Asterix Omnibus volume 5: Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix in Spain & Asterix and the Roman Agent


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-44400-488-5 (HB); 978-1-44400-490-8 (PB)

One of the most-read comics series in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, if you’re planning a trip…) spinning off from his hilarious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty potion-powered champion of Gallic Pride was created by two of the art form’s greatest proponents, writer René Goscinny & illustrator Albert Uderzo and although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment still continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Me, I still delight in a divinely delivered “Paff!” as much as any painfully potent pun or dryly searing jibe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the fantastic lands of the Empire and beyond…

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Asterix and the Cauldron was the 13th saga, originally running in Pilote #469-491 throughout 1968 before being first translated into English in 1976.

It’s a convoluted tale of treachery, felony and dishonour as fellow Gaulish chieftain Whosemoralsarelastix – a cunning and conniving Roman collaborator – convinces the reluctant but big-hearted Vitalstatistix to guard the occupied cliff-top community’s treasury from Imperial tax collectors.

Despite knowing how untrustworthy the scoundrel is, Gaul must help Gaul and the rogue’s huge onion-soup cauldron, stuffed with his people’s golden Sestertii, is placed under the stewardship of the village’s greatest hero and most trustworthy warrior: Asterix.

However, that night, as a great inter-village feast is consumed, somebody cuts their way into the guard hut and steals the glittering contents of that mighty tureen. Of course, dodgy Whosemoralsarelastix wants his money back and the noble Vitalstatistix is honour-bound to replace the stolen horde and disgraced Asterix is banished until he can refill the empty cauldron with gold…

Trusty Obelix refuses to turn away from his friend and joins the quest, which first takes them to the garrison of Compendium, where the wily warrior intends to refill the empty churn with some of the gold the occupiers have been regularly collecting from Gauls.

Unfortunately, Caesar has been experiencing some cash-flow problems of his own and not only has he been rushing the takings to Rome, he hasn’t even paid his soldiers for months…

With disharmony, mutiny and strike action imminent among the legions, Asterix and Obelix realise they must look elsewhere for their loot.

Even their old acquaintances the pirates are cash-strapped – and all-too-soon traditionally thrashed – so the doughty duo must seek their fortune at the grand market in Condatum, briefly and disastrously becoming boar merchants, paid street boxers, actors and charioteers, before turning to crime and planning a bank robbery…

Even here our two just men fare badly. In desperation, they decide to rob Caesar’s tax collector, but Asterix discovers a strange thing. Not only has destitute Whosemoralsarelastix somehow paid his taxes, but the coins deposited smell of onion soup…

With realisation dawning, Asterix visits the cliff-dwelling villagers for a little chat and a mighty reckoning…

Rich with slapstick action and cutting commercial satire (for example the tax collector is a caricature of France’s then Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), this hilarious crime caper is a glorious example of dry yet riotous adventure comedy.

Astérix en Hispanie promptly followed (during 1969 and in Pilote #498-519) in France and was translated into English as Asterix in Spain two years later. It recounts how a valiant group of Iberian warriors are similarly holding-out against Caesar’s total conquest of that proud nation.

Chief Huevos Y Bacon is the noble warrior leading the resistance, but when his haughty son Pepe is captured, all seems lost. Fearing reprisal or rescue, the Romans hastily despatch the hostage lad to the garrison at Totorum, under the oversight of brutish Spurius Brontosaurus. He has no idea what the “pacified” Gauls of the area are like and has his hands more than full contending with the appallingly behaved and inspirationally vicious young prince…

When his guards encounter Gauls in the great forest, they are easily overwhelmed by playful Obelix. Asterix takes Pepe back to the village where – following an ill-advised and painful attempt by Brontosaurus and the legion to reclaim him – our heroes decide to return him to his father.

Most pertinent and urgent in reaching this decision is the spoiled brat’s obnoxious behaviour…

Brontosaurus has pragmatically decided the kid is perfectly safe with the Gauls, and, unaware of their planned jaunt to Hispania, smugly returns to his post. Meanwhile, after their mandatory encounter with pirates, Asterix, Obelix and faithful mutt Dogmatix make their leisurely way through the scenic countryside (offering many trenchant asides regarding the then popular French passion for Spanish touring holidays), until a chance encounter in an inn reveals to the General Brontosaurus how close they are to undoing all his plans.

Venal but no coward, the Roman joins their excursion party, captures Asterix and steals the Gaul’s magic potion: planning to destroy Huevos Y Bacon’s resistance once and for all. However, Obelix, Pepe – and Dogmatix – have a plan to spectacularly save the day…

Full of good-natured nationalistic pokes and trans-national teasing, liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

During 1970, Pilote #531-552 serialised La Zizanie. It translates as “strife”, but on making the jump to English in 1972, became the far less evocative Asterix and the Roman Agent. The tale featured more homeland insecurity as Caesar, under attack by the Roman Senate over the indomitable, unconquerable Gauls, deploys his greatest weapon: a double-edged sword named Tortuous Convolvulus, whose every word and gesture seems to stir ill-feeling and conflict in all who meet him.

