Axa volumes 3 and 4


By Donne Avenell & Enrique Badia Romero (Ken Pierce Books)
Vol. 3 No ISBN: 0-912277-00-9  Vol. 4 no ISBN: 0-912277-00-9

During the 1970s British newspapers radically altered much of their style and content to varying degrees in response to the seemingly inexorable move towards female social emancipation and sexual equality. Nevertheless, this somehow allowed newspaper editors to squeeze in even more undraped women, who finally escaped from the perfectly rendered comics strips and onto the regular pages, usually the third one, the centre-spreads and into the fashion features…

The only place where truly strong female role-models were taken seriously was the aforementioned cartoon sections but even there the likes of Modesty Blaise, Danielle, Scarth, Amanda and all the other capable ladies who walked all over the oppressor gender, both humorously and in straight adventure scenarios, lost clothes and shed undies repeatedly, continuously and in the manner they always had…

Nobody complained (no one important or who was ever taken seriously): it was just tradition and the idiom of the medium… and besides, artists liked to draw bare-naked ladies as much as blokes liked to see them and it was even educational for the kiddies – who could buy any newspaper in any shop without interference even if they couldn’t get into cinemas to view Flashdance, Trading Places, Octopussy or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone without an accompanying adult…

Sales kept going up…

Take-charge chicks were almost commonplace when the Star Wars phenomenon reinvigorated public interest in science fiction and the old standby of scantily-clad, curvy amazons and post-apocalyptic wonderlands regained their sales-appeal. Thus The Sun hired Enrique Badia Romero and Donne Avenell to produce just such an attention-getter for their already well-stacked cartoon section.

Romero had begun his career in Spain in 1953, producing everything from westerns, sports, war stories and trading cards, often in conjunction with his brother Jorge Badía Romero. He even formed his own publishing house. “Enric” began working for the higher-paying UK market in the 1960s on strips such as ‘Cathy and Wendy’, ‘Isometrics’ and ‘Cassius Clay’ before successfully assuming the drawing duties on the high-profile Modesty Blaise strip in 1970 (see Modesty Blaise: The Hell Makers and Modesty Blaise: The Green Eyed Monster), only leaving when this enticing new prospect appeared.

In 1986 political and editorial intrigue saw Axa cancelled in the middle of a story and Romero returned to the bodacious Blaise until creator/writer Peter O’Donnell retired in 2001. Since then he has produced Modesty material for Scandinavia and a number of projects such as Durham Red for 2000AD.

Axa ran in The Sun Monday to Saturday from 1978 to her abrupt disappearance in 1986 and other than these slim volumes from strip historian Ken Pierce has never been graced with a definitive collection. It should be noted also that at the time of these books the strip was still being published to great acclaim.

In the first two volumes Axa, a pampered citizen of a sterile, domed community in 2080AD, rebelled against her antiseptic society’s cloying strictures and escaped to the ravaged, mutant-infested post apocalyptic wilderness to be free. Her journeys took her across the ravaged planet, discovering lost enclaves and encountering bizarre new tribes and cultures.

The third volume opens with an avid appreciation by C.C. Beck, the “Crusty Curmudgeon” most celebrated as co-creator of the Shazam!-shouting Captain Marvel before the nubile nomad resumed her explorations in ‘Axa the Brave’ with her latest companion Jason Arkady in tow. Crossing a frozen wasteland reclaimed by wolves after man’s Great Contamination excised human civilisation, the pair stagger into a lush tropical valley populated by dinosaurs and cavemen.

The historical anomalies are disturbing and dangerous enough, but when they were invited to join the new stone-agers they uncovered an even greater enigma: the cave-walls were covered in paintings of robots and weird machines… The secret of the hidden valley is yet another example of the brilliance and folly of the lost human civilisation and leads the unstoppable freedom-seeker to a swamp-city where an enclave of scientists had survived the disaster…

The hidden sages had a big plan to reshape the world and wanted Axa aboard, so they built her the perfect companion: a faithful, semi-sentient laser-wielding robot dubbed Mark 10 who instantly aroused the jealous ire of Jason. As so often the case however, Axa’s male benefactors had hidden plans for her but the scientists had built too well and the utterly devoted Mark came rattling rapidly to her rescue…

In ‘Axa the Gambler’ the winsome wanderer, with Mark and Jason faithfully following, stumbled onto a community where wagering was the basis for existence and pilgrims came from miles around to bet with the fervour of religious zealots.

In The City of Hope patrons worshipped Las Vegan relics, seeking instant gratification for their greedy, hungry prayers. Soon Jason had caught the bug and gambled away all their meager possessions including the magnificent ancient sword Axa had carried since her first escape from the Domed City.

