The Power of Tank Girl


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: … 8/10

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

Possibly the most upstarty of all were art-students Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin (and, tangentially, Phillip Bond) who prowled the local convention circuit impressing the hell out of everybody with their photocopied fanzine Atomtan. At the back of issue #1 was a pin-up/ad for a dubious looking young lady with a big, Big, BIG gun and her own armoured transport. And now it’s suddenly 30 years later…

Commissioned by Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon for their new publishing venture Deadline (a pop-culture magazine with loads of cool comics strips), the absurdist tales of a feisty, well-armed chick roaming the wilds of a futuristic Australia with her Kangaroo boy-friend Booga caught the imagination of a large portion of the public. There was even a movie…

After many years dallying with a sordid plethora of different publishers, the salty, soldierly slapper found her way to Titan Books – self-appointed custodian of the Best of British strip art – who comprehensively remastered her old adventures and spin-offs into a series of unmissable volumes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never too wedded to the concept of internal logic, chronological order, narrative consistency, linguistic restraint or spelling (so if you’re pedantic be warned!), this latest compote of outrageous and hilarious cartoon phantasmagoria revels in a glorious mud-bath of social iconoclasm, in-yer-face absurdity, decades of British Cultural Sampling and the ever-popular addictive sex ‘n’ violence.

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

Hägar the Horrible: The Epic Chronicles – Dailies 1980-1981


By Dik Browne (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-715-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a perfect package of traditional fun… 9/10

Although very much in decline these days, for nearly 200 years cartoon strips and gag-panels were the universal medium of wit, satire mirth and cultural exchange. Latterly we purveyors of primarily sequential narrative have exhibited an unhappy tendency to become protective and parochial about our own particular specialism within the greater art form.

How many times have we heard an artist or writer working on a hot new comicbook property revelling in sales of sixty-to-seventy thousand monthly copies, almost simultaneously disparage strips such as Dilbert, Dick Tracy or Garfield whose daily readership can be numbered in millions, if not billions?

Let’s all just try to remember that tastes differ, and that we’re all just making lines on a surface here, and most especially that TV and Computer Games are the real enemy of our industry, shall we?

OK, rant over.

Mainstream cartooning is a huge daily joy to a vast and often global readership whose needs are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers dipping their toes in the sequential narrative pool. Even those stuck-up stickybeaks who have pointedly “never read a comic” have read and enjoyed strips or panels, and in this arena Britain has seen not only a golden bounty of home produced material but also imported some of the very best the rest of the world has to offer.

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.

A professional cartoonist and illustrator, he worked for Newsweek and in advertising after mustering out, 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 – a few Classics Illustrated Junior issues – and produced some 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 his sons Chance and Chris to take eventually over his cartooning duties – Dik devised 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 1900 newspapers in 58 countries in thirteen languages and the iconic characters have migrated to books, comic albums, games, animated movies, toys and more…

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

A certified classic of World Cartooning, Hägar the Horrible is the ongoing subject of a comprehensive collectors series and this latest (sixth) monolithic hardback compendium covers 7th July 1980 to January 2nd 1982, with the hard-drinking, voracious sea-roving Viking and his scurvy crew constantly trekking out to far climes before perennially staggering home to their quirky families in a never-ending stream of sight gags, painful puns and surreal situations.

This volume opens with a passionate reverie from a close associate and fellow star cartoonist in the Foreword by Lynn Johnston before Chris Browne shares memories of one his dad’s most imaginative and appealing children’s books (The Land of Lost Things co-created with Mort Walker) in ‘The Lost World of Dik Browne’.

Then, before the cavalcade of comic calamity commences, readers old and new are regaled with a handy chart of the Hägar Family Tree, reintroducing the great man and his doughty dependents: Helga the long-suffering wife, studious son Hamlet and troublesome teenaged daughter Honi.

Also making an appearance are faithful canine Snert, stroppy house-duck Kvack and the hero’s faithful if intellectually challenged sidekick Lucky Eddie

The magic of these daily strips is the constant stream of japes and capers constantly revisiting established themes and hot-button topics. Over the hundreds of pages that follow you can see Hägar’s perpetual struggle to bring home the bacon (and wine and gold and textiles and…), spar with Helga as she fruitlessly struggles to civilise her barbaric oaf of a man, and Honi’s torment as she pines equally for seedy musician Lute and noble knight Sir Philip Courtright whilst testing out other matrimonial options and alternatively considers a career as a axe-swinging Valkyrie…

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 whilst Lucky Eddie and the mismatched crew of incompetent sea-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…

Enticing, irrepressible, hilarious and deeply satisfying, Hägar the Horrible is a masterpiece of the strip cartoonists’ unique art form and one guaranteed to deliver delight over and over again to young and old alike.

Hägar the Horrible is © 2014 King Features Syndicate and ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved. All strips © 1980 & 1981 King Features Syndicate. All rights reserved. All other material © 2014 their respective authors.

An Age of License – a Travelogue


By Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-768-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a fresh taste of all that’s right about comics and creators… 8/10

Since I first started reading comics (sometime soon after the discovery of fire) the industry and art form has undergone a magical transformation in styles and formats and a huge expansion in content.

Where once the medium was populated with heroes and horrors, fantasies and wish fulfilment exercises, these days literally anything can become the engrossing and absorbing meat of graphic narrative, dependent only upon the skill and passions of dedicated and inspired artisan creators.

A superb example of this broadening of strip horizons is globe-girdling cartooning diarist and epicure Lucy Knisley who has made a career out of documenting her life as it happens, detailing her experiences and fascinations in an engaging and entertaining manner through such graphic missives as French Milk and Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.

Now she’s back with another beguiling slice of graphic verité whish covers a European working vacation come bittersweet lovers tryst.

