Requiem Vampire Knight Tome 1: Resurrection and Danse Macabre

By Pat Mills & Ledroit (Panini Books UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-437-9

As is so often the case Europe is the last and most beneficial arena for the arts and untrammelled creativity, and none more so than comics and sequential narrative. For some reason the Continent cherishes the best of the world’s past as well as nurturing the fresh and new, without too much concern for historical bugbears of political correctness, gaffes and contemporary censoriousness – which is why so many British and American strip creators produce their best work there.

Perhaps it’s simply because they revere not revile popular arts as much as classical ones….

Requiem Vampire Knight is an impressive example of self-publishing done right, and happily with commensurate rewards. For years writer Pat Mills wanted to break into the European market and in 2000 he did so by setting up Nickel Editions with publisher Jacques Collin (whose Zenda Editions produced some of the nicest looking albums of the 1980s) and artist Olivier Ledroit who illustrated the first four books of the incredibly popular Chroniques de la Lune Noire (Black Moon Chronicles) for Zenda before the series transferred to Dargaud. Mills and Ledroit were already old comrades having previously worked on the impressive Sha.

Mills is well known to readers of this blog (see for example Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing and his incontestable masterpiece Charley’s War) but perhaps Ledroit is not so familiar. After studying Applied Arts he began his career as an illustrator for games magazines and broke into Bandes Dessinee (that’s comics to thee and me) in 1989 with the aforementioned Black Moon Chronicles, written by François Marcela Froideval.

Specialising in fantasy art Ledroit drew Thomas Mosdi’s Xoco (1994) before teaming with Pat Mills on the acerbic, futurist thriller Sha, set in an ultra-religious fascistic USA (1996-1999). His lush painterly style was adapted to fairytales in 2003 with L’Univers Féerique d’Olivier Ledroit, and he is credited as one of the founding fathers of the darkly baroque fantasy sub-genre BD Gothique.

From a financially shaky start Requiem Vampire Knight quickly proved that quality will always find an audience, and Nickel swiftly expanded whilst continuing the excessively adult adventures of deceased warrior Heinrich Augsburg. The series is released as annual albums, and has been serialized in Germany as Requiem Der Vampirritter, and in Heavy Metal in America (beginning in Volume 27 #1, March 2003).

Now Panini have brought this evocative series to Britain in superb oversized, A4 format, double-editions presenting two albums per volume beginning with Resurrection and Danse Macabre.

Heinrich is a German officer killed on the Eastern Front in 1944. As he died all he could think of was his guilt over a doomed affair with the Jewess Rebecca whom he chose not to save when the Gestapo came for her…

He awakens confused, with few memories intact, on the incredible blood-drenched world of Resurrection: a grim, fantastic mirror of Earth with the seas and land-masses reversed, populated by all the monsters of myth and where time runs backwards. In this Hell of constant warfare the sins committed on Earth determine your rank and form. Since Heinrich has been reborn as a Vampire, top of the slaughterers’ heap, his Earthly transgressions must have been truly unforgivable…

Soon he is sent for training and orientation, joining the Vampires Court of Dracula, where all the worst monsters of history rule, becoming embroiled in the eternal warfare and perpetual intrigues. But as time passes and he gets younger, he remembers more of his Earthly life and realises that he has been on Resurrection before… Moreover he has earned the particular enmity of a faction of utterly decadent elite Nosferatu ruled by the sadistic Lady Claudia Demona, Lord Mortis and Baron Samedi…

For any fan of Mills’ work there nothing truly new here to be shocked by, but the liberating license to explore his favourite themes guided only by his own conscience and creative integrity has resulted in a complex, intensely compelling mystery of revenge and regret on the most uncompromising of worlds where there is literally no justice and no good deed ever goes unpunished. Blending cosmic warfare with cynically sardonic deadpan humour, wrapped in the ludicrously OTT trappings of sadomasochistic fetishism, this is a truly epic saga of Gothic hopelessness perfect for the post-punk, post-revisionary, lavishly anti-reductionist fantasy fan. But it’s probably best if you don’t show your gran or the vicar…

The art is utterly astonishing. In places delightfully reminiscent of Philippe Druillet’s startlingly visual and deceptively vast panel-scapes from such lost masterpieces as Yragael: Urm (and there’s another one to chuck on the “must review soon” pile) as well the paradoxically nihilistic energy of such decadent Michael Moorcock civilisations as Granbretan or Melniboné, Ledroit has captured a truly unique scenario with his vibrant palette . Never has the horrific outer darkness been so colourfully captured and the sheer scope of the numerous monsters and spectacular battles is utterly eye-popping.

