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


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

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

Delivering biting wit, a groundbreaking revelation or an excoriating assault with an unforgettable drawing and a few well-chosen words is one of the greatest gifts humans can possess. Even those stuck-up holdouts who pointedly claim to have “never read a comic” certainly enjoy strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention.

Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Although in something of a decline these days, for nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were the universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence, these days the cartoon has been all but erased from printed newspapers – as indeed the physical publications themselves have dwindled in shops and on shelves.

However, thanks to the same internet which is killing print media, many graphic gagsters and drawing dramatists have enjoyed resurgence in an arena that doesn’t begrudge the space necessary to deliver a cartoon in all its fulsome glory…

Mainstream cartooning remains an unmissable daily joy to a vast, frequently global readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Even those stuck-up holdouts who have pointedly “never read a comic” have certainly enjoyed strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention. Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections like this one (and also in e-book editions) to enjoy over and over again…

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

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Now earning a living by exercising his creativity he started self-promoting the weird funny things he’d dream up and soon was coining beaucoup bucks from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny in a variety of magazines and other venues…

The particular gags, jests and japes began life on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded.

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

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

You will laugh out loud and want more.

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

Don’t.

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

Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: a Keepsake Garland of Classics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last strip appeared on September 23rd 2012.

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

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

So What’s Going On Here…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovers’ Lane – the Hall-Mills Mystery


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-628-0

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times where he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky and the multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and True Crime literature. His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murder mysteries recorded since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for an ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, with this volume focusing on a little-remembered scandal which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America.

Lovers’ Lane – The Hall-Mills Mystery describes a case of infidelity which rocked staid, upright New Jersey in 1922 and – thanks to the crusading/muckraking power of the press – much of the world beyond its borders. The re-examination of the case begins here after a bibliography and detailed maps of ‘The City of New Brunswick’ and ‘Scene of the Hall-Mills Murders’, setting the scene for a grim tragedy of lust, jealousy, deception and affronted propriety…

The account proper opens in ‘Under the Crabapple Tree’ as a well-to-do conurbation of prosperous church-goers is rocked by the discovery of two bodies on park land between two farms.

Reverend Edward W. Hall of the Church of St. John the Evangelist was found with a single fatal gunshot wound, placed beside and cradling the corpse of Mrs. Eleanor R. Mills, a parishioner and member of the choir. Her fatal injuries easily fall into the category we would now call overkill: three bullet wounds, throat slashed from ear-to-ear and her throat and vocal cords removed and missing…

‘The Victims’ are soon the subject of a clumsy, botched and jurisdictionally contested investigation which nevertheless reveals Reverend Hall was particularly admired by many women of the congregation and, despite being married to a wealthy heiress older than himself, was engaged in a not especially secret affair with Mrs. Mills.

This fact is confirmed by the cascade of passionate love letters scattered around the posed corpses…

The case soon stalls: tainted from the first by gawkers and souvenir hunters trampling the crime scene and a united front of non-cooperation from the clergyman’s powerful and well-connected family who also insist on early burial of the victims.

However, the police doggedly proceed in ‘The Search for Evidence’, interviewing family and friends, forming theories and fending off the increasingly strident interference of journalists.

With pressure mounting on all sides – a persistent popular theory is that the victims were killed by the Ku Klux Klan who were active in the State and particularly opposed to adultery – the bodies are exhumed for the first of many autopsies. Not long after, the youngsters who first found the bodies are re-interviewed, leading to an incredible confession which later proves to be fallacious.

It is not the only one. A local character known as “the Pig Woman” also comes forward claiming to have been present at the killing. Eventually the police of two separate regions find themselves presiding over ‘The Case to Nowhere’: awash with too much evidence and too many witnesses with wildly varying stories which don’t support the scant few facts…

In the midst of this sea of confusion a Grand Jury is finally convened and peremptorily closes after five days without issuing indictments against anybody…

‘Fours Years Later’ the case is suddenly and dramatically reopened when the Widow Hall’s maid – whilst petitioning for divorce – is revealed to have received $5000 dollars to withhold information on her mistress’ whereabouts on the night of the double murder. When the New York papers get wind of this story they unleash a tidal wave of journalistic excess which culminates in a fresh investigation and a new trial, scrupulously and compellingly reconstructed here by master showman Geary…

With all the actors in the drama having delivered their versions of events at last, this gripping confection concludes with a compelling argument assessing ‘Who Did It?’

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

The author is a unique talent 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 each 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.
© 2012 Rick Geary.

Murder by Remote Control


By Janwillem van de Wetering & Paul Kirchner (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80560-3

“Graphic novels” are utterly ubiquitous these days, even though a huge part of the population can’t or won’t differentiate between the big books we insiders mean and the flimsy, pamphlet periodicals comprising the bulk of items on sale.

Can I at least muddy the waters a little more?

Yes I Can.

Something that gathers a selection of previously-published material – strips, comicbook issues, selected stories on a theme – used to be an Album, Collection, or even, God help us, an Omnibus or Trade Paperback. These included any re-presentation of superhero sagas like Archives or Essentials, themed conglomerations like Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told or Marvel Visionaries or even the groundbreaking Cerebus “phone-book” editions.

Anything serialised in periodicals, but intended from conception to be eventually gathered into one unified form, was a graphic novel (Maus, Watchmen, Persepolis or Cerebus – confusing ain’t it?)

Any long-form tale utilising sequential narrative (A Contract with God, Sabre, Pride of Baghdad) released in one big bite is a true Graphic Novel. That’s what Will Eisner, Jim Steranko and Neal Adams were getting at when they started using the term in the late 1970s and it’s what we should mean when lobbing these terms about willy-nilly.

