Thursday, 12 October 2017

Asterix and the Big Fight by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 7

There's a pattern emerging of the Asterix series alternating between volumes set in Gaul and those set in other countries. And the Gaul based adventures are starting to say a few things about occupation. This comes to the fore in the seventh volume, Asterix and the Big Fight, which parodies various aspects of colonialism.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Asterix and Cleopatra by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 6

It's not hard to spot the influence for this album, with the original serialisation having come in the same year as the film Cleopatra, with the title character even drawn to resemble Elizabeth Taylor. This album used to have a non-traditional cover that resembled a movie poster, calling it "The Greatest Story Ever Drawn" and even listing what had gone into it in terms of writing & drawing materials and beer. However, the modern editions have dropped this in favour of the overall standardisation of the series and perhaps also because the passage of time has diminished the parody. Still it's a sign of the series riding the cultural zeitgeist of the day and presenting its own take on the relationship between the Queen of Egypt (who has a very pretty nose) and the Roman Dictator.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Asterix and the Banquet by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 5

Even before opening the fifth Asterix album this loses some of the joke in both translation and colouring. The original French title is Le Tour de Gaule d'Astérix and the German translation makes the joke even more specific "Tour de France". However, the English translation shifts the emphasis away from the journey to the end goal. Also undermining the joke is the colour of the shopping bag. Originally this was yellow with a patch, to mimic the lead cyclist's jersey, but the cover and now the modern interior colour have instead rendered it green. Although the colouring may be an error that was "corrected" in the wrong direction, the overall result is that the title and cover of this album now downplays somewhat fact that this is an exploration of France in all its glory. Perhaps this is also why it was one of the last of the original twenty-four Asterix albums to be translated into English. This placing, along with some of the cover croppings used over the years, has also disguised the introduction of one of the most beloved of all the characters in the series.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Asterix the Gladiator by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 4

The fourth Asterix album shows the series still developing and adding concepts, whilst also upping the humour levels. For the first time in the run so far a story's plot does not revolve around a threat to the village's supply of magic potion. Instead the victim this time is the bard Cacofonix, captured to be presented to Julius Caesar as a mere gift. This results in Asterix and Obelix heading off to Rome to rescue him.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Asterix and the Goths by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 3

With the third album, the Asterix adventures now step outside of Gaul for the first time, taking our heroes into neighbouring Germania. Goths have appeared in both the previous adventures but now we get to see a full depiction of the neighbouring country. It's another sign that this is a series determined to show the full range of its scope fairly early on and not confine itself merely to the relations between the Gauls and the occupying Romans.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Asterix and the Golden Sickle by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 2

The second Asterix album shows a boldness to the series in rapidly taking the main character away from the village and thus demonstrating early on that this is a series with a much broader scope than merely events in the village itself and the besieging camps. Instead much of the story is set in and around Lutetia, the ancient incarnation of the city of Paris.

In the current English translation, at least, the city isn't so obviously flagged as Paris. No footnotes identify it as such and many non-French readers may not immediately recognise the city on the river when it first appears. References to stereotypes of Parisians are also not so obviously on display to a non-French audience, whilst the city's iconic architecture is obviously too anachronistic to appear here. Only a reference to going down an underground tunnel as "take the subway" and a comment by a fisherman that all he catches are amphoras discarded by wine drinkers really reference the modern-day city. As a result, this could really be any city under Roman occupation

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Asterix the Gaul by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo - volume 1

One of the best known of all the French bandes dessinées is the Asterix series which first began in 1959 and is still going to this day. In recent years the series appears to have had a small makeover with updated translations, new & more consistent colouring, modified covers and the original publication order being used for listings & numberings, with the result that the albums currently on sale (which will be looked at in this and subsequent posts) differ somewhat from the editions I remember from childhood. However, Asterix the Gaul was the introductory album even then and shows a strip that was in development even when it began to be serialised. Significantly there doesn't appear to have been any major latter day rewriting or redrawing of the album in order to make it more closely match the rest of the series.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Combat Colin #1 by Lew Stringer

