Cravan – Mystery Man of the Twentieth Century


By Mike Richardson & Rick Geary (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-291-9                  eISBN: 978-1-62115-198-2

The old cliché about truth being stranger than fiction seemingly has a lot more force these days than it used to have. Moreover, everybody is captivated by an unsolved mystery, aren’t they?

That was clearly the case when occasional writer and full-time publisher (of Dark Horse Comics) Mike Richardson discovered he shared a small obsession with cartoonist and true crime raconteur Rick Geary…

That story is intriguing enough in itself but only constitutes a minor footnote at the back of this fascinating appraisal of one of the most infamous self-aggrandizers of the early 20th century and a man all but forgotten today.

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, National Lampoon, RAW and High Times, honing a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky plus the multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder/Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

Here, in this captivating monochrome tome, he and Richardson weave the scanty facts, some solid supposition and a bit of bold extrapolation into a mesmerising treatise about a precursor to Jimmy Hoffa and Lord Lucan – with a hefty dose of Shergar, D.B. Cooper, Ronnie Biggs and Forrest Gump thrown in for good measure…

Arthur Cravan was but one of the names used by serial fraudster and inveterate troublemaker Fabian Lloyd, a nephew of Oscar Wilde who, after being expelled from the last of many good schools in 1903, began – at the tender age of 16 – a short and sparkling career seeking the limelight.

In a scant few years he became a star of the art world: a noted poet, Bohemian, journalist, art critic, painter, publisher, author, performer and pugilist (through a string of uncanny flukes he became Lightweight Champion of France without throwing a punch…) whilst simultaneously admitting to being a thief, forger, deserter, confidence-trickster, political subversive and agitator…

A man of many identities – for most of whom he created impeccably-crafted forged papers – Cravan numbered Jack Johnson, Leon Trotsky, Marcel Duchamp and other stellar luminaries of the Edwardian and pre-Great War era as friends. Even after admitting to manufacturing undiscovered works by Manet, Dante and his uncle Oscar whilst assiduously avoiding any involvement in the global conflagration, he was feted by America’s intellectual elite whilst being hounded by the US Secret Service…

In 1918, with the American authorities making his life miserable, he set sail from Mexico to join poet Mina Loy – wife and mother of his unborn daughter – in Buenos Aires, but was lost at sea and never seen again.

At least that’s the official version. Searches found nothing and eventually he was declared dead and mostly forgotten, but stories and sightings persisted, as they always do…

And here’s where Richardson and Geary boldly imagine and draw some admittedly convincing conclusions about Cravan’s possible fate, linking it to the short but fabled career of reclusive author B. Traven: most well known today as the enigma who penned Death Ship and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Beguilingly speculative and ringing with authenticity if not indisputable veracity, this fictive biography is a superb exercise in historical exploration and one packed with wholehearted fun and mercurial love of life.
©2005 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Outlaw Territory volume 1


By Many & Various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-004-8

The Western is a rather odd entertainment genre which can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, best typified by heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff: the material typified by the efforts of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef…

In comics, that kind of cowboy yarn – grimy, gritty, excessively dark and nihilistic – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Charlier & Giraud’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer: iconic sagas which have only recently made their mark on US culture…

Outlaw Territory is of the latter variety; an anthological series offering fervid snapshots of  the sort of bleak, brutal incidents and accidents that were latterly sanitised for kiddie consumption but which in the end are probably just as far from the historical truth as any six-gun shootout on Main Street…

The iconic trappings of the Western make the milieu well-nigh irresistible to creative folk. We all want a crack at a cowboy yarn and this invitational series drew in a vast number of writers, artists and colourists who all took their shot – and occasionally more than one – resulting in this evocative initial paperback compilation of dark vignettes covering all aspects of the genre.

