Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, former RAF pilot, former British spy, current Scout leader and not a grumpy person, as he would rather grumpily tell you, first appeared in the Begian edition of Tintin magazine in 1959 with the same story appearing in the French edition of Tintin in 1960.
Created by Raymond Macherot, Clifton appeared in three stories in Tintin before Macherot jumped ship to Spirou magazine, leaving the Colonel behind in obscurity for the rest on the 1960s. The character was revived at the end of the Sixties and was written by Bob de Groot and illustrated by Philippe Liégeois (Turk) during the 1970s and the early 80s before Bernard Dumont (Bedu) took over first the art and then also the writing chores. The Bedu Cliftons ended in 1995 and the it would be 2003 before de Groot returned to the character with artist Michel Rodrigue. The first of these new Cliftons was entitled Jade.
Colonel Clifton lives in retirement from his life as a spy for Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the town of Puddington where he is the local scout master. Based on map coordinates which were mysteriously left in his post, Clifton changes the location of his Scout troop’s camp from Wales to Devon so that he can investigate. There, he is contacted by his old enemy Otto Kartoffeln while they are both unknowingly being watched by the British secret agent Jade. Kartoffeln’s men attempt to kill Clifton but Jade rescues him on her motorbike. Leaving the scouts in Devon, the two travel to Scotland on the trail of Nazi gold in a sunken World War II U-boat.
With his open top 1950s MG sports car and WWII vintage CMP lorry, both lovingly detailed in Rodrigue’s artwork, as well as his blond handlebar moustache, Clifton certain cuts an unusual figure – but then, this is Britain as the Europeans see us. de Groot has fun with our place names with the sleepy hamlet of Snooze-On-Pillow in ‘Devonshire’ while Scotland provides the setting for the village of Haggish and the town of Hapyness, no doubt somewhere along the River Ness if not near Loch Ness itself. Mind you it is not just British place names. Clifton’s German enemy Otto Kartoffeln’s surname is German for potatoes and Kartoffeln is a nickname used by Italians to refer to Germans much in the same way that the British would use the word Kraut (as in sauerkraut).
For all that it is mainly aimed at children this is a pretty violent tale. Clifton is shot at with guns, and even a rocket propelled grenade, hence the cover illustration, is almost blown up by a bomb and comes off worst in hand to hand combat with Jade herself. Yet it is all told at such a breathless pace that there is no time to dwell on just now many times Clifton is almost killed. This is very much a James Bond story for children with guns, explosions, different locations, different vehicles and a boo-hiss villain. It even finishes in a scene that is reminiscent of the final scenes of the Bond film Die Another Day that was out just before the book was published.
With de Groot’s script being both fun and action packed and Rodrigue’s art being as humorous or as accurate as the panel requires, Jade is a Clifton book that sits comfortably between the needs of children to have an exciting story and adults to have something a little more knowing. It certainly makes me want to read the other de Groot and Rodrigue Clifton book published by Cinebook, Black Moon.
• There are more details of all the English language Clifton books at the Cinebook website
Considering how much of Jade is set in Scotland it seems very appropriate that Clifton artist Michel Rodrigue will be giving a free talk entitled “Drawing For Comics” at Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge in Edinburgh on Saturday 6 February 2010 and will also be appearing at the Hi-Ex comics convention in Inverness on 27 and 28 March 2010.