Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pogo – Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB/Digital edition)

By golly, we finally got us an election, and in these moments of elation and trepidatious uncertainty, it’s only natural to turn to the steadfast things in our lives such as the total conviction that this guy knew all about liars, chancers, opportunists and self-serving, utterly unqualified dissimulators suddenly paying really close attention to what the public has been telling them for years…

It doesn’t hurt that his creator was one of the greatest cartoonists and humourists of all time and that his comics are timelessly wonderful. Read this book and all the others – it may well be your last chance to do so…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, after relocating to California he joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio. When the infamous animator’s strike began in 1941 Kelly refused to take sides, and moved back East and into comic books – primarily for Dell Comics who at that time held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others.

Despite glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, he preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 this other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sensibly retaining copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star. On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, on the far more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until it folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1 link please) the first glimmers of an increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge. When The Star closed, Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, and launched in selected outlets on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family). At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries with book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbering nearly 50 and collectively selling over 30 million copies – and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second volume the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This became a ritual inevitably and coincidentally reoccurring every four years, whenever America’s merely human inhabitants got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering. It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of the 2-year period contained herein, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The sordid likes of Solid MacHogany, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, bull moose Uncle Antler and three brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and growing impact over following decades

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (356 pages) offers monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: each faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features include a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working/developmental drawings by Kelly, extra invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, The John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as less loathsome louts like of Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Governor of Michigan and dad of a guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery naturally carries the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagger Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the bestial rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sports, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, and this tome offers magical, magnificent treatment of all problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics, dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, briefings (for & against), impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the top job…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Riyadh and Davos. Gosh, how I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in a seemingly effortless ability to lyrically and vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight. Tragically, here at least, we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one. Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. 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 escalating crisis, relentless harrowing of democratic principles and the seeming triumph of imbecilic venality, it’s perhaps of some comfort to realise that, in so many ways, it’s always been like this…

On view today is another digital-only edition from pan-continental collective imprint Europe Comics, which has brought a wealth of fresh and sublimely innovative material to English-speaking fans – at least those in the know. Moreover, if you like your books solid and substantial, it’s a happy note to discover many adventures are being picked for English translation by companies like Cinebook, Top Shelf and IDW.

Not this one, though. At least not yet…

Illustrator Ximo Abadía Pérez was born in Alicante in 1983, and reared in both that bucolic countryside rural idyll and the (seasonally) cosmopolitan resort metropolis of Benidorm. Upon reaching 18 years of age, Abadía migrated to Madrid for his further education. His first graphic novel – Cartulinas de colores – was published in 2009. Two years later 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 ancient 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 and subversive children’s primer, Frank: La increble 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 to or even comfortable about discussing those lost years when the country seemingly vanished from the wider world…

Stunningly evocative, and brain-blasting potent, the parade of iconic images deftly presents events and synthesises opinion: making no judgements but nevertheless delivering shattering testimony and an awe-inspiring appraisal of the depths some men may 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 should be comfortable acknowledging. And as we all know: things left to fester don’t get better, they erupt in poison and spread further…
© 2019 DIBBUKS EDICIONE – Abadía. All rights reserved.

Temperance


By Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-323-1 (HB/Digital edition)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a charismatic leader drags an entire nation into unnecessary war to save a political skin: manipulating facts, twisting good people’s lives, destroying their innocence and fomenting an atmosphere of sustained paranoia and unthinking patriotism – if not literal jingoistic madness. If we’re lucky he/she/they shuffle out of the picture and let their – generally incompetent but equally fervent – successors deal with the mess they’ve created: those remnants divided equally into well-meaning but clueless ditherers and now-fanatical disciples who think only they can run the show…

The land is in turmoil. Pa is raising a ruckus trying to get his monstrous ark built before ruthless invaders begin their final attack. Eldest girl Peggy and little Minerva follow as he carves a wake of destructive energy through the landscape. Pa has galvanised local villagers and they await his command to enter the fortress-city within the monolithic edifice, dubbed “Blessedbowl”. When Pa begins once more to assault his oldest lass, only hapless Minerva and the trees are witness to the unleashed savagery. Suddenly, a young man rushes to Peg’s rescue, captivating forever the cowering Min. His name is Lester, but despite a terrific struggle the rescuer is no match for Pa’s maniacal vigour. The young man is left brain-damaged and maimed.