This first collection gathers stories by veteran and neophyte comics-creators who all have a spirited go at making something fresh out of a well-worn subject and, whilst the quality might occasionally falter, the rampant enthusiasm never does…

The moody moments begin with a painterly and poetic dialogue-free treatise on the traditional vengeance quest in ‘Daniel 5:27’ by Moritat, after which ‘Ballad of a Bad Man’ from Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara & letterer Thomas Mauer (who inscribes almost all of the tales in this collection) details the family traumas and depths plumbed to make a stone-cold killer…

Joshua Ortega & Trevor Goring deliver an iconic view of cruel and unusual punishment delivered at ‘Sundown’ before Shay, Dean Kotz & Ramiro Diaz Legaspe reveal a Civil War skirmish between aged experience and youthful enthusiasm for possession of ‘The Dispatch’ and Jose L. Torres & Jorge Molina Manzanero stylishly recount the story of a Mexican bounty hunter gripped by the ‘American Dream’

Ivan Brandon, Andy Macdonald, Daniel Heard & Kristyn Ferretti offer a different spin on a legendary moment in history with ‘The First Car in Mexico – or, the End of Pancho Villa’ whilst ‘The Most Civilized Establishment from Ocean to Ocean’ sees two would-be bandits dealt the most terrifying experience of their sorry lives in a spooky chiller by James Patrick, Khoi Pham & Jeremy Colwell.

‘Ahiga’ concentrates on rip-roaring gunplay and a bold jailbreak in a violent vignette from Christian Beranek & Koray Kuranel whilst Joshua Hale Fialkov & Christie Tseng plump for macabre moodiness as ‘Incident over Thirty-Six Days in the Colorado Rockies’ examines the instinct for survival in sub-zero conditions which seizes both a bounty hunter and his captive…

As depicted by Greg Pak & Ian Kim, institutional racism and casual genocide in ‘Rio Chino’ results in payback from most a most unusual avenger, after which ‘One Man’s Land’ by Stephen Reedy & Giorgos Gousis finds a fanatical territorial dispute devolving into murderous farce before Steven Grant, Shannon Eric Denton & John Choins deliver a wicked spin on the tried-and-true tragedy of ‘The Bounty Killer’

Greed for gold leads bad men to an extremely baroque and ugly end in Chris Moreno’s ‘He Will Set Your Fields on Fire’ whereas Fred Van Lente, Johnny Timmons & Danika Massey contrive deviously beautiful closure for a merciless beast after he meets ‘The Weaponsmith’ and M. Sean McManus & Michelle Silva craft a “Western Style Romance” when a sadistic brute meets his just end in a whorehouse after mistreating ‘Nora’

A very nasty father/son bonding experience informs ‘The Apprentice’ by Steve Orlando, Tyler Niccum & Matt Razzano whilst ‘Griswold’s Song’ – by Chad Kinkle & Ming Doyle – elegiacally examines a life short, unwise and bloody before Leonard N. Wallace & Christopher Mitten detail the grisly fate of Indian Hunters who hate each other more than the painted devils hungry to inflict their ‘Savage Practices’ upon them…

‘For Old Times’ Sake’ by Pat Loika, Jose Holder & Garry Henderson has old adversaries reunite in scarlet-spattered showdown after the intervening years have pulled each to the opposing side of the law, before cattle dispute leads to bloody murder in ‘Gutshot’ (Michael Woods, David Miller & Philip Fuller) and ‘Them What Comes’ from mpMann details a protracted siege and most unusual meeting of East and West…

Frank Beaton & Melika Acar scrutinise the ‘Craftsmanship’ of a hangman-turned-outlaw, Nemo Woodbine & Yeray Gil Hernandez detail the work practises of an exceedingly accomplished lady in ‘We Never Sleep’ and Josh Wagner & Joiton lavishly perform the sorry saga of an unrepentant rogue in ‘The Ballad of Sid Grenadine’.

‘The More Things Change’ by Skipper Martin, Christopher Provencher & Ellen Everett references big sky country and a truly twisted romance before Orlando, Niccum & Razzano reunite to trace the career-path of a long-in-the-tooth manhunter ‘Working on Christmas’

A band of unlovely brutes are served their just deserts in Noble Larimer, Jason Cheeseman Meyer & John Forucci’s ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ after which the mythic movie showdown scenario is given a smart makeover in ‘We Meet at Twelve’ by P. J. Kryfko, William Simpson &Mark Murphy before Simon Fraser craftily opts for a monochrome delivery and outrageous bad-taste black comedy to outline a bloody shaggy dog tale in ‘Ass Meat’

Wrapping up this first foray into contemporary Western wonderment, project instigator Michael Woods & illustrator Chad Sell share a gory story of frontier surgery and doing what’s right in ‘Memories’; calling to a close a superb compendium of mini-epics encapsulating the Good, The Bad, the Ugly and most especially the Fascinating for us literary mavericks and any newcomers keen on trying out new entertainment territory…
© 2009 Michael Woods. Outlaw Territory™ and its logos are trademarks of Michael Woods. All stories and characters likenesses are trademarks of their respective creators unless otherwise noted.

