TANGUY AND LAVERDURE : THE AERONAUTS
When Steve was trying to sort out last month where 'The Flying Furies' strip from Lion originated from, readers were able to tell him that the strip was a renamed version of a 'Tanguy et Laverdure' strip from France and that the only other directly translated English language stories were in an annual called The Aeronauts. Having found The Aeronauts Annual at the Christian Aid Book Sale in Edinburgh, here is a little more information on this long running French strip and its British reprint.
The characters of the two French Air Force pilots Captain Michel Tanguy and Lieutenant Ernest Laverdure were created in 1961 by writer Jean-Michel Charlier and artist Albert Uderzo, better known in the UK for his Asterix books, and they appeared in the comic magazine Pilote, which was also the home of Asterix. The stories were reprinted in bandes dessinees albums, the same type of books that Asterix and Tintin stories are printed in both on the Continent and in the UK. Tanguy is very much the hero of the piece with Laverdure being the comedic sidekick, a Captain Haddock to Tanguy's Tintin if you like, but despite this the stories are contemporary adventure stories with a aviation flavour. The characters were popular and the series continued for many years in Pilote and as albums, with the artist changing by the ninth album to Joseph Gillain who was known as Jije. The series continues today with Jean-Claude Laidin writing modern stories for different artists, with the characters now flying Mirage 2000 jets rather than the Mirage III jets of the original stories.
Their popularity lead to a television series featuring them being made in France in 1967 with the full cooperation of the French Air Force and was called Les Chevaliers Du Ciel (which translates as Knights of the Sky). This series was bought by the BBC in the early 1970s and broadcast dubbed as The Aeronauts. World Distributors bought the rights to publish an annual of the series and so in 1972 two stories were translated into English by Charles A Pemberton and published in hardback as The Aeronauts Annual 1973. The original stories were two separate 1969 albums, the eleventh and twelfth, entitled Destination Pacifique and Menace Sur Mururoa and were really one long story split in two (similar to the Tintin lunar rocket story being split into Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon). The cover of the Destination Pacifique album by Yves Thos was used for the annual cover.
Set in French Polynesia, the French Air Force are preparing to test detonate a new form of nuclear bomb. A shadowy group of Japanese, lead by a character known only as The Shotgun, make plans to capture and detonate the bomb at a time and place of their choosing in an attempt to discredit the French Government and its policies in the Pacific region. The story takes twists and turns as the Japanese first try to photograph the French base from the air and then, with the help of the fiancée of a former French pilot, bug Tanguy with a location transmitter to determine the exact silo the bomb is in before attempting to invade the base and steal it. Here we have a story which touches on the politics of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the test detonations of the warheads in the Pacific. It rattles along at quite a pace and of course, despite the nuclear mushroom cloud on the cover of the Menace Sur Mururoa book and the deaths of several of their friends and allies, our heroes survive to fly another day.
The original albums are listed on Amazon.fr which is where the cover illustrations came from. The Aeronauts annual is not that uncommon on eBay or ABE so, if you come across a copy, it is worth a look. What a pity that it is the only proper English publication of the Tanguy and Laverdure stories and that it seems totally unknown to their French language fan sites and Wikipedia entry.Update: I've subsequently found a good site for information on author Jean-Michel Charlier which includes a section on the TV show.