Melusine volume 2: Halloween


By Clarke (Frédéric Seron) & Gilson, coloured by Cérise and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-34-2 (Album PB)

Teen witches have a long and distinguished pedigree in fiction and one of the most engaging first appeared in venerable Belgian magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1992.

Mélusine is actually a sprightly 119 year-old who spends her days working as an au pair in a vast, monster-packed, ghost-afflicted chateau whilst diligently studying to perfect her craft at Witches’ School…

The long-lived feature offers everything from one-page gag strips to full-length comedy tales on supernatural themes detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and her large circle of exceedingly peculiar family and friends.

Collected editions began appearing annually or better from 1995, with the 27th published in 2019 and hopefully more to come. Thus far five of those have transformed into English translations thanks to the fine folk at Cinebook.

The strip was devised by writer François Gilson (Rebecca, Cactus Club, Garage Isidore) and cartoon humourist Frédéric Seron – AKA Clarke – whose numerous features for all-ages LJdS and acerbic adult humour publication Fluide Glacialinclude Rebecca, Les Cambrioleurs, Durant les Travaux, l’Exposition Continue… and Le Miracle de la Vie.

Under pseudonym Valda, Seron also created Les Babysitters and, as Bluttwurst, Les Enquêtes de l’Inspecteur Archibaldo Massicotti, Château Montrachet, Mister President and P.38 et Bas Nylo.

A former fashion illustrator and nephew of comics veteran Pierre Seron, Clarke is one of those insufferable guys who just draws non-stop and is unremittingly funny. He also doubles up as a creator of historical and genre pieces such as Cosa Nostra, Les Histoires de France, Luna Almaden and Nocturnes and apparently is free from the curse of having to sleep…

Halloween – available in paperback and in digital formats – was the eighth European-released Mélusine album, originally released in 2001, and gathers a wealth of stunning seasonally sensitive strips. This makes it a great place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content comprises one or two-page gags starring the sassy sorceress who – like a young but hot Broom Hilda – makes excessive play with fairy tale and horror film conventions and themes. Not that what she looks like should make a (witch’s) wit of difference, but hey, it’s comics and it’s France…

When brittle, moody Melusine isn’t being bullied for her inept cleaning skills by the matriarchal ghost-duchess who runs the castle, or ducking cat-eating monster Winston and frisky vampire The Count, she’s avoiding the attentions of horny peasants, practising her spells or consoling and coaching inept, un-improvable and lethally unskilled classmate Cancrelune.

Mel’s boyfriend is a werewolf so he only bothers her a couple of nights a month…

Daunting dowager Aunt Adrezelle is always eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries but so, unfortunately, is family embarrassment cousin Melisande, who spurned the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan to become a Fairy Godmother; all sparkles, fairy-cakes, pink bunnies and love. She’s simplicity, sweetness and light itself in every aspect, so what’s not to loathe…?

This turbulent tome riffs mercilessly on the established motifs and customs of Halloween, where kids fill up to lethal levels on sweets and candies, monsters strive to look their worst, teachers try to keep the witches-in-training glued to their books and grimoires even as their over-excitable students experiment most unwisely on what to do with pumpkins – including how to grow, breed or conjure the biggest ones – whilst the fearfully pious local priest and his human flock endeavour to ruin all the magical fun…

Even Melisande gets in on the party atmosphere in her own too-nice-to-be-true manner, lightening the happy shadows with too much sunshine and saccharine before the collection ends with the extended eponymous ‘Halloween’, wherein Melusine and Cancrelune learn the true meaning of the portentous anniversary when they inadvertently join creaking, clacking cadavers of the Risen Dead as they evacuate their graves on their special night to fight and drive away for another year the Evil Spirits who haunt humanity…

Wry, sly, fast-paced and uproariously funny, this compendium of arcane antics is a great taste of the magic of European comics and a beguiling delight for all lovers of the cartoonist’s art. Read before bedtime and don’t eat any hairy sweets…
Original edition © Dupuis, 2000 by Clarke & Gilson. All rights reserved. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly


By Abraham Martínez, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-268-7 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-269-4

Do you want to read something that is really scary?

Almost everybody loves a good cathartic chiller, but every one of us also has a point where it stops being safe entertainment and becomes instead disturbing, unsettling and extremely unwelcome. For me – and Spanish author Abraham Martínez – it’s clearly the terrifying prospect envisioned in his 2017 graphic novel translated for profitable outreach by those fine folk at NBM.

Of course, the concept of a corporate superstate is not new, but I’ve never seen it better thought out or more crushingly realised down to the finest penny-pinching detail than here… and I’ve been reading Judge Dredd since 1977…

Rendered in drear industrial tones (mostly neutral greens and basic blues) and shapes very reminiscent of bog-standard informational stencil forms in a devastatingly underplayed agitprop manner, Plutocracy ostensibly follows one insignificant drone through a corporate landscape as he breaks free and begins digging for answers in a world where profit is everything.

