By David Boller
56 pages, Zampano Publishing

Switzerland in the year 2032: Years of financial crises and civil war have pushed the once flourishing country almost to the brink of collapse as the gap between rich and poor has widened to the point where the majority of people were living in poverty and misery. Violence is the order of the day, and politics are dominated by corruption and self-interest as society at large is manipulated by a single remaining political party in what used to be the cradle of democracy.

There seems to be no hope, no perspective, until a towering figure makes his appearance in a dark and gloomy city of Zurich who not only takes out criminals and crooks but also seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Swiss national hero - Tell. His fleeting but effective appearances seem to suggest that he is a vigilante on the side of the common people, here to restore law and order with his crossbow - just as the legendary Tell did in the 14th century when he rid his people of a foreign tyrant and led them to freedom and prosperity.

People soon look up to the mysterious figure who seems to be offering the long awaited salvation from all the misery, and patriotism awakens again. At long last there is a hero amongst them to fight for the their rights, the rights of the people. But who is this Tell? And what are his true intentions? Finn, a reporter, who was on the scene of Tell's first appearance is intrigued and investigates the matter further.

Finding himself increasingly entangled in an obscure and menacing web of politics, financial dealings and science without ethics, the reporter is as confused as the general public when history seemingly repeats itself and the newly risen superhero Tell is confronted once again by Gessler - only this time the tyrant is clad in a costume and seems to have powers just as unworldly as those of the new Tell. It is then that our reporter learns that there is a lot more to this Tell than meets the eye...

Tell - The Legend Returns was released in print towards the end of October 2010 as the first volume in a planned series of three and is the work of comic book creator David Boller. Born in 1968 in Zurich, Switzerland, he started his own comics fanzine whilst still at school and pursued his interests further by working as a freelancer for several advertising agencies. After self-publishing a series of comic books in Europe and founding his own comic magazine in 1988, Boller moved to the States in 1992 where he enrolled at the Joe Kubert School of Graphics and Cartoon Art in Dover, New Jersey.

Following his graduation in 1994 Boller worked for Marvel (Excalibur Annual, Lethal Foes of Spider-Man, Night Thrasher, Nova, Spider-Man 2099, X-Men: Time Gliders, several promotional mini-comics) and DC (Batman Chronicles, JLA 80-Page Giant) as well as several other publishers such as Acclaim (Killer Instinct Special, Magic The Gathering, Magnus Robot Fighter), Caliber (Legendlore, Oz, Raven Chronicles), Image (Witchblade) and Warp (Elfquest-Jink). Boller also created his own comic book series (Kaos Moon) in 1996, which was published by Caliber in the US, serialized in Germany in Schwermetall and featured in a series of graphic novels by Alpha Comics.

Upon his return to Switzerland in 2008, Boller founded his company Virtual Graphics and kicked off his project Zampano, a web-comic magazine platform. It is here that Boller first released his story featuring the first Swiss comic book superhero - Tell. Originally published online in weekly installments in German, French and English, the first issue of Tell was made available in a German printed edition in Graphic Novel format in late October 2010.

Even before its arrival in print form, Tell caught the widespread attention of the Swiss media, and it is easy to see why. At a time when comic book characters - and above all superheroes - have taken up a prominent position in popular culture (fuelled by no small extent through Hollywood) a character which is Swiss to the very core (William Tell) and written and drawn by a Swiss comic book professional, yet looks and feels like an authentic American superhero, produces a result which was bound to make a few heads turn.
The catchphrase here is "the first Swiss superhero", and we can accept this to be true without any hesitation. Certainly, there have been uncounted attempts undertaken by Swiss comic book fans since the 1970s to replicate what they loved to read, but none of these homegrown superhero comics ever reached anything beyond a tiny readership. The genre had also been completely ignored by the small community of dedicated Swiss comic book creators, whose output to a large part falls into the cartoon segment of the medium.

Tell thus provides a sharp contrast, and it is Boller's professionalism which makes the difference. Trained and experienced in the art of the American superhero comic book, he provides a look and feel to his story which provides authenticity on every page. In other words: Tell is not a Swiss interpretation of the genre, but rather the actual genre telling a story in a Swiss context, and this comes across as a very strong point of Boller's work.

