Thus far, Cinebook has stuck to reprinting “Spirou and Fantasio” books from Andre Franquin and the team of Tomé and Janry.
With their 18th book, though, they’ve entered the even more recent era of Fabien Vehlmann and Yoann, who wrote and drew (respectively) the series from 2010 through 2019.
This is their first book together.
It’s pretty good right out of the gate!
Credits de Champignac
Writer: Fabien Vehlmann
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Letterers: Design Amorandi
Published by: Cinebook/Dupuis
Number of Pages: 56
Original Publication: 2010
What’s Going On?
Silly old mushroom-based scientist Champignac has been outwitted once again by Zorglub. The result is that the entire town has been transformed into an overgrown forest dominated by strange animals, giant mushrooms, and crazy overgrowth.
But why? Stay tuned.
Spirou and Fantasio have to run to the rescue: find Champignac, discover what’s going on, and defeat Zorglub.
Really, that’s about it.
But you know what? It’s an awful lot of fun and a visual treat.
A Book of Discovery
This isn’t a book that relies on a deep story or a complicated series of plot twists to keep your attention. This is a book of discovery. Following Spirou and Fantasio on their journey into this strange world is what holds your attention. There’s a lot to soak in with this book, which almost entirely takes place in what is essentially a fantasy world.
Yoann’s art carries that, easily. The book is dominated by his art. At its core, you can clearly trace the lineage of Yoann’s line down from Franquin through Janry and José-Luis Munuera. It’s in the same ballpark, yet uniquely his own. It’s very frenetic. There’s a lot of action and bold images in this book.
Yoann maintains the classic storytelling style of the masters while working in an art style that adds so much energy to the page. He gets in close on the action, where characters flail wildly in their action moments. Their every pose is pushed a little bit further than most artists would go. Characters bounce across the page. Every action is dynamic.
From a technical point of view, Yoann’s work feels very ink-heavy. He uses a lot of solid black areas, partial silhouettes, and thicker black lines to separate his layers. He also feathers his lines and adds lot of textures to the world around the characters.
Repeatedly, when I see his work, I have to think that he has taken some influence from superhero comics. Particularly during the action scenes, he composes some of the panels in very dynamic ways. It’s no wonder that his current work is with Supergroom — Spirou as a superhero. It fits his style so well.
My Favorite, Spip the Squirrel
Spip is also a more active character than usual. Sure, he’s talked in the series before. It’s usually in the form of thought balloons, though, and is not something you see too much of.
In this book, he’s speaking out loud regularly, throwing in some punchlines of his own. He’s still not understood by the other characters. They’re not having a conversation with him or anything. I’m sure they just hear this squeaky voice when he talks, but we get to hear him talking out loud in language we understand.
I love a good squirrel sidekick, and Spip is my favorite.
Yes, The Lettering
The font ranges in size according to how animated the speaker is. There’s a lot of bold faced text to indicate stress or loudness. The word balloons often change shape to reflect that, too.
Those balloons have a very organic feel. I’d bet that they’re hand drawn on the page. They’re just too imperfect to be a computer construction. There are no perfect ovals or circles here.
The font choice also feels more hand drawn than previous Spirou books from Cinebook. Design Amorandi does an excellent job with their lettering/design work in this book in replicating the look and feel of the original French text. I compared the two versions of the book, and they stuck to the original material very closely, often right down to the breaks in text in a single word balloon.
It’s in all-caps except for the lowercase “I” letters, but it also has that organize feeling to it. It’s not a perfect computer simulation of something else. (Sadly, I did catch a couple of crossbar “I” shapes at the start of sentences. Frustrating.)
There were a few times when it was clearly tricky to fit the translated text into the same balloons as the original French text, but I’m used to that by now. It’s a small price to pay. Nobody’s going to be paying to have word balloons redrawn to fit text in better, unfortunately.
Vehlmann Constructs a Plot
The story, itself, is packed with small details to appeal to Spirou fans both new and old. There are plenty of references to past Zorglub adventures in the book. It’s been a couple years since I last read the Zorglub-centric books in the series, so I might as well have been going in blind. Vehlmann explains enough to keep a total newbie in the story, without lingering on the details to impress the old fans.
Beyond that, though, Vehlmann does create a world where interesting things can happen. Yes, Yoann sells it hard and makes this book a visual feast, but Vehlmann sets the whole thing up beautifully. He adds in all he strange creatures and the dinosaur and the impending doom of military maneuvers. It’s part monster book, part post-apocalyptic, and part survival all at the same time.
This book feels a lot like some kind of summer movie blockbuster. There’s a town that suddenly undergoes a drastic change. The military stands just outside of it, trying to understand it while prepping the planes with the big bombs to take care of things. It helps to add the ticking time bomb to give our characters the impetus to move forward and take drastic measures when needed.
And then, of course, our heroes have to break through at incredible risk to their own safety to find their find and what’s really going on.
That broad outline is almost similar to “WandaVision,” for one example.
Just to compare it to many Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (particularly all the Avengers films), it also climaxes in an overwhelming number of similar creatures attacking our small band of characters, who must valiantly defends themselves against the overwhelming odds.
Also, Spip attempts the classic three point landing:
It’s Still a Funny Book!
The one thing I don’t mean to undersell in this review, though, is the sense of humor the book has. It can be very funny, but it’s always situational history in service to the plot. There’s no point at which Vehlmann stops the plot because he has an idea for a funny single page gag.
The closest he comes is the opening sequence with Spirou, when he and Fantasio are driving back from a comic festival with a large inflatable Spirou attached to the roof. It’s somewhat meta, but it’s also self-deprecating.
But Vehlmann doesn’t even waste that gag. He uses the giant inflatable for plot purposes later in the story, which is the real reason (looking back) that that opening exists.
Now THAT is proper story construction.
Yes, this is a beautiful book with a lot of great visuals and a fun plot. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Yoann and Vehlmann’s run on the series.
It’s tough to predict what Cinebook will publish next in this series, but the second book by this pair is a direct sequel to this story. Zorglub is always good for one of those. I have to think Cinebook will want to print that one sooner rather than later..