Review by Frank Plowright
Laurent Verron assisted series creator Jean Roba on Billy & Buddy from the mid-1980s, but it wasn’t until Roba’s retirement in 2002 that Verron was credited with the full art. Clowning Around is his first collection, published in French in 2003. Verron had been working on the strip for so long by then, meaning little difference to the look of Billy & Buddy. The difference comes with the scripts, and with the editorial policy, which now ensures the strips are reproduced in the original order of publication, meaning an end to sudden leaps from summer to winter.
Pierre Veys, Eric Corbeyran, Chric (Christophe Saloman), and Xavier Cucuel supply the gags for Verron to draw, all of them writers who’d go on to success with other series, although none as spectacularly as Jean-Yves Ferri, contributor to the following Buddy’s Gang. He’d end up being chosen to continue the adventures of Asterix. However, new the writers might be, but there’s no radical shift of emphasis or phasing in of contemporary ideas beyond mentions of genetically modified food, a gameboy or mononucleosis to set up a joke. The writers stick to the gentle domestic humour present since the early days, which means many of the jokes are obvious, Buddy constantly able to outwit Billy, while Billy so often puts one over on his father. Recurring jokes include the difficulty of getting Buddy washed, his fondness for bones exploited for cartoon dogs the world over, and Billy’s school tasks. One new addition raising a smile in a couple of Veys-written strips is an unusually conscientious burglar.
As with Roba, it’s really the illustration that’s the wonder. The cover emphasises Verron drawing in Roba’s style, and the precision of his personality-rich cartooning has a beauty about the simplicity. On the rare occasions when Verron is able to let himself go, as in the chaos generated on the right hand sample art, the results are stunning. There’s a tendency to take so much Franco-Belgian cartooning for granted, or for experts to talk about the golden age ending in the 1970s, yet if that page appeared in a British children’s comic the artist would be praised to the skies. That circus, by the way, will have a big part to play in Buddy’s Gang.
Billy & Buddy is intended as a timeless strip, and it would be foolish for the new creators to mess with the formula, so they don’t. The farce, misunderstandings and tomfoolery are given a smooth continuation under new hands, and without checking the credits you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.