Wandering Island volume 1


By Kenji Tsuruta, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-079-3                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-771-5

Kenji Tsuruta was born in 1961 and studied optical science, intending to pursue a career in photography, but instead made the jump to narrative storytelling as manga artist, designer, book illustrator and anime creator.

A lifelong fan of “hard science” science fiction authors like Robert A. Heinlein and the comic works of Tetsuya Chiba and Yukinobu (Saber Tiger) Hoshino, after years of producing self-published dōjinshi whilst working as an assistant to established manga stars, the 25-year-old Tsuruta began selling his own works in 1986 when his short fantasy serial Hiroku te suteki na uchū ja nai ka (‘What a Big Wonderful Universe It Is’) was published in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning magazine.

Soon after, he began Sprits of Wonder: a dazzling scientific romance of gently colliding worlds. It ran in both Weekly Morning and monthly magazine Afternoon between 1987 and 1996 before making the smooth transition to animated features and an award-winning TV series. Dark Horse Comics published the first translated episodes as a 5-issue monochrome miniseries in 1995-6.

After that the artist pretty much moved out of the manga business, instead concentrating on science fiction illustration and character design; a field of endeavour where he won many awards.

Then on July 13th 2010 Wandering Island debuted in Kodansha’s anthological Manga Box AMASIA before being serialised in Afternoon. The first collection was released in October 2011 and Dark Horse began their English language editions in July 2016.

The slow-moving, elegiac saga is Mr. Tsuruta’s first major narrative work since the turn of the century: a beguiling and enticing modern-day mystery set against a fascinating geological backdrop in a fascinating cultural backwater…

Like Great Britain, Japan is composed of a vast number of islands, many of them located in areas far beyond commercially viable air routes. To cater to those small communities, independent pilots act as postmen, delivery specialists and rapid freight-hauliers.

Freewheeling Mikura Amelia flies an old Fairey Swordfish on her rounds, enjoying a pretty idyllic life as she hops from cetacean research station to trading post to fishing village delivering whatever needs moving for whatever fee she can get.

She used to work with her grandfather Brian Amelia in the family Air Service, but now it’s just her and the cat Endeavour. Her parents moved back to civilisation after the old man died but Mikura loves the freedom of the skies and can’t let go of her grandfather’s great obsession…

Amongst his effects was an undelivered package with her name on it for delivery to Is. Electriciteit – which she translated as Electric Island. There are a few fables about the place, but most people think it’s a myth…

Mikura, however, armed with a keen mind, decades of detailed logs and a strange yearning, becomes as obsessed as her mentor with the mystery. Old Brian vanished trying to find the island, but his logs have entries written after he seemingly perished.

And then one day Mikura actually sees the perpetually shifting, cloud-cloaked atoll – complete with a small town – but cracks up trying to land there. She is rescued by a passing freighter but the frustration of being so close is agonising and unbearable…

She slowly heals and gets back to work and starts to doubt her own memories, but somehow cannot let go. Eventually she puzzles out its secret: Electric Island moves around the Pacific in a complex and convoluted three year cycle.

That only leads to more puzzles, especially after she learns of a friend of Brian’s who shared his fixation: her old English teacher who was actually a brilliant geophysicist…

Another quick trip and one last revelatory interview and at long last Mikura is flying off to a long-awaited rendezvous with the unknown…

To be Continued…

Accompanied by text feature ‘Notes on Wandering Island’, detailing the specifics of floating islands, the antecedents of the series and Tsuruta’s history, Wandering Island is a superbly welcoming introduction into what promises to be a sublime treat for every lover of untrammelled wonder…
© 2011 Kenji Tsuruta/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6515-1

The advent of the Justice League of America marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his key moment came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The League was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks; even spreading to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning February 1962 to May 1963, this latest full-colour paperback collection of timeless classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #9-19 of the epochal first series of Justice League of America with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

