Lonesome volume 1: The Preacher’s Trail


By Yves Swolfs, coloured by Julie Swolfs; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-000-5 (Album PB/Digital edition)

In comics, Western skies are at their most moody and iconic when seen through European eyes.

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics. They collectively recognise what too many here still dismiss as “kids’ stuff” as having academic and scholarly standing, as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as a true art form.

Myths and legends of the American Old West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees of cowboy culture and stand at the forefront of the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series. These range from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry, Comanche and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics like Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

Lonesome: La piste du prêcheur debuted in 2018, the first volume of a gritty, historically-grounded drama with supernatural overtones, similar in tone and mood to Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

It is crafted by veteran Belgian taleteller Yves Swolfs, who was born in April 1955 and – like most kids of that generation and geographical location – probably grew up surrounded by imported and home-generated cowboy culture.

He studied Literature and Journalism at Brussels’ Saint-Luc Institute before joining Claude Renard’s Atelier R comics studio, in 1978. His first stories were published in the studio’s own Le Neuvième Rêve magazine before stepping out into the field of commercial design and illustration. His first success was a western: Durango was published by Éditions des Archers in 1980 and ran for four decades, under various publishers. The feature was inspired by cinematic spaghetti westerns of the 1970s and served as  a staple source of income as Swolfs experimented with other genres: French Revolution-set historical drama Dampierre (1987); horror fantasy Le Prince de la Nuit (1991); dystopian sci fi thriller Vlad (2000) and contemporary thriller James Healer (2002).

Always busy, in 1999 Swolfs scripted western Black Hills 1890 for illustrator Marc-Renier and in 2003 wrote and drew medieval fantasy saga Légendes, amongst a host of other comics projects. He relaxes by playing in a rock band.

The Preacher’s Trail opens in 1861, with a solitary rider trekking through snow-enveloped wastes in the savage period of mounting tensions leading to the American Civil War. Newly-created territories Nebraska and Kansas have been a proxy battleground for the North and South since 1854, with slave-owners’ agents and radical Abolitionists clashing and stirring up the citizens for religious, political and commercial reasons. Blood has been spilled by anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” and Missouri’s “Border Ruffians” indiscriminately and the entire region is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Into this disaster-in-waiting rides the determined searcher. He’s hunting a proselytizing preacher, and easily overcomes the murderous bushwhackers Abolitionist Reverend Markham stationed in an isolated saloon to deter his enemies. However, before the last gunman dies, the stranger touches him and is granted a vision of where his target is heading…

In nearby township Holton City, the Reverend – surrounded by an army of gunslingers – stridently entreats the people to join his crusade against the abomination of slavery. Many are not roused or fooled, but all are keenly aware that the holy man care nothing for their lives…

The town banker/Mayor Harper may be throwing his support behind the rabblerouser, but local newspaper publisher Marcus has been doing some research and has reached a dangerous conclusion…

As the rider beds down for the night, his thoughts go back to the Indian medicine man who raised him after his family were murdered and he ponders his eerie gift. At that moment elsewhere, farming family the Colsons are being butchered by the Preacher’s acolytes. Markham has judged them to be immoral sinners, but the atrocities he personally inflicts upon the woman prove it’s no God driving his campaign of terror…

Next morning the rider stumbles across the massacre. By now, he’s fully conversant with the Preacher’s methods and ignores the faked “evidence” of South-supporting Border Ruffians, but is astounded and delighted to discover a survivor…

Taking the child to Holton, the stranger is unsurprised to see his accounts of the crime and description of the perpetrators ignored. He knows Markham always finds influential supporters like bankers and local politicians. The townsfolk are shaken though. First the newspaper office burns down and Marcus vanishes, and now a massacre…

After ignoring an unsubtle warning to mind his own business from Harper’s hired gun Clayton, the rider’s breakfast is interrupted by Sheriff Abel. He’s more inclined to believe stories about the Preacher, but knows who runs things, if not why…

When the rider leaves town in the morning, it’s with new knowledge gained through his strange gift and furtive conversations with bargirl Lucy, an ally of Marcus. Well versed in the brutal whims of men like Harper and Markham. Unfortunately, her allegiance is uncovered and she pays a heavy price after the stranger leaves…

On the trail, the stalker meets fugitive Marcus and hears what the idealistic journalist has uncovered of an international plutocratic plot to instigate war, but his sole concern is catching the Preacher. Debate distracts them and almost costs their lives when Clayton’s gang ambushes them after they stop at a friend’s cabin. The shootout leaves the stranger with Marcus’ notebook and the psychometrically derived knowledge of what Harper and Clayton did to Lucy, as well as a fierce determination to fix things in Holton before resuming his pursuit of Markham… and this time, the rider will be the one dictating how and where the final clash takes place…

Dark, uncompromisingly gritty, diabolically clever and lavishly limned in a style reminiscent of Jean Giraud’s Blueberry, this is as much conspiracy drama as revenge western with an enigmatic figure slowly discovering himself whilst derailing a plot to change the world. Here the inescapable war that’s looming is not due to a crusade of opposing beliefs but a devious scheme by commercial interests to foment war for profit and their own gain.

Before publication by Cinebook, Lonesome was initially released in digital-only English translation by Europe Comics, so if you don’t want to wait for later Cinebook editions, you can satisfy your impatience that way. Regardless, this is a superb example of a genre standard done right and if you like your west wild and wicked you won’t be sorry…
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2018 by Yves Swolfs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2020 Cinebook Ltd.

[Low Moon]


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-155-8 (HB/Digital edition)

In 1965, John Arne Saeterrøy, who creates under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway. At age 30, he burst onto the international cartoonists scene with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) which won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

Jason followed up with the series Mjau Mjau and won another Sproing in 2001. The following year he turned almost exclusively to produce graphic novels. He is now internationally renowned and (probably quite self-consciously) basks in the glow of critical acclaim for his 24 books to date and for winning so many major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia, the USA and all areas in-between.

His stories utilise a small cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (and occasional movie and pop culture monsters): a repertory company of cartoon colleagues, acting out on a stage of stiffly formal page layouts recounting dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – in a visually welcoming yet coldly austere and Spartan narrative manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a vast range of emotionally telling tales – on a wide spectrum of themes and genres – to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make the reader smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, and this movie-themed collection of short tales is arguably his best work.

