Now Who Do We Blame?


By Tom Toles (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5558-3

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been bravely scurrilous, boldly impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all the iniquities they were held responsible for.

These devils with pens and brushed pictorially harangued the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Truth be told; before printing these astute arty types probably scrawled their picture-perfect opinions upon cave walls in moose blood…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

Unlike the “scritti politici” of radicals and revolutionaries, with this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial pest’s mill. That has never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

As it’s still too soon for a collection of cartoons about the 45th President (is it? Is it really?), here’s a superb collection from possibly the greatest modern gadfly of the Land of Free Speech and drawing: a period when George W. Bush was popularly regarded as the worst President in US history…

Thomas Gregory Toles was born in October 1951 and attended the University at Buffalo; The State University of New York where he graduated magna cum laude just as the social unrest of the early 1970s began to engender dangerous responses from the powers that be.

A progressive thinker, Toles worked as a writer for The Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo News and The Washington Post and also created such strips as insomnia-inspired feature Randolph Itch 2 AM, and kids comic Curious Avenue.

In 2002 Toles was invited by The Post to replace their veteran and venerable star cartoonist Herblock, and his work now appears in over 200 papers throughout America and is syndicated internationally by Universal Press Syndicate

His cartoons are stark simply-rendered, diabolically ingenious and include a commentary doodle in the bottom corner to punctuate and reinforce his often excoriating and frequently crushing message: a potent Greek Chorus of worldly-wise disapproval…

Toles has been awarded a National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award, a Herblock Prize and a Pulitzer (he’s also been a runner up numerous times) but received a cartoonist’s ultimate accolade from the Pentagon in 2006 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff uniformly protested in writing to one of his panels. As always in these cases, they seemed to have missed the point of the cartoon comment entirely…

As previously stated, this slim guided missile of satire skewers the last Republican recumbent Incumbent, but the devastating delivery and incisive inscribed insights are still in operation today, notching up WMDs (Witticisms of Mirthful Demolition) against the current White House Boarders and it surely can’t be too long before I’m reviewing something a little more contemporary in an embarrassing shade of orange…

For your delectation and deliberation, here are stinging pinpricks and blistering broadsides handily grouped into easily assimilated sections beginning with ‘Politics and the Election’ with Potus and Co. feeling the full weight of the cartoonist’s surreal wit whilst true bile and outrage are saved for a selection of gags outing the imbecility of prejudice regarding ‘Gays and Religion’.

‘Laws and Regulations’, ‘Press and Media’, ‘Health and Education’, ‘Science and the Environment’ and ‘Social Security’ are all fully investigated and deconstructed next, forcing me to wonder if these categories and the stupidities and venalities lampooned in them will also appear in any book featuring Prez 45…

Especial bile and vindictiveness is saved for the experts infesting ‘The Economy and Budget’ chapter but the best is left for last as ludicrous excuses for the timorous and shameful atrocities perpetrated by the nation’s self-proclaimed guardians and defenders are brought under the pen-&-ink microscope focused on ‘Security’ and ‘WMD and Beyond’

Funny, angry, gleefully cynical and Really Angry but Funny, Now Who Do We Blame? is a perfect example of the cartoonist as social commentator – if not actual reformer – and Tom Toles is a truly insightful and gifted gentleman whose work you should familiarise yourself with right now, if not sooner.
© 2005 Tom Toles. All rights reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon volume 2


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-911-X

By almost every metric Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and also began on January 7th albeit in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunningly exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Buck Rogers mixed traditional adventure with groundbreaking science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines” and “Motors” substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets.

It was a narrative trick which made the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and one initially continued by Mac Raboy and Don Moore in their run of Sunday strips. Look closely though and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this second superb volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for clean, concise detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When original material comicbooks began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lines of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s masterpiece of expressionism Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a wandering world about to smash into our planet. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and a hundred fantasy realms which promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil yet magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

With Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he forsook wild imaginings for sober reality: creating gentleman-detective Rip Kirby so the public’s unmissable weekly appointment with wonderment perforce continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily monochrome instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emmanuel “Mac” Raboy took over illustrating the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the new artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style – heavily influenced by his idol Raymond – had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the early days of the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in a rapidly evolving post-war world, Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, hyper-real quality escapism which only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This second 260-page paperback volume, produced in landscape format and printed in stark black-&-white (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers May 17th 1953 to February 23rd 1958 and opens with a scholarly Introduction on ‘Comic Strip Godfathers’ from Bruce Jones before the previous volume’s cliffhanger is addressed…

With a new spaceship, far-flung travellers Flash, Dale and Zarkov set off for Earth but are forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detain and delay them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occur, a little digging by our heroes reveals that they are the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

After expediently dealing with the planetary privateers our heroes head for Earth, only to be promptly seconded to spearhead an urgent exploratory expedition to a newly discovered satellite body. Suitably dutiful, they hurtle off into the void again…

‘(Life on) Titan’ ran from 14th June to September 20th 1953 and details how the little world is populated by giants. However, after capturing one of the hulking inhabitants Zarkov is forced to conclude that the truth is far stranger than the Earthmen could have imagined…

The tireless boffin then builds a single-seater spaceship and required Flash to take a test run out to Jupiter’s moon ‘Callisto’ (27th September 1953 to 17th January 1954). A sudden illness causes the dauntless pilot to crash and Flash awakens in the care of elderly hermit Phylo, who cunningly embroils the troubleshooter in his own struggle against invisible psychic dictator The Mind

After overthrowing the hidden tyrant the indomitable Earthman heads home and actually enjoys a little rest before an ancient mystery unfolds in ‘Flash Gordon and the Thanatos’ (17th January-2nd May).

