This is the ne plus ultra of my cartooning likes. I love the whole Marcinelle School style. I like Franquin’s work when he draws like he did on Gomer the Goof. I’m always entertained by the drawings of the artists he influenced, which is an awfully large number.
I just like the style, period.
The work Tome and Janry do together in “Spirou and Fantasio,” some 25 years after Franquin’s run, pushes that style as far as it can possibly go. They throw every trick in the book onto the page, from the rumpled clothes to the loose hairs hanging out of heads, to the bent knee stances and large hand gesticulations.
The inks waver between extreme thicks and thins, adding a lot of depth and detail to every panel. It’s beautiful to look at.
There are some nits I can pick with the storytelling in some places, but the style, itself, is the end result of pushing Franquin’s beloved style to the brink. It’s wonderful. If you’re looking for some inking inspiration for Inktober, I would recommend the “Spirou and Fantasio” books that Tome and Janry did together.
But let’s start with a bit about the story:
Stop Me If This Sounds Familiar
A small town is fearful that the robots are about to take over.
Electronic devices begin attacking residents.
Furthermore, the new business in town has automated everything. People fear for their jobs in a world where their lifetime experience has been replaced by robots.
Robots, automation, jobs, world conquering… Dupuis published this book originally in 1985. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meet the New Characters
This plot has to do with a curious device Fantasio brings back to the office with him. It’s basically R2D2 with protruding lips. It’s BB-8. It leads our title characters and their pet Squirrel to a small town outside the city, where they are confronted by a predecessor of Ada from last season’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” (Except she looks like Marilyn Monroe, which is French cartooning shorthand for “beautiful woman.” That white dress comes up an awful lot…)
The bad robot leads them on a merry chase and some wanton destruction while they try to clear their name and save the town.
Cyanide has the power to control all electronic equipment. This leads to lots of visual gags where she commandeers things to keep people away from her, or to hurt people she doesn’t like. It’s quick, effective, and creative. It’s also very visual, so there’s something to draw the reader’s eye across the page at all times.
For an example of Cyanide’s powers: If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching too much “Bar Rescue,” it’s that the punching machines are bad and you should get rid of all of them. This is especially true when Cyanide is on the loose:
It’s not that the story stops dead in its tracks for those moments, either. It’s always pushing forward, but never leaving behind the character moments and the fun gags that make the book so memorable.
I enjoyed reading it, though I think in the hands of a less interesting artist, this book would suffer mightily. But it is that combination that puts this book over the top. And let’s never forget that the art of comics is a mix of the writing and the art…
How Did They NOT See This Coming?
In Cyanide’s origin story, we learn this:
Cyanide chose her own name. She chose to name herself after poison. I guess someone else took “Arsenic” first?
The plot isn’t that complicated and it doesn’t rely on any twist or surprise. With 50 pages or so to play with, Tome and Janry get the chance to create lots of little comedic moments along the way. Sure, they could edit the story down a bunch, but that would service plot over general entertainment. Without those bits of humor and action, the book would be bland. It’s worth slowing down the story to service the reader’s entertainment. I like that they can have the little breathing room to do a random car chase scene in the middle of the story.
Like I said at the beginning, if there are any shortcomings to this book, it’s in the panel to panel storytelling. There are a few isolated sequence that I reread an extra time to follow correctly. There are also times when the panel is zoomed in too tight to the action. A little breathing room might have made following the events easier as well as opening up the page a bit more.
Here’s a quick example from the bottom of the very first page. It’s a funny gag, but there’s just too big a gap in the action between the second and third panels.
I missed that Fantasio didn’t push the button between those two panels the first time. He’s holding out the trigger to the camera store employee in the second panel to pass it off. I thought it was a set-up at that point for when he pushed the trigger. Maybe I assumed too much. Maybe the sight of the employee’s hand reaching into the panel from the right to grab the trigger would have been the extra clue I needed to make the smooth transition to the third panel.
It’s a great gag, but it needed more to sell it. It needed an extra panel, or it needed to make the second panel wider so we can see more of the hand-off.
Yes, this is a fun and harmless book with great cartooning work and none of the racial caricatures that plague previous volumes I’ve reviewed. I love the style. There are great comedic moments, and a fun and crazy sense of action in places.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #69.)
Buy This Book
Coming Up Next…
The next book in this series that’s due out soon from Cinebook is “Z is for Zorglub.” Why does that excite me?
Zorglub is a villain for Spirou and Fantasio who recently starred in a book that Jose-Luis (“The Campbells”) Munuera wrote and drew. With his introduction out there, I’d love to see that book translated for this series sometime sooner rather than later… And then I can get greedy and ask for reprints on the other four books in this series that Munuera drew? Please, Cinebook?
I assume it’s only a matter of time, but I don’t want to wait through another 30 books first…