Although Superman and Batman were included in the membership their participation had been strictly limited as editorial policy at the start was to avoid possible reader ennui and saturation from over-exposure. That ended with the stories gathered here as they joined the regulars Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars and late inductee Green Arrow. There were also contributions from “typical teenager” Snapper Carr: a hip and plucky mascot who proved a focus of ferocious fan debate for decades thereafter…

Justice League of America #9 opens proceedings here: a legendary and oft-recounted tale and the start of a spectacular run of nigh-perfect super-hero adventures. ‘The Origin of the Justice League’ recounts the circumstances of the team’s birth: an alien invasion saga of mighty space warriors seeking to use Earth as a gladiatorial arena in which to decide the future ruler of their distant world Appellax.

It’s followed by the series’ first continued story. ‘The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust’ finds the World’s Greatest Superheroes already battling a marauder from the future when they’re spellbound by a vile sorcerer. Faust has awoken three antediluvian demons and sold them the world in exchange for 100 years of unlimited power. Although the heroes eventually outwit and defeat Faust they have no idea that the demons are loose…

In ‘One Hour to Doomsday’ the JLA pursue and capture their initial target The Lord of Time, but are then trapped a century from their home-era by the awakened, re-empowered demons. This level of plot complexity hadn’t been seen in comics since the closure of EC Comics, and never before in a superhero tale. It was a profound acknowledgement by the creators that the readership was no longer simply little kids – if indeed it ever had been…

Arch-villain Doctor Light debuted in #12, attempting a pre-emptive strike on the team by transporting them to carefully selected sidereal worlds where their abilities would be useless, but ‘The Last Case of the Justice League’ proved to be anything but, and in the next issue the heroes saved our entire reality by solving ‘The Riddle of the Robot Justice League’ created to stop the champions from halting the theft of our life-energy by agents of another cosmic realm.

‘The Menace of the “Atom” Bomb’ in issue #14 was a neat way of introducing latest member The Atom whilst showing a fresh side to an old villain masquerading as new nemesis Mister Memory whilst issue #15’s ‘Challenge of the Untouchable Aliens’ added some fresh texture to the formulaic plot of extra-dimensional invaders out for our destruction.

‘The Cavern of Deadly Spheres’ was a deceptive change-of-pace tale with a narrative technique that just couldn’t be used on today’s oh-so-sophisticated audience, but still has the power to grip a reader, after which ‘Triumph of the Tornado Tyrant’ saw a sentient cyclone that had once battled the indomitable Adam Strange (in Mystery in Space #61- or Adam Strange Archives volume 1) set up housekeeping on an desolate world and ponder the very nature of Good and Evil.

It soon realised that it needed the help of the Justice League to reach a survivable conclusion.

Teaser Alert: As well being a cracking yarn, this story is pivotal in the development of the android hero Red Tornado

In #18 the heroes were forcibly summoned to a subatomic world by three planetary champions whose continued existence threatened to destroy the very world they were designed to protect. ‘Journey to the Micro-World’ found the JLA compelled to defeat opponents who were literally unbeatable and discovering yet again that Batman’s brains were a super power no force could thwart…

A final perplexing puzzle was posed in ‘The Super-Exiles of Earth’ after unstoppable duplicates of the heroes went on a crime-spree, forcing the world’s governments to banish the League into space. Battling undercover, the team proved too much for the mystery mastermind behind the plot and returned to public acclaim in a stellar wrap-up to another fabulous feast of four-colour fun.

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern fans who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1962, 1963, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7413-3                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-7927-5

Cats rule the world. Just ask the internet.

Those of us with moggies also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

However, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her indolent furry overlords earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively and interminably poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling series of strips detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

The history and development of the feature is covered in Dunn’s Introduction (which you can read if your own claw-pawed companions give you some time off) before this superbly engaging full-colour digest-sized (165 x 203 mm) paperback concentrates on crucial domestic and foreign issues.

