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.

Comics at War

By Denis Gifford (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-96824-885-6

Often the books we write about our comics are better than the stories and pictures themselves: memorable, intensely evocative and infused with the nostalgic joy that only passing years and selective memory bestows.

That’s not in any way to denigrate or decry the superb works of the countless, generally unlauded creators who brightened the days of generations of children with fantastic adventures and side-splitting gags in those so flimsy, so easily lost and damaged cheap pamphlets, but rather because of an added factor inherent in these commemorative tomes: by their very existence they add the inestimable value and mystery of lost or forgotten treasures into the mix.

A perfect example of this is today’s wonderful item, a copious and huge chronicle released as an anniversary item in 1988 celebrating the wartime delights rationed out to beleaguered British lads and lasses, compiled by possibly the nation’s greatest devotee and celebrant of child-culture.

Denis Gifford was a cartoonist, writer, TV show deviser and historian who loved comics. As both collector and creator he gave his life to strips and movies, acquiring items and memorabilia voraciously, consequently channelling his fascinations into more than fifty books on Film, Television, Radio and Comics; imparting his overwhelming devotion to a veritable legion of fans.

If his works were occasionally short on depth or perhaps guilty of getting the odd fact wrong, he was nevertheless the consummate master of enthusiastic remembrance. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to pure masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of sharing – infecting almost – the casual reader with some of that wistful fire.

With hundreds of illustrative examples culled from his own collection this volume was released to commemorate the outbreak of World War II and revels in the magnificent contribution to morale generated by a battalion of artists and (usually anonymous) writers, covering the output of an industry that endured and persevered under appalling restrictions (paper was a vital war resource and stringently rationed), inciting patriotic fervour and providing crucial relief from the stresses and privation of the times.

Abandoning academic rigour in favour of inculcating a taste of the times this 160 page book reprints complete sample strips of the period beginning with the affable tramps and cover feature of Jester, Basil and Bert (by George Parlett), covering the start of the war in four strips from January to November 1939, before dividing the collection into themed sections such as ‘Be Prepared’ (with examples of Norman Ward’s Home Guard heroes Sandy and Muddy from Knock-Out and John Jukes’ Marmaduke, the Merry Militiaman from Radio Fun.

‘At War With the Army’ displays the ordinary Englishman’s perennial problem with Authority- displaying Koko the Pup and Desperate Dan (by Bob MacGillivray and Dudley Watkins from D.C. Thomsons’ Magic and The Dandy), Weary Willie and Tired Tim (from Chips and superbly rendered by Percy Cocking), as well as stunning two-tone and full colour examples from Tip-Top, The Wonder and others.

‘Tanks a Million!’ finds selections from the height of the fighting, and brings us head-on into the controversial arena of ethnic stereotyping. All I can say is what I always do: the times were different. Mercifully we’ve moved beyond the obvious institutionalised iniquities of casual racism and sexism and are much more tolerant today (unless you’re obese, gay, a smoker or childless and happy about it), but if antiquated attitudes and caricaturing might offend you, don’t read old comics – it’s your choice and your loss.

The strip that started this tirade was an example of Stymie and his Magic Wishbone from Radio Fun (a long-running strip with a black boy-tramp in the tradition of minstrel shows) from a chapter dealing with the comic strip love-affair with armoured vehicles and includes many less controversial examples from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, Knock-Out, Chips and Dandy, featuring stars such as Our Ernie, Our Gang, Stonehenge, Kit the Ancient Brit and Deed-A-Day Danny.

…And if you think we were hard on innocent coloured people just wait till you see the treatment dealt to Germans, Italians and Japanese by our patriotic cartoonists…

‘At Sea with the Navy!’ highlights nautical manoeuvres from Casey Court (Chips, by Albert Pease), Rip Van Wink (Beano, James Crichton), Lt. Daring and Jolly Roger (from Golden, by Roy Wilson, Billy Bunter (Knock-Out, by Frank Minnitt), Hairy Dan (Beano, Basil Blackaller) and Pitch and Toss (Funny Wonder, Roy Wilson again) whilst ‘Sinking the Subs’ takes us below the surface with Our Ernie, Desperate Dan, Koko, Pansy Potter, Alfie the Air Tramp and Billy Bunter.

Britain’s fledgling flying squad takes centre-stage with ‘In the Air with the R.A.F.’ featuring Freddie Crompton’s Tiny Tots, Korky the Cat from Dandy, The Gremlins (Knock-Out, by Fred Robinson) and Koko the Pup.

‘Awful Adolf and his Nasty Nazis!’ demonstrates just what we all thought about the Axis nations and even indulges in some highly personal attacks against prominent personages on the other side beginning with Sam Fair’s riotously ridiculing Addie and Hermy, (Beano’s utterly unauthorised adventures of Hitler and Goering), whilst Our Ernie, Lord Snooty, Pitch and Toss, Big Eggo (Beano, by Reg Carter), Plum and Duff (Comic Cuts, Albert Pease) and the staggeringly offensive Musso the WopHe’s a Big-a-Da-Flop, (Beano, Artie Jackson and others) all cheered up the home-front with devastating mockery.

