Comic Books, Cartoons, Comic Strips


THAT’S MY BABY. Republic Pictures, 1944. Richard Arlen, Ellen Drew, Leonid Kinskey, Minor Watson, Richard Bailey. Director: William Berke.

   The setting for this definitively minor comedy effort from 1944 is supposed to be that of a comic book publisher’s office, which is why I rescued the DVD it’s available on from the $3 bin at a local record store. In truth, however — and the truth always comes out — Moody Productions looks more like an animated cartoon production facility, a supposition heavily reinforced by, well, the animated cartoon they produce on the quick that ends the movie.

   It turns out that the head of the firm (Minor Watson) is suffering from a bad case of the blues, and to cheer him up, his daughter (Ellen Drew) and her beau (Richar Arlen) bring into his home a whole host of vaudeville acts, with no success. Not until they discover what it was in his past that has not allowed him to even smile in some twenty years.

   This is a small time capsule of the kinds of acts that made people in small town America laugh. I don’t believe too many of these acts were ever preserved on film in many other ways. Many of these are pure corn, others are mildly amusing, and one, Gene Rodgers, the astoundingly good piano player, makes you wonder why you never heard of him before.

Mike Riley and His Musical Maniacs

Freddie Fisher and His Schnikelfritz Orchestra

Lita Baron, as Isabelita

The Guadalajara Trio

Gene Rodgers (boogie-woogie piano player)

Peppy and Peanuts

Mitchell & Lytell (office worker comedy routine)

Alphonse Bergé

Doris Duane

Adia Kuznetzoff (Russian singer)

Chuy Reyes and His Orchestra

Al Mardo and His Dog

Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham

   Personally, if you were to ask me, it is a wonder that both Richard Arlen and Ellen Drew, both consigned to B-movie stardom at the time, ever had careers after making a movie such at this, with one of the weakest storylines of any comedy musical I’ve ever seen.

JESSICA JONES “AKA Ladies Night.” Marvel/Netflix. 10 October 2015 (Season 1, Episode 1). Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker), Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant (Kilgrave). Created and written by Melssa Rosenberg. Based on the Marvel comic book character created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Director: SJ Clarkson.

   To tell you the truth, I’ve already watched the first three episodes of this series, mostly since it took me a while to be sure I had a solid grip on the story line. The goal of a first episode of a TV series is to get viewers interested enough to be sure come back for the next one, but not necessarily to reveal all of their secrete at once, especially if there is a long connected story line, and not just a bunch of one-off episodes.

   Maybe it’s me, and I haven’t adjusted to a new type of storytelling, but I think the producers of this series may have erred in not telling enough, or (perhaps) telling it too subtly. It could also be that they expected viewers to be more familiar with the characters from their background in comic books than I think they are. (It’s certainly not one of Marvel’s best known titles.)

   Jessica Jones, currently a private eye working on her own, is a flawed character, there’s no doubt about that. Something has happened in her past that makes it difficult for her to sleep at night, and worse, requires her to have a bottle or a flask of whiskey within arm’s reach whenever she’s awake. The first episode is designed to get us intrigued into learning more about what’s tormenting her, but it did take me all three episodes before I decided that, yes, I finally was sure was the overall story is about and the possible ways it could be going.

   I’ll get back to that. In this first episode she’s hired by a man and woman from Omaha, Nebraska, to find their daughter, who has dropped out of school and has gone missing. I don’t want to spoil anything to anyone who would like to see the show and hasn’t yet, but I will have to leave some hints, such as saying the same thing has happened to the missing girl that happened to Jessica, only in Jessica’s case, the consequences were so bad that that is the reason she is in the severe funk she is in.

   Another hint. The ending of this first episode makes it emphatically clear how bad the situation is for the missing girl — in a word, horrific — and if so, how bad was the experience for Jessica?

   Other characters in the story are brought in, including a sexual dalliance between Jessica and the black owner of a bar. I don’t believe his name comes up, but he will be important in episodes to come. The female lawyer who often hires Jessica to do jobs other PI’s can’t do is having a lesbian affair with one of her staff while she already has a full-time relationship with another. A talk show host named Trish seems to be (or have been) very close to Jessica, but if it was stated what the relationship is, I still didn’t catch it after three episodes.

   The other thing that is shown is that Jessica has superpowers. Super strength at least; perhaps super speed and/or agility. She doesn’t hide her powers, but she doesn’t go out of her way to show them off, either. Superpowers are, of course, only to be expected with a Marvel Comics heroine.

   The whole episode is filmed in what I call “comic book noir.” Brightly colored, with lots of off-kilter angles in what are some of the toughest areas of Manhattan, and they mean to show you exactly that every time they can.

   There is a lot of potential here. I have not gone into several other threads of the plot, many of which come to light only in the second and third episodes.. I’m sorry for rambling on the way I have, but if my objective to help you decide whether to watch this series or not, if you haven’t already, have I succeeded?

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM. CBS, 1962. Terrytoons in association with Robert Keeshan Associates Voices: Dayton Allen did all the voices and Gene Wood sang the series theme.Written by Gene Wood and Tom Morrison. Produced by Gene Wood.

   We tend to remember the early influences on us growing up. At an early age I developed a fondness for comedy cartoon sheriffs such as Lariat Sam. THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was developed for CAPTAIN KANGAROO (CBS, October 3, 1955 – December 8 1984). The early morning kid show starred Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo. The kindly grandfatherly Captain was joined at the Treasure House (later the Captain’s Place) by Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Brannum), puppets Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit (Cosmo Allegtetti), cartoons and many more characters and special guests.



   After five years of showing the same twenty-six episodes of TOM TERRIFIC Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) wanted something new. CBS in-house cartoon studio Terrytoons (MIGHTY MOUSE, DEPUTY DAWG, etc) would make the new show (as it did TOM TERRIFIC).

   Keeshan asked his writer Gene Wood (future successful announcer for game shows such as FAMILY FEUD) to produce and co-write a new cartoon with Terrytoons’ head writer Tom Morrison. With help from Keeshan, they came up with good guy Sheriff Lariat Sam and his sidekick Tippytoes, the Wonder Horse.

   Together the two cartoon crime fighters protected the town of Bent Saddles. Keeshan wanted LARIAT SAM to be non-violent so instead of a gun Sam had a magic lariat to capture the bad guys, usually Badlands Meeney and his sidekick J. Skulking Bushwack. Thirteen episodes were made of the cartoon Western. Each story was told in five short parts.

   Respected animation historian Jerry Beck wrote about ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM at one of his websites, Cartoon Research. The episode “The Mark of Zero” is included at the bottom of the article found here.

   Our YouTube example is The People Catcher:

   Badlands Meeney has a new science fiction toy he got to capture Lariat Sam, but Bushwack wrecks it. Luckily a scientist has just arrived in Bent Saddle and agrees to fix the People Catcher. Things don’t go as Badlands had hoped – they never do.

   As with all the series episodes, ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was a funny silly cartoon aimed at young kids. The evil plans were delightfully absurd. Characters often talked to the audience. Puns and jokes were non-stop. The cartoon remains fun to watch, even for this adult.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


JANE. BBC 2, 1982-84. Glynis Barbera as Jane Gay, Robin Bailey as Colonel Henry, Max Wall as Tombs, Dean Allen as Georgie Porgie, and Suzanne Danielle as Lola Pagola. Written by Mervyn Haisman; based on the long-running British The Daily Mirror comic strip “Jane” by Norman Pett. Title song written and performed by Neil Innes. Graphic Design Director: Graham McCallum. Illustrations: Paul Birkbeck. Producer Ian Keill. Directed by Andrew Gosling.

   JANE was an odd and dated series even when it first aired in 1982. Jane Gay was a cheerful innocent blonde beauty whose love for adventure always resulted with Jane trying to save the day while wearing nothing but her underwear. Her loyal companion was her dog Fritz, a dachshund (aka wiener-dog).

   JANE was based on a popular British comic strip created by Norman Pett, the comic strip JANE (aka JANE’S JOURNAL, OR THE DIARY OF A BRIGHT YOUNG THING) ran exclusive in The Daily Mirror from December 5, 1932 to October 10, 1959.