Drawing attention on the home front are items such as ‘Everything is Broken and We Don’t Know Who Did It’, ‘The Food Bowl is Still Empty’, ‘The People Bought Some Stupid-Looking Thing For the Dining Room’, ‘The Woman is Cooking Bacon’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Use a Laptop’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Make the Bed’ and ‘The People Bought a Different Kind of Kibble’ whilst long-range outside broadcasts confirm ‘The Man is in the Backyard’, ‘The Neighborhood is Under Attack’ and ‘The Trees are Falling Apart’

The rolling news is backed up by In-Depth packages devoted to ‘The People Are Going Insane’ (moving house to us two-foots) and the entire team undertake a dedicated series on a lengthy brush with maternity (‘The Woman is Feeling Under the Weather’, ‘The Spare Room is Filled With New Cat Furniture’, ‘The Woman has a Hair Ball’ and ‘The People are Awake in the Middle of the Night’) to prove that cats don’t just want vapid snippets of information for mayfly attention spans but can also handle complex issues with no simple solutions…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh.
© 2016 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby: The Complete Collection


By Jack Kirby, Mike Royer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9037-0

Jack Kirby was – and still is – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Off course I’m going to add my own two-bobs’-worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable kid you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

In the late 1930s it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comicbook industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe and Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business and soon left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up, page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other concepts which would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. His follow-ups included science fiction themed heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, a run of war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman co-created with old Joe Simon, but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), yet again editorial disputes ended up with him leaving for promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped at the time but again turned out to be controversial. His new works and creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur,) found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

Devil Dinosaur is possibly his most divisive creation: sheer anathema to those fans who scrupulously policed the Marvel Universe, perpetually seeking out infractions to the holy writ and demanding “does this fit in?” They were apparently blind to the unfettered, joyous freedom of imagination run wild, the majesty of pulse-pounding thrills and electrically galvanising BIG ART!

For 25 years I taught comics-creation skills and techniques to pre-schoolers through to college graduates and let me tell you, nothing caused more heated debate amongst the adults and generated greater sheer, open-eyed, awestruck glee from the kids.

It’s a monkey man, riding a big red dinosaur, fighting monsters and aliens, for Pete’s sake!

And that is the reason this collection is so welcome. Jack’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill make for a captivating read. His comics should be on every School Curriculum if we want youngsters to get into Graphic Narrative…

Collecting the entire 9-issue run from April to December 1978, this sleek paperback chronicle begins with ‘Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy’ as we are taken back to an unspecified time in Earth’s prehistory where various emergent species of hominids eke out a perilous existence beside the last of the great lizards and other primordial giants…

In that perilous world a wide-eyed innocent of the timid but clever Small Folk rescues a baby tyrannosaur from humanoid hunters known as the Killer-Folk. They have already slaughtered its mother and siblings with cunning snares and now torture the little lizard with blazing firebrands which turn its scorched hide a livid, blazing red…

Under the roaring light of a blazing volcano Moon Boy and Devil bond; becoming inseparable companions wandering the vast lush valley which is their home.

The scarlet saurian is no ordinary beast. Blessed with uncanny intelligence and unmatchable ferocity, it soon becomes an equal partner in a relationship never before seen in the world. That does not, however, prevent the duo becoming targets for the ambitious new chief of the Killer-Folk.

Arrogant Seven-Scars wants to be undisputed master of the valley and has devised a lethal scheme with deadly traps to destroy the red terror and its feeble pet…

Sadly for them, the Killer-Folks’ schemes ensnare trusting Moon Boy but his scaly brother is not fooled and ‘Devil’s War!’ soon proves who truly rules in the dawn age…

Issue #3 concentrates on the sheer variety of humanoid life as ‘Giant’ pits our heroes against a monumental man-thing frenziedly hunting for his missing offspring, after which terror descends upon all when bizarre and merciless strangers erupt out of an ‘Object from the Sky’

We’d call them robotic aliens but the only certainty the assorted Earth creatures know is that the monsters are coldly hostile butchers. When the newcomers snatch up Moon Boy amongst their many specimens, the wily crimson colossus strikes up a tenuous alliance with Hill Folk survivors Stone-Hand and his aging mentor White Hairs before leading them in a terrifying ‘Journey to the Center of the Ants!’

