Kids Stuff > Literature
One non-smoking Phenomenon
Nicotine Withdrawal. Talking about carnival earlier already, one of the most popular disguises is apparently the Cowboy (or Cowgirl). It is often reflected not only in Country music but also the more we get motorized and industrialized in connection with driving a car. The "King of the Road" (as Roger Miller would say) of today doesn't ride a horse any more, but has four wheels and a lot of horsepower under the butt. Music themes as the "Cowboy song" by Thin Lizzy and "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi are other examples for transportation of the Wild West as metaphor into today's world. Laurel and Hardy would go "Way out West" as early as 1937 and one of his few single movie appearances showed Oliver Hardy side to side with forever hero John Wayne in the classic "The Fighting Kentuckian" in 1949. We all remember Gary Cooper in "High Noon" and realize that the early post war Cowboy was smoking. Not only the smoking gun but also the smoking cigarette became one central symbol of the freedom somewhere between the Mid West and the Pacific Ocean. This apparently stopped with the death of the Marlboro Man and as of today not only in the US but also in the European Union legislation is being discussed to protect the non-smokers from the health-endangering and often simply ruthless behaviour of those addicted to burning tobacco and pacifying habits, members of an unfortunately often intolerant minority, which only finds the strength of will to stop in case the own life gets in danger due to their addiction. Taking the annoying smell of cigarettes with humour, when asked "Do you mind if I smoke?" stand-up comedian Steve Martin would reply: "Uh, no, do you mind if I fart?" Starting to look at it from this angle, there is one example among those praised heroes of the youth, who has adapted his behaviour to modern standards, and for sure it was not easy...
Lucky Legend of the Wild Frontier. The example is found in a popular Western cartoon hero, created in the 1940's in Belgium and via France spreading his popularity up to the United States, where those little fairy tales he appeared in were inspired from, but where also more exemplary manners were expected from a world famous cartoon character. And so a blade of grass is found in his mouth lately, when he meets those historical figures from past times in Oklahoma, the Mississippi Delta, or wherever his jolly jumping horse would carry him. Firm in the saddle and dressed in Belgian national colours, black vest, yellow shirt and red bandana, neatly wrapped around the neck. Faster than the speed of light, faster than his shadow he was said to draw, and his bullet would find its way even into the barrels of the guns of his enemies. Themes used in those tales start with new settlement in the West and continue with connecting them via Pony Express, Telegraphy and Railroad. Historical figures like Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid and the Dalton brothers have their share as well as look-alikes of contemporary actors, while the main character itself is said to be inspired by Gary Cooper when marching with bow legs and a cigarette onto the main road of Nothing Gulch, Daisy Town, or whatever the name of the Western town would be this time. Too deeply hidden inside are those little allusions for them all to be found and too various are the facets to be identified altogether. Cineasts and movie buffs may discover numerous references to pearls of the silver screen and parodies of Western film highlights. Finally, in the partially funny 1991 "Lucky Luke" movie blue eye Terence Hill (formerly known as "Trinity" and "Nobody") would have the catch line in conversation with an Indian chief offering the piece pipe (aka calumet): "Don't look at me, I gave up smoking…" Also a contribution to less air pollution, although years later a Volkswagen radio commercial would quote the lonesome cowboy, joining the motorized age, which is bad news for his horse: "Jolly Jumper, we have to split up!" (Anyway, better than spitting up!)
Singing Wire: A Time before Cable-TV. As so often this all has a personal connection, starting to think of it again since my boy disguised as a cowboy during carnival and has drawn his own version of the extremely lucky cartoon character, whom he just also rediscovered on the pages of one of his Mickey Mouse Magazines, for it contained an article on a new movie featuring Til Schweiger as the yellow shirted pal. And my kids, knowing the lucky character from cartoons on TV already, would get fascinated by a computer game about the "Singing Wire." Obviously, the spark flew towards me as I would start recalling my own earlier fascination of the same tales: There had been a matchless race around building the first transcontinental telegraph line, commonly referred to as "Singing Wire" among American Indians and Wild West fans. And there had been the (censored) story of "Billy the Kid", who would force everyone into drinking his favourite drink, a cup of (very) hot chocolate. Further nostalgia would come up, when remembering a classmate lending me the rare "Ma Dalton" and "Psycho Doc" issues from the otherwise no longer available "white album series", back issues that would only later be incorporated with new numbers into the newly established album series. Time to organize some background information. It was only about two years late that I found out that the artist Morris had passed away and I was afraid since that his Western cartoons would vanish from the market and my kids would not have the chance to read them.
The Singing Wire rediscovered, a PC game with the Wild West tale of the Telegraph Road (no Dire Straits cameo) would fascinate my own kids many years later. I guess that is called progress.
A boy's vision of a lucky cowboy, dressed in the Belgium national colours.
