Euro Reviews: ‘Lucky Luke – A Cowboy In High Cotton’ Tackles Racism, But How Well?

by Richard Bruton

The latest in the Cinebook Lucky Luke reprints brings us right up to date with this Jul and Achdé volume published in Europe earlier in 2020. Inside… well, it’s Lucky Luke, but there’s a little bit more depth to this one as Luke’s about to discover that the South can be far more dangerous, far more wild than the West…


Like it says right there on the cover, this is the team of Jul and Achdé working in the style of the great Morris, creator and original arist of the cowboy who shoots faster than his own shadow. And it’s very much in the artistic style of Morris and the narrative style of the best of Lucky Luke, those volumes by Goscinny and Morris.

It’s not full of the cleverly constructed farce and great gags of the best of the Goscinny and Morris Lucky Luke volumes, but it could never really do that, not when it’s attempting to address something very important, the racism and discrimination faced by recently freed Black slaves in the South. And of course, it goes more serious than much of the Lucky Luke volumes we’ve seen thus far from Cinebook.

However, it’s an important subject and one that is long overdue discussion even in something as lightweight as Lucky Luke. Unavoidably I suppose there’s the slight sense of “white saviour complex” here with Luke getting to be the hero in a black historical story, but that’s at least mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of Bass Reeves, a real-life character, the first black deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River – indeed, it’s a shocking fact that there’s been a massive whitewashing of history when it comes to cowboys and the old West, as at least a quarter of all cowboys were black.

Reeves is in town to take those pesky Dalton brothers back to jail (yes, again – it’s their lot in life), bumping into Luke on a rare vacation.

But, as you’d expect, Luke’s holiday time is short-lived, interrupted by the news that a very rich and very Luke obsessed widow has bequeathed him a 250-acre cotton plantation in Louisiana.

Bass Reeves’ words of warning prove absolutely correct, Luke’s life is about to turn upside down…

Suddenly, Luke becomes a rich landowner, welcomed by his equally rich white neighbours, but treated with trepidation and fear from his employees.

From here, it all progresses as you’d expect, with Luke being every bit the hero he’s always been, albeit this time his heroism is more to do with treating his employees with respect and consideration, eventually turning over the land to the workers, rather than having to round up the bad guys.

It was always going to be a slightly difficult subject to cover, the issue of slavery looming large as Luke heads down south to the cotton fields and his new role.

But I do think it’s still important to at least give Jul credit for attempting to tackle something this important and managing to handle it relatively well.

As I say, it’s a valiant attempt to give some social relevance to Lucky Luke, and it’s a valiant attempt that’s executed very well. Jul certainly appears to have an understanding of just what makes a good Lucky Luke tale work and weaves in enough classic Luke moments to give the readers a sense of comfortable familiarity.

And, in finally dealing with the racism, the social division, and the hideous spectre of slavery, Jul needs to be applauded for addressing an essential yet all too often overlooked aspect of cowboy tales.

As for the artwork of Achdé, all you really need to do is look at the few examples I’ve included here to see just how well he’s working in the style of Morris. As with MorrisLucky Luke volumes, there’s a real benefit to seeing these in digital, allowing you to blow up Achdé‘s images, all the better to appreciate the wonderful linework and choreography involved.

It’s a book full of the sorts of beautiful imagery you see above in that great blow-up of Luke and Reeves. Achdé’s artwork really does capture the essence of Morris at his best, giving us a combination of some wonderfully crafted artwork and cartoon caricature.

Although here, of course, we also have to address one possible issue with the book as well, the caricaturing of the black plantation employees…

It’s a very fine line to walk, Achdé‘s art naturally lends itself, as have all Lucky Luke artists, to bold and broad caricature. But, in the past, some of that caricature has, unfortunately, gone too far in racial depictions.

Here, I think Achdé has done a sympathetic caricature, something that’s a necessary part of the artistic style of all the characters here, from Luke down. And it’s also worth comparing the caricatures of the rich, white owners, who come off much worse, painted as vain, venal, ignorant, and in-bred…

It’s shocking in many ways that Lucky Luke has never dealt with these issues before, but it’s good to see that Jul and Achdé have managed to show us something with at least some aspects of historical accuracy (it is, after all, just a funny comic book) as well as a storyline that approaches issues that should be addressed and should be highlighted.

Both writer and artist have really managed to give us something that remains enjoyably true to the original spirit of Morris, and narratively close to the Goscinny and Morris volumes, albeit with less gaggery. To do that and manage to address at least some of the issues of the racist division of this era America is a fine thing indeed.

Lucky Luke Volume 77: A Cowboy In High Cotton – written by Jul, artwork by Achdé, colours by Mel Acryl’ink, translation by Jerome Saincantin, published 2020 by Cinebook.

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