After years of closer and closer ties between big business and national governments, in 2051 the last corporations swallowed each other and merged into one all-encompassing unit – “the Company” – that simply bought out nationhood and established a system to cost-effectively run the world. Everybody worked for, were paid by and bought goods and services from the same entity: a perfect perpetual motion machine for society.

They even managed to remain democratic, though there was only ever one party or candidate to vote for on any occasion.

Detective Homero Durant grew bored when the majority of police work became desk-based investigations involving fraud and deception. With precious little to do, he took a career sidestep and eventually became a writer.

Growing increasingly interested in how the world has reached its present state, he applies to write a book about it, and is astounded to discover, instead of closed ranks and obfuscation, the powers that be welcome his project and provide every possible access, even to personal interviews with the far-sighted mogul who had single-handedly engineered the death of nations and triumph of the Plutocracy…

As the deeply suspicious investigator plunges on meeting nothing but cooperation at every step, his resolve begins to falter, but his tell-all exposé has taken on a life of its own, and nothing can stop it from becoming the biggest sensation in The Company’s past history or projected profit forecasts…

Dark, bleak and brimming with mordant satire, this trenchant tale is an ideal metaphor and warning for our times and one no contemplative rational consumer can afford to miss.
© Text & illustrations Abraham Martínez 2017 © Bang. ediciones, 2017. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly is scheduled for release in hardback on November 19th and digitally on December 15th 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

World of Warcraft: Comic Collection Volume One


By Raphael Ahad, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, Christie Golden, Micky Neilson, Andrew Robinson, Antonio Bifulco, Linda Cavallini, Sebastian Cheng, Alex Horley, David Kegg, Ludo Lullabi, Miko Montilló, Nesskain, Suqling, Emanuele Tenderini & various (Blizzard Entertainment/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-95036-613-2 (HB Blizzard Entertainment) 978-1-78909-646-0 (HB Titan Books)

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) that began in 2004. It’s very popular.

If you needed to look up any part of that paragraph, this might not be the book for you – although if you’re a fantasy fan with a penchant for convoluted sagas and love of bombastic comics art, it might be worth sticking around to the end of the review.

Like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Game of Thrones or other complex invented environments, WoW is more about worldbuilding and made-up history than individual heroes like Conan or Elric excelling and triumphing. Here variety is the spice of life (and Unlife, Orc-kind, wizards, Dwarves, Gnomes, automata etc). This collection of tales – originally an online supplement and enticement to the game – might feel a little formulaic, but that’s pretty much the point…

These lavish auxiliary tales were all released between 2014- 2018 as World of Warcraft: Warlords of Drainor, World of Warcraft: Legion, and World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth: moody, action-heavy and suspenseful vignettes, packaged as digital comics miniseries specifically linked to one of the eight Expansion Packs released to sustain that frantic MMORPG mythmaking momentum.

First freshly arrayed in Warlords of Draenor as ‘Gul’Dan and the Stranger’ (by Micky Neilson & Alex Horley), the opening yarn reveals bloodshed brewing, whilst ‘Blackhand’ (Robert Brooks & Horley) details the fate of the feared and fabled Doomhammer, before ‘Blood and Thunder’ (Raphael Ahad, Cynthia Hall & Horley) offers some historical context with the origins of mighty warrior the Iron Wolf

Legion opens with Matt Burns & Ludo Lullabi’s ‘Magni: Fault Lines’ as the daughter of the venerable King under the Mountain awakens him to meet the growing crisis facing the dwarves. Meanwhile, Night Elves are having a few difficulties with monstrous Gul’Dan in ‘Nightborne: Twilight of Suramar’ (Burns & Lullabi) whilst the animalistic tribes are called to action in ‘Highmountain: A Mountain Divided’ (Brooks & David Kegg) before the humans of Stormwind Keep survive a royal assassination attempt, inspiring King Wrynn to mobilise in Brooks & Nesskain’s ‘Anduin: Son of the Wolf’

It ends with reports from the Battle for Azeroth, as a repentant mage reassesses her life choices in ‘Jaina: Reunion’(Andrew Robinson, Linda Cavallini & Emanuele Tenderini) before wandering Dwarf-King ‘Magni: The Speaker’ (Burns & Suqling) endures a moment of existential crisis…

Steve Danuser, Christie Golden, Robinson, Antonio Bifulco & Sebastian Cheng detail the past and futures of ‘Windrunner: Three Sisters’ after which the gathering storms pause with the salutary tale of ‘Mechagon’ (by Burns & Miko Montilló), proving you should watch what you wish for even if you’re a dedicated master smith like Kervo the Explorer

Garnishing all the drama and mayhem, the book also offers a vast selection of production art – from preliminary designs and roughs to full finished pages – in a Sketchbook section.

Gathered into a lavish luxury hardback that just screams “Christmas gift”, these adventures won’t be everyone’s goblet of grog, but for those who covertly yearn to resolve their daily annoyances with a honking great Warhammer or dismemberment spell, this should be subject of your very next quest…
World of Warcraft: Comic Collection © 2020 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Maids


By Katie Skelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-368-4 (HB)

Sorry for the brief interruption. Disease and deadlines are things you just don’t dick with…

With Halloween pretty much on hold this year, our annual humour/horror fest has been pretty much decimated too. However, if you stretch a point, most of the recommendations over the next few days will qualify…

Illustrator Katie Skelly hails from Brooklyn by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and caught the comics bug early, thanks to her newsstand owner dad. Her Barbarella inspired series Nurse, Nurse began after graduating from Syracuse University with a BA in Art History and becoming a postgrad at City College of New York.

Thanks to her inquisitive insights, striking art style and potent narrative voice, Skelly has been the subject of many gallery shows and is a star on the global lecture circuit.

Her first graphic novel – again inspired by Jean-Claude Forrest but also horror-meister director Dario Argento – was My Pretty Vampire (2017), supplanted by the collection Operation Margarine and The Agency. All her works ask uncomfortable questions about the role and permitted position of women in society as seen through exploitation genres of mass entertainment, and that’s never been more effectively seen than in this “semi-autobiographical” tome (available in present-worthy luxury hardback and accessible eBook formats) recounting the true-crime story of the Papin sisters.

History says that on February 2, 1933, former convent girls Christine and Léa (working as maids for the wealthy Lancelin family in Le Mans) one night bludgeoned and stabbed to death Madame Léonie to and her daughter Genevieve. The case was open and shut but became a Cause Célebre in France after reports of the killers’ early lives and years of service and physical abuse became public. Intellectuals championed them and the case was cited as a perfect example of the dangers of inequality and privilege…

Here, Skelly brings her own incisive interpretation to the case, and it’s a little gem that you will find hard to put down and impossible to forget…
© 2020 Katie Skelly. This edition © 2020 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents House of Secrets volume 2


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Bill Meredith, Jack Oleck, John Albano, Lore Shoberg, Sergio Aragonés, Sheldon Mayer, Raymond Marais, Steve Skeates, Bill Riley, Maxene Fabe, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Michael Pellowsky, Gerard Conway, Michael Fleisher, Doug Moench, David Michelinie, Gerry Boudreau, Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Jack Katz, Tony DeZuñiga, Michael Kaluta, Nick Cardy, Jack Sparling, Vic Catan, Tom Palmer, Mike Sekowsky, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, June Lofamia, Frank Redondo, Abe Ocampo, Luis Dominguez, Ruben Yandoc, E.R. Cruz, Quico Redondo, Rico Rival, Virgilio Redondo, George Tuska, Jim Aparo, Gerry Taloac, Bernard Baily, Jess Jodloman, Fred Carrillo, Flor Dery, Romy Gamboa, Rudy Nebres, Frank Bolle, Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Ramona Fradon, Gerry Boudreau, George Evans, Arthur Suydam & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-472-5 (TPB)

With superheroes on the decline again in the early 1970s, four of the six surviving American newsstand comicbook companies (Archie, Charlton, DC, Gold Key, Harvey and Marvel) relied increasingly on horror and suspense anthologies to bolster flagging sales. Even wholesome Archie briefly produced Red Circle Sorcery/Chillers comics and their teen-comedy core moved gently into whimsical tales of witchcraft, mystery and imagination.

DC’s first generation of mystery titles had followed the end of the first Heroic Age when most of the publishers of the era began releasing crime, romance and horror genre anthologies to recapture the older readership which was drifting away to other mass-market entertainments like television and the movies. As National Comics in 1951, the company bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straightlaced anthology – which nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles – with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When a hysterical censorship scandal led to witch-hunting hearings attacking comicbooks and newspaper strips, the industry panicked, adopting a castrating straitjacket of stringent self-regulatory rules and admonitions.

Even though mystery titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of shock and gore, reader appetite for suspense was still high, and in 1956 National introduced sister title The House of Secrets which debuted with a November-December cover-date.

Supernatural thrillers and monster stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, genteel, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which nonetheless dominated the market until the 1960s when the super-hero (which had begun a renaissance after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them. Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and a host of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked myrmidons which even forced the dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in House of Mystery and Mark Merlin – later Prince Ra-Man – sharing space with anti-hero Eclipso in House of Secrets.

When the Cape ‘n’ Cowl craziness peaked and popped, Secrets was one of the first casualties and the title folded with the September-October 1966 issue.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom busted again, with many titles gone and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain …

This real-world Crisis led to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles at the time but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in public interest in all aspects of the Great Unknown, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all, The House of Secrets rose again with issue #81, (cover-dated August-September 1969) just as big sister The House of Mystery had done a year earlier.

Under a spookily bold banner declaiming “There’s No Escape From… The House of Secrets”, creators veteran and neophyte churned out a massive deluge of spooky, creepy, wryly tongue-in-cheek and often truly scary tales, all introduced by the innocuous and timid Abel; caretaker of a ramshackle, sentient old pile temporarily located somewhere in the Dark Heart of the USA…

This second enthralling and economical monochrome Showcase compendium collects the chilling contents of issues #99-119, spanning August 1972 – September 1973, and also features a stellar selection of covers from artists Michael Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Nick Cardy, Jack Sparling and Luis Dominguez.

‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ by E. Nelson Bridwell & Wrightson began another pensive package of terrors after which ‘Beyond His Imagination’ by Bill Meredith & Nestor Redondo sees a comicbook artist travel to the other side of death in search of inspiration, after which ‘Beat the Devil’ (Jack Oleck, Jack Katz & Tony DeZuniga) dealt with a religious thief who repented too late before ‘Goodbye, Nancy’ by John Albano, Vic Catan, Frank Redondo & Abe Ocampo saw a lonely child go to lethal lengths in her attempts to find a playmate…

A huge boost to the battered American industry at his time was the mass hiring of top Filipino artists whose stylish realism, experience in many genres and incredible work ethic made them an invaluable and highly influential factor of the horror boom. This collection especially is positively brimming with their superb illustrative excellence.

First in issue #100 however is ‘Round-Trip Ticket’ by Lore Shoberg & Tom Palmer, wherein a hippy truth-seeker learns a little more about alternate lifestyles than he bargained for. These comics chillers were frequently leavened by the mordant and wordless cartoon gags of the legendary Sergio Aragonés, who here contributes a trio of gems starring ‘Cain & Abel’before Oleck, Mike Sekowsky & DeZuñiga reveal the fate of an escaped convict who briefly became ‘The Man Who Stopped Time!’ After a page of ‘Abel’s Fables’ cartoons by Shoberg, Oleck & Alfredo Alcala brought the issue to a close with period Voodoo yarn ‘Rest in Peace’…

Clever science fiction courtesy of Sheldon Mayer & Alex Niño opened#101 as ‘Small Invasion’ tells a tale of love, double-cross and vengeance when an alien infiltrator discovers true romance whilst preparing to destroy humanity, after which ‘The Sacrifice’ (Oleck & June Lofamia) pitted Witch against Warlock in a game as old as time…

Aragonés’ ‘Cain & Abel’ page then precedes ‘Hiding Place’ by Raymond Marais & Ruben Yandoc, with a murderous gangster picking the wrong home to invade after which an ‘Abel’s Fables’ page by Shoberg brings the issue to a close.

‘Make a Wish’, by Oleck & E.R. Cruz, led in #102 as a troubled boy periodically escapes the real world – until well-meaning adults take him in hand, whilst ‘The Loser’ (Oleck, Quico Redondo & Ocampo) details a hen-pecked husband who can’t even get his revenge right, and bracketed between a brace of Aragonés’ ‘Abel’s Fables’ Albano & Nestor Redondo shone with the salutary romantic chiller starring ‘A Lonely Monstrosity’

House of Secrets #103 began with a tale on con men and time travel in ‘Waiting… Waiting… Waiting’ by Mayer & Rico Rival, whilst ‘No Bed of Roses’ (Albano & Sparling) told a unique tale of reincarnation and revenge, before a post-apocalyptic revelation proved that man could never change in ‘The Village on the Edge of Forever’ by Steve Skeates & Niño, before Aragonés wrapped another issue with one of his ‘Cain & Abel’ pages.

In #104, ‘Ghosts Don’t Bother Me… But…’ from Mayer & Nestor & Virgilio Redondo told the sorry story of a hitman who found that his victims didn’t always rest in peace, whilst ‘The Dead Man’s Doll’, by Bill Riley & Alcala, and book-ended by two ‘Abel’s Fables’ by Aragonés & Albano, saw a beloved puppet take vengeance for his owner when the frail fellow was murdered by his uncaring carers, whilst ‘Lend Me an Ear!’ by Oleck & George Tuska saw merciless college pranksters hoisted on their own petard after playing in a morgue…