Lew Stringer has created many strips over the years for a huge variety of titles and publishers, but he's probably best known for his work for Marvel UK for various titles in the 1980s and early 1990s. Week in, week out he would produce a wonderful comedy strip appropriate to the themes of the comic in question. Many such as Robo-Capers, Captain Wally, Snail-Man or Macho Man are fondly remembered by readers to this day, but above all the top stand-out strip is Combat Colin. Created for Action Force weekly, the strip could have ended when that title died after just fifty issues but it instead made a transfer to Transformers (into which Action Force weekly was nominally merged) and lasted until the end of that title, even when the Action Force/G.I. Joe strip wasn't running in it. Recently Lew Stringer has produced the first of a series of collected editions of the strip, with issue #1 reproducing all of the strips from the Action Force days and today I'll be looking at that.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Tintin and Alph-Art - The Adventures of Tintin 24 by Hergé

Whenever a popular creator dies there's inevitable speculation about works that might have been, either stories that were planned but never made or unpublished material sitting in an archive somewhere. Perhaps the most frustrating is when there's an incomplete tale that has a start and a middle but no clear indication of how it was meant to end.

Hergé had stated that he wished The Adventures of Tintin to die with him and it's a request that his heirs have upheld, to the point that Tintin and Alph-Art was never officially completed by the Studios Hergé (although they did carry on with a few more volumes of Quick & Flupke before closing). Although there have been some fan produced completions, the official version remains the unfinished sketches which have been released in a couple of formats with the current version being a 62-page album that appears to only be available in hardback from Egmont. (The American publishers, Little Brown, have, however, published it in paperback.) The bulk of the album is taken up with forty plus pages of thumbnail sketches on which Hergé had drafted the first two-thirds of the story, with the text and some directions transcribed, plus some additional pages of notes at the end that show some of his ideas during the development of the story, some of which were abandoned on the way and others may also have fallen aside.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Tintin and the Picaros - The Adventures of Tintin 23 by Hergé

As the final complete album in the Adventures, Tintin and the Picaros inevitably has a lot riding on it, more so when one considers that this was the only completed story produced by Hergé in the last fifteen years of this life. There are some signs that the series is aware that things are winding down and thus it tries to tidy up some matters. But at the same time this story also sees some changes to the regular characters, as though the intention was to take them into the last quarter of the twentieth century in a far more modernised pattern.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Tintin and the Lake of Sharks

It's actually slightly surprising to see this album is kept in print. In many other comic traditions movies come and go, with a flurry of adaptations made at the time of the initial release but they usually then drop off the radar, going out of print and never being included in subsequent collections without much comment. But some of the Franco-Belgian comics instead keep the adaptations around, regardless of their status in canon. (Another example is the book The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, which is the illustrated text adaptation of the film of the same name, though the comic adaptation, with the English-language title "Asterix Conquers Rome", is long out of print.) Another curiosity is the title of this album - "Tintin and the Lake of Sharks" is almost a literal translation of the French "Le Lac aux Requins" but the English-language Region 2 DVD calls this "(The) Mystery of Shark Lake", with the "The" appearing or not in different places. (Even more strangely the French title is used on the sleeve cover.) It's not clear how this difference arose but one effect is to isolate the album from the source material to the point that it can appear to almost be a twenty-fifth adventure. The back-cover gallery on all of The Adventures of Tintin relegates this to the list of "Other Tintin Adventures to collect" (yes, plural, even when this sometimes the only one listed) but it can be found along with the other albums in bookshop displays to be obtained with all the rest, in spite of its status in the canon.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Flight 714 to Sydney - The Adventures of Tintin 22 by Hergé

The full title of Flight 714 to Sydney is a recent change, bringing it closer to the original French Vol 714 pour Sydney. The English language translation was originally published as just Flight 714 back in 1968; the same thing happened with the Dutch (Vlucht 714) and a number of other translations seem to have taken their cue from one or other of these editions. But in the last decade the destination has been added, maybe to increase the album's appeal in Australia, maybe to create greater conformity, maybe for some other reason.

