The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 6: Ma Dalton


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-14-4

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and evergreen comics characters being in any way controversial, but when changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (over 80 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and was first seen the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Prior to that, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo, and joined weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of la Bande des quatre or “The Gang of Four” comprising Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose, free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which predominated in Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists on Tintin Magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited the USA, meeting American comics creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, linking up with fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny eventually produced 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris himself died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus some spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others all taking a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun during the late 1950s and once again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…) and Ma Dalton was the sixth of their 54 (and counting) albums, now available both on paper and as e-books.

Chronologically it was the cowboy’s 38th chronicle and Goscinny’s 29th collaboration with Morris, offering an engagingly riotous romp and a stupendously shocking showdown situation wherein all the laconic lawman’s legendary speed proved as nothing when facing a foe he could not draw against…

It all begins after another suitably heroic escapade with our hero is relaxing in boisterous Cactus Junction when he stumbles upon the strangest hold-up he’s ever seen, as a little old lady holds up the local butcher at gunpoint and gets away with a steak and some scraps for her cat. Baffled, he tracks her to the store next door where a similar scenario occurs.

On questioning the shopkeepers Luke is informed that proud old Ma Dalton has fallen on hard times and the sympathetic merchants have all agreed – even though her creaky old six-gun doesn’t work – to let her “rob” them whenever she runs out of the necessities of life such as tea, soap, food and scraps for her horrible cat “Sweetie”…

And yes, the engaging old biddy is indeed the mother of Luke’s intolerable arch-enemies: those vile owlhoot miscreants Averell, Jack, William and their devious, slyly psychotic, overly-bossy shorter brother Joe

Sadly, Ma isn’t as sweet as everybody thinks. She knows full well what the infamous Dalton Gang are all about. Her lads are still in jail after the last time the tall busybody put them there, but as she writes them a letter they are again making a break for it. It’s easier than usual this time since the prison is a multi-story affair made mostly from wood…

As it burns to the ground the warden thinks he’s pretty smart chaining Joe to faithful prison hound Rin Tin Can but has forgotten that the vain, friendly and exceedingly dim pooch is utterly loyal to absolutely everybody.

The outraged authoritarian only realises his mistake when the boys abscond, taking the deliriously unresisting mutt with them…

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in Luke’s adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title. The moronic mutt earns his spurs here, being a literal drag on the villains’ progress until he tries chasing Sweetie after the boys sneak home. Ma however is a stern and commanding pet owner who paralyses the pooch with one curt command…

As they lay low, old family pressures build again at the Dalton shack. Dim, sneaky Averell was always Ma’s favourite and as he again sops up all her attention Joe, Jack and William settle upon a scheme to make some cash whilst they’re hiding out. It revolves around the fact that Daltons all look remarkably similar and, once the moustaches are off and they’re wearing her old dresses, the boys can pass for their mum in any shop or bank in the region with Lucky Luke none the wiser…

However when Averell starts joining in and queering the guileful gig, the “old dear” is seen in stores miles apart in Alfalfa City and Tumbleweed Town, swiping cash and guns rather than vegetables and soap, and the canny cowboy quickly puts two and two together…

Soon the infamous family are on the run with Lucky and Jolly Jumper hard on their heels. But it’s guile and not gunplay that will win the day since nobody expects the gangling gunfighter to draw down on a little old lady. She just might end up as “the one who got away”…

Fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour colour this splendidly mad ride: another grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Cat Ballou, superbly executed by master storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.

Fante Bukowski


By Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-851-9

Here’s a grand little digest-sized poke at in the snoot of authorial pomposity and the Eternal Dreams of Idiots deliciously delivered by seemingly tireless and provably incisive cartoonist Noah Van Sciver, one of the most intriguing and unpredictable creators around.

Sciver has walked the walk since 2006; self-publishing stories in his stripzine Blammo (9½ issues so far) before finding a publisher (Kilgore Books & Comics) to handle the drudgework of production, generated a weekly newspaper strip (4 Questions in Denver’s Westword), won an Ignatz Award and gradually work in publications such as Mome, The Comics Journal, Best American Comics and Mad Magazine.

In 2012 his excellent first graphic novel The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln made plenty of critical waves, as did his surprising follow-up Saint Cole, a gruelling exploration of life on the minimum wage.

Now he’s turned his sharp eye and fascination with the Human Condition to a punishing comedy of delusional manners featuring “That Guy” whom we’ve all met: the desperate, delusory “Artiste” who’s a legend in his own mind and grows increasingly impatient with how long it’s taking the world to discover him…

Before he legally changed his name, Fante Bukowski had read all those life-changing books by John Fante & Charles Bukowski and knew he was going to write the next Great American Novel. That would show everybody they were wrong about him – especially his dad…

Now, living on secret handouts from Mom, he infests a dingy hotel room, clad either in dirty underwear or the traditional writer’s uniform of unruly beard, elbow-patched tweed jacket, baggy trousers and suppressed desperation; drinking too much and creating nothing…

He haunts bars and stalks agents, seeking “the Big Idea” that will start him writing his magnificent gift to the world, completely oblivious to the characters around him who could so easily populate and enrich the book he dreams of, but which is just not in him…

Constructed through a series of painfully illustrative vignettes such as ‘Struggling Writer’, ‘Fante Bukowski Stays Up’, ‘Fante Walks Home’, ‘Fante Needs Money’ and ‘Fante Has No Car’, with each illustrative moment haunted and mocked by aspirational quotes from all his literary forebears who actually could put word to paper, he shambles through life bemoaning the unfairness of it all.

