One of my favorite publishers is one that (sadly) you likely haven’t heard of. It’s Cinebook, a British publishing company dedicated to translating Franco-Belgian comics into English and reprinting them in roughly standard album sized packages. They’ve been available here in the States for a few years now, and their library has increased to be an impressively large and diverse set of titles. You’ll get everything from kids humor to adult action/adventure, from photorealistic art to cartoony big foot characters.
The news hit just prior to this year’s convention in San Diego that Cinebook is, at last, coming to Comixology. Prior to this, they’ve only been available through Izneo.com, the European version of Comixology, but one which also offers book rentals for a lower fee.
Cinebook has a big list of books they plan on publishing through Comixology, with a good starter set available today. Let me walk you through a few options that I’ve enjoyed in the past that you might like, too.
Lucky Luke recently celebrated his 70th anniversary at Angouleme. He’s the cowboy who can shoot faster than his shadow.
I’ve read about a dozen of the “Lucky Luke” books now, and have enjoyed them all to various degrees. Cinebook has published more than 50 of them now, which is more than has ever been in print in the English speaking world. Clearly, I have some catching up to do.
Cinebook publishes three dozen different series now, with 153 books in print. The series with the most volumes is “Lucky Luke,” a classic Franco-Belgian comic created by Morris, i.e. Maurice De Bevere, who lived in America for a few years in the 60s and worked for “MAD Magazine.” While “Lucky Luke” featured art by Morris for nearly 60 volumes (until his death in 2001), there are 40 volumes during that run which were written by Rene Goscinny, the man who co-created and wrote all the best “Asterix” volumes, until his death in the 1970s. Those appear to be the books Cinebook is focused on reprinting, and has done so to the tune of two dozen volumes so far with plenty more on the way.
Lucky Luke is a cowboy who, as the back cover always says, can shoot faster than his shadow. As a character with as storied and legendary a career as “Asterix” and “Tintin,” I’ve always wanted to read the series, but never got around to it. Until now.
I started with “Lucky Luke: The Oklahoma Land Rush” for no particular reason. It sounded like an interesting historical setting for a comic, so I grabbed for it. Immediately after reading it, I loaded up Amazon.com and ordered three more volumes to read next. It’s just that good.
“Lucky Luke” is a sit-com set in the old American West. Using historical settings and characters, Morris and Goscinny tell humor-filled stories of a cowboy getting caught up in extraordinary situations.
In this volume, for example, Luke is assigned to Oklahoma, first to clear out all the people in the state, and then to run the land rush peacefully. Hundreds of people lined up at the state border waiting for the rush to begin, and then ran into the state to stake their claim to land.
(Those who tried to sneak across the line early were called “Sooners.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I never knew where that term came from before reading this book. Looking things up afterwards, I learned a lot about the real Oklahoma land rush, and just how much of the book is based on actual events and people.)
The activities surrounding this general plot are a series of escalating gags, from little one-off laughs to recurring characters whose importance in the plot quietly grows as the pages add up. It’s a lot of black-out gags, to put it in Road Runner terms, before the plot really begins. It’s the second half of the book where all the characters we were introduced to become characters in a drama about the boom and bust of a boomtown in new Oklahoma. Surprisingly, a simple gag-a-page book becomes a funny book with political themes, but only if you wish to read into it.
But don’t read too deeply into it, though. “Lucky Luke” works best as a fun comedic story. It’s a comic book sit-com with simple characters doing funny things. And once you warm up to that, it’s a lot of fun to read and a quick diversion for the page count.
Morris’ art is up to the challenge of the script. It’s well cartooned, with a strong sense of design and the ability to draw what’s necessary. Need to draw a western boom town filled with people, or a long line waiting for a lawyer’s representation or to vote? He can handle it. Not every panel is packed with such detail, but Morris can turn it on when necessary, and doesn’t take shortcuts.