But however long the title is, it's a misnomer. For the whole adventure is an interruption from Flight 714, with the characters having temporarily disembarked in Djakarta (now Jakarta) for a refuelling stop, only to transfer to another flight. Only at the end of the story do they once more board a commercial flight, also numbered Flight 714 and we never actually see them arrive in Sydney. In between they wind up on a deserted island and make some highly unusual discoveries.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Castafiore Emerald - The Adventures of Tintin 21 by Hergé

There's a notable cover variation with The Castafiore Emerald with the size of the spotlight on the cover varying, with a corresponding effect on how dark the remainder of the cover is. One effect on the current Egmont edition, with the smaller light, is that Tintin almost looks like he's been lifted from a cartoon cell. By the time this story appeared the series was now being adapted as a cartoon (known in English as Hergé's Adventures of Tintin). It's a reflection of the changing environment in which the Adventures now appeared. With this story they also began appearing much less frequently, with this album coming out three years after the preceding one, then it would be five years before the next, eight years until the one after that and presumably even longer had the final story been completed at the time. Tintin was more famous than ever before with an established volume of work and further appearances need not be so frequent. It was now possible to sit back, relax and bask in the fame, much like one of the characters in this tale.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Tintin in Tibet - The Adventures of Tintin 20 by Hergé

In some corners of the internet, which is an inevitable warning sign about the truth of this, there are claims that Tintin in Tibet was intended to be the final of The Adventures of Tintin and that everything which came afterwards was by publisher and popular demand. It's not clear how true this is, and it may be a misunderstanding of Hergé's considerations and circumstances at the time when it was conceived, but it's interesting to consider how this album might have stood as a conclusion to the series.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Red Sea Sharks - The Adventures of Tintin 19 by Hergé

The Red Sea Sharks is a rare example of one of the later Adventures which had subsequent modifications to solve problems that brought up with it. However, the current Egmont edition appears to be a translation of the original album and thus the problematic dialogue, mostly relating to characters' understanding of the language in one way or another, is present here. One notable change from the original French is the title - originally this was called Coke en stock, meaning "Coke in stock" or "Coke on board", but it was felt that in English this evoked the soft drink far more than the fuel (and it would have also dated badly as coke is now little used domestically).

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Calculus Affair - The Adventures of Tintin 18 by Hergé

The Calculus Affair is the most overtly political of the Adventures since King Ottokar's Sceptre. Appropriately it returns once more to conflict between the fictional countries of Syldavia and Borduria. Yet whilst the earlier tales were making clear points about and jibes at contemporary political developments, this one instead just uses situations to provide a framework for the plot.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko: Mr. Pump's Legacy, Destination New York and The Valley of the Cobras by Hergé

As previously noted, much of Hergé's non-Tintin work isn't well known in English because so little is still in print in translated form. However, there is one other series with three albums currently available in the UK, which can often be found alongside The Adventures of Tintin in bookshops.

The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko are the tales of a brother and sister and their pet monkey. Hergé created them on request from one of his French publishers but ultimately only produced five complete albums. Two of the albums, The 'Manitoba' No Reply and The Eruption of Karamako, have only had a limited English-language circulation in a double-volume that used the overall story title The Secret Ray and is now out of print. Some of the depictions in them are controversial and were thus passed over by first Methuen and then by Egmont.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Explorers on the Moon - The Adventures of Tintin 17 by Hergé

"This is it! I've walked a few steps! For the first time in the history of mankind there is an EXPLORER ON THE MOON!"

When Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon he received many messages from all over the world. One that baffled him the most, so the story goes, was an illustration of him standing by the lunar module being greeted by three men and a dog in orange spacesuits, with a red and white rocket in the background. He soon learned that another had already visited the Moon in fiction.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Destination Moon - The Adventures of Tintin 16 by Hergé

This is the big one. Of all The Adventures of Tintin, by far the best known is the two-part story that begins with this album. Such is its prominence that a special display stand for the albums in book shops is even modelled on the rocket. It is arguably the second best known Moon landing of all time. However much of that is to come in the second part of the tale. For now we have the story of events at ground control.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Land of Black Gold - The Adventures of Tintin 15 by Hergé

It's surprising just how many of the Adventures were at one stage partially complete. Land of Black Gold began as the ninth and final Tintin story to be serialised in Le Petit Vingtième but the supplement and the parent paper, Le Vingtième Siècle, were shut down when the Germans invade Belgium in May 1940. Though the Adventures would soon resume, the content of Land of Black Gold made it impossible to carry on during the occupation. The tale might well have remained incomplete but then in the late 1940s it was revived as a filler, with the whole story restarted, redrawn and with some modifications to match developments in the series. It was changed again in 1971 for the English-language publication, changing the setting from the long out of date British Mandate of Palestine to the fictional Arab kingdom of Khemed.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Prisoners of the Sun - The Adventures of Tintin 14 by Hergé

Prisoners of the Sun concludes the story begun in The Seven Crystal Balls, with the scene shifting to Peru as Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock pursue Calculus's kidnappers, with the not quite help of Thompson and Thomson. There's no real recap at the start of the tale, just a quick scene in a police commissioner's office, reflecting the original back to back publication but it does stand out more when the two albums are published under separate names.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Seven Crystal Balls - The Adventures of Tintin 13 by Hergé

Had things turned out differently, The Seven Crystal Balls could have been the final, incomplete Adventure. Begun in the latter stages of the war, publication was abruptly halted when Brussels was liberated with Le Soir newspaper being temporarily suspended and then restarted with a completely new editorial staff whilst Hergé faced accusations of collaboration and was unable to work for the press for nearly two years. (During this time, he redrew many of the earlier Adventures for the clear line colour format, but although his book publishers were supportive, it's doubtful the economics of the album market could have sustained the series by themselves.) The story and the Adventures as a whole were only revived with the launch of Tintin magazine in the autumn of 1946, bringing colour to the original serialisation for the first time. It's interesting to wonder what might have happened had the Adventures never returned, not just on the cultural impact and legacy of Tintin but on the whole Franco-Belgian comics tradition. Although a number of the developments had begun before the war and many creators began during it when imported strips disappeared, The Adventures of Tintin were a key influence for years afterwards with imitators and rivals. If Tintin had never returned after the fiftieth page here, bandes dessinées could have turned out very differently.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Red Rackham's Treasure - The Adventures of Tintin 12 by Hergé

Red Rackham's Treasure is the most unusual of the Adventures so far. It's explicitly the second part of the story begun in The Secret of the Unicorn but it takes quite a different approach. Whereas that tale is set entirely in Tintin's home country, this one takes him all the way across an ocean and back again as he searches for the treasure captured by Captain Haddock's ancestor.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Secret of the Unicorn - The Adventures of Tintin 11 by Hergé

The Secret of the Unicorn is very different from what has come before, showing the series growing in self-confidence and showing a willingness to experiment. For the first time in the series we get an adventure told over two books (whereas Cigars of the Pharaohs is essentially self-contained, albeit with loose ends that The Blue Lotus picked up on). It's also a tale that confounds expectations. The cover suggests a grand adventure at sea with an early modern ship and pirates but in fact we get the first story set entirely in Tintin's home country.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Shooting Star - The Adventures of Tintin 10 by Hergé

The Shooting Star shows a decisive change of approach from previous Adventures. There's no great exploration of a country and no grand crime to investigate. Instead this is a story made up of incidents and action. As a result, the plot is somewhat slight. It's also the first tale to really venture into the realm of science fiction, though that's a genre that can often be misunderstood.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Crab with the Golden Claws - The Adventures of Tintin 9 by Hergé

The Crab with the Golden Claws is one of the best known of all The Adventures of Tintin and the one that's been adapted more times than any other. It introduces Tintin's best known and most popular supporting cast member, Captain Haddock. More fundamentally it represents a shift in direction for the series, stepping away from political commentary into the realm of escapist action and comedy. It's easy to see why this album has made the mark that it did.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Quick & Flupke: Under Full Sail and Fasten Your Seat Belts by Hergé

Hergé produced far more than just The Adventures of Tintin. During the 1920s and 1930s he either created many different strips and also worked with other writers. But much of this output is little known in English, not least because of the limited translation and even many of those are now out of print or only available in certain countries. Today it seems there are only three non-Tintin albums available in the UK, which I'll be looking at later. Two others were published by Egmont in the last decade but it would seem weak sales have killed off the chance of the rest of the series being released, although a full set of eleven translated albums have been printed in other countries. So for now we have just two volumes of Quick & Flupke to look at.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

King Ottokar's Sceptre - The Adventures of Tintin 8 by Hergé

King Ottokar's Sceptre is a curious entry in the Adventures. It features both a highly modern (for the time) scenario of a country facing an internal coup & potential annexation by its neighbours, yet also contains an extremely odd structure by presenting a situation where control of a country rests upon possession of a single object. This fusion of late 1930s concern about German expansion and the potential weakness of small neighbouring states with almost fairy tale notions of monarchy and power feels odd. And yet the story is set in what is by far the most thought through and developed fictional country yet seen in the Adventures.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Black Island - The Adventures of Tintin 7 by Hergé

