Convivial Meals, Spirited Skirmishes: Ben Sears’ Double+ Adventures

I admit it’s rare for me to discover a new present-day cartoonist I really like, so I was quite thrilled to stumble upon Ben Sears and the adventures of friendly robot Hank and goggles-sporting Plus Man. Sears’ style reminds me of claymation (one of my soft spots), and he is not afraid of bright colours or playfulness – such a contrast to the many ‘serious’, sepia-coloured comics that are just dull as dishwater (although apparently the latter is now an in-demand hair colour).

The four ‘A Double Adventure +’ comics Sears has given us so far (Night Air, 2016; Volcano Trash, 2017; The Ideal Copy, 2018; and House of the Black Spot, 2019), published by Koyama Press*, brim with interesting details – plants are everywhere, rooms are full of intriguing trinkets, and cats are perched on counters and rooftops. This is a world not devoid of danger (Hank and Plus Man keep getting pulled into murder mysteries, ominous conspiracies, hive-mind henchmen skirmishes, etc.), but there’s also an appealing domesticity about it, as we often get to visit their apartment or tag along as they hang out in a friends’ kitchen. The fight scenes are viscerally satisfying (who doesn’t want to see bad guys’ asses kicked in a most expedient manner?), but there is also clever team work, friendship, and occasionally a moral dilemma or two. My favourite of the four is House of the Black Spot, so things are clearly going in the right direction!

The Ideal Copy features a villainous gaggle of creepy white men, all eerily dressed in the same red sweater + beige pants-pulled-up-to-armpits** uniform:

The nasties have convenient number badges pinned to their sweaters (perhaps they also get confused).

Volcano Trash features some enjoyably fast-paced fight/daring escape scenes, but I think its heart lies in its quietly emotional sequences. Sears’ dialogue is perfectly functional, sometimes even fun, but he doesn’t over-clutter his pages with words, excelling at mute scenes in which body language says a’plenty. When looking through his website recently, I was happy to discover he has a few pantomine self-published comics (featuring a trash cleanup robot, a cat and a bird!) I’d never heard of. You can order them here.

A discussion about friendship mostly takes place through sighs and gestures – not much needs to be said in words.

Finally, here are some excerpts (or extracts, as the Brits would say) from House of the Black Spot, the lushest, latest installment of Hank & Plus Man’s adventures:

You can read an (otherwise unpublished, as far as I know) Double+ Adventure here.

I keep reading reviews in which comparisons are made between Sears’ work and Hergé’s Tintin, which supposed resemblance I admit I don’t see at all. On the other hand, I’ve never read a full Tintin album, and to be perfectly honest have no intention of ever undertaking such a tedious task.

~ ds

* Toronto-based Koyama Press shut down its operations in 2021, so Ben Sears’ new book, Young Shadow, was published by Fantagraphics. I haven’t read it yet, but am looking forward to it, once I get my hands on a copy! You can read a review of it over at The Comics Journal.

** The question of why older men tend to wear their pants somewhere below their armpits still baffles me. Hypotheses have been made to the effect of beer-bellied folks having to decide whether the pant waistline lies above a bulging stomach or under it, and opting for the former option, but I have seen plenty of instances of pants being pulled up when the wearer had a relatively flat stomach…

Spotlight on Florent Chavouet

Once in a while, I come across an artist I’ve never heard of before but whose work I really like. It’s always a delight to stumble upon an elegant boat afloat daintily on a sea of crap. (Life is full of new things to love that we just haven’t discovered yet, but the trick is to discover them amidst all the noise.)

The chief of police dreams of food… but will he be able to find a tasty bowl of udon before all the noodle stalls close for the night? Panels from Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).

Florent Chavouet is an accomplished artist who prefers bright colours, which predisposed me to liking his art before I even considered the potency of his storytelling. He mostly draws in a cute, cartoony style that’s perfect for all the travelling-around-Japan chronicling he has done. However, architecture doesn’t stump him at all – a lot of his drawings are successful, detailed sketches of streets and apartments – and he’s amply capable of realism when the situation calls for it. And he’s an excellent storyteller, to boot.

My favourite book of his (so far) is my most recent acquisition: Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015), a complex story involving many characters and the ways their lives intersect and influence one another during a typical night in Japan. (Well, maybe not typical.) As the story unfolds after sunset, we get treated to a lot of pop-right-out-of-the-book, light-on-dark-background scenes, something Chavouet excels at. The art is his most accomplished yet; his latest book came out in 2016 (L’île Louvre), but I haven’t read it so far. I think we can say with certainty that he’s still developing his talents!

The cab driver has distinctly bad luck on that night. Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).

Another lovely feature of Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015) is the hand-lettered dialogue – it’s an integral part of the artwork.

A promotional presentation of Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).

This graphic novel hasn’t been translated to English yet, so non-French speakers will have to wait for a bit until it is.

Going back in time, but remaining in Japan, here are a few samples from Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods (Tuttle Publishing, 2011).

A page from Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods (Tuttle Publishing, 2011); it came out in the original French in 2009. You’ll be encountering scores of intriguing characters if you take Chavouet along as your guide.

Tokyo on Foot is full of such isometric-projection layouts of people’s apartments.

Tokyo on Foot also has plenty of beautifully rendered night scenes.

Page from Tokyo Sanpo (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2009).

Visit Chavouet’s blog here – if you don’t speak French, you can admire the art (though you’ll be missing the stories he likes to make up for each of his drawings/paintings).

An example of the critters you’ll encounter – which Chavouet calls Yokai, the Japanese word for demons or monsters – on his blog.

~ ds

Faites gaffe, monsieur Franquin!

Ninety-three years ago today (January 3, 1924, that is), master bédéiste André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium.

His œuvre is an embarrassment of riches, but heck, here’s a diabolically ingenious Gaston Lagaffe strip whose mise-en-scène is so solid and visually limpid that the only dialogue needed to truly “get it” is the punchline: « Never seen such a tough nut… »

Originally published in Spirou no. 1599 (Dec. 5, 1968, Éditions Dupuis.)

It would be unfair and inaccurate to single anything out as André Franquin’s «masterpiece», given the consistently high calibre of his output. Let’s settle for stating that Gaston was in all likelihood his most popular creation, as luck would have it.

The legendary gaffeur first messed up in a two-panel cameo in the Spirou et Fantasio adventure Le voyageur du Mésozoïque in 1957. Later S&F tales were dotted with Gaston cameos, and the accident-prone office boy soon (crash-) landed his own half-page strip, which ran from the late 50s to the late 90s, though mostly consisted of reprints after the early 80s.

Gaston’s second strip collection, issued in 1963 in the original “landscape” format, deemed an oddity at the time.

As for translations, Gaston’s popular in a bevy of languages, but not, of course, in English. Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson was a huge fan, and translated a handful of strips, which were published (as Gomer Goof) in issues of the anthologies Prime Cuts and Graphic Story Monthly.

Speaking of Gomer, Anglophone readers are in for a treat: UK publisher Cinebook has, just last October, issued a collection (only 48 pages, but you have to start somewhere… and perhaps small) entitled Mind the Goof! Check it out here.


New Release From Roger Langridge! “And there was much rejoicing…”

I’d like to talk about a book that’s coming out in October -“The Iron Duchess” by Roger Langridge. There’s two reasons to be excited about it: it’s a solo Langridge project; and it features Fred the Clown, a favourite character of many a R.L. aficionado. This graphic novel was initially self-published about a year ago, but Fantagraphics (displaying their usual impeccable taste) has picked it up since then, so it’s now commonly available through major stores.

But, you may ask, who is Fred the Clown and why should you care? Instead of blabbing incomprehensibly as I’m prone to doing when talking about Langridge (imagine a dog trying to explain its excitement about a juicy bone – there’s just going to be a lot of tail-wagging and drooling), I prefer to quote the back-cover blurb from the first Fred the Clown collection (equally highly recommended, published in 2004 also by Fantagraphics):

Existential clown comedy as you like it.
SEE! Fred the Clown get slapped regularly in his single-minded pursuit of l’amour!
HEAR! The screams of his lady friends from several blocks away!
SMELL! Fred the Clown’s scientifically improbable collection of fungal infections!
The signature creation of cartoonist Roger Langridge, Fred the Clown is the thinking man’s idiot. Fred has an eye for the ladies, as well as several other organs, but the only part of themselves they’re willing to share with him is a carefully placed kneecap…
Fred the Clown’s misadventures are a curious balance of bleakness and joyful absurdism; the universe may dump on Fred from a great height, but he never gives up. More often than not, they involve the pursuit of a lady—any lady will do, it seems, but bearded ladies are at the top of the list.

Just look at this striking art and Langridge’s impeccable sense of timing:

(Fred the Clown in his initial black-and-white format.)


To which I can add that I normally can’t *stand* clowns, and Fred is the only cartoon clown whom I not only tolerate but whose antics I actually enjoy.


But to get back to the Duchess: *this* story doesn’t have bearded ladies, but it does have a (very) mad scientist, a damsel in dire and completely improbable peril, enough twists in the plot to make you yelp (and giggle) out loud (great for embarrassing yourself in public!), and heart-warming inter-species friendship, perhaps even romance. After all, there is a train involved; a train means somebody can be tied to the railroad tracks, or a couple can escape – or not – an evil father… I love people who can take a conventional story and run off with it while still “obeying” all the rules of the genre.

It’s an entirely mute story, if you don’t count evil cackling as dialogue. Fred’s best friend is a pig, by the way, and as far as I’m concerned that’s another reason to love this goofball. The pig’s also considerably more intelligent than him.

It’s exciting, riveting and really funny. Did I mention the beautiful art, expert shading, etc., etc.? Just pick it up already. Langridge can deftly illustrate anything his freaky brain comes up with, which includes animals (especially horses, which most comic artists seem to struggle with), ugly people (ditto – it seems that artists often can draw either pretty people, or grotesque ones, but rarely both)… and he’s great at architecture and perspective, too.


In an ideal world, Langridge would have free rein – and enough financial support – to draw the stories that are clearly close to his heart, instead of being forced (although he’s very gallant about it) to write for projects illustrated by pencillers/inkers so impressively inept that these comics, that should be excellent just by virtue of having a fantastic writer, become completely unreadable. Let’s at least take things one step closer to this ideal by adding the Iron Duchess to our comic book collections.

Dare to take a train ride into the dark tunnel of creativity (but avoid awkward metaphors along the way.)

Don’t forget to visit Langridge’s Hotel Fred, his official website, where you can purchase original art, books, and also see lots of goodies like sketches, commissions, unpublished pages, and whatever else he’s got lying around.

~ ds