By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
Kids love to be scared and they thrive on imaginative adventure, especially if it comes liberally dosed with oodles of wry sardonic comedy. Such being the case, it’s quite understandable how Long Gone Don came to be such a popular and enduring feature of British comicstrip phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run from the first issue.
Since 2012 David Fickling Books have published a traditional weekly anthology comic for girls and boys which has successfully restored the glorious heyday of picture-story entertainment; embracing the full force of modernity whilst telling old-fashioned fun and thrilling stories.
Each issue offers humour, adventure, puzzles and educational strips and material in an exultation of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the people who really matter – the utterly engaged kids and parents who read itâ€¦
As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past successes include Malcolm Magic and Yore (in The Dandy), Monkey Nuts, Baggage and the brilliant puzzle-venturer Von Doogan – this thrilling and hilarious spooky romp stars unlucky Don Skelton, whose proper life of adventure didn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances ended it.
The hapless schoolboy drowned in a bowl of Oxtail Soup and was instantly despatched on an uncomfortable voyage to the most netherly of Infernal Regions. Upon arrival, the bewildered waif discovered his unruly hair had turned milk-white, which looked really striking against the fantastic, green-sanded landscape dotted with familiar objects all super-sized to most unlikely proportions: an uncanny land of strange things and stranger folkâ€¦
None more so than a rather lugubrious and excitable crow dubbed Castanet, who took the newcomer under his scabby wing whilst strongly stressing the urgency of getting off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian Causes of Expiration tend to land with a crash every momentâ€¦
Castanet introduced Don to his bizarre afterlife, escorting him around the chaotic pit of peril known as Broilerdoom (â€œAfterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifyingâ€) where they promptly earned the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spodeâ€¦
At least boy and bird won a few allies amongst the denizens of the grotty avenues and alleyways: most especially demonic outlaw/tavern-keeper Lewd and his agile assistant Safina who prowl the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville when not running the iniquitous inn known as the Demon Drink.
Don soon learned his companions were more rebels than rogues and they took his arrival as a sign of the despotic General’s imminent overthrowâ€¦
After a handy recap and reintroduction section this second exotic eccentric escapade finds our expired hero and his crafty crow companion visited by an implacable, seemingly invulnerable stranger who tries to steal something from Don’s room at the Demon Drink before being driven off.
Giving chase the gang discover there’s been a rash of thefts throughout Broilerdoom but the populace have bigger things to worry about. The godlike Great Worm Thanatos – whose power is believed to sustain the entire underworld – is deadâ€¦
On closer investigation Don discovers his almighty, limbless and prodigious new pal is only â€œnearly deadâ€ and – after a few more unnerving encounters – learns that someone has stolen the heart of Thanatos so that final expiration is not long off.
If Thanatos is gone for good young Skelton can forget any dream of finding the way back to Earth and back to lifeâ€¦
Determined to recover the purloined heart, Don and Castanet quickly find themselves in the middle of another crisis: everybody in town is going crazyâ€¦
Safina reveals the reason in hushed whispers. Everybody in the underworld has a totem carried over from their breathing days: a knick-knack or keepsake which serves to stabilise them in the afterlife and remind them of former, happier times. Now, however, some unknown force has been taking the totems so people are forgetting themselves and going mental as a consequenceâ€¦
Faced with two impossible tasks before breakfast, Don gets weaving with his undercover underworld investigations and soon sees that a bunch of huge, hulking, mute figures are behind the thefts. Before he can do anything about it though, the silent strangers kidnap Safinaâ€¦
Castanet thinks he knows where allies can be found, but hates dragging his family into the messâ€¦ not because of filial feeling, but because his relatives are really appalling and quite dangerous to knowâ€¦
Meanwhile an unctuous and unsavoury character named Bone Dry Henson has cockily approached the overwhelmed authorities with a plan to off set the mounting chaos. The fact that he is one of the worst villains in the realm’s history but gets the go-ahead anyway is a sign of just how desperate the times areâ€¦
Of course he’s the untrammelled rogue everyone expects him to be, but if the populace had any idea of Henson’s true involvement and the nature of his peacekeeping Porcelain Army they would never have let him become the new Mayorâ€¦
Soon doom and disaster are running amok in the crowed shabby streets and the intervention of Don and his new allies have resulted in a completely new kind of monster rampaging through Broilerdoomâ€¦
But with splattery death mere moments away Don conceives a bold planâ€¦
Tensely suspenseful, imaginative, enthralling and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is delivered in a beguiling, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.
Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights should ever miss.
Text Â© Robin Etherington, 2017. Illustrations Â© Lorenzo Etherington, 2017. All rights reserved.
Long Gone Don Book 2: The Monstrous Underworld will be published on January 5th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk