BD: Slavery Gives Lucky Luke the Blues

For the first time, the famous cowboy discovers the sad condition of blacks by inheriting a plantation. Screenwriter Jul signs an album that is at the same time poignant, serious and funny. Interview.

The arrival of comic book author Jul to the screenplay for Lucky Luke’s albums has breathed new life into the series. The creator of “Silex and the City” and “50 nuances de Grecs” is daring. He dares to talk about the immigration of Jews to the United States in his first album (still drawn by Achdé since Morris’ death), “The Promised Land”. He dares to take Lucky Luke out of the United States to take him straight to France in “Un cow-boy à Paris”. And, in this new volume. “A cowboy in the cotton”, he dares to address the condition of blacks in the country of Uncle Sam … and Uncle Tom.

Lucky Luke learns that he has just inherited a cotton plantation in Louisiana. If the Civil War is over and slavery officially abolished, the cowboy will discover, by going there, that racism and segregation have not disappeared at all. And that will annoy him as we have rarely seen him be.

Jul, how do you approach writing a screenplay for Lucky Luke?

I absolutely want to go back to the era of albums written by René Goscinny, in which there are several levels of reading. It’s great, because you can reread them at different ages and always discover something new in them. The idea at the time was to entertain the reader while teaching him something. My main concern is therefore to live up to the perfection attained by Morris and Goscinny.

Not that much because I started reading comics (even before knowing how to read) with Asterix and Lucky Luke. I had a commercial uncle who brought me back the promotional albums offered at gas stations. So I have this Goscinny grammar completely in mind. I completely metabolized it. Fate dictated that I was first among the last two screenwriters approached to take over the writing of Asterix, but it was ultimately Jean-Yves Ferri who was selected. Then I was offered Lucky Luke, because the last writers of the series did not come from the world of comics and the publisher wanted to change that.

How was this new album born?

I was looking for states that Lucky Luke didn’t go to. There was in particular Louisiana, where he made only a brief passage in “Going up the Mississippi”. With Achdé, we pulled the thread and that gave this mythical South of the large plantations of “Gone with the Wind”, by Tom Sawyer, but also blacks and slavery. I was ready to invent a character that could serve as a guide for Lucky Luke in this universe he knew nothing about when Achdé discovered in his documentation Bass Reeves, the first black deputy marshal. A forgotten hero, part of a past that has since been totally whitewashed by Hollywood.

“A cowboy in cotton”, by Achdé and Jul after Morris, ed. Lucky Comics, 48 ​​pages, released October 23.

How do you deal with racial segregation in a “Lucky Luke”?

It had to be made into an action album while talking about slavery. No question of visually showing the inhuman treatment reserved for blacks, but we can evoke them. There is a particular gravity in this album whose usual canvas is completely upset. Lucky Luke isn’t just a cowboy who comes in, solves a problem, and walks away. This time, he is directly concerned and finds himself in a mess with this plantation on the arms and the hostility of neighboring planters. There are even other people who will have to come to his aid including … the Dalton.

Is their presence in a Lucky Luke album essential?

No. Besides, I had used them little until now, but they are great repertoire characters, like Rantanplan. I haven’t picked him up yet, but he should play an important role in the next one. And just like him, the Daltons are the comic spring of an adventure. Here, they are the ones who bring the touch of comedy: they believe that the Cajuns are Mexicans and the Ku Klux Klan an Indian tribe. Plus, they allow me to show that white planters are meaner than them.

The album coincides with the Black Lives Matter movement, the statues of slavers debunked, “Gone with the Wind” put into context… How then to avoid any accusation of racism, in particular of blackface on the graphic representation of the characters?

This was obviously at the heart of our concerns straight away. We can’t make an album today on this subject without thinking about it. Morris’s drawing has always exaggerated the features of all the characters, whites like Chinese, Mexicans or Indians. However, he drew very few blacks, except in “Going up the Mississippi” and already there it was problematic since the album is banned in the United States precisely because of their representation. With Achdé, we solved the problem by creating black characters who each had their own personality and a physique that matched it. And we looked for pictures of slaves and their descendants and actually did our casting that way.

And, unlike the other two albums, you make fewer allusions and nods to real characters.

Yes, Achdé wanted for example to give the face of Forest Whitaker or Morgan Freeman to characters, but I found that it was not necessary. Yes, there are some references, to the speech of Martin Luther King, to Angela Davis or to Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, but needless to add, the subject is quite strong in itself.

In Lucky Luke’s next album (when is it by anyway), will blacks be more present since you discovered while working on this scenario that even among cowboys, they were numerous?

Without a doubt. No reason not to represent them, as the cinema has avoided doing for years. And the next book will be out in two years. There is a sort of gentleman’s agreement between the two big sales of comics: an Asterix album in odd years, one by Lucky Luke in even years.

Take part in our contest and try to win one of the 10 albums in the game.

You can also watch and listen to cartoonist Achdé talk about his work on a board for this new album.

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