Asterix Omnibus volume 7: Asterix and the Soothsayer; Asterix in Corsica; Asterix and Caesar’s Gift


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-835-7 (HB), 978-1-44400-836-4 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips 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, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

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

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein 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.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

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 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

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 truculent 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 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.

Le Devin was the 19th serialised epic, originally running in Pilote #652-673 throughout 1972, first translated into English album Asterix and the Soothsayer in 1975, and begins ominously whilst the village’s venerable mystic protector Getafix is away at his annual Druiding conference.

During a torrential storm, a nefarious soothsayer named Prolix turns up seeking shelter. His dark predictions instantly spread disharmony amongst the hospitable, hot-headed, painfully superstitious and credulous Gaulish stalwarts… except for level-headed, canny little Asterix.

As Prolix leaves, Chief’s wife Impedimenta sneaks after him, keen on a personal prediction, and the crafty charlatan soon discovers he’s on to a good thing and profitably cushy number…

Before long the entire village is under the soothsayer’s grimy thumb, but when he vanishes the ladies of the village accuse Asterix of driving him away.

In actuality, the unsavoury sage has been arrested by the Romans who have standing orders to deal harshly with all non-Roman prognosticators and troublemakers. Wily Prolix barters for his life with Centurion Arteriosclerosus, who sees a way to end his Indomitable Gaul problem by using the obviously fraudulent fortune-teller as a wedge to drive out the obstreperous resistors. Prolix returns to the village uttering a doom-laden pronouncement: the place has been cursed by the Gods and a pestilential stench will precede plague. Inevitable death will be their fate if they remain…

Panicked, the gullible Gauls head for the beach and take refuge on an off-shore island – all that is, except for Asterix, Obelix and chivalrous canine companion Dogmatix

With the Romans at last in possession of the village – and all Gaul finally conquered – the bold last rebels make their plans until Getafix returns. On his arrival the three men and a dog embark on an elaborate scheme to take back their home and teach their foolish fellows a much-needed lesson.

Concocting a stunningly malodorous vapour which drives the occupiers from the village, the druid convinces the Romans that Prolix is a real soothsayer and ambitious Arteriosclerosus sees a chance to become the next Caesar. Increasingly baffled, conman Prolix begins to believe his predictions are real…

After dressing down the refugee Gauls, Getafix leads them back to their beloved homes where the incensed and wiser villagers top up on magic potion before rushing off to teach the invaders – and Prolix – a much needed lesson. On this occasion, Impedimenta and the village women accompany their men, determined to expiate their embarrassing gullibility with a little cathartic violence of their own…

This delightfully arch and acerbic attack on gullibility and superstition is a splendid and long-overdue chance to see the minor characters play to their strengths and weaknesses, with Asterix and Obelix almost relegated to walk-on parts…

First translated two years earlier in England but chronologically following on from The Soothsayer in the original French serialisations, Astérix en Corse (Pilote #687-708, in 1973) was the 20th adventure and the best-selling French-language album of the series.

Another globe-trotting yarn, it begins with the Romans of the four occupying garrisons “deploying for manoeuvres” to avoid having to deal with Gauls’ painfully exuberant celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia. Unfortunately for Centurion Hippotamus and his men, they are delayed by the arrival of a party from Praetor Perfidius, Governor of Corsica, escorting a dangerous prisoner into exile. They are all still in Totorum when the high-spirited villagers (and many guest-star friends from previous tales) arrive, keen for a punch-up and a little annoyed that all the other Roman camps are deserted…

When the dust settles and the groans of pain subside, Asterix discovers and liberates the prisoner Boneywasawarriorwayayix and invites him back to the village for a slap-up feed. Over boar and beer, the Gauls hear how Perfidius had the popular Corsican leader exiled to prevent him revealing how the Praetor has been over-taxing the people and embezzling the gold for himself instead of sending it to Caesar in Rome.

Corsica is officially the most troublesome spot in the Empire and the exile is determined to return and expose the hated Governor, so proud, haughty Boneywasawarriorwayayix is delighted when Asterix and Obelix – with faithful canine companion Dogmatix – determine to help him sneak back to his fiercely over-fortified and contained island (most volumes of this album have a map of Corsica instead of the traditional Gaulish village, and the tiny nation contains four towns and forty-six Roman camps)…

Hilariously obtaining passage on the pirate ship of Redbeard, the voyagers soon find themselves on the island – but by no means unnoticed…

Soon the dissolute and lazy soldiery are hunting the heroes as they make their way inland to the exile’s home village to rally the populace, whilst in the city of Aleria Perfidius reckons the jig is up and prepares to flee with his ill-gotten gains…

Attempting to rally the natives, Boneywasawarriorwayayix comes up against the age-old dilemma: most Corsicans are involved in centuries-long vendettas and would much rather fight each other – at least when they’re not taking a siesta – than unite to attack the invaders. However, eventually – and almost too late – a determined band of warriors march on Aleria. Perfidius has been secretly loading his loot onto a ship, but when his soldiers discover the riches, they realise their leader is planning to abandon them to the fiercely furious Corsicans – at least if overtaxed diplomatic Asterix can keep the natives from killing each other first…

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner.

