André Franquin‘s Marsupilami was one of the most successful, most recognisable Euro comics characters of all time. Here, in a comics world post-Franquin, the strength of both his frequent collaborators and one of his most famous creations comes through in a magnificent and wonderful comedic farce.
You may know of the Marsupilami, you may not, but Franquin’s creation, this strange-looking yellow and black thingy with that ridiculously long prehensile tail has sold a staggering three million-plus volumes over the years, as well as contributing enormously to sales of Spirou & Fantasio, making it one of the most popular of Euro characters.
Franquin created the Marsupilami (the name applies both to the character and the species) in 1952 and his funny-looking creation would go on to feature in his version of the Spiro & Fantasio series for many years until Franquin left the series in 1969, taking the rights to the Marsupilami, who would eventually go on to star in this series, beginning in 1987 and continuing past Franquin’s death in 1997. (For one of Franquin’s Spirou & Fantasio tales – The Marsupilami’s Nest, see this review here.)
Over the years, Franquin gained several collaborators for his work, including Batem, his chosen artistic successor. And he chose very well, as this volume of Marsupilami with Yann writing and Batem on art is a magnificent and wonderfully silly farce well worthy of Franquin’s name and legacy.
This Marsupilami, different to the one with Spirou and Fantasio, lives with his jungle orphan buddies in the jungles of Palombia, where he receives a message (via a very chatty parrot) from an elderly Marsupilami living out his final days in the zoo in Chiquito, the capital of Palombia. This elder Marsu wants to die living free, in the legendary Marsupilami graveyard.
So, there’s the throughline of the story, a quest of sorts. But to be honest, all that serves to do is get us into Chiquito, just so the grande farce can begin.
And it does, right from the moments that we see the crowds and the government lackeys made to dress up like the Marsu plushies the ridiculous Prince loves so much…
Oh yes, the events in the capital brings you all the farce and absurdist comedy – we have the government guards in Marsu suits, the ridiculous Prince is a blubbering wreck with a phobia of smells, the butler cursed to look after the Prince, the propaganda minister with his own agenda, and a populous where revolution is not so much a regular occurrence as a national sport.
It’s all quite perfectly constructed, layering farcical, absurd situations and events upon even more ridiculous and farcical situations, all using great comedy dialogue, all done with gloriously stylish and expressive art.
And Yann and Batem obviously delight in throwing layer upon layer of wonderfully ridiculous situations at us once we’re in Chiquito, with the Marsupilami’s quest to get to the elder Marsu simply a means to draw out more and more silliness and add more farce.
And of course, it’s all on TV, which leads to one of the best gags in the entire album (and there’s plenty of gags all the way through)…
‘Ramon… what are you doing?’
‘Well… I’m shooting at the Presidential palce… just a little! …
The gringo from TV gave me 40 dollars to do it…’
After all of this, we get a comical mix up with cages at the zoo, everyone getting thrown into jail, Marsupilami driving a tank, and so much more, the gags, the silliness, all of it building up and up to a glorious crescendo of chaos in the city before we get to a clever little ending in the jungle again to look for the fabled Marsupilami graveyard.
The Marsupilami’s tale here is just a simple little story, but that’s not the point of the book at all. The point of Baby Prinz that cares far more about delivering its gags than telling a huge, important tale. And Yann and Batem definitely succeed in doing everything they possibly can to live up to the legacy of Franquin here.
Marsupilami Volume 5 – Baby Prinz – Script by Yann, artwork by Batem, ‘directed by’ Franquin, colours by Cerise, translation by Jerome Saincantin. Published by Cinebook, 2020. Originally published in 1990 by Dupuis.