Pa bids Min see to Lester. The Doomsayer is lost in his preparations again. The Crisis has arrived…

Three decades pass. Min has married Lester and a thriving community now exists within Blessedbowl, a permanent subsistence/siege economy built on paranoia, isolated and united by a common foe that has never been seen and is therefore utterly terrifying. Moses-like, Pa had remained behind when the ark was sealed, to fight a rearguard action. Min is now his regent, efficiently running the closed ecology and economy, bolstered by the devoted attention of Lester, the amnesiac war-hero who lost so much when the invisible enemy launched their final assault…

Min controls the community through reports from the distant front and Lester guards the city inside Blessedbowl’s hull. But now his befuddled memory is clearing, and Min, hopelessly in love with him, faces the threat that all that has been so slowly built may come crashing swiftly down…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a vast story that – despite being almost 15-years old – could well be the best thing you’ll read this year. Crafted by cartoonist and animator Cathy Malkasian (Percy Gloom, Eartha, NoBody Likes You Greta Grump, Curious George, The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats,) during America’s longest-running war, this multi-layered, incisive parable examines how families and countries can be twisted by love, fear and the craziest lies leaders can concoct and get away with…

As much mystical generational fantasy as veiled allegory, Temperance will open your eyes on so many levels. As events spiral beyond all control the astounding outcome, whilst utterly inevitable, will also be a complete surprise – and just wait until you discover the identity of the eponymous narrator…

Mythical, mystical, metaphorical, lyrical, even poetic, here is a modern, timeless tuned-in epic blending Shakespearean passions with soft Orwellian terrors. King Lear and 1984 are grandparents to this subtly striking tale of freedom and honour – personal and communal – foolishly but willingly surrendered to a comfortable, expedient slavery. Combining trenchant and timeless social commentary with spiritually uplifting observation, illustrated in the softest pencil tones – reminiscent of English WWII cartoons (particularly Pont and Bateman, but also the animations of Halas & Batchelor) – this is joy to read, a delight to view and a privilege to own.
© 2010 Cathy Malkasian. All right reserved. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Gomer Goof volume 8: A Giant Among Goofs


By Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-021-0 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Like so much else in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou, which debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its iconic lead strip created by François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel. In 1943, publisher Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, and comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (Jijé) took the helm for the redheaded kid’s further exploits as the magazine gradually became a cornerstone of European culture.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin was handed creative control and slowly abandoned short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. Franquin introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars and created the phenomenally popular Marsupilami. Debuting in 1952 (Spirou et les héritiers) the beast became a spin-off star of screen, plush toy stores, console games and albums in his own right. Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. He was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When WWII forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels and met Maurice de Bévére (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at LJdS. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative team known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They ultimately revolutionised and reshaped Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” graphic style.

Over two decades he had enlarged Spirou & Fantasio’s scope and horizons, until it became purely his own. Constantly, fans met startling new characters as the strip evolved into the saga of globetrotting journalists who visited exotic places, exposed crimes, explored the incredible and clashed with bizarre and exotic arch-enemies. Throughout it all, Fantasio remained a full-fledged – albeit entirely fictional – reporter for Le Journal de Spirou: regularly popping back to the office between cases. Sadly, lurking there was an arrogant, accident-prone, junior tasked with minor jobs and general dogs-bodying. He was Gaston Lagaffe – Franquin’s other immortal invention…

There’s a hallowed tradition of comics personalising fictitiously mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in, whether it’s Marvel’s Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at The Beano and Dandy – it’s a truly international practise. At first cameos in Spirou yarns and occasional asides on text pages featured well-meaning foul-up and ostensible office gofer “Gaston” who debuted in issue #985, cover-dated February 28th 1957. The affable conniving dimwit grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic, whether as guest in Spirou’s adventurous comics cases or his own comedy strips and faux reports on the editorial pages he was supposed to paste up.

