One of Belgium’s longest running kids adventure comic series Bob and Bobette gets a radical adult make over in Amoras 2047.
Running since 1947 and still ongoing today, Bob and Bobette (or Suske en Wiske in Dutch) have always adhered to the same formula as laid down by their creator Willy Vandersteen: humour and adventure thrown together in a fast-paced anything-goes narrative where morals sail high. Upon Vandersteen’s demise the Vandersteen studios carried forth with the series staying true to the template (along with a few other stipulations, this was one of the creator’s demands if anybody wanted to carry on with Bob and Bobette).
It is a series which has garnered a lof of international success and in the English language it is known consecutively as Willy and Wanda, Bob and Bobette and Spike and Suzy. I’ll be using Bob and Bobette since I feel this comes closest to the carefree and innocent nature our dynamic duo exudes. Willy and Wanda feels a bit dated and Spike and Suzy feels counter-intuitive to the moralistic undertones their creator strived for.
Now for the first time in its long publishing history – and accompanied by a large media stunt with viral videos and teasers – a new separate six-issue mini-series is published with a new approach and new style of drawing, catapulting Bob and Bobette into the 21st century (and into the 25th century thanks to Professor Barabas’ time machine):
One flash was all it took to change the lives of Bob and Bobette forever! One push on the wrong button. The end of a friendship. Torn apart in the near future on a strangely familiar island, they find themselves at the mercy of their ancient arch enemy Krimson. All seems lost until Bob meets Jerusalem, a tiny sliver of hope in a world where old friends are estranged and old enemies forge strange pacts.
Amoras 2047 takes place exactly 100 years after the first album (published in 1947) and in real time the publication sees the light of day 100 years after the birth of its creator. The regular ‘red’ series – named because of its standard red borders on the cover design – is aimed at early readers with a clean drawing style, simple storylines and good virtuous all ages fun. Amoras however aims at the slightly older pre-teen audience. As a sidenote, there’s also a ‘blue’ series with blue borders which collects the Bob and Bobette adventures published in Tintin. It’s commonly regarded as the cream of the crop since Hergé himself pushed Vandersteen to work on his stories and clean up his drawing style resulting in some truely wonderful all ages adventure stories.
Writer Marc Legendre – recently proud receiver of the 2013 Flemish Culture Award for Comics – crafts a more violent and explicit version of Bob and Bobette even featuring nudity in the form of a bare breast (but not of Bobette to the disappointment of thousands of fans, no doubt). Legendre is a relative unknown in the English language world but here’s a review of Finisterre for The Comics Journal. He stays true to the spirit of the original all ages series meaning that Bob is still the ever naive rascal being forever doomed to come to the rescue of the impetuous and cocky Bobette. All characters have been aged to comply with the new target audience and there’s a lot of cursing, contemporary speech patterns and name dropping of stylish terms like googling, iPod, etc.
The updated visuals are by the incredible and versatile talent of Charel Cambré. He sports a swooping rough line that is very dynamic and cartoony. Usually associated with kids series, this is a very different Chambré we’re seeing here. His bright linework is replaced by a chunky line with a lot of solid blacks and hatchworks. He mixes a manga approach with a more European young adult look and ages all the characters while still retaining all the visual cues of each person. It’s a good look and will no doubt reverberate with the 12-18 year olds.
The plot of the mining of the isle of Amoras by Krimson, causing earth upheavals and quakes, and the subsequent enslavement of its entire population to work in the mines certainly ups the stakes in Evilville as opposed to the hijinks of Krimson in the regular red series. The pacing is fast and the storytelling clear though maybe a tad too simple for the new audience. For such an ambitious undertaking, it’s a job well done by the creative team.
Where Amoras does need some work is on the character front. Legendre is still finding its footing with this new approach and struggles with the legacy of over 50 years of Bob and Bobette’s speech and behavior patterns. Both Bob and Bobette still sound and act too much like their younger counterparts but with swearing , violence and hip language inserted. But this being the first of a six album storyline, Legendre still has time to grow into the characters and make them come more alive.
The Bob and Bobette for the 21th century have arrived and Amoras 2047 starts off well as an action adventure tale transforming the pre-teeners Bob and Bobette into hip teenagers by mixing science fiction with manga tropes while staying true to the Vandersteen template. The transition to the more adult approach turns out to be smooth with but a few bumps but both Legendre and Cambré still have time to grow to create a unique voice for our transformed dynamic duo and to create a truly compelling narrative.
Amoras 2047 by Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré is a six issue miniseries published by Standaard Uitgeverij. It is a full colour 48 page album and retails for €6,95.