Spirou in Berlin – Flix
Aside from Asterix, some of the best and most popular classic European comics translated to English have actually been of Belgian origin. Tintin is the Belgian series that has evidently made the biggest impact, but some might have been fortunate to come across translations of Lucky Luke (created by Belgian cartoonist Morris). Other greats that are less know here than in Europe are Blake and Mortimer (by Belgian creator Edgar P Jacobs) and Spirou, created by a French writer Robert Velter for the Belgian publisher Dupuis. All these long-running series, with the exception of Tintin, continue to be revived and reinvented.
The Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio made their most lasting impression through the dynamic art of André Franquin between 1947 and 1969. It was Franquin who introduced the character of Marsupliami (who went on to have his own Disney cartoon series) but I personally also have a soft spot for the hyper-cartoony style and humour of the Tome & Janry’s run on the series that ran through the late 80s and the 1990s (as well as the amusing comic childhood of Spirou spin-off Le Petit Spirou). There have been several other revivals continuing the popular series with only some gaps, but I haven’t kept up with the series until now.
Spirou in Berlin by Flix, the first German artist to work on the series, is however a good place to return to the series as it’s very much in a familiar style. For anyone who doesn’t know the series, it has a similar theme to Tintin. Spirou is also a reporter as is his sidekick Fantasio, the two with temperaments not unlike Tintin and Captain Haddock. (I’m pretty sure Fantasio even used to smoke a pipe, but not these days it seems). Spirou even has a Snowy/Milou pet squirrel, Spip. Their adventures are often instigated by the Count of Champignac, an expert in mushrooms (champignons) and, like Professor Calculus, he’s an eccentric inventor with a knack for getting into trouble. In the best adventures that tends to be those when they come up against their arch enemy Zorglub, but here in Spirou in Berlin, the 1989 period setting of a postwar divided Berlin provides plenty of opportunity for adventure.
Champignac has been Invited to first International Mycology Congress, but despite his interest in the subject, he has no intention of going to East Berlin, not even with the prospect of finding a Small-Capped Portabriris. Fantasio is disappointed, as he is eager to write an article on life on the other side of the Iron Curtain, but when the Count seems to relent, the boys follow him to Germany. Getting over the Berlin Wall into the GDR is a problem that requires some inventive and dubious means, but Spirou and Fantasio make it they do and find that all is not going well for the professor. They are soon embroiled in a spying operation and hunted by authorities when a photograph of a missing bath seems to hint at something far more serious going on.
Spirou in Berlin is very much in the tradition of the series; fast moving with a few quirky moments and plenty of humour and action. The Berlin setting provides plenty of opportunity for that, and for younger readers, there’s even a potted slightly irreverent history of a time when Berlin and Germany was divided and an indication of just how serious and dangerous the political landscape of Europe has been in recent times. Flix keeps the drama moving along impressively, with lots of exploding panels and creative visuals to keep up with the escalating adventure.
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