry: it’s all still a bit raw.

However, the actual point is that – in the throes of trying to maintain an even keel and honour my personal and professional commitments over that period – I managed to completely miss the passing of one of my oldest friends and greatest mentor. I only found out that Donald Rooum died a few days ago, and it’s really preying on me now.

Thankfully, I was raised Catholic and have decades of early programming in accepting and forever internalising burdensome guilt, so I’m dealing it with it my own manner. This is part of it…

Donald Rooum (20th April 1928 – August 31st 2019) became an Anarchist in 1944 and fought the good, reasoned, acerbic but never strident fight for his particular non-political ethical standpoint since the 1950s – most notably, in cartoon form, where he used that most devastating of weapons, the pen, to deliver his payloads of well-reasoned integrity and intellectual challenge.

He was also a thinker, educator, lecturer and tireless seeker after knowledge, adding degrees in Life Sciences to his ever-expanding list of qualifications (which also included Designer, Calligrapher and Historian) before, after years of writing learned articles, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Biology at the age of 76.

From 1952 onwards, he enjoyed a long career as a cartoonist, providing gags and strips for The Syndicalist, She, The Daily Mirror, Private Eye, The Spectator and many more. He authored many books, illustrated countless articles and bought all of us students in his wake over generations many pints when we couldn’t, and even after we could.

One of his last was Wildcat Anarchist Comics (available in both traditional paperback and cutting edge digitality) which combined a long-overdue and far too short autobiography with a selection of his decades of cartoon triumphs. Donald usual worked in black-&-white but in this compilation most of the material was diligently coloured by Jayne Clementson, making it even more accessible to our overseas cousins.

The book opens with a Foreword by Jay Kinney (Founder and Editor of legendary underground publication Anarchy Comics and a man also still fighting The Fight) before ever gracious and humble Donald uses an extended, copiously illustrated Introduction to share the salient points of his remarkable life and career with typically understated deference.

‘How and Why I Became an Anarchist’ provides historical background, revelatory moments and quite a few laughs before ‘More autobiographical stuff (in case anyone might be interested)’ traces his early exploits, allowing him to slip into lecture mode for ‘The anarchist revolution is now’.

If you check his (extremely fair but too short) Wikipedia entry you’ll see that he was responsible for exposing corruption and changing British Case Law. ‘My fifteen minutes of fame: The Challenor case’, ‘Regina v. Rooum. The Queen versus me.’, ‘Too much other news’ and ‘The public inquiry and the James Report’ gives his side of a time in 1963 when a high-ranking police officer tried (not for the first time and too often successfully) to frame CND protesters, anti-monarchists and anyone else he didn’t like with planted evidence.

Donald was instrumental in the downfall of said corrupt policeman and the changing of English Law. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It’s still – for now – a free country. When you have checked, then you’ll know who to thank…

Donald Rooum was a force in comics, in education, in science and in the Anarchist movement for longer than I’ve been alive. As well as sharing his knowledge and honing the skills of generations of creative people and producing some of the most gently powerful and trenchant political cartooning of the last half century, he was actually a wonderfully interesting person to talk to – he would engage with anyone: you couldn’t stop him – and we’re all the poorer for his passing.

He was also a bloody fine cartoonist whose drawings and unique lettering skills are overwhelmingly entertaining. You can see that from the merest selection of his work culled from many books and strips that fills the rest of this book.

The majority of the section dubbed The Comics is filled with his signature star, eponymous impatient instigator Wildcat. She is a strident, impatient and unstoppable anthropomorphic feline who has spent decades on the pages of Freedom magazine, puncturing pomposity, inviting debate – and also abruptly ending it – whilst attempting to educate the willing in the ways the world works. She hangs around with a strange crowd of meek but dedicated, intellectual souls such as The Free Range Egghead who offers counterpoint and calming tones. Guess who usually has the last word… or action…

The collection opens with a history lesson or two and some views of alternative politics all delivered in a gentle, charming yet tellingly informative and subtly subversive manner. The jokes don’t forget to be funny and more importantly, there are no blind spots. Anarchists are as good a target as any Establishment or Vested Interest if the aim is to skewer pomposity, injustice or stupidity.