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured trans-national teasing of perceived (and generally treasured) national characteristics; celebrating the terrifying power of Corsican cheeses and liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

In 1974 Le Cadeau de César was the first tale to be published as a complete album prior to being serialised, with British translation Asterix and Caesar’s Gift appearing in 1977. The saga begins in Rome where two 20-year veteran legionaries drunkenly celebrate being honourably discharged. Tremensdelirious and Egganlettus eagerly look forward to being given their service reward: a parcel of land each.

Unfortunately, Tremensdelirious is overheard disparaging Caesar, but the sardonically cruel Emperor does not punish the old soldier or even withhold his pension. In fact, he gives the veteran a lovely portion of the Gaulish coast in Armorica: all he has to do is shift a few recalcitrant Gauls from their village on his new small holding…

A drunk but not a fool, the old soldier knows his fate is sealed and soon trades his dispensation to Lutetian inn-keeper Orthopaedix to settle his outstanding and prodigious bar-bill…

The first that the Indomitable Gauls know of this is when Orthopaedix, wife Angina and daughter Influenza roll up in their cart and try to take possession. After some hilarity the villagers go back about their business and the inn-keeper is left to suffer the fury of his wife at the uprooting of the family to a barbaric hovel where nobody acknowledges their claim.

No stranger to such a tongue-lashing, Chief Vitalstatistix takes pity on Orthopaedix, offering to let them stay and open an inn in the hamlet, but the standoffish villagers are angered by Angina’s superior airs and a riot breaks out on opening night…

The world-weary publican is ready to quit, but now humiliated Angina is in a status duel with Impedimenta and, determined to stay, forces Orthopaedix to challenge Vitalstatistix for the post of village Chief. As the campaign to win the support of the always-argumentative villagers intensifies, all manner of shoddy tactics, dubious lobbying and outright bribery takes place, with each party frantically trying to curry political favour from the fickle but extremely astute potential voters who know the value of their own support…

Meanwhile, simple, gentle, oafish Obelix has fallen under the spell of the lovely Influenza, and she leads him on cruelly to help out her mother’s naked ambition, leading to a clash with his best friend. Only Asterix seems aware that the discord could well be the death of the village and lead to Caesar’s ultimate triumph and before long the waters are further muddied when elderly Lothario Geriatrix declares himself a third party, splitting the potential vote even further.

The political crisis reaches boiling point when Tremensdelirious turns up, demanding his land-grant back: after all it’s illegal to sell them to Gauls, and Orthopaedix has no say in the matter…

When the ex-legionary turns violent, Asterix steps in to save the day and the old sot is driven off at sword-point. He doesn’t go far – only to the garrison of Laudanum where old comrade Egganlettus has re-enlisted – and together they blackmail Centurion Tonsillitus into attacking the Gauls to uphold Roman law and get back that “official” pension land which is every soldier’s right…

That kind of military intervention usually ends disastrously, but this time the village is hopelessly divided by political intrigue and backstabbing and even Asterix cannot unite them against their real and common foe. It seems that the Gauls must lose everything until Orthopaedix makes a supreme sacrifice to save the day…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this outrageous political thriller and satire on modern electioneering is as pertinent and punchy as it ever was, proving once again that these Gallic graphic masterpieces are perfect comics which everyone should read over and over again.
© 1972-1974 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his 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 other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 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.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout, a year later Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus 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 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 and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1-56097-887-9

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the strip Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Moreover, by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in heaving missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen, but at least in this volume, the brick is supplemented by other projectiles for the sake of variety…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and the increasingly ubiquitous sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“…stomms an’ momsooms, gales an’ tie fooms…” or “octo pusses an’ pinkwins”).

Yet for all that high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, original art and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid pictorial carnival is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of the unique voice of the strip as cited above. This comes in his erudite Introduction ‘Kat Got Your Tongue: Where George Herriman’s Language Came From’ after which the jocularity resumes with January 15th 1941 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with emphasis shifting more to the varied minor cast members. The usual parade of hucksters and conmen return, but the eternally triangular clashes and confusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes and the Second World War begins to slowly shade the strip and affect the characters…

As well as his semi-permanent incarcerations, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions and the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based acquisition and delivery gags but has widened his scope to encompass munition of materials other than clay and shapes more aerodynamic and enticing than bulky rectangles. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of focus, reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many of the strips.

