Lobey’s The Wee Boy! – Five Lobey Dosser adventures by Bud Neill


By Bud Neill, compiled by Ranald MacColl (Mainstream Publishing)
ISBN: 1-85158-405-6

Nobody’s ever accused me of being sensitive to the tone of the times, but with all thoughts directed north of the border for so long now, I’ve decided to feature this superbly unique dose of Celtic (more properly Glaswegian) cartoon magic today.

It’s the work of a tragically near-forgotten genius of pen and brush who should rightly be a household name wherever people like to laugh and ponder the absurdity of existence, no matter what flag they fly.

William Neill – forever immortalised as “Bud” – was born in 1911 in Partick just before the family moved to Troon in Ayrshire. He was a typical kid and fell in love with the brash wonder of silent movies – most especially the rambunctious westerns of William S. Hart.

His other great drive was a love of horses, and he could always be found hanging around stables, trading odd jobs for the chance of a few minutes’ riding.

After finishing school the young artistic star won a place at Glasgow School of Art. In the late 1930s Bud briefly emigrated, working in Canada and absorbing the tricks of America’s greatest newspaper cartoonists in their creative heyday.

He served as a gunner during WWII but was invalided out and became a bus driver. These experiences led to his creating a series of pocket cartoons starring the “Caurs & Clippies” of Glasgow’s tramcar system.

By 1944 Bud was drawing for the Glasgow Evening Times: sharp, wry observational pieces starring the city and its inhabitants, characterised by a devastating and instantly enchanting use of the iconic rhythms, vernacular and argot everyone shared.

In January 1949 The Evening News began running the uniquely surreal escapades of his greatest creation. Sheriff Lobey Dosser of Calton Creek was a brilliant inspiration: the adventures of a canny wee lawman in a hauntingly typical western town populated exclusively by Scots (from Glasgow’s Calton district, presumably) living an outrageously domestic, hilariously apt inner city life all whilst tricked out in cowboy hats and six-guns…

Delving deep into the venerable, anarchic and often surreal material of music hall and pantomime, Bud crafted a supremely odd, anachronistically familiar, bizarrely inviting world of solecism masquerading as local events. The series transferred to The Sunday Mail in 1956 where it became so popular that previous, complete strip adventures were collected in instant sell-out, one shilling landscape booklets (all incredibly sought after collectors’ items these days).

Neill died in 1970 but his work steadily continued to garner fans and acquire a mythical status, so by the middle of the decade Glasgow artist and sculptor Ranald MacColl began work on a biography.

That in turn led to a series of graphic collections such as this one and eventually belated recognition for Neill and his most memorable creations.

Bud was subsequently celebrated in exhibitions, galleries and, following Glasgow’s becoming European City of Culture in 1990, two separate bronze statues (Lobey, Rank Bajin and noble steed Elfie in Woodlands Road and, in Homecoming Year 2009, The G.I. Bride and her “Wean” at Partick Station), funded by public donations, Strathclyde Passenger Transport and private sponsors.

Hard to find but so worth the effort, Lobey’s The Wee Boy! gathers the contents of five of those shilling collections in a sensibly narrative chronological – not publication or even creation – order and is packed with informative extras such as MacColl’s fascinating historical and atmospheric Introduction and a hilarious Prologue by Bud himself from 1958, before the astonishing origin of the champion of Calton Creek is revealed in ‘Lobey Dosser: His Life Story’.

On a rare quiet day the grizzled sheriff recounts his early life to a jail full of impressionable young’uns…

Once upon a time in auld Glesca a mother had one bairn too many and the precocious tyke, to spare her further hardship, put his possessions in a hanky on a stick and headed off to make his way in the world.

Although only a few months old, he rejected being fostered out to his mean Auntie Mabel and joined a merchant ship under the tyrannical Captain Blackswite, unaware that the big shouty blackguard was a pirate…

After many exciting years at sea Lobey jumped ship and was befriended by cannibals and their erudite chief Hannibal which led to more exploring, meeting monsters and other strange things before encountering a race of Oxbridge-educated white savages and happily acquiring a rare two-legged horse.

El Fideldo was to become his greatest friend and inseparable companion. Together they made their way to Mexico where the wee wanderer discovered an unsuspected talent for upholding the law and keeping the peace. After cleaning out a nest of vicious banditos the restless pair headed north and soon fetched up in Laredo, Texas where a disastrous love affair with Adoda, formidable daughter of wealthy Whisk E. Glorr, led to a clash with rustlers led by scurrilous Watts Koakin

His heart broken – even though he had cleaned up the range – Dosser and Elfie kept heading west until they reached Arizona and first met future arch-nemesis Rank Bajin selling out the wagon train he was guiding to the local Sioux…

Rescuing the embattled settlers, Lobey decided to stay with the Scots expats as they built a town in the wilderness.  They called it Calton Creek…

Wild, imaginative and with every daily episode loaded with sight gags, striking slapstick, punishing puns, cartoon in-jokes and intoxicating vernacular, each Lobey Dosser tale was a non-stop carnival of graphic mirth and this terrific tome continues in fine fettle with ‘The Mail Robbery’ wherein nefarious Bajin attempts to incite an Indian uprising amongst the Pawnee of Chief Toffy Teeth and leaves the little lawman to die of thirst in the searing deserts. As the scorched sheriff struggles to survive, the naïve citizens are left to adapt to a protective occupation by flash Yankee G.I.s and airmen…

Sardonic and satirically cutting, the yarn also sports one of the best – and daftest – horseback chases in entertainment history…

Romance and mystery abound in ‘The Secret of Hickory Hollow’ as that Bajin scoundrel buys up the mortgage on Vinegar Hill’s farm and tries to kick out the old coot and his substantial niece Honey Perz. The villain has got wind of a mineral resource on the property that would make a man as wealthy as the Maharaja of Baroda, or perhaps even a regional Deputy Superintendent of the Coal Board…

When Lobey organises the cash needed to pay off the outstanding loan, Bajin reluctantly resorts to the last resort and begins romancing sweet, innocent, hulking Honey…

It all looks bleak for justice until the sheriff befriends an astoundingly good-looking and wholesome uranium prospector named Hart O’Gold who quickly tickles Honey’s fickle fancy…

However nobody – including ghostly guardian Rid Skwerr – is prepared for the soviet spies behind the entire affair to jump in take over and it needs the timely intervention of mystic imp Fairy Nuff to save their accumulated hash before the Dosser can finally expose the viper in the nest…

The local natives are always up to mischief and ‘The Indian War’ kicks off when the railroad tries to lay track through Pawnee Territory just as Chief Rubber Lugs of the Blackfeet Tribe revisits an old and outstanding grudge with Chief Toffy Teeth.

