Zorro in Old California


By Nedaud & Carlo Marcello (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-0-91303-513-9 (HB) 978-0-91303-512-2 (Album PB)

Here’s a fabulous old classic that’s still generally available, but which really needs to relative immortality of a digital edition as well as simple revival. Let’s hope current license holders Dynamite Entertainment agree…

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite El Zorro, The Fox. He was originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’: debuting and running in All-Story Weekly from August 6th to 6th September. The tale was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co., and Tor, respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the tale in All-Story Weekly whilst on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, so New York based McCulley re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation. The Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider as well as later comics champions such as Mandrake and the Phantom.

Rouben Mamoulian’s filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the World’s psyche, and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957, the comics series was redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various regions of the world. This classy tome collects half of the dozen stories produced for a French iteration which originally ran in Le Journal de Mickey by veteran Italian artist Raphaël Carlo Marcello and relative enigma Nedaud, of whom I sadly know very little.

The celebrated and supremely stylish Marcello (1929-2007) moved to Paris in 1948 and began his long and prestigious career drawing Loana et le Masque Chinois in Aventures de Paris-Jeunes and Nick Silver for Collection Victoire. He then switched to newspaper strips for Opera Mundi in 1950, illustrating La Découverte du Monde and L’Histoire de Parisbefore adapting Ben Hur, Jane Eyre and the Bible.

In 1952, he joined Héroic, working on Oliver Twist, Gil Blas and Bug Jargal, then began a 15-year run (1955-1970) on Le Cavalier Inconnu in Pépito. He maintained ties to newspapers throughout and continued general interest literary adaptations for Mondial-Presse.

In 1956, he contributed Bob Franck to Bugs Bunny magazine and numerous strips to Lisette, Monty, Mireille, L’Intrépide/Hurrah and Rintintin. In 1970 he moved to Pif Gadget, collaborating on his signature series Docteur Justicewith prolific scenarist/writer Jean Ollivier as well as Amicalement Vôtre (a TV adaptation scripted Spanish by the legendary Victor Mora), Taranis (scripts by Ollivier & Mora), Tarao (by Roger Lécureux) and La Guerre du Feu.

Barely stopping for breath, Marcello illustrated John Parade, Patrouilleur de l’Espace, in Le Journal des Pieds Nickelés, the Larousse series L’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées, La Découverte du Mond and L’Histoire du Far West until 1985 when he joined Le Journal de Mickey to render Le Regard du Tigre, Le Club des Cinq and the subject of this collection.

Solidly based on the 1950s TV series, Zorro ran for a year (1985-1986): 12 rousing swashbuckling romps, the first half of which are collected in this slim, full colour European-format album. After these thundering epics, Marcello carried on improving, drawing sci fi extravaganza Cristal, epigrammatic short stories Voulez-vous de Nos Nouvelles?, Michael Jackson, Wayne Thunder, L’Épopée du Paris Saint-Germain and mature-reader series Nuit Barbare and Amok.

In 1991 he returned to his hometown of Vintimille where he ended his days drawing episodes of iconic Italian series Tex and Zagor for Il Giornalino and Bonelli publishing.

Here and now, however, Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a noble house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession. He used the masked persona of Zorro the Fox to right wrongs, defend the weak and champion the oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – gleefully thwarting the schemes of Capitan Monastario, his bumbling sergeant Garcia and the despicable Governor who were determined to milk the populace for all they had.

In his crusade Diego was aided by Bernardo (the “deaf-mute” manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and the good will of the overwhelmed and overtaxed people of Los Angeles.

Whenever Zorro appeared, he left his mark – a bold letter “Z” – carved into walls, doors, curtains, but never, ever, faces…

Written for an all-ages audience, these stories, each around 10 pages long, play out an exotic eternal, riotous game of tag, beginning with ‘Wanted!’ as a huge reward galvanises the town to hunt the Fox… until Zorro turns the tables by capturing the Capitan and ransoming him back, thereby emptying the military coffers.

