Marsupilami v1 "Marsupilami's Tail" cover detail by Batem and Leonardo

Marsupilami v1: “The Marsupilami’s Tail”

Writer: Greg
Artist: Batem
Colorist: Leonardo
Lettering: Design Amorandi
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dupuis/Dargaud/Cinebook
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1986

 

First introduced in the pages of “Spirou,” the yellow-tailed Marsupilami debuts in his own series here, a reprint from the late 1980s.

 

Marsupilami Toying With Invaders

The hunter doesn't want to destroy Marsupilami before killing him

Big game hunter, Bring M. Backalive, has traveled up the river in Palombia with the help of a shady boat captain and his sidekick.  He’s hunting the Marsupilami to bring home with him and put on display.  He’ll have to work with the natives of the jungle to get Marsupilami out and back home with him.

The problem is, he’s a bit of an impatient tyrant.  He’s a micro-manager.  People don’t usually react to that well.  It hurts his efforts that he needs to work through the people he’s belligerent towards in order to get to the animal that is going to run away and hide from him as much as possible.

The Marsupilami's wife and three kids

Marsupilami is very crafty, though.  He doesn’t need to hide, just to bide his time and look for his moment to strike back.  He has a family to protect — a wife and three kids.  He’s not going to let anything slip by.

In fact, he likes to play with this kind of interloper, much as Asterix did with the Romans in “Asterix the Gaul.”

That’s the joy of this series.  First, Marsupilami is just a great character design and he’s fun to watch in motion. Second, there’s a comedic sensibility from Greg and Batem that drives the narrative. They don’t rely on how good he looks when swinging across the page.  There’s thought and intent and mischief all wrapped up in there.

 

Pacing and Plotting Problem

Marsupilami sets up the booby trap

There’s something of a pacing issue for me in this book.  On a few occasions, it felt like the story was about to breakout into a madcap, cascading series of gags that build up to an over-the-top crescendo that brings everything in the story so far together.  It comes close to that in the third act, but never quite gets there.

For a big chunk of the book in the middle, Marsupilami is thwarting the hunter’s plan by setting up some countermeasures.  He’s boobytrapping the booby trap, basically, and so we spend a few pages watching him poke and prod, looking like he has an idea.  By the time the trap is sprung, I was almost tired of reading about it.  Also, because Marsupilami was so meticulous, you felt safe that he was safe.  And he was. There’s little drama left.

The great thing about heist movies, to use an example of a plot that’s plan-driven, is that if you know all the details of the heist, then you can be sure something is going to go wrong to thwart those plans.  If you don’t know all the details, then everything that seems to go wrong is just part of the plan and they thought of it already and aren’t they clever?

In this plan, Asterix sets everything up, and everything goes according to plan.  The end.  It’s a little boring.

 

The Tail In Action

What I like most about the book may just be a subtle thing. It’s that neither the writer nor the artist forget that Marsupilami has a long tail that he can use for a variety of creative things. Being able to show that gives you an instant hook for the series.

Here’s an example from early in the book, where the ship’s captain is attempting to sneak up on Marsupilami to capture him.

Marsupilami puts his tail in action to take out a guy sneaking up behind him.

In six panels, Marsupilami throws his tail straight up into the air, coils the end of it into a ball, drops it on the captain’s head, unwraps it, recoils it to catch the captain as he falls, then  (two panels later in the scene) springs the captain up into the tree.

It’s funny, it’s creative, and it’s well told by both Greg and Batem.

Let’s face it: Drawing that long tail must get frustrating.  There’s a lot to draw there, and quite often with nothing for it to do than to be an ornamentation.  The more they can use it to do something, though, the more interesting the book will be.

You know who I’d love to see do a Marsupilami pin-up sometime?  Todd McFarlane.  Think of what he can do with capes and Spider-Man’s webbing, and then imagine the craziness of this yellow and black tail in a sequence he draws.

Batem’s artwork fits right in with the Franquinesque style that was going around in the late 1980s. See also what was going on in Spirou and Fantasio, like in “Who Will Stop Cyanide?” or “Adventure Down Under,” both of which I’ve reviewed previously.  That art from Tome and Janry are perfect matches for this style from Batem.

 

The Narrator

Narrator adds drama to Marsupilami's life

The other odd thing about the book is the narrator. It starts off well enough, as the narrator introduces us into the jungles of Palombia, and tells some mini-stories with surprising results.  It’s at its best when it’s aping the classic overwrought British nature documentary narrator type.

There are other times, however, that the narrator is a pure crutch, going so far as to introduce the translation of Marsupilami’s conversation. If the writer and artist don’t trust that they can tell a story without Marsupilami talking and explaining his every move, it feels pointless to have Marsupilami not speak English and be done with it. All Marsupilami says is variations on “Hoo-Bah.”

We know silent storytelling can be done.  I just wish they trusted themselves enough to do it here without the extra help.

Now, to be fair, this book aims at a slightly younger audience.  That extra bit of narration is likely there to help the younger audience follow the story.  I get that.  I think the story is fairly clear enough, though, to hold up with fewer narration boxes.

 

Cultural Sensitivities

The cast meets in Marsupilami v1

One of the things I was worried about with this book would be that it would be showing its age, from a sensitivity point of view.  A hunter goes into the jungle to capture a rare animal and use a local indigenous person to do it.  And the locals he uses to get a boat ride in are swindlers who speak half in Spanish.

Land mines galore!

I think they get away with it here, though, for several reasons.  The series is set in the fictitious South American country of Palombia, so a Spanish speaking guide makes sense. Like a good children’s television show, the good guy wins, nobody is actually killed,  and the bad guy gets his just deserts. The hunter looks foolish, the animals escape and get their revenge.

Also, the “subservient” native individual he’s using to get to the Marsupilami is capable of acting on his own. He understands what’s going on, has a strong personality, and takes action to defeat the bad guy, too. He’s not a victim of the white people in the story, which is where this might have gone seriously wrong. He is very animated and looks silly at times from over-acting, but that’s true of every human in this book.

 

Why I’m Not Reviewing Volume 2

Marsupilami v2 has some unfortunate Chinese caricatures

That all said, I won’t be reviewing the second volume of this series, which starts off with caricatures of Chinese people including the buck teeth, squinty eyes, and the yellow skin.  At some point, it gets to be a bit too much.

Marsupilami meets a panda bear

That’s a shame, because it’s all a set-up to the good part of the story, which is Marsupilami dealing with a panda bear in the jungle. That part is cute and well done.

It’s just a big hurdle to get over at the start, especially for a book that isn’t that old in the grand scheme of things. (1988)

 

Recommended?

Marsupilami v1 "Marsupilami's Tail" cover by Batem and Leonardo

Yes, I would recommend this book.  It’s colorful, inventive, humorous, and just plain old cute.  Comedically, it doesn’t go as crazy as I might have liked at one or two points, but it’s still filled with good stuff that’s worth reading.

The book is available digitally, along with book two as of this writing.  Cinebook also has both books in dead tree print, so you have that option, as well. This volume is colored brightly enough that it holds up to the murkiness of paper. In fact, I read the book on paper for this review, not digitally. I enjoyed all the finer details of the art even with that “handicap.”

Unfortunately, the second volume gets a little more adventurous with the coloring.  It gets darker and has more gradients.  The paper stock soaks that all up.  I’d recommend sticking with the digital edition of that one.

— 2018.013 —

 

Buy It Now

Buy this book on Amazon Click here to buy digital BD comics albums through Izneo.com  Buy this book on Comixology

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5 Comments

  • iamfear7 February 2, 2018 at 2:30 am

    I read the first couple of those books back when they came out, and I just didn’t like them. I didn’t feel like they warranted getting full-length books, but might have worked nicely as shorter stories. Marsu is a great creation and was fun in Spirou,, but as a main character who does not talk and mainly just reacts to what goes on around him because of characters I couldn’t care less about… nope, not for me. That and the fact that Franquin was not doing it himself. But good for him getting his creation back to get a new franchise going I guess.

    In a way, it felt a lot like what happened with the Schtroumpfs (Smurfs). The first dozen books by Peyo were absolute greatness and I adored them. But then, the 80s rolled around and the cartoon happened, suddenly the books just started shoehorning all this random crap from said cartoon like the baby and kid Smurfs, the stupid robot, etc… Peyo was still doing them but all the genius was gone. Stopped getting them, and Peyo died a few tomes later.

    But both series are still going strong decades later, so what do I know.
    I guess a lot of it is me being old and cranky hahaha

    Reply
    • Augie February 2, 2018 at 9:31 am

      I think I agree with you here. I’ve noticed in the other albums that I’ve flipped through, the story template is always that half the album seems to be spent with characters OTHER than Marsupilami, to establish the conflict in the title. Marsupilami’s part of the story is relatively small, for a title character.

      They recently published an album, “Marsupilami Par” with a bunch of short stories by some interesting creators. It’s not in English yet, but I think I’m going to try to push my way through it anyway. Between the words I know and Google Translate, I think I can make it. I bet the 5 – 8 page format will work better, like you say. (Also, some of the issues with the art seem to be fixed in more modern times….)

      The sales thing is interesting. Marsu made something like $2 million dollars in its first year or two publishing the series. They were very popular in the late 80s. I don’t know how much of that is still true today, 20+ volumes later…

      Reply
  • bacta February 2, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    I don’t remember really liking the Marsupilami series either, but the two or three stories I’ve read might have been subpar compared to others.

    The racist caricature thing that you point out is interesting. I still don’t know how I feel about the caricatures in certain comics. I kind of agree with Kim Thompson’s remarks on it, but if I recall it correctly he didn’t really see harm in the use of them, and I’m not sure it’s harmless. I feel like I need to provide some context before I’d recommend comics like these to someone. Then again, I’m a bit sensitive about such issues anyway.
    IMO you should just continue reviewing these comics, and just mention it when it bothers you. These comics are more than the caricatures within them.
    This is an interesting post about it too, I think: http://spiroureporter.net/2013/06/11/an-evil-little-book/

    Reply
    • Augie February 3, 2018 at 12:04 am

      Thanks for that link. I’ve read the article it’s responding to, but that’s a pretty good response to it. Funny thing is, I had a section of this review that mentioned that Spirou and Fantasio in NYC book and even comparing it to Looney Toons, but then I cut it for space. Glad to see my train of thought wasn’t entirely a lonely one….

      There’s the always on-going issue of how far you can go with a caricature. It became a huge problem, for example, when Obama was elected and all the political cartoonists (mostly white males) suddenly had to figure out how to draw a caricature of a black president without it looking, well, bad for them. SOMEONE is going to be offended no matter what you do in that case.

      The other story I remember hearing about was at Walt Disney Animation. They were doing that “John Henry” short, and they ran some of the early animations past an African American group of some kind, who told them to go ahead and be sure to draw the racial differences. Don’t be afraid. The animation played it too safe and made it look like white people just colored brown. They were encouraged to go further.

      There’s an area in-between there somewhere that’s tough to hit — and an area that might be death to some comedy. It’s OK to caricature, and we use stereotypes all the time for all sorts of people and reasons. Where the line is drawn, I don’t know. Comedy is tough there days….

      Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS February 5, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Michel Greg used to be a great writer (Achille Talon is a Masterpiece of Frenchness, totally untranslatable) but by the late eighties he was way past his prime. He would die soon after. Marsu was a refreshing side character for comedy bits in early Spirou stories by Franquin. Sadly, it’s very hard to build sufficient drama when the hero is barely toying with the bad guys and there is no real drama or stakes. Great for a 5 minute Roadrunner cartoon, not so much for a 50 page graphic novel. Spirou tales were fairly serious, readable by adults, the Marsu books are strictly for kids, so they have to be super clean and PC, so the bad guys have weapons but they’re just for laughs. This is what happens when the Franquin estate got the rights of his own creation from Dupuis and his heirs discovered that it was just as good as printing money. They keep milking it today.

    Btw it’s the second time I have to delete and reset the RSS feed links for this site. There is something going on here, since all the other blogs I’m following seem to work fine.

    Reply

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