In order to prepare for my upcoming western comic, I’ve been doing a little bit of research. Some of that research was reading this volume of Lucky Luke. This was released as the first volume by Cinebook, the publishing company, but it’s actually the 20th Lucky Luke story. I haven’t been able to find a reason for the reorganizing (this doesn’t affect the story, however.) Lucky Luke is a Franco-Belgian comic, along the lines of Asterix and Tintin. So while stories may reference each other, it doesn’t really hurt to read them out of order. Also, because this is a Franco-Belgian strip, I’ll be using the word album instead of volume, as that is the term I most often read associated term.
Lucky Luke is a cowboy, a true archetype of the American west. Interesting to think that these stories came from Europe, eh? The basic plot of this album is that Billy the Kid, notorious outlaw of the west, has come to the town of Fort Weakling, terrorizing the poor settlers. Lucky Luke comes to town, and is the only person brave enough to stand up to the Kid. The twist in this story, which I enjoyed, was that Billy the Kid was literally a kid. This made for some good moments of comedy, when the big bad bandit was prone to temper tantrums. And there is also a really funny running gag involving Billy the Kid’s inability to read. So well done. After trying to get the townspeople to stand up to Billy, Luke hatches the plan to act like an even bigger heel, making Billy the Kid look like the good guy, and raising the Kid’s ire in the process.
This plan stood out to me not because it was on the level of Odysseus, but because it was this plan that solved Luke’s problems. When I’m reading a western, I expect quite a bit of shooting. However, there wasn’t much in this story. This is not a complaint, I thought it was quite interesting. To find an alternative to the easiest solution is something that’s difficult to do in writing sometimes. Of course, if Lucky Luke went around killing all of his enemies, the character wouldn’t have stuck around for so long. I didn’t expect a lot of gory, brutal deaths, mind you, but I wasn’t expecting the use of brains over brawn.
Another assumption I had corrected was the character of Lucky Luke himself. I expected him to be a joker. While he is a good natured, easy going guy who had some comedy, it seemed to me he played the role of straight man more often than not. I think that is because Luke is supposed to be the genuine cowboy type, and they’re not known for their clownish antics. Again, this book carried on differently than I had imagined, but you need a good straight man to help the comedy characters land their jokes. This could, of course, change in other volumes. So, for a self contained comedy western, this album really showed me that my assumptions of this cowboy’s adventures, and that I can’t judge a comic book by its cover. I really enjoyed the writing, done by Rene Goscinny of Asterix fame. His writing is quite solid and holds up. It tells the story at the right place, adding the laughter when he wants, and not overloading it and hijacking the story. This is a comedy that has a plot, not just an excuse to write jokes.
Let’s move on to the art, by Belgian cartoonist Morris. He was the one who created Lucky Luke, and both wrote and drew his adventures until Goscinny came on to pen the stories. Now, the art of Lucky Luke might not be for everyone. Some might find it too cartoony. However, if you’ve read any of my writing or comics, you know that’s what I like! That’s why I’m reviewing this here book, you know. Morris’ art style helps add to the overall humor of the book. Exaggeration is funny. That’s true. So the characters of Lucky Luke don’t look like normal humans. They are designed to make us laugh. Lucky Luke himself may be a genuine cowboy, but with his lanky features, he doesn’t embody the standard physique of one.
However, none of this means Morris is bad. In fact, he does what he aims to. If you want something to look funny, you have to draw it correctly. That means you can’t be bad. I’ll also say that I really enjoy the way he draws horses. You’ll probably see that influence a lot when my western is finished. Another big thing I enjoyed about his work was the setting. Fort Weakling felt like a real frontier town. Morris didn’t skimp on the background, and it helped immerse the reader. It felt like the real ol’ west.
If you see this book you’ll notice it’s not very big, but these Franco-Belgian comics pack a lot into each page. We’re used to five or six panels a page (and this could have changed since this book is old) but a lot of these albums have twelve or more panels. It might seem overwhelming to some readers, but I think it helps to add to the story. It’s nice to have more to look at on the page, sometimes.
OK, here I am, down here at the bottom, and I’ve gone and wrote another long review. It’s impossible to stop, I tell you. Anyway, I liked this book. It was quick read, but it had plenty to offer. If you like comedy, it’s for you. If you like westerns, it’s for you. And hey, if you want to go outside of your comfort zone and try some foreign comics, starting with Lucky Luke isn’t a bad idea. It may be from Europe, but it’s set in a time we Americans view as mythic, so you won’t have to worry about much context.
So, give it a read. Like I said, it’s quick. But not as quick as Lucky Luke, who’s faster than his own shadow. Yeee hawww!