For every person who agrees with those categorisations, there are a dozen who violently disagree and can cite at least one package which correctly refutes and defies the definition. And because I’m a wilfully contrary pixie, I’ll just remind you that Charles Dickens published his greatest books as periodical magazine part-works before some bright spark stitched them all together in single complete editions called novels…

I don’t care: just remember all modern comics publishers crave the cachet of the term graphic novel attached to their product but it is one that has been adopted and most ardently championed by retailers and distributors who – from the moment big books of drawn stories started appearing – needed some way to pigeon-hole and differentiate them from cookbooks, coffee-table tomes, kids story-books and other releases packed with pictures.

Murder by Remote Control is a true Graphic Novel – arguably one of the very first planned and premeditated examples of the form – and after decades in obscurity you have the chance to see it in all its intended glory…

In the 1980s American comics got a huge creative boost with the advent of high quality magazines such as Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated which showcased adult-oriented material with high quality graphics and formats such as had taken Europe by storm a decade earlier.

Previous US experience of such work had been limited to the Underground Comix scene – in terms of content if not production values, at least – and the occasional independent, out-market experiment of such maverick luminaries as Wally Wood, Steve Ditko and Steranko.

When Heavy Metal premiered in April 1977 – looking very much like its French conceptual “parent” Métal Hurlant – there was precious little original American material to supplement the sumptuous continental work therein. One of the first US creators to join the magazine was Paul Kirchner (The Bus, Realms, Dope Rider), who had worked as an assistant to Wood in the early 1970s, contributing to such projects as Big Apple Comics.

Born in 1952, Kirchner was in his third year at Cooper Union School of Art in New York when Neal Adams and Larry Hama introduced him to the horror editors at DC, whose anthology titles always needed fresh blood. He thereafter assisted Tex Blaisdell on Little Orphan Annie and in 1973 joined Ralph Reese at Wood’s studio.

A young man in tune with many of the spiritual and conceptual tropes prevalent during those culturally cosmopolitan times, there was a thoughtful, underplayed intensity in his meticulously-crafted work, but Kirchner was hampered by his slow working-speed, at a time when quick turnaround always trumped artistic merit and quality. He eventually drifted out of comics to find far better-paying work in the advertising, animation and design trades.

Part of the reason for the transition is explained in his Introduction, which describes his meeting with Dutch expatriate author Janwillem Lincoln van de Wetering (The Empty Mirror, Grijpstra and de Gier crime novels, Hugh Pine (the Porcupine), Judge Dee Plays His Lute); a global-traveller and Zen Buddhist scholar who eventually settled in Maine. Under circumstances best enjoyed first hand by reading the actual Intro, the exuberant writer and jaded cartoonist met in 1981 and decided to work together on a dream project: a crime mystery in comics form…

The project took Kirchner a few years to complete but when ready for publication the real hard work began. Most publishers prefer to work in 20-20 hindsight: happy to jump on a successful bandwagon but preferring to chew off their own arms rather that risk money on being first with something new that can’t be easily categorised…

The completed work was schlepped around for two years until in 1986 Ballantine bought it. This was the period in which Maus, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman all simultaneously slapped the world in the face and the public went ga-ga for graphic narratives.

Ballantine – who had decades earlier introduced America to comicstrip paperbacks with its digest-sized collections of Mad reprints – was willing to take a chance on a mass-market edition, albeit in a diminished size and format, even though as Moord Op Afstand the tale had been a success in Holland and elsewhere as a lavish, full-sized hardback album. Despite favourable coverage from Gahan Wilson in The New York Times Book Review, the bowdlerised Murder by Remote Control sank without trace and the creators reluctantly moved on to other things.

Now, after far too long, I can retire my battered old copy since Dover have added the sublime metaphorical masterpiece in monochrome to their crucial list of rescued comics treasures, restored to its intended page size (278 x 218 mm) and with the original cover replacing the sliced-&-sampled multiple-panel mock-up of the 1986 edition…

The story itself would have been groundbreaking if it had been released in 1983 and remains decidedly off-key and devilishly off-beat. Resonances of Agent Dale Cooper, Blue Velvet and later cult entertainment icons eerily abound here…

After obnoxious property speculator Mr. Jones starts buying up sections of idyllic Maine coastline, he suddenly turns up dead in his little fishing dingy. The death occurs in full view of four residents who each might have a strong motive to remove the interloper, but the County Sheriff is extremely keen on ruling the case an accidental death.

However, his report results in the unwelcome arrival of agonisingly restrained and refined – almost emotionless – Detective Jim Brady from the Augusta Office. Cool and preternaturally calm, the self-effacing little man has a way of seeing deep into the hearts and minds of everybody, and he quickly rules it a homicide by most arcane means.

Now he’s going to stick around, probing the characters and backgrounds of the uniquely baroque quartet of suspects and undoubtedly sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong…

Informed by Zen principles, the story unfolds as Brady flamboyantly deconstructs each potential suspect, consequently uncovering far more secrets than any little rural enclave could possibly contain before reaching his conclusions.

However, even with the case closed his actions remain at odds with your run-of-the-mill Copper, and there’s one last twist still in store…

Cool, surreal and challengingly psychedelic, the plot is realised with sleek and understated panache; mixing the welcoming warmth and idiosyncratic style of Ditko’s figure-work and facial expressions with the glossy sleek glamour and factual solidity of Wally Wood. This book is a delicious treat for the eyes and a therapeutic exercise for the mind…

Supplemented by Stephen R. Bissette’s incisive and expansive Afterword ‘A Man, A Boat, A Bay, A Bite, A Beer Can…’ offering historical context and artistic commentary, this is a magnificent lost gem, rightly restored to its place in the history of our art form, but it’s also a beautifully-crafted, intellectually challenging Bloody Good Read.

