Review by Ian Keogh
In the original European Bluecoats series readers had to wait until this eighteenth album to discover how civilians Cornelius Chesterfield and Blutch became the Sergeant and Corporal in the Union army, whose exploits so entertain. Cinebook have moved the revelation up their publishing agenda, and we should be very grateful as it’s among the best of the series released in English to date.
Writer Raoul Cauvin and artist Willy Lambil straddle a very fine line. All comedy aspects could be removed from Auld Lang Blue and we’d be left with a dramatic tale that’s a coming of age story for Chesterfield and more than explains Blutch’s less than patriotic attitudes, while depicting the horrible realities of war (PG style). Their transition to army life is depicted on the cover. Blutch has just opened a new saloon, and the more complicated, but dimmer, Chesterfield is experiencing pressure from all sides. His mother believes he should assure his financial security by courting his boss’ daughter, while his father harks back to his own military career. Chesterfield has no interest in the homely Charlotte and is frustrated by his working life, so stops off for a drink, and the next morning both he and Blutch awaken to find themselves conscripted.
Lambil’s fine depiction of emotion comes into play in the opening section, and there are several of his intensely detailed and figure-packed half page illustrations for children to pore over. He’s fantastic with incidental detail, ensuring Chesterfield and Blutch exist within a wider context by surrounding them with life. At the midway point the pair switch units, and instead of concentrating on their conversation, Lambil reduces them to background figures, itself a subtle comment, and fills the foreground with a nicely posed staging of a paper seller and three soldiers relaxing.
Despite the focus of his strip throughout being on two lower ranked soldiers during war, Cauvin never glorifies the conflict. In fact he goes out of his way to do the opposite and the more the story progresses, the greater his critique of army incompetence becomes. The sample page encompasses Blutch’s blunt view of the fates of those marching proudly past his saloon in their new uniforms.
Much the above could make Auld Lang Blue seem dry polemic, whereas the opposite is true. Cauvin never loses sight of producing a book for children and there are plenty of comic set pieces, fine slapstick and exaggerated reactions. At the very least a chuckle on every page in fact. By the end he’s tied up his plots very efficiently, justified the personalities and viewpoints of his lead characters and provided an entertaining adventure with a lot of laughs.
There are no reasons of continuity requiring the Bluecoats books to be read in any order, and Cinebook aren’t publishing them chronologically, so their next is release is El Padre, while the as yet untranslated Le David followed in Europe.