This latest voyage begins in 2011 when the cat-loving cartoonist was invited to be a guest at Norway’s Raptus Comics Festival. After some understandable dithering and consultation with pals and fellow pros the author agreed, planning to turn the Work Jolly into the start of an extended visit to friends in Germany and vacationing family in France…

As the time nears the daunting plans all come together and Lucy prepares herself by immersing in personal Scandinavian-ness: researching the family history of her Swedish grandparents…

Events obtain a sharper edge in New York in the months immediately preceding the trip as she meets visiting Henrik: a most fanciable lad she agrees to visit in his Stockholm home after the convention…

With her six-venue itinerary sorted all that’s left is for the journey to begin…

Packed with intimate detail and engaging introspection, rendered in clean, clear compelling black line – augmented by occasional bursts of painterly watercolour illustration – this is a fabulously absorbing voyage with a most delightful and forthright travel companion who unstintingly shares her thoughts, feeling and experiences in a manner guaranteed to win over the most jaded fellow passenger – especially as she always garnishes her slivers of new experience with her trademark adventures and observations through the welcoming lens of regional foods made and enjoyed.

Through work, relaxation, the hazy indolence of a love affair and its gradual ending, a phrase she heard in the winemaking region of Beaune in France comes to haunt her.

L’Age license – a time of freedom for youth to try, fail, experiment and learn – fascinates and captivates her and she spends much of her time in France and beyond, searching for its truth, origins and meaning…

Exceedingly funny, sweet, disarmingly incisive, heartwarming, uncompromising and utterly enchanting, this beguiling, moving memoir is a comics experience unlike any other and fans of travel, storytelling and a life well-lived will adore the open, sharing experience it vicariously offers.
An Age of License © 2014 Lucy Knisley. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lobey’s The Wee Boy! – Five Lobey Dosser adventures by Bud Neill


By Bud Neill, compiled by Ranald MacColl (Mainstream Publishing)
ISBN: 1-85158-405-6

Nobody’s ever accused me of being sensitive to the tone of the times, but with all thoughts directed north of the border for so long now, I’ve decided to feature this superbly unique dose of Celtic (more properly Glaswegian) cartoon magic today.

It’s the work of a tragically near-forgotten genius of pen and brush who should rightly be a household name wherever people like to laugh and ponder the absurdity of existence, no matter what flag they fly.

William Neill – forever immortalised as “Bud” – was born in 1911 in Partick just before the family moved to Troon in Ayrshire. He was a typical kid and fell in love with the brash wonder of silent movies – most especially the rambunctious westerns of William S. Hart.

His other great drive was a love of horses, and he could always be found hanging around stables, trading odd jobs for the chance of a few minutes’ riding.

After finishing school the young artistic star won a place at Glasgow School of Art. In the late 1930s Bud briefly emigrated, working in Canada and absorbing the tricks of America’s greatest newspaper cartoonists in their creative heyday.

He served as a gunner during WWII but was invalided out and became a bus driver. These experiences led to his creating a series of pocket cartoons starring the “Caurs & Clippies” of Glasgow’s tramcar system.

By 1944 Bud was drawing for the Glasgow Evening Times: sharp, wry observational pieces starring the city and its inhabitants, characterised by a devastating and instantly enchanting use of the iconic rhythms, vernacular and argot everyone shared.

In January 1949 The Evening News began running the uniquely surreal escapades of his greatest creation. Sheriff Lobey Dosser of Calton Creek was a brilliant inspiration: the adventures of a canny wee lawman in a hauntingly typical western town populated exclusively by Scots (from Glasgow’s Calton district, presumably) living an outrageously domestic, hilariously apt inner city life all whilst tricked out in cowboy hats and six-guns…

Delving deep into the venerable, anarchic and often surreal material of music hall and pantomime, Bud crafted a supremely odd, anachronistically familiar, bizarrely inviting world of solecism masquerading as local events. The series transferred to The Sunday Mail in 1956 where it became so popular that previous, complete strip adventures were collected in instant sell-out, one shilling landscape booklets (all incredibly sought after collectors’ items these days).

Neill died in 1970 but his work steadily continued to garner fans and acquire a mythical status, so by the middle of the decade Glasgow artist and sculptor Ranald MacColl began work on a biography.

That in turn led to a series of graphic collections such as this one and eventually belated recognition for Neill and his most memorable creations.

Bud was subsequently celebrated in exhibitions, galleries and, following Glasgow’s becoming European City of Culture in 1990, two separate bronze statues (Lobey, Rank Bajin and noble steed Elfie in Woodlands Road and, in Homecoming Year 2009, The G.I. Bride and her “Wean” at Partick Station), funded by public donations, Strathclyde Passenger Transport and private sponsors.

Hard to find but so worth the effort, Lobey’s The Wee Boy! gathers the contents of five of those shilling collections in a sensibly narrative chronological – not publication or even creation – order and is packed with informative extras such as MacColl’s fascinating historical and atmospheric Introduction and a hilarious Prologue by Bud himself from 1958, before the astonishing origin of the champion of Calton Creek is revealed in ‘Lobey Dosser: His Life Story’.

On a rare quiet day the grizzled sheriff recounts his early life to a jail full of impressionable young’uns…

Once upon a time in auld Glesca a mother had one bairn too many and the precocious tyke, to spare her further hardship, put his possessions in a hanky on a stick and headed off to make his way in the world.

Although only a few months old, he rejected being fostered out to his mean Auntie Mabel and joined a merchant ship under the tyrannical Captain Blackswite, unaware that the big shouty blackguard was a pirate…

After many exciting years at sea Lobey jumped ship and was befriended by cannibals and their erudite chief Hannibal which led to more exploring, meeting monsters and other strange things before encountering a race of Oxbridge-educated white savages and happily acquiring a rare two-legged horse.