He almost thinks he’s at last on the way when he scores with a conflicted young author struggling with writer’s block, but all her valuable contacts have seen his sort before…

He even tries to emulate Kerouac but doesn’t get far before realising how unpleasant The Great Outdoors is and just how scary are people who pick up hitch-hikers, but Fante does at least, at last, learn one unforgettable lesson…

Trenchant, brittle and mercilessly funny, this full-colour paperback novella also includes a selection of cruelly authorial pin-ups by guest-artists Zak Sally, John Porcellino, Jesse Jacobs, Joseph Remnant, Leslie Stein and Eric Reynolds.
Fante Bukowski © 2015, Noah Van Sciver. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Leaf


By Daishu Ma (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-853-3

Sequential Art – or “comics” as I stubbornly prefer to think of it – is generally typified as a marriage of text with a series of illustrations designed to tell a story and impart a mood, but it’s always been a nebulously open-ended venture with little time for hard and fast rules and happy to avoid definition.

For instance if a story has an overabundance of words in too few pictures, the result is little more than illustrated prose, but if you go the other way and minimise, or even complete exclude words, what you have is the absolute zenith in comics communication. And more often than not, it’s the best writers who use the least verbiage, whether they illustrate the story or not…

Daishu Ma is a Chinese cartoonist, artist and designer working in Barcelona who, with her first graphic novel Leaf, has joined a rarefied band of international illustrative icons (Jim Woodring, Jason and our own Raymond Briggs being regularly amongst the most prominent) who have frequently eschewed and transcended the printed word and strictures of graphic narrative, allowing methodically crafted imagery to establish scenes, define characters, create nuance and carry a tale.

…Or rather here, a politically-edged, industrially-condemning eco-parable, since her sublime, meticulous and astonishingly beguiling pencil-tone art – enhanced by smartly applied splashes of mood-enhancing pastel colour – exposes a blandly bleak industrial environment on the brink of eradicating the last vestiges of the natural world…

This is a story you must experience for yourself so let’s content ourselves with the basic facts: when a young man on an excursion finds a fallen leaf which pulses with an uncanny, comforting radiance he covertly takes it back to the ever-sprawling city.

His teeming conurbation, bustling office of employment and even extremely basic, always empty apartment are all drab and dolorous despite the plentiful supply of monopolistic artificial lights and he realises that what he’s found is something special, even inspirational.

Increasingly obsessed, he roams the bustling city, seeking someone who can explain what he hides in his home. The revelatory journey takes him to unsuspected, people-packed enclaves of joy, wonder and despondency and into many folks’ lost memories of better times, when he encounters a young woman who has dedicated her life to understanding the rapidly vanishing flora of the world and a strangely timid old man who seems to know all the secrets of light-making…

And once the finder obsessively follows a convoluted trail to a hidden truth, how can he not risk everything in a bold act to change his overcrowded, oppressive, unhappy world?

Entrancing, subtle and seductive in a purely primal manner, Leaf offers a vision of hope for all lovers of beautiful simplicity and natural wonder.

© 2015 Daishu Ma. All rights reserved.

Zombillenium: Volume 1: Human Resources


By Arthur de Pins (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-850-5

Arthur de Pins is a British-born French filmmaker, commercial artist and Bande Dessinées creator whose strips – like adult comedy Peccadilloes (AKA Cute Sins) and On the Crab – have appeared in Fluide Glacial and Max. His beautifully illustrated Zombillénium began serialisation in Spirou #3698 (2009) and has filled three albums to date which are being released in English thanks to Canadian publisher NBM.

Rendered in a beguiling animated cartoon style, the saga features stories set in a theme park, run by the revived dead and operated for unspecified reasons by nebulous demonic powers.

Zombillenium is a truly magical entertainment experience celebrating all aspects of horror and the supernatural, where families can enjoy a happy day out rubbing shoulders with werewolves and witches and all manner of bogeymen. Of course, the customers might not laugh so much if they knew all those monsters were real, usually hungry and didn’t much like humans … except in a culinary fashion…

The first volume introduced Director Francis Von Bloodt, newly-created monster Aurelian Zahner (a former human and pathetically inept thief) and oddly secretive young British Witch Gretchen – who is “only” an intern at the park – all toiling away at a place which reeks of inhospitable working conditions.

The employees are literally little more than slaves and conditions continually threaten to get worse: Zombillenium is one of the least-profitable holiday destinations on Earth and “the Board” are always threatening to make draconian changes…

Despite the incredible power of the Zombie Trade Union, the only way out of a Zombillenium contract is the True Death and for some reason the shop-stewards blame Aurelian for all their woes and are determined to drive him out.

As Zahner adapted to his new indentured (un)life, Gretchen once shared a strict confidence with him, relating her life-story, revealing what he has actually become and explaining what she is really doing at the Park. The big boob has no idea what and how much she left out…

Human Resources begins amidst seething and escalating local troubles even as an obnoxious family find their day-trip to the park plagued by minor mishaps, missed turns and lost opportunities until they come across Aurelian out jogging. He graciously offers to guide them through the ever-shifting roads to their destination…

Little Tim’s “present” has already driven mum and dad back into their old, well-practised arguments but the lad is too busy being fabulously spooked and enthralled by the ever-so-convincing “performer” sitting beside him in the back. They’re all equally unaware of the tensions mounting in the human town just beyond the attraction.

