BD Junk

Some months back I got a new record player, and this prodded me into finally re-sampling my old records (that I had originally converted to MP3 back in 1997-ish) so that I could have better-sounding old records. And in FLAC.

IT MAKES SENSE!!!1!

A lot of the old vinyl are 7″ singles and 12″ EPs, so while recording this stuff I have to be in the proximity of the record player. I mean, I have to flip the records approx. every four minutes. So what could I do to keep me entertained while working hard, so hard? It had to be something that allows scatter-brainedness (so not reading a novel), but not so boring that the whole thing becomes arduous (so not watching TV).

Then I remembered: I had shipped lots of old comics from home last year. And among these was a box of albums so bad that my 13-year-old self had put them in a box at the very back of the storage closet, never to be seen again.

Until now.

Behold! The stack of horrors!

I vaguely remember sorting these out from my comics for storage reasons: The shelves in my room had grown too full, so I picked out the stuff that was so bad that I was never ever going to read it again. Looking at the publication dates of these albums, that happened in 1982, so these are European comics from the 70s.

Let’s have a look at them and figure out whether I had great taste as a 13-year-old or what. (Spoiler: Yes.)

Les Gentlemen by Alfredo Castelli and Ferdinando Tacconi.

(I guess they thought “Aristokratene” was a good Norwegian translation of “Les Gentlemen”.)

This is a humorous Italian Bond rip-off mainly distinguished by a peculiar tick od the artist’s. See if you can spot it.

Yes…

You’re getting it…

That’s right.

Virtually everybody is drawn from exactly the same angle.

In most panels, everybody is placed in a horizontal tableau with their faces drawn in a three-quarter angle facing the audience.

And everybody also looks traced from stills of various actors. Perhaps the artist only had a single photo of each actor?

It’s unnerving.

The storylines are pure stupidity, of course, but it does have its amusing moments.

Here they are making their three-quarter-view way down a mountain side using roller skates on a railway track. It’s mostly like that until they run out of pages.

Archie Cash by Brouyère and Malik.

(I guess they thought “Charlie” was a good Norwegian translation of “Archie”.)

Hm… doesn’t that remind you of an actor… But who?

Who could it be!?

Yes.

It’s rambling and incoherent and tries very very hard to be tough and violent.

Dani Futuro by Carlos Gimenez and Victor Mora.

(I guess they thought “Danny” was a good Norwegian translation for “Dani”.)

Gimenez is probably best known these days for the insanely over-rated Paracuellos. “needle-sharp characterizations and knack for narrative make Paracuellos comparable to Maus and Persepolis. His artwork may surpass them.” I mean, there’s some good stuff in Paracuellos, but it is repetitive and somewhat shallow.

Dani Futuro, on the other hand, rips off pretty much everything it can think off, like Lost in Space and Valerian…

Even David Bowie doesn’t escape unscathed.

But there’s an undeniable charm to some of Gimenez’ pages…

… veering off into psychedelia every so often.

Since I bought four of these, that may mean that I did enjoy them when I was, like, six, but by 13 the bloom was off.

There’s some fun critique of Capitalism in the later albums, though.

Il fanciullo rapito by Gattia and Zanotto.

(I guess they though “Kidnapped” was a good Norwegian translation of… Hey! It is!)

It’s a Classics Illustrated thing.

And it’s deathly dull. Another score for my 1982 self.

Moby Dick by Ollivier and Gillon.

Another Classics Illustrated. This one’s more French.

And it’s not that bad. I mean, it has a big whale. That’s got to count for something.

Andrax/Kronan by … er… There’s absolutely no credits anywhere to be found. Google seems to say that Kronan is by Spaniard Jaime Brocal Remohí while Andrax is by Jordi Bernet? Huh?

Is this Bernet? I guess it could be, but it doesn’t look much like his work in, for instance, Torpedo.

So we’ve got a post-apocalyptic thing going on with savage swords of Conan, I mean Andrax, and it’s all printed on toiled paper.

Very absorbent paper which makes thin lines disappear into the paper, I guess.

It’s pretty much unreadable drek.

Morgan Kane by… again, no credits.

And you can see why. Even as schlocky western comics go, it’s dire. The copyright seems to indicate that it may have originated in Switzerland.

Mystiska 2:an by Rolf Gohs.