El Fideldo was to become his greatest friend and inseparable companion. Together they made their way to Mexico where the wee wanderer discovered an unsuspected talent for upholding the law and keeping the peace. After cleaning out a nest of vicious banditos the restless pair headed north and soon fetched up in Laredo, Texas where a disastrous love affair with Adoda, formidable daughter of wealthy Whisk E. Glorr, led to a clash with rustlers led by scurrilous Watts Koakin

His heart broken – even though he had cleaned up the range – Dosser and Elfie kept heading west until they reached Arizona and first met future arch-nemesis Rank Bajin selling out the wagon train he was guiding to the local Sioux…

Rescuing the embattled settlers, Lobey decided to stay with the Scots expats as they built a town in the wilderness.  They called it Calton Creek…

Wild, imaginative and with every daily episode loaded with sight gags, striking slapstick, punishing puns, cartoon in-jokes and intoxicating vernacular, each Lobey Dosser tale was a non-stop carnival of graphic mirth and this terrific tome continues in fine fettle with ‘The Mail Robbery’ wherein nefarious Bajin attempts to incite an Indian uprising amongst the Pawnee of Chief Toffy Teeth and leaves the little lawman to die of thirst in the searing deserts. As the scorched sheriff struggles to survive, the naïve citizens are left to adapt to a protective occupation by flash Yankee G.I.s and airmen…

Sardonic and satirically cutting, the yarn also sports one of the best – and daftest – horseback chases in entertainment history…

Romance and mystery abound in ‘The Secret of Hickory Hollow’ as that Bajin scoundrel buys up the mortgage on Vinegar Hill’s farm and tries to kick out the old coot and his substantial niece Honey Perz. The villain has got wind of a mineral resource on the property that would make a man as wealthy as the Maharaja of Baroda, or perhaps even a regional Deputy Superintendent of the Coal Board…

When Lobey organises the cash needed to pay off the outstanding loan, Bajin reluctantly resorts to the last resort and begins romancing sweet, innocent, hulking Honey…

It all looks bleak for justice until the sheriff befriends an astoundingly good-looking and wholesome uranium prospector named Hart O’Gold who quickly tickles Honey’s fickle fancy…

However nobody – including ghostly guardian Rid Skwerr – is prepared for the soviet spies behind the entire affair to jump in take over and it needs the timely intervention of mystic imp Fairy Nuff to save their accumulated hash before the Dosser can finally expose the viper in the nest…

The local natives are always up to mischief and ‘The Indian War’ kicks off when the railroad tries to lay track through Pawnee Territory just as Chief Rubber Lugs of the Blackfeet Tribe revisits an old and outstanding grudge with Chief Toffy Teeth.

The ineffectual Captain Goodenough arrives with a division of cavalry to safeguard the white citizenry but matters soon worsen, painfully exacerbated when the folk of Calton Creek take advantage of Lobey’s absence (he’s trying to negotiate with both bunches of bellicose braves) to run Rank Bajin out of town and the hooded hoodlum starts freely peddling weapons to both sides…

…And then Bajin kills Lobey and takes over the town.

…And then…

The last yarn in this monochrome tome of tall tales is the most incredible of all as ‘The “Reform” of Rank Bajin’ sees the vile villain scooting around Calton Creek doing good deeds and selling off his astounding arsenal of wicked weapons and cunning contraband. Baffled, perplexed, confused and not sure what’s going on, Lobey asks Boot Hill haunter Rid Skwerr to spy on the no-longer reprehensible Rank and even love-struck Fairy Nuff gets in on the act.

The astounding truth finally emerges: Bajin has a boy who is growing up honest, so he is selling up and returning to the family he deserted in Borstal Bluffs, Iowa to sort the shameful lad out. Knowing the tremendous vacuum his absence will leave in Calton’s exciting landscape, however, he has a recommendation for a locum arch-enemy for his arch-enemy…

Can this possibly all be true or is the beastly Bajin executing his most sinister scheme yet?

Cunningly absurdist, socially aware, humorously harnessed insanity in the manner of Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and the immortal Goon Show, the adventures of Lobey Dosser are a brilliant example of comic strips perfectly tailored to a specific time, place and audience which magically transcend their origins to become a masterpiece of the art form.

It’s also side-splitting, laugh-out-loud, Irn Bru spit-take hilarious and really needs to be recollected for today’s audiences.

And of course that’s what I really want: a complete reprinting of these sublimely perfect spoofs.

And once you read some so will you…
© Ranald MacColl 1992. All rights reserved.

David, we’re PREGNANT!


By Lynn Johnston (Meadowbrook Press)
ISBN: 978-0-67176-018-2

I suspect the world’s about to go into Celeb-Baby Meltdown again so here’s how I shamelessly cash in, since we can’t send nippers up chimneys or down mines anymore…

As Shakespeare would have it “the world must be peopled”, but if we must there’s always room for a little sensible advice and preparation, so here’s an old cartoon book to provide a few laughs along with all the useful tips and calming, shared experiences.

Of course it’s all actually just another excuse for me to bemoan the loss of those once-ubiquitous cheap ‘n’ cheerful gag-packed paperbacks which are now all-but-forgotten fossils of a once mighty industry; pushed to extinction by the more palatable-sounding graphic novels and trade paperback collections.

Lynn Johnston (née Ridgway) is a national treasure of Canada where her cartooning and narrative talents first came to the fore. Born in 1947 in Collingwood, she was raised in North Vancouver, attending Vancouver School of Art before beginning her career as an animator.

In 1969 she married and was working as a medical artist at McMaster University when this project began in most unlikely circumstances. As described by Dr. Murray W. Enkin in his Introduction to David, we’re Pregnant!, whilst he was attending her in the early days of her first pregnancy, she was staring up – as you apparently do – at his blank ceiling and offered to draw some cartoons to comfort and entertain her fellow mums-to-be during such necessary but rather discommoding and undignified moments.

The result was a huge success in his surgery and was transferred in 1973 to a petite cartoon book which became a huge global sensation. It spawned two sequels (Hi Mom! Hi Dad! and Do They Ever Grow Up?) and led in 1978 to her being invited by the mighty Universal Press Syndicate to create a family comic strip.

