Madison Square Tragedy

By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-762-1

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a one-of-kind cartoon presence: proficient in and dedicated to both comics and true crime literature.

His compelling dissections in the form of graphic novel reconstructions have revitalised many of the world’s most infamous “cold cases” and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began and these pictorial dossiers never fail to darkly beguile or entertain.

This particular review copy plunked onto my mat on Christmas Eve (always a time of drawn knives and frayed tempers) and really made my Holiday Season complete, so I felt I had to share the dark tidings with you as soon as possible…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and detailed visual extrapolation with his fascination for the nastier aspects of human nature, Geary’s past works include biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky and the 8-volume Treasury of Victorian Murder series.

In 2008 he then turned his forensic eye on the last hundred years or so for his ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series and this sixth volume focuses on a little-remembered sordid scandal which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age”.

Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White relates a tale with no unsolved mystery but still laden with all the appalling ingredients of a tabloid reporter’s dreams, and opens after a bibliography and the author’s handily informative map of Central Manhattan with ‘The City of the New Century’ describing the great and the good of the breathtaking modern metropolis New York in 1901 and setting the scene for a grim tragedy and lust, depravity and madness…

‘Stanny’ covers the history, career and character of prominent architect and personage Stanford White: bon vivant, theatre patron, dashing roué and secret deflowerer of young ladies, whose fascination with one particular damsel led to his untimely – if not entirely undeserved – demise.

The arch cad – a notable bastion of the city’s Cultured elite – had a secret hideaway: luxurious, opulent and infamously fitted with a red velvet swing where he indulged his urges…

The lady who brought about his demise was ‘Evelyn’: Florence Evelyn Nesbit – a sensation of turn-of-the-century New York. Only 16 years old, she was already a famous artist’s model (Charles Dana Gibson immortalised her as “The Eternal Question”), much photographed and cover-featured in the period’s periodicals and journals. She soon turned her talents to the stage as both actress and dancer, catching White’s eye – as she also had many millionaires young and old.

White was patient. Befriending Evelyn’s mother, he was soon known as the girl’s de facto guardian. Eventually he brought her to his lair and date-raped her, subsequently carrying on the dalliance until he was bored, after which he moved on to fresher fields…

Hushing up her disgrace, Evelyn began a chaste relationship with cartoonist Jack Barrymore (of the legendary acting dynasty) but her mother and White enrolled her in private boarding school to end the affair.

There she languished until one of her former admirers entered the picture…

‘Harry’ describes the third face in the tragedy as wealthy scion (drug addict, closet sadist and psychopath) Harry K. Thaw relentlessly pursues and eventually weds Evelyn. This was only after a protracted courtship which culminated in her revealing what Stanford White had done.

Harry married her anyway, but was a much an abuser as the architect was. Moreover he became increasingly obsessed with destroying the ravisher of innocence…

The actual murder occurred on ‘The Fatal Night’ of June 25th 1906 in a crowded restaurant in front of hundreds of well-to-do patrons, after which the most fascinating component of the crime began: the astonishing permutations and multiple ‘Trials and Tribulations’ which saw Harry retried numerous times as his powerful, dominating mother scrambled to preserve some shred of the family prestige and dignity whilst her son proclaimed his justified guilt and poor Evelyn was skewered in the harsh spotlight of tawdry publicity…

This is a shocking tale with no winners and Geary’s meticulous and logical presentation as he dissects the crime, illuminates the major and minor players and dutifully pursues all to their recorded ends is utterly compelling.

The author is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology in the telling of his tales. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining the case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

Seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing give these tales an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading and such superb storytelling is an ideal exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. These merrily morbid murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.
© 2013 Rick Geary. All rights reserved.

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 4 1941-1942

By Roy Crane with Leslie Turner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-677-5

Last Minute Christmas Treat: For anyone who loves the magic of comics…10/10

Just in time to be this year’s ultimate Christmas extravaganza, the fourth and final collection of Roy Crane’s groundbreaking, trailblazing Sunday strip completes a quartet of comics compilations no lover of high adventure, action comedy and visual narrative excellence should be without.

Our industry evolved from the monolithic popular newspaper strips of the first four decades of the 20th century: incredibly powerful circulation-boosting features which could, until relatively recently, dictate success or failure in America’s cutthroat newspaper business.

The daily cartoon stories were immensely addictive for readers and thus regarded as invaluable by publishers who used them as a powerful sales weapon to ensure consumer loyalty, increase sales and maximise profits. Many a pen-pushing scribbler became a millionaire thanks to their ability to draw pictures and spin a yarn…

With hundreds of 24 hour channels of TV, games, apps and streamed entertainment available now, it’s impossible for us to grasp the overwhelming allure of the comic strip in America and the wider world.

From the Great Depression to the end of World War II, with no domestic television, radio coverage far from comprehensive and movie-shows a weekly treat at best for most people, domestic entertainment was generally garnered from the ubiquitous comic sections of newspapers whose Funny Pages became a universally shared, communal recreation for millions of people. Entire families were well-served by an astounding variety of features of spectacular graphic and narrative quality.

From the outset humour was paramount – that’s why they’re called “Comics” – but eventually the anarchic baggy-pants clowning, cruelly raucous, racially stereotyped accent humour and gag-&-stunt cartoons palled, evolving into a thoroughly unique entertainment hybrid that was all about the dynamics of panels and pages.

At the forefront of the transformation was Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs which utilised a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous movie serial antics, fabulous fantasy and old fashioned vaudeville shtick, but also added compellingly witty and authentically true dialogue and a breathtaking sense of day-to-day progression – in short, serial continuity.

What separated him from his contemporaries and competitors – who were making similar advancements in the new art form – was that Crane was blending the fun with stirring, contemporary rollercoaster, implausible heroic action …

Washington Tubbs II began as a typical gag-a-day strip on April 21st 1924, bearing marked similarities to confirmed family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed). Young Wash was a short, feisty and ambitious shop clerk permanently on the lookout for fortune and fame, but cursed with an eye to the ladies.

Gradually his peripatetic wanderings moved from embarrassing gaffes towards mock-heroics, into full-blown – but light-hearted – action and even rip-roaring, decidedly dangerous hazardous trials, ordeals and exploits.

This graphic evolution eventually demanded the introduction of a he-man sidekick to handle the fights the kid was getting into but seldom won. Thus enter moody, swashbuckling heroic prototype Captain Easy in the landmark episode for May 6th 1929…

Slap-bang in the middle of a European war, fast-talking, garrulous Tubbs saved a taciturn, down-on-his-luck, enigmatic fellow American from a cell and a perfect partnership was formed. They became inseparable: comrades-in-arms, roving the globe in search of treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a stunning procession of lovely ladies in assorted modes of distress…

The edgily capable, utterly dependable “Southern Gen’leman” was something previously unseen in the Funnies: a raw, square-jawed hunk played dead straight rather than as the mock-heroic buffoon and music hall foil who cluttered strips like Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond.

Moreover Crane’s seductively simple blend of cartoon exuberance combining faux-straight illustration with “bigfoot” cartooning (here carefully mimicked and even surpassed by his assistant and creative successor Leslie Turner) was a far more accessible and powerful medium for fast-paced adventure story-telling than the beautiful but stagy style favoured by artists like Hal Foster on Tarzan or Prince Valiant and Alex Raymond with Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim.

Tubbs & Easy were much closer to the surreal, absurdly action-packed Popeye or V. T. Hamlin’s comedy Caveman Alley Oop: full of vim, vigour and vinegar and never sombre or serious for long…

The overall effect was electrifying – and a host of young cartoonists used the strip as their bellwether: Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially an impressionably admiring Joe Shuster

After several abortive attempts at a Sunday feature starring his little warrior, Crane eventually settled on the burly sidekick as the potential star and Captain Easy launched on July 30th 1933. The content was unflinching exotic action: blistering two-fisted yarns set before the two buddies’ first meeting.

