Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

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

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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

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

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

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

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

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

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

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years


By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Frank Thorne, Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-982-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Classic Comics Entertainment… 9/10

Soon after first publication in 1912 Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global brand. More novels and many movies followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 with the Ape-Man inevitably carving out a solid slice of the comicbook market too, once that industry was firmly established.

Western Publishing were a big publishing and printing outfit based on America’s West Coast, rivalling and frequently surpassing DC and Marvel at the height of their powers. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were all the comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

The publishers famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to…

Dell also sought out other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes.

In 1948 Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

This minor milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all umbrella title that showcased literally hundreds of different licensed properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as solid Whitman staples, licensing of Edgar Rice Burroughs properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until February 1977 and issue #258. From then on Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the jungle Lord’s comicbook canon…

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC Comics. As they slowly lost market share to Marvel, they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay – as it always had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions.

Mystery and Supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong or even thrived and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

The Ape Man and his family had been a mainstay of Dell/Gold Key, as well as a global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legendary Ape-Man’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition.

They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943.

A canny survivor of the Great Depression, he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968. From then on, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This monumental paperback archive (also available in digital formats) collects the entirety of his work with the Ape-Man: stories from Tarzan #207-235 (April-November 1972 to February/March 1975); a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering.

Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation are based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with Kubert’s Introduction to earlier collections before an adaptation of debut novel Tarzan of the Apes opens with a safari deep in the jungle.

A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then pounds his chest whilst emitting an astounding scream. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a legend he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ reveals how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including the vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon-to-be-born baby…

Against appalling odds, they persevered with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, especially the curious and savage apes which roam the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware that he was intrinsically different. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually a brutal, nomadic tribe of natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin…

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden-haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

It all concludes neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ wherein the innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William just in time for the westerners to be rescued by Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing French Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s tribesmen, Tarzan rescues him and nurses him back to health. In return, the grateful sailor teaches him to speak human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in…

By then, however, the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan agrees to accompany D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive, a loving and utterly visceral true translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties, was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper classic ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942.

You can see that saga in all its uncut glory by tracking down Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2.

Here, however, a battle with crocodiles lands Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban; a sadist who hungers for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

It’s followed by ‘The Captive!’, a latter-day exploit beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan as the relationship between Ape-Man and elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ as childhood friends of Tarzan becomes incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby and this first astounding compilation ends with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village.

The resultant food poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey never to be forgotten: one that almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Following Kubert’s Introduction to Tarzan #215-#224, the pictorial wonderment resumes with another vintage visual treat as ‘The Mine!’ (Tarzan #215, December 1972) incorporates material originally seen in 1930s Sunday newspaper strips (by Hal Foster & George Carlin) embedded in an original tale by Kubert.

As previously deadline pressure again compelled Kubert to combine original with found material, detailing how the Ape-Man is captured by slavers and pressed into toil deep in the bowels of the earth for a sadistic mine owner.

Naturally, Tarzan soon chafes at enforced servitude and quickly leads a savage workers’ revolt to overturn and end the corporate bondage…

Issue #216 took another route to beating deadlines with old pal Frank Thorne pencilling Kubert’s script for ‘The Renegades’, leaving hard-pressed Joe to ink and complete the story of a murderous raid which wipes out a Red Cross mission.

Investigating the atrocity, Tarzan discovers the “maddened savages” responsible are actually white men masquerading as natives; stealing supplies for a proposed expedition to plunder a lost treasure vault. When he catches the culprits, Tarzan’s vengeance is terrible indeed…

‘The Black Queen!’ is an all-new, all-Kubert affair wherein the Jungle Lord almost saves a man from crocodiles. Acceding to the ravaged victim’s last wish, Tarzan then travels to his distant homeland and overturns the brutal regime of tyrannical Queen Kyra who rules her multicultural kingdom with whimsy, ingrained prejudice and casual cruelty…

The equally selfish choices of American millionaire tycoon Darryl T. Hanson blights his family as his search for ‘The Trophy’ decimates the fauna of Tarzan’s home and leads to a clash of wills and ideologies which can only end in tragedy…

With #219, Kubert began an epic 5-issue adaptation of ERB’s sequel novel The Return of Tarzan. It opens in Paris as the unacknowledged son of long-vanished Lord Greystoke tries to adapt to his new life as a civilised man of leisure.