Of course the game was fixed, but with Mark’s cybernetic intervention Axa recouped all their losses, narrowly escaping the hidden penalty that underpinned the barter-economy of the City: when you don’t have any more goods to wager with, you become the property of the house…

When Jason discovered a historic family link to big boss Mr. Nero he switched allegiance and Axa ended up fighting for her life and liberty in the gladiatorial arena beside motorcycle warrior Dirk. With freedom her greatest love, Axa inevitably engineered Nero’s bloody fall, but lost Jason to the lure of greed and an idle life of pleasure…

Axa 4 begins with an appreciation and “previously on…” by publisher Bernie McCarty before ‘Axa the Earthbound’ saw the blonde bombshell and Dirk hunting the missing mechanical Mark 10 through a haunted, monster-haunted swamp until they stumbled upon a lost oasis of beauty – a veritable paradise amidst the ruins of the world.

In a ramshackle old house lived aged Joy Eden who happily welcomed the wanderers to stay. Axa was subtly drawn to the aged free spirit’s talk of Mother Earth and pagan renewal but Dirk had his suspicions: did the old lady thrive despite the mutants and mud-monsters… or because of them?

Deeply steeped in Earth-magic and transformative mysticism, did the lonely old crone have another reason for keeping Dirk and Axa within the tumbledown walls of her “Seventh Heaven”… and just what did happen to the coldly technological but absolutely loyal Mark?

Ending as always in bitter revelation, chilling conflict and spectacular conflagration the denouements led the explorers back into the desert wastes in ‘Axa the Tempted’. Their trek brought them to the coast where mutated seaweed and giant sea-life threatened to end their trials for ever and whilst fleeing giant land-crustaceans the couple found an ancient beached ocean-liner from where inbred pirates raided other coastal settlements for slaves, provisions and “Old People” technological artifacts.

Escaping from “The Crewmen”, Axa and Dirk allied themselves with the united sea-villagers and the heroic Cap, King of the Coast, who protects the scattered communities from pirate depredations. The wily wild-girl was strangely attracted to the larger-than-life champion and his luxurious life of adventure, excitement and bold deeds, but Dirk had mysteriously vanished and something just didn’t ring true about the magnanimous warrior-king…

Once more bitter disappointment and righteous indignation awaited Axa as she once more learned that no matter where she roamed men were all the same whilst greed and depravity had not vanished with the Old Ones and their Great Contamination.

These tales are superb examples of the uniquely British newspaper strip style: lavishly drawn, subversively written, expansive in scope and utterly enchanting in their basic simplicity – with lots of flashed flesh, emphatic action and sly humour. Eminently readable and re-readable (and there’s still that dwindling promise of a major motion picture) Axa is long overdue for a definitive collection. so here’s hoping there’s a bold publisher out there looking for the next big thing…

© 1983 Express Newspapers, Ltd. First American Collectors Edition Series ™ & © 1983 Ken Pierce, Inc.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Junior Woodchucks


By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #18)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-18-4

Amongst the other benefits to derive from the radical shake up of the American comics industry in the 1980s (specifically the creation of a specialist retailing sector that ended the newsstand monopoly by sale or return distributors) was the opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. A plethora of companies with new titles quickly came and went, but there was also the chance for wiser or luckier heads to get their product seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Disney strips in oversized albums based on a format popular for decades in Scandinavia and Europe. Reintroduced to the country of their birth the archival material quickly led to a rapid expansion and even resulted in new comicbooks being created for the first time since Dell/Gold Key quit the comics business.

Carl Barks was born in Oregon in 1901 and reared in the wilder parts of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He had many jobs before settling into storytelling with pen and brush. He drifted into cartooning in the 1930s, joining the Disney animation studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the fresh field of comicbooks.

Destiny called when he and studio partner Jack Hannah (also an occasional strip artist) adapted a Bob Karp script for a sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell Four Color Comics #9). Although not Barks’ first published work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From the late 1940’s to the mid-1960s Barks beavered away in seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedy-adventures for kids, based on and expanding Disney’s Duck characters stable. Practically single-handed he built a cohesive feathered Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) and the great granddaddy of all money-spinners Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck Yule yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

Throughout his working career Barks was blissfully unaware that his efforts (uncredited by official policy as was all Disney’s comicbook output), had been singled out by a discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated devotees finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s-1960s, particularly on the exploits of the hilariously acerbic boy-scouting skits featuring Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – capable members of the unflappable “Junior Woodchucks”…

This irrepressible catalogue of delight opens with ‘Operation Rescue Saint Bernard’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #125 February 1951) in which the kids, ever-hungry for Woodchuck merit badges and the concomitant glory they bestow, decide to train Donald’s useless, snow-fearing couch-potato dog in the fine art of Alpine Rescue. It would have gone so well if only Donald had not decided to take charge of the program…

Barks’ inestimable and lasting influence was felt around the globe, as the next tale, produced by the criminally anonymous Scandinavian-based Gutenberghus Group laconically reveals.

In ‘Protective Cacophony’ Woodchuck Supremo S.Q.U.A.C.K.B.O.X. (a running feature of the ersatz scout tales was outrageously faux titles and obscurely verbose acronyms for assorted ranks; thus Subliminal Quieter of Unctuously Athletic Caterwaulers and Kiboshers of Bombastic Oratorializing Xenophobes) orders the lads to ensure that a rare bird nesting in Duckberg remains undisturbed. However, when sometime twitcher (that’s birdwatcher to you and me) Donald insists on helping, his overenthusiastic participation almost gives the nervous avian a coronary.

