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Comics Review: Lucky Luke: The Oklahoma Land Rush by Morris and Gosciny

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René Goscinny, best known outside of his native France for his phenomenally popular 'Asterix' series, is largely responsible for changing prevailing European attitudes to the comic strip medium, upgrading their status from scorned examples of 'low' culture to that of recognised art form with his memorable (if sometimes dubiously stereotyped) characterisation and trademark sophisticated wit. Working with the cream of Franco-Belgian comics artists, such as Albert Uderzo, Jean Tabary and, as in this case, Maurice de Bevere (Morris), Goscinny carved a niche in wacky historical comedy-adventure strips that has seen worldwide sales of his books exceed 50 million, making him one of the most-read French authors in the world.

The Oklahoma Land Rush (Cinebooks) is the 20th 'Lucky Luke' album to be reprinted in English; testament to the enduring appeal of "the man who shoots faster than his own shadow", despite criticisms of racist stereotyping and the perceived promotion of cigarette smoking in the books. As in the other albums in the series, the story centres round real events in the history of the American West, in this case the Oklahoma land run of 1889, Luke being a hired gun brought in to arrest bandits and looters.

With an affectionately irreverent take on the myth of the old West, Goscinny parodies, across the whole of the 'Lucky Luke' canon, the many overblown and self-important figures of America's formative past and, here, it is the settlers themselves who come under fire from the author's good-natured ego-pricking and he ends the story in gleefully revisionist fashion by having them fail, go home and hand back the land to the Native Americans, who subsequently strike oil and make it rich.

Despite his sympathy — indeed, bias — towards the indigenous people of America (to whom he refers as "Indians") Goscinny has been criticised for milking racist stereotypes for cheap laughs. However, this is probably as much to do with the prevailing attitudes and cultural norms of the times in which many of the tales were written (the first was published in 1946) than with Goscinny's own political leanings and these tendencies have been gradually filtered out of the series over the years.

The Oklahoma Land Rush is an amusing and attractive comics album, and a great throwaway read for small kids and big kids alike. It could also be useful in stimulating interesting debate among younger readers around the continual revision of attitudes towards race and stereotyping, and the representation of historical 'fact' in popular culture.

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