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Friday, 27 November 2009

In Review: Spirou And Fantasio - Adventure Down Under

The weekly comic magazine that is now known as Spirou began as Le Journal Du Spirou in April 1938 in the French speaking Belgian region of Wallonia and the character of Spirou has been in it since that first issue. As such he has a publishing history similar to Desperate Dan in The Dandy which began just four months earlier in December 1937. Yet despite being in his eighth decade of stories in the comic and with some 50 albums released in French, for most comics readers in the UK the character of Spirou is unknown. While Euro Books in India have recently released a selection of Spirou titles in English, in the West only a single album, Z Is For Zorglub, was translated into English by America's Fantasy Flight in 1995 based on the 1961 album Z Comme Zorglub, but sales did not warrant any further books. No doubt Cinebook are hoping for better things with their Spirou And Fantasio - Adventure Down Under.

Young Spirou and his older friend Fantasio are journalists who work for Spirou magazine (this may sound strange but let's remember that Beano characters read the Beano). Having just arrived back from Bangkok, their fellow journalist Cellophine catches them in the airport with a telegram from Spirou's scientist friend, the Count of Champignac, which says that they must come to Australia. There they make their way to a mining settlement in the Outback where miners are desperately digging for opals near an Aboriginal holy ground only to discover from the miners that the Count died in a mining accident. Spirou refuses to accept the story and they dig up the Count's coffin which leads them to discover that not all the miners can be trusted and, due to what is going on near their sacred land, that the Aborigines trust no one.

While it is the first Cinebook publication of Spirou and Fantasio, Aventure en Australie was the 34th Spirou album, originally published in 1985, and was written by Philippe Vandevelde (Tome) and illustrated by Jean-Richard Geurts (Janry) - their pseudonyms chosen as a play on Hanna Barbera's Tom and Jerry cartoon characters. Despite the above description of the story, which has all the trappings of a Tintin book, the story and art style are more like Asterix. Janry's art is both fun and at times remarkably detailed with the sequence in the airport at the beginning particularly warranting closer inspection with much going on in the background. Tome's story is humourous with fantastical elements in it mainly to do with the Aboriginal wise man Kaloo-Long who can levitate whilst asleep, hence the unusual cover illustration of him hovering whilst attached to a rock.

Yet there is certainly more going on with the book than just the story. The girl reporter who accompanies our two heroes to Australia is called Cellophine in the Cinebook version while her original French name is Seccotine. Seccotine is a French brand of glue that has become a byword for a person who is too clingy, so her translated name of Cellophine is a play on cellophane wrap which is also known as cling film. This and a selection of the Aboriginal names for people and places introduces word play similar to that used in the character names in the English language Asterix books. In addition to this the flight that the three main characters take to Australia is 714. That is the flight number of the plane that Tintin misses in the book that we know as Flight 714 but the full translated title of which should be 'Flight 714 to Sydney'. These little touches enhance the Spirou book.

It all adds up to something that can be a quick fun read for children or something a little more amusing for adults. It is just a pity that we will have to wait a year for the next one.

• There are more details of the book on the Cinebook website and the next Spirou and Fantasio book from Cinebook will be Spirou and Fantasio in New York which is scheduled for October 2010.

• There are more details of the original book on the official Spirou website (in French).

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