A grim and witty dream, this is a fabulously realized adult fantasy of blood and thunder that is enthralling and captivating: (Im)Pure Graphic Wonderment!

© 2000, 2001, 2009 Nickel, Mills, Ledroit. All rights Reserved.

Fushigi Circus – the Art of Mark Ryden

By Mark Ryden (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-720-4

Ever heard anybody say “That’s not art, it’s just a pile of…?”

Well, the Modern Art scene gets more interesting every day for adherents of narrative imagery and representationalism as craft, skill and imagination return to the forefront of bankable talents. Here’s another sumptuous collection from a well-respected artist whose particular contribution to the Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism movement centres on sumptuous, richly-hued paintings which blend the icons of childhood with startlingly disturbing, often sexually charged images of innocence and innocents: wide eyed, searching, ineffably sad or mysteriously resigned to a fate we can only suppose.

The visual components of each painting are carefully selected and positioned, but always with the intention of leaving the viewer unsettled…

Mark Ryden comes from a long line of artists and worked for the last decade as an illustrator, producing book covers for the likes of Stephen King and record covers for Ringo Starr, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Jackson. His work is reminiscent in style to classic Salvador Dali.

Ryden was educated at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, graduating in 1987 with a Batchelor’s Degree in Fine Art. And that’s where his first one man exhibition “The Meat Show” debuted in 1998.

He came to prominence with regular features in Lowbrow art magazines such as Juxtapoz and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles and Santa Ana. Recent shows have included the retrospective “Wondertoonel” and the quirky tour de forceThe Tree Show” – paintings and sculptures to 2007-2008.)

Like many contemporary artists Ryden works across many media, illustrating the guitar of Metallica front-man Kirk Hammett, producing tattoo art for Aerosmith’s “Pump” album and designing custom action-figures for Michael Leavitt’s the Art Army.

Ryden’s incredible virtuosity with pigments would have made him a star whatever he concentrated his efforts, but the eye-popping creepy explorations of beauty, childhood and popular culture which can be found in his book collections the Art of Mark Ryden: Anima Mundi (2001), Bunnies and Bees (2002), Wondertoonel Paintings (2004), Blood Show (2005), The Tree Show (2009) and this glorious high-end hardback have won him a devoted following among folk who respond well to fantasy and social enquiry: i.e. people like you…

Fushigi Circus was originally released in 2006 for the Japanese market and this beautiful Cloth-of-Bronze, bound hardback collects fifty five of his early works, featuring, of course, chilling, teary-eyed moppets, scary babies, fluffy cuddly monsters, Gothic horror spoofs and his series of brilliantly observed, witty celebrity paintings ranging from the most nightmarish Teletubbies ever envisioned through Sarah Michelle Geller and Leonardo DiCaprio to Björk and Jimi Hendrix.

Now released for the English speaking world – although sans English text and some of the pictures appear a mite small for my tired-yet-eager old eyes – this lovely volume is bound to win the creator many more fans – especially among the eccentric pool of addicts that make comics and cartoons their vice of choice.
© 2006 Mark Ryden/PIE BOOKS. US edition © 2009 Mark Ryden/Porterhouse. All Rights Reserved.

Best Erotic Comics 2009

By various, edited by Greta Christina (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-711-2

Erotica, it must be said, is in the mind – and not even the eye – of the beholder. This second collection of the year’s best erotic comics casts a broad net and again comes up with a fantastic display of superbly varied strips and creators all addressing our most fundamental drive – and I don’t mean double-bagging Angel and the Ape or Wonder Woman comics… oh I don’t know, though…

I’m trying to be vague and alluring here (all but impossible – ask anyone who’s seen me) so I’ll simply list the contents and see what that gets us, but first let me trot out my usual disclaimer/warning.

This book contains stories and images of an adult nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, and the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids have used by the age of ten. If reading about such things is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something with violence and explosions, so come back then. Please.

This large and copious softcover features stories about all aspects, preferences and interpretations of consensual sex in both stark black and white and lush, lavish colour, and it all kicks off with three short comedic true-story strips from Erika Moen, specifically ‘Odd Things that Made Me Orgasm’, ‘Helping Hands’ and ‘Boobs’, promptly followed by ‘Insatiable Fuck Tart’, the first of eight single page, outrageously faux, classified sex ads from Ellen Forney. ‘Torn’ is a delightful switch on the conventional dating game from Niki Smith, followed by Ellen Forney’s ‘Devilish Desires’.

It might surprise you to learn that there is a shortage of good quality smut. To obviate the shortage Editor Greta Christina has been forced to use occasional older pieces and “Hall of Fame” material where appropriate. One such is Rick Altergott’s uncompromising ‘Mile High Club’, which is followed by ‘I Can Take It’, a chilling look at the dark edges of gay love, with the tension-breaking Ellen Forney’s ‘My French Maid’

I went to a Catholic School so it takes a lot to unsettle me – at least in comic book terms – but the excerpted sections of Robin Bougie’s ‘Down with Herpes’ came quite close. The feature is an illustrated hand-lettered series of reviews of extreme cult and bondage porn films, and it’s not the strip but the films themselves that gave me pause. Consider yourself warned.

Cephalopod Productions comes next with a quirky nostalgic gag-spread cartoonishly capturing the hidden delights of old New York in ‘Broadway Laffs’, then ‘Hairy Girl’ by Forney and the hilarious ‘Wild Girls’ by Jessica Fink, a cute cautionary tale entitled ‘Blowing Head Gaskets’ by Molly Kiely, Forney’s ‘Brad Pitt Fantasy’ and a terrific gay Satanist, zombie love story ‘Dem Bones’ from writer/artist Drub (I’m sure we’ve left no stone un-offended by now!)

The wonderful Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Honeymooners’ is a welcome Hall of Fame classic followed by ‘Screw M Relentlessly’ from Forney and ‘Mantras’ a superbly polemical and thought-provoking piece on sexual politics by Steve MacIsaac using a powerfully effective three colour palette. Diego Greco & Erdosain combine to produce a good old fashioned bonking yarn in the lavish, full-colour ‘Predator’, whilst Adrian Tomine contributes ‘Ginger B’, a Dirty Found exhibit (Dirty Found means a sexually charged object or image that has been discovered in everyday life rather than created by an artist to order), the legendary Peter Kuper contributes the incredible ‘Dirty Beauty’, Gary Baseman paints ‘The Devil’s Playground’ and the magnificent Toshio Saeki reinterprets classical Pillow Book illustrations in his seven fabulous ‘Youren’ illustrations.

John Cuneo graphically illustrates ‘Why I Went to Art School’, Quinn’s ‘Bad Girl Triptych’ demonstrates the cutting edge of experimental painting and Christy C. Road shows how to ‘Reclaim Your Self’, before Steve MacIsaac returns with another marvellous thriller ‘Safe’.

‘April 2005 – A Thought Diorama’ is a terrific piece of design and a cracking commentary on modern romance, Belasco’s ‘Th’ Floodgates’ is a racially-charged but straightforward gay porn story, Christy C. Road returns with the intriguing ‘Content and Disorderly’ and the masterful Gilbert Hernandez makes a Hall of Fame appearance with ‘I Won’t Forget’; an excerpt from his landmark Birdland series. ‘Scenes from the Revolution!’ is another nostalgic gag-spread from Cephalopod Productions; ‘Be My BDSM Tutor’ is another ad from Ellen Forney whilst Marzia Borino & Mauro Balloni’s ‘One Night Stand’ is a nice cautionary tale about pick-ups and bars.