One night his natural gallantry draws him to the side of a woman screaming for help and he is attacked by a gang of thugs. After easily thrashing the brigands he is astounded to find her accusing him of assault and simply bounds effortlessly away from the gendarmes called to the disturbance.

This entire trap has been engineered by a new enemy; Russian spy and émigré Nikolas Rokoff and his duplicitous toady Paulvitch

The rightful heir to the Greystoke lands and titles silently stood aside and let his apparently unaware cousin William Cecil Clayton claim both them and the American Jane Porter after Tarzan rescued her from attacking apes in the jungle. Missing her terribly, Tarzan had chosen to make his own way in the human world beside French Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

In the course of his urbane progression, the Ape-Man had exposed the Russian cheating at cards to blackmail French diplomat Count De Coude and earned himself a relentless, implacable foe forever.

When Rokoff subsequently tries to murder Tarzan, the vile miscreant agonisingly learns how powerful his jungle-bred enemy is…

With physical force clearly of no use, Rokoff’s latest plan is to put the Ape-Man through a ‘Trial by Treachery’; manufacturing “evidence” that Tarzan is having an affair with the Comte’s wife. Once again, the civilised beast underestimates his target’s forthright manner of dealing with problems and is savagely beaten until he admits to the plot and clears the innocent woman’s name…

With news of Jane’s impending marriage to Clayton, Tarzan seeks to ease his tortured mind with action and the next chapter sees him travel to Algeria where, sponsored by the grateful, ashamed Count, he begins working for the French Secret Service in Sidi Bel Abbes, ferreting out a traitor in the turbulently volatile colony…

His hunt soon leads him to a likely turncoat and subsequent brutal battle with Arab agent provocateurs, but things start to turn his way after he liberates a dancing slave who is the daughter of a local sheik.

When word of Jane comes from D’Arnot, Tarzan throws himself even more deeply into his tasks and falls into another ambush organised by Rokoff. This time his ‘Fury in the Desert’ seems insufficient to his needs until his newfound friend the Sheik rides to the rescue…

The intrigue continues to unfold in ‘Return of the Primitive’ as Tarzan finally uncovers a link between Rokoff and the espionage at Sidi Bel Abbes. Mission accomplished, he is then posted to Capetown and aboard ship meets voyager Hazel Strong, a close friend of Jane’s who reveals the heiress had never forgotten her tryst with an Ape-Man.

Unable to watch Jane enter into a loveless marriage, Hazel took off on an ocean cruise…

The story rocks Tarzan’s mind, but not so completely that he fails to notice Rokoff is also aboard and murderously dogging his footsteps. This time, however, the Russian is properly prepared and that night the jungle man vanishes from the ship…

Rokoff’s act of assassination is a purely pyrrhic victory. Soon after reaching Capetown the villain insinuates himself into the Clayton wedding party but when their yacht’s boilers explode next morning, he, Hazel, Clayton, Jane and her father are left adrift in a lifeboat…

Tarzan, meanwhile, has survived being tumbled overboard and spent days swimming hundreds of miles. He now washes up on the same beach his parents were left upon decades ago. Staggering inland, he finds himself in the cabin his father built before being stolen and adopted by Kala the She-Ape.

John Clayton is forgotten, for fate has brought Tarzan home…

A man changed by his time amongst other men, the Jungle Lord instinctively saves a native warrior from certain death and is astonished to find himself declared chieftain of the noble Waziri tribe.

…And off the coast, a lifeboat filled with dying travellers espies land and wearily sculls towards a welcoming beach in the heart of primeval forests…

Revelling in his newfound status, popularity and freedom, Tarzan enquires about the fabulous jewelled ornaments of his new friends and learns of an incredible lost metropolis. Soon he is curiously journeying to ‘The City of Gold’ where he encounters debased, degenerate sub-men led by a gloriously beautiful Queen.

La is high priestess of forgotten Atlantean outpost Opar, but can barely control her subjects enough to allow the perfect specimen of manhood to escape to safety. Both she and Tarzan know they are destined to meet again…

Refusing to be cheated of their sacrifice, the bloodthirsty Oparian males search far into the jungle and soon encounter the Clayton yacht survivors. When the primitives attack the human strangers and carry off Jane, Rokoff shows his true colours, leaving William to his fate. This callous act also inadvertently clears the path for Tarzan to finally claim his inheritance and reunite with Jane…

All the Jungle Lord has to do is break back into Opar, save his one true love from ‘The Pit of Doom!’ and escape the wrath of jealous Queen La…

That mission accomplished, he and Jane return to the beach in time to witness William’s dying confession and accept the succession to the estates and title of Lord Greystoke…

The adaptation is followed by an original adventure codicil, seeing Tarzan rescue a beautiful maiden from attacking apes and discovering she is a messenger from La, who is in peril of her life…

In Opar another insurrection by the Beast Men has left the Queen imperilled by her subjects and threatened by a gigantic mutant whom she tearfully reveals is her sibling in ‘Death is My Brother!’ With no choice, Tarzan regretfully battles the nigh-mindless brute and proves to the insurgents that his wrath is greater than their malice…

A third and final text missive of fond reminiscences from Kubert regarding the material from Tarzan #225-235 then leads into original tale ‘Moon Beast’ which sees a mother and child brutally slaughtered and Tarzan captured: framed for the hideous crime by cunning medicine man Zohar.

When the vile trickster overreaches himself, the captive Ape-Man breaks free but still has to deal with the mutant brute Zohar employed to perpetrate the atrocity…

Kubert only produced the cover for #226 as the crushing deadline pressures finally caught up with him. The contents – not included here – featured a retelling of the Ape-Man’s origins by Russ Manning, taken from the Sunday newspaper strips of 15th November 1970-7th February 1971.

Back for #227, Joe took Tarzan out of his comfort zone as ‘Ice Jungle’ saw young native warrior Tulum endure a manhood rite at the top of a mountain. Also converging on the site for much the same reason is American trust-fund brat J. Pellington Stone III, determined to impress his father by bagging a legendary snow ape. Sensing impending doom, Tarzan follows them both and is proved correct in his assessment…

After single-handedly killing an immense Sabretooth tiger in an unexplored region of the continent, Tarzan is captured by pygmies intent on offering him as sacrifice to a mighty monster who has terrorised them for years. However, his ‘Trial By Blood!’ sees Jungle Lord cleverly outwit giant lizard and teach the tribal elders a valuable lesson in leadership, after which albino queen Zorina seeks to extend her power by making him her consort.

The Ape-Man wants nothing to do with ‘The Game!’, and, after the kingdom descends into savage civil war, sees ironic Fate deal the white queen a telling death blow…

With Tarzan #230 (April/May 1974), the title transformed into a sequence of 100-page giants, mixing new material with reprints of ERB characters and thematically-aligned stars from DC’s vast back-catalogue.

Leading off that issue was a brief all-Kubert vignette as ‘Tarzan’ saves a deer from a lioness. That neatly segues into ‘Leap into Death’ starring Korak, Son of Tarzan and written by Robert Kanigher, with Kubert pencilling and inks from Russ Heath.

Here the titanic teen nomad hunted for his stolen true love Meriem and the barbarian Iagho who had abducted her, before stumbling into a nest of aggressively paranoid bird-people who learn to respect his courage but still fly away with his lover…

The next issue featured the start of another-Kubert-adapted Burroughs novel: possibly the most intriguing conception of the entire canon.

‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part One’ saw a movie company on location in the deep jungle. They are making a picture about a white man raised by animals who becomes undisputed master of all he surveys. The chain of coincidences grows more improbable as actor Stanley Obroski is a dead ringer for Tarzan… which probably explains why he is taken by savages set on torturing him to death…

Rescued by Tarzan, Stanley explains how the expedition was attacked, unaware exactly how much trouble his fellow actors are in. During Obroski’s absence, stand-in Rhonda Terry and starlet Naomi Madison are kidnapped by El Ghrennem’s Arab bandits who believe the production’s prop map leads to an actual valley of diamonds…

When Tarzan find the rest of the film crew he is mistaken for Stanley and drawn into their search for the missing women. The plucky Americans have already made a mad dash for freedom, however, and Rhonda has been captured by creatures she simply cannot believe…

After a fascinating bonus section revealing Kubert’s ‘Layouts and Thumbnails’ for the opening chapter, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Two’ reveals Rhonda taken by apes who speak Elizabethan English, and made the subject of a fierce debate. Half of the articulate anthropoids want to take her to “God” whilst the other faction believes her a proper prize of their liege lord “King Henry VIII”…

After being briefly recaptured by El Ghrennem, Naomi too is taken by the talkative Great Apes. When Tarzan discovers the kidnapper’s corpses, he follows the trail up an apparently unscalable escarpment. Rescuing and returning Miss Madison to her surviving friends, “Stanley” then returns to ascend the stony palisade and discover an incredible pastoral scene complete with feudal village and English castle…

Tracking Rhonda, he enters the citadel and meets a bizarre human/ape hybrid calling himself God. The garrulous savant explains that once he was simply a brilliant Victorian scientist pursuing the secrets of life. When his unsavoury methods of procuring test-subjects forced him to flee England and relocate to this isolated region of Africa, he eventually resumed his experiments and transformed himself into a superior being and apes into fitting servants.

Now they have a society of their own – based on the history books he brought with him – and his experiments are nearing completion. Having already extended his life and vitality far beyond its normal span by experimenting upon himself, God is now ready to attain immortality and physical perfection. All he has to do is consume Tarzan…

Of course, the madman has no conception of his captive’s capabilities, and when the Ape-Man and Rhonda promptly vanish from their dungeon it sends the palace into turmoil and God into a paroxysm of insanity…

The chaos also prompts already ambitious apostate King Henry to begin a revolution to overthrow his creator. As ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Three’ opens, the war between Church and State is in full swing and Tarzan battles to rescue Rhonda whilst God’s castle becomes a flaming hell.

Losing her in the chaos Tarzan is forced into a hasty alliance with God, unaware that maniacal monarch Henry has taken her back to the jungles below the escarpment and into a region where God casts his scientific failures…

All too soon Henry is dead and Rhonda is facing beings even stranger than talking apes. Thankfully, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Four’ (preceded by another fascinating Kubert Layout spread) sees the Ape-Man arrive in time to save her from incredible peril before returning her to the film party in the dazzling, tragic conclusion…

Kubert ended his close association with Tarzan in #235’s ‘The Magic Herb’. Here the jungle hero saves a couple from a crashed aeroplane and siblings Tommy and Gail urge him to help them find a legendary flower that might cure the man’s fatal ailment. However, something about them makes Tarzan deeply suspicious…

Nevertheless, he takes them to the primeval lost valley where it grows, only to be betrayed as the intruders frame him: throwing the jungle lord to the resident lizard men whilst fleeing with specimens that will make them millionaires in the outside world.

Sadly, the treacherous pair have completely misunderstood the powers of the plant and pay the ultimate price all betrayers must…

Wrapping up the astounding thrills and captivating artistry (splendidly remastered by Sno Cone Studious & Jason Hvam) are more revelatory treasures from ‘Joe Kubert’s Tarzan Sketchbook’ tracing the art process from page-roughs to competed page

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is another unmissable masterpiece of comics creation and wild adventure no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Complete Joe Kubert Years © 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 2005, 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Trademark Tarzan and Edgar rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-806-2 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-61-1 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi accomplished 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.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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

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

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

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

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

Originally published as monochrome strip Le Mystère De L’Avion Gris (The Mystery of the Grey Plane) from April 15th to November 16th 1937, the stirring saga was rerun in French Catholic newspaper Coeurs Vallaint from April 17th 1938. Its doom-laden atmosphere of espionage, criminality and darkly gathering storms settling upon the Continent clearly caught the public imagination…

Later that year Éditions Casterman released the entire epic as L’Île noire in a hardback volume that Hergé hated. It was eventually re-released in 1943, reformatted, extensively redrawn and in full colour and was greeted with rapturous success and acclaim.

Further revisions came after Tintin crossed the channel into British bookstores. The Black Island required a number of alterations to suit British publisher Methuen, leading to Herge’s assistant Bob De Moor travelling to England in 1961 for an extensive and extremely productive fact-finding mission which resulted in a new revised and updated edition that appeared not only here but was again serialised in Europe.

One evening as Tintin and Snowy are enjoying a walk in the country, a small plane experiences engine trouble and ditches in a field. When the helpful reporter offers assistance, he is shot…

Visited in hospital by bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, the patient discovers they’re off to England to investigate the crash of an unregistered plane. Putting the meagre facts together Tintin discharges himself, and with Snowy in tow, catches the boat-train to Dover.

