Spidey volume 2: After-School Special


By Robbie Thompson, André Lima Araújo, Nathan Stockman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9676-1 (TPB)

Since its earliest days the publishing company now known as media monolith Marvel always courted the youngest of comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are a tricky balancing act and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon in their own playground, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics and other venues as painless as possible.

In the 1980s-1990s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and, in 2003, the company created a Marvel Age line to update and retell classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, mixing it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again, all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time. In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: After-School Special – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by once again looking back and superbly succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey#7-12 (originally released from August 2016 to January 2017), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem recommences with a cracking catch-up origin-page illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourist Jim Campbell.

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still and once again a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between High School classes. In his off-hours he’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media whenever he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever, news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor. Not only is she the hottest girl in school, but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

That tricky triangle develops in captivating manner over the next half dozen arachnid escapades, starting with an untitled team-up co-starring African monarch T’Challa the Black Panther and illustrated by André Lima Araújo. Here, the tutoring of classmates is counterbalanced by a spectacular teaching moment as the schoolboy hero stumbles into a subterranean smuggling operation masterminded by the diabolical and unhuman Klaw, Master of Sound…

Peter Parker’s dream “maybe date” with Gwen takes an even-more terrifying turn in ‘Blackout!’ (art by Nathan Stockman) as voltaic villain Electro assaults the city in a deadly but foredoomed attempt to kill Spider-Man. His spectacular trouncing is only slightly mitigated when he is sprung from custody by a band of fellow murderous Arachnophobes…

Peter’s desperate schemes to earn enough cash for Aunt May’s birthday present lead to confrontations with occasional-employer Jameson and all-out war with psycho-stalker Kraven the Hunter in ‘To Catch a Spider’ after which the wallcrawler’s media-created ‘Bad Reputation’ is temporarily redeemed after a dynamic team-up with Captain America against AIM and their lethal leader M.O.D.O.K.

The year-long story arcs detailing the tricky triangle of Gwen, Flash and Peter and the gradual coalition of a new Sinister Six coalesce in ‘Missing Out’ as the kids take their dreaded exams and Spidey attempts to join in a mass battle against Galactus, only to stopped at every stage by a far more important and immediate crisis – such as an unrelenting attack by brainwashed villain Scorpion – before the drama magnificently concludes in the boy hero’s best day ever. Unless, of course, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Kraven, Electro and the Vulture succeed with their plan in ‘Spidey No More!’

Supplemented with a wealth of behind-the-scenes artwork and illustration secrets from Lima Araújo and Stockman, this is a sublime slice of fun and action, referencing the intoxicating days of Stan Lee & Steve Ditko whilst offering an enthrallingly refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon. Here is an intriguing and more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 5

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By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-175-6(HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-720-9

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy).

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards was exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures. These launched in February of that year in a regular monthly title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in digital editions) are issues #20-24 of Popeye’s comic book series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning April-June 1952 to April-June 1953.

The stunning, almost stream-of-consciousness slapstick stories are preceded as ever by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’– by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Every volume includes a collation or ephemera and merchandise courtesy of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’. Included here are newspaper clippings, ads and assorted trivia such as packaging for candy, toys, stationery, fridge magnets, plates, Dutch newspaper strips & comics covers plus a selection of images from a colouring book.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with #20 which opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning both inside front and back covers. ‘Big House Bill in “House for Rent”’ reveals how a churlish sea snail is inveigled to join the other molluscs’ games…

Sagendorf was a smart guy who kept abreast of trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked and these tales are timeless in approach and delivery. In the era of rapid television expansion, cowboys were King, with westerns dominating both large and small screens as well as plenty of comics. Thus, many sagas featured Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting…

The comics kick off with ‘Here Comes the Bride!!’ detailing how the saddle-sore Sailor-Man upsets a lost tribe of Indians and can only end his sea of trouble by marrying the chief’s beautiful daughter. Of course, that assuming his ferociously possessive – and possibly psychic – sweetie-pie Olive doesn’t find him first…

‘Little Kids Should Have Ice Cream! or Swee’ Pea Gets It!’ then pictures the precocious kid pushing the limits of everyone’s patience to score a cold treat, after which back-up feature Sherman sees another bright spark youngster become an inadvertent counterfeiter – and getaway driver – in ‘Rolling Along!’ The issue concludes with a salutary back cover Popeye gag as Swee’ Pea digs a backyard well with catastrophic results…

Issue #21 of the quarterly delight covered July-September 1952 and again offered a Sagendorf illustrated prose yarn on the interior covers: this one detailing how ‘Harry the People Horse’ attempts to assimilate with humanity by wearing clothes…

The comics commence with ‘Interplanetary Battle’ which taps into the era’s other mass obsession: a growing fascination with UFOs. On Earth prize fighter Popeye cannot find an opponent brave enough to face him, so Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal by broadcasting a message to the universe. Sadly, what answers the clarion call is a bizarre, shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous yet scrupulously polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero who increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

After an unseemly moment of jealousy, Popeye is compelled to take over the redecoration of Olive’s house in ‘Paper and Paste’, but his lack of experience and Wimpy’s assistance soon combine to create the usual chaos after which the back-up feature – now redubbed Sherm – finds the kid in dire straits after leaving his wiener dog Winky alone in the ‘Dog House!’