‘Olé!’ by Andrea Camic is a smart little thriller about a matador, a bull and the woman who loved them, whilst ‘Butch and Petey’ is a hysterical excerpt from Jim Goad & Jim Blanchard’s unmissable redneck pastiche Trucker Fags in Denial. Cover artist Junko Mizuno is further represented by ‘You Can’t Keep Fooling Me’, selected pages from her Pure Trance collection and this torrid tome closes with ‘Nibbil’s Birthday’, a charming fantasy from Colleen Coover.

With creator biographies that include directions to more fine adult fare this is a stupendous slice of contemporary rude cartooning and a delightfully innocuous read for the liberal minded. Just don’t tell your Gran, okay?

Entire contents © 2009 Last Gasp. All Rights Reserved.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu volume 1

By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-85719-700-6

If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music you might feel a pang of nostalgia at the work in this intriguing and coyly adult collection, featuring Manga sensation Junko Mizuno’s latest subversively compelling creation.

Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned for combining the appearance of childish innocence or “cuteness” with dark, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing and inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).

Moreover the skewed sensibilities of her work in such Manga as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid and Pure Trance (all available in English language editions) and the as-yet-untranslated Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo) has exploded out of the comics ghetto and been taken up by the larger populace with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults including plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and even a line of erotic products and condoms.

She is scheduled to produce a limited edition My Little Pony figure for a Hasbro charity event and by the time you read this Marvel should have released her first Spider-Man and Mary Jane adventure in the re-launched Strange Tales.

Her self-confessed shojo (“stories for girls”) influenced style also borrows heavily from the imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia that grew out of Pop Art, with huge eyed (admittedly not uncommon in Manga), large-headed girls, drawn to look young – no, not young, but actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: living in simplified, reduced detail environments.

As previously stated her content is always sharply at odds with her drawing style, like cartoons for toddlers but involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being eaten by cannibals. Much of her work is in full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan, and this volume (mostly monochrome but with a magically lush colour section) breaks another tradition by using a huge 254 x 201mm page size rather than the usual 188 x 126mm to relate its tales of lonely hearts.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is another conceptual shocker with a subtle subtext and an overt narrative underpinning, redolent of the naively “Swinging Sixties”. The cute pink planet Princess Kotobuki smells delightful but is invisible to human eyes. On its charming surface dwell nothing but beautiful naked young women and one very lovely, placid purple space hippo: but beware because Space Hippos are carnivorous!

And then there’s Pelu: a fluffy excitable ball of fuzz who questions this idyllic existence. From the hippo Pelu learns of Earth where there are two sexes, not one, and when Pelu learns its own origins (the first chapter is entitled ‘Sex Education on a Fantastic Planet’) it determines to go to the planet of humans and father a baby so it won’t be alone any more…

So begins the charmingly unsettling saga of Gigolo Pelu whose adventures in ‘The Naked Enka Singer’, ‘The Sassy Girl and the Bad Boy’, ‘Beach Maidens’ and ‘The Mysterious High School’ mirror the venerable tale of an Innocent’s road to enlightenment (complete with the loss of the aforementioned innocence), given extra punch by the overwhelming accoutrements of perfect childhood that permeate every atom of the tale.

On Earth the fluffy creature observes human interactions whilst always politely asking if anyone would like to be made pregnant – but love, hate, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-loathing and even murder are hard to grasp until Pelu discovers and befriends a hobo who becomes a valued comrade and teacher.

Everything, especially the many beautiful girls, are drawn in the style of late 1960s Playboy icons, the cartoon stylisations that featured in many movie blockbuster title sequences and especially the psychedelic works of Alan Aldridge and the animated film Yellow Submarine. Anybody British out there who remembers the kids show Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is a beautiful velvet trap designed to put the reader in a receptive state so that the author can make her telling points about today’s world.

By co-opting the form of children’s entertainment the author can address fundamental aspects of society in a form intended to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly provoke: hopefully some thought on the readers’ part will be generated beyond the modern shock-reaction to nude young girls and the pre-pubescent idealism and purity that used to be associated with such imagery.

This is a deceptively edgy fantasy with a lot to say about society and relationships – similar to and completely different from Robert Heinlein’s groundbreaking social satire Stranger in a Strange Land, and if enough of the right people read it could have as much impact.
© 2003 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.


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 ( 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.