Pupp suffers from double vision on occasion and repeatedly tests labour-saving new policing appliances – such as stilts and periscopes – while Colin Kelly moves away from artisanal brick-baking to conveyor-belt mass production. Ignatz tries to bolster his fading energies through unlikely herbal additives – such as spinach – and the entire township (including buildings) suffer protracted bouts of polka-dottedness after the arrival of a dalmatian “koach kanine”. Joe Stork starts using robot planes to deliver his dread bundles of natal joy and responsibility, Ignatz’s much abused wife Magnesia starts her long-delayed resistance and emancipation, and everybody in town can’t seem to get enough sleep…

The ever-changing skies remain a source of wonder and bewilderment with oddly-shaped stellar phenomena abounding, and the Prof from Coconino’s Museum of Palaeontology, Archaeology and Such unearths primeval precursors to our cartoon cast, while modern times are acknowledged through myriad permutations and adaptations to Ignatz’s home-from-home the county jail.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, whilst laconic vagabond Bum Bill Bee shares his regal origins (a whole bunch of them, in fact) with the hoi polloi in town…

The town barber stokes the flames of passion and reshapes the grizzled heads of many ardent swains seeking to curry the favours of vivacious, exotic new schoolteacher Miss Mimi who is, as everybody is painfully aware, French…

A different form of double vision taxes the Kat’s composure in doses of mirror madness and episodes of powdered katnip overindulgence offer a nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, but doesn’t too much curtail Krazy’s efforts in horticulture, nourishing korn and other useful vegetable crops…

The tone of the strips subtly changes from October 1941 with the introduction of Pupp’s mechanised Listening Post. Spying was always a major interest for all citizens, as was stargazing and gossip. Now however, with war clouds forming in the real world, an edge of gloomy but absurdist satire could be detected in many strips, such as when Kelly cuts off the mouse’s brick supply due to clay – like paper, rubber and gasoline – being officially afforded new status as a Military Priority Material…

There’s a marked increasing in winking around town, although those in the know codify the practice as “nictating” and some citizens – such as the pelicans and Mr. Kenga Roo – are subjected to increased stop-&-search indignities too: what with them being born to conceal bricks and brick-tossers…

At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics too…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora (including a mass ingress of elephants, snakes and worms) for humorous inspiration, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

This penultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Omnibus 6: Asterix in Switzerland, The Mansions of the Gods, Asterix & the Laurel Wreath


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-489-2 (HB), 978-1-44400-491-5 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips 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, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

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

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein 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.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

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 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

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 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. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales began to increasingly show signs of trenchant satire and more directed social commentary…

As Astérix chez les Helvètes was the 16th serialised saga, originally running in Pilote #557-578 throughout 1970 and first translated into English as Asterix in Switzerland in 1973. It opens with the attempted murder of Roman official Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus; dispatched to Gaul to audit the corrupt, embezzling and utterly decadent Governor Varius Flavus.

The poisoning only fails due to the efforts of Getafix, but to keep the Roman alive – and further thwart Flavus – the sage needs a rare flower which only grows in the mountains of neighbouring country Helvetia (and that’s Switzerland, mein kinder). Always keen for a road trip, Asterix and Obelix quickly volunteer to fetch the fabled “silver star” or Edelweiss …

With Sinusitus sheltered in the village of the indomitable Gauls, Flavus’ only hope is to stop the happy voyagers. To that end he sends his most unscrupulous man to warn the equally repugnant and devious Curius Odus, Governor of Helvetia, to stop the Gauls at all costs…

Asterix and Obelix cannily avoid Roman sabotage plots, beat up many, many thugs and bullies, whilst marvelling at the quirkiness of their newfound Helvetian friends, with their mania for cleanliness, passion for melted cheese, yodelling, tidy, solicitous brand of medical treatments, cultured beverages, cultivated villages, lakes and banks and their fruit-based archery training programs for the young…

Although a far darker tale than most previous escapades, all the familiar gentle spoofing of national characteristics, cartoon action and hilarious lampoonery is incorporated into this splendid and beautifully rendered yarn. The search for the silver-star is, of course ultimately successful, despite an entire battalion of troops racing up a mountain after them, with a stunning alpine climax and an exceptionally different kind of ending…

 

Translated that same year was Le Domaine des Dieux (from Pilote #591-612, in 1971) wherein Caesar, determined to eradicate the last remnant of Gaulish resistance, tries to win by social planning and cultural imperialism. To that end he plans to cut down the great forest which surrounds the village and build a new town of lavish Roman apartments in the stylish, modern Roman manner: The Mansions of the Gods

Whiz kid architect Squaronthehypotenus leads the project, but his immigrant army of slave labourers soon founders when boar-loving Obelix strenuously objects to having his favourite hunting preserve torn down and paved over…

However, the massed might of Rome is insurmountable, and eventually many mighty oaks are felled. To counter this Getafix simply grows instant new ones whilst Asterix shares his magic potion with the increasingly fed up slaves…

This stalemate is only overcome when the wily Gauls seemingly surrender and allow the “Mansions of the Gods” to be built and stocked with middle-class colonists from Rome. After a rapid bump in trade as the villagers become tourist-trappers, the complacent property developers make their greatest mistake and rent an apartment to the Gaul’s uniquely gifted bard Cacofonix, leading to a rapid exodus of tenants and an inevitable and breathtaking final clash with the garrison of Aquarium, who had moved into the luxurious vacant apartments…

