This collection of Billy and Buddy comic strips continues the same light-hearted fun of earlier collections. Billy and his dog Buddy, or Boule and Bill in the original French, were originally created by Roba in 1959 to be an all-ages comic strip, similar to Peanuts. Artistic responsibility was passed on to Roba’s assistant, Laurent Verron, in 2003. This collection was originally copyrighted in 2008, but it’s not possible to tell who the actual creator is without having the original French version to compare. This is the fourth collection in English, but the fourteenth in the original language, so it’s likely that although Verron is not credited, he is the actual creator.
Each page tells a self-contained story in 6-10 panels. There is a brief title at the beginning, such as “Slippery Business,” then a fast-paced story usually including slapstick humor. In this case, Buddy chases a cat out the door and slides completely around the block on the ice, banging into the cat on his way back and landing on the doorstep, battered but weakly triumphant. Most of the stories in this collection are set in the winter and generally show Buddy and Billy landing in hot water: they try to help a sobbing girl whose lost her balloon and get blamed themselves, Buddy is unjustly accused of fleas, Billy annoys Buddy with a model airplane, Buddy battles a trash collector for a bone, Billy’s dad introduces him to microscopic snow crystals, etc.
The art has a classic comic strip style. The characters have exaggerated expressions that go well with the slapstick humor and the emphasis is on the action and the dialogue. There is detail in the backgrounds, but it looks quickly sketched in. It’s not until you look closely that you see the detailed definition of leaves, animals, crowd scenes, and more, showing a neat, skilled style that doesn’t detract from the light character of the panels as a whole. The font is clearer than many I’ve seen in Cinebook reprints and could be easily read even by younger and less skilled readers.
This series continues the general atmosphere of the 1960s when it was first conceived. There is a story featuring the hapless Buddy as the “Indian scout” to the boys’ cavalry, helping them chase a “band of Apache riders” (they find a group of traditionally dressed fox hunters instead). A band of stereotypically dressed Arabs turns out to be part of a movie set and readers may be confused by a long-haired hippie trying to hitchhike. Billy’s family conforms to a typical suburban model, with the mother, complete with pearl earrings and apron, sticking to the kitchen, and his father mostly pictured as reading the paper or trying to cope with the unusual accidents Billy and Buddy land in. A couple of the stories appear to have lost their punchlines in translation, although you can mostly figure out the general idea from the art.
These are generally inoffensive and kids will enjoy the funny stories even if they do miss out on the context of some of them. But the main audience for these old-fashioned comic strips will be collectors. The average library will get better circulation out of well-known classics like Asterix, Tintin, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, etc.
Billy and Buddy: It’s a Dog’s Life, vol. 4
by Jean Roba
Publisher Age Rating:8-17