Yuge! – 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump


By G. B Trudeau (Andrews and McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44948-133-9

According to one of the two frontrunners in an upcoming electoral contest somewhere over the Pond, Garry Trudeau is a “sleazeball” “third-rate talent” who draws “overrated” comic strip Doonesbury, which “very few people read.”

He lives in New York City with his wife Jane Pauley, who “has far more talent than he has.”

For those who prefer recorded facts to illiterate, made-up gibber-jabber from the terminally biased and proudly uninformed, Garry Trudeau converted his comicstrip Bull Tales – which ran in the Yale University student newspaper Yale Daily News from 1968-1970 – into a satirical, comedy commentary on politics and contemporary society. He then managed to make it one of the most popular syndicated strips in the world…

“Starring” an everyman liberal college grad, Doonesbury debuted on October 26th 1970, and consequently got to immortalise, lampoon and pass judgement on some of America’s least finest moments and personages, casting a jaundiced eye over domestic and global events and converting them into wry, trenchant comedy gold. He is despised by many conservatives and immoderates on the Right of America’s political spectrum…

Over the years, as well as amusing millions of folks over there and around the world, the strip has aroused the ire of plenty of political, sporting and media figures – you can call them celebrities if you’re so inclined – whilst winning the cartoonist acclaim, fame and praise from some quite unlikely sectors of the society he perpetually regards with his gadfly’s eye.

Trudeau’s strip was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, and he was awarded Certificates of Achievement from the US Army for strips dealing with the first Gulf War. In 1995 he won a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society and in 2006 was given the US Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service for strips about his character BD’s recovery following the loss of a leg in Iraq.

His Mental Health Research Advocacy Award came from the Yale School of Medicine for his depiction of mental-health issues facing soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Doonesbury strip proceeds in real time and his large, broad cast of regulars has aged over the decades, whilst always interacting with the causes célèbres of the moment. As such, he has made a fair few enemies by enlisting many real-world oafs and bugbears amongst his long-lived itinerary of returning characters.

Generally these flesh-&-blood interlopers are represented by an icon – such as a waffle for Bill Clinton, a lit bomb for Newt Gingrich or a Stetson (later a Roman helmet) for George W. Bush – but that’s not always the case.

One of the most vocal – if not necessarily intelligible – over the years has been Donald J. Trump (who is usually depicted as a decadent, fat old white guy) and this superb collection gathers most of the best moments of cartoon lampoonery from three decades of less than cordial interaction.

It all begins with a Preface describing a rather fractious relationship and just why “The Donald” had to become a semi-regular in a comedy feature. The moneyed bully has never been slow to react to perceived criticism, and he and his lawyers first became acquainted with Doonesbury after Trump’s original timid “Kidding, I was only kidding!” dalliance with running for President in 1987.

That came to nothing but the big wind kept blowing and Trudeau kept pointing out a life of hubris, bad taste and excess played out on the screens and in the headlines of the Land of the Free.

Divided into discrete decades, Trudeau’s razor-sharp wit and crushing comedy critiques are re-presented here in full colour, spotlighting the vaulting ambition, sordid deals, shady landlord practises, tawdry hucksterism, serial misogyny, juvenile sexual bragging, grotesque bullying and blind narcissism of “the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House” over the numerous occasions he almost ran for office before bottling out at crunch time.

Capping all that cartoon japery is this time when he finally put other people’s money where his mouth is and found himself actually in contention for the most important job in the world… one even his own bewildered, terrified party faithful don’t want him to have…

And the best of all is that Trudeau has had an unwitting collaborator for so much of this material. Most of the baffling blather on those world balloons coming out of cartoon Donald’s mouth originated with the big orange blowhard himself…

Outrageous, alarming, more informative than any cartoon collection has a right to be and side-splittingly funny, Yuge! is a devastating tool of political instruction and character assessment which even the most deplorable basket case can enjoy, because it has loads and loads of really good simple pictures in it.

Most of us in the rest of the world can’t vote in November’s election, but we can all buy this book and make it a global bestseller. That’s the only real way to make your voice heard in a modern plutocratic democracy…
™®© 2016 G. B. Trudeau. All rights reserved.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3047-0

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan era. The decluttering exercise also made room for a few superheroes of types previously unknown at the company “Where Legends Live”.

Disgraced sports star Michael Carter came back from the 25th century to our era, tooled up with stolen technology, determined to recreate himself as a superhero. As Booster Gold he made a name for himself as a mid-level hero and supreme self-promoter and corporate shill.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious apparently metahuman golden-boy jock setting up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Here he actively sought corporate sponsorships, sold endorsements and hired a management team to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

He was accompanied everywhere by sentient, flying, football-shaped robot Skeets.

Their time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as part of Justice League International where he became roughly half of comics’ funniest double-act, riffing with the equally light-hearted lightweight Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of billionaire Maxwell Lord’s League: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect.

When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered. Eventually, though, he recovered and redefined himself as a true hero through a succession of multiversal conflagrations. In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and later Infinite Crisis, his intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster relinquished his dreams of glory to secretly save us all over and over and over again as the protector of the time-line, battling incredible odds to keep history on track and continuity in order.

This time-bending full-colour collection gathers 6-issue miniseries Time Masters: Vanishing Point (from September 2010-February 2011), detailing how Rip, Booster and Skeets steer a small posse of superheroes through the uncanny and lethally mutable corridors of time in search of a missing comrade vital to the existence of everything…

At the climax of a harrowing campaign of terror by The Black Hand and following Earth’s invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis

The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them. The more cosmically endowed super-friends weren’t prepared to wait, however…

Batman, of course, is the most brilliant escape artist of all time and even whilst being struck down by the New God of Evil had devised an impossibly complex and grandly far-reaching scheme to beat the devil and save the world…

The chronally-fluctuating epic opens with elderly time guardian Booster sharing a few moments of educational bonding time with his son before Rip Hunter shakes off the happy memories and gets back to the immediate task at hand: reminding Superman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and a blithely oblivious prime-of-life Booster of the dangers involved in interfering in historical events, no matter how tragic or cruel they might be…

Meanwhile, at the End of Time mystery hero Supernova is finding inviolate citadel Vanishing Point has been destroyed by incalculable forces and, after consulting with his unseen boss, grimly sets off in search of Rip…

The rescue mission for Bruce Wayne is Hunter’s idea. He tracked the hero to various time periods, where the Dark Knight briefly materialised before plunging back into the time stream again. Rip now hopes to extract him with the assistance of some of the Gotham Guardian’s oldest allies, before his random trajectory causes irreparable damage. He also fears enemy interference from enemies as yet unknown…

In Rip’s 21st century Arizona lab, Booster’s sister Michelle is confronted by two likely suspects as “Time Stealers” Per Degaton and Despero break in. The battle looks lost until Supernova arrives to turn the tables, but after driving off the villains the mystery man vanishes; still intent on finding the reason for Vanishing Point’s destruction and the time-stream’s increasing instability…

In the 15th century the rescue squad’s search ends in frustration, but as Rip prepares to bring them home a chronal disruption seizes them, propelling them all on an uncontrolled trip through time and also across dimensions…

On arrival Rip is confronted by a barbarian warrior with a demonic right hand (DC’s short-lived 1970s sword-&-sorcery star Claw the Unconquered), and Hunter’s thoughts go back to another salutary lesson delivered by his father on the crucial nature of his self-appointed mission. After a short battle he finally convinces the enraged swordsman that he is neither wizard nor foe.