Drenched in trenchant observation of and jibes at the industrial relations conflicts, the then runaway speculation in new developments in France and the inexorable growth of “planning blight” (still painfully relevant today anywhere in the industrialised world), this tremendously effective satire is packed with gags and action and displays artist Uderzo’s sublime gift for caricature and parody – especially in the wonderful spoofs of real estate advertising campaigns…

 

Also debuting in Pilote, Les Lauriers de César came from issues #621-642, in 1971 and was given the fabulous Bell/Hockridge treatment in 1974 to become Asterix and the Laurel Wreath. It begins in Rome where Asterix and Obelix are arguing…

During a visit to Chief Vitalstatistix’s wealthy, snobbish and city-dwelling brother-in-law Homeopathix, the crusty old warrior gets too drunk and boasts that he can get something which all the merchant’s money cannot buy – a stew seasoned with Caesar’s fabled wreath of office.

Sober now and in dire danger of eternal embarrassment as well as the unflinching approbation of his sharp-tongued wife Impedimenta, the Chief has no option but to allow his two best men – the larger of whom had drunkenly egged him on at the family gathering and then volunteered to fetch the leafy headpiece – to travel to the heart of Caesar’s power and attempt the impossible…

At least Asterix knows it’s impossible; Obelix is quite happy to storm the Imperial Palace and just grab the wreath…

Luckily, reason prevails and the wily little warrior determines their only chance is infiltration, to which end Asterix sells them both as slaves. Unfortunately, they are bought by the wrong Roman. Osseus Humerus is an innocuous Patrician with a troublesome family, but as Asterix tries every trick to get their unsuspecting owner to return them to the Slave Auctioneer, he only endears himself even more to his very satisfied customer. So much so in fact, that Humerus entrusts them with a message to be delivered to Caesar himself.

Jealous major-domo Goldendelicius then accuses them of planning assassination and the heroes are locked in the dungeons – leaving them complete access to the entire palace…

Before long, the indomitable duo are wreaking havoc in the Imperial Court and playing hob with the usually predictable proceedings in the Arena of the Circus Maximus.

Seemingly untouchable, but no nearer the Laurel Wreath, the despondent Gauls finally seize their chance when they encounter again the recently promoted Goldendelicius. Rewarded by Caesar, the major-domo now holds a position of great responsibility: holder of the triumphal floral arrangement at Caesar’s next public engagement…

Sharp and deeply intriguing, this comedy of errors is spectacularly illustrated by Uderzo at the very top of his game, whilst Goscinny’s dry, wry script seamlessly rockets from slapstick set-piece to penetrating observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, with our unlikely heroes inevitably, happily victorious in every instance. Just as it should be…

Asterix epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1970, 1972-3 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 3


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-779-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-492-5

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – 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 for a decade (since December 19th 1919) when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

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. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studios animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt.

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 drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery Sagendorf, finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, 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. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and – from 1948 onwards – exclusive writer and illustrator of 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 their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are issues #10-14 of Popeye’s comicbook series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning December 1949/January to October/December1950.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a fabulous collation of candid photos and assorted gems of merchandise – such as actual Wimpy burgers, a set of Popeye-themed Old Maid cards, Lunchbox illustrations, an anti-bullying campaign posters and foreign edition covers – in another ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, and we rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills nearly two year later with #10 and a single-page monochrome duel of wits between Popeye and his “infink” protégé Swee’ Pea before the four-colour fun takes off with ‘Rockabye Berries! – A Lethargic Tale of Slumbering Horror amid the Snoozing Sleepers of a Drowsy Island’ as old King Blozo of Spinachovia pleads for aid to overcome a bizarre plague of sleeping sickness. The old salt soon stumbles onto – and deals with – the cause… the island’s long-forgotten and rather aggrieved original inhabitants…

‘Ouch! or Don’t Hit Him… He’s a Human!!’ sees master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy attempt to teach fiery prize-fighter Popeye how to lose a fight after which ‘Pirate! or The Fist mus’ be Mightier ‘an the Sword! or The Seven Seas ain’t Big Enough to hold Both of Us!’ introduces nautical bully Typhoon Thomas who relentlessly pursues the sailor-man to force a duel and prove his own toughness. Big mistake…

Short prose stories were a staple of these comics (and a legal necessity to gain favourable postal rates) and here ‘Swee’ Pea and the Wonderful Bait!’ details a fishing competition between the kid and grizzled “grandparent” Poopdeck Pappy before Wimpy and Swee’ Pea clash wills in a story of the chase entitled ‘Apple Snack!’

