Review by Frank Plowright
The Rugger Boys of the Paillar Athletic Club are a bunch of largely overweight slabs of beef who like a bit of rough and tumble on a Saturday afternoon, and presumably The Rugger Boys is meant to appeal to their real life equivalents. Whether it will is doubtful, and that Cinebook kicked publication into touch after two collections indicates how popular the translated editions were. In France it’s going great guns, with eight collections to date of the one page strips, plus three spin-offs about rugby playing youngsters.
It’s a curious combination. On the one hand there’s the great cartooning of Poupard (Alexandre Mermin), packed with detail, lively, personality rich, and brilliant at creating an environment, and on the other are the scripts, staggering to an obvious, feeble or forced punchline. Béka is a pseudonym for the writing partnership of Bertrand Escaich and Caroline Roque, and while their work is hardly sparkling, they’re not helped by a very awkward translation from Luke Spear. He often chooses the literal translation rather than going for the spirit of the language, which frequently results in very formal dialogue from what’s supposed to be a rough and ready bunch. Another eccentricity is the coach’s dialogue. Any word featuring the letter ‘r’ is extended by repeating the ‘r’ in diminishing font. In the original French it presumably signifies some form of regional accent, but makes no sense in English, where it’s incredibly distracting. Spear is working with a handicap, as he can’t just make the team British because there’s a succession of gags about them touring England. These aren’t any funnier than the remainder of book, recycling the stereotypes of the 1950s, as if all Escaich and Roque know of England was learned from a Blake and Mortimer graphic novel.
Further reminders of the 1950s are gags about the women’s rugby team needing moisturiser and hair treatment, racist jokes and caricatures, people with a speech impediment considered funny, wives battering their husband with a frying pan… Perhaps what’s most surprising about The Rugger Boys is that the entire scenario is set up for comedy gold, yet the ball is fumbled again and again and again. A Spoonful of Style and a Tonne of Class follows. God help us.