Go get it.
© 1986, 2016 by The Wetering Family Trust and Paul Kirchner. Afterword © 2016 by Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

Murder by Remote Control will be published on 24th June 2016 and is available for pre-order now. Or if you still wander actual streets it might already be on the shelves of your local comic shop…

Alley Oop: the First Time Travel Adventure – Library of American Comics Essentials volume 4


By V.T. Hamlin (IDW/Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-829-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Primal Cartoon Fun… 10/10

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips. These pictorial features were, until relatively recently, extremely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a powerful weapon to guarantee and even increase circulation and profits. From the earliest days humour was paramount; hence our umbrella terms “Funnies” and of course “comics”.

Despite the odd ancestor or precedent like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs (comedic when it began in 1924; gradually moving from mock-heroics to light-action into full-blown adventure with the introduction of Captain Easy in 1929) or Tarzan and Buck Rogers – which both debuted January 7th 1929 as adaptations of pre-existing prose properties – the vast bulk of strips produced were generally feel-good humour strips with the occasional child-oriented fantasy.

This abruptly changed in the 1930s when an explosion of rollicking drama strips were launched with astounding rapidity. Not only features but actual genres were created in that decade which still impact on not just today’s comicbooks but all our popular fiction.

Another infinitely deep well of fascination for humans is cavemen and dinosaurs. During that distant heyday of America’s strip-surge a rather unique real character created a rather unique and paradoxical cartoon character: at once both adventurous and comedic; simultaneously forward-looking and fantastically “retro” in the same engagingly rendered package…

Vincent Trout Hamlin was born in 1900 and did many things before settling as a cartoonist. After mustering out of the US Expeditionary Force at the end of the Great War V.T. finished High School and then went to the University of Missouri. This was in 1920 and he studied journalism but, since he’d always loved drawing, the eager beaver took advantage of the institution’s art courses too.

Hamlin was always a supreme storyteller and lived long enough to give plenty of interviews and accounts – many impishly contradictory – about the birth of his antediluvian archetype…

As a press photographer Hamlin had roamed the Lone Star State filming the beginnings of the petroleum industry and caught the bug for finding fossils. Whilst drawing ads for a Texas Oil company, he became further fascinated with bones and rocks as he struggled to create a strip which would provide his family with a regular income…

When V.T. resolve to chance his arm at the booming comic strip business, those fossil fragments got his imagination percolating and he came up with a perfect set-up for action, adventure, big laughs and even a healthy dose of social satire…

Alley Oop is a Neanderthal (-ish) caveman inhabiting a lush, fantastic land where dinosaurs still thrive. In fact his greatest friend and boon companion is Dinny; a faithful, valiant saurian chum who terrifies every other dinosaur in creation… as well as all the annoying spear-waving bipeds swarming about.

Because Dinny is as smart and obedient as a dog, all the other cave folk – like arrogant, insecure King Guzzle – generally treat the mighty, free-thinking, disrespectful Oop with immense caution…

Unlike most of his audience, Hamlin knew such things could never have occurred but didn’t much care: the set-up was too sweet to waste and it would prove to be the very least of the supremely imaginative creative anachronisms he and his brilliant wife Dorothy would concoct as the strip grew in scope and popularity.

Oop actually launched twice. In 1930 Hamlin whipped up primeval prototype Oop the Mighty which he then radically retooled and sold to small, local Bonnet-Brown Syndicate as Alley Oop. It debuted on December 5th 1932 and was steadily gaining traction when Bonnet-Brown foundered in the worst days of the Great Depression a year later.

Happily the strip had won enough of a popular following that the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate – whose other properties included Major Hoople, Boots and Her Buddies and the aforementioned Wash Tubbs – tracked down the neophyte scribbler and offered him a regular slot in papers all over America.

Alley Oop re-debuted as a daily strip on August 7th 1933, swiftly reprising his old stories for a far larger audience before moving on to new adventures and inevitably winning a Sunday colour page on September 9th 1934, the year V.T., Dorothy and new daughter Theodora relocated to affluent Sarasota, Florida.

Sadly for such a revered series with a huge pedigree – still running today scripted by Carole Bender and drawn by her husband Jack as both Sunday and daily feature – there has never been a concerted effort to properly collect the entire epic. There have however been tantalising outbursts of reprints in magazines and short sets of archive editions from Kitchen Sink, Dark Horse and IDW’s Library of American Comics.

This uniquely intriguing monochrome hardback (Part of The Library of American Comics Essentials range) re-presents – in the form of one day per elongated landscape page – the absolutely most crucial and game-changing sequence in the strip’s 80-year history as the protagonists escaped their antediluvian environs for the first time and were calamitously catapulted into the 20th century…

Supplementing the cartoon bedazzlement is a superbly informative and candid-picture packed introduction by Michael H. Price. ‘V.T. Hamlin and the Road to Moo’ reviews the creator’s amazing life and other strip endeavours before starting his life’s work and what the feature meant to him, after which the grand adventure – spanning Monday March 6th 1939 to Saturday March 23rd 1940 – opens in a strange land a long, long way from here and now…

A little background: the cave-folk of that far-ago time lived in a rocky village ruled over by devious, semi-paranoid King Guzzle and his formidable, achingly status-conscious wife Queen Umpateedle. The kingdom was known as Moo and the elite ruling couple were guided, advised and manipulated in equal amounts by the sneaky shaman Grand Wizer. All three constantly sought to curb the excesses of a rebelliously independent, instinctively democratic kibitzer and free-spirit Oop.