In ‘The Assassins’, bandits posing as patriotic rebels capture the masked hero as part of their plan to murder the Governor and loot the ever-growing township, whilst ‘Double Agent’ sees Monastario blackmail a girl into betraying the wily avenger, but once again misjudges Zorro’s ability to connect with the downtrodden Californios…

‘The Scarecrow’ sees the hero thwart a plot to discredit the Fox’s reputation as the unscrupulous Capitan employs a murderous masked impostor, after which ‘Tight as a Noose’ sees Monastario arrest Diego’s father Don Alejandro for treason to entrap the mysterious vigilante, before this rip-roaring rollercoaster ride concludes with ‘The Winds of Rebellion’ as the latest illegal tax rouses the town council against the Capitan and Zorro gets involved to prevent bloodshed and potentially appalling state reprisals…

Full-bodied, all-action and beautifully realised, these classy adventures of a global icon are long overdue for a comprehensive and complete re-release, but until then at least this terrific tome is still readily available in both hardback and softcover through many online retailers.
® and © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and the Lake Monster


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-423-6 (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 Pythagorebefore 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 the modern White Man.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – recently celebrated its 40th album Le jour de silence: 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 writers’ 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 1991, Le monstre du lac was the 17th 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…

It all begins on a blustery Autumn day after heavy rains as Yakari rides his young colt Little Thunder. Reaching the swollen river, they see his old friends the Beavers busily toiling to get their home ready for winter. At least, most of them are, under the ferocious supervision of strident martinet Thousand Mouths

As diligent elder Rough Bark soon discloses – but without ceasing his efforts – his rambunctious son Linden Tree is out of sorts and not contributing to the group effort. And he’s not the only one: a large number of the usual workers are mysteriously missing…

After talking to Linden Tree’s mother Wild Rose, the little warrior enters the vast dam structure to see for himself that the hyperactive little beaver has become a listless and despondent malingerer: depressed and with no zest for life.

After consulting with wise elder Wooden Dam, Yakari thinks he has a solution to the youngster’s debilitating melancholy and calls upon a shared mutual acquaintance…

Before long – but only after much pleading and cajoling – Linden Tree is enduring and soon after actually enjoying his second ever flight in the bill of a giant bird. The plan succeeds and the little nipper is again filled with joie de vivre, but that’s almost immediately replaced by terror as his aerial jaunt leads to his spotting a colossal monster sleeping in the middle of the river…

When the rest of the clan are informed, Thousand Mouths is convinced that’s where his missing workers have ended up but Yakari refuses to be frightened or despondent and leads them all in a mission to find and save the workers and solve the mystery of the great beast…

The answer is truly shocking…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational (thanks to an in-story history lesson from the all-knowing Great Eagle) and compellingly entertaining, this cheery romp allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing courage of our diminutive hero, 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 every 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 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

Comanche volume 1: Red Dust


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. ASIN: B000O15YBK

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

Best known as Greg, 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 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 (where he scripted the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually 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.

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 the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At his time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

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

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 first translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here introduces a wandering gunslinger who finds a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on a cattle-spread in Wyoming.

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, originally published in 1978, ‘Red Dust’ finds the eponymous, lethally capable shootist wandering into a desolate cowtown just as trouble seems to be brewing.

In fact, even before he gets into Greenstone Falls, the enigmatic Mr Dust has to kill manic mercenary Wally Hondo who refuses to share “his” stagecoach with a shabby drifter…

Moreover, when the stage finally pulls into what passes for civilisation, Red is approached by unctuous fixer Mr Cathrellwho erroneously assumes him to be the latest addition to his growing army of pitiless hired guns…

The mistake is soon cleared up after the newcomer unexpectedly reacquaints himself with Cathrell’s top stooge. Red Dust and the Kentucky Kid have unsettled scores and old grievances in common…

Before long Red learns that the killer elite have all been commissioned to deal with a stubborn rancher refusing to sell out to their mysterious and always unseen boss. Mind made up, the taciturn nomad heads for the 666 Ranch and inveigles a job with crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new ranch owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

She is determined to make her inheritance a successful going concern, but has been having lots of bad luck. Red Dust soon determines it’s not her luck that’s at issue after a new herd of cattle she has bought apparently come down with a mystery sickness. As well as exposing a cruel trick, Red also recruits new hands Toby and Tenderfoot following the exposure of a nefarious scam.

