Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 10: Gaston Lagaffe and Tintin

Gaston Lagaffe vol. 18: Gaffes en pagaille review:
If you’ve ever read a volume of collection gags starring Gaston Lagaffe, you’ll know what to expect in this volume. It’s a collection of joke strips by creator Franquin (famous for his run on Spirou et Fantasio and for creating Gaston and Marsupilami). The Gaston Lagaffe gags originally appeared in Spirou magazine (as far as I know, anyway) and the albums are collections of those serialized gags. This is one of the volumes published after Franquin’s death in 1997 and it collects some of his last Gaston Lagaffe related work. The first half or so of this volume is made up of assorted full page, one panel gags and various pages made up of four “costume” gags (in which Gaston shows off an elaborate, funny or awful costume for a costume party, only to reveal he’s worried about his ability to dance while wearing said costume). It makes for an unusual read considering I’m used to reading half page or full page gag strips but they still manage to delight and provide humorous entertainment.

The quality of the jokes and the quality of the art and storytelling vary a lot. Unlike previous Gaston Lagaffe albums this one is a mishmash of gags selected from various periods throughout the character’s publication. All serious fans of Gaston Lagaffe know that the albums have a complicated publication history and it’s been common to see old and new gags present in albums before but this takes it to a whole new level. Once you get past the halfway mark though, the volume settles into the regular format of one page gag strips. It’s a good collection of gags but the shift in the type of jokes from the first and second half is a little jarring, if only because the first half feels so light and somewhat insubstantial. Not so much because of the quality of the art and the jokes themselves but mostly because this volume isn’t any larger previous Gaston albums and I was getting worried that it would make for an incredibly short read. I was delighted to see that the book changed to its regular format later on in the same volume.

As for the jokes themselves, they’re good. They’re not all great but they’re entertaining and well executed for the most part. As much as dislike the variation in style of the gags in this collection, it allows for an interesting comparison of which format Gaston Lagaffe works best. I enjoyed the single page or single panel jokes but for me, I really prefer the half page or full page strips. I also want to point out that I don’t think this is a good album to introduce new readers to the series. Most of the jokes will still work while other jokes will lack a certain depth if the reader is unfamiliar with the characters that show up without introduction. Since they pop up randomly and without any consistency throughout the book, a new reader might think they’re just random characters and not members of the regular cast. If you’re looking for roaring laughs, a more consistent Gaston, or the best of what the series has to offer, I suggest you pick up on of the classic albums. With over fifteen to choose from I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Seeing a mix of old gags with some of Franquin’s last few gag strips, I can’t help but think that Marsu Production seems to be going about collection Gaston Lagaffe it in all the wrong ways. I would love to see a definitive multi-volume hardcover collection of all Gaston related material. You could include production notes, interviews, and another other assortment of supplementary material. I’m thinking of something that would honour Franquin and what is considered to be one of his best creations. I think Marsu Production could learn a few lessons from the likes of Fantagraphics and IDW, which have done an excellent job reprinting classic comic strips like Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County, respectively.

My review is based on the French edition published by Marsu Production in 2009.

Les aventures de Tintin: Vol 714 pour Sydney (Flight 714 to Sydney):
One of the series of bande dessinée that I grew up reading was Les aventures de Tintin. To this day I still consider Hergé to be one of the great comics creators but everyone in a while I reread one of his works that makes me doubt it. Vol 714 pour Sydney is one of his more disappointing reads. Unlike many of his earlier works that have suffered a great deal to the critical eye of modern audiences, specifically readers who make claims of sexisms, racisms and other controversial issues, this album exemplifies another one of Hergé’s shortcomings as a writer/artist: sometime he’s down right boring.

This album is boring, not in and of itself, no. It’s boring when compare to other works in the Tintin series. Everything good about this book can be compared to another Tintin story where Hergé did it so much better. The album can be divided into three parts. The first part is all setup but it’s the most enjoyable because, at this point in his career, Hergé is a skilled storyteller and his makes it a considerably good read. Tintin, Milou, capitaine Haddock and Professeur Tournesol are in an airport and nothing appears to be happening but really, what Hergé is doing, is having his very well defined characters interact superbly with strangers and old friends alike. It gives you the sense that yet another excellent Tintin adventure is about to begin.

By the second part of the book though, things start to go downhill. Tintin and his friends end up what can only be described as a run of the mill adventure story. It lacks what made most of Tintin’s adventures interesting: an intriguing situation, intriguing characters, an actual plot. Instead, all we get is Tintin, Haddock and a few other characters running around getting tired up, shot at and beat up. None of it seems to matter because Hergé completely failed to give the reader any reason to be emotionally involved in the story. At this point the reader, like the characters, is just going through the motions.

By the time the third part begins, it’s probably best to just close the book and put it back on the shelf because things get weird. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Things have gotten weird in Tintin before to great effect and I happen to enjoy weird stories. The problem with the way things turn out in this story is that it all feels too easy, overly silly, inconsequential to the story and, most important of all, easy and cheap. It’s not only a bad way to continue the story of the album but it’s quite simply a really bad way to end a story. The island one which Tintin and his friends have been on for most of the book turns out to be site that is regularly visited by aliens. Aliens that end up saving the gang from a violent volcanic eruption . . . or did it? The characters don’t remember because they were conveniently hypnotized before the rescue.

I picked up this volume because I was at my parent’s house a few weekends ago and I wanted to read a Tintin story. I grabbed some of my favourites and I also grabbed this one because I didn’t remember much about it. Well, now I remember a great deal too much about it. It’s definitively one of the most disappointing Tintin albums and I really recommend you avoid it, unless you’ve read all of the others and you really want to read all of Tintin’s stories. My only consolation is that I have a small stack of my favourite stories by Hergé sitting in the next room. I’ll have to read a few this weekend to help me forget the mess that is Vol 714 pour Sydney.

My review is based on the French edition published by Casterman in 1993.

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