Intent on using giant termites to invade the alien ship, the strange bedfellows encounter yet another frantic fugitive in the form of furious female ‘Eev!’; allowing Kirby to set up a telling biblical pastiche of the Garden of Eden…

After the termite-wave eradicates the invading metal ship, all that remains is a semi-autonomous computer system the natives deem a ‘Demon-Tree!’ The fancy-speaking thing seduces Stone-Hand, White Hairs and Eev into an idyllic preserve where it grants their every wish, but its increasingly harsh mandates soon make the hominids realise they are prisoners, not guests…

Happily, Devil and freshly-liberated Moon Boy are on hand to offer some destructive assistance…

Having gone back to their inquisitive wanderings, mammal and reptile soon find more peril when Devil is targeted by anthropoid ‘Dino-Riders!’ who want the mighty lizard for their greatest beast of burden. This time it’s Moon who does the saving, but only after convincing his meek Small Folk brethren to unite against their mutual beast-piloting oppressors…

The last issue is certainly the most intriguing as ‘The Witch and the Warp’ sees Devil fall into a naturally-occurring space-time fault seemingly controlled by a peculiar hag and her quirky disciple.

It takes all Moon Boy’s persuasiveness to get her to bring the beast home again, and even after the friends are reunited Devil has no way of relating the details of his shocking adventure in Nevada, circa 1978 AD…

With extras including a complete cover gallery by Kirby, and inkers Royer, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green, Joe Sinnott, Steve Leialoha, Walter Simonson and John Byrne, plus a selection of house ads, editorials by Kirby and ‘Dinosaur Dispatches’ letters columns from the period, this compilation is a dose of utter, uncomplicated comics magic: bold, brash, and completely compelling. How can you possibly resist the clarion call of sheer eccentric escapism?
© 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking


By Brad Evans, Sean Michael Wilson, Inko, Carl Thompson, Robert Brown, Chris Mackenzie, Michiru Morikawa & Yen Quach (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-318-2                  eISBN: 978-1-78026-319-9

Our particular branch of the arts depends rather heavily on the loving depiction of violence in all its forms, but it’s unlikely that most of us ever give it much rational and cohesive thought. How wonderful then than somebody actually has and kindly put it all together in a series of irresistible comic essay dialectics.

At least in terms of entertainment, there seems to be an unquenchable – almost compulsive – need to see conflicts resolved through force and problems solved by the imposition of will upon dissenters. Justifications for these acts can always be found if one looks hard enough…

Violence isn’t just a perfectly choreographed punch in the jaw or a sublimely balletic spin-kick, it’s also oppression, subtracting choices, dismissing someone’s opinions, denying them education or agency and so many other things we allow our leaders or even our friends and associates to do to – and “for” – us on a daily and incremental basis. The effects, however, are cumulative, vast and lasting…

Here a number of thinkers, theoreticians, activists and educators have their works and key achievements précised and propounded via a series of short strips seeking to highlight different ways to address our species’ second most primal drive.

Adapted and scripted throughout by Dr. Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson, the thought-provocations begin with ‘Brad Evans: Thinking Against Violence’. Illustrated by Inko, they collaboratively restate a conversation between the political philosopher/critical theorist and a journalist as he sought to explain his thesis that the media feeds and is dependent on violence for its own survival.

Chris Mackenzie then limns a visual discourse on how observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann led to a new theory on human nature, the power of delegated authority and impact of surrendered autonomy in ‘Hannah Arendt: The Banality of Evil’, after which ‘Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth’ (with art by Carl Thompson) describes how the psychologist re-examined the effects of colonialism on both masters and subjects.

A landmark shift in critical thinking and educational doctrine is scrutinised in the Inko-illustrated ‘Paulo Freire: The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ before a theoretical icon is revisited and the unshakable link between liberals and State violence is revealed in ‘Michel Foucault: Society Must Be Defended’ (illustrated by Robert Brown).

A Humanist examination of the cultural biases that colour and inform the West’s view of Eastern cultures is disclosed in ‘Edward Said: Orientalism’; with Thompson’s art working to explain the knottier points of history and entrenched racism. Then Inko makes her final artistic contribution in ‘Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others’ as the theoretician deconstructs and adjudicates on the misleading truths and overwhelming potency of carefully selected, deliberately disseminated images utilised by media and governing authorities…