Redolent of quintessential Film Noir and especially the hard-boiled writing of Jim Thompson, poignant tale of vengeance ‘Emily Says Hello’ precedes what is billed as the World’s “first and only Chess Western”.

The eponymous ‘Low Moon’ was originally serialized in The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2008: a splendidly surreal spoof of Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic High Noon wherein an old menace returns to terrorise the town… until at last the Sheriff capitulates to the incessant demands for one final return match…

‘&’ is a tragic anecdote of love, loss and marital persistence related in terms and stylings of Hal Roach’s silent comedies. ‘Proto Film Noir’ owes an inspirational tip of the thermally insulated hat to Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner) – by way of The Flintstones and Groundhog Day, whilst a concluding tale of love, family and abandonment assumes science-fictional trappings to relate the soap-opera, generational tale of a mother kidnapped by aliens and the effects it inflicts on the husband and son she left behind. ‘You Are Here’ is bemusing, evocative and moving, yet manages to never fall off the narrative tightrope into mawkishness or buffoonery.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. This superb compendium could be your entry into a brave, old world, so get it while you can because stuff this good never lasts long…
© 2009 Jason. All right reserved.

Bluecoats volume 12: The David


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-849184-30-4 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until retirement in 2020 – Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic maverick defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

From its first sallies, the substitute strip swiftly became hugely popular: one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe. In case you were wondering, it is now scribed by Jose-Luis Munuera and the BeKa writing partnership…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and after his sudden death in 1972, successor Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually adopted a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis in 1952 as a letterer.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin was also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy – and began a glittering, prolific writing career at Le Journal de Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he scripted dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 65 (and counting) album sequence. Cauvin passed away on August 19 2021 but his vast legacy of laughter remains.

Here, our long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen defending America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume – Du Nord au Sud – the sad-sack soldiers were situated back East, fighting in the American Civil War. All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s smart. principled or heroic if no easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a proud career soldier of the 22nd Cavalry who passionately believes in the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and hungers to be a medal-wearing hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in… a situation that stretches their friendship to breaking point in this deceptively edgy instalment.

The David is the 12th translated Cinebook volume and 19th sequential European release. As Les Tuniques Bleues: Le David it was originally serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #2265-2275 before collection as another mega-selling album in 1982, with C.H.A.B. & Philippe Francart credited for additional research.

The comedic drama is another based on – but broadly extrapolating upon – actual historical events, specifically the deployment of the CSS David: an early success in the development of submarine warfare. Built in 1863 by businessman T. Stoney in Charleston, South Carolina, it was a 4-man, steam-powered submersible torpedo boat used by the Confederate States Navy to challenge the Union’s shipping blockade. David was largely unsuccessful and one of many different protypes built to challenge the North’s “Ironclads”, with its last recorded action occurring on April 18, 1864. As is usually the case, legend far exceeds factual truth, but that’s no bad thing here as the unlikely warriors undertake one of their most dangerous ventures…

Off the Carolina coast, a Union warship spots a blockade-runner trying to reach port with desperately-needed supplies. As the warship confidently closes in, the steamer sends a signal to shore, and within minutes disaster strikes…

Days later, in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln and the War Cabinet argue the impossibility of fighting an invisible enemy. With the almost-accomplished siege of attrition endangered, the President orders the mystery solved and neutralised at any cost…

Meanwhile inland, Blutch has had enough of the bloodbath battle tactics of utterly deranged, apparently invulnerable maniac Captain Stark. That glory-addicted cavalry charger has caused the deaths of more Union soldiers than the enemy ever could. Thus, at the end of his tether, the little man has downed tools. Refusing to ride again directly into Confederate guns – apparently 11 times in one day is his limit – he has gone on strike. This leads to detention in a stockade where he happily awaits execution by firing squad. At least, at last, his worries will be over…

Nothing loyal Chesterfield can do will change his mind, but when the time comes, typical army inefficiency keeps Blutch impatiently hanging on. In the meantime, the Generals receive orders to send two spies into Charleston to discover the secret of the invisible ship-killer. Knowing no regular soldiers are crazy enough to volunteer, they ask Gung Ho Chesterfield, and offer his inseparable little pal a full discharge from the army if he goes with him. The wily “Brass” are confident neither pest will return…

It’s not quite a done deal or easily achieved, but eventually the pair roll up in Charleston, disguised as wounded soldiers proudly wearing their grey uniforms. Blutch is feigning blindness whilst Chesterfield sits comfortably in a chair with wheels and directs… as usual!

As well as providing plenty of slapstick moments for us, the disguise works well for them and their calamitous progress through the enemy port is painful but largely unimpeded. One very public accident dumps them onto a German-flagged steamer unloading provisions, where – over a little schnapps – the Captain volubly discloses that the South have a diabolical machine ensuring his safe arrivals and departures…

Almost immediately after, Chesterfield and Blutch join crowds rushing towards the seafront to see it in action, and witness the deadly power of the secret weapon sinking another Union ship. When their imposture as veterans fails to get them inside the shipyard housing the devil boat, they resort to cruder methods, ultimately discovering the secret of The David – but only at the cost of their liberty.

Indomitable and utterly dedicated to preserving their own skins, the Odd Couple soon escape, and after failing spectacularly to destroy the weapon, flee desperately for their own lines, frantically pursued by the Confederate army. A sublime chase sequence across swathes of enemy territory proves their wiliness and when the spies are finally recaptured, it’s by their own side and the last person they ever wanted to see again…

With their information changing the shape of the war, Blutch and Chesterfield can only wait for their eagerly anticipated rewards (the big man was promised promotion to Lieutenant if he survived) but there’s a double sting in store as ponderous military procedure glacially expedites their cases…

Combining searing satire with stunning slapstick, this yarn delivers a hugely gratifying poke at the blood-&-glory boys of history. Deftly delivering its anti-war message to younger, less world-weary audiences, The David weds fact to fiction while delivering an uncompromising portrayal of state-sanctioned mass-violence and government’s callous disregard for individual citizens.

These stories weaponise humour, making occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting. Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the kind of war-story and Western to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1982 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2019 Cinebook Ltd.

