Euro Reviews: ‘The Bluecoats’ Gives The Civil War A Sitcom Spin

by Richard Bruton

Take the US Civil War, Union vs Confederates, and turn it into a screwball comedy sitcom – and you get The Bluecoats, a wonderful slice of Euro comedy.

Cinebook are slowly reprinting The Bluecoats (Les Tuniques Bleues), one of the most successful Euro series with over 15 million copies sold across 62 volumes since 1972. So, there’s still plenty of material yet to come, and that’s a great thing, as Bluecoats is a wonderful example of the sit-com style of Euro comics and one I’ve been enjoying ever since Cinebook began this reprint series.

Yes, it’s a sitcom and a beautifully done one, a serial focused on a recurring set of characters, dropped into slightly different situations each time, no real ongoing character development or narrative between volumes, and always sticking pretty closely to the same basic set-up, development, payoff rhythm. The Bluecoats shares the same basic comedy DNA as so many other sitcom comics, whether that’s Asterix, Lucky Luke, Calvin & Hobbes, or oh so many TV sitcoms. But the one comparison that does really resonate is with M*A*S*H*, as both it and The Bluecoats aren’t afraid of addressing all of the realities of war-time life at the same time as exploiting the ridiculous nature of the setups.

Now throw into the mix the perfect comedy timing shown in both the writing and the artwork and what you have is a superb, fun, and downright funny series of books.

The Bluecoats stars two chalk and cheese Union soldiers, Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield (cursing panel left above); solid military man, always first to volunteer and right now thoroughly fed up with the lull in the action. And then there’s his total antithesis, Corporal Blutch (seated far right above), whose plan for the war is to just get through it intact.

Here in Something Borrowed, Something Blue, the Union forces find themselves under fire from Confederate artillery with advances halted… as this lovely example of the skills of both Cauvin and Lambil in delivering a gag, this time in a simple single panel of consummate skill…

To cope with the increasing numbers of wounded, General Alexander brings in a quartet of female nurses, something that throws the camp into chaos, even with the addition of a new ‘Matron, Miss Bertha, to root out those lovestruck soldiers just feigning injury.

But then the unthinkable happens and Corporal Blutch gets badly injured… and we get to see just one example of the depth that both Lambil and Cauvin add to the series, our genuine affection for both characters echoed through the unconventional friendship between two very different soldiers. Sure, Chesterfield despairs of Blutch’s cowardice, just as Blutch decries Chesterfield’s willingness to get them both killed, but they will always fight for the other, will go out of their way to rescue the other, or in this case will be genuinely upset to see a friend in such bad shape…

As the volume continues, things play out so beautifully, with Blutch falling for one of the nurses and Chesterfield having to come to terms with it all, a morale-boosting wedding organised by General Alexander, and even a bit of clever military action as well.

Yes, just like the majority of these Bluecoat volumes, this is rather grand fun put together by two creators of great skill. Cauvin’s timing and rhythm in setting everything in motion works unerringly well, whilst Lambil’s simple, playful and expressive cartooning is a perfect match to the fun of the writing. I could go on and on, but there’s no better way of telling you just how good the comedic work of Cauvin and Lambil is than by just simply showing you…

Take this six panel sequence… setup first… Blutch injured, the possibility of amputation being discussed, Chesterfield genuinely upset…

You did catch the suspicious and devious look from Blutch in that final panel didn’t you?

And then we switch to Blutch alone…

The sudden movement, the raising of the gun, then the click… wonderful physical visual comedy. But the added line of dialogue, plus the wonderful facial expressions just add multiple layers of comedy to this little sequence.

And then there’s this… a spectacular piece of comedic timing…

That little sequence had me in stitches. The quality of the cartooning, the perfect control of panel to panel transitions to set up the gags, the wonderfully confident line of Lambil, it’s all quite lovely.

The moment from this… Chesterfield galloping into action whilst Blutch attempts to speak to him…

… to this… where Chesterfield (and Blutch’s horse) suddenly hear Blutch’s plans… the comedic mid-air dead stop so beloved of Wile-E-Coyote that just works so well thanks to those incredible facial expressions of man and horse…

… to this… there’s nothing as funny as a dead fall like that, is there?

And then, just when you think the gag is over and done with, Cauvin adds a line of dialogue as the icing on the cake…

That, dear reader, is sheer perfection.

The Bluecoats Volume 13 – Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Script by Raoul Cauvin, art by Willy Lambil, published 2020 by Cinebook

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