In this region unemployment is 25% but the only even-remotely thriving concern refuses to hire anyone local. Animosity and suspicion has led to vandalism and worse, but would the ill-informed protestors even apply for jobs if they were offered? After all, the primary qualification for employment at the park is a total lack of all medically-recognised life-functions…

As Aurelian gives Tim the VIP tour, Gretchen passes by and is shocked to realise that the kid’s mum is not all she seems to be. When the surly and abrasive visitor then attacks one of the smaller employees and is taken into custody, Von Bloodt too is taken aback: he knows the bullying, bossy virago from somewhere long ago…

There’s not really time however to solve her baffling mystery though, since a fresh crisis is brewing. A few hours earlier animated skeleton Sirius Jefferson went for a bike ride and was abducted by disgruntled, unemployed skinheads. Using portions of his dismantled anatomy they have since surreptitiously invaded the complex workings under Zombillenium carrying explosives and determined to wreak havoc.

Most critical of all is that little Tim has gone missing. Despite a big search by all the staff not engaged in tracking down the saboteurs, the kid just can’t be found. Then, in a moment of aghast clarity, the Vampire-In-Charge realises exactly who his mother is and why the boy must never, ever meet radical young demon Astaroth: the prime advocate and most strident supporter the sport of human hunting, who bears an uncanny but horrifyingly explicable resemblance to the missing child…

From this point on things can only go badly, and not all Gretchen, Aurelian and Von Bloodt’s efforts might be enough to prevent chaos turning into bloody Pandemonium…

One of the most engaging candidates in a burgeoning category of seditiously mature and subversively ironic horror-comedies, this superb and deliciously arch tale will appeal to fans of such films as Hotel Transylvania and Igor and such graphic narrative classics as Boneyard, Rip M.D. and especially Melusine or The Littlest Pirate King, all of which combine pop-cultural archetypes with smart and sassy contemporary insouciance.

Sly, smart, sexy and scarily hilarious, Zombillenium achieves that spectacular trick of marrying slapstick with satire in a manner reminiscent of Asterix and Cerebus the Aardvark, whilst easily treading its own path. You’ll curse yourself for missing out and if you don’t there are things out there which will.
© Dupuis 2011. © NBM, 2014 for the English translation.

Marvel Platinum: the Definitive Ant-Man


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Roy Thomas, David Michelinie, Kurt Busiek, Robert Kirkman, Tim Seeley, Nick Spencer, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Ivan Reis, Phil Hester, Ramon Rosanas & various (Marvel/Panini UK)

ISBN: 978-1-84653-658-8

With another Marvel filmic franchise setting records around the world, here’s a timely tie-in trade paperback collection designed to perfectly augment the cinematic exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Part of the always-enticing Marvel Platinum/Definitive Edition series, this treasury of tales reprints intriguing landmarks and key moments from Tales to Astonish #27, 35, Avengers #59-60, Marvel Premiere #47-48, Marvel Team-Up #103, Avengers Annual 2001, #1, Irredeemable Ant-Man #1-2, Ant-Man and Wasp #1-3 and Ant-Man #1, convolutedly spanning January 1962 to March 2015, and hopefully answering any questions the silver screen saga might throw up whilst providing an immense amount of spectacularly bombastic fighting fun.

One thing to recall at all times however is that there are numerous distinct and separate iterations of the tiny terror and whilst the film concentrates on the first and second there are a few more here to tantalise and tempt you, so pay close attention…

Moreover, in addition to the sparkling Brady Webb Foreword, this compendium contains text features detailing the secret history and statistics of three of those Ant Men: Hank Pym, Scott Lang and the infamous Eric O’Grady, plus Mike Conroy’s scholarly trawl through comicbook history in ‘The True Origin of the Ant-Man’.

The unlikeliest of heroic titans debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, released at the end of 1961, one month after Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands: a 7-page short which introduced maverick scientist Dr Henry Pym, who discovered a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’

Overwhelmed and imperilled by his startling discovering, the lonely researcher found wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth… and under it…

This engaging piece of fluff, which owed much to classic Sci Fi movie The Incredible Shrinking Man was plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers: intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”.

However the character struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished and Lee sprung the Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

The anthology title began featuring a new costumed champion as ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’ by Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers found Soviet agents (this was at the height of Marvel’s ‘Commie-Buster’ period when every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) capturing Pym and holding him prisoner in his own laboratory.

Forced to use his long-abandoned shrinking gases and the cybernetic devices he’d built to communicate with ants, the scientist soundly trounced the spies and resolved to use his new-found powers for the good of Mankind.

Pym’s costumed exploits – shared with girlfriend Janet Van Dyne after his brilliance gave her powers as the Wasp from #44 onwards and expanded once he became Giant Man in #49 – ran until issue #69 (July 1965) whereupon he was impudently and unceremoniously ousted in favour of the Sub-Mariner. Thereafter he gradually migrated to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, changing his battle-nomenclature to Goliath.

That changed again in Avengers volume 1, #59 and 60 (December 1968 and January 1969) where, thanks to increasing mental instability and overwork, his team-mates were astounded to discover ‘The Name is Yellowjacket!’

Scripted by Roy Thomas and illustrated by John Buscema & George Klein, the tale saw Goliath and the Wasp finally marry under the most dubious of circumstances after heroic Dr. Pym was seemingly murdered and replaced by a new insect-themed hero with an edgy ruthlessly brutal character and far fewer morals…

Packed with heroic guest-stars and the deadly Circus of Evil in attendance, the nuptial tale concluded in ‘…Till Death Do Us Part!’ (inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey DeMeo) with some semblance of sanity and normality at last restored.

