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.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the cover and the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contain nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homo-sexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

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

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer 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 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.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody…

Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

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

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and 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, and each chapter offers a wealth of strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

Our history opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and unto college but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ from Gothic Blimp Works #1, ‘River City Shoot-Out’from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all from 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’ for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ from Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970 and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ from Insect Fear #1, ‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’ and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop out life style, all topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also provides ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’,‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ whilst Zap #5 1970 barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’, a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of counterculture thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate his creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974) which also provided a quartet of single frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’, a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadres like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including the eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975, illustrations for William Burroughs’seminal short story‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’(Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, the front and back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork,‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1, (1971), eight-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. 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 one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Maria M. Book One


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-719-2

In addition to being part of the graphic/literary revolution of Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly addictive tales of rural Palomar first garnered overwhelming critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone books such as Sloth, Birdland, Grip and Girl Crazy, all marked by his bold, compellingly simplified artwork and inspired adaptation of literary techniques used by Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has amplified and, visually at least, made his own.

Hernandez also frequently acknowledges such outré mainstream influences as filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson as he entered new territories and reforms the cultural influences which shaped all us baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the troubled life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story- within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers – a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller which was part of the screen queen’s canon – and did it again in 2011 with Love From the Shadows.

Now he’s turned up the tension and doubled down on the plundering of his own mythologies. Maria M delves even deeper into the labyrinthine coils and onion-skin layers of meta-reality as the filmic biography of Fritzi’s long-absconded grandmother becomes a revelatory expose of the turbulent life of a beautiful, competent immigrant fugitive; carving out her own slice of the American Dream after escaping the rustic drudgery of Palomar.

Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir gangster thriller and sordid Fifties B-Picture melodrama, this first volume of Maria M sees a lovely Amazonian Latin beauty hit Everytown, USA in 1957, promptly befriended and taken in by couple of sympathetic working girls…

It’s all a huge mistake. Maria is actually the girlfriend of a mobster who has expedited her passage into the country. Unfortunately, by the time the mix-up is sorted and she finds his place, the poor guy is staring down the barrel of a rival’s gun.

Witness to murder and with no other place to go, the pneumatic stranger heads back to Trixie and Pam and begins her career in the men’s entertainment industry: “hostessing”, photo-shoots and – inevitably for someone with her looks – stag films…

Every attempt to go legit is frustrated by lustful men wanting her, and inevitably she settles for her new life. She still sees people from the Old Country, but they’re usually gangsters, hoodlums or worse…

She makes some friends along the way: other girls in the shady world of men’s movies, film critic Clyde and even bought cop Valdez, but her life only really turns around when she catches the eye of gang boss Luis Cienfuegos. The older man is so smitten with his sex kitten that he marries her…

His sons – both older than Maria – are dutiful and pay her every respect, but whereas taciturn, brutal Gorgo is clearly fascinated with his new stepmother, slick, businesslike, modern Herman makes no effort to conceal his distaste.

It’s a time of great turmoil for the Latino gangs in the USA. Tenuous alliances and collaborations are commonplace, but the assorted leaders have very different views on the rise of Communism in their homelands: beliefs which will inevitably lead to disagreements and bloodshed. And of course everybody plans on eventually being the only game in town…

Maria keeps herself insulated from her husband’s business, but does develop a passionate affinity for guns. It’s just as well. Over the next few years Luis barely survives numerous assassination attempts.

…And always silent, staring Gorgo waits in the background, watching her as his father’s employees, allies and enemies circle, drawn to her voluptuous beauty like moths to a flame…

In such a murky, dangerous world it’s impossible for Maria to keep completely apart from her husband’s affairs and when she is abducted by supposed allies Gorgo allows his true feelings to show in a savagely horrific manner, after which she divorces her man for the best possible motives…

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, this perfect pastiche of a beloved genre and fabled time-period is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed, obsession and outlaw antiheroes: a mesmerising read jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense, intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension and sly elements of filmic surrealism which carry the reader through to the low-key cliffhanger ending in classic style.

And please, don’t get too het up over the convolutions and continuity provenances that resulted in this book. If you need to see the “True Story” of Maria, just check out the story ‘Poison River’ in the Heartbreak Soup collection Beyond Palomar, but otherwise why not just revel in a grim and gripping, saga of love and hope and inescapable doom…

Every adult lover of top-notch drama should snap up Maria M immediately to revel in the sheer brilliance of a master storyteller at the peak of his prowess, and open-minded comics fans should be advised to step beyond the costumes and chains of continuity to take a heady shot of pure imagination at work.
© 2013 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 8: The Death of Fritz the Cat – New Edition


By R. Crumb & guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-56097-076-7

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions. It also painfully displays a genius grappling with his inner demons in a most excruciatingly honest and uncomfortable manner.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.

Really.

I mean it…

Robert Crumb is a truly unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. From the first moments of the rise of America’s counterculture, his uncompromising, forensically neurotic introspections, pictorial rants and invectives unceasingly picked away at societal scabs, measuring his own feelings and motives whilst ferociously ripping way civilisation’s concealing curtains for his own benefit. However, he always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who would take the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the Herculean task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output, and those critically important volumes are being currently reissued for another, more liberated generation.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a dysfunctional, broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

Like his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip legends such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google) De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as classical illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective, frustrated, increasingly horny and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs. …

To escape his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised.

