Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge in Hawaiian Hideaway

By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #11)
ISBN: 0-944599-10-9

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 a crucial opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. There was an explosion of companies with new titles that quickly came and went, but there was also an opportunity for older, wiser heads to get their product fairly seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing a selection of other Disney strips in classy oversized albums based on a format that had been 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.

That West Coast outfit had for decades published the lion’s share of licensed properties, delighting generations of children with their film, TV and movie comicbooks. One of their greatest wage-slaves was a shy, retiring and fiercely independent writer/artist named Carl Barks.

From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, based on and expanding the Disney stable of Duck characters. Almost single-handed he crafted a Duck Universe of fantastically memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961).

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

Undoubtedly though, Barks’ greatest creation was the crusty, energetic, money-mad yet oddly lovable dodecadillionaire Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck tale ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

This book highlights another of the Money-mad Mallard’s spectacular battles of wits – and avarice – with nefarious criminal clan the Beagle Boys: another Barks confabulation who first collectively cased the duck’s ponderous holdings in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #134 (November 1951).

Printed in that aforementioned European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this captivating caper originally appeared in Uncle Scrooge #4 (December 1953-February 1954) and relates how the security-conscious Scrooge buys an island where he can safely squirrel away his acres of cash. Unfortunately the ever-rapacious Beagles get wind of his scheme and plan to intercept the moolah in transit, leading to nautical hi-jinks that would stun Jack Sparrow himself and jungle japes that captured the true mysterious glamour of the South Pacific…

Luckily Donald and his scarily inventive nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie are there to counteract the villains – as well as a decidedly supernatural presence derived from Barks’ scrupulous and exhaustive research. As well as a brilliant artist and inspired gag-man Barks was a fanatical armchair explorer and his addictive light adventure yarns always had some basis in authentic fact or folklore.

Filling out this volume are a clever Gyro Gearloose vignette from Uncle Scrooge #26 (1959) wherein ‘Krankenstein Gyro’ flaunts the laws of chemistry and biology as well as his traditional physi   cs in an attempt to create life; all prompted by an ill-advised trip to a monster matinee and that lucky old duck Glandstone Gander gets annoyingly involved in Scrooge’s newest scheme to camouflage his cash in the farm-belt in an untitled Donald Duck yarn from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #126 (April 1951). Sadly, when Scrooge bought the farm nobody reminded him that the Mid-West is tornado country…

Dryly satirical and outrageously slapstick, Bark’s delightfully folksy observations on the frustrating responsibilities and ultimate worthlessness of wealth have never been better expressed than here and these captivating parables are among his very best.

Even if you can’t find this particular volume, Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced his captivating magic, there’s no time left to lose. Read your way out of this financial crisis with a healthy helping of fiscally prudent fun fiction…
© 1988, 1959, 1953, 1951 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents House of Mystery volume 1

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0786-1

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre. Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and the very occasional her) until the troops came home and older genres supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept up the buying, much of the previous generation also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychology of the world, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this. As well as Western, War and Crime comics, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another periodic revival of spiritualism and interest in the supernatural led to a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and even shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: the unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948, although Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before launching a regular series in 1951, by which time Classics Illustrated had already long milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon and Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched in 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery. When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s ostensibly a free country now) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self regulatory rules HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, and even became super-hero tinged split-books (With Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in HoM, and Eclipso sharing space with Mark Merlin and later Prince Ra-Man in HoS).

However nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed, leading to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even the ultra wholesome Archie comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle thrillers

Thus with absolutely no fanfare at all issue #174, cover dated May-June 1968 presented a bold banner demanding “Do You Dare Enter The House of Mystery?” and reprinted a bunch of admittedly excellent short fantastic thrillers originally seen in House of Secrets from the heady days when it was okay to scare kids. Staring off was ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’ (HoS #58) by an unknown writer and compellingly illustrated by the great Lee Elias, another uncredited script ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck!’ limned by Doug Wildey and the only new feature of the issue – one which would set the tone for decades to come.

Page 13 was a trenchantly comedic feature page scripted by Editor and EC veteran Joe Orlando and cartooned by manic Hispanic genius Sergio Aragonés. It stated quite clearly that whilst the intent was to thrill, enthral and even appal it was all in the spirit of sinister fun, and gallows humour was the order of the day. The comic then concluded with a Bernard Baily tale of the unexpected ‘The Museum of Worthless Inventions’ (from #13) and concluded with the Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino & Mort Meskin fantasy fable ‘The Court of Creatures’ (a Mark Merlin masterpiece from HoS #43).

The next issue can probably be counted as the true start of this latter day revenant renaissance, as Orlando revived the EC tradition of slyly sardonic narrators by creating the Machiavellian Cain, “caretaker of the House of Mystery” and raconteur par excellence. Behind the first of a spectacular series of creepy covers from Neal Adams lurked another reprint ‘The Gift of Doom’ (from HoM #137, illustrated by George Roussos) followed by ‘All Alone’, an original, uncredited prose chiller.

After another Page 13 side-splitter, Aragonés launched his long-running gag page ‘Cain’s Game Room’ and the issue closed with an all-new new comic thriller ‘The House of Gargoyles!’ by veteran scaremongers Bob Haney and Jack Sparling.

With format firmly established and commercially successful the fear-fest was off and running. Stunning Adams covers, painfully punny introductory segments and interspersed gag pages (originally just Aragonés but eventually supplemented by other cartoonists such as John Albano, Lore Shoberg and John Costanza. This feature eventually grew popular enough to be spun off into bizarrely outrageous comicbook called Plop! – but that’s a subject for another day…) supplied an element of continuity to an increasingly superior range of self-contained supernatural thrillers. Moreover, if ever deadline distress loomed there was always a wealth of superb old material to fill in with.