   Jane has been adapted to other forms. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter played Jane in a burlesque stage play in the 1940s that traveled Britain entertaining the troops and town people during WWII. Leighton-Porter also played Jane in a 1949 film, THE ADVENTURES OF JANE directed by Edward G. Whiting. A 1987 movie JANE AND THE LOST CITY starred Kirsten Hughes and was directed by Terry Marcel.

   The humor was juvenile, sexist and full of double entendres. The most unique aspect of the TV series was the settings. The actors performed in front of a green screen. Later a drawn background to resemble a comic strip background was added. The result featured an unusual look of the real actors performing within comic strip-like panels.

   The TV adaptation was an hour long made up of five ten minute long episodes. The YouTube video of JANE has merged all five episodes together. There would be a second series two years later in 1984 called JANE IN THE DESERT.

   Popular British actress Glynis Barber starred as Jane. Barber is better known for playing the strong independent roles of Soolin in Series Four of cult science fiction BLAKE’S 7 (1981) and Police Sgt. Harriet Makepeace in successful cop show DEMPSEY AND MAKEPEACE (1985-86). Jane was certainly a different type of woman for Barber to play, much to her credit Barber excelled in all three roles.

   Set during WWII the story begins when Colonel Henry ask Jane to join him on a secret mission. The two are to meet a Professor in a haunted mansion. Before they can find the Professor they learn there is a Nazi spy in the area. Luckily for England, even stripped to her underwear does not stop Jane from fighting off Nazis and the Colonel’s advances.

   JANE is a good example of a form of entertainment rarely seen today. That is a shame in a way. Jane was a determined woman who refused to let the limits she faced in that era’s culture stop her from experiencing a life of adventure. The men were all idiots for never seeing Jane as more than an object. Wisely, Jane willingly sacrificed her modesty for good of the entire free world — a job jolly well done.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE BURMA CONSPIRACY. French, 2011. Released in France as Largo Winch II. Tomer Sisley, Sharon Stone, Uklrich Turkur, Napskpaha (Mame) Nakapraste, Olivier Bartelemy, Laurent Terzieff, Nicholas Vaude, Clemens Schick, Dimitry Nazarov, Nirut Siridranya. Screenplay by Julien Rappeneau, Jerome Salle, and Jean Van Hamme. Based on the bande dessinees Largo Winch by Jean Van Hamme and Phillipe Francq. Directed by Jerome Salle.

   If you tire of endless superheroes, spies, and cop buddy movies in your blockbuster action movie fare, The Burma Conspiracy, aka Largo Winch II, may be just what you are looking for.

   A sequel to Largo Winch, which introduced the character of the Bosnian-born son of Yugoslav billionaire Nerio Winch, who inherits his father’s vast wealth and the W Group with over four hundred thousand employees worldwide, this French action film picks up where the first film left off.

   Based on the international hit Belgian bande dessinees by writer Jean Van Hamme and artist Phillipe Francq we pick up as Largo (Tomer Sisley) is planning to sell the W Group and use all his wealth in a planned charitable foundation named for his father, and no sooner has he signed the papers to enable the sale than his yacht is invaded by UN investigators accusing him of involvement in the slaughter of a Karen tribe Burmese village, Kaipu, by war criminal General Kyaw Min (Nirut Siridranya) so that his father could buy their nickel rich land.

   Now Largo, with a small band of loyal friends, his lawyer Dwight Cochrane (Ulrich Tukur), his valet Gauthier (Nicholas Vaude), Alexandre Jung (Laurent Terzieff) an old friend of his father, and Simon (Olivier Barthelemy) a ne’er-do-well friend he once saved in the Burmese jungle, has to get to the bottom of the conspiracy against him while evading prosecution by Francken, a vengeful billionaire businessman Nazatchov (Dimitry Nazarov) who is trying to buy the W Group, and a murderous mercenary Lazarevic who wants to kill him. And in a game like this, can anyone be trusted?

   As Largo’s favorite Bosnian proverb goes: “A man with no enemies is no man at all.”

