Stuff about Sex for Guys Who Are Not Like, Total Idiots

By David Mellon (Top Shelf Productions)

Whilst not actually a graphic novel, I couldn’t resist adding this outrageous little comicbook essay to my St. Valentines Day celebrations, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any oldster who likes a gentle, knowing laugh or any young man in need of a little understanding pep talk before setting out to find a mate – either for a night, a while or a lifetime…

In the manner of a relatively non-judgemental older sibling, David Mellon talks frankly and in the most simple of terms on how to start having sex and the onset of adult relationships; dispelling myths, addressing if not positively coddling neuroses and especially bestowing actual useful advice (yes, really! Wash often and wear clean clothes!) to help nervous neophytes meet women and not nauseate them…

Beautifully rendered in accessible monochrome cartoons, Mellon takes us through the initial obstacle of ‘Shame!’, arguing that ‘It’s the Same for Everybody’ and claiming ‘Everybody Wants to Drop that Mask!’

Nothing is held back as the author sensibly deals with ‘Personal Hygiene’ and tackles issues such as ‘Premature Ejaculation’, ‘Masturbation’, the pros and cons of ‘Virginity’ and even asks the big question… ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’

Even the great imponderables get a look in as we examine ‘Normal’ and discuss ‘What Women Want’

Smart, sensible, unflinching but never harsh or mean, Mellon’s mature approach to an age-old traumatic experience and rite of passage should be mandatory reading in schools (but won’t be because of all the naked men and women he’s drawn here) as a serious aid to sex education.
Stuff about Sex ™ & © 2012 David Mellon. All rights reserved.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead

Adapted by Richard Corben, with Beth Corben Reed & Nate Piekos (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-356-2

Richard Corben is one of America’s greatest proponents of graphic narrative: an animator, illustrator, publisher and cartoonist, catapulting from the tumultuous wave of independent counterculture commix of the 1960s and 1970s to become a major force in comic storytelling with his own unmistakable style and vision.

He is equally renowned for his mastery of airbrush, captivatingly excessive anatomical stylisation and delightfully wicked, darkly comedic horror, fantasy and science fiction tales. In later years he has become an elder statesman of horror and fantasy comics lending his gifts and cachet to such icons as John Constantine, Hulk, Hellboy, Punisher and Ghost Rider as well as new adaptations and renditions of literary classics by the likes of William Hope Hodgson, Lovecraft and the master of gothic terror Edgar Allan Poe.

Corben didn’t sell out; American publishing simply caught up, finally growing mature enough to accommodate him, due in no small part to his own broad and pervasive influence…

Born in Anderson, Missouri in 1940, he graduated with a Fine Arts degree in 1965 and found work as an animator. At that time, the neutered comicbooks of the Comics-Code Authority era were just starting to lose disaffected, malcontent older fans to the hippy-trippy, freewheeling, anything-goes publications of independent-minded creators across the continent who were increasingly making the kind of material Preachers and Mummy and her Lawyers wouldn’t approve of…

Creativity honed by the resplendent and explicitly mature 1950s EC Comics, Carl Barks’ perfectly crafted Duck tales and other classy early strips, a plethora of young artists like Corben responded with a variety of small-press publications – including Grim Wit, Slow Death, Skull, Fever Dreams and his own Fantagor – which featured shocking, rebellious, sexed-up, raw, brutal, psychedelically-inspired cartoons and strips blending the new wave of artists’ unconventional lifestyles with their earliest childhood influences… honestly crafting the kind of stories they would like to read.

Corben inevitably graduated to more professional – and paying – venues. As his style and skills developed he worked for Warren Publishing in Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, Comix International and outrageous adult science fiction anthology 1984/1994. He famously coloured some strips for the revival of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Soon after he was producing stunning graphic escapades for a number of companies, making animated movies, painting film posters and producing record covers such as the multi-million-selling Meatloaf album Bat Out of Hell. He has never stopped creating comics but prefers personal independent projects or working with in-tune collaborators such as Bruce Jones, Jan Strnad and Harlan Ellison.

In 1975 Corben approached French fantasy phenomenon Métal Hurlant and quickly became a fixture of its American iteration Heavy Metal, cementing his international reputation in the process. Garnering huge support and acclaim in Europe, he has been regularly collected in luxurious albums even as he seemingly fell out of favour – and print – in his own country. Through it all he has never strayed far from his moss-covered roots.

This particular tome gathers a recent return to adaptations of the classic Poe canon; all-new, 21st century, often rather radical reinterpretations of the troubled author’s greatest works, as published in The Fall of the House of Usher #1-2, one-shots The Conqueror Worm, The Raven and the Red Death, The Premature Burial and Morella and the Murders in the Rue Morgue plus some short tales originally published in Dark Horse Presents #9, #16-18 and #28-29; collectively spanning the period November 2012-April 2014.

The horrific hagiography – each tale attributed with its year of publication and adapted with the colouring assistance of Beth Corben Reed and lettering expertise of Nate Piekos of Blambot® – opens following an erudite, informative and compelling Introduction ‘Masters of the Macabre: Edgar Allan Poe and Richard Corben’ by university professor, author, Poe expert and comics scholar Thomas M. Inge and the mood-setting poem ‘Spirits of the Dead (1827)’ before the artistic extravaganza unfolds with aged, one-eyed crone Maggy as host and guide to the selection which follows.

