The Bluecoats volume 10: The Blues in Black and White


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-341-3 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Read Some Pictures: It’ll Last Longer… 8/10

The myths and legends of the cinematic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunslingers. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential all-ages classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who scripted the first 64 best-selling volumes until his 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.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative 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 is also Belgian and – before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 – studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at 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.

Our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled 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 quite smart and heroic if no easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big, burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants 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…

The Blues in Black and White was the 10th translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 11th European volume) and as Les Tuniques Bleues: Des bleus en noir et blanc was first seen on the continent in 1975, serialised in Le Journal de Spirou #1965 to #1975 before becoming an album collection two years later.

It opens with another spectacular yet pointless battle, with Blutch in fine whining form after a string of horrific near-death experiences. His mood is further tested when he finds a civilian prowling about, pointing a weird box at casualties and other scenes of horror…

The oblivious, self-absorbed stranger is Matthew Brady, who has been sent by President Lincoln to record the war through the strange new medium of photography. After becoming an unwilling subject and accidental laughing stock, Chesterfield is deeply suspicious and, soon after, resentfully resistant as his vain superiors and battle-weary comrades embrace the technological marvel. Before he can react, he and Blutch are appointed bodyguards and dogsbodies: compelled to escort the oblivious, practically-suicidal snapper anywhere and everywhere he wants…

Soon, however, the surly sergeant has all the combat his warrior’s heart can cope with – and even the long-desired prospect of a gong – whilst the sly, shirking corporal has found a way to utterly avoid battle by becoming the photographer’s assistant. He even dresses like a civilian now!

As the daily carnage continues, Chesterfield becomes increasingly irked at the effect of the picture maker. Almost everyone wants to be captured for posterity, to the detriment of actual fighting. While Brady is gone, Blutch “immortalises” everyone, and the sergeant teeters on the brink of madness. He even takes charge of charging whilst his officers are too busy preening and primping for their next heroic pose…

The lethal status quo returns with a bump when the President shows up to decorate Chesterfield. Brady is with him and ready to take his own shots again, meaning Blutch can get back to fighting – just as the Confederate forces rally to retake all the ground they’ve lost while the Sarge was secretly in command…

Things go from bad to worst, as the Rebel response swiftly overwhelms the Union forces. When Lincoln and Brady are almost captured, Blutch and Chesterfield show just what they’re made of… and pay a heavy price…

A shade darker than usual, this wry treatise on fame and pride is a hugely amusing poke at the glory boys of history, deftly delivering an anti-war saga cleverly targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by our down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly. These are comedic tales whose very humour makes the 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 that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1977 by Lambil & Cauvin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Comanche volume 3: The Wolves of Wyoming


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. Digital only edition

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with a self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first saw way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer, editor and publisher sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and – calling himself “Greg” – followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (scripting the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999, leaving behind an astounding and beautiful legacy of drama and adventure crying out for revisiting in English…

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963, but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969, Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann an industry superstar – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate upwards of 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums, but I’m probably short-changing the man).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this third translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic starring no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his growing band of friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely string of comradely outcasts on a struggling cattle-spread in Wyoming

The heart of the ranch crew are crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new owner he dotes upon: a young, immensely determined woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1974, The Wolves of Wyoming sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast embroiled in a classic cinematic scenario that begins with a stagecoach hurtling over dusty plains with ruthless bandits slinging lead in hot pursuit.

Doughty driver Sid Bullock is hit, but the lone passenger is more than holding his own with a sixgun, and when Triple 6 ranch-hands Toby and Clem intercept the chase, the predatory Dobbs Brothers peel off and flee…

Diverting to the homestead, the party formally meet self-confessed lay preacher Brian Braggshaw; a notorious former gunslinger with an extremely unforgiving attitude to sin and sinners and who takes an instant dislike – fully reciprocated – to Red…

As Ten Gallons doctors Bullock, Comanche learns that the Dobbs were after a cash shipment to the Ranchers Union – money Greenstone Falls depends on. The gang have bled the town dry with their recent raids. It’s like they have an inside man informing them of key shipments…

Compounding the problem is that fact that wily Sid actually diverted the latest money: carrying an empty decoy strongbox while legendary old drunk Pharoah Colorado carried the cash by a circuitous route. It’s a cunning, brilliant plan that only falls short on one point. Finishing his booze early, Colorado has been forced to make a detour, visiting local moonshine maker Trapper Hans even as the Triple 6 hands split up into search parties to find the leathery soak and precious funds…

Covering many potential routes, they are being secretly observed. The Dobbs are mostly cruel brutes, but oldest Dobbs brother Russ is as smart as he is sadistic and quickly deduces what the ranchers are hunting for: money he feels is his by right.