Where Force of Arms has failed perhaps this living manifestation of disharmony and dissent might forever fracture the Gauls’ unshakable comradeship and solidarity with dose of Roman entente dis-cordiale

On the crossing, just two minutes with the conniving Convolvulus has the brotherhood of pirates at each other’s throats, and, even while discussing plan with Aquarium’s commander Felix Platypus, the agent’s unique gift sows dissonance and violence, so when he finally enters the village it’s not long before the high-spirited and fractious Gauls are at war with each other…

Women are cattily sniping at each other, traders are trading blows and even Asterix and Obelix are on the outs. But that’s not the worst of it: somehow the idea has gotten around that their sharp little champion has sold out to the Romans…

With unrest abounding and abundant, the Romans soon have the secret of the magic potion too (or do they?) but ingenious Convolvulus hasn’t reckoned on two things – the sheer dimness of Imperial troops and the invaluable power of true friendship – leaving Asterix and Obelix a way to overcome their differences, turn the tables and once more save the day.

At last, the agent provocateur is forced to realise that sometimes one can be too smart for one’s own good…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this yarn was reputedly based on lingering ill-feeling following an internal power-struggle at Pilote which almost cost editor Goscinny his job. The original title for the tale transliterates as “The Ill-feeling” or “The Dissension”. Seen through the lens of 40 years of distance, however, all that can be seen now is stinging, clever, witty observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, and surely that’s what matters most?

Asterix sagas are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1968-1970 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBNs: 978-0-82885-071-1 (HB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-624-2 (PB Crystal Balls)
978-1-40520-813-0 (HB Sun)
978-1-40520-625-9 (PB Sun)

Georges Prosper Remi – known universally as Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his astounding yarns tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout, produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928, Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme while discontentedly illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps thereby highlighting and exposing some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning in early January 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930. Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Anglophones), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in Belgium’s army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down. Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, appropriated and controlled by the Nazis). He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

Begun in conquered Belgium and running in daily instalments, Les Sept Boules de Cristal began in December 1943 but was abruptly shelved when the Allies arrived in September 1944. Hergé, tarred as a collaborator, was unable to work for two years. When he was cleared the story resumed, serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from September 26th 1946 to April 22nd 1948

In 1943 the artist had met Edgar P. Jacobs, who became his assistant. They began with this extended adventure-tale which is now divided into eerie thriller The Seven Crystal Balls and grandiose epic Prisoners of the Sun. These dates seem odd but once again the Nazi conquest holds the answers.

For Belgium. Liberation day was September 3rd 1944. When the occupiers fled, workers on Le Soir were arrested as potential collaborators or Nazi sympathizers and the newspaper was closed down. For the two years they were under suspicion, Hergé, Jacobs and Alice Devos spent their time adapting old Tintin adventures for release as colour albums. The Seven Crystal Balls remained unfinished and unpublished until Raymond Leblanc stepped in.

Anthological Le Journal de Tintin continued the tale before completing the saga with Le Temple du Soleil. During this period, Jacobs left Hergé when the artist supposedly refused him a by-line for his work. At that time, Jacobs was also producing his own science-adventure masterpiece Blake and Mortimer which also featured in the weekly Tintin.

The Seven Crystal Balls sees affable old soak Captain Haddock returned to family manse Marlinspike Hall where he is adjusting (poorly) to his new-found wealth, and the prospect of exasperating Professor Cuthbert Calculus as his house-guest.

When Tintin and Snowy visit, a trip to the theatre embroils them all in a baffling enigma wherein the survivors of the South American Sanders-Hardiman Expedition all successively fall into comas due to an Incan curse and some rather suspect strangers. Tintin soon determines someone more solid than ethereal is causing the tragedies, but even he can’t stop the attacks, and soon he and his friends are also on the mysterious malefactor’s “to-do” list…

When Calculus is abducted from under their very noses, Haddock gives up his life of luxury and resumes adventuring once more, determined to help Tintin rescue their friend and solve the mystery.

Giving chase. they narrowly miss the villains at a seaport but still have a chance to beat the ship carrying Calculus if they board a sea-plane for Peru…

This is classic hairsbreadth storytelling. The pace is spellbinding and the ever-present slapstick actually serves to heighten the tension of the chase. The tale ends on a cliff-hanger, which is only right and proper. Still, imagine how you’d have felt all those decades ago when the conclusion was months away…

 

The helter-skelter drama continues in as, in the Port of Callao, Tintin and Haddock anxiously await the arrival of the freighter Pachacamac. However, when it arrives, suspected of carrying their kidnapped friend Cuthbert Calculus, the vessel flies a plague-pennant. There is Yellow Fever aboard and nobody can approach her!