Fun, fast and fanciful, this fable is a perfect example of the Barks method in action…

From Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #132 (September 1951) comes another memorable Barks original. ‘Ten-Star Generals’ is a wry and raucous romp wherein the rank-hungry duck boys attempt to win even more badges and attain high status among their fellow wilderness pioneers. Donald, whose own boyhood scout troop “the Little Booneheads” were far less stringent and ethical, wants to aid them in any way possible, even cheating on their behalf, but decency and Woodchuck moral fibre wins out in the end – as Donald learns to his cost…

The highly competent Gutenberghus Group also crafted ‘Course Play’ as the boys seek the admiration of their diminutive peers in a pathfinder competition only to once more suffer for Donald’s less than scrupulous meddling. As always, however fair play and quick wits win the boys their undeniable due in the end.

After a sharp single-page entrepreneurial gag starring the nephews from Donald Duck’s appearance in Four Colour Comics #408 (July-August 1952) this jolly jamboree ends in a classic confrontation in the eternal battles of the sexes.

‘The Chickadee Challenge’ (from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #181, October 1955) finds the lads and the entire Woodchuck troop compelled to defend their prowess, pride and manly craft skills after an insulting dare from the rival Little Chickadee Patrol. Bristling under the implied insult of being challenged by mere girls the Woodchucks haughtily accept but nothing goes right for them…Donald, as always, thinks it best if he lends a surreptitious underhanded hand…

As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and the comicbooks which grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny all-ages yarns ever concocted.

Dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and one of the most important anthropomorphic storytellers in fiction. No matter what your vintage or temperament if you’ve never experienced the captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?

© 1989, 1955, 1952, 1951, 1950 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Axa volumes 1: Axa: The Beginning and 2: Axa the Desired


By Donne Avenell & Enrique Badia Romero (Ken Pierce Books)
Vol. 1 ISBN: 0-912277-04-1 Vol. 2 no ISBN

During the 1970s the British newspaper underwent radical changes in style and particularly content as lip service to female liberation and the sexual revolution allowed editors to wedge in even more semi-clad women for men to ogle even while bragging that now the chicks were in control of their own lives.

One place where that policy actually manifested in truly strong female role models as opposed to vapid eye-candy and fluff-piece fashion flash-in-the-pans was the comics page where the likes of Modesty Blaise, Scarth, Amanda and a wave of other capable ladies walked all over the oppressor gender both humorously and in straight adventure scenarios.

They still got their kit off at every imaginable opportunity, but that was just tradition and the idiom of the medium…

By 1978 the fuss and furore had somewhat subsided and aggressive, take-charge naked chicks had become commonplace, but when Star Wars reinvigorated public interest in science fiction the old concept of a scantily-clad, curvaceous beautiful barbarienne toiling through post-apocalyptic wonderlands resurfaced. The concept must have appealed mightily to the features editor of The Sun when it first crossed his desk, especially with Modesty Blaise illustrator Enrique Badia Romero attached to the proposal as artist…

Veteran writer Donne Avenell (who had cut his teeth on hundreds of British comics icons and such major international features as The Phantom and assorted Disney strips) provided racy, pacy, imaginative and subversively clever scripts for glamour-strip star Romero, who had begun his career in Spain in 1953, producing everything from westerns, sports, war stories and trading cards, often in conjunction with his brother Jorge Badía Romero. He even formed his own publishing house.

“Enric” began working for the higher-paying UK market in the 1960s on strips such as ‘Cathy and Wendy’, ‘Isometrics’ and ‘Cassius Clay’ before assuming the art duties on the high-profile Modesty strip in 1970, only leaving when this enticing new prospect appeared. Political and editorial intrigue saw Axa cancelled in the middle of a story in 1986 and Enric soon returned to Blaise until creator Peter O’Donnell retired in 2001. Since then he has produced Modesty Blaise material for Scandinavia and a number of projects such as Durham Red for 2000AD.

Axa ran in The Sun Monday to Saturday from 1978 to her abrupt disappearance in 1986 and other than these slim volumes from strip preserver Ken Pierce has never been graced with a definitive collection. It should be noted also that at the time of these books the strip was still being published to great acclaim.

The first black and white volume opens with an informative essay ‘Introducing Axa’ by publisher and historian Maggie Thompson outlining the history of and indifference to nudity in British newspaper strips after which ‘The Beginning’ takes us to 2080AD and a domed city where restless, buxom, anti-social amazon Axa chafes under the stifling oppressive security of the State which controls the citizens’ lives down to the most minute detail.

Throwing off her shackles and her clothes she leaves her assigned mate Jon, breaks out and flees to the post-apocalyptic wastelands created by The Great Contamination, populated only by mutants and monsters. In a cave she is attacked by a giant spider and saved by Matt, a debased (but hunky) warrior of the Middle People tribe. Taken to their village she discovers that the free primitives are just as hide-bound and oppressive as the City Men. Fleeing the village with the captivated Matt she finds a gleaming long-sword and finally discovers the secret of total true freedom is the ability to defend oneself…

Matt convinces her to return to the Middle Men, but she is betrayed and condemned to be a breeding female, but finds unwelcome release when she and her fellow captives are taken by raiding mutants. Easily escaping, she follows the raiders, intent on freeing the other captive women, once more linking up with the double-crossing Matt.

Surviving the monsters of the wilderness they catch up with the raiders only to be captured. After a climactic battle where Axa’s arguments and beliefs are more effective than any weapons, the rescued women are freed…

This segues straight into ‘The Chosen’ as Axa discovers that her fierce nature and astounding exploits has led the Middle People to declare her a goddess. Bemused by the attention at first she soon finds at it’s all a ploy by the wily tribe’s leader. Goddesses are locked up in temples where they can’t interfere or change the way the people are governed…

Never defeated, Axa breaks out and battles her way to freedom, dragging the ambivalent and indecisive Matt with her. Trekking through a beast-infested desert she is soon lost, alone and near death when she is rescued by Jon. Thinking he has come to join her she awakes to find herself a prisoner, returned to the Dome for therapy.

Sanitized and “Depersonalised’ with mind-bending drugs she once more becomes a decent citizen, but the lure of freedom is too strong and once more she rebels. Throwing off the chemical cosh Axa once more makes a break for the outside, but this time with the sanction of the Dome’s ruler who wants the unconquerable woman to undertake an impossible mission…


The second volume, containing the next two adventures, opens with a text appreciation and recap by Catherine Yronwoode after which Axa the Desired begins with the unstoppable freedom-seeker heading towards the coast, closely followed by the reluctant Jon, torn between his desire for her and disgust with the tainted world beyond the Dome.

Soon they have found a colony of survivors eking out an existence from the slowly healing seas, but are betrayed only to be rescued by two sailors from a foreign land. Jon has had enough and bolts back for the safety of the Domed City and Axa takes ship with the mariners, but the constant storms which batter the poisoned seas destroy their boat and she is washed ashore on an island where the old civilisation seems to have survived.

Appearances are deceiving: the lifestyle of the islanders is about to end as their stockpiled resources of guns and food and gasoline are all but gone. All but handsome Jason Arkady are decrepit dotards and their enclave was doomed until the healthy, hopefully fertile Axa turned up…

Initially horrified, the suave Jason almost turns the wild-woman’s head, but as the mad cracks in the isolated island-culture begin to show, she bolts and discovers that her companion from the shipwreck has been hiding out on the beach, secretly aided by Jason…

When the three try to escape, the suppressed insanity of the Arkady clan boils over in a cascade of blood, bullets and conflagration…

The next saga – also called ‘the Desired’ – sees the trio reach what was once Europe where the biggest surprise was Axa’s discovery of another Dome, just like the one she fled from but located at the bottom of a shallow sea. However this bastion of technology is even worse than her old home as the rulers are women who have dominated their own men and use mutants adapted to aquatic conditions as slaves and beasts of burden.

Even after all her woes at male hands Axa cannot abide the loss of any creature’s liberty and rejects the overtures of the Sea Women to join their society. Moreover when the slaves’ long-planned revolt erupts she manages to avoid taking sides and broker a solution acceptable to all…

These tales are classically European if not British in style: lavishly drawn, cunningly written, expansive in scope and utterly enchanting in their basic simplicity. Eminently readable and re-readable, perhaps the distant promise of a major motion picture (although the project has been in a development wasteland much like the one seen here since 2005) might lure a bold publisher into producing some definitive collectors editions…

© 1981, 1982, Express Newspapers, Ltd. First American Collectors Edition Series © 1982 Ken Pierce, Inc.

Flash Gordon: complete daily strips – 19th November 1951-20th April 1953


By Dan Barry & Harvey Kurtzman, with Frank Frazetta (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 978-0-86801-969-7

By most lights 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 rather clunky Buck Rogers strip of Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but five years earlier) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high 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 spells, swords and steeds – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

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

When all-original comicbooks began a few years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field, their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost as many went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

For over a decade sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland, blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world…

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’, with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he would create the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The one continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Raymond’s assistant Austin Briggs who had drawn the daily instalments since 1940.

That Monday to Saturday black and white feature ran from 1940-1944 when it was cancelled to allow Briggs to take over the Sunday page. Often regarded as the poor relation, the daily strip got an impressive reboot in 1951 when King Features, keenly aware of the science fiction zeitgeist of the post-war world, revived it, asking Dan Barry to produce the package. The Sunday was continued by Austin Briggs until 1948 when Mac Raboy assumed artistic control, beginning a twenty year resurgence of classical brilliance. On Raboy’s death Barry added the Sunday to his workload until he quit over a pay dispute in 1990.