The ineffectual Captain Goodenough arrives with a division of cavalry to safeguard the white citizenry but matters soon worsen, painfully exacerbated when the folk of Calton Creek take advantage of Lobey’s absence (he’s trying to negotiate with both bunches of bellicose braves) to run Rank Bajin out of town and the hooded hoodlum starts freely peddling weapons to both sides…

…And then Bajin kills Lobey and takes over the town.

…And then…

The last yarn in this monochrome tome of tall tales is the most incredible of all as ‘The “Reform” of Rank Bajin’ sees the vile villain scooting around Calton Creek doing good deeds and selling off his astounding arsenal of wicked weapons and cunning contraband. Baffled, perplexed, confused and not sure what’s going on, Lobey asks Boot Hill haunter Rid Skwerr to spy on the no-longer reprehensible Rank and even love-struck Fairy Nuff gets in on the act.

The astounding truth finally emerges: Bajin has a boy who is growing up honest, so he is selling up and returning to the family he deserted in Borstal Bluffs, Iowa to sort the shameful lad out. Knowing the tremendous vacuum his absence will leave in Calton’s exciting landscape, however, he has a recommendation for a locum arch-enemy for his arch-enemy…

Can this possibly all be true or is the beastly Bajin executing his most sinister scheme yet?

Cunningly absurdist, socially aware, humorously harnessed insanity in the manner of Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and the immortal Goon Show, the adventures of Lobey Dosser are a brilliant example of comic strips perfectly tailored to a specific time, place and audience which magically transcend their origins to become a masterpiece of the art form.

It’s also side-splitting, laugh-out-loud, Irn Bru spit-take hilarious and really needs to be recollected for today’s audiences.

And of course that’s what I really want: a complete reprinting of these sublimely perfect spoofs.

And once you read some so will you…
© Ranald MacColl 1992. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat book 01


By James Turner (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-06-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Every issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, 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 astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost (in this country at least), old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

One of the wildest rides in the amazing anthology is Space Cat by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve). The strip began in issue #0 and has been popping back ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, featuring the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, an inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie dubbed The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half cat, half spaceship. What more do you need to know?

If you could think of something it would probably be answered by the astoundingly accurate Space Table of Space Contents, or the brilliant and informative cartoon cutaway and info-blurb page which reveals all the interior secrets of the mighty moggy cosmic craft and its motley crew in ‘Welcome Aboard the Star Cat’

With introductions over and readers up to speed, the wild rides begins with ‘Star Cat’ wherein the team are contacted by Chicken-with-a-mission The Space Mayor who tasks the solar swashbucklers with recapturing escaped felon Dark Rectangle before the two-dimensional tyrant can rob the Space Bank, a task only completed through sheer dumb luck and the Ginger rocket’s uncurbed predilection for Space Mice

The sinister shape of Dark Rectangle is next seen menacing the lost planet of Inflatia where his plans to deflate the universe are foiled by the team who have mistakenly fetched up there in search of critical stores on what they think is the Ice Cream Planet in ‘The Big Let Down’ after which ‘Nub’ sees the Star Cat ferrying the cutest, most endangered creatures in the galaxy – Nubchicks – to the safety of the Space Zoo.

Unfortunately that planar potentate Dark Rectangle needs the little darlings to power his new Universe Bomb…

When a number of planets are mysteriously drained of all energy, the Space Mayor has no choice but to assign Captain Spaceington and his substandard star warriors to the case, forcing Robot One to pit his transistorised wits against ‘The Horror of Mecha Dracula’, whilst in ‘The Art of Robbery’ the nefarious Rob-Ot’s scheme to swipe the Moona Lisa from the Space Museum of Space Art is foiled by the hapless stupidity of ever-hungry Plixx…

The mis-educated Science Officer’s addiction to cake also wrecks the space/time continuum and ticks off God after she messes up a chronal experiment with a ‘Turnip in Time’ before the good ship Star Cat is invaded by the wicked shapeshifting menace known as ‘The Thingy’ after which a mission to the far edge of space brings them all into contact with a most unpleasant omnipotent entity who tests our weird wanderers – and by extension our entire civilisation – with ‘Incorporeal Punishment’

‘With Friends Like These, Who Needs a Nemesis?’ sees the return of Dark Rectangle when the sorely lacking Spaceington finds his ship and crew requisitioned by the obnoxious, insufferably perfect Captain Starblaze “the Bravest Captain in all of Space”.

Surely it’s not jealousy that makes Spaceington attempt to sabotage his rival’s top secret mission?

Saving the best for last, this stellar saga concludes with a mercy mission that goes awry when the monumental moggy take a shortcut through the Spooky Quadrant and the crew unwisely clash with a ghastly Space Vampyr in ‘Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself (But Fear is Really, Really Scary)…’

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat is a spectacularly hilarious comic treat: surreal, ingenious, wildly infectious fun. No pet owner, comedy connoisseur or lover of the Wild Black Yonder could afford to miss this brilliant cartoon cat treat.
Text and illustrations © James Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents Long Gone Don Book 1: The Monstrous Underworld


By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-04-9

Kids love to be scared and they thrive on imaginative adventure, especially if it comes liberally dosed with oodles of wry sardonic comedy. Such being the case it’s quite understandable how Long Gone Don came to be such a popular and enduring feature of British comics phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run almost continuously from the first issue.

Since 2012 David Fickling Books have published a traditional weekly anthology comic for girls and boys which has successfully restored the glorious heyday of picture-story entertainment; embracing the full force of modernity whilst telling old-fashioned fun and thrilling stories.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, puzzles and educational strips and material in an exultation of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the people who really matter – the utterly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons…

As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past efforts have included Malcolm Magic and Yore (in The Dandy), Monkey Nuts, Baggage and the brilliant puzzle-venturer Von Doogan – this thrilling and hilarious spooky romp stars unlucky Don Skelton, whose proper history doesn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances leave the hapless schoolboy dead in a bowl of Oxtail Soup…

From there it’s a quick and disorienting drop into the netherest of Nether Regions where the bewildered waif discovers his unruly hair has turned milk-white and the fantastic, green-sanded landscape is dotted with familiar objects expanded to most unlikely proportions…

No sooner has he struggled out of the colossal bowl he’s splashed down into than Don is taken under the scabby wing of a rather lugubrious and excitable crow with an outrageous Spanish accent who tries to explain the unlikely situation to the stunned and incredulous lad…

Moreover the antsy avian – one Castanet, by name – strongly stresses the sense of urgency needed to get off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian means of expiration tend to land with a crash every moment…

Having safely escorted the newcomer away from the region of plummeting dooms, Castanet then begins his introduction to the bizarre afterlife by taking Don to the chaotic pit of trouble dubbed Broilerdoom (“Afterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifying”) where they are promptly robbed and forced to participate in a rigged election.

Don, however, manages to vote for the wrong guy, instantly setting off citywide alarms and immediately earning the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spode and his unctuous assistant Valush, if not the supreme dictator’s glamorous but bored consort Regina

Soon boy and bird are being hotly pursued through the grotty avenues and alleyways by the demonic yet incompetent soldiery but are only saved when an even bigger and scarier monster called Lewd makes his terrifying entrance.

