The Bluecoats v12 "The David" cover by Willy Lambil

The Bluecoats v12: “The David”

When the Union catches wind of something strange going on in the waters of South Carolina, they need to find soldiers to send on a potential suicide mission: Go deep behind enemy lines, find the cause of what’s blowing up the North’s ships, and stop it.

Naturally, they send Blutch and Sarge to go undercover. Hilarity ensues.

It’s a good episode of this particular sit-com.

Surfacing the Credits

The Bluecoats v12 "The David" cover by Willy Lambil
Writers: Raoul Cauvin
Artist: Willy Lambil
Letterer: Design Amorandi
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Cinebook
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1982

But First, A Quick American History Lesson…

The David is the name of an early submarine type of vehicle the Confederacy used for a brief period of time against ships from the North trying to come into their harbors. It was very rudimentary and could barely steer or last very long at sea.

So, yes, this book is vaguely based on a true story, much like, say, Lucky Luke in “The Oklahoma Land Rush.”

I learn more about American history from reading French comics than I do reading the American ones. Go figure.

Oh, Those Two Crazy Guys!

Blutch complains about the number of charges he takes in the Civil War in The Bluecoats v12

As a refresher: “The Bluecoats” is about two soldiers in the Union army during the Civil War. Blutch is the soldier who doesn’t want to do it anymore. He’s tiring of constantly charging at the Confederate army, wondering when his card will get punched. He’s frustrated by military discipline and just wants to go home and relax.

As you might suspect, the other lead character of the series is the opposite. Sarge (Chesterfield) is a gung ho military man. He eats this stuff up. He’s not the tough-as-nails boot camp instructor you might picture, though. He’s still very relatable and human, but he’s more of a career minded man in uniform. He wants to work his way up and fight the good fight. And, for whatever reason, he’s joined at the hip with his buddy, Blutch.

It’s “The Odd Couple” in the Civil War.

This book starts with a very funny sequence where Blutch is trying to get himself shot by the firing squad to get it over with. Sarge pleads on behalf of Blutch to the higher ups, but also to Blutch. It’s all done in an increasingly frantic style as the scene goes on, leading to the firing squad preparing to shoot him.

Blutch is having none of it. He’d fire all the guns of the firing squad himself, if he could. He even calls out his own “Ready! Aim! Fire!”

It’s slightly morbid comedy, but it’s still funny to see the situation reversed like that.

What’s Going On?

Something is blowing up the Northern ships over in the Charleston, South Carolina bay. Blutch and Sarge are offered exactly what they want — Blutch can get an honorable discharge and Sarge can get a promotion — if they sneak in, discover what’s going on, and stop it.

It’s a near suicide mission, but both men are very passionate about what they want. If they pull it off, it’s win/win all around.

Off they go.

Blutch and Sarge go undercover as wounded Confederate soldiers in South Carolina.

Because this is “The Bluecoats,” things get silly fast. Blutch and Sarge show up in disguise as southern soldiers whose war wounds have forced them to leave the battlefield. Blutch is blinded, his eyes covered by a blindfold. Sarge is in a wheelchair, unable to walk. He’s being pushed by Blutch, who can’t see where he’s going and sometimes forgets he’s blind.

Their attempt to go unseen behind enemy lines doesn’t last long. Blutch hardly follows protocol. He doesn’t stay as reserved and quiet as someone spying should. He can’t control himself from picking on the Confederate soldiers he doesn’t like, or giving Sarge a hard time. This, of course, gets them into even more trouble.

Sure, as a reader, you know the two of them will get out of this somehow. That’s the nature of a sit-com like this: Everything has to reset itself by the end of the book. The question is how that will happen. Cauvin keeps the pair on their toes, relentlessly, through these 48 pages, all the while cracking the jokes. That nervous tension is a natural

It’s ridiculous. It’s silly. It’s funny. That’s all that counts.

But it’s more than that. Cauvin structures the book with a dramatic flair. It’s isn’t just the prat falls and the verbal fisticuffs. There’s dangers for the duo to overcome. There are actual action bits and spy works going on. There’s a chase by foot, cart, and rail. It’s all done out of the pressures of the events of the book, not the need of the writer to make something up and look funny. There’s a larger plot point to be served in the midst of all the merriment.

Sarge Chesterfield and Blutch run away from Confederate soldiers in The Bluecoats v12: The David

It’s very well done. This isn’t a book that’s going to win awards, but it is a book that’s entertaining and creative and fun to read.

