Who Are These Two (and Their Squirrel)?
“Spirou & Fantasio: Adventure Down Under” is actually the third book in the series that I’ve read, and it feels like I’m finally getting a handle on what it is. It’s basically “Uncle Scrooge Adventures” starring a journalist, Fantasio, and his friend the bellhop, Spirou.
Wait, no, it’s the other way around: Spirou is the reporter craving adventure and Fantasio is the uptight sidekick. I think?
The back covers on this series all have this blurb:
Accompanied everywhere by his friend Fantasio and his pet squirrel Spip, Spirou is an adventurous reporter who fights all manner of villains in every corner of the world.
I know Fantasio is an office worker at Dupuis from his appearance in “Gomer the Goof,” so I guess he’s more management, but still runs around with his friend, Spirou, the intrepid reporter? They’re roommates, so I suppose that’s natural.
OK, I guess they’re both reporters, then. Right?
If there’s one real weakness to the series that I’ve read so far, it’s that I think they take for granted that their readership knows the set-up for the series in advance.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the series so far, there needs to be stronger character differentiation between the two leads. It could use a small bit of exposition about who they are and why they do what they do. I don’t need a full scale origin story. I would just like a little more clarification.
Or, you know, maybe I shouldn’t question it too much. It’s all just a silly set-up for a silly series and I shouldn’t over-think this.
It’s also possible that because I’m reading these out of order and Cinebook is publishing them out of order, I might be missing obvious stuff. (This is the 34th book in the series in France, but the first Cinebook published.) As the old saying goes, though, every book is somebody’s first. You need to be prepared for that, even when the book starts as a serial in a weekly magazine anthology.
Maybe even more so because of that…
Let’s get back to the good stuff, though, because there’s still more of that…
As you might have guessed from the title of this volume, this book sees Spirou and Fantasio head across the world to a mining town in Australia. Their friend, Champignac, claims to have found a great treasure there. Immediately, you can guess that everyone will have a different definition of “treasure,” and that confusion will cause havoc. And attempted murder.
There are battles in this book between the miners among themselves, the miners and the Aborigines, and the miners and the outsiders (read: Champignac, Spirou, et. al.). When Champignac makes his big discovery and brags about it to the wrong people, his life is in danger and Spirou and Fantasio are called in to help him out.
The story turns out to be something of a thriller, with Champignac’s life at stake acting as the ticking time bomb, and Spirou chasing down the bad guys in a desperate attempt to save the day. In one memorable scene, he jumps on a truck heading out of town and sheds his clothes as they go, to leave behind a trail so his friends might find him. Things don’t go according to plan with that, either.
There’s also a bit of physical/slapstick humor, which I love. With Janry’s art style on this book, the physical humor strikes extra hard as being funny. There’s everything from the miner who thinks he’s a kangaroo, to the mystery rock in a shoe that carries a man up in the air, to some punches that are meant almost more for the gag than the violence. It’s good, visual action that works well on the page.
Things also happen at a larger scale, like when this train crashes into a bar:
A couple plot points are so painfully obvious that the characters look dumb for not picking up on them, but the overall story moves along quickly and ends strongly. There are fights, chases, discoveries, and betrayal. It’s a fun non-stop adventure story with great cartooning. That’s all I’m looking for, so I’m happy.
I’m not sure how well the Aborigines in this book will go over in the modern day. This series, under Tome and Janry in the 80s, used a lot of cartooning that deals in stereotypes and pushes the boundaries a bit too far at times. The Aboriginal leader in this book who sits cross-legged with his middle fingers pointing up might work better in MAD Magazine than in a comic adventure story.
On the other hand, I did a little bit of Googling around. I found that the Aborigines have a strong sign language tradition. Some of that includes the use of the middle finger in a motion to make a word. Maybe I’m missing a cultural thing here? Somehow, I doubt it, but I don’t know.
I like the font they chose for the lettering. It has extra personality. Later volumes switched to a slightly more subdued font that hides itself better. As big a fan as I am of different fonts, I think they did the right thing in toning it down.
The annoyance here, though, is that these early volumes are still using the crossbar-I in the wrong way. (No, I will never just let that go.)
The other problem is that some colors show up slightly too dark in the print edition of this book. 95% of the book is great, but the outdoor night scenes get a little troublesome, and the skin tones on the aborigines get so dark that it merges with the ink lines and muddies things up a bit.
The digital edition of this book is much clearer and brighter. It is, in fact, a little too bright in spots. I’m happier with that, though, because it shows off the art better.
This run on the series is credited to “Tome and Janry,” which are two pen names combined to sound like “Tom and Jerry.” No, I’m not kidding. I think it’s awesome.
From what I’ve read, they worked together on both the art and writing. You can’t give either credit for one specific role. It eventually became Janry on art and Tome on scripts, but not this early on.
Yes. It’s not as smooth as a classic Carl Barks adventure story, no doubt owing to its initial serialized format. But the comedic/thriller/action feeling is still there and I appreciate it. You see a different part of the world, deal with slightly more mature themes than Barks did, and play things up for laughs a little more. I still love the art style, though the coloring gets a bit dark at times in print.
I just can’t give unqualified praise, can I? Ugh.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #68.)
At some point, someone did a Spirou animated series in English. I don’t remember it at all, but it’s on YouTube now. By the looks of it, it’s very very cheap. I mean, they forgot to color in things or forgot to adjust the transparency of layers. You get clear items here they don’t belong. For example, check out the hand of the man on the right here:
The series adapted a number of Tome and Janry’s albums into these half hours. Here’s the one based on “Adventure Down Under” :
It’s fairly faithful to the outline of the comic, though entirely it’s own thing.