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.

If You Loved Me, You’d Think This Was Cute – Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You


By Nick Galifianakis (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-9947-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Exposing the Tinsel and Glitter of Romance… 9/10

Delivering biting wit, a groundbreaking revelation or an excoriating assault with an unforgettable drawing and a few well-chosen words is one of the greatest gifts humans can possess. Even those stuck-up holdouts who pointedly claim to 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…

According to the text preface by Carolyn Hax in this astoundingly funny collection, the cartoons gathered here by immensely gifted illustrator Nick Galifianakis were originally intended as little pictorial add-ons to accompany and supplement her nationally syndicated Advice Column (cited by Time magazine as America’s best…).

Apparently, Nick kept making them so funny that the pictures became an intrinsic and unmissable companion and in 2010 a whole bunch of the very best of them turned into this book.

Also included are an outrageous Foreword by his cousin Zach – yes, that movie comedian guy – sharing the kind of intimate incident insights and past humiliations only a close family member can; as well as a vast Acknowledgments section and insider information on the way Nick works in his Introduction. There are also concrete clues that his one true love is his dog ZuZu

All that aside, what’s on offer here is a spellbinding examination of human relationships as seen from a natural raconteur’s perspective: devastatingly penetrating, sharp to the point of cruelty, warmly sympathetic, ultimately understanding and forgiving and, most importantly, laugh-out-loud, Horlicks-jetting-out-of-your-nose funny.

Or whatever your shared evening tipple of choice might be. I’m not saying that his gags make your body mysteriously manufacture Horlicks. That would be weird…

In this delicious monochrome paperback (or eBook: you choose; it’s a free world and you’re most likely some sort of consenting adult) you will find all the perilous wonders and tribulations of human relationships and the search for love reduced to simple, forthright categories stuffed with beautifully rendered line drawings exemplifying the rights and wrongs of finding and keeping – or satisfactorily jettisoning – a partner.

It kicks off with the male perspective as seen through female eyes in ‘The Bastard Files’ before naturally offering the opposing viewpoint in ‘The Unfair Sex’

The eternal hunt is deconstructed in ‘Finding the Ones(s)’ and expanded in ‘So This Was The One’ before negotiating deadly traps and bile-filled traumas of ‘The Bridal Industrial Complex’.

Weddings survived, everybody’s all reconciled to being one great big joyous clan, as proved here in the acerbically astute ‘Putting the Eff in Family’, but Love’s all about the children really, isn’t it? Thus a close-up-and-personal dissection of procreation in ‘Just Kidding’ which leads to the conclusion that some sons and daughters don’t ever grow up in ‘When We’re Five We’re All Artists’

When confused or in trouble, the natural thing to do is depend on your closest comrades in the Battle of the Sexes, but ‘With Friends Like These’ clarity and understanding are early casualties. Still, if we’re being truly honest we can only trust our ‘Lusting Impressions’ before settling for ‘A Little Something on the Side’ to avoid getting ‘Ego-Tripped’.

At least our animal companions still offer us unconditional love. don’t they? Perhaps not, if the bestial examples in ‘Ark Types’ are to be believed, if you ‘Catch My Riff’

When all’s said and done then, perhaps it’s best to play safe and just try the ‘Flair of the Dog’ when looking for a truly lasting love…

With recurring themes including Frogs and Princesses, malevolent Cupids, uncomprehending Adams and Eves, weary Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates and the absolutely crucial role of Lawyers and Counsellors in all relationship matters, this compendium of situational quandaries and unromantic entanglements is a superbly cathartic look at love and one every new home and generational estate should have in pride on place on the mantelpiece – near the heavy candlesticks, poker, poisons and stun guns…
© 2010 by Nick Galifianakis. All rights reserved.

Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats


By Jim Benton (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-846-8

Although in something of a decline these days, 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, 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…

Mainstream 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 who have pointedly “never read a comic” have certainly enjoyed 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 e-book editions) to enjoy over and over again…

With that in mind, here’s a long-delayed peek at some less well known strips by one of America’s most innovative and mordantly surreal creative stars.

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 earning a living by exercising his creativity he started self-promoting the weird funny things he’d dream up and soon was coining beaucoup bucks 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…

The particular gags, jests and japes began life 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.

Despite the risk of laughing yourself sick, you’ll want to see how some dads treat their kids; learn how deer see the hunters; explore the wonder of breasts; observe the lighter side of inebriation, seduction and mate-selection and much more.

