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Graphic Novels: Childhood continues.

August 10, 2009

Being the nerd that I am, the library was a regular haunt when I was a kid and I was on first name basis with all the librarians. It was here that I was first introduced to the joy of graphic novels.  I’ll talk about a few of them here:


Asterix and Obelix

Written by Goscinny and illustrated by Uderzo,  Asterix and Obelix centred around an unlikely duo, the menhir maker Obelix and his smaller friend Asterix, the brains of the outfit. They’re accompanied by Dogmatix on their adventures out of the little Gaulish village they live in, which they continually defend against the Romans.

What appeals to me about Asterix? I liked the names- all with double meanings- Asterix  (Asterisk) is a small guy, while Obelix (Obelisk) is a menhir. Dogmatix requires no explanation, the fishmonger is called Unhygienix and the village elder goes by the wonderful appelation of Geriatrix.  It continues even to the Roman world with names such as Tremensdelirius (Roméomontaigus) – an old, drunken Roman legionary in ‘Asterix and the Legionary’.

The plots are woven cleverly and the illustrations are superb. Uderzo’s talent isn’t restricted to the comic format- here’s his Gaulish version of Pieter Breughel’s ‘Peasant Wedding Feast’:

and this version of Géricault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’:

The pun here is on Jericho=Géricault.  Such puns weren’t immediately obvious, but that only made them sweeter.


Hergé’s ‘Tintin’ started out in 1929 s a syndicated comic for a Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.

Tintin follows the adventures of a young reporter and his dog Snowy as they travel throughout the world, writing for their local paper and mistakenly getting into adventures at first, then as the series progresses, Tintin becomes more of an amateur detective. Hergé (Georges Remi) has changed his style from the first book (Tintin and the Soviets) from this:

to this, much more sophisticated style:

which has echoes of the American Marvel comic style.

Hergé is that rare combination: a writer and an artist and equally good at both.  Strangely enough for what started out as a proto-missionary storyline, the most poignant character is Captain Haddock, who is constantly battling with his alcoholism.

Destination Moon, 1953.

This sets up both comic and tragic moments in the storylines.

To make up for this, however, he entertains us with the most colourful insults you’re likely to see in a graphic novel:

Curiously enough, in the earlier books, Tintin doesn’t have much of a personality, but it comes out more in the later books, particularly these written in the 60s and 70s.

Calvin and Hobbes

More of a syndicated comic than a graphic novel, so I won’t be discussing it, but I figured it deserved a mention, so here it is. Go read it. It’s worth it.

My childhood ended and my teenage years began with Gary Larson.

The Far Side

Also a syndicate, but also worth mentioning, the Far Side contains some of the wittiest humour I’ve ever seen.  The naively drawn people only add to the humour- the hornrimmed glasses and 1960s beehives on the women and the fedora-wearing men hark back to another time, but the humour will last for many centuries to come.

With the Far Side, I left the graphic novel genre for a decade.  My next post will give my top 5 graphic novel writers of all time, so you can seek the glories out for yourself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2009 9:17 am

    All of these are excellent (though I’m biased towards Tintin).

    I would also recommend Bone by Jeff Smith. Beautifully drawn and thoughtfully written, it is a joy for adults and children.


    P.s. You may like this different version of Tintin with the mushroom (The Shooting Star):

  2. April 30, 2010 7:42 pm

    Just in case Tintin purists complain, I want to make the following note about the picture above of Captain Haddock hurling insults: Don’t worry, Hergé did not use Comic Sans for his lettering!

    The picture is actually a screen-shot of the web-app Blistering Barnacles, which uses Comic Sans to render random insults from Captain Haddock.

    Great post – Cheers!

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