Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


By Ken Reid, with Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-660-5 (HB/Digital edition)

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid. He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who – largely unsung – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes to hang about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963 with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with the resurgent comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work. On April 18th 1953, Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 whilst creating many more, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and equally under-appreciated co-superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work for DCT’s arch-rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs for Wham! And Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, Reid continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid collection – is Creepy Creations. Gathered here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake: episodes spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974 as well as related works from contemporaneous Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) Sterling for their successful efforts. The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles beginning with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

The convoluted history of Ken’s feature (which came and went by way of 1960s cult icon Power Comics, Mad magazine, Topps Trading Cards and even stranger stops), originally intended to save him having to draw the same old characters every day, is detailed in an engrossing historical overview by Irmantas Povilaika dubbed ‘Plus a “Funny Monsters” Competition with These Fantastic Prizes’ before the true wonderment ensues.

Astounding popular from beginning to end, Creepy Creations offered a ghastly, giggle-infused grotesque every week: a string of macabre graphic snapshots (some, apparently, too horrific to be published at the time!) beloved by kids who adore being grossed out.

Seen here are ratified Reid-beasts like ‘The One-Eyed Wonk of Wigan,’, ‘The Chip Chomping Tater Terror of Tring’ and the ‘The Boggle-Eyed Butty-Biter of Sandwich’, his stunning kid collaborations on arcane animals like ‘The Gruesome Ghoul from Goole’ or ‘Nelly, the Kneecap-Nipping Telly from Newcastle’, and – due to the staggering demands of weekly deadlines – also offers cartoon contributions from UK comics star Reg Parlett & Robert Nixon.

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, 4-pages of ‘Mini Monsters’ and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Piling up even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collections.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd. He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancellation in October 1988.

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Ruins (Paperback Edition)


By Peter Kuper (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-18-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi award-winning artist, storyteller, illustrator, educator and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was six. Growing up there he (briefly) met iconic Underground Commix pioneer R. Crumb and at school befriended fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman (Disaster and Resistance: Comics and Landscapes for the 21st Century, War in the Neighborhood, You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over to Survive).

As they progressed through the school system together, Kuper & Tobocman caught the bug for self-publishing. They then attended Kent State University together. Upon graduation in 1979, both moved to New York and whilst studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and The Art Students League created – with painter Christof Kohlhofer – landmark political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated. Separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and via art events, Kuper & Tobocman continued championing social causes, highlighting judicial and cultural inequities and spearheading the use of narrative art as a tool of activism.

Although a noted and true son of the Big Apple now and despite brushing with the comics mainstream as Howard Chaykin’s assistant at Upstart Associates, most of Kuper’s singularly impressive works are considered “Alternative” in nature, deriving from his regular far-flung travels and political leanings. Moreover, although being about how people are, much of his oeuvre employs cityscapes and the natural environment as bit players or star attractions.

When not binding his own “Life Lived in Interesting Times” into experimental narratives – such as with 2007’s fictively-cloaked Stop Forgetting To Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz – or bold yarns like Sticks and Stones (2005), Kuper created The New York Times’ first continuing strip (1993’s Eye of the Beholder) and regularly adapts to strip form literary classics like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1991), Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (2019), Kafka’s short stories  Give It Up! (1995) and Kafkaesque (2018) as well as longer works like The Metamorphosis (2003), all while creating his own unique canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the so many strings to his bow – and certainly the most high-profile – was a brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip, which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997, and he also chases whimsy in children’s books like 2006’s Theo and the Blue Note or experimental exercise The Last Cat Book (1984: illustrating an essay by Robert E Howard). Whenever he travelled – which was often – he made visual books such as 1992’s Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips – A Journal of Travels through Africa and Southeast Asia. Three years later he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Vertigo Verité imprint: crafting mute, fantastically expressive thriller/swingeing social commentary The System.

Kuper’s later comics – all equally ambitious and groundbreaking – had to make room for his other interests as he became a successful commercial illustrator (Newsweek, Time, The Nation, Businessweek, The Progressive, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly and more), lecturer in Graphic Novels at Harvard, a teacher at Parsons School of Design and The School of Visual Arts and – since 1988 – co-Art Director of political action group INX International Ink Company. Translated into many languages, he has built a thriving occupation as a gallery artist exhibiting globally and scored a whole bunch of prestigious Fellowships and Educational residencies as a result.

He still finds time to pursue his key interests – such as contributing to benefit anthology Comics for Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds and cultivates a lifelong passion for entomology. This hobby infused 2015’s fictionalized autobiographical episode Ruins: an Eisner Award winning tome now available again in an enthralling trade paperback edition.

A passionate multilayered tale of crisis, confrontation and renewal infused by his ecological concerns, political leanings, rage against authoritarianism and love of Mexico, it draws from the same deep well as 2009’s Diario De Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico. Between 2006 and 2008, Kuper, his wife and young daughter lived in Oaxaca, absorbing astounding historical and cultural riches, beguiling natural wonders, hearty warmth and nonjudgemental friendliness. They also witnessed how a teacher’s strike was brutally and bloodily suppressed by local governor/dictator Ulises Ruiz Ortiz – AKA “URO” – in a series of events with a still heavily disputed death toll scarring the region and citizens to this day.

Part travelogue, part natural history call to arms and paean to the culture of Oaxaca, Kuper’s tale details a marriage in crisis played out against a disintegrating crisis of governance. Recently unemployed, socially withdrawn and emotionally stunted museum illustrator/bug lover George finally capitulates and voyages to the Mexican dreamland his wife Samantha has been pining for since before they met. Under the aegis of a sabbatical year taken to write a book on pre-conquest Mexico, she has dragged him out of ennui and churlish career doldrums to a place where he can indulge his abiding love of insects, if not her…

For Samantha, it’s a return to a paradisical place and magical time, albeit one where she loved and lost her first husband. That’s not the sole cause of growing friction between the increasingly at odds couple. The lengthy trip’s overt intention of reuniting them falters as she is drawn deeply into stories of how the Conquistadors destroyed Mesoamerican cultures they found and highlights parallels to her own plight. There are other earthier distractions she just can’t shake off too…

Slowly, George’s intransigence melts as he meets people willing to tolerate his ways, see beyond his shell, and share the history, geology, geography and serenely easy-going culture that eventually penetrates his crusty exterior. All manner of distracting temptations – like the infinite variety of cool bugs! – are endless and constant as he makes friends and finds healthier ways to express himself. He even tries to renew his constrained relationship with Samantha, but there will always be one impossible, impassable barrier to their future happiness…

… And then they’re caught up in the Teachers’ strike and extra-judicial methods Governor URO employs to end it even as George achieves the milestone life goal he never thought possible and visits the Michoacan forest where Monarchs come to breed and die.