Switzerland as a location has featured in a surprisingly large number of US superhero comic books (e.g. as backdrop to a story involving the Frankenstein Monster in Iron Man #101 or as the country where the Order of St Dumas has its seat and where Batman and Alfred travel to as the origins of Azrael are revealed in Sword of Azrael #1), but in the case of Tell, the story not only takes place in Switzerland, but all the characters involved are - unlike Batman and Iron Man - Swiss. However, the general plot direction is sufficiently international - the power of money and the corruption of moral and social values through greed and powermongering - to provide a story which is easily accessible (despite a few story elements which are so specifically Swiss that they may be lost to outsiders), and this is precisely what Boller had in mind during the creation of Tell:

"I was very tempted to do a comic book with a Swiss background but created in true US comics style. It creates a somewhat strange effect, but it also helps to make the story - which really is universal - interesting for readers in other countries." (translated from Stuehler, 2010)


A finished page from Tell (above) and an example of Boller's pencils and inks (below)


"Tell is a story I had planned for a long time, but the timing turned out to be just right with the worldwide financial crisis setting in. After all, Switzerland finds itself in a fiasco right now, thanks to UBS and tax affairs, and the public has never been more cynical about the political and economic leadership of the country. In other words, Tell is not a patriotic homeland comic book, but rather an anti-hero parable on the abuse of power and money." (translated from Stuehler, 2010)

In addition, the legend of Wilhelm (William) Tell, freedom fighter and national hero of Switzerland, is well known far beyond the borders of this small Alpine country, and his international popularity is not the least tainted by the fact that the accounts of his actions and his steadfast bravery lack any historical evidence. But then again it is probably precisely this mythical aspect of Tell which is one of the core factors for his general appeal to many - and which made him highly popular outside Switzerland during the French Revolution of 1789, with revolutionary Russians of the 19th century, Spanish republicans of the 20th century and opponents of the Nazi regime all across Europe during the 1930s and World War Two.

"The Swiss, against their Austrian foes,
       Had ne'er a soul to lead 'em,
     Till Tell, as you've heard tell, arose
       And guided them to freedom."
(P.G. Woodehouse, William Tell told again, 1904)

The principal elements of Tell's story - which tradition dates to the year 1307 - feature just about everything needed to depict a larger than life hero:


William Tell's markmanship depicted in an early 16th century publication

An individual who does not subject himself to depriving humiliation (when he refuses to greet the hat of Gessler, bailiff of the counts of Habsburg, set up on a rod in Altdorf), who stands up for his bravery with cold blood and marksmanship (when he forcedly shoots an apple off his son's head with his crossbow), who remains loyal to his own principals (telling Gessler after the successful shot that had he hurt his child he would have had a second arrow ready for the tyrant), who successfully escapes imprisonment through cunning (taking control of the boat en route to Gessler's castle during a storm and thus gaining the shore) and who eventually takes the victory of good over evil into his own hands (by shooting the tyrant with his crossbow).
  Boller's choice of character is a clever move as he grabs all that William Tell has to offer, but most importantly being an internationally known yet quintessential Swiss character. Tell can thus reach parts which no completely original creation (anyone for Crossbow Man?) ever could...

Overall, Boller's art broke the ice nicely for being the first Swiss superhero comic book. The plot creates and sustains interest, although it does sometimes feel slightly rushed here and there (for example, Tell makes his first appearance after only five pages), and perhaps a little more effort should have gone into the characterization of the supporting cast to better ground the story as a whole and make it less predictable in places. These points are probably the result of Tell having originally been published in weekly one page online instalments, but they do weigh down on the overall positive picture a bit in continuous reading.

Well - did it work? Not quite. Once the initial Swiss media hype was over, things cooled off. The first volume ended with a cliffhanger which added even more "American superhero" feel to Tell as he was clearly set to receive a sidekick. But issue #2, originally announced for early 2011, wasn't published until early 2014, and the gap may have proved too much. Available online in German, it ends on another cliffhanger pointing to the conclusion in issue #3 - the publication date of which is yet to be announced.
STUEHLER Achim E. (2010) Interview - David Boller: Zampano Verlag, available online at www.ppm-vertrieb.de/ppm-news/355/David-Boller:-Zampano-Verlag-(Teil-1)/ (accessed 22 November 2010)