Trent volume 4: The Valley of Fear


By Rodolphe & Léo, coloured by Marie-Paule Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-394-9 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Continental audiences have an abiding fascination with the mythologised American experience, whether it be the Big Sky Wild West or later eras of crime-riddled, gangster-fuelled dramas. They also have a vested historical interest in the northernmost parts of the New World which has resulted in some pretty cool graphic extravaganzas if comics are your entertainment drug of choice…

Born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th 1944, Léo is actually Brazilian artist and storyteller Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho. After attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Puerto Alegre in 1968, he was a government employee for three years, until forced to flee the country because of his political views. While a military dictatorship ran Brazil, he lived in Chile and Argentina before illegally returning to his homeland in 1974.

To survive, he worked as a designer and graphic artist in Sao Paulo whilst creating his first comics art for O Bicho magazine. In 1981 he migrated to Paris, pursuing a career in Bande Dessinée, and found work with Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as more advertising and graphics fare. His big break came when Jean-Claude Forest invited him to draw stories for Okapi, leading to regular illustration work for Bayard Presse.

In 1988 Léo began his long association with scripter and scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe. The prolific, celebrated writing partner had been a giant of comics since the 1970s: a Literature graduate who transitioned from teaching and running libraries to creating poetry and writing criticism, novels, biographies, children’s stories and music journalism.

After meeting Jacques Lob in 1975, Jacquette expanded his portfolio: writing for a vast number of strip artists in magazines ranging from Pilote and Circus to À Suivre and Métal Hurlant. Amongst his most successful endeavours are Raffini (with Ferrandez) and L’Autre Monde (Florence Magnin), but his triumphs in all genres and age ranges are too numerous to list here.

In 1991 “Rodolphe” began working with Léo on a period adventure of the “far north”. Taciturn, introspective, bleakly philosophical and driven Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion generating eight tempestuous, hard-bitten, love-benighted albums between then and 2000. Their creative collaboration prompted later fantasy classic Kenya and its spin-offs Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac.

Cast very much in the classic mould perfected by Jack London and John Buchan, Trent is a man of few words, deep thoughts and unyielding principles who gets the job done whilst stifling emotional turmoil boiling deep within him: the very embodiment of the phrase “still waters run deep”…

As La Vallée de la peur, this fourth saga comes from 1995, with the solitary sentinel of justice and his faithful hound “Dog” initially absent from the scene. Instead, we see rail engineer George Petterson arriving at desolate shanty town White Pass and Rail Camp Seven. Here, navvies are laboriously hacking their way through a mountain, advancing the iron line inch by frozen inch.

It’s a strangely unsettling set-up, as Petterson finds when he moves into the cabin of the man he’s replacing as site manager. There’s an atmosphere of surly secrecy and every window of his new home has been nailed shut…

The first inclination of real trouble brewing comes as George tries to stop native labourers quitting. After two whites were injured and one of their own killed in tunnel accidents, they refuse to stay and be killed by “Hoppo”. The locals know it’s the work of a “demon-bear”, but the engineers will only admit to ordinary, natural problems and mock the silly superstitions. Nevertheless, when night falls they all bolt their doors. Every cabin has its windows nailed shut…

The account closes with reports of more accidents and problems as Mrs. Petterson completes her request to the RCMP to send someone to White Pass, which has been silent and out of touch for many days now…

Trent is assigned the mission and it’s a painful shock to meet again the woman he knows as Agnes. Years ago he had saved her – but not her beloved brother – and was given a clear invitation from her that he never acted upon. Eventually, he made his decision, travelling all the way to Providence with marriage in mind, only to learn that his Miss St. Yves had reached her own conclusion years previously…

Now she stubbornly accompanies him into unknown danger at White Pass. She is resolved to find her missing husband and Trent is wracked with indecision and other darker emotions he refuses to acknowledge…

Travelling to Fraser by train, the rescue party switches to horseback and picks up Trent’s occasional partner Mokashi. The First Nations scout also knows Agnes of old, and has his own reasons for leaving the comforts of family and civilisation, despite having already learned that Hoppo haunts Camp Seven…

After crossing the snowy beautiful wilderness – rendered as always by Leo with staggering craft and force – the riders arrive in a desolate Camp Seven with no sign of life. Seemingly abandoned, the cabins which once held more than fifty men are cold and empty, but it’s not long before Mokashi uncovers some of the former inhabitants…

As they batten down for the night in a reasonably defensible shack, the rescuers are keenly aware of eerie silence punctuated by erratic bursts of animal noise. Eventually sleep comes… until the implacable Mountie and Mokashi are roused by the sounds of an intruder furtively seeking entry…

When Trent investigates, he is ambushed by a beast out of his maddest nightmares. Barely escaping with his life, his frantic flight brings him to an even greater horror – George Petterson, more dead than alive and apparently the only survivor of a supernatural atrocity…

As dawn comes, Agnes is reunited with her husband and the lawmen begin the task of tracking what can only be an exceptionally clever and cunning beast. Trent, however, cannot shake the notion that he heard it speak as it shrugged off his rifle shots…

Tension mounts as both romantic triangle and murderous rampage bloodily converge, but even after the Mountie solves one mystery and the evacuation of George Petterson begins, there is more heartbreak and loss to come before civilisation reclaims them. And as ever, Trent is left to struggle with his solitary thoughts, loss and loneliness…

Another beguilingly introspective voyage of internal discovery, where environment and locales are as much lead characters as hero and villain, The Valley of Fear delivers mystery, epic scope, sinister suspense, action and poignant drama in a compelling concoction to satisfy any fan of widescreen cinematic crime fiction or grandiose western.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 1993 by Rodolphe & Léo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Jonah Hex volume 4: Only the Good Die Young


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Phil Noto, Jordi Bernet, David Michael Beck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-786-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

Confident enough to apply fantasy concepts to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled creators working on the last successful incarnation of Jonah Hex blended a darkly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction ever seen.

This collection, reprinting issues #19-24 of that series, served up six discrete tales revealing how the ravaged and dissolute bounty hunter will takes everything the universe can throw at him with the same irascible aplomb and give back double…

‘Texas Money’, ‘Unfinished Business’ and ‘The Current War’ are all illustrated by Phil Noto; compelling vignettes which well display the thread of black humour that runs through these stories. The first sees Hex hire out to notorious saloon boss Wiley Park for a rescue mission, only to become distracted by the West’s Most Inhospitable Brothel Madam.

The second sees Hex paying for a little jest he had at Park’s expense: a truly iconic tribute to a classic Conan the Barbarian scene, before reuniting with an old stooge to settle all accounts with the shifty saloon owner.

Jordi Bernet handled interlude issue ‘Devil’s Paw’: a seemingly more traditional yarn of deserts and mesas, galloping posses and awful “injuns”, but this dark tale of outrage and revenge is conceptually the most adult and brutal in the book, showing the inner core of righteousness that drives Hex, whatever his aspect and actions might hint to the contrary – and no one concerned about derogatory depictions of minorities should have anything to worry about…

‘The Current War’ offers an elegiac flavour of the Doomed Wild West and Hex gets an unsettling glimpse of things to come when he is hired to retrieve a prototype robot stolen from an inventor by Thomas Edison. Once more, and as always, the wryly cynical authorial voices of Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti make this dark prophecy work in what should be an uncomfortable milieu.

Bernet returns to illustrate a superbly chilling tale of US Cavalry atrocity in ‘Who Lives and Who Dies’, which to my mind is the perfect modern Western tale and this volume concludes with a no-holds-barred supernatural thriller painted by David Michael Beck: ‘All Hallows Eve’.

Called to a haunted saloon where ghostly spirit of Justice and sometime ally El Diablo seeks his aid against the bloodthirsty Prairie Witch, Hex plus – in a delightful comic turn – cowboy vagabond Bat Lash must defeat the harridan’s plot to bloodily sacrifice the entire town of Coffin Creek. In tone, quite similar to a contemporary teen horror flick, this too works perfectly as a vehicle for the best Western Anti-hero ever created.

Dark, bloody and wickedly funny, this sly blend of action and social commentary is an unmissable treat for readers of an adult temperament and a mind open to genre-bending.
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 20: The Oklahoma Land Rush


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-008-5 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Doughty, dashing and dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, implacably even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably ambles across the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn trailblazer regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European notions, and interpretations…

Over 8 decades, his exploits have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in the world, generating upwards of 85 individual albums with sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages thus far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums, plus toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet, but you never know…  when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first officially seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before inevitably ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny. When Rene became his regular wordsmith, Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie) which began serialisation on August 25th 1955. In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote for La Diligence (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with other collaborators. The artist died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous sidebar sagebrush sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper Giggle, using nom de plume Buck Bingo.

Ruée sur l’Oklahoma was Morris & Goscinny’s 5th collaboration, originally serialised in 1960 before becoming the 14th album release: a wryly satirical romp based on the actual property reallocation event of 1889, and is delivered with only the slightest application of a little extra whimsical imagination to the actual brutal skulduggery and chicanery of history…

In the real world, President Benjamin Harrison signed a proclamation on March 23rd 1889 opening the “Unassigned Lands” of Oklahoma to non-Indian settlers. Citing the 1862 Homestead Act, it promised any white who could stay on and improve a parcel of land for five years would own it free, clear and without cost. It led to a free-for-all scramble on April 22nd year with an estimated 50,000 people looking for a prime location to put down roots…

The comic version begins on the inhospitable plains of the Oklahoma territory where a representative of the American government trades a pile of trinkets and baubles to the resident Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole tribes who were originally dumped there against their collective will by white soldiers.

They are more than happy to leave those dry, dusty, dull, decidedly depressing regions…

In Washington DC, Senators are gloating over opening the region to colonisation, but troubled that all the settlers eager to own their own land and property might one day be accusing them of negligence or worse unless the allocation process is scrupulously fair. Agreeing on a strictly-monitored race as the most transparent method, the statesmen then need to ensure it’s an honest one, and call in American legend Lucky Luke to oversee the process and adjudicate disputes.

Heading westward on Jolly Jumper, the lone rider’s first task is removing the white folk already occupying their own parcels of land before the official start date. Some are there innocently and others have decided to get a head start and secure prime locations, but eventually all are moved back (some into makeshift jails) beyond the notional starting line of the great Oklahoma rush for land…

Backed up by the cavalry and a horde of lawyers Lucky leaves the “Promised Land” clean and clear for the big day, but is kept busy stopping cheating “sooners” from sneaking in early and staking claims illegally: wicked men and enterprising criminals like Beastly Blubber or Coyote Will and his simple stooge Dopey. Their escapades grow increasingly wild as the start day approaches, but Lucky can handle them. What’s more troubling is the ordinary everyday one-upmanship scurrilously employed by the “honest” citizen-contestants: sabotaging each other’s transport, doping their draft animals and worse.

Eventually, the moment comes, cannons boom and the race for space begins…

Humans being what they are, however, every competitor heads for the same few miles of the two million acres (8100 square kilometres) and overnight the mangy metropolis of Boomville springs up. Despite being held until the race was well underway Beastly Blubber, Coyote Will and Dopey are quick to capitalise on the progress and jealous hostility of the settlers, forcing Lucky to step in repeatedly and – ultimately – ban booze and all guns in the city…

Gradually civilisation blossoms and Luke thinks his job is done when the citizens call an election for Mayor. He couldn’t be more wrong, but the plebiscite does signal the end in another painfully ironic and tragically foreboding way…

Employing classic set-piece slapstick and crafty cinematic caricature but layering on an unusually jaundiced – but frighteningly accurate – view of politicians, government and human nature, The Oklahoma Land Rush deftly weaponizes history (Indian displacement, the future Dust Bowl and the billions of barrels of unexploited oil beneath that unhappy soil) to deliver a funny story with plenty of sharp edges and ends, and a sharp twist to keep readers smugly satisfied. Here is another wildly entertaining all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Rawhide Kid Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, Dick Ayers, with Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Al Hartley, Sol Brodsky, Gene Colan & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2684-3 (HB/digital edition)

For most of the 1960s nobody did superheroes better than Marvel Comics. However, even fully acknowledging the stringencies of the Comics Code Authority, the company’s style for producing their staple genre titles for War, Romance and especially Western fans left a lot to be desired. Hints at sex, the venality of authority figures, or using proper guns the way they were meant to be used, capitulated to overwhelming caution and a tone that wouldn’t be amiss in kids’ cartoons or pre-Watershed family TV shows.

