By Tome & Janry
I may have mentioned this before (apologies if I have) but I taught a cartoon course a couple of years ago aimed at adults, and one of the attendees was a student over from Portugal. He implored me to check out Spirou and Fantasio which, for him, was the greatest cartoon book in the market, but, alas, there simply wasn't an English translation available. That's all changed now, and we're already up to the third of Cinebook's volumes.
Spirou and Fantasio sits, artistically and narratively, somewhere between the fluid detail of Asterix and the adventure of Tintin, but it certainly has a voice very much of its own. Spirou himself is a reporter with a taste for adventure, and goes everywhere with his best friend Fantasio and a pet squirrel called Pip.
The heroes want to take an expedition to the border of Nepal to investigate the disappearance of two explorers who may or may not have stumbled upon a hidden valley thought to be the place a Mongol horde were banished to. However, they don't have the money to undertake it until they meet a scientist named Dr Placebo who is willing to fund it on the condition they take some of his apparently incurable patients suffering from the hiccups. The idea is that the scrapes Spirou and Fantasio get in will be enough to scare the hiccups out of them.
Reluctantly Spirou and Fantasio agree and head off into an area now dominated by a war between the army and rebels, where any incursion by westerners is considered an act of espionage, and it isn't long before they come to the attention of the military powers there.
This is an impressive mix of globe-trotting adventure, fantastic art and witty story, making it an engrossing and entertaining read from cover to cover. What's more, this is just the first part, so we get to look forward to a frantic conclusion in the coming months.
Unlike my Portuguese student, I don't think this is the greatest cartoon book out there (each to his own after all) but it's certainly in the premier league.
One reason you don't rank this as the top cartoony comic out there might be that this adventure isn't drawn by Franquin, the absolute master of the series, but by one of the teams that succeeded/imitated him, Tome & Janry.
They're probably the best of his successors, with an action- and gag-filled style of their own (and this is one of their best books), but the reputation of the series rests almost entirely on Franquin's genius.