Enticed by a twenty year contract, she began the still-running For Better or For Worse, based on her own family and soon fame, through massive syndication, best-selling books, and popular TV and movies soon came knocking…

She is one of the most gifted and celebrated cartoonists in the business, with awards including a Reuben from the National Cartoonists Society, Pulitzer nominations, a Gemini Award and a basketful of Honorary Degrees and Doctorates. Johnston holds both The Order of Canada and membership in The Order of Manitoba. She has her own star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and was elected in 2008 to The National Cartoon Museum Hall of Fame.

David, we’re Pregnant! is a solid example of a lost art form: mature-themed gag-collections which were the last commercial gasp in a tradition of pictorial entertainments that began with Punch and evolved into a publishing standby of British and American life for nearly a century before fading away to loiter around bargain bins, jumble sales and junk shops…

As much social satire as self-help, this deliciously addictive art-party traces the vicissitudes of trying to get pregnant, the idiocies of first-time-fathers, “helpful” family members who’ve been there, doctors in all their glory and the shock of realising you’re going to be PARENTS…

Also raising alarm and smiles are panels on the then-revolutionary Lamaze classes, the reactions of older kids to a new sibling, pregnancy clothes, finances, food crazes, quitting smoking and the horrors of getting fat…

Through morning sickness, name selection, waiting for the first kick, expectant mothers-in-law and partners who think they’re funny to delivery and those early times of loud noises, bad smells and no sleep, this splendid tome keeps the entertainment quotient at maximum whilst delivering a bunch of trenchant and even useful home truths…

Cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly smart ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities, stroking our happy places and feeding our fascinations. This sort of thing used to be bread ‘n’ butter in our game, so why not find a shy, alluring little bookshelf and start filling it with marvellous evergreen material like this…

David, we’re Pregnant! is a superb example of a major artist in fiendishly clever and beguiling form, generating warmth and fun with easy charm and utter aplomb. If you find this book (or indeed any cartoon compilation) give it a try. They’re a dying breed and you really will miss them once they’re gone…
© 1975 Potlatch Publications. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the cover and the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contain nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homo-sexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

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

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer 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 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.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody…

Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

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

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and 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, and each chapter offers a wealth of strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

Our history opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and unto college but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ from Gothic Blimp Works #1, ‘River City Shoot-Out’from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all from 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’ for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ from Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970 and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ from Insect Fear #1, ‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’ and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop out life style, all topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also provides ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’,‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ whilst Zap #5 1970 barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’, a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of counterculture thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate his creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974) which also provided a quartet of single frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’, a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadres like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including the eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975, illustrations for William Burroughs’seminal short story‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’(Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, the front and back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork,‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1, (1971), eight-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. 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 one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 3: Typhoons and Honeymoons


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-703-1

Once you start reading classic masterpieces of cartoon art you just can’t stop…

In these seen-it-all 21st century times where science is astounding and confounding us on a daily basis, it’s hard to remember a time when folk were impressed by things we now take for granted and merely human-scaled adventure was enough to set pulses racing and hearts pounding… until you read a book like this one.

This third stout and sturdy hardcover edition re-presents more magnificent newspaper strip exploits of dynamic all-American everyman Buz Sawyer: war hero, globetrotting troubleshooter and imminent groom-to-be, covering the epochal period from July 21st 1947 to October 9th 1949 wherein – after much procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed and sexy skulduggery – our boy finally married his extremely understanding sweetheart Christy Jameson.

Of course he then dragged her into his lethally adventurous world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil - a company with fingers in many international pies…

Before the two-fisted romance kicks off, however, the ever-erudite Rick Norwood uses a letter from Crane’s personal papers (donated to Syracuse University) to examine the creator’s history, influence and opinions in his own forthright words in ‘The Life of a Professional Artist’.

Crane and his creative team (see Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tiger for details) laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all mesmerisingly rendered in monochrome through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb underlying drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

The colour Sundays were usually the province of ghost artist Hank Schlensker and starred Buz’s grizzled old sidekick Roscoe Sweeny, and this volume concludes with a brief selection that primarily guest-starred the named lead and Roscoe in wartime reminiscences and occasional contemporary gag goof-offs…

The never-ending rollercoaster of thrills, spills and chills picks up as Frontier Oil’s Mr. Fixit reels at the realisation that he’s finally formally engaged to his girl…

Buz is only just coming to grips with the marriage in prospect, whereas avowed “Ladies Man” Chili Harrison is cynically unmoved that his former office-mate is on Cloud 9… at least until they get a desperate call from mutual Navy buddy Thirsty Collins. Their homely shipmate has a problem only Buz can solve…

The old salt had made good since hostilities ended and owns his own plantation on his own island. He has, however, been maimed in an accident whilst wooing a woman by post. Now she is coming to marry her Mr. Collins, based on his winning words and a single photo… of Buz.

With the jig up, Thirsty deeds Patricia Patterson all his worldly goods, sets up Sawyer to marry her and attempts his own wildly flamboyant suicide…

Reluctantly flying down to Puerto Rico, our hero is soon embroiled in a ludicrous imbroglio as, even after having everything explained, Pat professes to prefer the hunk at hand rather than her timid, missing matrimonial mystery man.

Thankfully a colossal hurricane and a conniving lecherous playboy cad do more to convince Collins to fight for and win his baffled bride than all Buz’s infuriated, exasperated arguments…

In Roy Crane’s world there are no tidy beginnings and endings. Each adventure follows seamlessly on from the last and even as Buz makes his way back to New York the next escapade was well underway.

Patient sweetheart Christy has had enough waiting around and goes looking for a job, landing up as Chili’s secretary, but only after the unrepentant, blithely unaware hound-dog clears the way by promoting his own highly efficient but unsightly amanuensis – at great personal financial cost – so that he can have unrestricted access to the pretty stranger joining Frontier Oil.

Naturally the sparks fly when Sawyer finds his fiancée toiling for his dissolute and probably degenerate former wingman, whilst Chili is horrified to find he had lost this particular hot babe to “old Buzzo” even before he had hired her…

As Buz lays his wedding plans and retirement, his crafty boss Mr. Wright convinces him to sideline all that mushy stuff for one last job, and soon Sawyer and Sweeney are in the Goat Islands off Portugal, hunting a devious gunrunning ring supplying rebels in Salvaduras.