‘Doing Their Bit’ gathers wartime exploits of the nation’s stars and celebrities (turning Britain’s long love affair with entertainment industry stars into another bullet at the Boche. Strips featuring Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Warner, Flanagan and Allen, Haver and Lee, The Western Brothers, Sandy Powell, Old Mother Riley featuring Lucan & McShane, Claude Hulbert, Duggie Wakefield, Joe E. Brown, Harold Lloyd, Lupino Lane and Laurel and Hardy re-presented here were collectively illustrated by Reg and George Parlett, Tom Radford, John Jukes, Bertie Brown, Alex Akerbladh, George Heath, Norman Ward and Billy Wakefield.

The kids themselves are the stars of ‘Evacuation Saves the Nation!’ as our collective banishment of the cities’ children produced a wealth of intriguing possibilities for comics creators. Vicky the Vacky (Magic, George Drysdale), Our Happy Vaccies (Knock-Out, by Hugh McNeill) and Annie Vakkie (Knock-Out, by Frank Lazenby) showed readers the best way to keep their displaced chins up whilst ‘Blackout Blues!’ find the famous and commonplace alike suffering from night terrors.

Examples here include Grandma Jolly and her Brolly, Will Hay, the Master of Mirth, Ben and Bert, Barney Boko, Crusoe Kids, Grandfather Clock, Constable Cuddlecock and Big Ben and Little Len whilst ‘Gas Mask Drill’ sees the funny side of potential asphyxiation with choice strips such as Stan Deezy, Hungry Horace, Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, Good King Coke and Cinderella.

‘Barrage Balloons!’ lampoons the giant sky sausages that made life tricky for the Luftwaffe with selections from Luke and Len the Odd-Job Men (from Larks by Wally Robertson), It’s the Gremlins, Alfie the Air Tramp, and In Town this Week from Radio Fun, whilst ‘Tuning Up the A.R.P.!’ deals out the same treatment to the volunteers who patrolled our bombed-out streets after dark. The Air Raid Precautions patrols get a right sending up in strips starring Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, P.C. Penny, Ben and Bert, Marmy and His Ma, Lord Snooty and his Pals, The Tickler Twins in Wonderland, Our Ernie, Tootsy McTurk, Boy Biffo the Brave and Pa Perkins and his Son Percy.

The girls get a go in the vanguard with ‘Wow! Women of War!’ starring Dandy’s Keyhole Kate and Meddlesome Matty (by Allan Morley and Sam Fair respectively), Dolly Dimple (Magic, Morley again), Tell Tale Tilly, Peggy the Pride of the Force, Pansy Potter the Strongman’s Daughter, Big Hearted Martha Our A.R.P. Nut and Kitty Clare’s Schooldays whilst the Home Guard stumble to the fore once more in a section entitled ‘Doing Their Best’ with examples from Tootsy McTurk (Magic, John Mason), Casey Court, Lord Snooty, Deed-A-Day Danny, and Big Eggo.

Imminent invasion was in the air and the cartoonist responded with measured insolence. ‘Hop It, Hitler!’ displays our fighting spirit with examples such as Bamboo Town (Dandy, Chick Gordon), Sandy and Muddy, Pansy Potter, the astonishingly un-PC Sooty Snowball, Hair-Oil Hal Your Barber Pal and Stonehenge Kit, whilst espionage antics are exposed in ‘I Spy Mit Mein Little Eye!’ in Laurie and Trailer the Secret Service Men, more Sandy and Muddy, Herr Paul Pry, Big Eggo and Lord Snooty.

‘Wireless War!’ celebrates both radio stars and enemy broadcasts with a selection from Tommy Handley, Troddles and his Pet Tortoise Tonky-Tonk, Happy Harry and Sister Sue, Crackers the Perky Pup, Our Gang and a couple of examples of John Jukes’ spectacularly wicked Radio Fun strip Lord Haw-Haw – The Broadcasting Humbug from Hamburg.

‘To Blazes With the Firemen!’ is a rather affectionate and jolly examination of one of the toughest of home-front duties with a selection of strips including Podge (who’s dad was a fire-fighter, drawn by Eric Roberts for Dandy), Casey Court, Pansy Potter and In Town This Week.

Rationing was never far from people’s minds and an art-form where the ultimate reward was usually “a slap-up feed” perfectly lambasted the measures in many strips. Examples here include The Bruin Boys from Tiny Tim’s Weekly, Freddy the Fearless Fly (Dandy, Allan Morley), Cyril Price’s vast ensemble cast from Casey Court (Chips), Our Ernie and Dudley Watkins’ Peter Piper from Magic, all in need of ‘Luvly Grub!’