Proceedings again conclude with a back-cover gag involving Swee’ Pea and eggs…

Another prose ‘Horse Tale’ brackets the interiors of #22 (October-December 1952), detailing a desert steed’s gold prospecting woes before the Old Salt suffers a tragic reversal of fortune during a shortage of his favourite vegetable. Sadly, starting a ‘Spinach Farm’ and making a go of it prove distressingly difficult once Wimpy starts helping…

‘Swee’ Pea’s Vacation!’ then sees the valiant nipper take an eventful voyage to Spinachovia, that shatters the island’s economy and devastates their armed forces, before Sherm takes ‘The Long Way Home!’ in a wry episode incorporating a host of puzzles and mazes to keep reader interest honed and the back cover Popeye gag sees Swee’ Pea become a dirt magnet…

Popeye #23 (January-March 1953) opens and closes with prose tale ‘The Rocket Horse’ detailing a non-consensual trip to Mars, whilst lead strip ‘Boom! Boom! or Pirates is Rodents!’ returns the Sailor-Man to his nautical roots to eradicate scurvy corsairs besmirching his beloved seven seas. His only miscalculation is bringing Olive and Wimpy with him…

His sweety takes centre stage in ‘Ship Shape!’ as she tries to make Popeye and his dad Poopdeck Pappy clean up their scruffy sea-going vessel, whist Sherm indulges in winter sports and a spot of detecting when Pa goes missing in ‘Snow-Father!’, and the issue closes with Popeye and Swee’ Pea disastrously disputing ownership of a dingy in the traditional back-cover vignette.

Closing this vivid and varied volume is #24 (April-June), which begins and ends with text triumph ‘Apple House’ – highlighting a housing crisis for cute maggot Vernon Greentop – before cartoon chaos ensues with ‘Popeye an’ Pappy in Golden Street!’ as the seasoned mariners become western prospectors and the incorrigible elderly reprobate finds gold in the most likely place imaginable, leaving Popeye to fix the mess as usual…

Fantasy reigns supreme in ‘Hole in the Mountain!’ as Popeye & Swee’ Pea discover a fantastic unknown kingdom on a desert island ruled by a perilously familiar tyrant before more puzzles and mazes bedevil automobile-mad Sherm and the readership in ‘The Race!’ The last word again goes to a short sharp back-page gag starring innocent demon Swee’ Pea to wrap up another treasure trove of timeless entertainment…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre and its most successful son have unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book – available in sturdy hardback or accessible eBook formats – is simply one of many but definitely top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 5 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Alone volume 2: The Master of Knives


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-206-5 (PB Album)

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972, yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, studying business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, Vehlmann caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on, his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and a stint on major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and a former student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started getting paid to draw them in 1988, after being hired by Spirou editor Patrick Pinchart on the strength of his portfolio alone. Before long he was illustrating Le Petit Spirou with Tome & Janry.

In 1989, he and Tome created New York Cop Soda, which kept Gazzotti busy until 2005, when he resigned to co-create award-winning feature Seuls

Originally released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition began a superb example of how to craft a thriller suitable for kids: evoking the eerie atmosphere of TV series Lost and the most disturbing elements of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In a post-virus, Lockdown-besieged world, it also has eerie echoes of how humans deal with enforced isolation…

Debut volume The Vanishing showed us how an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business overnight became an empty mausoleum, with a small cross-section of kids left behind to survive or die.

The scant remainers comprise Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never saw his dad and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always found time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Studious Camille was over-focussed on exams and achievement whilst Terry is pretty much still a baby: refusing to obey orders and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Typically, even in an ideal environment, not all children lived comfortable lives. Dodzi was in the protective services system. His early life made him tough and resilient but couldn’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night before everything changed…

When it happened, the kids wandered a terrifyingly quiet and forbidding city until finding each other. All the adults were gone, and all their child pals. The internet was down, with only static from TVs and radios. Above, fearsome storm clouds hung low and ominous. As they went wild with freedom and panicked from anxiety, eventually Dodzi brutally enforced calm and lead them away to find a succession of temporary – albeit palatial – refuges to regroup and think… After an uncanny series of encounters with escaped circus animals, the little band settle in the towering Majestic Hotel and Master of Knives (originally released as Seuls: Le Maître des couteaux) opens with Dodzi scouting the empty metropolis and helping Leila consolidate supplies for a long stay in the lap of luxury. His nervousness remains high as there are still close calls with the liberated beasts in the streets, but the younger kids seem to have adapted well. It certainly helps that they are hoarding every toy and treat they can find in abandoned shops and houses…

Ivan has a plan to occupy him too: systematically calling every phone number in the phone book. No luck yet, though…