In ‘Alone (1828)’ morbid, death-haunted Solomon discusses his distressing dreams with the intoxicating but strangely unmoved Liea whilst ‘The City in the Sea (1831)’ sees a shipwrecked sea captain forced to explain his recent dramatic actions to a dank and unforgiving tribunal who have markedly different views to him on what constitutes duty, business sense, cargo and humanity…

Many of these interpretations employ embedded lines of Poe’s verse, such as ‘The Sleeper (1831)’ which sees a well-deserved fate meted out to a rich philanderer who had his wife and her murderer killed to further his own carnal desires whilst ‘The Assignation (1834)’ examines a toxic relationship where husband and wife cannot live together… or apart…

‘Berenice (1835)’ is one of Poe’s most stomach-churning, nerve-jangling yarns and Corben does it full justice as bereaved Egaeus watches over the corpse of his recently-deceased betrothed. However, even in death he cannot turn his mind away from an overwhelming fascination with her perfect teeth…

The deeply unsettling story of ‘Morella (1835)’ reveals how a vain witch orchestrates her own death and resurrection as her own daughter to keep her husband properly seduced and in line, before focus shifts to ancient Greece and the inevitable approach of death amongst the warriors at a funeral: a wake tainted by the unquiet dead and an oppressive ‘Shadow (1835)’

In the luxuriously expansive The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)’ artist and traveller Allan is broaches a befuddling, bilious and deadly swamp to reach the ancestral seat of the ancient Usher clan and visit an old school chum.

Like the family, the vast manse is slowly dissolving into the mire that surrounds and supports it. The decadent, failing blood of melancholic master and obsessive portraitist Roderick Usher masks many bizarre behaviours, but not even that can excuse his vile attitude to his seemingly subjugated, clandestinely closeted, sumptuously seductive deranged sister Madeline whose essence he is determined to capture on canvas at any cost…

As he stares at the too-intimate pencil studies, Allan too is drawn to the girl: a feeling only intensified once they actually meet…

By secret means she makes the visitor aware of a unique plight and urges him to assist her escape but Roderick will go to any lengths to keep his sister with him and would rather extinguish the family line rather than lose her.

That is unless the repelled, rebellious Earth doesn’t reclaim the crumbling house and the decadent Ushers first…

Infamous for his dark, doom-laden horror stories, Poe was also a pioneer of crime fiction and next up is a grimly effective and trenchantly black-humoured adaptation of the debut tale starring French gentleman detective Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin and his partner in peril Beluc.

Here the dandified dynamic duo put their heads together to solve an impossible locked room mystery which resulted in the brutal dismemberment of two women in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)’: a crime with a callous perpetrator but no culpable killer…

‘The Masque of the Red Death (1842)’ then returns to classical themes and supernal horror as plague grips the lands of regal Prospero. Faced with difficult choices, the lord opts to bring his richest cronies within his opulent castle to safely disport themselves in debauched revelry whilst the contagion burns itself out on the peasantry. Sadly, the foolish sybarite has made one grave and arrogant error which will cost him everything…

Under Corben’s imaginative purview, grim gloomy ode ‘The Conqueror Worm (1843)’ is transformed into a salutary saga of inescapable vengeance as proud Colonel Mann kills his errant wife and her lover but is tainted with a maggot that burrows into his body and soul.

Feigning innocence and ignorance, Mann salves his “tragic loss” by employing an itinerant puppet show for a family party but the mummers expose that most proper paragon’s sins before utterly consuming him, whilst in ‘The Premature Burial (1844)’ a close shave with attempted murder and molestation of the dead turns Lucian into a man obsessed with being buried alive and Arnold’s inability to forget his dead Lenore leads to an unforgettable encounter with ‘The Raven (1845)’ in a visual tour de force every inch as potent as Poe’s poem.

Wrapping up the journey into mysteries is a deft retelling of ‘The Cask of Amontillado, (1846)’ wherein aging Montressor at last shares a long-held secret with the wife of his old friend Fortunato, now missing for many a year.

As he guides her through his deep vaults, filled with the remains of his ancestors and his precious wine collection, gloating Montressor tells the increasing nervous widow of her husband’s ghastly fate and why and how the poor, bibulous buffoon vanished so completely that long-ago night…

Accompanied by a stunning Cover Gallery, this compelling collection of classic chillers is a modern masterpiece of arcane abomination and human horror no shock addict of mystery lover will want to miss.
Spirits of the Dead™ © 2012, 2013, 2014 Richard Corben. All rights reserved.

Angel Claws (Limited Edition)

By Moebius & Jodorowsky, translated by Thierry Nantier (Humanoids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-012-3

Like vaudeville and comedy, the world of comics has been blessed with some incredible double-acts: seasoned professionals capable of astounding works individually but in close combination, fuelling and feeding each other until elevated to a sublime peak of invention and application.

You’ll have your own candidates, but for me Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Goscinny & Uderzo, Lee & Kirby, Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima and Rosiński & Van Hamme all resonate as individual masters who respond to certain collaborations and combinations with unmatched brilliance…

One of European comics most impressive and controversial pairings was always Moebius & Jodorowsky and this recently revived dark confection is possibly their most daring and audacious co-creation…

Born in Tocopilla, Chile in 1929, Alejandro Jodorowsky Prullansky is a filmmaker, playwright, actor, author, world traveller, philosopher, spiritual guru and comics writer.

The acclaimed polymath is most widely revered for such films as Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Sante Sangre, The Rainbow Thief, The Dance of Reality and others, plus his vast and influential comics output, which includes Anibal 5, Le Lama blanc, Aliot, The Meta-Barons, Borgia, Madwoman of the Sacred Heart and so many more, created with many of South America and Europe’s greatest artists.

His decade-long collaboration with Moebius on Tarot-inspired fantasy epic The Incal (1981-1989) completely redefined and reinvented what comics could aspire to and achieve.

Acclaimed for violently surreal avant-garde films, loaded with highly-charged, inspired imagery – blending mysticism and what he terms “religious provocation” – and his spiritually-informed fantasy and science fiction comics, Jodorowsky is also fascinated by humanity’s inner realms and has devised his own doctrine of therapeutic healing: Psychomagic, Psychogenealogy and Initiatic massage.

He remains fully engaged and active in all these creative areas to this day.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on May 8th 1938 and raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941. In 1955, he attended Institut des Arts Appliqués and became friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959-1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210, and soon its disreputable, anti-heroic lead character Lieutenant Blueberry became one of the most popular European strips of modern times.

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced a numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their groundbreaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

Griffes D’ange was first published in 1994, during a period when the deeply spiritual Moebius was especially concerned with purging, honing and redefining his creative soul and artistic vision. One result of his divinations was this collation of sexually hyper-charged images accompanied – as was the earlier collaboration Claws of the Cat – by evocative poetic musings from his brother-in-graphic exploration Jodorowsky…

Stunning monochrome plates – rendered in stark monochrome lines – counter-pointed and augmented by terse, challenging, intentionally disturbing descriptive statements reveal the innermost workings of a recently-bereaved young woman who throws aside all pretences of convention to embark on a quest of personal discovery and awakening. Where the search takes her is the stuff of dreams and nightmares…

Fetishistic, scary, sexually explicit, deeply symbolic, confrontationally transformative and – as previous stated – reportedly a therapeutic exercise for the creators, Angel Claws is a stunning assault on the senses and traditional mores and morality to appal and delight in equal amounts… depending, of course, upon what your own upbringing brings to the feast…

Available as an oversized (406 x 305 mm) hardcover coffee table tome and in digital editions, this is a visual milestone no consenting adult connoisseur of comics should miss.
Angel Claws and its logo are ™ Les Humanoides Associes SAS Paris (France). English version © 2012 Humanoids, Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved.

Skydoll: Decade

By Barbara Canepa & Alessandro Barbucci (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-736-7

Astoundingly barbed political and anti-consumerist satirical allegory Skydoll has been appearing sporadically since 2000. It’s the other work of frequent collaborators Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa (whose usual offerings include more family-oriented fare such as W.I.T.C.H. and Monster Allergy) and – although rendered in the subtly seductive anthropomorphic style developed and signifying decades of wholesome Disney cartooning – is a superbly strident attack on corporate consumerism, the media’s mesmerism of the masses, political expediency, religion and the power of the Catholic church, all wrapped up in the raunchy, beguiling trappings of super-sexy science fiction shenanigans…

Now most of the components thus far generated have been beautifully bound up in a gloriously oversized (284 x 212mm) full-colour hardback edition.

The subversive odyssey begins with the prose ‘Preface: ten years of Skydoll’: a bold declaration of intent by The Authors before we speed straight into the fantastic fantasy with ‘Volume 1: The Yellow City’ which introduces fetching, wind-up automaton Noa, asking God for a little fair treatment whilst working at the insalubrious Heaven Spaceshipwash. She’s not like the other beautiful dolls working there. Although she still needs to be wound-up every 33 hours by her owner, this alluring automaton seems to have a memory that doesn’t erase itself after a couple of days. This means she keeps thinking of difficult fresh questions to ask…

Furiously shoved back to work, Noa ignores the fabulously bland and vapid blatherings of TV talk show monolith Frida Decibel blasting out from every home and public broadcast screen, telling the populace of Papathea how good everything is now that they only have one Popessa in the buxom form of the divine Ludovica.

Once upon a time there were two True Vicars of God: Agape who embodied spiritual love and Ludovica who personified its physical expression. When Agape mysteriously vanished her corporeal partner became sole arbiter of the galactic empire the church controls, commencing a campaign of craftily concocted public miracles to pacify the increasingly irate and disillusioned populace.

It’s not really working though, and a rising tide of rebellion and resentment is just beginning to pop…

Our story really begins when two of Ludovica’s “Diplomatic Agents” stop at Heaven to get their starcraft properly shined before heading out on their top-secret mission. Old Jahu is especially keen on the diversion: everybody knows lusting after or even indulging in pleasure with a Doll doesn’t count as sin. The Popessa said so…

However, whilst lathering up the ship of some fervent fundamentalists at the head of the queue, Noa accidentally kicks off a small riot, even as across the city Ludovica’s latest manufactured miracle kicks into high-gear with mesmerising effect…

By the time the barrage of supernal glitz and gaudy glitter subsides, Jahu and young idealistic Roy are well on their way. They have no idea there’s a dazed and surprised stowaway aboard, with her crucial, life-sustaining key still negligently left in her back…

And on the rapidly dwindling planet behind them, Ludovica fumes. Despite getting rid of her rival, the sole Popessa’s grasp of power is still uncertain. The people still hunger for vanished Agape and there are rumours of rebellion. The anxious, power-mad pontiff has no idea how close to home the sedition reaches…

Aboard ship Roy has made a startling discovery. Unable to help himself, he turns the key in the inert innocent’s back and restores temporary autonomy to a vivacious creature he can’t help but like…

Doctrinaire Jahu is less sanguine but the mission is too important to delay. They can always dump the doll on the way home…

Noa is eternally curious, asking questions about everything. She is inexplicably especially moved by an illicit image of Agape the voyagers encounter in a space restaurant. It somehow triggers strange and terrifying visions and Roy has to physically restrain Noa. What happens next is regarded by the astounded onlookers as a miracle…

The story resumes with ‘Volume 2: Aqua’ as hints begin about Noa’s destiny and the unseen sponsors who seem to be guiding her destiny. The Popessa’s missionary ambassadors meanwhile land on the world without males: one successfully propounding a third spiritual way…

Governed by planetary Guru Gaia, the women of Aqua are steadily gaining support across the universe, supported and funded by their range of wellness centres and luxury goods which everyone wants to try. Roy is there to build diplomatic bridges between the Popessa and the completely antithetical Aquans in the cause of peace. He has no idea that Jahu’s orders are a little different. He always knew the only way to deal with heretics…

Noa inveigles her way into the official conference: she’s hopeful these strange women will have some insight into her own rapidly-expanding consciousness. She is stunned by what they do know and their connection to missing Agape.

And as Jahu goes about his bloody work, back on Papathea, bloody revolution breaks out…

The intrigue expands in ‘Volume 3: The White City’ when Roy, Jahu and the constantly-growing Noa return as triumphant heroes. When officially interviewed by the ubiquitous Frida Decibel the web of intrigue and damnation expands to encompass some very unexpected personalities, even as the empire stands poised on the edge of Armageddon and real miracles start happening in the most unlikely places…

A broad, vast, clever and frustrating unfinished epic, Skydoll is still unfolding at its own tantalising pace. There has however been plenty of sidebar and ancillary material released such as ‘Volume 0: Doll’s Factory’ which offers a sequence of prequel events to flesh out the main characters in another stunningly captivating art package.

Here a strange woman visits a factory and places something miraculous inside a doll in its final stages of manufacture, whilst ‘Heaven’s Dolls’ rewards the reader with information on the world and empire of the Popessa, affording insights into other Dolls such as Lovely Lou, Juicy Lee, Sandy Blue and God himself – proving just why he needed killing…

There’s also a hilarious Sky Doll ‘Psycho-grapho Test’ to further reveal how life and society really work…

This immaculate confection culminates in a huge collection of ‘Homages’: a breathtaking gallery of tribute images of Sky Doll and her chums by a staggeringly talented cast of fellow artists comprising Claire Wendling, Karla Diaz, Benjamin, Marguerite Sauvage, Mijin Shatje, Cyrille Bertin, Tony Infante, Bengal, Claudio Acciari, Tony Sandoval, Amélie Fléchais, Giovanni Rigano, Sefora Pons, Gradimir Smudja, Aurore, Augustin Rolland, Nenent, Guezav, Pierre-Mony Chan, Lucy Mazel, Véronique Meignaud, Matteo De Longis, Xavier Collette, Anne Cresci, Lilidoll, Jérémie Almanza, Lostfish and more.

Completing and concluding religious experience is a comprehensive feature ‘About the Authors’ and a page packed with ‘Acknowledgements & Credits’.

A phenomenal work-in-progress, Sky Doll is a superbly engaging exploration of erotica, iconology and idolatry: one no fun-loving, deep-thinking lover of comic iconoclasm should miss.
Sky Doll and all contents are © Editions Soleil/Barbucci/Canepa. This translated edition © 2016 Titan Comics.

Sky Doll: Decade will be in UK store from March 15th 2016.

The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113

By John Maybury (Soaring Penguin Press)
ISBN: 978-1-908030-16-0

I have to declare an interest before I review this splendid and long-awaited collection. John Maybury is, as well as a fellow survivor of the Comic Creators Guild and my editor on the Guild’s Annuals (still available at most Unicorn Fairs and any Galifreyan used-stuff emporium), one of many people I have taught in more than twenty-five years as a tutor of comic skills at various organisations ranging from the London College of Printing, through the London Cartoon Centre to the Cartoon Art Trust.

I think it’s only fair to state, however, looking at how few of those hundreds, if not thousands, of students have gone on to produce outstanding comic work, that we’d be deluding ourselves in assuming I had any effect whatsoever.

I’ve known John for decades both professionally, socially and on occasion alcoholically and feel the Convent-school-inculcated need to admit this long association. Of course you might say it’s no fault of mine if extremely talented and dedicated people congregate around me like shining planets around a dying sun contemplating becoming a big black hole…

Confession over, and so to work…

The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113 is a remarkably original and ferociously addictive landmark of comedic science fiction from a creator not content to simply tell stories, but determined also to constantly challenge himself in the process. Redolent with overtones of Barbarella (Jean Claude Forest’s comic more than the Jane Fonda movie), The Ballad of Halo Jones, Red Dwarf, Little Annie Fanny and a dozen other things I could cite to show off, this is the intoxicating tale of a sexy ingénue on a five-year commercial mission to the stars with a motley mob of misfits on the claustrophobic and muddled European Union ship Marco Polo.

Although nominally the ship’s Catering Officer, Space always seems to get the tackiest jobs – such as testing the fetishistic Off World Battle Garb – during a mercilessly mercantile mission to sign up new trading partners.

Perhaps it’s because she’s a bit of a “looker”, not that academically accomplished and reputedly far from chaste? Whatever the actual reason, the Earth-based overseer of this particular mission – Media Director 667 – has already increased company revenue streams by forward-selling the “adults-only” Ship’s Logs to broadcast franchises and so most of Space’s shipboard duties tend to end with her undraped and panting.

Regrettably for all the cunning entrepreneurs, although free, healthy and over 21, SB 113 has faithfully promised her boyfriend to stay exclusive until they’re reunited, even though that tends to make her a little short on patience and quite ready to stroppily protest the stream of strange orders perpetually foisted upon her by immediate superiors Lesbian Sex Officer Mrrf M’n’cha and Marketing & Sales Officer Star 406

At least she can share her woes with Laundry Officer Rince Cycle 335 – whose sympathetic ear almost makes up for his permanently sneering at her for being a glorified microwave-oven operator…

Not long into the mission the first crisis occurs after cosmic rays mutate the female crew-members’ underwear and only after a valiant struggle are the rampaging killer-skivvies ejected from the ship. Sadly, it does mean that the women might be stuck in Scottish Engineer’s hastily cobbled-together titanium-steel knickers or reduced to going commando, and further danger lurks since not all the deadly drawers have been banished…

Eventually stability returns in time for the planned rendezvous with the fabled ‘Lirka’ and on Marco Polo assorted crewpersons prepare for their first trade conference with the asexual Aardvarks. Tensions are high but at least all are confident that there will be no further assaults from treacherous or homicidal underwear.

Unbeknownst to most of the Terran delegation, however, lead negotiator Star 406 has been secretly instructed to use any means necessary to compel the Lirka to purchase human porn. She regretfully realises that in such an impossible situation she will need every possible advantage and that means the always-aggravating Space Babe 113.

Can two such widely differing species find some common ground to build upon? In the strangest, stickiest manner imaginable the answer is categorically “yes”, but sometimes getting what you want isn’t really a good thing, as can be seen when the conference devolves into a wild, narcotically-deranged strip-poker party…

Barely surviving the catastrophic aftermath of the all-too successful trade-conference with the androgynous ant-eaters, Space crashes a hastily procured escape pod onto a desolate jungle world dubbed ‘Foliage’ where she must eke out a lonely existence and pray for rescue. She has her snarkily sarcastic and judgemental new AI knickers to talk to, but other than them, is she truly alone?

At last convinced that something on the lush planetoid is trying to communicate with her, she undertakes an epic quest and falls for the oldest line in interstellar seduction. Is she the last hope for a dying race to return from the very edge of extinction, or is it just that Earth Girls really are Easy?

At least she’s still kept her promise, if you only count humans…

Rince had also ditched on the green world and before too long he and Space were rescued by U.S. starship George Dubya: a straight-laced, traditional exploration vessel which only releases “Family Viewing” Mission Logs. ‘Stones’ finds Media Director 667 – terrified of lost sales or shared profits – frantically informing his superiors of the disaster before determining to get his star back or get rid of her before the Yanks get all the cash and glory.

He discloses that Space’s knickers have an illegal patch and are operating without the curbs of the Three Laws of Lingerie: if necessary they can be manipulated and compelled to self-destruct…

Things are pretty desperate already aboard the US starship: Space has met the bosom-heavingly gorgeous archaeologist Dr. Standing Stones and, despite a complete lack of qualifications, has claimed to be one herself, ready and so-very-willing to join his expedition to the ancient world of ‘Sand’ spinning beneath them. She is hot, bothered and blithely unaware of EU Commands’ murderous plan, busily losing another ill-tempered battle with her surly underwear which cruelly claims it is no longer her size…

She is plagued by hot, sweaty dreams as ‘Mud’ then sees the history-hunters encountering one of the most powerful and ancient species in existence. Tragically the puissant Grand T’Kleep of Tyracus III understandably takes great umbrage at being used in a most unseemly manner for a moment of urgently needed libidic relief by the soft, curvy one and decides to put her entire race on trial. As the representative of humanity SB 113 must defeat the mighty Bolboi champion in a sacred duel which looks remarkably like mud-wrestling or her entire species will excised from existence 35,000 years before they began annoying proper civilised beings.

Good thing Space was Academy Champion three years running…

Meanwhile on the George Dubya the Americans have cracked the murderous coded message from MD 667 and begin countermeasures…

Chapter 7 slightly diverts to offer an ‘Origin’ revealing how a simple wannabe fashion designer encountered the wrong Careers Bot and ended up an unwilling astronaut Catering Officer, as well as her hidden history with the frustrated creature who became Media Director 667 before ‘Jet’ finds Star 406 fanatically attempting to complete the explosive sabotage mission even as MD 667 – under orders from his own boss – reluctantly leads a rescue mission to pick up his out-of-control minions as a fantastic, millennia-old plan of cosmic fiddling slowly, teasingly unfolds…

With star ships and space stations in imminent danger of destruction the explosive climax sees Space forced into extremely rash behaviour as she tussles with Star to save Dr. Stones and perhaps all of us thanks to ‘Wings’, common sense, good luck and sheer guts…

Raunchy, hilarious, surreal and astoundingly clever, but still deftly striding the right side of the line between charm and prurience, Space Babe 113 is not only great saucy smut and potent parody but also solid, big sky science fiction treated with all the irreverence it deserves and I for one can’t wait for her snooty talking pants to spin off into their own mini-series. Until that moment however this splendid, long overdue chronicle concludes with a few delicious shorts including ‘Space Babe’s Handy Guide to Lesbian Sex for Single Girls’ and ‘The Space Probe: an investigation of the Seamier Side of Sequential Art’.

There is a long tradition of sexy spacewomen in comics, films, TV and even novels and this gently racy, technically torrid tale ranks among the highest in those arenas. The humour is both broad and gentle, with much more of the Carry On movie rather than Emmanuelle about it, although many subversive side-splitters do sneak in, and there are oodles of deep-genre, comic book and computer techie in-jokes for those in the know.

Remember I said he liked to challenge himself? Although able to draw fabulously well in a variety of representational styles, John has sweetened the pot for us all by setting himself a daunting task. This is a glamour book which has successfully abandoned pseudo or mega-pneumatic realism in favour of reductionist abstraction which has echoes of Vaughn Bodé, Alex Niño and graffiti street art. It is to his credit that his diligence has incontrovertibly succeeded. She may just be large blobs of thick black and white, but she is certainly a tasty little minx.

Well-rounded, captivating and impossible to put down. Buy it and decide if I mean her or it, why don’t you?
© 2015 John Maybury. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels

By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Angry Youth Comics

By Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-867-1

This book is full of rude and vulgar words, nasty sex and terrible pictures. There’s also lots of disgusting violence but that’s generally acceptable to most people.

So, if such adult-oriented material offends you, don’t read this review or the book.

You will however have to find something else to get angry and complain about…

Graphic narrative and cartooning, despite our regular protestations of comprising a comparatively small pond, cover a vast range of genres, formats, disciplines and tastes. From Tintin or Raymond Brigg’s Snowman through the various escapist mainstreams to the edgy, unpredictable and even the downright shocking.

Johnny Ryan is a comedian who uses comics as his medium of expression. Whether in his Prison Pit series, or his many commissions for such varied clients as Nickelodeon, Hustler, Vice, Arthur, National Geographic Kids and elsewhere, his job and passion is to make laughter. Depending on your point of view he is either a filth-obsessed pervert smut-monger or a social iconoclast using the same tactics as Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank or more recently Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks or Frankie Boyle to challenge the worst aspects of our society.

Ryan’s loose cartoon drawing style is deceptively engrossing and engagingly excessive whilst his seeming pictorial Tourette’s Syndrome of strips and gags – involving such signature characters as Boobs Pooter (world’s most disgusting stand-up comedian), Loady McGee & Sinus O’Gynus, Sherlock McRape and the incredible Blecky Yuckeralla (originally seen weekly from 2003 in The Portland Mercury and Vice Magazine before switching to Ryan’s own on-line site) – will, frankly, appal and baffle many readers, but as with most questions of censorship in a Free Society, the naysayers are completely at liberty to neither buy nor read the stuff.

Ryan dubbed his stinging graphic assaults on American Culture and Political Correctness “misanthropic comics” after first coming to public attention through his occasional comicbook series Angry Youth Comix.

Originally produced as self-published minicomics from 1994-1999, the strips were brought then to the attention of Fantagraphics by Peter Bagge and the company promptly commissioned a second volume.

Now this spectacular and colossal (424 pages, 273 x 184mm) monochrome hardback tome gathers all fourteen of those staggering assaults on “taste and decency” (first issued between 2001 to 2008) in one monolithic compendium of raucous, riotous baroque hilarity…

Ryan is a cartoonist with an uncompromising vision and an insatiable desire to shock and revolt whenever he wants to. In his ongoing Prison Pit series he perpetually pushes the graphic narrative envelope and the outer limits of taste with a brutal, primitive cascade of casual violence and there’s plenty of senseless carnage and casual slaughter on show here too, but deftly woven into a never-ending barrage of grossly outrageous confrontations and a barrage of bracing, despicable filth. Or you could just see the funny side of it…

In this non-stop welter of exceedingly excessive force, vile excrescences, constant cultural clashes, scatological salvoes and sheer unadulterated graphic carnage can be seen a never-ending Darwinian struggle of witty license and disgraceful debauchery.

The only truly gratuitous thing however would be a complete listing of strips and gags contained herein, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t especially recommend ‘Loady McGee & Sinus O’Gynus in the Whorehouse of Dr. Moreau’, ‘Marshmallow & Snowflake in It’s the… Ku Klux Kuties’, ‘My Dad Went to a Concentration Camp and it Was Okay’, ‘1976’, ‘Sherlock McRape in Who Hit Nelly in the Belly With Jelly?’ or ‘Boobs Pooter’s Joke-Pocalypse’ …every one an unforgettably disgusting laugh-riot…

Also included in a special full colour section are the 28 brilliantly imaginative front & back covers as well as all the contentious and wonderful letters pages from the magazine’s run to complete your shock-jock flavoured enjoyment…

This is a brutally macabre yet beguiling, loathsomely intriguing miracle of cartoon exuberance; appalling, dismaying, cathartic and horridly, blackly humorous – always forcing the reader to think and challenge their own preconceptions.

Resplendent, triumphant juvenilia and selfish self-interest have been adroitly catapulted beyond all ethical limits into the darkest depths of absurdist comedy. This is a non-stop rollercoaster of brain-blistering profound profanity; pictorial purgatory at its most gorge-rising and compelling.

Not for kids, the faint-hearted or weak-stomached, here is extreme cartooning at its most visceral and pure. Gross, vulgar, shocking strips and panel gags about sex, defecation, bodily functions (particularly the many types of farting), feminine hygiene – and men’s lack of same – comics, toys, knob-gags and even the ultimate modern taboos of religion, politics, race and child abuse are all here and waiting to get you…

And now that we’ve placated the intellectual/moral imperative inside us all, I’ll also affirm that this titanic tome is another, all-out, over the top, indisputably hilarious hoot. Buy it and see if you’re broad-minded, fundamentally honest and purely in need of ultra-adult silliness. If you aren’t any of those things but could stand a good, hearty laugh that might also make you think, then this is also the dirty cartoon joke-book for you.
All contents © 2015 Johnny Ryan (except where it isn’t). This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

Inner City Romance

By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early Underground Commix creator, his output was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve time at a Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator.

This superb and long-overdue collection re-presents to Americans (the series has been a perennial favourite in Europe since the 1980s) a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re all stunningly beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings, candid photos, a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative celebration opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also scribed the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past begin with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money they way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to rejoining his political brothers and sisters and taking the war to “The Man”.

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs.

After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies but as he watches their excesses he realises he is at a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings) and the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the newspaper San Francisco Good Times, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comicbook, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has always seen sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system and follows the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Issue #4 was released the same year and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco.

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too cheap to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance foray explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still-crusading, he ends the festival of life in this magnificent softcover compilation with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigner never die, they just keep getting cleverer…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not start a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2

By many and various, edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-807-6

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

Michael Dowers, the force behind not only this compilation but also Brownfieldpress and Starhead Comix, adores the concept of crafting and disseminating mini comics and his books Newave!- The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980 and volume one of this series described and reproduced hundreds of examples: spotlighting with enticing, encouraging exuberance those incurably driven artisans who came out of the “anything goes” 1960s and 1970s Underground Commix movement still craving a vehicle of expressly personal expression.

Such creators aren’t really in it for the money – although a few have moved on to find a modicum of mainstream comics fame, at least – and, in an era before computers, they found time to write, draw and compile artwork (small press people are notoriously generous, contributing to projects at the drop of a hat) before laboriously photocopying, cutting, folding, stapling and then distributing the miniscule marvellous results.

Just by way of definition: most mini comics were and still are home-produced pamphlets using borrowed – or when necessary paid for – print processes. The most popular format was an 8½ x 11inch sheet, folded twice, and printed at local copy-shops (or clandestinely churned out on school/work repro systems like early Xerox, Photostat, Mimeo or Spirit Banda machines) on any paper one could lay hands on.

Because they weren’t big, they were called “mini commix”. Inspired, no?

Thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible modern appetite for such uniquely individualistic endeavours here’s a superb sequel tome – one more massive paper brick of fun (848 monochrome and colour pages, 178 x 127mm) – compiling and sharing many of the very best mini masterpieces from the 1970s to right here, right now…

Many key figures in the proliferation of this uniquely eloquent people’s medium are included here, not only through examples of their groundbreaking work, but also through statements, interviews and fond reminiscences.

If human beings have access to any kind of reproductive technology they seemingly cannot resist making copies of their own private parts or creating their own comics, and here content comes from all over the North American continent – and even beyond – covering everything from superhero spoofs, monster-mashes, robot rampages, animal antics, autobiography, recreational drugs, religious, spiritual and philosophical diatribes and polemics, surreal experimental design and just plain fun stories, chatter and gags: all as sexually explicit, violent, strident or personally intimate as their creators wanted them to be…

As usual I’ll deliver here my standard warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or illustrated scenes of explicit sex or unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll probably cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

It all starts with Michael Dowers’ introduction wherein he brings the history of the sub-medium up to date and posits a connection with the legendarily scandalous “Gentlemen’s under-the-counter” publications known as Tijuana Bibles which livened up life for our forebears in the early part of the 20th century with explicit and illegal cartoon cavortings featuring famous stars of screen and newspaper strips.

That proposition is upheld and further explored following ‘The Hundred Year Old New Waver in “Damn Punks Got it Easy Today”’: a hilarious graphic diatribe (dis)courtesy of Brad W. Foster from Time Warp #3 (2007) after which a genuine, authentic and anonymous Tijuana Bible inclusion offers erotic relief to ‘The Van Swaggers’.

Then follows a batch of modern tributes and reinterpretations beginning with masked wrestler/guitarist The Crippler by Fiona Smyth (2007) and the astoundingly disturbing, politically punishing ‘Obliging Lady’ from Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall’s The Adventures of Fuller Bush Man & John McCain (2009)…

A splendid faux pastiche of the original pamphlets, Hairy Crotch & Rim Johnson in ‘The Interview’ is an anonymous entry from 1995, whilst Lilli Loge abandons the form but ramps up the spirit for the tale of a girl and her slave in ‘A Blessing in Disguise’ from Ben & Jenny from 2009.

That same year clean-cut Euro icon Lucky Luke got homo-erotically spoofed as ‘Hunky Luke in Calamity Jack’ by Anna Bas Backer after which Antoine Duthoit (2013) plunders Jim Woodring’s style and character cast for the outrageous Spank.

From 1972 Trina Robbins delivers classic pastiche ‘Sally Starr Hollywood Gal Sleuth’ solving a “Minit Mystery” whilst Bob Conway offers classic cartoon capers ‘Out to Lunch’ and ‘Chicken Shit’ in 1980’s Tales of Mr. Fly, and David Miller & Par Holman venerate the disaffected teen outsider experience in a blast of vignettes in Punkomix #1 from 1982.

Clark Dissmeyer laments the life of a Two-Fisted Cartoonist (#1 1983) after which Steve Willis’ 1983 Sasquatch Comix #3 details a strange encounter in the wild woods and R.K. Sloane & Jeff Gaither noxiously explore a life in hell with Fresh Meat from 1985.

A genuine small press big noise reveals all in the ‘Jeff Nicholson Interview’ after which the creator’s infamous cartoon polemic Jeff Nicholson’s Small Press Tirade (1989) still proves to be astoundingly powerful and the ‘Dan Taylor Interview’ segues neatly into some of his superbly eclectic Shortoonz from 1990 and the deliciously vulgarian Unleashed #1 from 2010.

John Trubee’s 1990 Vomit! #1 is a captivating manifesto of the politically baroque and philosophically bizarre whilst from 1992 Jason Atomic’s Wongo Batonga pt. 2 gloriously celebrates the magnificent freedom of superheroic imagination in a lengthy explosion of power-packed battles before Patrick Dowers explores human diversity in Marvels of the Sideshow Freaks.

Corn Comics #1 (Marc Bell, 1993) provides a hilarious laugh-ride of bitter twisted types after which the ‘Tom Hart Interview’ precedes his wittily poignant 1993 slice-of-life saga Love Looks Left and all-star line-up J.R. Williams, Pat Moriarity & R.L. Crabb collaborate on the 1994 cautionary tale ‘Devil Stay Away From Me’.

Impishly shocking Ellen Forney & Renée French then reveal how The Exquisite Corpse Bakes a Pie (1994), after which a ‘Molly Kiely Interview’ is stunningly supplemented by her rendition of a bevy of female music and movie icons who all possessed that indefinable sense of Sass! (1995).

Jeffrey Brown’s 1998 paean to hopelessness and confusion ‘To Wenatchee’ is followed by Pshaw’s whimsical story of a little robot in The One Eyed World (1999) after which ‘Colin Upton Presents A Short Guide To the Care and Production of Mini-Comics’ provides everything anyone needs to know about making story-art stories.

Contemporary cartoon wild child Johnny Ryan 2002 exposes guilty secrets from Shouldn’t You Be Working? #5, before the ‘Souther Salazar Interview’ leads to the artist’s wide-ranging ‘In Case of Emergency Only’ (2003) and Max Clotfelter’s eerily post-apocalyptic Snake Meat #1 from 2004.

Her smartly evocative 2004 Science Fiction Affliction is preceded by an ‘Alison Cole Interview’ after which Thought Cloud Shrines from 2007 perfectly displays Theo Ellsworth’s astounding graphic imagination and meticulous penmanship; gifts shared by Lisa Hanawalt and revealed in a stunning fashion parade of freaks in Stay Away From Other People from 2008, augmented by her hilarious ‘12 Things To Do When you Are Stuck in Traffic’.

Travis Millard’s ‘Sad Dad’ introduces a deucedly depressing modern pantheon in Who Let the Gods Out (2008) whilst Bobby Maddness explores a variety of baffling annoyances in Too Small Comics #2 (2010) and Esther Pearl Watson describes a ghastly future populated solely by pop stars and fashion models in Eric Parris World from 2009.

The marvellous Jim Rugg contributes a stunning and outrageous pop at America’s dumbest President and most moronic national symbol in the delirious ‘Rambo 3.5’ (2009) after which, from 2010, Donald & Daniel Zettwoch mesmerise with their incredible personal history of phone exchange technology in ‘Cut Lines and Intricate Minds’ as seen in Tel-Tales #1 and Tom Neely employs dozens of bootlegged Popeyes in a surreal spinach-fuelled Battle Royale for his Doppelgänger

The ‘Jason T. Miles Interview’ leads naturally enough into his 2010 tale of terror ‘Dump’ from Pines 3.

The irrepressible manga marvel DJ Cat Gosshie goes through a series of adorable “totally-street” trans-Pacific short story syncopations as delineated by Harukichi in 2011 before Pakito Bolino then relates the hyperkinetic end of everything with the ‘Male of the Future’ from D.O.C. (2012)

DemonDust #10 by Bernie McGovern (2012) lyrically explores the poetry of atomic theory and human interactiveness whilst from the same year Shuttlecakes reveals the stunning dexterity and artistic facility of Susan Belle before the ‘Caroline Paquita Interview’ leads to her seductively gender-political compilation Womanimalistic #3 from 2013 to close the monochrome section of this collection.

However, following the ever-so-useful ‘Artist website and contact info’ pages, there’s even more compelling cartoon self-expression all crafted to make use of carefully considered colour, commencing with Kristyna Baczynski’s travails of a pretty kitty in ‘Nine Lives’ from 2012, Leah Wishnia’s disturbing exploration of women’s lives from Spithouse #1 (2008) and an even more distressing tale of psychological brutality from Nick Bertozzi in ‘5/4’ from 2000 before Ethan Persoff concludes the challenging cartoon content with a stunning graphic potpourri from Plastic Tales and Stories #2.

This tremendous tome features some of the host of pioneering craftsmen who worked in the self-printing movement which became today’s thriving Alternative/Small Press publishing industry as well as the current internet comics phenomenon, and this book has incredible appeal on an historical basis.

However, that’s really not the point: the real draw of such collections is that creativity is addictive, good work never pales or grows stale and the great stories and art here will make you keen to have a go too.

I’ve done it myself, for fun – even once or twice for actual profit – and it’s an incredible buzz (I should note that I am still married to a wife not only tolerant but far more skilled and speedy in the actual “photocopy, cut, fold, staple” bit of the process and willing, if not keen, to join in just so she might occasionally be with the compulsive dingbat she married…)

The sheer boundless enthusiasm and feelgood rewards of intellectual freedom from making such comics celebrated in this astoundingly vast, incredibly heavy and yet still pocket-sized hardback is a pure galvanic joy that will enchant and impel every fan of the art-form: as long as they’re big enough to hold a pencil, old enough to vote, and strong enough to lift the book.
Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2 © 2015 Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics Books. All contents © 2013 their respective creators or authors. All rights reserved.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle volume One

By Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-764-2

Sometimes words mean nothing, pictures tell every story and stuff is funny just because it is. That pretty much sums up the work of abstractedly absurdist comedy pioneer Michael Kupperman, whose oeuvre greatly consists of graphic samplings from old comics, strips and magazines – with especial focus on the advertising content of those forgotten favourites.

A beguiling agglomeration of the past’s guilty pleasures fill the pages of his far-too-infrequent comicbook kingdom Tales Designed to Thrizzle and have been sagely collected into a number of volumes you simply must have.

Kupperman is a cartoonist who clearly loves to draw and has an uncanny knack for isolating the innate insanity of modern living as well as the way we regard our own past – especially the trivial, oft-dismissed and not-so-important bits – which he serves up in a surreal graphic deadpan style that would turn Buster Keaton grey with envy.

Kupperman created the strips Found in the Street and Up all Night, has contributed pieces to The New Yorker, Heavy Metal, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent on Sunday, LA Weekly, The New York Times, Libération, Fortune, Screw and many similarly reputable magazines, as well as in such comics as Hodags and Hodaddies, Hotwire, Snake Eyes, Zero Zero, Blood Orange and Legal Action Comics amongst others.

Kupperman’s first book Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret (2000) led to his breaking into the heady world of adult animation and he has since illustrated many books, but Tales Designed to Thrizzle was always his best beloved vehicle, allowing him to concoct intensely stylish mind-games and display them against a dizzying cultural backdrop of “Men’s sweat mags”, True Confessions pulps, cheesy old comics, B-movies and a million other icons of low-class Americana, each and all given a unique twist and spin by a man whose head is clearly too small for his brain…

Originally released in 2009 in hardback, this new softcover edition, after a suitably off-kilter Foreword by Robert Smigel, collects the first four comically comic comicbook issues in full scintillating colour, each individual masterwork divided – because propriety is a virtue – into “Adults”, “Kids” and “Old People’s Sections”.

As such each contains a torrent of instant favourites such as the aforementioned Snake ‘n’ Bacon, The Manister (a hero who can transform into a banister), Underpants-On-His-Head Man, Cousin Granpa, Pagus (rowdy half-brother of Jesus) and many wildly misinformative fact features like Remembering the Thirties, Porno Coloring Books, Sex Blimps and Sex Holes and the inadequate meanderings of veteran weatherman Storm Cloudfront

The great philosophical topics of our times are also tackled, such as ‘Where is Shakespeare’s Gold?’, ‘Are Comics Serious Literature?’, ‘Are You Being Worn Out by Unnecessary Foreplay?’ ‘or ‘What’s in Your Glass of Water?’

Brash, challenging, agonisingly imaginative and always hysterically funny, Tales Designed to Thrizzle is a timely tome for every grown-up, couch-based life-form in dire need of a hearty guffaw every now and then – and much more Now than Then…
Tales Designed to Thrizzle © 2014 Michael Kupperman. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.