That, in addition to decimating Cathrell’s gunslingers when they ambush the ranchers on a shopping trip to town, soon forces the mystery mastermind into the open and reveals just why the 666 is such a valuable property… but only after a few of those old scores are finally settled…

A splendid confection of tradition western themes combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Red Dust is the kind of timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 18: The Escort


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-98-4 (PB Album)

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 roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad 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 ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… thus far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first 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 he became regular wordsmith, Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie) which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh 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 the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix– Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

Strictly for the sake of historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages. The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re beyond 75 translated books and still going strong. That’s not even considering the hefty compilations of early adventures and the inclusion of spin-offs such as Kid Lucky

L’escorte was Morris & Goscinny’s 19th collaboration, originally serialised in 1966 before becoming the 28th album release in the same year: a wittily hilarious outing incorporating a little in-story continuity as the dutiful volunteer lawman is called upon to deal with a troublesome old acquaintance…

In the very first Cinebook translation, Lucky ended the shameful depredations of juvenile delinquent and legend in the making Billy the Kid. The young offender was sentenced to 1247 years at hard labour and our hero thought the matter ended.

Now, two years later, as Lucky and Jolly Jumper show their mettle in a rodeo competition, word comes of a judicial crisis which compels the gentle gunman to take the Kid from penal servitude in Texas to stand trial for further crimes in in New Mexico…

The usually cheery champion’s patience is tested to the limits as he rides with the smug thug who takes every opportunity to terrify the populace, rile his guard and, of course, escape…

While locked up overnight in the Gun Gulch jail, Billy even gulls petty thief Bert Malloy into following them and attempt to free him on numerous occasions…

The ongoing instances of ineptitude and accidental hilarity all ultimately fail – even when Malloy recruits real outlaws to help – and eventually Billy is handed over to the authorities in Bronco Pueblo, NM and that when the real surprises begin…

Trigger-fast pacing and amply packed with set-piece slapstick and pun routines, The Escort is a potent blend of daft wit and rapid action heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of canny twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

This 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.

To Hell You Ride


By Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, Tom Mandrake & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-162-9 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62115-870-7

With all the chaos and kerfuffle besetting the world, it’s possibly therapeutic to dip into fantasy and disaster that we can control to some extent. In that spirit, here’s a good old-fashioned horror yarn to curl your toes in these eco-political end times…

Originally released as a 5-part miniseries from December 2012 to July 2013, To Hell You Ride was a lifetime dream project for actor Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millennium, Near Dark) inspired by a visit to the town of Telluride, Colorado in the 1970s.

He saw his idea as a movie, but eventually, after working with screenwriter and documentarian Joseph Maddrey (Nightmares in Red, White and Blue), shifted his ideas to sequential narrative, with horror veteran Tom Mandrake (Swamp Thing, Grimjack, Martian Manhunter, Batman) rendering the project into stunning creepy visuals. Finishing the package were colourists Cris Peter & Mat Lopes and letterer by Nate Piekos of Blambot®.

Told in parallel time periods and trenchant flashbacks, the drama begins in the snow-swamped Colorado Mountains of 1880 where a greedy trapper plunders Indian graves and finds gold. A year later, the sacred ground is utterly defiled, turned into a pit of depravity as dozens of prospectors rip up the terrain in search of yellow metal.

The tribe’s only response is to begin a ritual of atonement. Undertaken by their holiest warriors – “The Old Ones” – even this act of pious desperation is despoiled. Interrupted by miners, four celebrant warriors are killed and their derailed devotions slowly poison the environment, becoming a curse for future generations and another prime example of ‘White Man’s Guilt’… that is, none at all…

The ritual is not done, however, and continues to proceed at its own pace…

More than a century later, drunk, lost and perpetually angry Native American Seven George (his true name is “Two Dogs”) continues being a pain in the ass to everybody. Yet again, sheriff Jim Shipps gives the kid a pass, but by the time the young man reaches his desolate, dilapidated shack, he’s become aware that something’s changed: an unnatural alteration that’s killing the birds…

Thankfully, he knows the history and takes steps to protect himself from an interrupted ritual that’s coming back and coming to a close…

The never-ending wounds to the region have affected both his father Six George and grandfather Five George in their own times, bring trouble and death to those who could least risk it, and as Two Dogs sits in a jail cell at Christmas, waiting for his own fate to unfold, the unnatural takes over. Soon the mountain town is buried in a wall of white, courtesy of ‘The Alchemy of Snow’

