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


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

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

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

Really.

I mean it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The James Bond Omnibus volume 005


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

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

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

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

I hope so, but I doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But which one…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Squirrel Machine


By Hans Rickheit (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-646-1

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. 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 such as The Stranger, creating webcomics and instigating the occasional anthology periodical Chrome Fetus.

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 cloud of miasmic mystery and cosmic confusion engendered by the protagonists of his most successful book.

The brothers Edmund and William Torpor abide in a secluded 19th century New England town but have never been part of their community. Raised alone by their artist mother they are very different from other kids, with Edmund especially obsessed with arcane engineering and the assemblage of one-of-a-kind musical instruments from utterly inappropriate components.

Fantastic dream-like journeys and progressions mark their isolated existence, which is far more in tune with a greater metaphysical cosmos, but as puberty gradually moves them to an awareness of base human sexuality they find the outside world impacting their private one in ways which can only end in tragedy and horror…

Moreover, just where exactly did the plans for the ghastly Squirrel Machine come from…?

Visually reminiscent of the best of Rick Geary, this is nevertheless a singularly surreal and mannered design; a highly charged, subtly disturbing delusion that will chill and upset and possibly even outrage many readers.

It is also compelling, seductive, sublimely quirky 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 century – or any other…

Out of print since 2009, The Squirrel Machine has now been remastered and released in an accessible paperback edition, just in time to disturb the sleep of a new generation of fear fans just as the winter nights draw in…

© 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Contents © 2009 Hans Rickheit. All Rights Reserved.

Win’s Perfect Present Alert: For him or her or even “it” as long as they’re mature enough to handle it…10/10

A Treasury of Murder Set (Famous Players, The Lindbergh Child & The Case of Madeleine Smith)


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-730-0

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a unique presence in both comics and true crime literature. His compelling dissections of some of the most infamous and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began – as graphic novel reconstructions – never fail to darkly beguile or entertain, and now, with Christmas (always a time of drawn knives and frayed tempers) fast approaching, three of his very best have been re-released in an economical set that will delight fans of the genre and certainly make new converts out of dubious scoffers…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination for the darker aspects of human history, Geary’s forensic eye scoured the last hundred years or so for his ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, and this second volume here re-examined a landmark homicide that changed early Hollywood and led in large part to the punishing self-censorship of the Hays Commission Production Code.

Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor opens in 1911 when the first moving picture studio set up in the sunny orange groves of rural Hollywood. Within a decade the wasteland was a burgeoning boomtown of production companies and back lots, where newly beatified movie stars were earning vast sums of money.

As usual in such situations the new industrial community swiftly accumulated a ubiquitous underbelly, becoming a hotbed of vice, excess and debauchery.

William Desmond Taylor was a man with a clouded past and a huge reputation as a movie director and ladies man. On the morning of Thursday February 2nd, 1922 he was found dead in his palatial home by his valet, thus initiating one of the most celebrated (still unsolved) murder cases in Los Angeles’ extremely chequered history.

Uncovering a background of drugs, sex, booze, celebrity and even false identity, this crime was the template for every tale of “Hollywood Babylon” and, even more than the notorious and tragic Fatty Arbuckle sex scandal, drove the movers and shakers of Tinsel-Town to clean up their act – or at least to keep it fully concealed from the prudish, hypocritical public gaze.

Geary is meticulous and logical as he dissects the crime, examines the suspects – major and minor – and dutifully pursues all the players to their recorded ends. Especially intriguing are snippets of historical minutiae and beautifully rendered maps and plans which bring all the varied locations to life (the author should seriously consider turning this book into a Cluedo special edition) and gives us all a fair crack at solving this glamorous cold case…

 

The first volume in the series was every bit as compelling: a brilliant example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy and entertainment.

The Lindbergh Child: America’s Hero and the Crime of the Century reveals how, after crossing the Atlantic in the monoplane Spirit of St. Louis in May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the most famous man in the world.

