Reviews: Les Tuniques Bleues

The Civil War in all its glorious mundanity

Les Tuniques Bleues would be described by Sergeant Chesterfield as the army's gallant deeds in the line of duty, by Corporal Blutch as their narrow escapes as they are pushed around by apathetic officers, but what I notice is that these comics about war are consistently engaging despite featuring little fighting.

One thing they do right is the cast: static but colourful and contrasting, centering on Chesterfield's patriotism and Blutch's shirking, without falling into one-dimensional caricatures (except for Captain Stark, who is more a battlecry on horseback). My favourite is the unnamed officer on the rocking chair who cuts through the general staff's idea of what the army should be with how it is.

The action can be good, with splash panels of charges and barrages, but usually takes up only a page or two at a time. Most of the focus is on privates against officers, military against civilians, soldier against soldier under the stress of war. This is kept lively by their creative ways of getting out of trouble. And the many ways the army institutions get them into trouble.

On the historical side, there are various references but they can be rather misleading in the broader trends. It's not only the contrivances that bring our heroes to every theater of the war, including the English channel, and back. Cavalry is always shown charging at massed infantry, a tactic that died in the Crimean War.

Then there's the context, and causes, of the war. The War Is Hell approach is fine, but sometimes the Union officers feel like strawmen who can only give platitudes about duty and patriotism. It is hardly ever mentioned how the North was indignant about four million slaves being held in a free republic. Indeed, black faces are weirdly absent (Native Americans get fairer treatment). And despite the half-page panels of devastation after each battle, named characters hardly ever die.

Overrall, these albums should not be taken too seriously. And the tone acknowledges that. They mix drama and comedy well, finding a place between slapstick such as Asterix and hard historical reconstructions. The art style fits well, with realistic colours, stylised faces and slightly cartoonish movement. Part western, part war drama, part barracks-room sitcom, the series rarely makes me laugh out loud but is always pleasant to read and somewhat memorable.