Greedy town officials like Cubby Boyer just see another way to make money. Snow tourists rapidly flood in, but the joy and profits freeze once the visitors start dying: victims of a bloody, explosive ‘Metamorphosis’

All the region’s wildlife is frightened and aware of big change coming. With chaos growing and a news blackout intensifying the crisis, Two Dogs and Shipps are forced to work together, but certainly not with the same ends in mind…

As the death toll mounts government spooks move in, setting up a quarantine line to keep America safe from “plague carriers” and “contaminated snow”… And they’re not really real Feds either…

Although the lands’ original occupiers feel their time is returning, they can’t hold a solid front, dividing into factions based on ancient spirits. With the Spider and the Trickster apparently walking the land, somehow, only Two Dogs knows what’s really needed. He begins his personal ‘Ghost Dance’ to the ever-present Watchers from the Spirit World, seeking to save who he can of the terrified survivors but, ultimately all that’s left is to accept his fate and ready himself for his ‘Death Song’

Perhaps here is the solution he’s been searching for…?

Deftly blending contemporary horror themes with judiciously cherrypicked – or just plain cod – First Nations mythology, To Hell You Ride is not as spiritually astute as it would like but is far more fun than you possibly imagine: a superbly chilling race against doom with epic undertones and potent symbology.

Adding to the experience is text feature ‘Origins’, detailing how the story evolved over decades and supplemented with character studies, commentary, notes and developmental drawings of Two Dogs, The Watchers, Jim Shipps, Mary Ambrose, Cubby Boyer & the Town, The Spider, The Trickster, Smokin’ Bones, and recurring key image The Appeal to the Great Spirit (derived from Cyrus E. Dallin’s sculpture of the same name).

Sheer, unalloyed spooky delight, this is a magical yarn that really would make a brilliant movie. Why hasn’t anybody thought of it?
To Hell You Ride™ © 2012, 2013 Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey & Tom Mandrake. All rights reserved.

Death Be Damned


By Acker, Blacker & Miller, Hannah Christenson, Juan Useche & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-039-7 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-61398-716-2

First seen as a 4-issue miniseries in 2017 written by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour; Deadpool; Thunderbolts; Supernatural) and Andrew Miller (Backstrom; League of Pan; The Secret Circle), spooky sagebrush saga Death Be Damned is a deft and compelling addition to the growing and cross-fertilising genre of supernatural westerns. The series was visualised by celebrated illustrator Hannah Christenson (Harrow County; Mouse Guard; Jim Henson’s Storyteller) with colours by Juan Useche and letters from Colin Bell.

In delivery the tale is stripped down, raw and utterly engaging, delivered in sweeping tributes to more than a century of high plains cinema and begins in 1873 Wyoming when brutalised settler Miranda Coler awakes face down in the river to find her entire family have been butchered. A tough, determined survivor, she buries her husband and child and, picking up her man’s rifle, sets about tracking down the gang who killed them.

By the time she reaches South Pass City, she’s ready to accept any passing pain or humiliation if it leads to her justified vengeance, but anger doesn’t make her good enough to kill one of the marauders in the town whorehouse. He casually puts a bullet in her brain…

Local undertaker Murray takes his job far too seriously. Since his wife passed, he’s become an expert of death rituals and is letting his studies affect his work. He keeps trying to raise the dead and can’t believe he’s succeeded with the crazy woman just killed in the cathouse…

Events eventually prove he hasn’t, really, but perhaps his attempts to retrieve the dead have set something incredible in motion…

And in Laramie City, mass killer Bickford hangs for his crimes. A little later he also gets up: drawn inexorably to South Pass where something unnatural needs to be quashed…

Miranda thinks Murray is crazy, but after he kills her and she comes back again, she finally hears him out. He wants the revenant to rescue his wife from Hell, but has no idea what the land of death is really like. Miranda still wants revenge though, and she’s happy to exploit the undertaker’s foolish whims if it gets her closer to her goal, no matter how many times she has to die in the doing of it…

A tale of dark obsessions played out through a nest of gradually-unfolding mysteries, the sinister saga employs all the iconography of “big sky” westerns to add mood to a blistering tale of debts incurred and accounts called due. Unstoppable Miranda even beats her devils to exact precious retribution and learns the painful truths of her life, her man and a hell of a lot of death…

Available in paperback and digital editions, Death Be Damned also offers an expansive cover gallery by Christenson and Konstantin Tarasov; as well as character designs and also reveals the secrets of the illustrator’s Cover Process.
Death Be Damned is ™ and © 2017 Workjuice Corp. & Andrew Miller.