HoM #176 led with spectral thriller ‘The House of No Return!’ by an unknown writer and the great Sid Greene and young Marv Wolfman (one of an absolute Who’s Who of budding writers who went on to bigger things) teamed with Sparling on the paranoiac mad science shocker ‘The Root of Evil!’

Another reprinted masterpiece of form from Mort Meskin (see From Shadow to Light for more about this unsung genius of the art-form) led off #177, ‘The Son of the Monstross Monster’ having previously appeared in House of Mystery #130. and 1950’s fearsome fact page was recycled into ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ before Charles King and Orlando’s illustrated prose piece ‘Last Meal’ and dream team Howie (Anthro) Post and Bill Draut produced a ghoulish period parable in ‘The Curse of the Cat.’

Neal Adams debuted as an interior illustrator – and writer – with a mind-boggling virtuoso performance as a little boy survived ‘The Game’, after which Jim Mooney’s spooky credentials were recalled with ‘The Man Who Haunted a Ghost’ (first seen in HoM #35) and E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer & George Roussos delineated an eternal dream with ‘What’s the Youth?’ and ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Ghostly Miners’ closed the issue.

Bridwell contributed the claustrophobic ‘Sour Note’ in issue #179 rendered by the uniquely visionary Jerry Grandenetti and Roussos and the next generation of comics genius begun with the first Bernie Wrightson creepy contribution. ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Man Who Murdered Himself’ was scripted by Marv Wolfman and is still a stunning example of gothic perfection in the artist’s Graham Ingels inspired lush, fine-line style.

This exceptional artists issue also contains the moody supernatural romance ‘The Widow’s Walk’ by Post. Adams & Orlando – a subtle shift from schlocky black humour to moody supernatural tragedy that would undoubtedly appeal to the increasingly expanding female readership. The issue ends with another fact feature ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Tell Tales’.

Going from strength to strength House of Mystery was increasingly drawing on DC’s major artistic resources. ‘Comes a Warrior’ which opened #180, was a chilling faux Sword & Sorcery masterpiece written and drawn by the da Vinci of Dynamism Gil Kane, inked by the incomparable Wally Wood, and the same art team also illustrated Mike Friedrich’s fourth-wall demolishing ‘His Name is Cain Kane!’ Cliff Rhodes and Orlando contributed the text-terror ‘Oscar Horns In!’ and Wolfman & Wrightson returned with the prophetic vignette ‘Scared to Life’ An uncredited forensic history lesson from ‘Cain’s True Case Files’ closed the proceedings for that month.

‘Sir Greeley’s Revenge!’ by Otto Binder and drawn by the quirkily capable Sparling was a heart-warmingly genteel spook story, but Wrightson’s first long story – a fantastic reincarnation saga entitled ‘The Circle of Satan’, scripted by Bob Kanigher, ended #181 on a eerily unsettling note and #182 opened with one of the most impressive tales of the entire run. Jack Oleck’s take on the old cursed mirror plot was elevated to high art as his script ‘The Devil’s Doorway’ was illustrated by the incredible Alex Toth. Wolfman and Wayne Howard then followed with ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Grave Results!’ an Orlando limned house promotion and the nightmarish revenge tale ‘The Hound of Night!’

Oleck and Grandenetti opened #183 with ‘The Haunting!’, ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ returned with ‘Curse of the Blankenship’s and ‘Superstitions About Spiders’ and Wolfman & Wrightson contributed ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Can Kill!’ before the canny teaming of Kanigher with Grandenetti and Wally Wood resulted in the truly bizarre ‘Secret of the Whale’s Vengeance.’ The next issue saw the triumphant return of Oleck & Toth for the captivating Egyptian tomb raider epic ‘Turner’s Treasure’ and Bridwell, Kane & Wood for a barbarian blockbuster ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk!’

House of Mystery #185 saw caretaker Cain take a more active role in the all-Grandenetti yarn ‘Boom!’, Wayne Howard illustrated the sinister ‘Voice From the Dead!’ and veteran Charlton scribe Joe Gill debuted with ‘The Beautiful Beast’: a lost world romance perfectly pictured by EC alumnus Al Williamson. Next issue topped even that as Wrightson illustrated Kanigher’s spectacular bestiary tale ‘The Secret of the Egyptian Cat’ and Neal Adams produced some his best art ever for Oleck’s poignant tale of imagination and childhood lost ‘Nightmare’. Nobody who ever adored Mr. Tumnus could read this little gem without choking up… and as for the rest of you, I just despair…

Kanigher & Toth produced another brilliantly disquieting drama in ‘Mask of the Red Fox’ to open #187, and Wayne Howard was at his workmanlike best on ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Appointment Beyond the Grave!’ before John Celardo & Mike Peppe apparently illustrated the anonymous script for the period peril ‘An Aura of Death!’ (although to my jaded old eyes the penciller looks more like Win Mortimer…)

Another revolutionary moment began with the first story in #188, cover dated September-October 1970. Gerry Conway got an early boost scripting ‘Dark City of Doom’, a chilling reincarnation mystery set in both contemporary times and Mayan South America as the trailblazer for a magnificent tidal wave of Filipino artists debuted. The stunning art of Tony DeZuniga opened the door for many of his talented countrymen to enter and reshape both Marvel and DC’s graphic landscape and this black and white compendium is the perfect vehicle to see their mastery of line and texture…

Wrightson was responsible for the time-lost thriller ‘House of Madness!’ which closed that issue whilst Aragonés opened the proceedings for #189, closely followed by Kanigher, Grandenetti & Wood’s ‘Eyes of the Cat’ and a 1953 reprint drawn by Leonard Starr, ‘The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T’ (from HoM #11) before another Charlton mystery superstar premiered as Tom Sutton illustrated Oleck’s ‘The Thing in the Chair’.

