The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Flawed Dogs – The Year-End Leftovers at the Piddleton “Last-Chance” Dog Pound


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-316-71359-7

After an all-too-brief and glittering career as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (so often the very same hallowed function) Berkeley Breathed retired his deadline-crushing Bloom County and Outland strips to become a writer and illustrator of children’s books.

He lost none of his perception, wit or imagination, and actually got better as a sequential artist. He never completely abandoned his entrancing cast of characters and always maintained the gently excoriating, crusading passion and inherent bittersweet invective which underscored those earlier narratives.

An adventurous – if accident-prone – man with a big heart and love of animals, in 2003 Breathed crafted a stunningly moving, achingly heartbreaking and darkly hilarious painted hardback picture-book which presented itself as a brochure of no-hope pooches (and their former owners) being offered one final chance to escape the needle at a Podunk animal shelter deep in the wilds of Vermont…

The Piddleton “Last-Chance” Dog Pound is the place other institutions send all the dogs who have failed to find homes anywhere else, but even it has space limitations. The tireless organiser of the annual push to re-home all these one-of-a-kind, misunderstood mutts is Miss Heidy Strüdleberg; a former President of the American Kennel Club and prominent dog show judge who had a close encounter with a three-legged Dachshund that changed her life forever.

Rejecting that unforgiving and artificially idealised society, she resolved to strike a blow against a world that shuns the flawed and only has time for perfection. And here you can see in all their homely glory a host of uniquely lovable last-chancers like Bipsie, Noodles, Titus and Sam the Lion, all accompanied by pictorial examples of how they achieved their current sorry states with pungently potent verses of doggerel describing their meagre blandishments…

The success of this book led to notional sequel/prequel Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster and Heidy’s tale will be seen as a forthcoming major motion picture…

Less a story than a crushingly captivating cartoon catechism for canine deliverance, delivered in sharp and lyrical rhyme, this is a book to trigger consciences and promote (considered) dog adoption which will make a grown man howl and children sit up and beg. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think hard before going online and adopting a pet that needs a home…
© 2003 Berkeley Breathed. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Isle: The Best of Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs


By Roy Crane, edited by Rick Norwood (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-809-0

Modern comics evolved from newspaper cartoons and comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public. They were also highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip not much different from family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed). Tubbs was a diminutive, ambitious and bumbling young store clerk when the feature debuted on April 21st 1924, but after only three months Crane re-evaluated his little enterprise and made a few changes which would reshape the entire art form.

Having Wash run away to the circus (Crane did much the same in the name of research) the artist gradually moved the strip into mock-heroics, then through a period of gently boisterous action romps to become a full-blown, light-hearted, rip-roaring adventure series. It was the first of its kind and dictated the form for decades thereafter. Crane then sealed its immortality with the introduction of prototype he-man and ancestral moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

As the tales gradually became more exotic and thrill-packed, the globe-trotting little dynamo clearly needed a sidekick and sounding board. After a few bright and breezy types were tried and discarded, Crane decided on one who could believably handle the combat side of things, and thus in the middle of a European war, in the fairytale kingdom of Kandelabra, Tubbs liberated a mysterious fellow American from a cell and history was made.

Before long the mismatched pair were inseparable; tried-and-true travelling companions hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a bevy of startlingly comely damsels in distress…

The bluff, two-fisted, completely capable and utterly dependable, down-on-his-luck “Southern Gentleman” was something not seen before in comics: a taciturn, raw, square-jawed hunk played completely straight rather than the previously popular buffoon or music hall foil seen in such classic serials as Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond.

Moreover Crane’s seductively simple blend of cartoon exuberance and design was a far more accessible and powerful medium for action story-telling than the somewhat static illustrative style favoured by artists like Hal Foster: just beginning to make waves on the new Tarzan Sunday page at this time.

Tubbs and Easy were as exotic and thrilling as the Ape Man but rattled along like the tempestuous Popeye, full of vim, vigour and vinegar, as attested to by a close look at the early work of the would-be cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity.

Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially young Joe Shuster were eager fans taking notes and following suit…

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane eventually bowed to the inevitable and created a full colour Sunday page dedicated solely to his increasingly popular hero-for-hire. Captain Easy debuted on 30th July 1933, in wild and woolly escapades set before his fateful meeting with Tubbs.

Both together and separately, reprinted exploits of these troubleshooters became staples of the earliest comic books (specifically The Funnies from October 1936 and The Comics, March 1937 onwards).

With an entire page and vibrant colours to play with, Crane’s imagination ran wild and his fabulous visual concoctions achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The effect of the pages can be seen in so many strips since, especially the works of such near-contemporaries as Hergé and giants in waiting like Charles Schulz. They have all been collected in the four-volume Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips.

Those pages were a clearly as much of a joy to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA Syndicate’s abruptly and arbitrarily demanding that all its strips be henceforward produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate them being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated. Crane just walked away, concentrating on the daily feature. In 1943 he quit NEA to create the wartime aviator strip Buz Sawyer, and Turner became the able custodian of the heroes’ fate.

Wash Tubbs ran until January 10th 1988.

Before all that however Wash was the affable and undisputed star of a never-ending parade of riotous daily black and white escapades and this superb hardback opens with two of them: part of a cherry-picked compilation of ten of the very best adventures of the bombastic buddies. Hopefully if this book is a hit it will lead to another complete reprinting such as the 18-volume series covering the entirety of the Wash Tubbs run – 1934-1943 and published by NBM from 1987-1992…

Before the non-stop nonsense begins author and pre-eminent comic strip historian Ron Goulart details all you need to know about the tales in ‘A History of Lickety Whop’ and editor Rick Norwood provides further background information in his copiously illustrated Introduction’ after which we’re all plunged into astounding adventure on ‘Hurricane Isle’ (which originally ran daily from February 23rd to June 6th 1928)…

At this time Wash and fellow inveterate fortune-hunter Gozy Gallup are gloating over securing an ancient map which once belonged to the dread pirate Edward Teach AKA Blackbeard!

As they research the infamous buccaneer and scrabble to find a ship to take them to their destination, they are unaware that aggrieved enemy Brick Bane – the Bandit King of Mexico – is hard on their trail and hungry for revenge. Stalking them as they journey from New Orleans to the Caribbean, he takes a nasty sea captain into his confidence and arranges for the sinister salt to hire out his ship to the treasure seekers. The skipper is unsavoury brute Bull Dawson: destined to become Tubbs’ – and later Easy’s – greatest and most implacable foe…

After travelling to the island with them Dawson, having already removed Bane, springs his trap and turns Wash and Gozy into enslaved labourers, digging with the crew to find the fabled horde. The lads soon rebel and escape into the jungle to search on their own, and also abortively attempt to steal Dawson’s ship.

The wily brute is always too much for them however and even after the boys finally locate the loot, the malicious mariner reappears to take it from them. The sadistic swine is preparing to maroon them when Bane shows up with a ship full of his Mexican bandits and a shooting war breaks out…

With bullets flying and bodies dropping, Wash and Gozy convince affable deckhand Samson to switch sides and the trio take off for civilisation with the treasure in the hold…

Money comes and goes pretty freely for these guys but by the time ‘Arabia’ (July 30th – December 12th 1928) begins they are still pretty flush and so opt for a luxurious Mediterranean cruise. Unfortunately Wash’s propensity for clumsy gaffes raises the ire of a very nasty sheik named Abdul Hoozit Hudson Bey and the affronted potentate swears vengeance when the ship docks in Tunis.

As if icing fate’s cake, when wandering through the bazaar Wash is glamoured by a pair of gorgeous eyes and inadvertently seals his doom by attempting to rescue a girl from a seraglio: Jada is not only a distressed damsel but Bey’s favourite wife…

Heeding the French authorities’ advice to leave town quickly, the lads take off on a camel caravan into the Sahara but have no idea they are heading into cunning Bey’s trap…

The fact that Jada is the favourite of the incensed chieftain saves them temporarily, but when the sheik finally finds a way to surreptitiously assassinate them, she and her devoted slave Bola dash into the deep desert to save them, and the quartet strike out for safety and freedom together.

That trek dumps them in the clutches of Bey’s great rival Abdullah Bumfellah and leads to a tribal shooting war. Happily Bola has been busy and found a Foreign Legion patrol to save the day.

And that’s when Jada drops her bombshell. She is actually a princess from a European principality, sold to Bey by her father’s Grand Vizier so that he could steal the throne. Now that she’s free again she must return to liberate her poor people. Despite having to get back to America, Wash won’t shut up about wishing he’d gone with her…

He soon gets the chance as ‘Kandelabra’ (April 11th – July 6th 1929) became the most significant sequence in the strip’s history; introducing Captain Easy in a riotous, rousing Ruritanian epic which we join after Wash reunites with Jada in the postage stamp kingdom she had been so cruelly abducted from.

Our little go-getter soon infiltrates the government and rises to the rank of admiral of the landlocked land but overplays his hand and is framed for stealing the army’s payroll. Delivered to a secret dungeon he (partially) escapes and finds a gruff fellow American who refuses to share his name but insists on being called “Easy”…

Busting out his new pal, soon Wash and the stranger are caught in a bloody revolution when the aggrieved army mutinies. Before long the Vizier’s cronies are ousted, the vile villain accidentally orchestrates his own demise and the regally restored Jada declares the birth of the continent’s newest democracy…

In ‘Desert Island’ (February 6th – June 7th 1930) Bull Dawson returns to steal Tubbs’ entire fortune, flying off across America in a bid to escape with his ill-gotten gains. The robbery becomes a nationwide sensation and we join the action as Wash and Easy frantically pursue the fugitive. Tracking him to San Francisco they continue the chase when the malign mariner takes off in a schooner with our heroes as stowaways and, before long, prisoners…

The sadistic Bull lose faces after being thrashed in a no-holds barred fight with Easy which was merely subterfuge to allow the southern soldier of fortune to pick Dawson’s pocket and recover Wash’s easily portable $200,000 in cash. As the battered thug recuperates the ship is hit by a monster typhoon which apparently leaves our heroes the only survivors aboard the shattered shards of the schooner.

The wreck fetches up on a desolate Pacific atoll where the boys soon fall into the routine of latter-day Robinson Crusoes. The isolated idyll becomes complicated when they find the place is already home to a young woman who was the only survivor of an attack by roving headhunters from Borneo.

Mary Milton is brave, competent and beautiful and before long the lonely pals are fierce rivals for her affections…

The situation grows dangerously intense and only stabilises when the savages return, forcing the warring suitors to stand together or fall separately…

When the brutal battle ends the westerners are in possession of a sturdy war canoe and decide to risk their lives on an epic ocean odyssey to the nearest outpost of civilisation. It is only after the voyagers are far out to sea that Wash agonisingly recalls that he left his stash of dollars behind…

The next adventure (running from June 9th – October 1930) immediately follows on as the weary travellers reach French Indo-China and, thanks to a friendly soldier, escape far inland via a mighty river. After days of travel they reach the previously hidden kingdom of Cucumbria and quickly fall foul of the toad-worshipping emperor Igbay Umbay who takes one look at Mary and decides he must have her…

Being a coward who stole the throne from his brother, the grand poobah hasn’t the nerve to simply take her and orchestrates a succession of scurvy schemes to get rid of Wash and Easy but the boys are too smart and bold to fall for them. Infuriatingly rising in power and status, aided by young prince Hilo Casino – freshly returned from college in America – the Americans finally seem be out of the Umbay’s hair after they agree to lead his armies against the supernatural rebel leader known as ‘The Phantom King’

Despite deep misgivings “General” Easy and his aide Washington Tubbs set out on a campaign that will ravage the hidden kingdom, unseat an emperor, cost thousands of lives and lose them the girl they both love…

A year later ‘Down on the Bayou’ (March 12th – July 25th 1931) found the world-weary wanderers nearing home again only to be arrested as they approach New Orleans in a stolen plane. They were fleeing a clever frame-up in infamous Costa Grande, but without proof could only evade their US Navy captors and flee into the swampy vastness of the Mississippi Delta…

Lost for days and starving, they are picked up by vivacious gangster’s moll Jean who recruits them into a gang of smugglers and rum-runners who inhabit a huge plantation somewhere between Pelican Island and Barataria dedicated to various criminal enterprises. Tubbs and Easy are soon comfortably settled in amidst the rogues and outcasts but everything changes when Jean’s brother returns from a smuggling trip. His name is Bull Dawson…

The pirate is prevented from killing our heroes by Jean and the huge Cajun in charge of the outlaw outpost, but Dawson takes it badly and with his gang of deadly bodyguards decides to take over the whole enterprise.

A couple of murders later Bull is big boss but also oddly friendly to his most despised enemies. Maybe it’s a ploy to put them off guard, but perhaps it has more to do with the gang of Chicago mobsters who have come down to put an end to the bootlegging mavericks cutting into their profits…

The troubles and bloodshed escalate exponentially and Jean drops her final bombshell: she’s a federal agent working with the Coast Guard to smash the budding criminal empire…

Once the dust settles she has one final surprise in store. In all the years of their friendship Wash could never get his taciturn pal to talk of his past or even reveal his real name. Now the government girl gives Mr. William Lee a message which sends him rushing across country to an old plantation home. Here the astounded Wash hears all about his pal’s shocking life, sordid scandals and abandoned wife …and then he learns the truth…

Soon the impediments and lies which blighted Easy’s life are all removed and the wanderer settles in to a well-deserved retirement with the girl he always loved but could never have. Tubbs moves on, quickly reuniting with old chum Gozy Gallup…

A few weeks later the ever-restless Wash is riding a tramp steamer headed for Europe, intent on paying Jada a visit in Kandelabra but, falling foul of rustic transportation systems, ends up in the similar but so different Principality of Sneezia

Apart from pretty girls, the tiny kingdom has only one point of interest: the world’s dinkiest railway service. Run by aged expatriate American Calliope Simpson ‘The Transalpina Express’ (August 13th – November 21st 1931) links Sneezia to sister kingdom Belchia and is the most unique and beloved (by its intoxicated customers at least) service in the world.

Wash is especially keen to learn the business since being the engineer has made octogenarian Cal the most irresistible man in two countries, fighting off adorable young women with a stick…

The lad’s greatest dream comes true when Simpson finally elopes with one of his adoring devotees and Washington Tubbs become sole operator of the Express, but his joy at all the feminine attention soon sours when Belchia and Sneezia go to war and both sides want to use his train to move men and material into combat. Of course the dilemma can only end in disaster and before long our boy is running for his life again…

There’s a big jump to the next yarn which finds Wash and Easy reunited and stowing away on the wrong-est ship imaginable. Quickly caught, they are quite understandably assumed to be part of the contingent of prisoners bound for the final destination – ‘Devil’s Island’ (June 9th – August 30th 1932)…

No sooner are they mixed in with the hopeless prison population than the planning of their inevitable escape begins, but success only leads to greater peril as they and their criminal confederates take ship with a greedy captain subject to murderous bouts of paranoia and madness…

‘Whales’ (April 24th – August 30th 1933) is probably the most shocking – to modern sensibilities – of the perennial wanderers’ exploits as Wash and Easy are drugged in a Dutch cafe and dumped aboard one of the last sailing ships to work the whaling trade.

Elderly and nostalgic Captain Folly has been convinced by psychotic First Mate Mr. Slugg to compete one last time against the new-fangled factory whaling fleets, unknowingly crewing his creaking old ship with shanghaied strangers…

The grim minutiae of the ghastly profession is scrupulously detailed as our heroes seek some means of escape but with Slugg becoming increasingly unbalanced and eventually murdering Folly, bloody mutiny soon leads to the ship foundering and both factions – or at least the survivors of each – being marooned on the arctic Alaskan ice, where naturally our heroes find the only pretty girl in a thousand square miles…

This fabulous treasury of thrills concludes with one last battle against Bull Dawson after the incorrigible monster links up with gorgeous grifter Peggy Lake, who fleeces gullible Wash of his savings and disappears into the endless green wilderness of the swamps of ‘Okefenokee’ (June 13th – July 24th 1935).

The crime leads to a massive police manhunt through the mire before the boys personally track down the villains and deliver one more sound thrashing to the malodorous malcontent and his pretty patsy…

Rounding off this superb collection is a thorough ‘Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs Episode Guide’ by Rick Norwood as well as a glorious graphic Mexican travelogue feature by Crane in ‘An Afterword in Pictures’ as well as the informative biography section ‘About the Authors’.

If I’ve given the impression that this has all been grim and gritty turmoil and drama thus far, please forgive me: Crane was a superbly irrepressible gag-man and his boisterous, enchanting serials abound with breezy, light-hearted banter, hilarious situations and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors plunder to this day.

Easy was the Indiana Jones, Flynn (The Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton of his day – and, clearly blazing a trail for all of them – whilst Wash was akin to Danny Kaye or our own Norman Wisdom: brave, big-hearted, well-meaning, clay-footed, irrepressible and utterly indomitable everymen… just like all of us.

This superb monochrome landscape hardback (274 x 33 x 224 mm) is a wonderful means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer.

This is comics storytelling of the very highest quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside her best of Hergé, Tezuka and Kirby and led irrefutably to the creations of all of them. Now that you have the chance to experience the strips that inspired the giants of our art form, how can you possibly resist?
Hurricane Isle: The Best of Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy Strips © 2015 United Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

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.