This fourth and final fabulous volume covers December 22nd 1940 to July 11th 1943, bringing to a close Crane’s association with the strip.

He had abandoned the feature to NEA, joining William Randolph Hearst’s King Features to produce Buz Sawyer – a strip he would own and have creative control over. Turner would now continue both the daily Wash Tubbs and Sunday Captain Easy (with his own assistants) until his retirement in 1969.

This blockbuster collection opens with an Introduction from Michael H. Price tracing potential candidates for the surly Southerner in ‘Roy Crane and the Man Who was Easy’ before the increasingly eccentric and comedic final pages, a goodly proportion of which were produced during the critical period just before America finally entered WWII.

The material is significant for one salient point – Tubbs and especially Easy are scarcely seen after hostilities commenced. The reason was obvious: all true patriots wanted to defend their country and the heroes enlisted…

The hilarious action begins with the reintroduction of comedy foil Lulu Belle: a homely, cigar-chomping hillbilly lady who had been a circus strongwoman and undisputed Female boxing champion for fifteen years.

She had married serial bigamist and all-round bounder C. Hollis Wallis before going home heartbroken to her family, but as they just saw her as meal ticket too she was overjoyed when Tubbs and Easy wandered by the old homestead.

Soon she was accompanying them to Guatemala following an out-of-date advert for workers at a wildcat oil field. Arriving eight years too late the trio are tricked into joining a bandit gang run by the savage and sultry Teresa Grande; a Latin spitfire who’s the most dangerous killer in the country.

She, however, is smitten with Easy’s manly charms, and redeems herself at terrible cost when her gang try to steal sacred relics from a remote village and its ancient temple. Homeless and broke as usual, the plucky Americans then walk to the coast and find passage on a ship run an eccentric who keeps pet tigers. The voyage goes as you’d expect and the trio end up shipwrecked somewhere off Cuba only to be stalked by a wild Wolf Girl: a lost child marooned and grown wild as she matured in the jungle…

After numerous close shaves and hilarious escapades, Easy captures and partially tames the bestial lass, entrusting her to the care of a vacationing American psychologist, whilst Lulu Belle secures a job as cook in a dingy waterfront dive. It’s there that she meets and is romanced by Easy’s brutal arch-enemy Bull Dawson, and inadvertently lures Wash and the Captain aboard the rogue’s ship.

Brokering a tenuous peace, she convinces her friend to work on the “reformed” Dawson’s new job: a jungle reclamation project near the Panama Canal. It’s all a big con, though. The traitorous pirate is actually building a secret landing-field for agents of a certain foreign power and when Wash and Easy uncover the truth the fists and fireworks fly…

Returned to the USA, the heartbroken and lovelorn Lulu is taken in by the ambitious schemes of a millionaire who somehow finds the unprepossessing lady irresistible. Of course Akron O. Spratly also has plans to extract much-needed rubber for the war-effort from frogs…

After much outrageous flummery and hilarious misadventure Lulu is left even sadder, if no wiser, just as the now partially civilised Wolf Girl returns. She has escaped her collegiate captors and is running wild in the big city: her immense physical strength and speed causing much unladylike chaos in Gentlemen’s clubs, the circus, sports fields and the Zoo. She also displays an amazing talent for acquiring pretty sparkly items like watches and jewellery…

A very different type of girl appears next as obnoxious ten-time married billionaire Horatio Boardman swears off women again and hires Easy to make sure the pledge sticks. Unfortunately, local mobsters are determined to introduce the World’s Eighth Richest Man to Baby Doll, a sexily appealing ingénue with the rapacious heart of a viper…

That screwball set-up was good for three months worth of laughs before Lulu again takes centre stage as a boastful beautician is suckered into a bet that he can make any woman so lovely that she will be photographed in the newspapers…

Reduced to simple straight man by Lulu, Easy soon took third place as the boxing lady accidentally acquired a manic and capacious ostrich named Lucille. The big bird’s astounding appetite led to Lulu becoming the indentured slave of a shady farmer who first had her work off the giant’s gannet’s destructive binges and then sold his guilt-wracked toiler on to other men in need of fields ploughed, clothes washed and chores done… until the outraged Easy came back…

Stony broke but free again, Lulu then roped Easy in to a culinary affair as she opened a diner in the worst place possible, just as her ne’er-do-well family palmed off a young cousin onto her. Augustus Mervin Gasby was a locust in human form, and his astonishing appetite seemed fit to bust the desperate pair until the former-soldier-of-fortune found something that the shambling oaf could do really well…

A panoply of ludicrous sporting endeavours eventually lead Gus into the Navy whilst on the Home Front Easy and Lulu went fishing and subsequently exposed a huge dope-smuggling ring in one of the last rousing adventure episodes, after which the tone switched back to screwball comedy with the re-emergence of C. Hollis Wallis who weaselled into town in search of another woman to marry and fleece.

He wasn’t particularly picky and despite Lulu keeping a weather eye – and occasionally a couple of clenched fists – on him he breezed through a few options before settling upon one eminent prospect who lived in a mansion with many oil-wells attached…

He had no idea she was only the cook…

A secondary lot began mid-stream as a Zoot-suit gangster William Trigger BoyScramooch got out of the State Pen and moved into Lulu’s boarding house. Ever prey to poor judgement she took a shine to him whereas for Easy it was disgust at first sight…

Horning in on Wallis’ potential windfall, Trigger Boy planned a kidnap and tricked Lulu into doing his dirty work. Big mistake…

More single page gags followed including a clever patriotic sequence where Lulu buys a big gas-guzzling automobile and leads the nation by her sacrificial example after which Easy makes his last appearance (28th February 1943) serving to reintroduce another old pal.

Magician, ventriloquist and escapologist Lonnythe Great Plunkett pops up again, pranking the cops and again becoming the target of some crooks in dire need of illicit safecracking expertise. Lulu is a natural partner for the sharp guy and together they scotch the hoods’ plan, after which romance blooms again when 600-pound gorilla Roy Boy decides only she can be his ideal mate. When he’s frustrated in his amorous endeavours he smashes out of his cage and rampages like a hairy tornado through town…

The comic capers conclude on a high humour note with a return to C. Hollis Wallis’ ongoing marital scam, which escalates into brilliant farce before the loathsome little Lothario gets what’s coming to him…

Ending this final titanic (with pages 380mm high  x 270mm wide) luxury hardback tome is a full-colour correction from volume 3, another hand-painted colour-guide strip by Crane and ‘Transition’ by Rick Norwood: an illustrated article explaining just where Tubbs and Easy went when the faded from the pages of Turner’s Sunday pages…

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips is a magnificent undertaking: collecting in a wonderfully accessible form one of the most impressive, funny, exciting and influential comic strips of all time in books that cannot help but inspire awe and affection.

Captain Easy is perhaps the most unsung of all great pulp heroes and his spectacular, rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventures should be just as familiar to lovers of classic adventure as Tintin, Doc Savage, H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain, Carl Bark’s Scrooge McDuck (Tales) or (yes kids) even Indiana Jones.

These astounding masterpieces are quite unforgettable: fanciful, entertaining and utterly irresistible. How can you possibly resist a chance to experience the stories that inspired the giants of action adventure?
Captain Easy strips © 2013 United Feature Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 3 1938-1940

By Roy Crane with Leslie Turner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-529-7

The comics industry evolved from newspaper strips and those impossibly successful, circulation-boosting pictorial features were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous, hugely popular with the readers and thus regarded as invaluable by publishers who used them as a powerful sales weapon to guarantee consumer loyalty, increase sales and  ensure profits. Many a pen-pushing scribbler became a millionaire thanks to their ability to draw pictures and spin a yarn…

It’s virtually inconceivable for us today to grasp the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. Before domestic television, with broadcast radio far from universal and movie-shows at best a weekly treat for most folks, entertainment was mostly derived from comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. The Funny Pages were a universally shared recreation for millions; who were well-served by an astounding variety of features of spectacular graphic and narrative quality.

