Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-80-7

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that famous personages from the past are exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this thoughtfully themed collection opens with another scene-setting chat from your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) before we get to know a serried selection of “dead brilliant scientists” in what might well be their very own – post-mortem – words…

In order of date of demise our funny, fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon interviews in a tutorial from ‘Aristotle: Philosopher 384-322BCE’, supplemented by an in-depth peek into the world-changer’s educational practices in ‘School of Life’ after which noted streaker ‘Archimedes: Mathematician 287-212BCE’ shares his version of the infamous “eureka moment” and ingenious military inventions. The most lethal of these then get special attention in sidebar feature ‘Calculated Aggression’.

Muslim scholar ‘Al-Haytham: Natural Philosopher 965-1040’ discusses his service with the Caliph of Egypt and discoveries in optical science, and his greatest invention is examined in follow-up feature ‘Camera Obscura’. Tragic Italian genius ‘Galileo Galilei: Astronomer 1564-1642’ recounts his star-gazing triumphs and the response of the Catholic Church – augmented by a rapturous spread depicting ‘Secrets of the Solar System’ – and a grossly misused scientific pioneer who founded the principles of entomology (before being written out of history by male historians and scientists) tells her story in ‘Maria Sibylla Merian: Entomologist 1647-1717’ and describes the linked ‘Circle of Life’ she discovered by observing caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies…

Noted egomaniac ‘Isaac Newton: Natural Philosopher 1642-1727’ has his say next, with ancillary features on ‘Laying Down the Laws’ and ‘Newton’s Three Laws of Motion’, culminating in the instructions on how to make ‘A Home-made Hovercraft’

‘Edward Jenner: Physician 1749-1823’ describes how his observations led to the eradication of smallpox (with the process broken down into grotesquely captivating ‘Vaccination Stations’) after which forgotten woman ‘Mary Anning: Palaeontologist 1799-1847’ reveals the true history of fossil hunting and evolutionary observation – including a quick tour of ‘The Jurassic World’ – before ‘Lovelace & Babbage: Mathematicians 1815-1852 & 1791-1871’ delves deep into the lives of computer visionaries Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, who devised calculating machines and systems long before science and engineering had the facilities to construct them. Unable to physically enjoy the fruits of their labour, the dead clever thinkers can at least play here with a modern version of ‘The Difference Engine’ since built to honour them at London’s Science Museum….

‘Von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist, Geographer, Etc… 1769-1859’ was a true Renaissance man and master of many disciplines, which he used in his five-year voyage of scientific discovery. As well as the 3500 species of flora and fauna he catalogued in one trip he also formulated the concept of ‘Habitat Zones’ (perfectly explained here in graphic terms following his “piece to camera”).

You may have heard of revolutionary medical reformer ‘James Barry: Doctor 1790s-1865’ but did you know that she was actually Margaret Anne Bulkey, a young woman who refused to let her gender hinder her dreams in an exclusively male-dominated world. Her innovations and changes in military hospitals saved millions of soldiers and civilians, and her influence is celebrated in sidebar feature ‘A History of Infection’. Meanwhile, the world-shattering observations of ‘Charles Darwin: Naturalist 1809-1882’ whilst aboard HMS Beagle are interpreted in the savant’s own individualist manner, with a follow-up detailing his theories through ‘Darwin’s Finches’.

Russian superstar ‘Dmitri Mendeleev: Chemist 1834-1907’ outlines his epic struggle to classify, decipher and order the elements, complete with a fully-updated version of his ‘Periodic Table’ before the profound discoveries – and their personal cost – of ‘Marie Curie: Chemist & Physicist 1867-1934’ bring us into the modern age of intellectual endeavour, via a chilling warning of the repercussions of her ‘Killer Research’.

Born a slave and self-taught, ‘George Washington Carver: Botanist & Inventor 1860s-1943’ transformed America and the world with his discoveries in Agriculture. His astounding life is précised here and validated in supplemental feature ‘Nuts About Nuts!’ sharing the secret of making peanut butter…

Apparently the closest thing to an actual Mad Scientist the world has ever known, ‘Nikola Tesla: Inventor 1856-1943’ tries to clear his name and reputation whilst latterly describing his battle with his greatest rival in ‘Edison vs Tesla in… the War of the Currents’ after which the Digital Age begins thanks to the efforts of ‘Alan Turing: Computer Scientist 1912-1954’. His wartime work with decoding and cipher chasing is then commemorated in ‘An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery’ giving us all a chance to tinker with our own (simplified) Enigma Machine…

Last Big Brain in the box, ‘Albert Einstein: Physicist 1879-1955’ then gleefully explains one of his most universally misunderstood theories and laments the misuse of his work through his own personal history and ends the scientific history lessons on a high note with another in ‘It’s All Relative…’

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just consult with any of the clever cadavers in question…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2017. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists will be released on 7th September 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Eagle Classics: Riders of the Range


By Charles Chilton, Jack Daniel & Frank Humphris (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-827-6

In the 1950s Cowboys and Indians ruled the hearts and minds of the First World public. Westerns were the most popular subject of books, films and comics in Britain, America and most of Europe. The new medium of television screened both recycled cowboy B-movies and eventually serials and series especially created for the stay-at-home aficionado.