And so begins Prisoners of the Sun, epic conclusion of the maddening mystery of Inca curses and the doomed Sanders-Hardiman Expedition to South America…

Suspecting a trick, Tintin sneaks aboard and finds the Professor, only to be driven away by gunfire. After telephoning Haddock, he chases the abductors, leaving the Captain and inept detectives Thompson and Thomson to catch up if they can. The chase takes them deep into the beautiful, rugged country where they finally reunite, only to become the target of many murder attempts, and other methods of dissuasion.

Undaunted, Tintin and Haddock continue their trek towards the mountains, and are befriended by Zorrino, a young lad who risks his own life to help them cross valleys, mountain-ranges and jungles, dodging death from both beasts and men, until they are all finally captured by the last remnants of a lost, wondrous and deeply cautious civilisation…

This is an epic staggering in scope and breathtaking in execution. Whether drawing a battle, choreographing a pratfall or delineating a golden temple, the clean precise line of the art and the simplified colour palette makes every panel “realer-than real”, whilst the captivating imagination of the storytelling makes this a truly graphic narrative.

These are two of the best comic adventures of all time and they demand a place on every fan’s bookshelves.

The Seven Crystal Balls: artwork © 1948, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.

Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Prisoners of the Sun: artwork © 1949, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 2


By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-897299-19-7

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive in pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson: a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) Tove became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War.

Intensely creative in many fields, Jansson published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood): a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A prodigy and constant over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, achieving some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II.

She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood was relatively unsuccessful but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear destruction. Just about time to read that again, I fear…

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid.

Mumintrollet och jordens undergäng Moomintrolls and the End of the World was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which promptly captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975.

Free of the strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and another 9 Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as 13 books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Her awards are too numerous to mention but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency? She died on June 27th 2001.

Her Moomin comic strip has been collected in 7 Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly translated them into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation.

This second oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation commences with ‘Moomin’s Winter Follies’ wherein the rotund, gracious and deeply considerate young troll has an accident on ice which prompts the family to begin their preparations for the winter’s hibernation.

However, after these efforts lead to nothing but petty disaster, boldly unconventional Moomin Pappa decides that tradition isn’t everything and decrees that they shall all stay awake for the icy months ahead…

The family and their many friends are soon bedevilled by the obnoxiously enthusiastic Mr. Brisk who cajoles the easy-going Moomins to indulge in his abiding passion for winter sports. The results are painful and far from impressive, but the ruggedly athletic Brisk does turn the head of the overly romantic and lonely Mymble

As usual, the object of her affections is blithely oblivious, caring only for the upcoming Winter Games, but when beauteous Snorkmaiden also begins to succumb to Brisk’s physical charms, Moomin is compelled to take up ski-jumping to win back her attention.

When that goes poorly, he is tempted into contemplating murder until cooler heads, his own gentle nature and the onset of spring produces a milder and more suitable solution…

Moomins are placid free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Mamma is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances, whilst Pappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys.

However, when prideful snobbish Mrs. Fillyjonk moves in next door, her snooty attitudes unfavourably affect the entire family, resulting in the hiring of ‘Moomin Mamma’s Maid’.

The search for a suitable servant results in disruption and discontent before the dour, distressed and doom-obsessed Misabel – along with her direly depressed dog Pimple – begin to further blight the formerly happy household.

Misabel suffers from secrets and a persecution complex, and when Fillyjonk goes missing a detective starts hanging around, adding to the general aura of anxiety until Moomin Mamma shakes herself out of her status-induced funk and starts a campaign to cheer up and change the latest additions to her wildly imaginative, but oddly welcoming, home…

‘Moomin Builds a House’ sees Mymble’s eccentrically forgetful but fruitful mother come to visit, inflicting her latest batch of wild and wilful youngsters – 17, or thereabouts – on the normally compassionate and understanding trolls.

The children are, to put it mildly, little monsters: destructive, practical joking arsonistic hellions who would put the Belles of St. Trinian’s to shame and to rout…

Soon, impressionable Moomin is driven out of his home and – egged on by the worst of the brood Little My – attempts to build his own house in the woods.

Possessing none of Moomin Pappa’s artisan or craft skills, the lad’s efforts are far from satisfactory but nonetheless his flighty paramour Snorkmaiden soon joins him, intent on making the shaky edifice their romantic hideaway. Sadly, with Little My still around, their best laid plans quickly come unstuck…

This utterly incomparable and heartwarming box of graphic delights concludes with a brilliantly satirical salutary romp as ‘Moomin Begins a New Life’, wherein an itinerant thinker enters the valley, sharing his secret recipe for “How to be Happy”.