Eventually, though, the company’s innate boldness and hunger for innovation overwhelmed common sense. Moreover, and mercifully for revivals of pre-superhero veterans like Rawhide Kid, their meagre art-pool consisted of such master craftsmen as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and others…

Technically the Kid is one of the company’s older icons, having debuted in his own title with a March 1955 cover-date. A stock and standard sagebrush centurion clad in a buckskin jacket, his first adventures were illustrated by jobbing cartoonists such as Bob Brown and Ayers but the comicbook became one of the first casualties when Atlas’ distribution woes forced the company to cut back to 16 titles a month in the autumn of 1957.

With Westerns huge on the small screen and youthful rebellion a hot societal concept in 1960, owner/publisher Martin Goodman – via Stan Lee & Jack Kirby – unleashed a brand new six-gun stalwart – little more than a teenager – and launched him in summer of that year, economically continuing the numbering of the failed original…

Crucial to remember is that these yarns are not even trying to be gritty or authentic: they’re accessing the vast miasmic morass of wholesome, homogenised Hollywood mythmaking that generations preferred to learning of the grim everyday toil and terror of the real Old West, so sit back, reset your moral compass to “Fair Enough” and relax and revel in simple Black Hats vs. White Hats delivered with all the bombast and bravura Jack Kirby and his stellar successors could so readily muster…

It all (re) began when Lee, Kirby & Ayers introduced adopted teenaged Johnny Bart who showed all and sundry what he was made of after his retired Texas Ranger Uncle Ben was gunned down by a fame-hungry cheat. After very publicly exercising his right to vengeance, the naive kid fled Rawhide before explanations could be offered, resigned to life as an outlaw…

Reprinting Rawhide Kid #26-35, spanning February1962 to August 1963, this second selection offers another eclectic mix of hoary clichés, astounding genre mash-ups and the occasional nugget of pure wild west story-gold with some of the King’s most captivating and impressive art augmented by significant contributions from a number of other laudable pencil-pushers comprising the first inkling of the fabled Marvel Bullpen.

Following an outrageous introduction by dis-honorary owlhoot Mark Evanier, describing the publishing theories of Publisher Martin Goodman, the bangs for your buck begin with #26 and lead yarn ‘Trapped by the Bounty Hunter’ with Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers showing how The Kid falls for a smarter man’s snare before impressing him with his honesty and earning another chance. Uncredited prose piece ‘Stagecoach Race’ describes a battle of wits and a risky wager after which comic action turns to melodrama as the ‘Shoot-Out in Scragg’s Saloon’ sees the Rawhide Ripsnorter mistaken by a tragic old man for his missing son. At this time comic books needed to offer a variety of material to qualify for cheaper postage rates and as well as prose shorts would include one generic cowboy tale per issue.

Here, it’s the uncredited ‘Strong Man’ – probably a Lee script limned by veteran by Bob Forgione – which could easily have fitted into one of the company’s mystery titles. Town bully Slade always gets his way but when he steals a mine map he also gets what he deserves…

The issue concludes with The Kid exposing the seeming miracle of ruthless gunslinger ‘The Bullet-Proof Man’…

Rawhide Kid #27 opens ‘When Six-Guns Roar!’, as the restless wanderer finds honest work on a ranch. If only the other hands had welcomed rather than bullied the diminutive newcomer, a lot of violence might have been avoided and history quite different A text story about a ‘Mustang Maverick’ then leads to action-packed hokum as ‘The Girl, the Gunman, and the Apaches!’ finds our hero saving a captive from the repercussions of her idiot father taking pot-shots at innocent Indians after which ‘The Fury of Bull Barker!’ (illustrated by Don Heck) turns the cliché of rough cowboy and slick city dude on its head before Lee Kirby & Ayers reveal how ‘The Man who Caught the Kid!’ had a change of heart and gave the outlaw his freedom…

The team are on top form for ‘Doom in the Desert!’, which opens #28, as the Kid survives a ruthless predator’s trap thanks only to his tragic sister, whilst text treat ‘The Travelling Show’ details a cunning robbery scheme foiled in advance of ‘The Guns of Jasker Jelko!’ Here a circus shootist gone bad is taught a salutary life-lesson by someone used to facing as well as firing hot lead, after which Paul Reinman draws the stand-alone saga of ‘The Silent Gunman’ who taught a town what is more powerful than a fast draw before Rawhide indulges in some relatively gentle remonstration ‘When a Gunslinger Gets Mad!’ Of course, it’s arguably provocation on his part to order milk in a saloon…

Our hero’s perennial search for a little peace and quiet is again scuttled in #29’s opening story as he accepts a dying sheriff’s deal to capture an outlaw in return for a pardon. Sadly ‘The Trail of Apache Joe!’ is long and the battle to subdue him hard and by the time he gets back both the lawman and the deal are dead…

Deceptively anodyne prose vignette ‘Warpath’ segues  in to action interval ‘The Little Man Laughs Last!’ as The Kid’s small scrawny physique attracts bullies who soon regret their actions just as Lee & Ayers’ done-in-one diversion ‘Yak Yancy, the Man who Treed a Town’ reinforces the point that brawn does not trump brains, before Rawhide saves a starry-eyed boy from a life of delinquency in ‘The Fallen Hero!’

Rawhide Kid #30 was cover-dated October 1962 and big things were happening. That month also saw the release of Fantastic Four #7; Strange Tales #101 (debut of the Human Torch in a solo series); Tales to Astonish #36 (second costumed Ant-Man); Journey into Mystery #85 (third Thor), and the Incredible Hulk #4 was due four weeks later. Although the company’s standard genre fare was still popular, it was gradually disappearing as Lee reallocated his top creative resources to what was rapidly becoming the “Marvel Age of Comics”. Thus it was approaching High Noon for Rawhide artisans Lee, Kirby & Ayers when hypnotist Spade Desmond rolled into a western town, and his uncanny influence showed everyone what happened ‘When the Kid Went Wild!’, after which an intolerant biddy from “Back East” learns her lesson in prose tale ‘The Silent Man’. The Kid’s ‘Showdown with the Crow Mangum Gang!’ saves an embattled family of homesteaders and Lee & Heck trace the story one particular sidearm in ‘This is… a Gun!’ before his slight stature again gets The Kid in trouble with bullies, and his response triggers a ‘Riot in Railtown!’

Issue #31 replays the theme as a prelude to Rawhide battling a greedy land baron seizing spreads and leading to a ‘Shoot-Out with Rock Rurick!’, after which a mild replay of the war between ranchers and homesteaders is re-examined in cheery text titbit ‘Sheep Run’. The Kid is easily outfoxed and ‘Trapped by Dead-Eye Dawson!’, but earns his freedom thanks to his noble nature, unlike the prodigal brother who features in Lee & Heck’s solo yarn ‘Return of Outlaw!’ Rawhide rides into the wrong town and is jumped by many old enemies in ‘No Law in Lost Mesa!’ before showing just why he’s a legend…

Rawhide Kid #32 (cover-dated February 1963) signalled the end of an era. It opened with Beware of the Barker Brothers!’ as the Kid exposed gunrunners masquerading as local dignitaries and philanthropists and was followed by ‘Home Trail’ – a prose homily on welcoming strangers and a comic advocating guns over gavels in ‘The Judge!’ by Lee & Al Hartley. Kirby’s last hurrah was ‘No Guns for a Gunman!’ as our hero fails to fall for a rigged scam that would leave other gunfighters helpless…

Although he remained as cover artist, this was Kirby’s swan song issue. Ultimately, and via a brief Ayers solo art run, the series would end up as a vehicle for writer/artist Larry Lieber – but before that Lee latched onto another artistic legend who was at that moment in the process of becoming synonymous with America’s favourite humour magazine: Jack Davis.

John Burton Davis Jr. (1924-2016) is probably one of the few strip art masters better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., but few modern collectors seem aware of his horror and war and western masterpieces for EC, his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines, and his westerns for Marvel Comics. And that’s a true shame, because they’re quirky but terrific: rough, rowdy, loose and rangy, just like The Kid himself…

Scripted throughout by Lee, three issues of Jack Davis’ bombastic action, comedy and drama begin in #33 (April 1963) with ‘The Guns of Jesse James’, as the perpetually hunted Kid swallows pride and caution and joins the infamous outlaw’s gang. Initially swayed by James’s story of being misunderstood and unfairly accused, Rawhide soon realises he’s been gulled by a master conman and quits in his own unmistakable fashion…

Following the prose fable of a kid finding his place in ‘The Tenderfoot’, Lee & Sol Brodsky play with archetypes in ‘There’s a Shoot-Out Comin’!’ before Davis wraps up his debut with a tale of a young heart broken for the best of reasons in ‘The Gunfighter and the Girl!’

Issue #34 added to The Kid’s growing posse of returning villains as our hero proves utterly unable to beat ‘The Deadly Draw of Mister Lightning!’ however the carnival showman turned gunslinger learns a valuable lesson in their rematch…

Text vignette ‘Bushwacked!’ sees a young man trick his father’s killer into jail before Davis resumes with ‘Prisoner of the Apaches!’ as Rawhide again sacrifices himself to save idiot settlers with no respect for the First Nations. The issue is rounded off with an epic elegiac independent story perfectly capturing that era’s mythology and world view. Crafted by Lee, Kirby, Ayers, ‘Man of the West!’ details one man’s pioneering spirit and achievements. Beautiful and haunting, it’s possibly the most dated and contentious thing in this collection: venerating – like John Ford/John Wayne’s The Searchers – an attitude of exceptionalism and manifest destiny that will appal most modern readers…

Our sagebrush storytelling concludes with Rawhide Kid #35 and another nod to changing times as our hero is inexplicably targeted by a costumed crazy in ‘The Raven Strikes!’ Following a text tale of an old salt proving his worth in ‘Man to Remember’ and a wry rewriting of history by Lee & Gene Colan in ‘The Sheriff’s Star’ everything ends up in a charming tall tale as The Kid overhears boasting bar hounds relating ‘The Birth of a Legend!’ and scarcely recognises himself amidst the blather…

Also included is a bonus cover gallery by John Severin, Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, Ayers, Frank Giacoia, Alan Weiss, Rick Buckler, Mike Esposito & Larry Lieber of reprint series The Mighty Marvel Western (#17-32; June 1972- June 1974), where many of these tales also appeared.

To be frank, although the art is astounding, the stories here are mostly mediocre. Unless you’re an old school western buff, what’s on offer is derivative, formulaic, occasionally insensitive, and once or twice borderline offensive. If the social climate and your own conscience trouble you, stay away. If, however, you can see this stuff in historical context – created by genuine reformers who pioneered diversity in comics and created breakthrough characters like Wyatt Wingfoot or Black Panther together – take a look. Here is work that stoked the boilers of the Marvel revolution, blessed with some of the very best narrative artwork ever seen.
© 2021 MARVEL.

The Cisco Kid™ 


By Rod Reed & José Luis Salinas (Ken Pierce Books) 

ISBN: 0-912277-00-9 (PB) 

As with so many classic mass-media heroes, The Cisco Kid began as charismatic villain. Created by O. Henry for short prose tale “The Caballero’s Way”, he first appeared in Everybody’s Magazine in July 1907, and was included in the author’s anthological collection Heart of the West, which was published in the same year. 

Gone but not forgotten, The Kid returned and was gradually rehabilitated via a series of 27 films spanning 1914-1950; a radio serial running from 1942-1956; a one shot comic book in 1944 and – most crucially – a TV series (the first ever shot in colour) comprising 156 episodes, which spanned 1950-1956. Those latter media milestones in particular spawned a Dell Comics series (41 issues from 1950-1958) and informed a spectacular and beautiful comic strip licensed by King Features Syndicate which ran in numerous newspapers and across the world from 1951 to 1968. 

The hero is a dashing Mexican roaming the American west like the Lone Ranger, righting wrongs for no appreciable reason or reward. His comedy sidekick Pancho is fat, jolly, and eternally anxious, but also smart, deceptively brave and extremely capable: a rare example of positive depictions of Latino characters at that time or even by most modern examples… 

In the end, every effort of so many creators across the mass-communications divide couldn’t much help as increasingly polarized views about minorities pretty much cemented a certain view of Mexican characters in American public opinion in the 1960s and 1970, but at least our guys always were heroes, not low-grade villains, and lazy language stereotyping was kept to an absolute minimum.  

Cisco and Pancho spoke floridly, but never like Speedy Gonzales…  

This strip feature, like so many beautiful examples of western adventuring, has been all but forgotten today, but holds up remarkably well in terms of modern sensibilities …and as I’ve indicated, it is so very, very beautifully drawn.  

This impossible-to-find collection comes courtesy of pioneering comics archivist Ken Pierce, whose one-man campaign to preserve the best of newspaper strips throughout the 1970 and 1980s (Abbie an’ Slats; Axa; Danielle; Fred Kida’s Valkyrie) resulted this slim single volume of monochrome daily episodes, fronted by writer Rod Reed’s evocative Introduction. Reed was a veteran golden age scripter whose best work was for Fawcett and Quality Comics, and in the five stories re-presented here (covering January 17th to May 4th 1950), he ingeniously blends traditional family entertainment/action with wry wit and a devilishly wicked sense of the absurd… 

The writing is top notch but the true joy comes from the stunning draughtsmanship and graphic empathy of the illustrator. José Luis Salinas (February 11, 1908-January10, 1985) was Argentinian, beginning as an advertising artist before moving into comics El Tony and Paginas de Columba. In 1936 he created his first strip. Hernán el Corsario in Patoruzu was followed by many more classic adventure escapades. In 1949, he began working for American enterprise King Features Syndicate, who eventually partnered him with Reed. Their partnership – and the strip – lasted eighteen years, and apparently they never ever met or even corresponded even once… 

Individual storylines very much mirror TV episodes of any western of the era – like Hopalong Cassidy, Champion the Wonder Horse; Gunsmoke, Bonanza or the aforementioned Lone Ranger and all the usual tropes are in play, but thanks to Reed’s deft touches and Salinas’ skill, what might to us seem cliched, still sparkles with verve and vivacity… 

The dramas launches with ‘The First Story’ as the heroes help feisty rancher Lucy Baker uncover a swindle perpetrated by the local judge. His malfeasance is initially uncovered because he won’t allow “the wimmen-folk” vote on his new dam project, but all too soon it devolves into murder plots, frantic horse-chases and plenty of gunplay… 

‘The Deadly Stage Ride’ then sees the nomads save a failing stage coach company by replacing the driver and shotgun guard. Even if they had known sinister mastermind The Jagged Dagger was behind the campaign of sabotage and robbery, it would not have stopped them doing the right thing…  

Humour is paramount in ‘The Artist’ as French painter François Palette arrives, determined to capture the action and glamour of the Wild West and its great heroes – like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and The Cisco Kid – only to become the target of a fugitive Barbary Bill: a bullying thug who didn’t like his portrait… 

The Latin Lawgivers stumble across a dying man and carry out his deathbed wish to save an innocent man from execution in ‘The Harmonica Mistake’ before this delicious but dated delight closes down with a heartwarming mystery as Cisco and Pancho aid a poor widow and her son when outlaws kidnap the family pet. It seems there’s lost loot somewhere which old Spot can track in ‘Treasure Dog’…    

Swashbuckling thrills in the flamboyant style of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly, combining the character dynamics of Don Quixote (& Sancho Panza ) with Holmes & Watson and Batman and Robin, these merry light-adventure yarns are so very moreish, and it’s well past time one of the specialist archival outfits like Hermes Press or IDW brought them all back to us… 

The Cisco Kid™ © 1983 Doubleday & Company. Editorial content and arrangement © 1983 Rod Reed. All rights reserved.

The Eldritch Kid™ volume 2: Bone War 


By Christian D. Read, Paul Mason, Justin Randall & Wolfgang Bylsma (Gestalt Publishing) 
ISBN: 978-1-922023-92-6 (TPB/Digital edition) 

Felt like a scary western today. Dug this one up… 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when all of popular fiction was bloated and engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic populist phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties’ Super-Spy Boom, the Vampire Boyfriend or recent Misunderstood Teens vs Corrupt Adult Dystopias trends – there was a goodly amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few spectacular gems. 

Most importantly, once such surges peter out, there’s also always a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn the passing and resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad… 

After World War II, the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the rapidly burgeoning television industry – were comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West: at that time already a firmly established standby of paperback publishing, movie serials cinematic blockbusters and low-budget B-feature films. 

I’ve often ruminated on how and why, simultaneously, the dark, bleakly nigh-nihilistic and left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome rip-snorting range-&-rodeo revolution, seemingly only for a cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but perhaps that’s a thought for another time and a different review. 

Even though comics encompassed Western heroes from the get-go (there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both New Fun and Action Comics and even Marvel Comics), the post-war boom years saw a vast outpouring of titles with gun-toting heroes ousting the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men. True to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling… 

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, Western strips have largely vanished from funny book pages: apparently unable to command enough mainstream support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and furiously seductive futures. 

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist, producing some extremely impressive work, before France, Belgium and Italy made the genre emphatically their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world for an avid audience unashamedly nurturing an appetite for them… 

Fantasy and Horror stories, on the other hand, have never really gone away and this utterly outrageous and supremely entertaining sequel sagebrush saga from Australian raconteur Christian Read his latest visualiser Paul Mason (with colourist Justin Randall and letterer/editor Wolfgang Bylsma) superbly blends time-honoured tropes of the wild west with sinister sorcerous sensibilities to create a bewitching alternate reality where dark bloody deeds are matched by dire demonic forces and decent guys called upon to combat them have to dabble in the diabolical too… 

Once upon a time in the west, the world changed and magic – although always real and rare – became part and parcel of everyday life… 

Without preamble the adventuresome action opens with a gunfight against an extremely unpleasant and grudge-bearing witch…  

Our narrator is an urbane and erudite Oxford-educated shaman detailing his life following his return to the land of his birth. His recollections began in the previous volume and began in Spring 1877: the great Indian Wars were over. Custer was dead but so was Crazy Horse. The Whites were greedily covering the entire country and an educated man with the wrong skin tones was reduced to playing scout for a bunch of barely literate morons wagon-trekking across the plains to California. They need him but regard their supremely capable guide with suspicion, disdain and barely-disguised disgust… 

Wicasa Waken, outcast Shaman of the Oglala Lakota – AKA Ten Shoes Dancing of the mighty Sioux and lately graduated Master of Arts and Literature, Oxford, England (1875) – always knew devil magic when he smelled it, but – since his teachers taught him to treasure human life – he remained faithful to their training and always sought to do good. That got a lot harder after saving a strange white from five-headed snakes and zombies … 

Once recovered, the “victim” eagerly joined the fight: his accursed guns making short work of the ravening Heyokas and Ten Shoes Dancing realised he had made the rather prickly acquaintance of a modern Western Legend and celebrated dime novel hero – The Eldritch Kid. 

