Jean Giraud, one of the major figures in comics history, is still alive and kicking. Neither he nor his alias Moebius seem particularly marked by age. As a matter of fact, it seems his output has never been bigger. Most notable, probably, is his series of self-indulgent improvisations, Inside Moebius, of which five volumes have been published so far, and then there is his virtuosic — and energetic — return to Major Grubert in Chasseur Déprime (selected by Matthias Wivel, Henry Sørensen and myself amongst the comics of the year 2008).

But while Moebius after an extended period of creative insolvency (who would not rather forget the exploitation piece Le Nouveau rêve of 2001?) has only recently caught his second — or third, or fourth? — wind, Jean Giraud has never experienced this kind of crisis. The classic western series Blueberry continued at full steam after the death of its writer and co-creator, Jean-Michel Charlier, in 1989. Giraud’s five-part cycle ‘Mr. Blueberry’ (which features two of the greatest legend of the Wild West, Geronimo and Wyatt Earp; read more here and here) was an exhilarating read, from start to finish, not the least because Giraud managed to integrate into the series his particular artistic sensibility while remaining loyal to the Blueberry universe (and at the same time, he mustered the opportunistic energy to draw an album in Jean van Hammes popular but ordinary Robert Ludlum pastiche XIII).

I am unaware of the future plans for Lieutenant Blueberry, but the latest album in the series ties together the earliest and most recent chapters and if nothing else conveys a sense of full circle on the part of its author. Apaches collects and expands the flashbacks that were featured all along the main narrative of Blueberry vols. 24-28 and retold the story of how the young Blueberry met the legendary Indian chief Geronimo.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, a deeply alcoholic but nevertheless noble and daring Blueberry is on the way to serve at Fort Mescalero. In addition to the cavalry, the fort houses an orphanage where Indian children are educated according to Christian precepts. It so happens that one of the children is Geronimo’s son Dust, which naturally causes problems with the neighboring Apaches. Blueberry is cast in opposition to the unsavory Pastor Younger and the two debate expositorily the nuts and bolts of colonialist us-and-them discourse…

The many faces of Pastor Younger …

And let it be said: Apaches is not a great work of comics, but if you are a fan of Blueberry and Giraud/Moebius it is a wonderfully energizing read. Giraud draws in lush detail and with great enthusiasm and once again puts to shame the notion that drawn naturalism is unsuited for comics. The plot is acceptable; although the points Giraud makes that have to do with the reeducation facility and the Indian children are rather heavy-handed, he for example gets a lot of mileage out of the Fort’s lack of firewood. One soon forgives the clumsy voiceover at the beginning and gives in to Giraud’s cheekily subversive tendency to draw the villain of the piece, Pastor Younger, differently each time he appears (although he remains a caricature of Moebius’ old friend Jodorowsky throughout) as more of a fun creative indulgence than a mistake.

Predictably, the story is garnished with quite a lot more Indian shamanism than Charlier would have been comfortable with, and the unsubtle portayal of the Indians as the good guys and the cavalry as the bad guys is just business as usual. Not surprisingly, however, the main attraction is Giraud’s drawings of people, clothes, buildings, landscapes, and so on, as well as his enjoyment of humorous incident and silly facial expressions. It just does not get much better than this.

More than anything, Apaches is generous and enjoyable piece of work, even if the album is not exactly an essential chapter in the saga of Lieutenant Blueberry. More generally, however, it conveys the rare, and rather life-affirming experience of seeing someone vigorous and enthusiastically creative in old age.

Jean Giraud, Apaches, Paris: Dargaud, 2007. This text appears in Danish on my blog and is translated for the Bunker by Matthias Wivel.