Some examples were pretty good and became acknowledged as art – as is always the way with popular culture once it gains a few decades and the polished veneer of fond nostalgia – whilst most others faded from memory, cherished only by the hopelessly past-imprisoned and fannishly-driven.

One entertainment arena I didn’t list was radio: a medium ideal for creating spectacular scenarios and dreamscapes on a low budget. However, the BBC (the sole British radio broadcaster of the post-war period) even managed a halfway decent Western/musical show called Riders of the Range. It was written by producer/director Charles Chilton and ran from 1949 until 1953, six series in total.

At the height of its popularity Riders was adapted as a comic strip in Eagle, which already featured the strip exploits of the immensely successful radio star P.C. 49. The hugely successful weekly anthology magazine had already trialled one cowboy strip – Seth and Shorty – but promptly dropped it. With a popular show to bolster it the pictorial Riders of the Range began as a full-colour page in the first Eagle Christmas edition (December 22nd 1950; volume 1, No. 37) and ran continuously until 1962, surviving the demise of its radio parent and becoming the longest-running western strip in British comics history. In all that time it only ever had three artists.

The first was Jack Daniel, an almost abstract stylist in his designs who worked in bold (almost primitive) lines, but whose colour-palette was years ahead of his time. Crude and scratchy-seeming, his western scenarios were subversive and subliminal in impact. He had previously worked on the newspaper strip Kit Conquest. His “European” style of illustration was notoriously unpopular with Editor Marcus Morris and apparently led to the illustrator’s replacement…

Author Chilton had a deep and abiding fascination with the West and often wrote adventures that interwove with actual historical events, such as ‘The Cochise Affair’ included in this splendid oversized paperback collection. It was the second adventure and had heroic Jeff Arnold and sidekick Luke branding cattle for their “6T6” ranch near the Arizona border when they find a raided homestead.

A distraught, wounded mother begs for help and reveals that Indians have stolen her little boy. Taking her to Fort Buchanan, Arnold becomes embroiled in a bitter battle of wills between Chief Cochise and Acting Cavalry Commander Lieutenant George N. Bascom. The lean sparse scripts are subtly engaging and Daniel’s unique design and colour sense – although perhaps at odds with the more naturalistic realism of the rest of Eagle’s drama strips – make this a hugely enjoyable lost gem.

Angus Scott took over from Daniel with ‘Border Bandits’ (September 7th 1951), but was not a popular or comfortable fit and departed after less than a year. With only a single page of his art reprinted here, it’s perhaps fairest to move on to the artist most closely associated with the strip.

Frank Humphris was a godsend. His artwork was lush, vibrant and full-bodied. He was also as fascinated with the West as Chilton himself and brought every inch of that passion to the tales. From July 1952 and for the next decade Chilton and Humphris (with a few one-off and Christmas Annual contributions from Jesús Blasco, Giorgio Bellavitis and Roland Davies) crafted a thrilling and even educational western saga that is fondly remembered to this day. His tenure is represented here by ‘The War with the Sioux’

In 1875 gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota and the resultant rush of prospectors resulted in the Cavalry being dispatched to protect them from the incensed Indians. Hired as intermediaries and scouts, Jeff and Luke are increasingly helpless as the situation worsens, resulting in the massacre at Little Big Horn. There have many tales woven into this epochal event, but the patriotically dispassionate creativity of two Britons have united here to craft one of the most beautiful and memorable…

The day of the cowboys’ dominance has faded now but the power of great stories well told has not. Although still relatively easy to find in second hand shops or online, this is a series and a book worthy of a more extensive revival, and well worthy of being resurrected at least as a digital edition. Let’s hope someone with the power to do something about it agrees with me. We’d all be winners then…
Riders of the Range © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.

Garth: The Cloud of Balthus


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy, with John Allard (Titan Books)
ISBN 10: 0-90761-034-X                   ISBN: 978-0-90761-034-2

British Superman Garth first appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of professional cartoonist Steve Dowling and BBC radio producer Gordon Boshell, at the behest of the editor who wanted an adventure strip to complement their other comic strip features, Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and immortal, morale-boosting Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was. Nonetheless he saved the entire populace from a brutal tyrant and a legend began. Boshell never had time to write the series, so Dowling, already producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a new writer could be found.

Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 until January 20th 1946) by introducing imposing jack-of-all-sciences Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the burly hero back through some past lives.