The Enemy is exemplified as Governments, Police, Big Business, The Church and smug Know-It-Alls of all nations, but there are always telling shots at Anarchists themselves – who, as you might suspect, are usually their own worst enemies if there are more than three in any location at once.

The truly amazing – and most depressing – thing is not the superb drawing talent displayed nor even the range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his team of lampooning and lambasting characters. It is that the issues Rooum and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer never go away. The names and faces of political and industrial scoundrels and mountebanks may change, but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

The collection An Anarchist Alphabet is reproduced in its entirety: a discourse and primer on the true meaning and terminology of the work and society as viewed from a purely Anarchist perspective.

Just for the record: since the strips have to spend so much time clarifying this point, I will too. Suspend preconceptions you’ve grown used to. Actual Anarchism is the belief and aspiration that “Society should be a system where there is no Government and Social Relationships are all voluntary.” And while I’ve got the Quotation marks key under my thumb, here’s a couple from the book itself…

“Boss: one who directs, controls or dominates others” and “Government: body of persons who direct, control or dominate a state or other organisation”

Under the guise of a slide show lecture in a church hall, we see some funny and thought-provoking alternatives to commercialism and globalism, and the discussion portion after the lesson continues the mirth with worth.

Clever, challenging, and potentially life-changing: Surely this is what all art dreams of being? And when it makes you laugh too? This alone is a must-have item for any child of the 21st century.

We take a trip into history next as ‘Spartapuss’ gives a long view on the struggle for autonomy and self-reliance before dipping into pertinent paradigms from Anarchists Against Bombs where all the power and vitriol of his deceptively gentle gaze and accessible penmanship target the Arms Industry and the dubious political processes that equate freeing the victims of brutal oppression with blowing them up before their oppressor can get around to doing it themselves.

More deftly-drafted diatribes follow as we prowl the corridors of power and revisit ‘The Big Bang’ and even get the graphic lowdown on Challenor’ before moving on to other triumphs in The Strips.

‘Gandaft the Famous Wizard’ offers less polemical laughs yet still managed to gather controversy after ‘Gandaft’s Garden’ was created for 1987 comics collective chronicle Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. The tale reinterprets the Christian creation myth with typically gentle savagery and wit, and sees a hairy bloke in a big hat standing in for the Big Man in the Sky…

One of Donald’s longest gigs was delineating the wry adventures of ‘Sprite’: a fairy of Shakespearean mien who debuted in The Skeptic in 1987 and just kept on charming and bewildering the readership.

Wrapping up the show is a canny, politically shaded reinterpretation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy story as ‘The Tale of the Straw Boggart’ reveals the true human costs and rewards of trying to buy love…

This superb book is a smart, incisive primer for a brilliant and dedicated creator’s treasure trove of cartoon gold. It never forgets that you have to be funny as well as sharp if you want to get your message to stick.

We should cluster-bomb Westminster and all Fifty States (I’m assuming of course that it will still be 50 by the time you read this) of the USA with copies of this book and every election campaign should begin with televised selected readings therefrom. Yeah, Right, If Only…

Just remember, Anarchism is about taking responsibility, not taking charge. I’m trusting you to get your own copy of this book, read it often and tell everyone you know about it.
But please, do it politely and honestly. Just like Donald would.
© Donald Rooum. This edition © 2016 PM Press. All rights reserved.

