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

Death Sentence


By Montynero & Mike Dowling (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-008-5

For most of us Sex Sells.

If that’s not you and you’re easily shocked or offended, stop Right Here, Right Now and come back for a less grown up review tomorrow…

As for the salacious, tawdry, vulgar rest of humanity, however, fornication is a force that cannot be resisted and we’re always gagging for it.

One outrageous potential result of that inescapable biological imperative was recently examined and scathingly lampooned in a dark and decadent fable from scripter, artist and games designer Montynero and sublime illustrator Mike Dowling. Death Sentence – after an initial and truncated appearance in Clint Magazine in 2012 – was retooled and completed in a breakthrough 6-issue miniseries which took the comics world by storm when it was released in October 2013.

Now the entire sordid episode has been compiled – along with a scintillating selection of irresistible extras – in a stout and sturdy hardcover collection that promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year…

The author’s own Introduction kicks everything off (and is complemented by another from Rob Williams) before the seductively apocalyptic tale begins with ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ wherein frustrated artist Verity Fette is getting some very distressing news in a Camden doctor’s surgery.

She’s just been diagnosed with G+: a new, universally fatal sexually transmitted disease that has a rather peculiar side-effect.

Although this STI kills in six months, for the length of that time the victim “suffers” from increased vigour, stamina, sex drive and even develops some form of super power…

Over in Primrose Hill, disgraced, shambolic and rapidly fading rock star Daniel Waissel AKA Weasel awakes from another unspecified period of debauched excess and tries to make sense of what his A&R man Russ is saying.

Apparently having G+ might be the only thing to revive his failing career and, if his power is music-related, perhaps he can still get all six of the albums he’s contracted for finished before he joins all the other dead legends going out in a blaze of lucrative glory…

Whilst Verity is quitting her meaningless job, over the river in a South Bank TV studio comedian, media darling, affirmed libertine and G+ carrier David “Monty” Montgomery is charmingly, charismatically, shockingly titillating the nation again; avowing that his final months on Earth won’t alter his pleasure-seeking behaviour or sensuous attitudes…

Later, Weasel’s powers at last manifest when a couple of irate drug dealers turn up, wanting payment for the prodigious amount of pharmaceuticals the creatively blocked musician has consumed, but neither he nor the other two G+ sufferers are aware that a shady government agency is keeping tabs on them.

Unfortunately, when the spooks decide to “acquire” Verity the result is spectacular and very messy…

Determined to keep the populace in the dark, the Department of National Security goes into utter bastard mode: blaming the gory fiasco on fictitious terrorists whilst covertly hunting the terrified ‘Dissolved Girl’ through the seedy streets of London.

Weasel is – as always – an emotional wreck, avoiding decisions – or making rock & roll – via a constant flurry of sex and drugs. His wake-up call comes when he realises his new normal has ended his latest bedmate in a most unsavoury manner…

Monty, however, is completely in control: aware of what he’s doing and not about to let a few interfering coppers get in his way.

Appalled and guilt-ridden, Verity regains consciousness on a remote Scottish island, where a very nice old lady makes her an intriguing offer before inviting the still-frustrated artist into the huge secret base beneath the heather…

‘Royals’ finds bored and increasingly irresistibly Monty pondering how to top his already prodigious and unsurpassed career of licentious excess before heading off to Buckingham Palace…

North of the border Verity is beguiled by talk of a cure and agrees to let Dr. Lunn train her in the use of her rapidly-expanding abilities whilst on a quiet London street fugitive Weasel sneaks into the bedroom of his son.

Leaving Mickey with his mother might well be only good thing he’s ever done in his whole wasted life…

This sentimental act is a big blunder though, as a flotilla of copters leads a blistering military ambush which, after a spectacular chase, finally leads to the capture of the musical rebel without a clue…

When he arrives on the island, the nice doctors are keen on helping Weasel learn about himself and sexy fellow inmate Verity. They happily provide space, time, tuition, medical grade drugs…

Down South, Monty, having crowned himself King of Britain, is barely able to contain his self-absorbed glee. ‘In the City’ sees him really stretching himself, and after a psionic flexing of his mental muscle, bloodily destroying a division of the army as well as the ruling elite of Britain, he declares London a city free from all laws.