The Prophet is remarkably convincing and, seeing how his pronouncements and suggestions have changed the lives of all their friends and neighbours, the graciously impressionable Moomins try to adjust their behaviour to maximise their joy, unaware that they are already as happy and content as anyone can be…

With the entire locality blissed out, the well-intentioned Prophet then convinces the constable to release all the folk in jail, allowing mischievous trickster and scofflaw Stinky to resume his prankish shenanigans…

After convincing Moomin Pappa to set up an illicit still producing hard liquor – which incites Snorkmaiden to run off with another young man – Stinky then convinces desolate, deserted Moomin to turn to the dark side by becoming a glamorous highwayman and jewel thief to win her back.

Having spread malice and disorder, Stinky’s next stunt is badly misjudged as he invites a puritan, fire-and-brimstone rival philosopher dubbed the Black Prophet to come and save all the sinners…

Thankfully, as the rival Prophets’ war of words escalates, Moomin Mamma at last reaches the end of her patience and intervenes…

Wrapping up the Wild Things wonderment is short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase PhD celebrating the astound achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor-sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or biped with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2007 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-810-9 (HB Unicorn) 978-1-40520-622-8 (PB Unicorn)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-811-6 (HB Rackham) 978-1-40520-623-5 (PB Rackham)

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

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning in early January 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930. Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to the occupiers’ preferred daily newspaper Le Soir. He diligently continued producing stories for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

These adventures come from the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is potent and remarkable.

After his homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when called up, but the collapse of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to Black Gold, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

Le Secret de La Licorne ran from June 11th 1942 to January 14th 1943: a rip-roaring adventure mystery of light-hearted, escapist thrills, to create a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life. It and its continuation remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day. It’s also the first co-created with cartoonist, journalist and full-time ghost writer Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet) who silently collaborated on Blake & Mortimer, Hassan et Kaddour, Corentin, Les Farces de l’Empereur and many others.

On completion it was collected as a full-colour book in 1943, re-mastered in 1946 and serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants from Mach 19th 1944.

After the dramatic and fanciful far-fetched exploits of The Shooting Star, Hergé returned to less fantastical fare with The Secret of the Unicorn which begins as Tintin buys an antique model galleon at a street market. He intends presenting it to Captain Haddock, but even before he can pay for it an increasingly desperate number of people try to buy, and even steal it from him.

Resisting all efforts and entreaties, he tells his effulgent friend of the purchase, ‘though not that a minor accident has broken one of the masts. The Captain is flabbergasted to hear of the model! He has a portrait of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, painted in the reign of King Charles II, in which the exact same ship features!

On returning home Tintin finds the model has been stolen, but on visiting the first and most strident of the collectors who tried to buy it from him finds that the man already has an exact duplicate of the missing model.

After much hurly-burly Tintin and Haddock discover that Sir Francis was once a prisoner of infamous pirate Red Rackham, but escaped with the location of the villain’s treasure horde. Subsequently making three models of his vessel “The Unicorn”, the sea dog placed part of a map in each and gave them to his three sons…

Someone else obviously has divined the secret of the ships and that mysterious mastermind becomes ever more devious and ruthless in his attempts to obtain the complete map. Events come to a head when Tintin is kidnapped, which is a big mistake, as the intrepid lad brilliantly turns the tables on his abductors and solves the mystery. With the adventure suitably concluded, the volume ends with our heroes ready to embark on the no-doubt perilous voyage to recover Red Rackham’s Treasure

For which we must turn to the next volume in this glorious repackaging of one of the World’s greatest comic strip treasures… Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin!
The Secret of the Unicorn: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The concluding tome of an epic saga, Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge ran in Le Soir from February 9th to September 23rd 1943 and topped that thrilling mystery chase to secure three sections of a pirate map with a glorious all-out, all-action romp in search of the loot itself. During that period the artist met Edgar P. Jacobs, who became his assistant on the daily strip…

Tintin and Haddock are quietly assembling the requirements for their proposed treasure hunt. However, when a loose-lipped sailor is overheard by an enterprising reporter, the endeavour becomes a cause celebré with a horde of opportunists claiming descent from Red Rackham.

A more persistent but innocently intentioned distraction is a deaf and daffy Professor named Cuthbert Calculus who wants to use the expedition to test his new invention. He continually accosts Tintin and Haddock. Although his offer is rejected the Professor is not a man to be easily dissuaded. Mostly because he can’t hear the word “no” – or any others…

With the detectives Thompson and Thomson aboard (in case of criminal activity) the small team sets sail on their grand adventure…

This is a rich and absorbing yarn in the classic manner, full of exotic islands, nautical drama, mystery and travail, brilliantly timed comedy pieces and even a surprise ending. The restrictions of Belgium’s occupation necessitated Hergé’s curtailment of political commentary and satire in his work, but it apparently freed his Sense of Wonder to explore classic adventure themes with spectacular and memorable results. Although not the greatest of stand-alone Tintin tales, in conjunction with The Secret of the Unicorn this story becomes one of the best action sagas in the entire Hergé canon.

