Monday, July 04, 2011

Comics Trappers and American Revolutionary War

Long before Mel Gibson starred in the Patriot, comics readers from southern Europe learned to hate the despicable redcoats and root for the noble American revolutionaries. This upsurge of sympathy for the American independence was fueled by two comics-book series originated in Italy: The Great Blek and Commander Mark.

Both series depict guerrilla struggle against the British in terms very similar to the resistance movements against the Axis occupations of World War II, which made them instantly recognizable and appropriate for the kids in Italy, France, former Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey - their main markets. The comics expound the values of patriotism and personal heroism, which presumably resonated with nation-building efforts of the goverments of these countries during the second half of XX century. 

Iconic exchange between Blek and a redcoat:
"But, you are rebels!" - "No! We are patriots!"

It is highly probable that most Americans have no clue of the debt of gratitude they "owe" to a couple of trappers wearing fur hats with raccoon tails, and their quirky bands of companions. However, most of [male] former Yugoslavs growing up in the sixties, seventies and eighties know that:
  • The Great Blek or Blek the Rock (pronounced the same as Black, but presumably meaning golden hair in some native American dialect) - a tall, blond giant of a man used his fists and cunning, aided by Professor Occultis (who looks like proudly-overweight Ben Franklin from Ben and Me) and the kid Roddy. They cooperated with the Boston lawyer Connelly, who acted as liaison relaying messages from the resistance HQ.  
  • Commander Mark was more sophisticated in a swashbuckling sort of way - tall, dark, dashing - his main weapon was a rapier, and as sidekicks he had Mr. Bluff - a bald, bearded former pirate, Sorrowful Owl - native American chief-at-large (reminiscent of status of Chingachgook)  and grand-grand-son of medicine man, and Bluff's flea-infested dog Flock. Unlike Blek, Mark also had a fiancée, the lovely and blond Betty who tended to their home base - a fort on Lake Ontario. 
While most of the episodes of both series tended to follow familiar "Western" adventure patterns and had little connection to historical events of the American Revolution, occasionally a historical figure would pop-up, including General Washington.

Both comics were initiated by the comics author trio EsseGesse, who completed the whole Mark series (1966-1990), while Blek (from 1954) was turned into franchise and had numerous authors of various quality, often poor. During the eighties there was even a Yu-Blek series drawn and inked by local artists (mainly from Novi Sad and Belgrade), which besides comics spawned a sticker album.

Numerous ex-Yugoslav websites offer scanned versions of these comics, and in recent years Croatian and Serbian publishers have issued new paperback versions, sometimes with compilations of episodes.  The best Wikipedia articles about these comis are in Serbian (Veliki Blek) and Croatian (Komandant Mark).

If you feel like celebrating the Fourth of July in a cinematic sort of way, I would not recommend the jingoistic Mel Gibson interpretation from 2000, but Revolution with Al Pacino, "a film about a New York fur trapper during the American Revolutionary War" made in 1985.

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