Our hero – the toughest, most honest man in the land – had no time for the silly fripperies and dumb made-up rules of interfering civilisation, but he did usually give in to the stern glances and fierce admonishments of his long-suffering girl “companion” Ooola. The uneasy balance of power in the kingdom comes from the fact that Guz and the Wizer – even with the entire nation behind them – were never a match for Oop and Dinny when they got mad… which was pretty often…

The big change began when Dinny turned up with an egg and became broody and uncooperative. With Oop’s mighty pal out of sorts, the Wizer then played a cruel master-stoke and declared that only the contents of the egg could cure King Guz of a mystery ailment and prompted a mini civil war…

After revolution and counterrevolution Oop and Ooola are on the run when they encounter a bizarre object which vanishes before their eyes. As they stare in stupefaction they are ambushed by Guz’s men and only escape because they too fade from sight…

Somewhere in rural America in 1939, brilliant researcher Dr. Elbert Wonmug (that’s a really convoluted but clever pun) discusses with his assistant the movies their camera took when they sent it into the distant past via their experimental time machine…

The heated debate about the strangely beautiful and modern-looking cave woman and her monstrously odd-looking mate are soon curtailed as the subjects actually materialise in the room and the absentminded professor realises he left his chronal scoop running…

Before he can reverse his mistake and return the unwilling, unwitting guests to their point of origin, the colossal mechanism catastrophically explodes, wrecking the lab and burying the astounded antediluvians in rubble.

Thanks to an unexplained quirk of temporal trans-placement, time travellers always speak the language of wherever they’ve fetched up – albeit through their own slang and idiom – so after Oop digs his way out utterly unharmed, explanations are soon forthcoming from the modern tinkerers. Before long the cave folk are welcomed to all the fabulous advances of the 20th century…

At least Ooola is – thanks to the friendly advice of Wonmug’s daughter Dee – but the hulking male primitive is quickly getting fed up with this fragile place, all snarled up with just as many foolish rules and customs as home…

Storming off to catch and eat something he understands, Oop is suddenly whisked across country in a spectacular and hilarious rampage of destruction – in the best silent movie chase tradition – after he falls asleep in a transcontinental freight train. After weeks of wondering Wonmug and the now thoroughly-acclimated Ooola read newspaper reports of a cunning and destructive “Great White Ape” and make plans to fetch their stray home. The government meanwhile have put top agent G.I.Tum on the case…

The Phantom Ape however has plans of his own and, after “trapping” an aeroplane and its pilot, makes his own tempestuous way back to the isolated lab.

Eventually the whole story comes out and the displaced cave-folk become media sensations just as Wonmug finally completes his repairs to the time machine. Sadly Ooola – and to a lesser extent Alley – are not keen on returning to their dangerous point of origin…

Moreover, not everybody believes Elbert has actually cracked the time barrier and the next segment sees scientific sceptic Dr. Bronson demand first hand proof. However when he eagerly zips off to experience Moo first hand he disappears and – after much pleading – Oop is convinced to follow him and find out what happened…

When the swirling sensation ends our hirsute hero discovers what the problem is: the machine is by no means accurate and its focus has shifted. He has rematerialised outside a gigantic walled city of what we’d call the Bronze Age…

What follows is a stupendous romp of action, adventure and laughs as Oop and Bronson become improbable and forgotten heroes of the Trojan War, meeting and enchanting Helen of Troy and becoming the embattled city’s top warrior generals.

In the 20th century Wonmug is arrested for murder. Dee and his assistant Jon struggle to perfect the machine but in the end resort to busting the genius out to fix the problem and bring the time-lost wanderers back. In a race against time that’s all soon sorted and Ooola heads for ancient Greece to save the lost boys.

Unfortunately she’s picked up by the besieging Greeks and, thanks to her skill with guns, mistaken for the goddess Minerva

The legendary story further unfolds with Oop and Ooola on opposite sides until wily Bronson makes a breakthrough based on his historical knowledge and they all return home in time to save Wonmug from the cops…

Soon a compact time team is established to exploit the invention – but not before Oop returns to devastated Troy to retrieve his beloved stone axe and – with Bronson and Ooola in tow – finds himself swept up in little sea voyage we knows as the Odyssey

Back in America the team expands after old college chum and genius of all knowledge G. Oscar Boom invites himself to Wonmug’s scientific party. With all contact lost the unscrupulous rogue offers to go looking for them in the untrammelled past, providing he can take his specially tricked-out station wagon…

As this stunning collection concludes Boom and a mighty hitchhiker named Hercules have just run into the missing chrononauts as they are about to enter the Amazonian wilds of the Land of Warrior Women

To Be (hopefully) Continued…

Having escaped the ultimately limiting confines of the strip and becoming a seasoned time travellers Hamlin had made the best of all worlds for his characters: Oop and Ooola periodically returned home to Dinny and the cave folk of Moo but they also roamed every intriguing nook and cranny of history ands even escaped planet Earth entirely and hopefully our own future holds the prospect of more such splendid strip sagas…

Fast-paced, furious, fantastically funny and bitterly barbed in the wryly acerbic manner of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, Alley Oop is a bone fide classic of strip narrative, long overdue the respect and honour of a complete chronological collection.

However until some enlightened publisher gets around to it, by all means start digging on line and in bargain bins for each – or any – of the wonderful tomes already released. It’s barely the tip of an iceberg but it’s a start…
Alley Oop © and ® 2013 United Features Syndicate, Inc. All rights reserved.

21st Century Tank Girl


By Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlett, Philip Bond, Brett Parson, Jim Mahfood, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Jonathan Edwards, Craig Knowles & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-661-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Furiously Foul-Mouthed Frolicsome Fun ‘n’ Games… 8/10

Back in the wild and wacky 1980s there was a frantic buzz of feverish creativity in the British comics scene wherein any young upstart could hit the big time.

