Two new publications by Dupuis prove to be finger-licking good for fans of Franquin. The Robinsons of the Railway Tracks restores a classic radio play with text pages and illustrations, while The Count Is Disturbed reconstructs a classic Spirou short story with loads of extras.
The Robinsons of the Railway Tracks
When SNCF, the French railway company, approached Hergé to create a promotional comic for them in 1963, he politely declined. However, as a self-professed technophile, Spirou and Gaston Lagaffe creator Franquin did like the idea, and accepted the proposal.
Unfortunately, Franquin accepted the task at a rather dark period in his life (more on that one here). He found himself unable to complete the comic and, anyway, the last thing the company had in mind was a fast-paced action story featuring a runaway atomic train rampaging through a range of European countries. It was not exactly the family-friendly entertainment spotlighting the numerous advantages of the railways that they had in mind.
Starring Spirou, Fantasio and Gaston Lagaffe, the comic starts with a bang as Gaston succeeds in not only jumpstarting a new experimental atomic train but also locking everyone – including himself – out of the driver’s cabin.
Spirou and Fantasio need to come to the rescue, since the atomic train contains a limitless supply of energy to keep on rolling. In a surprise move, Gaston himself comes up with an unexpected solution to this environmental disaster in the making (though obviously this was not such a big concern in the 1960s).
After a while, SNCF became quite impatient waiting for Franquin to finish the album. So how did this wind up reaching the general populace? By way of a radio play, suggested by Georges Troisfontaines, of course!
In the meantime, the comic script became an illustrated novel and was published in Spirou magazine over a period of two months in 1964. Unfortunately, no physical record was pressed from the radio play so the actual audio transmission is lost in time.
The technology presented in the story is quite dated, but the illustrations have been recolored and are quite crisp; most of them are drawn by Jidéhem, but Franquin did manage to illustrate a few nice trains.
The real joy lies in the text, which captures the atmosphere perfectly with comical exchanges between Gaston and Spirou and the other characters, and with great fast-moving language by that other great of Franco-Belgian comics, Yvan Delporte (a subject for a another Crossing Borders feature).
The Robinsons of the Railway Tracks – Les Robinsons Du Rail – by Franquin & Jidéhem is published in French by Dupuis and distributed in Dutch by Ballon Media. It is a full-colour 88-page hardcover and retails for €28,00.
The Count Is Disturbed
As with the previous Franquin volume in the ‘Les Intégrales’ series (Crooks at the Fair, reviewed right here), this is another splendid publication in which the publisher, in conjunction with the author’s daughter, Isabelle Franquin, refurbishes the older pages of a story by Franquin and Jidéhem and loads the album with extras, commentary and a side-by-side comparison of the original and the restored pages.
Storywise, it is not the best of the Spirou short stories. The Count Is Disturbed is a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of story where the recurring character of the Count of Rommelgem accidentally swallows a drop of his own elixir, X4, intended to separate man’s good instincts from the bad.
The formerly polite gentleman becomes a true menace and drags Spirou and Fantasio into a comical race against time in order to stop a hidden bomb from exploding somewhere in the village.
The publisher needed to fill out the album to 64 pages (the regular features usually clocked in at around 48 pages), so the short story republished here served as filler for album #13 of Spirou. The real stars of this album are the facsimile pages that reproduce the art of Franquin and Jidéhem with all the extra linework, whiteouts, grids and guides etc. One for the fans, I would say.