From The Pages of European Comics – Travelling Dog Heroes!
I think it’s odd when people are surprised at the concept of a travelling dog. The idea has been around and a part of everyday culture for so long that I can’t understand why people are surprised by the notion.
I’ve talked about dogs of the past travelling more freely, how the Titanic had canines on-board, and how ocean liners had facilities for four legged companions. But even “closer to home” and more likely to be a part of our social psyche are the heroes that I’ve recently and happily discovered.
You see, Mom is half Belgian and grew up in Europe. So – no surprise – European Comics were a huge part of her childhood. After all, we have the Belgians and French to thank for the Smurfs, Spirou and Fantasio, Bob and Bobette, Boule et Bill, Gaston Lagaffe, Tintin and Milou (Snowy) and of course Asterix and Obelix, just to name a few favorites.
Aside from Spirou and Fantasio who travel with a one-of-a-kind creature called The Marsupilami and a pet squirrel named Spip, there are two notable canine characters who travel … yup, canines!
MY HERO: MILOU
The Adventures of Tintin (French: Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name of Hergé. The series is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, selling more than 200 million copies of the books to date with translations into more than 50 languages. The stories are immensely popular all over the world except, interestingly, in the United States. That might change now with Steven Spielberg’s 2011 movie, The Adventures of Tintin, which brought these wonderful characters to the big screen.
Many Anglophones will know Tintin’s dog, Milou, as “Snowy.” Personally, I’m not a fan of the translated name because the name “Milou” has a charming story attached to it: Georges Remi, the creator and illustrator, honoured his very first childhood crush, Marie-Louise, by naming the canine hero after her. Marie-Louise’s nickname was Malou, which Remi emasculated to “Milou.” I find it very sweet that Mr. Remi discreetly honoured Marie-Louise in this way, even if Milou is a sarcastic, bone and whisky loving, arachnophobic dog. I guess you really never forget your first love. *Sigh*
What makes this all so relevant is that Milou has travelled. He has, in fact, been to over 20 nations and even walked on the moon. What is interesting is that The Adventures of Tintin is a modern story, not designed to be fantasy. Tintin and Milou do not exist in a parallel universe or in an utterly unbelievable environment. Their adventures occur in the 20th century in a real context, or at least as real as the political climate of the time allowed.
When Tintin is in the Soviet Union, Morocco, Tibet or even in China, Milou is there by Tintin’s side, often saving him from danger. Milou has taken every method of transportation from cars, planes, boats, canoes, motorcycles and more, even a few that most of us will never experience, such as a submarine!
Milou is my hero.
Does the ease of Milou’s travels not lead you to believe that, even with much poetic licensing in place, the concept of a travelling canine was not a shocking, or even odd idea for the time?
THE FIRST TINY BUT MIGHTY: IDEFIX
Asterix or The Adventures of Asterix (French: Astérix or Astérix le Gaulois, IPA) is a series of French comic books written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo (Uderzo also took over the job of writing the series after the death of Goscinny in 1977). The series first appeared in French in the magazine Pilote in October 1959. As of 2009, 34 comic books have been released in the series.
The Adventures of Asterix also features a dog, this one the tiny, minuscule – and I do mean pint size! – Idéfix, who belongs to Asterix’s friend Obelix. Most Anglophones will know Idéfix as “Dogmatix.”
As with every name in the Asterix stories, “Idéfix” is a pun, in this case on the French expression “idée fixe” (fixed idea), meaning an obsession. The English translation, “Dogmatix,” keeps the theme by punning on the words “dog” and “dogmatic.” The English translation for Idéfix bothers me less than for Milou since “Dogmatix” translates so remarkably close to the original meaning and even adds to it by including the word “dog.” It’s rare and wonderful that the names translate so well and maintain Goscinny’s play with words.
Unlike Milou, Idéfix plays a minor role in most of the stories. Idéfix mainly serves as a point of contention between Asterix and Obelix as to whether he should be allowed to accompany them on their adventures. In other words, should the dog travel with them? Gee, can anyone relate to that?!
When I’m reading the comic, I love trying to figure out what Idéfix is up to in the background. On occasion, Idéfix is the saviour in the story. I especially like those parts.
This tiny travelling dog has been to over a dozen countries and is the first “eco-dog.” Idéfix loves trees so much that he howls in distress and agony whenever one is damaged or cut down.
Despite his small size, Idéfix is fearless and fiercely loyal. He has been known to become jealous when his owner Obelix falls for a woman. Idéfix is a part of the family and of village life. This is obvious when he is given permission on a number of occasions to drink the magic potion. Like any good toy breed dog, Idéfix is either on the ground doing his thing and often leading the way, or safely tucked in the arms of Obelix, who absolutely adores him.
The relationship between this very large man and his beloved dog is heartwarming. Idéfix might well be the first mainstream “pet as surrogate child.” The only time Obelix is willing to leave Idéfix behind is when a mother figure is available to care for him. I love that Obelix is a very responsible dog owner. He is able to assess when it is appropriate for Idéfix to join them and when it is not, he leaves Idéfix in the best possible care. All dogs should be so lucky.
ARE THERE OTHERS?
I am less familiar with comics from other countries, but surely European Comics are not the only ones to have travelling dogs.
Although never really leaving the USA, the first character I can think of is Scooby Doo – although I believe he is a cartoon and not a comic book character. Scooby Doo may be easily spooked and not all that dependable, but he certainly is one of the gang and goes everywhere his owner goes.
Another American dog, Snoopy, never physically leaves his home area but he travels mentally in his adventures as the Red Baron. And there is Toto who is no longer in Kansas and ends up with Dorothy in the Land of Oz. Again, I am not certain they are comic book characters rather than movie or cartoon personalities, but it does tell me that travelling dogs are a part of the North American culture.
Can you think of another comic book with a travelling canine? Is there one that meant something to you growing up?