The issue ends with a bang in a black & white interior half-page Popeye gag about pesky mosquitoes and issue #11 (February/March 1950) opens with a monochrome single-pager gag as the incredible infink builds a burglar trap and Olive Oyl proves it works…

Four-colour fun resumes with ‘Swell Day’, pitting Popeye against bullying adult sadist The Duke, who loves to make kids cry, forcing out hero to adopt infantile camouflage to teach him a lesson. Instantly following is ‘The Guest! or Was This Visit Necessary? or Good-Bye! Good-Bye! or Next Time Call B’fore you come, so I can Leave B’fore you Arrive!!’ as a translunar Moon Goon imposes on Popeye’s hospitality and literally eats him out of house and home…

The old salt almost endures his first defeat when playing ‘Golf!’ against Wimpy and Rough-House until he dumps the clubs for a more versatile striking implement, after which prose yarn ‘Swee’ Pea and the Tossing Island!’ spins a bittersweet yarn about a lonely beast on a distant atoll. Wimpy then stars in ‘Easy to Find!’: another duel with the baby sailor before the issue ends on another half-page monochrome Popeye gag.

Moved to quarterly release, # Popeye #12 (April-June) opens with a monochrome single-pager and Popeye “explaining” in his unique brisk manner why no one calls him a sissy, after which the magnificent Witch Whistle’ sees the sailor revisit embattled Spinachovia where 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…

‘Drip! Drip!’ finds the nautical champion still in Spinachovia as a vile villain tampers with the water supply and the sailor-man is forced to dig deep to achieve his purpose…

All sailors and kids love the prospect of buried treasure so when Popeye unearths ‘The Map!’ in his own garden he soon sparks a storm of interest and unwelcome attention, before text vignette Swee’ Pea’s Sea Kite!’ reveals a close shave aboard ship and cartoon classic ‘The Double Mooch!’ sees wily Wimpy defeated by the machinations of Poopdeck Pappy and tricked into a day’s hard labour…

A monochrome gag reveals the limits of Popeye’s courage after his sweetie Olive asks him to critique her new hat, ending the issue and segueing neatly into #13 (June-August) and another with the infernal infink plundering a new fishpond, before the main event unfolds in ‘Shipwreck!’ Here the unusual suspects set off in search of an island of solid gold, unaware that they are also carrying two “ghost” stowaways…

Safely returned to shore, our cast heads west once more in ‘Adrift! or Here’s Dirt in your Face!’ Their desert trek soon uncovers evidence of ancient gopher people: they’re quite mean and rather rude…

Swee’ Pea then has fun with pets in prose piece ‘A New Port!’ before Pappy and the ultimate moocher renew their simmering rivalry in ‘Wimpy and the Big Bite!’, after which another monochrome closer details the joys and wonders of random fruit fling tossing (I threw an apple in the air… where it landed, I don’t care…).

Popeye #14 (October-December) celebrates the magic of the Iron Horse with a stunning cover (but aren’t they all?) and a B&W rebus crossword puzzle before ‘Western Railroading!’ finds the sailor-man setting up his own wild west train line. Sadly, with Olive as his sole passenger, business gets pretty tough, pretty quick…

Staying in cactus country but switching modes of transport, ‘Horse Race!’ sees the crafty cove adapt maritime techniques to cowboy pursuits before the cast are bedazzled and beguiled by the acquisition of a ‘Ghost Mine!’

Prose tale ‘Pappy Severs a Partnership’ sees the old reprobate rebel against Popeye’s galley fare with heart-rending consequences before cartoon madness resumes with J. Wellington Wimpy lured into excessive effort – and mortal combat with a cow – in a western ‘Gold Rush!’ before this captivating chronicle concludes with one last rebus crossword puzzle.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely top tier and for those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this terrific treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 3 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Astro Boy volume 5

c
By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-680-9 (TPB)

From beginning his professional career in the late 1940s until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived in his own country and, ultimately, across the globe. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairy tale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades, Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

Tezuka died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, created the Japanese anime industry and popularised uniquely Japanese graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This fifth monochrome digest volume (173 x 113 mm in the physical world and any size you like if you get the eBook edition) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon and one of post-war Japan’s better exports) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The series began in 1952 in Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that period, Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom, starred in comicbook specials and featured in games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently drew himself into his tales as a commentator, and in his later revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so stories aren’t treated as gospel and order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

One day, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or indeed, any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot, the Prof closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as providing friends and admirers the familiar environment turned up another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

The wiry wonder’s astonishing exploits resume after the now traditional ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘Crucifix Island’ originally ran January through April, 1957 in Shōnen Magazine and begins with an explanation of why most robots are generally humanoid before concentrating on obsessive Doctor Tozawa who channelled his ancient ninja lineage to create an ultimate shape-changing mechanoid. He was interrupted and arrested before he could complete his masterpiece but that was then and this is now where our story properly begins…

Following a manic prison break, Tozawa and his new crooked cronies wash up on and take over a desolate island housing one hundred thousand robots operating the deepest and most sophisticated uranium mine on Earth. The merest by-product is a daily fortune in other precious ores and gems…