Barry (1911-1997) started as a jobbing artist in comicbooks, a contemporary of Leonard Starr and Stan Drake. Like them and his brother Seymour “Sy” Barry (who produced The Phantom newspaper strip for three decades) Dan worked in a finely detailed, broadly realistic style, blending esthetic sensibility with sharp detail and strong, almost burly virile toughness – a gritty “He-man” attitude for a new era and defined as “New York Slick”.

Dan Barry drew such varied comicbook series as Airboy, Skywolf, Boy King, Black Owl, Spy Smasher and Doc Savage before joining the Air Force. Returning after the hostilities he drew The Heap and assorted genre shorts for new titles such as Crimebusters. He also started his own business producing educational and informational comics.

He began the gradual departure from funny-books as early as 1947 when he took over the Tarzan daily strip for a year but he was still gracing DC’s crime, mystery and science fiction anthologies as late as 1954. When offered Flash Gordon he agreed, intending to write the feature himself. However, the financial rewards were meager and soon he was looking for a scripter.

The story of how cartoon genius Harvey Kurtzman came aboard (probably in February 1952) makes a fascinating postscript in this magnificent volume so I won’t spoil the revelations of the text feature at the back: a section which also contains a wealth of the new writer’s rough-penciled script layouts, sketches, ghosted pencils from young Frank Frazetta and a selection of Flash Gordon spoofs from other magazines. (If you’re interested, they include ‘Flesh Garden’ by Wally Wood from Mad #11 (May 1954), ‘Flyashi Gordonovitch’ (Jack Davis, Humbug #10, June 1958), ‘Little Annie Fanny’ (Playboy 1962, Will Elder) and Kurtzman’s own art for the cover of Snarf #5, September 1972).

This huge black and white tome, 320mm x 260mm, available as both hardback and softcover, reprints the entire run until Kurtzman’s departure with the 20th April episode. Later Flash Gordon story collaborators included writers Harry Harrison and Julian May and art assistants Bob Fujitani and Hillman Publications comrade Fred Kida – more magical material well worth collecting someday….

The new Flash Gordon daily debuted on 19th November 1951 with all the beloved history and scenarios of Mongo and the Ruritanian universe sidelined in favour of a grittier, harder-edged pulp fiction atmosphere. Sometime in the near future astronaut Flash launches into space, part of an expedition to Jupiter, However technical trouble forces the ship to stop at the Space Prison Station.

Docked for repairs the crew inadvertently triggers a riot as the ruthless convicts take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the space rock… Terse and gripping, this two-fisted yarn rockets along with Flash, Dale and the crew fighting for their lives before finding an ally among the rioters, one who would eventually join them on their voyage to the gas giant and beyond…

With new iconoclastic tone and milieu firmly established, ‘Man Against Jupiter!’ began on Monday, February 25th 1952 (with Kurtzman’s first scripts appearing sometime in April). The crew orbiting the colossal globe once more experiences terrifying malfunctions and their atomic ship “Planet Pioneer” heads to the moon Ganymede to effect repairs. On landing the bold explorers discover a subterranean civilisation within the icy satellite and a young Earth boy…

Ray Carson was the son of a lost lunar scientist and his presence halfway across the solar system is but one of the intriguing mysteries challenging Flash and Dale as they battle alien madmen and malicious monsters in the hidden City of Ice… Of course the real threat is the willful, voluptuous Queen Marla who abducted Ray and his father…

Using teleport technology she had dispatched the missing scientist to another star-system to search for an element vital to the Ganymedan’s survival but when upheaval and revolution tear the city apart Flash, Dale, Ray and Marla can only escape by following the missing savant into an unknown universe…

Slowly the old accoutrements of the classic strip had been returning: lost civilizations, monsters, arena duels… and with this new sequence (beginning 17th June 1952) the creators brought back more fantasy elements as the survivors explore this new world hunting Dale, who had been lost in transit. After an intriguingly off-beat encounter with Butterfly Men and a grueling ocean odyssey the Flash, Marla and Ray discover a feudal race of horned and tailed, cloven-hoofed warriors in the devil city of Tartarus and an old friend making earth weapons for them as they strive to overthrow their tyrannical warlord…

Wherever Flash Gordon goes war and revolution seem to follow, but once the devil-men have settled their differences Flash, Marla and Ray resume the search for Dale, and stumble into the bizarrely advanced city of Pasturia, ruled by masters of the mind…

With “Planet Pioneer” crewman Bill Kent, the trio press on and soon make the most astounding discovery of all: this distant world is the retirement home of legendary Earth wizard Merlin, whose super technology includes a time-machine which not only recovers Dale and returns them all to Earth but subsequently endangers our home world by accidentally allowing criminals from the future to poison the planet…

Gripping, alluring, stunningly well illustrated (did I mention that the incomparable Frank Frazetta penciled a long sequence of incredible strips?) this lost treasure is pure graphic gold, presented on huge pages that perfectly display the virtuosity of all involved. Perfect, perfect comic strip wonderment…
© 1988 King Features Syndicate. Additional material © 1988 its respective copyright holders. This edition © 1988 Kitchen Sink Press. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald and Daisy


By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #12)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-112

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, reared in the rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him: storytelling with a pen and brush. After a succession of professions Barks drifted into cartooning and joined the Disney studio as an animator before quitting in 1942 to work in the newborn field of comicbooks.