Masquerading as itinerant writers on a yachting jaunt, our heroes don’t fool the bombastic Brobdingnagian bully Hammerhead Gool or his puny, effete but Machiavellian boss Harry Sparrow for a moment. It’s only the diminutive mastermind’s overwhelming squeamishness and sensitivity to the thought of blood that prevents their immediate destruction.

Moreover when deception, bribery and seduction fail to deter the undercover operatives, Sparrow resorts to abducting them whilst immediately despatching the cached ordnance and munitions to the revolutionaries wrecking Frontier’s Salvaduran oil fields.

That slow voyage of the damned only leads to the explosive loss of Sparrow’s ship and shipment as well as the end of the coup…

Back in America Buz has proved himself too valuable to lose, and Frontier’s most important executive J.J. Freeze finds herself – after all, a mere woman – compelled to employ him as a bodyguard on her secret mission to Java and all points East to secure lucrative mineral rights deals.

Sawyer is just as reluctant, but the promise of enough money to retire in style proves too tempting, and patient, understanding Christy is again left behind to fret and worry…

She has good reason: Sparrow is still alive and eagerly anticipating the prospect of a vast payoff and cruel vengeance…

Tracking Freeze and Sawyer from Ireland to Egypt to Singapore, the little weasel poisons Freeze, who orders Buz to go on to Surabaya, Java alone, carrying a cash payment of $1,000,000 for the nation’s capricious and over-educated Maharaja.

Harry even brazenly confronts Buz; putting our hero off guard as he instigates his latest master-plan: hiring a double to blacken Sawyer’s name and reputation in prim and proper Javanese High Society.

With the deal effectively scuppered, Sparrow maroons Buz on a desert island to force him to surrender the cash – unsuccessfully – before playing his final stroke: drugging the valiant troubleshooter with a solution that causes amnesia…

Back in America when word comes that the deal has flopped and both Buz and a million bucks are missing, Christy refuses to accept the slanderous stories and sells everything she owns to buy passage to Java. Soon she is an innocent abroad searching the dives and alleys of Surabaya for her man.

When she is targeted by bandits and worse, Christy’s frantic escape brings her into contact with a crazy old lady who collects stray cats – and did the same for a derelict American with no name or memory…

The action seamlessly shifts into romantic melodrama as Christy tries to win back Buz from the lonely and dangerous harridan he has come to love, but even after that struggle heart-wrenchingly succeeds, the greater fight to clear his mind and his name continues…

When that minor miracle is finally accomplished, the restored Buz at last begins the oft-postponed wedding plans, only to be kidnapped by his rich, crazy and somehow not dead stalker Sultry, the Maharani of Batu.

In no mood to be balked, however, the impatient two-fisted groom-to-be fights his way out of her palace and onto a Honolulu-bound plane…

Back in their rural hometown in time for Christmas, Buz and Christy finally tie the knot and prepare for the rest of their lives but the new Mrs. Sawyer is still terrified that domesticity might kill her over-active husband…

As the newlyweds enjoy a carefully sequestered and discreet honeymoon off-panel, Sweeney appropriates the daily strip for a few weeks in a hilarious comedy sequence as he attempts to find them the perfect wedding present and ends up hunting Longhorn Sheep off-season in the near-arctic conditions of the Rocky Mountains in December…

A turning point began in early 1948 as Wright and the Frontier Oil brass tracked down Buz to offer him a life-threateningly dull desk job or a perilous field assignment in Darkest Africa.

Perfect wife Christy, understanding Buz’s needs, bravely ignores her own feelings and talks him into the latter, offering to share his addiction to danger and the unknown…

Soon the couple are trekking across the Veldt: pioneers tasked with carving an airport and oil installation out of the jungle, but the natural wonders and threats of Africa are as nothing compared to the murderously conniving schemes of their nearest neighbour.

Dashing, debonair Kingston Diamond is solicitous in advice and unctuous in his welcome of the young Americans, but his patient game includes sabotage, terrorism, slaughtering Christy’s menagerie of pets and even murdering Buz to eventually win him the only white woman in 100 miles…

As previously mentioned, also included here are fourteen of the best Sundays – all notionally with appearances by Buz (spanning July 29th 1945 to 17th February 1963) – a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully turn one day into an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the Grand masters of our art-form.

Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons is another sublime slice of compelling comics wonder: an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus – bold, daring, funny and enthralling adventures which influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The seriesranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always offering comics tale-telling that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible.
Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

City of Crocodiles


By Knut Larsson (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-725-9

Born in 1972, Swedish cartoonist, artist, filmmaker and teacher – at the prestigious Comics Art School of Malmö – Knut Larsson is blessed with a unique vision and talent to spare (just check out his graphic albums Canimus, Lokmannen (Locomotive Man), Biografmaskinisten (The Projectionist), Kolonialsjukhuset – En kolonialläkares anteckningar (Colonial Hospital – A Colonial Doctor’s Notebook) or Triton.

If you’re a keen devotee of Euro-comics you’ll have seen his stories in C’est Bon Anthology, Electrocomics, Galago, Glömp, Rayon Frais, Strapazin, Stripburger, Turkey Comix and others, and may well have visited his international exhibitions as far afield as Angoulême, Tokyo, Erlangen or St. Petersburg. Typically, he is not a household name in Britain or America.

Yet…

Back in 2008 Larsson crafted Krokodilstaden: an eerie, post-apocalyptic, horror-tinged love story devoid of all dialogue or sound effects: a neosymbolist paean to the end times combining brutish, callous survivalism, ghostly mysticism, unchanging human passions, stubborn self-inflicted loneliness and the tenacious capacity of life to adapt to changing situations. Now Borderline Press have released it in an English Edition as their latest deliciously eerie offering: City of Crocodiles

Rendered in muted greys and brown monotones, one panel per page, the tale focuses on a drowned Earth where the waters have risen, relegating humanity to the top floors of buildings whilst toothy amphibians have proliferated all around and below them. Adamant Mankind is still hanging on, turning crocodiles into the primary natural resource: food, clothing, tooled utensils and even objects of cultish worship.