After archaeologist Dr. Sark finds incontrovertible evidence of an atomic blast in the Libyan desert in prehistoric times, our ever-inquisitive action man uncovers an alien in a bottle but is too late to save Dale from being abducted by the mind-bending survivor of an antediluvian starship crash…

Dashing in pursuit as his beguiled beloved heads off-world, Flash is drawn into the parallel dimension or Cortinus where god-like beings dwell. They welcome the intruders from fondly-remembered Earth but are sadly unaware that one of the visitors carries the malevolent spirit of their outcast brother Loki

Once freed the villain proudly boasts how he influenced and dominated many bellicose humans such as Alexander, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan and now intends ruling two realms for his own benefit. Sadly for him, nigh-omnipotent Loki vastly underestimates the ingenuity and resolve of his mortal opponents…

With a ship donated by head deity Zustra, Flash and Dale re-cross the dimensional divide and arrive in deep space to encounter a scene of horrific barbarity at an Observatory Station. When the ‘Outlaw of the Asteroids’ (9th May-25th July) stole the outpost’s oxygen the crew almost died in hibernation. After pausing to revive the deep-frozen scientists the adventurers set off after the ruthless bandit and discover the reason for his heinous theft was both noble and desperate. The bandit perishes for his sins, but not before leaving young space orphan Pebbles with the only humans he can trust…

By the time Flash, Dale and Pebbles reach Earth the next exploit is already well underway as ‘The Star Tree’ (1st August-17th October) seed survives a meteor crash in the Amazon and immediately propagates itself in fertile soil. By the time our valiant wanderers accidentally land in the region, it has been transformed into an arctic wilderness where a gigantic plant is voraciously consuming every living thing its grasping branches can seize…

The vegetable invasion is no accident and as Flash leads the frozen rain forest’s native inhabitants in spirited resistance, cold-blooded aliens appear. They lived on Earth when it was a giant ice ball and after eons on Pluto want their original world back…

They would have succeeded too, had not one of the invaders found his heart warming to the plight of the disputed world’s current tenants…

With that threat ended normality returns but soon after packing Pebbles off to boarding school Flash, Zarkov and many other unsuspecting Earth folk are shanghaied by eerie metal globes and transported to ‘The Lonely Planet!’ (24th October 1954 to 9th January 1955)…

Here Herculean extraterrestrial barbarians and wily midgets conspire and compete to find fresh fodder for gladiatorial contests, but with the aid of a usurped king, Flash quickly upsets the unlikely alliance and overthrows the twisted regime. However, just as the liberated Earthlings enter home orbit, their always-embattled birthworld is attacked by the insectoid Antomni who require a fresh colony to exploit. The bug beings expect little resistance as they posses the power of Time Migration…

The invaders travel millions of years ‘Into the Past’ (16th January-27th March) to prevent the evolution of humanity but accidentally catch Flash and Zarkov in their temporal backwash, allowing our heroes to inspire a band of dawn men to exterminate the insectoids before returning to their proper time and place…

Always restless, Zarkov then organises an exploratory expedition to ‘Venus’ (3rd April – 19th June) where Flash and Dale find a feudal civilisation in turmoil beneath the planet’s impenetrable cloud layers. Before long they are assisting scientific prodigy Viko and his fellow exiled “Mistiks” in overturning the oppressive, superstition-ruled authorities and introducing rational enlightenment to the Second Planet from the Sun…

Soon after, Africa is beset by a strange sleeping plague and investigations reveal the source is escaped gasses from an unsuspected ‘City Within the Earth’ (26th June – 28th August). The accident also allows toxic oxygen to contaminate the subterranean metropolis of Centra and when its bravest warriors surface to investigate, a concatenation of misfortunes compel them to take Flash captive. Imprisoned and soon to become the treasured possession of flamboyant Princess Amara, Gordon is rescued by the indomitable Dale who braves the depths and deadly air to save her man and seal off the underworld forever…

‘The Dark Planet’ (4th September – 6th November) has lurked undetected at the edge of the solar system for all of humanity’s history but that occlusion ends when murderers Stragg, Rust and Tula are exiled from their advanced culture on the distant world of Ur and dumped on the frigid world.

When Flash, Dale and Zarkov’s planetary mapping mission brings them to the bleak outpost they are ambushed by the killers who then steal their ship. The aliens have never encountered human sneakiness though, and are soon back where they started and engaged in a lethal duel for control of the ship and their liberty…

Human trafficking underpins the saga of ‘Station Crossroads’ (13th November 1955 – 15th January 1956) as our heroes stumble upon a scheme to kidnap and sell human technicians to scientifically backward aliens. The vile human mastermind behind the plot operates out of Earth’s most popular orbital rest-stop but before the slavers are finally crushed Flash discovers a close friend is deeply involved in the abductions…

When Gordon discovers a hidden base at Earth’s North Pole is being used by aquatic aliens he becomes embroiled in an ‘Arctic adventure’ (22nd January-March 25th) where unscrupulous Earthmen use the freezing waters as a cost-free fish-farm to grow giant monsters for mysterious offworlders to consume…

After a far-distant world experiences an atomic accident the aftermath produces a voracious ‘Radioactive Man’ (1st April – 3rd June) who can only exist by absorbing deadly fallout. The authorities’ solution is to blast the mutant into the void where, after years of lonely travel, atomic exile Djonn Toth lands on the planet Rota just as Flash and Dale arrive for a visit.

Before long the humans’ vast troubleshooting experience is employed in defeating Toth’s efforts to enslave the population and consume all their radium…

When the fantastic planet’s eccentric orbit again intersects with Earth, Flash, Dale and Zarkov ‘Return to Mongo’ (10th June 1956 – 13th January 1957) for the first time in six years. However their proposed sightseeing trip inevitably involves them in an icily arctic cold war between Wolf Men and Walrus Men, a battle of wills with would-be supreme tyrant Gant, and clashes with leather-winged Dactyl Men.

This leads to capture by the arrogant cloud dwellers of Paxora where an outbreak of robot duplicates intent on conquest ends Mongo’s most secretive sub-culture. Upsetting the artificial men’s plan eliminates all but one of the inimical automatons, but ‘Rok’ (13th January – 10th March) is like no android the Earthlings have ever encountered before: both patronising protector and unstable enemy in one.

Although safeguarding the humans through the wildest regions of Mongo, the mechanoid’s ultimate aims are always unclear and his manner of demise most unexpected…

Brought to the edge of civilisation Flash, Dale and Zarkov enter a spaceship race, intent on winning a craft able to take them home to Earth, but the ‘Suicide Run’ (17th March-19th May) almost proves their undoing as most of the other competitors indulge in sabotage and subterfuge of every sort to secure the glittering prize…

Eventually victorious, our heroes ‘Escape from Mongo’ only to be lured into ‘The Space Tomb’ (26th May – 14th July) of nebula-dwelling desperado the Gatherer who wants to imprison them beside a legion of other valiant explorers in his vast Sargasso of Space. After outwitting the deranged collector the humans resume their homeward flight but are again diverted, this time by ‘The Space Genie’ (21st July-1st September): a fearsome yet affable, lethally literal-minded being who brings them to planetary paradise Superba.

The inhabitants are not pleased: they only just survived the Genie’s last visit and used all their ingenuity and wish-making ability to get rid of the interstellar pest…

Flash’s argosy home is then interrupted by a string of short interconnected adventures (‘Space Voyage/Strange World/The Wheel Men’: spanning 8th September to 24th November) detailing clashes with space moths, elastic primitives and woman-stealing whirling dervishes engaged in all-out war with sky-residing Gyromen. After brokering a lasting peace between the eccentric extraterrestrials, the humans finally reach Earth in a borrowed Flying Saucer only to fall prey to ‘The Mystery of the Lonely Crowds!’ (1st December 1957 through January 12th 1958). A telepathic plague of depression and rapidly-spreading isolation has an otherworldly cause but is not intended to be a menace. It still culminates in tragedy, however…

This second non-stop rollercoaster ride concludes with the merest start of ‘Missiles from Neptune’ (19th January 1958 to the cliffhanging last page of February 23rd) as the Tyrant of Neptune decides to impress the captive populace by testing his latest Weapons of Interplanetary Destruction against the Earth, prompting Flash and Co to go and discourage him…

Every week that he toiled on the strip Mac Raboy produced ever-more expansive artwork filled with distressed damsels, deadly monsters and all sorts of outrageous adventure that continued until the illustrator’s untimely death in 1967. Perhaps that was a kindness…

Raboy was the last of the great Golden Age romanticist pencillers; his lushly lavish, freely flowing adoration of the perfect human form was beginning to stale in popular taste (for example the Daily feature had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-Manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of ethereally beautiful heroism and pretty perils prevailed, and thanks to Dark Horse you can visit as easily and often as Flash and Dale popped between planets, just by tracking down this book and the ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Your Favorite… Crab Cakes – A Crankshaft Collection


By Tom Batuik & Chuck Ayers (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-2666-8

Although in a sharp decline, extended-narrative comics strips still have a place in modern cartooning. Indeed in the case of creators like Tom Batuik the slide into continuity is almost inescapable.

Thomas Martin Batuik was born in Akron, Ohio in March 1947 and attended the famous (for all the wrong reasons) Kent State University. He graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) and became a Junior High School art teacher. This endeavour soon inspired the creation of his legendary newspaper strip Funky Winkerbean.