It’s a Swedish comic, which may be stretching the “BD” designation a bit much…

“A comic about violence”. So why did this comic end up in the Box of Crap? I remembered nothing at all about it, but I was immediately struck by Gohs’ really sharp artwork. So very black blackness.

But the comic itself is pretty much a complete mess. It’s about these two boys cavorting around in too short shorts and trying to intervene when another boy gets roughed up by his father. Much social realist. And then the artist himself enters into the story and they have a sleepover in the treehouse.

That was so head-scratchingly weird that I had to google Gohs, and it turns out that the last entry (a few years after this landed in The Box) in this series featured one of these boys as the boyfriend of a grown-up man, which caused such a scandal that the magazine it appeared in was shut down.

“The Men of Adventure” by Various.

This is a series of presumably edumacational comics about historical settings and the men who had adventures in them. So we get a Zulu war, the Boxer rebellion and Lawrence of Arabia.

The latter is by Tacconi… isn’t that the guy who did Les Gentlemen?

It could be.

I do see a certain resemblance!

But then the artist goes and mixes it up by doing some of these faces mirrored, so I guess it’ll have to remain a mystery.

These albums aren’t very good.

A von Daniken series by I CAN”T BE BOTHERED TO LOOK IT UP.

Yes, there are aliens…

… and Native Americans, and it’s unreadable drek. Apparently German.

El Baron de Munchhausen by de la Fuente and Cornejo.

(Apparently they thought “Münchhausen” was a good Norwegian translation of “El Baron de Munchhausen”.)

I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that this is Spanish. It’s a series of short vignettes of typical Munchhausian nonsense, and it’s well-drawn and kinda amusing.

Éric Castel by Reding and Hugues.

(I guess they thought that “Eric” was a good Norwegian translation of “Éric”.)

Yes, it’s a football comic.

There’s some drama on the fields…

… but also pages and pages and pages of people footballing.

There was so much of this stuff back in the 70s: An endless number of sports-related comics, but most of them were published more cheaply than this series.

It’s not all football games, though: There’s also a storyline of sorts where Castel befriends a poor boy…

… and sponsors him to become a professional football player. (Phew!) So it’s both a wish fulfilment thing for the audience (the demographic is presumably pictured above) in addition to offering the thrill of reading about football matches in comics form.

Dracurella by Julio Ribera.

This is a really inventive series about Dracula’s kind-hearted adopted daughter Dracurella.

She lives with a tail-less dragon in a domestic cave, and it’s all kinda amusing.

Pictured above the Dragon stealing appliances for Dracurella.

It’s very Spanish.

Very Spanish.

Gigantik by Victor Mora and J. Cardona

(I guess they thought that “Gigantic” was a good Norwegian translation of “Gigantik”.)

You remember Mora from Dani Futuro up there? Right? Right. This is more Spanish sci-fi nonsense, but with a different artist. So you have lots of robots…

… a gigantic space station…

… and more robots. And fighting.

It’s not without charms, but it’s … what’s the word I’m looking for… Oh, yeah. “Bad.”

Al et Brock: Les Casseurs by Denayer and Duchateau.

Finally! A Franco-Belgian comic in this Box of Sadness.

It’s about two comically mismatched special agents.

One is fat, one is thin. One is messy, one is tidy. You know the drill. Hup hup hup.

It’s drawn in the Standard French Boys Adventure Comics style, and it’s not displeasing to the eye, but it’s all so incredibly derivative. Even as a 13-year-old this was too boring for me, and I say that as somebody who didn’t put his Ric Hochet comics into the Box of Forgetfulness. And Ric Hochet is unbelievably boring.

Which makes this believably boring?

Is that how this works?

Anyway! You made it to the end! I made it to the end!

And I finished re-sampling all my old vinyl.

So thank you, Box of Horrors. You’re going to the used book store now, I think, because I don’t have room for you here, either.

BD80: Tendre Violette

Tendre Violette by Servais & Dewamme (1981)

Both Jean-Claude Servais (the artist) and Gérard Dewamme (the writer) are Belgian, which makes a first for this week’s little trip through Franco-Belgian comics, I think? All the other ones have been French. Very French.

These stories were originally serialised in the Belgian (À suivre) magazine.

I’m not sure whether I’d term this a very Belgian comic (after all, no big noses), but it’s certainly a pastoral series. The forest is a tangible presence throughout, as well as the seasons, foraging for food and hunting for bunny rabbits. (As well as catching leeches in this very efficient manner, later to be sold to the apothecary. (When did they stop using leeching in Belgium, anyway?))

