The Campbells volume 1 Inferno cover detail

The Animated Pirates: The Campbells, v1: “Inferno”

Few are the books where you know you’ve found something magical in its first few pages.  This year, I think “Ken Games” may have been the only one in that category so far.

I’m adding “The Campbells” by writer/artist Jose Luis Munuera to that short list right now. I knew I’d be adding it in by about its eighth page.  It’s a brilliant combination of humor and heart, drawn in a beautifully cartoony style, and told as a series of short stories that form a bit of an arc when you’re not looking.

It’s laugh out loud funny, hits you in the heart when you least expect it, then stops you dead in your tracks to stare at the art.

“The Campbells” is a real winner.  It’s everything I read BD for.

 

The Story and the Humor of The Campbells

This is the story of Campbell, a pirate taking a break after his wife has been killed, leaving him alone to raise two daughters.

Very quickly, we’re introduced to a pair of competing pirates whose paths he will often cross.  The big bad guy is an imposing figure, the pirate known as Inferno.  The little guy, Carapepino, is a workaday pirate, the kind who will never make the history books. He clocks in, does the 9 to 5 thing, then takes nights and weekends off. He’s a talker and a worker, but not a leader.  He works in fear of the dread pirate Inferno, and any other pirate, really.  He’s a bit of a schemer, but without the strength to back it up, of character or sword.

Carapepino talks a lot.

He’s also terribly funny.  Not just in his attitude, but also in his dialogue, which comes across like a 50s Looney Tunes cartoon character, a mix of the Goofy Gophers and Sam and Ralph.  He just has a bigger vocabulary.

The album is told in mostly five page chunks. (One comes in at six pages, another at ten.)  It was originally serialized in the pages of “Spirou” magazine, so that makes sense.  But each one is a discrete little story.  While some plot stuff may carry over from story to story, you can easily read a satisfying story and put the book down for later every time.

The stories range from being about what a bad guy Inferno is, to what a smart and crafty pirate Campbell is. There’s also a nice focus in a couple of the stories with Campbell playing father to his daughters. The two girls are just far enough apart in age to get on each other’s nerves.  The second story in the book, as a matter of fact, is about the two of them going off on a crazy adventure.  In a later story, the two have a nice adventure of their own in town, which includes this great moment:

A pirate gets a swift kick in the

There are four pirates in this striped black and yellow costume. Is this a reference to The Daltons of “Lucky Luke” fame?

Many a cartoonist has resorted to a character getting a swift kick in that area in the past, but the inclusion of the kick receiver’s thought balloon with an egg cracking is particularly painful, suggestive, and hilarious.

But then there are the more thoughtful pieces, which combine slapstick and verbal comedy with life lessons and emotional moments.  That happens when the Campbells visit their old friends at the leper colony, where nobody else goes to visit.  That story is the highlight of the book, running the gamut from Monty Python or Laurel and Hardy type verbal gags to bittersweet commentary on the human condition that strikes a specific chord with Campbell.

And, then, just when you weren’t thinking about it, Manuera throws in some continuity/back story to give everything a new twist.  It’s gasp-inducing, and it’s an awesome read.

 

The Art of The Campbells

The Campbells title page

Jose Luis Munuera’s style is a cross between Andre Franquin and Walt Disney Animation.

It probably leans more heavily on the latter.  The exaggerated facial features, the long fingers, the terrific posing and silhouettes each character provides are tailor made for a big budget traditionally hand animated Disney movie.  (Except there’s no fast-talking sidekick animal.  There’s a parrot, but it repeats only a spare few words.)

There’s not a panel in this book that doesn’t feel well thought out, active, and entertaining.  Munuera’s characters act. They hunch, they stoop, they stretch, they swing, they run, they bounce, they slump.  They actively do things in every panel.  Even talking heads scenes are accompanied by entertaining faces and gestures. Munuera actively tells the story in every panel with his art, never relying on just the dialogue balloons to tell the reader everything.

The Campbells v1 Lepers like to talk

The story is told mostly in medium and close-up angles, just out far enough to capture all the body language and the interactions, like a good humor comic does.  But he can also zoom way out and set the scene with a great landscape half-splash page or a busy downtown area.

Backgrounds have a natural cartooniness to them that fit his art style, from the clouds to the buildings to the pirate ships.  It’s an amazing look, overall.

The coloring from Sedyas is perfect, too.  It’s one of the few cases in comics I’ve ever seen where all the color holds work for me. They generally only ever used to help push the background back further.  It softens up those lines a bit, which helps give the foreground characters and their area a bigger boost towards the reader.  It really pushes the far backgrounds out.  It’s not just to make the hair look “natural” or the nose less pronounced.  It respects the ink lines.

I wish I had more to say about the art, because I find it to be tremendous.  It’s so well animated on the page.  I don’t know much about Manuera at all, but if you told me he got his start at Disney animation, I’d believe it in a heartbeat. (He didn’t.)

 

Yeah, But There Has To Be Something Wrong With It, Right?

Yeah, there are a couple things I’d like to see fixed.

Crossbar I lettering mistake in The Campbells v1

First — and this is nothing new for these translated comics — I’d like to see the letterers learn the rules of the crossbar-I.

Second, I’d like to see a native English speaker take one last pass on the dialogue in the book.

This is a tough book to translate.  There are characters who appear to be speaking in British English and Spanish accents.  There are characters who are more eloquent than they have any right to be, which is part of their hilarity.  But those voices waver in and out a little too often, and sometimes they leave word choices and phrases that the reader stumbles over.  They’re either clumsy or grammatically incorrect in a way that goes beyond just the accent they’re talking in.

 

Recommended?

Yes.  YES.  YES!

If you’re looking for something that’s easy on the eyes and funny, this is your next comic.  The first volume is available today.  The second book is coming from EuropeComics through Comixology next week.  There are two more books in the series that have already been published in France, so we have that to look forward to, as well.

I can’t wait.

The Campbells v1 cover

 

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #41.)

 

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Bonus: The Theatrical Version of this Book

A group of kids did an adaptation of this book.  I don’t speak enough French to tell, but it looks like they skipped the part about finding giant breast-shaped rocks at the beginning…  Skipping around the video a bit, it looks like a pretty faithful page-by-page translation of the book to the stage. This is crazy.

The Making Of:

The Play:

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