   Packed with action, intelligent characters who nevertheless don’t always act in their own best interest, and a surprising amount of heart for an action movie, the film is both picaresque and sharp. The hero is no superman, and needs rescuing as often as comes to the rescue. Tomer Sisley manages to be both strong and vulnerable as Largo, believable in the most outrageous action scenes.

   The film is filled with spectacular action and stunts and extremely handsome locales from Geneva to Hong Kong, with action in the jungles of Burma and the streets of Bangkok, and set pieces including a jungle prison camp escape and a breathtaking skydiving battle and rescue. But unlike so many action films, this one takes time to develop characters, to allow for actual human beings to emerge, for humor and a touching romance, and actual suspense that for once waits until almost the last moment to reveal the villain behind Largo’s problems, whose motive is actually quite strong.

   It’s nice for once to see a movie where the hero and not the entire civilized world is at stake, particularly one as stylish and smart as this. If this is the sequel, I’m even more anxious to see the first one. If you are looking for a fast moving action film with a big budget that neither insults your intelligence nor sprains your suspension of disbelief beyond repair, this may be the film for you.

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, PART ONE:
HORROR CARTOONS
by Michael Shonk


   Welcome to this three-part look at horror, beginning with cartoons. Of course as always I try to avoid the obvious examples. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

   Let’s start with one TV series on the silly rather than scary side. COUNT DUCKULA is a small green vegetarian vampire duck. The series was a spin-off of popular British cartoon DANGER MOUSE. With the fun spy spoof DANGER MOUSE a success on American cable network Nickelodeon, those at the network asked for a spin-off and COUNT DUCKULA was created. He appeared in a few episodes of DANGER MOUSE before getting his own series.

COUNT DUCKULA (Nickelodeon, 1988-93, Thames Television, Cosgrove Hall Films)

No Sax Please, We’re Egyptians.” (September 6, 1988)

   The Count had been killed many times but his immoral butler Igor had the power to bring the vampire duck back to life. But during the most recent resurrection a mistake made by the Count’s idiot Nanny resulted in a self-centered cowardly Count Duckula with a fondness for vegetables rather than blood.

   In this the first episode of the series Duckula, Igor, Nanny and unknown to them some thieving crows travel to Egypt in search of the Mystic Saxophone. The story is a good example of the series style – silly absurd humor that can resemble vaudeville and an art style that is pleasing but limited.

   Recommended for all ages.


   Next is AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD. Screw-On Head is a supernatural hero in a steampunk alternative reality.

AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD (Sci-Fi, Kickstart Production, Livingdeadguy Production, Harmony Gold, Liongate, 2006)

“Pilot.” Based on comic book by Mike Mignola. Written, Developed and Executive Produced by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Chris Prynoski. Voice Cast: Paul Giamatti as Screw-On Head, David Hyde Pierce as Emperor Zombie, Patton Oswalt as Mr. Groin and Molly Shannon as Patience.

   It is 1862, and two old ladies (one a werewolf) and a monkey kidnap the foremost expert on ancient evil text. President Lincoln calls Screw-On Head as the President believes this is the work of Screw-On Head’s arch-nemesis Emperor Zombie.

   The animation, Bryan Fuller’s (HANNIBAL, PUSHING DAISIES) script and a talented voice cast all add to a delightfully entertaining horror adventure story. Sadly the Sci-Fi (now Syfy) cable network turned it down.


   Mike Mignola has found more success with another of his comic book creation, Hellboy. Hellboy has been in endless comic books, paperbacks, featured in two theatrical films starring Ron Pearlman and two animated direct to DVD films. BLOOD AND IRON is the second animated film.

HELLBOY: BLOOD AND IRON Cartoon Network, 2007; Starz Media in association with Revolution Studio / Film Roman. Based on the Dark Horse Comic Book “HELLBOY” created by Mike Mignola. Creative Producers Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola. Written by Kevin Hopps. Story by Tad Stones and Mike Mignola. Directed by Victor Cook – Supervising Producer and Director Tad Stones. Voice Cast: Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, and John Hurt as Trevor Bruttenholm.

   A monster from Professor Bruttenholm’s past may be trying to return. The Professor leads a group from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to investigate a haunted house. It does not take long for Hellboy and his friends to encounter the supernatural. The house proves to be home for hundreds of ghosts and a variety of monsters including the vampire from the Professor’s past and Queen of Witches who wants Hellboy to leave his human friends and return to Hell.

   The movie does have its scary parts and is well directed, but the script offers no surprises. Still BLOOD AND IRON offers something to get you in the mood for Halloween.


   Horror is one of the more popular genres in Japanese anime. But a word of warning: most of Japanese anime should be considered for mature audiences. The two shows I picked have more violence and blood than the American audience is used to seeing in a cartoon. Both feature the first episode from a longer series, yet can be enjoyed without seeing the rest of the series. Those wanting more of CLAYMORE and HELLSING can find both series dubbed and subtitled on Hulu.

CLAYMORE. Nippon Television2007 / VAP / Avex Entertainment / Madhouse / FUNimation . Screenplay by Yasuko Kobayaski. Directed by Hiroyuki Tanuka. Voice Cast: Stephanie Young as Clare, Todd Haberkorn as Raki.

“Scene One: Great Sword”

   A demon known as a Yoma is killing human villagers. A Yoma has the power to assume the shape of any human so the villagers are forced to ask for the help of a Claymore. Claymores are half-Yoma and half female human. Humans fear and hate the Claymores, but only a Claymore can identify a disguised Yoma, and only a Claymore is powerful enough to defeat a Yoma.


HELLSING. Fuji Television, 2001-02. Geneon / FUNimation- Pioneer L.D.C / Gonzo. Based on the comic by Kouta Hirano. Screenwriter: Chiaki J. Konaka. Directed by Yasunori Urata. Voice Cast: Crispin Freeman as Arucard, Victoria Harwood as Integra Hellsing, and K.T. Gray as Seras.

“Order:01 The Undead”

   The British government is helpless against a growing threat of vampires. To keep the secret from the public, they hire the Hellsing Organization to take care of the blood sucking monsters. We are introduced to Arucard a powerful vampire forced to kill his own kind at the orders from his master Integra Hellsing.

   Unfortunately the YouTube video cannot be embedded here because it has been rated TV-MA and “may contain content intended for mature audiences.” You will have to follow the link and log in to confirm you are old enough to watch it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TxnL5VYgoY


NEXT: PART TWO – HORROR RADIO.

SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


   Japanese animation, better known as anime, is a favorite of mine for many reasons, one of which is the music. An OP is the opening theme for the series. Check out four of my favorites opening themes (each under 2 minutes long).

MACROSS PLUS. (1994-95) English version. Performed by Michelle Flynn; composed by Yoko Kanno.

   No list of anime op should be without Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop). This is from popular anime series that was a sequel to TV series Macross. The four part OVA (original video animation) and movie tell the story of three childhood friends that had grow apart. The two men rivalry grows when the female friend returns.



BACCANO! (2007) “Guns and Roses.” Performed by Paradise Lunch; omposer: Makoto Yoshimon.

   Anime TV series adapted from series of novels by Ryohgo Narita. Set for the most part in prohibition-era America with multiple storylines told in a chaotic fashion.



TRIGUN (1998) “H.T.” Composed by Tsuneo Imahori.

   This comedy-Western is the story of Vash the Stampede “The Humanoid Typhoon” and his adventures on the planet Gunsmoke with a 60-billion double-dollar bounty on his head.


R.O.D. – THE T.V. (Read Or Die). (2003) Composed by Talu Iwasaki.

   Like many anime series the series exists in many forms – novels, manga, OVA, TV series, and films. The various versions often have the same characters but in different situations. In this version three paper-manipulating sisters are bodyguards to a famous writer.



THE FLASH. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). The CW, 7 October 2014. Grant Gustin (Barry Allen / The Flash), Candice Patton (Iris West), Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp. Based on the character in DC Comics. Developed by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg. David Nutter.

   One episode isn’t enough to say, but after watching this first one on DVD, I was more impressed than I expected to be. I enjoyed this one. It was done well, and I will be watching to see what comes next.

   If it devolves into a series of corny supervillains every week, that may end it for me, but at the moment, after stage one, there are a number of interesting plot threads this series has going for it already, and they were all crammed into one 45 minute episode. Amazing.

   To enumerate: The Flash, or rather Barry Allen, is the fastest man alive. As a young forensic crime scene assistant, he obtains this ability through an explosion of a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs, after awakening from a coma lasting nine months. (Any significance to that?)

   Some background: his father is in prison, having been convicted of killing his mother when he was a small boy. The father (John Wesley Shipp, the previous TV Flash) is innocent. Young Barry grew up with a police detective named Joe West and his daughter Iris. He may be in love with her now, but she now has a secret romance with her father’s partner on the police force.

   The head of S.T.A.R. Labs is in a wheelchair from the accident, but with two assistants he works with Barry, helping to gauge his powers, designing a suitable suit, and so on. Barry is determined to use his powers for good, which is a good thing, because other people affected by the accident have also become metahumans, and they have begun to use their powers in other ways, all bad.

   The special effects are terrific, and the acting on the part of the very young (mid-20s?) actors (or am I just old) is adequate, if not more. I admit the overall ambiance is comicky, but maybe that’s just me. There is a quick scene at the end which suggests that there are other secrets yet to be revealed. Tune in next week! I think I will. (The DVD set already paid for.)

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


BLAKE AND MORTIMER: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Ellipse (France), 1997. 26 episodes, consisting of 13 two-part stories. Based on “Blake et Mortimer” created by E.P. Jacobs, with four original stories. Originally appeared in Tintin magazine in serial form.

    “Blake and Mortimer” is among the oldest and best loved comics in Europe, second only to Herge’s “Tintin” in longevity and popularity among adventure strips. Created by E. P. Jacobs, and drawn in the same simplified realistic style as the more famous “Tintin” (in Europe it is pronounced Tonton, and yes, Rin Tin Tin, discovered in WWI France, was originally Rin Ton Ton too) strip, it recounts the adventures of handsome blonde mustachioed Captain Francis Blake of British Intelligence and bearded red haired Scottish Professor Philip Mortimer (“By the arms of clan McGreggor!”), a pair of friends who find themselves battling scientific menaces somewhere between Professor Quatermass and James Bond while globe trotting from modern Egypt to the Middle Ages.

    Unlike Tintin, who debuted in the Thirties iu France, Blake and Mortimer appeared post-war in the bestselling Belgian magazine Tintin, named for Herge’s famous boy reporter. There they rivaled the magazine’s namesake in popular adventures, taking them around the world battling everything from mad scientists to aliens and from time travel to UFO’s.

    It was natural after the success of the animated adventures of Tintin, shown here on HBO, that Dargoud, Tintin’s publisher, would try to replicate the flagship titles success and so an animated series adapting the Blake and Mortimer albums was done with the same style and faithfulness as the Tintin series. If they aren’t quite up to the same quality it is only because Tintin is a work of genius that has managed to entertain children across the world for decades, and good as Jacobs work is, it is not quite in that class — few works of popular fiction are in terms of success or sales.

    Like “Tintin,” these were adapted in English, though as far as I know never shown in the American market, and until they showed up on YouTube unavailable to Region 1 DVD players. (I think one or two were available on VHS if you could find them.) Like “Tintin” they consist of half hour episodes, each album complete in two episodes. Though the books are known and loved around the world, they are still, a bit like “Tintin” itself despite the Spielberg film, not that well known in this country.

    Titles like “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid,” “The Secret of Easter Island,” “The Yellow Mark,” “The Infernal Machine,” and “The Atlantis Enigma” give a fair idea of the material, which tends to be better written and developed in terms of character and plot than the average animated fare thanks to Jacob’s well done albums. The adventures, like “Tintin” before them, are faithful to the look and period of the original, and just about as perfect a translation from printed page to screen as you could ask for.