As they join forces against a common threat, in another time and place Booster, Superman and Green Lantern have arrived in the middle of a war between humans and aliens. Unable to obey Hunter’s admonition not to get involved, the heroes engage the invading Mygorgs, unaware that in a distant time-pocket Degaton and Despero have met with their allies Ultra-Humanite and Black Beetle.

The consensus is that some outside force is destabilising time and it must be stopped if their own plans for domination are to succeed…

The superheroes’ resistance ends when Booster encounters a sword-wielding woman warrior named Starfire (another star of DC’s short 1970’s dalliance with sword-&-sorcery) and a tenuous alliance is formed just as a dragon-riding witch captures Superman and Green Lantern…

Although separated by dimensional walls, both Rip and Claw and Booster’s team are facing similar perils: held by unearthly wizard Serhattu and his accomplice sorceress Skyle whilst the mage attempts to control of time and escape his extra-dimensional realm using the out-worlders’ science…

And in the ruins of Vanishing Point, the Time Stealers find a cell and free Hunter’s greatest foes: former comrades and fellow Linear Men Matthew Rider and Liri Lee

As Serhattu and Skyle prepare their campaign of conquest and their captives struggle against mind-bending mystic shackles, at Vanishing Point Supernova attacks but is unable to stop the Linear Men and Time Stealers getting away.

In the other-dimensional realm, Hunter takes a huge chance and the heroes escape imprisonment but are sucked into a time vortex. The gamble succeeds and the liberated champions recover in time to chase Serhattu and Skyle to the site of the first Atomic Bomb test and stop their attempt to steal the awesome unknown power for themselves.

After returning Starfire, Claw and the mages to their rightful places, the heroes press on, unaware that the Black Beetle has betrayed the Time Stealers and Linear Men to steal the time-warping powers locked in remains of chronal-energy being Waverider

Hunter’s team are again diverted however by time-travelling psychopath Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash who wants the Omega energy causing Batman’s time-ricochets for his own…

As they battle the super-fast maniac, elsewhen Supernova attacks Black Beetle, and another player co-opts the Waverider power. With time in flux the battles bleed into one another and Hunter’s heroes meet the Time Stealers, Linear Man and Supernova for one final catastrophic clash…

Fast-paced, deviously compelling and extraordinarily convoluted, this is the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights clash die-hard comic fans live for: a complex saga full of fights, inside jokes or references and impossible situations all surmounted by bold heroes in full saviour mode. It’s just a pure shame that such excellent work excludes so many readers who would certainly enjoy it if only they had the neceassry background history to hand.

Furious fun and thrills for those in the know, or anyone willing to trade comprehension for non-stop action…
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek Gold Key Archives volume 3


By Len Wein, Arnold Drake, Alfredo Giolitti, Giovanni Ticci & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-231-9

Star Trek debuted on American televisions on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the series only really became super-popular after going into syndication; running constantly in American local TV regions throughout the 1970s. It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a fanatically devoted fanbase.

There was some merchandising, and an inevitable comicbook – from Gold Key – which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. However, at the start neither authenticity nor immediacy were paramount. Only six issues were released during the show’s entire 3-season original run. Published between July 1967 and December 1968, those quirkily enticing yarns were all gathered in the first Star Trek: Gold Key archive collection.

The reason for the inaccuracies between screen and page was simple and a clear indication of the attitude both studio and publisher held about science fiction material. Initial scripter Dick Wood had seen no episodes when commissioned to write the comic, and with Italian artists Nevio Zaccara and Alberto Giolitti, received only the briefest of outlines and scant reference materials from the show’s producers. The comics craftsmen were working almost utterly in a vacuum…

Nevertheless, by the time of these interstellar exploits – reprinting Star Trek #13-18 from February 1972 to May 1973 – most of the well-intentioned contradictions of established Trek lore were long gone, thanks to better reference materials and familiarity with the actual show. These printed Enterprise incidents and missions are far closer to canonical parity with the TV phenomenon.

Following entertaining Introduction ‘Let’s See what She’s Got’ from educator and Trek scholar Joseph F. Berenato, the extra-solar explorations resume with ‘Dark Traveller’ (by Len Wein & Giolitti) which sees the Enterprise taken over by a shadowy being of incredible power who boosts its capabilities to send the crew hurtling across the universe.

Nomad shares his story of a world that grew too perfect and fell into cultural stagnation, and how he abandoned it for more primitive, questing races, before concluding that now his energies are fading his time to return home has come…

However, when he and his unwilling travelling companions reach Utopia, they find no paradise but a ruined world wracked by bloodshed, with mechanical killers everywhere, intent on eradicating the organic population.

Stranded far from home, the Federation crew have no choice but to join Nomad’s brutal war against an old friend driven to madness and mass-murder if they are to have any chance of seeing familiar stars again…

Star Trek #14 from May 1972 reveals how a diplomatic mission goes lethally awry after James Kirk is injured during a landing party excursion. Subsequently tasked with feting an unaligned dignitary whose civilisation and political allegiance is also being courted by Klingon emissaries, the Captain seemingly goes crazy and provokes ‘The Enterprise Mutiny’.

However, canny Mr. Spock deduces there is another explanation for his comrade’s sadistic and erratic behaviour…

August found Enterprise propelled beyond reality by a cosmic maelstrom and latterly becalmed in a region where physical laws don’t work properly. Invited to visit the ‘Museum at the End of Time’ by its uncanny Curator, Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy meet explorers from many worlds and eras who have long ago lapsed into immortal indolence. Typically the newcomers cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that there is no escape from the timeless limbo that holds them…

The situation escalates into bloody warfare when Klingons from a battle-cruiser also caught in the cosmic storm invade the museum. As chaos erupts, the time-lost denizens of limbo finally regain their old verve and fight back, just as Spock discovers the timeless realm is dying. The imminent end, however, does present one perilously slim chance of returning to their original plane of existence…

In November an Enterprise shuttlecraft suffered a catastrophic accident and crashed on a primitive, feudal world where the Federation crew had to hide their alien natures from a superstitious, theocratic cult tyrannising the primitive populace. To stand any chance of rescue Kirk, Spock, McCoy and their subordinates had to ally themselves with a resistance movement to escape torture and death on the ‘Day of the Inquisitors’

With #17 (February 1973), Arnold Drake replaced Wein as scripter and Giolitti split his illustrative duties with studio-mate Giovanni Ticci to solve the riddle of ‘The Cosmic Cavemen’.