Red has been paired with the vengeance-happy Braggshaw, and their heated debates over morality bring them close to blows. It’s not enough to stop the preacher killing Melvin Dobbs when he tries bushwhacking them, and as they backtrack to the gang’s cabin, they observe the entire clan riding off. Investigating the cabin, Red finds missing Indian Affairs Commissioner Howard Calhoun, who embezzled funds and almost sparked a war. His cunning hideaway amongst the Dobbs Boys has clearly proved there’s no honour among thieves, and their treatment of their criminal “comrade” has resulted in what can only be regarded as divine justice…

Russ meanwhile has gathered the clan to scour the region, whilst Red has made a few deductions of his own. Trapper Hans’ sturdy shack is the only place to find booze in the Wyoming wilds so he and Braggshaw head there. As night falls, Comanche and Toby are already there, preparing to fight for their lives against the besieging Dobbs gang.

As the bloodshed begins, the rest of the Triple 6 men converge on the scene. With battle joined it’s not long before a hero dies and the gang turn tail. In the aftermath, Red Dust rides off, having embraced the Preacher’s unforgiving doctrine and now determined to destroy all the “wolves of Wyoming”…

To Be Continued…

A classic saga of the filmic western genre, this yarn is drenched in European style and ingenuity, elevating it above the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury tropes that make even venerated old movies an uncomfortable experience for most of us in these enlightened days.

It’s also so beautifully depicted, the images will stay with you forever…

A splendid confection of the Wild West blended with sleek yet gritty European style, this is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lovers will adore. Don’t miss one of the most celebrated comics cowboys of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Yakari and the Beavers


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-09-0 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs/The Smurfs), working on strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Together at Le Crapaud à lunettes, Derib & Job created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their follow-up collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois; Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS); Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals…

Published in 1977, Yakari chez les castors became the third European album, released as the strip grew in prominence and popularity. A year after, the feature began running in Le Journal de Tintin, subsequently spawning two animated TV series (1983 and 2005), all the usual merchandising spin-offs and achieving monumental global sales in 17 languages to date.

Yakari and the Beavers opens in summer as the nomadic Sioux make camp at a confluence of rivers. The children are playing, testing their strength, speed and archery skills, but with burly Buffalo Seed winning most of the honours – and the fascinated attention of pretty Rainbow – physically less-developed Yakari soon slopes off to cavort with his faithful and forthright pony Little Thunder.

As they romp and swim in the river, they encounter a strange wooden construction ranging from bank to bank and unexpectedly arouse the ire of an excitable beaver named Thousand Mouths. He is the impatient and irascible foreman of a band of buck-toothed brethren, determined to finish the family home in record time, but his fellows are far less enthusiastic…

When one – Linden Tree – spots the palomino, it starts a stampede of rodents who would all rather ride horses than chew timber and move mud. Soon, while they’re all goofing around, their boss is going ballistic and a wise old beaver is teaching a rapt Yakari everything he needs to know about dam-building…

After more idle days in camp, Yakari’s thoughts return to the beavers. Before long he and Little Thunder are heading back to the dam, but are distracted by an astonishing noise. Tracing it, they discover extremely ambitious beaver Double-Toothfar from the river, attempting to chew down a colossal tree all alone…

This eager beaver confides his dreams of being a sculptor, but their conversation is curtailed when a bad-tempered grizzly bear wanders up, menacing little straggler Wild Rose. With the ursine interloper clearly not amenable to reason, Yakari drives the surly brute off with a rough-hewn jousting lance rapidly gnawed into shape by Double-Tooth’s flashing gnashers…

On escorting the kits back to the river, Yakari is astounded to see the progress made in the wood-and-mud abode and delighted to be asked to help. In actual fact most of the assistance comes from hard-pressed Little Thunder who reluctantly becomes the engine transporting trees and saplings from the woods to the river…

Returning late to camp, Yakari is observed by Rainbow who wants to know what her friend is up to. Next morning, she invites herself along as they return to the Beaver Lodge and cannot understand why, in the midst of listening to the hairy toilers chattering, Yakari spurs his pony away and races away.

Mounted behind him she listens incredulously as the boy explains that little Linden Tree is missing and then makes him backtrack to the really important bit. Yakari understands and can talk to all birds and beasts…

Racing downriver the children are soon joined by Yakari’s totem animal, sagacious Great Eagle, who provides a telling clue to the lost beaver’s whereabouts. However, after daring subterranean depths, the little brave eventually finds his lost friend but is himself trapped. Happily, the artistic skills of late-arriving Double-Tooth prove invaluable in devising a climbing device and soon everybody – even utterly bemused Rainbow – are all celebrating back at the Lodge.

With things back to normal the irrepressible, frustrated artist corners Yakari for one last secret project. Some days later, the busy beavers are stunned to see Double-Tooth’s river-borne aesthetic magnum opus poled into the lee of the dam by the proud Yakari…

The exploits of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, moving and inexpressibly entertaining adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

These gentle sagas are lost treasures of kids’ comics literature and Yakari is a series no fan of graphic entertainment should be without.
Original edition © 1977 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection volume 2


By Morris, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-455-7 (Album HB)

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the formulative early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon. It’s also timely in that the worldwide western wonder celebrates his 75th Anniversary this year…

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures and icons.

His ongoing exploits have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with all the usual spin-off toys, computer games, puzzles, animated cartoons, TV shows and live-action movies.

This wild and woolly delight – originally released in 2017 as L’Intégrale 2 – features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who hits his stride and struts his stuff after a preliminary text feature fills us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and an eventful US sojourn…

Lucky Luke was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, the previous volume in this superb archival series (in hardback album and digital editions) revealed the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

This second outing re-presents – in strict chronological order – strips created between October 1949 and December 1952 before being collected in albums Under a Western Sky (1952), Lucky Luke versus Poker Pat (1953) and Outlaws (1954). Here all the art and pages have been restored, rejiggled and remastered to achieve maximum contemporary authenticity with the original weekly serialisation.

The previous collection covered how the neophyte auteur became a dependable staple of the Euro-comics scene whilst toiling as a caricaturist for magazine Le Moustique and working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, where he met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo. Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: leading proponents of a new, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (excluding Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and always making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. Morris stayed for six years, an “American Period” seeing him chase an outsider’s American Dream while winning fame and acclaim in his own country. That glittering sojourn is carefully unpicked and shared by expert researchers Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault.

Their heavily-illustrated essay covers his East-to-West trek, family life and quest to experience the wonderland of his fantasies. The in-depth treatise is packed with intimate photos and his published illustrations of the period, culled from Le Moustique, plus comics pages, film memorabilia (from the movies that so influenced his stories at that time) and also includes both art work from European and US publications by fellow expat and eventual collaborator Rene Goscinny. There’s even an in-depth analysis of how what Morris Saw became what Lucky Did closely referencing the comics stories that follow…

Working solo (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush parody and action before formally uniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

Before we get there though, there’s plenty of solo action to enjoy beginning with ‘The Return of Trigger Joe’ from LJdS #602-618 (October 27th 1949-February 16th 1950) and collected in 1952’s Sous le Ciel de l’ouest/Under a Western Sky) album. Here the lonesome wanderer meets another prairie nomad who’s his match in all cowboy disciplines, who becomes a rather ruthless competitor when they sign up for the Nugget Gulch horse race. Of course, “John Smith” believes he’s a shoo-in since he’s riding the stolen Jolly Jumper, but hasn’t counted on Luke’s close relationship with the wonder horse. Once that scheme fails – but not before extended slapstick shenanigans in the race scenes – Smith falls back on his old ways as bank robber Trigger Joe, but his pilfering the prize money only leads to disaster when Lucky trails him deep into the searing desert…

Next up chronologically and also from Under a Western Sky, ‘Round Up Days’ (LJdS #619-629; February 23rd – May 4th 1950) sees Lucky actually working as a cowboy, hiring on for a cattle round-up (lots of rodeo style comedy here!) before encountering rustlers and cleaning up cow town Bottleneck City…

Closing the first album, ‘The Big Fight’ (LJdS #630-646; May 11th – August 31st 1950) sees Luke briefly adopt a two-fisted simpleton with the strength of Hercules and school him in the arts of pugilism for a prize-fight against infamous Killer Kelly. Things are going well until bookmaker Slats “Slippery” Nelson tries to fix the outcome. Thankfully, Lucky is his match in cunning and a faster gun than the gambler’s hirelings…

The next album release was December 1953’s Contre Pat Poker/ Lucky Luke versus Pat Poker, but its contents – ‘Clean-up in Red City’ and ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ were reprinted out of chronological order so here the former (from LJdS #685-697; May 31st – August 23rd 1951) and detailing how Lucky becomes a sheriff after being embarrassingly robbed, and kicks out all the gamblers, shysters and crooked saloon owners led by sinister charlatan Pat Poker – is followed by the eponymous lead adventure from 1954 album Hors-la-loi/Outlaws: a highly significant action romp signalling the debut of Lucky’s greatest foes.