Kanigher and Toth teamed for another impeccable graphic masterwork in ‘Fright!’, Albano filled Cain’s Game Room and Aragonés debuted another long-running gag page with ‘Cain’s Gargoyles’ and this issue ended with a Salem-based shocker ‘A Witch Must Die!’ (by Jack Miller, Ric Estrada & Frank Giacoia). Issue #191 saw the official debut of Len Wein who wrote the terrifying puppet-show tragedy ‘No Strings Attached!’ for Bill Draut and DeZuniga returned to draw Oleck’s cautionary tale ‘The Hanging Tree!’ before Wein closed the show paired with Wrightson on ‘Night-Prowler!’ a seasonal instant-classic that has been reprinted many times since.

John Albano wrote ‘The Garden of Eden!’, a sinister surgical stunner, made utterly believably by Jim Aparo’s polished art, and Gray Morrow illustrated Kanigher’s modern psycho-drama ‘Image of Darkness’ and superhero veteran Don Heck returned to his suspenseful roots drawing Virgil North’s monstrously whimsical ‘Nobody Loves a Lizard!’

Wrightson contributed the first of many magnificent covers for #193, depicting the graveyard terrors of Alan Riefe & DeZuniga’s ‘Voodoo Vengeance!’, whilst Bill Draut skilfully delineated the screaming tension of Francis X. Bushmaster’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark Dreams!’

For #194, which saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience – the magic began with another bravura Toth contribution in Oleck’s ‘Born Loser’ swiftly followed by the Russ Heath illustrated monster thriller ‘The Human Wave’ (from House of Secrets #31), a Jack Kirby monster-work ‘The Negative Man’ (House of Mystery #84) before Oleck and the simply stunning Nestor Redondo (see also The Bible: DC Limited Collectors Edition C-36) closed the issue and this first volume with the metamorphic horror ‘The King is Dead’.

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and comics critics alike when they first appeared and it’s no exaggeration to posit that they may well have saved the company during the dire downward sales spiral of the 1970. Now their blend of sinister mirth and classical suspense situations can most usually be seen in such series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators. If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully, splatter-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly creepy cartooning The House of Mystery is the place for you…

© 1968-1971, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010

By Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 13: 978-1-60699-537-6

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book – but it is an absolutely stunning one, collecting some of the best and most trenchantly funny illustrations by a contender for the title of America’s Greatest Living Caricaturist in a lavish, full-colour hardback.

Drew Friedman began drawing commercially in the late 1970s. His meticulous, stippled monochrome satirical and socially biting cartoons of celebrities – and the rare comic strip – appearing in RAW, Screw, High Times, Weirdo, Comical Funnies, Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and the Holy of Holies MAD Magazine.

Gradually he moved into the publishing mainstream, and the phizzogs and foibles of the Rich and Famous gathered here are culled from a number of eclectic sources including Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, GQ Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Village Voice, Mojo, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The Weekly Standard, Blab!, Maximum Golf and even the gun-totin’ sports organ Field & Stream among many others – an hilarious cavalcade of covers and spot illustrations by a master of the graphic ideal moment.

After a funny and extremely informative potted history the mostly painted (but with occasional pen, wash, tone and even charcoal examples), staggeringly cruel, cutting and insightful images are unleashed, beginning with a section covering political and business highflyers.

The period 1995 to 2010 turned up an unenviable horde of risible leaders and manipulative malcontents and included here are 107 cartoon snapshots of such luminaries as the Clintons, Monica Lewinsky, Helmut Kohl, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Ross Perot, Sarah Palin, “Mayor Mike” Bloomberg, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney and many other domestic demagogues as well as such international ideologues as Tony Blair, Yasser Arafat, Mother Theresa, Jacques Chirac and Osama Bin Laden among many others.

The second section deals with Showbiz types ancient and modern, an includes a couple of astonishingly grand panoramic gatefold fold outs amidst the 140+ illustrations featuring super-stars and should-have-beens from sports, music, acting, the media and that nebulous twilight world of people who are famous without actually doing or achieving anything.

The roster includes Tiny Tim, Dean Martin, Sinatra, John Lennon, Michael Jackson (lots of him at various stages of his life-long metamorphosis), Tommy Lee, Madonna, Fred MacMurray, Judy Garland, Jackie Chan, Bob Dylan, Brando, De Niro, Woody Allen, Stallone, Will Smith, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Jack Nicholson and so many others. The volume also includes some book and CD covers and private commissions, and also a fresh selection of the artist’s favourite artistic subjects: sideshow freaks and obscure Jewish and vintage comedians.

Friedman is a master craftsman who can draw and paint with breathtaking power, and his work is intrinsically funny. It’s relatively simple to make Blair, Bush or Bin Laden look like buffoons but try it with Rod Serling, Marilyn Manson, Mother Theresa or Salman Rushdie…

His caricatures are powerful, resonant and joyful, but without ever really descending to the level of graphic malice preferred by such luminaries as Ralph Steadman or Gerald Scarfe. Too Soon? is a book for art lovers, celebrity stalkers and anyone who enjoys a pretty, good laugh.

© 2006 Drew Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

You can see sample pages on the arts website www.Drawger.com

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: the First Jewish Superhero

By Thomas Andrae, Mel Gordon, Jerome Siegel & Joe Shuster (Feral House)
ISBN: 978-1-932595-78-9

The comics industry owes an unpayable debt to two Jewish kids from Cleveland who were in the right place at the right time and were able to translate their enthusiasm and heartfelt affection for beloved influences and delight in a new medium into a brand new genre which took the world by storm.

Writer Jerome Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were a jobbing cartoonist team just breaking into the brand new but ailing comic-book business with strips such as ‘Henri Duval’, ‘Doctor Occult’ and ‘Slam Bradley’ when they rejigged a constantly rejected newspaper strip concept into the greatest sensation of the Age.