On a distant world shared by dinosaurs and stone-age humans, Kirk, McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott are captured and paraded before telepathic priestess Lok. Their shock and disbelief go off the scale when they are taken to an idol which is the spitting image of Spock…

The immediate crisis seems over after the Vulcan beams in to rescue his crewmates, but wily Lok has a plan to place her tribe beyond the reach of all rivals and subtly steals the death dealing weapons of the starmen to further her aims…

The cosmic comic cavalcade then concludes with an interstellar crime caper from Drake, Giolitti & Ticci as planet Styra – threatened with imminent destruction – digitises and records its entire population on bio-magnetic tape, entrusting the Enterprise to transport and restore them to life on a new world.

Sadly, comely castaway Allura has already inserted herself aboard ship and begins vamping Spock whilst her partner – deranged showman and magician Anzar – purloins the tape and holds ‘The Hijacked Planet’ hostage.

The crazed genius believes he has every avenue covered but has never faced anyone as clever as the Vulcan or as foolhardy as James Kirk…

Rounding out this compelling collection is a gallery of painted covers by elusive but brilliant George Wilson and an in-depth, fact-packed biography and assessment of the phenomenal strip illustrator in ‘Alberto Giolitti: About the Artist’.

Fun, thrilling and astoundingly compelling, these are comics classics not just for devoted TV fans but a prime example of graphic storytelling at its most engaging.
® and © 2015 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 2: Bored Silly with Billy


By Jean Roba, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-049-8

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (or more accurately in the French speaking bits, as the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this timeless and immensely popular cartoon story of a boy and his dog debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of multinational, multilingual Spirou.

The perennially popular strip was the result of Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with the magazine’s Artistic Director/Ideas Man Maurice Rosy – who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during his decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill would quickly go its own way and carve out a unique personality all its own, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

He tirelessly crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy about a little lad and his rather clever Cocker Spaniel before – in 2003 – surrendering the art-chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron.

The substitute subsequently took over the writing too after Roba died in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading mostly American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like our own Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was incredibly popular from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fanboys might also recognise the art as early episodes – wittily retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip has generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art gallery exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have a commemorative plaque and a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early reader books for the very young. Comics collections have been translated into fourteen languages and sold in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

Renamed Billy and Buddy, the strip debuted en Angleterre in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 on: introducing a standard late 20th century sitcom nuclear family consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warm, compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart but mischievous son and his genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Ras le Bill was the 19th collection in Europe, but here simply serves to further explore the timeless relationships for our delight and delectation.

Comprised of a constant stream of rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: dodging fractious magpies, avoiding baths, building up a treasure trove of bones, putting cats in their place, causing accidents, and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative boy, although he’s overly fond of bones and rather protective of them. He also does not understand why everyone is so keen to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

The dog also has a fondly paternal relationship with tortoise Caroline which is explored at length in this collection, and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever dad has one of his increasingly common meltdowns over the cost of canine treats and repair bills. At least Buddy can make himself useful by helping mum in her self-indulgent fashion purchases…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating gag-pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa. This is a splendidly enticing and rewarding family-oriented bunch of comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

The Loxleys and Confederation


By Mark Zuehlke, Alexander Finbow, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Claude St. Aubin, Christopher Chuckry & Todd Klein & (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921508-89-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Ideal Gift for comic lovers and history buffs… 10/10

The Dominion of Canada officially came into existence on July 1st 1867 and with that anniversary rapidly approaching, what better time to look at how that event came to be…

A couple of years ago a superb graphic novel came out from a small independent creative outfit called Renegade Arts Entertainment which commemorated the anniversary and captivatingly explored how America and the British colonies clashed. The book was The Loxleys and the War of 1812: a pictorial tome for youngsters examining the facts of the clash through the eyes and experiences of a family caught up in the conflict.

After reading our review – or better yet the book itself – you simply must indulge yourself with this magnificent full-colour hardback sequel which explores the fateful first European incursion into the vast northern regions, the (mostly) shameful interactions with the native peoples there and the complex, dramatic campaign which resulted in a disparate aggregation of fiercely independent colonies finally accepting that they were all stronger together…

Written by Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke, with story contributions from Alexander Finbow and scholar, commentator, author, and advocate on Indigenous Issues Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, the compulsively engaging tale is illustrated by Claude St. Aubin with colours courtesy of Christopher Chuckry and lettering from Todd Klein.

The show opens with a character gallery of both the fictitious Loxleys plus notable historic personages of the period and includes an impassioned Foreword by co-writer Finbow, before the graphic elucidation begins with a Prologue set in 1534 when French explorer Jacques Cartier sails up will be later known as the St. Lawrence River and acts rather rudely towards the natives he finds there.

After that rather inauspicious start, grudging trades are made but when Cartier eventually leaves it is with the two sons of chief Donnacona. The explorer still wants treasure and intends for the native boys to direct him to a priceless valuable they call “Kanata”…

Skipping ahead then to 1864 we find the Loxley family has grown in numbers, prosperity and influence. It is August 1st and 13-year old Lillian is recording in her journal the event of the clan’s first great gathering in many a year.

Amidst the family chat of aging, absences and ailments, the elders are preoccupied with a thorny political problem. The United States has been at war with itself for four years but that struggle is almost won, and the feeling is that many Yankee warhawks are eager to continue fighting; using the deplorable political tenet of “Manifest Destiny” to conquer and possess the entire continent, not only from East to West but also from South to North…

The only solution to such bald empire-building is a unified nation to resist them rather than the loose association of independent British colonies that now exists, but talk of Confederation has been in the air for quite awhile with little headway made in each colony’s obstinate, insular ruling assemblies…

Now, with invasion from the USA a serious prospect once more and economic pressures also working against the disunited and isolated enclaves, the move to a grand union of the regions and territories is more vital than ever and politicians are actually talking to each other.

The prospect is of particular interest to young Lillian, who is invited to accompany her illustrator mother and journalist grandfather as they journey first to Prince Edward Island, then Quebec and eventually all over the scattered colonies and even to England itself: following the movers and shakers seeking to build a safe, strong and resilient nation.

As the little group follows the torturous efforts to unify the imperilled regions, drama (and romance in the case of young Lillian) is never far off. The debates perpetually seem to take one step forward and two back as regional issues and grudges hold back the urgent drive to combine and the outer world also constantly impinges on what might seem to be a strictly colonial issue.

