Who Is Lucky Luke?
For those of you new to “Lucky Luke,” it’s an easy pitch: He’s the cowboy who can shoot faster than his own shadow. He fixes problems he comes across with his quick wit and a fast gun that he uses most creatively.
“Lucky Luke” is a great example of one of the more interesting facets of Franco-Belgian (and Italian) comic creators: they love westerns a whole lot.
Created in the 1940s by the artist, Morris, the comedy series set in the Old West continues on to this day, surviving both its creator (who died in 2001) and the writer who’s most associated with him, Rene (“Asterix”) Goscinny, who died in the 1970s after a 20 year run.
Just think about that for a second: Morris drew the series for almost 55 years. Not bad.
The series has more than 80 volumes in total. Cinebook is handling the English language reprints of the series these days, and has over 60 of those albums in print today, and still going. That’s an impressive feat, and one I’m very thankful for. Never has so much “Lucky Luke” been available in English.
I’m sure I’ll review a few for the Pipeline BD 100 series this year, but I’m going to start with the fiftieth volume in Cinebook’s series.
Point of information: Cinebook is not publishing the series in chronological order. It’s OK; the stories still read well.
Cinebook’s fiftieth album in the series, “Seven Stories”, is a different kind of “Lucky Luke” volume. Instead of one full 48 page story, this one crams seven six-pagers in. They are quick, short, punchy little stories that I’m sure made great one-offs in the pages of whichever magazine was serializing the series at the time. They’re all done by Morris and Goscinny.
If you’ve never read “Lucky Luke” before, you can follow this easily. There’s no other recurring characters in this book past Luke and his horse, Jolly Jumper. There’s no continuity, not that there ever is. These are just quick, bite-sized, and enjoyable stories.
If you wanted to get a better taste of a full “Lucky Luke” story, obviously, this isn’t going to do it. I’d recommend something like “The Oklahoma Land Rush,” instead, which includes a historical event in its plot. Those are always great additions to any “Lucky Luke” story.
But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this book, and the majority of the stories pack a good punch. Whether it’s from Lucky Luke getting mixed up in situations he can’t control and slow burning, or coming up with solutions to situations that are shifting as he goes, these stories are funny and memorable, especially for their diminutive size.
The Seven Stories
“The Baby-Toothed Desperado”: Lucky Luke helps out a stranded traveler and, for his troubles, has to babysit the guy’s kid for the day. As you’d expect from any sit-com set-up like that, the kid is an absolute terror, and nearly incites a war between the two and the local Indian tribe along the way.
This is a funny short of escalating comedy, though from a 2017 point of view, the set-up seems cliche. Since the stories in this book were originally published in the mid-70s, from what I can tell, I can forgive that. Plus, not many sit-coms had that “annoying kid to baby-sit” trope set in a town in the Old West.
“Western Hospitality”: Luke has a busy day, he’s tired, and he can’t make it back to town. Thankfully, he comes across a farm house where he can seek shelter for the night. Knocking on the door, he accidentally gets in the middle of a simmering battle between two “friendly” families.
Luke does nothing in this particular story besides stand around, look tired, and get increasingly annoyed at the whole situation. Yet, it works. The humor is in his reactions and his desperate attempts to get out of the situation, and how the situation escalates so rapidly. It’s a good short story that way.
“Maverick”: A runaway calf puts Lucky Luke between two feuding neighbors, each of whom claim the cattle as their own. But the cow has gone into Apache territory, and things are only going to get worse before they get better.
It’s another story of two warring factions with Luke in the middle, but it plays well. It builds up steadily, and the ending is smart thinking from Luke to solve everything amicably.
“The Equal of Wyatt Earp”: This one is a little further out there, relying on the gag that a young man who can’t shoot straight wants Lucky Luke to help him be the shooting equal of Wyatt Earp so he can woo his girl.
This is good slapstick. It has a zany plot with weird mechanics, but it comes together nicely in the end, even if Goscinny has to squeeze a panel into an odd place on the second-to-last page to set up the ending. It’s still not telegraphed. It’s just a little bit clumsy, owing to the need to finish the story in just six pages. It’s not a story that should last much longer, but another page might have paid off the funny ending even better.
“The Peddler”: Lucky Luke befriends a peddler, a traveling salesman with a wagon filled with items for sale. Together, they withstand an attack from the local Indian tribe in a clever and unique way for the situation. And, once again, in the end everyone wins. It’s a pretty straightforward story that doesn’t need much more explanation.
It’s fun to see Lucky Luke’s wide-eyed look at what amounts to a traveling department store, though.
“Dangerous Crossing”: Lucky Luke helps a couple on their way to California get through the river. It involves more manual labor that necessary, the wife’s inability to let go of anything, and homemade bread.
Once again, Luke stops to help someone and is immediately dragged into a long and tortuous struggle. He’s active in devising solutions to this one, but the couple come across a little too annoying. As much as you like to see Lucky Luke help people even against the greatest odds, sometimes those people cross a line from comedically absurd to plain old annoying.
Then, there’s a twist ending.
It’s a cute story with more great put-upon Lucky Luke panels, even if the antagonist is a little beyond the scope of annoying. It’s one thing if she were innocently putting Lucky Luke through these paces, but doing it because she’s effectively spoiled and coddled makes her less sympathetic. You wind up rooting for Lucky Luke to throw a barrel at her, or just run screaming the other way .
“Sonata in Colt Major”: Lucky Luke helps the bar’s pianist travel to the big city to play a classical concert. Here it is, the ultimate feel good story of being careful what you wish for.
It’s a great, if truncated, tale of two cities, for sure, as the pianist has to negotiate the difference between the grand theater and the brawling bar. This one is especially satisfying because Lucky Luke is happy to be part of the story, and is active in its resolution. This is the feel good story of the book, and a good thing to end on.
It also has one of my favorite panels from the album. I don’t know why, but this feels like the perfect silhouette usage somehow. This is creating a three dimensional panel without glasses, just a silhouette and a monochromatic background.
I also love the super wide angle choice. It’s like a full Cinerama experience with one panel.
Three of the stories begin by explaining just a bit about life in the old west, and the story uses that as its key element. “The Peddler,” “Sonata in Colt Major”, “and “Maverick” all begin like that. “Lucky Luke” can be good infotainment at times like that. Again, going back to “The Oklahoma Land Rush” album, it’s where I learned about what the Sooners were.
When the stories stumble, it’s usually from a lack of space. None of these stories is a full album on their own, but a few of them I can imagine being another page or two to pace things out better, or to really ramp up the craziness that the story is descending into.
Lucky Luke can work as a character in a story even when he has no authority to do anything. In a couple of the stories in this album, he’s caught up in a situation out of his control, or that he’s guilted into taking part in. Usually, such a passive protagonist would lead to boring stories. But Luke works so well in those because his reactions are priceless. He doesn’t impact the stories as much as he mirrors the reader’s reactions to it. It’s a perfectly valid technique.
Coloring is sometimes an issue in the “Lucky Luke” reprints. Cinebook has always kept the original flat coloring. It works, helping to maintain the history of the series. It’s colored the way the artist drew it for.
Like coloring a Duck book as close to the original 50s or 60s printing they had, “Lucky Luke”‘s coloring scheme is a product of its time. The lack of computers and the more manual style of coloring comics back in those days made designing for color on cheaper paper an adventure, and an often frustrating one to modern eyes. These pages look flat, and some of the simpler coloring (such as shading an entire background crowded with people in the same dark blue) looks like a shortcut.
I would love to see someone test recoloring these books, but keeping the colors flat. Just add some minor textures and some intentional lighting and it’ll be so much better. The big trick would be a technical one, though. How could you keep the thin black linework intact while scrubbing out the original colors?
You bet, it is. Obviously, the full format stories are going to be more engrossing and memorable, but these short punches of humor comics are welcome, also. I love having a full story I can read in less than ten minutes.
If this is your first Lucky Luke album, you can also sample it in just a few minutes rather than having to invest a half hour or more for a single full length story.
Full length stories are as much about the plot as they are about the comedy. In this collection, the short stories are about getting straight to the comedy, using whatever simple plot (crossing a river, taking a kid to the dentist, teaching a hapless guy how to shoot) they need to hang it on.
“Lucky Luke” v50, “Seven Stories” is available from Cinebook at Amazon (for less than $9!), and other places. If you’re lucky, your local comic shop may be one of the five or six in North American who would carry something like this. (I might be inflating that number. Comic shops don’t like carrying books that are bigger than a 32 page stapled thing.)
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Another “Lucky Luke” review is forthcoming. It will be up at some point in the next week, and jumps ahead in the Cinebook publication schedule…
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #6 of 100 for 2017.)