… And finds it expiring from human intrusion…

Acting as thematic spine and tonal indicator for the unfolding story, each chapter follows – with snapshot scenes of changing, degrading landscapes – the epic flight of a lone Monarch butterfly, from its start in Canada, across America to the forest’s lepidopteran devotee George ostensibly left his comfort zone home to see.

With overtones of Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously (and Christopher Koch’s novel too), Ruins layers metaphor upon allegory, distilling political, ecological and personal confrontation into a powerfully evocative account of people at a crossroads. Inspirationally visualised in a wealth of styles by a true master of pictorial narrative and classic drama, this new paperback edition also includes an ‘Afterwords’ where the author adds context to the still ongoing saga of the civil war crime underpinning his story.

Clever, charming, chilling and compulsively engrossing, this delicious exercise in interconnectivity is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can and should be.
© Peter Kuper 2015. All rights reserved.

Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood & Persepolis 2 – The Story of a Return


By Marjane Satrapi, translated by Anjali Singh (Jonathan Cape/Vintage)
ISBN: 978-0-22406-440-8 (v1 HB) 978-0-22407-440-7 (v2 HB) 978-0-09952-399-4 (TPB)

With Marjane Satrapi’s new book – Woman, Life, Freedom – due for publication next week, let’s take another look at the landmark cartoon biography that started her impressive career as a political commentator, activist and feminist icon before her appraisal of the changes (and not) of the current Iranian Revolution make her a target all over again…

No comics celebration/retrospective of women in our art form could be complete without acknowledging Marjane Satrapi’s astounding breakout memoirs, so let’s revisit both her Persepolis books (also available in a complete edition released to coincide with the animated movie adaptation) before you are inescapably compelled to graduate to later forays like The Sigh, Monsters are Afraid of the Moon, Chicken With Plums or Embroideries.

The imagery of a child, their unrefined stylings and shaded remembrances all possess captivating power to enthral adults. As the author grew up during the Fundamentalist revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and replaced him with an Islamic theocracy, her recollections and comic interpretations of that time are particularly powerful, moving and – regrettably – more relevant than ever two decades later…

Originally released in France by L’Association between 2000 and 2003 as a quartet of annual volumes of cartoon reminiscence, in Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood Satrapi curated and related key incidents from her life with starkly primitivistic and forthright drawings depicting a sharp, unmoderated voice channelling perceptions of the young girl she was. That simple reportage owes as much to Anne Frank’s diary as Art Spiegelman’s Maus as Satrapi shares incidents that shaped her life and identity as a free-thinking “female” in a society increasingly frowning upon that sort of thing…

By focusing on content of the message and decrying or at best ignoring the technical skill and craft of the medium that conveys it, Persepolis became the kind of graphic novel casual and intellectual readers loved – as did kids everywhere but Chicago in 2013. Here the Public Schools CEO – apparently immune to irony – ruled years after translated publication that the books contained “graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use” and banned them from “her” classrooms and high schools: a decision quickly reversed when students organised demonstrations and massed at public libraries to read them anyway…

However, graphic narrative is as much an art form of craft and thought as it is the dustbin of sophomoric genre stereotypes that many critics relegate it to. Satrapi created a work that is powerful and engaging, but in a sorry twist of reality, it is one that comics fans, and not the general public, still have to be convinced to read.

In the sequel Persepolis – The Story of a Return, the child-centric reminiscences of a girl whose childhood spanned the fall of the Shah and the rise of Iran’s Fundamentalist theocracy, Satrapi delved deeper into her personal history, concentrating more fully on the little girl becoming an autonomous, independent woman.

This idiosyncratic maturation unfortunately somewhat diminishes the power of pure, unvarnished observation that is such a devastating lens into the political iniquities moulding her life, but does transform the author into a fully concretised person, as many experiences more closely mirror those of an audience which hasn’t grown up under a cloud of physical, political, spiritual and sexual oppression.

The story recommences in 1984 where 15-year old Marjane is sent to Vienna to (ostensibly) pursue an education. In distressingly short order, the all-but-asylum-seeker is rapidly bounced from home to home: billeted with Nuns, distanced acquaintances of her family. a bed-sit in the house of an apparent madwoman. Eventually, in a catastrophic spiral of decline she is reduced to living on the streets before returning to Iran four years later. It is 1988…

Her observations on the admittedly outré counterculture of European students, and her own actions as Marjane grows to adulthood seem to indicate that even the most excessive and extreme past experience can still offer a dangerously seductive nostalgia when faced with the bizarre concept of too much freedom far too soon.

When she returns to her homeland, her adult life under the regime of The (first) Ayatollah is still a surprisingly less-than-total condemnation than we westerners and our agenda-slanted news media would probably expect. The book concludes with a decision to move permanently to Europe in 1994…

The field of autobiographical graphic novels is a proven and invaluable outreach resource for an art form and industry desperately seeking to entice fresh audiences for our product. As long as subject matter doesn’t overpower content and style, and we can offer examples such as Persepolis to seekers, we should be making real headway, any day now.
© Marjane Satrapi 2004. Translation © 2004 Anjali Singh.

The Misadventures of Jane


By Norman Pett & J.H.G. “Don” Freeman & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-167-0 (HB)

For the longest time, Jane was arguably the most important and well-regarded comic strip in British, if not World, history. The feature panel debuted on December 5th 1932 as Jane’s Journal: or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing: a frothy, frivolous gag-a-day strip in The Daily Mirror, created by freelance cartoonist Norman Pett.

Originally a nonsensical comedic vehicle, it consisted of a series of panels with embedded cursive script to simulate a diary page. The feature switched to more formal strip frames and balloons in late 1938, when scripter Don Freeman came on board whilst Mirror Group supremo Harry Guy Bartholomew was looking to renovate the serial for a more adventure- and escape-hungry audience. It was also felt that a second continuity feature – like Freeman’s other strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred – would keep readers coming back: as if Jane’s inevitable – if usually unplanned – bouts of near-nudity wouldn’t…

Jane’s secret was skin. Even before war broke out there were torn skirts and lost blouses aplenty, but once the shooting started and Jane became a special operative of British Intelligence, her clothes came off with terrifying regularity and machine gun rapidity. She infamously went topless when the Blitz was at its worst.