Influenced as much by a sense of wild liberty as Monty’s surging mental influence, the population descends into gory debauchery, prompting the American President and NATO to take matters into their own hand before the seditious super-maniac works himself up into becoming a global threat…

In Scotland Dr. Lunn is helpless to prevent the DNS frantically turning her research subjects into weapons to use against the rogue G+ victim who has turned London into a sex-fuelled charnel house. Their main concern is to end the affair before the full NATO fleet steaming ominously towards Britain takes the matter into their own terrified, remorseless, thermonuclear hands…

‘This Woman’s Work’ ratchets up the tension as Monty increasingly opts for slaughter over sex whilst Verity and Weasel have no choice but to grudgingly accept that they might be the only way to stop him. The crisis then reaches a catastrophic climax in ‘To the End’…but not in a way you’d suspect or be comfortable with…

Each chapter is bolstered by a series of faux news articles and public service features ranging from ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ to a medical advice website page for potential G+ sufferers, and this lewdly lavish hardback tome also includes a fifteen-strong covers-&-variants gallery, a fulsome, informative and frequently hilarious ‘Death Sentence Commentary’ from Montynero and Mike Dowling, and more.

Bold, slick, immensely engrossing and intoxicatingly enjoyable, Death Sentence is a black, uproarious fairytale for adults that blends superhero tropes with outrageous cheek, deliriously shocking situations and in-your-face irreverence, making it one of the most notable and unmissable comics tales of the last half century…

Buy it, read it and spread it around to everyone…

Death Sentence ™ and © 2014 Montynero, Mike Dowling and Titan Comics. All rights reserved.

Babak Ganjei’s Road House


By Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-7-1

Comics are a uniquely universal and predominantly graphic engine of narrative which can be as clear, concise and precise as a diagram or as shaded and meaningfully obscurantist as “Beat” poetry or The Clangers.

Moreover, when sequential panels are loaded with layers of pristine clarity which are simultaneously hooded or non-specific imagery, the effects can be spectacularly engaging.

According to author/illustrator Babak Ganjei this particular pictorial feast results from a momentary connection of artistic drudgery to a state of pure channelled creativity.

“I was hung-over; sitting in my studio, everyone else was working around me. I had Road House streaming from Netflix, I started drawing it; more than anything just to look busy. However as I got through the first few scenes I thought how it would be nice to truly immerse myself in a project that would take some time and with that time become it’s own thing”

The enterprise grew and, despite overrunning the artist’s self-imposed time and space restrictions, gelled into a compulsive exhibition of artistic motor skills and disassociative construction of story elements. The brain wants logic and sees patterns: the hands and eyes just keep moving. Just ask any freelancer who has spent three days awake finishing a rush deadline job…

In case you haven’t caught it, Road House was released in 1989, a low-budget action flick starring Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott and Ben Gazarra. It was directed by Rowdy Herrington, and John Wilson (founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards) listed it as “one of the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made”.

The transformed, reconstituted result is a beguiling 192 page landscape hardback continuity (185 of which are the resultant images) delivered in a stark, enthralling monochrome which offers a truly raw storytelling experience, with one panel per page each captioned with brief, pithy “found” quotes from a wide range of other sources such as Foucoult, Foster Wallace and Baudrillard, Ali to Richard Pryor to Steve Martin…

A moodily effective, oddly gripping little (148 x 210mm) experimental treat, Babak Ganjei’s Road House is practically Dadaist in delivery and ferociously enticing, something no lover of comics or practitioner of the visual arts should miss… and perhaps later attempt for themselves.

Perhaps this is the beginning of a new trend or Olympic sport…

Tantalising thought, no…?

© Records Records Records 2013.

Violent Cases Hardcover


By Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-360-5

Do you remember…?

Since its first release in 1987 Violent Cases has gone back into print many times, but regrettably remains a comics connoisseur’s secret. Now Titan Books have released a big, bold, lush and lavish commemorative oversized full-colour hardback (302 x 235mm), complete with extras culled from previous editions and new art material, in another sincere and sterling effort to give this tale the audience and acclaim it deserves.

There’s actually very little I feel happy saying about this enigmatic and compelling little teaser other than the basic facts. Too much detail or analysis will spoil the magic if you’ve never seen it – and if you have it’s probably not what you recall it being…

Initially published by the sorely missed publisher Escape – in association with Titan Books – in 1987, it marks the first collaboration of two then largely unknown creators who shared a more literary aspiration for comics than traditional newcomers to the craft, married to a novel approach and impassioned – if raw and hungry – storytelling talent.

It’s short, sweet, disturbing, utterly absorbing and probably impossible to translate into any other medium… and that is, of course, a Very Good Thing.

There’s this guy see, and he’s idly reminiscing about his childhood in the 1960s…

Years ago in Portsmouth a little lad hurt his arm rather badly whilst exchanging words about bedtime with his father. To fix the problem daddy took the 4-year old to see an osteopath. The elderly gentleman was an interesting fellow with an odd accent who told great yarns and mentioned that he had once treated somebody famous…

As the narrator tries to sort out the half-forgotten details – fragments of life and films and games congealed now with clearly conflated circumstances – the facts, fictions and shadily obscured and occulted misunderstandings concerning his perhaps difficult childhood, growing maturity and awareness and those hours with Al Capone’s bone-bender begin to emerge and coalesce… or do they?