In terms of actual schtick and delivery, older readers will recognise favourite beats and timeless elements of well-intentioned self-delusion as seen in Benny Hill and Jacques Tati and recognise recurring riffs from Some Mothers Do Have ’Em and Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, infernal ingenuity and inspired invention, all to mug smugness, puncture pomposity, lampoon the status quoi? (there’s some of that punning there see?) and ensure no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

As previously stated, Gaston/Gomer obtains a regular salary (let’s not dignify what he does as “earning” a living) from Spirou’s editorial offices: reporting to top journalist Fantasio, or complicating the lives of office manager Léon Prunelle and the other, more diligent, staffers, whilst effectively ignoring those minor jobs he’s paid to handle. These include page paste-up, posting (initially fragile) packages and editing readers’ letters… and that’s the official reason fans’ requests and suggestions are never acknowledged or answered…

Gomer is lazy, over-opinionated, ever-ravenous, impetuous, underfed, forgetful and eternally hungry, a passionate sports fan and animal lover, with his most manic moments all stemming from cutting work corners and stashing or consuming contraband nosh in the office. This leads to constant clashes with colleagues and draws in seemingly notionally unaffiliated bystanders like traffic cop Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, as well as many simple passers-by who should know by now to keep away from this street.

Through it all our office oaf remains eternally affable, easy-going and incorrigible. Only three questions really matter here: why everyone keeps giving him one last chance, what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the self-opinionated idiot, and will ever-outraged capitalist financier De Mesmaeker ever get his perennial, pestiferous contracts signed?

In 1972 Gaston – Le géant de la gaffe became the 10th European album and in 2021 was Cinebook’s 8th translated compilation: again focussing on non-stop, all-Franquin comics gags in single-page bursts. Our well-meaning, overconfident, overly-helpful know-it-all office hindrance invents more stuff making life unnecessarily dangerous and continues his pioneering and perilous attempts to befriend and boost fauna and flora alike and improve the modern mechanised world…

Despite resolute green credentials and leanings, Gomer is colour-blind to the problems his antiquated automobile causes, even after numerous attempts to soup up, cleanse, and modify and mollify the motorised atrocity he calls his car. The decrepit, dilapidated Fiat 509 is more in need of merciful execution than his many well-meant engineering interventions as seen here in a range of cold weather exploits proving the indomitable optimism of office editor Léon Prunelle who really should know by now the cost of accepting lifts from his incorrigible subordinate… especially in light of Gomer’s pioneering seat belt invention and obsession with solving road pollution.

…And when not actually the cause of automotive disasters, Gomer’s car attracts the Ahab-like attentions of increasingly obsessed traffic cop Longsnoot

At the office, work avoidance is masked as “improving” perfectly functional equipment, speeding up these newfangled copiers, printers and the like, but his monorail messaging system – adjusted to average head height – proves to be the next best thing in concussion causation…

One evergreen strand of anarchic potential is a subgenre of strips involving “guest-shots” by other LJdS stars. Previously falling foul of the fool were creators such as Lambil (Bluecoats) and Roba (Billy & Buddy), and here the gofer’s disturbing tendency to don mascot costumes and paying heavily for it continues as Gomer garbs himself as (cartoonist Charles DeGotte’s) big yellow bird The Flagada and rapidly regrets it…

Just as much fun if not actually safer are the feral creatures Gomer’s big heart compels him to adopt. These include a sassily savage alley cat and nastily nefarious black-headed gull to accompany illicit studio companions Cheese the mouse and goldfish Bubelle.