His life-path gelled when, with cartoon studio partner Jack Hannah (himself an occasional strip illustrator) Barks adapted a Bob Karp script for an sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (published as Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 in October of that year). Although not his first published comics work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s Barks worked in self-imposed isolation seclusion, writing and drawing a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers, creating a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose, Magica De Spell, the Beagle Boys and his greatest creation – the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad Quinquillionaire Scrooge McDuck to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. Although equally revered for his astonishingly impressive adventure sagas, slapstick romps and punchy page-gags he was just another cog in a big machine and diligently toiled on whatever his editors asked him to.

A solid example of how well he worked on characters he wasn’t invested in and scripts he hadn’t concocted is this Gladstone album co-starring Donald Duck’s occasional paramour Daisy…

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s and 1960s wherein Daisy and her nieces The Little Chickadees, freed from the social constraints of the 1950s and 1960s, finally came into their independent own…

During this period “ladies” were not brash or forceful or potent – whether by Disney dictat, Dell editorial policy or simply in deference to the tone of the times is unclear – unless they were fallen or wicked, such as Bark’s own darker dames like Glittering Goldie (see Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike) or sinister sorceress Magica De Spell, and as such were relegated to sternly disapproving partners or maternal role models. Even under these conditions however, Barks occasionally managed to inject a little spark into the distaff ducks…

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material and a selection of other Disney comics strips in the 1980s and this intriguing tome is among the best – as they all seem to be. As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and comics books that grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny yarns ever concocted.

As discussed in Geoffrey Blum’s introduction Barks considered Daisy a “diluting influence” and often had to rewrite her parts, if not actually kill stories in which she played a stronger woman, but even on these terms the five short yarns here, one scripted by an anonymous writer but most by the master himself, are a striking example of triumph under adversity…

Daisy is little more than a bit-player in the untitled first tale (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #101, February 1949) in which Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie take a series of extreme measures to cure nightmares, whilst in the second ‘The Daisy Hunt’ she becomes an unwilling prize in a romantic duel for her affections between Donald and aggravatingly lucky rival Gladstone Gander (first seen in untitled Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #117, June 1950).

She plays a far more forceful but still ferociously domestic role in the untitled housecleaning yarn from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #213, June 1958 wherein she mercilessly hunts Donald down after he breaks a promise to help her spring clean the house.

As the 1960s advanced and women became less fragile flowers and more potent partners Daisy had a short run of her own title under the umbrella of the Four Colour Comics tryout title. From #1055 (November 1959) of Daisy Duck’s Diary comes ‘The TV Babysitter’ (illustrated but not written by Barks) in which she ultimately fails to keep control of the nephews even with the help of Gyro Gearloose’s latest surveillance technology, whilst in ‘Donald and Daisy: The Beauty Business’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #308, May 1966) her feminine insecurity almost ruins Donald’s latest career as a glamour beautician…

Even though not up to his usual uniquely high standards, it’s fascinating to see what Barks could do with stories that didn’t engage him 100% – and this collection is magnificent proof of his overwhelming creative and work ethic – as these stories all still contain the dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch that made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and the most important anthropomorphic storyteller since Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling.

No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced this captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?
© 1988, 1966, 1959, 1958, 1950, 1949 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Betsy’s Buddies


By Harvey Kurtzman & Sarah Downs (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 0-87816-029-9

Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century. His triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was an innovator, a commentator and a social explorer who kept on creating, kept on observing and with satire magazines such as the black and white magazine Mad (a highly successful format he invented), further inspirations Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while still creating challenging and powerfully effective funny strips such as Little Annie Fannie (for Playboy), The Jungle Book, Nutz, Goodman Beaver and the strip on review here. He died far too soon in 1993.

This superb hardcover volume was collected by that much-missed champion of all things grand, esoteric and/or naughty in comics, Denis Kitchen through his Kitchen Sink Press outfit, and collects the racy, revelatory exploits of young Betsy, a fresh, if not so innocent student in the jaded halls of Academia and the Big City, a full-on, dedicated Sexual Revolutionary – at least by her own lights. Through one and two page exploits (all the colour strips were previously printed in Playboy whilst the black and white adventures have no single source or provenance I can find), this feisty femme – in a still mostly man’s world – endeavours to live her life by her own ready-made rules.

She’s got an apartment, a nudist roommate, a horny law-student boyfriend and enough savvy, modern sense not to tell anybody she’s shagging her English Lit Professor. Her classy, sophisticated, raucous riotous, hilariously true-to-life exploits and uniquely female viewpoint come in no small part from Sarah Downs, who was Kurtzman’s associate, assistant and co-writer in the 1980s, and a highly skilled colourist and teacher of cartooning at the School of Visual Arts.