The strip ‘Outlaws’ originally ran in LJdS #701-731 from September 20th 1951 to April 17th 1952 with our hero hired by the railroad companies to end the depredations of Emmett Bill, Grat and Bob Dalton – real life badmen who plagued the region during the 1890s, imported into the strip and given a comedic, but still vicious spin. The cat & mouse chase across the west sees Luke constantly frustrated by close calls and narrow escapes in superbly gripping movie set-pieces until, inevitably, justice claims the killers.

Morris ended the gang forever, but they were insanely popular with fans and the ideal foils for Lucky, so eventually they returned in the form of their own cousins, but we’ll tell that tale another time and place…

Here it’s back to ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ (LJdS #735-754; May 15th – September 25th 1952) as sheep farmers are harassed and imperilled by cattlemen. Luke’s attempts to broker peace are swiftly derailed after escaped convict Pat Poker slips into town and uses his gift for cheating to take over the local saloon and hire shepherd-hating gunslinger Angelface to remove their mutual enemy. Sadly for them, even this alliance of evil is insufficient to tame the wily western wonder…

By now a certified Christmas must-have item, December 1954’s Lucky Luke album Outlaws also carried the ‘Return of the Dalton Brothers’ as first seen in LJdS #755-764 (October 2nd – December 4th 1952). Here, a fraud named Bill Bonney campaigns to become sheriff of a prosperous frontier town by claiming to be the killer of the infamous owlhoots, and seems unstoppable until Lucky orchestrates a brief and equally fraudulent resurrection of the bandit brothers…

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus spin-off yarns of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing more tales of the immortal cowboy.

A treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, designs and sketches, contemporaneous extras, commentary, original art, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than most Laurel and Hardy films (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

These youthful forays of an indomitable hero offer grand joys in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller: a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!
© Morris/Dupuis, 1949 to 1954 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.
© Morris/Dupuis 2017 for this volume of the collection. All other material © 2017 its respective creators/owners.

Trent volume 2: The Kid


By Rodolphe & Léo with colour by Marie-Paul Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-374-1 (Album PB)

European comics audiences have long been fascinated with the mythologised American experience, whether it be the big-skied 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.

Léo is actually Brazilian artist and storymaker Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho: born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th, 1944. 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/graphic artist in Sao Paulo and created his first comics art for O Bicho magazine.

In 1981 he migrated to Paris, seeking to pursue a career in Bande Dessinée, and found some work with Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as more advertising and graphics fare. The big break came when Jean-Claude Forest invited him to draw stories for Okapi which led to regular illustration work for Bayard Presse. In 1988 Léo began his long association with scripter and scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe.

His prolific, celebrated writing partner has 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. In 1975, after meeting Jacques Lob, he expanded his portfolio to write for a vast number of artists and strip illustrators 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 collaborations in all genres and age ranges are too numerous to list here.

In 1991 he began working with Léo on a period adventure series of the far north. Taciturn, introspective and fiercely driven Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion over eight tempestuous, hard-bitten albums between then and 2000. He also prompted the collaborators’ later fantasy classics Kenya (and its spin-offs), Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac.

Cast very much in the classic adventure mould as crafted by the likes of 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…

As ‘Le Kid’, this conflicted, moving second exploit originated in 1992, opening with a robbery in Blacktown, North Dakota that goes appallingly awry. The bandits are idealistic teenagers and when Laura is killed in a shootout, her poetry-obsessed partner Emile Tourneur goes completely off the rails…

With nine confirmed kills and nothing to live for, Emile heads north and becomes an RCMP problem. One of many officers assigned to catch him, Trent is despatched to Lake Manitoba with explicit orders to find but not confront the ruthless killer, aided only by faithful canine companion “Dog”.