Things start to go south swiftly after he finds his father’s pistol and tempts Leila into a spot of target practice on the roof. As Dodzi furiously confiscates the lethal toy, he has no idea that he has become the chosen prey of a mysterious stalker. As the cloaked pursuer slowly enacts a chilling campaign of terror, the stressed leader agonisingly discovers he is not the only obsession of the terrifying, nebulous figure clad in cloaks and draped in blades and daggers…

As the other kids obliviously fritter away the day, Dodzi is remorselessly hunted over the rooftops by the manic killer. When he briefly eludes the hunter, the Master simply doubles back to menace the children in the hotel. A shocking confrontation then ensues, which sees the tables turned but only at the cost of Dodzi’s closely withheld secrets being exposed to all…

In the painful aftermath, the days of innocence are discarded and the little orphan family prepare to hit the open road to find out if other cities have been emptied too…

To Be Continued…

This spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination sees bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation, and the tension simply amplifies with every instalment. Alone became one of the biggest critical and commercial comics hits of the decade and if you love eerie enigmas and powerful tale-telling, you’ll buy this and successive releases to see why…
© Dupuis 2007 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-698-3 (HB)

I’m feeling the urge to big up the transformative and informational aspect of comics, so expect a few educational reviews – the books, not my blather about them – over the forthcoming days. Here’s an old favourite to start you off…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training is the comic strip.

For well more than a century, advertising mavens have exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply – unless you’re a graph designer for the British government.

Since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. The magnificent Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with his webcomic Raw Materials and such seasoned tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced the occasional tract myself. The medium has also been used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

In 1972, Margreet de Heer was born into a family of theologians and despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life – fascinatingly covered in the ‘Know My Self’ section of this fabulous graphic primer – studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999, she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there – and before becoming a full-time professional in 2005 – she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics. In 2007, with commissions in publications as broad and varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next, she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw. These prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was first released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM two years later as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

This gloriously accessible tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is crafted by a gifted writer with a master’s grasp of her subject, and opens with the core concept ‘What is Thinking?’, examining the processes of mind through a number of elegantly crafted examples before moving onto ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’

Those paradigms of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Logical Thinking’, ‘Language’, ‘Symbols’, ‘Abstract Thinking’ and ‘Humor’ are captivatingly and comprehensively covered before the history and cognitive high points of civilisation are disclosed with ‘The Foundation of Western Philosophy’.

This potted history of ‘Dualism’ relates the life stories, conceptual legacies and achievements of ‘Socrates’ and the ‘Socratic Discourse’; his star pupil ‘Plato’ and the universal man ‘Aristotle’: all winningly counterpointed by a balancing sidebar autobiography in ‘Know My Self’ plus some cogent observations and a few comparisons with the Eastern philosophy of ‘Unity’

‘Medieval Philosophy’ then deals with the influence of the Christian Church on ‘Augustine’ and ‘Thomas Aquinas’; the “Great Thinkers” of early Europe by examining the warring concepts of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Predestination’ and explores the lives of ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Humanism’; ‘Descartes’ and his maxim ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ and ‘Spinoza’, whose consummate faith-based dictum was ‘Know Thyself’

The charming, beguiling foundation course continues with ‘What is Reality?’ bringing us up to the modern age with ‘And Now’ comprising another brilliantly clever diversion as de Heer includes the ‘Personal Philosophies’ of families and friends.

Her husband – and this book’s colourist – Yiri bases his outlook on the incredible life of outrageous comedian ‘George Carlin’; her aged friend Gerrit looks to ‘Nietzsche’, mother-in-law Yolanda modelled herself on Cambridge lecturer and intellectual ‘George Steiner’ whilst De Heer’s little brother Maarten prefers to shop around, picking up what he needs from thinkers as varied as ‘Aldous Huxley’ to cartoonist ‘Marten Toonder’. The author bravely puts her money where her mouth is and reveals her own thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything before asking again ‘What Do You Think?’

This is a truly sharp and witty book – the first of a trilogy also examining Religion and Science – which adroitly reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly enthralling experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy, comics fans or not.
© @2010 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2012 Margreet de Heer & Yiri T. Kohl.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3042-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining – radioactively enhanced – senses hyper-compensate, make him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the series. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of darkness to the swashbuckling derring-do…

Covering July 1968 to June 1969, this tumultuous collection (in both hefty hardback and ephemeral eBook formats) reprints Daredevil #42-53 (plus a surprise comedy bonus), capturing the significant moments and radical shifts in treatment and content as Lee surrendered the scripter’s role to Thomas. Following a fascinating Introduction from Gene Colan, an aura of barely-contained, ever-escalating madness increasingly permeates the soap opera narrative beats, peerlessly pictured by his own astounding illustration – as well as a powerful interlude by a promising British fill-in artist named Barry Smith….