The giant outlaw and his agile assistant Safina are no fans of Spode and, after duffing up the militia, take the fugitives deep into the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville where they can catch their breath in relative safety…

Their current base is an inn of iniquity named The Demon Drink where, between brawls, the outlaws give Don a quick lesson in post-life geography and geopolitics. He soon learns his companions are more rebels than rogues and have taken his miscast vote as a sign to strike against the despotic General. Don then meets the freedom fighters’ inside agent…

Seen as catalysts for change, Don and Castanet are despatched to coax the city’s Great Hero Ripley out of retirement. The person Don mistakenly voted for has become a celebrity gardener and has no intention of facing Spode again but he does suggest another potential candidate and rallying point for the masses…

Soon the entire under region is aflame with unrest and rebellion and Don has made the acquaintance of one of the underworld’s most incredible and awe-inspiring entities whilst turning said underworld upside down…

Rocket-paced, spectacular, absorbing and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is conceived and rendered in a gorgeous, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.

Fast, fun and funny, Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights can afford to miss.

Text © Robin Etherington, 2014. Illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington, 2014. All rights reserved.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk

The Phoenix Presents Gary’s Garden book 1


By Gary Northfield (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-09-4

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Every issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, 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 astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was recently voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost (in this country at least), old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

Two of them – Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey and Bunny vs. Monkey – were selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which began on July 12th): the first comic-books ever to have featured on the organisation’s Summer Reading Challenge List.

One of the most rewarding and captivating strips in the comic is marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure Gary’s Garden, crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs).

It is the fourth fabulous release to assuredly delight and enchant young an old alike…

The premise is beguilingly simple and utterly addictive: laggard grown-up Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in #2, and this initial collection opens with ‘Chompy’, a rather irascible, over- imaginative but under-achieving caterpillar who here has to set straight a worm with delusions of grandeur…

‘Practice Makes Perfect!’ then peeps in on an artistically pompous spider who makes his enwrapped prey all play in his make-shift orchestra whilst an old worm whinges about the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ in the apples adjacent to his, after which ‘Spring Clean!’ sees the obnoxious garden birds wreak playful havoc with Gary’s socks and smalls as they dry on the washing line…

‘Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle!’ reveals the inner dreamer of an action hero inside a little spotty bug, whilst manic squirrel Rupert kicks into overdrive in ‘Acorn Antics’ when his prospective winter larder is endangered by strong winds and vegetarian mole Thelma. Absolutely no semblance of sanity then returns as the ever-vigilant birds raid Gary’s larder for junk food after suffering a ‘Snack Attack!’

In the pond, slow and sure Jennifer watches with poignant regret as all the tads grow their ‘First Legs’ and rush off pell-mell to join the metaphorical rat-race whilst in ‘Hide and Peek’ readers get a brilliant lesson in camouflage from a leaf bug, a butterfly and a stick…

Clearly a devotee of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Northfield then wryly spoofs the Barsoomian Chronicles, when, in a moment of inspired madness we are introduced to ‘John Ladybird, of Mars’ as the self-appointed explorer crosses dimensions, vast gulfs and a garden trampoline for the journey of a lifetime.

Sadly, Chompy is not the most appreciative of audiences for such tales of wonder…

Birds are not the kindest of characters, but they’re not as dangerous as next door’s cat. Happily ‘Podgy Pigeon’ is smart enough to make fools of them all before heroic night stalkers ‘Boris & Monroe’ enter the picture.

The fox is a veteran ninja of darkness and only occasionally wonders if he was wise to take on excitable hedgehog Monroe as his apprentice…

‘Dream On, Chompy!’ finds our voracious idiot trying to rush nature in his eagerness to join his winged brothers in the sky, whilst an elderly spider tries – and generally fails – to remind everyone to take things easily in ‘“Mornin’ Henry!”’ after which frustrated country music star ‘Terrance the Snail’ makes his noisy debut and Jennifer in the pond makes a disturbing self-discovery in ‘Last Legs’

‘Ronald the Spider’ reveals his tap dancing gifts to a literally captive audience before it’s Flash Gordon’s a turn for a bit of leg pulling – all six of them – in ‘Zarpovia! Pt 1’ when Professor Ladybird Zarpov discovers an incredible alien world teeming with incomprehensibly strange life in Gary’s front room…

Recruiting bold adventurers Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle and John Ladybird of Mars, the trio explore the glass-sided universe in the astounding ‘Zarpovia! Pt 2’, before those masters of darkness return in ‘Boris & Monroe: Bagsie Me First’, to prove that foolhardy bravery and astonishing agility are no substitute for a little caution…

There’s acrimony and dissent at a ‘Camouflage Club’ meeting, leading to a breakaway movement, but in the interim Gary gets a barracking from the birds in ‘Nice Hat’ and wily Humphrey Housefly lives another day after two ‘Grumpy Spiders’ can’t decide on who should eat him.

The splinter group ‘Mimicry Club’ barely survives its first meeting when mickey-taking poseurs gatecrash the event, after which sensitive Ladybird Melissa develops an abiding but unhealthy affection for the coldly distant, stoic ‘Mr Leaf’ to bring a close to our beastly cabaret.

But don’t fret because there’s one last treat in store. ‘Gary’s Garden: Top Chumps’ provides 34 fascinating pictorial Score Cards (also available as free printable download pages), revealing all the silly secrets and dreams of the quirkily quotidian cast.

The Phoenix Presents… Gary’s Garden is a truly laugh-out-loud comic treat: madcap, endearing and absurdly hilarious. Don’t miss out on the perfect opportunity to get back to – or get back at – Nature by…

Text and illustrations © Gary Northfield 2014. All rights reserved.

The Reading Agency is a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read 6 books during the summer holiday.

Children can read whatever they like just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Every time children finish a book they get stickers and rewards and there’s a certificate for everyone who finishes. The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all school children and is designed for all reading abilities.

Visit www.readingagency.org.uk
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk.

The Phoenix Presents How to Make Awesome Comics (With Professor Panels & Art Monkey!)


By Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-03-2

Ah, Summer Holidays!

Are your kids driving you crazy yet?

I haven’t covered a “How To” book for ages and as this one’s entertaining, wonderfully fit for purpose, cheap and readily available there’s clearly no time like the present. This new release would well serve any budding artists and storytellers and will keep idle hands and minds amused, absorbed and entertained for hours…

There are a host of books, both academic and/or instructional, designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives. There are precious few that do it with as much style, enthusiasm and cunning craft as this beguiling release from Neill Cameron under the all-ages aegis of The Phoenix.

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming anthology comic weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, 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 astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was recently voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun.

