Lucky Luke – The Daltons Escape

I love the European comic book tradition. As I’ve said on this site or certainly on the MOMBcast several times, many of the books in that tradition hold strong memories for me and were decisive in turning me in to a comic book reading geek. Asterix and Tintin were gateway drugs into a larger world of reading, and were the books that would lead me to picking up British childhood titles like the Beano the Dandy, which in turn would lead me to 2000ad and eventually the books of DC and Marvel. In short they were crucial to not only my reading development (I’m convinced they made me a reader of all books not just one medium) but of a lifelong passion.

Lucky Luke however evokes some very particular memories for me. I was drawn to the books because I recognised the author as one half of the creative team (for the vast majority of the books anyway) of my favourite comic book duo. Rene Goscinny was of course not only the Lucky Luke author but also of Asterix. The book had immediate star power. It took a while for my childish mind to parse why the art was so different, but I soon came to appreciate the story telling skill of Lucky Luke creator Morris and much as Uderzo. Unfortunately at the time I first came to “read” Lucky Luke it was actually Morris’ skill I relied on, as the only editions I had the opportunity to read were in French.

My first encounter would have been some time in the mid eighties, where on a school trip to southern France a 13 year old version of me was, amongst other things, reading copies of Lucky Luck that my friends and I had picked up in a local supermarket. The other things (should you be curious) were the same other things all 13 years olds on summer school trips to France were doing, namely smoking, drinking beer, and trying not to get caught by the teachers.

However when my mind was on more childish matters, it was the Lucky Luke books I would turn to constantly for entertainment. Even without being able to read the vast majority of the words (to my shame my reading comprehension in French is no better now that it was then) I could still appreciated the cooler than ice lead character and the crazy reimagining of the old west that he had the misfortune to live in.

 I have in recent years gone about replacing the books that have been lost over the years with translated versions released by Cinebook. Delightfully they are as much fun as I had remembered, and are much enhanced for me by actually being able to read the dialogue. They have 32+ books translated at present and this book in particular – The Daltons Escape is the 30th edition in the series (in its original language a staggering 78 editions exist). TheDaltons of the title are a constant thorn in Lucky Luke’s side, a group of bumbling criminal brothers that always seem to snatch defeat in the face of certain victory when confronted by Luke. This edition is no exception and features a successful jail break, subsequent chase by super cowboy Luke onward to an enjoyable if inevitable conclusion (it’s no spoiler to say they lose to our hero, they ALWAYS do).

But familiarity of outcome in this story doesn’t detract, and in fact it’s the comfortable familiarity of the story which is a strong part of its charm. Luke the laid back character that he is will pursue an opponent, they will attempt to get one up on him, but his constant unflappable nature usually causes his foes to take a step to far and wind up all but defeating themselves.

Now being able to read the words, the books do take on another dimension. The skill of the comedy writing (as well as that of the translation) gives an added layer of depth and durability to these stories. As with his more famous creation, many subtle satires and parodies fill the pages. It does exactly what the very best child friendly books do; provide a charming and funny slapstick adventure for younger readers while giving a little bit of something for adults to have a knowing chuckle at.

It’s a delight to me that I’m able to read these once again and both enjoy that warm glow of reminiscence as I flick through the pages, but also to discover essentially a new set of stories written by one of the masters of the form. Although this piece is titled “The Daltons Escape” frankly the themes in this book run through all of them. I recommend this edition, but then I recommend them all. Do your inner child a favour and dive in to Luke’s world; I suspect you won’t be disappointed.