Monday, May 30, 2016

ALL STAR RECOMMENDS KIDS CLUB EDITION


As this year’s Free Comic Book Day proved, all-ages comics are huge. Not just huge, but with a surging all-ages market and a slew of talented creators determined to create quality kids comics, we could very well be entering a new era for comics publishing, with every publisher in the game diversifying their slate to include some top-notch titles for younger readers.

Enter All Star Comics’Kids Club, and enter me, tasked with the challenge of writing an all-ages column this week.

As FCBD was only a couple of weeks ago, I’ll direct you over to my column reviewing those books, as there you’ll find things like Lumberjanes, Mouse Guard, Legend of Korra, Strawberry Shortcake and just so much more. With recently released books like Jonesy and Giant Days also doing incredibly well alongside beautiful reprints of Carl Barks Donald Duck and Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, its safe to say you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to this kind of material.

My job today is to shine my creaking little spotlight on some other comics efforts and new, old or really old, present a selection of material from across the globe and across tiiiiiiimmmmmeeee. It’s by no means a complete list, it’s nowhere near thorough, but I’ve done my best to select a variety of material from the obvious to the obscure that will hopefully not just pique your youngsters’ interest, but yours as well and will have you plucking books off All Star’s shelves, putting in orders or rummaging through garage sale back-issue bins.

Anyway, enjoy. Whatever your age.


 

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: FLIGHT 714 TO SYDNEY
Hergé
Little, Brown & Company

It seems that everyone has their own opinion on which of Tintin adventure is the greatest. Take a look at a bunch of “Best of Tintin” lists and you’ll rarely find any agreement for the top slot. But while Tintin in Tibet, The Castafiore Emerald (probably my pick, but I go back and forth) and The Secret of The Unicorn appear to be jostling the most for #1, I’m of the opinion that, while not the best, 1968s Flight 714 To Sydney is one of the most exciting and in many ways is the total package in showcasing the dense plotting, action, adventure and goofiness of the typical Tintin tale.

During a layover on their way to Sydney, where they are to be recognised for the achievement of being the first men on the moon, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus (along with Tintin’s faithful canine companion Snowy, of course), wind up running into an old pilot pal from an earlier adventure who so happens to be flying Laszlo Carreidas, “The Millionaire Who Never Smiles,” to Sydney as well. Lazlo, as you would imagine with a nickname like that, is quite the jerk, but after finding some unexpected mirth at the unfortunate Professor Calculus, he agrees to take the gang with him aboard his private jet.

A mid-air hijack by Laszlo’s own aide, Spalding, sees plans going awry for the gang once more. Landing on the Indonesian island of Palau-Palau Bompa, Tintin and co. learn that their old nemesis Rastapopoulos is behind a rather half-baked plot to swindle Laszlo out of his fortune. Running gun-battles through the jungle and breathless foot chases follow, all illustrated in Hergé’s stunning clear line style. The gags are great, the scenery drop-dead gorgeous and Hergé’s grasp on every one of his beloved characters is, along with his page structure, flawless. Escalating in deadly fashion and culminating in one of the most bizarre plot twists of any Tintin tale ever, Flight 714 To Sydney may chronologically be the twenty-second Tintin Adventure, but its master creator ensures readers stay as on their toes as ever.

It’s remarkably easy to take The Adventures of Tintin for granted as they are so steeped in the history of comics and may well appear dated and even old-fashioned to many a modern reader. However, I recommend frequent revisits to Hergé’s world as, no matter which story happens to actually be the greatest, Hergé’s constant inventiveness, humour, complexity of plot, gift at telling both adventure and mystery stories and his timeless graphic sensibility ensure his work remains as rewarding and vital as ever. I may be biased, as the classic Hergé exclamation balloon of “!?” inked on the inside of my forearm demonstrates, but Flight 714 To Sydney is classic in the very best sense of the word.



