Sunday, August 08, 2010


I'm crossing into what's really Lee's territory here, but today's hidden corner of the Comics Cabinet is revealing a famed artist and European comics. French, even.

Moebius, of course, is a big name in the world of comics art, especially for fans outside the US. His early work, though, was done under his actual name, Jean Giraud. That's the case with Comcat Comic's 1989 publication of Young Blueberry: Blueberry's Secret. Blueberry was written by noted French author Jean-Michel Charlier. These stories were set in the American South and West and starred the eponymous man who was from a southern plantation family but was a soldier in the Union Army.

The Blueberry stories actually started in 1963 and were set in Arizona. Mike S Blueberry wouldn't shoot at other southerners but was perfectly fine fighting Indian tribes. Those stories went on for several years without a disclosure of how he came to be in his situation or to have his unusual surname. By 1968 Charlier decided to tell the story of his origin, leading to the Young Blueberry stories. Blueberry's Secret was a collection of the first three of those stories that Comcat Comics translated to English and published in 1989.

The first story is straight up origin. Blueberry's real name is Mike Donovan, and he's the son of a wealthy plantation owner. His father and a neighboring plantation owner have an ongoing fued over who should rightfully possess a sword once owned by George Washington. The neighbor has it, but Donovan's father lays claim to it. Donovan is a cad and none too kind to slaves. He's wooing the neighbor's daughter, of course. Can't have too much Shakespeare in these things.

The story opens with Donovan's returning home with an escaped slave he re-captured, singled handedly, apparently. He stays over at the neighbor's house for the night. The plantation's manager is a rival for the daughter's affections and is skimming money from the owner. He even has a nice evil-doer's mustache. He has an appropriately dastardly plan for keeping his thievery from being discovered and getting the girl, which ends up with Donovan the supposed killer of the neighbor and an arsonist. In a nice bit of irony, the escaped slave Donovan had been hauling back is the only witness who can exonerate Donovan, but the slave ends up dead at evil-doer's hand.

All of this takes place just as the Civil War is breaking out, so Donovan just manages to escape from his home state of Georgia to a location where Union troops hold sway. I'm not too sure about the historical accuracy of that aspect of the story. Georgia's bordered by South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. I don't think there would have been much of a US Army presence in any of the border areas, let alone enough to provide Donovan shelter from his pursuers. Ah, well. A minor point. Knowing that he's a fugitive, war or no war, when asked his name by the Union commander, Donovan seeks a fictitious name to throw anyone seeking his head off the scent. Donovan's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so he comes up with Blueberry as his last name because he sees a blueberry bush while trying to think of a name.

The second story is set in Tennessee. Blueberry is a bugler with the Union Army, but he volunteers for a mission behind the Confederate lines. He and a sergeant are disguised as father and daughter civilians. They have a dead woman's body in a coffin, and explosives hidden under her body. She's supposed to be the sergeant's wife and Blueberry's mother. There's a bit of comedy and tension, what with the drag and the chance of being shot as a spy. The mission is to blow up a bridge to prevent the Confederates from being re-supplied.
The charges are set on the bridge but don't go off. When they're about to be captured the sergeant flees, leaving Blueberry to be caught. He manages to escape and set off the charges but returns to the Union lines to find that the sergeant has taken sole credit for the success of the mission.

Charlier doesn't waste any time in getting the stories back to the west, as the last one is set in Texas. This time Blueberry's with a troop contingent seeking to stop the Confederates from bringing horses east to re-supply. They're traveling on a rail line and blowing up Confederate supply posts as they go, but they can't seem to locate the horses, which are corralled together somewhere to be herded east. Blueberry goes into the town at the end of the rail line while the rest of the troops await his report. He ends up learning where the horses are hidden and walks to get there, alone. He stampedes the horses and ends up in a face-to-face with the Confederate commanding officer who knew Blueberry back in Georgia. It ends in something of an anti-climax when the Confederate's gun turns out to be empty, preventing him from shooting Blueberry. Blueberry just leaves the guy standing in the desert.

These are decent stories. They didn't hit it out of the park for me, and maybe the larger body of work that started in 1963 is better. I think this was the only collection I bought partly because of the price. At $7.95 in 1989, this was a bit much for three stories, even if they were larger than the standard comic. It was only 51 pages of story. I'm sure that in the '60s when they were originally published they were quite ground breaking. Giraud's art wasn't totally removed from the Western comics I remember as a kid, but this was also some of his early work before he went off in other directions. Charlier's stories are also reminiscent of the Jonah Hex and Scalphunter stories I remember, but this pre-dates those. Certainly, the notion of a son of the South joining the Union Army wasn't novel. It was based in reality, after all. I doubt the Union would have been as accomodating as to allow Blueberry to be a sort of pacifist, at least as far as Confederates were concerned. He keeps showing shooting skills that the Army almost certainly would have wanted to employ in killing Confederates.

Vive la difference.

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