Possibly the most upstarty of all were art students Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin (and, associatively, Philip Bond) who prowled the local convention circuit impressing the hell out of everybody with their photocopied fanzine Atomtan. At the back of issue #1 was a pin-up/ad for a dubiously feisty looking young lady with a big, Big, BIG gun and her own armoured transport. And now it’s a whole ’nother century…

Commissioned by Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon for Deadline, a pop-culture magazine with loads of cool strips, the absurdist tales of a rambunctious, well-armed hottie roaming the wilds of a futuristic Australia with her kangaroo boy-friend Booga caught the imagination of a large portion of the public. There was even a movie…

After many years indolently dallying with a sordid plethora of different publishers, the salty, soldierly slapper found her way to Titan Comics who comprehensively remastered her old adventures and now proudly publish her subsequent outbursts of appealingly appalling new material of a mature and deliberatively offensive nature…

Never particularly enamoured of the concept of internal logic, chronological order, narrative consistency, linguistic restraint or spelling (so if you’re pedantic, be warned!), this latest compote of outrageous and hilarious cartoon phantasmagoria revels in the usual glorious mud-bath of social iconoclasm, in-yer-face absurdity, accumulated decades of British Cultural Sampling and the ever-popular addictive sex ‘n’ violence, but also holds a few shocking surprises, not least of which is the return of originating co-creator Jamie (Gorillaz) Hewlett after twenty years AWOL…

Collecting the 3-issue miniseries from the summer of 2015, this impressively oversized (305 x 216 mm) full-colour hardback album features strips, gag-pages, prose pieces, illustrated poems and loads of pin-ups/covers to astound the multitudes, and opens with a typically inviting Introduction from scripter Alan Martin after which, reunited with fellow instigating wild boy Hewlett, he reveals ‘Space is Ace’ as Tank Girl and Booga, with bosom pals Barney and Jet Girl, perversely invade a strangely erotic asteroid in search of some legendary Udagawa crystals with a most predictable and outrageous outcome…

Following a spoof ‘Drag Tank’ model-kit ad from Brett Parson and poetic aside ‘Your Mission’, the cartoon capers continue in kitsch-drenched nostalgia fest ‘Nanango ’71’ (again pictured by Parson) wherein our cuddly kanga-boy is offered a vast amount of cash to carefully drive a pristine and cherry vintage muscle car across the desert to its frothing new owner.

He really shouldn’t have invited those capricious calamity magnets Tank Girl and Jet Girl along for the ride…

Salutary warning ‘You’re Young Now but Won’t Be for Long’ (art by Jim Mahfood & colourist Justin Stewart) and gag menu ‘Itsnofuckingjoke’ segues neatly into the ever-so-informative ‘Tank Girl War Library: Tank Girl Tactics and Booga Manoeuvres’ and a selection of poster poems/info pages entitled ‘Who Are Tank Girl?’: individually shining a spotlight on Booga, Barney, Jet Girl and Tank Girl, and all illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell – plus a pin-up of the team on the beach – before Parson’s second issue cover of the girls sharing a shower leads inexorably into poster-poem ‘How Brilliant Are We?’ (Craig Knowles) before Martin, Mahfood & Stewart expose ‘Valleri’.

The undercover cop infiltrating the gang so they can be slaughtered by gun-crazy policemen has an undisclosed past with Tank Girl that nobody knows of and which might just be the advantage needed to help the lovable outlaws swipe the priceless relic God’s Underpants

‘Colour Me Tank Girl’ offers a little crayon-based relaxation featuring the team’s rampantly rude spaceship after which the Johnson-Cadwell illustrated prose vignette ‘Giraffe’ leads to a wealth of uncanny poetic picto-memories from ‘Tank Girl’s Sundrenched Martian Superholiday’ (Jonathan Edwards), another Johnson-Cadwell pin-up and a hilarious set of stick-on life options courtesy of Tank Girl Inc.’s ‘Obtuse Ideologies’

Martin & Parson’s short, sharp comicstrip history of ‘Booga Flakes’ gives way to Johnson-Cadwell’s shocking, silent war epic ‘Tank Girl in Easy’ and a tender loving moment by Parson, highlighting the unique relationship of TG and Booga…

The lovers then explore ‘The Ghost Smell from the Ground’ (Knowles): turning back progress to eradicate a vile super-Shopping Mall and restoring a quaint corner shop before Mahfood limns TG’s mantra to live by and Parson illuminates the tenets of ‘The Church of Booga’. Edwards then returns to delineate our stars’ bitter battles and obscure, surreal search for truth and reliable ammo in ‘Journey to the Centre of the Tank’ – a trip which exposes the harsh potency of 1970s British comedy icons…

A studly kangaroo-cake pin-up of Booga by Philip Bond leads into a prose origin of sorts as we obliquely discover ‘The Name of Tank Girl’; the shock of which is neatly offset by a pack of Parson-produced ‘21st Century Bumper Stickers’ and captivating poster for ‘21st Century Tank Girl: The Movie’ before diverting back to strip-mode to illustrate Martin’s raucously satirical spoof ‘The Runny Man’ and a brief dose of futurist philosophy, before one last loving pin-up precedes his climactic comics conclusion as ‘Viva Tank Girl’ reveals why Evel Knievel never used tanks when jumping over a row of parked vehicles…

Wildly absurdist, intoxicatingly adorable and packed to the gills with outlandish pictorial pleasures, 21st Century Tank Girl is an ever-so-cool rollercoaster-ride and lifestyle touchstone for life’s incurable rebels and undying Rude Britannians, so if you’ve never seen the anarchic, surreal and culturally soused peculiarity that is Tank Girl, bastard love child of 2000AD and Love and Rockets, you’ve missed a truly unique experience… and remember, she doesn’t care if you like her, just so long as you keep looking.
Tank Girl and all related characters are ™ & © 2014 Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. All rights reserved.

21st Century Tank Girl is in comic shops now and can be pre-ordered for a December 1st online release.

Alley Oop


By V.T. Hamlin (Ken Pierce Books)
ISBN: 0-912277-02-5

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips. These pictorial features were, until relatively recently, extremely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a powerful weapon to guarantee and even increase circulation and profits. From the earliest days humour was paramount; hence our umbrella terms “Funnies” and of course “comics”.