ASTERIX THE GLADIATOR
Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo
Hachette Children’s Group

When it comes to selecting an Asterix adventure to read, you may as well walk up to the shelf that houses them, close your eyes and pluck one out at random. A nearly unparalleled run of comics, there is not a dud amongst the 34 volumes writer Goscinny and artist Uderzo published between 1961 and 2009, with Uderzo holding his own after his writer’s unfortunate passing.

In the almost unfathomable case that you have never read an Asterix book, the series focuses on a Gaulish village, rebelliously holding out against a Julius Caesar-led Roman army that has conquered everything else around them.  Surviving by their wits and through the use of a magic potion that grants its imbiber super-strength for a period of time, the series’ main stars are Asterix, a warrior of diminutive size, who’s all brain and not much apparent brawn, and the hedonistic, obese Obelix who loves to eat and fight. They don’t look like much, this virtual midget and his obese, dopey-looking companion, but with heart and brain and potion-infused might, they battle their way across the world and enjoy every last moment of it. Running gags populate the series, as does the serious scope of almost every tale, which sees our protagonists travelling to such places and Britain, Spain, Egypt, Germany and more, ever questing for something.

Asterix The Gladiator is the fourth Asterix adventure, first published in 1964. Cacofonix, the village bard, is kidnapped by Romans and taken to Caesar as a gift. While quite pleased to be free of their bard’s abominable singing voice, the villagers know that the abduction is an affront that cannot stand, so off trot Asterix and Obelix to retrieve Cacofonix from Rome. Brawls on pirate ships and massage parlours follow, as Asterix and Obelix arrive in Rome and head for gladiator school in order to get close to Caesar and fight their way to Cacofonix. Again, there is no wrong choice when it comes to the Asterix books, but for a good example of the hijinks and fisticuffs on offer, Asterix The Gladiator is a good place to start.



BATMAN ADVENTURES ANNUAL #2

Much like Asterix and Adventures of Tintin above it and Spirou down below, choosing from the vast number of published Batman Adventures (as well as its follow up series, Batman & Robin Adventures) is a difficult task. Inspired by the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Adventures may have been an all-ages title, but it featured some top-notch creative talent all working on perhaps the definitive version of the character.

1995s Batman Adventures Annual #2 is a special issue, as show creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, ably assisted on art chores by fellow animator Glen Murakami (Batman Beyond, Ben 10) create an oversized Bat-tale that not only features the villainous Ra’s al Ghul, but Jack Kirby’s iconic character Etrigan The Demon.

“Demons” is a mini-epic, spanning a centuries-long feud between Ra’s and Etrigan’s human host Jason Blood over a mystical, demon-“conjuring object called the “The Summoning Tablet.” Timm and Murakami’s Toth-inspired, stylistic and classic art goes extra blocky when focussing on Blood/Etrigan, assimilating Kirby’s legendary style seamlessly into the world of Batman TAS.

Highlighted by a striking, amazingly hallucinatory sequence where Batman is shot with a tranquiliser dart by a sultry Talia and descends in a crazed Kirbyesque dreamscape, this is a particularly gorgeous outing from the creators, clearly relishing the opportunity to mix the toys created by Bob Kane and friends with those powerfully, prolifically cranked out by Kirby. Visually it’s powerful stuff and it rips along, thanks to Dini’s fast plotting, toward an inevitable showdown between hero, anti-hero and villain, with the Kirby Krackle flying along with the Batarangs.

Batman Adventures Annual #2 is a standout amongst a run of full of fun, lively, brilliant Batman comics. An omnibus edition of the series is long overdue but at least can be found in a fresh set of trade collections.



BATTLING BOY
Paul Pope
First Second

One of comics’ most artistically energetic creators, Paul Pope finally unleashed the first volume of his long-gestating, already-optioned-by-Brad-Pitt, all-ages book, Battling Boy, in 2013. Pope’s work has long contained all-ages or YA content and themes – his debut self-published effort, THB, was about a teen girl named HR Watson and her water-activated, inflatable bodyguard –but Battling Boy marked Pope’s full arrival in young reader turf.

Arguably the most influential American indie artist of the last twenty years, Pope’s new-millennium Kirby energy and widescreen imagination are unleashed in Battling Boy, the story of a 12-year-old demigod sent from his celestial home of The Hidden Gilded Realm, to the city of Arcopolis to fight monsters that plague the city. Pope builds a complete superhero mythology into the book, from the late protector of Arcopolis, Haggard West (who resembles a kind of punk rock Rocketeer), to Haggard’s daughter and inheritor of his flight ring, Aurora West, to villains like Sadisto, to monsters galore, to The Hidden Gilded Realm with its Asgard-like feel and its Kirbyesque gods of all shapes, sizes and races and, of course, Battling Boy himself.

Armed with a demigod’s swagger and a selection of magical t-shirts that imbue the wearer with the powers of the animal/mythical creature pictured upon it (from mouse to Gryphon), Battling Boy wastes little time in living up to his name and is quickly welcomed as Arcopolis’ latest and greatest hero, much to the chagrin of Aurora West. Battling Boy is ripping fun, filled with monstrous brawls and a cast of stylishly designed characters, a second volume cannot come soon enough.



BONE
Jeff Smith
Cartoon Books

In 1991, amidst the proto-Image hoopla of books like Rob Liefeld’s newly launched X-Force and Jim Lee’s stint on the new adjectiveless X-Men title, a virtually unknown former animator named Jeff Smith dropped his black and white, self-published Bone on the comics world. Armed with an obvious love of top-notch comics draftsmen (Walt Kelly and Carl Barks spring immediately to mind) terrific gags, drop-dead gorgeous linework and an animator’s ability to move his characters and his action across the page with astonishing grace, Smith arrived on the scene with Bone in a rare, fully-formed way for a “new” creator and wound up making a true classic. Bone, concluded in 2004, is beloved by readers to this day and its influence on the medium simply cannot be overstated. It was groundbreaking with its old-school charm, its adorable, three-dimensional characters and overall warmth at a time when most comics were anything but. There simply wasn’t anything quite like it and nothing in an even remotely similar vein was crafted with such astonishing expertise and genuine love.

The tale of three odd, cute little anthropomorphic creatures (clearly influenced by Walt Kelly’s Pogo),  sweet Fone Bone, greedy Phoney Bone and goofy Smiley Bone, who find themselves exiled from their home of Boneville and stuck in a valley where both humans and dragons live, cows are raced as sport, poultry products are used as currency and bugs can actually talk, Bone takes readers by surprise as its unassuming goofiness gives way to a no-joke, high-stakes Epic Fantasy of the finest order with forces of good and evil classically opposed.

Arriving at a time when Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher, snarling their way through mainstream comics in anatomically-questionable poses, were hot on most fans minds, Bone was a not only a palate cleanser but I’d wager a dozen eggs it was also responsible for bringing more female readers to the medium than any other comic that debuted a decade either side of its arrival.

Smith first began drawing his little characters when he was a little boy and just as they never left him, they may well never leave you either. Is Bone the best all-ages comic book of all time? It’s debatable, for sure, but the title’s appearance on that very short list speaks volumes about its quality and essential status. Available in a multitude of formats from newly coloured editions to a mammoth, phonebook-thick, all-in-one volume, Bone simply must be read by comics lovers of every age and genre disposition. Utterly engrossing, can’t-miss comics.





THE DEEP VOL.1: HERE BE MONSTERS
Tom Taylor & James Brouwer
Gestalt

Merging the sense of wonder and classic adventure of Challengers of the Unknown and the best Fantastic Four stories with the extra-family feel of The Incredibles is Tom Taylor and James Brouwer’s The Deep published by Perth-based Gestalt. Featuring a cast of multi-racial deep sea explorers, the Nekton family, searching for what’s believed to be a sea-dwelling dragon, The Deep: Here Be Monsters reads breezily, carried along by Taylor’s snappily-dialogued character interactions and Brouwer’s dramatic sense of aquatic scale, dedication to realising the fascinatingly alien undersea environments found in our oceans and some really expressive, lively characters.

Taylor’s such a sure hand at this sort of material, the kind of writer who fleshes characters out quickly and wholly and puts them in motion right from the get go. Plot spools out but never bogs anything down – least of all his character’s relationships with one another. It seems a little crazy to me that, after being able to make a book like Injustice work perfectly by balancing the darkness of the plot with some beautifully light character moments, he hasn’t been made the head Superman writer, but with stints on Earth 2 and Marvel’s Superior Iron Man and now All-New Wolverine, he’s certainly stayed busy. The Deep is his and Brouwer’s baby, however, and in true Taylor fashion, his characters maintain a sense of wonder and awe about the undersea world they enthusiastically explore even in the face of danger and creatures of terrifying immensity.

“The sea is deep and full of secrets” is a line that could sound menacing and full of bad omen. However, Taylor and Brouwer’s characters deliver it with wide smiles, open minds, big hearts and heroic optimism, ready to take readers of their comics and viewers of their animated series down there with them for a really fun underwater ride.



GON
Masashi Tanaka
Kodansha

I’m of the opinion that the first two volumes of Masashi Tanaka’s Gon are the funniest comics of all time. I actually don’t even think its close. I’ve laughed so hard reading Gon that I’ve had tears running down my face. I read them with my wife and she laughs out loud too. I’m even chuckling now, still, as I flip through the volumes for this review. Gon, first published in Japan in 1991, is the last dinosaur, a kind of dwarf T-Rex who somehow travels from continent to continent (he’s even in Australia at one point) causing a whole lot of trouble for local populations of various animals. The stories are completely silent and Tanaka’s meticulously detailed animals and landscapes are not only beautiful but form the bulk of the humour. Reading Gon is almost like watching a Looney Tunes cartoon made real.

Gon may be short, but he is powerful. Afflicted with an insatiable hunger and possibly a Napoleon complex, he fights a grizzly bear for his stash of freshly-caught fish, hunts a bison in the African Savannah by riding a fully-grown male lion after it, infiltrates a nest of golden eagle chicks and ends up not only learning to fly by flapping his stubby little T-Rex arms but becoming part of the family, makes himself at home inside a shark’s mouth, goes on a Hulk-like rampage in an attempt to dislodge a tick embedded in his skin and more, so much more.

Tanaka’s particularly adept at giving Gon’s foes pained or exhausted expressions as Gon has his way with them -- sharks cry, giant petrels freak out, bobcat faces become masks of terror, and bears wear looks of pained acquiescence as Gon chases them, headbutts them, bites them or uses them for a pillow. Despite the craziness of the scenarios, the cruelty of nature is not sugar-coated by Tanaka and Gon is never able to protect all the young members of his various adopted families from their predators, so be warned: some animal babies do get snatched. Gon’s eventual vengeance is both complete and hilarious when it comes, however, as he makes his enemies pay in uniquely violent ways.

I have six volumes of Gon and, while diminishing returns come into effect as the series progress and the character’s fame grew in Japan, the craft remains ridiculous high throughout and the incongruity of this little cartoon dinosaur beating up full-size, realistically rendered apex predators never gets old. There are some volumes published by DC imprint Paradox Press floating around out there, but either the Japanese Kodansha or US Kodansha editions are more readily available, cheap and, being silent, there is no language barrier with the original books. Essential reading. I can’t recommend it highly enough.



KITARO: THE BIRTH OF KITARO
Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn & Quarterly

I was lucky enough to be gifted a promotional edition of the first book in Drawn & Quarterly’s new series of Kitaro translations, The Birth of Kitaro, by the late, great Shigeru Mizuki. Regular readers may recall my fumbling attempt at a eulogy for Mizuki last December and it’s such a wonderful thing to see his most famous creation in English once more from D&Q, following up on a larger-sized single volume from 2013. Complete with part one of an ongoing essay by translator Zack Davisson, a definition of yokai (the ghost/demon/spirit creatures that Kitaro both battles and is relation to), a “yokai knowledge challenge,” puzzles, and more supplementing the manga, this is a fun, joyful package, strikingly designed and containing seven spooky and offbeat stories created between 1967-68.