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their unflagging popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature, and stories you and your entire clan should know.
Red Rackham’s Treasure: artwork © 1945, 1973 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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


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

Now is a strange, insane and dangerous time in politics and world affairs… but when hasn’t that been true?

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he relocated to California and joined the Disney Studio. He worked on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics who held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others – at that time.

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

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 the other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sagaciously retaining the copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine.

Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, in the more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, launching on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes (available in resoundingly comforting hardcover editions and as eBook tomes) reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, probably the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This was a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years, whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering.

It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of this two-year period, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the following decades…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents.

Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

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

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

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

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus çachange, plus c’est la même chose

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

Gosh, I hope so…

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

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

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement.

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 2: “Well, Blow Me Down”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-874-9 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman, and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter, and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his bread-and-butter as a cartoonist. He was working as the film projectionist when, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others, Segar studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown – who got him an introduction at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York and the King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre – launched December 19th 1919 – in the New York Journal. A pastiche of Movie features similar to Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies it boasted a standardised repertory cast who acted out melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for huge daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple, sometime boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 Segar followed up with second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic sitcom featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (obviously quite a common name, hmm?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular, and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of funny thrillers that followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (but sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and captivated the whole wide world.

The astonishingly unique cast of characters invented during this period – Sea Hag, Toar, Poopdeck Pappy, Swee’pea, Eugene the Jeep, Alice the Goon, George W. Geezil, and especially J. Wellington Wimpy (potentially as big and innovative a star as Popeye) and even Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle in the Sappo daily strip which had evolved into the Sunday Popeye “Topper” – all individually verge on manic brilliance, and combined to make Popeye a global figure to rival Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and, latterly, Mickey Mouse. To most of the world Popeye was real…

All the attendant peripherals of a major brand gravitated to Popeye. There were toys, games premiums, books, comics, film, radio shows, and especially those incredible animated cartoons. Tragically, Segar died at the height of his creative powers and with so much more magic still to make on 13th October 1938; sole creator of an incredible galaxy of imagination, but his legacy briefly lived on through his brilliant assistant Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf – although the syndicate appointed Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zaboly to work on the printed strip before letting Bud loose on it in 1959 – whilst the animated features increasingly became the main means of bringing Popeye to the world. It just wasn’t the same, though.

When Sagendorf returned, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool once more. He wrote and drew Popeye until Bobby London took over in 1986.

These superb hardback collections are the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. The second huge and still readily-available volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) from 2007 contains a fascinating essay from historian Donald Phelps, a testimonial from Mort “Beetle Bailey” Walker – which includes the beautiful inspirational drawing Segar sent the young fan in 1934 – and another batch of incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The dailies black-&-white section (covering December 22nd 1930 to June 6th 1932) sees Popeye, Castor and Olive soar to stardom in the fabulous western spoof ‘Clint Gore, the Outlaw’ and strike a blow for the Depression-era poor by inventing a financial institution that gives money away in ‘A One-Way Bank’, before resuming their globe-trotting adventuring in ‘The Great Rough-House War’ and its immediate sequel ‘Tragedy in the Land of Saps’ wherein the very peculiar King Blozo of Nazilia seeks aid to end a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tonsylania – although the real problem seems to be his own over-ambitious Generals and the fact that all his soldiers are cowards…

This classy screwball epic displays Segar’s trenchant skill with the sharp swift scalpel of satire as well as broad slapstick, and has glorious overtones of if not actual influences upon the Marx Brothers gem “Duck Soup.” With an initially reluctant Popeye compelled by his sense of duty to become King of the unlovable Nazilians, it’s also where the superman sailor reveals for the first time the strength inducing properties of spinach…

From there Popeye and Olive head back to the wild, wild west to visit ‘Skullyville, Toughest Town in the World’ and we’re treated (I think that’s the word) to the unforgettable yet frankly grisly vision of Olive Oyl as a bar-hall dancer in a raucous, ridiculous romp that’s jam-packed with lampooned cowboy clichés and hilariously brilliant original gags.

The full-colour Sunday pages cover March 1st 1931 to October 2nd 1932, with increasingly absurdist Sappo toppers thoroughly complimenting the whacky shenanigans of the lead feature.

May 8th is particularly noteworthy for the first appearance of insane Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle – another Segar walk-on who would usurp his host feature…

The Popeye strip continues the uproarious and exceedingly violent boxing career of the one-eyed sea-dog, who took on all exceedingly monstrous comers, including the awesome man-mountain Tinearo, Kid Klutch (a giant gorilla) and even a robot boxer as the increasingly obsessive and belligerent Mr. Kilph, crazed by his inability to beat the grizzled sailor-man, slipped slowly into utter wackadoodleness.