Following sporadic poetic graffiti, the officer quickly picks up the trail and the impression that something isn’t right. For one thing, the kid is not hiding his tracks, and making plenty of friends and admirers along the way as his adds to the notches on his gun. Some think he’s only killing people who have it coming…

Eventually, Trent locates his quarry in the Frozen wastes and far-too-easily overcomes him. Their long trek back only adds to the mystery of the Rimbaud-quoting golden boy, who has a distressing knack of asking uncomfortable questions…

Brooding tensions and paradoxical revelations explosively come to a head when the now amiable fellow-travellers are ambushed by escaped convicts. Sudden, ruthless gunplay leaves the Mountie inexplicably alive, alone and still fully armed. He can only assume his recent captive is provoking him for some reason, as he traces a trail back to the scene of the kid’s last atrocity and a town full of vengeful survivors…

A beguiling voyage of internal discovery where environment and locales are as much a major character as hero and foe, The Kid offers suspense, action, humour and poignant evocation in a compelling confection that will appeal to any fan of widescreen cinematic crime fiction or epic western drama.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 1992 by Rodolphe & Léo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari and the White Buffalo (volume 2)


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-004-5 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Yakari et le bison blanc was the second collected European album, published in 1976 as the strip continued rapidly rising to huge prominence and critical acclaim.

Transformed to English, Yakari and the White Buffalo begins one cold day on the plains with winter snows still heavy on the ground. With spring delayed, animals and humans are going hungry and when the boy and his pinto mount Little Thunder return to camp, they find his father Bold Gaze has decreed they will move south in search of better prospects.

As they progress across the prairie the buffalo that should form the major part of their diet are nowhere to be found…

Then one day scout Grey Wolf furiously rides in. He has seen the herd. Soon they will all be enjoying the nourishment of Great Spirit Wakonda’s gift. That night the braves dance in honour of the moving mountains they will soon hunt. Not permitted to join the men, Yakari wanders off with his pony and meets totem spirit Great Eagle in a lush clearing. The noble bird warns him the hunt will not go the way it should and the glum boy heads home with Little Thunder buckling under the weight of firewood the worried yet diligent lad has gathered…

Far away, the braves are baffled and still without meat. The night sky is riven with terrifying lightning and a furious storm. Back at camp, Yakari is scared and worried but soon soothed by elderly Quiet Rock. Eventually, the boy sleeps and is again visited by prophetic dreams. After tracking the buffalo over boiling sandy wastes and through a strange horn-like rock formation, the vision ends with him leading the herd and a great white bull back to the people…

As his mother wakes him in the morning, elsewhere the braves have reached a great desert and, with no sign of the great herd, are forced to split into small scouting parties. With little to do, Yakari and Little Thunder race with boisterous older boy Buffalo Seed and gentle Rainbow. The chase takes them to the top of a hill where he sees the rocky prominence of his dream…

His friends cannot deter Yakari from riding right out into the vast, empty plain and before long both boy and pony suffer the harsh trials of scorching heat and burning thirst. Determined to go on, both are near death when Great Eagle arrives and teaches them the secret of getting water out of the tall cacti around them.

Fortified and reinvigorated, they push on into sandy wastes and the next day are confronted by a towering wall of rock. Unable to climb the forbidding massif, Yakari discusses the problem with his pony and the wise steed suggests that every fence has an opening somewhere…

At last, their patient search reveals a deliciously refreshing waterfall and a tunnel into a lush hidden oasis where the missing buffalo herd is grazing in total secrecy…

As they innocently approach the massive ruminants a young bull furiously attacks, but his charge is intercepted by an immense white buffalo who takes the intruders aside for a quiet chat.

The wise beast explains the nature of the hidden pasture and listens with great care to the tale of woe that has left the Sioux starving. The beast understands the role of all creatures in the grand scheme of life and was already preparing to lead the migration back to the plains when Yakari arrived…

By the time horse and rider have led the herd to the spring plains, the hunters have returned home, but the snowy bovine mountain sagely advises Yakari and Little Thunder to ride away before the braves can arrive to fulfil their role in the eternal cycle of life and death of the plains…

The saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, moving and inexpressibly entertaining adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour. These tales are a masterpiece of kids’ comics literature and Yakari is a series no fan of graphic literature should be without.
Original edition © 1977 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Yakari volume 17: The Snow Bird


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-460-1 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40th albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain has assumed the writer’s role from 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1992, L’osieau de niege was the 18th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

This time, the little wonder willingly yields focus to human companion Rainbow as the kids idly play at the debilitating heights of the summer. They are confined to one of the capacious rawhide tipis thanks to a sudden deluge when the storm suddenly picks up the entire tent – floor and all – and whisks them away into the sky…

The tipi heads steadily north at high altitude and eventually lands in frozen tundra where old pal and mystic spirit rabbit Nanabozho is waiting. He’s summoned them for fun and adventure…