Meanwhile, at the Isle’s Robot School Astro is having problems with another young automaton. Pook is troubled because he’s incomplete: his “father” was arrested and imprisoned before he could make his boy perfect…

When Pook and Tozawa are reunited, the mad scientist ambushes Astro, harvesting his body for the parts needed to complete his dream robot. The troubled mechanoid finally gains the power to change shape…

Sadly, one thing that never changes is human greed and Tozawa’s fellow fugitives turn on him when he ignores their pleas to plunder the discarded mountain of gems. Inviting their army of criminal comrades to take over the island, they try to kill the now repentant technologist. With his breath fading, the Doctor repairs Astro to tackle the thieves, but nobody anticipated Pook’s reaction to gaining his full powers or how that would affect the multitude of lethal digging robots…

After a tremendous battle order is eventually restored but not everybody makes it out alive…

Running in Shōnen Magazine from February to April 1960, ‘Space Snow Leopard’ details how frosty precipitation across Earth steals energy from robots and machines. Seemingly unaffected, Astro is challenged by a space wizard and his six-legged killer feline Lupe, but barely escapes as they continue softening up the planet for an alien takeover.

On the run, Astro consults his school friends hoping organic humanity can prevail against the bizarre duo. Ultimately however it takes humans and robots working together and the invention of a giant amalgamated mecha comprised of many smaller automatons working in unison to save the world…

‘The Artificial Sun’ first ran between December 1959 and February 1960 and concludes this compilation in glorious style as a ship at sea reports a deadly floating fireball causing weather disruptions. Fearing the worst, the International Council of Police Organizations consult super-cop Sherlock Holmspun to tackle the crisis. His pride in in a swift breakthrough is soon scotched, however, when the council insist he take along some competent backup/additional firepower in the form of a robot codenamed Mighty Atom …

With the game afoot, the odd couple track down prime suspect Professor Hirata and his deadly monster, but will Holmspun’s prejudice jeopardise the mission… or will his dreadful secret shame leave them all unable to fight off the deadly fireball beast and the real culprit behind it?

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are the hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts, which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 4: Plunder Island


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-169-5 (HB)

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always fighting a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

In the less than ten years Elzie Crisler Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929, until the creator’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), he built an incredible meta-world of fabulous lands and locations, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. His was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying and frequently both at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or sunken kingdom there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily swung fists.

Popeye is the first Superman of comics, but he was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a worrisome troublemaker and gambler who wasn’t welcome in polite society …and he wouldn’t want to be.

The sailor-man is the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and a man who takes no guff from anyone. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

With this fourth magnificent hardcover collection of Segar’s comic masterpiece the Sunday Colour pages take precedence as, for the first time ever, his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ is reprinted in its full, unexpurgated totality. The reprinted selection covers the period December 3rd 1933 to April 7th 1935, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment).

It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island; land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag has reared her homely head once more…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps Professor Cringly. He is an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location, and Popeye’s latest voyage is seemingly over before it has begun….

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, Rough-House, Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye swiftly give chase, but all seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake. When she sends the Goon to take hostages, the uncanny beast returns with the indomitable Popeye and an inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her Goon (who is apparently a rather decent – if unprepossessing – lady named Alice…)

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and riotous comedy have never been better blended than in this tale, but even when the victorious crew finally return home the fun doesn’t stop. Next, we examine the bitter aftermath and how the various heroes dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy, for example, simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his away, prompting his return to the world of extreme prize-fighting…

Baby Swee’pea made his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced during a riotous sequence in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight”), becoming the focus of many outrageous gags once Popeye, Wimpy and Olive slip back into their slapstick shtick, allowing the audience to comfortably decompress before the next big drama-drenched story…

The ubiquitous Sappo topper strip became even more imaginative in this period, with demented Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle’s mad science exploits leading to ever-crazier results and the continual breaking of the Fourth Wall. For the unprepared, this was a strip that could regularly make your brain, as well as your sides, split…

The added extra feature ‘Funny Films’ (dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema) eventually gave way to the fascinatingly informative and entertaining ‘Popeye’s Cartoon Club’, which provided tips and encouragement to budding artists – and Segar’s approach and advice is as sound today as it ever was…

Just because he was setting the world alight with his innovative Sunday adventure serials and complete gag strips is no reason to suppose his daily feature suffered. In fact, the breakneck pace seemed to inspire Segar, as in short order Popeye and his ever-expanding cast of clowns and reprobates rollicked through a memorable run of captivating tales in monochrome from Mondays to Saturdays.

