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The Bluecoats: Robertsonville Prison

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By: Penny Kenny

Raoul Cauvin
Willy Lambil
Cinebook
Take one impetuous, loud-mouthed, valiant Union sergeant and his laidback, loyal, accident-prone corporal. Toss in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. Add a “three-fourths sadist” camp overseer and a hot-tempered, egotistical camp commandant. Season with a sharp script and clean, detailed art. Stir well. Serves ages eight to eighty with giggles and guffaws.

Though “Robertsonville Prison,” the first volume in Cinebook’s series The Bluecoats was inspired by Georgia’s infamous Andersonville Prison Camp during the American Civil War. However, don’t expect a serious examination of the effects of imprisonment on men during war time here. This is no Guantanamo Bay parable.

Oh you might walk away with a sense of the randomness and stupidity of war, but writer Raoul Cauvin and artist Willy Lambil aren’t preachy about it. Instead they go for the funnybone, crossing The Great Escape with Looney Toons.

Sergeant Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch have something of an Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy dynamic while also being completely unique. Chesterfield is the one who comes up with the escape plans. Blutch, on the other hand, prefers to just ride things out. He takes an attitude of “you wait and see, they’ll let us out eventually.”

However, Blutch’s loyalty to Chesterfield is unwavering, so he ends up digging tunnels, hiding in wagons, dressing as a woman, stealing Confederate uniforms, and suffering the consequences. He’s like Bugs Bunny in that he doesn’t instigate the action, but when provoked . . . well, “This means war” takes on the literal meaning here.

On the Confederate side there’s Cockroach, the camp overseer, who’d like nothing more than to put Chesterfield and Blutch out of his misery once and for all. However, his lieutenant wants the Union duo to lick his boots first. Putting these four strong-willed characters together makes for some wonderful comic dynamics.

Lambil works in a deceptively simple-looking style. At first glance it would seem like anyone could draw these wide-eyed, big-nosed characters. Yet, closer examination reveals that there’s more detail and weight to the drawings than you’d think.

The backgrounds are highly finished, and some panels (the battle scenes, in particular) can have up to fifty ancillary characters--all in motion. Because Lambil enjoys sight gags and gives each of his characters unique expressions, readers can spend a great deal of time examining just one panel. Like Don Rosa’s Uncle Scrooge tales, Robertsonville Prison sports a style that invites leisurely reading.

The Bluecoats series has sold over fifteen million copies in Europe. Here’s hoping Cinebook’s translation of this comic from Belgium finds a similar audience in the United States.



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