The publishers are also a fantastically inclusive bunch, always eager to get kids involved. ‘How to Make Awesome Comics’ by Neill Cameron has featured intermittently since issue #0, offering enticing insights and practical tips through the auspices of the know-it-all Professor Panels and his long-suffering collaborator Art Monkey.

Now as part of the company’s new line of graphic albums those invaluable observations and exercises have been superbly repackaged into a lexicon of hands-on instruction: a not-so-serious foundation course in cartoon wonder-making no aspiring comicbook genius can afford to be without.

Broken down into 21 easily assimilated lessons the book also makes full use of modern technologies, with exercises, cartoon cheats and spare drawing pages all downloadable from the internet.

Leaping straight in the tuition opens in Chapter 1 with Lessons 1 and 2: Anyone Can Make Awesome Comics and Awesome Comics can be about Anything; offering education from the Prof ranging from stick-figure first-concepts to fully inked and coloured final work, augmented by chances to create your own strips in the first of many Art Monkey Challenges.

Chapter 2 covers Lessons 3 through 6 and How to Have Awesome Ideas, How to Have Awesomer Ideas, How to Have Awesomest Ideas and ends with a treatise on Real Life Awesome (biographical comics) all accompanied by Art Monkey Challenges of increasing fun and complexity…

With the work-philosophy fully engaged, Chapter 3 then focuses on the basics with How Awesome Comics Work, How to Make Funny Comics Which are Awesome and some sound lettering tips in Awesome Words + Awesome Pictures before a welcome pause in which students can peruse a batch of bonus comic strips such as ‘Mecha Monkey Meltdown’, ‘Triceracop’, ‘Kung Fu Banana Squad’ and more…

Returning to learning, Chapter 4 deals with How to Draw Anything Awesomely, How to Draw Cartoons Awesomely, How to Draw Awesome Faces, How to Draw Awesome Robots, How to Draw Awesome Pirates and, of course How to Draw Awesome Monsters.

The truly important stuff is covered in Chapter 5 with How to Tell Awesome Stories, How to Create Awesome Heroes, How to Create Awesome Villains, Creating Awesome Drama and culminating with the big secret, Awesome Endings

Finally the practicalities of production and dissemination are revealed in Chapter 6 with How to Make Your Very Own Comics (…Which are Awesome), covering such arcane but crucial topics as folding, pagination and layout, copying and reproduction and getting your work into the hands of your readers…

Packed with superb examples, handy breakdown & layout tips, lots of practical exercises and offering tons of cool ideas plus a library of inspirational examples, this magical primer even includes a wealth of Awesome Appendices comprising a gallery of stock characters, Cool Robot Accessories, an Inventory of Pirate Moustachery, How to Draw Dinosaurs, Creepy Creatures and Penguins – all Step-by-Step – and ending with More Fun Comics and Pinups for the now-adept student to complete…

This bright and breezy album perfectly highlights all the core skills necessary to crafting picture-stories and cleverly doses them with an aura of rambunctious, addictive fun. With such a boost how can any prospective or neophyte storyteller fail to be galvanised into making their own magic?

Brilliantly colourful and with clear concise instructions covering the undeniable basics that every artist of any age needs to master, this book is an indispensable aid and a tremendously inspiring introduction for the aspiring Artist of Tomorrow.

Text and illustrations © 2014 Neill Cameron. All rights reserved.

Charley’s War – A Boy Soldier in the Great War


By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-914-8

When Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun began their tale of an impressionable lad who joins up just in time to fight in the disastrous Somme campaign, I suspect they had, as usual, the best of authorial intentions but no real idea that this time they were creating sheer comicstrip magic.

As affirmed in Neil Emery’s splendid appreciation ‘Into Battle: a Chronology of Charley’s War’, the landmark feature was originally published in British war anthology Battle (AKA Battle Picture Weekly, Battle Action etc.). A surprise hit, the serial launched in issue #200, running from 6th January 1979 until October of 1986.

It recounted, usually in heartrending and harrowing detail and with astounding passion for a Boys’ Periodical, the life of an East-End kid who lied about his age to enlist with the British Army reinforcements setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

The stunning strip contingent contained within this superb Omnibus edition – 86 weekly episodes in all – form one of the most powerful and influential characterisations of the oh-so-ironic “war to end all wars”, touching upon many diverse aspects of the conflict and even the effects on the Home Front, all delivered with a devastatingly understated dry sense of horror and injustice and frequently leavened with gallows humour as trenchant as that legendarily “enjoyed” by the poor trench-bound “Tommies” of the time.

Before the tale commences however there are also a brace of educational and informative features to enhance the experience ‘Landships: the Evolution of the Tank’ by Steve White and a wonderful glimpse into the mind of that sublime and much-missed illustrator courtesy of  ‘Joe Colquhoun in Conversation’ by Stephen Oldman.

This magnificent monochrome mega-compilation opens with a 4-page instalment (for much of the middle run the series came in 3-page episodes) ‘Charley’s War – the Story of a Soldier in World War One’ which followed 16-year-old London Bus Company worker Charley Bourne as he eagerly enlisted and so-quickly graduated to the unending, enduring horrors of the muddy, blood-soaked battlefield of The Somme.

Military life was notoriously hard and unremittingly dull… except for those brief bursts of manic aggression and strategic stupidity which ended so many lives. Closely following the recorded course of the war, Mills & Colquhoun put young Charley in the Westshire Regiment and showed a rapidly changing cast being constantly whittled away by various modes of combat attrition.

The weekly hell showed lesser-known, far from glorious sides of the conflict that readers in the 1970s and 1980s had never seen in any other war comic. Each strip was cunningly punctuated and elucidated by the telling narrative device of the simple lad’s letters to his family in “Blighty” and also cleverly utilised reproductions of cartoons and postcards from the period.

With Boer War veteran Ole Bill Tozer as his mentor Charley narrowly survives shelling, mudslides, digging details, gas attacks, the trench cat, snipers, the callous stupidity of his own commanding officers – although there are examples of good officers too – and the far too often insane absurdity of a modern soldier’s life.

Slowly but irrevocably the callow, naïve boy became a solid, dependable warrior – albeit one with a nose for trouble and a blessed gift for lucky escapes.

When Tozer leads a party across No-Man’s Land to capture prisoners for interrogation new pal Ginger sustains a frankly hilarious wound in his nether regions. But as a result, and despite the sortie establishing the inadvisability of an attack, the Allied Commanders continue their plans for a Big Push. Thus Charlie is confronted with an agonising moral dilemma when he catches a comrade trying to wound himself and get sent home before the balloon goes up.