As well as these delightful adult strips they also produced material for Europe together seen in such classy mature vehicles as L’Echo des Savannes and she also appeared in the Marvel Epic all-star anthology Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures (coming soon to a graphic novel review blog near you…)

Sharp, sassy, wickedly barbed and penetratingly insightful about the differences that draw men and women together Betsy’s Buddies is an utter delight and long overdue for a fresh edition and another close look…
© 1988 Harvey Kurtzman and Sarah Downs. Entire contents © 1988 Kitchen Sink Press. All rights reserved.

Castle Waiting Volume 2


By Linda Medley (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-405-4

What exactly happens after “Happy Ever After”?

Castle Waiting is a far too infrequent comicbook answer to that question, produced in lovely bursts of joyful creativity since 1996 by cartoonist and sometime self-publisher Linda Medley, set in a generically plentiful fairytale milieu encompassing everything from talking animals to medieval knights to fairies and giants all leavened with a dry sharp wit and commonsense modern sensibility.

After voyaging peripatetically from self-published to co-published and back in 2006 Medley settled at Fantagraphics who collected all the previous issues (one shot Castle Waiting: the Curse of Brambly Hedge, seven issues under her own Olio Press imprint, four more with Cartoon Books and a further five under her own steam) and began work on a further fifteen issues which comprise this wonderful, colossal, book shaped hardback. Although the series is again on hiatus I’m hopeful that soon there will be more magic to come.

Originally published in black and white at standard US comicbook proportions, Medley’s sturdy, open, woodcut-like art actually benefits from the slight reduction to book format. Her superb backgrounds and location establishing shots are made perfectly ponderous and wonderfully unyielding whilst her incredible facility with expressions is given full range of play and ideal conditions to work in.

As seen in the previous volume, the castle in question is a fantastic and mysterious edifice sitting on the edge of a tempestuous sea-facing cliff. Once it had Lords-and-Ladies and other grand occupants a-plenty, but when the Princess fell into a deep enchanted sleep and giant thorns and bushes enveloped the place it fell into abandoned disuse. It has since been occupied by a motley – and often anthropomorphic – crew and exists as a kind of affable commune-community centre, populated by good, hearty background characters who didn’t cause any fuss or trouble in those famous tales.

Medley’s stories are deft, clever and work because they focus on everyday life at the fringes of the “Big Stuff”, with characters such as old bearded nun Sister Peace; Patience, Prudence and Plenty, three elderly ladies in waiting who have seen it all, the tragically demented surgeon Doctor Fell, seven-foot tall, foundling dwarf blacksmith Henry/Loki, warrior-centaur Chess, assorted kitchen-staff like Mrs. Cully and her giant son Simon – who is not simple – and a host of others, permanent and passing through, all wrangled by stork-headed, self-appointed major domo Rackham. The venturesome “vermin” who inhabit the still-unexplored nooks and crannies are sprites, pixies, poltergeists and demons.

Convivial and conversational the narrative impetus is provided by Lady Jain who first came seeking refuge from an abusive husband. She moved in heavy with child and when he was eventually delivered the kid was not human. Everybody bides their own business here though…

The pace is deliciously slow, filled with situations rather than events that unfold at their own pace so by the opening of this volume Jain and her newborn Pindar are only just moving to better rooms in the Keep. She settles on the old counting house because of the memories it provokes (and as the book progresses we’ll see many secret snippets of her childhood…). As the days go by blacksmith Henry’s dwarf (they prefer the term “Hammerlings”) relatives Tolly and Uncle Dayne come by for a visit. They’re on a mysterious mission but are distracted: Tolly is pretty sure he knows what or who Pindar’s dad was…

The Hammerlings extend their stay to provide some remodeling work for Rackham and open unsuspected areas of the Castle to long-delayed scrutiny, with results both well and ill welcomed, and Jain reveals she has a magic trunk…

The horrifying secret of Doctor Fell is revealed and a preliminary restoration of his faculties, as is Jain’s romantic past and Henry’s connection to the little folk, before the cast are introduced to the unimaginable delights of nine-pin bowling and the volume meanders to a close with the portents indicating something big and nasty is coming…

Saucy, bold, enigmatic, gently funny, reassuringly romantic; brimming with human warmth and just the right edge of hidden danger Castle Waiting is a masterpiece of subtle ironic, perfectly paced storytelling that any kid over ten can and will adore. Moreover, if you’re long in the tooth or have been around the block a time or two, this fantastic place can’t help but look like home…

™ & © 2010 Linda Medley. Compilation © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights 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 and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high 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 that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

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

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism 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 expressionistic masterpiece 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 rogue planet about to smash the World. 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 every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but 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.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the 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 the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist pencillers; his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfect human form was already fading from popular taste (for example the Daily feature at this time switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of 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 picking up this book and ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


By Dr. Seuss (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-00736-554-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for everybody…  10/10

