Saturday 6 March 2010

Review: Captain Pugwash by John Ryan (reissues)

Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig

That most unlikely of pirates, the greedy, selfish Captain Pugwash is at the helm once more. And his familiar crew are all aboard. In these four adventures the crew turn vegetarian, their enemy Cut-throat Jake is defeated by a parrot, there's a fierce battle on the poop deck, and the pirates find a whole new way to walk the plank. Pugwash fans old and new will revel in these stories. John Ryan's text and drawings are as full of comic vigour as ever.

Captain Pugwash and the Wreckers

Plundering porpoises! I suppose I ought to put you all in irons! cries Captain Pugwash, on discovering his crew about to tuck into a tasty midnight feast. Luckily for the crew, Pugwash decides to join in the feast instead! But then more uninvited guests drop in - and a most unwelcome bunch they are too. But there's a surprise in store for Jake and his evil gang - the mysterious islanders from nearby Rummi-Tummi are on their way! And in the second of these two exciting stories, Captain Pugwash is in a jovial mood. He's about to set sail for the Indies with the greatest load of silver bullion ever! But Cut-throat Jake overhears his plans and is determined to wreck the Black Pig. John Ryan's jolly captain is as bumbling and amusing as ever in these two pirate stories.

Hmmmm.... do these count as graphic novels? There are illustrations on just about every page (some with speech bubbles) and the series did, after all, start off as a comic strip back in 1950 in The Eagle and then in the Radio Times for most of the 1960s. Hell.... I don't care whether they count or not, the nice people at Frances Lincoln sent these reissues to me and Mr Nostalgia appeared from nowhere, slapped me in the face and demanded that I mention them on my blog.

The beauty of pirate stories like these is that they are timeless. Reading through these two slim volumes brought back many fond memories from when I was a kid, yet they seem as fresh and enjoyable as ever. Younger boys (and of course girls) will lap these up, both when read to them as bedtime stories and when read themselves. The publishers suggest they are for ages 7+ but I am sure that there will be a number of slightly younger children whose reading abilities will be advanced enough to cope with them.

Reviewing stories that are already such a huge part of the national consciousness is very difficult, but then again there has to be a reason why they have become so well known, and that is simply because they are really, really enjoyable to read. These are not stories that should lie dormant because they were written some time before the Harry Potter phenomenon kicked off and created the renaissance in children's literature; these are stories that should be read again and again, each generation passing on to the next at bedtime. I mentioned these books to some Year 10 boys and girls the other day, expecting them to say "Captain... who?", but I was very surprised to find out that they had all heard of the character even though some of them had never read the books or seen the animated TV series.

John Ryan once said in an interview: "Pugwash has two qualities which I believe are present in all of us to some degree: cowardice and greed. It is the conflict between these opposing emotions which make the stories work. It may be that the Captain is popular because we all have something in common with him. What would you do if you saw a delicious toffee on the nose of a crocodile?" Answer honestly..... what would you do?

These two volumes were published by Frances Lincoln Limited on 4th March, with two more reissues scheduled for September 2010.

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