Lucky Luke, a classic name, a classic look, yet you may not have ever read one. Well, here’s where we make an attempt to change your mind. It’s the man who shoots faster than his own shadow…
You may well be aware of the classic image of Lucky Luke, the laconic cowboy with either cigarette or blade of grass hanging loosely from his mouth (depending on the version and how strict the anti-smoking lobby is where you are). But basically, almost everything you need to know about the man who shoots faster than his own shadow can be summed up that one classic image above.
Now, in terms of Euro Comics, Lucky Luke is absolutely one of the biggest, up there with Tintin and Asterix for sure.
Millions of copies sold, 81 volumes produced in French. This is a huge character, a huge series, and yet, outside Europe, it’s one that’s really not all that well known.
Thankfully, UK publisher Cinebook have committed to reprinting the entire saga and are now on the home stretch with 75 volumes completed.
So, to introduce you to the character and to convince you it’s something you should really be reading, we’ll be looking at the latest couple of volumes…
Lucky Luke was created by Morris (Maurice De Bevere) in 1946, but the series really hit its stride with the 31 volumes written by Rene Goscinny from 1957.
Following Goscinny’s death in 1977, Morris brought in various other writers and, following Morris’ death in 2001, French artist Achdé (Hervé Darmenton) assumed artistic duties, with a byline ‘in the style of Morris’ on the covers.
Interestingly, Cinebook’s reprints haven’t followed the chronological publishing order, instead picking and choosing from the series’ history, which is why Volume 74, The Klondike, is a Leturgie, Yann & Morris volume from 1996, whilst Volume 75, Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance, is a Morris & Goscinny volume from 1973. But having them printed out of order this way actually works, as it brings out both the universal nature of the character and the stories and highlights the subtle differences between authors and artists.
Anyway, whether it’s by Morris & Goscinny or by any number of teams since Morris’ death, Lucky Luke absolutely sticks to a tried and tested formula, where Luke and his horse Jolly Jumper, ‘the smartest horse in the world‘, wander into town, get involved in some caper, mission, task or such like, get the better of the bad guys, and then ride off into the sunset.
Each volume one is so wonderfully constructed and detailed, but in truth, it’s a series where it’s the characters and situations that the authors come up with that makes Luke so enduringly popular.
Just as with my other favourite comedy from Cinebook, The Bluecoats, this is another classic sitcom format comic book – the brilliance is in the idea, creators at the top of their game mixing up the elements slightly and delivering a subtle riff on the last story.
You can call it formulaic and it is, but it absolutely doesn’t matter, it’s a series that’s just been refined and refined to get to the absolute crux of what works.
And having Morris as the guiding hand for so long is a huge part of that. Yes, the Goscinny & Morris volumes are the highpoints of the title, but once new writers came along, Morris had been doing it for so long and so well that it all just seemed to carry on in the same vein.
Morris’ art is simply some of my favourite art ever. It’s that simple. It looks so cartoony, it looks so simple, so easy. But when you break it all down and look close at what he does, over and over again, it’s clear that he’s one of the greatest comic artists the world has ever seen. You want the evidence? Look at any image here.
First, you have his control of a line, his wonderful characterisations, the expressive body language at play, and his spectacular dynamism – something that’s here’s one of my absolute favourite panels of Morris’ artwork, a perfect example of that dynamism and the fluidity of his line…
And then there’s Morris’ incredible sense of comedic timing. Yes, a lot of the comedy comes from the writers in Lucky Luke, especially Goscinny, but a bit part of what gave the series a sense of seamless continuity in terms of its greatness once Goscinny passed, was the presence of Morris’ art and the way his comedic skills carried the day.
Again, as an example of how good he is… the dynamism again with that behind the back shot, but the comedy moment is in that hanging shot glass…
So, Lucky Luke is a magnificent series, without question. I have to say that my preferred volumes are all the Goscinny written ones, but there’s plenty to really enjoy in every single volume, even the ones after both Mssrs Goscinny and Morris had passed, as the writers and artists deliberately kept to the style and formula that had been laid down so well.
Which brings me, eventually, to the latest two volumes, where we have a classic Goscinny & Morris in Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance and a modern era, post-Goscinny volume in The Klondike.
Both are simple things, easy set-ups, just as usual. In Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance, the dumbest dog in the West becomes the richest dog in the West as Rin Tin Can, a recurring character in the series, inherits a large chunk of Virginia City, including most of Chinatown. The one proviso of the will is that, should anything happen to the pooch, the inheritance passes on to Joe Dalton, one of the infamous Dalton Brothers. And of course, it’s Luke who gets the call to protect the doggie millionaire.
As for The Klondike, it’s gold rush time in the Canadian far north! A friend of Luke’s, ‘Tenderfoot’ Waldo, is worried when his manservant vanishes and the pair venture North on a dangerous trip to discover just what’s gone on. Gold, greed and great chance for laughs.
Of the two, the better is Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance, although there is a big problem with this volume. It’s something Cinebook address in the foreward and one of the reasons this Goscinny & Morris tale hasn’t been reprinted until now. It’s the old issue of racial stereotyping in comics – where the Chinese featuring in this volume are portrayed as terrible caricatures. It’s something that’s seen throughout the history of comics, whether that’s Tintin, Asterix, Will Eisner, or whomever, and it’s something that always causes problems. Cinebook’s reasoning, that seeing it in a book from long ago is a reminder of what things were like and that (hopefully) we’ve made progress since then.
It does take some of the enjoyment of the book away, to be honest, which is a shame, as it’s a beautifully constructed thing, full of all the complex, cleverly set up comedy situations that mark out the Goscinny & Morris run as the highpoint.
As for The Klondike, it doesn’t have quite the perfect set up and executed long payoff comedic brilliance that you’ll see in Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance, but that isn’t to say that there’s not fun to be had here, far from it.
I love Lucky Luke, absolutely love it. Whether it’s a new or an old volume I know I’m going to have a wonderful read, full of great art, wonderfully fun storylines, great comedy moments. So, please, I implore you, do yourselves a favour and pick up a volume or two from Cinebook to fall in love with it as well.
Now, there’s only one way to end a review piece on Lucky Luke… enjoy.
Lucky Luke Volume 74: The Klondike, artwork by Morris, script by J. Leturgie & Yann, colours by Studio Leonardo, translation by Jerome Saincantin, published 2020 by Cinebook.
Lucky Luke Volume 75: Rin Tin Can’s Inheritance, by Goscinny & Morris, translation by Jerome Saincantin, published 2020 by Cinebook.