‘Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent’ (Thompson again) explores the misnomer of a “Free Press” and reveals how a commercial media system can only act as a propaganda tool of whoever’s in charge, whilst Michiru Morikawa portrays ‘Judith Butler: Precarious Lives’; explaining how knee-jerk responses to atrocity fail through her theories on Normative Violence, Subversion and Liveable Life, after which Yen Quach depicts the arguments of Italian philosopher ‘Giorgio Agamben: Sovereign Power/Bare Life’ which posit that the job of democratic politics is to prevent the development of conditions which lead to hatred, terror and destruction, not merely to respond to and control them after they’ve occurred…

I’m not smart enough to do much more than parrot the phrases of these brilliant concerned individuals but I strongly urge you to read this collection – especially Henry A Giroux’s Foreword ‘How do we educate about Violence?’ which offers terms of reference, context and chilling insight into the state of play between Us and Them…

Supplemented by ‘Biographical Notes for the Writers and the Artists’ this is a compelling and challenging collection that needs to seen by everybody in power or comfortably submitting to it…
© Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson.

Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War


By Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785164791(HC)             978-0785132301(PB)

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk. The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course all the founding stars regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave and the increasingly bold and impressive stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

After Lee & Kirby moved on, the team was left in the capable hands of artists Don Heck and John Buscema whilst Roy Thomas grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in hard cover, paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #89-97 from June 1971 to March 1972. At the time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: an astounding saga of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen. The Kree/Skrull War set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events ever since…

It all began relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel was finally freed from virtual imprisonment in the Negative Zone.

Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but he quickly went native and became a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission he was flying back to Earth when he was suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone…

The trapped warrior found a loophole through long-dormant Kree artefacts and Nega-bands. Inextricably bonding to professional side-kick Rick Jones, he would switch places whenever danger loomed, but would be drawn back into the antimatter domain after three hours.

Following interminable, agonising months when Rick refused to trade atoms with his alien alter ego, ‘The Only Good Alien…’ (art by Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separated just as, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his enforcer Ronan the Accuser

The rebellion results in the activation of a long-dormant robotic Kree Sentry which attacks Mar-Vell and the Avengers before enacting a deep-programmed protocol to devolve humanity to the level of cavemen in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by Sal B)…

Even with Ronan taking personal charge the scheme to eradicate humanity is narrowly defeated in ‘Take One Giant Step… Backward!’, but the cat is let out of the bag about the panic-inspiring notion that extraterrestrials lurk among us.

Moreover, public opinion turns against the heroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

In a powerful allegory of the Anti-Communist Witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic expands in issue #92 (Sal B & George Roussos) as ‘All Things Must End!’ sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue begins to capitalise on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the current team is ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assumed the chores with the double-sized Avengers #93 and ‘This Beachhead Earth’. Here the Vision is nigh-fatally attacked and those same founding fathers evinced no knowledge of having benched the regular team.

With original Ant-Man Henry Pym undertaking ‘A Journey to the Center of the Android!’ to save the Vision’s artificial life, the Avengers become aware of not one, but two alien hostile presences on Earth: bellicose Kree and sinister, seditious shape-shifting Skrulls, triggering a ‘War of the Weirds!’ on our fragile globe.

Acting too late the human heroes are unable to prevent Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Mar-Vell from being abducted by the Super-Skrull…

With more stunning Adams art, ‘More than Inhuman!’ in issue #94 entangles the long-hidden race of advanced beings called Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and super-powers were the result of genetic meddling by the Kree in the depths of prehistory. Now, with Inhuman king Black Bolt missing and his mad and malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree are calling in their ancient markers…

Second chapter ‘1971: A Space Odyssey’ (pencilled by John Buscema) focuses on Mar-Vell as he is increasingly pressured to reveal military secrets to his shape-shifting captors. The Skrulls are ready to launch a final devastating all-out attack on their eons-old rivals, whilst on Earth ‘Behold the Mandroids!’ finds the American authorities attempting to arrest all costumed heroes…

In Avengers #95 ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ coalesces the disparate story strands as aquatic Inhuman Triton helps defeat the Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to find his missing monarch and rescue his people from the press-ganging Kree.

After so doing and with a solid victory under their belts at last, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls…

‘The Andromeda Swarm!’ (with additional inking from Adams and Al Weiss) is perhaps the Avengers’ finest hour, as a small, brave band hold off an immense armada of star-ships, losing one of their own in the conflict, whilst the Supreme Intelligence is revealed to have been pursuing its own clandestine agenda all along after having bewildered sidekick Rick Jones abducted to further its terrifyingly ambitious plans….