Yakari and Great Eagle (volume 1)


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

Westerns of every sort have always captivated consumers in Europe and none more so than the assorted French-speaking sections who also avidly devour comics. Historically, we Brits have also been big fans of sagebrush sagas and the plight of the “noble savage”…

In 1964, French-Swiss journalist André Jobin founded children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes and began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired young fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre, who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo, (home of Les Schtroumpfs/The Smurfs) where the promising lad had worked on a number of Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

As “Derib”, Claude co-created with Job Adventures of the Owl Pythagore for Le Crapaud à lunettes.

Two years later they struck pure glittering gold with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari told the compassionate, whimsical tale 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 the modern White Man.

Delib, equally adept in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon big-foot style and a devastatingly evocative meta-realistic mannerism, went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated, honoured and beloved artists – mostly of western-themed tales with astounding and magnificent geographical backdrops and landscapes – and Yakari is considered by many to be the feature that catapulted him to mega-stardom.

It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips 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…

The series has reached 39 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, although Job has finally relinquished scripting to French writer Joris Chamblain (Les Carnets de Cerise) for the upcoming 40th tome….

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 who he meets for the first time in the tale under review here – communicate with all animals…

The eponymous first collected edition was released in 1973 and the strip rapidly rose to huge prominence. In 1978 it began running in Le Journal de Tintin, spawning two animated TV series (1983 and 2005), the usual merchandising spin-offs and monumental global sales in 17 languages to date. There’s also a movie…

In 2005 that translated first volume – Yakari et le grand aigle – was released by Cinebook as part of their opening salvo in converting British audiences to the joys and magic of Euro-comics and is still readily available for you and your family to enjoy on paper or digitally.

Yakari and Great Eagle begins one quiet night on the plains whilst the little boy is deep in dreams. In that sunny ethereal world, he is walking to meet his totem spirit who greets him with a grand flourish and presents him with a huge feather enabling the child to soar like a bird. The rendezvous is tinged with joy and sadness as the sagacious raptor informs him that he will no longer come to him in dreams, but if the boy becomes as much like an eagle as possible, they will meet again in the living world…

Awake and excited, Yakari rushes about the camp trying to decide what the riddle means. Hunt like a raptor? Wear a feather-filled war-bonnet? Every eager attempt leads to disappointment and embarrassment and sleepy loafer Eye-of-Broth can’t even be bothered to wake up and share the benefit of his years of idle contemplation…

However, when young friend Rainbow loses the puma cub she is carrying, Yakari gallantly dashes after it and only quick thinking saves them both from the baby’s furious mother…

The next day Yakari asks his father Bold Gaze, but the warriors are all too busy preparing to capture a new herd of wild horses. Sneaking off into the rocky desert with older boy Buffalo Seed to watch the roundup, Yakari wonderingly observes how nimble pinto Little Thunder easily avoids all the experienced wranglers’ traps.

As the adults drive the new intake back to the encampment, Yakari follows Little Thunder high into the rocky escarpments and frees the panicked pony from a rockslide that’s pinned a hind leg.

Great Eagle appears and for this selfless act awards the boy a feather, but when Yakari returns home his father takes it from him, admiring his imagination but explaining that only those who have accomplished great deeds – for which read grown-ups – have a right to wear one. Nothing the stern but loving parent can do will change the stubborn boy’s story that a talking eagle awarded him the singular honour…

Days pass and the despondent – featherless – lad wanders alone when he is suddenly engulfed in a stampede and trapped by a brushfire. Immediately Great Eagle is there, guiding him to safety and advising him that soon his father will return the feather to him. The lad is grateful but confused. How is he ever meant to become like his totem spirit? Moreover, how will he ever find his way home from the strange region he now finds himself in?

As the tribe searches for lost Yakari, the hungry child has a close encounter with a bear; finds food by observing her cubs; falls into and subsequently escapes from a deep bear trap and narrowly escapes becoming supper for a lone wolf.