Despite the odd ancestor or precedent like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs (comedic when it began in 1924, and gradually moving from mock-heroics to light-action into full-blown action-adventure with the introduction of Captain Easy in 1929), or Tarzan and Buck Rogers – which both debuted January 7th 1929 as an adaptation of pre-existing prose properties – the vast bulk of strips produced were generally feel-good humour strips with the occasional child-oriented fantasy.

This changed in the 1930s when an explosion of action and drama strips were launched with astounding rapidity. Not only strips but actual genres were created in that decade and they still impact on not just today’s comic-books but all our popular fiction.

Another infinitely deep well of fascination for humans is cavemen and dinosaurs. During that heyday of America’s strip surge a rather unique real character created a rather unique and paradoxical cartoon character: one both adventurous and comedic and simultaneously forward-looking and fantastically “retro” at the same time…

Vincent Trout Hamlin was born in 1900 and did lots of things before becoming a cartoonist. When he mustered out of the US Expeditionary Force after the Great War he finished High School and then went to the University of Missouri. This was in 1920 and he studied journalism but, since he’d always loved drawing, the eager beaver took advantage of the institution’s art courses too.

He was always a supreme storyteller and lived long enough to give plenty of interviews and accounts – many impishly contradictory – about the birth of his antediluvian archetype…

As a press photographer Hamlin had roamed the Lone Star State and filmed the beginnings of the petroleum industry, catching the bug for finding fossils. Later, whilst drawing ads for a Texas Oil company, he became further fascinated with fossils as he struggled to create a strip which would provide his family with a regular income…

When V.T. decided to chance his arm at the booming comic strip business, those old stones and bones got his imagination percolating and he eventually came up with a perfect set-up for action, adventure, big laughs and even a healthy dose of social satire…

Alley Oop is a Neanderthal-ish caveman inhabiting a lush and fantastic land where dinosaurs still thrive. In fact his greatest friend and boon companion is Dinny; a faithful, valiant saurian chum who terrifies every other dinosaur in creation as well as all the annoying bipeds in residence.

Because Dinny is as smart and obedient as a dog, all the other cave dwellers – such as arrogant, insecure King Guzzle – generally treat the mighty, free-thinking, disrespectful Oop with immense caution…

Unlike most of his audience, Hamlin knew such things could never have occurred but didn’t much care: the set-up was too sweet to waste and it would prove to be the very least of the supremely imaginative creative anachronisms he and his brilliant wife Dorothy would concoct as the strip grew in scope and popularity.

Oop actually launched twice. In 1930 Hamlin whipped up primeval prototype Oop the Mighty which he then radically retooled and sold a year later to the small and local Bonnet-Brown Syndicate as Alley Oop. It debuted on December 5th 1932 and was gaining steam when Bonnet-Brown foundered during the worst part of the Great Depression in 1933.

Happily the strip had won enough of a popular following that representatives of the vast Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate – whose other properties included Major Hoople, Boots and Her Buddies and the aforementioned Wash Tubbs – tracked down the neophyte scribbler and offered him a regular slot in papers all over America.

Alley Oop debuted again as a daily on August 7th 1933, reprising his old stories for a far larger audience before moving on to new adventures and winning a Sunday colour page on September 9th 1934, the year V.T., Dorothy and new daughter Theodora relocated to affluent Sarasota, Florida.

Sadly for such a revered series with a huge pedigree – still running today as both Sunday and daily feature, scripted by Carole Bender and drawn by her husband Jack – there has never been a concerted effort to properly collect the entire epic. There have however been tantalising outbursts of reprints in magazines and short sets of archive editions from Kitchen Sink, Dark Horse and IDW’s Library of American Comics.

One of – if not actually – the very first serious compilation came courtesy of dedicated preserver of great comics Ken Pierce, who in 1983 released this marvellously compact monochrome paperback edition which reprints one of the most revered sequences of the burly and boisterous dawn man.

Preceded by an Introduction from fellow cartoonist Herb Galewitz and ‘When Hamlin Started Digging Into History Out Came Alley Oop’ – a typically bright and breezy Press Release from 1960 – ‘The Sawalla Chronicles’ ran from April 10th to August 28th 1936 and detailed a classic clash between perennial free-thinker Oop and the increasingly oppressive forces of civilisation and polite society that was growing around him…

A little background: most cave-folk of that long ago time lived in a rocky village ruled over by devious, semi-paranoid King Guzzle and his formidable, achingly status-conscious wife Queen Umpateedle.

Their kingdom was dubbed Moo and the elite couple were guided/manipulated by sneaky shaman the Grand Wizer with all three of them constantly seeking to curb the excesses of the rebelliously independent, instinctively democratic Oop.

Our hero – toughest man in the land – had no time for all the silly fripperies and dumb made-up rules but he did usually give in to the stern glances and fierce admonishments of his long-suffering girlfriend Ooola. The uneasy balance of power in the kingdom comes from the fact that Guz and the Wizer, even with the entire nation behind them, were never a match for Oop and Dinny when they got mad…

As this story starts however that détente has suddenly ended because the Wizer has hypnotised the gigantic beast and turned him against Oop…

Seizing his chance, Guzzle orders his guards to throw his rival into “The Pit”, but when they all regain consciousness they see their intended victim is now astride the throne with the crown on his head…

With a new king in charge things start to move quickly and Oop’s only ally is his old, less-evolved rhyming pal Foozy, so they are hard-pressed to stop the Grand Wizer’s own power-grab since the malevolent old geezer still commands Dinny…

When the chums then fall out, Foozy decides to restore normality by putting Guz back on the throne and to that end devises a cunning plan to immobilise gargantuan Dinny. As events spiral completely out of control, however, it’s ferocious Umpateedle who finally restores the status quo by knocking a few stubborn male heads together…

Oop doesn’t care. After a few precarious and decidedly risky moments he and Dinny are restored and for him that’s what really matters.

As normality returns – exemplified by Umpateedle organising a swanky Ladies Day – Oop takes Ooola on a hunting trip deep into unexplored territory where they discover other men. Moreover these strangers are riding dinosaurs, something everyone thought only Oop could do…

A brutal battle results in some answers from thoroughly beaten Wur, warrior-guardian of the previously unsuspected Sawalla Frontier who surprisingly invites the startled Moovians to visit his own unsuspected country.

Despite Oop’s suspicions, Sawalla seems a paradise. Sited beside a colossal body of water everything is great until Wur – who also happens to be king – informs him they will be staying forever…

Despite lethal swamps and ferocious dinosaurs barring their way back, Oop is determined to return – more because nobody tells him what to do than any degree of patriotism or homesickness – and doesn’t stop looking for escape routes even after Wur sets a gang of brutes to watch him. More distressing is the fact that Wur – desiring Ooola for himself – wants to marry the male Moovian to his own sister Loo

When that scheme goes south he opts to just get rid of Oop, unaware that his rival has co-opted the Sawallan squad ordered to supervise him. As intrigue turns into all-out war, Oop, Ooola and their converts try to escape through the lethally impassable swamp with all Wur’s forces hard on their soggy heels.

As the fugitives’ arduous slog and occasional battles with Sawallan scouts intensify, at the other end of the green hell, long-missing Dinny finally emerges from the jungle depths and trots into Moo. Realising something’s up, Foozy – accompanied by towering throwback the Cardiff Giant – leads a rescue mission into the swamp and is soon engaged in furious battle with Wur and his army, even as elsewhere Oop’s party fight for their lives against an armada of wild and angry thunder lizards.

And then in a one terrifying moment, the abundant flora catches alight and a monstrous forest fire begins…

Fast, furious, fantastically funny and bitterly barbed in the manner of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, Alley Oop is a bone fide classic of comicstrip narrative, long overdue the respect and honour of a complete chronological collection.

However until some enlightened publisher gets around to it, by all means start digging on line and in bargain bins for each – or any – of the wonderful tomes already released. It’s barely the tip of an iceberg but it’s a start…
© 1983 Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc. All rights reserved. ALLEY OOP COMIC STRIPS © 1936 Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc. Introduction and editorial material © 1983 Hern Galewitz.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Spectre – the Complete Comic Strip Collection


By Henry Gammidge, Jim Lawrence, John McLusky & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-78565-155-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Truly Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

There are sadly few British newspaper strips that can rival the influence and impact of the 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 and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy or Flash Gordon, let alone Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segar’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? Garth? I’d hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly 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 the Britain of the New Elizabethans – and I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did. Now we’re moving on.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics got carried along on the wave. Eagle, Lion, the regenerated Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into visually receptive high gear and so did newspapers.

Those facts and the canny repackaging of some classy classics which tie in to current Bond Blockbuster SPECTRE – just in time for the Christmas presents rush – means I can happily go on about one of British strip cartooning’s greatest triumphs as Titan Books release a splendidly lavish and sturdy oversized (294 x 277 mm) monochrome compilation of all the canonical adaptations of Fleming’s novels featuring the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion…

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

The art was always of the highest standard. John McLusky provided the gripping illustrations until 1966 and the conclusion of You Only Live Twice. Although perhaps lacking in flash or verve, the workmanlike clarity and solidly rugged drive of his drawing easily handled an immense 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 like Lawrence debuted on Man With the Golden Gun, bringing a looser, edgier style to proceedings, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action which seemed to typify the high-octane, all-action 1960’s.

Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express ceased carrying Bond and the then-running case suddenly switched to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

None of which is relevant for this stand-alone edition which commences with fond memories and keen insights in the Introduction ‘The Threat of Spectre’ by playwright, film producer and current 007 screenwriter John Logan…

The strip ‘Thunderball’ (11th December 1961-10th February 1962) adapted the ninth novel and proved to be both calamitous and controversial at the time of publication. The plot involves the theft of nuclear bombs by millionaire treasure hunter Emilio Largo, fronting an unsuspected terrorist group called SPECTRE …

Inexplicably for the paper, the tale was censored and curtailed at the direct demand of the Daily Express’ owner Lord Beaverbrook. Five days worth of strips were excised (and for the full story you’ll need to read the book or track down Titan’s 2007 paperback album edition which provided an ancillary text feature detailing what was cut).

Nevertheless, what remains by Henry Gammidge & McLusky is still pretty engrossing comics-fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended.

It was then dropped for almost a year before Bond triumphantly returned with an adaptation of eleventh novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Here however there’s latitude to print the strip adaptation in proper chronological order so next up is ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (which appeared from 18th December 1967 to 3rd October 1968).

The action goes into overdrive as the ongoing strip saga reaches the point where Fleming’s last work is adapted, promptly to be followed by all-new adventures. The story is also generously fleshed out (Fleming’s novel was written from the viewpoint of damsel in distress Vivienne Michel and Bond doesn’t show up until the last third of the text).

What we have here is a complex and intriguingly taut battle of wits as Bond and Vivienne combat a duo of deadly arsonists and hitmen with the super-agent’s foray against the revived SPECTRE mob in Canada providing a tense battle of wits and suitably gratuitous just deserts all around…

Arguably the two best novels were then adapted back-to-back. After the falling out with the Express’ owner, the Bond strip was absent from the paper’s pages from February 1962 until June 1964. The gap was explained as Bond’s year-long search for arch villain Ernst Blofeld

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – by Gammidge & McLusky – ran from 29th June 1964 to 17th May 1965) and depicted how the hunter finally discovered his worst enemy and his own ideal woman in a coolly suspenseful and blistering action-drenched extravaganza set primarily in the Swiss Alps. Closely adhering to Fleming’s script – as did the George Lazenby film version – it all ends with the wedding day murder of Bond’s bride Tracy (Draco) di Vicenzo, an atypically downbeat conclusion that directly led into ‘You Only Live Twice’ (18th May 1965 – 8th June 1966, by Gammidge & McLusky) wherein the shattered hero degenerates to the point of almost being fired by M until despatched to Japan on a milk-run to assassinate Dr Guntram Shatterhand and realises his target is actually despised monster and wife-killer Blofeld…

These stories are a must for not only aficionados of 007 but for all thriller fans; stunning examples of terse, gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz, jam-packed with adventure, sex, intrigue and sudden death and starring the world’s greatest clandestine operative who never rests in his vital mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained.

Get back to basics and remember that classic style is never out of fashion in this, the Greatest Bond Film You’ll Ever Read…
Thunderball © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1961. The Spy Who Loved Me © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1962. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1963. You Only Live Twice © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1964. James Bond and 007 are ™ of Danjaq LLC used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Gag on This: the Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues


By Charles Rodrigues, edited by Bob Fingerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-856-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sick, Sick, Sick – the ideal antidote to Seasonal Saccharine Overload… 9/10

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century, but when papers and periodicals began abandoning en masse the grand tradition of spot gags in the 1980s he and his illustrious compatriots began to fade from cultural consciousness. Now it seems almost nobody remembers him but thankfully companies like Fantagraphics are doing their bit to recall and immortalise him and them…

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

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, whilst maintaining his contributions to what seemed like every publication in the nation buying panel gags: 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.

The quiet, genteel, devout Catholic’s lasting monument and undisputed magnum opus, though, was the horde of truly appalling sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful one-offs he crafted on a variety of favourite themes 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 with sickeningly brilliant results which were recently compiled preceding edition Ray and Joe

Here bracketed by a copious and informative biography by Editor Bob Fingerman and a heartfelt ‘Introduction’ by brother-doodler and sometime Cartoon Editor at the shockingly indulgent Lampoon Sam Gross, this monumental monochrome collection – presented as a sturdy hardback digest tome – features a staggering selection of explosively hilarious, wittily twisted visual broadsides gathered into a smart procession of tawdry topics…

After starting out lambasting our most basic drives in ‘Dirty Cartoons for Your Entertainment’ and ‘A Peeping Tome’, focus soon shifts to weird fantasy in ‘Moon Madness’ and contemporary traumatic tropes in ‘Assassin’ before going too far, too soon with some ‘Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’

Because one can never get enough, it’s quickly back to basics with ‘Cartoons of a Sexual Nature’ after which other appetites are quashed with ‘Cuisine de Machine’ exposing the horrors only automats and vending machines can inculcate whilst ‘Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?’ deals with freaks and outcasts at their most intimate moments of weakness…

Some truly outrageous innovations are launched and sunk in a large section devoted to ‘Entrepreneurs’ before controversy is courted – and subsequently walks off with a huge settlement – in ‘Goddam Faggots!’ after which more societal hypocrisies are skewered in ‘Handicapped Sports’ and things get good and bloody in ‘Hemophunnies’.

Rodrigues was blessed (or cursed) with a perpetually percolating imagination and eye for the zeitgeist, so the contents of ‘The Celebrity Memorabilia Gallery’ are truly baroque and punishingly peculiar whereas ‘Hire the Handicapped’ merely offers genuinely groundbreaking solutions to getting the less-able back to work before this selection of Good Works concludes with much needed advice on ‘Good Ways to Kill: A Rock Performer!’

Trenchant observation informs the visual catalogue of ‘Man in Morgue’ but it’s just sheer bad taste in play with follow-up chapter ‘Man in Toilet’ and macabre relationship counselling for ‘Men’s Liberation’ (in dealing with wives or mothers).

At the halfway stage of this colossal collection there’s time for ‘More Handicapped Sports’ before poking fun at the blind in ‘Out of Sight’, exploring the particular wrinkles of ‘Senior Sex’ and dutifully re-examining ‘The Seven Deadly & Other Sins’ – which you will recall include Pride, Envy, Anger, Covetousness, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Anti-Colostomyism, Conformity, Vomitry, Bitchiness and Dalmatianry – and then galloping off at a strangely artistic tangent to present ‘Sex Cartoons Drawn With a Hunt Pen’

Scenes (never) overheard at the ‘Sex Change Clinic’ naturally segue into an itemised itinerary of disasters involving ‘Sex Robots’ and naturally culminate in ‘More Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’ and another period of play for ‘Handicapped Sports’

All aspects of human misbehaviour appealed to Rodrigues’ imagination and many are featured in ‘Sexentrics’ and its playful sequels ‘Sexports’ and ‘Sleazy Sex Cartoons’, all of which quite naturally lead to ‘Life on Death Row’

Unwholesome variety (and a penchant for conspiracies) is the spice of ‘A Group of Cartoons Requested by S. Gross’ before deviating eastwards to expose ‘Soviet Sex’ and heading back to jail to walk ‘The Last Smile’.

Shambling into the hilarious last lap we endure some ‘Tough Sex’, show ‘Cartoons About the Blind (The Kind They Wish They Could See)’ and get gritty in ‘Sons of the Beaches’ before heading to the ‘…Circus!’ and ending everything with ‘Those Darned Serial Killers!’

These horrific and hilarious assaults on common decency celebrate and commemorate a lost hero of popular cartooning and consummate professional able to turn his drawing hand to anything to get the job done. This is another astoundingly funny gag-art grimoire brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy will want to miss.
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Book. All strips and graphics by Charles Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction © 2015 Sam Gross. Biography © 2015 Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.