The Loxleys are in Washington and actual witnesses to the assassination of President Lincoln – the strongest voice against an invasion of Canada. They later witness for themselves the extent of anti-Canadian feeling which exhibits as the annulment of trade deals in the Capitol, aggression and bombast in New York which culminates in a raid on New Brunswick. The invasion is by radical activist Fenians who believe they can trade attacks on British possessions into independence for Ireland…

Of course such an invasion can be seen only one way by the colonies previously against an official union…

And thus unfolds an enchanting history lesson which traces a largely marginalised section of history, couched in absorbing human terms and rendered totally irresistible by being seen through the lens of an idealistic child’s eyes: a girl becoming a woman whilst her little home became a mighty nation…

Also woven into the tale – thanks to the input of Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair – is a telling examination and assessment of the shameful Official Policy of assimilation which legitimised the maltreatment of indigenous people throughout Canada’s history: a trend more fully probed in the Afterword: Looking for Kanata.

That sobering discussion follows further historically pertinent extracts ‘From the Dairy of Lillian Stock 1867’ which encapsulate events personal and national following the establishment of Canada as a nation state.

Informative, engaging, even-handed and intensely gripping, this account of ordinary people at the core of grand historical accomplishments is an astonishingly readable chronicle which again proves one of my most fervently held beliefs: comics are the perfect means to marry learning with fun and a well-made graphic treatise is an unbeatable mode with which to Elucidate, Educate and Enjoy.

So buy this and do so…
The Loxleys and Confederation © 2015 Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 volume 3 – The Shepherd’s Tale


By Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Chris Samnee & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-561-2

For those far too few people who actually saw it, Firefly remains one of the best science fiction TV shows ever created.

It was cancelled after one season. Buy the box set or seek it out from an on-demand/streaming media outlet as soon as you possibly can.

The select dejected fanbase were eventually delighted by the superb Serenity – one of the best science fiction movies ever released.

Rent it, buy it, watch it however you can.

Once you’ve done those things you’ll be properly primed to enjoy this superb and lavish full-colour hardback which offers long-awaited details into the troubled life of enigmatic preacher Book who joined reluctant freedom fighter Malcolm Reynolds and his oddball crew of reprobates aboard an independent trader starship of the Firefly class, under the most peculiar of circumstances…

If you aren’t au fait with “the ’Verse” yet – and did I mention the live action iterations are readily available and extremely entertaining? – here’s a little background.

After they used up Earth, humanity migrated to the stars and settled another star-system packed with hundreds of more or less hospitable planets and satellites. Now it’s the 26th century and mankind is living through the aftermath of a recent punishing internecine conflict known – by the victors – as the Unification War.

This still-sore and rankling clash saw the outer Colonies crushed after attempting to secede from the authoritarian Alliance of first-settled inner planets. Reynolds fought valiantly on the losing side and now spends his days eking out a living on the fringes of an increasingly repressive and dangerous universe: taking cargo and people from world to world – and hopefully avoiding the ever-expanding Alliance representatives – as a free agent skippering a small Firefly class cargo transport called Serenity.

It’s hard, risky work: often illegal and frequently dangerous – especially as the outer regions are where the insane cannibal berserker savages dubbed Reavers restlessly prowl.

Life changed forever after Serenity gave passage to Alliance doctor Simon Tam who was on the run after stealing his seemingly-psychic sister River from a top secret research project.

The Government spared no effort or expense to get her back and hounded the fugitives from pillar to post until Reynolds and his crew finally decided to push back.

At the cost of too many friends, the reluctant rebels uncovered the horrific secrets the Alliance were so desperate to keep hidden and broadcast them to the entire ’Verse …

During their TV voyages the Firefly crew was supplemented by a wise and gentle cleric of the Shepherd religion on a pilgrimage to who knew where. He offered moral guidance (mostly ignored), philosophical debate and emotional support as required, but every so often something Derrial Book said or did gave hints of lethal capabilities and a dangerous past the holy man always deftly avoided discussing…

Written by (series creator) Joss Whedon and Zack Whedon, illustrated by super-star in the making Chris Samnee (Daredevil, Thor: The Mighty Avenger, The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom) and sporting colours from Dave Stewart and letters by Steve Morris, this compelling book of revelations finally exposes the secrets and tells the life story of the show’s most intriguing character…

The episodic saga is told in flashes and snippets from end to beginning; starting with his eventual glorious passing and working backwards in dramatic instalments to the way and why it all began…

Along the road we see his turbulent time aboard Serenity, before moving into unexplored territory at placid Southdown Abbey where after much soul-searching he elected to rejoin the dangerous, tempting outer world…

From then it’s a jump back a full decade to when a drunken derelict near death received one more well-deserved beating and awoke to a moment of holy clarity in a bowl of soup…

From then a time-cut slashes back to the moment when Alliance high-flyer Officer Book personally oversaw the military’s greatest defeat and was cashiered out of the service with extreme prejudice…

Years prior to that another scene shows how far ambitious cadet Derrial would go to further his career before a further flashback reveals that the man we’ve been reading about was never Derrial Book at all, but instead a murderous sleeper agent planted within the Alliance.

And even further back we travel, learning what makes a boy into the kind of man who would endure mutilation and worse; contemplate constantly betraying everything he cares for in a dark yet redemptive tale exploring the most basic and abiding aspects of human nature…

With narrative tones reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, this powerful testament to the force of personality, the bondage of upbringing and man’s infinite capacity for change is accompanied by an incisive and heartfelt Afterword – ‘The Journey is the Worthier Part…’ from scripter Zack Whedon, detailing the inspirations which fuelled many of the story’s most memorable scenes.

Poignant, compelling and explosively engaging, this is a tale no devotee should miss and a comic experience well able to stand apart from its live action roots.
Serenity © 2010 Universal Studios. Firefly™ and Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64™ and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller


By Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli & Digikore Studios (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-493-1 (HC)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard mix of masked champions, two-fisted adventurers, prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) saw a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market and in December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having ordinary adventures just like the readership, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it work. Inspired by and referencing the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, and MLJ officially became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and created a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario, and in 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle when openly gay student Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski (lettered by Jack Morelli and coloured by Digikore Studios), Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010). It was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing…

Also collected in this landmark debut compendium is the sequel tale from Veronica #205 and the 4-issue Kevin Keller miniseries which cemented the new star’s popularity.

It begins with context-establishing essay ‘Get to Know Kevin Keller’ before comic introductions are made in ‘Isn’t it Bro-Mantic’ as Veronica encounters a charming, good-looking and exceeding together lad who utterly bowls her over.

She is totally smitten with him even though he can out-eat human dustbin Jughead and loves sports. Although he inexplicably loves hanging out with the ghastly Jones boy she is determined to make him exclusively hers. Jughead is truly cool with his new pal, and he soon sees a way to pay Ronnie back for many of the mean things she has said and done over the years…

When Kevin finally explains to Veronica why she is wasting her time, she takes it well and soon they are hanging out as best buds. After all they have so much in common: chatting, stylish clothes, shopping, boys…

Immensely popular from the outset, Kevin struck a chord with the readership and returned a few months later in ‘The Buddy System’, with Veronica’s bombastic dad giving the perfect new student the all-clear to monopolise his daughter’s time. The following fun-filled days do have one major downside however, as poor Betty is increasingly neglected.

