Troy D. Smith
This time we're putting the Western Comics Focus on a character -one of the best in the history of Western comics, BLUEBERRY.
Some of you have heard of him, most probably have not. That's because Blueberry -created by Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier and French artist Jean Giraud, who is best known in the U.S. by his pseudonym Moebius -was a European phenomenon. The character first appeared in an October, 1963 issue of the French comics magazine Pilote. By the late '60s the strip was a huge hit in France and Belgium, and a prequel strip about the character's younger years appeared. English translations have appeared in the U.S. throughout the years, largely due to Moebius' growing international reputation, but sadly I don't know of any that are in print right now. Used copies can be found at online booksellers -but they usually ain't cheap. True connoisseurs (how French!) of comics art snatch 'em up.
"Blueberry" is the pseudonym of Mike Donovan, son of a Louisiana plantation owner. Falsely accused of murder, he picks a name at random after seeing a blueberry bush and becomes Mike Blueberry. Charlier had an American friend who loved blueberry jam, whom the Belgian nicknamed after the fruit, and he decided to use the name in his western character- who was a minor supporting character in the first story arc, and was not expected to become the hero, or else the author claimed he would have chosen a more heroic name. I've always suspected, though, that the process of Donovan choosing his new name was inspired by the Akira Kurasawa film Yojimbo, which was very popular at the time; in it, the ronin played by Toshiro Mifune, when asked his name, looks into a field and sees a mulberry bush, then announces his name is Kuwabatake Sanjuro, which means Mulberry Bush, Thirty-Years-Old.
Blueberry, though a Southerner, fights for the Union during the Civil War and serves in the cavalry afterwards as a lieutenant. After years of cavalry adventures, he leaves the army and becomes a lawman. Jean Giraud/Moebius took over both writing and art duties after the death of Charlier in 1989, and continued to occasionally produce new stories until his own death in 2012.
Blueberry made it to the big screen in 2004- kind of. The French-produced film was called Blueberry everywhere in the world except the U.S., where it was renamed Renegade because almost no Americans knew who the heck "Blueberry" was. I did not find Vincent Cassel very convincing as Mike Donovan (they didn't even use the Blueberry nickname in the American version), but the rest of the cast was very promising: Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis, Djimon Hounsou, Geoffrey Lewis, Colm Meaney, Eddie Izzard, and -and this was a real treat -Ernest Borgnine. Unfortunately -much like the movie version of Jonah Hex a few years later -the producers tinkered with the concept so much they stripped away everything that made the comic work, and the result was very disappointing. Either Jonah Hex or Mike Blueberry would make great big-screen western heroes if they were presented as straight old-fashioned hardboiled, gritty characters, but for some reason producers saw fit to burden both with supernatural psychodelia.
Be that as it may. Blueberry is one of the best. Vive le roi.