Funny Books and “Billy and Buddy”
One of the things that attracts me to Franco-Belgian comics is their humor.
In the books I’ve reviewed so far and the books I plan to eventually review, the humor usually comes with a second layer behind it. There are historical elements (Asterix). There’s political commentary, perhaps, or thoughts on society as a whole being laid bare by a seemingly silly story. (The Smurfs, “Little Nothings“)
“Billy and Buddy” is none of those things. It’s all on surface. What you see is what you get.
This series is just a fun boy-and-his-dog humor book. Don’t look for anything deeper than that.
It’s appropriate for all ages. You could give this book to your kid/niece/nephew without hesitation and they’d enjoy it exactly for what it is.
It would give a literary comics reviewer fits in trying to come up with an interesting angle to write about it, but the reviewer doesn’t matter. Only the reader.
And thank goodness I’m not a “literary comics reviewer.” That sounds painful…
Animals Run Amok
“Billy and Buddy” is a fun series of single page gag stories centered on a little boy named Billy, and his cocker spaniel named Buddy. He is an only child, and his mother and father play the butt of many of the jokes in the book.
The thing that makes this volume, “Buddy’s Gang,” stick out in particular is the diversity of other animals. A circus is setting up in town early in the book, and a lot of the animal performers have either escaped or are just running around everywhere. The big top owners don’t seem terribly perplexed that their animals are freely roaming and making new friends in town…
Many land in Billy’s backyard, where he and Buddy make instant friends. That’s what kids do. They don’t have those same preconceptions and fears that adults do. All animals are cuddly and cute.
The animals, though, are the stars of this book. That includes the monkey hanging out in the tree, the penguins sliding down streets, the snake with a tie who hangs out in the tall grass, and of course Buddy, himself. He splits page time with Billy, but all the best gags center on him, even when it’s at his expense of getting caught to be given a bath.
A Bit About the Publication History
“Billy & Buddy” is a series that started almost 60 years ago, by legendary BD artist, Jean Roba, as “Boule et Bill.” Roba is a part of the same school of art as Peyo and Andre Franquin. (You can see them all together in this video.)
He broke out on his own with “Boule et Bill” in the pages of Spirou, of course. Before Roba passed a decade ago, he made it known that he wanted his assistant, Verron, to carry on the title.
I like the way they credit Verron on the cover. It’s something I’ve seen on a few different series now: “Verron in the style of Roba.” It’s an acknowledgement that there’s a new artist, but that he’s working on the original’s property and sticking closely to it.
Imagine Marvel publishing “Silver Surfer by Tom Scioli in the style of Jack Kirby”? Nah, neither can I.
A few different writers worked on this book with Verron. Their names are always signed next to his at the end of each page. But a full list of the writers is shown at the beginning of the book, proving once again that French comic creators should only be known by one name:
There’s another thing you won’t ever see on the inside of a Marvel comic. “Face front, True Believers! Jack Kirby has passed the mantle to illustrating the Fantastic Four’s adventures to Jazzy Johnny Byrne!”
The Art of Verron
He follows pretty closely to Roba’s style. He doesn’t break out into its own style enough, though. He’s carrying the style forward, and perhaps cleaning it up a bit, but I’d like to see a little more experimentation.
His ink line is tremendous. I could stare at the way he alternates between the thicks and the thins all day. It defines the volume on the dog’s ears and the boy’s hair. It fills in all the details on the bushes in the background and the feathers on the ostrich’s body.
Like all comics in this style, stories are told at middle distance, enough to place characters in scenes and to see their entire bodies tell the stories and sell the jokes.
Backgrounds are consistent and omni-present, and if you pay attention you’ll see how much of that background space is empty, yet suggested by small details that your brain fills in for the artist.
You can definitely see some elements of Franquin in here, as well as Roba. It’s not quite as lively as either of those two, but it’s a very reasonable facsimile. It’s an agreeable and enjoyable look that sells the stories well.
Colors on this book are by Anne-Marie Ducasse, who uses a very literal color style with flat colors, with only a hint of gradients in Photoshop here and there. It’s nice, though I’d love to see a few little shadows cut in here and there. Verron’s art is wide open, with no real solid black areas. There are lots of opportunities to sell the three dimensionality of it with a few spot shadows.
Why It Clicks for Me, Personally
It didn’t dawn on me until I started writing this review, but of course I’d like this book. My dog is a King Charles Cavalier. He’s not that far away from Buddy, who is a cocker spaniel.
And while my dog’s name is Flynn, I do call him “Bud” or “Buddy” once in awhile. I’m not sure where that came from. It’s better than “bro” or “dude,” I suppose, and fills the same function.
They’re not exactly lookalikes, but it’s in the family.
With caveats, yes.
This is a good light read. It’s nothing more than a series of silly gags. The animals and the kid are all cute. If you like this style of art, this might just float your boat.
If you need more wit or satire or bite in your humor, you’ll find this too lightweight.
I’m definitely interested in reading more, though I acknowledge that it feels right now like a series that won’t hold my attention for a dozen volumes, let alone 30+. (This book is the thirtieth in the series, but the sixth that Cinebook has published.)
We shall see, though…
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #31.)