You’d think Archie would be jealous too, but he’s just glad that someone safe is keeping other guys away from his Ronnie. It seems the perfect scenario for everyone but Betty, but then man-hunting rich and entitled princess Cheryl Blossom hits town and puts everything back into perspective…

The guest shots rapidly evolved into a miniseries, expanding Kevin’s role whilst answering many questions about his past. It started with ‘Meet Kevin Keller’ where we learned he was an army brat, born in Britain but raised all over the world, and now lived in Riverdale with his dad (retired and invalided army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

It also revealed he loved practical jokes as much as food and sports…

Whilst sharing these facts with Betty and Ronnie he also let slip some less impressive details: how he was a nerdy, braces-wearing late developer who was frequently the target of bullies…

‘The Write Stuff’ is set during the build-up to his father’s surprise birthday party and discloses how Kevin plans to serve in the army before becoming a journalist, whilst also showing the gentle hero’s darker side after he is compelled to intervene and stop the persecution of a young Riverdale student by bullies…

In ‘Let’s Get it Started’ the newcomer is ambushed and pressganged by his new friends into participating in a scholastic TV quiz show where his nerves almost get the better of him. Happily, Ronnie inadvertently breaks his paralysing stage-fright with a humiliating gaffe, but that’s just a palate cleanser for a potent object lesson in the concluding chapter…

As Kevin steps in to shelter and help one of the kids who used to torment him long ago, ‘Taking the Lead!’ also finds him reluctantly running for Class President at the insistent urging of Ronnie and the gang.

It’s not that he wants the position particularly, but when bigoted jock and star quarterback David Perkins starts a campaign based on intolerance, innuendo and intimidation, Kevin feels someone has to confront the smugly-macho, “real man” most popular boy in school…

And despite a smear campaign and dirty tactics any Presidential candidate would be proud of, truth, justice and decency win out…

This breezy and engaging collection concludes with ‘An Interview with Kevin Keller’ offering further background direct from the horse’s mouth and also includes a host of covers, variants and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller is a superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again.
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Broons and Oor Wullie 1939-1945: The Lighter Side of World War II


By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-651-3

The Broons and Oor Wullie are, singly or in eternal conjunction, one of the longest running newspaper cartoon features in British history, having appeared continuously in Scotland’s The Sunday Post since their debut in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both boisterous wee boy and eccentrically engaging working class clan were co-created by journalist, writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low and DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins. Once their addictively engaging strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals – with solo books or each star-feature appearing in alternate years, right up to the present day – the Broons and Oor Wullie became an international milestone, beloved by Scots far from home and all devotees of cartooning mastery.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant notion was the Fun Section: an 8-page comic-strip supplement to the publishing giant’s most popular national newspaper. This illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were its standout stars…

Low’s shrewdest notion was devising both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and vernacular. Supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker amongst others, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap. In December 1937 Low launched the very first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was cautiously followed by The Beano in 1938 and an early-reading title entitled The Magic Comic a year later.

War-time paper shortages and post-war rationing strictures curtailed this budding strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of groundbreaking picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again (with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not part of the magazine’s regular roster) and in that same year Low and Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest weapon in those early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic arrival of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as a genuine artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. It wasn’t long before he was advised to get a job at burgeoning, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a the only choice for both lead strips in the new Fun Section and, without missing a beat, in 1937 Watkins added Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload and Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For all that time he had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each for Oor Wullie and The Broons every week as well as his many comics pages. His loss was a colossal blow to the company. DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and Annuals for seven years before a replacement was settled upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

A rock-solid facet of Scottish popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) had appeared in 1939, re-presenting the best of the Sunday strips; followed and replaced with Oor Wullie the next Christmas. However, as wartime paper restrictions increasingly began to bite, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946.

Here you have a chance to scrutinise the rare strips of the war years in a sublime collection of pages tracking the cartoon icons’ experiences as typical folk getting by in the worst of all possible times…

Need a Mission Briefing?

Most of the multigenerational Brown family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes alternatively dubbed Auchenshoogle and based on working-class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle). It was and still is an ideal setting in which to tell gags, comment on events, spoof trends and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots, wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving keystone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and their battalion of stay-at-home kids – comprising in descending order of age and military preparedness – hunky, husky Joe, freakishly tall and thin Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” and a wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially billeted there but always hanging around is gruff patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage, constantly striving to impart decades of hard-earned if outdated experience to the kids…

Offering regular breaks from inner city turmoil and another chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family often repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands), always falling afoul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown and farm-folk…

In these wartime strips that formula was naturally disrupted as the entire family found different ways to contribute to the war-effort.

As able-bodied patriots, Joe and Hen instantly joined up but frequently found time to pop back to share tantalising tastes of the army game. Paw became an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden – as did Granpaw – revealing exhausting nights on fire watch and days working at the ship yards, Maw worked with the Red Cross whilst the older girls joined the V.A.D. (Volunteer Aid Detachment). Was it merely joshing when their siblings reckoned it was just to meet more men in uniform…?

Even the fractious and boisterous young ‘uns found ways to “contribute”…

Oor Wullie also soldiered on, giving a splendidly childlike boost to morale with his own version of “chin up and carry on, regardless”. His basic set-up has always been sublimely simply and eternally evergreen: the lad is just an overly-imaginative, good-hearted scamp with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when it becomes appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal rascal with time on his hands. He can usually be found ruminatively sitting on an upturned tin bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, local copper P.C. Murdoch, assorted embattled teachers, relatives and other interfering adults who lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck et al.

During this period Wullie’s world was heavily populated with adults always ready to apply some corporal punishment and thuggish bullies equally eager to prove their physical superiority – a fact repeatedly explained away and apologised for by the embarrassed and more-evolved editors of our more civilised age…

The Lighter Side of World War II was released in 1997: part of a concerted drive to keep the earlier material available to fans. This lavish and sturdy hardback compilation (still readily available through internet vendors) offers a captivating selection of strips from April 30th 1939, with the conflict still brewing far away, and includes the entire war era before concluding in December 1945 as servicemen all over the Empire – including Hen and Joe – readied themselves for demobilisation and life on Civvie Street.