Here the combined critter chaos factor repeatedly lands the oaf in hot water… and swamp mud and potholes and wild woodland paths and rooftops and… Gomer almost adds a skunk to the menagerie before animal instinct and nature convince him otherwise…

However, their hyperactive gluttonous presences are as nothing compared to the spiky depredations of a rapidly mutating cactus Gomer rescued from his Aunt Hortense’s home and which is increasingly dominating the Spirou offices. It doesn’t fit there either, but at least has plenty of fresh victims to puncture and terrify. When he also introduces Hortense’s creeper, it soon becomes a case for applying the un-soothing, discomforting tones of his manic musical WMD the Brontosaurophone…

Heavily featured are episodes of (imagined) sporting glory, dalliances with fishing and clay pigeon shooting plus an extended run of strips with Gomer and opposite number Jules-from-Smith’s-across-the-street seeking to smuggle a radio into work to follow the football. Old habits die hard however and there are still moments of culinary catastrophe and inventive debacle – like when he beefs up the office chainsaw or creates tomato soup gas…

The holidays and Year’s End festivities offer their own hazards, generating much mayhem but still prevent benighted business bod De Mesmaeker getting an even break whenever he brings contracts for poor Prunelle to sign.

Far better enjoyed than described, these strips let Franquin flex his sardonically whimsical creative muscles and subversively propound his views on environmentalism, pacifism and animal rights. These gags are sublime examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with each re-reading.

So… fancy a bit of Goofing off yet?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2009 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

Pride of Baghdad


By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB) 978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB) 978-1-4012-4894-9 (Deluxe Edition)

It’s a stomach-turning truism that war is a political tool of many modern leaders. It would be beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion (or any other proxy war for blatant political gain of grudge-settling) but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad derived from that pocket conflict and at least offered a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of bloody history. Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde (2000) and Joe Kubert’s Fax from Sarajevo (1996) worked in a similar vein for the last Balkan conflict of the previous century. I wonder what will become the fictions and dramas of the catastrophes we’re not stopping now in Ukraine, parts of Africa and Gaza; and what effect – if any – they might have on future generations?

In Pride of Baghdad, author and screenwriter Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls, Saga, Lost) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combined the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell to reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions. These mighty innocent bystanders were unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and left to run loose in those deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts were scared, hungry, under constant attack but utterly convinced that everything would be great because now they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This inexplicably out-of-print book is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful tale with characters you will swiftly come to love and they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. It’s a story that’s happening again right now but with different victims…

The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy that results a confusing and wondrous experience: Vaughan’s script could make a stone – and perhaps even a right-wing politician – cry. In 2014 a deluxe edition was released containing a trove of developmental sketches, commentary and other materials.

The original comic story was derived from a random news item which told of escaped zoo lions roaming war-torn Baghdad streets, and throughout readers are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and governmental spin-doctors, and hopefully we can use those off-message opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, brutally sad story: a modern masterpiece showing why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types. Brace yourself for a wave of similar material from contemporary condemnatory cartoonists. It’s the very least that we can do.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor volume 1: A New Beginning


By Jody Houser, Rachael Stott, Giorgia Sposito, Valeria Favoccia, Enrica Eren Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli with Sara Michieli, Andrea Moretto, Adele Matera, Comicraft’s Sara Jacobs and John Roshell & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78586-676-0 (Standard edition ) 978-1-78773-233-9 (FP edition)

Doctor Who first materialised on black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began in issue #674 with the first instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’. Throughout the 60s and early 1970s, strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic. On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comics hero with an impressive pedigree. In recent years the picture strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who sagely opted to run parallel series starring all later incarnations of the trickily tumultuous Time Lord, as well as a few yarns of the earlier peregrinating pathfinders of peril.

This initial volume of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor collects issues #1-4 of the monthly comic book, set during the first season starring Jodie Whittaker.