Sadly like most heroes finally-met, he’s a surly, taciturn, creepy freak. basking in hero-worship, hot vittles and wanton female attention… 

It’s not just this becoming-nation America that is awash with blood and wickedness. The entire world is swamped with boggles, spectres and far worse, but since the War Between the States, the Kid had achieved a certain notoriety for dealing harshly and permanently with all things supernatural and predatory. 

Nevertheless, he’s a mean, mercenary bastard and a tough man to like for the philosophically inclined, poetry-loving Ten Shoes, but circumstances keep them together. Faced with daily mystic mayhem, the mismatched heroes bond even after the Lakotan learned his personal patron god Lord Hnaska was deeply troubled by the cold, dark deity sponsoring the magic-guns toting Kid. Of course, the Great Spirit was far more concerned with the crawling things that hungered for human morsels, and allowed a loveless alliance to be forged. Eventually, the Kid finally opened up enough to share the history that made him the most feared gunhawk in the West. 

In 1865 Camp Elmira, New Jersey held Confederate prisoners.. The detention centre was a hellhole even by human standards, but when a demon began taking inmates, one of the terrified, beaten, sitting duck captives was offered a deal by an ancient northern god. Odin, grim King of Death, was unhappy with beasts and night things increasingly infesting Earth and offered a trade: power for service… 

After a suitably painful and gory “offering” the prisoner was given just enough of a supernatural advantage to kill the monsters – human and otherwise – and escape. Wielding a brace of Rune-Pistols, he’s been doing his Lord’s work ever since… 

That mission continues here as the Diabolist Duo inconclusively clash with bounty hunting old enemy Jacinta Gun-Gunn, and in the aftermath are recruited by former palaeontologist Mr. Othniel. He wants them to steal back his greatest discovery, the full and bejewelled skeleton of a lost prince of a civilisation that perished millions of years previously.  

The astounding artefact was swiped by his rival “Doc” Drinker, but theirs is not a regular scientific dispute. Othniel is a necromancer who survived his own decapitation and now resides a head in a jar, and Madam Drinker travels with a coterie of witches and unruly women. Both parties clearly have secret agendas but Ten Shoes Dancing and the Eldritch provisionally accept the generous commission because of the most pertinent fact: the skeleton has come back to arcane unlife and recalled revenant subjects from its long-fallen, mystically malign dinosaur empire of Tzenshaitchan to raise fresh Hell across the Badlands… 

Thanks to timely assistance from the Lakotan’s Frog-God patron, our heroes are made aware of the true situation and switch sides when  a better offer is made, but they are still bushwacked by Drinker’s presumed ally the Ani Kutani Witch Tsintah who has her own sinister scheme in play and even nastier masters to answer to… 

With dinosaur skeletons tearing the countryside up, the gunslingers are kept too busy to stop Othniel building himself a newer and more deadly body and the witch summoning the almighty horror called the Priest King and restoring an even earlier age of bloody sacrifice and life-extending butchery… 

And as the battle intensifies and all the arcane ages of terror converge to create a charnel ground of warfare, humanity’s deity Odin arrives… 

Ragnarok, anyone? 

The tantalising conclusion is supplemented by a cover/chapter break gallery by Nichola Scott, Douglas Holgate, Emily K. Smith & James Brouwer; original art pages from Mason and Read’s original script pages.  

Rowdy, rousing, purely bonkers and spectacularly action-packed, The Bone War is a sharp, satisfying and mordantly funny yarn to delight lovers of genre fiction and witty mash-ups. Black hats, white hats, lost worlds, haunts and horrors, stunning visuals and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for? 

Apparently, another sequel, so hopefully I’ll be getting to that too in the fullness of time… 
© 2017-2019 Christian Read, Paul Masan & Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Yakari and Nanabozho


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1849181778 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore and two years later struck pure gold with their next collaboration.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari delightfully detailed the life of a young Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and before the coming of the modern White Man.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy, the beguiling saga celebrates a bucolic existence in tune with nature and free from strife, punctuated with the odd crisis generally resolved without fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, compassionate, brave… and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and a devastatingly compelling realistic action illustration form – became one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated and beloved creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Over decades, many of his masterworks feature beloved Western themes, magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari regarded by most fans and critics to be the feature which catapulted him to deserved mega-stardom.

First serialised in 1978, Yakari et Nanabozho was the fourth European album – released just as the strip transferred to prestigious Le Journal de Tintin – but was only translated by Cinebook in 2013, making it officially the 11th English-language album. That’s not going to be a problem for chronology or continuity addicts, since – as ever – the tale is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless…

It all begins one bright sunny day as the little wonder wanders out to the Rock of the Bear to meet his friend Rainbow. On arrival there’s no sign of her but he does meet a gigantic and extremely voluble desert hare claiming to be Trickster Spirit Nanabozho – a statement proven by making some astounding adjustments to the dubious little lad’s height.

The Great Rabbit claims to be Rainbow’s totem animal, much like Great Eagle watches over and protects Yakari, and the loopy lepine wants the boy to accompany him on a quest. Ever since a travelling tale-teller arrived in camp, sharing shocking stories of the far north, where it’s so cold the bears are snowy white, headstrong Rainbow has wanted to see the amazing creatures for herself. Eager to please his protégé, the Brobdingnagian bunny agrees to help her, even supplying magic walking moccasins to reduce the hardships of the journey. Unfortunately the impatient, excited child wouldn’t wait for the Trickster and Yakari to join her and has put them on unsupervised. Unable to resist the enchanted slippers, Rainbow has started her trek, not knowing where she’s going or how to stop…

Now with boy and bunny transforming into giants and tiny mites as circumstances demand, they hare off after their impetuous friend, following the path of a magic talisman dubbed ‘the Straight Arrow’ and assisted by such beneficial creatures as a night moose.

…And when they at last find Rainbow, the travellers decide that as they’ve come so far, they might as well complete the journey to the Land of the White Bears, aided by a fabulous flying canoe…

Always visually spectacular, seductively smart and happily heart-warming, Job’s sparse plot here affords Derib unmissable opportunities to go wild with the illustrations; creating a lush, lavish and eye-popping fantasy wonderland breathtaking to behold.

This is Really Big Sky storytelling with a delicious twist in its colossal fluffy tail…

The exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks to animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour. These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib & Job. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.