The young gallant is utterly unaware that he’s been targeted by sinister figures. Before journey’s end they have framed him for an assault and had him arrested. All too soon the wonder boy has escaped and is hounded across the countryside as a fugitive.

Despite the frantic pursuit, he makes it safely to England, having temporarily eluded the authorities, but is still being pursued by the murderous thugs who set him up…

He is eventually captured by the gangsters – actually German spies – and uncovers a forgery plot that circuitously leads him to the wilds of Scotland and a (visually stunning) “haunted” castle on an island in a Loch.

Undaunted, the bonny boy reporter goes undercover to investigate and discovers the gang’s base. He also finds out to his peril that the old place is guarded by a monstrous ape…

And that’s when the action really takes off…

This superb adventure, powerfully reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, guarantees the cherished notion that, as always, virtue, daring and a huge helping of comedic good luck inevitably leads to a spectacular and thrilling denouement…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, now is the time series to rectify that sorry situation.

The Black Island: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1966 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The King Years


By Bill Harris, Dick Wood & Bill Lignante, Giovanni Fiorentini & Senio Pratesi & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-009-3

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance and unswerving quest for justice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician

Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence that pitted him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over the illustration side to artist Ray Moore. The Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a successful, long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market.

Various small companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians, who have long been manic devotees of the implacable champion) surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

Between 1966 and 1967 King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – developed after the Ghost Who Walks had enjoyed a solo-starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics.

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as straight reformatted strip reprints. The Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership, a model King maintained for their own run.

This splendid full-cover hardcover – or eBook for the modern minded – gathers the contents of The Phantom #19-28 (originally released between November 1966 and December 1967) as well as four back-up vignettes from Mandrake #1-4, spanning September 1966 to January 1967.

Following fascinating Introduction ‘The Phantom, the King Years’ from fans and scholars Pete Klaus and Howard S. Gesbeck (which includes some splendid unseen art and candid photos) the procession of classic wonders resumes.

As with the Gold Key issues, the majority of the stories are scripted by Bill Harris or Dick Wood and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante, with cover by or based on images from the daily strip as limned by Sy Barry.

Opening the King archive is a fabulously wry romp as a coterie of crooks inveigles their way into the Phantom’s jungle home, intent on stealing ‘The Treasure of the Skull Cave’. Over the centuries the Ghost Who Walks has amassed the most fantastic hoard of legendary loot and astounding artefacts, but the trio of crooks can’t agree on what is or isn’t valuable and soon pay the price for their folly and genocidal intent…

Issue #19 tapped into the global excitement as America neared its first manned moonshots with ‘The Astronaut and the Pirates’ finding the Phantom hunting the seagoing brigands who abduct and ransom an American spaceman after his off-course splashdown lands him in very hot water…

The second tale in the issue relies on more traditional themes as ‘The Masked Emissary’ intervenes in a civil war; protecting an ousted democratic leader from a tyrannical despot, until liberty can be restored to the people.

The Phantom #20 – cover dated January 1967 – led with a bold departure from tradition. Scripted by Pat Fortunato ‘The Adventures of the Girl Phantom’ delved into the meticulous family chronicles to reveal how, a few generations previously, the feisty twin sister of a former Ghost Who Walked took her brother’s place to police the jungles of Bengali after he was laid low.

Counterpointing that radical drama is a moody mad science thriller as the current masked marvel battles old enemy Dr. Krazz and aliens from the Earth’s interior in ‘The Invisible Demon’

In #21 ‘The Treasure of Bengali Bay’ finds the Phantom battling bandits using their own fake ghost to secure sunken loot after grudge-bearing Indian Prince Taran lures our hero to the sub-continent as fodder for specially trained animal assassin ‘The Terror Tiger’.

Full-length drama ‘The Secret of Magic Mountain’ pits The Immortal Avenger against sly witch doctor Tuluck who mixes misconceived ancient history and a freshly-active volcano to turn the local tribes against The Phantom, whilst in #23 merciless pirate ‘Delilah’ takes the place of a Peace Corps worker to get lethally close to the guardian of the jungle.