Pure Confusion: German Publication History
"I'm a Poor Lonesome Cowboy." The adventures of Lucky Luke had been published in the German speaking market as early as the late 1950's in the youth-paper "The cheerful Fridolin", a local name of the Franco-Belgian title character Spirou (Walloon language for Squirrel). It was his regular appearance in the portfolio of the Kauka publishing house though that made Lucky Luke widely popular in the Germanic area. From the mid 1960's onwards, the cowboy made guest appearances in various publications around the two red foxes Fix & Foxi, at that time the sharpest rivals to local Mickey Mouse publications. Most important, Luke was published in the oversized magazine "Super Tip Top" and ultimately starred several issues of the Fix & Foxi album. "Early translations in reckless language" would be the motto of Rolf Kauka's free textual interpretation that sought to replace allusions from the original French text, which easily got lost in translation, with new corny jokes in German. Even the cowboy's horse Jolly Jumper would be called "Rosa" and the Western legend Calamity Jane would answer to the new name "the wild Hilde". And so the early days of German publication saw a poor, lonesome cowboy, indeed...
White Album. The 1970's saw a shift of publication to the Zack and Yps magazines (with gimmick), once more as continuous stories. In parallel, Zack's "white album" series was established and set new quality standards (not to be confused with the Beatles' record of same name). In the second half of the 1970's after fourteen issues it would evolve into Ehapa's long-term album series. Especially in the 1980's, the album format experienced a boom in the German-speaking markets, which is when also Lucky Luke albums regularly achieved five-digit print runs. Worldwide release of the Franco-Belgian book in the double-digit millions range would demonstrate that successful comic productions did not necessarily need to come from the U.S. Early adventures were subsequently reproduced by Ehapa in an additional "Classics"-hardcover series. However, similar to the first fourteen issues, after being out of print they were later incorporated into the regular softcover album series with new numbers, in order to fill longer time periods until new material would become available. And so after all these years, at the end of his latest adventures he would still ride into the sunset, singing: "I'm a poor lonesome cowboy... and a long way from home." A line that was not translated into German.
East meets West: Rice Wars
Censorship and No-No. There was something unexpected, even for the lucky cowboy, who is usually able to handle every situation: Censorship happened on the first page of the "Billy the Kid" album, when panels showing the baby using the (unloaded) gun as a pacifier, had to be removed. They appeared only in the very first German edition at the end of the 1960's titled "Powder, Pounding and Pistols" and were reinstated following a re-issue of the album almost 40 years later. The tale of Billy the Kid's cousin on the other hand, the Machine Gun Kid appeared in a French book called "Hommage a Morris". It was a first drawing by Achde, who would become Morris' successor to take over the series. And whatever you do, just remember never to stick your chopsticks straight up into a bowl of rice! It's a ritual used in funerals and considered a death wish among the living! So in case you want a break to stretch your (almost broken) fingers, remember to use a porcelain chopstick rest, if provided, or just put them on the edge of your bowl. Alternatively, the more skillful among us may fold a "pillow for chopsticks" out of their wrapping paper, as I learned from a Japanese colleague...
Rice Elements. The all-time favourite "La bataille du riz" is a short story that is also known under the English titles "The Battle of Rice" or "Rice Wars." The cartoon describes a competition among Chinese Restaurant owners in the Far West, a parable on the exchange of pleasantries in an extraordinarily respectful manner. A lesson about cultural differences, also teaching that appearances do deceive. Choosing the right tone, you can almost say everything! Some Chinese looking strokes accompany the scene where the restaurant owners say hello in feigned friendliness and fake letters, while declaring war to each other really. Too bad they did not use any real Chinese characters. One should just think of the "Blue Lotus" adventure of Belgium's national hero Tintin, where the cover already features a Chinese lantern with the real traditional Chinese character "Lian" for the Lotus flower, which is also a common girl's name. Thanks to Herge's usage of precise photo reference and help by a native Chinese friend, whom he immortalized in the same book, also the drawing of a busy shopping street in Shanghai features authentic writing. (Although one may wonder where the sign "Ji Chang - Machine factory" came from, which he added hanging from the top into the street scene.)
An Asterix TV game and a real classic In the animal park in Pamhagen: The uncooked wild boar.
"These Romans are Crazy." Being part of a rather technology oriented generation, for a while our kids got crazy about an old Nintendo-TV game console from an aunt and a matching Asterix game cassette from our neighbours. Around that time I mentioned to two friends that I'd go watch a new Asterix live-action movie with the kids. While showing little interest in the film, they immediately started to share fond memories on scenes from "The Legionary," highlight of the Asterix album series. In that particular story the rigid Gauls would join the otherwise thrashed Roman army. Unforgettable is also the "true" reason, why the Sphinx lost its nose (full figured Obelix climbing it). The stories had been so popular that the books were even used in Latin classes at school. In a way, Asterix is the sister series of Lucky Luke for sharing the same author, Rene Goscinny, after whose death in 1977 the quality of both books went down. Still, Asterix books are remembered for their legendary introduction: "The year is 50 B.C., Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders..." Let us also hold out and fight for the things, we really believe in!
Above are guest appearances by "Sheriff" Gary Cooper (taking off his star at High Noon), "Bounty Hunter" Lee Van Cleef (with a few Dollars more), bubbly "Boss" Louis de Funes (miniature choleric reaching for his miniature gun), "Spider Legs" Jack Palance (getting dressed for Shane), silent "Tramp" Charlie Chaplin (at the Klondike Gold Rush), clumsy "Delivery Duo" Stan & Ollie (unloading menhirs instead of music boxes), "Western Legend" John Wayne (on the unchancy War Wagon) and "Big Game Hunter" Groucho Marx (in tropical outfit and typical cigar).
But now, let's go... Duck!