From the outset humour was paramount – that’s why they’re called “Funnies” and “Comics”. Soon the gag-&-stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous movie serial antics, fabulous fantasy and old fashioned vaudeville shtick – evolved into a thoroughly unique entertainment hybrid.

Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs combined all of the above with sharp witty dialogue and a breathtaking sense of day-to-day progression, in short serial continuity. What lifted him above all his contemporaries – who were making similar advancements in the new art form – was that Crane was blending the comedy with rousing, rollercoaster action and riotous adventure…

Debuting on April 21st 1924, Washington Tubbs II began as a typical gag-a-day strip not entirely dissimilar from confirmed family favourite Harold Teen (produced by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed). Wash was a diminutive but eagerly ambitious young shop clerk, in search of a fortune and with an eye to the ladies.

Gradually, however, he moved into mock-heroics, then through harm-free action into full-blown – but still light-hearted – rip-roaring and decidedly dangerous hazardous trials, ordeals and exploits. This evolution culminated in the savvy introduction of pioneering he-man, moody swashbuckling prototype Captain Easy in the landmark episode for May 6th 1929.

With his daily continuities increasingly more exotic and thrill-drenched every week, the globe-trotting tiny titan clearly needed a companion who could believably handle the rough stuff, and thus in the middle of a ferocious and crazy European war Tubbs liberated a taciturn and enigmatic fellow American from a jail cell and history was made. Before long the odd couple were inseparable comrades travelling the world: hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a procession of startlingly attractive damsels in distress…

The bluff, two-fisted, edgily capable and utterly dependable down-on-his-luck “Southern Gen’leman” was something previously unseen in the Funnies: a raw, square-jawed hunk played dead straight rather than the mere buffoon or music hall foil of such classic comics as Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond.

Moreover Crane’s seductively simple blend of comic exuberance and compelling semi-serious “bigfoot” cartooning was a far more accessible and powerful medium for action story-telling than the gorgeous yet static illustrative tableaux style favoured by artists like Hal Foster (who was just starting to draw attention on the new Tarzan Sunday page).

Tubbs & Easy were every bit as exotic and thrilling as the Ape Man but calamitously rattled along like the tumultuous, tempestuous fantastical Popeye: full of vim, vigour and vinegar.

The overall effect was electrifying – as attested to by a close look at the early works of the young cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity: Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially an impressionably admiring Joe Shuster

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane eventually bowed to the inevitable and created a long-awaited full colour Sunday page dedicated to his increasingly popular vagabond paladin. Captain Easy debuted on July 30th 1933, in madcap, two-fisted exploits (originally) set prior to his fateful meeting with Tubbs but eventually coalescing with the Monday to Saturday feature.

The third terrific tome in this stupendous 4-volume set covers May 22nd 1938 to December 15th 1940 and opens with a Foreword by Rick Norwood which contrasts the storylines in Daily and Sunday iterations whilst re-presenting a number of artist Crane’s illustrated articles on life in Mexico, after which R.C. Harvey’s Introduction provides some historical context and speculates on a potential real-life inspiration for the enigmatic Captain.

There’s also a long-overdue appreciation of the artist’s friend, silent partner and eventual successor in ‘Easy Does it…And So does Leslie Turner’. Turner, at first hired to provide Crane some time and breathing room from the punishing seven day a week deadlines, increasingly took responsibility for the Sunday strip from 1937 when the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate ordered Crane to drop his beloved experimental full-page designs.

When he first began the Sunday page in 1933 Crane’s creativity went into overdrive: an entire page and sharp vibrant colours to play with had clearly stirred his imagination. The results were wild visual concoctions which achieved a timeless immediacy and made each instalment a unified piece of sequential art. The effect of the pages can be seen in so many comic and strips since – even in the works of such near-contemporaries as Hergé and giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz.

The pages were a clearly as much of joy to create as to read but the commercial argument ran that the company couldn’t sell a feature which client periodicals were unable to cut-up and reformat to suit their own needs…

In 1943 the former assistant subsequently inherited the black-&-white Dailies after Crane quit NEA to produce his creator-owned Buz Sawyer strip for William Randolph Hearst’s King Features syndicate.

Once Crane was gone, Turner took Wash and Easy into ever more comedic regions, crafting the strip until his retirement in 1969 after which other writers and artists carried the Captain until the feature was ended in 1988.

But that’s largely immaterial as here the superb high-adventuring is seen in its absolute prime…

As seen in Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 2, after a spectacular string of solo adventures the solitary soldier of fortune at last met Tubbs whilst stuck in a jail cell in a Ruritanian European kingdom. He had been framed in an espionage plot…

Risking life and diminutive limb to save his pal, Wash also rescued sultry spitfire Ruby Dallas who promptly entangled them in her own unfortunate tale of woe. Witness to a murder in America, she had been on the run ever since because the killer was a prominent millionaire with too much to lose…

Once the trio had escaped murderous cutthroats, slavers and assassins they soon settled his hash and the story picks up here with the boys again looking for a job and passage home. Opportunity knocks in the form of an animal collector in need of a crew, but when his tiger gets loose on the boat everybody jumps overboard.

The lads wash up on the isolated island of Koolyhow where an American entomologist and his female assistant are hunting the legendary doodle-bug. Signing on as helpers they become embroiled in the burgeoning madness gripping local governor Sergeant Major Gaspe Shalayli, and further complicating matters is a lost temple full of ancient treasures and a cute furry creature called a Swink.

The gluttonous little ant-eater has taken a shine to Wash and has a capacity for finding trouble or creating chaos exponentially greater than his new owner’s…

With bugs and Swink – christened “Bennie” – the triumphant Americans reach Singapore only to be targeted by grifters Sadie and Dipper who believe their latest marks have kept the temple jewels (actually confiscated by the local government). Tricking their way onto the flying boat carrying Wash and Easy home, they cause a crash which leaves Sadie and our heroes stranded on a desolate island inhabited by the extremely civilised descendents of piratical bandits.

The place is a utopian paradise with only one rule: nobody ever leaves…

Of course Easy, Wash and Bennie do: in a stolen sail boat which promptly starts sinking, leaving the voyagers in dire straits. They’re almost saved by a passing vessel but the pirates aboard the Typhoon gleefully ignore their plight and sail on…

Frantically bailing, they reach land just as Cap’n Robbins sinks and plunders a trading ship. Again in hot water, Wash and Easy rescue Mona Milson – stranded survivor of a previous shipwrecking – and return her to her grateful father on yet another Pacific paradise, only to find the furious Robbins waiting for them.

He’s just agreed to transport the old gent, his family and, most importantly, his life savings to Honolulu…

Unable to dissuade old man Milson, the boys book passage with him and Mona and, after days of outrageous hijinks as the voracious and disaster-prone Bennie makes life hell for the pirates, expose and capture the villains.

With reward money in their pockets Wash and Easy (and the Swink) finally get back to America and begin a search for gainful employment which highlights a return to gag-filled short stories.

The ever-hungry Swink is a popular sensation, prompting his owners to buy a travelling medicine show truck, and whilst touring the country they discover that the elixir they’re peddling has genuine restorative powers as they encounter a succession of conmen, women, thieves, scheming women, bandits and determinedly marriage-minded women – some of whom even steal the fabulous, potentially valuable Bennie. A Martyr to crazy, hungry critters Wash improbably inherits a hippo named Kittie.