The astounding final episode ‘Godhood’s End!’ brings the uncanny epic (and this volume) to a perfect end with a literal Deus ex Machina as the Supremor’s master-plan is finally revealed but the war is ended by the most unlikely of saviours and an avalanche of costumed heroes: an action overload extravaganza which has never been surpassed in the annals of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction…

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

This terrific tale is the ideal example of superheroes done exactly right and also a pivotal point as the little company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. It’s also still one of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read…
© 1971, 1972, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Survivors! volume one: Talons of Blood

talons
By Hermann, translated by Kim Thompson and Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN. ASIN: B000O15YBK

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with an indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in 1982, crafted by a Belgian master of graphic narrative.

Hermann Huppen’s comics career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal). In 1969 Hermann expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more.

However, in 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince (he stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip.

The result was Jeremiah: a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world created for German magazine Zack. Another instant hit, the series has subsequently seen print in Spirou, Metal Hurlant and many other places around the world and subsequently gathered in 33 Albums to date, most of which can be read as stand-alone tales.

Inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, the series has never really caught on in the US. Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – with this volume from the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series ended after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing two of the later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions…

So now I’m having a go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982, and describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he didn’t get home before the gates were locked. Stuck in the desert wastelands the callow boy encounters nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and ends up beaten and unconscious. The assault saves his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah finds the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all the able-bodied men women and children…

Assuming Kurdy to be at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracks the wanderer and finds him being tortured by other outlaws is the desert wastes. A rather botched rescue results in them establishing an uneasy truce and Kurdy begins training the kid in the necessities of life on the run.

Jeremiah is determined to find his people and their trail leads to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The sordid, makeshift metropolis is divided in two: ordinary folk trying to get by and a small army of thugs led by a debauched and baroque madman named Mr. W. E. Birmingham… and never, ever call him “Fat-Eye”…

A ruthless egomaniac, Birmingham only feels affection – warped but genuine – for his collection of steely-eyed raptors kept in a vast aviary atop his colossal fortress-castle in the centre of town. From this citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but recently the body-count has been rising too quickly and tempers are fraying. There’s a whiff of potential revolution in the air…

That’s soon amplified into a ferocious storm of outright rebellion as wily Kurdy’s unconventional tactics stir things up amongst the transient whores and desperadoes whilst Jeremiah’s accusations incite the resident populace. Birmingham has been selling white slaves to the detestable and resurgent savages of the Red Nation and when the Indians’ chief is spotted in town, a riot leads to lynchings…

Impatient for vengeance, inexperienced, impetuous Jeremiah sneaks into Birmingham’s castle and almost ruins everything by getting caught, but Kurdy has another devious plan in mind…

When the shooting subsides the settlers are bloody but triumphant and Kurdy has been convinced – against his own best judgement and self-interest – to join Jeremiah in invading the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging with wry and positively spartan writing, Talons of Blood lets beautiful pictures tell a thrilling story and is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume one: Talons of Blood © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.

Billy & Buddy volume 3: Friends First


By Jean Roba, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-124-2

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

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

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

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

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, after Roba’s death in 2006.

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

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

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

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

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

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

Les copains d’abord was the 3rd European 1980s collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless relationships for our delight and delectation.

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in snowball fights, dodging baths, hording a treasure trove of bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

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

The dog also has a fondly paternal relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this largely winter and Christmas-themed compilation finds her largely absent and probably hibernating) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever dad has one of his increasingly common meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

Also on parade in this tome are brushes with burglars and bandits, fearless fire-fighters and foolish photographers as well a selection of unique displays of Buddy’s social pulling power and money-making acumen. There’s even a greater role for Officer 22; the hard-pressed cop on the corner who always seems to be around during Billy and Buddy’s most egregious excesses and is slowly making himself one of the family…

However, the most important events included here depict the arrival of a new neighbour. Mrs. Stick is an upright, forthright and uptight military widow with definite views on absolutely everything. The most ardently held and expressed of these involve the nature of boys and dogs and how her vile cat Corporal can do no wrong. Oh, if she only knew…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and rewarding family-oriented compote of comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.