    Of course it all depends on your tolerance for animated adventure fare, but these are a classy production handsomely adapted and faithful to the entertaining originals in all ways. There are a handful of European animated series around well worth a look, including “Corto Maltese,” based on Hugo Pratt’s work about a Conradian early 20th century adventurer, “Belphegor: the Phantom of the Louvre” (which was originally a novel and source for several movies and television series in France), Henri Verne’s “Bob Moraine” (originally the hero of a series of juvenile novels Moraine has appeared in comics and both live action and two animated series and films), Leo Malet’s private eye “Nestor Burma” (live action films and television series, graphic albums and animation based on the design of Jacques Tardi though whether the series ever aired, I’m not certain), the laconic satiric cowboy “Lucky Luke” (who also appeared in two live action films with Terence Hill, and more recently Oscar winning Jean Dujardin), and “Valerian and Laureline,” an intelligent space opera series based on yet another long running popular comic creation. Not all of them are available in English or subtitled, but “Blake and Mortimer” is well worth the effort.     (*)

    Anyone who enjoyed the HBO “Tintin” episodes should at least check this series out. The same imagination and love of the material that marked those adaptations has been shown here.

(*)    Episodes of all those series mentioned save “Nestor Burma” can be found on YouTube, some in French, but a few in English dubbed versions.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


CORTO MALTESE AND THE GILDED HOUSE OF SAMARKAND. StudioCanal, France, animated film, 2002. Original title: Corto Maltese: La maison dorée de Samarkand. Based on the graphic novel by Hugo Pratt. Richard Berry as Corto Maltese (voice), Patrick Bouchitey as Raspoutine (voice), Catherine Jacob as Marianne (voice). Directors: Richard Danto & Liam Saury.

   Native: Ever since you whites came nothing has gone right for my people.

   Corto Maltese: Every race has its specialty. That’s what we do best.

— “The Ballad of the Salt Sea”

   Hugo Pratt is the Italian comic book industry, one of the most recognized and respected figures in Europe, and increasingly recognized here. He began his career with the super hero, the Ace of Spades and is best known for his long running western, Sgt. Kirk, about a white soldier living with the Indians and for Pyle, a war comic taken from the writings of Ernie Pyle. He is at once the Jack Kirby, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, and Harold Foster of the Italian comics.

   Like many comic book artists and writers around the world, his greatest influence was Milton Caniff, his Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. You can see the artistic influence in his drawing style and brushwork, but also in his storytelling techniques, at once cinematic and picaresque. This is truest of his greatest creation, the soldier (or should that be sailor) of fortune and Seven League booted protagonist of his most famous works, Corto Maltese.

   But where Pat Ryan, Steve Canyon, Scorchy Smith, Smilin’ Jack, or even Frank Godwin’s Connie were straight shooting all-American heroes out of Hollywood central casting Corto Maltese is not.

   In Corto Maltese, Pratt combined his interest in history, exotic but realistic locations, and adventure with his mordant humor, deep suspicions about the West and his own country’s Imperial past in colonization (this runs deep in Italian popular literature predating Mussolini’s ambitions, dating at least to Emilio Salagari’s tales of Malay pirate and anti imperialist Sandokan), and a protagonist out of Joseph Conrad as much as Terry and the Pirates. Corto would be more comfortable in the company of Lord Jim, Nostromo, or Conrad’s Captain Marlow than Pat Ryan, Connie, or Flip Cochran, though he would not be misplaced with the Dragon Lady or Burma, or for that matter the Spirit’s Sand Saref and P’Gell. He trips over more femme fatales than Philip Marlowe.

   The closest thing I can find to compare this too would be Alvaro Mutis’s books Maqrol and The Adventures of Maqrol. There is no one in American or European comics or animation quite like Corto Maltese. He gives new meaning to unique.

   The stories take place in the early Twentieth Century between the turn of the century and the 1920‘s encompassing the First World War, the Russo Japanese War, the massacre at Musa Dagh, the Irish troubles and countless other adventures in Southern Europe, Arabia, Africa, Russia, Manchuria, Ireland, and all points exotic, often told in relation to a search for treasure (Alexander’s gold, El Dorado, …).

   Along the way Corto meets historical figures like T. E. Lawrence, Jack London, Mustapha Kemal, Enver Pasha, and his mad friend, Rasputin. Not to mention mysterious women ranging from orphans to seers from witches to murderous actresses to the queen of fairyland — as well as her husband Oberon, Puck, Merlin, and a talking raven. Things can easily get dreamlike and surreal in Corto’s fevered backwaters and he is always meeting mysterious women who don’t seem to be entirely of this world, however earthy their attractions.