These mostly monochrome memos of mirth-under-fire begin with – and are periodically punctuated by – full-colour cover adaptations of early Annual frontispieces. In attendance are atmospheric and informative year-by-year photo-features, period editorial cartoons, fact pages and excerpted headlines from The Sunday Post and other newspapers of the time, all combining to create a chronological chronicle of the Second World War through warm, funny and indomitably defiant eyes…

The endless escapades begin in 1939 with a few pre-Hostilities traditional teasers starring Oor Wullie before The Broons kick off the “Big Show” with a strip from October 1st reflecting everyone’s sudden concern over food supplies and the draconian discipline of The Blackout. The situation soon becomes a new normal and the cartoon stars slip back into familiar gag territory enlivened by recurring themes such as Hen and Joe coming a cropper after getting the lasses to launder their uniforms…

Bonus feature ‘Oor Wullie’s War Effort’ offers a colourful perspective on the wee lad’s morale-boosting capers (with plenty of superbly cruel caricaturing of Axis leaders Hitler and Mussolini) and is followed by fact-filled asides revealing how a major publishing house accommodated the public drive to cut paper use and recycle whilst still plugging sales for Dandy, Beano and the rest…

Many Wullie strips dealt with the boisterous boy’s attempts to dodge school and join any branch of the Services who would take him, whilst, not to be outdone, Paw Broon became obsessed with spies, suspiciously bulging bags and foreign accents…

The New Year dawned with a comedy poem from the Oor Wullie 1940 Annual plus a photo-feature explaining how the conflict had progressed, after which the usual subject-matter – gleeful goofs, family frolics and slapstick tomfoolery – are augmented by gas-mask gags, bomb shelter shenanigans and childish war-games involving young and old alike, as well as strips addressing the perennial problem of how to throw parties under government restrictions. Moreover, you can’t spit (or polish) without hitting some posh officer in need of taking down a peg and all involved are constantly collecting scrap to Hurt the Hun…

A similar eccentric ode – ‘The Broons’ Hoose’ – culled from their 1941 Annual with attendant news-based picture-feature leads into that tumultuous year as an aura of artistic anarchy returned, with tales of good-natured poaching, calamitous make-do-and-mend moments, brief encounters with spivs, conmen and black marketeers as well as increased emphasis on making your own entertainment and growing your own food.

Every so often, however, the strips became a vehicle for public information as when Maw Broon uses her Co-Op “Divvy” to buy Government Savings Certificates. Every war brings out blowhards and know-it-alls, but the ones here always regret their windy pontificating whether the unwilling audiences contain Wullie or the Broon clan…

A selection of headlines, full-colour reproductions of the painted covers for 1941’s Broons and 1942’s Oor Wullie Annuals (the last ones until 1946) and the by-now traditional photo-piece precede a range of strips from the key year of the conflict, with rationing and privation now an accepted part of daily life.

It only made the strips more imaginative and funny as Watkins’s style matured into a mesmerising melding of smooth caricature with slickly realistic slapstick as morale-boosting sporting fixtures and brief forays into the countryside countered the grim or gloomy news in the rest of The Sunday Post. The year concludes with ‘At the Barber’s’: a Wullie strip from 1944 deconstructing the artist’s skill with line and form…

The 1943 photo-feature deals with good news from North Africa and Southern Italy and leads directly into yet more graphic goonery; but although specific events are never mentioned it’s clear that growing optimism is infecting all the cartoon characters. Many Wullie strips in particular could be happening before or after the conflict and no one would be any the wiser.

Men in uniform are far more common in the Broons segments, but here too they’re having fun, playing pranks and chasing lassies again…

‘Domestic Bliss’ is another deconstructed exploration of Dudley Watkins’ astounding facility with comedy staging and characterisation and precedes the 1944 photo-feature which concentrates naturally enough on D-Day.

What follows is a splendid succession of classic gag outings, with sweets back in stock, eggs aplenty, holiday outings, hospital visits and parties taking the attention away from the real world. Proper Toffs are regularly embarrassed again, officious policemen outraged and teachers are once more hard-pressed to keep control as Wullie returns to japes, misguided helpfulness and get rich-quick schemes, whilst the Glebe Street irregulars go back to teasing Daphne and Maggie over thwarted romances, finding new definitions for Paw’s cussedness, embarrassing Maw in front of guests and indulging in all sorts of uproarious bad behaviour…

After a selection of Sunday Post headlines from 1943-1945, the accompanying history photo concentrates on V.E. Day 1945 showing renewed exuberance, focusing on servicemen and loved ones coming home and funny business very much back getting back to normal.

Most individual years are especially celebrated with their specific memorable and joy-inducing Christmas/Hogmanay strips and the collection concludes with Wullie’s May 13th celebration of the European war’s ending whilst The Broons episode for December 2nd 1945 shows Joe and Hen still in uniform but unable to tell the difference between home chores when On Leave and Jankers when back in Camp…

Crammed with all-ages fun, rambunctious hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these inspirational examples of enviable disgrace and wit under fire celebrate a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t say fairer than that, can you?
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 1997.

Jinx


By J. Torres, Rick Burchett & Terry Austin (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93697-500-6 (HC)        : 978-1-87979-491-7 (PB)

Despite tremendous advances in the last decade or so, for most people, when we say comicbooks, thoughts either turn to outrageously buff men and women in garish tights or leather hitting each other and lobbing cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of already-confirmed fans.

For American comics these days that is indeed the norm. Over the years though (and throughout the rest of the world still), other forms and genres have continued to wax and wane.

One US company which has steadfastly held its ground against the tide over the decades – supported by a thriving spin-off TV and movie franchise – is a teen-comedy powerhouse which created a genre through the exploits of carrot-topped Archie Andrews and the two girls he could never choose between – Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

For far too many years, other companies largely ignored the fact that girls read comics too and, in their frantic, slavish pursuit of the spandex dollar, lost half their potential audience. Girls simply found other ways to amuse themselves until, in the 1990s, the rise of manga painfully proved to comics publishers what Archie Comics had always known.

Ever since that pivotal moment Editors have attempted to recapture that vast missing market: creating worthy titles and imprints dedicated to material for the teen/young adult audience (since not all boys thrive on a steady diet of cosmic punch-ups and vengeful vigilantes) which had embraced European classics like Tintin and Asterix, manga material, momentous comics epics like Maus and Persepolis or the abundant and prolific prose serials which produced such pop phenomena as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Archie thrived by never abandoning its female readership and by constant reinvention of its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages: shamelessly co-opting pop music, youth culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of major issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years), and the constant addition of timely characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others – such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom – all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

There are non-sensationalised interracial romances, and in 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle for a family-entertainment medium with the rapturously well-received introduction of Kevin Keller; an openly gay and proud young man who was a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids’ comics.

Where once cheap, prolific and ubiquitous, comics magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market. Moreover the improbably beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comicbooks are increasingly being supplanted by TV, movies and assorted interactive games media.

Happily, old-school prose publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, so the magazine makers’ surrender has been turned into a burgeoning victory, as solid and reassuringly sturdy Comics-as-Books increasingly buck the slowly perishing pamphlet/papers trend.

Publishers like Archie…

Jinx was another barely-noticed landmark which saw one of the company’s venerable and long-lived child-stars given a stunning makeover and refit courtesy of a multi award-winning creative team.

Writer J. Torres (Teen Titans Go!, Degrassi: the Next Generation, Alison Dare, Days Like This, Lola – a Ghost Story and others) in conjunction with celebrated artists Rick Burchett (Batman Adventures, American Flagg!, Blackhawk, Black Hood) & Terry Austin (X-Men, Superman, Batman, Cloak and Dagger) are responsible for turning adorable six-year old tomboy Li’l Jinx into a genuine icon of, if not role-model for, modern teenaged girls in a style and manner at once astonishingly accessible and classically captivating.