The raucous riot of chronal chaos commences with a handy ‘Previously…’ section, reintroducing The Doctor and her companions – Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin “Yaz” Khan, Graham O’Brien and the TARDIS – prior to transiting to a Florida art gallery in 1999, where a couple of extremely reluctant time travellers pull off an art heist. Meanwhile in 3912, a rather memory-addled Time Lord shares some big sky moments with her crew when an anomaly alerts her to something tantalisingly familiar and somehow disturbing. Also, someone somewhere sometime is in deep trouble…

Bundling everyone back into the Blue Box (“it’s bigger on the inside!”) The Doctor tracks the temporal phenomenon to a place outside reality where the thieves are being tormented by a magpie minded cosmic packrat using unsafe time tech to amass an infinite volume of sparkly pretty things and two very chastened scientists to do the fetching and carrying across all of creation…

When one of them – Dr. Leon Perkins – is accidentally plucked from the tormentor’s clutches by the meddling, muddled Time Lord, the gobsmacked Gallifreyan learns just how bad things are from the state of the mangled Vortex Manipulator he’s using… And that’s when a platoon of brutish drones dubbed The Grand Army of the Just pounce and try to arrest everyone, giving Yaz an opportunity to test her knowledge of universal police procedures and tactics…

Perkins fills in the background as they all languish in a cell, revealing how he and his boss Dr. Irene Schulz were captured during a temporal travel test and enslaved by a cosmic devil with a penchant for pretty gewgaws, petty pilfering, slavery, torture and extortion…

Fully genned-up, The Doctor cobbles together a plan to fix things and sort out the horrific Hoarder, but first there’s just a little matter of a traitor on her team…

Scripted by Jody Houser (Faith, Mother Panic, various Star Wars, Spider-Man, X-Files, Orphan Black and more), illustrated by Rachael Stott (Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Ghost Busters) and coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini and a truly international team, this is a bright & breezy, fast-paced fable to bring the latest, extended time team to comic readers’ attention: a fantasy romance working hard yet never really challenging hearts or minds, a;; while setting up grander things to come.

The Doctor is at her distractingly daffy best, gadding about and playing dim whilst dealing with a horrendous ET and cosmic calamity in suitably collegiate manner, and still coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye. Also on show is another Gallifreyan art gallery: a Baker’s Dozen of alternate/variant covers (puppetry, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by Babs Tarr, Alice X. Zhang, Rachael Stott, Sanya Anwar, Paulina Ganucheau, Sarah Graley, Katie Cook, Alisa Stern, Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson, Rachael Smith, Giorgia Sposito & Ariana Florean, as well as a timely serving of other comics in a ‘Readers Guide’ to other Whovian collections and ‘Biographies’ of the main creators involved in A New Beginning.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go.
Doctor Who (wordmarks, logos and devices) and TARDIS (wordmarks and devices) are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo and insignia © BBC 2018. Thirteenth Doctor images © BBC Studios 2018. Licensed by BBC Worldwide First edition.

Prez: The First Teen President


By Joe Simon, Jerry Grandenetti & Creig Flessel, with Cary Bates, Neil Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Art Saaf, Mike Allred, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Eric Shanower & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6317-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

At a time when American comic books were just coming into their adolescence – but not maturity – Prez was a hippie teenager created by industry royalty. In the early 1970s, Joe Simon made one of his irregular yet always eccentrically fruitful sojourns back to DC Comics, managing to sneak a bevy of exceedingly strange concepts right past the usually-conservative powers-that-be and onto the spinner racks and newsstands of the world.

Possibly the most anarchic and subversive of these postulated a time (approximately 20 minutes into the future) when US teenagers had the vote. The first-time electorate – idealists all – elected a diligent, honest young man every inch the hardworking, honest patriot every American politician claimed to be.