However, her devious wiles, brainwashing techniques and super-submarine prove of little use against the dauntless and implacable Ghost Who Walks…

Girl Phantom Julie steals the show again in #24 as she and faithful friend Maru challenge the forces of darkness to defeat a vicious manipulator in ‘The Riddle of the Witch’

Writer Giovanni Fiorentini and illustrator Senio Pratesi tackle #25 as the modern hero and famous athlete and sportswoman (and prospective wife) Diana Palmer frustrate slave-taking diamond smugglers intent on subjugating ‘The Cold Fire Worshippers’ before issue #26 marks a return to double story instalments.

Lignante’s ‘The Lost City of Yiango’ sees the Phantom compelled to solve a 50-year old mystery and prevent a resurgence of tribal warfare, after which he answers a desperate plea to safeguard an irreplaceable treasure and goes undercover to thwart ‘The Pearl Raiders’

The Phantom #27 reveals the origins of the African Avenger’s wonder-horse as ‘The Story of Hero’ discloses how he once rescued kidnapped Princess Melonie of Kabora and how – following ‘The Long Trip Home’ – he was thanked with a most marvellous equine gift…

The Phantom’s King chronicles concluded in #28 ‘Diana’s Deadly Tour’ as the celebrity embarks on a global exhibition jaunt and is targeted by ruthless spies. Not only must her enigmatic paramour keep her safe but also solve the bewildering mystery of why they keep trying to kill her…

Wrapping up the issue is an ultra-short yarn as a frustrated world champion boxer hunts the Ghost Who Walks determined to prove who’s the toughest guy in ‘The Big Fight’

As mentioned above the Phantom guested in vignettes in Mandrake #1-4. Those ‘Back-Up Stories’ round out the comics cavalcade here beginning with ‘SOS Phantom’ as the Guardian Ghost responds to secret drum signals to quell an outbreak of fever, whilst ‘SOS Phantom: The Pirate Raiders’ finds him answering similar “threat tomtoms” to tackle and terrify superstitious coastal raiders…

Those self-same drums are crucial in thwarting a murderous criminal mastermind intent on penning the Phantom in ‘The Magic Ivory Cage’ and the flurry of little epics ends with another outing for ‘The Girl Phantom’ who here outwits a brutal strongman whose brawn and belligerence are no match for cool head…

Sprinkled liberally with original art, unused cover designs for the never-printed issues #29 and 30, examples from foreign editions and a wealth of original art pages by Jim Aparo (from forthcoming volume The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Charlton Years: volume 1) this another nostalgia drenched triumph: straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure that has always been the staple of comics fiction.

If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional action-fest you can’t afford to miss…
The Phantom® © 1966-1967 and 2012 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7

HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

Call me an idiot (you know you want to) but for years I laboured under the misapprehension that comics’ first superhuman hero debuted on January 29th 1929. Eventually. thanks to a superb collection of archival albums from the wonderful folk at Fantagraphics, I was disabused of that erroneous notion. Those mammoth oversized compendia are still the best books about the old Swabbie ever published…

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919; one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the silent movies of the era. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies (later and more famously renamed Minute Movies).

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on the cinema antics of the silent era. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy, would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period.

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they decided to sail for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day and in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of every reader: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale his walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye, already doing the work of twelve men, did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans. Before long, Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life…

Once home their newfound wealth quickly led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells constantly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along. The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed for good.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for the sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. When they escaped jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned and it grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Day by day he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny all at once.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities would lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork, who almost murders the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency: something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep the adventures tumbling along – even Mickey Mouse would don metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass (see Mickey and Donald and The Lair of Wolf Barker among many others).

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and 368 mm by 268 mm) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays; including testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first volume – and accompanied by the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period.

Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip but many were just filler. They were used so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled The 5:15, Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character.

Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and, when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly funny sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again, cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home should have.
© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. During that time he published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, and died – from the complications of cancer – the day before his last strip was printed…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Broken Ear


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-617-4 (HB)                    : 978-0-416-57030-5 (PB)

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

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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

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

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

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

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

After six years of continuous week-by-week improvement, Hergé was approaching his mastery when he began The Broken Ear. His characterisations were firm in his mind, and the storyteller was creating a memorable not to say iconic supporting cast, whilst balancing between crafting satisfactory single instalments and building a cohesive longer narrative.