It’s just one disaster after another…

Feeling they’ve outlived their welcome Wash and Easy decide to go adventuring again, accidentally ending up in Peru, where dauntless Mary Lancaster is searching for her lost father. She enlists their help to enter the forbidden Lost Canyon region where they discover not only the missing archaeologist but a lost race of Indians who still practise human sacrifice…

The humans only escape by trading their lives for Bennie, but as they make their forlorn way back to civilisation the indomitable Swink catches up to them, having proved too smart for the Andean natives…

Packing the Lancasters off home, but too short of funds to accompany them, our heroes are soon clapped in jail for vagrancy where they meet magician, ventriloquist and escapologist “the Great Plunkett”: an inveterate prankster who joins them as stowaways on a steamer back to the USA.

Once there, Plunkett’s gift for opening safes makes him a target for opportunistic mobsters – until his new friends step in…

Big changes were underway at this time and Turner was increasingly yielding the focus on his titular stars to explore an array of new and returning supporting characters – presumably to allow Crane more leeway, if not exclusivity – on Tubbs and Easy. However with the instalment for 21st January 1940, the boys were back, as Easy became a freelance spy-hunter and crimebuster in a nation progressively, inevitably marching towards war. The tone was still light and humorous, but the writing was on the wall…

After stopping spies he tracked down escaped convict Killer Beck, exposed the murder of a Chinese servant and captured America’s Most Wanted female-impersonating conman.

That led to his being hired to safeguard a new aviation weapon from a veritable army of foreign agents and the diabolical Mata Hari Z-1.

Defeating her led to Easy and Wash being marooned in a vast jungle of cactus in the Western American desert where they stumbled onto a gang of ruthless counterfeiters before tackling train-stealing gunrunners in Mexico.

More short yarns bracket a concerted re-lightening of mood as the lads are hired by arrogant, flighty heiress Honey Darling – who wants to be a movie star – and uses them to stage dangerous, headline-grabbing stunts, before the boys are hired to recover a yacht and rescue the passengers after he Captain loses control of it in a rigged card game…

The mission goes slightly awry and leaves the boys, heiress Ginger Nelson, her chaperone aunt and some of the more nefarious crew members shipwrecked. Amongst the saved luggage is the 12th biggest diamond in the world.

…And then the murders start happening…

Nevertheless Easy and Tubbs save the day again, but when they return stateside the surly Soldier of Fortune is made the basis of a bet between two wealthy men. One is wagering that any man can be made afraid and the other believes Easy disproves the notion.

Of course neither has asked him to participate, and after the hero is tricked into a haunted house the trouble really begins as the mountaintop dwelling is invaded by bandits wanting their perfect hideout back…

After discovering the only thing that frightens Easy, this compelling cartoon carnival ends with the heartwarming tale of newsboy Buddie Burns who turns his passion for detecting into a successful anti-crime campaign… with a little help from a certain Southern Gen’leman…

Also included are many examples of original artwork and this colossal luxury hardback compilation (pages 380 x 270mm) even includes an extra colour tear-sheet plus a full hand-coloured page by Crane, used as a guide by the print processors to produce the final flat-hued instalments

This volume heralds the irrepressible humour which Turner would increasing bring into the feature and the stories – although still action adventures – abound with breezy, light-hearted banter, outrageous situations, hilarious slapstick and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors still plunder to this day.

Captain Easy was the grandfather of Indiana Jones, Flynn (the Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton and clearly set the benchmark for all of them. Happily Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer fell into hands every bit as talented and the huge pages in this stupendous chronicle, crackling with fun and excitement, provide the perfect stage from which to absorb and enjoy the classic tale-telling of another sublime master raconteur.

This is storytelling of impeccable quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside the best of Hergé, Tezuka, Toth and Kirby and unarguably fed the imaginations of them all as they still should for today’s comics creators. 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 © 2012 United Feature Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

VIP – the Mad World of Virgil Partch

Edited by Jonathan Barli (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-664-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: impossibly inventive – an all-year-round treat… 9/10

Virgil Parch is another of those almost forgotten key men of comedy cartooning: a pervasive creative force working away for years, making people laugh and slowly, steadily changing the very look and nature of the industry.

Although largely unremarked upon and unremembered these days, Virgil Franklin Partch II (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential – and most successful – American cartoonists in history.

His arch, absurd, rude, sly, subtle, skewed, whacky and astoundingly unique gags, strips, stories and animated shorts were generated with machine gun rapidity from a seemingly inexhaustible well of comedy excess, which could be rendered in a variety of styles which completely revolutionised the American publishing from the moment in 1941 that the artist switched from Walt Disney Studio ideas man to freelance gag-maker.

He is most well regarded for his cavalier abandonment of traditional form and anatomy. Partch is the guy who liberated gag-cartooning from the bonds of slavish attention to body detail: replacing broadly human shape and proportion with a wildly free and frenetic corporeal expressionism – perhaps even symbolism – which captivated legions of fellow artists and generations of fun-starved readers. He’s the guy who made 19 fingers on one hand work…

This superbly comprehensive and lavishly huge (260x315mm) landscape hardback art book/biography (in monochrome & full-colour) covers his life and career in scrupulous detail through a wealth of his best cartoons – many shot from original art – and includes oodles of roughs, sketches, layouts and doodles, all accompanying the bright and breezy life-history by James Barli, and all augmented with loads of intimate photos.

The joyous journey begins after a heartfelt Introduction by stylistic and thematic heir Peter Bagge with ‘Partch ad absurdam’: broken down into easily digested chapters beginning with ‘Prologue: Under the Volcano’ which introduces the man’s remarkable forebears whilst ‘The Call of the Wild’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ details his early life and the eclectic education which led to his joining the fabled Walt Disney Studio in its golden, pre-strike prime.

‘Brave New World’ and ‘The Divine Comedy’ reveal how the assembled animators’ habit of pranking each other with gag cartoons led friend Dick Shaw to dispatch many of Partch’s drawings to magazines such as Collier’s and The New Yorker in 1941, whilst ‘A Farewell to Arms’ covers the new family man’s stint in the Army where his gift was exploited by Forrest J. Ackerman, beginning his own stellar career as editor of Army newspaper Bulletin

On demobilisation Partch’s path was assured and he became the most prolific gag-seller in America: it was almost impossible to find a magazine or periodical that didn’t carry one of his cartoons, and when Playboy debuted in 1953 there was one of his women sharing cover-space with Marilyn Monroe…

As seen in ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘The Genius’, whilst working as an animator (for Walter Lantz on Woody Woodpecker) and as a cartoonist for leftwing New York newspaper PM, Partch started a constant stream of book collections in the fifties which captured and reflected the risqué, hard-drinking sophistication of the era as well as simultaneous lives as an ad man and writer for other draughtsmen, and worked with futurist economist William J. Baxter on a series of prognosticative books which warned of such nebulous dangers as out-of-control capitalism, the Military-Industrial Complex, “1 Per-Centers” and even Global Warming…

His passion for sports – especially sailing – is covered in ‘Three Men in a Boat’ whilst in

‘As a Man Grows Older’ changing times and the urgings of old pal Hank (Dennis the Menace) Ketchum provoked the restless creator to launch his comicstrip Big George! whilst increasingly becoming a cultural ambassador for his craft and art form. He also upped his range of commercial and design projects and invented the grittier strip The Captain’s Gig.

The rise and rise of Virgil Partch is covered in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ whilst ‘Epilogue: the Death of Virgil’, like a bad punch line, recounts the truly stupid and meaningless end of a legend when both the artist and his wife perished in a car crash on August 10th 1984…

The Unknown Quantity then focuses on his astounding output through ‘A Partch Picture Gallery’ subdivided into ‘Cartoons from PM, ‘War in Pieces’ (military madness), surreal and absurd ‘Reality Bites’ and the boozy world of ‘Cork High and Bottle Deep’.

His laid back view of sex is recapitulated in ‘The Eternal Chase’ and ‘Battle of the Sexes’ whilst ‘The Sporting Life’ and ‘Partched’ focus on his other overweening interests…

His graphic expertise and design triumphs are celebrated in ‘Covered’ and ‘(m)Ad Man’, his skewed view of the world’s leaders in ‘Political Partch’, after which a selection of his articles and stories kicks off with ‘The Private War of Corporal Partch’, before ‘The Vipper Comes to Town’, ‘Bourbon and Watercolors’, ‘Vacation for Vipper’ and ‘Inland Cruise of the “Lazy B”’ bring this glorious tribute to times past and an incredible artist to a close.

Virgil Partch was blessed with a perpetually percolating imagination and a unique visual point of reference which made him a true catalyst of cartoon change, and Fantagraphics Books have once again struck pure gold by commemorating and celebrating this lost legend of graphic narrative arts.

Most importantly this is an astoundingly funny collection: the vast accumulation of funny drawings and clever stories still as powerfully hilarious as they ever were, and all brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman no connoisseur of comedy can afford to miss.
© 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All text © 2013 Jonathan Barli. All images © their respective copyright holders. Introduction © 2013 Peter Bagge. All rights reserved.

Giles: the Collection 2014

By Giles (Hamlyn)
ISBN: 978-0-600-62456-1

Your Last-Minute Christmas Dilemmas Solved!

For the latter part of the 20th century, cartoonist Carl Giles owned Christmas. His annual end of year collections of wry social commentary through engaging graphic brilliance epitomised everything English for us and a truly global population of fans and admirers.

Ronald Giles – AKA Karloff/Karlo AKA “Carl” (aren’t school friends simply the best?) – was born in Islington in 1916 and left school at 14 to work as an office-boy for Superads: a company which supplied cartoonists for companies needing animation commercials.

The work appealed to the boy Giles and he eventually graduated to cartoonist and animator himself, working with film mogul Alexander Korda and latterly newspaper star Roland Davies, who was then adapting his own beloved strip Come On, Steve into a string of animation short features.

In 1937 Giles joined socialist Sunday periodical Reynolds News; producing topical cartoons and the strip Young Ernie and, exempted from military service because he was deaf in one ear and blind in one eye, mastered his craft there through the darkest days of WWII.

In 1943 his work caught the eye of the editor of the Sunday Express, who invited Giles to work on the Evening Standard before changing his mind and offering him a more prestigious and lucrative position with the Daily Express as well as the Sunday edition.

Reluctantly quitting Reynolds News (he was never at ease with his new employers’ Right Wing political stance), “Karlo” began his meteoric rise to wealth and household namehood with his first panel cartoon appearing on Sunday, October 3rd 1943.

Although unable to serve as a soldier, Giles contributed to the War Effort through animated films for the Ministry of Information and cartoons for the Railway Executive Committee and in 1945 became the Daily Express’ “War Correspondent Cartoonist”, embedded with the 2nd Army and Coldstream Guards – a job which took him to the concentration camps Bergen/Belsen when they were liberated by the Allies…

Throughout that traumatic time his drawings kept the Allies amused and, once hostilities ceased, Giles began carving out a comfortable, unassailable position in the consciousness of the nation, with his gently scathing, joyously seditious, outrageously busy and brilliantly rendered panels poking fun at the reader and the changing world through the collective lens of a hilarious hoi-polloi family dominated by a terrifying matriarch known as “Grandma”…

Although he also worked on commercial ads (Fisons, Guinness and others), freelanced for magazines such as Men Only and produced Christmas cards and other material for charitable institutions such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (of which he was made Life President), the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the Game Conservancy Research Fund, the Daily and Sunday Express became his home for the next half century and he produced rare gems and marvels there.

From August 5th 1945 to his retirement in 1991 the “Giles Family” reigned supreme in the nation’s comedy consciousness, with the artist practically dictating how a vast swathe of the population reacted to the news, and from 1946 the best of each year’s output was collected into an annual, with all material selected – and sometimes remastered – by the artist himself.

The series was phenomenally popular and every year celebrity fans (Politicians, Heads of State, the Royal Family and the Great and Good of Sport and Entertainment) would vie for the honour of writing a Foreword, before another tumultuous rib-tickling year was reprised and recapped with genuine warmth, sly sarcasm and biting wit…

When the artist retired in 1991, later editions – no longer released by Express Newspapers – began to include some of his other works and, following Giles’ death in 1995, the volumes switched to thematic compilations rather than strictly chronological reportage.

This year’s model was compiled by John Field – who also contributed the Introduction: Giles and Society - whilst political commentator John Sergeant follows in the footsteps of such notables as Frank Sinatra, Margot Fonteyn, Spike Milligan, Sean Connery and Sir Malcolm Sargeant (no relation) in supplying a pithy appreciative Foreword before the latest selection of best bits begins with a selection of cartoons starring ‘Police’

Reprinting selected gags from Christmas Eve 1945 to March 28th 1989, Giles reveals how much and how little the common man’s relationship to the “Boys in Blue” has changed, after which ‘Sport’ features in a string of palpable hits – and no misses – spanning August 1950 to July 1988.

The cartoonist frequently turned his eagle eye upon his own profession and ‘Journalism’ offers some of the most trenchantly effective jabs and barbs from November 15th 1945 through to February 23rd 1989, after which a special section entitled ‘Giles and Journalism’ features cartoons from the war years and some later events when the artist was the news and not merely its interpreter…

‘The Economy’ always provided great material for classic cartoons and the panels culled from June 2nd 1946 to March 29th 1987 recall some of the grimmest and most hilarious moments in modern memory, whilst the related topic of ‘Shopping’ (December 13th 1951 – December 9th 1990) offers full reign to the lovable anarchists of the Giles Family to be on their best and worst behaviour to end this latest outing on a raucous, riotous high…

With a biographical essay on the author’s ‘Cartoons at the British Cartoon Archive’ this book is another superb example of genius at work and proves once more why Giles was voted “Britain’s Favourite Cartoonist of the 20th Century”. If you’ve never been exposed to the artistic brilliance of the man and our collective history, this tome might well be your year…
Text and images © 2013 Express Newspapers. Giles® is a registered trademark of Express Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels & Revolution

By Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez (Burchfield Penney Art Center/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-782-2

Manuel Rodriguez was one of the pioneering lights of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: a mainstay of the counterculture which subversively reshaped the nation’s psyche in the 1960s and 1970s. However, although always a left-leaning radical, infamous for his raucously hyper-violent, audaciously sexual urban vigilante Trashman, Spain was also a quietly dedicated craftsman, historian, educationalist and graphic biographer.

Born in Buffalo, New York state in 1940, the Hispanic kid spent a lot of time with notorious biker gang the Road Vultures and these experiences, as much as his political upbringing and formal education at the SilvermineGuildArtSchool in New Canaan, Connecticut (1957-1960), moulded and informed his entire creative career.

In the 1960s he became a regular contributor to landmark alternative magazine the East Village Other, which not only utilised his burgeoning talents as illustrator and designer but also commissioned, in 1968, his groundbreaking tabloid comicbook Zodiac Mindwarp. That insert proved so successful that EVO subsequently sponsored a regular anthology publication. Gothic Blimp Works was a turning point and clarion call in the evolution of underground publishing.

However, the excessive exploits of Trashman – “Agent of the 6th International” – against a repressive dystopian American super-state were only the tip of the creative iceberg. Ardent left-winger Spain founded the trade organisation the United Cartoon Workers of America whilst contributing to many of the independent comics and magazines which exploded out of the burgeoning counterculture movement across the world.

Manuel Rodriguez was also an erudite and questioning writer/artist with a lifelong interest in history – especially political struggle and major battlefield clashes, and much of his other work revealed a stunning ability to bring these subjects to vibrant life.

The breadth, depth and sheer variety of Spain’s work – from gritty urban autobiography (American Splendor, Cruisin’ with the Hound: the Life and Times of Fred Tooté) to psycho-sexual sci fi (Zap Comix, Skull, Mean Bitch Thrills) is a testament to his incredible talent but the restless artist also found time to produce a wealth of other cartooning classics.

Amongst his dauntingly broad canon of comics material are literary adaptations (Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes’ Strangest Cases), historical treatises (War: The Human Cost) and biographies (Ché {Guevara}: a Graphic Biography, Devil Dog: the Amazing True Story of the Man who Saved America {Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler}) as well as educational and design works such as You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience and Nothing in This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are (both with Bob Frissell).

He also produced the ongoing comics serial The Dark Hotel for American current affairs, politics and media news aggregation website Salon.

In 2012 Spain finally lost a six-year battle against cancer and this superb book – actually the Exhibition catalogue for a career retrospective at the prestigious Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – celebrates his tumultuous life and spectacular contribution to the art form of graphic narrative with a compelling series of essays as well as a superb selection of the great man’s best pieces including some little known lost treasures.

The appreciation begins with ‘Stand Up’ by Anthony Bannon (Executive Director, BPAC), before the biographical ‘Grease, Grit and Graphic Truth’ by Edmund Cardoni (Executive Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center) explores Spain’s past, whilst

‘Keep the Flames of Buffalo Burning’ by Don Metz examines his lasting effect on comics and society.

However the true value of this chronicle is in the 60+ covers, designs, story-pages, roughs, panel excerpts and strips both vintage and recent, monochrome and full-colour which demonstrate the sheer talent and drive to communicate that fuelled Spain for his entire life.

The Partial Spain Bibliography 1969-2012 and Selected Spain Exhibitions only hint at the incredible depth and lasting legacy of his career and I’m praying that some enlightened publisher like Fantagraphics or Last Gasp is already toiling on a comprehensive series of “Complete Works of…” volumes…

Stark, shocking and always relevant, the communicative power of Spain is something no true lover of comics can afford to miss.
© 2012 Burchfield Penney Art Center. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 8: The Death of Fritz the Cat – New Edition

By R. Crumb & guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-56097-076-7

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions. It also painfully displays a genius grappling with his inner demons in a most excruciatingly honest and uncomfortable manner.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.


I mean it…

Robert Crumb is a truly unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. From the first moments of the rise of America’s counterculture, his uncompromising, forensically neurotic introspections, pictorial rants and invectives unceasingly picked away at societal scabs, measuring his own feelings and motives whilst ferociously ripping way civilisation’s concealing curtains for his own benefit. However, he always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who would take the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the Herculean task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output, and those critically important volumes are being currently reissued for another, more liberated generation.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a dysfunctional, broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

Like his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip legends such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google) De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as classical illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective, frustrated, increasingly horny and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs. …

To escape his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised.

A few dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, evolving on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This eighth volume mostly covers – in chronological order – material created and published in 1971 (with the merest tantalising smidgen of stuff from 1972), when the perpetually self-tormented artist first began to experience creative dissatisfaction with his newfound status as alternative cultural icon: a period when the no-longer insular or isolated artist was at his most flamboyantly creative, generating a constant stream of new characters, gags, commercial art jobs, short strips and with longer material popping up seemingly everywhere.

It was also the moment when he began to realise the parasitic, exploitative nature of many of the hangers-on exploiting his work for profits which he never saw himself – particularly filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, whose phenomenally successful movie of Fritz the Cat prompted Crumb to kill the cunning kitty character off…

That and more are all faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for another rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (as always) the pictorial material itself is both engrossing and astoundingly rewarding. But please don’t take my word for it: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a passionate if meandering photo-packed Introduction from wife and collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb – whom he first met in 1971 – the stream of cartoon consciousness and literary freewheeling begins with the salutary tale of ‘Stinko the Clown in Stinko’s New Car’ from Hytone, rapidly followed by the strange romance of ‘Maryjane’ originally seen in Home Grown Funnies, which also provided the (now) racially controversial and unpalatable ‘Angelfood McDevilsfood in Backwater Blues’ – with that horrific homunculus The Snoid – and twisted “love” story of ‘Whiteman Meets Big Foot’

The underground Commix scene was awash with artistic collaborations and a selection of jam sessions kicks off here with ‘Let’s Be Realistic’ from Hungry Chuck Biscuits wherein Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney & Bruce Walthers surreally free-associated, whilst in Mom’s Homemade Comics Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers & Dennis Brul joined forces with the bespectacled outsider to make some ‘Kumquat Jam’

From ProJunior, ‘Perdido Part One’ and ‘ProJunior in Perdido Part Two’ saw the Dagwood-esque everyman experience the growth in social violence courtesy of Crumb and fellow legend S. Clay Wilson.

All on his own again Crumb captured the appalling nature of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash!’ (from Thrilling Murder) and crafted a lovely ‘Nostalgic Books catalog cover’ for their Summer/Fall 1971 issue, after which a tranche of material from Big Ass #2 (August 1971) starts with a paranoiac perusal of ‘The Truth!’, before another obnoxious jerk resurfaces to dominate sexy bird creatures in ‘Eggs Ackley in Eggs Escapes’ even as the intimately contemplative domestic explorations of  ‘A Gurl’ dissolve into the raucous, earthy humour of ‘Anal Antics’ to end the first black and white section of this challenging chronicle.

A vividly vivacious Color Section celebrates a wealth of covers, opening with ‘The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog’(March 1971), followed by ‘Home Grown Funnies’ and its angsty back cover strip ‘The Desperate Character Writhes Again!’. Moving on, ‘Big Ass #2’, ‘Mr. Natural #2’ – front and back covers – leads to ‘Bijou Funnies #6’ and the rainbows end on the sublimely subversive front for ‘The People’s Comics’.

A return to monochrome provides two more strips from Big Ass #2 beginning with the savagely ironic ‘A Word to you Feminist Women’ and the cruelly hilarious ‘Sally Blubberbutt’ after which the contents of Mr. Natural #2 (October 1971) unfold with ‘Mr. Natural “Does the Dishes”’, before ruminating and sharing more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont in ‘A Gurl in Hotpants’.

This leads to ‘Sittin’ Around the Kitchen Table’ and meeting ‘The Girlfriend’, after which two untitled Mr. Natural graphic perambulations result in a cult war with the adherents of the aforementioned Snoid and everything ends with the sage and his buddy The Big Baby being released from jail to go ‘On the Bum Again’

From Bijou Funnies #6 comes another taste of ‘ProJunior’ as the poor shmuck seeks employment to keep his girlfriend quiet, whilst the jam feature ‘Hef’s Pad’ (by Crumb, Lynch & Skip Williamson) exposes the darker side of selling out for cash and fame…

A strip from Surfer Magazine vol. 12, #6 trenchantly heralds the advent of work from 1972 when ‘Salty Dog Sam “Goes Surfin’!”’, whilst the cover of Zap 7 (Spring issue) and the Nostalgia Press Book Service Catalog cover neatly segues into three superb landmark strips from The People’s Comics beginning with a deeply disturbing glimpse inside the befuddled head of the “Great Man” in ‘The Confessions of R. Crumb’.

That poignantly outrageous graphic outburst leads to a cruelly sardonic polemic in ‘The R. Crumb $uck$e$$ Story’ which merely serves as a sound narrative investment for the shockingly self-satisfied, liberating cartoon catharsis achieved by killing off his now-unwelcome signature character in ‘Fritz the Cat “Superstar”’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his every hidden depth and perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and untamed self-analysis, and this terrific tome shows him at last mastering – or at least usefully channelling – that creative energy for the benefit of us all.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…

Let’s Be Realistic © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney, Bruce Walthers & R. Crumb. Kumquat Jam © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers, Dennis Brul & R. Crumb. All other material © 1971, 1972, 1992, 1997, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus volume 005

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-590-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Traditional Licence To Thrill… 8/10

There are sadly very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon or Steve Canyon, let alone Terry and the Pirates or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth?