Pett drew the strip with verve and style, imparting a uniquely English family feel: a joyous lewdness-free innocence and total lack of tawdriness. The illustrator worked from models and life, famously using first his wife, his secretary Betty Burton, and editorial assistant Doris Keay, but most famously actress and model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter – until May 1948 when Pett left for another newspaper and another clothing-challenged comic star…

From then his art assistant Michael Hubbard assumed full control of the feature (prior to that he had drawn backgrounds and mere male characters), and carried the series – increasingly a safe, flesh-free soap-opera and less a racy glamour strip – to its end on October 10th 1959.

This Titan Books collection added the saucy secret weapon to their arsenal of classic British comics and strips in 2009 and paid Jane the respect she deserved with a snappy black and white hardcover collection, augmented by colour inserts.

Following a fascinating and informative article from Canadian paper The Maple Leaf (which disseminated her exploits to returning ANZAC servicemen), Jane’s last two war stories (running from May 1944 to June 1945) are reprinted in their entirety, beginning with ‘N.A.A.F.I, Say Die!’, as the hapless but ever-so-effective intelligence agent is posted to a British Army base where someone’s wagging tongue is letting pre-D-Day secrets out. Naturally (very au naturally) only Jane and sidekick/best friend Dinah Tate can stop the rot…

This is promptly followed by ‘Behind the Front’ wherein Jane & Dinah invade the continent, tracking down spies, collaborators and boyfriends in Paris before joining an ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) concert party, and accidentally invading Germany just as the Russians arrive…

As you’d expect, the comedy stems from classic Music Hall fundamentals, with plenty of drama and action right out of the patriotic and comedy cinema of the day – but if you’ve ever seen Will Hay, Alistair Sim or Arthur Askey at their peak, you’ll know that’s no bad thing – and this bombastic book also contains loads of rare contemporaneous goodies to drool over.

Jane was so popular that there were three glamour style-books – called Jane’s Journal – for which Pett produced many full-colour pin-ups and paintings as well as general cheese-cake illustrations. From those lost gems, this tome includes ‘The Perfect Model’, a strip feature “revealing” how the artist first met his muse Chrystabel Leighton-Porter; ‘Caravanseraglio!’ – an 8-page strip starring Jane and erring, recurring boyfriend Georgie Porgie – plus 15 pages of the very best partially- and un-draped Jane pin-ups.

Jane’s war record is frankly astounding. As a morale booster she was reckoned to have been worth more than divisions of infantry, and her exploits were regularly cited in Parliament and discussed with complete seriousness by Eisenhower and Churchill. Legend has it that The Daily Mirror‘s Editor was among the few who knew the date of D-Day so as to co-ordinate her exploits and fullest exposures with the Normandy landings…

In 1944, on the day she went full frontal, American Service newspaper Roundup (distributed to US soldiers) went with the headline “JANE GIVES ALL” and subheading “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW”. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter toured as Jane in a services revue – she stripped for “the lads” – during the war and ultimately in 1949 starred in her own feature film The Adventures of Jane.

Although a product of simpler, far-less enlightened, indubitably more hazardous times, the naively charming, cosily thrilling, innocently saucy adventures of Jane, her patiently steadfast beau Georgie Porgie and especially her intrepid Dachshund Count Fritz Von Pumpernickel are incontestable landmarks of the art form, not simply for their impact but also for the plain and simple reason that they are superbly drawn and huge fun to read if you can suspend or hold in abeyance the truly gratuitous nudity.

Don’t waste the opportunity to keep such a historical icon in our lives. You should find this book, buy your friends this book, and most importantly, agitate to have her entire splendid run reprinted in more books like this one. Do your duty, citizens…
Jane © 2009 MGN Ltd/Mirrorpix. All Rights Reserved.

Pucky, Prince of Bacon – A Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-7128-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-5248-8295-2

There’s a burgeoning trend amongst certain men – mostly hiding on the internet – to think their threat of replacing women they can’t “get” with sex-bots that don’t exist is in some way a deterrent to being turned down by people they don’t have the ability to ask nicely in the first place. These uncouth, mis-evolved oafs also warn that if the “females” don’t wise up and lower their standards they will be stuck with living with cats…

Guys, wise up yourselves. Neither of those propositions are unwelcome outcomes. Cats already rule the world and you just can’t compete.

On any level.

In 2016, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy housemates (the ones with more than two feet) earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively, interminably poke their little snouts into the mess. That incident led to Breaking Cat News as a hilariously beguiling webcomic strip detailing how her forthright felines operate their own on-the-spot news-team, with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

On March 27th 2017, a suitably modified (for which read fully redrawn and recoloured) version began newspaper syndication, alternating with new material designed expressly for print consumption. As the strip and cast grew, print publication led to books like these – also a far more enticing prospect than any night out with the boys…

If you’re a returning customer or already follow the strip, you’re au fait with the constantly expanding cast and its ceaselessly surreal absurdity, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than that which is intentional…

Be warned though, Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings. Always keep hankies close. You too, lads…

In this volume the cast return to episodic riffs as the Dunn’s toddler – under the guidance of the scoop-starved kitties – becomes mobile and adventurous. Moreover, the strips slowly and gleefully trace the events leading to the addition of his new baby sister, with the news team in the moment and in the wrong every step of the way.

You will see here said literal manchild learning to negotiate potential problems like toilets, sudden onset “sleepies”, furniture, The Man’s new job and interview attire, cat hair tagging and big family events like Christmas, New Years, Easter and The Woman’s sister coming to stay. When a fad for new year’s resolutions grips the cats, the kid is there to watch the fallout…

As always Rolling News episodes revisit favourite themes like things that don’t need to be on shelves, climbing into bags, the right packaging to play with (packing peanuts or tissue paper), helping The People exercise, getting more kibble, rainbows in the kitchen and whether mailmen exist, although new crises erupt and are covered in depth as they occur.

Of particular importance are how slow The Man is at cleaning the litter box and extended reports covering a cat war with the vacuum cleaner only ending when diligent feline investigations uncover maternal instinct behind the roaring beast’s increased rampages…

Breaking events are backed up by In-Depth packages and segments on whiskers, boxes for napping, crinkly candy wrappers, the quickest way to wake The People, new house plants (edible or not?), string & floss, how much The Woman sleeps, is sick or watches British cosy mysteries about crime-solving clerics.  In other news, an inherited cuckoo clock, a sustained campaign known as “Operation Second Breakfast”, and sudden leak of Elvis’ baby pictures from when he was adopted offer once in a lifetime opportunities for mockery and teasing…

When not reporting, our moggy mob – and outdoors cat Tommy – are happy to advise and comment on removing spiders, drying out phones, talking to skunks, cuteness, bathing, baby food, sweeping up, cat portraits, bad food, “booping” superglue, BCW (Best Cat Wrestling), Wet Food Wednesday, toys, spiffy moustaches, tuna water (proper cat persons call it “fishy-ssoise”),  books for sleeping in, snow and spring planting, and girl guide cookies. …And then everything changes with a new tiny People and the cats need to adapt – and report…

We pause our programme here with another Christmas and the explanation for why this book is called what it is…

Outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous and always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – the romps, riffs and occasional sad bits about a fully integrated multi-species family is a growing necessity of life for many folk – just like men simply Are Not. Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Breaking Cat News is fabulously funny infinitely re-readable feel-good fun rendered with artistic elan and a light and breezy touch to delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of a good laugh.
Pucky, Prince of Bacon © 2022 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

The Cabbie volume 1


By Marti, with an introduction by Art Spiegelman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-4504 (HB/Fantagraphics) 978-0874160420 (Album PB Catalan Communications)

Although out of print since 1987, in 2011 Fantagraphics rescued from relative obscurity one of the darkest yet most grimly illuminating classics of European cartooning in this remastered and augmented reissue of The Cabbie: a stylish, nightmarish psycho-sexual noir thriller that has as much seedy kick now as it had when first translated by Catalan Communications…

Now as the macabre maestro has died, my conscience prompts me to pay for neglecting such wonderful comics and it’s only right we should pause to revisit his greatest achievement. Maybe some publisher will endeavour to bring some of his other dark wonders – like Doctor Vertigo, Propaganda Moderna, crime fantasy-thriller Calvario Hills, Cien dibujos por la libertad de Prensa or Terrorista – to a wider international audience.

Marti Riera Ferrer (1955 – 19th January 2024) was born in Barcelona during the heyday of fascist rule. He studied at the Massana School of Arts and Crafts where his efforts coincided with the Generalissimo’s death, and from 1975 to 1979 a liberalisation saw “Marti” creating comics for alterative magazines like Rock COMIC and Star.

From its launch in 1979 he also began contributing to apocalyptic iconoclast El Vibora: short stories and series such as Tony Nuevaola and – with Rodolfo – Lola Lista contra los Nada. These efforts brought international interest and Marti began appearing in Raw and Drawn & Quarterly. Il TaxistaThe Cabbie – began in 1982 and he episodically added to the canon over succeeding years, and although semi-retired from the early Nineties he continued generating other material at his own pace for the magazine Makoki and Tobalina. These tales varied from erotic fiction to general illustrated fare.

Dick Tracy is one of the most well-known strips on Earth and the super-cop’s contributions to the art form are many and indisputable. They occurred over many decades and the medium of graphic narrative grew up with it. Imagine the effect instant exposure – or overexposure – to such an uncompromising, bombastic, iconic property on the artists of a nation where free-expression and creative autonomy was suppressed for generations. That’s what happened when the death of General Franco (who had held Spain in a fascistic time-warp from his victory in April 1939 until his death in November 1975) opened up and liberalised all aspects of Spanish life. When Marti saw the strip he was changed for life…

As Art Spiegelman says in his introduction, “decades of political and social repression gave way to a glorious eruption of creativity that allowed a full-fledged counterculture to come to life at just about the same time that America’s “Love Generation” gave way to what Tom Wolfe labelled the “Me Generation.””

How odd yet fitting then that an American symbol of “The Establishment” so enchanted and captivated young cartoonist Marti Riera that he assimilated every line and nuance to create a bleak, stripped-down and extremely angry homage detailing the tribulations of a seedy, desperate taxi-driver trapped in an abruptly vanished past and prey to a world at once free and dangerous, ungoverned and chaotic…

Driving around the seediest part of town our hero picks up a high-rolling gambler who’s just won big, but the driver’s night goes horribly wrong when a knife-wielding thief hijacks the cab and robs his passenger. Luckily, the Cabbie can handle himself and he quickly, brutally subdues the thug.

Our protagonist is a decent, hard-working man who lives with his ailing mother, humouring her talk of a mysterious inheritance, and allowing her to keep the embalmed cadaver of his father in the spare bedroom, but he’s tragically unaware that his citizen’s arrest will have terrible repercussions for them both. When the son of the thief he captured is released from prison, the ingrate immediately begins a grim campaign of retribution against the Cabbie that creates a maelstrom of tragedy, degradation and despair.

This is a harsh, uncompromising tale of escalating crime and uncaring punishments: blackly cynical, existentially scary and populated with a cast of battered, desolate characters of increasingly degenerate desperation. Even the monsters are victims, but for all that The Cabbie is an incredibly compelling drama with strong allegorical overtones and brutally mesmerizing visuals.

Any mature devotee of comics should be conversant with Marti’s superb work, and with a second volume out there and the hope of digital editions (One bloody Day!), hopefully we soon all will be…
The Cabbie (Taxista) © 2011 Marti. Introduction © 2011 Art Spiegelman. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

He Done Her Wrong


By Milt Gross (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-694-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

The power of comics comes not just from wedding text to image but also in the power of illustration. You can have comics without words but if you leave the letters and subtract the pictures what you have is just a book…

Bronx-born Milt Gross (March 4th 1895 – November 29th 1953) was a trailblazing pioneer in both cartooning and the wider arena of popular comedy, specialising in vernacular while refining and popularising Yiddish folk humour and slang into a certified American export to world culture: “Yinglish”. You should really look him up…

Gross was also an early adept in the animation field, bringing his cartoon characters to silent life in numerous short filler features for John R. Bray Studios, Universal and MGM. Far too few of his many books are in print now, but happily this astounding landmark is one of them and is even available digitally. He made his mark in comics, working for William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper chain on many syndicated strips including Banana Oil, Pete the Pooch, Dave’s Delicatessen, Count Screwloose from Tooloose, Babbling Brooks, Otto and Blotto, The Meanest Man, Draw Your Own Conclusion, I Did It and I’m Glad! And That’s My Pop! (which was promptly adapted into a popular radio show).

Released in 1930, He Done Her Wrong (The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It – No Music, Too) lampooned – and exploited – a notable trend of those troubled times: wordless novels. The woodcut-crafted parables derived from the German Expressionist art movement, offered (generally left-leaning) pictorial epigrams addressing social injustice. The first was Belgian Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918), and American Lynd Ward followed suit 11 years later with God’s Man. Among many similar efforts they inspired (like Giacomo Patri’s White Collar) was Gross’ spoof of silent movie serials like The Perils of Pauline, pitched perfectly for pathos, bathos and pitiless hilarity…

A facsimile edition first released in 2005 by Fantagraphics, this edition is a completely unabridged restoration – which means the re-inclusion of some images, depictions and scenes that might appear a little controversial to modern sensibilities. It also offers a fascinating picture-packed Introduction by Craig Yoe (a devoted friend and patron of all comics vintage and fabulous) plus a closing Appreciation by eminent cartoonist, writer/editor Paul Karasik. What lies between them is a stunning masterclass in comedy staging, gag timing, timeless melodrama, delivered as a succession of wordless pantomimic pages. It all begins after a decent, hearty and trustworthy young woodsman, trapper and prospector falls in love with a virtuous barroom singer. True Love is thwarted by a dirty villain who swindles our hero and absconds to New York with his heartbroken, “abandoned” ingenue paramour.

As hero and victim both fall foul of the lures of the Big Bad City and vice unstoppably mounts in the woman’s benighted life, the Good Man overcomes all obstacles to find his darling: battling his way from the wilderness into far more savage civilisation where he will set things right no matter what the cost…

It all works out in the end of course, but only after an astoundingly convoluted course of action, buckets of tears, some well-earned vengeance and a little forgiveness… and plenty of near-misses and lethally close calls. That sounds like a great thriller – and it is – but Gross played it strictly for laughs, crafting a tale ranking with the best of his closest contemporary comedy peers: Charley Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He Done Her Wrong is a superb yarn and perfect picture into a world that only seems simpler and less complicated than today, and if you love classics stories and crave romance, you should “Dun’t Esk” and just buy it…
He Done Her Wrong © 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2005 Craig Yoe. An Appreciation © 2005 Paul Karasik.

Popeye volume 3: The Sea Hag & Alice the Goon (The E.C. Segar Popeye Sundays)


By Elzie Crisler Segar with Bong Redila & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-884-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

Popeye first embarked in the Thimble Theatre comic feature on January 17th 1929. The unassuming newspaper strip had launched on 19th December 1919: one of many cartoon funnies to parody and burlesque the era’s silent movie serials. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies/Minute Movies – which Thimble Theatre replaced in William Randolph Hearsts’ papers.

All these strips employed a repertory company of characters playing out generic adventures based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky, excessively excitable daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s sappy, would-be beau Horace Hamgravy. The series ticked along nicely for a decade: competent, unassuming and always entertaining, with Castor and Ham Gravy (as he became) tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, frenzied, fear-free adventures and gag situations until September 10th 1928, when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a spoil from his latest exploration of Africa. It was the most fabulous of all birds – a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – and was the start of something truly groundbreaking…

Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapstick shenanigans, Castor was inclined to keep Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – as a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort dubbed ‘Dice Island’. Bernice clearly affected and inspired writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Big sister Olive wanted to come along, but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th episode of that extended saga, a bluff, brusquely irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pathetic pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer surly willpower, Popeye won readers’ hearts and minds: his no-nonsense, rough grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until, by tale’s end, the walk-on had taken up residency. He would soon make Thimble Theatre his own…

The Sailor Man affably steamed onto the full-colour Sunday Pages forming the meat of this curated collection. This paperback prize is the third of four designed for swanky slipcases, and will present Segar’s entire Sunday canon. Spiffy as that sounds, the wondrous stories are also available in digital editions if you want to think of ecology or mitigate the age and frailty of your spinach-deprived “muskles”…

Son of a handyman, Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His early life was filled with solid, earnest blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. Young Segar worked as a decorator/house-painter, played drums to accompany vaudeville acts at the local theatre and when the town got a movie house played for the silent films. This allowed him to absorb staging, timing and narrative tricks from close observation of the screen, and these became his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was whilst working as a film projectionist, he decided to draw for his living, and tell his own stories. He was 18…

Like so many from that “can-do” era, Segar studied art via mail: in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio – from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world. Segar gravitated to Chicago and was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault (The Yellow Kid, Buster Brown), arguably the inventor of newspaper comics. Outcault introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald and soon – although still wet behind the ears – Segar’s first strip Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers debuted on 12th March 1916. Two years later, Elzie married Myrtle Johnson and moved to Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop. Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to the Manhattan headquarters of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre for The New York Journal. In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter/would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable, indomitable wife Myrtle (!).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from the admittedly average melodrama adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the introduction of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, Popeye shambled on stage midway through ‘Dice Island’ and once his very minor part played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular. As circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. In the less than 10 years Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929 until the artist’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), the auteur constructed an incredible metaworld of fabulous lands and lost locales, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages, spawned or overcame astounding scenarios and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. They also threw punches at the drop of a hat…

This was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying – frequently at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or lost kingdom, there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily-swung fists and a sarcastic aside.

Popeye was the first Superman of comics and ultimate working-class hero but he was not a comfortable one to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists, lacking respect for authority, he was uneducated, short-tempered and – whenever hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes (or thereabouts) at him – fickle: a worrisome gambling troublemaker who wasn’t welcome in polite society… and wouldn’t want to be. However, the mighty marine marvel may be raw and rough-hewn,  but he is fair and practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s right and what’s not: a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who takes no guff from anybody. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

Preceding the vintage views, this tome offers another sublime and compellingly whimsical cartoon deconstruction, demystification and appreciation in Allegro in C Hag Minor’ – An Introduction by Bong Redila’ wherein the multi award winning Filipino American cartoonist (Meläg, Borderline) explores the sparking relationship of the witch and her hairy pal…

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always biffing a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a vivid brilliance and spontaneous energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

This third collection of Segar’s Sunday Colour comics masterpiece spans December 3rd 1933 to February 16th 1936, opening with his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ in full, unexpurgated totality, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment). It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island, land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag who rules it has reared her homely head once more and is very close…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps nerve-wracked Professor Cringly: an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location. Is Popeye’s latest voyage over before it has begun…?

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, diner owner Rough-House, “Gobbler” George W. Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye give chase. It seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake and sends her monstrous mute Goon to take hostages. The uncanny creature returns with the indomitable sea salt and inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her mute minion – who is apparently a rather decent if unprepossessing mother answering to Alice

In this sinister saga Segar’s second greatest character creation – morally maladjusted master moocher Wimpy – gradually takes over, threating Popeye’s star status with shameful antics and scurrilous schemes. Among so many timeless supporting characters, craven mega moocher Wimpy stands out as the utter antithesis of feisty big-hearted Popeye, but unlike any other nemesis I can name, this black mirror is not an “emeny” of the hero, but his best – maybe only – friend…

The Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman debuted on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee officiating a bombastic month-long bout against pugilist Tinearo. He struck a chord with Segar who made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Eternally ravenous and always soliciting (probably on principle) bribes of any magnitude, we only learned the crook’s name in May 24th’s instalment. The erudite rogue uttered the first of many immortal catchphrases a month later. That was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” – like most phrases Everybody Knows, actually started as “Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday”. It was closely followed by my personal mantra “let’s you and him fight”…

Sunday Pages followed a decidedly domestic but rowdily riotous path, increasing given over to – or more correctly, appropriated – by the insidiously oleaginous grifter: ever hungry, intellectually stimulating, casually charming and usually triumphant in all his mendicant missions. Whilst continuing Popeye’s pugilistic shenanigans, the strips moved away from him hitting quite so much to alternately being outwitted by the unctuous beggar or saving him from the vengeance of furious eatery-owner Rough-House and fellow daily diner Geezil. The soup-slurping cove began as an ethnic Jewish stereotype, but like all Segar’s characters soon developed beyond his (now so very offensive) comedic archetype into a whole person with his own story and equally unique voice. Geezil was the most vocal advocate for murdering the insatiable sponger…

Fair warning: this was an era of casual racial stereotyping completely acceptable and indeed a key component of cartooning and all mass entertainment. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk interacted. Geezil wasn’t just a Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any of nearly 50 supporting cast members could be within page/panel count constrictions.

Wimpy was incorrigible and unstoppable – he was even a rival suitor for Olive’s unappealing affections whenever food or money (for food) was in play. He grew from Segar’s love and admiration of comedian W.C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving greed, freed from ethical restraint and devoid of impulse-control.

Wimpy literally took candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar made us love him. He is Popeye’s other half: weld them together and you have an heroic ideal… (and yes, those stories are all true: Britain’s Wimpy burger bar chain was built from the remnants of a 1950s international merchandising scheme seeking to put a J Wellington Wimpy-themed restaurant in every town and city).

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and raucous riotous comedy have never been better blended than in Plunder Island, but when the victorious crew return home, the fun doesn’t stop as we see the bitter aftermath and how our various treasure-seekers dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his cash away, prompting a return to prize fighting against a succession of increasingly scary and barely human opponents. One such man-mountain is Kid Nitro with Wimpy again playing extremely partial referee. When the unscrupulous umpire bets all he has left against Popeye, the Sailor Man pauperises the cheat just by being his valiant self…

For a while, unrelated gag sequences (fights and romantic tiffs) keep the ball rolling every sabbath before mighty “infink” Swee’pea makes his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight” ). Adopted by Popeye, he became the focus of many outrageous episodes allowing audiences to comfortably decompress before the next Big Story. These gag exploits see Popeye dally with “High Sassiety” and inadvertently turn effete, spoiled rich child William Bankley into wholesome fun-loving little tough guy Bill whilst honing in on Wimpy’s appetite, ruthless scavenging of pets and livestock and duck hunting antics.

They culminate in appalling excess consumption and his mooching never ends: permanently predating on Rough-House and the distressed cobbler and leading to a shocking sequence of strips where – driven mad by Wimpey’s relentless mooching – the shoemaker kills his despised nemesis with burgers garnished with rat poison…

That aforementioned approaching epic then mines western themes as the cast (plus prodigal brother Castor Oyl) head west to Slither Creek (April 14th to August 25th 1935) as gold prospectors, with Wimpy lost in the desert, undergoing incredible – and well-deserved – hardships as Swee’Pea perpetually proves the benefits of a spinach-&-milk diet. Somehow, the sunny sojourn leaves Wimpy rolling in gold when they return home. As Popeye goes back to battling bulky boxers and sparring with Olive, the temporarily wealthy, eternally empty Wimpy buys his own diner in the ultimate expression of blind optimism and sheer folly. Eventually, the master beggar triumphs over all and gets to eat his fill… and must deal with the consequences of his locust-like consumption…

These tales are as vibrant and compelling now as they’ve ever been, comprising a classic of graphic literature only a handful of creators have ever matched. Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips. Week by week he was creating the syllabary and lexicon of a brand-new artform: inventing narrative tricks and beats that generations of artists and writers would use in their own creations. Despite some astounding successors, no one ever bettered Segar.

Popeye is five years shy of his centenary and deserves his place as a global icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 95 years after their first? These volumes are a perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of E.C. Segar and his brilliantly flawed superman. These are tales you’ll treasure all of your life and superb books you must not miss.

Popeye volume 3: The Sea Hag & Alice the Goon is copyright © 2023 King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. This edition © 2023 Fantagraphics Books Inc. Segar comic strips provided by Bill Blackbeard and his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. “Allegro in C Hag Minor” © 2023 Bong Redila. All rights reserved.

The Juggler of Our Lady – The Classic Christmas Story


By R. O. Blechman with a Foreword by Jules Feiffer and Introduction by Maurice Sendak (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels/Dover Children’s)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80030-1 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Immaculate Confection… 10/10

Christmas is not just about shiny new toys and sparkly knitwear. It’s also about unearthing or revisiting old, beloved and – in this case – almost totally forgotten treasures like a magnificent hardback picture-perfect gift that’s still readily available; thanks to the perspicacious souls at Dover Books.

Oscar Robert Blechman is a glittering star in America’s graphic arts firmament and an international superstar. Brooklyn-born in 1930, he has excelled as cartoonist, illustrator, author, animator & director, editorial cartoonist, Editorial Director and ad-man.

He won awards for his commercials and TV specials and been venerated in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. His anti-Vietnam cartoons graced The Village Voice through the early 1970s whilst his cartoons and illustrations appeared in such prestigious vehicles as Punch, The New Yorker, Trump, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Show, Theater Arts and Humbug. He’s also produced fascinating graphic narratives such as Franklin the Fly, Talking Lines and Georgie and can reasonably claim to have produced one of the very first English-language Graphic Novels – and thus beginneth today’s lesson…

In 1952 Blechman used his groundbreaking and soon-to-be phenomenally influential minimalist line-style – deftly augmented with judicious watercolours – to make a much-told tale all his own. The Juggler of Our Lady was his first book: initially published by Henry Holt, and superbly fetishized and commemorated through brother-cartoonist Maurice Sendak’s fondly emotional Introduction in this sublime pocket edition. The slim tome became a landmark in graphic narrative and is beloved by generations.