Rapt in wonder, the little girl soon befriends a lemming and saves him from a hunting snowy owl before she and Yakari are separated. A long search for each other finds them exhausted and baffled as the sun never goes down…

After a long nap on the too-bright plains, Yakari has a long chat with the giant owl and joins an army of lemmings as they cross a stream. Rainbow, meanwhile, is caught in a similar migration, but the reindeer she’s wandered into are far larger and determined. Before long she’s been carried with them and dumped in a raging river. Thankfully, the owl is soaring above and drags her out before she can drown…

Reunited at last, the little wanderers seek out their tipi, and befriend a herd of musk oxen just as a snap snowstorm hits. Not only do the mighty beasts warm them until it passes, but they’re quite protective when a hungry and inquisitive pack of wolves considers them as the next meal…

When Nanabozho pops up again, the general consensus is that it might be time to return, but as the tipi takes off, the kids realise they have a stowaway…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this cheery travelogue of natural wonders allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. English translation 2019 © Cinebook Ltd.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure


By Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman & various (It’s Alive!/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-994-3 (HB)

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, nearly all of popular fiction was obsessed with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic popular phenomena – for example the Swinging Sixties’ Superspy and Batmania booms or the recent trend for Vampire and/or Werewolf Boyfriends – there was a tremendous amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few irrefutable gems that would affect public tastes from then on.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out, there’s generally a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

Following World War II, the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the nascent but burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by the antiseptic anodyne branch of Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comic books embraced six-gun heroes from the very start – there were cowboy crusaders in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-slinging idols to replace the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling. And they were all white.

With every comics publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as was always the case with cowboy literature…

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, for the longest time cowboy comics largely vanished from graphic pages: seemingly unable to command enough mainstream commercial support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive future-scapes.

Europe and Britain heartily embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist, producing some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world…

Happily, however, an American revolution in comics retailing and print technologies at the end of the 20th century allowed fans to create and disseminate relatively inexpensive comic books of their own and – happier still – many of those fans are incredibly talented creators in other genres. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure originally published by independent, creator-led outfit Mojo Press.

The brainchild of Richard Klaw (publisher, reviewer, essayist, writer, historian and self-confessed geek maven), the little outfit published amazing and groundbreaking horror, fantasy, science fiction and Western graphic novels – plus some prose books – between 1994 and their much-lamented demise in 1999.

As revealed in Klaw’s informative Introduction ‘When Old is New and New Old’, Red Range was probably their most controversial release: an uncompromising adventure tale and deftly-disguised (a tad too much so, apparently) attack on contemporary racism and institutionalised bigotry, astoundingly couched as an ultra-violent cowboy revenge yarn.

Originally published in stark monochrome in 1999, Joe E. Lansdale & Sam Glanzman’s amazing unfinished odyssey was remastered and adapted to full-colour (courtesy of Jorge Blanco & Jok and letterer Douglas Potter) and given a new lease of life in this sublime hardcover/digital edition, just as America’s worst President seemed set to return the nation to those days of implicit supremacism, casual segregation and wealth-based Jim Crow laws…

A Word of Warning: if your sensibilities and senses are liable to freak out at profoundly yet historically accurate scenes of violence or repeated use of the “N” word as used by drawn representations of murdering racist bastards in white sheets, don’t buy this book. Actually, do buy it; just don’t whine that you weren’t warned…

Texas in the late 19th century: a band of Klansmen brutally torture a black family who have the temerity to buy land and plant crops. The ignorant butchers’ repugnant fun is mercilessly interrupted when a masked negro vigilante known as TheRed Mask attacks, killing many and driving off their leader Batiste.

The unlikely avenger is too late to save the parents, but takes their son Turon under his wing. As they ride to his hideout, the lone rider confides in his youthful new companion. Caleb Range’s story is appallingly similar to the boy’s own tragedy. It’s probably one repeated hundreds of times every day in America since the Black Man was first emancipated…

Back in town, Batiste recruits a specialist tracker and plenty more white men eager to teach “coloureds” their rightful place. Hunting down Red Mask, the bigot again underestimates his quarry’s determination and facility with weapons…

Angry, frustrated and humiliated, Batiste gathers yet more men and sets out to end his nemesis forever. Relentless pursuit leads into the desert wastes and straight out of any semblance of rationality as Caleb and Turon survive one more cataclysmic battle before falling into a lost world of ancient tribes and ravenous dinosaurs, with Batiste and his few surviving killers hard on their heels…

In this place however, it’s the so-superior white men who are seen as less than human by the indigenous inhabitants: nothing more than prey and provender. Regrettably, they hold pretty much the same opinion regarding Caleb and Turon, who quickly discover they might not just be lost in space but also time…

To Be Continued…

Vivid, shocking, staggeringly exciting, ferociously uncompromising and often outrageously, laugh-out-loud funny, Red Range has both message and moral, but never for a moment lets that stand in the way of telling a great story.

