Euro Reviews: ‘Spiro & Fantasio’ Is Another Euro Classic Translated For The First Time

by Richard Bruton

Spiro & Fantasio, another great series from Europe, full of fun and fabulous cartooning. Yet, like Lucky Luke, you may recognise the name but will probably have never had the pleasure of reading the books. We’re here to tell you, in Euro Reviews, why that should change, beginning right here…

Fantasio (the journo) on the left, Spirou (the bellhop) on the right

The character of Spirou dates all the way back to 1938, when Dupuis published Rob-Vel‘s adventures of an elevator boy and his pet squirrel, Spip. After WWII, Dupuis bought the character and since then, there have been a number of creators working on the title.

The first of these, Jije, introduced Fantasio, who would become Spirou’s best friend and co-adventurer. But the most well known of the successors is Franquin, who was responsible for taking the strip to new heights, taking it from short serials and gag strips to longer, more complex adventures. He also introduced the Marsupillami, a character he would later spin-off into its own volumes.

The Spirou & Fantasio torch passed from author to author until really taking off with Tome & Janry (14 volumes, 1984-1998) who had both critical and commercial success with their adventures, the art reminiscent of Franquin’s but with more complex storylines and even more adventuring. Following Tome & Janry, the teams of Morvan & Munuera (5 volumes, 2004-2008) and Yoann & Vehlmann (5 volumes, 2010-2014) have continued the series.

For a quick idea of what to expect, I love this Tome & Janry ‘A Week with Spirou & Fantasio’…

Cinebook are publishing the complete Spirou & Fantasio in English for the very first time but, as with Lucky Luke, they’re not going the chronological route. Instead, they’re mixing things up and publishing the volumes authored by Andre Franquin and the writer/artist team of Tome & Janry out of order.

It’s a smart way to do things, giving us the very best of Spirou & Fantasio from what are widely considered the best creative teams.

The latest Cinebook volume is #17, The Marsupilamis’ Nest by Franquin, first published in 1957… featuring the lead tale of those strange little animals in their natural habitat, along with a smaller back-up strip, The Gangster Fair.

In that second piece, The Gangster Fair, things don’t begin well. Sadly, it’s one of those ‘it was of its time’ things, with an obviously racist portrayal of Yudai Nao, judo instructor to S&F who’s task is to teach the boys so they can get involved with a kidnapping and big-time gangsters. It’s something that Cinebook have run into before with these comedy series from less enlightened times and one they explained in the most recent Lucky Luke as deciding to publish even though the racist stereotyping is offensive, it’s important to view this through the lens of history and understand that it’s now, thankfully, something that cannot and will not be tolerated.

It’s still a fun thing, it’s still full of great cartooning, but there’s still that thing of it all leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

However, that’s only the back-up. The main strip, The Marsupilamis’ Nest, all 40 pages of it, is a visual delight and a perfect example of just how to set up a story designed to show off the cartoonist’s command of physical comedy.

Anyway, to give you an idea of what to expect, here’s the book blurb…

Spirou and Fantasio are famous – among other things, as the official discoverers of that legendary creature, the Marsupilami, one of which often accompanies them on their adventures. So when one of their conferences is cancelled in favour of a documentary film from an unknown author, they are understandably irritated… until, that is, they realise the film is the very first to record the family life of wild Marsupilamis!

What does all this really mean? Well, this is a volume of S&F where the pair are literal observers for the entire thing, firstly watching as the mystery unknown author careers her way through the city, and then sitting through her presentation on the discovery of the Marsupilamis’ family life. So this is about as active as S&F get in this volume…

But even there, the comedy is so good. The use of the shadows to deliver the comedy, the dialogue… beautifully done.

So, no grand adventure here.  Instead, it’s just a way for Franquin to get to a point where he could legitimately devote two-thirds of this volume to a series of quite magnificent gags featuring those Marsupilamis that would sit perfectly well alongside the best Looney Toons, such is the comedic slapstick involved.

And through it all, Franquin’s cartooning is just wonderful to see, a creator who is so at home with his character’s, a creator whose art is seemingly effortless, a master of getting the gags just right, the timing so perfect, the repetition of set-up, punchline, reaction repeating time and again and building on the comedic value with every repetition. It’s just classic comedy done so very well.

I could go on and on about the cartooning and how much of a genius Franquin is, but it’s far better to simply show you some of the work and let that (pretty much) speak for itself…

Perfect physical comedy, great facial expressions.

And then, as we get into the filmshow of the Marsupilamis’ home, it’s time to bring in some of the recurring gags, first of all the threat posed by the Marsupilamis own version of Wile E Coyote… the fearsome jaguar, plus the Pirahna of the river…

Again, a beautiful use of slapstick, the manner in which the Marsupilami uses its tail comes in time and again…

And finally, the Macaw… a mere prop to be used. First the Marsupilami yanks out the tail feather for his mating ritual…

Only to have the Macaw laugh at the failure… cue a few panels further… and it’s time for payback… 

Only to reappear pages later… the Marsupilamis’ are making their nests and the plumage comes in very handy once more – much to the poor Macaw’s disgust…

That should be quite enough to convince you I reckon.

So, The Marsupilamis’ Nest is a Spirou & Fantasio tale where the pair are mere onlookers and nothing more… but that matters not. As it’s full of everything that made Franquin one of the European masters of comics.

Spirou & Fantasio Volume 17: The Marsupilamis’ Nest – by Franquin, published by Cinebook, 2020.

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