Eagle 1964: A Mystery Half-Solved?


Some years ago, whilst reviewing the Eagle of 1964, I touched upon the mystery of the short-lived ‘Junior, Reporter’ series, two stories running over 40 issues, one excellent, the other far less so. The series wasn’t credited, though it was clear from just one look that it was a European import.
Not only was ‘Junior, Reporter’ not credited but, most unusually, it did not appear in ‘The Complete Book of Eagle Strips’, which provides comprehensive details of every series and feature to be printed in Eagle between 1950 and 1969. Unless I’m overlooking something, it’s the only Eagle feature to be missed out.
Nor could I find anything about the series on the Internet. A Google Search turned up no reference to ‘Junior, Reporter’ whatsoever. All I could do was go on my own impressions, and these led me to compare the art to the legendary Albert Uderzo, of Asterix fame, only a rather more angular version (exact words: ‘it’s a bit like a more angular Albert Uderzo ‘).
A couple of months ago, for no better reason than impulse, I repeated the Google Search. This time, the answer was absurdly easy to find, and I had my answer. ‘Junior Reporter’ was really ‘Luc Junior’. The artist wasn’t just influenced by Uderzo, it was Uderzo. And the writer was, with wonderful appropriateness, his partner in Asterix, Rene Goscinny.
I knew that Goscinny had teamed up with Uderzo at least once before coming up with their little fighting Gaul, on a Western series known as Oumpah-Pah the Redskin. Oumpah-Pah was a Red Indian in American Revolutionary War times, a proto-Obelix in terms of his size, strength and simplicity, though lacking the big Gaul’s genial lack of perception. I’d even had three or four Oumpah-Pah albums translated into English, slim volumes showing his meeting with eager but inept British Army Officer, Lieutenant Hubert Brussels Sprout.
Oumpah-Pah was interesting mainly in the sense of its status as an Asterix forerunner, and now I had discovered a second series by Goscinny and Uderzo. What’s more, from the article that identified that old Eagle series for me at long last, it was an easy step to discover Luc Junior Integrale via Amazon.fr. And as well as the complete Luc Junior, I also discovered a third pre-Asterix series by Goscinny and Underzo, also available in ‘Integrale’ fashion, Jehan Pistolet, a Pirate.
Thus the mystery was solved, with a pat on the back for my not-always-reliable ability to recognise an artist from his art. I ordered the book as a self-Xmas present, even though it is, naturally, in French, and my French-reading abilities do not go much beyond a Grade 4 O-Level which will be fifty years old this year. And thereby did I discover that only half a mystery has been cleared up, and half a mystery remains.
The first of Eagle‘s two reprints was the first ‘Luc Junior’ story: of course it had to be, the series starts with Luc’s first assignment as a journalist. It starts at the daily newspaper, ‘Le Cri’, whose editor. M. Bonbain is berating his staff because nobody has a story. Office Junior Luc Junior suggests a feature on a Day in the Life of a Press Photographer. M. Bonbain thinks the idea is wonderful and assigns Luc to to follow his top photographer, M. LaPlaque, around all day.
M. LaPlaque is less impressed with the notion and decides to be benignly uncooperative: his big photo is of a window box of begonias. But when developed, the photo captures a safe being cracked in an apartment building across the street.
Eagle took the story, in black and white as opposed to colour. It anglicised the newspaper to the Daily Globe, Luc to Junior (no other name) and LePlaque to Len Lenns (Junior’s big floppy spotted dog, Alphonse, remained Alphonse).
From such beginnings, the serial was reprinted complete, except for the final panel (which included a background cameo of Goscinny and Uderzo that no-one would have picked up on at the time), which was to become the traditional closing image for all seven stories. ‘Luc Junior et le Vole’ (Luc Junior and the Thieves) had run from 7th October 1954 to 3 May1955, nearly a decade before its appearance in English. And before I was on this Earth, too!
The second ‘Junior, Reporter’ story was nothing like as good. Junior and Mr Lenns are assigned to win a competition to be the first to get to Texas spending no more than 6d. First, they travel by raft then, when it sinks, they’re picked up by a millionaire’s yacht on which a rival is serving as drinks waiter, then they’re boarded by pirates and set adrift before hitching a lift off a rapidly melting iceberg that finally gets them there.
It’s a thin story that gets thinner as it goes along, as does the art. Intriguingly, despite the fact I cannot see more than a single page of the first story that I don’t recognise in the French edition, there’s clearly been some serious editing going on. ‘Junior, Reporter’ ran for forty weeks in Eagle, issues 6-45 of Volume 15, whereas Luc Junior et les Voles runs for thirty five weeks alone. And the race to Texas is far more than a mere five episodes.
It’s a mystery. But the real mystery is something else entirely, namely that the second story is not in Luc Junior, Integrale.
So only half the mystery is solved after all. Looking at the art of the Texas story, it’s immediately clear that, although the characters of Junior and Mr Lenns look the same, overall the art is much simpler, lacking backgrounds, especially as the strip goes on. The detail of the first story has vanished, yet Uderzo was always an artist who thrived on detail, and the absence of a realistic world around the characters emphasises that they are cartoons. Perhaps the series was continued after Uderzo (and Goscinny?) moved on, by lesser hands?
Maybe the other half of the mystery lies in the text of the book, in which case I need to educate myself past the standard of a fifty-year old Grade 4 O-Level to discover it.

Postscript

And maybe you just need a bit of perspicacity. A little bit more Googling and an answer presents itself. ‘Luc, Junior’ (later simply ‘Junior’) did not come to an end in October 1957, when Goscinny and Uderzo moved on but was transferred to ‘Greg’, the main pen-name for Michel Regnier, Belgian cartoonist and scripter (who wrote for Franquin’s Modeste et PomPom better know in the UK as ‘Jinx’ in Valiant).
Greg continued ‘Luc, Junior’ until 1965 when the series was finally cancelled, adding another fifteen stories to the seven from Goscinny and Uderzo. I found a list of ‘Luc, Junior’ titles online, with no description of the contents, but one was a 1961-2 story called ‘Junior, Globe-Trotter’, which seemed a definite possibility for the story Eagle turned to next.
And… There’s quite a few pages of Greg’s ‘Luc, Junior’ to be examined online through Google Images, and one of them is the cover for an album collection of ‘Junior, Globe-Trotter’ which I recognised instantly.
So the mystery is solved in it’s entirety, except for need to learn enough French to read Luc, Junior Integrale and fully enjoy the stories that weren’t translated into English for the delight of an eight year old boy with a long memory that stretches all the way back to 1964.

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