Anatole France’s 1892 tale Le Jongleur de Notre Dame is probably the most widely accepted version of the original medieval religious-miracle myth but there have been so many others the story is as much part of most people’s seasonal landscape as Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Blechman’s reinvigoration retains all the awe and wonder, whilst adding such a potent blend of wry humour, pitiful humility and gentle hope to the mix that it can make a grown man weep. In 1958 his book became an animated Terrytoons TV short with a huge impact when it was adapted by Al Kouzel & Gene Deitch and narrated by that legendary Spirit of Christmas Past Boris Karloff

You surely know the story: Cantalbert is an itinerant juggler who loves his work. He feels that if more people juggled there would less time for war and misery and folk would act better, feel better and be better. Nobody, however, will listen and the despondent performer – hungry for spirituality – joins a monastery. Even here he does not fit in and is saddened by his lack of suitable talents to venerate The Lord and especially his mother The Virgin Mary…

Everything comes to a head on Christmas Eve when the monks all display the magnificent presents they have made for the Madonna and poor Cantalbert has nothing worthy to give.

Later, when all is quiet, the sad juggler offers the only thing he knows and loves to the statue of The Virgin and something wonderful happens…

Deftly deconstructed and wondrously appreciated in a Foreword by comics and cartooning Titan Jules Feiffer, The Juggler of Our Lady is a masterpiece of graphic dexterity and an utterly beguiling experience no lover of the storytelling arts should be without.

Text and illustrations © 1997 R. O. Blechman. Foreword © 1997 2015 Jules Feiffer. Introduction © 1980 Maurice Sendak. All rights reserved.

Check out www.doverpublications.com, internet retailers or local comic or bookshop.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Color Sundays “Call of the Wild” (volume 1)


By Floyd Gottfredson & various: edited by David Gerstein & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-643-0 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mouse in Every House… 10/10

Happy technical 100th Anniversary Disney, but we all know it all REALLY started with this little guy…

As collaboratively co-created by Walt Disney & Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved. That’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse, since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The astounding success of the short led to a subsequent and rapid release of fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given soundtracks. From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon joined America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory. Happily, he slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pioneer of pictorial narratives as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay and Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions – if not billions – of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked. Via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history he took a wildly anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings and transformed a feisty everyman/mouse underdog into a crimebuster, detective, explorer, lover, aviator and cowboy. Mickey was the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded. In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle, employing crafty and clever sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: comprising a 50-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings in a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses. By the 1920s he had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928, he and wife Mattie moved to California where, after a shaky start, the doodler found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener with the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios. Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Walt to take over the newborn but already ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a qualified regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (his 25th birthday) and Floyd just kept going for fifty years. On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson crafted the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until retirement. At first he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue. Thereafter, collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams & Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of film studio systems, Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall & Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

This superb archival compendium – part of a magnificently ambitious series collecting the creator’s entire canon – re-presents the initial colour sequences, jam-packed with thrills, spills and chills, whacky races, fantastic fights and a glorious superabundance of rapid-fire sight-gags and verbal by-play. The manner by which Mickey became a syndicated star is covered in various articles at the front and back of this sturdy tome devised and edited by truly dedicated, clearly devoted fan David Gerstein who also provides an Introduction. The tome is stuffed with lost treats such as a try-out sketch (of the Wolf Barker storyline) by Carl Barks from 1935 when he joined Disney Studios.

Under the guise of Setting the Stage unbridled fun and incisive revelations begin with J.B. Kaufman’s ‘Mickey’s Sunday Best: A New Arena’ introducing us to this unique graphic world before Kevin Huizenga’s Appreciation ‘A Brief Essay About Floyd Gottfredson’ details the pictorial pathfinder’s visual innovations prior to The Sundays: Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse Stories With Introductory Notes concluding scene-setting with Gerstein offering some preliminary insights in ‘Sunday Storytelling’…

At the start – just like the daily feature – the strip was treated like an animated feature, with diverse hands working under a “director” and each day seen as a full gag with set-up, delivery and a punchline, usually all in service to an umbrella story or theme. Such was the format Gottfredson inherited from Walt Disney for his first full yarn, and here generally unconnected Gag Strips spanning January 10th to July 24th 1932 were by Duval (story & pencils) and Gottfredson until they switched and Floyd drew with Duval and Al Taliaferro inking. The result was a barrage of fast-paced and funny anthropomorphic animal antics starring Mickey, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, plus prototype pet Pluto dodging dogcatchers, visiting circuses and funfairs, fighting fires, skating, fighting Indians (sorry, it was an inescapable factor of less-evolved times), joyriding, farming, fishing, gardening, cooking, quarrelling, messing with model planes and trying to make money. As the weekly funfest progressed, Pluto’s part grew exponentially and – after a monochrome poser for film short Puppy Love (1933) – a brief briefing in The Peter Principle’ leads to the first extended storyline.

Running from July 31st to September 4th 1932 ‘Dan the Dogcatcher’ saw Gottfredson inked by Ted Thwaites in a dogged (sorry, not sorry) battle of wills as future returning foe Peg-Leg Pete debuted as an unscrupulously uncivil civil servant seeking to put Pluto in the pound at any cost. The tale wandered eccentrically and frenetically all over the small town scenario, adding drama and bathos to chaos and comedy before seamlessly slipping into more Gag Strips (January 10-July 24 1932) with story & pencils by Duval & Gottfredson and inks by Duval and Al Taliaferro.

One last Gag Strip (September 11th 1932 by Gottfredson & Thwaites neatly segues into ‘Mickey’s Nephews’ (September 18th – November 6th 1932 by Gottfredson & Thwaites) and is notable for introducing Mickey’s mischief-making nephews when he looks after the anarchic offspring of neighbour Mrs. Fieldmouse for a few weeks. The sentient cyclones soon start calling the guardian/jailer “unca Mickey”…

Gag Strips spanning November 13th 1932 to January 22nd 1933 (story Gottfredson & Webb Smith, pencils by Gottfredson inked by Thwaites & Taliaferro) leads to an essay detailing ‘Mickey’s Delayed Drama’ before landmark romp ‘Lair of Wolf Barker’ (January 29th – June 18th) changed the tone of the strip forever.

The first extended Mickey Sunday colour epic was partially scripted by Osborne and inked by Taliaferro & Thwaites, but is pure Gottfredson at his most engaging: a rip-roaring comedy western featuring a full wide-screen repertory cast: Mickey, Minnie, Horace, Clarabelle and Goofy, who originally answered to the moniker Dippy Dog.

The gang head west to look after Uncle Mortimer’s sprawling ranch and enjoy fresh air and free lodgings but after meeting his foreman Don Poocho stumble into a baffling crisis. Mortimer’s cattle are progressively vanishing, with the unsavoury eponymous villain riding roughshod over the territory and terrorising assorted characters and stock figures culled from a million movies. Desperados and deviltry notwithstanding, before long Barker gets his ultimate and well-deserved come-uppance thanks the Mouses’ valiant efforts. This is action comics on the fly, with plenty of rough-&- tumble action, twists, turns and surprises always alloyed to snappy, fast-packed sight and slapstick gags.

Without pausing for breath the cast’s return home leads to more unconnected frenzied Gag Strips (June 25th 1933 to March 4th 1934: story by Osborne, pencils by Gottfredson and inks by Thwaites & Taliaferro) with Mickey as much silly nuisance as closet hero until extended tales return, with ‘The Longest Short Story Ever Told!’ first supplying some context about the filmic origins of the next epic ‘Rumplewatt The Giant.’

The fantasy fable ran March 11th to April 29th 1934 by Osborne, Gottfredson, Thwaites & Taliaferro and sees Mickey reading a bedtime story to youngsters with himself as a giant killer in fairyland, after which rustic domesticity and free enterprise dominate as Mickey and Minnie anticipate – over a number of episodes – replacing the decrepit horse in his new delivery service. Many mishaps occur until ‘Tanglefoot Pulls His Weight’ (May 6th – June 3rd), and a single Gag Strip (June 10th 1934) leads to essay ‘Call of the Wild’ debating the history and tangled relationship of Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle and Goofy prior to Osborne, Gottfredson & Taliaferro dipping into sinister mad science courtesy of ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum’ (June 17th– September 9th 1934). A double date camping trip to the woods goes awry when the reclusive scientist – seeking a way to tame ferocious animals by chemistry, instead injects Horace with the antidote turning him into a rampaging beast…

‘TOPPER Strip “Introducing Mickey Mouse Movies”’ (June 24 1934 by Osborne, Gottfredson, & Taliaferro) reveals the ancillary feature that augmented the weekly feature and precedes more unconnected but house-based Gag Strips (September 16th to December 2nd 1934) and article ‘Death Knocks, Fate Pesters’ explores the strip’s early use of what we now call disaster capitalism before ‘Foray to Mt. Fishflake’ (December 9th 1934 to February 10th 1935 by Osborne, Gottfredson & Thwaites) finds the four friends seeking to scale a peak for prize money – a thrilling romp that led to also included Gag Strips from January 27th to February 10th and saw the comics debut of new Disney screen sensation Donald Duck

‘Beneath the Overcoat’ is a treatise on Osborne, Gottfredson & Thwaites’ landmark crime yarn running from February 17th to March 24th that reshaped the Mouse’s modus operandi and future exploits before serialised gem ‘The Case of the Vanishing Coats’ sees Mickey helping Donald’s Uncle Amos solve a baffling mystery of invisible shoplifters just before Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse return to Gag Strips appearing between March 31st and July 21st in pranks and hijinks exacerbated by wild spark Donald….

Another Gottfredson promo drawing precedes the next big addition with text tract ‘Hoppy the Ambassador’ bringing readers up to speed on previous antipodean animals just so Osborne, Gottfredson & Thwaites can fully enthral and beguile with the saga of originally unwelcome new pet ‘Hoppy the Kangaroo’ (July 28th – November 24th). The bouncy ’roo eventually wins everyone over after a boxing bout with a gorilla named Growlio, managed by old enemy Peg-Leg Pete…

Osborne, Gottfredson & Thwaites’ Gag Strips carry the feature over the Holiday period of December 1st – 29th 1935, but although the chronological cartooning officially concludes here, there’s still a wealth of glorious treats and fascinating revelations in store. A 1935 painted colour cover by Gottfredson & Tom Wood for Italian magazine Modellina takes us into The Gottfredson Archives: Essays and Special Features section that follows. Here a picture packed essay on ‘The Monthly “Sundays”’ by Gerstein & Jim Korkis reveals a long-lost publication for Masonic youth in “Mickey Mouse Chapter” (A Mickey Supplement) sourced fromInternational DeMolay CordonVol. 1 #9-11, Vol. 2 #1-2 (December 1932 – May 1933) and written by Fred Spencer (first 4 strips) & Gottfredson (5), with art by Spencer.

International reprints of our opening saga are seen in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Dan the Dogcatcher’ whilst background and context on ‘The Cast: Morty and Ferdie’ by Gerstein segues into a sidebar project detailed in ‘Behind the Scenes: Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo’.

More international editions can be seen in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Mickey’s Nephews.’ A foray into pop-up books is covered in Gerstein’s ‘The Comics Department at Work: The Mouseton Pops’, supplemented with covers and interior art from Gottfredson, Taliaferro & Tom Wood. More reprint covers of many nations are gathered in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Early Epics’ after which ‘The Gottfredson Gang: In “Their Own” Words’ sees Gerstein revisit text by Irene Cavanaugh from 1932, introducing Dippy Dawg to the world and revealing Mickey’s astrological aspects…

Topolino covers fill the ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Going Places’ whilst storyboards by Homer Brightman adorn Gerstein’s ‘Behind the Scenes: Interior Decorators’ before William Van Horn’s ‘“Wrapping Up” The Case of the Vanishing Coats’ focuses on later reprintings and alterations…

Another tranche of foreign imports can be seen in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Curiosities of 1935’ and ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Hoppy the Kangaroo’ in advance of feature article ‘The Heirs of Gottfredson’s World: Topolino’ by Sergio Lama & Gerstein leading to capacious translated Christmas-themed Gag Strips in Verse (A Mickey Supplement) offering excerpts from Italian Il Popolo Di Roma (May-July 29 1931: story by Guglielmo Guastaveglia); The Delineator (December1932: story & art by Gottfredson et al) and Italian Topolino #1 & 7 (December 31st 1932 & February 11th 1933 with story & art by Giove Toppi & Angelo Burattini) before closing with an illustrated quote – “Any time you can tell a story…” – giving Gottfredson himself the last word…

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on not just Disney’s canon but sequential graphic narrative itself is inestimable: he was among the first to produce long continuities and “straight” adventures, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the art form’s first “super-villains”.

When Disney killed their continuities in 1955, dictating henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips, Floyd adapted seamlessly, working until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th with a final Sunday published on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators, Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity. However, in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the roaring appreciation of previously unsuspected hordes of devotees led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, leading to subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums which now all carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986. Thankfully we have these Archives to enjoy, inspiring us and hopefully a whole new generation of inveterate tale-tellers…
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Color Sundays “Call of the Wild” © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Text of “Mickey’s Sunday Best: A New Arena” by J.B. Kaufman is © 2013 by J.B. Kaufman. All contents © 2013 Disney Enterprises unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.