A few dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, evolving on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This eighth volume mostly covers – in chronological order – material created and published in 1971 (with the merest tantalising smidgen of stuff from 1972), when the perpetually self-tormented artist first began to experience creative dissatisfaction with his newfound status as alternative cultural icon: a period when the no-longer insular or isolated artist was at his most flamboyantly creative, generating a constant stream of new characters, gags, commercial art jobs, short strips and with longer material popping up seemingly everywhere.

It was also the moment when he began to realise the parasitic, exploitative nature of many of the hangers-on exploiting his work for profits which he never saw himself – particularly filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, whose phenomenally successful movie of Fritz the Cat prompted Crumb to kill the cunning kitty character off…

That and more are all faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for another rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (as always) the pictorial material itself is both engrossing and astoundingly rewarding. But please don’t take my word for it: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a passionate if meandering photo-packed Introduction from wife and collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb – whom he first met in 1971 – the stream of cartoon consciousness and literary freewheeling begins with the salutary tale of ‘Stinko the Clown in Stinko’s New Car’ from Hytone, rapidly followed by the strange romance of ‘Maryjane’ originally seen in Home Grown Funnies, which also provided the (now) racially controversial and unpalatable ‘Angelfood McDevilsfood in Backwater Blues’ – with that horrific homunculus The Snoid – and twisted “love” story of ‘Whiteman Meets Big Foot’

The underground Commix scene was awash with artistic collaborations and a selection of jam sessions kicks off here with ‘Let’s Be Realistic’ from Hungry Chuck Biscuits wherein Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney & Bruce Walthers surreally free-associated, whilst in Mom’s Homemade Comics Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers & Dennis Brul joined forces with the bespectacled outsider to make some ‘Kumquat Jam’

From ProJunior, ‘Perdido Part One’ and ‘ProJunior in Perdido Part Two’ saw the Dagwood-esque everyman experience the growth in social violence courtesy of Crumb and fellow legend S. Clay Wilson.

All on his own again Crumb captured the appalling nature of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash!’ (from Thrilling Murder) and crafted a lovely ‘Nostalgic Books catalog cover’ for their Summer/Fall 1971 issue, after which a tranche of material from Big Ass #2 (August 1971) starts with a paranoiac perusal of ‘The Truth!’, before another obnoxious jerk resurfaces to dominate sexy bird creatures in ‘Eggs Ackley in Eggs Escapes’ even as the intimately contemplative domestic explorations of  ‘A Gurl’ dissolve into the raucous, earthy humour of ‘Anal Antics’ to end the first black and white section of this challenging chronicle.

A vividly vivacious Color Section celebrates a wealth of covers, opening with ‘The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog’(March 1971), followed by ‘Home Grown Funnies’ and its angsty back cover strip ‘The Desperate Character Writhes Again!’. Moving on, ‘Big Ass #2’, ‘Mr. Natural #2’ – front and back covers – leads to ‘Bijou Funnies #6’ and the rainbows end on the sublimely subversive front for ‘The People’s Comics’.

A return to monochrome provides two more strips from Big Ass #2 beginning with the savagely ironic ‘A Word to you Feminist Women’ and the cruelly hilarious ‘Sally Blubberbutt’ after which the contents of Mr. Natural #2 (October 1971) unfold with ‘Mr. Natural “Does the Dishes”’, before ruminating and sharing more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont in ‘A Gurl in Hotpants’.

This leads to ‘Sittin’ Around the Kitchen Table’ and meeting ‘The Girlfriend’, after which two untitled Mr. Natural graphic perambulations result in a cult war with the adherents of the aforementioned Snoid and everything ends with the sage and his buddy The Big Baby being released from jail to go ‘On the Bum Again’

From Bijou Funnies #6 comes another taste of ‘ProJunior’ as the poor shmuck seeks employment to keep his girlfriend quiet, whilst the jam feature ‘Hef’s Pad’ (by Crumb, Lynch & Skip Williamson) exposes the darker side of selling out for cash and fame…

A strip from Surfer Magazine vol. 12, #6 trenchantly heralds the advent of work from 1972 when ‘Salty Dog Sam “Goes Surfin’!”’, whilst the cover of Zap 7 (Spring issue) and the Nostalgia Press Book Service Catalog cover neatly segues into three superb landmark strips from The People’s Comics beginning with a deeply disturbing glimpse inside the befuddled head of the “Great Man” in ‘The Confessions of R. Crumb’.

That poignantly outrageous graphic outburst leads to a cruelly sardonic polemic in ‘The R. Crumb $uck$e$$ Story’ which merely serves as a sound narrative investment for the shockingly self-satisfied, liberating cartoon catharsis achieved by killing off his now-unwelcome signature character in ‘Fritz the Cat “Superstar”’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his every hidden depth and perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and untamed self-analysis, and this terrific tome shows him at last mastering – or at least usefully channelling – that creative energy for the benefit of us all.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…

Let’s Be Realistic © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney, Bruce Walthers & R. Crumb. Kumquat Jam © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers, Dennis Brul & R. Crumb. All other material © 1971, 1972, 1992, 1997, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.