Like so many of the Marcinelle School style of comics, he most often draws panels with full body characters acting out across the stage. No dramatic close-ups or convenient silhouettes. The book looks like it was drawn in the 60s, though. I’m not sure I can explain it, but there’s a definite vibe about cartooning in that period that I always pick up on. Things got flatter and less dimensional. Characters were designed slightly more angularly. You can even see it in the latter period of Carl Barks’ work on the Disney Duck books. It’s definitely here.
The most interesting choice for the series’ current printings is that they use the original colors. They’re both wonderfully simple and maddeningly flat. The worst thing that pre-computer coloring did to art is to flatten it. Too many backgrounds were just flat blues. Extreme foreground characters were flat purple. It hid the artwork and created a dimensionality that by today’s standards seems archaic. I have a hard time with it today, to be honest. I was flipping through the “Longshot” hardcover recently, and had difficulty enjoying Art Adams’ work. Too many backgrounds were colored in with pale blue fills and no detail. I don’t need busy work, but I do enjoy being spoiled by more precise color detail, the likes of which the technology and the printing processes of the 1960s couldn’t capture.
[…] My initial sampling of “Lucky Luke” shows it to be a funny, breezy read that might accidentally even teach you a thing or two. The cartooning is attractive, the writing is witty (though not up to “Asterix’s” standard), and the price (about ten bucks) is right. Like I said at the top, I’ve already ordered three more volumes and plan on ordering another three from earlier in the series. We’ll see how the book progresses over time. I think that’ll be interesting, as it was for “Asterix,” which I read all out of order, too.
“Largo Winch” is my favorite of the more serious titles. It’s a thriller series set in a big business boardroom, as matters of economics trade off with car chases, foot races, and plenty of peril. Largo inherited his father’s huge business (think Wayne Industries, but more horizontal), and is thrust into a world he didn’t want to live in, but will immediately change in drastic ways. Each story is two albums long, though the print editions put both those volumes into one book for the first two or three volumes.
“Largo Winch” is a Franco-Belgian comic series translated and re-printed by the fine folks at Cinebook, about a man of action who’s also the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Three volumes in the series are out now, with a fourth on the way this fall. I’ve read the first two books, and will now attempt to convince you that it might be a good idea for you to read them, too. If you like high stakes corporate chess matches or high octane action scenes with a rogue-ish lead, you’ll love this book. It’s just that good.
The first volume, “Largo Winch: The Heir,” is really a tragedy. It’s a coming of age story, to be sure, but it’s ultimately the story of a young boy who lost his parents and gained a cruel adopted father who forced him down a road he wanted no part of. When the past catches up to him — as it always does in these types of stories — he’s forced to ascend his late father’s throne and rule a business empire that puts his life in constant danger. Yes, this is the “origin story,” but done with a European road trip sensibility that differentiates it from the traditional “must get revenge for fallen parents” origin story of American comics and media heroes. Ok, there’s a little of that, too.
Oddly enough, through ways his adopted father didn’t anticipate, that forced educational process led Largo to being just the right person to lead The W Group, the multibillion dollar conglomerate of companies that span the world. It wasn”t the strict schooling that did it, but rather the attempts to get away from him, living a nomadic life, and learning street smarts. Thus is Largo created, as a lovable rogue, filled with attitude, able to get down and dirty to accomplish his tasks, possessed of a sense of moral superiority, stalked by beautiful women, and able to bring a knife to a gun fight and still win.
“Largo Winch” is equal parts business drama and action/adventure. Writer Jean Van Hamme (“XIII,” among others) and artist Philippe Francq pull this off by alternating between tense boardroom drama and over-the-top action pieces, where our hero outthinks and outguns (maybe “out-knives”) his enemies. The amazing thing is, both halves of the series are equally gripping. You wouldn’t expect to see pages of talking heads with pregnant balloons filling up the space on the page to be so exciting, but the conflict is readily apparent in all the scenes, and the clash of personalities carries what might otherwise be staid dealings.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the legal machinations discussed in those balloons, but they sure do make for a fun story. (Also, these stories are 15 – 20 years old now. Laws are likely to have changed since then, notably with loopholes closed up. “Largo Winch” is still in production today, and I wonder if Sarbanes Oxley has been addressed in any way.)