Next up here is the introduction of reformed thief Scott Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979, David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton) with ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’ revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime, more out of boredom than necessity, and after being caught and serving his time joined Stark Industries as a determinedly reformed character… until his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition which wiped out his savings forcing Scott to revert to old ways to save her.

He was desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim and began casing likely prospects, but unfortunately she had been abducted by merciless industrialist Darren Cross who was currently using all the resources of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash now just to broach the CTE complex, Lang went back to Plan A and burgled the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym, where he discovered old Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness Lang decided not to sell the stolen tech but instead used the outfit to break in to Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan wasn’t so great either as the dying billionaire, in a desperate attempt to stay alive, had been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which had mutated him into a monstrous brute. After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Scott eventually triumphed; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved Yellowjacket then invited Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

After guest shots in The Avengers and Iron Man (not included here) Lang resurfaced for a spectacular clash against villainous lifestyle coach Taskmaster in Marvel Team-Up #103 (March 1983). Crafted by Michelinie, Jerry Bingham & Esposito ‘The Assassin Academy’ saw the diminutive neophyte hero save Spider-Man from becoming an object lesson for the graduating class at a deadly school for henchmen, after which we jump to the Avengers Annual (September) 2001, where Kurt Busiek, Ivan Reis & Scott Hanna cleared up a long-running case of doppelganger confusion…

Ever since the Avengers reunited following the end of the Onslaught publishing event Pym had been acting strangely: switching between Giant-Man and Yellowjacket personas and suffering bizarre mood-swings. Now it was revealed that his powers had caused the separation and manifestation of two discrete and antagonistic entities and it took the intervention of an insidious enemy and ‘The Third Man’ to put things right…

Clearly a character-concept with a lot of cachet and potential but no direction, the size-shifting stalwart underwent a radical revision in Irredeemable Ant-Man #1-2 (from December 2005 and January 2006) as the art team of Phil Hester & Ande Parks joined innovative scripter by Robert Kirkman in a sharp, snappy and gloriously irreverent reinterpretation.

When veteran Doctor Pym designed a new super suit, tricked up with loads of gadgets and capable of shrinking the wearer to ant-size, he did it under the auspices of super-spy organisation SHIELD. However, he didn’t expect it to be accidentally stolen by the security men guarding it – but then again nobody imagined such a prestigious, efficient organisation could employ such worthless, shiftless, useless slackers as trainee agents Eric O’Grady and Chris McCarthy.

When, after a series of improbable mishaps McCarthy put on the suit and was trapped and lost at ant size aboard the Helicarrier, Eric was too scared to admit it was a foul-up and not enemy action.

Later when a genuine crisis occurs, a horrific tragedy leaves the shrinking suit in O’Grady’s so-very unworthy hands and he resolves to try and make amends. Sadly Eric is an inveterate rat-bag and finds the temptation to use his new-found gift to spy on the women’s showers, cash in, score with chicks he rescues and generally act like a selfish ass too great to resist….

When Janet Van Dyne fell during the Skrulls’ Secret Invasion her estranged husband rededicated himself to heroic endeavour and took her codename as his own, leading his own cadre of Mighty Avengers as Earth’s Scientist Supreme. From that period comes the 3-part Limited Series Ant-Man and Wasp #1 (January-March 2011) wherein Tim Seeley & Hector Olazaba team the po-faced über-technologist with well-intentioned, weak-willed costumed Frat-Boy Eric O’Grady in a guest-star stuffed, trans-dimensional battle against AIM supremo Monica Rappacini and a rogue sleepwalker from the dream-drenched Mindscape to save a stolen virtual construct of the afterlife…

Wrapping up the eenie-weenie excitement comes Ant-Man #1 from March 2015 which reboots back-from-the-dead Scott Lang as a down on his luck, impoverished hero seeking to rebuild his life as a security officer for Stark Industries. This is a smart, engaging tale by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas was released as a 5-part miniseries but as only the first chapter is included here I’m saying nothing more since I’m going to review the complete story in its own compilation in a few days time…

With covers by Kirby, Ayers, John Buscema, Bob Layton, Dave Cockrum & Bob McLeod, Bingham, Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, Hester, Salvador Espin and Mark Brooks, this quirky slice of up-scaled and down-sized derring-do is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, whacky fun and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice the newcomers and charm even the most jaded slice ‘n’ dice fanatic.

© 1962, 1968, 1969, 1979, 1981, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2015 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. British edition published by Panini UK.

Twin Spica volume 10


By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-24-7

Kou Yaginuma first captured the hearts and minds with poignant short story 2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi (2015: Fireworks, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper, June 2000), before expanding the subject and themes into a major manga epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

2024 AD: diminutive teenager Asumi Kamogawa always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the solitary child gazed up at the stars with imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially gripped by the twinkling glow of Virgo and alluring binary star Spica.

An isolated, serious child, she lived with her father, a common labourer who had once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

When Asumi was one year old, the first Japanese manned launch ended in catastrophe after rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”) exploded during its maiden flight: crashing to earth on the coastal city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother.

Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised infant Asumi.

In response to the disaster Japan set up an astronautics and space sciences training facility where, after years of determined struggle, Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (who used to bully her as a child back in Yuigahama), boisterous Kei Oumi, chilly, distant Marika Ukita and ultra-cool Shu Suzuki, Asumi inexorably moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, shy, retiring, looks weak and is very poor – Asumi endures and always succeeds. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who seems to be the ghost of an astronaut from the Shishigō

Individual instalments in these compelling monochrome volumes are presented as “Missions”, methodically combining into an overarching mosaic detailing the subtle interconnectedness of generations of characters, all linked by the call of the heavens.