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield Massachusetts on 2nd March 1094, the son of a wealthy beermaker of German origins. He attended Dartmouth College, where he edited the college magazine, graduating in 1925 despite a few narrow escapes from the college authorities. Geisel liked to party and preferred drawing to his studies. It was apparently how he got his penname: after the Dean banned him from drawing after a particularly raucous binge, the young artist took pains to sign his work only with his middle name…

He studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1927, where he met his first wife Helen. When they returned to America he became a cartoonist and illustrator, doing spot gags, political panels and covers for a variety of publishers. He produced a weekly strip Birdsies and Beasties in prestigious humour magazine Judge and his work also appeared in Life, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, PM among others. He even briefly produced a newspaper strip ‘Hejji’ (1935) and tried his hand at animation and advertising. During World War II Geisel turned to political cartooning, advocating a strong response to the Fascist threat and in 1943 enlisted as a lead animator and director for the United States Army, winning an award in 1947 for the documentary Design For Death which explored Japanese cultural history.

He published his first poem/cartoon book ‘And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street’ in 1937 but really gradually became immortal after the war when news reports about the relative illiteracy and lack of vocabulary in young children (particularly a damning report in Life, May 1954) led him to create his easy-reading masterpieces ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’, ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ and 38 others before his death in 1991.

In 1957 he released the now-legendary ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’, a Yuletide evergreen, immortalized in a brilliant Chuck Jones animated short in 1966 and a so-so big budget movie in 2000. Over and above both of these the actual book still towers as a masterpiece of cartoon fiction and one I beg you to read if you already haven’t.

If you’re one of the three westerners who still don’t know the story…

The Grinch is a mean hermit who for no special reason loathes everything about the whole Christmas Season. So one X-Mas Eve he creeps into Who-houses and nicks every trinket that Christmas espouses. No Trees, Tinsel, Presents or Taste Treats are left: the nasty old codger has left Who-ville bereft.

But just at the moment when his triumph is paramount the Grinch sees what Christmas is actually all about. Heart bursting with joy and good feelings re-surging Grinch returns all the treats he was wickedly purging and joins Who-ville’s people in their grand feast – and even shares some of their glorious Roast Beast!

Seriously though; the simple heartwarming tale of the old monster – and his trusty, illogically faithful hound – as they fail to ruin Christmas, his miraculous change of heart and eventual redemption is the perfect examination of what the Season should mean. Moreover it’s written in a captivating manner with bold rhyme and incredibly enthralling artwork that embeds itself within every reader. Wily, wise and wonderful, ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is absolutely the best kid’s Christmas book ever created and one you simple have to read.

Don’t make me put coal in your socks…

© 1957, 1985 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved.

You’ll Never Know Book 2: Collateral Damage


By C. Tyler (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-418-4

In 2009 cartoonist Carol Tyler published the first of a proposed trilogy of graphic memoirs that examined the difficult relationship with her father Chuck, a veteran of World War II. ‘A Good and Decent Man’ explored three generations of the family dominated by a capable mother and a hard working, oddly cold yet volatile, taciturn patriarch. Events kicked off when after six decades of silence incipient frailty suddenly produced in her once-distant father a terrifying openness and desire to share war experiences and history long suppressed.

As if suddenly speaking for an entire generation who fought and died or survived and soldiered on as civilians in a society with no conception of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Chuck Tyler began to unburden his soul…

This second volume takes up the acclaimed and award-winning generational saga with Carol coping with her own husband’s desertion, leading to her resuming recording her dad’s recollections of Italy and France (including the infamous Battle of the Bulge) whilst re-examining the painful, chaotic and self-destructive existence she made for herself due to his hidden demons.

Now a single mother, Carol ponders her tempestuous past through a new lens. How much did her cold and terrifying father who was nevertheless a devoted, loving husband shape her mistakes? How can she prevent her increasingly wild daughter making the same mistakes and bad choices? Moreover, as her parents’ physical and mental states deteriorate, Chuck has become obsessed by a mystery that been forgotten since he came back from the conflict and needs Carol to solve it at all costs…

With an increasingly critical reappraisal of the family’s shared experiences, Carol discovers how her own mother coped with dark tragedies and suppressed secrets (revealed in ‘The Hannah Story’ – an updated sidebar first published in 1994), gaining an enhanced perspective but still no satisfactory answers to the conundrum of her father.

As she races to complete the self-appointed task of turning her father’s life into a comprehensible chronicle her parents are both declining visibly and her own life is becoming far too complex to ignore or withstand…

Delivered in monochrome and a selection of muted paint wash and crayon effects, the compellingly inviting blend of cartoon styles (reminiscent of our own Posy Simmonds but with a gleeful openness all her own) captures heartbreak, horror, humour, angst and tragedy in a beguiling, seductive manner which is simultaneously charming and devastatingly effective, whilst the book and narrative itself is constructed like a photo album depicting the eternal question “How and Why Do Families Work?”

Enticing, disturbing and genuinely moving, ‘Collateral Damage’ is a powerful and affecting second stage in Tyler’s triptych of discovery and one no student of the human condition will care to miss.

© 1994, 2010 C. Tyler. All rights reserved.