MARVEL MASTERS: THE ART OF JOHN BYRNE

MARVEL MASTERS: THE ART OF JOHN BYRNE
MARVEL MASTERS: THE ART OF JOHN BYRNE

By various & John Byrne/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-400-3

John Byrne is one of the most prolific and creative talents in the American industry and has worked on every major character in both DC and Marvel’s pantheon as well as on creator owned properties. Since his professional debut as an artist at Skywald magazines (‘The Castle’ in Nightmare #20, 1974) he subsequent worked for Nicola Cuti at Charlton Comics, where he produced Rog-2000 strips for E-Man, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Space:1999, Emergency and the post-Apocalyptic classic Doomsday+1 before making the jump to Marvel. Along the way he developed a reputation for being difficult but always entertaining and a solid fan-favourite.

His first work for the House of Ideas opens this volume; a horror short plotted by Tony Isabella, scripted by David Kraft and inked by Rudy Nebres. ‘Dark Asylum’ appeared in Giant-Sized Dracula # 5 (cover-dated June 1975) an inauspicious start as the Philippino’s heavy inking style utterly masked Byrne’s equally unique manner of drawing.

It’s not much better in the second tale printed herein, where the equally strong brush of veteran Al McWilliams defuses much of the penciller’s individuality. ‘Morning of the Mindstorm!’ is written by Chris Claremont, the last Iron Fist tale in Marvel Premiere (#25, October 1975) before the martial arts superhero graduated to his own title.

Regrettably none of those superb tales made it into this compendium, but a two-part tale from the artist’s stellar run on Marvel Team-Up (#61-62, September and October 1977) did. Pitting Spider-Man, the Human Torch and Ms. Marvel against the Super-Skrull ‘Not All Thy Power Can Save Thee!’ and ‘All This and the QE2’ is a solid action-thriller from scripter Claremont with inks by Dave Hunt.

Byrne’s place in comics history was secured by his incredible six year collaboration with Claremont on the X-Men. For most fans the high-point of this run was the “Dark Phoenix” multi-part epic. To acknowledge this, the concluding episode ‘The Fate of the Phoenix’ (Uncanny X-Men #137, September, 1980, inked by Terry Austin) is included here, and even as a stand-alone tale, it still resonates with power, wonder and majesty.

The Byrne/Claremont partnership was experiencing some stress by 1981 and a parting of the ways was imminent. The artist undertook a short but magnificent run on the Star-Spangled Avenger (collected in its magical entirety as Captain America: War and Remembrance ISBN: 0-87135-657-0), and from that sequence comes the slyly witty ‘Cap for President’ written by old-friend Roger Stern with inking by Joe Rubenstein.

In 1981 John Byrne achieved a private dream of relatively complete autonomy when he was assigned all the creative chores on Marvel’s flagship book. From November of that year comes his fifth issue as writer and artist. ‘Terror in a Tiny Town’ is a 40 page epic to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Fantastic Four (#236, November, 1981) a classic confrontation with Doctor Doom and Puppet Master; still one of the very best non-Jack Kirby FF’s ever published.

Whilst working on X-Men, Byrne had created a team of Canadian super-heroes. When they were given their own series Byrne was again responsible for the total creative – if not editorial – output. ‘…And One Shall Surely Die’ (Alpha Flight #12, July 1984) signalled the tragic, heroic end of the team’s leader (although no one dies forever in comics), another gripping extra-long extravaganza.

In 1985 Byrne drew Avengers Annual #14 (scripted by Stern and inked by Kyle Baker) as part of a major plot-line that guest-starred the Fantastic Four. ‘Fifth Column’ featured a landmark change to the Marvel Universe and seemed to end the menace of the shape-shifting Skrulls forever…

Byrne took charge of The Incredible Hulk in 1986, trading Alpha Flight for the Jade Giant, but infamously clashed with the editor over story direction. Only six issues resulted before the creator left for DC and the revamping of Superman, but that half-dozen tales were fierce and gripping, promising a vast change that never came… From #319 comes ‘Member of the Wedding’ (May 1986, with background inks from Keith Williams) wherein the fate-tossed Bruce Banner finally, Finally, FINALLY married his tragic sweetheart Betty Ross.

Byrne returned to Marvel in 1988, and revived She-Hulk – a character he had made a staple of the FF and a fan favourite. ‘Second Chance’ (The Sensational She-Hulk volume 2, #1, May 1988) is a charming tip-of-the-hat to halcyon days featuring the Ringmaster and the Circus of Evil, written and drawn by Byrne with inks by Bob Wiacek. Displaying a touch for comedy, he turned this series into a surreal, fan-teasing example of fourth wall buffoonery, exploring the dafter corners of the Marvel Universe, but once again he fell afoul of what he felt was editorial interference.

Two years later he revolutionised one of Marvel’s earliest and greatest characters. Namor, the Sub-Mariner had been a chimerical hero/villain since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had revived him in FF#4, but with ‘Purpose’ (#1, April 1990) Byrne and inker Wiacek took firm hold of all the contradictions and blind alleys of the oldest of Marvel super-heroes and made him readable and compelling once again.

This volume ends with the last issue of Byrne’s last work for Marvel. Again editorial problems were the cited cause: when the excellent X-Men: the Hidden Years was arbitrarily cancelled with little or no warning Byrne severed all ties with Marvel. Crafted in homage to the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams/Tom Palmer run on the Merry Mutants the series filled in the gaps between the cancellation of the first series and the revival by Len Wein, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum in Giant-Sized X-Men #1.

From #22 (September 2001) comes ‘Friends and Enemies’, the second of two parts – and as this book is already a huge 276 pages, surely a measly 22 more could have been found for the first half of the story? It finds Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast and Iceman battling the Mole Man whilst Professor X and guests Sub-Mariner and the FF defeat Magneto and the armies of Atlantis (a slick interweaving with the storyline of Fantastic Four #102-104). With inks by the legendary Tom Palmer this is a delightful taste of simpler times and proof that the entire series is well-worthy of its own collection someday soon. The book concludes with another sterling comprehensive career feature from comics historian Mike Conroy.

John Byrne, for all his curmudgeonly reputation, is a major creator and a cornerstone of the post-Kirby Marvel Universe. With such a huge back-catalogue of work to choose from this book succeeds in whetting the appetite, but a second volume really shouldn’t be too far behind…

 

© 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (A BRITISH EDITION BY PANINI UK LTD)

BEN 10 COMIC BOOK vol. 1: AND THEN THERE WERE 10


By Thomas Pugsley & various (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4663-7

At heart we’re all kids – or at least know one – and whilst a lot of TV animation is pretty poor, every so often something really cool rises above the morass and really catches fire. Most recently that would be the sci-fi action cartoon Ben 10 – a hip, modern tale that feels eerily like all those brilliant shows you grew up with, no matter what age you are.

Comics fans will feel a special affinity with it – and the book on review here – as the concept was created by “Man of Action” (a pseudonym for the entertainment-think-tank comprised of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle) and bears a striking similarity to two beloved DC second-string strips from 1960s: Dial “H” for Hero and Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

This cool pocket graphic novel from Egmont recapitulates the pilot episode for younger readers, using what looks like actual animation artwork to tell the story of Ben Tennyson and his obnoxious cousin Gwen, who have both been dumped with their weird grandfather Max for the summer vacation. The kids don’t like each other, but they actively hate being dragged around the countryside in a pokey camper-van for their entire holiday.

After a particularly heated fight Ben stomps off into the woods and discovers a crashed “satellite” with a really nifty wristwatch in it. When the band permanently attaches itself to his wrist he discovers that it’s an alien device with the capability to transform him into any of ten different super-powered extraterrestrials.

The device is the Omnitrix and unknown to Ben the monstrous alien overlord Vilgax will do anything and destroy anyone in his attempts to possess it! Can Ben, even with the help of his annoying family, keep this incredible weapon from the dastardly villain? Even when Ben is a one-man outer space army?

Although the dialogue is a little stiff in places this book is tremendous fun and delivers thrills, spills and chills with a deft touch, great pictures and good instincts. If we’re going to save the comic strip for future generations this is the thoroughly wonderful type of tome that we’ll need to draw new readers and especially the kids back into our four-colour clutches.

™ & © 2008 Cartoon Network. All Rights Reserved.

Booster Gold: Blue and Gold


By Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1956-7

Following directly on from the first collected volume (Booster Gold: 52 Pick-Up, ISBN: 978-1-84576-847-8) this hardcover compendium, reprinting issues #7-10 of the monthly comicbook and Booster Gold 1,000,000, details the catastrophic implications of the time-line guardian’s impetuous action in retrieving his best friend from death.

Booster Gold and Ted Kord (the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of Maxwell Lord’s Justice League International: a couple of charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating the Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

Defying his mentor Rip Hunter, Time Master, and aided by three other Blue Beetles plucked from their own timelines Booster altered the timeline to rescue Kord, but inevitably the world changed. In this new timeline Lord and his OMAC cyborgs have conquered the Earth, and only a few metahumans are still alive and free. Rallying the survivors Blue and Gold must lead one glorious Last Hurrah of the reformed JLI…

And in the background a shadowy cabal of super-villains calling itself the Time Stealers is manipulating events for their own sinister purposes…

This is a fans’ story for die-hard comics fans, with in-jokes and shared historical moments adding to the unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance of a classy time-busting tale, and that’s a great pity since this is also a very well crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

Gold’s heroism and Beetle’s sacrifice are the very bread-and-butter of superhero comics and even the eccentric post-script wherein our hero meets his ultimate legacy in the 1,000,0000 one-shot all add to a fabulously rounded cape-and –cowl experience.

I’m in touch with the continuity and still struggled occasionally but I’d love to be proved wrong and see if a total innocent could follow this nuanced little gem and get the buzz it gave me… Any volunteers?

© 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

HAWKWORLD


By Timothy Truman, Alcatena & Sam Parsons (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-021-6

In DC’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths re-imagining of the company’s hottest properties, a lot of beloved continuity was rewritten only to be un-written in the decades since, which only shows how fiercely us fanboys can hold onto our treasures. One of the few incidences of a reboot that deserved to stay untouched was when the Silver Age Hawkman was recreated in the wake of the 1989 braided mega-epic known as Invasion!

Previously Katar Hol and his wife Shayera had been police officers from the utopian planet of Thanagar, stationed on Earth to observe police methods, and subsequently banished here when their homeworld fell to an alien “equalizer plague” and the dictator Hyanthis, but this was all abandoned for a back-story where Thanagar was a sprawling fascistic, intergalactic empire in decline, utterly corrupt, and bereft of all creativity and morality.

Here lords lived in floating cities, indulging in every excess whilst servants and slaves from a thousand vassal worlds catered for their every whim and festered in gutter-ghettos far below. In this version Hol was just another useless young aristocrat, but with an unnamable dissatisfaction eating inside him.

Joining the security forces or Wingmen he saw the horrors of the world below and rebelled. Corruption was the way of life and he used that to advance the conditions of the slave, earning the enmity of his drug-running commander, Byth Rok. His secret charity discovered, Hol was framed and imprisoned on a desolate island where he met alien shaman/philosophers and underwent a spiritual transformation.

Learning compassion he set out to right the wrongs of a world, aided only by the dregs of the underclasses and fellow Wingman Shayera Thal: a mysterious, warped version of his girl-friend, murdered years previously…

This lost classic, originally released as a three-part Prestige miniseries, lovingly blends the most visual, visceral elements of Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert and Murphy Anderson’s iconic Hawkman, with shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, and Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination against the backdrop of the harsh and cynical 1980s to tell a dark moody tale which garnered great success and quickly spawned a compelling monthly series.

Now that DC is acknowledging its infinite variety through the 52 universes concept, it’s high time that this masterful thriller was again in print.
© 1989, 1991 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

HELL ON EARTH – A DC SCIENCE FICTION GRAPHIC NOVEL


By Robert Bloch, adapted by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-05-6

During the 1980s DC, on a creative roll like many publishers large and small, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content. To this end, legendary editor Julie Schwartz called upon his old contacts from his youthful days as a Literary Agent to inveigle major names from the book world to have their early Sci-Fi and fantasy classics adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.

One of the most radical interpretations came courtesy of Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, with inks and colours from Greg Theakston and Bill Wray not to mention phenomenal lettering and calligraphic effects from Gaspar Saladino.

August horror fantasist Robert Bloch developed out of the Lovecraftian tradition of the early pulps to become a household name for books such as Psycho and I Am Legend which replaced unspeakable elder gods with just-as-nasty yet smaller-scaled devils like Jack the Ripper. In 1943 he scripted a blackly ironic tale of three ordinary people, researcher Professor Phillips Keith, his assistant Lily Ross and the reporter/pulp horror writer they hire to document their great experiment.

The tense interplay of this claustrophobic chiller is effectively captured by artist Giffen in his multi-paneled homage/distillation of José Muñoz’s stark art style as the experiment proceeds and the parapsychologists proceed to bring the Devil to Earth and trap him a glass cage. But as the lives of the trio spiral down into a miasma of darkness, guilt and regret, we have to ask: “is he really trapped?”

Although a wordy, moody text, the interpreters have created a visual analogue that is just as tense and stifling as the original (which was recently reprinted with other “forgotten” classics in Hell on Earth: the Lost Bloch volume two) so if you like daring art and classic spookiness you should track down this album. And while you’re at it why not grab the prose piece as well and see how it works sans graphic narrative?
© 1942 Weird Tales. Text and illustrations © 1985 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

BETWEEN THE EYES


By Ralph Steadman (Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 0-224-02280-6

Ralph Steadman is arguably Britain’s greatest living artist, with works that range from the commercial arenas of Cartooning, Illustration, Caricature, Satire and Printmaking to novels, children’s books, stage and set design, animation, journalism, photography, painting, music and cultural commentary. If you’re a fan of modern comic books you’ve been enjoying the fruits of his far-reaching influence since the late 1980s…

If it’s creative he’s probably done it and uniquely well. The sod seems great at everything, and he’s got a sense of humour and a social conscience too.

This collection first appeared in that evocative year 1984, when he was 48 years old; less a retrospective than a manifesto of accomplishment thus far. Naturally it features hundreds of sketches, illustrations, paintings and drawings from this terrifyingly prolific creator, from sources as varied as Rolling Stone to Radio Times, but it also houses dozens of pieces of captivating writing, ranging from the drily (and here I mean witty not dusty) historical and autobiographical to the deepest introspection and well-considered philosophical judgement.

Steadman is a classical raconteur capable of imparting meaning to practically every sense. I suspect that if you bite him – and I’m not suggesting that you do – he’d even taste of heady tales and beguiling yarns. From his days with the nigh-mythical Hunter S. Thompson, his illustration of such classics as Alice in Wonderland, his collaborations with Ted Hughes and other poets, his reportage and especially those devastating caricatures and political sallies this book marks a solid half-way point in the prodigious career of an artist who truly knows no bounds.

There are simply too many books by Steadman to list – even his Wikipedia listing cites only a partial bibliography – and any one you find will blow your mind, but this is one of my favourites and well worth a renewed lease of life – not to mention a follow-up companion edition…
© 1984 Ralph Steadman. All Rights Reserved.

AX – A MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL


By Ernie Colón (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-490-X

Ernie Colón is a largely unsung maestro of the American comics industry whose work has affected generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or even editor his contributions have affected the youngest of comics consumer (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost for Harvey Comics and his work on Marvel’s Star Comics imprint) to the most sophisticated connoisseur with strips such as his startling indie thriller Manimal.

His catalogue of “straight” comic-book work includes Battlestar Galactica, Damage Control and Doom 2099 for Marvel, Grim Ghost for Atlas/Seaboard, Arak, Son of Thunder, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld and The Medusa Chain graphic novel for DC where he also worked as a group editor, the Airboy revival for Eclipse, Magnus: Robot Fighter for Valiant and so very many others.

In 2006 with long-time collaborator Sid Jacobson he created a graphic novel of the 9/11 Commission Report entitled The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation. In August 2008, they released a 160-page follow-up: After 9/11: America’s War on Terror. Born in 1931 he’s still hard at work on the strip SpyCat which has appeared in Weekly World News since 2005.

During the first wave of experimental creativity that gripped the late 1980s he released this totally self-generated (he even lettered it himself) fantasy/science fiction thriller through Marvel’s oversized Graphic Novels line. Intriguing, complex and multi-layered it is the parable of a young peasant boy named Ax who seems to have all the trappings of a new messiah to his Feudal overlord.

But in the manner of Moebius’ Airtight Garage all is not what it seems. Many eyes are watching the boy and not all of them are from the same level of reality…

Blending social commentary, Apocalyptic dystopian futurism and traditional sword-and sorcery with fierce intensity and stunning visuals, this is yet another lost gem that couldn’t find an audience on its release, but at least it’s readily available through many online retailers and deserves another shot. It’s pretty cheap from most dealers, too…
© 1988 Ernie Colón. All Rights Reserved.

HISTORY OF THE BRITISH NEWSPAPER STRIP


By Denis Gifford (Shire Publications)
ISBN: 0-85263-103-0

One of my most treasured old books is this slim unassuming tome that too briefly recalls the halcyon glories of British contributions to the world of newspaper comic strips. Maybe it’s because it was printed near where I grew up, but I rather suspect it’s the fact that it introduced me to a world of characters I had never seen (some I still haven’t but for their inclusion in these pages).

Cartoonist and historian Denis Gifford was often short on depth and sometimes even got the odd fact wrong, but he was the consummate master of enthusiastic nostalgia. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to actual masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of imparting – infecting almost – the casual reader with some of that wistful fire.

This lost gem from 1971 – a time when the British strip finally entered its full spiral of decline – evokes a more prolific and varied time, dividing the history and development of the cartoon feature into a general overview and more specific themes.

First of these is ‘the Jokers’; comedy strips such as John Millar Watt’s Pop, Walter Goetz’s Colonel Up and Mr. Down and Dab and Flounder, Rousen’s Boy Meets Girl, licensed strips such as ITMA by Arthur Ferrier, Hylda Baker’s Diary by Dennis Collins and a legion of other leg-pullers, irascible goons and japesters, closely followed and overlapped by ‘the Workers’ which deals with our national obsession: the little man’s avoidance of the rat-race.

J. F. Horrabin’s white-collar Dot and Carrie, Batchelor’s Office Hours, and Bristow by Frank Dickens, jostle with Reg Smythe’s immortal Andy Capp, Hugh Morren’s Wack and the surreal Northern genius of Bill Tidy’s The Fosdyke Saga, but there are many others I don’t have the space to recount here, and from the copious snippets supplied in this book they were all superb.

The Family’ was another rich vein of cartoon gold. Steve Dowling’s Ruggles and Keeping Up with the Joneses, Barry Appleby’s the Gambols (there’s enough collections out for a full review in future so expect one here soon) Jack Dunkley’s the Larks, Frank Langford’s Jack and Jill, Mel Calman’s Couples and dozens of others are fondly celebrated before we get to ‘the Kids’ such as Brian White’s The Nipper, Dowling’s Belinda Blue-Eyes and Tich, St. John Cooper’s The Home Page Kids and The Cooper Kids, Charles Holt’s His Nibs, Cyril Jacobs stylish Choochie and Twink and the sublime Perishers by Maurice Dodd and Dennis Collins (also long overdue for a review) among so many others.

Trailing behind the kids are ‘the Animals’; split into two chapters. In the first are such four-footed luminaries as Come On Steve by Roland Davies, Norman Thelwell’s Penelope, Peter Maddocks’ A Leg at Each Corner and Alex Graham’s Fred Bassett as well as an entire pack of canny cartoon canines, whilst the second part deals with strips for younger readers including both Charles Folkard’s and Arthur Potts’ versions of Teddy Tail, Austin Payne’s Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, Horrabin’s Japhet and Happy and The Arkubs. Harry Smith’s licensed Sooty strip, the amazing Timothy Tar by A.E. Beary and some fascinating early views of Rupert (the Bear if you insist on being formal) by Mary Tortel from 1920.

The Heroes’ come next, with Jack Monk’s Buck Ryan, Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple as rendered by both Alfred Sindall in the hero’s radio days and latterly John Macnamara when the detective graduated to the small screen in the late 1960’s. As well as the almost forgotten Flint of the Flying Squad (George Davies), Jack Daniel and Davies Kit Conquest, Sindall’s Tug Transom and Hugh McClelland’s Scott Lanyard, there’s a too-brief roundup of key Cowboy features such as Tony Weare’s Matt Marriott, George Stokes’ Wes Slade and Harry Bishop’s Gun Law.

The stars aren’t neglected though as evidenced by the inclusion of Sidney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke, Space Rider, J. M. Burns’ The Seekers, James Bond by both John McCloskey and Horak, Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway’s brilliant Romeo Brown and of course the immortal Garth as illustrated by creator Steve Dowling.

The book concludes with a peek at our racy tradition of unadorned glamour with ‘The Girls’. Unlike America and many other countries, in Britain trivial nudity and a little sauciness was never considered as the rocky road to damnation, and a number of superb artists have cheered up generations of males readers – and ladies, too – with such treats as Alfred “Maz” Mazure’s run on Carmen and Co and Jane, Daughter of Jane, and there’s also a big display of her legendary mum, as drawn by Norman Pett and Michael Hubbard.

Although Jane is the unvarnished queen of this sub-genre other stars have occasionally challenged her supremacy. Sirens such as Pett’s dynamic Susie, Bob Hamilton’s Patti, Spotlight on Sally and Eve by the astounding Arthur Ferrier, Paula by Eric A. Parker, Judy by Julian Phipps, the tragically forgotten but wonderful Carol Day by Davis Wright and Ernest Ratcliff’s Lindy were all superb looking strips and could easily stand a comprehensive collection of their own, but the true stars really shone once the age of liberation dawned.

Pat Tourret’s fabulous Tiffany Jones, Luis Roca’s sexy sci-fi thriller Scarth and John Kent’s contagiously satirical Varoomshka all feature prominently but O’Donnell and Holdaway’s utterly perfect action-heroine Modesty Blaise is justifiably the biggest star here and thankfully Titan Books are still collecting her entire career for your reading enjoyment and edification.

Books about stuff are rarely as good as the items they’re plugging (and how much less so a blog about them?) but this pocket history needs reviving, expanding and republishing. No matter how knowledgeable or uninformed you are on this subject it has the ability to show you stuff that will intrigue and beguile, making you hungry for more.

Text © 1971 Denis Gifford.

LOOK AND LEARN ANNUAL 1974


By various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

One the most missed of publishing traditions in this country is the educational comic. From the features in the legendary Eagle to the small explosion of factual and socially responsible boys and girls papers in the late 1950s to the heady go-getting heydays of the 1960s and 1970 Britain had a healthy sub-culture of comics that informed, instructed and revealed – and don’t even get me started on sports comics!

Amongst many others Speed & Power, World of Wonder, Tell Me Why, and the greatest of them all Look and Learn spent decades making things clear and brought the marvels of the world to our childish but avid attentions with wit, style and thanks to the quality of the illustrators involved, astonishing beauty.

Look and Learn launched on 20th January 1962, the brainchild of Fleetway Publications Director of Juvenile Publications Leonard Matthews, and executed by Editor David Stone (almost instantly replaced by John Sanders), Sub-Editor Freddie Lidstone and Art Director Jack Parker.

For twenty years and 1049 issues the comic delighted children by bringing the marvels of the universe to their doors, and was one of the county’s most popular children’s weeklies. Naturally there were many spin-off tomes such as The Look and Learn Book of 1001 Questions and Answers, Look and Learn Book of Wonders of Nature, Look and Learn Book of Pets and Look and Learn Young Scientist as well as the totally engrossing Christmas treat The Look and Learn Book.

Selected simply because it was nearest to my grasping hand, this volume released for Christmas 1973 (as with almost all UK Annuals they were forward-dated) is a prime example of a lost form. Within this132 heavy-stock paged hard-back are 40 fascinating features on all aspects of human endeavour and natural wonder from Strange Creatures of the East, Birds in Legend, Arctic Trawler, Caves of Adventure, Petticoat Pirates, Arabian Nights Railway, Head-Hunters of Borneo, Unknown but Well-known and dozens more articles cannily designed to beguile, enthrall and above all else, inspire young minds.

Illustrated with photographs, diagrams and paintings and drawings by some of the world’s greatest commercial artists including such luminaries as Ron Embleton, Helen Haywood, Ron Turner, Ken Evans, Angus McBride and many others, these books were an utter delight for hungry minds to devour whilst the turkey and Christmas pudding slowly digested…

With the internet and TV I suppose their like is unnecessary and irrelevant, but nostalgia aside the glorious pictures in these volumes alone make them worth the effort of acquisition, and I defy any child of any age to not be sucked into the magic of learning this lovely…

Whilst researching this book review (mostly sitting comfortably and flicking through gigantic piles of beloved, worn books and comics, submerged in the totally unique smell of old and hallowed paper – interspersed with the occasional dabble with the old search engine) I came across this delightful open site and commend it to your attention if you’re at all interested in the subject.
http://books.littleoak.com.au/index.html

© 1973 IPC Magazines, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

DUNGEON: MONSTRES VOLUME 2

By Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim, Andreas & Stéphane Blanquet translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-540-5

This slim tome is yet another part of the eccentric, raucous and addictively wacky franchise that it’s best to experience rather than read about. As well as Parade, Dungeon also covers Zenith, Early Years and Twilight. There’s this magic castle, right, and it’s got a dungeon…

The inhabitants of this weirdly surreal universe include every kind of anthropomorphic beast and bug as well as monsters, demons, smart-alecs and stroppy women-folk. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite strange…

The nominal star is a duck with a magic sword which forces him to channel dead heroes and monsters, but by this stage Herbert of Craftiwich has risen to the rank of Grand Khan – though he’s not quite sure how – and is the bad-guy in charge when the entire world of Terra Amata explodes. This volume starts as the survivors cling to isolated islands chaotically afloat on a global sea of molten lava…

Comprising two translated albums this book kicks off with ‘The Great Map’ in which unlikely hero Marvin the Red – an unsavoury bunny in super-powered armour – is dispatched by the enemies of the Grand Khan to find a magic chart that can predict the paths and trajectories of each individual floating island.

Sadly Marvin is no one’s idea of a hero and the distractions provided by food, danger and available women – including the Khan’s daughter Zakutu –provide more distraction than he can competently cope with. Always drawn in a superbly individualistic style, this volume and the next are illustrated by guest artists: in this case the phenomenally gifted Andreas with Stéphane Blanquet handling the follow-up ‘The Dark Lord’.

As chaos intrudes on every aspect of life left on the burning world of Terra Amata Grand Khan feels his power as Dark Lord slipping from him – and frankly, he couldn’t be happier. Regrettably it’s not the kind of job you can simply retire from and if Craftiwich is to safely resume a simpler life he has to outmaneuver all his former lieutenants who quite fancy the job themselves. And that idiot Marvin still hasn’t secured the Great Map of the floating islands…

Surreal, earthy, sharp, poignant and brilliantly outlandish, this fantasy comedy is subtly addictive to read and the vibrant, wildly eccentric cartooning is an absolute marvel of wild, graphic style. Definitely not for the young reader, Dungeon is the kind of near-the-knuckle, illicit read that older kids and adults of all ages will adore, but for a fuller comprehension I’d advise buying all the previous incarnations.

© 2002, 2003 Delcourt Productions-Tronfheim-Sfar-Andreas-Blanquet. English translation © 2008 NBM. All Rights Reserved.