The saurians are everywhere and everybody and everything – humans, birds, surviving mammalian pets – are missing limbs or appendages…

In this world one particular croc-hunter ekes out his solitary existence, trading reptiles for booze and gasoline, haunted by his memories until the day he captures a strangely enticing woman in his nets. She is young, beautiful, exotic… and has a vestigial reptilian tail.

Avoiding the spooky, crazy crocodile cultists he takes her back to his place and endeavours to dress her in the garb and form of his dead lover before she seduces him…

Sadly that’s when his dearly departed darling returns, bristling with malice and ready for some spirited revenge…

Wry, moving, nightmarish yet ethereally lovely, City of Crocodiles is a masterpiece of visual storytelling that will astound and delight all lovers of the weird and macabre.
© 2008, 2014 Knut Larsson.

Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tiger


By Roy Crane & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-499-3

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible weapon to guarantee sales and increase circulation, the strips seemed to find their only opposition in the short-sighted local paper editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into advertising and frequently drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and 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 comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes over the years.

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

Debuting on April 21st 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane produced pages of stunning, addictive high-quality yarn-spinning for years, until his eventual introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This in turn led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4).

Practically improving minute by minute, the strip benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection: his imaginative, fabulous compositional masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comicbook masters such as Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The material was obviously as much fun 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/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so Crane stopped making them.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page to concentrate on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features, lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was a contemporary aviation strip set in the then still-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but largely comedic Lothario and his pal Easy a surly, tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a joyous amalgam of the two: a good-looking, popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him…

Buz was a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot daily risking his life with his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney: a bluff, brave and simply ordinary Joe – and one of the most effective comedy foils ever created.

The wartime strip was – and still is – a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. However when the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot and girl-chasing rival ChiliHarrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their penchant for adventure and romance wherever they could find it…

Crane was a master of popular entertainment, blending action and adventure with smart drama and compellingly sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes.

He and his team of creative assistants – which over the decades comprised co-writer Ed “Doc” Granberry and artists Hank Schlensker, Clark Haas, Al Wenzel, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin and Bill Wright) – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in the signature monochrome textures of line-art and craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones to the superb drawing for miraculous depths and moods) as well as the prerequisite  full-colour Sunday page.

This primarily black-&-white tome contains an impressive selection of those colour strips – although Crane came to regard them only as a necessary evil which plagued him for most of his career…

The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either Dailies or Sunday strips, but not both) meant that most creators had to produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Whereas Dailies needed about three weeks lead-in time, hand-separated colour plates for the Sabbath sections meant the finished artwork and colour guides had be at the engravers and printers a minimum of six weeks before publication.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb; using Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created the prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met, whilst in Buz Sawyer he turned the slot over to Roscoe Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on slapstick laughs and situation comedy.

During the war years it was set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship: a far more family-oriented feature and probably much more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically sexy sagas that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

A year before Steve Canyon began, Crane tried telling a seven-days-a-week yarn in Buz Sawyer – with resounding success, to my mind, and you can judge for yourself here – but found the process a logistical nightmare. At the conclusion he retuned to weekday continuity whilst Sundays were restored to Roscoe with only occasional guest-shots by the named star.

This second lush and sturdy archival hardback re-presents the tense and turbulent period from October 6th 1945 to July 23rd 1947 wherein de-mobilised adrenaline addict Buz tries to adjust to peacetime life whilst looking for a job and career – just like millions of his fellow ex-servicemen…

Before getting out, he had returned home on leave and ended up accidentally engaged. Buz was the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that ostensibly egalitarian environment the school sporting star became the sweetheart of ice-cool and stand-offish Tot Winter, the richest girl in town,

Now when her upstart nouveau riche parents heard of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turned it into a publicity carnival. Moreover the ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspired with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage.

Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing were enemies Buz and Sweeney were ill-equipped to fight, but luckily annoying tomboy-brat girl-next-door Christy Jameson had blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman.

She’d scrubbed up real pretty too and showed Buz that his future was rife with possibility. Mercifully soon, the leave ended and he and Sweeney returned to the war. The Sawyer/Winter engagement fizzled and died…

When their discharge papers finally arrived (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle was over. However that only meant that the era of globe-girdling adventure was about to begin…

Before the comics wonderment resumes, Jeet Heer and Rick Norwood take some time here discussing ‘The Perfectionist and his Team’. Concentrating initially on ‘After the War’ the fascinating explorations then delve deep into the detail of the artist’s troubled and tempestuous relationship with ‘Crane’s Team’ before offering ‘A Word on Comic Strip Formats’ and the censorious iniquities local newspaper editors would regularly inflict upon Crane’s work…

With all the insightful stuff over, the cartoon adventure begins anew as the newly civilian Mr. Sawyer goes home to a life of indolence before his own restless nature starts him fretting again.  The old town isn’t the same. Tot has inherited her father’s millions and moved to New York and even Christy is gone: away attending his old alma mater…

After a brief interlude wherein he visits the cheery Co-Ed and debates the merits of returning to college on the G.I. Bill, Buz instead opts for fulltime employment and heads to the Big Apple where Chili Harrison has a new job offer and an old flame waiting.

As he heads East, Buz chooses to ignore his instincts and the huge mysterious guy who seems to turn up everywhere he goes…

In NYC the aloof, alluring Tot is the cream of polite “arty” society but her wealth and clingy new fiancé – opera singer Count Franco Confetti – are all but forgotten when “the one who got away” hits town and she finds her interest in her High School beau rekindled.

Buz has moved in with Chili, blithely unaware that the strange and ubiquitous giant has inveigled himself into the apartment next door and is now actively spying on him…

Sawyer wants a job flying but is only one of hundreds of war-hero pilots looking for a position at International Airways. Moreover his reputation as a hot-shot risk-taker makes him the last person a commercial carrier might consider. However after well-connected Chili intercedes with a major player in the company – something does come up…

The truth about Buz’s hulking stalker comes out when the Maharani of Batu’s yacht docks in New York. The exotic Asian princess is one of the wealthiest women on Earth and cuts a stunning figure with her tiger on a leash. However when Buz first met her she was simply “Sultry”: a ferocious, remorseless resistance fighter helping him kill the occupying Japanese on her Pacific island.

She never forgot him and will ensure no other woman can have him…

Sultry moves into the penthouse adjoining Tot’s and is witness to the ploys of the Winter woman as she sidelines Confetti and makes a play for Buz. She is also a key figure in the tragic heiress’ sudden death…

Just prior to Tot’s gruesome demise Buz had finally met the unconventional Mr. Wright of International Airways. The doughty executive had no need for pilots but wanted a quick-thinking, capable fighter who could solve problems in the world’s most troubled conflict zones. He even has a spot open for good old Roscoe Sweeney…

Buz is all set for his first overseas assignment when the cops decide he’s the other prime suspect in Tot’s murder and, with Sawyer and Count Confetti in jail, Sultry tries to flee America before the truth comes out.

However Sweeney and the freshly exonerated Buz soon track her down, but Sultry turns the tables on them and shanghais her erstwhile lover, imprisoning him on her yacht, determined to make him her permanent boytoy, far, far away from American justice…

Never short of an idea and blessed with the luck of the damned, Buz’s escape results in a terrifying conflagration and the seeming death of his obsessed inamorata – but Sultry’s body isn’t recovered…

It takes a lot of pleading to get Mr. Wright to give him another chance but, soon after, Buz and Sweeney are winging north to Greenland to stop a crazed sniper taking pot-shots at aircraft passing over the “Roof of the World”.

This savage, visceral extended saga soon reveals the shooter to be a deranged leftover Nazi and his hapless attendants, but the heroes’ astonishing hunt for and capture of the Teutonic trio is as nothing compared to the harrowing trek to get them back to civilisation: especially since poor Roscoe is putty in the hands of Frieda, beautiful devil-daughter of the utterly mad Baron von Schlingle.

Before Buz get the survivors home safely, he loses his plane, has to forcibly trek across melting floes, gets them all stranded on a iceberg and even has his pretty-boy face marred forever…

Worst of all by the time he gets back to civilisation his job no longer exists. Mr. Wright has quit and moved on to another company…

It’s not all bad news: Wright has euphemistically become “Personnel Director” for Frontier Oil, a truly colossal conglomerate active all over Earth and wants Buz to carry on his unique problem-solving career for his new employers.

Despite a large bump in salary, the weary war hero is undecided – until he hears Christy is helping her father in the Central American nation of Salvaduras in his role as a geologist for Frontier Oil. This happily ties in with an outstanding missing persons case; said vanished victim being Bill Daniels, playboy son of a prominent company executive.

It takes very little to convince Wright to despatch Buz and Roscoe south of the border to investigate, opening the floodgates to a spectacular epic of light-hearted romantic adventure a world apart from the previous harrowing tale…

The story also saw Crane and Co. merging the Daily and Sunday strips into a single storyline (with the Sundays primarily illustrated by Schlensker) as the boys tried to trace the missing American in a country that seems locked in fear and poverty…

After initially hitting a wattle-and-daub wall, Buz takes time off for a picnic with Christy and, after a close call with a faux Mexican bandit (in actuality a Yankee fugitive from justice with an atrocious fake accent), declares his undying lover for her.

He is not rebuffed and there’s the hint of wedding bells in the air…

First however he and Sweeney need to finish their mission, and help comes from a brave peon who breaks the regional code of silence to put them on the trail of the mysterious Ranch of the Caves and its American émigré who runs the isolated canton with blood and terror.

After romancing the daughter of vicious “Don Jaime” Buz and Roscoe infiltrate the desolate fiefdom and the gang boss’ international band of thugs, discovering not only the very much alive missing playboy but an incredible lost Mayan treasure trove…

Mission accomplished, Buz returns to New York to marry Christy, only to find he’s already needed elsewhere. Christy too is having doubts, worried that she will always play second fiddle to her man’s lust for action, whereas in truth the real problem is that trouble usually comes looking for Buz…

Boarding a Frontier plane for the Yukon, Sawyer is merely a collateral casualty when the ship’s other passenger is kidnapped. The mysterious men abducting plastic surgeon Dr. Wing take their helpless hostages all the way to deepest Africa where they expected the medic to change the face of an infamous madman everybody in the world believes died in a Berlin Bunker…

Tragically the fanatics are not prepared for the physician’s dauntless sense of duty and sacrifice nor Buz’s sheer determination to survive…

The latter part of this tale describes Buz’s epic river trek with mercenary turncoat honey-trap Kitty as they flee from the vengeful Nazis, but even after reaching the coast and relative safety the insidious reach of the war-criminals is not exhausted and one final attack looms…

Eventually Buz returns to New York alone and wins time from the slave-driving Mr. Wright to settle things with Christy. He follows her to Nantucket Sound but even their romantic sailboat ride turns into a life-changing adventure…

This splendid collection is the perfect means of discovering – or reconnecting with – Crane’s second magnum opus: spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate romps that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: stirring, thrilling, outrageously funny and deeply moving tale-telling that is irresistible and utterly unforgettable.
Buz Sawyer: Sultry’s Tiger © 2012 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © 2012 the respective copyright holders. All Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc All rights reserved.

Buddy Buys a Dump: the Complete Buddy Bradley Stories from “Hate” volume III


By Peter Bagge with Joanne Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-745-1

Peter Bagge is best regarded these days as a fiery, cauldron-mouthed, superbly acerbic and well-established award-winning cartoonist, animator and musician, responsible for incredibly addictive, sharply satirical strips examining contemporary American life, through a small but memorable cast of sharply defined characters compellingly reflecting his views.

Born in Peekskill, Westchester County, New York in December 1957, he was one of four kids in a ferociously Catholic military family. Like esteemed colleague Robert Crumb a generation earlier, Bagge escaped that emotionally toxic, fight-filled environment as soon as possible, moving to New York City in the mid-1970s to study at the celebrated School of Visual Arts.

He soon dropped out and began working in the vibrant alternative publishing field, producing strips and panels for Punk Magazine, Screw, High Times, East Village Eye, World War Three and others.

Meeting like-minded artists he began self- and co-publishing comics, and when Crumb saw copies of Comical Funnies (produced with new chum John Holstrom in 1981 and the birthplace of the unsavoury star of this collection), Bagge was offered space in and eventually the Editorship of the seminal commix magazine Weirdo in 1983.

He augmented his 3-year tenure there with various paying gigs at Screw, Swank, Video X, Video Games Magazine, The Rocket, Bad News and elsewhere.

In 1984 Bagge relocated to Seattle, Washington State and began his association with alternative/Independent publisher Fantagraphics. The following year his spectacularly idiosyncratic cartoon magazine Neat Stuff launched as a thrice-yearly vehicle of outrageous personal expression and societal observation.

His stark, manic, topically surreal strips, starring old creations like Studs Kirby, Junior, Girly Girl and quintessential ineffectual rebel Buddy Bradley swiftly turned the cartoonist into a darling of the emerging West Coast Grunge scene, and before too long Neat Stuff and its successor Hate made Bagge a household name… at least in more progressive households…

As the 90’s became the next century, Bagge’s quasi-autobiographical Buddy starred in a succession of titles and strips (collected in Buddy Does Seattle and Buddy Does New Jersey); the cartoon character’s excitable existence mirroring typical life in that chaotic lost decade. In 2001 the author began releasing Hate Annuals wherein, amongst other strident graphic treats, middle-aging Buddy was seen having fully transitioned from angry teen slacker to working dad with a family to support…

This deliciously hilarious and painfully uncompromising full-colour collection gathers those traumatic middle years of Harold “Buddy” William Bradley Jr.- originally seen in Hate Annual #1-9, 2001-2011 – and opens with ‘Are You Nuts?’ as the irascible everyman is almost beguiled by crazy friend and occasional co-worker Jay Spano into buying a dilapidated aquabus and going into the guided-tour business in scenic New Jersey.

Naturally, his certifiably crazy wife Lisa has a few opinions on the matter…

A year later ‘A-Rod Goes to the Moon’ featured the catastrophic day when the Bradley women go for a “Ladies weekend” and leave Buddy in charge of not only his own baby boy, but sister Bab’s maladjusted brood. Soon however with half the kids in the neighbourhood tagging along, Buddy realises the depths of his folly and opts for a tried and true solution to his unwanted responsibilities…

‘The Domestication of Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley’ focuses on the little woman’s obsession with homemaking and search for a way to occupy her dull, dire days which translates to Buddy having to look for a better place for them to dwell, whilst in ‘Buddy Bradley gets a “Real” Job’ the old collectibles shop gets so stale that our hero takes gainful employment as a UPS delivery man.

However the shocking scams and appalling attitudes of his fellow honest workers soon drive him back to the relatively honourable profession of trading in junk, nostalgia and dreams…

‘Fuddy Duddy Buddy’ saw a drastic change in the visual aspect of the family man as, after a medical scare, he shaved his head, began sporting an eye-patch and took to wearing a naval captain’s cap. He also made a move to the nastier part of Jersey to fulfil his lifelong dream of running a rubbish dump…

With Lisa and toddler Harold safely if reluctantly ensconced in the big house attached to the tip, ‘Skeletons in the Closet’ then focuses on Buddy and Jay’s shift into the surprisingly lucrative scrap metal business, and the resurfacing of the most unsavoury of Buddy’s siblings and their childhood hoodlum friends. It seems folks are asking unwelcome questions about old Stinky Brown (a pal of Buddy’s who disappeared years ago), prompting gun-nut brother Butch Bradley and his cronies to move the body… but only finding that someone had already taken it…

‘The Future’s in Scrap!’ surprisingly finds Buddy and Jay prosperous if shabby partners in an exponentially expanding business, whilst ‘Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley Discovers her Creative Outlet’ details how the bored mother seeks out a fresh hobby and new friends only to finds herself embarrassingly embroiled in an all-girl band with strip club ambitions…

With things looking pretty sweet and stable in ‘Heaven’, the abrasive, raucous comedy takes a darkly observational turn in ‘Hell’ when Lisa drags the family back to Seattle to meet her ferociously religious mom and obnoxious dad.

It transpires that the parents she despises are both in dire health and legal straits and, after meeting her creepy fundamentalist foster brother and sex offender cousin, Buddy realises why his wife became the neurotic mess she is.

When Buddy and Harold return to the East Coast Lisa isn’t with them…

Everything wraps up without really ending in ‘Fuck it’ as, whilst Lisa struggles to cope with her folks’ decline in Seattle, back in the Garden State the man and his boy make big dramatic and definitely felonious changes to their lives…

Just like the eponymous star character, the hopefully still unfolding story of Buddy Bradley has slowly matured from razor-edged, broadly baroque, comedically clamorous observations and youthful rants into sublimely evocatively enticing treatises on getting by and getting older, although the deliciously fluid drawings and captivating cartoon storytelling remains as fresh and innovative as ever.

Bagge has always been about skewering stupidity, spotlighting pomposity and generally exposing the day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern life, but the strips in Buddy Buys a Dump also offer a beguiling view of passion becoming, if not wisdom, certainly shrewd appreciation of the unchanging verities of life: a treat no cartoon-coveting, laughter-loving rebel should miss…
© 2013 Peter Bagge. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.