Comic Relief – Drawings from the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project


By many and various (Henry Holt)
ISBN: 0-03-009093-8

No, not that one.

Once upon a time there was horrific famine and desperate privation in Africa – and gosh! How that’s changed! – so assorted talented people in the developed world organised themselves to raise money and help fix the immediate problem.

In Britain (Sir) Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure’s Band Aid set the ball rolling and USA for Africa swiftly followed as did many other projects across the wealthy bits of the world. The celebrity action promulgated the idea that us better-off folks – whether pop stars, plain Joe Public or even mere school pupils – could organise, contribute and save lives in deprived, impoverished or crisis-wracked parts of the planet: something governments had neither the stomach, resources nor political will to try…

The comicbook industry on both sides of the Atlantic joined the burgeoning movement, producing benefit publications such as Food For Thought, Heroes Against Hunger and Heroes For Hope, but to my mind the most impressive came from America’s newspaper cartoonist community.

In 1985 Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz and Garry Trudeau picked up their phones, wrote a few letters and talked to some friends and the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project was born.

As explained in the Foreword by Kenny Rogers (spokesman for USA for Africa) and Trudeau’s own Introduction in this sparkling collection, the idea was to have cartoonists across the nation dedicate and tailor their regular strip or panel scheduled for publication on November 28th (Thanksgiving being a perennial event in US strips second only to Christmas Day) to highlight the famine in Africa.

The result was a universal and near-unanimous favourable response – with many politically astute gadflys also taking the opportunity to sock it to arch-conservative President Ronald Reagan who had ignominiously and disingenuously boasted at the time that “there is no hunger in America”…

Whether comedy asides, polemical statements, wry and trenchant barbs in humour strips or telling pokes and heartfelt pleas in drama and action strips, everybody involved turned their livelihoods into soapboxes and asked their readership to “do something…”

The move brought the problems of the world onto the traditionally turkey-laden tables of practically every home in the nation and whilst the net effect was impossible to gauge, a happy by-product was this powerfully evocative tome gathering a legion of brilliant creators and features ranging from global household names to purely local sensations all making a statement that needs repeating as much now as ever…

The sheer star-content is staggering and I’m going to list them all for their honourable service…

Hägar the Horrible by Dik Browne, Gasoline Alley – Dick Moores, Moon Mullins – Ferd & Tom Johnson, Howie by Howie Schneider, Drabble by Kevin Fagan, Robotman – Jim Meddick, The Far Side by Gary Larson, Ziggy by Tom Wilson, Motley’s Crew – Ben Templeton & Tom Forman, Wright Angles – Larry Wright, Steve Roper & Mike Nomad by Saunders & Matera and Babyman by Don Addis.

There’s The Family Circus by Bil Keane, Today’s World – David Brown, Captain Vincible by Ralph Smith, Tiger by Bud Blake, Steve Canyon from Caniff, Adam by Brian Basset, Cathy by Cathy Guisewite, Bringing Up Father by Frank Johnson, Marmaduke – Brad Anderson, (Ralph) Dunagin’s People, Sally Forth by Greg Howard, Agatha Crumm – Bill Hoest, Ellie by Ray Helle and Grubby by Warren Sattler.

A telling editorial panel from Caldwell and a Tom Key Hazel strip leads to Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker, Rose is Rose by Pat Brady and a staggeringly powerful assault on Reagonomics by Tony Auth from that day’s Philadelphia Enquirer, before Nancy by Jerry Scott, Alley Oop by Dave Graue, B.C. by Johnny Hart, Cheeverwood by Michael Fry and Jeff Danzinger’s McGonigle of the Chronicle pack on the pressure…

Those are followed by Scot Stantis’ Sydney, My Grandma… by Donna Sott, Bizarro by Dan Piraro, Popeye by Bud Sagendorf, The Crass Menagerie by Kyle Baker, Willie ‘n’ Ethel by Joe Martin, Leotoons by Leonard Bruce & Charles Durck, Boner’s Ark by Frank Johnson, Tim Tyler’s Luck by Bob Young, Benchley by Jerry Dumas & Mort Drucker and Ask Shagg by Peter Guren.

Jim Unger’s Herman is augmented by Brother Juniper from Fred McCarthy, Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson, Captain Easy by Crooks & Casale, Crock by Bill Rechin & Don Wilder. Mr. Men & Little Miss by Hargreaves & Sellers, Shoe by Jeff McNally and Annie by Leonard Starr.

Bill Lee then shows how to fix the problem The Lee Way, after which Gino by Gene Machamer, Snake Tales by Sols, Mr. Abernathy by Frank Ridgeway, Miss Peach by Mell Lazarus, Eek & Meek by Howie Schneider and Brumsic Brandon Jr.’s Luther all contribute their own individualistic solutions.

Flash Gordon by Dan Barry, Belvedere by George Crenshaw, Off the Leash by W.B. Park, Sylvia by Nicole Hollander, The Small Society by Brickman and Yates, Winston by Burnett & Sajem, Hubert by Dick Winger, Ted Martin’s Pavlov and (Jim) Berry’s World all add fuel to the flames of indignation.

Further insights and titbits are offered by On the Fastrack by Bill Holbrook, Elwood (Templeton & Forman), John Darling by Batiuk & Shamray, Buz Sawyer by Jon Celardo, Henry by Dick Hodgins, Stockworth by Sterling & Selesnick, Grimsly by Harley Schwadron, Winetoons by Robert Platt and Spanish-language feature …Pero Pa’ Lante by Harold Jessurun.

Even more cartoon criticism comes from Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk, Cooper by Mike Keefe & Tom Menees, Doctor Smock by George Lemont and an especially savage observation by Bill Day of the Detroit Free Press are followed by Miles to Go from Phil Frank, Executive Suite by William Wells & Jack Lindstrom, Brenda Starr by Ramona Fradon & Mary Schmich and The Underground Surrealists by Mick Cusimano.

Bob Schwete’s Laugh Time segues into historical panel Return With Us To… Caring (by Bill Owen & Don Sherwood) and a raucously potent Calvin and Hobbes outing from Bill Watterson, plus simian contemplation in William Overgards’s Rudy and subtly telling observations in Schulz’s Peanuts, Dahl Mikkelsens Ferd’nand, Buddy Hickerson’s The Quigmans and from Lee Holley’s teen queen Ponytail.

Dick Tracy is on the case thanks to Dick Lochner & Max Collins, as are Moose Miller by Bob Weber, the inimitable penguin Opus in Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, Animal Crackers by Roger Bollen, The Peter Principle by Peter & Wuerker, Good News – Bad News by Henry Martin, Jim Henson’s Muppets (by Guy & Brad Gilchrist), Downstown by Tim Downs, Arnold by Kevin McCormack and Twitch by How Rands.

Potently earnest pleas from K. Bowser’s Vidiots and Ed Morgan, Jr.’s It’s Just a Game are supplemented with Fenton by Wiley, Wee Pals by Morrie Turner, Farley by Phil Frank, Geech by Jerry Bittle, Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves, Middle Ages by Ron Jaudon, The Better Half by Harris, Winnie Winkle by Frank Bolle, Marvin by Tom Armstrong and Stan Lee & Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man.

Still making a scene and making a point the cavalcade continues with Momma by Mell Lazarus, Virgil & Co. by Steve Ansul, Art Sansom’s The Born Loser, Stumpy Stumbler by Emil Abrahamian, Gumdrop by Jerry Scott, Sons of Liberty by Richard Lynn, Tank McNamara by Jeff Millar & Bill Hinds, Bears in Love by Eric Meese, Betty Boop and Felix by The Walker Brothers, Fred Basset by Alex Graham, Wizard of Id by Brant Parker & Johnny Hart and Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk & Fred Fredericks.

Perennial favourite Love Is… by Kim leads to Kit ‘n’ Carlyle by Larry Wright, Ug! by Tom Wilson Jr., The Phantom by Falk & Sy Barry, Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas, Winthrop by Dick Cavalli, The Girls by Franklin Folger, THE Little MAN by Salmon, Hi and Lois by Mort Walker & Dik Browne, Rip Kirby by John Prentice & Fred Dickenson, Luann by Greg Evans and Russell Myers’ Perky & Beanz.

The damning testimony resumes with Judge Parker by Paul Nichols, The Evermores by Johnny Sajem, Garfield by Jim Davis, Conrad by Bill Schorr, Village Square by Chuck Stiles, ADventures by Vadun, Kudzu by Doug Marlette, Eb and Flo by Paul Sellers, For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston, Apartment 3-G by Alex Kotzky, Trudeau’s punishing Doonesbury of the day, Archie (by an unnamed artist who was probably Dan DeCarlo) and The Neighborhood by Jerry Van Amerongen.

Thereafter Jerry Mancus’ Trudy begins the final servings, followed by Nubbin from Boltinoff & Burnett, Secret Agent Corrigan by George Evans, Hartland by Rich Torrey, Brick Bradford by Paul Norris, Amy by Jack Tippet and a trenchant editorial panel by Ben Wicks.

Barney Google & Snuffy Smith by Fred Lasswell join the party, as do Tumbleweeds by Tom K. Ryan, Sugar by Robert Gill and the shopping list of public awareness picture-strips concludes with Peaches by Paul Ullrich, Blondie by Dean Young & Stan Drake, Quincy by Ted Shearer, Dollar$ and Non$en$e by Mankoff, Health Capsules by Michael A. Petti, M.D., Duffy by Bruce Hammond, Little Farmer by Kern Pederson, Broom-Hilda by Myers, Gil Thorp by Jack Berrill, Tyler Two by Leslie Harris, Bugs Bunny by “Warner Bros”, Rex Morgan M.D. by Dal Curtis and The Smith Family by Mr. and Mrs. George Smith…

This splendid compendium of hearts, mind, hands and art supplies working in concert towards a greater good is still largely available through online sellers and shows just what can be done if we’re prepared to make a little effort.

After reading this review why not track down Comic Relief and – if you’re in the UK – while waiting for it to arrive you can contribute to the British TV extravaganza dominating the airwaves tonight…

© 1986 Henry Holt and Company Inc. All strips, art, text features, and characters ©, ™ and/or ® their respective owners and All Rights very much Reserved.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-907-6

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a unique presence in both comics and true crime literature. His compelling dissections – in the form of graphic novel reconstructions – of some of the most infamous and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began never fail to beguile or entertain.

His unblinking eye has, of late, been examining the last hundred years or so in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, but Geary first began his graphic assignations with Mankind’s darker aspects in a delicious anthologised tome entitled A Treasury of Victorian Murder in 1987. That initial volume and three of the eight that succeeded it (Jack the Ripper, The Fatal Bullet and The Beast of Chicago) were re-issued in 2012 as a splendidly morbid monochrome deluxe hardback – because, after all, bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

At last, more of his most compelling past triumphs have been gathered into a second blockbusting 400 page black-&-white hardback to delight fans of the genre and, without a shadow of a doubt, make new converts out of the as yet unconvinced…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination with the ruthless propensities of humans throughout history, Geary’s forensic eye has scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and even history books to compile more irresistibly infectious social sins and felonious infractions.

Moreover, his unique cartooning style is the perfect medium to convey the starkly factual narratives in a memorable, mordant and undeniably enjoyable manner. Each epic endeavour is accompanied by an Introduction and scholarly Bibliography, with most adaptations also offering splendidly informative maps and diagrams to set the stories firmly in place.

Starting off this catalogue of crime is The Borden Tragedy, dissecting the wealth of details surrounding one of the most infamous – if not mythic – crimes ever perpetrated.

In Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4th 1892, prosperous self-made man Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were found slain inside their own home. Death in both cases was caused by multiple axe blows.

Rather than his later neutral narrative stance, here Geary illustrates the “first-hand account” of an acquaintance of youngest daughter Lizzie Borden who, after much inept investigation and public speculation, was settled upon by the authorities as the likeliest suspect.