You might discover Not-Facts that will change your life after gleaning Benton’s take on aliens, zombies, ghosts, assorted movie franchises, busking, business fashions and evolution in single page giggle-bombs ranging from strident solo panels to extended strips; silent shockers to poetically florid and verbose tracts.

You will laugh out loud and want more.

You will also want to send “How to explain things to the stupid” to all your friends.

Don’t.

Just make them buy their own copy of this glorious book.
© 2014 Jim Benton.

Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: a Keepsake Garland of Classics


By Richard Thompson (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-74079-152-9

Cul-de-Sac translates as “bottom of the bag” so don’t say you never learned anything from comics.

Richard Thompson took the term in its urban planning derivation – a street/passage closed at one end or a route/course leading nowhere – to describe a convoluted, barricaded oasis of suburban life on the outskirts of Washington DC where a mercurial cross-section of modern humanity lives.

As such it became the setting for one of the best cartoon strips about kids ever created, and one I very much miss.

Richard Church Thompson was born on October 8th 1957 and grew up to become an award-winning illustrator and editorial cartoonist who worked for The Washington Post. He was best known for his acerbic weekly feature Poor Richard’s Almanac (from which came the crushing political prognostication “Build the Pie Higher” – so go google that while you’re at it).

His other mostly light-hearted illustrative efforts appeared in locales ranging from U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, Air & Space/Smithsonian, National Geographic and The Atlantic Monthly as well as in numerous book commissions.

In February 2004 Cul de Sac began as a beautifully painted Sunday strip in The Post and quickly evolved into a firm family favourite. In September 2007, it was rebooted as a standard black-&-white Daily with a process-colour Sunday strip and began global syndication with the Universal Press Syndicate and digitally distribution by Uclick GoComics.

It rightly gathered a host of fans, even other cartoonists such as Bill Watterson and authors like Mo Willems.

The series was collected in four volumes between 2008 and 2012, with this particular paperback portmanteau (colour and monochrome as appropriate; 218 x 274 mm; released in 2010) drawn from the first two compendia, with the wise and welcome addition of a selection of the prototype painted Sunday feature from the Washington Post added in.

There is precious little of Cul de Sac but what there is all pure gold. In July 2009 the artist publicly announced that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but carried on anyway.

In 2012 a number of fellow artists and devoted admirers – Michael Jantze, Corey Pandolph, Lincoln Peirce, Stephen Pastis, Ruben Bolling and Mo Willems – pitched in to produce the strip while Thompson underwent treatment. When he came back at the end of March, illustrator had Stacy Curtis signed on as inker, but by August Thompson announced he was retiring Cul de Sac.

The last strip appeared on September 23rd 2012.

Richard Thompson died on July 27 2016. He was 58 years old.

Happily the brilliance of his wit, the warmth of his observation and the sheer uniqueness of his charmingly askew mentality will continue to mesmerise generations of kids and their parents.

So What’s Going On Here…?

Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: a Keepsake Garland of Classics offers an unforgettable introduction to the indivisible exterior and interior world of hyperactive four-year old Alice Otterloop as experienced by her family and the circle of friends.

#Alice likes to dance, deploy glitter, get excited and be in charge of everything. Her forceful, declaratively propounded opinions make her respected – and feared – by the other kids in Miss Bliss’ class at Blisshaven Academy Pre-School.

Not that the other tykes, such as just-plain-weird peeping tom Dill Wedekind and hammer-wielding Beni, are traditional tots either. All these kids are smart but untutored and much of the humour comes from their responses to new facts and situations as interpreted through the haze of the meagre experience they’ve previously accumulated – whether taught or overheard…

The result is a winning blend of surreal whimsy and keen observational humour, punctuated with input from Alice’s dolorous, graphic-novel-obsessed, sports-fearing older brother Petey and their permanently bewildered and embattled parents.

Other regulars include classmate Marcus who thinks he’s being stalked by his own mother; school guinea pig Mr. Danders (a boorish, self-important and pretentious literary snob); Peter Otterpoop Senior’s impossibly small car; the family’s bellicose and feral Grandma and her appalling dog Big Shirley, the enigmatic, doom-portending Uh-Oh Baby and Alice’s deranged collection of terrifying spring-loaded toys…

Taking family humour to abstract extremes, Cul de Sac blends inspirational imagination with wry consideration to produce moments side-splitting, baffling and heart-warming in rapid succession. The fabulous family experience also superbly augmented by a running caption commentary and context filling by Thompson, alternately adding understanding and just making you laugh even more.
© 2010 Richard Thompson. All rights reserved.