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Bob & Bobette: Kingdom of the Sea-Snails. By Willy Vandersteen. Translator unknown. Published for Standaard Uitgeverij (Antwerp) by West Sussex, UK: Ravette Books, 1990. 58p. n.p. ISBN 1-85304-268-4.

Sea-Snails cover

Science fantasy

Kids, younger teens

Bob and Bobette are adventurous kids along the lines of Tintin. They are supported in their adventures by Bobette's Aunt Agatha; Wilbur, the strongest man in the world; and Orville, full of enthusiasm and bad ideas. In this story, they're taking a holiday by the sea. On a cod-fishing expedition, the males reel in a fish playing a flute, which will only play one song: "All Those Who Set Sail Must Grow a Beard." Later, a dense fog overtakes the boat, which is wrecked when a much larger ship, the Melanie, runs into it. Wilbur helps the others get onto the boat, where they find its captain, Cornelius, unconscious over the rudder. When they try to waken him, he attacks them, thinking they have his flute. They subdue him and sail his ship back to port. There, he tells them his story: he's an Icelandic fisherman from 100 years ago. He watched the island on which his family and friends dwelt sink into the sea, courtesy of a hurricane. Now, kept alive by the flute, he searches for them. Touched by his plight, the adventurers pledge their help.

Borrowing a "bathyscaphe" from an inventor friend, they set sail on the Melanie. As the men practice their archery on board [yes, I thought this was strange], Bobette plays with her doll, Molly. A stray gust of wind sends Bob's arrow through Molly, who sinks into the sea. As Bobette collapses in shock [apparently she's extremely attached to this doll], Wilbur dives in after Molly. He sees "something strange" taking the doll away, but after he blows some obscuring sand away, he merely finds the arrow-spitted doll sticking up from a broken sea-snail shell. As the inhabitant of the shell thinks, "Phew! That was a narrow escape!", Wilbur returns to the ship with Molly. After an operation, Molly is better than new and Bobette forgives Bob.

At this point the Melanie hits a [really flat] iceberg, and water begins to pour into the ship. The adventurers switch to the bathyscaphe. One by one they notice the strange sea-snail creatures, armed with slings, under the water. Venturing out in a diving suit, Wilbur manages to trap some of them in a cave. Later, Aunt Agatha goes outside to do her washing [yes, this is really weird]. While wandering around, she sees a cow, chickens, and sheep underwater. Exploring, the party discovers a bubble of air--and Cornelius's family and friends, who have been kept alive all these years. But the reunion is spoiled by the vicious sea-snails, who attack the villagers with poisonous sea anemones. Cornelius's daughter Rosalind is hit while protecting Bobette. Told that Rosalind will die without the antidote, Bobette sneaks out to steal some from the sea-snails.

Bob & Bobette (or Suske & Wiske in the original Flemish) is, from what little I gathered on the Internet--I found exactly two websites in English that mentioned the title--one of the most significant comics titles in Belgium, often mentioned in the same breath as Asterix the Gaul or Tintin. A Belgian tourism website stated that there were more than 250 B&B/S&W albums spanning over 50 years. Yet it has made no splash in the United States whatsoever. I certainly had never heard of it before.

I assume the untranslated volumes, and the older ones, are much better than this one, or the comic wouldn't be such an institution. For this is a really terrible book. The translation is weak in spots, but most of the story's faults don't stem from that. The plot is episodic and barely hangs together. Story elements fall by the wayside (e.g., Cornelius quits playing the flute after they set sail--has he forgotten it keeps him alive?). Characters behave in ways that make no sense (e.g., Why do the villagers leave a pile of deadly poisonous sea urchins in the path right in front of someone's house? Just so Vandersteen could have Wilbur fall on them as a result of Orville's unthinking jealousy). Contradictory information is presented (e.g., when Wilbur swims down to retrieve Bobette's doll, the inhabitant of the broken sea-snail shell is perfectly healthy; but later, when Bobette makes holes in the hostile sea-snails' shells, she tells us that "they're done for"). The characters either act stupid or are just plain bland (except for Wilbur... I kind of like Wilbur). There's a ton of unnecessary business (e.g., when Agatha does her wash under water, the doll surgery, Orville's hat stuck in the oxygen outlet). And there's a healthy helping of indescribable nonsense (e.g., a hurricane "sucked" the fisherman's island into a whirlpool; the existence of the flute suggests someone gave it to Cornelius and kept his people alive, but we never learn why or who).

I'm going to assume the characters were better depicted in earlier books, since I know how bad late-in-the-series books can be as their creators age and run out of ideas and enthusiasm. In this book they're just awful. We've certainly seen these types before. Orville is a direct spiritual ripoff of Tintin's Captain Haddock; Bob and Bobette are Tintin in two bodies (and don't give me any crap about them embodying two sides of Tintin's nature, because the book isn't nearly deep enough to draw that conclusion, and I doubt Tintin had a female side anyway); and Wilbur is a smart Obelix the Gaul with Jughead Jones eyes and nose. Aunt Agatha is merely annoying.

The art is vintage ripoff Tintin with a smattering of Archie, of all things. The main women are drawn like sticks and are completely flat-chested (though the women in the undersea island have normal breasts).

Given that the sea-snails have no legs,
it's not hard to wrap them up.

A moment of danger.

Copyright 1990, Willy Vandersteen

The inside of the back cover lists seven other translated titles. I should think it would be a struggle to obtain them. However, given the general quality of the contents, I think Americans can safely pass. Whatever greatness this series possesses is decidedly not present here.

Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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