The dailies section here covers 11th December 1933 to 24th July 1934, beginning with the sailor-man – accompanied by Swee’pea, Olive and Wimpy – moving to Puddleburg, ‘The Laziest Town on Earth’ to run their local newspaper and granting the self-deprecating and wickedly trenchant Segar an opportunity to lampoon himself and his profession with the creation of B. Loony Bullony: World Famous Cartoonist…

When Olive inherits 20 million dollars, her marital prospects increase dramatically, but since one of the most ardent converts to her previously well-hidden charms is a certain. J. Wellington Wimpy, she soon realises that money isn’t everything in ‘Romances and Riches’ – especially after Popeye rescues debutante June Vanripple from drowning and becomes the unwilling toast of the “Sassiety Crowd”

This extended morality play on the evils and travails of wealth contains some of the funniest screwball comedy set-pieces of the entire 1930s (books, movies, strips, everything!) with such memorable moments as Popeye in drag (particularly a rather fetching ladies’ swimsuit), the elder Vanripple and the sailor in a wild-oat sowing contest and Olive as a singing, dancing movie star – complete with fake “million-dollar-legs”…

Another classic and beloved sequence is ‘Unifruit or White Savages’ wherein the shock of losing her loot sends Olive into the convulsive shock syndrome of Aspenitis. The only cure is a therapeutic berry that grows on the wacky island of Nazilia, deep in the territory of a lost tribe of hulking man-beasts…

The frantic antics and comedy continue when June and Mr. Vanripple ask Popeye to go west and crush cowboy bandits plundering their gold mines in ‘Black Valley’ (and if you think drag is outrageous, check out Popeye in a tutu as a saloon dance-girl).

Fair warning though: this was an era where casual racial stereotyping was considered completely acceptable and a key part of cartooning. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was far more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk spoke. George W. Geezil wasn’t merely a cheap Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any one of nearly fifty supporting cast members could be within the constrictions of page and panel count.

In ‘Black Valley’, Castor Oyl has a Negro manservant called Eclipse, who, although superficially little different in speech pattern and appearance from less-enlightened cartoonists’ portrayal of coloured people, played an active role in proceedings. He wasn’t there for cheap easy laughs, but even so it’s clear Segar wasn’t comfortable with him and he wasn’t a permanent addition. He may be quite disquieting to you and I, but please try and recall the tone of the times and – even though there’s still a whole lot of prejudice still to be dealt with today – just how far we’ve come…

The old salt’s greatest “emeny” returned in another bombastic fantasy romp entitled ‘The Sea Hag’s Sister or The Pool of Youth’, as the vile villainess, her scurvy band of cutthroats and Alice the Goon try to seize control of a literal fountain of youth from her own unsavoury sister and 20,000-year-old caveman, Toar.

Unfortunately, Popeye, Castor, Olive and Wimpy are caught in the crossfire…

One less than wonderful “treat” can be experienced at the end of this volume: one that tormented the kids of all ages addicted to Popeye nearly 90 years ago. ‘Popeye’s Ark’ was another spectacular 6-month long lark, wherein the sailor-man attempts to emulate the Biblical mariner who built “Nora’s Ark” to sail the seas in a giant vessel filled with beasts until he found the promised land of “Spinachova”. Sadly, we all get to “enjoy” cliffhanging tension until the next instalment as this sequence ends 12 weeks into the saga. Oh, the unrelenting tension of it all…

At least you can buy this book and its sequel simultaneously now and not wait for my next excessively excitable recommendation…

There is more than one Popeye: most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. Elzie Crisler Segar’s comic strip masterpiece features the very best of them all and you’d be crazy to deny it… or miss him.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

He Done Her Wrong


By Milt Gross (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-694-3(TPB)

The power of comics comes not just from wedding text to image but also in the power of illustration. You can have comics without words but if you leave the letters and subtract the pictures what you have is just… a book…

Milt Gross (March 4th 1895-November 29th 1953) was a trailblazing pioneer in both cartooning and the wider arena of popular comedy, specialising in vernacular while refining and popularising Yiddish folk humour and slang into a certified American export to world culture: “Yinglish”. You should really look him up…

Gross was also an early adept in the animation field, bringing his cartoon characters to silent life in numerous short filler features for John R. Bray Studious, Universal and MGM. Far too few of his many books are in print now, but happily, this astounding landmark is one of them and is even available in assorted eBook formats.

He left his mark in comics too, working for William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper chain on numerous syndicated strips including Dave’s Delicatessen, Banana Oil, Pete the Pooch, Count Screwloose from Tooloose, Babbling Brooks, Otto and Blotto, The Meanest Man, Draw Your Own Conclusion, I Did It and I’m Glad! and That’s My Pop! (which was promptly adapted into a radio show).

He Done Her Wrong (The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It – No Music, Too) was released in 1930, lampooning and cashing in on a notable trend of those troubled times: wordless novels. These woodcut-crafted parables derived from the German Expressionist art movement, and offered (generally left-leaning) pictorial epigrams and   studies addressing social injustice. The first was Belgian Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion in 1918, and 11 years later American Lynd Ward followed suit with God’s Man. Among the many emulatory efforts it inspired (such as Giacomo Patri’s White Collar) was this broad spoof of silent movie thrillers such as The Perils of Pauline, pitched perfectly for pathos, bathos and hilarity…

A facsimile edition released in 2005 by Fantagraphics, this paperback/digital edition is a complete unabridged restoration – which means the re-inclusion of some images, depictions and scenes that might appear a little controversial to modern sensibilities. It also offers a fascinating picture-packed Introduction by Craig Yoe (devoted friend and patron of all comics vintage and fabulous) and closing Appreciation by eminent cartoonist, writer and editor Paul Karasik.

What lies between those essays is a stunning masterclass in comedy staging, gag timing, magnificent caricaturing and timeless melodrama, delivered as a succession of silent pantomimic pages. It all begins after a hearty trustworthy young woodsman, trapper and prospector falls in love with a virtuous barroom singer. True love is thwarted by a dirty villain who swindles the hero and absconds to New York with his heartbroken, “abandoned” ingenue.

As hero and victim both fall foul of the lures of the big bad city, and vice mounts unstoppably in the woman’s benighted life, the hero overcomes every obstacle to find his lover, battling his way from the wilderness into truly savage civilisation where he will set things right no matter what the cost…

It all works out in the end, of course, but only after an astoundingly convoluted course of action, buckets of tears, some vengeance and forgiveness… and plenty of near-misses and lethally close calls. That sounds like a great thriller – and it is – but Gross played it strictly for laughs, and made a tale to rank with the best of his closest contemporary comedy peers: Charley Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

He Done Her Wrong is a superb yarn and perfect picture into a world that only seems simpler and less complicated than today, and if you love classics stories you should “Dun’t Esk” and just buy it…
He Done Her Wrong © 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2005 Craig Yoe. An Appreciation © 2005 Paul Karasik.

Adventures of Tintin: Land of Black Gold


By Hergé, and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-814-7 (HB) 978-1-40520-626-6 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his 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 other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 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.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus 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 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 and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. But although these freedoms seemed to guarantee a new beginning the life of the creator was far from trouble-free.

In 1949 he returned to Tintin au pays de l’or noir which had been abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East…

Now safely able to resume the tale – with some necessary updating – the story began afresh on 16th of September 1948 and ran to its conclusion on February 23rd 1950, and was promptly collected into a full-colour album the same year. It remained problematical: and publication was suspended on August 4th 1949 until 27th October. Hergé had suffered a nervous breakdown and could not work for months. As he recuperated in Switzerland, the magazine turned disaster into a publicity stunt: declaring “Shocking News! Hergé has Disappeared!” It is a tribute to his skills and those of his studio team that the finished tale reveals none of his personal problems, but is an almost seamless and riveting yarn of political and criminal gangsterism; exotic, rocket-paced, surreal, hilarious and breathtakingly exciting.

The story concerns a plot to destabilise global peace by sabotaging petrol. All oil is somehow made more flammable, causing engines to explode when refuelled. Tintin traces the sabotage to the freighter Speedol Star, which he joins as Radio Officer. The dim-witted detectives Thomson and Thompson are also aboard, but much less discreetly, and soon all three are the targets of a numbers of attacks and assaults. When the ship reaches the Arabian port of Khemikhal they are all framed as drug smugglers and arrested.

At that moment Tintin is abducted by rebel tribesmen who believe he is a gunrunner and the now-vindicated detectives go in search of their friend in the desert. After many hardships the intrepid boy and Snowy discover villainous spymaster Doctor Müller (last seen in The Black Island) is trying to ingratiate himself with the oil-rich Emir. Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab is wise and tolerant, but “blessed” with a wilful and spoiled son, Abdullah, who is kidnapped when he rejects the doctor’s offers. Tintin befriends the Ruler and goes undercover to find the Prince.

Tracking down Müller, Tintin attempts to rescue the prince (whose incessant practical jokes have made him a most unpopular but un-chastisable captive), only to be trapped in a brutal fire-fight in the catacombs beneath the spy’s villa. From nowhere, Captain Haddock (a supremely popular mainstay of latter adventures but unknown at the time of the first iteration) effects a rescue and the plot is revealed and thwarted. He bombastically first appeared after the original Land of Black Gold was abandoned, in The Crab with the Golden Claws and would increasingly steal the spotlight from his goody-goody juvenile partner…

Action-packed and visually delightful, this breezy mystery-thriller is full of humour and chases, with only the last-minute arrival of the dipsomaniac sea captain to slightly jar the proceedings. Presumably the original pages were recycled as much as possible with the popular Haddock inserted at a new breakpoint.

Studio Hergé was formed in 1950 to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features and Bob De Moor became an invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, filling in backgrounds and most notably rendering the unforgettable Lunar landscapes that feature in the next extended adventure. He was also a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market. Frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions, De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. The 1950s book was set in British-Occupied Palestine, but history and taste dictated the creation of a fictitious nation and erasure of many dated and contentious background scenes…

Surviving a troubled genesis, this short tale remains a grand adventure romp, full of epic events and hilarious moments once seen can never be forgotten. This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy.

Land of Black Gold: artwork © 1950, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1972 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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.