Six years later his son Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped from the family home at Hopewell, New Jersey. The boy disappeared on the night of February 29th 1932.

An intense, increasingly hysterical search went on for months as many bogus kidnappers, chancers, grifters and venal intermediaries tried to cash in. The toddler’s decomposed body was eventually discovered in desolate woodlands on Thursday 12th May. The 3-year-old had been dead for months, possibly even killed on the night he was taken…

What followed was one of the most appalling catalogues of police misconduct, legal malfeasance and sordid exploitation (from conmen trying to profit from tragedy) in history as, over the next few years, one suspect was caught, convicted and executed in such slapdash fashion that as late as 1981 and 1986 the conviction was appealed. A large number of individuals have claimed over the decades to actually be the real Lindbergh heir…

 

Before combining his unique talents for laconic prose, incisive observation and detailed cartooning with an obvious passion for the darker side of modern history, Geary had previously exercised his forensic eye in the gripping Treasury of Victorian Murder sequence.

From that series of graphic inquiries the eighth volume 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 and 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 author is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of his subject matter and methodology in telling tales. Geary always presents both facts and the theories – both contemporary and modern – with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, examining criminology’s greatest unsolved mysteries with a force and power that Oliver Stone would envy.

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

Seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing give these tales an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading.

© 2006, 2008, 2009, 2013 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

Lost at Sea


By Brian Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-0-932664-16-4

You’ve no doubt heard that appallingly clichéd phrase “it’s about the journey”?

Well, sometimes it actually is…

Having got that off my capacious chest, I can whole-heartedly recommend this moody, enticingly sensitive and charming not-coming-of-age road-trip argosy by Bryan Lee O’Malley, whose Manga-tinted Scott Pilgrim tales of an adorable boy-idol idle slacker seemed to encapsulate the tone and tenor of the most recent generation to have invented sex and music and growing up confused…

Lost at Sea is a lovely lyrical look at a self-confessed outsider, couched in terms of a quasi-mystical mystery and rendered in an utterly captivating, boldly simple style simultaneously redolent of childhood misgivings and anticipatory tales of horror and imagination.

High School senior Raleigh is a passenger in a car slowly meandering its way back to Vancouver from California. She doesn’t really know Stephanie or the boys Dave and Ian. She only met them because dippy Stephanie never deletes any numbers from her cellphone and pocket-dialled her by coincidental accident just moments after Raleigh missed her train home. She had been enduring an unfortunate visit with her dad and his latest woman near San Francisco…

As the Canadian kids had a car and were heading back north, somehow, although a social misfit and practical stranger, Raleigh ended up travelling homeward with them…

Even though they all go to the same school – Sturton Academy – the kids are not really like her. They weren’t hot-housed or sent to “gifted” classes and they still have their souls…

Raleigh lives with her mum and continually misses her best friend, who she hasn’t seen in four years, six months and 24 days. She also has a secret internet boyfriend in California, (the real reason for visiting Dad and his new lady) and is very confused and lonely after travelling to meet darling Stillman….

She lost her soul in 9th Grade when her mother sold it to Satan in return for being successful, but the girl can’t quite remember why it was put into a cat. Ever since then cats seem to crop up everywhere she goes, even following her, and she can’t tell if she’s crazy or imagining it all…

Naturally, Raleigh is violently allergic to cats…

However when she finally loosens up and tells Stephanie her satanic secret, the boisterous wild child admits to seeing them too and suggests they should catch them and see if they can be made to cough up that stolen soul.

Dave and Ian are game too…

Expressionistic, impressionistic, existential, self-absorbed, vastly compassionate, deeply introspective and phenomenally evocative of that monstrous ball of confusion that is the End of Adolescence, Lost at Sea is a graphic marvel which seems, from my admittedly now-distant perspective, the perfect description of that so-human rite of passage we all endured and mostly survived.

Buy it for your teenagers, read it to rekindle your own memories and cherish it because it’s wonderful…
™ & © 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008 Bryan Lee O’Malley. All Rights Reserved.

Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics


By Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-612-6

According to Gary Groth’s Afterword here, legendary cartoonist Gahan Wilson was born in 1930 and grew up reading comic strips.

It shows.

The mordantly macabre, acerbically wry and surreal draughtsman has been tickling funnybones and twanging nerves with his darkly dry graphic confections since the 1960s; contributing superb spoofs, sparklingly horrific and satirically suspenseful drawings and strips and panels as a celebrated regular contributor in such major magazines as Playboy, Collier’s, The New Yorker and others.

He also wrote science fiction, criticism, book and film reviews for Again Dangerous Visions, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Twilight Zone Magazine and Realms of Fantasy.

In an extremely broad and long career he has worn dozens of creative hats, and even embraced that modern electrickery stuff by creating – with Byron Preiss – his own supernatural computer game, Gahan Wilson’s the Ultimate Haunted House.

When National Lampoon first began its devastatingly satirical all-out attack on the American Dream, Wilson was invited to contribute a regular strip to their comics section. His sublimely semi-autobiographical, darkly hilarious paean to lost childhood ran from 1972 and until 1981 and was recently collected as Nuts.

Few people– me included – knew that during that period he also, apparently more for fun and relaxation than profit, produced his own syndicated Sunday strip feature.

For two years beginning on March 3rd 1974, Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics appeared in a small cross-section of newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles and, as with all his work, it bucked a trend.

At a time when most cartoonists were seeking a daily continuity strip, building a readership and eking jokes out with sensible parsimony, Wilson let himself go hog-wild, generating a half-dozen or so single-shot gags every Sabbath, blending his signature weird, wild monsters, uncanny aliens and unsavoury scenes with straight family humour, animal crackers, topical themes and cynically socio-politically astute observations.

Looking at them here it’s clear to me that his intent was to have fun and make himself laugh as much as his readers; capturing those moments when an idea or notion gave him pause to giggle whilst going about his day job…

I’m not going to waste time describing the cartoons: there are too many and despite being a fascinating snapshot of life in the 1970s they’re almost all still outrageously funny in the way and manner that Gary Larson’s Far Side was a scant six years later.

I will say that even whilst generating a storm of humorous, apparently unconnected one-offs, consummate professional Wilson couldn’t help himself and eventually the jokes achieved an underlying shape and tone with recurring motifs (clocks, beasts, wallpaper, etc), guest appearances by “The Kid” (from Nuts) and features-within-the-feature such as The Creep and Future Funnies

Collected in a gloriously expansive (176 pages, 309x162mm) full-colour, landscape hardback, this complete re-presentation of a lost cartooning classic offers a freewheeling, absurdist, esoterically banal, intensely, trenchantly funny slice of nostalgia. These fabulous joke page compendiums range from satire to slapstick to agonising irony and again prove Wilson to be one of the world’s greatest visual humourists.

This is book no fan of fun should miss and, with Christmas bearing down on us, could be a crucial solution to the perennial “what to get him/her” question…

All comic strips © 2013 Gahan Wilson. This Edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics will be published September 26th 2013.

Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball – Drawings 1934-1972


By Willard Mullin, Hal Bock & Michael Powers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-639-3

Britain never really enjoyed the long and lovingly cherished tradition of sports cartoons enjoyed by America throughout the 20th century – more’s the pity – but in the Land of the Free illustrated match précis’, captivating portraits, charismatic caricatures and plain old fashioned gags in drawn form were a crucial element of every national and local newspaper for generations.

Sporting profiles, sketches, technical tips, skits and lampooning broadsides were even a staple of Golden Age comicbooks – and far too often the best drawn items in those fantasy-fuelled periodicals.

Voted “Greatest Sports Cartoonist of the 20th Century” by his extremely talented and partisan peers, Willard Mullin (September 14, 1902-December 20, 1978) best captured the magic of America’s favourite game for almost half a hundred years, encapsulating the power, glory, glum disappointment, heartbreak and just plain unflagging passion of players, managers, owners and fans in spectacular portrait biographies, potent editorial cartoons, gently ferocious caricatures and hilarious, knowing slapstick panels.

Fantagraphics Books have again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero and a nigh-forgotten sector of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent: featuring a history of the man, his times and the sport which sustained a nation in war and peace; recalled in candid photos and an unbelievable treasure-trove of stupendous drawings and cartoons that charmed and delighted uncounted millions of Americans…

Following a passionate appreciation of the man and his influence from cartoonist, illustrator and author Bob Staake in ‘Mulling over Willard’, Shirley Mullin Rhodes shares intimate and heart-warming times past in Willard Mullin Through the Eyes of His Daughter’.

After another nationally-celebrated cartoonist shares his memories in ‘Gallo on Mullin’ by Bill Gallo, legendary sports columnist Hal Bock then describes the essential impact of ‘The Baseball World of Willard Mullin’ before the man and his work is celebrated through a history of the decades and examples of his own astonishing daily output from the numerous papers and magazines he worked on…

‘The 1930s’ follows an early career that encompassed other sports and social/editorial issues, but always best-favoured Baseball… especially as played by the New York teams Mullins favoured: Yankees, (Brooklyn) Dodgers and his special guys, the Giants (and latterly the Mets, of course)…

Lavishly illustrated throughout, this massive hardback (200 pages and 228x315mm) is packed with vignettes, panels and portraits, and this Golden Age chapter is filled with teams, themes and mythic stars such as Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, the immortal “Brooklyn Bum”, and many more.

‘The 1940s’ were an era of epic change and not solely due to the war. The astounding imagery from those hallowed seasons include the rise of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, early images of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige (the first African American players to break the colour-bar and play Major League Baseball), and also marked the passing of “the Babe”, as well as Gehrig’s tragic death from ALS. Mullins as always cracked wise about winners, losers and the long-suffering fans, and displayed his sheer virtuosity in the annual Christmas card to the public…

In ‘The 1950s’ the sport truly became a business and, amongst the ever-better drawings and more trenchant comments, Willard became as much a part of the game as bats and socks. Brooklyn Bum toys and premiums here run alongside pennant-winning celebrations, visual discussions of rocketing salaries and teams – like the New York Giants – who followed the money to richer towns, abandoning fans for fame in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles. He also anticipated the death of smaller local Leagues as television brought the big games into households across the nation…

‘The 1960s and The 1970s’ showcase Mullin’s final years – he retired in 1970 – with more magnificent cartoons and commentary, interspersed with excerpts from running features such as ‘So you think you know Baseball!’ and stunning celebrations of the passing of an era and legends like Casey Stengel. In fact with the advances of photo technology and shrinking of page sizes, the entire vast field of sports cartooning was rapidly following him into the pages of nostalgic history…

This engrossing, charming chronicle also includes rare ‘Color Work’ including the cover to The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (which inspired the musical Damn Yankees), training roster posters, guides, schedules and programme covers, sporting Year Books and sports books as well as commercial and advertising work, and concludes with a brief history by Bock of the medium and genre of ‘Sports Cartooning: Telling a Story in Pen and Ink’

Whether you’re a fan of sports in general or Baseball in particular, if you’re reading this you love narrative art, and Willard Mullin was the Will Eisner of his field: clever, funny, bold, dramatic and capable of astounding emotional connection with his readers. This is book no lovers of our art form should miss.

This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Willard Mullin and the Brooklyn Bum are ™ and ® the Estate of Willard Mullin. Other material © its respective holders or owners as noted within.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 5: Happy Hippy Comix – New Edition


By R. Crumb & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-930193-92-8

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions.

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

Really. I’m not kidding…

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotic introspections, his pictorial rants and invectives, unceasingly picked away at societal scabs and peeked behind forbidden curtains for his own benefit, but he has always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who takes the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the nigh-impossible task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output and those critically important volumes are now being reissued.

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

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

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

From this point onwards, the varied and exponentially impressive breadth of Crumb’s output becomes increasingly riddled with his often hard-to-embrace themes and declamatory, potentially offensive visual vocabulary as his strips grope towards the creator’s long-sought personal artistic apotheosis, and this third volume covers material created and published between 1960-1966 as the self-tormented artist began to find a popular following in a strangely changing world.

Escaping his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. It is from this period that the engrossing, amazing and still shocking strips in this book stem…

He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised. A few truly dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, publishing on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This particular collection covers the period when the insular, isolated Crumb first began to make a name for himself with a flood of gags, posters, commercial art jobs, short strips and longer material popping up seemingly everywhere. All are faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for a rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (trust me) the pictorial output is both engrossing and legendary.

Actually, don’t trust me: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a photo and cartoon-stuffed (from 1968 sketchbooks) Introduction from the old scallywag himself, praising the effects of mind-altering chemicals and recalling the first heady days of Counter-Culture celebrity, the wave of visual excess and literary freewheeling begins with ‘The Old Pooperoo Pauses to Ponder’: a baroque procession of his fun-loving characters rounded off with a micro strip at the bottom, revealing Eggs Ackley’s opinion that ‘This Kid’s a Scream!’, after which Mr. Natural, Angelfood McSpade and all the rest are reassured that ‘You’re Gonna Get There Anyway’ (all from East Village Other December 1-16, 1967).

Next ‘Mr. Natural, the Man from Affiganistan’ shares more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont (EVO December 15-30 1968), after which a rush of shorts from EVO January 12-17 begins.

‘Sky-Hi Comics’, ‘Then on the Other Hand…’ are followed by ‘Nuttin’ but Nuttin’, ’Here She Comes! It’s Hippy!’ and ‘Junior High & his Sidekick Judy Holiday’ from the January 19-25 edition whilst ‘Those Cute Little Bearzy Wearzies/George Gwaltny’ (EVO January 26-February 1 1968) precedes Natural’s inevitable return to act as guru to ‘Schuman the Human’ from EVO February 9-15th.

The Wise one continues in revelatory style when ‘Mr. Natural Meets God’ (supplemented by) ’Gail Snail and The Walkie Talkies’ from EVO February 16-22, whilst the next weekly issue described how ‘Mr. Natural Gets the Bum’s Rush’, and Schuman declared ‘Let’s Be Honest’ before Crumb confronted the period’s racism head on with customary shocking frankness in ‘Mr. Natural Repents’, ‘Hey, Mom!’ and attendant strip ‘Let’s Have Nigger Hearts For Lunch’ (EVO March 1-7 1968).

Zap #2 June 1968, then provided wry ‘Hamburger Hi-Jinx’ with Cheezis K. Reist and shockingly introduced iconic Bête Noir ‘Angelfood McSpade’ before closing with a warning to avoid cheap imitations from ‘Mr. Natural’.

Bijou #1, from Summer 1968, then supplies a wealth of intriguing, astonishing fare leading with ‘Neato Keano Time!’ before ‘The Big Little Boy’ and ‘Bo Bo Bolinski, He’s a Clown!’ went through their paces. Following that ‘Mr. Spiff’ makes a call and ‘Here They Are! Puppets of your favourite cartoon characters!’ provides paper-dolls of Angelfood and Mr. Natural. The harsh, ironic hilarity all ends with a laidback Bijou Funnies Ad

The inescapably controversial Ms. McSpade and friends then cropped up in ‘All Asshole Comics’ (Chicago Seed, July 1968), after which covers for ‘Nope #6’ and ‘Nope #7’ (both 1968) are followed here by ‘The Zap Show’ – a captivating art jam with Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso & S. Clay Wilson.

A ‘Fritz the Cat title page’ then acts as prologue to an outrageous tale of student terrorism and teen licentiousness in ‘Fritz the No-Good’ (taken from Cavalier, September/October 1968), after which you’ll need to rotate the book to be shocked by the interiors of digest-sized Snatch #1 (October 1968): rude and raunchy spoofs such as ‘The Adventures of Andy Hard-on’, ‘Krude Cut-Ups’ and ‘The Fight’ plus assorted gags like ‘Jailbait of the Month’, ‘Hi, Swingers’ and much more…

A rather lovely ‘Janis Joplin: original cover for Cheap Thrills (1968) is followed by

‘The Phonus Balonus Blues’ and ’Where the Action Isn’t’ (EVO September 27 1968) as well as the cover of that issue – ‘Can the Mind Know it?’

From the October 11 issue of East Village Other comes a barrage of strips: ‘Sleezy Snot Comics’, ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Booger Buddies’ and more plus an ‘Ad for Head Comix’ whilst the October 18th edition provided both ‘Angelfood McSpade’ and ‘Cum Comix’, and October 25th a ‘Mr. Natural, disguised as a vacuum cleaner salesman, talks to the Housewives of America’ cover.

‘Edgar and Maryjane Crump’ and ‘Crime in the Streets’ both originated in EVO November 1) after which an ‘alternate cover for Zap #3’ segues into the infamous ‘Dirty Dog’ strip from Zap #3 (December 1968).

That underground classic also premiered ‘Mr. Goodbar “Off his Rocker”’, an astounding

‘Atomic Comics Jam’ with S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso & Rick Griffin, grotesque shorts ‘Let’s Eat’ and ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Hairy’ and ‘Street Corner Daze.’

Another digest-sized landscape section next reproduces the XXX-rated contents of Snatch #2’ (January 1969) including ‘Look Out Girls!! The Grabbies are Coming’, ‘Down on the Farm’, ‘The Family that Lays Together Stays Together’ and far more before an ‘ad for San Francisco Comic Book Company’ from Bogeyman #2, 1969, leads seamlessly into ‘Don’t Gag On It… Goof On It!’ (Gothic Blimp Works, Ltd. #1, March 1969).

The April 1969 ‘cover for Creem #2’ precedes a stunning spoof of Romance comics with ‘The Bleeding Heart Syndrome’ (Tales from the Ozone #1, 1969) before ‘Shoo Shoo Baby’ and ‘The Pricksters’ (GBW #2, 1969) suspends the black and white barrage to briefly usher in a spectacular ‘Color Section’

The polychromatic madness begins with ‘Head Comix covers’ (front and back and 1968), keeping up the pressure with the Zap Comix #2 covers’ from December, as well as a ‘Fritz the Cat cover’, the ‘Cheap Thrills’ record cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company and the December 1968Snatch #1 covers’.

The ribald rainbows end with Snatch #2 covers’ (January 1969) before ‘Flower Children on Broadway’ from Bijou #2 (1969) return us to monochrome merriment, ‘Nutsboy’ (Bogeyman #2, 1969) presages today’s teen obsession with “Slasher-flicks” and ‘Mr. Know-It-All and his pal Diz in What the Fuck’ (with S. Clay Wilson from GBW #3, 1969) continues the dark and bloody mood.

This landmark compilation concludes with Crumb’s contributions to Motor City #1 (April 1969) starting with ultra-independent femme fatal ‘Lenore Goldberg and her Girl Commandos’, after which cool dude ‘The Inimitable Boingy Baxter’ turns Detroit on its head, and mini-mystic Savannah Foomo explores reality with ordinary folk and ‘The Desperate Character’ in ‘Deep Meaning Comics’ and ‘More Deep Meaning Gommigs’, leaving good old Eggs Ackley to wrap thing up in macabre style with ‘Eyeball Kicks’

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

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his most hidden depths and every perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and riotous rumination, and this chronicle begins to show his growing awareness of where to look.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1989, 2004, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.