The book also contains one of the best opening scenes I can ever remember reading in a comic book. For those five pages, alone, the $20 price tag is justified. [The digital version is much cheaper… -ADB 2016] In it, the richest man in the world sits in a wheelchair on the roof of a skyscraper, confronted by a man in the shadows pointing a gun at him. The two are arguing — the rich man clearly set the gunman up to come murder him, but the gunman doesn’t want to do the old man any favors. And then there’s a twist, the scene ends, and “Largo Winch” is officially kicked into motion.
The rest of the book gives us the story of Largo Winch’s upbringing and how he comes to control the W Group, much to the consternation of its Board of Directors, some of whom will stop at nothing to wrest that control for themselves. And just who was that man in the shadows at the beginning of the book, and what might he try next? The book includes an amazing car chase sequence, a complete prison break, murders, attempted murders, backstabbing, knife-throwing, and car explosions. It’s like a Michael Bay movie with a brain.
The second volume, “Largo Winch: Takeover Bid,” is the story of a challenger to Largo’s throne, who attempts to takeover the W Group via means both legal and extra-legal. And Largo might not have a leg to stand on. While it seems like he has the upper hand at all times, it’s never that straight forward. This installment includes a ridiculous grand finale that features a race through the city, complete with car explosions, glass pane breakings, out of control motorcycles, castle break-ins, more car chases, and even a guest appearance from The Oval Office. It’s all great fun, expertly drawn with skill and precision.
Francq’s art style is highly detailed and well-researched. His depictions of New York City are clearly drawn from reference material. Look carefully at the art, and you can see the level of detail Francq added borders on the obsessive. He wants to drop you into New York City; every detail of the brownstones and the skyscrapers and the road signs is executed on the page. Looking closely on a page near the end of book two, there’s even a billboard drawn in for local sports radio station, WFAN, complete with simple caricatures of the on-air talent at the time. I’m pretty sure, at least, that it’s Chris Russo on that billboard, with Mike Francesca and someone else (Don Imus, maybe?) behind him.
That’s how you do photoreference, though. Each line is painstakingly drawn. This isn’t a photocopy with the edges enhanced and the colorist left to Photoshop some details in. This is an artist poring over the original model and recreating it inch by inch in thin black lines.
The storytelling is on the grid and easy to follow. No panel borders are broken. The story doesn’t let up for a full page or — could you imagine? — a double page spread? It packs a lot into each page, but never leaves out the details. Each page is worth your money. You might need to adjust to the lack of dynamism on the page, though. You don’t get exaggeration of anatomy to imply action or motion. Francq is careful to drawn every panel as if it’s a picture of real people. They emote well and have a strong range of gestures, but they’re still well within the realm of the real.
The colors over the art look like something you might have seen in a high-end comic from the late 1980s. Given that the first of these books was published around then, that makes sense. It’s nothing flashy, has a bit of a watercolored look, and guides your eye through the page nicely. No Photoshop lens flares, no monochromatic pages, for the most part.
Cinebook’s website has sample pages from all the volumes so far, though the colors are much more garish in digital form than on the printed page. The digital colors are much brighter and bolder, leading to an almost neon look to the pages that the dead wood version doesn’t have, thank goodness. […]
If you like action movies, thriller novels, or even comics like Brian Wood’s “Couriers,” I think you’ll find something to like here, and I urge you to give this one a try. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Comic Geek Speak spin-off show “Exploring Bede” tackled the series back in December. They compare Largo to Bruce Wayne.
So, yes, I like “Largo Winch” bunches.
The next three series are on the list to appear on Comixology at some point in the future, but aren’t available just yet:
Coming up sometime in the future is “Melusine,” a humorous comic about a young witch. It’s a gag a page kind of comic, though some stories last a few pages. It’s well cartooned and family friendly. You can read this one with your kids on the iPad someday.
Sadly, I either never reviewed the series before, or every search engine known to man skipped it.
“Alone” is about a group of kids who wake up in an empty city one day and have to fend for themselves. The kids are all interesting in various ways, the situation is occasionally crushing, and I love the cartoony stylized art on it. I’ve only read the first couple of volumes, but Cinebook has published six so far. Keep an eye out for it one when it comes out.
I could have sworn I had reviewed this at some point, but I’m having the same problem as with “Melamine.” In the meantime, check out the Comics&Cola’s overview of the book from when it was first released, along with a few beautiful sample pages from the original French edition.
Finally, and perhaps most beautifully, “Orbital” is on the list of comics to be reprinted. It’s a science-fiction book I like so much that I’m going to reprint my original review of it here now. This first appeared back in 2013:
“Orbital” is a breathtaking science-fiction series translated and published by Cinebook. Written by Sylvain Runberg with art by Serge Pelle, it’s set 200 years in the future as the earth joins up with an alien confederation, instantly propelling them into the future, as it were. Of course, not everyone agrees that that’s a good thing from either side — whether it’s the humans afraid of the aliens or the aliens looking down their noses at the backwards planet of Earth. We follow Caleb Swany, a new diplomatic recruit, as he heads off to his first mission where everything (of course) goes horribly awry.
The breathtaking part of the book is Pelle’s art. At it’s core, it’s slightly cartoony and simple, with the main human, in particular, looking more like a comic strip character than a photorealistic book that Jean Van Hamme might have written. But the detail present on every page is awe-inspiring. Much of it is done in the coloring, which looks like a mixture of paints and colored pencils. It’s probably all done in Photoshop, for all I know, but that’s what the final look is.
Rather than blocks of colors and gradients for special effects, Pelle gives it added texture on top of technically detailed art. This book is filled with spaceships and land cruisers that aren’t lacking for seams, spare parts, and gee-gaws. His sense of scale is enormous. These are large-scale missions onto other planets, so the scale should be huge. […]
The overall palette is relentlessly dark in this first volume. There’s lots of night scenes, spaceship scenes, and ship hangars. These are not bright pleasant places, so the palette fits. The book is printed on nice flat white paperstock. I have to think the paper eats up some of the ink. I wonder if a smoother, glossier stock would show the art and colors a bit more? Or if that would destroy the effect? I wish I knew. It’s not hard to read, so it’s not a problem. It’s just that after 40 pages of it, you’ll want to step out into the sun.
The problem with the book is that it’s a little too static. Things happen in the book and there are a couple of brief action pages, but there’s also a lot of new characters standing around and talking things through. The expository dialogue is an evil necessity in a first volume of a book with as much back story as “Orbital” has, but it tends to stall the book’s momentum out a lot.
And then, just when there’s a big dramatic action scene coming — that’s the cliffhanger. Like “Largo Winch,” Cinebook is breaking these books into parts. Each pair of volumes comprises one story. The break point in this case works against the book. Hopefully, we have enough of the backstory now that things will start moving more dramatically in the second half. That’ll also help us understand the characters’ motivations more, and get a better feel for each of them. Right now, it all seems very on-the-surface.
“Orbital” is worth it for the visual splendor, alone. At the larger page size, it shows itself off nicely. […]
You Can Find More
You can look up all available titles on the Cinebook publisher page on Comixology today. Availability is still limited to less than a dozen series, but I’m hoping new ones start showing up soon. The announcement was made more than a month ago, so I’d think it’s about time to add a few new books.
Are you reading any Cinebook titles? Which ones are your favorites? Let me know; I’m always looking for suggestions.
Editorial note: The quoted passages above have been edited. I fixed a couple of typos, broke apart some long paragraphs, added a couple headers, and removed sections that were not relevant to the digital release. I wrote it, so I can rewrite it, too.