V for Vendetta/V for Vendetta 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition



By Alan Moore & David Lloyd, with Tony Weare, Steve Whitaker, Siobhan Dodds & various (Vertigo)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-8500-5(30th Deluxe HB) 978-1-4012-0841-7(TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Groundbreaking, Life-Changing Comics Masterpiece… 10/10

Very few pieces of literature enter public consciousness and fewer still from the relatively young land of graphic narratives. Here’s one of the best…

The serial V for Vendetta began in 1982 in legendary British comics magazine Warrior. The deviously convoluted mystery play describes a highly individualistic resistance campaign conducted by an enigmatic flamboyant and ruthless “anarchist” against a fascistic British government which stumbles into power after a nuclear exchange destroyed all the bigger countries.

Or does it?

This is just as much a tale of intellectual and political awakening. Most events are seen (and the escalating situation unravels) through the eyes and experiences of Evey Hammond, a pathetic little nobody rescued from secret policemen – almost as an afterthought – by V during his first highly public exploit.

The sinisterly suspenseful series was originally presented in stark and stunning black & white, every chapter title beginning with a “v” word. Fans of classic British strip art revelled in occasional contributions from the wonderful Tony Weare (Matt Marriot, Pride of the Circus, Savage Splendour, The Colditz Story and much, much more) who fully illustrated the chapter dubbed ‘Vincent’ and also assisted master stylist David Lloyd in creating a masterpiece of daunting visual atmosphere throughout.

This was no mean feat as V – whilst dismantling with lethal efficiency the machineries of a totalitarian and ever vigilant State that constantly voiced its views that everything was better in the Good Old Days – declared himself the true guardian of lost or forgotten British culture. This demanded a phenomenal amount of research and vital trust that the readership would pick up on some pretty obscure references, both Verbal and Visual…

The then-controversial jump to colour (I, for one, would kill for a fully monochrome director’s cut edition of this saga) following DC’s appropriation of the saga was deftly handled by Lloyd himself, with the hued back-up of much-missed Steve Whitaker and Siobhan Dodds, whilst the relentless lettering of Alan Moore’s astounding script came courtesy of Jenny O’Connor, Steve Craddock & Elitta Fell.

And yes, pitiless protagonist V generally adopts the seeming of ultimate anti-authoritarian rebel Guido “Guy” Fawkes. His once-common masked vulpine visage was rescued from vintage obscurity for this tale: subsequently becoming a symbol and tool of anonymity for new generations of rebels, resisters and occupiers…

The subtle shadings of the large cast and the device of telling this from the point of view of the villains as much as the protagonists adds vast shades of meaning to this exploration of free will and oppression, and it’s still shocking to realise that the “hero” is too often indistinguishable from his opponents: philosophically or physically…

The collected book was released in the early 1990s, re-released to coincide with a movie adaptation and is now available in a snazzy hardback Deluxe edition.

Although temporarily reclaiming the image for good old Guy Fawkes night, this review is actually a paean of praise for our art form’s ultimate resistance tract and I would strongly suggest that if you are still uninformed and unentertained, you should the experience V as soon as viable. Moore & Lloyd made a magnificent beast and it should be viewed in all its glory, before vile politics ends us all…
© 1988, 1989, 1990, 2009, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Frank: The Incredible Story of a Forgotten Dictatorship


By Ximo Abadía, translated by Esther Villardón Grande (Europe Comics)
No ISBN (digital-only edition)

In these days of unrelenting crisis, a relentless harrowing of democratic principles and the seeming triumph of imbecilic venality, it’s perhaps of some comfort to realise that, in many ways, it’s always been like this…

On view today is another Europe Comics digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English-speaking fans. Moreover, if you like your books solid and substantial, it’s a happy note to discover some adventures are being picked by companies like Cinebook, Top Shelf and IDW.
Not this one, though. Not yet…

Illustrator Ximo Abadía was born in Alicante in 1983, and reared in both that rural countryside idyll and the seasonally-cosmopolitan resort metropolis of Benidorm. Upon reaching 18 years of age he moved to Madrid for his further education. His first graphic novel – Cartulinas de colores – came out in 2009, and in 2011 follow-up CLONk saw him nominated for the Best New Author Prize at the Barcelona Comics Festival. That was topped a year later by La Bipolaridad del chocolate.

In 2018, he turned his masterful eye for stunning visuals and compelling symbolic design onto a period in his country’s recent history that seems to have been carefully, wilfully and voluntarily whitewashed from history. That book earned Abadía the Best Illustrated Album award at the 2018 Heroes Comic Con.

Feeling like a seditiously subtle children’s primer, Frank: La increíble historia de una dictadura olvidada examines with garish glee and irresistible simplicity, the rise and demise of Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde and his Nazi/Italian National Fascist Party backed totalitarian reign as Caudillo of Spain from 1939-1945. In strident imagery the author also asks why nobody in the country today is willing or comfortable to talk about those years when the country seemingly vanished from the wider world…

Stunningly evocative, the parade of iconic images deftly presents events and synthesises opinion: making no judgements but nevertheless delivering a shattering testimony and appraisal of the depths some men can descend to, and how entire populations and nations can be complicit in cover-ups in the name of an easy life…

This not a history book. It’s a giant, irritant question mark no one is comfortable acknowledging. And as we all know: things left to fester don’t get better, they erupt in poison and soon spread…
© 2019 DIBBUKS EDICIONE – Abadía. All rights reserved.

Signal from Space/Life on Another Planet


By Will Eisner with Andre LeBlanc (Kitchen Sink Press/DC Comics/W.W. Norton & Co)
ISBN: 978-0-87816-014-3 (Kitchen Sink colour HB): 0-87816-370-0 (KSP B&W PB):
978-1-56398-677-4 (DC Comics Library PB): 978-0-39332-812-7 (WW Norton PB)

Here’s a long-lost contemporary cartooning classic which – although readily available in a number of formats – is still seen best in its first release. Ambitious and deliberately targeting an adult book-reading rather than comics audience, this initial collection of Will Eisner’s trenchant political thriller-cum-social commentary proves once more that sometimes the medium really is the message…

William Erwin Eisner was one of the pivotal creators who shaped the American comicbook industry, with most of his works more or less permanently in print – as they should be. From 1936 to 1938 he worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production hothouse known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips for both domestic US and foreign markets.

Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he created and drew opening instalments for a huge variety of characters ranging from funny animal to historical sagas, Westerns, Detective fiction, aviation action thrillers… and superheroes… lots of superheroes …

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold, head honcho of the superbly impressive Quality Comics outfit, invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comicbook insert for the Sunday editions. Eisner jumped at the opportunity to move beyond the limitations of the nickel and dime marketplace, creating three series which would initially be handled by him before two were delegated to supremely talented assistants.

Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic and distaff detective Lady Luck fell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (then still Nicholas Viscardi) and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead feature for his own and over the next twelve years The Spirit became the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. However, by 1952 he had more or less abandoned it for more challenging and certainly more profitable commercial, instructional and educational strips. He began working extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comics books behind him.

After too long away from his natural story-telling arena, Eisner creatively returned to the streets of Brooklyn where he was born on March 6th 1906. After years spent inventing much of the visual semantics, semiotics and syllabary of the medium he dubbed “Sequential Art” in strips, comicbooks, newspaper premiums and instructional comics, he capped that glittering career by inventing the mainstream graphic novel, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics.

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in strip form were released as a single book: A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories. All the material centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue, a 1930’s Bronx tenement housing impoverished Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever.

Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 further masterpieces, opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funnybook and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

Eisner was constantly pushing the boundaries of his craft, refining his skills not just on The Spirit but with his educational and promotional material. In A Contract with God he honed in on unexplored territory with truly sophisticated, mature themes worthy of Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald, using pictorial fiction as documentary to examine social experience.

