Saturday, 13 August 2016

'The Voronov Plot' by Yves Sente and André Juillard

Blake and Mortimer’s resurrection is an interesting phenonomen. Edgar P Jacobs was at the forefront of the development of the cartoon in the forties and fifties, as he worked with Hergé, who pushed the boundaries of the new medium. 

Hergé’s last complete book was in the seventies and Jacobs died in the eighties. It was not for two decades that Blake and Mortimer were brought back to life, and those years had seen many changes in cartoon books, or graphic novels, as they had come to be known. The medium had matured, and artists were tackling much more ambitious subjects. The gag, that underpinned early comics, was now all but gone, and the flippant tone, aimed only at children was replaced with serious subject matter, such as the Holocaust, in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

The evolution, started by Hergé, had continued throughout the sixties with Robert Crumb, through to the eighties, with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, bringing even more complex themes, plots and characters.

The new Blake and Mortimer books reflect the new readership, of a generation brought up on these books. Characters have a past which sometimes catches up with them (The Oath of the Five Lords), old flames that they reconnect with (The Gondwana Shrine) and in interest in the opposite sex that Tintin and indeed the old Blake and Mortimer never did.

The Voronov Plot is an absorbing cold war thriller, that gives James Bond a run for it’s money. The plot stays on the right side of credible (unlike The Gondwana Shrine), and is, with the benefit of hindsight, is a little more gracious to the Soviet Union than many novels and comics produced during the cold war.

The book also features interviews, not only with the artist and writer, but also the colourist, which give a valuable insight into the creative process. They talk about their Hergé tributes (if you do not spot them they are revealed in the interview section at the end), and the colourist talks about the challenges of colouring a work like this, and how the eye of the reader has changed since the first books came out, over 60 years ago.

This is one of the best of the new Blake and Mortimer books that I have read, and if I was to compare it to one of the Tintin books it would be The Calculas Affair, one of Hergé’s best.

There are also figurines available, such as this one of Olrik, in his Russian uniform, costing 850 euros.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver

Blake and Mortimer were created by one time Tintin artist, Edgar P. Jacobs, who, on asking Hergé for a credit (he worked on several Tintin albums, including The Secret of the Unicorn and Prisoners of the Sun), found their partnership over. Not one to mope, Jacobs launched his own cartoon, which in 1950, debuted in the Tintin magazine. The two Brits, Francis Blake, head of MI6, and Professor Philip Mortimer, had adventures and solved mysteries, much in the style of Hergé’s books, but with less humour and more labyrinthine plots. 

Hergé felt his characters could not be brought to life without him, and stipulated in his will that there could be no more new Tintin adventures. Jacobs made no such demands, and since his death in 1987, Blake and Mortimer have appeared in some 11 new adventures. Artists like Ted Beniot and André Juillard, fine French exponents of the Ligne Clare, have helped to breath new life into the two gentlemen.

The curse of the 30 pieces of silver is a two part story, so I suggest you buy both at the same time, to avoid being left on a cliff hanger, while you wait to find part 2. As its title suggests, it deals with the new testament story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and the 30 pieces of silver that he was paid by the sanhedrin. A mysterious letter from the curator of a museum in Athens sends Mortimer to Greece, and starts a wonderful chain of plots and sub-plots, delving into early Christian history, Nazism and swashbuckling adventure, and, almost inevitably, ending with a subterranean gun fight.

Writer Jean Van Hamme has tried not to discredit the Christian story, coming up with a plausible reason to deviate from Christian tradition, although it does not bare close scrutiny. At the end of the book, the whole affair is hushed up by the Greek Archbishop, the evidence stored away with other manuscripts that contradicted the official version of Christianity. Mortimer is a man of science, and believes that every unexplained event, including religious ones, have a rational explanation.

The story is well researched, and the traditions of the early Christian church and the later Greek Orthodox Church have been faithfully portrayed.

Artists René Sterne/Chantal de Spiegeleer, Antoine Aubin/Etienne Schreder are accomplished illustrators, the artwork of the highest standard. The colour is not flat, but more subtle, with depth and shading and fine details. I don’t know if digital media or traditional materials have been used, but it certainly has a wonderful attention to detail.

Look out for the nice Tintin tribute in the first book - I’ll say no more than that, so you can enjoy discovering it! It might be that there are more than the one I spotted, but, regardless of that, Tintin casts a heavy shadow across many of these books, but never to their detriment. 

I bought my copies from Foyles in London for £7.99 each, while Amazon sell them for much more. It might be that Amazon is only selling the hard back edition, but Foyles has a nice selection of Bande Dessine books, worth a browse if you are passing.