The various suppositions, theories, scandals and gossip-points are scrupulously examined as she stands trial for the crimes – a case muddled by a subsequent axe-murder whilst Lizzie was in custody – and follows her through the much-protracted case, past her acquittal to her eventual death in 1927…

The graphic re-enactment is accompanied by a copious photo and text section featuring a wealth of ‘Press Clippings of the Time’ as well as a reproduction of ‘Borden’s Indictment’ and The Boston Advertiser article on her eventual “Not Guilty” verdict. The Mystery of Mary Rogers concerns the assault and murder of a New York City cigar shop girl which mesmerised the citizenry in 1841. Such was the furore that author Edgar Allen Poe appropriated the events for his C. Auguste Lupin tale The Mystery of Marie Roget: a rather unwise move since he knew the deceased and opened himself up to loudly-voiced suspicions of complicity…

The facts are that on the 28th July 1841, a number of well-to do citizens left stifling Manhattan Island for the Jersey Shore and discovered the body of the “Segar Girl” floating in the Hudson; battered, strangled and with her hands tied across her chest.

A hasty autopsy and even quicker inquest, held under insultingly cavalier circumstances, produced no culprits or suspects but somehow managed to throw suspicion on everyone from the men who pulled her out of the water to her drunken suicidal fiancé and even her own mother…

A talking point for all and sundry from the highest society paragon to the lowliest street trash, her death produced ever-more scandalous revelations and groundless lewd rumours – all scrupulously explored by Geary – over the next few years but the case remains unsolved still…

The Saga of the Bloody Benders began in largely unsettled Kansas, in the period immediately following the American Civil War, after a family of German-speaking immigrants settled near the Osage Trail. There they built a General Store-&-Hotel equidistant between the nascent townships of Cherry Vale, Parsons and Thayer.

By the time they vanished four years later, provably ten but probably many, many more travellers and settlers had been robbed and murdered. Thereafter, the insalubrious Benders simply vanished from the sight of man…

Geary, with supreme style and dry wit, presents the facts and the best of the rumours in his inimitable cartoon style to create yet another unforgettable masterpiece of Gothic whimsy.

The Case of Madeleine Smith focused on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk, and prim, proper, eminently respectable Miss Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant.

The slow poisoning of the Gallic Romeo led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody….

The entrancing chronicle of carnage and venality concludes with the epic account of The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, covering the 62 days from 4th March to May 4th 1865 when actor John Wilkes Booth and a band of like-minded Confederate patriots schemed to murder the President (and other Northern politicians they held responsible for the destruction of the South), and how their wild plot came to startling, implausible fruition…

Following the Inauguration Ceremony for his second Term of Office, the normally fatalistic and security-disparaging President Lincoln was troubled by unease, disquiet and dreams of assassination, possible generated by the sack-full of death threats stored by his Secretary John Hay.

Elsewhere Secessionist sympathiser Booth was planning a blow for revenge and personal immortality but increasingly found his co-conspirators a disappointing bunch. Driven and desperate, he persevered for his cause…

All the many players are scrutinised in Geary’s careful examination and the peculiar circumstances which left Lincoln vulnerable are counterbalanced by insights and minutiae provided into his less-than-fanatical killers.

Only one of the many assassinations planned by the Secessionist cabal came to anything, and following the foul deed, grisly death-watch and post mortem, Geary’s depiction of the bold but inept manhunt which followed is capped by Booth’s satisfyingly dramatic end, leaving nothing but the artist’s masterful summing up to ask the questions nobody has answered yet and leave us all with the certain knowledge that this too is a murder still largely unsolved…

These compelling cold cases are a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simplistic fantasy entertainment, and such merrily morbid murder masterpieces as these should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.

Such seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing produce an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading: Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, as much for his style as his subject matter and methodology in telling tales. Always presenting both facts and the theories – contemporary and modern – with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, he attacks criminology’s greatest mysteries with a force and power even Oliver Stone would envy.
© 1997-2007, 2015 Rick Geary.

Hägar the Horrible – The World is Flat!


By Dik Browne (Egmont/Methuen)
ISBN: 0-416-05090-5             ASIN: B000R9A1OO

Dik (AKA Richard Arthur Allan) Browne was a native New Yorker born in 1917 who studied at Cooper Union and apprenticed as a copy boy and art-bod for the New York Journal America before joining the US Army.

His wartime duties in the Engineering Corps included strategic map-making, but whilst in service he also created the comic strip Jinny Jeep about the Women’s Army Corps, which set the tone for his peacetime career.

After mustering out he became a professional cartoonist and illustrator, working for Newsweek and also in advertising, gaining a reputation as a superb logo designer (The Campbell Soup Kids, Chiquita Banana and the Birdseye Bird number amongst his most memorable creations).

He also dabbled with comicbooks (some Classics Illustrated Junior issues) and produced children’s books, before teaming up with Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker to draw the hugely successful spin-off strip Hi and Lois in 1954.

Whilst illustrating that family comedy – and deviously training sons Chance and Chris to eventually take over his cartooning duties – he came up another strip that he would write as well as render.

Hägar the Horrible debuted through the King Features Syndicate on February 4th 1973 and quickly became a world-wide hit. The strip is still a fixture in 1,900 newspapers – in 58 countries and thirteen languages – and the iconic characters have migrated to books, comic albums such as this one, games, animated movies, toys and more…

Dik Browne retired from cartooning in 1988 and died from cancer on June 4th 1989. Chance now produces Hi and Lois whilst Chris continues to wield pen, wave sword and wear the chief’s hornèd helmet on Hägar…

Hägar the Horrible is a hard-drinking, hardworking, voracious sea-roving Viking family man. He and his scurvy crew constantly trek to far climes before perennially staggering home to their quirky clans in a never-ending stream of sight gags, painful puns and surreal situations.

With such daily adventuring taking the world by storm, it was only natural that European-style albums would follow and this truly surreal and hilarious extended saga (the fourth of seven released in Britain) came circuitously via German publishing powerhouse Ehapa Verlag to our own Egmont outfit in 1978.

Hägar’s family tree – and its many surrounding weeds – includes the great man of business and his doughty dependents plus a few notable and iconic regulars. As pictured on a double page spread of the unusual suspects, they include long-suffering wife Helga, embarrassingly studious son Hamlet and troublesome teenaged daughter Honi.

