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
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.
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
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, Marsupilami 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.
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 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.
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
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.
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)
But the Book Was Popular!
It was so popular, in fact, that Disney cut a deal with Andre Franquin’s production company to make a new television series with Marsupilami. Marsu was, to quote Michael Eisner, going to be the next Mickey Mouse.
It didn’t go well. (Realistically, his best chance was to be more like Stitch is for Disney…)
Read more about that in “The Story of Marsupilami: Comic Book Artist Sues Disney — And Wins?!?“
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 —