Our heroine throughout the three albums is Felicia, who we can see wandering through the forest: A woman of nature. The Danish name for this album is “Felicia and Liberty”, or something. Freedom is what’s important for her, and she shuns convention and all those nasty things that follow from being tied down.

The vast majority of women who appear throughout the pages are like the sour-faced biddies to the left, while the men are mostly gregarious and fun-loving.

And then things shift suddenly without… much reason, other than melodrama. Servais’ artwork can sometimes be difficult to read: It’s not clear why she’s suddenly on the ground, and it’s not clear why the villagers then decide to throw this very pregnant woman into a lake. (Spoilers: She survives, the baby doesn’t.)

The first book is a series of short stories, one more melodramatic than the other. The above is from when she tried to join a coven, but then she… stumbled while offering the blood to Satan… which made them angry… and the cat attacks her… but her own cat comes to her rescue…

I know.

In another story, she loses her memory (after getting hit over the head and then gets raped) and is then sold by the police (?) to an abbey (!?) to work as a slave (!?!).

I KNOW!

But still, you can’t deny the power of some of these pages. Servais’ detailed artwork with these almost traditional layouts: He has a tendency to make Felicia stick out of the panels, and going “full bleed” out into the margins of the book. (Quite unusual for its time.)

Felicia is constantly breaking through the confines of these, frankly, extremely silly and somewhat tedious stories.

Malmaison by Servais & Dewamme (1984)

I only bought the first of these albums as a teenager (presumably because I didn’t think Servais made interesting comics), but I got the next two albums now, because I was curious as to whether there’s be any development.

Indeed, the artwork seems to get even richer than in the first one. But using a “love montage”? It’s so cinematic, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

As for the story… Instead of being a bunch of (literally literally) unbelievable stories, there’s just one story that’s so monumentally moronic that I’m not going to bother writing anything about it.

Guess whether the dwarf up there is evil or not.

As in the first album, the pleasures here are from Servais’ artwork. As usual, Felicia is poking out of the panels all the time, but it’s especially effective in panels like this to emphasise their difference in heights.

Other pages look a bit like Servais has been studying Milo Manara’s layouts a bit too closely.

L’Alsacien by Servais & Dewamme (1986)

And then the Huns attack!

I read this book an hour ago, and I’ve already suppressed what it’s about… Uhm… Let’s see… While I’m thinking, just ponder the cosy scene in the forest above.

Oh, yeah, there was treason and revolt and stuff. Yeah. Nothing important, but note the excellent binding technique the French resistance uses for this traitor. And since they apparently had him tied up for several weeks, they presumably had to untie and tie him up again several times a day.

That’s dedication.

This series was republished in the naughts in an expanded version (in France), and in colour. These three albums became tomes 2-4, and new tomes 1 and 5-7 were added. Fortunately, these haven’t been translated to any language I read, so I’m able to resist the compulsion to get them, too.

Servais has published a large number of works over the years, and about half a dozen more have been translated to Danish. I wonder whether they have less groan-worthy plots than these Dewamme-written ones…

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Gotlib

Rhââ Lovely 1 by Gotlib (1976)

Gotlib was a prolific cartoonist, working from the mid-sixties until his recent death. He started out doing comics for the French Pilote magazine before co-founding two magazines, l’Echo des savanes and Fluide Glacial. Out of his dozens of albums, c. nothing has been translated to other languages.

Runepress made a go at it in the early 80s with these four albums, which collect work originally published at l’Echo (the first and third); the second was serialised in the music magazine Rock et Folk; and the fourth in Fluide. And it’s not difficult to see what attracted those weird Danes to this, er, corpus: It’s relentlessly scatological and weird.

But it’s not just poop and semen jokes for the fun of it. Gotlib, in these strips (originally published in 1973) makes fun of people trying to present a bourgeoisie front by showing that they, too, pick their noses and wipe their asses. (But do all French stand while wiping? Tardi draws it that way too…)

Oh, geez. Is this 9gag or something? This is a serious blog!

Or… perhaps not. Yes, I didn’t mention it in the introduction, but there’s a lot of phalluses, figurative or actual, in these comics.

Hm, the first few pages quotes here might leave the impression that it’s all pantomime, but it’s not. About half the pieces are these extremely wordy and very witty skits. At least the Danish versions are very funny, but I’m guessing the original Greek is also a bunch of laffs.