One of the few genres where Eisner never really excelled was science fiction – and arguably he doesn’t in this tale either as, in Signal from Space, the big discovery is just a plot maguffin to explore politics, social interactions and greed – all premium Eisner meat…

As ‘Life on Another Planet’ the material in this collection was originally serialised as eight 16-page episodes in Will Eisner’s Spirit Magazine from October 1978 to December 1980, rendered in toned monochrome (a format adhered to and title revived in subsequent Kitchen Sink, DC and W.W. Norton collections).

However, for this luscious hardback, the auteur and long-time confederate Andre LeBlanc fully-painted the entire saga using evocative tones and hues to subtly enhance the sinister, cynical proceedings…

One momentous night, lonely radio astronomer Mark Argano – based at a New Mexico observatory – picks up ‘The Signal’: a mathematical formula originating from Barnard’s Star and thus proof positive of extraterrestrial intelligence…

One colleague wants to inform the public immediately, but Argano is adamant that they go slowly as he (secretly) harbours schemes to somehow “cash in”. Unfortunately, the other scientist he shares the secret with is a Soviet sleeper agent…

Almost immediately the first murder in a long and bloody succession is committed as various parties seek to use the incredible revelation to their own advantage. World-weary science advisor and maverick astrophysicist James Bludd is dispatched by the CIA to verify and control the situation, but he walks straight into a KGB ambush and narrowly escapes with his life…

There’s now a deadly Cold War race to control contact with the mysterious signallers and ‘The 1st Empire’ follows recovering addict Marco as he turns his life around; using the now-public sensation to create a personality cult dedicated to leaving Earth and joining the aliens. Whilst Marco’s Star People grab all the headlines, ruthless plutocrat Mr. MacRedy uses his monolithic Multinational Corporation to manipulate Russia and America, intending to be the only one to ultimately capitalise on any mission to Barnard’s Star…

Since travel to far space is still impossible for humans, MacRedy sanctions the unethical and illegal creation of a human/plant hybrid and starts looking for volunteers to experiment on in ‘A New Form of Life’, whilst Bludd – now more reluctant spy than dedicated scientist – accepts another undercover assignment.

Casualties moral, ethical and corporeal mount in ‘Pre-Launch’ whilst in distressed African nation Sidiami, a desperate despot declares his bankrupt nation a colony of Barnard’s Star to avoid UN sanctions and having to pay back his national debt to Earthly banks…

Soon, he’s offering a base to Multinational for their own launch site and sanctuary to those Star People anxious to emigrate…

In ‘Bludd’ the scientist and his sultry KGB counterpart find themselves odd-bedfellows just as the Mafia get involved in the crisis – for both personal and pecuniary reasons – whilst in America, MacRedy prepares to install his own President to expedite his company’s requirements…

Now determined to take matters into his own hands and screw all governments and interests, Bludd is caught up in an unstoppable, uncontrollable maelstrom of events in ‘Abort’, and, after the American President has a fatal accident in ‘The Big Hit’ MacRedy thinks he’s finally won. He is utterly unprepared for Bludd’s unpredictable masterstroke in ‘The Last Chapter’

Signal from Space is a dark and nasty espionage drama as well as a powerfully intriguing ethical parable: a Petrie dish for ethical dilemmas where Eisner masterfully manipulates his vast cast to display human foible and eventually a glimmer of aspirational virtue. This is a hugely underrated tale from a master of mature comics guaranteed to become an instant favourite. And it’s even better in this sumptuous oversized edition which is well worth every effort to hunt it down.

After all, Per Ardua ad Astra

However, if you can’t find this version, there are numerous later editions, in the original black & white that have their own potent appeal and if you were a really dedicated fan, you’d only be happy with both, wouldn’t you?
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 9: Asterix and the Great Divide; Asterix and the Black Gold; Asterix and Son


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-967-5 (HB), 978-1-44400-966-8 (PB)

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they devised a western starring a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, before in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

More than 370 million copies of 37 (soon to be 38) Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for three years and Uderzo soldiered on alone…

Asterix and the Great Divide was the 25th volume, released in 1980 as Le Grand Fossé, and in many ways something of a departure and stylistic compromise.