Adding value and enlightenment, this opening chapter in an extended saga is augmented by ‘Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters: (A Sort of) Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette’ which offers historical and social context to the proceedings and inside gen on creators Lansdale & Glanzman, as well as a potted history of the role of black people in western movies from 1920s star-turn Bill Pickett to Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.

The bonus goodies continue with a silent monochrome masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour. ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ was first seen in Wild West Show (1996) with the artist displaying a firm grip of both killer slapstick and grim irony as Cowboy, Indian and other beasts go in search of a meal, before Bissette rides us into the sunset with an erudite and fascinating trip down memory lane for “Pop Culture Cowpokes and Carnosaurs” with ‘A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs’

These fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon…
Red Range: A Wild West Adventure © 1999-2017 Joe R. Lansdale. “I Could Eat a Horse” © 2017 Sam Glanzman. “When Old is New and New Old” © 2017 Richard Klaw. “Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters” and “A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs” © 2017 Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

The Eldritch Kid volume 1: Whisky and Hate


By Christian Read & Michael Maier (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-980782-35-6 (TPB)

Felt like a scary western today. Here’s one…

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 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 and low-budget 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 had encompassed Western heroes from the get-go (there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both Action Comics and 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 still possessing an appetite for them…

Fantasy and Horror stories, on the other hand, have never really gone away and this superb entertaining entry from Australian graphic raconteurs Christian Read & Michael Maier 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 the decent guys called upon to combat them have to dabble in the diabolical too…

Following the tantalising Introduction ‘Our shadow goes where we go’ from author K. J. Bishop, the full-colour mystic mayhem begins with the recollections of an Oxford-educated shaman detailing his life following his return to the land of his birth.

Spring 1877 and the great Indian Wars are over. Custer is dead but so is Crazy Horse. The Whites are greedily covering the entire country and an erudite, educated man with the wrong skin tones is 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…

One particular incident of second-guessing his decisions involves a detour around a stony butte that simply reeks of bad magic. Accusing him of leading them into an ambush and other dishonourable deeds, the lazy, work-shy Christians drive him to ignore his instincts and better judgement and reluctantly check out the pinnacle personally…

Wicasa Waken, outcast Shaman of the Oglala Lakota, 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 climbs a mountain into hell…

At the top he encounters five-headed snakes and zombies and a strange white man they were taking their time killing…

Losing their lands to the pale invaders has soured many of his people and allowed a growth of bad spirits and corrupted medicine like the long-fled Bloody Knife to control many points on the map, but the man these horrors are torturing jangle the shaman’s mystic senses in way nothing ever has before.

Piling in, he starts killing monsters and the “victim” – once freed – eagerly joins in; his accursed guns making short work of the ravening Heyokas. Soon they’re all dispatched and Ten Shoes Dancing – after exorcising and sanitising the spiritually defiled butte – realises he has made the rather prickly acquaintance of a modern Western Legend…

The pioneering settlers are ecstatic to have celebrated dime novel hero The Eldritch Kid join their party and, whilst still treating his rescuer like a barely housebroken monkey, fête the grim gunslinger like a messiah. It’s hard for even the most enlightened man to watch 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 worse, but since the War Between the States, the Kid has 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… until the wagons arrive at a thriving prairie town the shaman knows wasn’t there a month previously.

Opting to investigate the bustling hamlet together, the mismatched heroes are soon fighting for their lives against an army of hungry ghosts and the Lakotan learns that although his personal patron god Lord Hnaska is grossly offended by the crawling things that hunger for human morsels, he is more worried by the cold, dark deity who sponsors his avatar’s gun-toting partner in peril…

A loveless alliance is forged in that ghastly spirit-trap and, as the wagon train proceeds towards California, the kid finally opens up enough to share the history that made him the most feared gunhawk in the West.

The story began in 1865 at Camp Elmira, New Jersey where Confederate prisoners were held. The detention centre was a hellhole even by human standards, but when a ravenous demon began taking inmates, one of the terrified, beaten, sitting duck captives was offered a deal by an invading ancient northern god. This grim King of Death was unhappy with the beasts and night things increasingly infesting the 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. He’s been doing his Lord’s work ever since…

At trail’s end the settlers naturally bilk the generally good-natured Ten Shoes who chalks it up to experience. However, his new associate still has many secrets unshared and exacts his own brand of instant karma.