If you qualify as an Ancient One like me, you might be familiar with precocious, feisty Li’l Jinx who debuted in Pep Comics #62 (cover-dated July 1947). Created by Joe Edwards, she debuted as the publisher began dropping superheroes such as the Shield and Black Hood to specialise in kid-friendly humour features. Over the coming decades she appeared in her own title, as well as Li’l Jinx Giant Laugh-Out and assorted anthologies such as Pep and Archie Giant Series Magazine.

Like Edwards’ own son, her birthday was on Halloween and the writer/artist put much of himself into the strip. A boisterous, basically decent, sports-loving, mischievous tyke (in the manner of our Minnie the Minx), when not romping, cavorting and tussling with other kid pals Gigi, Greg, Charley Hawse, Russ, Roz and Mort the Worry Wart, Jinx almost exclusively interacted with her long-suffering dad Hap Holliday.

Her mother was seldom seen. The kid’s Christian name is lost to history: apparently so screamingly embarrassing that to utter it was to invite battered ear drums and mangled limbs…

Li’l Jinx faded away gradually during the 1980s as fashionista-teenagers and Mutant Turtles supplanted the pesky kid characters in Archie’s increasingly “young adult” oriented stable.

Jinx Holliday was revived and given a thorough 21st century upgrade for a new serial in Life With Archie (#7-11, March-June 2011); a growing girl just starting big school. The former tomboy hadn’t lost all her rough edges though…

This volume collects the serialised story of her beginning the inescapable if deplorable process of becoming responsible – with all the scary changes that entails…

After a handy ‘Cast of Jinx’ page, the dramatic comedy (available in both paperback and hardcover editions) opens with 4-part tale ‘Little Jinx Grows up’ – as serialised in Life With Archie – with the nervous Californian 14-year old starting at Rose Valley High School where she immediately falls foul of draconian martinet Principal Mr. Vernon.

At least many of her oldest friends are starting too, but they all seem so changed and grown up since summer vacation…

As they settle in, Jinx is oblivious to the fact that more than one of the boys she used to wrestle and play football with now treat her differently…

She’s just starting to hate the place and its stupid rules when Greg points out the final straw: Freshman Baseball – in fact all her favourite sports – are for boys only. Former child model Gigi is typically smug about it, hinting again that it’s time Jinx began acting like a girl, but that only provokes the incensed tomboy to break another rule…

Everybody is talking about Jinx after she extremely publicly signs up for Football Tryouts, and neither a barracking from Mr. Vernon or some heavy-handed bullying of Greg by the senior Football squad can change her mind.

The Principal thinks he has the final word after making Jinx take a permission slip home to her dad, but after Hap Holliday absolutely refuses to let his little girl get crippled by teenaged Neanderthals, Jinx simple forges his signature…

The tryouts are a disaster, but at least Greg is honestly trying to help her. Surly Charley, however, delivers a tackle that results in her being stretchered off, and when dad is called to school all hell breaks loose…

While she’s grounded and recovering, BFF Roz starts dropping hints about Greg and romance, promptly going into snoopy overdrive when a mystery caller leaves a large bouquet of flowers…

For the first time Jinx realises High School is just one big stew of frustrated hormones which only adds to her worries. So preoccupied is she that, when Greg timidly asks her to a dance, she doesn’t realise what he’s saying and shoots him down without even noticing. The mystery flower-sender – covertly watching – does, however, and seethes…

Flustered, confused and determined to end the turmoil in her head, Jinx then ambushes and pre-emptively kisses Greg, but the result is something neither of them nor their secret stalker expected…

The grand gesture completely destabilises Jinx who goes into a spiral of angry depression and tetchy acting-up. Baffled Hap is hopeless to cope, and, with Halloween approaching, throws himself into organising her birthday costume party: a tradition they’ve enjoyed since she was a toddler. He has no idea how much his little girl has changed and that the prospect of a party sounds like torture to her…

And thus the scene is set for a showdown nobody will ever forget…

All dramatic foreboding aside, this clever, warm tale ends well and promises much more for the future. Smart, witty and intoxicatingly engaging, Jinx is a superb example of what can be accomplished in comics if you’re prepared to portray modern kids on their terms and address their issues and concerns.

Without ever resorting to overblown soap melodrama or angst-ridden teen clichés, Torres has delivered a believable cast of young friends who aren’t stupid or selfish, but simply trying to find their own tentative ways to maturity. The art by Burchett and Austin is semi-realistic and mesmerisingly effective.

This terrific turbulent tome includes many bonus features such as a ‘Football Pinup’, J. Torres’ thoughts and commentary on the story as described in ‘The Voice of Jinx’ and a fascinating, picture-packed peek behind the scenes in ‘The Concept Art of Jinx’.

More production secrets are revealed by Editor Suzannah Rowntree, describing how the project was conceived and created in ‘The Story of Teen Jinx’ and there’s even a smart selection of one-page Short Comics treats to wrap up the fun.

‘Fitting In’, ‘It’s Complicated’, ‘Frenemy of the State’, ‘The Dating Game’ and ‘Chat Fight’ all combine to prove that although they might be growing up, the cast are still kids at heart…

Compellingly funny, gently heart-warming and totally absorbingly, this book will resonate with kids and parents, offering genuine human interactions rather than repetitively manufactured atom-powered fistfights to hold your attention. It especially gives women a solid reason to give comics another try.

Sheer exuberant fun; perfectly crafted and utterly irresistible…
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead


Adapted by Richard Corben, with Beth Corben Reed & Nate Piekos (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-356-2

Richard Corben is one of America’s greatest proponents of graphic narrative: an animator, illustrator, publisher and cartoonist, catapulting from the tumultuous wave of independent counterculture commix of the 1960s and 1970s to become a major force in comic storytelling with his own unmistakable style and vision.

He is equally renowned for his mastery of airbrush, captivatingly excessive anatomical stylisation and delightfully wicked, darkly comedic horror, fantasy and science fiction tales. In later years he has become an elder statesman of horror and fantasy comics lending his gifts and cachet to such icons as John Constantine, Hulk, Hellboy, Punisher and Ghost Rider as well as new adaptations and renditions of literary classics by the likes of William Hope Hodgson, Lovecraft and the master of gothic terror Edgar Allan Poe.