Hamster Jovial et ses louveteaux by Gotlib (1974)

OK, so we have poop jokes and silly word play: It sounds like wholesome fun that you’d see translated to all languages in the world and kept in print indefinitely, instead of Runepress making a go at it for two years and then Gotlib would never be seen again?

There’s a lot of sex jokes in these books, and I’m not going to excerpt the ruder ones. This is a family oriented blog! As Lambiek says, “Already risqué back in the 1970s many gags are nowadays perhaps even more disturbing to those who are easily offended.”

In this album, all the jokes are about a Scout leader and his flock, and if a Scouting/sex joke comic sounds like a major seller to you…

But, in general, it’s really, really silly and absurd.

Rhââ Lovely 2 by Gotlib (1977)

Things reach the apex of things-that-shouldn’t-be-posted-on-wordpress.com-ness in the third album. Here’s the least rude page:

And there’s a trip featuring Allah, Jehovah and the rest yukking it up and watching porn flicks.

The funniest strip is the Excorcist parody that features a possessed boy instead of a girl, but since the boy has a hard-on through the entire strip, I’ll just excerpt this gag instead. Yes, the possessed boy poured ink out the window onto the priest.  Did Mad Magazine do the same joke?

Pervers Pépère by Gotlib (1981)

After all this depravity, you might expect Gotlib to take it a notch up with something called “Pervers Pépère”, but it’s innocent in comparison.

There’s a lot of convoluted fart jokes. But by this time, it’s the 80s, and perhaps Gotlib felt the need to step back from the outrage.

Instead most of the jokes here are about the reader or the characters thinking that something involving genitalia is going to happen, but then it doesn’t. And that gives Pervers Pépère a laugh. So his perversity is that he doesn’t go for the sex…

But as with the un-hilarity of the implied rape threat above, most of these strips seem to be looking for a punchline without finding it. Instead we’re just presented with an absurd thing that Pervers Pépère does and then… nothing.

So, to recap: When Gotlib is virtually unpublishably obscene, he’s really funny, but when he’s not, he’s just not that funny. If this is the general gist of his career (and I’ve just read these four books, so this is a very uninformed assumption), then it’s not surprising that he remains unknown outside of France.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Le génie des Alpages

Le génie des Alpages by F’Murr (1976)
Comme des bêtes by F’Murr (1977)

Le génie des Alpages is a series started by F’Murr(r) in 1973. It was originally serialised in the French Pilote magazine and then collected in albums from 1976 on. The Norwegian editions I have seem to (unusually enough) to track the French publications closely.

For the first years, F’Murr adheres to a two-page gag format. In the albums, every two-page spread is a little tale of escalating insanity with constant asides and wordplay. The Norwegian translators have really put their hearts into this thing: There are so many puns on various forms of words for “sheep” in these books that the mind reels.

While there’s an impressive amount of nonsensical punning going on, it’s also a series that full of visual gags.

Oh, what’s it about? It’s about a flock of sheep in the alps who all have funny names and various personality quirks (one’s in love with an eagle, one’s an inventor, and so on) and their shepherd and his dog. Along with the ram, the latter two are supposed to be the authority figures in the herd, but they’ve mostly abdicated in the presence of all the lunacy.

F’Murr loves to play with the construction of the comics themselves, like on this indicia page where the sheep complain about the unprofessionalism of whoever composed these rickety panels.

I’m not going to attempt to translate any of these strips, because… it’s too much work, but here’s a nice non-wordy strip. You have the rude tourist who wants to find snow (and there’s none to be found), and then… the murderous funicular kills him. There’s a high death toll in these strips, especially for the tourists.

The murderous funicular isn’t a recurring character in the series, and that’s typical of F’Murr. There are some recurring gags, but he’s impressively inventive: Use a gag once, and then never again.

Barre-toi de mon herbe by F’Murr (1977)
Un grand silence frisé by F’Murr (1978)

The Alpages “universe” is basically a steady state world. Cataclysmic things happen in every other strip, but things return to normal the next one. However, things subtly change over the years: We get a new shepherd, for instance, while the old one drops by from time to time and is reminded why he stopped showing up.

The series isn’t particularly topical, but here we see one of the sheep adorning herself with safety pins, which must be a reference to punk, which was starting around this time. (She tries to help the hung-over ram with the droopy horns.)

Around this time, F’Murr started doing longer strips, too: Mostly in the six to ten page range. For one of the first one, we get an introduction from these very Tintin-looking monks (who are apparently readying the book for publication) and they discuss how they’re going to feature the next, longer piece in the album without disturbing the rhythm. They decide on an all-black interstitial page.

The piece introduced this way, er “The analphabet darkness”, is possibly a parody of the metaphysical sci-fi comics becoming popular in France at the time. Or perhaps F’Murr just wanted to draw a volcano. Who can say?

Les intondables by F’Murr (1980)
Tonnerre, et mille sobots!! by F’Murr (1983)

The artwork also develops over the year. It becomes more detailed and consistent, I think…

And there are also atypical panels like this (which is about the sheep owners trying to suppress the a sheep uprising (the sheep want control over the means of production (yes, this is the early 80s))).

The strips become even more meta, which many a strip dealing with the sheep rearranging the scenery. Perspective is fun.

The series sometimes references Groucho Marx directly, and the humour certainly tends toward the Marxist, but it also has a Krazy Kat vibe going on with the scenery.

Dans les nuages by F’Murr (1987)

By the late 80s, many of the quirkiest bits have receded. In the early years, you might have five different gags happening at once across a two-page story, but the well of ideas seems to have gotten a bit drier as the years pass.

But there’s always new twists to how the gags unfold.

And then… collage!

When the final album translated to Norwegian appeared, you start getting some of those normal gags about not having an idea for a gag. The two workers putting up the scaffolding here complain about things having gotten more boring lately, but “he’s been doing this for a while”. “Who’s interested in sheep these days?”

Still, the weirdness keeps on going.

And this is the final panel, and I wondered whether perhaps F’Murr meant this cliffhanger as an ending of sorts, but nope. Seven more albums have been published after this, the last one in 2007.

This is a very strange series, and I’m surprised that the Norwegian publishers managed to get eight volumes published. The Danes only got three done before they had to give up. And that’s unusual, because Denmark is (and had) a bigger comics audience than Norway. Perhaps it was a labour of love for the Norwegian translators (who remained the same people throughout the years) and editors?

I don’t know. Perhaps it was a runaway hit in Norway? This was all before the Intertubes, so I guess we’ll just never know.

F’Murr has also done a large number of non-sheep-related comics in France. Only one has been translated into a language I can read, and from that one I can guess that the reason might be that he’s just hard to translate. There’s a lot of French references, and lots of word play. Anybody taking this on has a bit of a task ahead of them.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Caza

Scènes de la vie de banlieue by Caza (1979)

Caza is a prolific French artist (real name Philippe Cazaumayou) who has been doing comics since the early 70s (and continues to publish to this day). However, very little has been translated into any language I can read. (Except various stuff in various issues of Heavy Metal, but I can’t seem to find an index at the moment…)

So this post is just about two works, and kinda encapsulates a lot of what’s great and frustrating about French comics.

The first book is a Danish omnibus collection of Caza’s mid-70s work for Pilote under the collective name “Scenes of Suburban Life” (if I were to hazard an English translation. Or “Scenes from Life in Suburbia”?). These were released as three separate albums in France, but (in an unusual move for the Danes in 1980) released as one single tome. Which is a good idea, I think.

I remember buying this book. We were on a holiday in Copenhagen, and I visited my first real comic book shop for the first time, and I literally died. Literally! I was 12, and it was all rather overwhelming. I chose this book out of all the ones available probably a lot because it was bigger than the rest. And because it looks really cool.

I remember reading the verbiage on the right-hand page above like it was a serious sci-fi text, but later my older sister read the same page and started laughing. A lot. That’s how I realised that this was supposed to be funny.

And it is. The very word-heavy pieces can be a slog to get through if you’re not in the mood, but they’re quite playful in the way they pile absurdity upon exaggeration. And, of course, the artwork is very appealing in an occasionally disgusting way.

Many of the stories are about the French everyman Marcel Miquelon (seen in the topmost panels above with his wife (of various names)) who’s disturbed by noise coming from the flat above. He investigates and happens upon one absurd thing after another, usually getting killed in the process.

Not all of these have aged all that well, though. This one, for instance, he visits his nice black neighbours and they turn out to be cannibals (that presumably kill them). The end. Yes, that’s absurd, but is it funny?

For once Marcel gets a revenge on Caza. After having a horrible nightmare where Caza tortures him (once again), he takes decisive action against the artist (who lives above him, of course).

These pieces are meant to be funny, of course, and they are, but they also want to engage with society. Behind all the humour, there’s a real anger and disgust with modern society. Caza also offers various symbolic and fantastic ways out of the predicament, and they’re sometimes kinda moving.

All in all I have to say that I had really good taste when I was 12.

Laïlah by Caza (1988)

But then… eight years later we have Laïlah. Back in the early 80s, in my early teens, when I was buying most of the comics featured in this blog series, it seemed like there was a never-ending flow of great French-ey comics from Europe flowing into my hands. And then it kinda stopped. I had no idea why, at the time, but I turned to American comics instead.

As I understand it now, what had happened in France is that following the success of Metal Hurlant, there was a major shakeup in the way comics were published. The old weekly stand-bys like Pilote magazine saw a drastic decrease in readership. This again led to an implosion in venues older comic artists had to publish their work in. So when I was starting to read these comics, it was already really over, but there was a backlog of things to translate.

While in the early 70s it seemed like anybody could publish anything, in any genre, now what sold was porn, sci-fi and, of course, sci-fi porn. Laïlah is from that apotheosis of the 80s French-ey scene.

It’s still nicely drawn, but not with the same obsessiveness and attention to detail as in the Banlieue stories. One of the stories in this album (originally published in Metal Hurland) is humorous (illustrated above), while the other two are very… er… mystical. Which is another common path for French artists in the 80s (viz. Simon le Fleuve).

Caza is still publishing today, but (like I said) not available for me to read. Perhaps it’s just too French? I don’t know. The Banlieue book is still funny, but perhaps you need an older sister to tell you so.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Rebecca

Rebecca by Brandoli & Queirolo (1985)

Neither Anna Brandoli (artist) nor Renato Queirolo (writer) are prolific comics makers. Together, they’ve published five albums, and Brandoli has made one additional book without Queirolo. Rebecca remains their most well-known work.

Rebecca began publication in the Italian monthly magazine linus (all in lower case, for some reason) in 1981. And, man, look at that artwork. It’s so arresting. The harsh blacks that encroach from every side, and the tight close-ups of the faces alternating with the longer shots.

But it’s not really “filmatic”, fortunately: It’s pure comics. The storytelling is sometimes rather oblique, and what happens is often rather vague. But everything becomes clear a few pages later when you realise what those footprints means, and why that woman is so happy all of a sudden. And it generally carries on this way: You’re reading in a state that oscillates between bewilderment and enlightenment. It’s wonderful!

The story, as it turns out, isn’t all that mysterious. It’s basically a “heist movie”. That is, there are people who want to achieve something (having to do with money or power) and other people plotting against them, and things go wrong and then go right. And it’s set in the late fourteen hundreds, which make these “chapter headings” (seen above) ring true. This one says “3. Where it turns out that a curse is nothing to joke about, and money may be hidden in the most curious places”. It’s a teasing way to foreshadow what may be happening in the chapter. (And I would assume that each chapter was published in linus per month or something.) They’re mostly misleading, which adds to the fun.

The artwork is obviously influenced by Hugo Pratt. That’s a very Prattian cape.

But there’s also a strong Jose Muñoz influence there, like that face to the left. But more insectile.

And perhaps a bit of Didier Comès, too? But Brandoli’s arwork is more than just a collection of influences; it’s fluid and expressive and original.

I also wonder how many BD artists have been influenced by Brandoli in turn. This looks not that different from what David B would a decade later…

It’s obvious that the creators had a lot of fun creating this book. Not only from the mischievousness of the narrative, but also from the extras included in the appendix. We get a sketch of every player in the intrigues (and there’s a lot) complete with their biography.

I testamenti di Sant’Ambrogio by Brandoli & Queirolo (1988)

The next story was projected as a three-part series, and features many of the same characters as the first story, but also a whole bunch of new ones. There’s at least a dozen main players, all plotting against each other in a quest to solve the mystery of the titular testament (which is divided into three parts that have to be brought together). You know. The normal stuff.

It’s printed in colour, but it doesn’t really look like it was drawn for colour. Brandoli drawn exactly the same way as before, with blacks heavily spotted in. Which makes it difficult for the colourist to do much, but it’s also a practical problem: With this printing process, you have three choices: You colour exactly up to where the white space ends (and if the registration is a fraction of a millimetre off, you get unsightly white lines here and there), or you colour a bit into the black fields (but then you get a blotchy black because you can see the difference between the pure black and the black-with-colour over), or you colour in even the black parts (and then all the black looks rather muddy).

The colourist chose the third way, which means that everything has this queasy muddiness and sameyness to it. While the first black & white album was stark and gripping, the eyes skid more around these pages without really grasping onto anything.

But it’s still very entertaining. The title here is “A short parenthesis about the importance of human warmth”. Indeed.

And then, after 92 pages of a very complicated and amusing plot, it ends rather abruptly. Not exactly on a cliffhanger, but more of a “whaa…?”-hanger. (There should be a word for that.)

The back page promises a third volume to follow in 1989, but that didn’t happen.

But perhaps that’s about to be rectified! Quoth Wikipedia via Google Translate:

In 2016 in an interview Queirolo said that, along with Brandoli, would like to bring to a conclusion the story of Rebecca who had been suspended: “It will not be only the conclusion of an old story, that enigma will be dissolved within a new story full of surprises and with greater maturity and depth of the “characters.

Let’s hope so! And when that happens, I also hope that these books get a wide reprinting, because they’re rather spiffy.

But in black and white, please.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Simon du Fleuve

The first batch of French(ish) comics I wrote a bit about a year and a half ago were mostly all comics that I had read many, many times as a teenager. This time out, I remember even less about these comics than I did the last time.

First we have Simon du Fleuve (which means something like Simon of the River) by Auclair. I remember that it’s a post-apocalyptic adventure story, and heavy on the politics. It’s anti Fascism and pro ecology. I think. A woke Mad Max. Kinda. Or is it?

Let’s find out.

Le clan des Centaures by Auclair (1976)

Claude Auclair was born in 1943, and started doing comics in the early 70s. Simon du Fleuve was serialised in the French weekly Tintin magazine starting in 1974.

His artwork is, perhaps, a bit generic and rugged. You can see some Giraud influence, but it’s a slightly vague style: Not a real departure from other adventure artists like William Vance or Hermann.

Anyway, the first five albums are, pretty much, one single story. We’re in a post-apocalyptic Europe that went off the rails in the early 70s. Most people now live in agrarian communes, except the evil overlords who still occupy the semi-dead major cities.

The old guy explains how this all happened, but he’s … a bit vague. There were wars? And… something? And then everybody lives in the countryside.

And they are very happy here. Except when bandits raid them or the Evil Overlords pay a visit.

Les esclaves by Auclair (1977)

Which they do from time to time, because they need workers for their evil ironworks.

Just so that you won’t miss the allusion to other popular Fascists from history, all the slaves get short-short hairdos and numbered tattoos.

Sorry, writing this, I notice that I’m slipping into a default sarcastic tone, and I didn’t want to do that. Yes, Auclair is didactic and sometimes overbearing, but the comics aren’t failures: They are often moving and heartfelt. And they’re created by someone who I feel wanted to offer something positive: Everything isn’t hopeless, because people can make a difference.

Simon helps organise a slave breakout, of course, because this is an adventure comic book. But he does this by recruiting three others who then come up with a plan to mobilise the slaves themselves, and who then enter the encampment and set up a revolt. This isn’t the kind of comic where the hero goes blazing in and fixes everything by waving his hand, but by creating a situation where resistance can happen.

And then he comes blazing in and kills a bunch of guards. And feels really shitty about doing so.

Maïlis by Auclair (1978)

After all that action (for some values of), Simon retreats to a swamp where (basically) a Gothic mystery happens without furthering the central plot (which is a MacGuffin (oops, spoilers)).

There’s romance in the air. Let me translate the dialogue from the first two panels.

“Oh, Simon, it’s you… Give me your catch, and I’ll clean the fish.”

“I can do it myself.”

“But that’s a woman’s job.”

“Why? It doesn’t have to be. It’s a different age now… We can’t live as we did before…”

And then Simon runs into a broken down nuclear plant where he meets hundreds of these mutants. Looks a bit like Mad Magazine, doesn’t it? I think they’re meant to be horrifying, though, and we all learn a lesson about how nuclear energy is bad. Really bad.

And no heroics from Simon.

Les pélerins by Auclair (1978)

Geeze, I’m, like recapping these comics, and I didn’t mean to do that, either… Hm… Well, Simon meets up with another happy, happy agrarian community (and some very nice pagans).

The storytelling in Simon du Fleuve is very old-fashioned. There’s a lot of captioning that partly restates what we’re seeing in the artwork, and always explaining how Simon is feeling. It’s a style that virtually nobody has used for the last couple of decades (except Brandon Graham, who has tried to revive it (I like it)). But it’s not too overpowering. And Auclair does draw very pleasant pastoral scenes.

And then we learn that Christianity is bad and is a tool used by the evil rulers to oppress the people.

And again, it’s hard not to sound sarcastic when recapping here. It’s not that Auclair is wrong (he’s obviously right about almost all the issues he’s touching upon), but you can play 70s Lefty Issues Bingo with Simon du Fleuve. It’s a bit much.

Cité N.W.N°3 by Auclair (1979)

The fifth album brings the story to a close. Simon reaches the bad city and tries to MacGuffin the Red Herring.

We’re also told some tales by an oldtimer where he explains that the Earth was also attacked by these giant sea urchins from Venus. (Yes. That’s what it says.) I’m pretty sure nothing of the kind had been mentioned up ’till this point, so that’s… a thing.

The album is the weakest of them all, with endless monologues about this and that. Simon is, at this point, against using any kind of violence against anybody, so it’s up to the other people (like the older guy up there) to provide the action.

If I were to hazard a guess, I think Auclair had written himself into a corner with his central character, or perhaps he had just planned on this five album arch all along. In any case, he abandoned Simon du Fleuve in 1978.

L’eveilleur by Riondet & Auclair (1988)

Ten years later, Auclair resurrected the Simon de Fleuve series. Sort of. He brought in Alain Riondet as writer, and the feel of the series changes rather dramatically. Instead of being didactically political, the first of these new albums is all about spirituality and re-awakening the dying Earth through… er… magic, or something.

The storytelling shifts between silent vistas and people who talk and talk and talk. Didactically about spirituality and stuff.

That’s what these meetings amongst the raised stones are all about. There are also “infertile” mutants running around harshing the buzz of these spiritual people, but not a lot of tension is generated.

Let’s translate a typical speech bubble: “West! Your name has thunder and the spring in it, and your name is the source of the riddle! So think about your name and don’t forget who you are!!… More than that I cannot say.”

I don’t think I can say more, either.

Le chemins de l’Ogam by Riondet & Auclair (1988)

The next book is a further withdrawal into psychology. The change from politics to mysticism and the personal isn’t unique for Auclair in French comics: Quite a lot of people who had made politically explicit works in the 70s turned to either some wishy-washy vaguely “eastern” philosophy, or wrote about mythologies and the subconscious.

Most of the book is Simon having various mythological fantasies (or are they?) before returning to his family as a reborn, stable man again.

Auclair sometimes cheats a bit too much in his artwork. Faces are rather inconsistent and vague, and he retreats into dark corners of rooms given any opportunity.

Naufrage by Riondet & Auclair (1989)

The two last books in the series, Naufrage tome 1 & 2, were published in this single Danish volume, and it’s easy to see why. The previous two volumes may have tried the patience of any remaining Simon du Flauve fans, but this one is beyond.

It’s about an insane matriarch ruling a fishing village with an iron hand, and Simon and his family somehow get involved. Most of the post-apocalyptic trappings have disappeared, although sometimes in the dialogue we’re reminded that “they” are still out there. But, basically, everything that happens here could as well have happened in a small, say, Scottish fishing village now.  I mean.  But not. Not have happened.  You know what I mean.

And that includes the tools they have. Getting a trawling net is apparently little problem, and doing the upkeep on their rather big ships is totally under control. (Not to mention that they all seem to have rather modern clothes. (Oops! I mentioned it!))

While the story is tedious, the artwork is rather nice, especially in the (very dramatic) silent scenes. It seems like whenever there’s dialogue, Auclair loses interest and just gets it done. Well. A bit.

The book ends with Simon and family sailing off into the sunset, which is appropriate.

Riondet and Auclair continued the collaboration with two non-Simon albums called Celui-là. I haven’t read them. Auclair died while completing the second album, and Tardi and Jean-Claude Mézières stepped in to finish the final pages.

Riondet went on to collaborate with artist Stéphane Dubois. Riondet then disappeared in 1998.

This post is part of the BD80 series.