This time, grim fate intervenes before the boy soldier can make a terrible choice…

The unit’s troubles increase exponentially when arrogant, ruthless aristocrat Lieutenant Snell arrives; constantly undermining and sabotaging every effort by sympathetic officer Lieutenant Thomas to make the riffraff cannon fodder’s lives tolerable. The self-serving toff takes a personal dislike to Charley after the lad drops his huge picnic hamper in the trench mud…

On July 1st 1916 The Battle of the Somme began and, like so many others, Charley and his comrades are ordered “over the top” and expected to walk steadily into the mortars and machine gun fire of the entrenched German defenders. Thomas, unable to stand the stupidity, cracks and commands them to charge at a run. It saves his squad but lands his men in a fully-manned German dug-out…

After ferocious fighting the lads gain a brief respite but the retreating Huns have left insidious booby-traps to entice them. Many beloved characters die before Charley, Ginger and poor shell-shocked Lonely are finally captured by “the Boche”.

As they await their fate the traumatised veteran reveals to Ginger and Charley the horrific events of the previous Christmas and why he so wants to die. Moreover the sole cause of that appalling atrocity was the same Snell who now commands their own unit…

Through Charley’s dumb luck they escape, only to blunder into a gas attack and British Cavalry. The mounted men then gallop off to meet stern German resistance (resulting in some of the most baroque and disturbing scenes ever depicted in kids comics) whilst Bourne and Co. are miraculously reunited with their comrades.

The combat carnage has not ceased however. Waiting for the order to attack, Lt. Thomas and his hard-pressed men are suddenly subjected to a terrific barrage. With horror the officer realises they are being shelled by their own big guns and dispatches a runner to Snell who has a functioning line to Allied HQ.

The role of messenger was the most dangerous in the army but, with no other means of communication except written orders and requests, failure to get through was never acceptable. By the time Charley volunteers a dozen men have failed. With British shells still slaughtering British troops Bourne is determined to pushing his luck as the “thirteenth runner”…

As previously stated Charley’s War closely followed key events of the war, using them as a road map or skeleton to hang specific incidents upon, but this was not the strip’s only innovation. The highly detailed research concentrated more on the characters than the fighting – although there was still plenty of heartrending action – and declared to the readership (which at the time of original publication were categorically assumed to be boys between ages 9-13) that “our side” could be as monstrous as the “bad guys”.

Mills also fully exercised his own political and creative agendas on the series and was always amazed at what he got away with and what seeming trivialities his editors pulled him up on (more fully expanded upon in the author’s informative ‘Strip Commentary’ which concludes this Omnibus edition)…

With the Thirteenth Runner storyline, likable everyman Charley Bourne slowly began his descent from fresh-faced innocent to weary, battle-scarred veteran as the war reached beyond the cataclysmic opening moves of the Somme Campaign and into the conflict’s most bloody events.

Frantically making his way to the rear positions Charley successfully passes the fallen twelve runners but only encounters more officer arrogance and Professional Soldier stupidity before the battle ends. Snell refuses to even read the message until he has finished his tea…

Helpless before the aristocrat’s indifference Charley angrily returns to the Front. Finding everybody apparently dead, he snaps: reduced to a killing rage he is only dragged back to normal when Ginger, Smith Seventy and the Sarge emerge from a shattered support trench.

The lad’s joy is short-lived. Thomas is arrested for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy, and with him gone Snell now commands the unit of despicable disposable commoners…

Removed to the Rear to have their wounds treated, Charley and his pals meet Weeper Watkins. The former ventriloquist cries permanently. His eyes have been ruined by exposure to poison gas but he is still considered fit for duty…

Soon however they all fall foul of sadistic military policeman Sergeant Bacon who has earned his nickname as “the Beast” over and over again…

With a chance to blow off steam – such as a hilarious volunteer Concert Party show – Charley and Weeper are soon in the Beast’s bad books. However his first attempt to beat and break Bourne goes badly awry when a couple of rowdy Australian soldiers join the fray and utterly humiliate the Red Cap.

Bullies are notoriously patient and Bacon’s turn comes at last when Lt. Thomas is found guilty. Charley and Weeper refuse to be part of the firing squad which executes him and are punished by a military tribunal, leaving them at the Beast’s non-existent mercy. Enduring savage battlefield punishments which include a uniquely cruel form of crucifixion, their suffering only ends when the base is strafed by German aircraft…

With sentence served and Bacon gone, Charley is soon back in the trenches, just in time for the introduction of Tank Warfare to change the world forever.

A fascinating aspect of the battle is highlighted here as the strip concentrates heavily upon the German reaction to this military innovation. The Central Powers considered the tank to be an atrocity weapon in just the same way that modern soldiers do chemical and biological weapons.

In the build-up to the Big Push Charley is singled out by a new replacement. Unctuous Oliver Crawleigh is a cowardly spiv and petty criminal, but he’s also married to Charley’s sister Dolly. The chancer ignobly attaches himself to the young veteran like a leech, offering to pay Charley to either protect him or wound him some minor way which will get “Oiley” safely back to Britain…

The next day the Empire’s new landships make their terrifying debut with army infantry in close support and the effect on the Germans is astounding. In a ferociously gripping extended sequence Mills & Colquhoun take the readers inside the hellish iron leviathans as the outraged Huns devote their manic utmost efforts into eradicating the titanic terrors.

The carnage is unspeakable but before long Charley, Oiley and Smith Seventy are inside one of the lumbering behemoths, reluctantly replacing the dead crew of clearly deranged tank man Wild Eyes as the modern-day Captain Ahab drags them along for the ride: seeking a madman’s redemption for the loss of his comrades, the slaughter of a town and destruction of a church…

In the quiet of the weary aftermath Oiley deliberately puts his foot under a tank to “get a Blighty” (a wound sufficiently serous to be sent home to England) and attempts to bribe Charley into silence. The disgusted, exhausted teenager makes him eat his filthy money…

During this lull in the fighting, events on the German side saw despised commoner and Eastern Front veteran Colonel Zeiss spurn his aristocratic Junker colleagues’ outdated notions and devise a new kind of Total Warfare to punish the British for their use of mechanised murder machines…

Charley meanwhile is wounded and his comrades celebrate the fact that he will soon be home safely. Naturally, things are never that simple and the callous indifference of the army medical contingent – especially the notorious “Doctor No”, who never lets a man escape his duty – means that any soldier still able to pull a trigger is sent back into battle.

Bourne returns to the trenches just in time to meet the first wave of Zeiss’ merciless “Judgement Troops”, who stormed the British lines, slaughtering everyone – including German soldiers who got in the way – in a savage, no-holds-barred assault, whose “Blitzkreig tactics” overwhelm everything in the path.

Charley and his mates experience fresh horrors: battlefield executions, new and experimental forms of poison gas, flamethrowers, strafing by steel javelins and brutal, uncompromising hand-to-hand combat in their own overrun trenches before the bloody battle peters out indecisively…

Zeiss is subsequently cashiered by his own appalled superiors, but knows that one day his concepts of Blitzkrieg and Total War will become the norm…

Exhausted, battle-weary Charley is again injured, losing his identification in the process and returned eventually to England as a shell-shocked temporary amnesiac. His mother undergoes slow torture as she receives telegrams declaring her son, missing, dead, found wounded and lost again…

Mills & Colquhoun now begin a masterful sequence that breaks all the rules of war comic fiction; switching the emphasis to the Home Front where Charley’s family are mourning his apparent death and working in the war industries, just as the German Zeppelin raids on British cities are beginning.

