Review by Ian Keogh
Born in 1957, during his childhood Yves Chaland missed out on a great era of Franco-Belgian children’s comics from the 1950s, but subsequently took his inspiration from the artists of the period when starting his career in comics and illustration in the late 1970s, especially Maurice Tillieux. With his five Freddy Lombard albums he came closer than any other creator to embodying the spirit of Tintin. This wasn’t by imitation, but by taking the spirit of a young adventurer and updating it for the times. This anthology provides translations of Chaland’s first three Freddy Lombard albums, covering four stories.
Chaland was already an accomplished creator when he began work on the somewhat cumbersomely titled ‘The Will of Godfrey of Bouillon’. It introduces Freddy and his companions Dina and Sweep, and over the opening pages it’s apparent these aren’t cut from Tintin’s wholesome cloth with suggestions of abandoning a broken down car and ordering a restaurant meal without the money to pay for it. Fortunately the bill is covered by a generous party happy to employ them in a search for his ancestor’s fortune. It’s an entertaining romp, but high on whimsy and low on logic, with Chaland seemingly going wherever his mind took him when he began work. Half the story takes place in the Crusades era, and while it just about hangs together it’s the art that’s the star.
Gradually realising his cast had potential, Chaland took more care plotting the following two stories, one untitled concerning the recovery of a rare photographic plate in Africa, the other being ‘The Elephant Graveyard’. The whimsy’s still there – in the third story Freddy interrupts his landlord slicing a chicken’s throat when he goes to collect his mail – but it’s far more controlled, not the be-all and end all. The jokes are better incorporated, and a thread follows through from start to finish. Freddy, Dina and Sweep find themselves involved with an explorers’ society, but the life expectancy of the members is diminishing. Chaland surprises several times, and there’s an air of melancholy about the piece.
The real standout is ‘The Comet of Carthage’, in which Chaland expands his page count to full album size and extends his plot accordingly. It supplies the luxury of an elegant eight page opening sequence in which none of the regulars are seen, yet which serves to set up the mystery and permit plenty of stylish artwork, including an Audrey Hepburn homage. Freddy, Dina and Sweep are camping in a cave in a small French Mediterranean coastal town where the locals consider the prolonged period of poor weather to be a portent of a comet whose effects they believe will destroy the town. There’s the further problems of a sculptor’s model convinced he’s going to kill her when he finishes his sculpture, and an eccentric professor in possession of a bathyscaphe. Chaland sets a mood of extreme unease, carries through his plot professionally, and ensures that we never know who to believe, or what their motives are. He also returns to a narrative method used in his first tale, but integrates it far more successfully. It’s not entirely sustained, as the conclusion is weak, but this is 90% of a very good graphic novel.
Some people will have problems with Chaland’s visual portrayal of African natives, drawn in the insensitive style of the 1950s artists from whom he took his influences. All stories are combined with those from volume 2 in the bulkier and more recent Freddy Lombard.