Issue #105 featured ‘Vampire’: an effective game of Ten Little Indians played out in an old Nevada mine by Maxene Fabe & Gerry Taloac, the gloriously dry ‘Coming Together!’ (Skeates & Jim Aparo) which showed that courage wasn’t everything when demons invaded a small town, and a great old-fashioned murdered man’s revenge yarn in ‘An Axe to Grind’ by Skeates & Alcala, whilst #106, after a magical ‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ by E. Nelson Bridwell & Wrightson, opened with ‘The Curse of Harappa’ (Fabe & Yandoc) as a man dedicated to wiping out superstition found it wasn’t all nonsense, after which ‘The Island of No Return’ by Albano & Niño displayed the epitome of monstrous abiding terror, and Oleck and Alcala closed the show with a turn-of-the-century joker getting his just deserts in ‘This Will Kill You’.

In #107 Alcala illustrated Oleck’s ‘Skin Deep’: a dark tale of magic masks and ugly people in New Orleans and, after an Aragonés ‘Cain & Abel’, Arnold Drake’s hilarious hen-pecked howler ‘The Night of the Nebish!’ before ‘Winner Take All’ by Skeates & Bernard Baily restores some lethal gravitas to the proceedings when a greedy tramp learns too late the life-lesson of when to let go…

In #108 ‘Act III Eternity’ by George Kashdan & Jess Jodloman describes how a washed-up thespian unsuspectingly took method acting to unfortunate extremes whilst ‘A New Kid on the Block’ (Fabe & Rival) found a new wrinkle in the hoary legend of revivified mummies and ‘The Ghost-Writer’ by Riley & Taloac saw a dissolute author finally pay for taking undeserved credit during his successful career. This issue also featured two more bleak and black ‘Abel’s Fables’ by Aragonés.

HoS #109 held two longer tales; ‘Museum of Nightmares’ by Michael Pellowsky, Fabe & Alcala, in which animated waxworks haunted the last case of a great detective whilst in ‘…And in Death there is No Escape!’, (Albano & Niño) a callous bluebeard and actor of towering ego at last regretted the many sins that had led him to physical immortality and infamous renown. Issue #110 opened with an entertaining vampire tale in ‘Domain of the Dead’ by Oleck & Fred Carrillo, continued with supernatural murder-mystery ‘Safes Have Secrets Too’ by Pellowsky, Fabe & Flor Dery and finished on a beguiling high note with Oleck & Taloac’s ‘Possessed’ as a simple farmer searched in all the wrong places for a deadly witch…

Gerard Conway & DeZuñiga provided a haunting tale of lonely lighthouses and other worlds in #111’s ‘A Watchtower in the Dark’, after which ‘Hair-I-Kari’ by Fabe & Romy Gamboa told a sordid tale of a magic baldness cure and Michael Fleisher & Taloac recounted a bold adventurer’s quest to defeat death in ‘The Land Beyond the Styx!’

In #112 ‘The Witch Doctor’s Magic Cloak’ by Fleisher & Rudy Nebres explored the grotesque consequences of alternative medicine and limb regeneration, after which Conway & Luis Dominguez pastiched Sherlock Holmes to great effect in ‘The Case of the Demon Spawn!’ whilst #113 opened with an all-out monster mash in the delightfully dark ‘Not So Loud – I’m Blind!’ by Doug Moench, Nick Cardy & Mike Sekowsky and after another Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ Oleck & Nestor Redondo unleashed a truly nasty tale of child vampires in ‘Spawns of Satan’

HoS #114 led with Fleisher & Frank Bolle’s ‘Night Game’ – a chilling sports-story of corruption in hockey and murder on ice – and close with the same writers’ ‘The Demon and the Rock Star!’, concerning one Hell of a comeback tour and illustrated by Talaoc, whilst #115 featured ‘Nobody Hurts my Brother!’ by Drake & Alcala: a tale of once-conjoined twins who shared each other’s hurts but not morals, after which ‘Remembered Dead’ (Kashdan & Niño) dealt with a wax museum guard’s unhealthy attachment to one of the exhibits, and ‘Every Man my Killer!’, by Kashdan and Nardo & E.R. Cruz, followed a tormented soul the entire world wanted dead…

‘Like Father, Like Son’ by Oleck & Nestor Redondo in #116 followed the rise and fall of a 18th century peasant who sold more than his soul for wealth, love and power, and ‘Puglyon’s Crypt’ by David Michelinie & Ramona Fradon explored with delicious vivacity the obsession of a man determined never to suffer premature burial…

House of Secrets #117 opened with a tale of medieval feuds and bloody vendettas that inevitably led to ‘An Eye for an Eye’ (Oleck & Ernie Chan), whilst ‘Don’t Cry for Uncle Malcolm’ Gerry Boudreau & Niño provided a phantasmagorical glimpse at the power of modern Voodoo, after which another couple of Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ bracket a wickedly ironic vignette entitled ‘Revenge For the Deadly Dummy!’ by Skeates Alcala.

The sinister magic of Hollywood informs the chilling delayed vengeance saga ‘The Very Last Picture Show’ by Fleisher & George Evans which opens #118, after which a ghostly ‘Turnabout’ (Skeates & Quico Redondo) proves too much for a cunning murderess, and Oleck & Fradon display a different look at leprechauns in ‘Nasty Little Man’…

This compendium concludes with issue #119 and ‘A Carnival of Dwarfs’ by Fleisher & Arthur Suydam, wherein an unscrupulous showbiz impresario comes between a gentle old man and his diminutive friends, and wedged between two final ‘Cain & Abel’ pages by Aragonés, Pellowsky, Kashdan & Alcala proved that primitive people are anything but when a callous anthropologist provided an ‘Imitation Monster!’ for an isolated tribe and lived to regret his foolishness…

If you crave witty, beautifully realised, tastefully splatter-free snippets and sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chills, book your return to the House of Secrets as soon as you possibly can…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft


By Tony Millionaire, Mike Mignola, Clark Ashton Smith, Jim & Ruth Keegan, Mark Ricketts, Scott Morse, Evan Dorkin, Gary Gianni, Paul Lee, Sean Phillips, Jill Thompson & various; edited by Scott Allie (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-108-0 (HB)

Scary stories have always been a staple of comics, and anthology collections invariably offer fearsome fun and the biggest Boo for your buck so I’m taking a skittish return peek at one that has definitely stood the test of time. It would be great if Dark Horse either re-released it – or at least offered it digitally…

Following a bucolic Introduction by series editor Scott Allie, this glorious hardback grimoire of ghoulish delights and funny fables opens with an illustrated extract from ‘Macbeth’ (guess witch bit) chillingly adapted by Tony Millionaire, after which comics and movie fans get a treat all their own.

This captivating “Book of…” mystery compilation is part of a series spinning out of legendary monster-hit Hellboy, and ‘The Troll Witch’ – by Mike Mignola – presents a terrific vignette of the hulking demon foundling who visits Norway in 1963 and has a tense conversation with a very peculiar Wise-woman.

Next up is a classic prose short story by Weird Tales horror star Clark Ashton Smith. Illustrated by Gary Gianni, ‘Mother of Toads’ offers the chilling and ghastly feudal tale of a lusty peasant, love philtres and the consequences of cavorting with strange women who live far off the beaten track…

Editor Scott Allie and artists Paul Lee and Brian Horton briefly abandoned their Devil’s Footprint series to recount the chilling choice of ‘The Flower Girl’ who, pushed to the limits by her diabolically spoiled and obnoxious little sister, is offered a vile solution by a neighbour with very dark secrets of her own…

Set in Louisiana in 1838 ‘The Gris-Gris’, by Jim & Ruth Keegan, blends the rich dark earth of voodoo with the theme of witchcraft as a cowardly Southern Gentleman picks the wrong crone to trifle with when trying to cheat his way out of a duel of honour, after which 1938 Mississippi hosts the ‘Golden Calf Blues’, by Mark Ricketts & Sean Phillips, exploring the power of an accursed guitar and the Devil’s Music to seduce the supposedly righteous…

‘The Truth About Witchcraft’ is an extended and fascinating interview with attorney, advocate and Wiccan High Priestess Phyllis Curott, after which the comics wonderment resumes with a stunning tale from the height of the infamous “Witch Trials” in ‘Salem and Mary Sibley’ by Scott Morse, before everything ends in an engaging and hilarious romp wherein the neighbourhood mutts and a deeply confused cat join forces to thwart the Forces of Darkness and the local coven of Crones in ‘Unfamiliar’, scripted by Evan Dorkin and magnificently rendered by Jill Thompson.

As anthologies go, horror and mystery are never out of style and collections like this serve as the ideal vehicle for pulling resistant readers into our world of comics. When they can be this diverse whilst maintaining such a staggering level of craft, variety and quality, they should be mandatory for any proselytizing fan, and hold pride of place on any aficionado’s bookshelf.
Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft ™ and © 2004 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved. All interior stories and features © their respective copyright holders.

Zombies Can’t Swim


By Kim Herbst (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-726-6 (PB)

It’s pretty certain now that we can’t escape the our own – metaphorical – oncoming Zombie Apocalypse, since dealing with the shambling horrors has even been added to the “What Would You Do…?” topic list of idle pub chatter and polite dinner party conversation, right below “… if you had a million dollars?” and “…if you had a month to live?” but still above “…if you were irresistible to the opposite sex?”…

British publishing house Borderline Press sagely took those idle musings and gave them concrete form in a deliciously wry and whimsical horror fantasy that is sublimely enchanting and gloriously engaging.

Kim Herbst was born in Taipei and taught to toddle in Tokyo before learning how to slaughter the Undead growing up tough in New Jersey. After graduating the Illustration course at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she moved to San Francisco and pursued a commercial art career, with various illustrations in children’s educational books, magazines like GamesTM and Rhode Island Monthly, plus covers for Boom! Studios, all whilst pursuing the day-job drawing for mobile games company Juicebox Games.

Her first full comics extravaganza, Zombies Can’t Swim apparently developed out of a casual conversation with her fiancé whilst sitting on a hill in idyllic rural Japan, and that’s where this mordantly gripping, breakneck-paced visualisation of that idle chat begins as big hulking him and cute little her are compelled to continue their debate on the run. That’s because assorted apparitions and rampaging reanimated revenants are trying to make the couple the next appetiser in an orgy of unending consumption…

In a country where guns are scarce, motor cars can be stolen on every street corner and fantastically lethal exotic medieval weaponry can be found in any museum, the fantasy within a fantasy follows our philosophical debaters in a gruesomely gory two-player re-enactment of every zombie flick you’ve seen in the last decade as the famished Dead keep Walking towards them and the young romantics make their way towards some sort of safe haven.

Amidst frantic combat, abortive rescues, crashed copters and incipient immolation, the frantic morsels make a decision. Japan is an island so if they head for the harbour and steal a boat, they’ll be safe.

After all everybody knows Zombies Can’t Swim

This wild and witty two-colour tome is a brief and vivid vignette all horror fans will adore: captivating cathartic, violently vicarious fun against a foe everybody knows it’s okay to kill (Kill again? Put an end to? Unmember? Render finally harmless?) but sharp enough to blur the lines between fearful frenzy and frantic frolic.
© Kim Herbst 2014.

Cinebook Recounts the Battle of Britain


By Bernard Asso, illustrated by Francis Bergése with colours by Frédéric Bergése: translated by Luke Spear(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-84918-025-2 (Album PB)

Originally titled Le Bataille d’Angleterre and first seen here as Biggles and The Battle Of Britain, the material in this album sprang out of the continent’s decades-long love affair with the plucky British aviator.

Biggles is huge all over Europe, particularly in Holland, Germany, Belgium and France, which makes it doubly galling that apart from a big run of translations in India, only a short-lived Swedish interpretation of his comicbook exploits (see W.E. Johns’ Biggles and the Golden Bird) and a paltry few from the Franco-Belgian iteration licensed by British outfit Red Fox in the mid-1990s – which included this very volume – have ever made the move back to Blighty…

Hopefully some enterprising publisher will be willing to brave the Intellectual Property rights minefield involved and bring us all more of his superb graphic adventures one day…

Happily, as this tome is more of a documentary than a drama and the Air Ace doesn’t feature, publisher Cinebook have twice released this fine and visually erudite mini epic by historian Bernard Asso and the utterly compelling Francis Bergése.

Like so many artists involved in aviation stories, Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first air strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A, Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating venerable, globally syndicated Buck Danny. In the 1990s the seemingly indefatigable Bergése split his time, producing Danny dramas and Biggles books. He retired in 2008.

In this double-barrelled dossier delight from 1983, his splendidly understated, matter-of-fact strip illustration is used to cleverly synthesise the events following the defeat at Dunkirk to the Battle of Britain (1940) and the eventual turnaround in May 1941. Combining and counterpointing the works of famous figures like Churchill, Hitler, Douglas Bader and Goering with key tactical players such as Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Galland and Mölders and relating actual tales of individual valour in the skies, the fact-packed narrative tracks the actions and experiences of specious winged warriors Leutnant Otto Werner and True Brit Flight Lieutenant James Colby as they struggle to survive in the skies over England.

The saga deals with the early days of terrifying air duels, later Blitz bombings, Albion’s logistical trials and eventual triumphs with factual expertise, but also affords a human face on each side of the conflict…

The latter half of the book then switches time and focus as Asso & Bergése detail The Bombing of Germany (1943-1945)paying especial attention to Air Chief Marshal Harris’ controversial tactic of “Terror Bombing” and its effects on allies and enemies – and innocents.

Here Colby has transferred to Britain’s Bomber Command, trading Hurricanes and Spitfire for Lancasters, Halifaxes and B-17 Flying Fortresses. Major Werner is there too, as the Allies’ campaign slowly destroys the Nazi War Machine and the embattled Ace graduates from prop-powered Fockers and Messerschmitts to the first jet-planes – but too late…

Cunningly converting dry dusty history into stellar entertainment, Asso & Bergése brilliantly transform statistical accounts and solid detail into powerful evocative terms on a human scale that most children will easily understand, whilst never forgetting the war had two sides, but no “us” or “them”…

Whilst perhaps not as diligent or accurate as a school text, Cinebook Recounts: Battle of Britain (part of a graphic history strand that also includes The Falklands War and The Wright Brothers making distant events come alive) offers a captivating and memorable introduction to the events that no parent or teacher can afford to miss, and no kid can fail to enjoy.
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard SA), 2003 by Marazano & Ponzio. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

The Fang


By K.I. Zachopoulos & Christos Martinis (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-909276-10-9 (TPB)

These doom-laden days and tempestuous nights just naturally lend themselves to spooky stories and here’s one of the most impressive of the last decade, published in paperback and digitally by international publisher Markosia; courtesy of creative fear-meister Kostas Zachopoulos (Mon Alix, Mr. Universe, Misery City, The Cloud) and illustrated by gifted Christos Martinis.

Executed in stark and lavish painted colours reminiscent of Jon J. Muth, The Fang offers a fascinating possible postscript to the end of Bram Stoker’s epochal novel Dracula, wherein the weary but triumphant survivors of the battle against ultimate evil realise that their job is far from over…

The doom-drenched drama begins in ‘The Story of Dracula’ aboard a battered sailing ship carrying gunpowder to America. The vessel is fatally cursed with a monstrous stowaway systematically slaughtering crewmen as she shudders through storm-wracked seas towards ‘A New World?’

Back in England, Abraham Van Helsing, Quincey Morris and Jonathan Harker grudgingly accept that their battle against Dracula is not done. Now the long cold trail of the monster leads to New York.

However, by the time they reach the glittering “city of tomorrow” the ancient beast is firmly entrenched and feeding off a naive people, too smug and forward-looking to acknowledge the possibility of demons from ancient European history. They’re all far too busy enjoying the tawdry delights of passing fancies such as the enigmatic Man-Devil in the travelling Freak Show, or the commercial war between those rival peddlers of electric light Tesla and Edison

As the vampire hunters arrive, the newspapers are full of lurid tales concerning “the New York Ripper”, but as the determined trio stalk their supernal foe, the eagerly anticipating Nosferatu is keenly watching them…

The end, when it inevitably comes, in ‘Old Enemies are Forever’ is fierce, ferocious and catastrophically brutal… but is it truly final?

Blending moody lyricism with shocking bloodletting and brooding tension, this stark and striking short shocker offers all the chills lovers of classic horror demand and the striking imagery comics fans crave…
The Fang ™ & © 2013 Kostas Zachopoulos, Christos Martinis and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Black is the Color


By Julia Gfrörer (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-717-8 (PB)

There’s never been a better time to seek out dark and imaginative horror comics tales and the genre has seldom been better represented than with this eerie yet elegiac historical fantasy from Julia Gfrörer.

She hails from Portland, Oregon – having been born in 1982 and raised in historic Concord, New Hampshire. She studied Painting and Printmaking at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts and first began turning heads a few years ago with her thoughtfully terrifying comicbooks Flesh and Bone and Too Dark to See as well as appearances in Thickness, Arthur Magazine, Black Eye, Study Group Magazine and Best American Comics.

The author brings a gift for sensitive emotional scrutiny and quirkily macabre understatement to this slim monochrome tome (finally available in digital formats) detailing the last days of a marooned mariner and the strange creature who temporarily adopts him…

It begins in the middle of the ocean as sailors Xavier and Warren are approached by the Captain’s Mate. The voyage is going badly. Storms have battered the frail wooden vessel and provisions are low. As they were the last to join the ship’s company, the crew expects the pair to calmly get into the dinghy and drift away, giving the rest some slim chance of survival…

Xavier is already quite ill and Warren enquires why they can’t just be shot, but nobody wants a murder on their already-benighted souls…

Cast adrift and enduring harsh exposure, the pair float aimlessly. Hardship and privation soon end Xavier, but as angry, resentful Warren languishes in the boat awaiting his own death, he thinks he hears singing in the night. Soon he’s soon conversing with a woman who seems to know impossible things – such as how and what his far-away wife and child are doing…

More than half convinced he’s gone mad, he continues his strange delirious conversations with her, all the while certain that his life is slowly ebbing away. She won’t save Warren but the sea siren is quite content to stay with him as he expires, sharing intimate memories.

…And far away across the waves, his former shipmates sail helplessly into another storm as mermaids gather to watch…

Bleak, beautiful and lyrically elegant, this oddly mesmerising, gently scary, utterly visual yarn tellingly explores pride and loneliness but is cunningly underpinned by wry, anachronous humour and a cleverly memorable conclusion which will delight fans of mystery and imagination and lovers of beguiling illustration.
© 2013 Julia Gfrörer. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.