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents Popeye pursues his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with desperate verve, if little success, but his life is forever changed when the ever-so-corruptible and adorably contemptible J. Wellington Wimpy makes his debut.

The engaging Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman debuted on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee in the bombastic month-long bout against Tinearo, but he obviously struck a chord with Segar who gradually made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Always ravenous, ever happy and eager to take a bribe, we learned his name in the May 24th instalment and he utters the first of his many immortal catchphrases a month later.

It was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”, like most phrases everybody knows, actually started as ‘Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday’

There’s far more of Wimpy’s incredible presence in volume 3, but for now another aspect of Popeye’s complex character is revealed in an extended sequence running from May 29th 1932 through July 17th, one that quickly secured his place in reader’s hearts.

The sailor was a rough-hewn orphan, who loved to gamble and fight, not too smart and superhumanly powerful, but he was a big-hearted man with an innate sense of decency who hated injustice – even if he couldn’t pronounce it. When Mary Ann, a starving little girl, tries to sell him a flower he adopts her, taking her from the brutal couple who use her in a begging racket. He grows to love her and there’s a genuine sense of happy tragedy when he finds her real parents and gives her up. That such a rambunctious, action-packed comedy adventure serial could so easily turn an audience into sobbing, sentimental pantywaists is a measure of just how great a spellbinder Segar was…

These tales are as vibrant and compelling now as they’ve ever been and comprise a world classic of graphic literature that only a handful of creators have ever matched. Despite some astounding successors in the drawing seat, no one has ever bettered Segar’s Popeye and these superb volumes are books you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Don’t miss them.
© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-747-4 (HB)                eISBN: 978-1-68406-381-9

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the saga of vaudevillian archetypes Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

Yes, folks, its’s Happy 90th Anniversary for the old swab, who’s still going strong under the aegis of veteran cartoonist Hy Eisman (Kerry Drake, Little Iodine, Bunny, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Lulu). Parent strip Thimble Theatre turns one hundred this year too, so there’s that to celebrate as well…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career.

It even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf…

After Segar’s tragic and far too premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the printed strip even as animated short features brought Popeye to the entire world via the magic of movies. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his supplies – introduced the kid to the master who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, Sagendorf took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf took over, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena – including the majority of licensed merchandise – for 24 years. Sagendorf retired in 1986 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over the Sailorman’s voyages and died in 1994.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards he wrote and drew Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone.

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in this enchanting full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) is an admittedly arbitrary and far from definitive selection of the Young Master’s compelling funnybook canon from Dell, spanning February/April 1948 to September 1957. Other yarns are readily available in IDW’s Popeye Classics series and I’ll be plugging those in the fullness of time.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded here by an effusively appreciative Introduction from Jerry Beck before ‘Ahoy, Ya Swabs!’ relates history and recollection from inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe augmented by a fabulous collation of candid photos, original comicbook art, more.

Especial gems are Bud’s 1956 lessons on backgrounds from the Famous Artists Cartoon Course, series of postcards and the Red Cross booklet produced for sailors.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. From that premiere issue a full-coloured crisis comes as ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’ sees our salty swab earning a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter. That all ends when upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing his sweetie Olive Oyl President of the fictitious Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. It only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Next up is the lead tale from #9, (October/November) as ‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion of plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with “orphink kid” Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon…

‘Witch Whistle’ comes from Popeye #12 (April/May 1950) and sees the sailor revisit the embattled kingdom of Spinachovia where old King Blozo is plagued by a rash of vanishing farmers. The cause is sinister old nemesis the Sea Witch whose army of giant vultures seem unbeatable until Popeye intervenes…

‘Interplanetary Battle’ comes from Popeye #21 (July-September 1952) and taps into the growing fascination with UFOs as Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal. When no prize fighter on Earth will box with Popeye, the helpful vagabond broadcasts a message to the universe and what answers the call is a bizarre shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on in the Newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous but polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘Let’s you and him fight’ – Wimpy was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

From Popeye #25 (July-September 1953), ‘Shrink Weed’ then details how some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’ Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and outrageous consequences before the entire cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ (Popeye #27, January-March 1954) and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere.

An epic thrill-fest manifests in ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ (#32, April-June 1955) as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading Popeye into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which another family sea-voyage results in the cast being castaway on an island of irascible invisible folk in ‘Nothing!’ (#34, October-December 1955) before the fun concludes in sheer surreal strife as Popeye #41 (July-September 1957) displays capitalism at its finest when Olive gets a new boyfriend: one with a regular job and prospects. Stung to retaliate, Popeye devises ‘Spinach Soap!’ to secure his own fortune, but being un-ejjikated, rough-and-ready appoints Wimpy as his boss. Big mistake…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. The one in this book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2018 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Adventures of Tintin: The Shooting Star


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-621-1 (PB)

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

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to the occupiers’ preferred daily newspaper Le Soir. He diligently continued producing strips for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

With this tale we enter the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is potent and remarkable.

After his homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when called up, but the swift fall of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to the unfinished Black Gold, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

L’Étoile mystérieuse ran in Le Soir (the little nation’s premiere French-language newspaper and a crucial tool for the Germans to control minds, if not hearts) from October 20th 1941 to May 21st 1942: the second of six extraordinary tales of light-hearted, escapist thrills, blending strong plots and deep characterisation to create a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life then and remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day.

On completion it was collected as a full-colour book in 1942 and later serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (from June 6th 1943). It was among a flurry of reissues of earlier albums – all but Tintin in America and The Black Island, both set in countries Germany was still at war with…

In 1954 it was remastered by Studio Hergé, to remove certain anti-Semitic and anti-American passages and imagery he had been forced to include by the paper’s controllers, and comes to us as a stunning piece of apocalyptic, sci-fi flavoured adventure…

The remastered edition of The Shooting Star was one of the first tales re-issued after World War II, due no doubt to its relatively escapist plot… it’s practically an old-fashioned pulp thriller.

It begins with the world gripped in terror as a fiery meteor is detected hurtling towards Earth. The end times are narrowly averted only by the sheerest chance, as the heavenly body narrowly misses our frail planet, although when a relatively small chunk breaks off, scientists find that it contains an unknown metal of immense potential value. And so begins a fantastic race to find and claim the fallen meteorite…

A party of European scientists charters the survey ship “Aurora”, with boozy stalwart Captain Haddock commanding and Tintin aboard as official Press representative. Frantically sailing north to the Pole, they discover that they are in competition with the unscrupulous forces of the evil capitalists of the Bohlwinkel Bank, whose rival expedition uses every dirty trick imaginable to sabotage or delay the scientists.

After a truly Herculean effort and by sheer dint of willpower – not to say spectacular bravery – Tintin is the first to claim their floating prize and successfully defends it from the villainous Bohlwinkel crew, but the fallen star itself is a far greater menace, as its mysterious and exotic composition induces monstrous gigantism in earthly organisms. Tintin and Snowy must survive assaults by mutated insects and plants before the breathtaking conclusion of this splendid tale.

Manifestly as the world experienced a new Dark Age, Hergé was concentrating on the next -Golden – one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their unflagging popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature, and stories you and your entire clan should know.
The Shooting Star: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1961 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon 1947


By Milton Caniff (Checker Book Publishing Group)
ISBN: 978-0-97102-49-9-1

Milton Caniff wasn’t an overnight sensation. He worked long and hard before he achieved stellar status in the comic strip firmament. Before Terry and the Pirates brought him fame, and Steve Canyon secured his fortune and reputation, the strip which brought him to the attention of legendary Press Baron “Captain” Joseph Patterson (in many ways the co-creator of Terry) was an unassuming daily feature about a little boy hungry for adventure.

Caniff was working for The Associated Press as an entry-level jobbing cartoonist when a gap opened in their strips department. AP was an organisation that devised and syndicated features for the thousands of local and small newspapers which could not afford to produce the cartoons, puzzles, recipes and other fillers that ran between the local headlines and the regional sports.

Over a weekend Caniff came up with Dickie Dare, a studious lad who would read a book and then fantasize himself into the story, taking his faithful little white dog Wags with him. The editors went for it and the strip launched on July 31st 1933. Caniff produced the adventures for less than eighteen months before moving on, but his replacement Coulton Waugh steered the series until its conclusion two decades later.

As well as being one of the greatest comic-strip artists of all time, Caniff was an old-fashioned honest American Patriot, from the time when it wasn’t a dirty word or synonym for fanatic.

The greatest disappointment of his life was that he was never physically fit enough to fight. Instead, during World War II he not only continued the morale-boosting China Seas epic Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip seven days a week, he also designed art, brochures and posters (all unpaid) for the War Department and made live appearances for soldiers and hospital residents. Even that wasn’t enough.

Again unpaid, he devised Male Cale: a strip to be printed in the thousands of local military magazines and papers around the world. Originally using established characters from Terry, Caniff swiftly switched (for reasons best explained in Robert C Harvey’s wonderful Meanwhile… a Biography of Milton Caniff) to a purpose-built (and was she built!) svelte and sexy ingénue who would titillate, amuse but mostly belong to the lonely and homesick American fighting men away from home and under arms.