In another Gaulish village, internecine strife is brewing. Political rivals Cleverdix and Majestix have split the sleepy hamlet down the middle, with an election for chief ending in a dead tie. They then make the figurative literal by having a huge trench dug through the centre of town, cutting the tribe in two, with the population resolved into uncompromising Leftists and stubborn Rightists…

It’s a tragedy in many ways, with friends and families split into feuding camps, but the most heartrending separation concerns dashing Histrionix, son of Leftist Cleverdix and his one true love Melodrama, daughter of Majestix. Their warring sires refuse to concede or compromise and that simmering Cold War has frustrated their children’s happiness forever…

The lover’s pleas cannot move either deadlocked party leader and the intolerable situation is further exacerbated by the insidious, coldly calculating advisor to Majestix who secretly eggs on the old warrior for his own purposes.

Wily toady Codfix’s latest idea is to get their Roman overlords to intervene, installing Majestix as sole ruler by force. In return, Codfix would be given Melodrama in marriage. Of course, that would make him next in line for the ruler’s position. Codfix is both patient and ambitiously far-sighted…

When Melodrama learns of the plan, she immediately informs Histrionix and the prince tells Cleverdix – who knows full well he cannot resist the overwhelming might of the Romans. The former soldier then remembers an old war-buddy who still successfully resists the conquerors. His name was Vitalstatistix

As Histrionix heroically dashes to the village of Indomitable Gauls – everything he does is heroic – Codfix has gone to the local garrison with his request. Centurion Umbrageous Cumulonimbus, however, has his own problems: discipline is lax and the soldiers are grumbling because of the menial chores they are forced to perform. Codfix has the perfect solution. If the Romans put Rightist Majestix in charge, they could take the pacified Leftists as slaves…

In the meantime, Histronix has returned with Vitalstatistix’ best men. Asterix, Obelix and Getafix the Druid are discussing the matter with Cleverdix when Roman soldiers arrive. Codfix however, has overstepped himself and underestimated the nobility of Majestix…

The doughty Rightist refuses to let any Gaul be enslaved – even political opponents – so the uncaring Romans grab him and his followers instead. Impressed with his rival’s integrity, Cleverdix accepts Asterix’ offer of assistance and our heroes infiltrate the garrison as volunteer slaves using an elixir that revitalises the body but causes a touch of amnesia…

Having fun by exploiting these new Romans’ ignorance of their true identities, the infilitrators feed the imprisoned Gauls soup fortified with the Druid’s strength potion before Asterix and Obelix lead a mass breakout which soon finds the prisoners back in their divided hamlet but no closer to an amicable resolution.

And both sides know that the Romans will soon come, eager for revenge…

Codfix has sensibly stayed with the garrison and found the last of Getafix’ elixir, left behind during the liberation. When he sneaks back into the village, he also discovers a fresh batch of power-potion whipped up in advance of the impending attack… and steals it.

The next day, the Gauls wake to find invaders marching upon them, fortified by the elixir which has erased the punishing memory of their recent defeat, and simultaneously super-charged by power potion.

Left with nothing but Obelix and Gaulish courage, the villagers unite to fight and fall with honour, but are astonished when a bizarre series of transformations wrack the empowered Romans. It takes a long time to become a Druid and apparently the first thing you learn is to never mix potions…

Codfix has used the distraction to kidnap Melodrama. Demanding ransom and safe passage, he has not reckoned on Histrionix’ determination, Asterix’s ingenuity or Obelix’ strength and – after a climactic confrontation involving our perennially luckless Pirates – gets what’s coming to him…

With the Romans routed and Codfix suitably punished, Cleverdix and Majestix settle their differences with a traditional Gaulish duel after which someone else becomes chief of the reunified village. The former divide is transformed into an appropriate symbol of their unity and life goes on happily…

Asterix and the Great Divide was devised by Uderzo as a critique on current affairs and metaphorical attack on the Berlin Wall which had, since 1961, split the city physically, Europe symbolically and the world ideologically. His earnest tale was more dramatic and action-oriented than previous Asterix fare, with the regulars frequently reduced to subordinate roles, but for all that there are still cunning laughs and wry buffoonery in welcome amounts.

 

Asterix and the Black Gold (L’Odyssée d’Astérix) debuted in 1981 and again saw Asterix and Obelix embarking on a long voyage into the unknown, rife with bold adventure and underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

The 26th saga begins with a brace of wild boar demonstrating that they are canny opponents for voracious Obelix. Whenever the gigantic Gaul encounters these particular pigs in his daily hunts, they escape by leading him to the nearest Roman patrol. The only thing Obelix loves more than eating pork is bashing Romans…

Back in Rome, Julius Caesar is livid. He’s just received news that the insufferable, indomitable Gauls are training wild boars to lead Roman patrols into Gaulish ambushes…

The raging ruler’s continued attempts to end the aggravating resistance always fail and in a fit of fury he charges his chief of the Roman Secret Service M.I.VI (geddit?) with ending his galling Gallic grief – or else…

M. Devius Surreptitius has just the man for the job. Dubbelosix is of Gaulish-Roman extraction and has, by persistence and deviousness, qualified as a Druid. He is wily, charming, debonair and comes with a host of cunning hidden gadgets – and he’s also the spitting image of Sean Connery…

Dispatched on a mission to stop the French resisting, Dubbelosix is secretly working with his boss M to supplant Caesar, and also harbours ambitions to rule Rome alone …but first he has to destroy the infernal Gauls. His chance comes almost as soon as he arrives in that little village…

Getafix is in a near-panic. The Druid has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Phoenician merchant Ekonomikrisis who is bringing a vital ingredient for the magic potion that keeps the Romans at bay. When the ship at last arrives and the peddler apologises for forgetting the fabled rock oil, the highly strung Getafix has a fit and passes out.

Luckily a young Druid dubbed Dubbelosix is passing and, after a minor skirmish with a Roman patrol, accompanies Asterix and Obelix back to their comatose friend…

The spy might be a double agent, but he knows his stuff and soon cures the ailing Getafix, who explains that the generally useless black ooze from the Middle East is vital to the potion: without a fresh supply they are all doomed…

When Asterix and Obelix – and faithful hound Dogmatix, of course – volunteer to obtain some of the crucial rock oil, Dubbelosix insists on accompanying them. But as they commandeer the Phoenician’s ship for the emergency mission, Getafix clandestinely warns Asterix to watch the too-good-to-be-true young Druid…

Expediting matters by selling off Ekonomikrisis’ wares at prices nobody – even Pirates – dare refuse, our heroes make their way to Mesopotamia, unaware that Dubbelosix, using his unique messaging service, has briefed Caesar and M to stop the ship at all costs.

After a succession of military vessels are sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the joyfully belligerent Gauls, the Ruler of the World is forced to change tactics and blockade all ports to prevent Asterix and Obelix from disembarking.

With time running out, Ekonomikrisis eventually sneaks the Gauls and Dubbelosix ashore in distant Judea. The trio travel overland to Jerusalem where they are befriended by the locals who have no love for the Romans. The oppressors are always just one step behind the voyagers, though. It is as if someone is telling them every time the questers alter their plans…

After a memorable night in a village called Bethlehem, the Hebrews’ attempt to smuggle the Gauls into Jerusalem is sabotaged by Dubbelosix. However, the Middle Eastern garrisons have never seen fighters like Asterix and Obelix and the doughty heroes escape, leaving the scurrilous double agent behind.

With time running out at home and no word of the fate of their friends, the Gauls are hidden by friendly merchants, and learn that the Romans have seized and burned all the rock oil in the city – and probably the entire region. Their only chance to secure some of the previously worthless black goo is to get it from the source – in Babylon, where it just seeps out of the ground…

Assisted by brave, helpful guide Saul ben Ephishul (a loving visual tribute to Uderzo’s deeply-missed partner René Goscinny, who was Jewish) Asterix and Obelix undertake another perilous journey into the deep desert, frolicking in the Dead Sea and encountering a procession of fanatical tribes all warring on each other for long-forgotten reasons in a savage lampoon of modern Middle East strife…

Eventually, the Gauls become completely lost; waterless and without hope under the scorching sun. However when little Dogmatix starts digging in the sand, the resultant oil gusher provides more than enough to buoy up their hopes and they battle on to rendezvous with Ekonomikrisis for a frantic return to Gaul.

Unfortunately, Dubbelosix has tracked them down again and has one last trick to play…

This return to the style and format of classic collaborations features hilarious comedy set-pieces, thrilling drama and a bitingly gentle assault on the madness of keeping ancient feuds alive, intransigence of religious tensions and the madness of recurring oil crises; lampooning ideologies and dogmas whilst showing how great it is when people can just get along.

Fast, furious and funny-with-a-moral, this is one of the artist/author’s very best efforts and even manages a double-shock ending…

 

Asterix and Son was released in 1983, the 27th saga and another unconventional step off the well-worn path as it touches on a rather touchy subject…

One particularly fine morning in the Village of Indomitable Gauls, Asterix and Obelix awake to discover someone has left a baby in a basket on their doorstep. Nonplussed and bewildered, they try to care for the infant – much to the horror of the local cows who would be delighted to provide sustenance if milked in a normal manner – but human tongues in the village are beginning to wag…

Things only get worse after the feisty tyke develops a taste for magic potion and somehow keeps finding new supplies of it…

Determined to clear his name and find the real parents, Asterix begins his investigations at the four Roman Garrisons, even as Crismus Cactus, Prefect of Gaul begins a suspiciously sudden emergency census of the local villages…

Hyper-charged on potion, the baby keeps getting out and following Asterix and Obelix, who discover that the Romans seem to be looking for one child in particular…

After a painful encounter with our heroes, Crismus Cactus retires to his villa where a VIP from Rome is waiting. Marcus Junius Brutus is Caesar’s adopted son and is most insistent that the mystery baby is found and turned over to him – even if he has to raze all Gaul to achieve his aim…

The infant in question is still causing trouble for the villagers and Brutus marshals an army near the isolated hamlet, successfully confirming the child’s location with a rather inept spy. The kid’s treatment of the intruder prompts Asterix to seek out a nanny, but as the village women are still suspicious and condemnatory, he hires a rather unsavoury stranger named Aspidistra for the task…

This provokes even more vicious tongue-wagging amongst the women, who assume the worst of both her and Asterix. Inexplicably, nobody notices the ferocious childminder’s astonishing resemblance to the Prefect of Gaul…

Unfortunately, once Crismus has successfully infiltrated the village he can’t get out again, and spends a punishing time amusing the infant horror until his nerve breaks. Drained of patience, Brutus then attacks with the full might of Rome, torching the village and bombarding it with catapults.

As the men tank up on potion and counterattack, the village women head for the beach. Sadly, Brutus is willing to sacrifice his entire army, and is waiting to grab the baby…

Once the Roman Legions are crushed, Asterix and Obelix return and discover what has occurred. Filled with rage, they set off in deadly pursuit and save the child just in time for his real mother and father to arrive. Two of the most powerful people in the world, they are extremely angry with somebody…

Laced with a dark and savage core, this rollicking rollercoaster ride combines tragedy with outrageous slapstick, transforming historical facts into a compelling comedy-drama that is both delightful and genuinely scary in places…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing, featuring famous caricatures to tease older readers whilst the raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and riotous action astounds and bemuses the younger set, these tales celebrate the illustrative ability of Uderzo, confirming his potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride to be a true national and cultural treasure.

If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1983 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002 Hachette. All rights reserved.