Eventually, he finds a river and rides a makeshift canoe until washed up on a shore where horses are drinking. Spotting Little Thunder, the boy tries to capture him, but the tricks and tactics Yakari has seen working for his elders are useless against the wily horse. The lad is utterly gobsmacked when Little Thunder refuses to be his captive but offers to be his friend…

With his new comrade, it’s not long before Yakari comes riding proudly home out of the wilderness astride a pony no man can tame and justifiably reclaims his honour-feather… Thus begins the gloriously gentle and big-hearted saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and who enjoys a unique place in an exotic world: a 50-year parade of joyous, easygoing and inexpressibly fun adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

A true masterpiece of children’s comics literature, Yakari is a series no fan should be without and here is just the place to start…
Original edition © 1973 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Cow Boy – a Boy and His Horse


By Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos, with Roger Langridge, Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, Mike Maihack & various (Archaia/Boom Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1 936393-67-1 (HB Archaia) 978-1-60886-419-5 (PB Boom Entertainment)

The Wild West is a place of myth, mayhem, pure ideals, shining imagery and utter paradox. This superb all-ages yarn proves all that and still hides a surprise or two, so get it for your young ‘uns and read it too. It comes in hard and soft cover and even over the wireless telegraph of that there digital book stuff…

Boyd Linney is an honest bounty hunter with a unique specialty. He’s ten years old and only tracks his own kin: owlhoots, sharpers and scoundrels, every one of ‘em…

Delivered with delicious irony and captivating cartoon visuals, this fistful of rootin’ tootin’ yarns comes courtesy of writer Nate Cosby (Pigs, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) and illustrator/colourist/letterer Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards, Misery Loves Sherman), kicking every trope and meme of the ancient west sharply in the ankles (Boyd’s smart, tough and ornery, but really, really short) as the kid on a mission busts his dad out of jail just to bring him to justice.

On the ride to the marshal’s office the hard-bitten kid learns his early life was even harder and more debased than he ever reckoned. It does not ease his temperament as he goes after double dealing, saloon owner Zeke Linney, but he never liked his oldest brother, anyway…

The hardest part was tracking down his Granpappy

Augmenting the dry, witty whimsy and gritty daftness are a succession of short vignettes by invited artisans of similar mien, beginning with multi-talented Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Fred the Clown, Thor: the Mighty Avenger, Popeye) who briefly details the downfall of ‘The Man with No Underpants’, after which Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Mitch Gerards (Atomic Robo), silently detail destructive progress in ‘The Wireless West’.

Colleen Coover (Small Favors, Banana Sunday, X-Men First Class, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) outlines a portentous proposal in ‘Yellow Rose & Black Billy’ before Mike Maihack (Cleopatra in Space) reveals another day in the explosive life of one of the oddest pairings in gunfighting annals, concluding that ‘A Penguin Never Misses’ before the sagebrush homage halts with a terse prose epigram by Cosby – ‘Boyd’s Wagon: A Cow Boy Short Story’

Hugely enjoyable and profoundly disrespectful, this western delight is a supreme treat for aficionados of the timeless genre and anybody deeply in need of a hearty horse laugh…
Cow Boy is ™ and © 2012 Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke Volume 17 – Apache Canyon


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-92-2 (PB Album)

Doughty yet dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad 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 ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first 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 he became regular wordsmith Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie). This began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris 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, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages…

The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 73 translated books and still going strong.

Canyon Apache was Morris & Goscinny’s 28th collaboration, originally serialised in 1971 before becoming the 37th album release: a grimly hilarious saga of obsession and intransigence, fuelled by sworn enemies driven to extremes by past wrongs. As such, it’s also one of the most daftly slapstick and wonderfully ludicrous tales of the canon, spoofing particularly on the venerated, semi-sacrosanct cavalry trilogy of John Ford (that’s Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande to you. You really should see more old movies…).

Far, far out west stubborn Colonel O’Nollan and his worthy Irish lads of the US Cavalry man Fort Canyon. They’re caught in a constant spiral of attack and counterattack with renegade chief Patronimo, who leads his band of Kimikuris on raids into America from a base across the border in Mexico. It’s a war of perpetual attrition nobody can win but they will not listen to reason…

Most of the region is peaceful and the great chiefs have foresworn warfare, but the intensely personal duel between O’Nollan – whose son was abducted by raiders decades previously – and Patronimo threatens that détente even as it endlessly escalates in scale. The tit-for-tat attacks are constant and even endanger relations with the Mexican government.

