Captain Congo – a large, well-spoken gorilla in a double-breasted blazer and a sailor’s cap – is bold, strong and smart – a triple threat for any villain. Pug, his sidekick, is a penguin – sensitive, fussy, and ill-at-ease in the world. Pug, in many ways, is the opposite to Captain Congo and yet they make an inseparable pair. Their crime fighting adventures take them around the globe and occur sometime in the past, perhaps the 1920s judging by the technology, although no historical events are precisely mentioned.
In ‘Captain Congo and the Crocodile King’ the Captain and Pug are called away to Abyssinia (today known as Ethiopia), in search of a missing anthropologist, himself hunting for the legendary lost treasures of the Queen of Sheba. Dangers await Captain Congo and Pug – from scorpions in their bunk beds, to very large, very hungry crocodiles. And what if the missing anthropologist doesn’t really want to be saved? Can Captain Congo and Pug prevail?
The text is tightly scripted throughout with Holfeld’s dynamic and action-oriented illustrations deftly filling in much of the action. Background and exposition are quickly conveyed, leaving room for many jokes, puns and sight gags. These are very funny adventure books. Readers familiar with Herge’s ‘Tintin’ books will immediately recognise the mode of storytelling: a crime fighting pair (think Tintin and Snowy), take on out-sized challenges in exotic and faraway places.
Visually, the Captain Congo books are clearly influenced by Hergé and Tintin. Greg Holfeld’s technique deploys a variation on Hergé’s style, known as the ligne claire or ‘clear line.’ The strong outline defining and emphasising characters and features is a look widely copied.
Greg Holfeld writes in a foreword note that the images were created using a sable brush, a crowquill pen, and Photoshop. It is the pen and brush that gives the Captain Congo images a strong and dynamic outline, clean enough to add energy and emphasis, but not so heavy as to restrain movement.
The Captain Congo books consciously revel in a nostalgic mode of storytelling. Starke’s cheeky humour and Holfeld’s dynamic artwork recapture a past era and update it for the modern eye. There is a gleefully ironic celebration of the colonial world.
Series title: ‘Captain Congo and the Crocodile King’ is the first in a three-part series involving Captain Congo.