The version reprinted here (in either hardback or softcover as you prefer) was repackaged in colour by the artist and his studio in 1945, although the original ran as monochrome 2-page weekly instalments from 1935-1937, but there are still evident signs of his stylistic transition in this hearty, exotic mystery tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a boorish, po-faced amateur.

Back from China, Tintin hears of an odd robbery at the Museum of Ethnography and, rushing over, finds the detectives Thompson and Thomson already on the case in their own unique manner.

A relatively valueless carved wooden Fetish Figure made by the Arumbaya Indians has been taken from the South American exhibit. Bafflingly, it was returned the next morning, but the intrepid boy reporter is the first to realise that it’s a fake, since the original statue had a broken right ear.

Perhaps coincidentally, a minor sculptor has been found dead in his flat…

Thus begins a frenetic and enthralling chase to find not just who has the real statue but also why a succession of rogues attempt to secure the dead sculptor’s irreverent and troublesome parrot, with the atmospheric action encompassing the modern urban metropolis, an ocean-going liner and the steamy, turbulent Republic of San Theodoros.

Hhere the valiant lad becomes embroiled in an on-again, off-again Revolution. Eventually, though, our focus moves to the deep jungle where Tintin finally meets the Arumbayas and a long-lost explorer, finally getting one step closer to solving the pan-national mystery.

Whilst unrelenting in my admiration for Hergé I must interject a necessary note of praise for translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner here. Their light touch has been integral to the English-language success of Tintin, and their skill and whimsy is never better seen than in their dialoguing of the Arumbayas.

Just read aloud and think Eastenders

The slapstick and mayhem incrementally build to a wonderfully farcical conclusion with justice soundly served all around, all whilst solid establishing a perfect template for many future yarns: especially those that would perforce be crafted without a political or satirical component during Belgium’s grim occupation by the Nazis.

Here, however, Hergé’s developing social conscience and satirical proclivities are fully exercised in a telling sub-plot about rival armaments manufacturers using an early form of shuttle diplomacy to gull the leaders of both San Theodoros and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico into a war simply to increase company profits, and once again oil speculators would have felt the sting of his pen – if indeed they were capable of any feeling…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, there’s no better time to rectify that sorry situation.

The Broken Ear: artwork © 1945, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Dick Tracy Casebook – Favorite Adventures 1931-1990


By Chester Gould, selected by Max Allan Collins and Dick Locher (St. Martins/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-31204-461-9 (HB)                978-0-14014-568-7 (PB)

All things considered, comics have a pretty good track record on creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth (usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Tarzan) and in that list you’ll find Batman, Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and not so much now – but once upon a time – Dick Tracy.

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould was looking for strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters (like Al Capone who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers) he settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion.

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ power and charisma.

He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation. He took “Plainclothes Tracy” to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had blessed such strips as Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others.

Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the stern protagonist Dick Tracy and revised his love interest into steady girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and rapidly became a huge hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows.

Amidst the toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. If you’ve never seen the original legend in action this collection – still readily available and released to accompany the Warren Beatty movie in 1990 – is a great introduction.

Selected by Max Allen Collins and Dick Locher, who worked on the strip after Gould retired, it presents complete adventures from each decade of the strip’s existence to date, and gives a grand overview of the development from radical ultra-violent adventure to forensic Police Procedural through increasingly fantastical science fiction and finally back-to-basics cop thriller under Collins’ own script tenure.

From the 1930s comes the memorable and uncharacteristic ‘The Hotel Murders’ (9th March – 27th April, 1936) wherein the terrifyingly determined cop solves a genuine mystery with a sympathetic antagonist instead of the usual unmitigated, unrepentant outlaw.

Whodunits with clues, false trails and tests of wits were counterproductive in a slam-bang, daily strip with a large cast and soap-opera construction, but this necessarily short tale follows all the ground rules as Tracy, adopted boy side-kick Junior, special agent Jim Trailer and the boys on the Beat track down the killer of a notorious gambler.

The best case of the 1940s – and for many the best ever – was ‘The Brow’ (22nd May – 26th September, 1944) in which the team must track down a ruthless and brilliant Nazi spy. As my own personal favourite, I’m doing you all the favour of saying no more about this compelling, breathtaking yarn, and you’ll thank me for it, but I will say that this is a complete reprinting, as others have been edited for violence and one edition simply left out every Sunday instalment – which is my own definition of policed brutality.