Also making an appearance are faithful canine Snert, stroppy house-duck Kvack, Honi’s besotted musician beau Lute and Hägar’s faithful if intellectually challenged sidekick Lucky Eddie

The magic of the daily strips is the constant stream of quickfire japes and capers constantly revisiting established themes and hot-button topics. At home Honi keeps Lute on a string whilst testing out other matrimonial options and alternatively considers a full-time career as an axe-swinging Valkyrie whilst bookish Hamlet is always there to disappoint and delight his gregarious, bellicose dad.

Snert and Kvack frequently outwit and appal the humans who share their home and at sea Lucky Eddie and the mismatched crew of incompetent reavers follow the red-bearded rascal into battle against foreign armies, daunting dragons, a coterie of assorted clergy and the unwelcoming elements, content in the knowledge that somehow, somewhere they will find more booze and loot…

In this delightful full-colour chronicle however there’s room and time to develop a proper storyline which hilariously begins with the widely promulgated and reiterated tenet that “The World is Flat”…

This is something all Vikings know, from the youngest baby to the aged and roister-loving King. It informs all of Hägar’s planned excursions and loot-accruing expeditions. However one day the world inexplicably changes thanks to the connivance of an Italian toymaker whose latest invention flops.

Nobody wants his round “bouncy-bouncy” balls until he has the notion to shove a stick through the centre, paint countries on them and call them globes. Suddenly everybody wants one and a strange new idea seems to be spreading that Earth is giant sphere.

…And once one new idea sticks all manner of conceptual innovations follow…

On Hägar’s latest voyage of acquisition he continually discovers things are not what they were and is shocked to find that the wave of innovations – such as invaded countries charging customs duty, the theory that bathing isn’t bad for the skin or “the Meek inheriting the Earth” are spreading everywhere.

That disturbing trend for change even invades the heart of Viking society. When he arrives home broken and baffled, Helga expects him to help with the housework and Honi is wearing miniskirts…

Shaken to the core, all the Viking men attend a huge meeting and it’s decided that a heroic voyage must be undertaken to prove the world is still flat… by sailing over the edge…

Moreover, caught up in the manly bluster and bravado, our inebriated hero is horrified to discover that he has volunteered…

And so begins a wickedly inspired and playfully surreal sea voyage which eventually proves both hypotheses false as Hagar, Lucky Eddie, lovesick Lute and a hand-picked crew of ignorant, stupid, non-Viking speaking and straight-out kidnapped mariners set out to discover the final truth, allowing the author a chance to outrageously cut creatively loose… whilst always minding the corners…

Enticing, irrepressible, hilarious and beguiling, The World is Flat is a madcap mini masterpiece of the strip cartoonists’ unique art form and one guaranteed to deliver delight over and over again to young and old alike. So, let’s get it and all the others back in print soon, shall we?
All rights reserved. © 1978 King Features New York/Bulls, Frankfurt a M. and Ehapa Verlag GmbH. Copyright this edition © 1978 Egmont Publishing Limited, London. Hägar the Horrible is © 2014 King Features Syndicate and ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cochlea & Eustachia


By Hans Rickheit (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-801-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unseasonably Strange but Utterly Irresistible… 9/10

Hans Rickheit was born in 1973 and has been producing skilfully crafted art in many different arenas since the 1990s, beginning with self-published mini-comics before graduating to full-sized, full-length epics such as Kill, Kill, Kill and The Squirrel Machine. He has also worked in film, music, gallery works and performance art.

A Xeric award beneficiary, he came to broader attention in 2001 with the controversial graphic novel Chloe, and has since spread himself wide contributing to numerous anthologies and periodicals, creating beguiling webcomics and instigating the occasional anthology or minicomic of his own such as Chrome Fetus.

That last was the original venue for the strangely surreal binary sorority known as Cochlea & Eustachia. They first manifested in issue #5 in 2001, with obscure and occulted follow-ups in The Stranger, Proper Gander, Hoax, Typhon, Blurred Visions and Pood. Most recently they have destructively scurried and ambled through Rickheit’s webcomic pages (http://www.chromefetus.com/) and now are ready to inflict their distracting blend of ingénue iconoclasm and chaos chic through the printed page of a splendidly olde worlde graphic compilation.

A keen student of dreams, Rickheit has been called obscurantist, and indeed in all his beautifully rendered and realised concoctions meaning is layered and open to wide interpretation.

His preferred oeuvre is the recondite imagery and sturdily fanciful milieu of Victorian/Edwardian Americana which proved such rich earth for fantasists such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, whilst his fine, studied, meticulously clear line is a perfect, incisive counterpoint to the frequently challenging logic-bending of miasmic mystery and cosmic confusion.

In Short: pay attention, scrutinise carefully and make up your own mind…

In a shabby, battered manse peculiar contraptions and bizarre trophies of things that should never have existed – let alone be stuffed and mounted – abound.

The master of the house is another strange creature and as he awakes from a unique bier and begins to wander the rooms, unseen and undetected wanton mischief makers Cochlea and Eustachia rouse also and resume their apparently aimless peregrinations through the walls, nooks and crannies of the edifice that rests atop a sea of animal skulls…

The nubile, girl-like creatures scutter about in dream-like journeys and progressions, avoiding and yet stalking the wheelchair bound savant as he continues his labours, cultivating creatures of incomprehensible oddity…

Soon chances occur for more manufactured calamity and a wildly sedate chase ensues, resulting in capture, shocking indignity and a clash with monsters and giant robots, but as the episode escalates we are left to wonder are the elfin wanderers a binary or in fact trinary partnership?

Or is the truth – if such a thing can ever be pinned down and vivisected – something even more baroque and uncanny?

All that basically means is that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling this sinisterly absurdist confection from one of the most impressively singleminded craftsmen working in comics today, and if you are at all tempted or intrigued you must buy this splendidly slewed and offbeat chronicle.

Scary, beautiful, disturbing and often utterly inappropriate, the full-colour exploits of the masked misfit misses is accompanied by an enticing extra tale in muted monochrome as the mysterious masqueraders return to declare ‘How It Works’, after finding a possibly handsome stranger stashed in a box in a starkly surreal swamp…

Visually reminiscent of the best of Rick Geary, Jason Lutes and Charles Burns whilst being nothing like them at all, Rickheit presents a singularly surreal and mannered design; a highly charged, subtly disturbing delusion that will chill, bewilder and possibly even outrage many readers.

It is also compelling, seductive, sublimely quirky, blackly hilarious and nigh-impossible to forget. As long as you’re an adult and braced for the unexpected, expect this to be one of the best books you’ll read this decade – or any other…
Cochlea & Eustachia © 2014 Hans Rickheit. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One


By Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink Books/Dark Horse Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-61655-563-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Buy It Now, Love It Forever… 10/10

Well this is embarrassing…

About a month ago, after literally years of waiting impatiently, I finally reviewed one of the earliest classics of our art form, impetuously deciding that at least some of you might find and delight in Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book through second-hand and pre-owned suppliers.

Apparently, even as I was whining about the thing not being in print, superbly crafted copies of a wonderful new deluxe hardcover edition were winging their way around the planet thanks to the perspicacity of those fine people at Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink.

That will teach me to actually read some of the online reports and press releases we’re bombarded with here at Grumpy Old Luddite Central…

Still my humiliation is your good fortune as this magnificently oversized (297x184mm) masterpiece is ready to buy and just in time to make this Holiday Season a time of wickedly barbed merriment…

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with “The Great 1960s Satire Boom” producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs – there’s a Christmas Annual out even as we speak…).

Sadly our American cousins were not so magnanimously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty rib-tickling intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it is a very large country of excitable citizens, with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and outright lunatics…

Creative genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug cruelly defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material. That company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s phenomenally best-selling paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable to a gamble…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with far less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books packing bookshop shelves and newsstand spinners were always designed with one eye on the kids’ market.

This new stuff was strictly for adults who would happily follow newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a whole book of them. Duly enlightened, Kurtzman instead returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the aforementioned Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in many fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1986 when cartoonist, publisher and comics advocate Denis Kitchen released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

Adjudged by The Comics Journal as #26 in the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century”, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and this latest edition brilliantly gilds the graphic lily with a host of extra features and treats.

Augmented by a wealth of candid photos, covers and sketches from other works, this new chronicle of craziness offers an effusive Introduction by Gilbert Shelton and a fascinating and informative essay by Kitchen entitled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There!’ which reveals the tone of the times and discloses the background behind the novel novel’s creation.

Also included is the 1986 Kitchen Sink edition’s ‘Intro’ by rabidly devoted fan Art Spiegelman and, after the words and picture-fest concludes, a captivating ‘Epilogue’ ensues in the form of a scholarly ‘Conversation between Peter Poplaski and R. Crumb’

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent, probing questions about the world rapidly changing all around him.

Each tale in the quartet is prefaced by Kurtzman’s own commentary as shared with comics historian Dave Schriener for the 1986 Edition…

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving, hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece (barely) contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

In creating ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for low-rent publishers and bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc.

The quasi-autobiographical, impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative average business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the ends of the Earth…

The cartooning wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre or assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

The tale was inspired by the time Kurtzman spent in Paris, Texas during his wartime service…

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us’n sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, sommin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah some snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turns up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon vi’lint passions is furtha aroused and nuthin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth, ambition and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (Essential Kurtzman Volume One) © 2014 Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. All contents © and/or ™ their respective creators or rights holders. All artwork and stories © the estate of Harvey Kurtzman unless noted.  All rights reserved.

Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812


By Jeff Martin (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921-5086-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for Making History Fun… 8/10

In recent years there seems to have been a glorious renaissance of Canadian mass culture. Being Erica, Rookie Blue, Orphan Black, Republic of Doyle, Murdoch Mysteries and a host of other intriguing TV shows all offer a slightly skewed look at entertainment standbys and standards – and that’s not even counting the hordes of individual Canucks who’ve made their mark in what we provincial Brits lazily consider the American monopoly of populist literature, movies, music, and assorted dramatic arts…

Comics and strips too have become reinvigorated, with scribes and pen-pushers producing some of the most interesting stuff since the mid-1980s when Cerebus the Aardvark was the undisputed acme of Indie publishing, Puma Blues invented a strikingly different aesthetic sensibility and a different Renegade Press put out such spellbindingly novel fare as Normalman, Neil the Horse, The Spiral Cage and a host of other off-kilter gems to liven up the world of cartoons and funnybooks.

Following on yesterdays review here’s an intriguing sidebar to one of the most badly-handled wars in history, which officially ended in December 1814, courtesy of well-fed diplomats in Ghent, but carried on killing folk and cocking up lives in the New World until somebody finally got around to telling the actual combatants in 1815…

During its bi-centennial those times of trans-border trouble were wittily reassessed by cartoon and illustrator Jeff Martin via a weekly webcomic and are now cunningly compiled here through the auspices of Renegade Arts Entertainment.

In ‘A Note from the Frontline’ author Martin describes his long interest in the source material of this clash of incompetents, after which comics maven – and self-confessed liquor-lover – Jay Bardyla offers some insightful perspective into the creator’s career and process in ‘Forward March!’

Then the raucous rounds of slapstick shot and snark-filled sarcasm bombs are unleashed when a couple of ill-prepared, reluctant and self-preservation-obsessed citizens find themselves somehow marching off to war with the Canadian militia…

At least stout and surly baker George is initially keen to serve, rushing off with no thought of danger (really… none at all…) but he insists on dragging wisely reluctant trapper and frustrated bread buyer John Pink with him into the woods in search of the front lines.

In truth nobody made them go, nobody really wants them there and, after tramping through the brush for a good long time, they realise that they have no idea what the invading Americans even look like.

When they finally encounter some strangers by a river George and John spend so much time arguing what to do that their targets walk up and attack them first…

And so it goes as folk on both sides – none of whom have ever been trained to fight – shamble through the dense countryside, missing each other and only inflicting harm accidentally, whilst simultaneously wishing they’d never started the affair…

As our hapless halfwits stumble into more and more trouble, not particularly participating in the all-but forgotten Battle of Maguaga and being on hand but no help at all during the daft-but-true exploit of the fall of unconquerable American stronghold Fort Detroit, other incongruous characters are introduced such as the dryly laconic native Joseph and a barking mad-alcoholic serving British Sergeant, all contributing greatly to the aura to the fiasco.

However the real delights and most incisive jabs are reserved for actual personalities of the conflict: Indian messiah Tecumseh, charismatic Canadian Major-General Isaac Brock, staggeringly inept American commander General William Hull and venal Washington war hawk Henry Clay

Fast, funny and surprisingly informative, Redcoats-ish provides smart laughs, sharp observation and stylishly splendid cartoon comedy capers that no lover of history or hilarity will want to miss.
Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812 © 2014 Renegade Arts Entertainment.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book


By Harvey Kurtzman (Ballantine/Kitchen Sink)
ISBNs: 978-0-87816-033-4 (Kitchen Sink HB),      338-K (Ballantine original PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Hard To Find – but absolutely worth it… 10/10

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with The Great 1960s Wit Scare producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs…).

Somehow our American cousins were not so copiously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it a very large country with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and lunatics alike…

Creative genius Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century – even more so than Will Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was a force in newspaper strips (See Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social explorer who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art to share his findings…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour funny book Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material.

The company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books always had one eye to the kids’ market.

This stuff was strictly for adults who would happily read newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a book of them. Duly enlightened Kurtzman returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1987 when Denis Kitchen (that much-missed crusading champion of all things grand, esoteric, nostalgic and/or naughty in comics), released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized (214 x 149 x 19mm) collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

It’s still one of the funniest, most marvellous examples of wit and creativity comics have ever produced, as well as Kurtzman’s longest single work and is long overdue for another go-round.

Large sized paperback editions were also released at the time, but are now just as hard to find…

Deemed one of the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century” by The Comics Journal, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and the Kitchen Sink edition augments its reproduction with an effusive and captivating ‘Intro’ from devoted fan Art Spiegelman plus an information-packed ‘Outro’ by editor and comics historian Dave Schriener.

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent probing questions about the world changing around him.

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece barely contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

For ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc. The quasi-autobiographical impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative typical business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the end of the Earth…

The volume wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre and assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, somethin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah a snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turn up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon violent passions is furtha aroused and nothin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.

© 1959, 1986 Harvey Kurtzman. ‘Intro’ © 1986 Art Spiegelman. ‘Outro’ © 1986 Dave Schriener. Entire contents © 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. All rights reserved.

© 1990 by Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Each strip © 1990 Harvey Kurtzman and the respective artist. All rights reserved.

The Crazy World of Rugby


By Bill Stott (Exley)
ISBN: 978-1-85015-770-0

We are apparently a nation of avid armchair sportsmen here in Britain, so I’ve taken this opportunity to re-examine the so-very-English obsession with chasing balls and incurring life-changing injury through the far gentler medium of cartoon books and in particular a collection of dry, droll and often painfully accurate observations by one of my favourite unsung gagsters.

Another prolific but criminally near-forgotten staple of British gag graphics, Bill Stott’s manically loose line, stunningly evocative drawing and mordantly acerbic conceptions (which basically boil down to “no matter how strange, if it can happen it will happen to you, but only if somebody is watching…”) were a mainstay of Punch, Private Eye, The Times and many other papers and publications from 1976 onwards.

In his other life he was – and probably still is – a degree-level college painting and drawing tutor. Moreover he’s still in the game – such as it is in these days of magazine and newspaper cartoon paucity – and you can check out his latest stuff or even commission an original simply by visiting billstott.co.uk.

There might even be copies of this superb little rib-tickler on sale there…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas repeatedly poking (and here actually bending) our funny bones whilst pricking our pomposities and fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our crazy compulsion to thrash about in mud, smiting perfectly civil strangers in the name of fun and exercise…

Within the pages of the Crazy World of Rugby (released in both English and American editions as a hardcover and paperback) the wary watcher from the safety of the sidelines will learn the horrors and joys of Scrum and Ruck, the utter inefficacy of referees, the amusing things you can do with upright poles and the agonising dangers of tradition whilst developing a fascination for odd-shaped balls…

The role of parental support and the sweet angelic singing of burly men in shorts, the wonders of a robust appetite and attendant health benefits of a little regular fresh air are emphasised and the girl-pulling attractions of broken noses and mouths uncluttered by teeth are counterbalanced with observations on international rule interpretation.

Moreover, the idiosyncrasies of training regimens and the terrific indifference of the rules of physics and Laws of Momentum are redefined, all filtered through the hazy bonhomie of the friendly post-match booze-up…

One of a splendid range of themed collections issued by transatlantic publishing outfit Exley in both English and American editions, this fabulous full colour landscape tome is guaranteed to wring a wry smile from retired competitors whilst confirming for the rest of us what we’ve always assumed about this most manly of sports and most sporting of men…

These kinds of cartoon collection are perennial library/charity shop and jumble sale fare and if you ever see a Stott collections (others in this particular series include The Crazy World of Cats, Cricket, Hospitals, Housework, Marriage and Gardening) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a brilliant laugh with another true master of mirth.

As for me and my armchair… Books yes, Rugby not so much…

1988 Bill Stott. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus 006


By Jim Lawrence, John McLusky, Yaroslav Horak & Harry North (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-591-9

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

It’s annoying to admit but there are 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 or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, 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 strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to 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 plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed 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 “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling 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 on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard.

Initially John McLusky handled 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 debuted on Man With the Golden Gun offering 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.

Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until in 1977 The Daily Express ceased running the Bond feature (with the then-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan books have re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into the last of their addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with Lawrence & Horak’s final (UK-embargoed) exploit ‘Shark Bait’ – originally running abroad from 1978 to 1979 – finding Bond up to his neck in hot water after boldly abducting Soviet scuba diver Katya Orlova from the Coral Sea.

That high-bodycount encounter is, however, only the starting point in 007’s mission and, after brutally deprogramming her in the searing Australian Outback, they become moving targets for KGB hit-teams as he builds trust before completing his overall game plan: tracking down a colossal shark which has swallowed a stolen computer carrying NATO nuclear secrets.

With the Russians inexorably closing in on the prize, the infallible agent is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop them…

When The Daily Star began their Bond serial with ‘Doomcrack’ (February 2nd to August 19th 1981) Lawrence was still in command of concocting stories but the illustrator was a rather controversial one.

Harry North was a regular and prolific contributor to both the US and UK iterations of Mad Magazine and, whilst his renditions of the regular cast caught the likenesses of the filmic Bond, M, Moneypenny and others, his action and suspense scenes couldn’t escape his comedic preferences and often hinder or even destroy all dramatic effect.

If you can get past that though, the tale of KGB killers, East German intrigue and defector Dr. Vlad Sinescu is a gripping if convoluted one. The avaricious genius wants to sell to Britain his new super weapon – capable of exploding brains at a distance, bringing down aircraft and shaking down cities – but his communist former masters are prepared to do anything to stop the sale.

…And then, amidst all the carnage and chaos, insidious criminal cabal S.P.E.C.T.R.E. steps in, grabbing the boffin and his weapon before extorting the world by destroying national monuments. With the situation hopeless it’s no wonder 007 quits and joins the opposition…

Veteran artist McLusky returned to steady the ship for the next explosive epic wherein devious cult leader Father Star uses psycho-chemicals, brain surgery, artificial angels and ghostly special effects to control the actions of bereaved billionaires, generals and politicians. The hunt for the brilliant mastermind with plans of ruling this world, if not the next, takes James around the planet and into many a salacious dive before he can finally crush ‘The Paradise Plot’ (August 20th 1981 to June 4th 1982)…

An insidious millionaire murder-maestro with a revolting terror-weapon turns up in ‘Deathmask’ (June 7th 1982 – February 2nd 1983), leaving a trail of hideously deformed corpses in his wake. It takes the combined efforts of Bond and fellow agent Suzie Kew to defeat deranged Ivor Nyborg’s legion of mechanical monsters, broach the fiend’s astounding undersea lair and prevent a genetically engineered plague devastating humanity…

A policy switch to shorter, less complex stories was instigated with ‘Flittermouse’ (February 9th – May 20th 1983) as vengeful maniac Dr. Cat returned with another diabolically ingenious method of murder before the indomitable super-agent sent him to his final reward, after which ‘Polestar’ (May 23rd – July 15th 1983) saw the end of Britain’s connection to the espionage ace.

The James Bond strip had been a problem for the Star since its resurrection and was abruptly dropped midway through this adventure. The story concluded only in the ever-reliable European syndication market, and thankfully it’s here in its entirety for us all to enjoy.

The short, sharp saga finds 007 in the subzero wilds of Artic Canada discovering a woman frozen to death and exhibited as a macabre scarecrow.

He’s in territory owned by Polestar Petroleum to locate the origin point of rogue missiles which have been launched against Russia and America, but before he can investigate further he is attacked a rabid wolf…

Rescued by native woman Red Doe, James learns the sordid history of Polestar’s megalomaniacal owner Robert Ayr: ruthless tycoon, potential global dictator, serial abuser and killer of Red Doe’s mother.

Soon Bond has infiltrated the company as a fugitive rocket engineer to scupper plans to subject the world to nuclear blackmail whilst the vengeful Cree woman enjoys a long-anticipated meeting with Ayr…

Again working solely for continental readers, Lawrence & McLusky’s final comics collaboration was ‘The Scent of Danger’ (1983), with Bond lured to a yacht off the Italian Riviera and a near-fatal rendezvous with a ravenous shark. The perpetrator is old enemy Madame Spectra who wants the agent out of the way before she uses a (narcotically addictive) high-end fashion perfume to enslave firstly wives and lovers but eventually every politician in Britain. Happily the unkillable hero and ferociously determined journalist Liz Villiers have a plan to stop her…

Despite every effort the strip was clearly nearing its end when Yaroslav Horak returned for the last two adventures beginning with ‘Snake Goddess’ (1983-1984). At the peak of his flamboyant form the illustrator added a superb frisson of tension to the tale of a mystery killer who used serpents to assassinate military men and operatives involved in the deployment of atomic weapons in Europe.

After the snake killer turned his attention to Moneypenny, Bond’s involvement was assured and his subtle investigations led him to Swedish cult rock star Freya. However, the sultry serpentine peace campaigner was only another target for the true culprit: fanatical fan Mr. Vidyala, a billionaire with money to burn and the brilliance to build a huge nuclear sea-serpent submarine.

He planned to provoke World War III and rule the ruins with his unwilling Snake Queen Freya but utterly underestimated the ruthless ingenuity of the British agent he so easily captured…

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends in ‘Double Eagle’ (1984): a baroque plot by German agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall planning a spectacular stunt to promote reunification of their sundered country.

Unfortunately the notionally worthy scheme precluded a number of necessary deaths – by robot giant eagles and merciless KGB and Stasi agents – and risked turning the simmering Cold War red hot…

Following a trail of bodies and dodging numerous assassination attempts Bond eventually finds himself in the invidious position of wanting – just this once – to fail…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and an abundance of exotic locales and ladies make this an invaluable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody has ever done it better…
All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Power of Tank Girl


By Alan Martin, Rufus Dayglo, Ashley Wood & (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-064-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: … 8/10

By golly, doesn’t time – and the occasional burst of bullets – fly! It’s hard to believe that our recent past is so far away. Back in the garishly gritty 1980s when I was tea-boy on Warrior magazine (still one of the most influential independent comics ever produced) there was a frantic buzz of feverish creativity in the British comics scene which seemed to say that any young upstart could hit the big time.

Possibly the most upstarty of all were art-students Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin (and, tangentially, Phillip 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 dubious looking young lady with a big, Big, BIG gun and her own armoured transport. And now it’s suddenly 30 years later…

Commissioned by Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon for their new publishing venture Deadline (a pop-culture magazine with loads of cool comics strips), the absurdist tales of a feisty, well-armed chick 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 dallying with a sordid plethora of different publishers, the salty, soldierly slapper found her way to Titan Books – self-appointed custodian of the Best of British strip art – who comprehensively remastered her old adventures and spin-offs into a series of unmissable volumes.

Now as Tank Girl continues to periodically sneak out for further frantic capers, they’ve added another tome to the canon as The Power of Tank Girl gathers recent serial exploits The Gifting, Visions of Booga and The Royal Escape (published in the USA by IDW between November 2007 and September 2010) into one stunning pocket – or is that pouch? – sized compendium of exuberant excess and blood-drenched hilarity…

Scripted throughout by Martin, the mucky-mouthed mania begins with a dash of poesy in ‘The Power’ and a pulsating pin-up before a transcendental epic ‘The Royal Escape’ (with art by the incomparable Rufus Dayglo) opens with ‘Part One: The Golden Egg’ wherein Tank Girl, paramour Booga (a most manly and lovable kangaroo) and gal pals Jackie (Boat Girl), Barney and Jet Girl are moments from death at the guns (and bombs, bayonets, RPGs etc…) of an extremely pissed off but much depleted army.

With their backs to the shattered walls and ammo gone, Jet Girl is forced to throw the last thing she possesses: a mysterious golden egg she has owned since childhood…

The deed somehow turns her semi-catatonic and the mismatched team are forced to split up. As the gritty warriors hunker down, Barney and Jackie go on a mystic quest to recover the egg. The trek takes them up a mountain to meet skeevy shaman Wanka in ‘The Bulldog Breed’ who guides them to an eagle’s nest with a broken eggshell containing a teeny-tiny, very confused Jet Girl…

While they yomp back to the battle, the hard-pressed hold-out heroes are reduced to defending themselves with little more than a ‘Dead Man’s Sandwich’ even as their returning friends stumble across a gigantic statue deep in the Bush.

The monolith looks like Jet Girl and when the weeny wonder finds herself compelled to crawl into it, the statue comes to terrifying life…

Now possessed of an awesome unstoppable walking weapon, the wanderers return in time to make ‘A Terrible Souffle’ of the invading army in a shattering spectacle of intense and sustained carnage…

After a potpourri of covers and groovy pics, odd ode ‘Last of the Jensen Interceptors’ leads into a nostalgic nightmare when Tank Girl determines to attend at all costs a reunion gig by her fave girlhood manufactured Boy-Band in ‘The Funsters Will Play’ (with art by Ashley Wood)…

A procession of fearsome fashion pages comes next as ‘Keys to the Tank’, ‘Booga in Extreme Jungle Wear’, ‘Jet Girl in Stealth Flying Gear’, ‘Barney in Urban Camouflage’ and ‘Cruiser Tank in full Racing Livery’ depict how the most stylish mass-murderers make the scene whilst ‘Tank Girl in Bad Camouflage’ and the concluding chapter ‘Uncle Smiffy’s Tombstone’ returns to strip storytelling to deliver a daft drama disclosing the bloodstained origins of Boat Girl…

Dayglo resumes the arty stuff for Visions of Booga which finds the lovers sucked into a Mafia plot and sent to prison in ‘Falling Angel Blues’. Unfortunately they’re also caught up in the daring escape of the Don’s favourite brother from the prison transport and have to go on the lam from both the cops and the mob.

The best disguise seems to be switching genders but perhaps they haven’t really thought it through…

The pursuit continues and intensifies when they kill one of the Mafioso, accidentally acquiring in the process ultimate mystic panacea the ‘Book of Hipster Gold’ and stumbling onto unhappy diner waitress Barney who just happens to have an old SDKFZ 251 Mittlerer Schutzenpanzerwagen parked out back…

On the run again (but now in a perfectly working Nazi armoured halftrack) the fugitives head for the West Coast where a seasoned hippy dwells. He’s the only person on Earth who can be trusted with the eldritch tome of peace and perfection but as ‘Letters to Earth’ shows, The Mob never quit and hippies – even the sublime and most cool Spanky Smith – aren’t what they used to be.

Still, he does find time to marry Tank Girl and Booga before the bad guys turn up for the blistering and bizarre conclusion ‘Which Cuts the Finest, the Sabre or the Blade of Grass?’

Following some more covers, The Gifting opens with a batch of illustrated Beat poems extolling ‘Digging the Lonely Eternity’, before a bit of girl goss gets all scatological whilst solving the pressing mystery of ‘The Dogshit in Barney’s Handbag’ (Wood art) after which Martin & Dayglo spin us back to the 1970s for ‘Tank Girl and Friends in Our Glam Day Out’ revisiting such iconic treats as Evel Knievel, Chopper Bikes, Pub Lunches and much, much more, whilst Wood’s go on the art encompasses a ‘Barney Pull-out Poster’ and extended paean to days past ‘X2-38’ which sees Booga lose his heart to a toy raygun from his childhood which becomes his ‘Reason for Living’, before pausing for a brief ‘Tank Girl Haiku’

Dayglo’s smartly rendered ‘Bonko Patrol’ explains the downside of truly heavy ordnance before Wood wanders back to limn another extended battle against evil and ill manners in ‘The Innocent Die First’.

This sterling parable finds Tank Girl and Booga at a luxurious hotel they’ve just purchased, happily whiling away their days insulting the clientele and starting fights until they offend the wrong punter and start a full scale war in ‘Easy Action’. The conflict naturally escalates until the cataclysmic ‘Attack on the Foreskin Bridge Hotel’ ends the dispute in a most unlikely manner…

‘Barney and Jet Girl in Stone Fox Chase’ (Dayglo) then pairs the dynamic duo with Style Icon Adam Ant for a bout of carnage and chaos after which ‘Tank Girl Tat’ offers the kind of merchandise you’ll never see anywhere else and Wood illuminates a quiet night in with nothing to do but ‘Kill Jumbo’

Booga then plays stage magician to entertain ‘The Kids from 23A’ with horrific results before getting stuck trying to buy lingerie in ‘The Gifting’ and everything wraps up nicely with another selection of moodful poetic meanderings comprising ‘Like a Roast Potato in a Pick-Up Truck’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Arse’, ‘The Ox’ and ‘You Are Loved’

Never too wedded to 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 a glorious mud-bath of social iconoclasm, in-yer-face absurdity, decades of British Cultural Sampling and the ever-popular addictive sex ‘n’ violence.

Wildly absurdist, intoxicatingly adorable and packed to the gills with covers, spot art and other pictorial pleasures, The Power of Tank Girl is an ever-so-cool rollercoaster thrill-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 notice her.
Tank Girl and all related characters are ™ & © 2014 Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. All rights reserved.