Written by Philippe Vandevelde (Tome), illustrated by Jean-Richard Geurts (Janry)
You may recognise the name, you may even recognise the face, but surprisingly, with over 60 years of publishing history, Spirou has received almost no English translation prior to this Cinebook version. Surprising or possibly just indicative of how difficult it is to convince English speaking readers that funny European comics don’t just begin and end with those Tintin and Asterix volumes that are found in the local children’s library.
But Spirou should have an immediate appeal to anyone familiar with either of those European classics as its light, fast and fun story, with much to grab the attention of any child, lies somewhere in tone and style between Tintin and Asterix, with the high adventure and journalistic background of Tintin, but all the madcap artwork and clever punning of Asterix that extends it’s appeal to adults willing to take a little more time over the pages.
(Spirou’s friend Fantasio, spurred on by the prospect of the “treasure” bundles his way through the airport, straight into the unfortunate pilot. From Adventure Down Under by Tome & Janry)
Spirou & Fantasio are both journalists working for Spirou magazine – very much like Tintin, although at least Spirou is actually seen doing some reporting during his adventures. In this volume, Spirou and Fantasio’s friend, the Count of Champignac, asks them to join him in Australia, deep in the heart of opal mining country and right in the middle of an Aboriginal holy site, where he’s heard that an ancient monolith is still standing. But once in country, they discover that Champignac has fallen foul of local gangsters and been murdered. Spirou investigates, refusing to believe his friend is dead and finds the Count’s coffin contains nothing but rocks and sand.
They set about finding their friend and uncovering the archaeological remains he came to Australia for. And all along, they’re pursued not only by the gangsters but by the Aborigine tribesmen, mistakenly assuming that they’re just more prospectors out to steal the holy opals that litter their land. There’s dastardly deeds from the gangsters, madcap comedy from everyone and even a touch of the mystical, with the Aboriginal shaman spending most of his time floating in midair, tethered to the ground like some wise old hot air balloon.
(Lovely bit of comedy timing in the dialogue from Adventure Down Under. Just one of many examples, all raising a smile.)
The story is over almost as quickly as it’s begun, but although it may be quick, it’s definitely a fun, fast read. Janry’s cartooning is light and confident, perfectly capable of delivering the comedy that Tome writes so well, and always worth careful reading just to catch the little extra gags he litters amongst the pages. Most enjoyable stuff.