…And thus is born another legend of the Wildest West Ever…

Bleak, moody, spectacularly action-packed and cathartic, Whisky & Hate is a smart, blackly funny yarn that will astound lovers of genre fiction and witty mash-ups.

The Western has long been a part of world culture and perhaps that fact has relegated the genre in too many minds to the status of a passé fascination of a bygone generation. If so, this fresh, hypnotically beguiling look at an overexposed idiom proves there’s still meat to chew on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fear-fans, lovers of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can be assured this range-riding rollercoaster of thrills and macabre mystery proves that excitement and terror still lurk in those hills and over that horizon…

Black hats, white hats, alternate worlds, haunts and horrors, stunning visuals and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for?

Apparently, a sequel, so I’ll be getting to that too in the fullness of time…
© 2011 Christian Read, Michael Maier & Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection Volume One


By Morris with Louis De Bevere, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-454-0 (Album HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate All Ages Western Wonderment… 9/10

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon.

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over seven decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, this wonderful hardback album (and digital delight) reveals we’ve been inadvertently lying to you all these years…

As revealed in the copious and fascinating-photo-filled essay accompanying the reprinting of the first three collected Lucky Luke Album compilations, the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

Morris’ life is carefully unpicked and shared by Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault, whose text deftly covers the precocious, westerns-&-art-mad kid’s transition to comics idol with plenty of early art and family photos. This includes his education at the hands of Jesuits, his pre-comics cartooning career and forays into film animation before settling into his true vocation.

While working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist. Those days are extensively covered as Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo (with script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’(The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

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

The most recent successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…)

Before all that, though, this wild and woolly delight features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who begins strutting his stuff after the essay concludes by filling us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and that eventful US sojourn…

Originally released as L’Intégrale 1, this scholarly collection re-presents the contents of the first three albums (Dick Digger’s Gold Mine, Rodeo and Arizona -1952) and abruptly switches from elucidation to all action mode for debut tale Arizona (LJdS #443-462) wherein a wandering cowboy tenaciously tracks down stagecoach bandits. He returned in Spirou #478-502) for the serial La Mine D’or de Dick Digger, wherein a map to a lost payload causes great grief until our hero returns it to the true owner.

As well as a treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, original art, designs and sketches, this tome also restores the many serial pages that were edited out of the first albums for brevity.

Le Journal de Spirou #505 (18th December 1947) began the third adventure, by which time the Lonesome Cowboy was clearly here to stay. Running until #527 (May 20th 1948) ‘Lucky Luke’s Double’ was the second feature half of first album Dick Digger’s Gold Mine in 1949: another riotous slapstick chase and comedy of errors as our hero is constantly mistaken for deadly desperado Mad Jim, much to the profit of minor crooks Stan Strand and Tiny Charley Chick. Big mistake…

‘Rodeo’ ran in #528-545, ending in September 1948 and becoming the title tale of the second album in 1950. The art took a major upturn towards the style we are familiar with today as Lucky competes in a legendary competition and uncovers both skulduggery and poor sportsmanship. Without a pause, new escapade ‘Lucky Luke in Desperado City’ followed (LJdS #546-566, ending 17th February 1949), wherein Lucky becomes sheriff of an embattled frontier town to defeat tyrannical owlhoots The Pistol Brothers.

‘The Buffalo Creek Goldrush’ (LJdS #567-584, ending 23rd June 1949), filled out that second album with a delicious satire on greed as a simple mistake turns a barren wasteland into an ephemeral metropolis of miners – until the penny finally drops…

It was back to outright villains for ‘Lucky Luke versus Cigarette Cesar’ (#585-601, ending October 20th 1949 and included in third album Arizona in November 1951), as Lucky trails a deadly and devious escaped convict south of the border (and indulges in the kind of animal cruelty gags we just don’t tolerate these days where bullfighting is largely discredited – so be warned…) to conclude this initial vintage voyage to the Wild West Neverlands.

Packed with contemporaneous extras, commentary, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than any Laurel and Hardy film (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

The first forays of an indomitable hero: this grand old hoot sits in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller, and is a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!

© Morris/Dupuis, 1946 to 1949 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.

© Morris/Dupuis 2016 for this collected edition. All other material © 2016 its respective creators/owners.