I hope so, but I doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all entertainment media from radio to novels) got carried along on the wave. Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano, girls’ comics in general: all shifted into creative high gear, and so did newspapers. And that means that I can go on about a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958, beginning a run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard with The Man With The Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format, thereafter being invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst accomplishing the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun with a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Titan books have re-assembled the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death into a series of addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus editions and this fifth compilation finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ which first ran in the Daily Express from July 7th to October 14th 1975. Solidly traditional 007 fodder, it found Bond assigned to kidnap/rescue Arda Petrich, the comely daughter of a foreign asset, and keep vital intelligence out of the hands of the KGB.

This pacy thriller is most notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets which had become an increasingly crucial component of the filmic iteration than for the actual adventure, but there are still thrills and flesh aplenty on view.

Hard on the heels of that yarn is brief but enthralling encounter ‘The Torch-Time Affair’ (October 15th 1975 – January 15th 1976), wherein the hunt for a record of all Soviet subversion in Latin America leads to bodies on the beach, a mountain of lies and deceit, breathtaking chases on roads and through jungles, and an astonishingly intriguing detective mystery as Bond and female “Double-O” operative Susie Kew must save the girl, get the goods and end the villain.

But which one…?

‘Hot-Shot’ (January 16th – June 1st) finds the unflappable agent assisting Palestinian freedom fighter Fatima Khalid as she tries to clear the name of her people of airline atrocities committed by enigmatic Eblis terrorists. Their cooperative efforts uncover a sinister Indian billionaire behind the attacks before Bond recognises an old enemy at the heart of it all… Dr. No!

In ‘Nightbird’ (2nd June – 4th November) sporadic attacks by what appear to be alien invaders draw 007 into a diabolical scheme by a cinematic genius and criminal master of disguise apparently in search of military and political secrets and weapons of mass destruction. However a far more venal motive is the root cause of the sinister schemes and reign of terror…

Despite surreal trappings, ‘Ape of Diamonds’ (November 5th 1976 – January 22nd 1977) is another lethally cunning spy exploit as a deadly maniac uses a colossal and murderous gorilla to terrorise London and kidnap an Arab banker, leading Bond to a financial wild man determined to simultaneously destroy Britain’s economic prosperity and steal the Crown Jewels. Happily for the kingdom, Machiavellian Rameses had completely underestimated the ruthless determination of James Bond…

‘When the Wizard Awakes’ finds bad guys employing supernatural chicanery, when the body of a Hungarian spy – dead for two decades – walks out of his tomb to instigate a reign of terror that eventually involves S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the Mafia and the KGB until the British Agent unravels the underlying plot…

In 1977 the Daily Express ceased publication of the Bond feature and the tale was published only in the Sunday Express (from January 30th -May 22nd 1977). Later adventures had no UK distribution at all, only appearing in overseas editions. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when another British newspaper – the Daily Star – revived his career. Presumably, we’ll deal with those cases in another volume.

The first of those “lost” stories are included here, however, beginning with ‘Sea Dragon’, produced for European syndication: a maritime adventure with geo-political overtones wherein crazed billionairess and scurrilous proponent of “women’s liberation” Big Mama Magda Mather tried to corner the World Oil market using sex, murder and a deadly artificial sea serpent.

In ‘Death Wing’ Bond is needed to solve the mystery of a new and deadly super-weapon employed by the Mafia for both smuggling contraband and assassination. Despite a somewhat laborious story set-up, once the tale hits its stride, the explosive end sequence is superb as the undercover agent finds himself used as a flying human bomb aimed at the heart of New York City. His escape and subsequent retaliation against eccentric hit-man Mr. Wing is an indisputable series highpoint.

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends in ‘The Xanadu Connection’ (1978) as the daring high-tech rescue of undercover agent Heidi Franz from East Germany inexorably leads the super spy down a perilous path of danger and double-cross.

When Bond is tasked with safeguarding the wife of a British asset leading resistance forces in Russian Turkestan, the mission inevitably leads 007 to the Sino-Soviet hotspot where he is embroiled in a three-sided war between KGB occupation forces, indigenous Tartar rebels and their ancestral enemies of the Mongol militias led by insidious, ambitious spymaster Kubla Khan.

Deep in enemy territory with adversaries all around him, Bond is hardly surprised to discover that the real threat might be from his friends and not his foes…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…
© 1975, 1977, 1977, 1978, 2013 Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Ray & Joe: the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics

By Charles Rodrigues, Bob Fingerman & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-668-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sick, sick, sick – the perfect antidote to seasonal cheer overload… 9/10

Although largely unremarked and unremembered these days, Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century.

His surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and astoundingly memorable bad-taste gags and strips were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising energetic ferocity in a number of magazines. This was most effective in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from the debut issue) and Stereo Review – and the pinnacle of a career which began after WWII and spanned nearly the entire last half of the 20th century.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts) and in 1950 began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit.

He gradually graduated from girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in his revolutionary new venture. He still contributed to what seemed like every publication in the nation using panel gags: from Esquire to TV Guide, Genesis to The Critic.

He even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate – Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop and Charlie.

Undoubtedly, though, the quiet, genteel devout Catholic’s lasting monument is the wealth of truly appalling sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful strip-series he crafted for The National Lampoon, whose editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969, and offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot.

He stayed aboard from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of the legendary comics section…

Bracketed by informative text pieces ‘Introduction: An Appreciation of a Goddamn Great Cartoonist’ and ‘Biography: Charles Rodrigues’ by passionate devotee Bob Fingerman, the parade of diabolical disgust and fetid fun begins with the eponymous ‘Ray and Joe – the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend’ which follows the frankly disturbing buddy-movie path of Joe – whose death doesn’t upset his wife as much as you’d expect.

In fact when the cadaver’s former pal meekly inquires, she’s more than happy to let Ray keep the body. After all, it’s cheaper than a funeral…

There’s no agenda here: Ray just wants to keep his friend around, even going so far as to have him embalmed and put on roller skates. Of course most people simply don’t understand…

Rodrigues broke all the rules in these strips: taste, decency, even the contract between reader and creator. Often he would drop a storyline and return to his notional continuities at a later date. Sometimes he would even stop mid-episode and insert a new strip or gag if it offered bigger chortles or shocks…

Next up is ‘Deirdre Callahan – a biography’, the gut-wrenching travails of a little girl so ugly she could cause people’s eyeballs to explode and make almost everyone she met kill themselves in disgust.

Of course such a pitiful case – the little lass with a face “too hideous for publication” – did elicit the concern of many upstanding citizens: ambitious plastic surgeons, shyster lawyers, radical terrorists, enemy agents, bored, sadistic billionaires in need of a good laugh, the mother who threw her in a garbage can before fully examining the merchandising opportunities…

The artist’s most long-lived and inspired creation was ‘The Aesop Brothers – Siamese Twins’ which ran intermittently from the early 1970s to 1986 in an unceasing parade of grotesque situations where conjoined George and Alex endured the vicissitudes of a life forever together: the perennial problems of bathroom breaks, getting laid, enjoying a little “me time”…

In the course of their cartoon careers the boys ran away to the circus to be with a set of hot conjoined sisters, but that quickly went bits-up, after which the sinister carnival owner Captain Menshevik had them exhibited as a brother/sister act with poor Alex kitted out in drag.

There’s a frantic escapade with a nymphomaniac octogenarian movie goddess, assorted asshole doctors, Howard Hughes’ darkest secret, a publicity-shy rogue cop, marriage (but only for one of them), their appalling early lives uncovered, the allure of communism, multiple choice strips, experimental, existential and faux-foreign episodes, and even their outrageous times as Edwardian consulting detectives.

This is not your regular comedy fare and there’s certainly something here to make you blanch, no matter how jaded, strong-stomached or dissolute you think you are…

As always with Rodrigues, even though the world at large hilariously exploits and punishes his protagonists, it’s not all one-sided. Said stars are usually dim and venal and their own worst enemies too…

Hard on their four heels comes the saga of ‘Sam DeGroot – the Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine’ an plucky unfortunate determined to make a contribution, hampered more by society’s prejudices than his own condition and ineptitude.

After brushes with the mob and conniving billionaires’ wives, no wonder he took to demon drink. Happily he was saved by kindly Good Samaritan Everett, but the gentle giant then force fed him custard and other treats because he was a patient urban cannibal. Thankfully that’s when Jesus entered the picture…

During the course of these instalments the strip was frequently usurped by short guerrilla gag feature ‘True Tales of the Urinary Tract’ and only reached its noxious peak after Sam fell into a coma…

The artist was blessed or cursed with a perpetually percolating imagination and also crafted scandalously inaccurate Biographies.

Included here are choice and outrageous insights into ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Abbie Hoffman’, ‘Chester Bouvier’, ‘Eugene O’Neill’ and ‘Jerry Brown’ as well as ‘An American Story – a Saga of Ordinary People Just Like You’, ‘The Man Without a County’ and ‘Joe Marshall Recalls his Past’

The horrific and hilarious assault on common decency concludes with a selection of shorter series collected as The Son of a Bitch et al, beginning with the exposé of that self-same American institution.

The Son of a Bitch’ leads into the incontinent lives of those winos outside ‘22 Houston Street’, the ongoing calamity of ‘Doctor Colon’s Monster’, the domestic trauma of ‘Mama’s Boy’ and the sad fate of ‘The “Cuckold”’

‘The Adventures of the United States Weather Bureau starring Walter T. Eccleston’ is superseded by ‘Mafia Tales’ and ‘VD Clinic Vignettes’ after which ‘A Glass of Beer with Stanley Cyganiewicz of Scranton, PA’ goes down smoothly, thanks to the then-contentious Gay question addressed in ‘Lillehammer Follies’, after which everything settles down after the recipe for ‘Everett’s Custard’

Fantagraphics Books have again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent. This is an astoundingly funny collection, brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy can afford to miss.
All strips and comics by Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction & Biography © Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations

By Peter Bagge with Joanne Bagge & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-656-0

You probably know Peter Bagge as the fiery, wise-mouthed, superbly acerbic cartoonist responsible for incredibly addictive strips about the spoiled underbelly of American life which featured in such wonderful magazines as Neat Stuff and Hate, the inimitable Buddy Bradley stories or even his forays into the more-or-less mainstream such as DC’s Yeah!

But the savage graphic absurdist also has a politically active side. As both cartoonist and societal commentator he has produced strips and pictorial essays for the Libertarian publication Reason, a task joyously undertaken for more than a decade.

In 2009 a collection of his best strips (perhaps strip “op-ed” columns would be a better description) was released by Fantagraphics, and a more powerful argument for the concept of Free Speech you could not find anywhere.

Now that scintillating thought- and, if it’s doing its job right, expletive-provoking tome has been reissued, bolstered by a further 20 pages of unseen material as a superb hardcover compendium of insightful and sometimes controversial deliberation, observation and – when necessary – condemnation…

In a largely full-colour format, Bagge’s deliciously fluid drawings and razor-sharp polemical inquiries, rationalistic, deeply intimate quandaries and disbelieving observations skewer, spotlight and generally expose day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern urban life in 50 strips ranging from one to four pages in length.

Following faux EC cover ‘Tales of the Exploited’, cautionary tale ‘Common Misconceptions about the Other “L” Word’ and an introduction from Reason’s Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie, the draughtsman’s contacts begin with a section devoted to (Stupid) War and judiciously deployed strips ‘Observations From a Reluctant Anti-Warrior’, ‘The War on Terror Never Ends’, ‘The Right to Own a Bazooka’ and ‘Confessions of a Lazy Anti-Warrior’ whilst (Stupid) Sex demands ‘Swingers of the World, Unite’ before fully exposing ‘The War on Fornication’

(Stupid - you get the idea, right?) Arts covers such broad topics as ‘Just Say No to Live Clarinets’, ‘Now That’s Entertainment!’, ‘“Real” Art’, ‘Christian Rock’, ‘Sluts For Jesus’ and ‘The Life Cycle of a Hack’ whilst the nation’s true spiritual underpinnings are examined in Business via the results of extensive research into ‘Malls’, whilst advising ‘Just Say No to Intellectual Property!’ and confronting ‘Your Friendly Neighborhood Tyrant’.

After further observing ‘Everyone’s a Winner’, ‘Latin Laissez-Faire’ and ‘Fine Dining at Shell’, the subject shifts to Boondoggles such as ‘My Very Own Monorail’, ‘Let’s All Give Money to the Rich Man!’, ‘Amtrak Sucks’ and ‘Detroit’, before Tragedy rears its subjective head with ‘A Menace to Society’, ‘The Beast That Will Not Die’, ‘Bums’ and ‘Caged Warmth’

As you’d expect there’s lots to say about Politics beginning with ‘In Search of… an Honest Republican’ and ‘Confessions of a Serial President Hater Anti-Warrior’ before expanding to include ‘Let Us Deliberate..’, ‘Fascists Have Feelings, Too’, ‘In Search of… the Perfect Human’, ‘When Libertarians Gather..’ and ‘Shenanigans!’.

The most visual vitriol is reserved for Our Stupid Country, beginning with a dose of ‘Brown Peril’ and asking ‘Who’s to Blame for 9/11?’ before going on with ‘Ex-Pats Say the Darnedest Things’, ‘Junkie Logic’, ‘Celebrate Diversity’, ‘Do Your Own Thing Unto Others’, ‘Principal Stalin’, ‘Fair-Weather Idealists’, ‘…Or Don’t You Care?’, ‘The Nerd-ification of America’, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’, ‘What We Believe’, ‘What We Believe (This Month Anyway)’ and ending of course at ‘The Home of the Brave’.

This stunningly impressive collection closes with a dose of (Smart) Biography as Bagge recounts over twelve glorious pages the incredible life-history of brilliantly abrasive critic, journalist, author, proto-feminist, progressive social rebel and confrere/editor of Ayn Rand in ‘I.M.P. – an Abbreviated Retelling of the Life of Isabel Mary Patterson’ before the idol of the conservative Right and inventor of Objectivism gets her own brief workout in ‘Will Everyone Please Stop Freaking Out Over Ayn Rand?!?’

Bagge gives a damn good satirizing to such topics as Drugs Policy and attitudes, gun control, organized religion, birth control, sex education and abortion, teaching and schooling, homelessness and even Libertarianism itself – and assuming you’re too busy to look it up, we’re talking about a philosophy not a political party – although sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Libertarianism in its broadest form is simply the advocacy of Free Will and a belief in personal action and responsibility as opposed to the surrender of decision-making to others (for which take as given that we’re usually talking about Big Business and governments, not your Mum).

Challenging, iconoclastic and thought-provoking (or else what’s the point?) this is also a superbly entertaining and funny book. Bagge is the perfect inquisitor; impassioned, deeply involved and not afraid to admit when he’s confused, angry or just plain wrong. This wonderful use of brains, heart and ink ought to be compulsory reading before anybody is allowed to vote or even voice an opinion (now there’s a topic for discussion…)

All contents © 2013 Peter Bagge and Reason magazine, except Introduction, © 2013 Nick Gillespie. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for starting a family argument, that most precious of seasonal traditions… 9/10