Superman captivated depression-era audiences and within a year had become the vanguard of a genre and an industry. In those early days the feature was both whimsical and bombastic, as much a gag strip as an adventure serial, and it was clear the inspired whiz kids were wedded to laughs just as much as any wish-fulfilling empowerment fantasies.

Siegel and Shuster were not well-served by their publishers and by 1946 no longer worked for National Periodicals (today’s DC Comics). In fact they were in acrimonious litigation which led to the originators losing all rights to their creation and suffered years of ill-treatment until an artist-led campaign at the time of the 1978 Superman movie shamed the company into a belated reversal and financial package (consisting mostly of having their names returned to the character’s logo and company medical benefits).

Before this however the pair produced an abortive “Last Hurrah”: another unique character based on early influences, but one who sadly did not catch the public’s attention in those post war years when the first super-heroic age was ending. Based broadly on Danny Kaye, Funnyman was a stand-up comedian who dressed as a clown and used comedy gimmicks to battle criminals, super-villains and aliens: first in six issues of his own comic-book and then as a Daily and Sunday newspaper strip.

A complete antithesis to the Man of Steel, Larry Davis was a total insider, no orphan or immigrant, wealthy, successful, accepted and revered by society but who chose to become a ridiculous outsider, fighting for not the common good but because it gave him a thrill nothing else could match. The series was light, beautifully audacious, tremendous fun and sunk like a concrete-filled whoopee cushion.

Here social historians Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon re-examine the strip in the much broader context of Jewish Identity and racial character, (especially as it applies to Jewish-Americans), and make some fascinating observations and postulates. Following an intriguing preface by author, writer, editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth this book dissects the history and psychology of the Judaic experience in a compelling series of astoundingly illustrated essays gathered under the umbrellas of Gordon’s ‘The Farblondjet Superhero and his Cultural Origins’ and Andrae’s ‘The Jewish Superhero’.

The former (and Farblondjet translates as “mixed up” or “lost”) probes ‘The Mystery of Jewish Humor’, ‘The Construct of Humor in Everyday Jewish Life’, ‘The Old Theories: ‘Laughter-Through-Tears’; ‘A Laughing People’; ‘Outside Observer’ and ‘The Badkhn Theory’ (Badkhn being performers hired to insult, offend and depress guests and celebrants at social gatherings such as weddings or funerals).

‘Characteristics of Modern Jewish Humor’ are subdivided and explored in ‘Aggression’, ‘The Yiddish Language’, ‘Self-Mockery’, ‘Inversion and Skepticism’, ‘Scatology’, ‘Gallows Humor’ and ‘Solipsism and Materialism’ and Gibson’s compelling, contextual  potted-history concludes with ‘American- Jewish Comedy Before 1947’ ( when Funnyman debuted) with ‘Weber and Fields’, ‘On the Boards’, ‘The Borscht Belt’, ‘Cartoons and Jokebooks’ and ‘Hollywood Talkies and Syndicated Radio’.

In ‘The Jewish Superhero’ Andrae examines Siegel and Shuster’s possible influences; everything from German expressionist cinema masterpiece ‘The Golem: How He Came into This World’ to the real-life strongman Sigmund Breitbart, a Polish Jew who astounded the world with his feats in the early 1920s. On his American tour he appeared in Cleveland in October 1923. Siegel, a local resident, would have been nine years old…

‘Funnyman, Jewish Masculinity and the Decline of the Superhero’ then explores the psychology and landscape of the medium through the careers and treatment of Siegel and Shuster in ‘The Birth of Funnyman’, ‘The Body Politic’, ‘The Schlemiel and the Tough Jew’, ‘The Decline of the Superhero’ and ‘Comic Book Noir’ before going on to recount the story of the newspaper strips in ‘The Funnyman Comic Strip’ and ‘Reggie Van Twerp’ (a last ditch attempt by the creators to resurrect their comic fortunes) before the inevitable ‘End Game’

So far this book has been a compulsive and hugely informative academic work, but in ‘Funnyman Comic Book Stories’ the resplendent fan fun really begins with a full colour section reproducing a selection of strips from the six issue run. ‘The Kute Knockout!’ (Funnyman #2, March 1948) pits the Hilarious Hero against a streetwalker robot built to seduce and rob Johns whilst ‘The Medieval Mirthquake’ (Funnyman #4, May 1948) propels the Comedy Crusader back to the time of Camelot. From the same issue comes ‘Leapin’ Lena’ as Funnyman tackles a female bandit who can jump like a kangaroo and #5 (July 1948) has him chasing a worrying new crime gimmick in ‘The Peculiar Pacifier’.

Also included are the striking covers of all six issues, the origin of Funnyman from #1, lots of splash pages and a selection of Shuster’s Superman art, but the most welcome benefit for collectors and collectors is a detailed précis of the entire run’s 20 tales.

The same consideration is offered for the newspaper strips. As well as similar synopses for the Sundays (12 adventures spanning October 31st 1948 to the end of October 1949) and the Dailies (another dozen larks beginning October 18th 1948 and ending September 17th 1949) there are 11 pages of full colour Sunday sections and the complete black and white ‘Adventure in Hollywood’ (December 20th to January 12th 1949) to adore and marvel over.

Like Funnyman this book is an odd duck. Whereas I would have loved to see the entire output gathered into one volume, what there is here is completely engrossing: a wonderful appreciation and compelling contextualization of genuine world-altering pioneers. This is a fabulous book with an appeal that ranges far beyond its possibly limited comic-fan audience.

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman © 2010 Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon. All rights reserved.

Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist

Edited by Gary Groth, with an introduction by Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-319-4

It’s a big planet and there are many places to hide an artistic prodigy. That’s never been more capably proved than in the case of Norman Pettingill, a lost hero of the workaday craft aesthetic who lived and died in Wisconsin, revelling in a backwoods life living off the land and supporting his family with personalised cartoons, jobbing art such as postcards and commercial signage, commissioned illustrations and simply stunning personal works: mostly natural scenes and reportage of the hunting and fishing community he lived in.

He worked in seclusion until his incredibly intense, ribald and frenetic postcard art was discovered by Robert Crumb who immediately reprinted them in his Underground Commix magazine Weirdo. These over-sized scenes were multi-layered, packed with hundreds of characters acting in micro-scenes and grotesquely raw and vulgar: like Hieronymus Bosch, Basil Wolverton and Leo Baxendale working all on the same page.

This superb book, rough and rustic with a wooden front cover, tells the life-story of this truly driven artist – who could no more stop drawing than breathe underwater. Self-taught and clearly besotted with the creative process, Pettingill was clearly not a man afraid to fill a page with extras, and the work gathered here, collected by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (a major conserver of folk art of the American mid-west) shows a true original equally at home drawing pictures to pay bills and making masterpieces because he couldn’t stop himself.

Gathered here are many of his astoundingly frantic, charmingly gruesome postcard tableaux, featuring hunters, boozers and what we’d call hillbillies but what Pettingill probably called the neighbours, as well as more intimate personal creations; family collages, gloriously entrancing pen and ink studies of the beasts and birds he lived amongst – and hunted – and even the doodles he adorned the envelopes of letters with.

His surreal, bawdy, raw concoctions mirrored and presaged the graphic license and social freedoms of the 1960s counterculture (although he really started his artistic journey twenty years  earlier) but even though his fans today include such iconoclastic cartoonists as Crumb and Johnny Ryan, Pettingill’s appeal is far wider than just grist for us pen-and-ink pushers.

With his fondly cynical, wry observation and piercingly incisive eye Norman Pettingill became a societal camera onto a time and place in rural and even wild America that we seldom see nowadays: a warmly honest raconteur, part of a tradition that includes and spans the fierce and gentle ranges from Garrison Keillor’s elegiac (and positively local) Lake Wobegon tales to the razor-edged self-examination of the Southern kinfolk typified by the gagsters of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour: a purely American humour by and for the ordinary guy.

This first retrospective of Pettingill’s art is stuffed with more than a hundred of his most telling monochrome pieces and will appeal to cartoon-lovers and people watchers equally.

© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual contributions © 2010 their authors. Unless otherwise noted all photography and art © 2010 John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Art from the collections of Glenn Bray, R. Crumb and Jim Pink © 2010 the estate of Norman Pettingill.

Early Barefootz

By Howard Cruse (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-052-1

Howard Cruse’s remarkable cartooning career has spanned decades and encompassed a number of key moments in American history and social advancement.

Beginning as a Hippy-trippy, counter-culture, Underground Comix star with beautifully drawn, witty, funny (not always the same thing in those days – or these, come to think of it) strips, evolving over the years into a powerful voice for change in both sexual and race politics through such superb features as Wendel culminating in his masterful Stuck Rubber Baby – an examination of oppression, tolerance and freedom in 1950s America. Since then he has worked on other writer’s work, illustrating an adaptation of Jeanne E. Shaffer’s The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth.

Born in 1944 the son of a Baptist Minister in Birmingham, Alabama, Cruse grew up amid the smouldering intolerance of the region’s segregationist regime, an atmosphere that affected him on a primal level. He escaped to Birmingham-Southern College to study Drama in the late ‘60s, graduating and winning a Shubert Playwriting Fellowship to Penn State University.

Campus life there never really suited him and he dropped out in 1969. Returning to the South he joined a loose crowd of fellow Birmingham Bohemians which allowed him to blossom as a creator and by 1971 was drawing a spectacular procession of strips for an increasingly hungry and growing crowd of eager admirers.

Whilst working for a local TV station as both designer and children’s show performer he created a kid’s newspaper strip about talking squirrels, Tops & Button, still finding time to craft the utterly whimsical and bizarre tales of a romantic quadrangle starring a very nice young man and his troublesome friends for the more discerning college crowd he still mingled with. The strips appeared in a variety of college newspapers and periodicals

He was “discovered” by publishing impresario Denis Kitchen in 1972 who began presenting Barefootz to a far broader audience in such Underground publications as Snarf, Bizarre Sex, Dope Comix and Commies From Mars from his Kitchen Sink Enterprises outfit.

Kitchen also hired Cruse to work on an ambitious co-production with rising powerhouse Marvel Comics, attempting to bring a bowdlerised version of the counter-culture’s cartoon stars and sensibilities to the mainstream via the Comix Book – a newsstand magazine. It only ran to a half-dozen issues and although deemed a failure it provided the notionally more wholesome and genteel Barefootz with a larger audience and yet more avid fans…

As well as an actor, designer, art-director and teacher, Cruse’s work has appeared in Playboy, The Village Voice, Heavy Metal, Artforum International, The Advocate and Starlog among countless others, and the tireless storyman found the time and resources to self-publish Barefootz Funnies, two comic collections of his addictively whimsical strip in 1973.

Here in this fascinatingly written memoir of those salad days Cruse movingly recounts those early triumphs and re-presents the strips that began it all, covering 1970-73, and although he has moved on to weightier material since (especially on Gay and Race issues) these splendidly whacky and deliriously charming adventures still stand among his most evergreen creations.

So here, for your consideration and delectation are the gathered exploits and ruminations of thoughtful, Nice Young Man Barefootz, his way-out friend and confidante Headrack, sexually aggressive and very forceful gal-pal Dolly and Glory: the frog-manifesting “Thing Under the Bed”, aided and abetted by an ever-changing cast of erudite cockroaches who share his apartment.

As well as the history and Cruse’s reflections, this terrific compilation includes in stunning and meticulous monochrome a selection of Tops & Button gag-panels, ‘The Head Strip’, early strips from campus journal The Crimson-White and The Alternate, syndicated Barefootz from Service Strips, Kitchen Sink single-pagers and the longer stories, ‘Tussy Come Back’, ‘Hint and Run’, ‘Cream of the Genes’, ‘It All Fits’, ‘Suffering Celeste’, the Paperman strips and ‘The Eclipse’, – a classic and unflinchingly engaging treat for any comics fan and grown-up dreamer.

For further information check out Howardcruse.com and track down this and all his other brilliant creations – before Glory turns you into a frog…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977 & 1987, 1990 Howard Cruse. All rights reserved.

The Classic Pin-Up Art of Jack Cole

By Jack Cole, edited by Alex Chun (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-284-5

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American Comics’ Golden Age, crafting landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero genres. His incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed Hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. As the Golden Age faded, Cole could see the writing on the wall and famously jumped into gag and glamour cartooning, becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour saucy pictures began running in Playboy with the fifth issue.

Ever-restless, Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and in May 1958, achieved a life-long ambition by launching the syndicated domestic comedy Betsy and Me. On August 13th 1958, at the moment of his biggest break he took his own life.

The unexplained reasons for his death are not as important as the triumphs of Cole’s artistic life and this captivating paperback (reprinting a rare hardback compilation from 2004) provides a fascinating insight into a transitional moment in his artistic development.

When Cole began his move from comic-books into the “adult world” of cartooning, he adopted the nom-de-plume “Jake” whilst he honed his dormant gag-skills (sequential narrative being so far removed from the “quintessential moment” illustration needed for a single picture telling an entire story). Working in beautiful ink and wash creations he began submitting to the cheaper end men’s magazines: ubiquitous little throwaway digests with titles such as Romp, Stare, Joker, Laugh Riot and Breezy, packed with photos of saucy vixens like Betty Page and her cheesecake ilk – and lots and lots of debatably risqué gags.

Nor was he the only artist making the pilgrimage: other funnybook stars on the move included Bill Ward, Jefferson Machamer, Dan DeCarlo, Bill Wenzel and Basil Wolverton.

This charmingly innocent compendium of Lush Ladies, Willing Wantons, Savvy Sirens, Naive Nymphs (always stunningly beautiful women) collects his 100 or so published sales, divided into Line Art, Washes and an astounding selection of Originals – images shot from the actual artwork and not printed pages, revealing all the detail and unedited work a budding creator could need or desire.

This beguiling glimpse into a major artist’s processes and the sexual mores of an entire generation are an intoxicating treat and that the work is still utterly addictive is a treasure beyond compare.

© 2004, 2010 Fantagraphics Books All right reserved.

Bad Habits

By Norman Dog (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 0-86719-329-8/ ISBN-13: 978-0867193299

I haven’t reviewed a straight cartoon book in a dog’s age, so here’s a rare but still readily acquirable item from an outrageous comedy original and pen-pushing veteran who’s still making America laugh-out-loud – the cooler bits anyway – with his sly, cynical and fabulously skewed outlook and observations on the Human Condition and the Things We Don’t Know Yet..

Cultural commentator Norman Dog may or may not be Raymond Larrett (it’s complicated – that’s why better carbon-based life forms than you or I invented search engines). A West Coast cartoonist whose legendary – he would say “interminable” – strip has run in the East Bay Express since 1981, Dog has been capturing with laconic brilliance the bizarre panorama of modern life for all to see and disagree with…

Describing his slick, modern and excessively hip observations on Real Americans as “Comication”, Dog has been making us foreigners, Pinko Subversive Intellectuals and other weirdoes giggle and think with every exposed home secret or shared cultural reference and seems determined not to stop.

This early volume, collecting the budding best of the strip includes ‘Let’s all go… Dance Crazy!’, ‘I Was Satan’s Plaything!’, ‘The Enchanted Toothbrush’, ‘Celebrity Breakfasts!’, ‘Suicide Hotline’, ‘The Missing Father’, ‘Hey, Stupid!’, ‘Curse of the Mysterious Horror!’, ‘A Perfectly Typical Tuesday Evening at Home With Jane and Walter’, ‘Hints for Aliens’, ‘The Punk Romance’, ‘Giant Crawling Brain!’, ‘Modern Physics for Morons’, ‘Space Sluts’ amongst literally some others and delivers high-octane, occasionally lowbrow doses of premeditated mirth in devastating, delicious, full-page monochrome pastiches of a dozen different graphic styles.

Dog/Larrett, whose work has appeared in Raw Magazine, Spin, Nickelodeon Magazine, Weirdo, Anarchy Comics, The Nation and even some other places and publications, is long overdue for a big, bold book collection, but until then, converts can catch his latest full-colour efforts in the elucidatory The 37 Cartoons You Should Read Before You Die if they so wish.

Enough Soft-Sell: go read something funny…
© 1983, 1984, 1990 Norman Dog. All rights reserved.

Black Jack volume 10

By Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-934287-74-3

In a creative career that produced over 700 hundred different series and more than 150,000 pages (many of them only now finally becoming available to people who can’t read Japanese), Osamu Tezuka captivated generations of readers across the world with tales of history, fantasy, romance and startling adventure. Perhaps his most intriguing creation is Black Jack, an underground surgeon who overcame horrendous childhood injuries and, despite carrying many scars within and without, roams the globe, curing anybody who can pay his deliberately daunting, exorbitant prices – usually cash, but sometimes in more exotic or metaphysical coin.

He is the ultimate loner, except for Pinoko, a little girl he literally built from the organic scraps of an early case. Unlicensed by any medical board on Earth, he holds himself to the highest ethical standards possible… his own. All the troubles and wonders of this world can be found in medical dramas, and here elements of rationalism, science-fiction, kitchen sink drama, spiritualism, criminality, crushing sentimentality and shining human frailty are woven into an epic of Magical Realism to rival the works of Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez.

Black Jack is at once a lone wolf hero, troubled genius, passionate outsider and amoral humanitarian combining the indomitable will of Doc Savage with the intellect of Sherlock Holmes and ambivalent, intuitive drive of Dr. Gregory House. Hideously scarred, viciously spurning all human comfort, the unlicensed mercenary medic endures public condemnation and professional scorn, as he continually confronts the cutting edges of medicine and reality.

His esteemed creator Osamu Tezuka was born in Qsaka Prefecture on 3rd November 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired him to study medicine, and although the cartoonist began his professional drawing career while at university, he persevered with his studies and qualified as a doctor too.

Facing a career crossroads, Tezuka’s mother advised him to do the thing that made him happiest. He never practiced medicine but the world was gifted with such classic cartoon masterpieces as Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro-boy), Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf and literally hundreds of other graphic narratives. Along the way Tezuka incidentally pioneered, if not actually invented, the Japanese anime industry.

Equally able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults, Osamu Tezuka’s work ranges from the charming to the disturbing, even terrifying. In 1973 he turned his storyteller’s eye to his past college studies and created Burakku Jakku, a lone-wolf doctor living beyond society’s boundaries and rules:  a heartless mercenary miracle-worker for the right price yet still a deeply human if wounded soul who works his surgical wizardry from behind icy walls of cool indifference and casual hostility…

This tenth volume begins with ‘Avina’s Isle’ a fantastic doomed romance as a pearl diving South Sea native risks everything to marry his princess, utterly unaware of the sinister forces arrayed against him. There are some injuries no scalpel or suture can remedy…

‘The Mask Chosen’ is a revelatory tale of vengeance that cuts to the heart of Black Jack’s frightful past as the surgeon’s missing father emerges after decades with an outrageous request, whilst ‘Revenge is My Life’ shows a different side to Man’s basest instinct in a passionate, convoluted story which sees the Surgical Samurai go to superhuman lengths to repair a shattered woman with every reason to hate him.

Possibly the most moving Black Jack story yet translated, ‘Unfinished House’ reveals why a man with all the cash that the rogue doctor has earned still lives in a ramshackle hovel, a powerful tale of debts honoured and obligations met. ‘Strangers at Sea’ is a tense nautical crime drama mystically transformed by the expansive, all-encompassing, uncompromising love Dolphins display for mankind. Bring tissues: many tissues.

‘Pinoko Returns’ stars the doctor’s big-hearted little assistant who adopts a thieving conman, only to suddenly disappear without trace. Black Jack, the man with no emotions, must weigh his heart’s greatest desire against the slimmest chance of finding his pestiferous creation…

Years before drug mules became a common storytelling Maguffin ‘The Man Who Threw Up Capsules’ used the phenomenon to weave a complex tale of corrupt family practitioners and the price paid for social prestige, whilst ‘Flesh And Blood’ returns Black Jack to his dying father’s side and introduces a sister he never knew he had. Of course it cannot end well…

‘Burglary’ shows the power and weakness of utter devotion as the Super Surgeon is asked to reconstruct the unique prosthetic limbs of a total amputee. But who would steal such intensely personal items and why does Lady Jane not want her arms and legs back? ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ is a much less disturbing story: a cool, cynical caper starring a young, idealistic doctor hired by a rich old man to check the infamous medical maverick’s work. It seems the billionaire paid Black Jack a fortune to implant billions in gems inside his failing body, and now he needs to know if the notoriously greedy mercenary medic did so or just kept the loot for himself…

In Hawaii Black Jack survives a ‘Hot Night’ when an unlovable Vietnam veteran requests his expertise after he nearly killed for the third time, ‘Ransom’ sees an incomprehensible relationship blossom between a vicious kidnapper and his victim whilst ‘Mannequin and Officer’ is a story that could only happen in Japan, as a cop develops a peculiar affection for a traffic dummy. Luckily Black Jack owes him a favour…

‘Playing Doctor’ ends this volume on a high and happy note as a school bully and his favourite victim join forces to cure a little girl. Bu then, she has never met the real Black Jack…

One thing should always be remembered when reading these stories: despite all the scientific detail, all the frighteningly accurate terminology and trappings, Black Jack isn’t medical fiction; it’s an exploration of ethics and morality with medicine raised to the level of magic… or perhaps duelling. This is an epic of personal combats, a lone gunfighter battling hugely oppressive counter-forces (the Law, the System, casual human cruelty, himself) to win just one more victory: medicine as mythology, won by a Ronin with a fast car and a Gladstone bag.

Thrilling, charming, bitterly insightful and overwhelmingly moving, these addictive magical stories of a medical wizard in a cruel, corrupt and ultimately unknowable universe will shake all your preconceptions of what storytelling can be…

This book is printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format, and also contains an excerpt from the forthcoming new edition of Osamu Tezuka’s landmark graphic biography Buddha.

© 2009 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2009 Vertical, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1

By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-161-9

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public – and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924 Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip not much different from family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed). Tubbs was a diminutive, ambitious young shop clerk when it began in 1924, but gradually the strip moved into mock-heroics, then through light action to become a full-blown, light-hearted, rip-roaring adventure series with the introduction of ancestral he-man and prototype moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

As the tales became more exotic and thrill-packed the globe-trotting little dynamo clearly needed a sidekick who could believably handle the combat side of things, and thus in the middle of a European war Tubbs liberated a mysterious fellow American from a jail cell and history was made. Before long the mismatched pair were travelling companions, hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a bevy of startlingly comely maidens in distress…

The two-fisted, bluff, completely capable and utterly dependable, down-on-his-luck “Southern Gentleman” was something not seen before in comics, a raw, square-jawed hunk played straight rather than the buffoon or music hall foil of such classic serials as Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond. Moreover Crane’s seductively simple blend of cartoon exuberance and design was a far more accessible and powerful medium for action story-telling than the somewhat static illustrative style favoured by artists like Hal Foster: just beginning to make waves on the new Tarzan Sunday page.