Into that hostile mess shuffles laconic scout Mr Smith, soon exposed as an exceedingly put-upon Lucky Luke: despatched by Washington to end the strife at all costs. Sadly, the vendetta is too deeply ingrained. Even talking with the noble, misunderstood Kimikuris and especially their white-hating Medicine Man proves to be an uphill struggle.

His temper fraying, the hero tries joining the Indians, infiltrating Mexico and reasoning with the Colonel, but is branded a traitor and barely escapes execution by both sides before stumbling into a bizarre solution…

Tense as that sounds, this tale is an epic farce, heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of weird twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

Apache Canyon is wildly entertaining: another perfect 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.

Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903


By Christian Perrissin & Matthieu Blanchin, translated by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-869-4 (HB)

Other people’s lives are fascinating. Just check out any TV schedule to affirm that watching what neighbours or strangers are have done, are doing or want to do is a major drive for us nosy hairless apes. And it’s even more enticing if we’re allowed a smidgen of comparison and an ounce of judgement, too.

One problem with famous dead people though is that we’re forced to make those assessments at a remove – because they’re dead – and only have records or, worse, myths and legends to construct our portrait from. Thankfully, we’re pretty imaginative monkeys too and have drama to help us fill in the gaps and flesh out the characters.

Those gifts proved immensely valuable to author Christian Perrissin and illustrator Matthieu Blanchin in the creation of a 3-volume graphic biography demythologising one of the Wild West’s most enigmatic icons. The result was the award-winning Martha Jane Cannary: La vie aventureuse de celle que l’on nommait Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary: The Calamitous Life of Calamity Jane).

Perrissin studied Fine and Applied Arts before moving into Bande dessinée, and from 1987 to 1990 apprenticed with Yves Lavandier before going solo with his Hélène Cartier series (co-created with cartoonist Buche). He has since scripted TV shows and film, written epic sagas such as El Niño and Cape Horn and inherited the scripting of venerable comics classic Redbeard.

Co-creator Blanchin started out as a storyboard artist and illustrator at the turn of the century, before moving into comics, producing work for a host of companies and titles. Eventually he moved into historical and autobiographical material such as Blanche and Le Val des ânes and the Les années series. In 2002 he was hospitalised by a brain tumour and languished in a coma for ten days. After convalescence and relapse he ultimately (in 2015) turned the experience into the hugely influential and celebrated Quand vous pensiez que j’étais mort: Mon quotidien dans le coma (When You Thought I was Dead: My Daily Life in a Coma).

This monochrome, duo-toned hardback (and digital) translation offers their collaboration in one titanic tome, blending the often-sordid facts of outrageous adventures, unflagging spirit and astonishing determination into a tapestry that shows the underbelly of the American dream.

With great warmth and humour, they construct a true masterpiece of the very real and strong woman behind all the stories – many of them concocted by Martha Jane herself – as she survived against impossible odds, doing whatever was necessary to survive and protect her family.

The tale begins with a graphic note from the creators, citing their sources and contextualising her life and times in ‘The Mormon Trail…’, before the unforgettable life story begins in an overcrowded cabin in the desolate prairie region of Utah…

In her life, Martha Jane Cannary worked hard for little reward, met scoundrels and scalawags, gunslingers and heroes, lived on her wits and determination and was forced far too often to compromise her principles to preserve others as well as herself. She knew many famous men in many infamous places but I’m not naming them. This is her book, not theirs.

Calamity Jane was present throughout much of the most infamous moments of American history in the most iconic locations. She had far more enemies than friends and was more often despised and ostracised than honoured, but always carried on, living her life her way. It was often tainted by tragedy, but she also scored her share of triumphs and experienced joy and love – and always on her terms.

This is a compelling and utterly mesmerising chronicle of authentic western principles and achievement that will enthuse and enthral anyone with a love of history and appreciation of human strength and weakness.
Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903 Translation and Art © 2017 IDW Publishing. Story © 2017 Futuropolis. All rights reserved.