By the 1950s Gould was at his creative peak. ‘Crewy Lou’ (22nd April – 4th November, 1951) and ‘Model’ (23rd January – 27th March, 1952) are perfect examples of the range of his abilities. The first is an epic of minor crimes and criminals escalating into major menaces whilst the latter is another short shocker with the conservative Gould showing that social ills could still move him to action in a tale of juvenile delinquency as Junior grows into a teenager and experiences his first love affair…

As with many creators in it for the long haul the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where the popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the shift towards science fiction themes (Tracy moved into space and the alien character Moon Maid was introduced) as any old-fashioned attitudes.

In the era when strip proportions had begun to diminish as papers put advertising space above feature clarity, his artwork had attained dizzying levels of creativity: mesmerising, nigh-abstract concoctions of black-&-white that grabbed the eye no matter what size editors printed it. ‘Spots’ (3rd August – 30th November) 1960 comes from just before the worst excesses, but still displays the artist’s stark, chiaroscurist mastery in a terse thriller that shows the fundamental secret of Tracy’s success and longevity – Hot Pursuit wedded to Grim Irony.

The 1970s are represented by ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ (12th June – 30th December 1978) by Max Allen Collins & Rick Fletcher. Although he retired in 1977, Gould still consulted with the new creative team, and this third outing for the new guys saw the long-awaited return of Big Boy, a thinly disguised Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career, and whose last try for revenge tragically cost the hero a loved one and forever changed the strip.

Representing the 1980s, the final tale is ‘The Man of a Million Faces’ (October 5th 1987 – April 10th 1988) by Collins & Dick Locher. Like Fletcher, this illustrator was an art assistant to Gould who took up the master’s mantle.

Despite the simply unimaginable variety of crimes and criminals Tracy has brought to book, this sneaky story of a bank robber and his perfect gimmick proves that sometimes the back to basics approach leads to the best results.

Dick Tracy is a milestone strip that has influenced all popular fiction, not simply comics. Baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips and comics such as Batman, but his studied use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crime-fighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries decades before shows such as such as CSI and The Coroner made the disciplines everyday coinage.

This is a fantastically readable strip and this chronological primer is a wonderful way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-love, Hard Justice world.
© 1990 Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: “Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-734-6

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed 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 – at once both visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial 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 spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and latterly 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 a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of fulsome colour, the Kat 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 of indeterminate gender, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; 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.

Smitten kitten Krazy always misidentifies these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him/her in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is 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 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; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and 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: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“why dollin is you in pritzin?”, “l’il dahlink” or “I are illone”).

Yet for all that, the 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.

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 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, examples of contemporary merchandise, memorabilia and some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions featuring the cast and settings, the splendid madness resumes with January 3rd 1937 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – we can now set off on another odyssey into the heartlands of imagination.

Within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, with even more new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire.

Newcomers include a family of kangaroos who provide a unique form of locomotion for the traditional cops and boppers chases, a pale equatorial bear of mixed origins (Mama from the south Pole and Papa from the North), a tightrope walker of surly demeanour and unlikely antecedents, a gang of morally ambiguous pelicans and the much-travelled odd cove calling himself D.B. Platypus…

Of especial note can be observed a marked increase in the (temporary) triumphs of Offissa Pupp who now regularly locks up the brick-bunging little brigand. Oddly, that in turn leads to a spike in jail breaks…

As well as frequent incarceration, 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… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, including a formidable moat around the county jail as well as art installations and an early example of conjugal visitations

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow by the week. Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the notable innovations this time is an increase in road traffic as America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine takes hold of the cast (after a bevy of wandering car salesmen arrive in town). Alternatively the entire cast spend a lot of time in one spot stargazing and attempting various form of flight – usually before coming back to earth with a bump.

Topics of civic conversation and favoured pastimes include a serious lack of good gossip, the proposed smashing of the atom by audacious “sign tisks”, insomnia, radio talk shows and movie-making, a seasonal but wholly unexpected cold snap, astronomy and misunderstood planetary phenomena, fishing and water sports and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene…

One tireless constant is the growing instability and trustworthiness of supreme comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose increasingly hooch-affected delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to denizens of the county.

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

Following another personalised birthday card, the cartoon gold is topped off by another 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 gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, and engendered 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.
© 2006, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

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

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

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

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

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

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

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

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

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.