Tubbs and Easy were as exotic and thrilling as the Ape Man but rattled along like the tempestuous Popeye, full of vim, vigour and vinegar, as attested to by a close look at the early work of the would-be cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity: Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially young Joe Shuster…

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane bowed to the inevitable and created a full colour Sunday page dedicated to his increasingly popular hero-for-hire. Captain Easy debuted on 30th July 1933, in wild and woolly escapades set before his fateful meeting with Tubbs,

This first volume begins with the soldier of fortune undertaking a mercenary mission for the Chinese government to spy on the city of ‘Gungshi.’ In the heyday of popular exploration and aviator exploits the bold solo flight over the Himalayas to Chinese Turkestan was stirring enough but when Easy infiltrated the hidden citadel it heralded the beginning of a rollercoaster romp with sword wielding Mongols, sultry Houris, helpless dancing girls, fabulous beasts and wicked bandits: captivating entire families across the planet, week after addictive week.

With an entire page and vibrant colours to play with, Crane’s imagination ran wild and his fabulous visual concoctions achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The effect of the pages can be seen in so many strips since especially the works of such near-contemporaries as Hergé and giants in waiting like Charles Schulz.

These pages were a clearly as much of joy to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les turner in 1937 was the NEA Syndicate abruptly demanding that all its strips be henceforward produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate them being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated. Crane just walked away, concentrating on the daily feature. In 1943 he left the Syndicate to create the pilot strip Buz Sawyer.

At the end of the blockbuster epic Easy is a hero to the people of Gungshi, if not the aristocracy, who plot to oust him via the subtlest of means. The second adventure ‘The Slave Girl’ began on 21st January 1934, and found the occidental hero bankrupted to save the beautiful Rose Petal from the auction block, a chivalrous gesture that led to war with the rival city of Kashno, and a brutally hilarious encounter with South Sea pirates…

In an era where ethic stereotyping and casual racism were acceptable if not mandatory, the introduction of a vile and unscrupulous yank as the exploitative villain was and is a surprising delight. Rambling Jack is every inch the ugly, greedy American and by contrasting Easy’s wholesome quest to make his fortune with the venal explorer’s rapacious ruthlessness, Crane makes a telling point for the folks back home. It also makes for great reading as Chinese bandits also enter the fray, determined to plunder both cities and everybody in-between…

With the help of a lost British aviator Easy is finally victorious, but on returning to his Chinese employers he spots something whilst flying over the Himalayas that radically alters his plans…

‘The Sunken City’ is an early masterpiece of pictorial fiction, as Easy recruits comedy stooge ‘arry Pippy, a demobbed cockney British Army cook, to help him explore a drowned city he had spotted from the air, lost for centuries in a hidden inland sea. However, simply to get there the pair must trek through wild jungles where they encounter blowpipe-wielding cannibals and the greatest threat the valiant rogue has ever faced…

If I’ve given the impression that this has all been grim and gritty turmoil and drama thus far, please forgive me: Roy Crane was a superbly irrepressible gag-man and this enchanting serial abounds with breezy light-hearted banter, hilarious situations and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors plunder to this day. Easy is the Indiana Jones, Flynn (the Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton of his day and clearly blazed a trail for all of them.

Using a deep sea diver’s suit the pair explore the piscine wonders and submerged grandeur of the lost city, encountering some of the most magical and fanciful sea beasts ever recorded in comics before literally striking gold, but when the cannibals attack their treasures are lost and Easy finds himself captive and betrothed to the most hideous witch hag imaginable…

Risking everything the desperate treasure-seekers make a break for it only to re-encounter ‘The Pirates’ (April 14th -July 7th 1935), but before they get too far the husband-hungry witch and her faithful cannibals come after him, leading to a brutal, murderous conclusion.

After years in the Orient Easy and Pippy have a hankering for less dangerous company and make their way to Constantinople and Europe, but trouble was never far from the mercenary and in ‘The Princess’ (14th July – December 1st 1935) his gentlemanly instincts compel him to rescue a beautiful woman from the unwelcome attentions of munitions magnate Count Heyloff, a gesture that embroiled the Captain in a manufactured war between two small nations.

This tale clearly addressed the contemporary American sentiment that another world conflict was brewing and it’s obvious that Crane’s opinion was the deeply held common conviction that the whole international unrest was the result of rich men’s greedy manipulations…

Dark, bittersweet and painfully foreboding this yarn sees Easy become the target of Heyloff’s vengeance and the entire air force for the tiny underdog nation of Nikkateena in their bitter struggle for survival against the equally-duped country of Woopsydasia. Crane kept the combat chronicle light but on occasion his true feelings showed through in some of the most trenchant anti-war art ever seen.

This superb hardback and colossal initial collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer. The huge pages in this volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches or 21x14cm for the younger, metric crowd) also contain a fascinating and informative introductory biography of Crane by historian Jeet Heer, a glowing testimonial from Charles “Peanuts” Schulz, contemporary promotional material, extra drawings and sketches and a fascinating feature explaining how pages were coloured in those long-ago days before computers…

This is comics storytelling of the very highest quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside her best of Hergé, Tezuka and Kirby and led irrefutably to the creations of all of them. Now that you have the chance to experience the strips that inspired the giants of our art form, how can you possibly resist?

Captain Easy Strips © 2010 United Features Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.