In 2015 that concept was given a devilishly adroit makeover for post-millennial generations. The result was a superbly outrageous cartoon assessment of the State of the Nation – Prez: Corndog-in-Chief. Once you’re done here, you should read that too and then ferociously lobby DC to release the concluding chapters in that saga…

Back here, however, and still in 1972, Simon (Captain America, Fighting American, The Fly, Black Magic, Young Romance) was passionately doing what he always did: devising ways for ever-broader audiences to enjoy comics. This carefully curated compilation gathers every incidence of the best leader they never had, from original run Prez #1-4 (September 1973 – March 1974), through unpublished tales from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, guest cameos and revivals in Supergirl #10, The Sandman #54, Vertigo Visions: Prez #1, The Dark Knight Strikes Again and The Multiversity Guidebook #1.

It all begins in the little town of Steadfast where average teen Prez Rickard makes a minor splash by fixing all the clocks and making them run on time. Throughout the rest of the USA, dissent, moral decay and civil breakdown terrify the populace in an election year. Corrupt businessman and political influencer Boss Smiley wants to capitalise on a new amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote. He picks Rickard as a perfect patsy, but his chicanery comes awry when newly-elected Prez turns out to have a mind, backbone and agenda of his own…

With early – if heavy-handed – salutes to ecological and native rights movements, ‘Oh Say Does That Star Spangled Banner Yet Wave?’ by Simon, veteran illustrator Jerry Grandenetti set the scene for a wild ride unlike any seen in kids’ comics. Equal parts hallucinogenic political satire, topical commentary and sci-fi romp, the mandate mayhem expanded in ‘Invasion of the Chessmen’, as a global goodwill tour threatens to bring worldwide peace and reconciliation… until America’s grandmaster provokes an international incident with the chess-loving Soviet Union. Cue killer robots in assorted chess shapes and a sexy Russian Queen and watch the fireworks…

‘Invasion of America’ tackles political assassination and social repercussions after Prez decides to outlaw guns. I think no more need be said…

The original run ended with the fourth episode, spoofing international diplomacy as Transylvania dispatches its new Ambassador to Washington DC: an actual werewolf paving the way to devious conquest which led briefly to a ‘Vampire in the White House’ (inked by Creig Flessel).

Although the series was cancelled if not impeached, a fifth tale was in production when the axe fell. It eventually appeared with other prematurely curtailed stories in 1978’s Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 and appears here in monochrome as ‘The Devil’s Exterminator!’ with a bug infestation in DC tackled by a mythical madman. When Congress refuses to pay his sky-high bill ($5 million or three lunches in today’s money!), Clyde Piper abducts all the children, and PotUS is forced into outrageous executive action…

There was one final 1970s appearance. Supergirl #10 (October 1974 by Cary Bates, Art Saaf & Vince Colletta) featured ‘Death of a Prez!’ wherein the Commander in Chief was targeted for assassination by killer witch Hepzibah, using an ensorcelled Girl of Steel to do her dirty work – with predictable results…

Prez Rickard vanished in a welter of superhero angst and science fiction spectacle after that, but made a quiet cameo in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story arc World’s End. Illustrated by Michael Allred, Bryan Talbot & Mark Buckingham, ‘The Golden Boy’ (The Sandman #54 October 1993) offers a typically askance view of the boy leader’s origins, his enemies, the temptations of power and the ends of his story. It generated enough interest to spark follow-up one-shot Vertigo Visions: Prez #1 (September 1995) as Ed Brubaker & Eric Shanower crafted ‘Smells Like Teen President’. After being missing for years, America’ youngest President is being trailed by a young hitchhiker who might well be his son…

The moving search for family, identity, belonging and purpose is followed by a typically iconoclastic vignette by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley taken from The Dark Knight Strikes Again (December 2001) with the Leader of the Free(ish) World exposed as a computer simulation after which the history lesson concludes with Grant Morrison, Scott Hepburn & Nathan Fairbairn’s page on Hippie-dippy ‘Earth 47’ and its comic book landmarks (Prez, Brother Power, The Geek, Sunshine Superman and others) as first seen in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 (January 2015).

I used to think comics were the sharpest reflection of popular culture from any given era. That’s certainly the case here, and maybe there are lessons to be learned from re-examining them with eyes of experience. What is irrefutable, and in no way fake news, is that they’re still fun and enjoyable if read in a historical context. So read this, vote if you can and get ready. I can guarantee not even funnybook creators can predict what’s coming next.
© 1973, 1974, 1978, 1993, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Mézières & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlê: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Although I still marginally plump for Flash Gordon, another strong contender for the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including Buck Rogers in this tautological turmoil – is Valérian. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips actually formed the genre itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie (or indeed any sci fi flic from the 1980s onwards) has seen some of Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the film industry has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the Millennium Falcon’s look to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Please don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – originally released to cash in on the epic Luc Besson movie – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ confirming and comparing panels to film stills.

In case you’re curious, additional features include photo & design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ plus bullet-point historical briefings ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’. Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Mézières & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all creatives concerned considered their first yarn as a work-in-progress, not quite up to their preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as that prototype – Bad Dreams – kicks off this volume, in its first English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series was boosted by a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane tales (our reviews are coming soon!), which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as it became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist, political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affably capable but unimaginative, by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by reckless casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as Les Mauvais Réves – a blend of comedy and action as dry dullard Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist: a maverick seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth until rescued from a tricky situation by a fiery, capable young woman/temporal native called Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of the vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trains as a Spatio-Temporal operative and is soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure until the 13th was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st – September 1st 1985) after which the mind-wrenching sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the 12th tale, due to collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Les Mauvais Réves was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0. The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes (#455-468, 25th July – 24th October 1968) followed by Terre en Flammes (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April – 10th July 1969).

Both are included here and the action opens with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence, political chicanery and atomic holocaust. Their orders are to recapture Xombul, still hellbent on undermining Galaxity and establishing himself as Dictator of the Universe. To attain this goal the renegade travelled to New York after the nuclear accident melted the ice caps and flooded the city – and almost everywhere else. He’s hunting lost scientific secrets that would allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers assume…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are submerged, jungle vines connect deserted skyscrapers, tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters snatch up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has constructed deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delicious in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is a timelessly witty Science Fiction delight which climaxes in a moody cliffhanger…

Immediately following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland, encountering hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships, they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of a super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets (originally seen in Pilote #520-541, October 23rd 1969 – March 19th 1970) as veteran and rookie are despatched to fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent. It is the capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline. The mission is threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair must examine the first galactic civilisation ever discovered which has never experienced any form of human contact or contamination. As usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian & Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the cheekily acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market. Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble quickly attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies.

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship. Sadly, our dauntless duo are distracted, embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and visiting the mysterious outer planets, Valerian & Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly familiar and always innovative, this savvy space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, spectacular, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious. Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Mézières & Tranlê. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – The Official Classic Children’s Illustrated Mystery Adventure Series


By Hergé translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Farshore)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) which have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without an official conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked. It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 70 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle where he apparently fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siècle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme. He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nènesse and Poussette and Cochonette (written by a staff sports reporter) when Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues? Also, perhaps he might also highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats?

Having recently discovered word balloons in imported newspaper strips, Remi opted to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work, producing a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin au pays des Soviets AKA Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930: meaning that as well as celebrating 95 years of existence Tintin remains one of the very first globally successful strip characters, barely preceded by Tarzan and Buck Rogers (both January 17th 1929) and Popeye on January 17th of that year…

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us English speakers) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”. The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme and opens with the pair arriving in Russia. The dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by “the Soviets” to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular support and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse – a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen cohering on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast, flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters: a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself appears very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something; an intriguing hint of glories to come. Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in a range of hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and probably not ideal for an official target market of 8-years old and up), Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text ©1999, 2007 Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.