Imagine, if you will, that you are a chess-obsessed kid in Flanders. A bleak prospect, perhaps, but try to entertain it for a little while longer. Chess is pretty much invisible to you: nobody cares about it, nobody mentions it – certainly not kids. Suske en Wiske, on the other hand, is omnipresent. It is perhaps the most popular comic books series, spawning several spin-offs and adaptations, it can be read in daily instalments in the newspaper – you cannot avoid it. Obviously, when you learn that there is a Suske en Wiske volume called De 7 schaken, you get excited. Chess is even in title! You don’t rest until you’ve got your hands on a copy. From there, things go downhill with the speed of an avalanche in a Ferrari.
Very quickly it becomes obvious that, even by the low, low standards of post-Vandersteen Suske en Wiske stories, this one is horrid. The story manages to be both trite and contrived, the drawings are uninspired, the dialogue is clunky, the humour isn’t funny,1 the characters are at best one-dimensional, and the chess is lacking. In fact, it serves only as a segue to an old legend which starts the story proper.2 Here’s my (free3) translation of the dialogue in the above picture:
Suske: Beaten for the seventh time, my dear Lambik.
Lambik: Bah. You with your stupid moves. There’s no line in your game, no insight.
Lambik: People like Karpov, that’s more my…
Sidonia: You’re a sore loser, my dear Lambik.
It is basic Suske en Wiske lore that Sidonia is extremely near-sighted, but she has her glasses on here, so there’s no reason for her not to notice what’s happening on the table – and it’s quite spectacular.
This is where I’d normally add a reconstruction of the position, but I can’t. Which position should I use? The one on the left or the one on the right? In the former, there is clearly a black piece close to the right rim of the board, in the latter, it has disappeared without a trace. A similar fate has befallen the sundry pieces scattered around the board in the first image, although this can at least partly be explained by the different angle of the picture.
By the way, am I the only one to think that there’s something strange about the interior decoration of the room? Instead of sitting on opposite sites of the table, Lambik and Suske seem to sit at a 90° angle from each other. Even weirder is the placing of the sofa Wiske is sitting in, which is strategically positioned to offer a beautiful view of the back of Lambik’s chair.
Realism: 3-4/5 It’s hard to identify the pieces with any degree of certainty, but black has so few pieces left that all positions would be more or less equally likely. It is quite clear Lambik has played on for too long – which is perfectly in character for him4 – and it seems weird that his king is so far away, but there’s nothing major wrong.
Probable winner: Suske. But every dog with a hat on could beat Lambik.
1. [Which, I guess, disqualifies it as humour.]↩
2. [A segue which doesn’t even work. How does ‘7 schaken’ translate to ‘seven (lost) games of chess’?]↩
3. [Not as in speech, nor as in beer.]↩
4. [Unless we’re talking blue series Suske en Wiske.]↩