Having killed off his fictitious alter ego twin brother Mike Murdock, Matt briefly considered hanging up his scarlet long-johns but eventually retained his secret other-life by “revealing” to his girlfriend Karen Page and closest friend Franklin “Foggy” Nelson that Mike was only one of a number of Men without Fear in the first part of a prolonged battle with a new nemesis…

‘Nobody Laughs at The Jester!’ (by Lee, Colan and inker Dan Adkins) shows how that Malevolent Mountebank only wants to be more successful as a criminal than he had been as a bit-playing actor, but his motivation changes when crooked mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh hires him to spoil incorruptible Foggys campaign for the position of District Attorney.

The role grew and the mission crept, precipitating a protracted saga which kicks off with a temporarily befuddled DD ‘In Combat with Captain America!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), before Hornhead is framed for killing the Jester’s alter ego Jonathan Powers in #44’s ‘I, Murderer!’

Soundly defeated in combat by the Jester, our hero experiences ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and becomes a wanted fugitive. Following a frenetic police manhunt, DD is finally arrested before snatching victory in the thoroughly enthralling conclusion ‘The Final Jest!’

With this episode, inker extraordinary George Klein began his long and impressive association with the series.

With the Vietnam War raging, a story involving the conflict was inevitable but – thanks in great part to Colan’s personal input – #47’s ‘Brother, Take My Hand!’ was so much more than a quick cash-in or even well-meaning examination of contemporary controversy. Here, Marvel found another strong and admirable African American character (one of far too few in those blinkered times) to add to their growing stable…

Newly-blinded veteran Willie Lincoln turns to Matt Murdock and Daredevil for help on his return home. A disgraced cop framed by gang-boss Biggie Benson before joining the army, Lincoln is now back in America and determined to clear his name at all costs. This gripping, life-affirming crime thriller not only triumphs in Daredevil’s natural milieu of moody urban menace but also sets up a long-running plot that would ultimately change the Man without Fear forever…

The return of Stilt-Man poses little more than a distraction in ‘Farewell to Foggy’, as Matt’s oldest friend wins the race for DA but acrimoniously turns his back on Murdock, seemingly forever….

Lee’s final script on the sightless crusader, ‘Daredevil Drops Out’ (#49), was illustrated by Colan & Klein, depicting Murdock as the target of a robotic assassin built by Mad-Scientist-for-Hire Starr Saxon. This tense, action-packed thriller grew into something very special with second chapter ‘If in Battle I Fall…!’ as neophyte penciller Barry Smith stepped in, ably augmented by veteran inker Johnny Craig. Colan had been shifted to the role of artist on prestigious title The Avengers, but he would soon return…

Lee then left comics-scripting protégé Roy Thomas to finish up for him in ‘Run, Murdock, Run!’ (Daredevil #51, April 1969 with art by Smith & Klein): a wickedly engaging, frantically escalating psychedelic thriller which sees Saxon uncover the hero’s greatest secret after the Man Without Fear succumbs to toxins in his bloodstream and goes berserk.

The saga climaxes in stunning style on ‘The Night of the Panther!’ (Smith & Craig) as African Avenger Black Panther joins the hunt for an out-of-control Daredevil before subsequently helping thwart, if not defeat, the dastardly Saxon.

The radically unsettling ending blew away all the conventions of traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights melodrama and still shocks me today…

Colan & Klein reunited for #53’s ‘As it Was in the Beginning…’ wherein Thomas reprised, revised and expanded Lee & Bill Everett’s origin script from Daredevil #1, allowing the troubled hero to reach a bold decision, which would be executed in #54 – or the next volume to us…

Adding extra value to the proceedings and ending on a comedic note, this enticing tome includes a pertinent parody by Lee & Colan from Marvel’s spoof title Not Brand Echh (#4, November 1967) as Splat Murdock – AKA Scaredevil – endures moments of hilarious existential angst and an identity crisis whilst being ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’, concluding and complimenting a bonanza of bombastic battles tales that are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic in the grand Marvel Manner: comic epics no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ralph Azham volume 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?


By Lewis Trondheim, coloured by Brigitte Findakly and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-593-8 (HB)

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), (with Joann Sfar) the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (translated here as the conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years) and his utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence Little Nothings.

In his spare time, and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival, the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Originally released by Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in 2001, this delicious yarn returns to the genre of anthropomorphic fantasy in a saga of wryly cynical faux-heroism revolving around failed Messiah and all-around disappointment Ralph Azham.

In his mountainous rural village, teenaged slacker Ralph is barely tolerated. He’s lazy, rude to his elders, constantly flouts authority, is always mouthing off and perpetually gets into trouble. Moreover, when he turned blue on the Night of the Double Moon – a certain sign of magical powers and an indicator that one may be the long-awaited Chosen One – he subsequently failed the tests of The Envoy and was ignominiously returned to the village…

Now he’s just an obnoxious waste of space whose only gift is the unnerving ability to tell when someone is pregnant or going to die…

His desolate village is slowly expiring. Situated in a depressing gully and old riverbed, the ramshackle dump comprises barely a dozen families now; the hard subsistence toil gradually forcing the least-dispirited farmers to emigrate to the less hostile but crowded lowlands. Moreover, with the annual visit from the rapacious marauding barbarian horde forever looming, the hamlet has precious little comfort or security to offer its dour citizens.

When the elders send Ralph out on a useless herb-gathering mission so they can have a council meeting without his annoying presence, the pariah is accosted by coquettish, scheming Claire who tries to seduce him and make him take her away from it all. After all, a boy with his gifts could surely make some money in the civilised parts of the world…?

Ralph spurns her and returns to eavesdrop on the village meeting, but when Claire follows and forcefully tries again, her big brother Piatch observes everything and attacks in a vain and pointless effort to defend her long-spent “honour”.

The running fight crashes through the village with many of the indignant elders eagerly joining in. When the well-thrashed Ralph furiously exposes many of their marital secrets, he finds himself confined to the pigsty for two months by the shamed and outraged citizens…

Later that night, his long-suffering father Bastien passes Ralph food and a knife, sadly recalling those distant days when the entire populace thought the boy was their literal ticket to salvation. After all, when the Chosen One was finally found, his mighty powers would totally destroy the terrible threat of predatory conqueror Vom Syrus and save the entire nation.

The whole episode was ill-starred. On their last night together, father and son were trapped in a cave-in and Ralph discovered his unsettling but militarily useless power. Even after they escaped death by suffocation, the airborne pilgrimage to fabled Astolia went tragically wrong – just how bad only Bastien knew for certain – and when the boy was returned to the village the populace’s high expectations soon soured.

They’ve been taking it out on Ralph ever since…

In the pigpen, Claire tries once more to sway the fed-up and furious miracle boy, but he’s already declined one attempt to help him escape. Wastrel Ralph has no intention of ever leaving his doting dad. Later, as Bastien quizzes him on why he’s still there, the alarm is sounded. The Horde is near…

The village is perfectly divided. Exactly half want to fight whilst the others favour abject surrender and throwing themselves on the invaders’ mercies. Unbelievably, now they desperately need Ralph to settle matters as the tie-breaking vote. The outcast is utterly unable to ignore the irony or resist the temptation to make them all squirm, but he is distracted by the ailing Filbert kid. The lad isn’t very well and it is another night of the Double Moon…

When the militant faction proves to be the most determined to win and acquiesces to Ralph’s outrageous and humiliating demands, the vote is cast and the villagers begin building a huge deadfall trap to kill as many Horde raiders as possible, guided by the pariah’s dear old dad, who was once a military engineer.

As the labours progress, further hidden secrets of Ralph’s interesting time in Astolia are revealed, but even as the weary folk return to their homes, the trap is sprung: not by the invaders, but rather one of their own.

Sore loser Mortimer knew that only he was right and thus couldn’t abide by the results of the vote. Surely that’s how Democracy really works?

In the cascade of rocks, little Raoul Filbert is injured and, as the enraged mob hunt for the new village pariah, forgotten Ralph carries the wounded child to the wise woman Auntie Milla. As she tends to the lad, something happens to Ralph too. Soon, he realises that his powers have changed. He can see dead people…

When he meets his father, Ralph realises that the ghost of the Envoy from his long-ago journey is attached to Bastien and soon the awful truth of his boyhood trip to Astolia comes tumbling out…

Milla too was part of the conspiracy, and now, as Ralph realises the horrible, selfish cause for his years of abuse and ostracization, he severs all ties with his father. Suddenly, the alarm sounds and the old soldier rushes back to the village where the Horde has arrived. Dejected Ralph picks up the sleeping Raoul and follows, but in the dark, nobody has noticed that the little lad’s head has turned blue…

In a wild and cataclysmic display of arcane power, Raoul destroys half the village and routs the panicked barbarians, but once they have recovered their wits, Horde outriders give chase. However, when the azure couple are cornered, Ralph’s new gift and the spirits of the pursuers’ previous victims combine to save them all, before a final cataclysm erupts and wipes out the invaders… and most of the village too…

After one final fractious confrontation with the surviving elders, Ralph heads for the plains and summons the latest Astolian Envoy to take him and Raoul to the city where new Chosen Onea are trained. As they prepare to take off on the civil servant’s triple-headed winged reptile, Claire rushes up, demanding to join them. She feels she has the right, since her cat ears and tiger stripes have turned a vibrant shade of blue…

Mesmerising and superbly enjoyable, this still-unfolding epic features a truly intriguing and clay-footed hero in a fantastic world of inescapably shallow and typically callous everyday folk: venal, self-serving and barely worth saving even if a Messiah can be found…

This engagingly sly and witty fantasy adventure tale for grown-ups begins here in a 96-page, full-colour landscape (218x168mm) sturdy hardcover edition (but sadly not in digital editions, if those are your preferred Chosen Ones): another must-not-miss epic masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest comic geniuses.
Contents © DUPUIS 2001 by Trondheim. All rights reserved. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1029-7(HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but after an initially troubled few years finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

During the 1960s, artist Herb Trimpe had made the character his own; the Jack Kirby-based “house” art-style he initially employed quickly evolving into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles – and, crucially, who could possibly deny the sheer cathartic reader-release rush of those spectacular “Hulk Smash!” moments…

However, during the time of the tales in this chronologically complete hardback and digital monolith (re-presenting Incredible Hulk #197-209 and Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #5, March 1976-March 1977), the artistic reins would pass to another illustrator who would become inextricably associated with the Jade Juggernaut, whilst writer Len Wein continued to insert fresh ideas and characters, redefining the man-monster for the modern age…

Following a fond reminiscence from artist Sal Buscema in his Introduction, the blockbusting battle-action starts with the aftermath of the Jade Juggernaut’s latest battle with arch-nemesis the Abomination: a clash that left Hulk unconscious in the Florida Everglades…

Here the invidious Collector has made his latest lair and soon scoops up a trio of terrors. The phenomena fanatic is on a monster kick and, having scooped up Banner and a mute young man who is in actuality resurrected felon The Glob, feels ‘…And Man-Thing Makes Three!’ (by Wein, Buscema & Joe Staton) to be the perfect set.

The immortal maniac has grossly underestimated the deeply-buried humanity of his living trinkets and soon faces a mass-escape and the loss of all his living exhibits after ‘The Shangri-La Syndrome!’ hits home…

Hulk Annual #5 (November 1976) was the first all-new King-Size compendium since 1968 and featured a huge monster-mash, reviving a half dozen iconic threats and menaces from the company’s pre-superhero phase. Written by Chris Claremont, with art by Sal B & Jack Abel, ‘And Six Shall Crush the Hulk!’ offers little in the way of plot but stacks of sensational action as a procession of resurrected reprobates attack one after another, beginning with ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Diablo!’, ‘And Taboo Shall Triumph!’ before ‘It Is Groot, the Monster from Planet X!!’ weighs in, after which ‘For I am Goom!!’ and ‘Beware the Blip!’ pile on the pressure until an evil mastermind is revealed as grudge-bearing Defenders foe Xemnu in ‘A Titan Shall Slay Him!’

Naturally, even exhausted, the Hulk is too much for the spiteful schemer…

Building up to a spectacular anniversary, Incredible Hulk #199 sees ambivalent frenemies Leonard “Doc” Samson and General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross employ all America’s most advanced assets in ‘…And SHIELD Shall Follow!’ (Wein, Sal B & Staton) to capture the critically necessary Green Gargantuan, but in the end it is the psychologist’s sheer guts and determination which win the day, allowing the big issue #200 resolution as Hulk is shrunk to infinitesimal size and injected into amnesiac Glenn Talbot’s brain to battle materialised memories and a viciously sentient tumour as ‘An Intruder in the Mind!’

The struggle to restore the mind of Banner’s rival for Betty Ross-Talbot’s undying affections is not without complications, however, and at the moment of his greatest triumph and sacrifice Hulk suffers a major setback and begins uncontrollably shrinking beyond the ability of Samson and his team to rescue him…

Issue #201 features ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer!’ wherein the Hulk finds himself marooned on a perilously primitive sub-atomic world just long enough to liberate a primitive people from the domination of brutal despot (and demon-possessed pawn) Kronak the Barbarian before starting to diminish once more. His last stop is the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen Jarella

Sadly, ‘Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his last visit had rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattered the ancient civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-gentle population had turned on the queen they held responsible…

Reunited now with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem and is soon embroiled with the antediluvian horror who first hijacked him to the Microverse and who still craves bloody revenge…

Once again evil is defeated as the ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ heralds another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying an astounded Jarella with him…

Herb Trimpe briefly returned in #204 to pencil a tale of time-bending might-have-beens, as brilliant theoretician Kerwin Kronus offers to eradicate Banner’s problems by turning back time and undoing the accident which created the Hulk. Sadly, the experiment succeeds all too well: briefly forming an alternate timeline wherein original sidekick Rick Jones died and the time-master became an even greater menace to reality. Banner/Hulk must make a heartbreaking sacrifice to close that ‘Vicious Circle’

‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ in #205 then depicts the most tragic moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as Jarella sacrifices herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man, leaving the bereft Hulk ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’

His grief-stricken trail of destruction leads from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his friends and allies are unable to calm the grieving green goliath, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that will work against their traumatised foe…

Hulk #208 finds ‘A Monster in Our Midst!’ as Bruce finally rejects ending his pain-wracked existence and begins a new and – hopefully – stress-free life where his alter ego will never be seen again. That resolve only lasts as long as it takes the maniacal Crusher Creel – freed as a consequence of the Jade Juggernaut’s most recent rampage – to accept a commission from a triumvirate of hooded schemers who want the Hulk dead…

However, even though ‘The Absorbing Man is Out for Blood!’, the super-thug is no match for Hulk’s unfettered fury, but his well-deserved defeat results in Banner collapsing unconscious in alley where he is eventually found by a mystic do-gooder in search of an ally…

To Be Hulk-inued…

This catastrophically cathartic tome is rounded out with original art pages and covers by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, John Romita, Dave Cockrum and others…

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in your own delirious head?
1976, 1977, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Clara


By Cécile & Christophe Lemoine, translated by Kevin Sullivan (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital only

It’s a truly horrific realisation that 2020 has brought the concept of imminent mortality back to the forefront of societal consciousness in way we in the west thought gone with gaslight, horse-brasses and Victorian ornaments. Now you’re truly lucky indeed if death hasn’t touched you, your family or circle of friends.

So, with the subject now truly unavoidable, how do you explain it to those who most need to understand what as much as why things have suddenly changed?

Originally released in Europe in May 2012, Clara is a children’s comic book tackling exactly that thorny issue in a potent – but ultimately uplifting – fantasy splendidly reminiscent of kindergarten classic The Velveteen Rabbit

Written by actor, novelist and script doctor Christophe Lemoine and illustrated by artist, cartoonist and designer Cécile Brosseau, the tale reveals how the idyllic life of a bright, imaginative seven-year old changes forever when her devoted mother receives some terrifying news from her doctors.

In the days before and after her mother’s death, little Clara experiences a wave of unwelcome and uncontrollable emotions, barely held in check by the attentions of her equally-shattered dad and grandmother and centred around the scruffy old doll mummy gave her before everything changed…

However, at her lowest point, a journey into a bleak and terrifying fantasy world offers Clara revelation and perspective to balance the loss and grief and provides a chance of working out for herself the mystery of being left behind…

Balancing the largely unformed emotions of a child suffering bereavement with the escapist fantasy of saving a cherished toy is not a new concept, but it’s done here with style, aplomb and scrupulous sensitivity. Lemoine & Cécile focus clearly and efficiently on their message that death is not abandonment: accepting that kids do not process reality the same way adults do, but never sugar-coating or downplaying the tragedy.

Clara is a powerful tale impeccably told and one many adults would be well-advised to add to their armoury of learning aids to life…
© 2016 – LE LOMBRD – CÉCILE & LEMOINE. All rights reserved.

Ray & Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics


By Charles Rodrigues, Bob Fingerman & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-668-3(HB)

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is arguably one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century.

His surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and utterly unforgettable bad-taste doodles were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising energetic ferocity in a number of magazines. He was most effective in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from its debut issue) and Stereo Review: the pinnacle of a cartooning career which began after WWII and spanned almost the entire latter half of the 20th century.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts). In 1950, he began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit and found a natural home. He gradually graduated from those glorified girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in a revolutionary new venture even while still contributing to what seemed like every publication in the nation buying panel gags, from Esquire to TV Guide, Genesis to The Critic.

Rodrigues even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate: Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop and Charlie.

Despite such legitimacies though, the quiet, genteel devout Catholic’s lasting monument is the wealth of truly gob-smacking, sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful strip-series he crafted for The National Lampoon. Editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969, and offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot. He stayed with the prestigious mag from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of its legendary comics section…

In this superbly appalling hardback or digital tome – bracketed by informative text pieces ‘Introduction: An Appreciation of a Goddamn Great Cartoonist’ and ‘Biography: Charles Rodrigues’ by passionate devotee Bob Fingerman – the parade of diabolical disgust and fetid fun begins with the eponymous ‘Ray and Joe – the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend’ which follows the frankly disturbing buddy-movie path of Joe – whose death doesn’t upset his wife as much as you’d expect. In fact, when the cadaver’s former pal meekly inquires, she’s more than happy to let Ray keep the body. After all, it’s cheaper than a funeral…

There’s no agenda here: Ray just wants to keep his friend around, even going so far as to have him embalmed and put on roller skates. Of course, most people simply don’t understand…

Rodrigues regularly broke all the rules in these strips: taste, decency, even the contract between reader and creator. Often, he would drop a storyline and return to his notional continuities at a later date. Sometimes he would even stop mid-episode and insert a new strip or gag if it offered bigger chortles or shocks…

Next up is ‘Deirdre Callahan – a biography’: the gut-wrenching travails of a little girl so ugly she could cause people’s eyeballs to explode and make almost everyone she met kill themselves in disgust. Of course such a pitiful case – the little lass with a face “too hideous for publication” – did elicit the concern of many upstanding citizens: ambitious plastic surgeons, shyster lawyers, radical terrorists, enemy agents, bored, sadistic billionaires in need of a good laugh, the mother who threw her in a garbage can before fully examining the merchandising opportunities…

The artist’s most long-lived and inspired creation was ‘The Aesop Brothers – Siamese Twins’, which ran intermittently from the early 1970s to 1986 in an unceasing parade of grotesque situations where conjoined George and Alex endured the vicissitudes of a life forever together: the perennial problems of bathroom breaks, getting laid, enjoying a little “me time”…

In the course of their cartoon careers the boys ran away to the circus to be with a set of hot conjoined sisters, but that quickly went bits-up, after which sinister carnival owner Captain Menshevik had them exhibited as a brother/sister act with poor Alex kitted out in drag.

There’s a frantic escapade with a nymphomaniac octogenarian movie goddess, assorted asshole doctors, Howard Hughes’ darkest secret, a publicity-shy rogue cop, marriage (but only for one of them), their horrendous early lives uncovered, the allure of communism, multiple choice strips, experimental, existential and faux-foreign episodes, and even their outrageous times as Edwardian consulting detectives.

This is not your regular comedy fare and there’s certainly something here to make you blanch, no matter how jaded, strong-stomached or dissolute you think you are…

As always with Rodrigues, even though the world at large hilariously exploits and punishes his protagonists, it’s not all one-sided. Said stars are usually dim and venal and their own worst enemies too…

Hard on their four heels comes the saga of ‘Sam DeGroot – the Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine’: a plucky unfortunate determined to make an honest contribution, hampered more by society’s prejudices than his own condition and ineptitude…

After brushes with the mob and conniving billionaires’ wives, no wonder he took to demon drink. Happily, Sam was saved by kindly Good Samaritan Everett, but the gentle giant then force-fed him custard and other treats because he was a patient urban cannibal. Thankfully, that’s when Jesus enters the picture…

During the course of these instalments, the strip was frequently usurped by short guerrilla gag feature ‘True Tales of the Urinary Tract’ and only reached its noxious peak after Sam fell into a coma…

The artist was blessed – or, perhaps, cursed – with a perpetually percolating imagination which drove him to craft scandalously inaccurate Biographies. Included here are choice and outrageous insights into ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Abbie Hoffman’, ‘Chester Bouvier’, ‘Eugene O’Neill’ and ‘Jerry Brown’ as well as ‘An American Story – a Saga of Ordinary People Just Like You’, ‘The Man Without a County’ and ‘Joe Marshall Recalls his Past’

The horrific and hilarious assault on common decency concludes with a selection of shorter series collected as The Son of a Bitch et al, beginning with an exposé of that self-same American institution.

The Son of a Bitch’ leads into the incontinent lives of those winos outside ‘22 Houston Street’, the ongoing calamity of ‘Doctor Colon’s Monster’, the domestic trauma of ‘Mama’s Boy’ and the sad fate of ‘The “Cuckold”’

‘The Adventures of the United States Weather Bureau starring Walter T. Eccleston’ is followed by ‘Mafia Tales’ and ‘VD Clinic Vignettes’, after which ‘A Glass of Beer with Stanley Cyganiewicz of Scranton, PA’ goes down smoothly, thanks to the then-contentious Gay question addressed in ‘Lillehammer Follies’, before everything settles down after the recipe for ‘Everett’s Custard’

Fantagraphics Books yet again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent. This is an astoundingly funny collection, brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy can afford to miss; especially in times when we all feel helpless and can only laugh in the face of incompetence, venality, stupidity and death…
All strips and comics by Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction & Biography © Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

The Big Kahn


By Neil Kleid & Nicholas Cinquegrani (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-561-0 (TPB)

When Rabbi Kahn died it shook the close-knit, devout community he had spent four decades building and guiding. Yet despite the best of intentions, his funeral – where first-born son Avi delivers a eulogy and prepares to assume his father’s role – devolves into a shocking shambles. Rebellious, troubled daughter Lea prefers furtive sex in a synagogue broom-closet to her rightful place beside her grieving mother and young Eli is clearly in a state of shock…

So tempers naturally flare when unsavoury gentile Roy Dobbs intrudes upon the event, demanding to see the body of his brother one final time…

With mixed emotions, the surviving family and larger congregation are forced to confront a terrible truth. David Kahn, Holocaust survivor, brilliant rabbinical scholar, wise and loving parent and spiritual glue for an entire community over more than forty years, was in fact Donnie Dobbs: a two-bit grifter and con-man who came to the neighbourhood to fleece the yokels but instead found something better and stayed to grow and blossom…

With his death, everything has changed. The man they all knew was a lie, so doesn’t that mean everything he said and did was too? Surely the children of David Kahn are tarred with the wicked same brush and destined to repeat his thoughts and deeds?

How these implications affect the Kahn children and their broken, bereft mother offers a masterpiece of human scrutiny, depicted with deft skill and great understanding, and the discreet, superbly underplayed monochrome art is effective and compassionate, wisely never intruding into the tale but always providing just what the reader needs to see.

Although not yet available digitally, The Big Kahn is an intriguing, compelling, thought-provoking human drama deserving the widest possible attention: a witty and powerful exploration of truths big and small, set against the backdrop of a traditional Jewish American community, cannily exploring not only faith’s effect on individuals but how mortals shape religion and all the big questions in life and after it…

It’s a subject we can all benefit from contemplating packaged as one of the best dramas you’ll ever read, so make the effort to add this lost gem to your must-own list ASAP…
© 2009 Neil Kleid & Nicholas Cinquegrani.