Including the story of Kitaro’s birth and a hair-raising encounter with a Buru-Buru, the yokai that gives you chills when she brushes up against you, there’s a lot of mythology playfully and imaginatively explored by Mizuki, whose little protagonist has become a pillar of Japanese popular culture. I can’t help but imagine that its super sweet, junk food-loving, titan of a creator – one of the most versatile comics creators ever (other works include a massive, four volume history of the Showa period and a manga biography of Adolf Hitler) – would be nothing less than thrilled with these new D&Q editions of his work. The Birth of Kitaro is due for release any day now and fans of classic manga, Scooby Doo-style thrills, Japanese mythology and beautifully crafted comics should put an order in.



KOMA
Pierre Wazem & Frederik Peeters
Humanoids

Addidas (“but not like the shoes!”) is a little girl who helps her father, Julius, with the family chimney sweep business in a futuristic, yet grimly industrial city. Her mother died mysteriously, her father battles poverty and grief, longing to escape with his daughter to the mysterious “country.”Addidas also suffers inexplicable blackouts that last up to half an hour at a time that, naturally, has her father concerned and doctors baffled. Losing herself inside an immense chimney, Addidas discovers a creature belonging to a race of subterranean beings, each tasked with maintaining machines that are connected to the health and personality of us surface dwelling “reals.”

Together, they decide to make their way on their own, down, way down, away from their respective societies and families but first they have to fix Addidas’ own machine, which has suffered a breakdown. Searching for his daughter, Julius is imprisoned for the crime of not having a chimney sweep license. Making a daring escape, Julius and Addidas are reunited, but their adventures are just beginning as Koma ever so slyly turns into a sprawling urban fantasy popping with imaginative twists and turns and culminates in nothing less than a new reality.

Frederik Peeters will be a familiar name to any who peruse this column regularly. On my own shortlist of must-read living creators, Peeters’ four-volume Aama is for my money the most accomplished example of SF comics in a long time, equal parts classic Heavy Metal and Akira. His beautiful, autobiographical Blue Pills tells the story of his complicated relationship with his HIV-infected lover, the novella length Pachyderm is a Lynchian twister of a thing and Sandcastle follows suit in similarly mind-bending fashion with its tale of beachgoers who find themselves rapidly aging. With Koma, however, Peeters charges along in a straightforward, cartoonish but still lovely manner, guided by Wazen’s heart-achingly scripted pages. Koma is a lovely comic, painful and sweet and wondrous by turns, with a resilient, capable and charismatic young lead and Peeters’ simply superlative world-building skills on full display.

Newly re-released by Humanoids in a single large paperback volume, Koma veers toward the darker end of the spectrum and contains a few low level swears, but this older kids book is a subversive, sophisticated, yet accessible comic book read that accelerates in complexity and wonder as the pages turn, cementing Peeters as one of the mediums premier modern talents. A very special and totally unique piece of work.


 

THE KURDLES
Robert Goodin
Fantagraphics

On a rainy night, a spoiled child thoughtlessly tosses a Teddy Bear named Sally from a moving car. Sally, resourceful and brave, picks herself up out of a pile of mud and makes her way into the woods. Things get worse for her from there, until she ends up just outside of a mysterious place called Kurdleton and befriends a unicorn, a scarecrow, a dog and an odd creature that constantly changes colour named Pentapus.

So begins The Kurdles, a fun and adorable adventure that will likely win over even the most jaded of readers. Publisher Fantagraphics ballsily compares the book to both Jeff Smith’s Bone and Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, but it actually proves a fair comparison. The Kurdles feels just as at home in the company of those all-ages comic titans as Sally does with her new friends in Kurdleton.

Goodin, an animator whose credits include Duckman and American Dad, brings a sure sense of character design and a love of sumptuous watercolours to The Kurdles and the book bursts with individuality and cuddliness as a result. Sally, with her little dress and stumpy Teddy Bear limbs is just adorable, but she’s far from a show-stealer – each and every character is given his, her or its own personality, voice and moment to shine over the course of the comic’s fifty-odd pages. Hijinks and attitude abound in the interactions of this bouncy little crew and when the treehouse that Sally’s new friends reside in (beautifully introduced over a striking double-page spread) becomes afflicted with a hair-growth disease, this odd little team has to act fast to find a cure before their home, now a distinctive character in its own right, literally grows legs and walks away.

This hardcover, album-sized book is a virtual charm factory and a more welcome and pleasantly short diversion from both your day and the intricacies of mainstream event comics I can’t imagine. This volume feels very much like an introduction to further adventures (just who, for example, is Schleb Rohan?) and hopefully this hunch proves correct, for a return to this distinct, fun group of fast friends, ever sweet even as they bicker with one another, can’t come soon enough.



LEAVE IT TO CHANCE
James Robinson, Paul Smith, George Freeman & Jeromy Cox
Image Comics

Writer James Robinson may describe Leave It To Chance as “Nancy Drew meets Kolchak the Nightstalker,” but I prefer to just ask, “What if Doctor Strange had a daughter?”

Debuting in the mid-‘90s, Leave It To Chance was literally decades ahead of its time, reading very much like a comic that would feel very much at home among the increasingly crowded all-ages comics racks of 2016. Scripted by Robinson and originally pencilled and inked by Paul Smith, the book sees young Chance Falconer, daughter of Lucas Falconer, occult protector of the city of Devil’s Echo, who wants nothing more than to begin training to be her father’s successor. Finding him more than a little resistant to the idea, Chance, along with her new pet dragon, Georgie, decides to go out and have her own crime-busting adventures.

Packed full of adventures featuring a giant frog demon, a ghost pirate, a kidnapped monkey and a mall phantom, Robinson’s light-hearted tales are brought to beautiful life by Smith’s super-sleek work, somehow simultaneously modern and classic. For my money, the art only improves with the addition of the criminally forgotten George Freeman on inks late into the run as, together the artists, ably enhanced by Cox’s subtle colour palette, took the dynamism of Kirby and substituted the blockiness for sleek curves. Overdue for a comeback, look out for Leave It To Chance, its plucky young female protagonist and her occult adventures have held up wonderfully.



MARVEL CLASSIC COMICS SERIES #2: THE TIME MACHINE
Otto Binder & Alex Nino
Marvel

To the back issue bins!

One of my favourite all-time Literary adaptations into comics, along with Bill Sienkiewicz’s atmospheric and nightmarish take on Moby Dick, is this old thing from 1976, a Marvel adaptation (part of their Classics Comics line) of HG Wells’ The Time Machine. Wrapped in a cover by the legendary Gil Kane, Otto Binder’s fairly pedestrian script adequately drags Wells’ novel over into the comics medium, but it’s the art of Pilipino fantasist Alex Nino that completely steals not only this particular show, but Marvel’s entire Classics Comics series.

Nino is the perfect illustrator to depict the both the wondrous daytimes of the far future our time traveller finds himself in, as well as its ugly, dystopian underbelly of night. Nino’s sharp, angular architecture of the world of the utopian Eloi, with its strange vegetation, and his stunning cosmic panoramas are absolutely timeless. His morlocks are blue ape-like monsters, most memorably rendered in a double-page spread as they swarm over our hero like in terrifying quantities. Even burdened with some really dry expositional dialogue, Nino’s pages burst with life.  Marvel’s The Time Machine is a faithful retelling of the book, one given extraordinary life by one of the mediums most inventive and striking stylists. Start your kid’s dystopian reading off right and track this one down.

Can’t find it anywhere? No problem.
Read it here.



OWLY
Andy Runton
Top Shelf

Owly, the largely silent adventures of the titular, adorably portly little owl who struggles to fly and his best friend earthworm pal, Wormy, are both sweet and educational. Join Owly as he orchestrates the prison break of a captive hummingbird, builds a home for displaced blue birds and struggles to befriend a young flying squirrel who, considering the food chain, is justifiably afraid that Owly might just eat him. And that’s only the first few volumes.

Runton’s love of nature shines through in these inky, handsomely cartooned tales and he’s unafraid to put some education in there along with the cuteness, slipping in slices about the dietary needs, seasonal migrations and habitats of his fellow creatures. The tales are noteworthy for their lack of dialogue, sure to foster discourse between parents and younger children and perhaps even aid and encourage those with speaking or learning disabilities to articulate. My wife is a children’s speech pathologist and she actively uses material like Owly in aiding fluency and articulation.

There’s adversity here in these stories also, with Owly struggling to meet the needs of his various projects and becoming visibly upset with rejection and failure when things at first don’t go his way. Education and perseverance are as important in Runton’s stories as environmental love, giving the comics a surprisingly stoic backbone amidst the all this cuteness and literal fluffiness. Not only that, but the reminder that the knowledge to overcome most problems, certainly the practical ones, can be found in books is also constant and reoccurring. Smart and super sweet, Runton’s half-dozen Owly books are keepers.


SPRIOU & FANTASIO: THE MARSUPILAMI THIEVES
Andre Franquin
Cinebook

Featuring a chase through a zoo in the dead of night, the infiltration of a circus, a brawl with customs officers and a rare fantastical creature, The Marsupilami Thieves clearly has enough hijinks to keep light-hearted readers entertained.  For those unfamiliar with the trio of Spirou, his squirrel companion Spip, and best friend Fantasio, they are the creation of French cartoonist Robert Velter, better known as Rob-Vel, and have passed through numerous creative hands since the conclusion of World War II when Rob-Vel sold the characters. The legendary Belgian cartoonist Andre Franquin took over the series in 1946 (from the equally legendary Jije) at the incredibly young age of 22 and worked, on an off, on the characters for the next two decades.

Full of Buster Keaton-like slapstick, ripping international adventure and mysteries aplenty, Spirou and Fantasio comics read like a bouncier Tintin, less plot heavy than Hergé ’s stories, with the gag ratio dialled way up. Franquin’s deceptively simple style, on full display in this volume, resembles a looser Hergé, more relaxed, more concerned with the animation of his characters than the fastidiousness of his detail.

Legendary in the Franco-Belgian comics world, Spirou, like his bandes dessinee brother Tintin, is an adventurous journalist, with Fantasio his trusty sidekick, and the pair (along with Spip, of course!) are forever drawn into caper after caper. 1954s The Marsupilami Thieves is one for the animal lovers and is notable for the inclusion of one of Franquin’s own signature creations, the marsupilami, a species of yellow-furred creatures that look part leopard, part spider-monkey and part meerkat that would reoccur throughout Franquin’s tenure chronicling the duo’s adventures.
The Marsupilami Thieves opens with a guilt-plagued Spirou and Fantasio, having captured a marsupilami in a previous adventure, visiting the zoo where the creature is being held, determined to free it and return it to its home country of Polumbia. Their resolve to do so only heightens once they see the enclosure the poor animal is being kept in. They never get the chance to free the marsupilami, however, as later that night they discover that it has been stolen by a particularly athletic thief, leading to a caper filled with wonderfully paced chases, brawls and animal escapes.

Franquin’s beautiful, lively linework and superb panel flow are apparent from page one, and a dry wit that fills various narrative captions adds a little extra comedy to the goofy sight gags. Publishers Cinebook, as always, preserve the oversized album format and even include a helpful history of the numerous talents that have chronicled the adventures of these beloved Euro comics characters, most of whom come close but can’t quite match Franquin’s illustrative verve. Well worth your time and your money, Spirou and Fantasio’s adventures, like those of Tintin and Asterix, are timeless.

See you next week. Love your comics.



Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.





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