The first thing that stands out about this album is the cover format. The use of a band at the top for the series title with Tintin and Snowy's heads in the top left-hand corner is a style not otherwise seen until quite late in the run, reflecting the complicated publication history of this adventure. Like most of the early Adventures it was originally published in black and white and then redrawn in colour during the 1940s. But the version now generally available, and reviewed here, is a further alteration from the 1960s, made at the behest of the-then British publishers, Methuen, but which appears to have displaced the earlier version in all languages.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Broken Ear - The Adventures of Tintin 6 by Hergé

This one's a slight curiosity as there are some cover galleries around which show this with the title "Tintin and the Broken Ear", including the one on the sleeves of the DVD releases of the 1990s cartoon (though the episodes themselves use the simpler title). The current Egmont editions, however, use the shorter title. I'm not too sure what's going on here but I'll stick with the shorter title used on current editions of the album available here.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Blue Lotus - The Adventures of Tintin 5 by Hergé

It's a sign of the skill of the Adventures that some of the albums are direct follow-ons from preceding adventures yet the earlier tale feels a complete whole. This is especially helpful if the latter story is unavailable in any way - and The Blue Lotus didn't get an English translation until a dozen years after Cigars of the Pharaoh. Conversely in the original French the colour edition preceded the earlier tale's redrawing by nine years.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Cigars of the Pharaoh - The Adventures of Tintin 4 by Hergé

Cigars of the Pharaoh is the first of the Adventures to not have "Tintin" in the title, presumably due to the appearance of the series title "The Adventures of Tintin" on the cover making it redundant to repeat the star's name, though as we'll see later, this reasoning was not always adhered to. This is also the first album to feature the characters Thompson and Thomson and also Rastapopoulos, though each had had a cameo added to the redrawings of earlier adventures.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Tintin in America - The Adventures of Tintin 3 by Hergé

Tintin in America may be the third story in the Adventures, but thanks to the various issues that have affected the availability and readability both earlier adventures it has often wound up as being the first adventure in the series for many. Combined with its post war redrawing and subsequent revisions the result is an introduction for many that has had a lot of the earliest problems ironed out to make it consistent with what is to come. But it's not completely there yet and there are still some aspects that feel odd in hindsight.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Tintin in the Congo - The Adventures of Tintin 2 by Hergé

In one regard Tintin in the Congo is clearly a vast improvement on its predecessor, having been redrawn in the post-war years to match the settled format and style of the Adventures as a whole. Otherwise this is the deeply controversial book with a long history of restrictions, particularly in the English language. For most of the series's history this book has been unavailable in the regular English-language collection. In the early 1990s the original black and white version was released in a special collectors' edition along with other early versions. But the colour version didn't appear until the mid-2000s and even then it was only available in hardback and meant to be shelved alongside graphic novels and not children's books, though some stores ignored this despite the wrapper warning. The publication reawakened the controversy over the book and this may be the reason why in recent years Egmont have ceased publishing it and removed it from the gallery of titles on the back of every Tintin book. The most recent edition is published by Casterman, thus detaching it from the rest of the Adventures and as a result the book is now accumulating a new rareness and the inevitable aura of mystique that comes with that.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Adventures of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets - The Adventures of Tintin 1 by Hergé

I've only just begun these reviews and I'm immediately faced with the first question, namely what is the English language title of this book? This post's title follows the spine of the current (Egmont) paperback but both the cover and the inside front-page present it as the rather lengthy 'The Adventures of Tintin reporter for "Le Petit Vingtième" in the Land of the Soviets'. (That's not absolutely exact but it's extremely hard to reproduce the Belgian quote marks on my keyboard.) The official website gives this one as "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets", which is shorter. Whatever name gets used is a pain.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Introduction

Welcome to yet another review blog. Comics have a mixed reputation around the world but in some places they're considered the Ninth Art, hence the title of this blog.

I'll be reviewing various comics, strips, collected editions and graphic albums - basically whatever takes my fancy. To start with, I'll be looking at the full run of The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé, plus a few of his other works along the way. Look out for the first post on Thursday. Beyond that we'll see.