Volume 10 comprises numbers 56-64, and includes another enchanting autobiographical vignette from the author’s own teenage years in his Another Spica occasional series.

The story resumes as the students all head out to the mountains for another gruelling series of metal and physical tortures claiming to be training exercises, which give the fated five another chance to bond as arduous underwater repair protocols take on an added dimension as they compete against robots.

The daunting subtext is simple: the mechanoids are far more appealing to the government and funding authorities. They cost less to train and there’s no public outcry if they are lost. The stars-struck kids’ only hope is that the machines cannot yet compete with the pluck and ingenuity of living astronauts…

Whilst the students fret and train, back at Space School Asauri News journalist Ichimura is getting closer to corroborating his suspicions: Ukita is not a normal human and her “father” – publicity-shy life-sciences mogul Senri Ukita – has done something at once astonishing and ethically shady following the death of his first daughter years ago…

The thought triggers another flashback when, as a boy in Yuigahama, Ichimura (and his doomed friend who became an astronaut on the Lion) waited by the bed of a pale, chronically ill little girl and begged her unfeeling father not to take her away…

Mission: 57 opens with Asumi and her companions still valiantly giving their all in a modern “John Henry” battle against encroaching automation, but the stakes subtly change when she talks to the robot designers and understands the tragic passion which drives them to remove the necessity for humans in space. They too learn something from her counterarguments before 58 sees the end of the one-sided exercise and the dejected students’ glum return to school for the dog-days of summer in Mission: 59.

As Kei tries to lift everyone’s spirits Marika slips away to pick up another 90 days worth of the experimental drugs which keep her unique condition under control and time slips back again to the long-ago days when she read the diary of the other Marika: the weak one who preceded her…

Later the gang meet up and – due to a just a little chicanery – opt to spend another summer vacation in the unlikely seaside resort of Yuigahama. Later Marika confides in Asumi; suggesting that whatever happens in years to come, those who are left should always meet there in summer. Later, as they all trundle down on the scenic train their spirits rise, except perhaps star-boy Suzuki who sleeps quietly, utterly unaware that he has yet another nosebleed…

The restful recuperation begins in Mission: 60 with a visit to the shrines to the dead from the crash and gentle little bonding moments – except for grouchy Fuchuya who is once again pressed into service at the family fireworks factory. It’s the not the work he minds: it the continuing frustration that he cannot find again the specific blend of chemicals which produced just that special shade of green flaming flare that his beloved grandfather could…

As the Annual Fireworks Festival approaches in Mission: 61, a casual gift from Shu to one of the girls (a trinket victoriously claimed at the one of the bustling game stalls) takes on special significance whilst they all pass time on the beach discussing his imminent departure for America. The mood affects Marika who finally shares the truth about her genetic disease/medical condition… and why it means she will probably never make it to space…

The journey back to Tokyo is subdued and as Kei incessantly takes more photos, she feels no urge to wake her sleeping comrades…

Asumi has stayed behind with her father and spends time mulling over the complexities of life with Mr. Lion in Mission: 62, as does Fuchuya, whose discussions with his big brother about the disposition of the fireworks business inevitably leads to his meeting up with annoying Asumi and pondering how and why they got to where they are.

Mission: 63 finds them back in Tokyo a little later, amidst an increasing Press scrum as Suzuki’s departure nears, before everything changes in Mission: 64 as shocking news comes that the inseparable five are now only four…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off this volume in a wistfully autobiographical ‘Another Spica’ episode culled from author Yaginuma’s lovelorn days as a part-time server on a soft-drink stand in a theme park; focussing on his lonely journeys to distant places on the local railway line gathering images which would one day become the book you’re reading…

These magically moving marvels originally appeared in 2006-2007 as Futatsu no Supika 11 and 12 in the Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comics Flapper, targeted at male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding beguiling saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica ran from September 2001-August 2009: sixteen volumes tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to trained astronauts, and the series has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This delightful saga has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the informed extrapolation, an engaging cast, mystery and frustrated passion, alienation, angst and true friendships; all welded seamlessly into a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones, raucous humour and masses of sheer sentiment.

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2011 by Kou Yaginuma/MEDIA FACTORY Inc. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by J. Michael Straczynski volume 1


By J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone, Andy Lanning & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-9774821-5-3

The Fantastic Four has long been rightly regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, responsible for introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the line-up has changed many times over the years but always eventually returned to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who jointly formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are actually maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious, impetuous younger brother Johnny Storm; survivors of an independent space-shot which went horribly wrong once ferociously mutative Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The sheer simplicity of four archetypes – mercurial boffin, self-effacing distaff, solid everyman and hot-headed youth, uniting to triumph over accident and adversity – shone under Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Kirby’s rampant imagination and tirelessly emphatic sense of adventure.

Decades of erratic quality and floundering plotlines followed the original creators’ departures, but from the beginning of the 21st century Marvel’s First Family experienced a steady and sustained climb in quality which culminated in their own film franchise, currently experiencing its own radical reboot.

The return to top-quality was the result of hard work by a number of “Big Ideas” writers and this slim hardback compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #527-532 (August 2005-January 2006) – celebrates the transition from one to another. When J. Michael Straczynski took over “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” – with illustrators Mike McKone & Andy Lanning providing sublime visuals – he looked back at the most fundamental moment of the long-lived franchise and found something new to play with…

It all begins with ‘Distant Music’ as an tortured ancient creature asks a devastating question which has shattered many worlds over the ages before cutting to Earth and now where a currently impoverished but still relentlessly inquisitive Reed Richards is unfortunately about to ask the same thing…

Happily he is distracted by wife Sue who drags him to dinner just as the team’s accountant is delivering a shocking piece of news to Ben Grimm. Apparently the rocky pauper has just become one of the richest men on Earth…

Another lucky distraction arrives in the form of Nick Fury, keen on mending fences whilst politely ordering his former friend to join a secret government project.

As Ben lets his newfound affluence go straight to his head, Reed reluctantly heads for Nevada and a hidden lab where scientists are trying to determine exactly why the ever-present Cosmic Rays beyond Earth have affected nobody to the extent they did the Fantastic Four so long ago.

Now Chief Researcher Dr. Stephen Crane claims to have discovered those particular mutative radiations were of a most specific configuration and that they are about to repeat for the first time in years…

To exploit the event he and his government backers have replicated almost all the factors in Richard’s originating space-shot and now just need Reed to fine-tune the details of his long-wrecked ship: details absolutely necessary before America can send up a platoon of ordinary patriotic grunts and bring back a legion of unstoppable super-soldiers…

The unappetising mission continues in ‘Random Factors’ with Reed’s distaste growing and his suspicions further fuelled, even as in the Big Apple Ben’s monetary excesses continue.

Sue meanwhile is keeping a secret of her own. Simone Debouvier of New York’s Division of Child Welfare has just informed her of an official investigation. State authorities are concerned that the Fantastic Four’s lifestyle pose a danger to children and are looking into taking young Franklin and Valeria Richards away from their obsessively do-gooding parents…

When a full test goes catastrophically wrong in Nevada, Reed finds himself under suspicion of committing sabotage and with the military on his heels escapes back to New York in ‘Appointment Overdue’. He lands right in the middle of a family crisis but can’t stop to deal with it because he is carrying a terrifying piece of news: the specific Cosmic Rays which transformed amateur astronauts into superheroes might actually have been a carefully constructed message. Moreover the communication from the great unknown is due to repeat imminently…

After depositing the kids on the Moon with the Inhumans even as General Clement Bragg leads troops into the Baxter Building, the FF blast off in their own spaceship to intercept the cosmic communiqué before once more crashing to Earth in a desolate region.

This time however an astounding entity which has been abiding within the energy message crawls out of the wreckage with them but Bragg’s rapidly responding forces are less than interested in learning ‘Truth in Flight’ and open fire on the creature. Much to their regret…

The entity is in mysterious communication with Ben and possesses bizarre space-warping abilities, so in an eye-blink it ferries the cosmic quartet back to the city where the tragic story of the ancient truth seeker – so much like Reed – is an amazing confirmation of how some traits transcend species.

Sadly, the quester also has obsessive enemies of near-divine power and they have noticed the Entity’s re-manifestation. In an instant the skies are filled with colossal vessels determined to end the searcher – and any other beings it might have infected with dangerous inquisitiveness – in ‘Many Questions, Some Answered’ and to save everything Reed must embark on the most momentous extended trip in all the annals of creation, realising at long last ‘Any Day Now… I Shall Be Released’…

Winningly combining stellar spectacle with apocalyptic action and hilarious low comedy, this splendid romp comes supplemented with a cover gallery by McKone &Lanning plus a brief picture feature on the artist’s ‘Thing Reference Sculpture’.

Funny, warm, challenging and exhilarating, this fast-paced, tension-soaked chronicle provides all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman the Silver Age Dailies volume 2: 1961-1963


By Jerry Siegel, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan &Stan Kaye with Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger & Robert Bernstein (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-6137-7923-1

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s unprecedented invention was fervidly adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation and quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East sucked in America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media. Although we all think of Cleveland boys’ iconic invention as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1 the Man of Steel became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers and their hyperkinetic kind long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, across all platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read his comicbooks. His globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, he had been a thrice-weekly radio serial regular, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films and a novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a franchise of blockbuster movies and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and often the planet – it was seen by millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books. It also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most still do…

So it was always something of a risky double-edged sword when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – about six months after as he exploded out of Action Comics – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie Andrews made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by such luminaries as Siegel & Shuster and their studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring) the mammoth task soon required the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

The McClure Syndicate feature ran continuously until May 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Eventually artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan joined the unflagging Boring & Stan Kaye whilst Bill Finger and Siegel provided stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

Then in 1956 Julie Schwartz kicked off the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4 and before long costumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many publishers began to cautiously dabble with the mystery man tradition and Superman’s newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As Jet-Age gave way to Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost when superheroes began to proliferate once more. The franchise had actually been cautiously expanding since 1954 and in 1961 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and Justice League of America.

Such increased attention naturally filtered through to the far more widely-read newspaper strip and resulted in a rather strange and commercially sound evolution…

This second expansive hardback collection (spanning August 1961 to November 1963) opens with a detailed Introduction from Sidney Friedfertig, explaining the provenance of the strips; how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with retuning recently published yarns from the comicbooks; making them into daily 3-and-4 panel black-&-white continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences.

This frequently required major rewrites, subtle changes in plot, direction and tone and, on occasion, merging more than one story into a seamless new exploit to excite and generally amuse sensible, mature grown-ups.

If you’re a veteran fan, don’t be fooled: the tales retold here might seem familiar but they are not mere rehashes: they’re variations and deviations on an idea for an audience perceived as completely separate from kids’ comics. Even if you are familiar with the original comicbook source material, the adventures presented here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Wayne Boring (with a little occasional assistance from Curt Swan) at the very peak of his artistic powers.

After years away from the feature Boring had replaced his replacement Curt Swan at the end of 1961, regaining his position as premiere Superman strip illustrator to see the series to its eventual conclusion.

As an added bonus the covers of the issues those adapted stories came from have been included as a full, nostalgia-inducing colour gallery…

The astounding everyday entertainments by Siegel & Boring commence with Episode #123 from August 14th to September 16th 1961 revealing how timid Clark Kent mysteriously excelled as a policeman whilst wearing a legendary old cop’s lucky tin star in ‘The Super Luck of Badge 77!’: a yarn based on an adventure of the same name by Otto Binder & Al Plastino from Superman #133 (November 1959).

‘Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent’ (September 18th to 5th November and first seen in Superman #126 January 1959, by Binder, Boring & Stan Kaye) then detailed how a Kryptonite mishap deprived the Man of Tomorrow of many of his memories and left him lost in Metropolis trying to ferret out the secret of his other identity after which Episode #125 – running from November 6th-December 23rd – saw the restored Clark as ‘The Reporter of Steel’ (originally a Binder, Boring & Kaye yarn from Action Comics #257, October 1959) after Lex Luthor very publicly inflicted the mild-mannered journalist with unwanted superpowers, setting suspicious Lois Lane off on another quest to prove her colleague was actually the Caped Kryptonian.

‘The 20th Century Achilles’ ran Christmas Day 1961 through January 20th 1962, adapted from an Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan & Kaye thriller in Superman #148 (October 1961) which detailed how a cunning crook held the city hostage to his apparent magical invulnerability whilst ‘The Man No Prison Could Hold’ (January 22nd – February 24th by Bill Finger, Boring & Kaye from Action Comics #248, in January 1959) saw Clark and Jimmy Olsen captured by a Nazi war criminal using slave labour to construct a mighty vengeance weapon. Unbeknownst to all the Man of Steel had good reason to foil every escape attempt and stay locked up…

An old-fashioned hard lesson informed the Kryptonian Crimebuster’s short sharp shock treatment of ‘The Three Tough Teenagers’ which ran from February 26th to March 31st, based on a Siegel & Plastino collaboration contemporaneously appearing in Superman #151 (February 1962) at the same time. Perhaps the headline-grabbing nature of youth in revolt was too immediate to resist? Usually timing discrepancies in publication dates could be explained by the fact that submitted comicbook stories often appeared months after they were completed, but here it feels like neither iteration of the franchise was willing to surrender sales-garnering topicality…

Swan illustrated portions of the Siegel/Boring strip version of ‘The Day Superman Broke the Law’ (2nd to 28th April) from the original by Finger & Plastino from Superman #153 May 1962, which saw the hero fall foul of a corrupt city councilman rewriting ordinances to hamper him after which the hero became ‘The Man with the Zero Eyes’ (running 30th April to June 2nd from an uncredited tale in Superman #117, November 1957 and first limned by Plastino) as a space virus caused uncontrollable super-freezing rays to blaze from his eyes.

Spanning 4th – 23rd June ‘Lois Lane’s Revenge on Superman’ grew out of a comedy tale by Siegel, Swan & George Klein in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #32 (April 1962). Here however there’s a dark edge to the story as the frustrated journalist revels in humiliating her ideal man after a magic potion turns him into a baby whilst ‘When Superman Defended his Arch-Enemy’ – published from 25th June to August 4th as adapted from Action Comics #292 and released in September 1962) by writer unknown & Plastino saw the Metropolis Marvel acting as defence Counsel for the ungrateful mad scientist after the fleeing maniac dismantled a sentient mechanoid on a world of machine intelligences…

Appearing daily from 6th August to September 8th ‘Lois Lane’s Other Life’ retold Siegel, Swan & Klein’s tale from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #35 (August 1962) as the daring doll changes her appearance to go undercover but subsequently loses her memory after which ‘The Feud Between Superman and Clark Kent’ from September 10th to 27th October (originally by Hamilton & Plastino in Action Comics #292, October 1962) saw the two halves of the hero separated by Red Kryptonite. Sadly the goodness and nobility are all in the merely human Clark part and he must stay out of his merciless alternative fraction’s murderous clutches until the effect wears off…

As first conceived by Siegel, Swan & Klein in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #38 (January 1963) ‘The Invisible Lois Lane’ – which filled newspaper pages between October 29th and December 1st – was more comedy than drama but here the undetectable investigator quickly sees her quarry switch from Clark to Superman and it takes super-ingenuity to convince her otherwise…

‘The Man Who Hunted Superman’ – December 3rd 1962 to January 19th 1963 – originally appeared as Boy of Steel blockbuster ‘The Man Who Hunted Superboy’ (by Leo Dorfman & George Papp in Adventure Comics #303, December 1962) and found Clark subbing for a prince in a Ruritanian kingdom, complete with adoring and compliant princess bride, until the Action Ace could topple a highly-placed usurper and save the kingdom whilst ‘Superman Goes to War’ January 21st to February 23rd (initiated by Hamilton, Swan & Klein in Superman #161, May 1963) sees Lois and Clark on an film-set sponsored by the US military and inadvertently caught up in a real but unconventional alien invasion…

From February 25th to April 20th Red K stripped our hero of his powers leaving ‘The Mortal Superman’ forced to fake it due to an unavoidable prior engagement in a terse reinterpretation of the Dorfman & Plastino yarn seen in Superman #160, April 1963.

The Man of Steel for good and sound patriotic reasons allowed himself to be locked up for the alleged murder of Clark Kent in ‘The Trial of Superman’ between 22nd April and May 25th, later seen in its original format in Hamilton & Plastino’s thriller from Action Comics #301, June 1963.

Hardworking obsessive editor Perry White loses his memory and falls into the clutches of criminals who use his investigative instincts to uncover Earth’s greatest secret in ‘The Man who Betrayed Superman’s Identity’ – 27th May to July 6th – as adapted from Dorfman, Swan & Klein’s suspenseful romp in Action Comics #297, February 1963, whilst with adult sensibilities fully addressed, genuine tragedy and pathos pushes Siegel & Boring’s reinterpretation of ‘The Sweetheart that Superman Forgot’ running from 8th July to August 17th into the heady heights of pure melodrama as Superman loses his astounding powers, memories, and use of his legs; loving and losing a girl who only wanted him for himself.

In one of the most adult of stories of his canon, the hero recovers his lost gifts and faculties and has no notion of what he’s lost and who waits for him forever alone: a depth of emotion the author could only dream of approaching in the Plastino-illustrated original version which appeared in Superman #165, November 1963).

Painfully locked into the un-PC, sexist comedy tropes of the era, from August 19th – September 14th comes ‘Superman, Please Marry Me’ wherein a novelty record of Lois purportedly begging her ideal man to give in makes the reporter’s life a living hell in a “tweaked-for married-readers” yarn based on ‘The Superman-Lois Hit Record’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #45 (November 1963) after which ‘Dear Dr. Cupid’ – based on Siegel & Kurt Schaffenberger’s light-hearted turn from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #45, (November 1963), which ran from September 14th to October 12th – details how the news-hen’s surprising and unsuspected gift for doling out advice as an Agony Auntie leads to a series of disturbing gifts from an unexpected admirer…

This epic chronicle concludes with ‘The Great Superman Impersonation’ from October 14th to November 23 1963 and based on Robert Bernstein & Plastino’s Action Comics #306, (cover-dated November 1963) with Clark kidnapped by foreign agents who want to pass him off as the Man of Tomorrow in order to take over a Central American republic: big mistake, especially as Superman is in a playful mood…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1961-1963 is the second of three huge (305 x 236 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you simply must have.
Superman ™ and © 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari and Nanabozho


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominque and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-177-8

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who began writing stories for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who had begun his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the well-received Adventures of the Owl Pythagore and two years later struck pure gold with their next collaboration.

Launching in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a young Sioux boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores and before the coming of the modern White Man.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy, the beguiling strip celebrates a bucolic existence in tune with nature and free of strife, punctuated with the odd crisis generally resolved without fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, compassionate, brave… and can converse with all animals…

As “Derib”, de Ribaupierre – equally excellent in both the enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style and a devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustration form – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific, celebrated and beloved creators through such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic on AIDS ever published), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne).

Many of his stunning works over the decades feature his beloved Western themes, magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes and Yakari is considered by most fans and critics to be the feature which catapulted him to deserved mega-stardom.

First serialised in 1978, Yakari et Nanabozo was the forth European album – released as the strip transferred to prestigious Tintin magazine – but was only translated by Cinebook in 2013, making it officially the 11th UK album.

That’s not going to be a problem for chronology or continuity addicts as the tale is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless…

It all begins one bright sunny day as the little wonder wanders out to the Rock of the Bear to meet his friend Rainbow. When he arrives there’s no sign of her but he does meet a gigantic and extremely voluble desert hare claiming to be Trickster Spirit Nanabozho – a statement he proves by making some astounding adjustments to the little lad’s own height.

The Great Rabbit claims to be Rainbow’s totem animal, much like Great Eagle watches over and protects Yakari, and the loopy lepine wants the boy to accompany him on a quest. Ever since a travelling tale-teller arrived in camp, recounting shocking stories of the far north where it’s so cold the bears are snowy white, headstrong Rainbow has wanted to see the amazing creatures for herself and, eager to please his protégé, the Brobdingnagian bunny agreed to help her, even supplying magic walking moccasins to reduce the hardships of the journey.

Unfortunately the impatient tyke couldn’t wait for the Trickster and Yakari to join her and has put them on unsupervised. Unable to resist the enchanted slippers, Rainbow has started her trek not knowing where she’s going or how to stop…

Now with boy and bunny transforming into giants and tiny mites as circumstances demand, they set out to catch their impetuous friend, following the path of a magic talisman dubbed ‘the Straight Arrow’ and assisted by such beneficial creatures as a night moose.

And when they at last find Rainbow, the travellers decide that as they’ve come so far, they might as well complete the journey to the Land of the White Bears, aided by a fabulous flying canoe…

Always visually spectacular, seductively smart and happily heart-warming, Job’s sparse plot here affords Derib an unmissable opportunity to go wild with the illustrations; creating a lush, lavish and eye-popping fantasy wonderland which is breathtaking to behold.

Really Big Sky storytelling with a delicious twist in its colossal fluffy tail…

The exploits of the valiant little voyager who speaks to animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, marvellously moving and enticingly entertaining adventure, honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour.

These gentle sagas are true landmarks of comics literature and Yakari is a strip no fan of graphic entertainment should ignore.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib & Job. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.