The long-lived (originally gag-a-day) school-based strip launched on March 27th 1972 and over the years developed strong soap opera tendencies and a potent attention to contemporary social issues to compliment the humour.

It also spawned two separate spin-off strips: John Darling (1979-1990) and today’s star turn Crankshaft which began in 1987 and is still going strong seven days a week, with syndication in more than 300 newspapers across the world.

Batuik scripts and fellow scion of Akron Chuck Ayers illustrates the ongoing saga of a curmudgeonly senior citizen barely getting by in a rapidly-changing modern world. Ayers has also contributed cartoons to the Akron Beacon Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes and others and illustrated a number of school textbooks.

Deeply invested in nostalgia, family and day-to-day existence, the strip details how crusty old fart Ed Crankshaft grows ever older disgracefully and with great discontent. Ed has a job driving a school bus and derives much delight from annoying parents by driving off without their kids, reversing over mailboxes and holding up traffic whenever he can. In fact, these are all popular sports every school board bus driver indulges in…

Ed’s supporting cast include his wilful cat Pickles, two adult daughters Chris and Pam, son-in-law Jeff and grandchildren Max and Mindy, and, whereas the kids get to see him at his gruff sentimental best, the grown-ups usually get the raw edge of his confusion and ire with the increasingly chaotic state of contemporary life…

Ed was once a pro baseball player and in many episodes his skill in throwing missiles generates lots of laughs, but that eccentric career also provided one of the series’ most rewarding themes of social interest. Ed never learned to read and very late on began adult literacy classes, highlighting an issue that impacts a vast number of older readers.

Of equal import and power is a long running storyline with Crankshaft regularly accompanying old pal Ralph to the Sunny Days Nursing Home where Ralph’s wife Helen is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease. Even here there’s a regular fount of golden-aged humour since Ed is a constant target for the amorous attentions of the institution’s army of love-starved widows…

This particular collection of strips – they’re all equally enjoyable and praiseworthy – spends a great deal of time depicting the road-raging joys of the School Run, explores Ed’s ongoing war with the newspaper delivery girl, his literal penny-pinching, a spate of funerals and weddings, the always-inclement Mid-Western weather and the coffee made by bus depot secretary Lena. Rumours are that it might well be considered a weapon of mass destruction…

Justice and Due Process take a holiday when Crankshaft serves on a jury, but those outbursts are balanced by wry reminiscences when Ed takes Max and Mindy on an extended tour of his scrapbooks…

Ed declares a vendetta on the mailbox of neighbour Mr. Keesterman, gleefully operates a bug-zapper that can be seen from space and proudly, loudly makes a spectacle of himself at doctor, dentist, barber, opticians and supermarket, but shows his softer side in visits with Ralph to Sunny Days a well as a school trip to the National War Memorial in Washington DC. Another milestone is reached when he wins a certificate for his reading proficiency but that only leads to more grief as he’s then expected to start using the Library computer…

…And then there are the kids who manage – despite all his efforts – to board Ed’s bus every morning. They may have the numbers, but he has experience, ruthlessness and a working knowledge of terror-tactics to keep the little monsters in line if they do get into his big yellow fortress…

He must love the little perishers really: after all, in vacation time he drives an ice cream truck to take the edge off the searing heat… if they can catch him…

Gently funny, powerfully engaging and offering some of the best zingers and put-downs in the comedy business, the assorted chronicles of Crankshaft are a family treat to shared and compared by all fans of cartooning excellence.
© 2002 Media Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Man, I Hate Cursive – Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears


By Jim Benton (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7889-6                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-8414-9

I love cartoons. Not animated films, but short, visual (although most often text-enhanced) stylised drawings which tell a story or potently and pithily express a mood or tone. In fact most people do. That’s why many historians and sociologists use them as barometers of a defined time or era.

For nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were the universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence and ferocious power, these days the cartoon has been all but erased from printed newspapers – as indeed the physical publications themselves have dwindled in shops and on shelves.

However, thanks to the same internet which is killing print media, many graphic gagsters and drawing dramatists have enjoyed resurgence in an arena that doesn’t begrudge the space necessary to deliver a cartoon in all its fulsome glory…

Cartooning remains an unmissable daily joy to a vast, frequently global readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Even those stuck-up holdouts proudly boasting they have “never read a comic” certainly enjoy strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention. Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections like this one (and also in eBook editions) to enjoy over and over again…

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Now tirelessly earning a living exercising his creativity, he started self-promoting those weird funny things he’d dreamed up and soon was raking in the dosh from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny in a variety of magazines and other venues…

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded.

This particular collection was released at the end of last year and is still fresh, strange and irreverent enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

Here you will explore the innocently horrific inner world of children and monsters, learn to appreciate anew the contributions to society of teachers and experience Benton’s satirical side as bigots and racists are convicted out of their own mouths.

