From Our Continental Correspondent – Translation, please: Ludo

Published On July 17, 2008 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent, Translation please

Ludo is a little kid, an only child who lives in a small apartment in a big city, goes to school and dreams of a grand and adventurous life. His dad is a cop, and Ludo fantasizes about him solving all kinds of dangerous crimes, even though reality is much more banal. Ludo is also a great fan of Inspector Castar, a comic book that’s published by Grüber Publishers, one of the largest companies in the city.

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(cover to the second Ludo collection, published by Dupuis)

All this would not be that interesting, if not for the fact that “Ludo” is also one of the best all-ages titles currently on the market in Europe. Over the past 10 years, Belgian creators Pierre Bailly, Vincent Mathy and Denis Lapière, who work on this as a collective, have created seven books, six of which were published by Dupuis as a general-audience title. The most recent one, “What’s wrong, Kim”, was published in Dupuis’ recently established “Punaise” collection, which is aimed at new readers of 6 years and onwards. And, you guessed it, there’s not an English version in sight.

What makes “Ludo” so wonderful ? First of all, the art. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it ligne claire, but still Ludo’s adventures are told with very clear pictures, that are very easy to read without becoming static or dull – they are always very dynamic and almost cartoony (in fact, the art of the books has become more “round” and less “ligne claire” over the years). Bright colours without too much gradients and a very well-considered page layout contribute to a story that even very young readers will find easy to follow.

Secondly, the stories. Ludo finds himself in situations that are very recognisable for children of his age. In the book, “Ugly little thieves” for example, he befriends a new boy in his class who is spoiled rotten and bored to bits and who introduces Ludo to the “thrills” of shoplifting. Until, naturally, Ludo gets caught and his new “friend” is nowhere to be seen. Luckily his dad can sort things out, but Ludo learns a valuable lesson : there’s no easy way. In other stories, he finds out that simply playing at sports is often more enjoyable than winning, or that people who look different are not necessarily bad. Respect, ecology, morality, these are all pretty hefty subjects, but they each play their part in Ludo’s adventures. The stories never get preachy, though : they always are first and foremost enjoyable and exciting stories, with some extra values added for good measure.

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(a page from Qu’as-tu, Kim?, published by Dupuis)

This combination of good art, a well-balanced narrative and valuable stories that go beyond escapism, in itself makes Ludo into a rare gem. The most appealing factor for me, however, is Inspector Castar, Ludo’s favourite cartoon hero. Castar’s story is the typical tale of an ordinary Joe who gets greatness cast upon him, and has to live with the consequences (think Billy Batson, or Bruce Wayne for that matter). By accident, Inspector Castar, a hard working but by no means exceptional police detective, gets trapped in an exoskeleton and becomes a real-life superhero. This helps him greatly in his inquests, but it’s also a big problem when the world is not made for a super-strong cop who breaks everything he touches, crash-lands when he jumps too high and generally makes a nuisance of himself.

As it happens, Castar often gets to deal with the same issues as Ludo: being jealous of other people, wanting the easy way, etc. In the books, Castar’s adventures are intertwined with Ludo’s, and they build upon the same themes and subjects. Their art is immediately recognisable: it’s squarer, angleier (you could compare it to David Merveille or Ulf K), and its colours are even more flat than in the rest of the book. Still, the Castar passages play a vital part in the Ludo storyline, and vice versa. In fact, you get two books for the price of one, and even then some, because the sum of the two is more than just two stories.

“Ludo” is a great series, enjoyable for young and old(er) alike. It may be a bit too European for our American friends, but I’m sure that urban British kids will recognize a lot from their own lives in these stories. And they even offer something for the rest of us, the grown-up comics lover who actually never got all adult. By the way, in 1999, Dupuis published a “collection” of nine real Castar Comics as a sales incentive. This book contained a few Castar magazines as they appear in the Ludo books, each with a special Castar story, games and everything a typical children’s magazine has to offer. What makes them extra interesting for comic lovers, is that they also featured comics by Eurocomics greats like Frank Le Gall, Stanislas, Blanquet, Jean-Philippe Stassen and David Merveille. You can find out more about Ludo here on the Dupuis site.

Wim Lockefeer lives in Belgium and when not contemplating the philosophical ramifications of the world of Plonk he writes extensively on comics culture and art; you can read more of his work on his own Ephemerist blog.

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