Everyone’s heard of Asterix, and most likely Tintin, but for most people that’s a far as it goes when it comes to knowledge on Franco-Belgian comics. It seems strange that Lucky Luke has somehow slipped under the radar in English speaking territories. It enjoys phenomenal success around the rest of the world, pulling in the kinds of sales figures that only the top manga artists could hope to measure up against (how does 300 million sound?), and while there have been sporadic attempts over the years to get Lucky Luke printed in English it’s only relatively recently that Cinebook have made some real headway into the 75+ volume catalogue.
For those new to the character, Lucky Luke is ‘The man who shoots faster than his own shadow’. A quick-draw deadeye of a cowboy who can easily outshoot anyone, he travels on his trusty steed, Jolly Jumper, and travels from place to place righting the wrongs of thieves, bandits and anyone else up to no good.
‘Billy the Kid’ is originally the 20th Lucky Luke album from 1962, skipping the comic’s formative years and heading right into the classic stuff from when creator Morris was collaborating with René Goscinny (a name that might ring bells as the writer of Asterix). Lucky Luke comics are stand-alone affairs however so any concerns about losing the chronology aren’t necessary. As for the plot Billy the Kid has his entire home town cowering in fear at his gunmanship. Everyone is too intimidated to press charges against him and he can essentially do as he likes and enforce his own sensibilities on the people. The arrival of Lucky Luke in town upsets the balance as he doesn’t bow to Kid’s intimidation, and will plainly scold the misbehaviour like the child he is.
Events unfold and escalate as the gap between Luke and The Kid widens, but the tone is ever light and it’s pretty clear no one’s really going to get hurt. Instead of escalations in aggression, it’s creativity and clever mind games that win the day. Light entertainment in hand with friendly artwork equals a work that virtually anyone could read and enjoy. Its decades of success aren’t unjustified, and if Lucky Luke had been available to me as a child I’d definitely already have a bunch of them. I’ve got some catching up to do…