Under the miscellaneous sub-headings of ‘Salvage’, ‘Comical Camouflage!’, ‘Workers Playtime!’ and ‘Allies’, strips featuring Ronnie Roy the Indiarubber Boy, Ding Dong Dally, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy the Clockwork Boy, Big Hearted Arthur and Dicky Murdoch and other stalwarts all gather hopeful momentum as the Big Push looms and this gloriously inventive and satisfying compilation heads triumphantly towards its conclusion.

‘V for Victory!’, wherein a telling gallery of strips celebrating the war’s end and better tomorrows features final sallies from Casey Court, Weary Willie and Tired Tim, a stunning Mickey Mouse Weekly cover by Victor Ibbotson, Its That Man Again – Tommy Handley, Laurel and Hardy and from Jingles, Albert Pease has the last word with ‘Charlie Chucklechops Speaking… About New Uses for Old War materials’

Some modern fans find a steady diet of these veteran classics a little samey and formulaic – indeed I too have trouble with some of the scripts – but the astonishing talents of the assembled artists here just cannot be understated. These are great works by brilliant comic stylists which truly stand the test of time. Moreover, in these carefully selected, measured doses the tales here from a desperate but somehow more pleasant and even enviable time are utterly enchanting. This book is long overdue for a new edition and luckily for you is still available through many internet retailers.
Text and compilation © 1988 Denis Gifford. © 1988 Hawk Books. All rights reserved.

Ding Dong Daddy From Dingburg (Zippy Annual #10)

By Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-389-7

Starting life as an underground cartoon in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society has grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises. Almost: there’s still a lot of Americans who don’t like and certainly don’t get Zippy the Pinhead.

Legendarily based on the microcephalic Schlitzie from Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 film “Freaks” and P.T. Barnum’s carnival attraction Zip the Pinhead, Griffith’s Muu-Muu clad simpleton first appeared in Real Pulp Comix #1 (March 1971) and other scurrilous home-made commix before winning a regular slot in the prominent youth culture newspaper The Berkley Barb in 1976. Soon picking up syndication across America and the world, Zippy “dropped in” when in 1985 King Features began syndicating the strip, launching it in the San Francisco Examiner.

Zippy’s ruminations and dada-ist anti-exploits have expanded over the years to include his own nuclear family and cat, a peculiar cast of iconic semi regulars like Mr. The Toad, embodiment of Capitalism, Griffy (an analogue of the cartoonist creator) and brother Lippy (a conceptual and ideological opposite in the grand tradition of Happy Hooligan’s sibling Gloomy Gus: Lippy is the epitome of the average mainstream US citizen) plus an entire town of like-minded pinheads – Dingburg.

The strip follows few conventions although it is brilliantly drawn. Plot-lines and narratives, even day to day traditional gags are usually eschewed in favour of declamatory statements of absurdist, quasi-philosophical and often surreal concept-strings that resemble word (and occasionally picture) association or automatic writing, all highlighting the ongoing tsunami of globalisation as experienced by every acme of our modern culture from the latest fad in consumer electronics to celebrity fashion and “newsfotainment”.

The strip is the home of the damning non-sequitur and has added to the global lexicon such phrases as “Yow!” and “Are we having fun yet?”

Being free of logical constraint and internal consistency, Zippy’s daily and Sunday forays against The Norm can encompass everything from time travel, talking objects, shopping lists, radical philosophy, caricature, packaging ingredients, political and social ponderings and even purely visual or calligraphic episodes. It is weird and wonderful and not to everybody’s tastes…

This current volume (16 and counting) is broken into themed segments beginning with an extended tour of his home town: meeting the everyday folk and getting to know them in ‘Back to Dingburg’, which is followed by a selection of informed conversations with three dimensional commercial signage and advertising statuary in ‘Roadside Attractions’.

The central section reprints a selection of ‘Sunday Color’ strips, followed by a collection of muses and meanderings between character and creators via ‘Zippy and Griffy’ cunningly counter-pointed by a extended sequence of existential ripostes, spiritual revelations and biblical revisions when ‘God’ comes for an uninvited visit to Dingburg.

‘The Usual Suspects’ introduces new readers to such luminaries as Mr. The Toad, and recurring topics such as the spoof comic-strip-within-a-strip Fletcher and Tanya, before the book concludes with a brief but illuminating conglomeration of strips featuring the pinhead as a boy in the pastiche-frenzied  ‘Little Zippy.’

The collected musings of America’s most engaging Idiot-Savant have all the trappings of the perfect cult-strip and this latest volume finds cretin and creator on absolute top form. If you like this sort of stuff you’ll adore this enticing slice of it. Yow!

© 2008, 2009, 2010 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

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.