   He also runs into a wide range of natives, some good, some noble, some evil, some angry, in short, humans, not stereotypes.

   Tall and dark in a peaked cap with Elvis side burns, and wearing the uniform of a ships captain of the era and with an earring in one ear, Maltese’s adventures are best read in the rich detailed color editions with Pratt’s otherworldly water colors. Not that the black and white isn’t just as startling. The animated series follows the rich water color look of Pratt’s work with extremely effective beauty. It is easily the most beautiful animated series I have ever seen.

   The animated series has so far stayed close to Pratt in style and color scheme, and while the animation is limited, it is also rich and eye catching. I’m not sure I have seen anything quite like it outside of a feature film.

   The Gilded House in Samarkand refers to a Turkish prison in Samarkand where Corto’s friend Rasputin is held. Gilded, because the only escape is through the Golden Dreams of opium enhanced sleep, well, for anyone but Rasp (Corto’s nickname for Rasputin).

   And yes, Corto Maltese is the type of hero whose best friend is Rasputin, the mad monk.

   You should know dreams play a great role in Corto Maltese’s adventures, fevered, drugged, from concussions, mushrooms; the mystery of the series tropical and other exotic locations are always part of the story.

   T. E. Lawrence’s “Beware of those who dream in the daytime, for they will make their dreams come true,” might almost be an epigraph for all of Corto Maltese’s adventures.

   In Samarkand, Corto is in Rhodes on the trail of the lost treasure of Alexander, stolen from Persia and Cyrus the Great. He is already in trouble as the story begins, mistaken for the traitorous Turk Chevet who is part of the Turkish schemes of Kemal and Enver Pasha to re unite Turkey after its collapse following allying itself with Germany in the first war. Not only do the Turks think he is Chevet, so do the Armenians seeking revenge against Chevet and Enver Pasha who was responsible for the Turkish genocide against the Armenians.

   After stealing a map and evading both sides and the police Corto sails east for Samarkand to free his friend Rasputin and seek the treasure, but not before a seeress named Cassandra predicts a curious and enigmatic future for him.

   Along the way he picks up an odd lot including a murderous sexually precocious actress who he rescues from the Turks in Tarsus, and is paid to escort a young Armenian girl. He will have a fevered opium dream he shares with his mad murderous friend Rasputin across great distances, hide out with whirling dervishes, get caught between the Russians and Turks at war in Samarkand, witness the death of Enver Pasha, dance in the streets with Rasputin, and in the cold heights of Kafiristan reach the cave where the treasure allegedly waits haven see the treacherous Chevet fall to the Russians like his master.

   If you get the idea this is not a Saturday morning animated series and Corto Maltese is neither Terry and the Pirates or Indiana Jones, you are right.

   Rasputin (having just escaped death with Corto at the hands of Chevet and Enver Pasha and dancing in the streets of Samarkand): Are we mad?

   Corto: No, just happy, I think.

   At times surreal, fevered, enigmatic, beautiful to look at, poetically written, maddening, and exciting, the Corto Maltese films are unlike any other animated series you have ever seen or likely will ever see. I’m not sure it is for everyone. It certainly isn’t Disney, but it isn’t Ralph Bakshi either. It is intelligent, intriguing, demanding, and enigmatic, like its laconic hero, and you may not be quite ready for animated characters with this much depth or animated stories this complex or ambiguous.

   There are episodes available on YouTube in English — only half hour episodes though. The original Italian episodes offer full stories, or there are French language episodes of complete titles in multiple parts with English subtitles. Unless your Italian is good I recommend the latter, though you might want to dip your toes in with the English language episodes. Among the full serials available are The Gilded House in Samarkand, The Ballad of the Salt Sea, The Celtics, Under the Capricorn Sign, and Corto in Siberia (each runs about eighty minutes total). Whether they are available on DVD or not I don’t know, but they are certainly worth the effort to at least get a taste.

   Saturday morning was never like this.

   For that matter, nothing on American television and few movies were ever like this.

Next Page »