Corben didn’t sell out; American publishing simply caught up, finally growing mature enough to accommodate him, due in no small part to his own broad and pervasive influence…

Born in Anderson, Missouri in 1940, he graduated with a Fine Arts degree in 1965 and found work as an animator. At that time, the neutered comicbooks of the Comics-Code Authority era were just starting to lose disaffected, malcontent older fans to the hippy-trippy, freewheeling, anything-goes publications of independent-minded creators across the continent who were increasingly making the kind of material Preachers and Mummy and her Lawyers wouldn’t approve of…

Creativity honed by the resplendent and explicitly mature 1950s EC Comics, Carl Barks’ perfectly crafted Duck tales and other classy early strips, a plethora of young artists like Corben responded with a variety of small-press publications – including Grim Wit, Slow Death, Skull, Fever Dreams and his own Fantagor – which featured shocking, rebellious, sexed-up, raw, brutal, psychedelically-inspired cartoons and strips blending the new wave of artists’ unconventional lifestyles with their earliest childhood influences… honestly crafting the kind of stories they would like to read.

Corben inevitably graduated to more professional – and paying – venues. As his style and skills developed he worked for Warren Publishing in Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, Comix International and outrageous adult science fiction anthology 1984/1994. He famously coloured some strips for the revival of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Soon after he was producing stunning graphic escapades for a number of companies, making animated movies, painting film posters and producing record covers such as the multi-million-selling Meatloaf album Bat Out of Hell. He has never stopped creating comics but prefers personal independent projects or working with in-tune collaborators such as Bruce Jones, Jan Strnad and Harlan Ellison.

In 1975 Corben approached French fantasy phenomenon Métal Hurlant and quickly became a fixture of its American iteration Heavy Metal, cementing his international reputation in the process. Garnering huge support and acclaim in Europe, he has been regularly collected in luxurious albums even as he seemingly fell out of favour – and print – in his own country. Through it all he has never strayed far from his moss-covered roots.

This particular tome gathers a recent return to adaptations of the classic Poe canon; all-new, 21st century, often rather radical reinterpretations of the troubled author’s greatest works, as published in The Fall of the House of Usher #1-2, one-shots The Conqueror Worm, The Raven and the Red Death, The Premature Burial and Morella and the Murders in the Rue Morgue plus some short tales originally published in Dark Horse Presents #9, #16-18 and #28-29; collectively spanning the period November 2012-April 2014.

The horrific hagiography – each tale attributed with its year of publication and adapted with the colouring assistance of Beth Corben Reed and lettering expertise of Nate Piekos of Blambot® – opens following an erudite, informative and compelling Introduction ‘Masters of the Macabre: Edgar Allan Poe and Richard Corben’ by university professor, author, Poe expert and comics scholar Thomas M. Inge and the mood-setting poem ‘Spirits of the Dead (1827)’ before the artistic extravaganza unfolds with aged, one-eyed crone Maggy as host and guide to the selection which follows.

In ‘Alone (1828)’ morbid, death-haunted Solomon discusses his distressing dreams with the intoxicating but strangely unmoved Liea whilst ‘The City in the Sea (1831)’ sees a shipwrecked sea captain forced to explain his recent dramatic actions to a dank and unforgiving tribunal who have markedly different views to him on what constitutes duty, business sense, cargo and humanity…

Many of these interpretations employ embedded lines of Poe’s verse, such as ‘The Sleeper (1831)’ which sees a well-deserved fate meted out to a rich philanderer who had his wife and her murderer killed to further his own carnal desires whilst ‘The Assignation (1834)’ examines a toxic relationship where husband and wife cannot live together… or apart…

‘Berenice (1835)’ is one of Poe’s most stomach-churning, nerve-jangling yarns and Corben does it full justice as bereaved Egaeus watches over the corpse of his recently-deceased betrothed. However, even in death he cannot turn his mind away from an overwhelming fascination with her perfect teeth…

The deeply unsettling story of ‘Morella (1835)’ reveals how a vain witch orchestrates her own death and resurrection as her own daughter to keep her husband properly seduced and in line, before focus shifts to ancient Greece and the inevitable approach of death amongst the warriors at a funeral: a wake tainted by the unquiet dead and an oppressive ‘Shadow (1835)’

In the luxuriously expansive The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)’ artist and traveller Allan is broaches a befuddling, bilious and deadly swamp to reach the ancestral seat of the ancient Usher clan and visit an old school chum.

Like the family, the vast manse is slowly dissolving into the mire that surrounds and supports it. The decadent, failing blood of melancholic master and obsessive portraitist Roderick Usher masks many bizarre behaviours, but not even that can excuse his vile attitude to his seemingly subjugated, clandestinely closeted, sumptuously seductive deranged sister Madeline whose essence he is determined to capture on canvas at any cost…

As he stares at the too-intimate pencil studies, Allan too is drawn to the girl: a feeling only intensified once they actually meet…

By secret means she makes the visitor aware of a unique plight and urges him to assist her escape but Roderick will go to any lengths to keep his sister with him and would rather extinguish the family line rather than lose her.

That is unless the repelled, rebellious Earth doesn’t reclaim the crumbling house and the decadent Ushers first…

Infamous for his dark, doom-laden horror stories, Poe was also a pioneer of crime fiction and next up is a grimly effective and trenchantly black-humoured adaptation of the debut tale starring French gentleman detective Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin and his partner in peril Beluc.

Here the dandified dynamic duo put their heads together to solve an impossible locked room mystery which resulted in the brutal dismemberment of two women in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)’: a crime with a callous perpetrator but no culpable killer…

‘The Masque of the Red Death (1842)’ then returns to classical themes and supernal horror as plague grips the lands of regal Prospero. Faced with difficult choices, the lord opts to bring his richest cronies within his opulent castle to safely disport themselves in debauched revelry whilst the contagion burns itself out on the peasantry. Sadly, the foolish sybarite has made one grave and arrogant error which will cost him everything…

Under Corben’s imaginative purview, grim gloomy ode ‘The Conqueror Worm (1843)’ is transformed into a salutary saga of inescapable vengeance as proud Colonel Mann kills his errant wife and her lover but is tainted with a maggot that burrows into his body and soul.

Feigning innocence and ignorance, Mann salves his “tragic loss” by employing an itinerant puppet show for a family party but the mummers expose that most proper paragon’s sins before utterly consuming him, whilst in ‘The Premature Burial (1844)’ a close shave with attempted murder and molestation of the dead turns Lucian into a man obsessed with being buried alive and Arnold’s inability to forget his dead Lenore leads to an unforgettable encounter with ‘The Raven (1845)’ in a visual tour de force every inch as potent as Poe’s poem.

Wrapping up the journey into mysteries is a deft retelling of ‘The Cask of Amontillado, (1846)’ wherein aging Montressor at last shares a long-held secret with the wife of his old friend Fortunato, now missing for many a year.

As he guides her through his deep vaults, filled with the remains of his ancestors and his precious wine collection, gloating Montressor tells the increasing nervous widow of her husband’s ghastly fate and why and how the poor, bibulous buffoon vanished so completely that long-ago night…

Accompanied by a stunning Cover Gallery, this compelling collection of classic chillers is a modern masterpiece of arcane abomination and human horror no shock addict of mystery lover will want to miss.
Spirits of the Dead™ © 2012, 2013, 2014 Richard Corben. All rights reserved.