In the next tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946 to July 20th 1946) his origin was revealed. As a child, he’d been found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands and adopted by a kindly old couple. When grown he became a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943…

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 (‘Flight into the Future’ was his last tale), and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland (who only wrote ‘Invasion From Space’) until Peter O’Donnell took over in February 1953 with ‘Warriors of Krull’.

He wrote 28 adventures until resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own strip; something he called Modesty Blaise.

His place was taken by Jim Edgar; a short-story writer who also scripted such prestigious newspaper strips as Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

Dowling retired in 1968 and his long-time assistant John Allard took over the strip until a suitable permanent artist could be found. Allard completed ten complete tales until Frank Bellamy began a legendary run with the 13th daily instalment of ‘Sundance’ (which ran from 28th June to 1 October 11th 1971).

Allard remained as background artist and assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

One thing Professor Lumiere had discovered and which gave this strip its distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance – was Garth’s involuntary ability to travel through time and re-experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble beginning as a British response to Siegel and Shuster’s American phenomenon Superman.

The tales in this criminally out of print monochrome tome begin with the aforementioned ‘Sundance’ as mighty Garth is sucked back to 1876 to relive his life as an officer of George Custer’s 7th Cavalry on the Eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The time-tossed titan has a brief but passionate love affair with Indian maiden Falling Leaf before dying valiantly for his beliefs and their love. It is an evocative, powerful tale that totally captures the bigotry, arrogance and futility of the White Man and the tragic demise of the Indian way of life…

Then eponymous epic ‘The Cloud of Balthus’ shows the open, simple elegance of the narrative concept in Garth. Whilst vacationing in the Caribbean our hero becomes embroiled in an espionage plot involving freelance super-spies and a US space station, but even that is mere prelude to fantastic adventure and deadly terrors when he and his delectable, double-dealing companion Lee Wan are abruptly abducted by nebulous energy beings in a taut, tension-fraught thriller.

‘The Orb of Trimandias’ plunges Garth back in time to the Venice of the Borgias, when he becomes again English Soldier-of-Fortune Lord Carthewan: a decent man battling an insane and all-powerful madman for the secret of a supernaturally potent holy relic. This gripping, exotic yarn is replete with flamboyant action, historical celebrities, sexy women and magnificently stirring locales. It’s a timeless treasure of adventure that has the added fillip of briefly reuniting Garth with his star-crossed true love, the ethereal Space Goddess Astra.

This lovely volume (long overdue for re-issue – at least in digital form if no other way is possible) concludes with a high-octane gothic horror story. ‘The Wolfman of Ausensee’ sees Garth as a rather reluctant companion of movie starlet Gloria Delmar on a shoot at the forbidding Austrian schloss (that’s a big ugly castle to you) of a playboy whose family was once cursed by witches.

Despite the title giving some of the game away, this is still a sharp and savvy spook-fest that ranks easily amongst the best Hammer Horror films, and just gets better with each rereading.

Garth is the quintessential British Action Hero – strong, smart, good-looking with a big heart and nose for trouble. His back-story gives him all of eternity and every genre to play in and the magnificent art of Frank Bellamy also made his too-brief tenure a stellar one.

Comic-strips seldom get this good, and even though this book and its sequel are still relatively easy to come by, it is still a crime and a mystery that all these wonderful tales have been out of print for so long.
© 1984 Mirror Group Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey Book 4


By Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-79-1

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not so they do. The latest of these is a fourth fabulous paperback-bound bout of ongoing conflict gripping a once-chummy woodland waif and interloping, grandeur-hungry hairy-brained simian…

Concocted with feverishly gleeful inspiration by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap vendetta between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

Book Four boldly delves deep into the pasts of the uncanny assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise – and not before time – as the rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a motorway through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

Sadly all the tail-biting tension does nothing to derail the ongoing but so-far localised war of wits and wonder-weapons which began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry.

Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

These collected volumes dispense disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment and this book describes Year Two: July-December after another vivid Contents page and character catch-ups and score-cards, plus a double-page spread pinup…

The already fraught atmosphere of the forest gets another unnecessary shot of adrenaline as ‘A New Challenger Appears’ in the fuzzy form of The Maniacal Badger, resolutely challenging resident reprobate Skunky (a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-themed atrocity-weapons and a secret agenda of his own) for the title of top mad scientist, after which Monkey wrecks a playground but loses face once Bunny gets him to share a ‘See-Saw!’

Skunky horrifies blithering innocents Weenie Squirrel and Pig when his ‘Grav-O-Box’ sets the river running backwards but when co-conspirator Monkey ruins the test flight of his Hot Air Balloon Jet Engines and propels them ‘Around the Woods in 80 Seconds’ the malcontents themselves are the only ones to suffer…

Sinking into over-indulgence the simian stinker has to take drastic action after becoming a ‘Fat Monkey’ before stealing some building machinery from the Hyoomanz in ‘Monkey at Work’

Skunky upsets the balance of nature – and value of custard – after creating aberrant lifeform ‘The Wobbles!’ before every animal pulls together when a Hyooman wanders in and Bunny orders ‘Battle Stations’. Skunky then stupidly makes things so much worse by splicing Science to Nature and releasing ‘The Vines’

An annoying game of ‘Poink!’ drives everybody bonkers but welcome terror returns after the colossal ‘Monkeytron!’ rampages through the trees, just in time to greet rocket scientists searching for a test monkey they lost in the very first episode…

Pig’s origin is revealed in the cleverly obfuscatory (not!) ‘A Pig on the Range’ after which Park Ranger Derek P. Brigstocke has a close encounter with a net and ‘A Bear Bum!’ and irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile ‘The Incredible Metal Steve’ undergoes a ferocious metal-morphosis even as ‘Bunny Vs. Monkey!’ finds our notional stars getting back to bruising basics in their never-ending struggle…

After a troop of Hyooman cub scouts fail to ‘Catch That Bunny’ Pig and Squirrel dig up ‘Worms’ and take the slimy earth-movers fishing, but not in any way you’ve seen before, whilst ‘Goodbye, Bunny’ finds our pacifist protagonist plunging deep into the distant city in search of his origins even as Pig becomes a dragon-slaying knight in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

…And none too soon as it happens, since with snow falling the Maniacal Badger returns to worry the woodland folk with ‘The Thing!’ he’d stolen from the Hyoomanz Building Site, prompting a desperate search for natural leader Bunny: a trail that takes them to a comfortable suburban hutch and ‘A Place Where You Belong’

Reunited with the Crinkle Woods critters, Bunny finds a time machine and – by accidentally visiting ‘Once Upon a Time’ – discovers the true secret of Skunky’s vast and evil intellect in an extra-long extravaganza which segues straight into the formation of sadly deficient superhero team the Rather Good Squad in ‘Choose Your Side!’

With Christmas fast approaching, festivities are briefly disrupted by marauding ‘Snow Meanies’ before the Builders try secretly bulldozing the Woods only to be stopped by Monkey, gleefully brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver and ‘The Real Santa!’

The madcap mayhem concludes with a portentous epilogue as ‘Door B’ opens to reveal the ultimate triumph of the ultimate villainous mastermind, but that’s…

To Be Continued

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is well on the way to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, brilliant invention and superb cartooning: an utterly irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2017. All rights reserved.

Bunny Vs Monkey Book Three will be released on 6th July 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Sleaze Castle: Directors Cut (Part #0)


By Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley with various (Cosmic Ray Gun Incorporated/Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-905692-93-4                  978-1-62098-068-2

I’m old, me. I’ve been around for a bit and met a few folks. So, as occurs when I’m reviewing something by people I’ve gone drinking with, I feel compelled to admit to potential conflicts of interest such as here.

The Society of Strip Illustrators/Comics Creators Guild used to meet on the last Thursday of every month in London. In highly refined and dignified surroundings old lags and aspiring talents rubbed scruffy, grimy, dandruffed – occasionally scrofulous – shoulders, talking comics old and new whilst showing off what we were up to.

Always a fun, laid-back evening, those occasions when the laconic Terry Wiley would turn up from Points North with copies of the latest self-published issue of Tales From Sleaze Castle were especially un-memorable: a combination of subsidised booze and the fact that most folks immediately buried their heads in the mesmerising, transcendentally British, trans-dimensional, time-busting kitchen sink comedy/drama/nostalgic fantasy buddy-movie of a comic and lost all power of speech until they’d finished…

It’s just that good – probably the very best home-grown comic saga you’ve never read – and it also holds strong claim to probably exploiting the very best and most appalling literary puns in all sequential narrative.

Scripted by the equally demi-mythical Dave McKinnon, the epic adventure is rendered pretty straightforward but also nearly indescribable. The story unfolds in a progression of mini-chapters and vignettes which act as diary and six-month countdown to an inescapable, predestined event…

After a rather bemused Introduction from author McKinnon, this edition of the monochrome masterpiece of wacky understatement starts with ‘Another Earth, Another Dimension, Another Reason to Go Shopping’ and a brace of ‘Prologues’ in which we meet incomprehensibly ancient Pandadomino Quartile, puissant albino Empress of another Realm of Reality and undisputed dominant resident of the incredible, infinite domicile dubbed Sleaze Castle.

Also brought to our attention are the thoroughly grounded though no less implausible Dribble family of Earth; mother Poppy, younger daughter Petra and her older sister Jocasta, befuddled student and co-star of our show…

As post-grad Jo returns to college in the astonishingly attractive if uncivilised Northern wilds of England and her ongoing M.A. in Televisual Studies, far away in soft, cosmopolitan London, the Queen (not ours, the other, alien one) goes shopping. It is ‘Sep. ’86: Castaway’ and there’s about to be a small hitch…

When the time/space door malfunctions Pandadomino is annoyingly stranded here. Establishing shaky communications with home she is assured that things will be fixed but it will take six months to retrieve her. Moreover, the portal will only appear in another location…

An incoming call then gives further details and instructions. It’s from herself who has literally just returned to Sleaze Castle and she has some advice for her younger, stranded self. It’s quite bizarre, paradoxical and tediously specific instructions on what to do for the next 178 days so she’d better get a pencil…

Jocasta Dribble is on ‘Autopilot 11:23’ as she makes her way from the railway station to her room in the Ethel Merman Hall of Residence at the University of Novocastria.

As usual the trip is fraught with wool-gathering and petty weirdnesses but eventually she slumps onto her term-time bed and makes the acquaintance of her new neighbour.

The oddly naive girl with the shock of black hair, exotic face and too much eye makeup is from Thailand.

Sandracall me PandaCastle has absolutely no idea about living in England so Jo takes her under her maternal wing, blithely oblivious that her new friend is an unwilling extraterrestrial immigrant, used to commanding vast armies and geniuses of various species, cunningly disguised with dyes and contact lenses. Moreover, the strange stranger has used all her wiles to cheat her way into the room next door which will, some months’ distant, very briefly become an inter-dimensional gateway before snapping shut forever…

And thus begins the gentle and seductively enchanting story of the growing relationship between two of the most well-realised women in comics. As geeky outsider Jo at last blossoms into a proper grown-up – she even finds a boyfriend, more than a decade after her precocious schoolgirl sister Petra – her instruction of the oddly sophisticated “Thai” into British civilisation and college life is simultaneously heart-warming, painful, hilarious, poignant and irresistibly addictive to watch.

It’s also deliciously inclusive and expansive: packed with what 21st century consumers apparently call “Easter Eggs”. These hidden nuggets of in-jokes, wry observations and oblique cultural and comics references are witty and funny enough in their own right, but if you were in any way part of the comics scene in the late 1980s they are also an instant key into golden times past, packed with outrageous guest-appearances by many of the upcoming stars and characters of the British cartooning and small press movement.

(Whilst the absolutely riveting scenes of Jo and Panda trying out both Novocastria’s Women Cartoonist Society and all-male Komik Klub are timeless slices of shtick to you lot, they were a solid reminder of times past and people I still owe Christmas cards to…)

Panda spends her first Christmas ever with the Dribbles and their ferociously Italian extended family but, as the days are counting down, the displaced millennia-old queen is beginning to wonder what will happen once she leaves…

Astoundingly there are people and places and things and people and one person in particularly who is apparently unique and irreplaceable even in the unending pan-cosmic Reality she owns. There’s this friend she’s really can’t bear to lose…

Beautifully scripted, alluringly paced and exquisitely rendered, this book would be paralysingly evocative for any Brit who went to college between 1975 and 1990, but what makes it all so astonishingly good is the fact that this delightful melange of all the things that contributed to our unique culture are effortlessly smooshed together as mere background for a captivating tale of two outsiders finding friendship through adversity and by perpetually lying to each other…

There have been comparisons to Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets but they’re superficial and unfair to both. I will say though that both are uniquely the product of their own time and regional geography…

This collection also includes a cover gallery and pin-ups as well as the additional plus of ‘And Finally… Three Lost Tales’ which features an aspect of the business I really miss.

A few of the self-publishing community cameoed in the Women Cartoonist Society and elsewhere – in a spirit of communal tit-for-tat – collaborated on side-bar stories featuring Panda, Jo and the rest during the comic’s initial run. With commentary from McKinnon they are happily re-presented here, so even after the cliffhanger story-pause you can still have a laugh with ‘The Rules of the Game part I’ by Lee Kennedy, ‘The Rules of the Game part II’ by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and what I’ll call ‘An Idea in a Book is Worth Two in the Head’ by Jeremy Dennis.

You’ll need to buy this book to realise why…

Made even better by a gallery of gripping covers, calendar art and more, this a superb collation by lovers of comics for lovers of comics, and now that I’ve read this brand-new e-Edition with its remastered pages and fresh snippets of original material I’m going to forgo re-reading the next three volumes in those well-worn Gratuitous Bunny Editions I bought years ago in favour of these safely unwrinkled-able, spunkily perky digital tomes too.

And if you have your own temporal retrieval system or a computer and a credit card – you can do likewise…
Sleaze Castle is ™ & © 1992, 2012 Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley. This edition ™ & © Dave McKinnon, Terry Wiley and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved. Three Lost Tales © 1996, 2012 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Lee Kennedy and Jeremy Day.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #24: Emperor of the Daleks


By Dan Abnett, Paul Cornell, Warwick Gray, Richard Alan, John Ridgway, Lee Sullivan, Colin Andrew & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-807-0

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film and television actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown among others all translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley their day job into a licensed comic property.

Doctor Who premiered on black and white televisions across Britain with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and in 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began in #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome reprints tales plucked from the annals of history and the Terran recording dates November 1992 and July 1995.

These yarns all feature the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy – my second favourite after Patrick Troughton – but I’m sure I’ll be advised why that’s so very wrong by somebody in due course…)

This collection features both monochrome and full-colour episodes and kicks off with sinister espionage thriller ‘Pureblood’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Magazine #193-196: November 1992 to January 1993) by writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin Andrew. Here the devious Time Lord and his formidable companion Benny save the last survivors of the Sontarran race from extinction at the hands of their immortal enemies the Rutan – despite hostage humans and a spy in the embattled clone-warriors’ midst. Why save a deadly enemy? Ah well, The Doctor has a rather convoluted plan…

The epic yarn leads directly into the moody ‘Flashback’ (Doctor Who Winter Special 1992, by Warwick Gray and the superb John Ridgway) as we get a glimpse of the First Doctor (William Hartnell, keep up, keep up!) having a potentially universe- shattering falling out with his best friend: a proudly arrogant young Gallifreyan called Magnus (any guesses who he eventually regenerated as?)

The main meat of this massive collection is the eponymous ‘Emperor of the Daleks’ (Doctor Who Magazine #197-202) which reunites the dashing time meddler with his deadliest foe and their deadliest foe: Abslom Daak, a deranged maniac in love with a dead woman and determined to die gloriously exterminating Daleks…

Written by Paul Cornell and John Freeman with art from Lee Sullivan (and one chapter in full-colour thanks to the talents of Marina Graham), the sprawling epic reveals a civil war between the murderous pepperpots’ creator Davros and their current supreme commander, with the Doctor (two of them, in fact) and a motley crew of allies stirring the bubbling mix and nudging the feuding megalomaniacs in a certain direction…

And when the dust settles Richard Alan and Sullivan provide a salutary epilogue in ‘Up Above the Gods’ (Doctor Who Magazine #227, July 1995) as The Doctor explains his actions to Davros… or so, at least, the deluded devil believes…

Warwick Gray & Colin Andrew then introduce a universe where The Doctor perished in his Third Regeneration leading to a cross dimensional incursion by ours, as well as Benny and Ace, to foil the ‘Final Genesis’ of Silurian/Sea Devil renegade Mortakk (from Doctor Who Magazine #203-206) after which the full-colour fun returns in ‘Time & Time Again’ (Doctor Who Magazine #207, by Cornell, Ridgway and hues-smith Paul Vyse) with all seven incarnations of the Gallivanting Gallifreyan in action to retrieve the Key to Time in hope of stopping the Black Guardian recreating the universe in his own vile image…

Abnett and Ridgeway return to the black & white days of Kent in the 1840s for ‘Cuckoo’ (Doctor Who Magazine #208-210) as Ace and Benny understandably revolt when The Doctor seeks to steal the limelight from the first woman palaeontologist Mary Anne Wesley. His motives are quite pure: what the young scientist has found is not a missing link in human evolution but something alien that its descendants are prepared to kill for…

The dramas conclude in fine styles as Gray & Ridgway expose the ferocious spleen of the Doctor in full indignant mode as he becomes an ‘Uninvited Guest’ (Doctor Who Magazine #211) delivering judgement and punishment to a soiree of indolent and callous timeless beings who enjoyed making sport and playing games with “lesser” beings. They soon learned to their dismay that such valuations are all a matter of perspective…

Supplemented with commentaries by the original creators, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv 2014. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. All other material © 2017 its individual creators and owners. Published 2017 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Wildcat: Health Service Wildcat


By Donald Rooum & “Victoria N. Furmurry” (Freedom Press)
ISBN: 0-900384-73-5

The truly amazing – and most disheartening – thing about Donald Rooum’s immaculate Anarchist cartoon strip is not the superb drawing talent displayed, nor even the staggeringly broad range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his coterie of lampooning and lambasting characters.

It is simply and sadly that the issues he and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer just never, never go away. The names and faces of the political mountebanks and industrial scoundrels may change but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

Take this particular collection of strips, originally released in 1994 and dedicated to “the daft doctrine that people trained in making profits can provide a better Health Service than people trained in caring for the sick” as a particularly telling case in point.

…And now, a whole bunch of regime-changes later I’m telling you to buy the book again, because the “all-the-same-as-each-other sods” we let govern us are still at it…

Victoria N. Furmurry was a long serving Health Service worker. She spent decades doing her job and even managed to enjoy a rather successful sideline as a professional comic book writer.

She was eventually compelled to combine her two jobs here in a desperate attempt to highlight the problems that beset the new management structure and system.

The obvious pseudonym was also necessary. Among the new crimes in the service were “bringing the service into disrepute” for which read ‘complaining or disagreeing’ and the truly Orwellian “causing the management to lose confidence in you as an employee”, both of which constituted “Gross Misconduct” and were grounds for instant dismissal. Understandably, she took the advice offered and kept her head down whilst delivering the fusillade of brickbats and jabs for the erudite and talented Mr. Rooum to render and compile in this slim monochrome tome.

Twenty-three years later and nothing has really changed and the care provision offered is actually under even greater threat and more insidious assault. When was the last you checked if your local hospital still has an A&E or Maternity unit?

Market principles still rule the Health Service, the wrong people still give impossible orders and profit handsomely from their ineptitude, the workers at the sharp end are still ignored and blamed, and ultimately it’s All Our Fault for letting ourselves be ill or injured, or old or incurably poor…

So why not pick up this slim book of scathing and deadly funny indictments and at least give an alternative treatment a shot. After all, isn’t laughter the best medicine?
© 1994, 2007 Donald Rooum and “Victoria N. Furmurry”. All Rights Reserved.

The Perishers Omnibus volume 1


By Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins (Daily Mirror Books)
ISBN: 0-85939-031-4

Although written almost entirely by Maurice Dodd throughout its 48-year history, the National Treasure that is (are? am?) The Perishers was actually created in 1957 by artist Dennis Collins, writer Bill Witham (who went on to huge success with uniquely innocent everyman Useless Eustace) and cartoon editor Bill Herbert.

The daily tribulations, ruminations, exploits and misadventures of a bunch of typical kids (for the latter half of the 20th century at least) was first published in the Manchester edition of the Daily Mirror in February 1958. but after only a couple of frankly mediocre months the wacky adventures of Maisie and Marlon were withdrawn and retooled.

Jack-of-all-trades, budding artist and advertising whiz-kid Dodd was then approached by ex-paratrooper service comrade and drinking buddy Herbert. The freelance designer jumped at the chance to reinvent the characters in what was a meandering but beautifully illustrated, all-ages feature simply stuffed with untapped potential.

Drawing on his own life (he would describe it as shamelessly pilfering), Dodd created a plethora of new characters, animal and human – although with this strip the distinctions are loose and hard to defend – and rescued an early 1958 casualty in the unkempt and ill-maintained person of laconic orphan and philosophical dilettante Wellington.

This bewildered and anxious symbol of the post-war era was a street urchin who lived on his wits but still attended school and endured all the daily trials and indignities of British youth.

Relaunched in October 1959 in the London and national editions, the revamped Perishers strip quickly caught on and became a morning mainstay for generations of Britons, blending slapstick and surreal comedy with naive charm, miniaturised modern romantic melodramas (Maisie loves Marlon, Marlon loves fashion and “inventing”, and Wellington loves sausages), liberally laced with sardonic cultural commentary – especially a continuing and wonderfully twisted faux misperception of contemporary politics and the burgeoning advertising and commercial media.

Even in its earliest days the strip was superbly illustrated, conjuring up in a few judicious lines and cannily applied grey tones a communal urban wonderland we all knew as kids: a familiar post-war wonderland of shops and streets, building sites and overpasses, alleys and parks and fields where we could get on with our adventures and no adults could interfere or spoil the fun. The unsavoury old git in me still hungers in absentia on behalf of the youth of today who will never experience such freedom without being labelled “neglected” …or possibly “feral”.

The major protagonists of the series are Wellington and Boot, his old English Sheepdog (sort of: the wily, hairy chancer and raconteur considers himself a Manorial Milord “sufferin’ under the curse of a Gypsy wench”). They are ably unsupported by the formidable Maisie, a thoroughly modern miss torn between her self-delusion (for the utterly non-existent) boy of her dreams); sweets, an unsurpassed capacity for greed and unrelenting violence and a tremendous unslaked passion the aforementioned Marlon, who she thinks is what she wants.

Cool, suave and debonair are just three of the many, many words Marlon doesn’t know the meaning of, but lots of the girls at school fancy him anyway. If he grows up he wants to be a brain surgeon or a bloke wot goes down sewers in great big gumboots…

Being on his own, Wellington takes every opportunity to support himself with sordid scavenging and shoddy schemes – usually involving selling poorly constructed carts and buggies to Marlon who has far more money than sense: to be honest Marlon has more noses than sense…

Maisie is a shy beautiful maiden waiting for her true beloved to sweep her off her feet – and if he doesn’t, she gives him a thorough bashing up and nicks his sweets…

Other unreasonable regulars introduced here include Baby Grumplin’ – Maisie’s toddler brother and a diabolical force of nature, Plain Jane – a girl who asks too many questions, and the dapper Fiscal Yere: smugly complacent go-getting son of a millionaire and another occasional sucker for Wellington’s automotive inexpertise. Kids like him are what made today’s world what it is…

On the anthropomorphic animal front the extremely erudite Boot regularly encounters stroppy ducks, militant squirrels, socialist revolutionaries Fred the Beetle and his long-suffering wife Ethel, Asiatic bloodhound journalist B.H. Calcutta (Failed) and, latterly, a nicotine-addicted caterpillar who stunted his growth and became Fred’s inseparable comrade in the struggle against canine oppression. The little Trot is also an implacable rival for any food or dog-ends the Bolshevistic bug might find…

Notable events in this madcap melange include: Wellington gentrifying out of the large concrete pipe that he used to live in to take up residence in an old railway station abandoned after the Beeching Cuts decimated the train infrastructure, and the first couple of kids-only, unaccompanied camping holidays to the seaside (such innocent times).

Here they encounter sun, surf and the rock-pool crabs who worship the uncannily canine “Eyeballs in the Sky” which annually manifest in their isolated “Pooliverse”…

Utterly English, fabulously fantastical and resoundingly working-class, the strip generated 30 collections between 1963-1990, 4 Big Little Books, 5 novels and 2 annuals as well as an audio record and an immensely successful animated TV series.

The tome under review here was released in 1974; the first of a series of extra-sized recapitulations, and containing most of the contents of the first four Perishers collections (covering 1959-1965). It superbly sets the scene for newcomers with a glorious extravaganza of enchanting fun and frolics, liberally annotated by Dodd himself.

Dennis Collins magnificently and hilariously illustrated the feature until his retirement in 1983, after which Dodd himself took up the pens and brushes.

Eventually artist Bill Melvin took over the art chores whilst Dodd scripted until his death in 2006. Once the backlog of material was exhausted The Perishers finished on June 10th 2006.

Soon after, The Mirror began reprinting classic sequences of the strip to the general approval of everyone, so perhaps it’s not too much to hope that eventually – or even SOON – all the classic collections will once more be freshly available to one and all – even if it’s only on that new-fangled, never-gonna-last interwebtoobs…

Quite frankly, it’s what we need and what I deserve…
© 1974 IPC Newspapers Limited.

THRRP!


By Leo Baxendale (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-051-3

Whilst tapping away at my keyboard, I’ve just heard on the radio (I’m real old school, me) that the irrepressible, irreplaceable Leo Baxendale passed away earlier this week. Thus, I’m postponing today’s posting to re-run this old saw. The book is still readily available and if you haven’t seen it you bloody well should.

Leo Baxendale was educated at Preston Catholic College, served in the RAF and was born on 27th October 1930, in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire – but not in that order. His first paid artistic efforts were drawing ads and cartoons for The Lancashire Evening Post but his life and the entire British comics scene changed in 1952 when he began freelancing for DC Thomson’s star weekly The Beano.

Leo took over moribund Lord Snooty and his Pals and created anarchically surreal strips Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Three Bears and When the Bell Rings – which metamorphosed into the legendary, lurgie-packed Bash Street Kids thereby altering the realities of millions of readers.

Baxendale also contributed heavily to the creation of The Beezer in 1956, after editorial and financial disputes, moved to the London-based Harmsworth conglomerate Odhams/Fleetway/IPC in 1962.

South of the border his humorous creations included Grimly Feendish, Sweeny Toddler, General Nitt and his Barmy Army, Bad Penny and a whole host of other sparkling oiks, yobs and weirdoes who made the “Power Comics” era such a joy to behold.

During the 1970s and 80s he foisted Willy the Kid on the world and created his own publishing imprint – Reaper Books. He also sued DCT for rights to his innovative inky inventions: a seven-year struggle that was eventually settled out of court.

Other notable graphic landmarks include his biography A Very Funny Business: 40 Years of Comics and I Love You, Baby Basil in The Guardian.

Leo was a one-of-a-kind, hugely influential and much-imitated master of pictorial comedy and noxious gross-out escapades whose work deeply affected (some would say warped) generations of British and Commonwealth kids. We’ll not see his like again.

I’ll return to him with a more considered appreciation later in the year, but for now why don’t you think about picking up THRRP!?

Released in 1987 this oversized (292 x 206 mm) softcover monochrome tome is something of a lost classic: a gloriously grotesque, pantomimic splurt-fest of broken winds, oozy organs, drippy bits and broad, basic belly-laughs which depends less on narrative convention than on warped-yet-timeless juvenile invention and forward progression to revel in the most lunatic slapstick ever to grace the music-hall or comic page.

Whilst not as groundbreaking as Plum, Minnie, or The Bash Street Kids nor as subversive as Wham, Smash and Pow creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, The Swots and the Blots or The Tiddlers, or indeed, as outlandish as George’s Germs or Sam’s Spook, nevertheless our premiering pulsating protagonist Spotty Dick and the stomach-churning, utterly repulsive inhabitants of Planet Urf unforgettably cavort through a cartoon-mire of silent adventures – like mimes made of mucus – in a manner no snotty, grotty school-kid of any age could resist.

An absolute treat from the absolute master of British tomfoolery. Let’s get this back in print now.
© 1987 Leo Baxendale. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero {with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Evil Cat’s cousin Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. With the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.