Funny, saucy, even racy but never lewd or salacious, Miss Lace spoke directly to the enlisted man – the “ordinary Joe” – as entertainer, confidante and trophy date. She built morale and gave brief surcease from terror, loneliness or boredom. Although comparisons abound with our own Jane, the rationales behind each combat glamour girl were poles apart. Miss Lace spoke to and with the soldiers, and she wasn’t in normal papers. She was simply and totally theirs and theirs alone.

After leaving the incredibly successful and world-renowned Terry and the Pirates Caniff created another iconic comic hero in the demobbed World War II pilot Steve Canyon. The reasons for the move were basically rights and creative control, but it’s also easy to see another reason. Terry, set in a fabled Orient – even with the contemporary realism the author so captivatingly imparted – is a young man’s strip and limited by locale.

The worldly, if not war-weary, Canyon was a mature adventurer who could be sent literally anywhere and would appeal to the older, wiser readers of Atom-Age America, now a fully active, if perhaps reluctant, player on the world stage.

Canyon also reflects an older creator who has seen so much more of human nature and frailty than even the mysterious East could provide. Put another way, William Shakespeare could write Romeo and Juliet as a young man, but needed more than passion and genius to produce King Lear.

Steve Canyon began on 13th January 1947, after a long period of public anticipation following a very conspicuous resignation from Terry. Always a master of suspense and adept at manipulating his reader’s attention, Caniff’s eponymous hero didn’t actually appear until January 16th (and then only in a “file photograph”).

The public first met Stevenson Burton Canyon, former bomber pilot, medal winning war-hero, Air-Force flight instructor and latterly, independent charter airline operator in the first Sunday colour page, on 19th January 1947.

By then, eager readers had glimpsed his friends and future enemies, how acquaintances felt about him and even been introduced to ultra-rich, super-spoiled Copper Calhoun, the latest in a startlingly long line of devastating Femme Fatales created by Caniff to bedevil his heroes and captivate his audiences. And thus, the magic began…

This series of collections from Checker re-presents the strip in yearly segments (regrettably, with the Sundays printed in the same black-&-white as the daily episodes) and this one begins as Calhoun manoeuvres Canyon’s Horizons Unlimited charter line into flying her to countries where her pre-war holdings were disrupted. That seemingly simple job results in deadly peril from both strangers and trusted employees. There’s also a goodly helping of old-fashioned intrigue, jealousy and racketeering in the mix too…

The action and tragedy lead directly to an encounter with a couple of deadly female con-artists in ‘Delta’, and a gripping, yet light-hearted, romp in the booming petroleum industry in ‘Easter’s Oil’ which also introduces off-the-wall supporting character Happy Easter and the lascivious Madame Lynx, who would play such large and charismatic roles in the strip’s future.

The first volume ends with ‘Jewels of Africa’, a classic of suspense with modern-day pirate and wrecker Herr Splitz falling foul of our heroes in a world rapidly becoming a hotbed of International tension.

As Caniff’s strip became more and more a compass of geo-political adventure, his skill with human drama became increasingly mature and intense. This was comic strip noir that was still irresistible to a broad spectrum of readers. And that’s as true now as it was then. Steve Canyon is magnificent comic art at its two-fisted best.

These stories are also available in a fancy IDW hardcover archive, but although lovely it does suffer from small print – unless you have a digital edition – so if you love stunning artwork stick with this cheap-&-cheerful monochrome version.
© 2003, Checker Book Publishing Group, an authorized collection of works © Ester Parsons Caniff Estate 1947.

All characters and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of the Ester Parsons Caniff Estate. All rights reserved.

Flash Gordon Volume 1


By Alex Raymond with Don Moore (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-643-8 (HB)

By many lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers of Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, the new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tale, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and he’ll get his go another day).

Thankfully there are a few collections knocking about, but I’m plumping here for the 2003 Checker hardcover which combines quality reproduction with affordability…

The very first tale begins with a rogue planet about to smash into the Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the airplane they are on. They land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisons them on the rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

And that’s just in the first, 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934, when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments…’ and ‘Caverns of Mongo’.

To the readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with sheer wonderment.

The machinations of the utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; Flash’s battles and alliances with all the myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the gradual victory over oppression captivated America, and the World, in tales that seemed a direct contrast to the increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash and Dale, much more – as they encounter beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, King Vultan and the Hawkmen.

The rebellion against Ming begins with the awesome ‘Tournaments of Mongo’, a sequence spanning November 25th to February 24th 1935 – and where Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence.

It was here that the true magic began, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step Raymond moved on, and the next tale, which leaves this book on something of a cliffhanger, sees our hero enter ‘The Caverns of Mongo’.

Don Moore “assisted” Raymond with the writing, beginning soon after the strip first gained popularity, and Moore remained after Raymond departed. The artist joined the Marines in February 1944, and the last page he worked on was published on April 30th of that year. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy. Why don’t you join me?
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc.