Chimera


By Mattotti (Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-763-6

The sixth release (I hesitate to call it a volume, as the format, though bold and wonderful, is far more than a magazine but not quite a book) from the eclectic European publications imprint designated the Ignatz Collection features an uncharacteristic and unforgettable look at the monochrome work of one of the world’s most talented colour artists.

Lorenzo Mattotti was born in Brescia, Italy and studied at the Faculty for Architecture in Venice before beginning a career as a comics storyteller in 1975 in the French magazine Circus. Whether alone or with long-time collaborator Fabrizio Ostani (AKA Jerry Kramsky – they often used the single pen-name “Kleidebistro”) Mattotti’s incredible, nigh-abstract designs and pictorial narratives have won him a huge following, with work appearing in Métal Hurlant, L’Écho des Savanes (France), Rumbo Sur (Spain), Frigidaire, Secondamano and Alter Alter (Italy), Raw (USA) and The Face (UK) among many others.

In 2002 Mattotti and Kramsky produced Docteur Jekyll & Mister Hyde (based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic) for Casterman, and the English translation won Mattotti an Eisner Award the following year. As an illustrator, Mattotti has worked for Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Le Monde, and has produced a number of startling and beautiful children’s books. His absolute masterpiece thus far is – to my mind at least – Fires (and I think I’ll just add that to my “review real soon” pile).

Behind a deeply unsettling gate-fold wraparound cover, but printed throughout on reassuringly solid cream-coloured card-stock, lurks a startling journey from idyllic cloud-gazing through vaguely erotic musings on gods and giants to the depths of a terrifying and oppressive forested hell. Rendered in a bravura line-and-dry-brush style that ranges from seductive and cajoling, through airy tumult to raw, fierce, bestial rage and horror, Mattotti uses the reader’s eyes to pull the viewer on a chaotic descent reminiscent of Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain” from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, with just a hint of Watership Down thrown in.

Comics aficionados might also recognize a touch of the panning-in technique used by the great André Barbe where small pictorial changes lead to a total transformation, not only to the graphic representations but also to the mental or spiritual state of the object and observer. But where Barbe wanted to languidly surprise and seduce you, Mattotti is here to make you squirm…

Even if the “how” isn’t your major concern, the whole pictorial experience of Chimera is one headlong rush, and a supreme lesson in the power and virtuosity of dark lines against the light. This is probably the only white knuckle ride you can put on a bookshelf… so why don’t you?

Story and art © 2005 Lorenzo Mattotti. Book edition © 2005 Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle volume One


By Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-164-0

Sometimes words mean nothing, pictures tell every story and stuff is funny just because it is. That pretty much sums up the work of absurdist comedy pioneer Michael Kupperman, whose graphic samplings of old comics, strips and magazines – especially the ads – fill the pages of the too infrequent comicbook Tales Designed to Thrizzle.

Kupperman is a cartoonist who clearly loves to draw and has no difficulty isolating the innate insanity of modern living as well as the way we regard our own past – especially the not-so-important bits – which he delivers in a surreal graphic deadpan style that would turn Buster Keaton grey with envy.

He 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 similar 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 is his personal star vehicle, allowing him to play his intensely stylish mind-games 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, all given a unique twist and spin by a man whose head is clearly too small for his brain…

This classy hardcover collects the first four issues in scintillating colour, each individual collected comic-book divided – because propriety counts – into “Adults”, “Kids” and “Old People’s Sections” and contains such instant favourites 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 or the inadequate meanderings of Storm Cloudfront, veteran weatherman.

Brash, challenging, brilliantly imaginative and always funny this is a book for every grown-up, couch-based life-form that needs a hearty guffaw every now and then – but much more now than then…

All characters, stories and artwork © 2009 Michael Kupperman. All rights reserved.

Tex Arcana


By John Findley (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-036-7

One of the best comedy/horror westerns (not, admittedly, a vast field of creative endeavour) of the last fifty years, Findley’s quirky masterpiece of gory, saucy, tongue-in-cheek eccentricity delves into the same rich vein (oh, what a card am I!) as Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires (1967 retitled The Fearless Vampire Killers) and the so-bad-it’s-good Captain Kronus (a rare Brian Clemens turkey from 1974) as well as the immortal Mel Brook’s gem Blazing Saddles in this sagebrush saga of the little town of Hangman’s Corners and the extraordinary things that keep happening there.

Narrated in venerable EC style by the Old Claim-Jumper this slightly abridged volume from 1987 collects the strip which ran in Heavy Metal magazine between March 1981 to 1986 and recounts how a vampire in the thrall of demons attacks the town and how they are all saved by the mysterious lone rider known as Tex Arcana – although most of the work is done by his eerie and ethereal paramour “the Woman in White”. Also included is the short mystery ‘The Amazin’ Case o’ th’ Disappearin’ Chickens’ in which two unprepossessing and ineffectual demons Sweaz and Herp solve the perplexing riddle of why the territory’s biggest chicken rancher loses five head of prime fowl at every full moon…

Findley’s writing is deliciously wacky, full of mock-heroic hyperbole, as he diddles with the icons of the genre whilst his astoundingly rendered fine-line-and-hatching style of drawing – meticulous to the point of mania – is completely mesmerising. This guy can really move a pencil and he doesn’t know how to take short-cuts!

Even after the series was dropped from Heavy Metal Findley kept on working and the eerie epic continues to this day online (http://www.texarcana.com/). In 2006 BookSurge published a 282 page compilation (Tex Arcana: a Saga of the Old West, ISBN: 978-1-41964-632-4) which collected everything to date, but I’ve gone with this 72 page, oversized edition because the reproduction on the new edition is reportedly not everything it could be, and also because I haven’t got hold of a copy of the new book yet. When I do I’ll report back to you…

A little spooky, a lot funny, incredibly realized: whichever version you plump for, doesn’t this sound like your kind of thing..?

© 1987 John Findley and Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury


By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-975-3

Cartoonists have far more than their share of individuals with a unique perspective on the world. Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Steve Bell, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Gary Larson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s the power to create entire sculptured worlds coupled with the constant threat of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw.

Tony Millionaire clearly loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, the best of children’s books and an eclectic mix of pioneer draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray as well as the aforementioned Herriman from comics with European engravings from the “legitimate” side of the ink-slinging biz.

As well as children’s books, Billy Hazlenuts and the most wonderful Sock Monkey, Millionaire produces a powerfully bizarre weekly strip entitled Maakies which delineates the absurdly rude and surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow alcoholic nautical adventurer Drinky Crow. In the tradition of the earliest US newspaper strips each episode comes with a linked mini-strip running across the base of the tale. Nominally based in a nautical setting of 19th century sea-faring adventure, the darkly-comical instalments vary from staggeringly rude and crude to absolutely hysterical, with content and gags utterly unhindered by the bounds of taste and decency: penetratingly incisive, witty and even poignant. It’s his playground – if you don’t like it, leave…

Launching in February 1994 in The New York Press the strip is now widely syndicated in the US in alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and The Stranger and abroad in comics magazines such as Linus and Rocky. There was even an animated series that ran on Time-Warner’s Adult Swim strand.

Since continuity usually plays second fiddle to the wide range of inventive ideas, the strips can be read in almost any order and the debauched drunkenness, manic uber-violence, acerbic view of sexuality and deep core of existentialist angst (like Ingmar Bergman writing gags for Benny Hill) still finds a welcome with Slackers, Laggards, the un-Christian and all those scurrilous, hopeless Generations after X. Millionaire often surrenders a episode to fellow cartoonists to “do their own thing”.

If you’re not easily shock-able this is a fantastic and rewarding strip, one of the most constantly creative and entertaining on the market today, and this wonderful re-collection, gathering the material previously released in the out-of-print books When We Were Very Maakies, The House at Maakies Corner and Der Struwwelmaakies.

If you’re not a fan of Maakies this is the perfect tool to make you one; and if you’re already converted it’s the perfect gift for someone that ain’t…
© 2009 Tony Millionaire. All Rights Reserved.

Rocky volume 2: Strictly Business


By Martin Kellerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-852-7

It’s too rare to see contemporary comics material from anywhere but the English-speaking or Japanese markets, so seeing the second volume of Martin Kellerman’s self-confessed “Fritz the Cat knock-off” is in itself a delight, but once again I fear a lot of the Swedish nuance and integral humour has been lost in a poor translation (I don’t speak the tongue – I’m simply taking the word of those who do).

Rocky is a cartoonist (and a dog) in a world of anthropomorphic animals acting out the parts of young folk in modern Stockholm: drinking, swearing, playing computer games, sleeping around and generally wondering what it’s all about while living pointless generation zero lives. Since Rocky is a cartoonist slowly getting established with his autobiographical strip, most of his friends, acquaintances and dalliances end up on public view in his work…

The strips are meticulous and rendered in a scratchy line very reminiscent of the US underground scene. In fact much of the narrative furniture of the strip is indistinguishable from America, with US movies, hip-hop/rap music and even fast food franchises being far more common than native Scandinavian references. I fear that’s the result of Cultural Imperialism rather than translation though: an awful lot of the world looks like Main Street, nowadays.

Which is a pity since, although the strips and Sunday pages here range from competent to riotously funny, the ones that stand out are invariably those where hints of local politics, socially distinct themes and home-grown issues still flavour the gags, quips and brickbats.

Although aiming at twenty-somethings also interested in getting laid, getting wasted and getting rich, Kellerman nonetheless manages to move beyond the ever-fertile grounds of the battle of the sexes, bodily functions and morning-after guilt-trips to produce a lot of work that is truly fresh, funny and uniquely personal. As his strip takes off, his first book collection is released and he takes a room-mate, a number of trips, and a succession of generally disappointed bed-partners…

Less raucous and more considered than the first collection (Rocky: the Big Payback ISBN-13: 978-156097-679-0) there’s the same cast of ne’er-do-wells, unattainable women, slackers of both sexes, salty language and cartoon humping, but the best moments are those where his cronies all seem to be actually settling down. Heck, best bud Manny even has a kid now and his own biological clock seems to be ticking a little louder…

Observational humour can be hit-or-miss at best and I’m decidedly uncomfortable with the translated dialogue, but despite all that there’s still lot to recommend this book, and I’m sure the next one will be even better…
All characters, stories and artwork © 2008 Martin Kellerman, Homework. This book © 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

The Garden of Desire


By Will & Desberg, translated by Michael Koch (Eurotica/NBM)
ISBN: 1-56163-009-8

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s you might recall the twin popular fascinations of Victoriana (a plethora of books, films and TV shows set in those heady days of Empire) and Sex.

Actually there had always been sex, but in England no-one had seen or done any since before the War. What occurred during the Civil and Social Rights liberalisation of the “Summer of Love” was that heaping helpings of sauciness and skin started to creep into the media. Eventually we’d even sink so low that photographs of naked young ladies would replace cartoons and comic strips as the best way to sell newspapers.

It didn’t take long before period fiction – especially films – added lots of salacious, cheerful nudity and entrendres (double and single) to their product.

In the manner of that innocently rude time (and such classics as The Best House in London and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) is this lovely slice of Euro-whimsy from Will and Desberg. Willy Maltaite, one of the Continent’s greatest and most prolific artists, worked for Spirou on the fairytale fantasy ‘Isabelle’ among many others. In the 1980s he worked with comics writer Stephen Desberg on a series of light-hearted albums for adults (European adults, so the sex is tasteful, beautifully illustrated and sardonically funny) that our chuckle-parched, po-faced world could well use now. As far as I know The Garden of Desire is the only one of their works to lapse into English.

It follows the amorous antics and career of Michael Loverose, whose well-to-do English mother was seduced by a mysterious stranger. The resulting embarrassment was packed off to boarding school as soon as possible and from there he roamed the wide world in search of love and adventure – but mostly love…

Spanning the turn of the 20th century to the heady days between the World Wars this sly and gentle tale luxuriously blends comedy, self-exploration and innocent lust with a tiny dose of real magic in a way only those sophisticates across the Channel can.

Great fun perfectly executed and a style of story we should be revisiting in these pell-mell, oh-so-serious modern days.
© 1988 Will-Desberg/Ed. Dupuis Charleroi Belgium. © 1991 NBM for the English Translation. All right reserved.

Realms


By Paul Kirchner (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-043-X ISBN-13: 978-0-87416-043-7

In the 1980s American comics got a huge creative boost with the advent of high quality magazines such as Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated which showcased adult-oriented material with high quality graphics and formats such as had taken Europe by storm a decade earlier. Previous US experience of such work had been limited to the Underground Comix scene – in terms of content if not production values, at least – and the occasional independent experiment of such maverick luminaries as Wally Wood and Jim Steranko.

When Heavy Metal first launched in April 1977 (looking very much like its French conceptual “parent” Métal Hurlant, there was precious little original home-grown material to supplement the sumptuous continental work therein. One of the first creators to join the magazine was Paul Kirchner, who had worked as an assistant to Wally Wood in the early 1970s, contributing to such Woody-associated projects as Big Apple Comics.

Born in 1952, Kirchner was in his third year at Cooper Union School of Art in New York when Neal Adams and Larry Hama introduced him to the horror editors at DC, whose anthology titles always needed fresh blood. He assisted Tex Blaisdell on Little Orphan Annie and in 1973 joined Ralph Reese at Wood’s studio.

His starkly surreal strip The Bus debuted in Heavy Metal in 1978 and ran intermittently until 1985. During this time Kirchner was seeking something more meaningful for his creative energies and the tales collected in Realms (both colour and monochrome and all previously published in either HM or Epic) are the results of that search.

All the strips come from the period 1975-1986, and the book starts with a single-page pastiche of EC comics entitled ‘They Came From Uranus!’ before the main event begins with the fantasy quest ‘Tarot’, a meticulously rendered gem of magic, motorcycles and lost civilisations. ‘Shaman’ relates a duel in the spirit-lands between two Mexican Brujos (sort of wizards or wise-men) whilst the visually stunning ‘Hive’ examines two of life’s biggest puzzles: Work and Sex.

‘Mirror Dreams’ uses rogue Ronin and Shinto sages to examine the nature of reality, whilst ‘A Spirit of Thaxin’ utilises eye-watering black and white line, hatching and feathering to produce a sardonic tale of demonic servitude that owes much stylistically to the artist’s old boss Wally Wood.

Shorter monochrome vignettes close out the book, punchy little gags and vignettes with an adult sting in the tail. ‘The Temple of Karvul’, ‘Pillars of P-11507’, ‘Critical Mass of Cool’, ‘Survivors’, ‘My Room’ and ‘Judgement Day’ are a blend of surrealism, visual punning and broad satire that typified the best of Tharg’s Future Shocks from Britain’s 2000AD – and probably were intended for the same kind of reader.

As well as a successful career in toy and product design, Kirchner has worked for the New York Times, worked on licensed comics featuring RoboForce, He-Man, GoBots, ThunderCats, G.I. Joe, and Power Rangers and has produced occasional books as varied as Trajectories, Big Book of Bad, Big Book of Losers, and the seminal Murder by Remote Control written with Zen Buddhist Janwillem van de Wetering.

This early compendium is more indicative of the artist’s astounding drawing ability, but nevertheless still offers a refreshingly engaging spread of fun and fantasy for adult readers.
© 1987 Paul Kirchner. © 1987 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

HORNY TAILS


By Richard Moore (Amerotica/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-275-6

I know I’ve enquired before but… Oi! How old are you?

The salacious and saucy have always had a place in the art and literature of mankind. We’re all monkeys at heart and the sexual act has always fascinated us, no matter how we deny or disguise it. Furthermore, the only real difference between erotica and pornography is purely a subjective and relativistic one, so I’m not going to waste space quibbling. This is a rude book so if you’re easily shockable go away now…

I won’t think any less of you.

Those still here and firmly clutching smelling salts, read on…

Richard Moore is the brilliant cartoonist who writes and draws the wonderful Boneyard – probably the funniest comic being produced today – and he’s also happy to extend that gift of graphic comedy to the controversial world of Adult Comics – a safe way of describing strips of a predominantly sexual nature.

I’m not defending the entire arena of sex comics: there’s material out there even I won’t look at, but let’s be honest here. Most grown-ups can tell the difference between harmless – or even enticing – fantasy and brutal misogyny masquerading as physical love, especially in a genre that can encompass everything from Debbie Does Dallas to John Willie’s Sweet Gwendoline. And don’t get me started on the cynically coy softcore creators…

Adult comics fall into three camps: Charming, Intellectual and Tawdry, and each devotee is cordially invited to stick to what he/she prefers and not judge the rest. Here Endeth the Sermon.

Horny Tails is a collection of short stories and rude pin-ups by a man who loves drawing good-looking humans and all aspects of fantasy (new term needed here: Elves, Dragons, Fairies etc. not French Maids and Uniforms… oh I don’t know though…) and regards consensual sex as natural and fun. These stories are collected from Radio Comix and Anthilll Comics, featuring established mythological charmers and favourite characters.

In Imps and Angels: Fire and Brimstone the metaphysical girls use their charms to recapture a rampant devil, the anthropomorphic stars of The Pound go for a very wild ride, whilst M’Lady goes for a romp in the woods in Don’t Tease and wins her heart’s desire in Magically Delicious.

The nanite-infected human weapon Tin God almost gets more than she bargained for and the eccentric stars of Far West experience a spiritual presence in Tasty Pretty. Finally The Return of Frankenstein is a classy, silly romance of consenting – if artificially created – adults and this book concludes with 15 pages of sexy, whimsical, funny pin-ups of naked ladies, mostly with animal tails and ears – hence the title of this tome.

Unashamedly raunchy, and gently beguiling, these aren’t stories with a great deal of narrative. That’s really not the point. These are wickedly beautiful, funny – because the best sex is – teaser tales that intend to entice and delight. If you can handle all that you probably should…
© 2001 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.