There are heaping helpings of animal antics – both wryly sardonic and barbarously slapstick – and wicked observations on the dating scene, plus true love pictured in all its infamy, how robots need a little tenderness too as well as the inside track on what it means to be Death…

You’ll see some of the strangest and most disquietingly surreal gags ever penned – such as the dysfunctional band made of animate body parts or the bizarrely extrovert characters comprising ‘The Sideshow’ and even a truly unique take on historical personages and superheroes of the screen and comics pages…

As ever, there are trenchant swipes at the worlds of Art and Big business as well as incisive explorations of the relationship between us and our pets, the perils of inventing stuff and a pants-wetting section on the downside of air travel…

And best of all, the artist sets aside time and space to share with us God’s Plan and proves that the Almighty’s sense of humour is both wicked and petty…

You might discover Not-Facts that will change your life after gleaning Benton’s take on loneliness, fast food, binge eating, farting, periods, disabilities, growing up, Big Pharma, and the business of medicine in single page giggle-bombs ranging from strident solo panels to extended strips; silent shockers to poetically florid and verbose tracts.

There are also loads of jokes about bears….

Another uproarious compilation to make the sourest persimmon laugh as sweetly as pie (there are no joke about pies in this volume)…
© 2016 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Candorville: Thank God for Culture Clash


By Darrin Bell (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5442-5

Darrin Bell likes to keep busy. As well as this bright, breezy yet controversial strip, he works as an editorial cartoonist and storyboard artist even whilst crafting a second modern newspaper mainstay in the form of aspirational lifestyle comedy Rudy Park.

Bell – born January 27th 1975 – is black and Jewish and hails from Los Angeles, which probably accounts for his smooth handling of and fascination with issues of race, gender and social inequality, which form the backbone of his gently chiding, wittily observational cartoons.

After attending University of California, Berkeley and gaining a degree in Political science in 1999, Bell began freelancing for papers such as the Daily Californian, Los Angeles Times and other periodicals. In 2001 he created Rudy Park and in 2004 added a second string to his bow by re-imagining his old college paper strip Lemont Brown as a wily critique on modern times and mores.

This it does by confronting issues of bigotry, poverty, homelessness, biracialism and personal responsibility through incisive yet mellow humour all the while disguising the political sallies in the ongoing saga of a wishy-washy would-be writer, his wannabe gangsta childhood chum and traditionally go-getting (platonic) Latina best friend.

Daydreaming Lemont and short-tempered, ambitious, upwardly-mobile Susan Garcia are both blithely unaware that they are ideal romantic soulmates and many episodes follow their slow, innocent dance towards that eventual realisation…

Now nationally syndicated, Candorville has become a crucial part of the daily lives of millions of young Americans, offering commentary on existences just like theirs, mirroring their dreams and concerns whilst exploring mixed culture relationships in a land that supposedly embraces multicultural, multi-ethnic and many-gendered freedoms whilst refusing to acknowledge that not everybody is happy with that state of affairs and wants to turn back time to the good old conservative days…

Following Lemont’s Foreword ‘Why’ the strips unfold fully formed as the introverted, undiscovered wordsmith wryly observes constant evidence of casual and institutionalised ethnic prejudice in play all around him: moments of intolerance frequently exacerbated by his boyhood pal Clyde – AKA C-Dog – who fully embraces the flashy contemporary hoodlum image of black rappers – bling, shades, bad language and “kill the cops” t-shirts – whilst indulging in (extremely) petty crime…

Both Lemont and Clyde are products of broken homes, with fathers who abandoned them early and mothers who took up the slack. Lemont’s mother, however, put her boy through college and now exerts a demonic passive-aggressive hold on him that sours much of his self-indulgent, poetically angst-ridden life as the classic misunderstood, undiscovered writer…

She wants him to get a job and a girlfriend and is relentless in expressing her desires…

Lemont’s existence is made up of ghastly blind dates, hostile dads and disastrous pick-ups punctuated by a succession of crappy jobs to support his efforts to pen the Great American novel.

He is almost addicted now to the disillusionment of rejection letters and briefly-crippling bouts of self-doubt whenever Susan reads one of his stories and wears that “I don’t get-it” look…

Garcia wants him to succeed, but not as much as her, even though Susan’s rapid advancement at the Ad Agency is continually stymied by glass ceilings, an unscrupulous, penny-pinching boss and an assistant who constantly tries to sabotage and supplant her…

Clyde just wants to be rich and famous and scary, but secretly his heart’s not in it and actual violence is just beyond his nature…

Against that comfortably familiar backdrop, this first collection of strips (of six compendia thus far) allows Bell to lampoon and lambaste Consumerism, the shame of homelessness, the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, police treatment of minorities, Religion, the myth of Success, TV-manufactured paranoia, Capitalism, Sensitivity Training as a replacement for actual understanding of different ways of life, Globalism, Political Correctness and its detractors, the failures of the banking system, Fox News, exporting jobs overseas and childish aspirations as well as finding time and space to revel in the timeless traditional comedy themes of unrequited love, hypochondria, dating, parental approval and social status…

And day by day the dance goes on…

Smart, wry, sardonic and engagingly sarcastic, this conscience-tinged cartoon sitcom is a splendidly even-handed liberal riposte to the increasing Right-driven American political scene, but also offers heart-warming characters and an engaging, funny story thread for lovers of cartoon continuity.

Not all dissent is strident and not all resistance is futile…
Candorville © 2005 Darrin Bell. All rights reserved.

Because I’m the Child Here and I Said So


By Pat Byrnes (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5738-9

A daily chuckle prompted by a wry cartoon seductively rendered remains an unmissable joy to a vast – frequently global – readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even the ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Newspaper cartooning – even its modern online iteration – has always primarily been about family entertainment. As such, kids and their relationships with parents have taken top spot in terms of subject matter whether in one-off gag-panels or serial cartoon strips.

Soon after becoming a parent himself, Pat Byrnes (Monkeyhouse, Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Illustrated Edition), an impressively educated-&-accomplished, award-winning doodler and ad-man seen in The New Yorker and other prestigious magazines, gathered a bunch of his child-related efforts into a follow-up book to the memorable What Would Satan Do? Cartoons About Right, Wrong, and Very, Very Wrong.

He later returned to the all-consuming arena of jovial child-exploitation with Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Subtitled “A Joke Book for Parents (Because You Need a Laugh!)” this brief full-colour tome addresses the bewildering and frankly rather terrifying post-millennial generation: a time of compulsively over-achieving kids and their ferociously competitive Tiger Parents in a society where conspicuous wealth and measurable status are more important than air or food.

To effect a degree of balance and argue that there’s still hope for mankind, there are also wittily acerbic barbs and warm, weird moments to placate the holdouts from simpler times just trying to get by and ensure their spawn learn how to unwind and chill out a bit before that all-important first heart attack…

Following the author’s Introduction the gags come thick and fast: glimpses of households where love is conditional on sporting success, Ritalin has replaced milk as the secret of building better children and duct tape is the solution to so many different emotional meltdowns.

This a society familiar to many oldsters like me where television is a suitable substitute for attention or babysitters; where passive-aggression starts early and becomes a family heirloom and taking pictures is more important than hugs or cuddles, but these cruel observations are marvellously manipulated to make the best kind of jokes: ones with a point and a purpose…

There is also a non-stop string of cracking verbal punch-lines which would make a potent line in slyly sardonic slogan-motif-ed apparel for surly teenagers…

Sharp, smart and shockingly timeless, these gags are a splendid example of the family cartoon at its most engaging and acerbic: a true treat for any adult who’s been there, done that and still has the headaches…
© 2006 Pat Byrnes. All Rights Reserved.

Blue


By Pat Grant (Pat Grant/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-153-4

As far as the global mass-market is concerned, Australia doesn’t do comics. There’s no home-grown Oz equivalent to Beano or Spirou or 2000 AD, no Akira or Batman to enthral the entire nation.

You don’t hear about their industry bashes such as OzComic-Con and nobody applauds if you say you’ve been nominated for a Stanley Award…

Yet Australia harbours an incredibly potent and dedicated cartooning community, quietly turning out a broad and utterly beguiling range of strips and features from kiddie-comics to strictly adult fare that we seldom get to enjoy in the Northern climes (just check out UK ex-pat Eddie Campbell’s work or Neomad: Space Junk or the precious few titles from Gestalt Publishing that have made it to Britain to see what I mean…).

One of the most enticing and rewarding releases in decades recently came courtesy of cartoonist and passionate surfer Pat Grant. In 2012 his debut graphic novel Blue set tongues wagging not just down under but all over: a superbly realised amalgam of graphic autobiography, socially-relevant historical treatise and fantasy-tinged cautionary tale…

Like so much Australian graphic narrative, Blue owes more to the underground and alternative comics movements than to mainstream. The art is rendered in a muted, limited-colours palette in a style vaguely reminiscent of Peter Bagge, but the storytelling is all original; mixing memories of growing up in small remote company-town with themes of alienation as filtered through a lens of constant, unwelcome change, incipient onrushing maturity and impending humdrum crushing responsibility.

Blue is seductive, familiar, scary and also punishingly funny where it’s most inappropriate…

Bolton is a town by the sea, built a generation ago by the company to house its work force. Years passed and the town stopped being shiny and new. The workers had kids and the kids grew bored. They had school and surfing and no prospects. And then the aliens started turning up. Unwelcome, unwanted, probably illegal and so clearly unwilling to mix. Soon they were everywhere, spoiling everything…

Christian never made it out. He’s a burn-out these days, sucking down bevies when not coasting a dead-end painting gig – and boozing on the job too if no one’s watching – so he’s got time to tell you about those days when he was a kid and lived for surfing…

The day he remembers most vividly is when him and Verne and Muck skipped school to chase a truly massive wave and decided to go see the body of a bloke who died on the railway tracks the night before…

Graphically imaginative, boldly experimental and gratefully expressing his debt of inspiration to the film Stand By Me, Grant has woven here an intoxicating web of intrigue and memory which resonates with the mythic image we all have of life in Oz and the knowledge of what kids ought to be like.

However, the most powerful sense is one of constant motion, bolstered by stunning, nigh-abstract seascapes and wave fronts, as his actors move raucously, rowdily and rapidly through their scenes propelled by bad instincts and inexpressible desire for something different…

Although you may not share Grant’s personal background, readers cannot help but be swept away by the author’s utterly convincing immersion in the minutiae of nostalgia and poignant bewilderment in how we all got to here and now…

With an introduction by Dylan Horrocks and text feature ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images Memory and Australia’s Surf Comics’ – an erudite and fascinating extended essay by Grant detailing the history of the nation’s board bound phenomenon – this enchanting hardback tome is a total treat for comics connoisseurs indoors or outside.
© 2012 Pat Grant. All rights reserved.

America Gone Wild! – Cartoons by Ted Rall


By Ted Rall (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978- 0-7407-6045-7

You might have seen this quote before. Doesn’t mean it’s not still true…

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow.

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been scurrilous, impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all iniquities: pictorially haranguing the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Sometimes these artists have been just plain mean…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial gadfly’s mill. That’s never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

Frederick Theodore Rall III is interested and engaged and knows the risks.

Born in 1963, he is a respected and despised columnist, freelance editorial cartoonist, graphic novelist and war correspondent who homes in like a laser-sight on social ills, cultural stupidity and the venality of power elites – celebrities, businesses, organisations, religions and especially political demagogues. He is always accused of being a Liberal, and always hated (and probably feared) by whoever is in Office at the time…

Although his work has been seen in numerous publications such as Rolling Stone, Time, Fortune and the New York Times, this particular collection features cartoon panels and strips taken from a range of syndicated sources as well as publications such as the Charleston City Paper, Gear, Men’s Health, The Village Voice and Mad magazine amongst others: all crafted during the last Republican incumbency: a time of madness, war, terror, torture, hypocrisy and sheer greed.

It’s an era the new American president promises to in large part restore…

This sublime Weapon of Mass Deliberation comes as square, monochrome paperback (224 x 224 mm) and variable-sized eBook (now that’s democracy for you!) fronted by an evocative Foreword from our own pen-pushing one-man protest movement Steve Bell before Rall’s Prefaceincluding a Behind the Scenes Look at my Most Controversial Cartoons – offers background, context, reasons for his artistic decisions.

This includes intimate details and a truly terrifying selection of death threats, internet abuse messages and apologies from folks who were enraged at Rall’s screed du jour. Other inclusions show that many thought they were mad at him only to discover how they’d been misled, massaged or merely lied to by the mainstream commercial news outlets.  Surely not…?

Ted Rall pulls no punches and that attitude has won him a raft of awards, the loathing of fanatics of every stripe and persuasion plus lots of apologies whenever his peculiar passion – seeing all sides of issues which are almost never binary equations – is finally accepted by a public which usually only hears about his cartoons from agenda-based media outlets such as Fox News or New York Daily News.

This collection actually lets you see what trolls, drones and professional complainers are so disgracefully quick to react to: representing some of Rall’s most potent, memorable and effective graphic broadsides and strip scalpel-slashes from the war years of the G. W. Bush Administration. These include but are far from restricted to pithy exposés of media-hungry ‘Terror Widows’, ruminations over ‘The War on Judgment’ and explanation of resource-management in ‘Here’s Where We’ll get More Troops’

Some of the compulsive commentator’s most life-endangering panels are included here too. ‘Reagan in Hell’ generated an appalling storm of poison for the artist, as did ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabinet or, Black Man’s Burden’ and ‘Appropriate Punishments for Deposed Bushists’, but the most important thing to remember throughout this collection is that the picture and words result from genuine concern from a very smart, talented and INFORMED individual who actually bothers to check facts before sounding off…

Also making this final cut are such slyly fervent strips as ‘Free Speech Maniacs’, ‘Just Get Over It!’, ‘Let’s Meet Other Heroic Government Workers’, ‘Proxy Politics’, ‘Republicans on the Rampage!’, ‘Why we Spy on Americans Instead’ and ‘Ordnance sans Frontières’; satirical assaults like ‘Special Privileges for Blacks’, ‘Society at a Glance’, ‘The Left Gets Organized’, ‘Jury Selection Made E-Z’ and ‘Understanding Editorial Cartoons’ as well as less-emotionally charged, surreal snipes and contemporary cultural critiques including ‘Enroll in School of Bodily Fluid Arts’, ‘Jihad Slacker’, ‘Sometimes Love is Not Enough’ and ‘Freedom Marches On’

Presumably just to prove he’s not always proselytising, there are also splendid selections of comics on life-style, work and relationships from Men’s Health and outrageously strange strips from Mad focusing on high school (7 Periods) and superheroes (The Adventures of Fantabulaman) to keep you laughing when you’re not shouting or crying.

This is a superb slice of “Look Back in Anger” by an immensely talented proponent of the art, dedicated to the most revered principles of cartoon dissent and journalistic calling-to-account. His recent stuff is even better. As a new era dawned in US politics he released a “manifesto to topple Trumpism”. I can’t wait to see that as a graphic novel…
© 2006 Ted Rall. All rights reserved.

Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7413-3                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-7927-5

Cats rule the world. Just ask the internet.

Those of us with moggies also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

However, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her indolent furry overlords earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively and interminably poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling series of strips detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form 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?

The history and development of the feature is covered in Dunn’s Introduction (which you can read if your own claw-pawed companions give you some time off) before this superbly engaging full-colour digest-sized (165 x 203 mm) paperback concentrates on crucial domestic and foreign issues.

Drawing attention on the home front are items such as ‘Everything is Broken and We Don’t Know Who Did It’, ‘The Food Bowl is Still Empty’, ‘The People Bought Some Stupid-Looking Thing For the Dining Room’, ‘The Woman is Cooking Bacon’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Use a Laptop’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Make the Bed’ and ‘The People Bought a Different Kind of Kibble’ whilst long-range outside broadcasts confirm ‘The Man is in the Backyard’, ‘The Neighborhood is Under Attack’ and ‘The Trees are Falling Apart’

The rolling news is backed up by In-Depth packages devoted to ‘The People Are Going Insane’ (moving house to us two-foots) and the entire team undertake a dedicated series on a lengthy brush with maternity (‘The Woman is Feeling Under the Weather’, ‘The Spare Room is Filled With New Cat Furniture’, ‘The Woman has a Hair Ball’ and ‘The People are Awake in the Middle of the Night’) to prove that cats don’t just want vapid snippets of information for mayfly attention spans but can also handle complex issues with no simple solutions…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh.
© 2016 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Abigail and the Snowman


By Roger Langridge, with Fred Stresing (Kaboom!)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-900-8 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-61398-571-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Seasonal Spectacle to Enjoy Over and Over Again… 10/10

Cartoonist Roger Langridge is a very talented man with a uniquely beguiling way of telling stories. He has mastered every aspect of the comics profession from lettering (Dr. Who) to writing (Thor: the Mighty Avenger) to illustration.

When he combines them (The Muppet Show Comic, Zoot!, Fred the Clown, Snarked), the approbation, accolades and glittering prizes such as Eisner and Harvey Awards can’t come fast enough.

He is also a bloody genius at making folk laugh…

Abigail and the Snowman started life as an all-ages comicbook miniseries before being gathered in one single sensational package just in time to become a Christmas favourite.

When nine-year-old Abigail and her father move to a British seaside town just before her birthday she’s not expecting much. Things have been tough lately. It’s just her and Dad now and he’s having job troubles whilst the prospect of starting a new school fills her with dread and resignation…

It goes just like she expected. Whilst the hard-pressed Man of the rented, box-filled House frantically scrabbles for work to make ends meet, she gets the cold shoulder from her new classmates at Shipton-On-Sea Primary School.

At least she’s still got imaginary friend/invisible dog Claude to play with and her dead mum to talk to…

And that’s when things get really strange as Abigail stumbles across a hulking, nattily-dressed and well-spoken Yeti hiding in the playground. He was kidnapped as a baby by a shady department of the government who want to abstract and duplicate the Abominable Snowmen’s ability to cloud men’s minds. He’s just escaped and been on the run for ages…

Thankfully Yetis can walk about unseen in the midst of men, but it quickly becomes apparent that the trick doesn’t work on humans who haven’t endured puberty yet…

Pretty soon the affable giant is a shared secret amongst the kids and weirdo newcomer Abigail is the most popular kid in school. Sadly, the Yeti – who happily adopts the name Claude – has been followed since his escape.

British Shadow Men equipped with special goggles to track him are hard on his hairy heels, and soon trace the snowman to Abigail’s bedroom where he’s comfortably hiding…

When the kid conspirators satisfactorily deal with them, however, the clandestine organisation calls in its biggest gun: a gung ho, total maniac dubbed Mr. Fix-It who never fails and considers collateral damage or civilian casualties as fringe benefits…

With the net closing in, it’s clear that Claude has to leave, but even as Abigail executes a heartbreaking and devilishly clever plan to sneak Claude out of the country and back to the Himalayas, the ruthless, relentless Ministry monster-hunter strikes and, despite the surprising assistance of a few former enemies, Claude has to find a new and lasting solution to all his problems…

Drenched in wit and warmth, this is a hilariously fun and fast-paced adventure romp, loaded with spectacle and action yet concealing plenty of twisty surprises to enthral young and old alike.

In an age of bonuses and extras this slim tome also offers a cover-&-variants gallery by Sonny Liew, Langridge and his faithful colourist Fred Stresing, plus a quartet of mostly monochrome mini-exploits of the shadowy Ministry Men in their alternative career as ‘The Zookeepers’ of the clandestine and fabulous Crypto-Zoo…

An utter delight from start to finish, this yarn is a perfect example of comics at its most welcoming, and don’t be surprised if it turns up as a movie or BBC TV special one of these days…
™ & © 2014, 2015 Roger Langridge. All rights reserved.