If there’s one catch with this volume, though, it’s the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but you know nothing’s going to change. Somehow, Cauvin’s script has to hit the reset button to things can go back to normal in time for the next volume. Honestly, that’s half the challenge of the book. Cauvin makes it happen, but the whole thing doesn’t hold up to much thought. It’s a hand-wavey thing that you just need to buy and move on. Since it’s the last thing that happens in the book, however, it’s tough to forget that quite so easily.

The Art and Coloring of Lambil

This series has lasted a long time. It’s still going. I’m not familiar with it enough to know when the “prime” era for it was. But of the books in the series I’ve read so far, this is the best looking.

Lambil is on point in all aspects of this book. Storytelling is strong, using a variety of angles. The characters look energetic and bounce across the page. All the gestures and the body language reflect the story well.

Sarge Chesterfield and Blutch make for terrible spies in The Bluecoats v12: The David

Also, the coloring is great. The opening scene of the ships at sunset are boldly colored, bright and loud. It almost looks like an impressionistic painting.

The rest of the book maintains a strong, yet simple style. The colors are all flat, with not a shadow to be found. It’s amazing how clean and clear the art looks without all the modern trappings of gradients and sculpted coloring.

In comparing the two, I’d recommend the print edition of this book over the digital one. They both look great, but the print version has colors that are a little darker for the brightest colors. It helps even out things.

A sunset over South Carolina in The Bluecoats v12 The David by Cauvin and Lambil

The big bold sunset at the beginning of the book, for example, looks a bit too bright digitally. There’s just enough colors sinking into the paper grain of the page to give a richer set of colors that don’t feel so thin and bright like you see them digitally.

Above you can see the digital version, which looks a bit too much like it was created with a pack of Skittles.

Cinebook did a great job balancing the colors to the paper in their print edition. That’s never an easy trick with comics, where everyone colors on a backlit screen for ink-gobbling paper.

That all said, the digital copy doesn’t look bad at all. Don’t take this as a slam on digital. I just think the print edition is preferable here.


The Bluecoats v12 "The David" cover by Willy Lambil

Sure. It’s a pleasant book, good for a few laughs. If you’ve never read the series before, you can jump right in with this one and never miss a beat. Well, there is one returning character from earlier in the series, but I didn’t read that book either. I still had no problem following this one.

This is also be one of the all-too-rare cases where I’d recommend the print edition over the digital edition for better color, too.

— 2019.029 —

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  1. Curiously, in the franco-belgian edition, this is volume 19, so I’d be curious to know whey they chose to adapt them in english out of order, or just skip some, maybe Jerome can shed some light on this. As you remark if there ever was a “peak” for this series, I’m not sure there was. it has been consistently entertaining for 50 or so volumes by now, with a regularity in the schedule and the quality level, just like when you walk into a bakery for a croissant you know what you’re getting. Bluecoats is comfort foot, but the good kind, not junk. A stable of Dupuis since its inception.Sure, as you said, this is not likely to win any awards, but contrary to Lucky Luke the creative team has been consistent almost from the beginning (the original artist Salverius died early on). I’ve been following the series from the early 80s onwards and I’m constantly amazed that they can still find historical tidbits to base their stories on, for a war that did not last half as long as the book did. It’s a truly amazing feat.

    1. I have no idea why we’re publishing them in that order. Could be our editorial decision (most likely based on what we think is going to be well received), could be urging from the French publishers, maybe even the authors … or a combination of the three.

      I’ll try to ask at some point, but I have to admit for a series with no story arc like this one, it never did bother me enough to enquire …

  2. The art definitely peaked in the 80s – about albums 25 – 30 in the French editions – in my opinion. It’s detailed and gorgeous.

    The reason for that is, the first five or so albums were drawn by someone else. That artist’s style was extremely cartoony. Lambil was picked as a replacement after the first artist’s sudden death, and had to change his (quite realistic) style as a result. As the albums pass, they enter more into that realistic territory of his original style while maintaining the vague cartooniness.

    The plots get even more crazy too. Bull Run will always be my favorite! It’s a hoot !

    And, as you read more albums, you slowly realize there’s a LOT of complexity to Blutch and Chesterfield’s relationship, beyond the face value fun stories. (Take Requiem pour un Bleu for example…) It makes me emotional – I’m a bit of a nut over this series – but most of it is still untranslated. Luckily I have decent French reading skills.