Flickering back and forth, the narrative proffers a miasma of mixed memories and misapprehensions involving a memorably troubled old man, Mysterious Men in Dark Suits, a party, a scary magician, unexplained appearances and subsequent disappearances, unforgettable physical discomfort as a young arm was coaxed back into correctitude, tales of tailors and gangsters and Tommy Guns… which were always carried in Violent Cases…

Most of all it deals with unresolvable mysteries – because even the things we recall, we don’t always remember…

This entire book is all about stories, memories, perception, mis-perception and self-deception, painted by Dave McKean in a muted but cleverly targeted tonal colour-palette of blues, greys and browns, with splashes of electric vibrancy where appropriate (all reduced to straight monochrome for the very first edition, restored for those subsequent releases, and remastered here)…

This volume also includes Introductions by Paul Gravett, Alan Moore and the story’s author Neil Gaiman (from the 1997, 1987 and 1991 editions) as well as his Afterword from 2003, plus assorted covers and other art works by McKean and an illustrated Biographies section which is a marvel and joy to behold…

Despite being one of the key books in the 1980s’ war to prove that comics were an art form and valid mode of mature creative expression, Violent Cases remains a largely unknown artefact, seldom cropping up in the same discussions as contemporaries like A Contract With God, Maus, Watchmen, Love and Rockets, The Dark Knight Returns and V for Vendetta, let alone later acclaimed breakthroughs such as Ghost World, Black Hole, From Hell, Persepolis or even Sandman.

It is also an unforgettable pictorial memento mori – or is that topica tragoedia? – which beguiles and enchants, tests and subtly distresses in ways no lover of the comics medium could possibly resist.

If you haven’t read it, you must. If you have, read it again – it’s not at all what you remember…

™ & © 1987, 2003, 2013 Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean. All rights reserved. All other material © its respective author or creator.

The Secret Service: Kingsman


By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons and Matthew Vaughn with Andy Lanning & Angus McKie (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-703-8

We Brits know everything about the spy-game and think we’ve probably seen it all, from Bond to Smiley, Harry Palmer to Johnny Worricker and Spooks to Carry On Spying.

So it’s not often we get a look at a fresh take, but that’s what’s on offer here as comicbook legends Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons team up with film director/producer Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) to update the genre in a wickedly sly, cynically funny and irreverential thriller which nevertheless harks back to the glory-days of the “great game” of gentlemanly cloak-and-dagger as it was called when were still an empire, as well as the swinging superspy sagas of the 1960s and 1970s…

The original 6-issue miniseries The Secret Service was released as part of Millarworld’s unfailing hit-factory deal with Marvel Comics’ Icon sub-imprint, and this slick, sharp and wickedly tongue-in-cheek pastiche mixes all the favourite trappings and spectacle of big budget movie blockbusters with an archly satisfying class-war aesthetic that finds full expression following the traditional all-action opening attention-grabber, which finds actor Mark Hamill (almost) saved from abduction by an armed gang by an unlucky British secret agent…

The scene then switches to the urban wasteland of Peckham where Gary Unwin – known to his no-hoper wannabe-gangsta pals as “Eggsy” – is again at odds with the cheap thug who’s shacked up with his mum.

Dean is a former soldier. He’s also a bully and a brute: a typical South London Chav who thinks he’s hard and takes it out too often on Gary and his little brother Ryan as well as their long-suffering mother Sharon.

No wonder the jobless, shiftless teen spends all his time playing computer games, doing drugs, nicking cars and making mischief with his mates. Tonight is no exception, except for the part where the hapless joyriders crash their purloined ride and end up in police cells…

Meanwhile in the swank part of town, two movers-&-shakers in Intelligence are discussing a wave of mysterious abductions: actors from Star Wars, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek have all disappeared, as have scientists, sporting legends and other notables. There is clearly some major scheme afoot…

Jack London (I gather they’ve changed his name in the film version) is a self-made man. He escaped his lowborn origins and remade himself into a suave, sophisticated international man-of-mystery and Great Britain’s top operative: the spy who never fails. Nobody does it better. He’s also Sharon’s brother and is once again forced to apply his influence to save his nephew from the consequences of his actions…

He’s had to step in before but he swears it’s the last time and, after an unpleasant confrontation, determines to get Gary out of the toxic environment he escaped from decades ago…

As a mass wedding in Hawaii is turned into a bloodbath by a mysterious mastermind’s hi-tech secret weapon, in Peckham Uncle Jack is telling Eggsy the unbelievable truth. He gets a chance to prove his outrageous claims when Dean’s loutish cronies pick a fight…

Jack, plagued with guilt for neglecting his shameful family, then offers his nephew a chance to better himself by joining the Secret Service training program that made him one of the deadliest men alive…

The boy jumps at the chance to get away and is soon an outcast amongst the cream of Britain’s posh-boy private school and military college recruits, doggedly learning unarmed combat, ballistics, weapons training, tactics, computer science, seduction techniques, languages, piloting any vehicle and every skill and trick needed to keep the world safe from invasion and subversion…

Despite his background and lack of social skills Gary thrives – and even excels – in many of the less salubrious exercises (such as killing drug-dealers on a live fire exercise) even as Uncle Jack returns to his mystery kidnapping case. He slowly makes progress across the world, tracking a certain mad young billionaire with dreams of saving the planet from the plague of humanity. Doctor James Arnold is also extremely keen on preserving his childhood heroes from the Armageddon he’s about to trigger…

At precisely the wrong moment Gary drags Jack back to London again. When the pauper student overhears his well-meaning but privileged comrades condescending and pitying him, Eggsy steals Jack’s gadget-laden, weaponised sports car and goes for an explosive drunken joyride with his real mates from the estate.

Now the super-agent is forced to take extreme measures to sort him out…

Gary wakes up in Colombia with nothing but his underwear and is told he has 24 hours to return to Britain. The Resource Test is the final stage of an agent’s training and is make or break: neither the agency nor his uncle will have anything to do with him if he fails…

He passes with flying colours, and even destroys a drug cartel in the process, leading Jack to take him on as an apprentice, offering style tips and a chance for a palate-cleansing final confrontation with Dean and his mates in Peckham before setting off together to foil Dr. Arnold’s deadly scheme.

…And that’s when it all goes terribly wrong, leaving Gary to cope with imminent world collapse all on his own…

The film was in production simultaneously with the creation of the original six-issue miniseries with Millar, Vaughn and illustrator Gibbons (aided by inker Andy Lanning and colourist Angus McKie) frequently cross-fertilising and amending the print and movie iterations to produce a stunningly clever, outrageously rip-roaring, high-octane read which will astound all us paper-jockeys and no doubt be satisfactorily mirrored in the upcoming filmic extravaganza.

But why wait? Grab some popcorn, hit your favourite chair and experience all the thrills, spills and chills you can handle right now just by picking up this fabulous action comics classic in the making…
© 2012, 2013, 2014 Millarworld Limited, Marv Films Limited and Dave Gibbons Ltd. All rights reserved.

Steak Night volume 3: Jobs


By various, edited by Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-5-7

Some old fuddy-duddies like me still read prose as well as comics, and being a veteran consumer I can honestly say that what I miss most is the time when short stories – everything from epigrams to vignettes to novellas – were a thriving, vibrant pillar of storytelling.

Modern book publishing doesn’t like short stories and most magazines (with the possible exception of DC Thomson’s The People’s Friend) no longer regularly carry engaging snippets of fiction or indeed even value the creative discipline necessary to telling a tale succinctly.

The same was true of comics for years but with the recent surge of independent and small press creators that market is changing. There are now a few regular anthology titles, offering a variety of experiences rather than the far more commercially sensible multi-part epics mainstream print-houses always push.

Every book or comic is somebody’s first but how can you possibly build a solid readership with stories that can be twenty or forty or even more parts long? Life’s just too short.

So let’s all shout “well done” for books such as Steak Night which always offers an eclectic mix of strips, gags, art pages and brief prose pieces in an inviting hardback book format, produced with style, honesty, integrity and a broad range of views.

This third volume contains a selection of works dedicated to the theme of Jobs, and after a stirring pep-talk from the editorial team commences with a penetrating dose of reminiscing and self-flagellation in the text tantaliser ‘Keyser Söze’ by Victoria Manifold. Then multi-talented Tom Hall Colonial illustrates Henry Clark’s truly disturbing recollections of his early days as an undertaker and the charming on-the-job training he received at the hands of ‘The Butcher’

A strange and stridently silent cartoon ‘Jobs’ short about a career in extreme pest-control (also by Hall?) leads into another painful memory as Babak Ganjei illustrates Tom Oldham’s graphic explanation for why he turned down the chance to be a ‘Bigshot’ in the sex trade, after which ‘A Guide to Achieving Your Career Goals’ by Amelia Phillips definitively describes her self-perceived failure in clawing her way to the middle of the publishing biz before becoming a happily desperate freelancer…

Another ferocious fantasy comics page of sci-fi hi-tech ‘Jobs’ creation segues sweetly into an keenly observed if doggedly obscure ‘Office Romance’ by Florian Lunaire & Eleanor Summers, whilst Julia Scheele delightfully describes the dilemma all women face on ‘Sundays at the Comic Shop’ (actually it’s more a 24/7 thing) before Melissa Trender examines the role of women in a resolutely post-feminist society with the heartfelt and disturbing ‘Daughters’.

The industrious giant-bug bashing ‘Jobs’ interludes then end with mankind notionally still on top, whilst ‘Small Hours Dept’ by Peter Cline lovingly and lyrically examines the whimsical moments that quiet times can offer from an elevated position, after which Wallis Eates’ prose-&-picture fable ‘Where Are you Going?/Ground Please’ appealingly compares childhood memories with the solitary insights of a hospital cleaner, before former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong winningly describes his succession of dead-end jobs in Bournemouth (trust me: don’t eat the pizza) in a prose paean to the failings of school careers guidance information entitled ‘The Worst Bad Egg’.

The portmanteau of pictorial pleasures concludes with Harriet Gibsone’s hilariously dark and edgy advice on handling the ‘Big Interview’ and a manic glimpse at what it’s all about in ‘Going to Work’ by Grace Wilson…

Complete with a full contact-&-biography Contributors section, this is another superb sampling of contemporary cartoon culture that no lover of the art of storytelling should miss.
And kids remember, it’s a vocation, not a career, yeah?

© Records Records Records 2013.

Kiddo


By Antoine Cossé (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-1-9

Since Britain grew up and joined the rest of the world in accepting comics as a valid and viable art form, the shelves of Albion have been positively groaning with a wealth of superbly fascinating graphic narratives of all types; especially since a number of bold new publishers have either picked up and translated Asian and European material or confidently released new stuff from creators around the world.

Antoine Cossé is a French graphic storyteller living in London. He left Paris to study at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2006 with a degree in illustration. He then began a seemingly non-stop barrage of moody, funny and evocative strips catering to his own need to explore the absurd, the fanciful and the unexpected lurking behind the humdrum passage of everyday lives and kindly invited a growing fan-base to join him in his explorations.

Following a number of short strips, features and collaborations, in 2012 he produced his debut graphic novel – Kiddo – for British outfit Records Records Records Books: an enigmatic, helter-skelter cartoon progression practically devoid of words which combines elements of epic dystopian science fiction with unceasing kinetic forward motion redolent in tone – if not style and content – to the ceaselessly energetic strip works of André Barbe.

Lavishly packaged as a black and white hardback (comfortingly reminiscent of those classily sturdy children’s books of my youth) the stark events unfold as a solitary man plunges through jungles and wastelands, seeking who knows what in a scary big world.

Encountering beasts, a woman, hardship, hunger, booze, a giant monster dog, war, strange phenomena and the encroaching remnants – or perhaps discards – of civilisation, he moves ever onward to a chaotic closing conundrum…

Deeply sly, beguiling reductive and intoxicatingly Primitivist, Kiddo is an irresistible  surge of purely visual drama and a mystery for its own sake which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake and don’t need answers spoon-fed to them.
© 2012 Antoine Cossé. © & ℗ Records Records Records Books.

The Complete Accident Man


By Pat Mills, Tony Skinner, Martin Emond, Duke Mighten & John Erasmus (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-055-9

We have our share of true blue heroes in Britain, but what we really do best are rakish rogues and cast-iron bastards – both in dull old fact and the much safer realm of fiction.

A fair few of the comics kind have stemmed from the febrile mind of Pat Mills, a man whose singular vision has scarred many an impressionable reader’s psyche…

Now one of his most stylish and far-ranging creations – co-crafted with writing partner Tony Skinner – has been awarded some-long delayed and much-deserved star treatment in the form of a lavish oversized colour hardback compilation from Titan Comics.

In many ways Michael Fallon is a product of his times (the 1990s): a ruthless, flashy, grasping Yuppie who thinks he cares about nothing but his job, instant gratification and the gaudy in-your-face trappings of his success.

That’s unpleasant enough if the antagonist is a Banker, a Broker or Hedge Fund Manager, but Mike is a dedicated proud artisan. He makes human impediments go away – and always makes it look like mischance, not murder…

Accident Man debuted in short-lived, creator-owned British independent comic Toxic! (which ran for 31 full-colour issues between March and October 1991). Easily the most popular feature, he also starred in a reprint special – Apocalypse Presents: Accident Man – and in 1993 crossed The Pond for an all-new 3-part monochrome miniseries from American publisher Dark Horse Comics.

This chilling compendium commences with Mills’ Introduction ‘Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!’ describing the convoluted history of the character and teasingly discussing the still-not-made movie, before the cartoon carnage calamitously starts to unfold in the Martin Emond illustrated introductory saga (from Toxic! #1-6) wherein hubristic hitman Fallon explains and simultaneously demonstrates his particular skill-set whilst evoking the golden rules of the job “Never Get Angry. Never Get Involved. Never Get Caught”…

A successful – for which read undetectable – intervention usually fills him with PMT (Post Murder Tension) most successfully expunged through lavish spending and extreme gratuitous physical violence, but these days something’s not right.

The shallow Fashionista didn’t really care when his wife Jill left him to shack up with another woman and join those loony save-the-planet eco nuts in Women Against the Rape of the Planet, but for some strange reason he can’t stop thinking about her now that she’s been killed in a burglary…

He carries on arranging fatal improbabilities but the joie de vivre has gone, and when he finally works out that Jill’s break-in is the M.O. of fellow assassins Chris and Jim it sets him on a bizarre course that leads to an alliance with Hilary – the “Other Woman” – to take profitless vengeance on the corporate scum really responsible…

More or less his old self again Fallon returned in ‘Death Touch’ (Toxic! #10-16, illustrated by Duke Mighten), drowning in natty threads and conspicuous consumption whilst pursuing his craft and studying with a martial arts master who had promised to teach him the legendary art of killing with a time-delayed kung fu punch…

After scooping his fourth consecutive gong for Most Hits in a Year at the annual Golden Coffin Awards, he begins his next commission – a particularly nasty drug dealer with no respect for animals but a sick, devoted and unforgiving family- utterly unaware that his Sensei Sifu Lo has discovered his profession and deemed him unworthy…

John Erasmus took over the art for ‘The Messiah Sting’ (from Toxic! #17-24) as the woman who seduced Jill away cons the Accident Man into doing worse than murder to David Dake – the Junior Minister for the Environment… and for free!

Hilary is a fanatic in the service of WARP and has a baroque plan to punish the ostensibly “Green” Tory politician who actually protects animal torturers and destroys the countryside he’s supposed to be fighting for, but when Mike gets involved it soon devolves into an explosive confrontation with obnoxious American agents, hookers, rival hitmen, a burgeoning criminal turf war, kung fu killers, drug dealers and the destruction of scenic downtown Amsterdam.

And there’s even a sneaky glimpse at out antihero’s early days…

Iconoclastic Howard Chaykin created the risqué and raucous colour covers for the aforementioned Dark Horse miniseries and they seditiously precede the final saga in this magnificent murder file as Mike Fallon takes his particular brand of Olde Worlde charm across the pond – via Concorde, of course – for a job commissioned by a clandestine Government agency: the Special Assassinations Bureau (limned in stark monochrome by Mighten)…

In the Accident Man’s line of business it’s best to be adaptable and always assume everybody is a liar. After an unexpected and exotic liaison with CIA insider Mirror Morgan, Mike hits the Big Apple’s most outrageous sex club and learns his target is a corrupt Senator…

Arranging the improbable with his usual élan, Mike is only seconds away from unknowingly eradicating the chief of the CIA when he spots Mirror with his soon to be tragically deceased mark, and is forced to spectacularly avert his programmed mishap.

CIA boss John Archer is perfectly reasonable and understanding. He knows how easy it is to be duped in the murky world of espionage and international crime. He’s also happy to let Mike go… but only after the misfortune magnate works his magic on the untouchable Capo di Tutti Capo of the Mafia…

And naturally it’s another bloody freebie…

The glitzy sex and shocking violence mounts exponentially as Fallon infiltrates the Mob, winning more enemies than friends along the grisly way, and even after that job’s sorted he still has a bone to pick with the far-from-fair Broker from SAB…

Overwhelmingly violent, manically inventive and ridiculously addictive, this is a lost gem of anarchic, swingeing satire from Mills and Co, and well worthy of this splendid definitive collection. Also included here is a copious Accident Man Sketchbook section featuring cover roughs, page layouts and character designs as well as the now obligatory lowdown on the creative Usual Suspects.

Highly sexed, infallibly capable and ruthless style obsessed, the flashily fashionable assassin is James Bond on the wrong side – his own – and delivers action, intrigue and bold, black humour in astounding amounts…

Don’t leave anything to chance: check him out…
Accident Man is ™ & © 2014 Pat Mills and Tony Skinner. Accident Man Book One © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond. Accident Man Death Touch © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Duke Mighten. Accident Man Book Three © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & John Erasmus. Accident Man (Dark Horse) Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Duke Mighten.

It Came!


By Dan Boultwood, Esq. (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-005-4

Once upon a time “retro” only meant rockets, with all those thrilling chilling connotations of clunky spaceships, cardboard robots and men in Baco-foil suits shambling about and terrifying avid children who had stayed up late to watch B-movie sci-fi yarns on black-&-white TV sets.

Jeepers, I miss those days, and so, apparently, does multi-talented, forward-thinking nostalgeologist Dan Boultwood.

In 2013, his 4-issue miniseries offered a tantalising tribute to the fantastic fantasy movies which fuelled the imaginations of British Baby-Boomers: simultaneously recapturing the wide-eyed wonder of the period whilst adding layers of archly post-modern humour to the mix…

This stirring monochrome graphic-novelisation of a faux-classic effort from the rightly almost-forgotten Pinetree Studios outfit now allows modern film fans to experience (or revisit) the quirky delights which wowed their grandparents – and all from the comfort of their own homes – or even whilst out riding in a open-topped omnibus…

Packed to bursting with and supplemented by oodles of outrageous, hilarious, mood-setting ads for everything from Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes to Johnny Foreigner Engine Oil, the story is a loving but irreverent paean of praise not only to those inspirational filmic marvels but also to the small repertory of actors and producers who made the late 1950s and early 1960s such a cornucopia of movie madness.

Like all such matinee marvels, the main feature here is preceded by a short trailer (for The Lost Valley of the Lost) which serves to introduce our cast, specifically He-Man Lead Dick Claymore as the sexist, pipe-chewing, tweed draped boffin Dr. Boy Brett and strident starlet Fanny Flaunders as his long-suffering, infinitely patient, glamorous-whilst-screaming assistant/secretary Doris Night.

The vintage supporting cast includes Bertrum Cumberbund, Spencer Lacey and Joan Fetlock, stalwart Pinetree thespians all…

It’s 1958 and in a beautiful bit of rural, ill-educated England a colossal robot rampages…

Two days later Dr. Brett from SpaceUniversity is treating working class ingénue Doris to a ride in his Morris Minor. He decides they should stop for a Ploughman’s Lunch in a strangely quiet and quaint village, blithely unaware that the reason it’s so still is because the aforementioned alien automaton has depopulated the shire…

Its subsequent surprise attempt to trap the tourists founders only when it stumbles into a cloying web of obfuscating, celebratory bunting…

After their spectacular close call the harried humans reach the next village over, but despite the boffin’s Old Boy Network connections, it’s the Devil’s own job to get the Ministry to mobilise the Military.

Nevertheless, Boy persists and soon a squad of veterans arrive to take control of the situation (a superb pastiche of the venerable icons of the “Carry-On” film franchise), only to vanish as the rapacious robot strikes again…

Undaunted, Boy drags Doris into more trouble and soon they find themselves aboard a vast Flying Saucer, uncovering the nature of the invaders’ appalling assault. The creepy, apparently unstoppable horrors are imprisoning salt-of-the-earth British citizens and somehow extracting their Stiff Upper Lips…

Following a necessary Intermission for the purchase and consumption of gin and fags, the cartoon/celluloid calamity continues as our hero – and the girl – escape and head for London to warn the authorities, but not before accidentally dropping a handy but unlucky army division on exercises right in the UFO’s marauding sights.

Dr. Brett arrives barely ahead of the indestructible, unbeatable Saucer and, as the World’s Smoggiest Capital burns and founders, he is compelled to stop running and turn his mighty, college-honed intellect to the task of destroying the threat to civilisation…

This collection is also augmented by the original full-colour covers, hysterical background “information pages” on and intimate photos of stars Claymore and Flaunders, blueprints and design sketches for the alien Grurk and Flying Saucer, a selection from the infamous It Came! Cigarette Cards and colour posters for other Pinetree Studio releases such as ‘My Reptilian Bride!’, ‘Rocket Into Space!’, ‘The Lost Valley of the Lost’ and ‘Myopic Moon Men from the Moon’

More revelations are forthcoming in the ‘Metropolitan Police Incident Report on Mr. Claymore’s “eccentric” Drinking Habits’, and Director Boultwood’s photo-feature exposing his Special Effects magic in animating the Saucer for celluloid.

It Came! is a brilliant and sublime masterpiece of loving parody, perfectly executed and astoundingly effective. It is also the funniest – both visually and verbally – book I’ve read in years, blending slapstick with satire, outrageous ideas with infamous characterisations, and spit-taking puns, single entendres and innuendoes that would do Sid James, Charles Hawtrey or Kenneth Williams proud.

Miss it at your peril, Chaps (and Ladies too…).
It Came! ™ and © 2014 Dan Boultwood.

It Came! is published on March 11th.

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol


By Stuart Jennett (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-006-1

In a marketplace stuffed to bursting point with books and stories that are only parts of a greater whole, it’s a merciful delight to see that some publishers and creators are still sticking to the perfect basics and delivering complete, enthralling and fundamentally cool packages for kids of all ages (at least if you’re a bit liberal/traditional in your views of parenting and accept the intrinsically bloodthirsty nature of children)…

If you’re British a reader of a certain vintage – and more or less male – you never really grew out of the fundamental and sheerly gratuitous entertainment of seeing soldiers, explosions, chases, big guns and dinosaurs, and this spectacularly backwards-looking romp from Stuart Jennett (Warheads, 2000AD) punches all those buttons in a riotous time-travel war story which originally appeared in 2013 as a 5-issue miniseries.

The idea of honking big lizards against honking big guns is venerable, unceasingly cool and simply too good a concept to resist. I believe it all kicked off with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and was refined by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”, although many of his other novel sequences contained saurian co-stars) providing everything imaginative boys could wish for: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures, hot cave girls and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

The most successful comics instance of this must surely be Robert Kanigher’s The War that Time Forgot (which debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90, April-May 1960). The stories of US troops fighting Germans, Japanese and hungry monsters ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 – the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla

Whereas this fine new iteration, given a quirkily British spin, boasts no busty babes in either torn but oddly obfuscating scraps of lab coat or fetching muskrat-pelt bikinis (though maybe there’s room in the sequel), it does contain fast-paced, gory antediluvian slaughter and a twisty-turny, time-bending plot to heighten the gruelling, gripping duel between the world’s first full time chronal combatants…

Following Jennett’s Introduction the non-stop action begins deep in dinosaur times and climes as a veteran US Army Sergeant leads his squad in another raid to stop Nazi time-troopers from mucking up history in the Fuhrer’s favour.

Temporal travel is still a new arena for combat and nobody really knows the rules, but the Professor back in 1944 is pretty adamant that visitors to the past should harm or kill as little as possible.

Of course that’s easy for him to say from his nice safe lab…

Time-Landings are haphazard at best and the G.I.s have to cut through miles of swamp to reach their current objective, so before too long only Grease and the Sarge are left to sneak up on the Nazi Time-Bell, doing God knows what to win the war for Uncle Adolf…

In charge is old enemy Kapitan Dieter Richter, Germany’s top Chrono-Kriegsmann, and the wily fox again manages to escape even though the Sarge succeeds in blowing up his base…

Exhausted and wounded, the Sarge treks back alone and triggers his Chronosphere’s return, only to emerge into another blazing firefight. Nazi agents have successfully infiltrated the Allied time lab of Project: Watchmaker and stolen the Professor’s Chronos Core – the invention which powers the trips and enables US time-teams to return home…

A traitor has jumped back to the Cretaceous, intent on handing the core over to a Kraut team and giving them an unbeatable edge in time tech, leaving the Americans with only 30-minutes Relative to prevent the end of Allied Chronal Operations forever.

Frantically, Sarge assembles a 4-man team from the lab’s surviving soldiery to give chase and recover the device, utterly unaware that he has left the Prof unprotected with another insidious Nazi infiltrator…

The grizzled Non-Com would be no happier knowing that he’s bringing one back to the age of reptiles with him too…

What follows is a desperate and ghastly race against time with hungry saurians, deadly giant bugs and murderous bushwhacking Nazis all adding to the body count, whilst in the Age of Man lethal paradoxes multiply and the fragile stability of all time and space begin to fracture…

Riotous and spectacular, explosively gung-ho but still smart enough to pile on the temporal pressures and leavened with sly, knowing black humour, Dawn Patrol offers a bullet-ridden rollercoaster of blockbuster thrills no big kid could possibly resist.

Also included here is a large section of added features from the ‘Chronos Commandos Supplemental Briefing Pack’ which includes such text background as ‘Official Papers Transferring Sgt. XXXX to Project: Watchmaker…’, ‘Black Star Initiative Operational Parameters’, ‘Chronos Commandos Search and Destroy Mission Briefing’, ‘Dr. Herla’s Autopsy Report: including Discussion of His Various Fatal Mutations, and Informed Speculation on the Perils of Time Travel’ and ‘Know Your Enemy Dinosaur Comparison Charts’.

Also included are the tragic fragments of a lost hero’s life in ‘Peabody’s ‘Letters from Home’ and his ‘Vintage Crash Jordan Serial Poster’ as well as Blueprints for both the Allied and Nazi Time Pods, original comics ‘Series Covers’ and extensive excerpts from ‘The Chronos Commandos Sketchbook’.

Chronos Commandos™ and © 2014 Stuart Jennett. All rights reserved.

 

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol is published on March 11th. For details of how to meet the author and get a copy signed, check out our Noticeboard section.