Mills’ acerbic social criticism makes powerful use of history as the recovering hero experiences the trials of submarine warfare, when the troop ship carrying him and Bill Tozer back to Blighty is torpedoed…

When their perilous North Sea odyssey at last brings Charley back to Silvertown in London’s West Ham, it is in the wake of a catastrophic disaster in which fifty tons of TNT exploded at a munitions factory, killing more than seventy workers and injuring a further four hundred…

No longer comfortable around civilians and with no stomach for the jingoistic nonsense of the stay-at-homes or the covert criminal endeavours of boastful “war-hero” (and secret looter) Oiley, Charley hangs out in pubs with the Sarge and thereby reconnects with old soak and Crimean War survivor Blind Bob

London is a city under constant threat, not just from greedy munitions magnates who care more for profit than the safety of their workers or even the victory of their homeland, but also increasingly common aerial bombing raids which provoke mindless panic and destruction at the very heart of the British Empire.

Focus here divides as Charley’s days are contrasted with the zealous mission of devoted family man Kapitan Heinrich von Bergmann who leads his squadron of Zeppelins in a carefully calculated night sortie against the hated English…

When Blind Bill is evicted from his rooms Charley invites him to stay with the Bournes and the beggar’s incredible hearing (coupled with the area’s quaint air-raid listening devices) provides enough warning to seal Bergmann’s doom, but not before the airman has rained tons of explosive death on the capital…

During the bombing Charley discovers his mum is still toiling in the local munitions works. The exploitative owner has decided not to sound his air raid evacuation alarm as he has his profits and contracts to consider. Charley is not happy and dashes to get her out…

This stunning collection ends with a sharp jab at the dubious practices of British recruitment officers (who got bonuses for very volunteer they signed up) as Charley stops his extremely little brother Wilf from making the same mistake he did, and teaches the unscrupulous recruiter a much deserved lesson

To Be Continued…

Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium and exists as shining example of how good “Children’s Comics” can be. It is also one of the most powerful pieces of fiction ever produced for readers of any age.

I know of no anti-war story that is as gripping, as engaging and as engrossing, no strip that so successfully transcends its mass-market, popular culture roots to become a landmark of fictive brilliance. We can only thank our lucky stars that no Hollywood hack has made it a blockbuster which would inescapably undercut the tangibility of the “heroes” whilst debasing the message.

There is nothing quite like it and you are diminished by not reading it.

© 2004 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Charley’s War: A Boy Soldier in the Great War is published on August 8th 2014.

The Beano and The Dandy: Favourites from the Forties


By many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-821-0

As we’re all feeling a wee bit Caledonian at present, I thought I’d take a look at some of Scotland’s greatest achievements whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…

Released in 2003 as part of the DC Thomson’s Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations for their children’s periodicals division – which has more than any other shaped the psyche of generations of kids – this splendid oversized (296 x 204mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history.

Admittedly the book goes through some rather elaborate editing and paste-up additions whilst editorially explaining for younger readers the vast changes to the commonplace that have occurred over more than half a century, and naturally the editors have expurgated a few of the more egregious terms that wouldn’t sit well with 21st century sensibilities (Mussolini lampoon Musso the Wop becomes the far-less ethnically unsound “Musso” for instance) but otherwise this is a superb cartoon commemoration of one of the greatest morale-building initiatives this nation ever enjoyed.

They’re also superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937 The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A huge success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938 – and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers, and the end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

This superb celebration of Celtic creativity is packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips. The fun starts on the inside front with a wonderful Biffo the Bear exploit, illustrated by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins, followed by Korky the Cat by James Crichton and a listing of ‘Forty from the 40’s’ before the vintage fun properly proceeds, sensibly sub-divided into themed chapters.

Sadly none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but as always I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

Then and Now offers a smart selection of comparisons to life in the past compared to the 21st century with hilarious examples and contributions from Lord Snooty – by the incredibly prolific Watkins – cowboy superman Desperate Dan at the doctor’s, ostrich antics with Big Eggo by Crichton (or perhaps Reg Carter), lady Wild West sheriff Ding-Dong Belle from Bill Holroyd and a glimpse at primitive fast-food courtesy of Dandy’s Bamboo Town duo Bongo and Pongo limned by Charlie Gordon.

There’s more medical mirth with Desperate Dan, wash day blues with Mickey’s Magic Book (Crichton?) and a prose yarn pinpointing the funnier points of the class war in The Slapdash Circus – with a stirring illustration by Toby Baines – before Charlie Chutney the Comical Cook (Allan Morley) plays pie-man and Watkins produces another Biffo blast.

Next comes The Horse That Jack Built, a rousing medieval adventure yarn starring a clockwork charger by Holroyd, before the chapter concludes in another Desperate Dan fable about messing around growing vegetables…

Entertainment then explores how fun was had in the war years – i.e. before television – beginning with a phonographic Korky yarn and the first fine example of licensed film feature Our Gang illustrated by that man Watkins.

The Our Gang (later known as Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple. The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (he directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell Comics in the USA released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of short tales that elevated the lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Long before then, however (1937 and The Dandy #1, in fact), DC Thomson secured the British rights and produced their own uniquely home-grown weekly escapades of Alfalfa Switzer, Scotty Becket, Spanky McFarland, Darla Hood, Buckwheat Thomas and the rest, such as the quirky keep-fit frolic here…

Desperate Dan then endured some cool radio fun with Aunt Aggie, Keyhole Kate (Allan Morley) had trouble with a magic Lantern show, and Biffo’s juggling act brought nothing but pain and strife.

As depicted by the wonderful Eric Roberts, Podge found drumming was unwelcome around the village and the not-so-wild animals of Bamboo Town struck up – and out – the band, after which both Biffo and Korky suffered terribly for their R-and-R.

Posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz (Charles Holt) comes a-cropper in a brace of telling tales after which the aforementioned dictator of Italy is mercilessly lambasted in a cruel quartet of Musso strips by Sam Fair, Charlie Chutney bakes to excess, Our Gang take vengeance on a bullying boxer and Podge foils a bunch of schoolboy cheats.

How the daily travails of conflict were relieved is examined in Wartime 1 with Jimmy and his Magic Patch (Watkins) accidentally visiting bellicose Lilliput, Lord Snooty’s pals battling a Nazi spy and his pigeons whilst barmy barber Hair Oil Hal (by John Brown) cuts up in a clever quartet.

Sam Fair was in excoriating top form with the superbly manic Addie and Hermy slapstick assaults on Adolf Hitler and HermannWilhelm Göring/Goering, Meddlesome Matty (Fair or Malcolm Judge?) becomes a different sort of siren and Mickey’s Magic Book proves more hindrance than help during an air raid…

The complex world of Fashion begins with a plethoraof Korky on parade, Beano’s Ding-Dong Belle offered some six-gun hints on good manners, Doubting Thomas by Roberts was overwhelmed by a shop dummy and Meddlesome Matty went shoe shopping… for a horse…

Pansy Potter, the Strongman’s Daughter by Hugh McNeil was legendary for her unique looks – as seen in three strips here – but Swanky Lanky Liz, Charlie Chutney, Musso, Hair Oil Hal and Biffo all offer their own stylistic visions to round out this section before the un-PC past is more fully and shamefacedly explored in Out of Fashion withBiffo, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy, the Clockwork Boy (by the Torelli Brothers), Meddlesome Matty, Korky, Doubting Thomas, Bamboo Town and Mickey’s Magic Book all exhibiting behaviours we just don’t condone nowadays…

Strips depicting Transport follow with Multy the Millionaire (Richard Cox), Korky and Biffo all experiencing some distress and delay after which Watkins displays his superb dramatic style for 1946 fantasy adventure Tom Thumb.

There are also more travel travails for Korky, Ding-Dong Belle, Doubting Thomas, Podge, Swanky Lanky Liz and Desperate Dan before a prose chapter from an epic Black Bob serial (a Lassie-like wonder dog illustrated by Jack Prout) precedes a Big Eggo pantomime romp and a 1944 Watkins spectacular starring Jimmy and his Magic Patch as a slave on Roman ship.

The trip down memory lane ends with another bout of combat fever in Wartime 2, containing stunning contributions from Bamboo Town and Desperate Dan and a treat for Pansy Potter fans: four fill-in strips from those tenuous days illustrated by different artists who might or might not be McNeil, Basil Blackaller, Sam Fair, James Clark and/or Charles Grigg.

The campaign continues with a 1942 Tin-Can Tommy tale plus more Podge, Keyhole Kate, Doubting Thomas, Desperate Dan, Korky strips as well as more Jimmy and his Magic Patch and a lovely Lord Snooty and his Pals yarn with the kids helping the Home Guard before Biffo ushers us out just as he had invited us in…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.

© 2003 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Corpse Talk Season 1


By Adam Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-01-8

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 – hilariously undead…

The conceit in Adam Murphy’s wonderful (Horrible Histories inspired?) cartoon feature Corpse Talk is that famous personages from the past are exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Is (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…

The third collected album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) opens with introductory page ‘And Here’s your Host…’ and a creepy contents section ‘In the Guest Graveyard This Season’.

Before the inspirational post-mortem autobiographies commence there’s also a splendidly informative archaeological burial-map entitled ‘Digging up the Bodies’ providing an effective contextual visual timeline for the likes of ‘Amelia Earhart’ and ‘Nikola Tesla’ to discuss their contributions to the modern world, whilst daring pirate ‘Anne Bonny’ provides a more lurid option for Careers Day, ably supplemented by an extra fact feature page ‘What a Drag!’ detailing one of the more unexpected problems for women dressing up as a male pirates…

Polar explorer ‘Ernest Shackleton’, national hero ‘Joan of Arc’ and go-getting statesman and consolidator ‘Genghis Khan’ then respectively plead their post mortem cases, after which largely unsung explorer and scientist ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ finally gets his moment in the limelight before ‘Marie Curie’ – also augmented by a fact-page on her daunting ‘Killer Research’ – and ‘Emmeline Pankhurst’ describe how their singular contributions changed the world forever.

Digging further back ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ discusses his inventions, boy Pharaoh Tutankhmun explains the strange reason for his many names in ‘King Tut’ and ‘Boudica’ reveals the shocking saga of her revolt against the Romans

Author Murphy captivatingly indulges himself with the history of artistic inspiration (Katsushika) ‘Hokusai’ – also expanded by a page dedicated to ‘A Brush with Greatness’ – after which famous figures ‘Marie Antoinette’ and ‘Dick Turpin’ dish the dirt on the truth behind their legends and ‘Florence Nightingale’ remembers the bad old days with a supplementary examination of her later ‘Duvet Days’

After ‘Grigori Rasputin’ and ‘Charles Dickens’ recount their own amazing careers a welcome break is offered in the form of a puzzle asking the reader to find and return the restless guests to their biers and sepulchres in ‘Body Count: the Graveyard’.

The cadaverous chat show resumes with ‘Winston Churchill’ and ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ (complemented by ‘The Music Thief’ revealing the musical youth’s amazing powers of memory and discernment) after which ‘Mary Shelley’ discloses how her groundbreaking novel came about and ‘Julius Caesar’ details his rapid rise and fall.

The strips then expand to two pages each for the contribution of his infamous paramour ‘Cleopatra’, our own ‘Henry VIII’ and ‘Gandhi’, whilst literary icon ‘Jane Austen’ includes her own appendix in ‘The Lost Austen’ – revealing what her sister Cassandra did to all her letters upon the author’s passing…

Honest ‘Abe Lincoln’ reveals why he freed the slaves and ‘Albert Einstein’ discusses the nature of everything, whilst oddly merciful pirate ‘Blackbeard’ also offers extra bounty with the ghoulish catalogue of his death in ‘Dreaded, Deaded, Decapitated and Dunked’

The mean man behind the myth is exposed in ‘Richard the Lionheart’ before ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ takes four pages to detail their respective moments as queen, and Scots freedom fighter ‘William Wallace’ rousingly records his achievements before the interviews wrap up with the astounding journey of scientist, botanist and gentle hero ‘George Washington Carver’

To end the sessions on a fun note there then follows another quizzical corpse hunt in ‘Body Count: the Beach’ just to restore a little order to the proceeding.

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout The Phoenix Presents… Corpse Talk Season 1 cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great and the good for the coming generation.

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

Text and illustrations © Adam Murphy 2014. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Bunny vs. Monkey Book One


By Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-07-0

The other day I heaped much well-deserved praise upon Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey whilst congratulating David Fickling Books both on its superb weekly comic The Phoenix and new line of graphic albums.

I also noted that their first two book releases had made this year’s list for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which begins on 12th July): the first comic-books ever to have been awarded such an honour. It seems only fair then that I cover that other nominee – especially as it’s one of the funniest all-ages books I’ve seen in years.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture in The Phoenix from the very first issue, a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood.

With precious little unnecessary build-up The Phoenix Presents… Bunny vs. Monkey opens with a ‘Prologue!’ introducing placid, wise, helpful Bunny and not-so-smart pals Pig and Weenie Squirrel.

The foolish innocents have found a hibernating bear and Bunny really wants them to stop trying to wake it up. Meanwhile, over the hill and not so faraway, a bunch of boffins are attempting to launch a really annoying monkey into space…

Year One: January to June then commences a barrage of seasonal silliness as the proposed launch goes hideously awry and the loud, stroppy, obnoxious simian lands in the snow covered glade and declares himself king of this strange alien world in with ‘Bunny vs. Monkey’

Monkey loves noise, strife, chaos and trouble and wants to raise a rumpus – everything genteel, contemplative Bunny abhors – so when the apish astronaut introduces techno music in ‘Keep it Down!’ the lines of battle are irrevocably drawn…

Thing escalate in February ‘When Monkey Met Skunky’: a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-inspired terror weapons such as the Cluck Cluck Zeppelin used to bomb the woods with 10-year old rotten eggs or the giant metal robot hands which give the destructive Monkey ‘Fists of Furry’

The winter draws on with ‘Soggy ‘n’ Froggy’ wherein a monstrous Frog-O-Saurus becomes the wicked duo’s latest Weapon of Meadow Destruction, after which poor little Pig is transformed into cyborg sensation Pig-O-Tron 5000 in ‘Robo-Chop’ and a simple change of pace sees Weenie and Pig put on a circus show to counter all the nasty animosity but get painfully caught ‘Clowning Around’

Up until now Monkey has been risking his own pelt road testing all Skunky’s inventions, but when a bewildered former stuntman turns up the sneaky simian is happy to leave all the dangerous stuff to ‘Action Beaver’

March leads to a profusion of beautiful buds and blossoms which delight the soul of nature loving Bunny.

Tragically they utterly disgust Monkey, who tries to eradicate all that flora in ‘Down with Spring!’ until he comes a-cropper thanks to a sack of spiky Hodgehegs, whilst in ‘Bonjour, Le Fox’ the spacy invader finally goes too far, forcing Bunny to align with a rather radical environmentalist possessed of a big, bushy tail and a French accent…

Some of Bunny’s friends are their own worst enemies. ‘Race to the Moon!’ sees Weenie and Pig build their own spaceship out of natural materials like moss and mushrooms only to have Monkey disastrously commandeer it, after which Skunky builds a terrifying cyber crocodile dubbed ‘Metal Steve!’ which promptly ignores its perfidious programming to spend the day swimming.

Such failures thus compel Monkey to steal a steamroller to personally get rid of all that hateful, ugly cherry blossom infesting the trees in ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’!’

The war against nature intensifies in April as ‘Eat Your Greens!’ finds Skunky’s Caterpillar-Zilla devouring the forest foliage until a real creepy crawly steps in, whilst ‘The Whuppabaloo!’ shows the niffy tinkerer’s softer side as he drags Monkey on a wilderness trek to track down the most amazing thing in nature…

‘Hide and Squark!’ depicts the rabbit’s fight back thanks to the double-dealing help of a certain giant parrot, after which a momentary détente for a spot of angling soon turns into another heated duel in ‘Fish Off!’

There’s a brief falling out of the axis of evil in May as ‘Invisi-Monkey’ sees the strident simian squabbling with Skunky to possess a sneaky stealth suit before reuniting to spoil a joyous game of Cake-Ball with their monolithic, monstrous ‘Mole-a-Rolla!’ After that Monkey attempts to turn the Wood into an oil field in ‘Black Gold’ before spoiling Bunny’s dream of a ‘Quiet Day!’ with a giant Robot Cockroach

Blazing June opens with ‘Bring Him Back!’ as Action Beaver attempts to retrieve watery wanderer Metal Steve whilst simple souls Weenie and Pig accidentally kick off an invention Armageddon which only gets worse when that long-slumbering ursine finally wakes up in ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear?’

‘The Bat!’ apparently introduces a nasty new faction to the ongoing conflict (but all is not as it seems), and there’s no confusing the stakes when Bunny agrees to a winner-take-all fight in ‘Wrestlepocalypse!’ where Monkey learns that cheats never prosper…

Just when things seem likely to settle down fresh chaos ensue when a violent piratical rabbit with an eye-patch storms in to cause stir up trouble in ‘Bunny B!’ leaving us with the delightful prospect of more hair-raising, masterfully magical cartoon mayhem to come…

Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, Bunny vs. Monkey is the kind of comic parents beg the kids to read to them. Don’t miss out on the next big thing.

Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2014. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey


By Lorenzo Etherington (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-02-5

These days, young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.

Once upon a time, however, the comics industry was a commercial colossus which thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets in a multitude of subjects and sub-genre, all subdivided into a range of successful, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.

Such eye-catching items generated innumerable tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Pre-school, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens, but today Britain can only manage to maintain a few paltry out-industry licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.

Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dying – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive media.

There are one or two venerable, long-lived holdouts such as the Beano and 2000AD but overall the trend has been downwards for decades.

That maxim was happily turned on its head in January 2012 when Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched The Phoenix: a traditional-seeming anthology comic weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, in the years since its premiere, the comic 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 astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

The Phoenix was recently voted No.2in Time Magazine’sglobal list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have reached issue #100 (#129 and counting). The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an iPad application and is continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun.

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost, in this country at least, old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from magazine makers’ surrender, and there have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

Happily at long last many of the serials and series in The Phoenix have finally joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums with the first two debuting in July 2014.

Both have already been selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which begins on 12th July): the first comic-books ever to have featured on a Summer Reading Challenge list.

The one we’re looking at today is The Phoenix Presents… Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey: a dazzling display of cartoon virtuosity and brain-bursting comic challenges composed by Lorenzo Etherington, originally seen as captivating, addictively challenging weekly instalments of The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan.

The serialcombines captivating cartoon narrative with observational tests, logic puzzles and other kids’ favourite brain-teasers, craftily taking readers and participants on a magnificently constructed progressive voyage of adventure and discovery in 37 clue, game, maze and mystery-packed episodes.

Von Doogan and his partner in peril Jake Wingnut are brilliant and intrepid young explorers with a keen sense of justice and an insatiable thirst for action who here tackle all manner of conundra and – with your help – track down a band of pirate cutthroats, battle a magical monster and rescue a fantastic treasure from obscurity by solving such imposing posers as ‘The Nine Locks’, ‘The Telltale Cell’, ‘A Knotty Problem’ and ‘Finding Captain Nemo’

Naturally we aren’t all as smart as Von Doogan or a six-year old so this spectacular colourful cornucopia comes with a page explaining ‘How the Book Works’, an ‘Equipment Checklist’ and a fulsome secret section giving extra help with ‘The Clues’ and thankfully ‘The Solutions’.

There’s even a free printable download page providing your own handy dandy copy of ‘Doogan’s Danger Kit’ to stop you cutting up the one in this mesmerising manuscript of mystery.

Story! Games! Action! …and all there in the irresistible shape of entertaining pictures. How much cooler can a book get?
Text and illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington 2014. All rights reserved.

The Reading Agency is a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read six books during the long summer holiday.

Children can read whatever they like just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Every time children finish a book they get stickers and rewards and there’s a certificate for everyone who finishes. The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all school children and is designed for all reading abilities.

Visit www.readingagency.org.uk

To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk