Blue


By Pat Grant (Pat Grant/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-153-4

As far as the global mass-market is concerned, Australia doesn’t do comics. There’s no home-grown Oz equivalent to Beano or Spirou or 2000 AD, no Akira or Batman to enthral the entire nation.

You don’t hear about their industry bashes such as OzComic-Con and nobody applauds if you say you’ve been nominated for a Stanley Award…

Yet Australia harbours an incredibly potent and dedicated cartooning community, quietly turning out a broad and utterly beguiling range of strips and features from kiddie-comics to strictly adult fare that we seldom get to enjoy in the Northern climes (just check out UK ex-pat Eddie Campbell’s work or Neomad: Space Junk or the precious few titles from Gestalt Publishing that have made it to Britain to see what I mean…).

One of the most enticing and rewarding releases in decades recently came courtesy of cartoonist and passionate surfer Pat Grant. In 2012 his debut graphic novel Blue set tongues wagging not just down under but all over: a superbly realised amalgam of graphic autobiography, socially-relevant historical treatise and fantasy-tinged cautionary tale…

Like so much Australian graphic narrative, Blue owes more to the underground and alternative comics movements than to mainstream. The art is rendered in a muted, limited-colours palette in a style vaguely reminiscent of Peter Bagge, but the storytelling is all original; mixing memories of growing up in small remote company-town with themes of alienation as filtered through a lens of constant, unwelcome change, incipient onrushing maturity and impending humdrum crushing responsibility.

Blue is seductive, familiar, scary and also punishingly funny where it’s most inappropriate…

Bolton is a town by the sea, built a generation ago by the company to house its work force. Years passed and the town stopped being shiny and new. The workers had kids and the kids grew bored. They had school and surfing and no prospects. And then the aliens started turning up. Unwelcome, unwanted, probably illegal and so clearly unwilling to mix. Soon they were everywhere, spoiling everything…

Christian never made it out. He’s a burn-out these days, sucking down bevies when not coasting a dead-end painting gig – and boozing on the job too if no one’s watching – so he’s got time to tell you about those days when he was a kid and lived for surfing…

The day he remembers most vividly is when him and Verne and Muck skipped school to chase a truly massive wave and decided to go see the body of a bloke who died on the railway tracks the night before…

Graphically imaginative, boldly experimental and gratefully expressing his debt of inspiration to the film Stand By Me, Grant has woven here an intoxicating web of intrigue and memory which resonates with the mythic image we all have of life in Oz and the knowledge of what kids ought to be like.

However, the most powerful sense is one of constant motion, bolstered by stunning, nigh-abstract seascapes and wave fronts, as his actors move raucously, rowdily and rapidly through their scenes propelled by bad instincts and inexpressible desire for something different…

Although you may not share Grant’s personal background, readers cannot help but be swept away by the author’s utterly convincing immersion in the minutiae of nostalgia and poignant bewilderment in how we all got to here and now…

With an introduction by Dylan Horrocks and text feature ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images Memory and Australia’s Surf Comics’ – an erudite and fascinating extended essay by Grant detailing the history of the nation’s board bound phenomenon – this enchanting hardback tome is a total treat for comics connoisseurs indoors or outside.
© 2012 Pat Grant. All rights reserved.

America Gone Wild! – Cartoons by Ted Rall


By Ted Rall (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978- 0-7407-6045-7

You might have seen this quote before. Doesn’t mean it’s not still true…

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow.

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been scurrilous, impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all iniquities: pictorially haranguing the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Sometimes these artists have been just plain mean…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial gadfly’s mill. That’s never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

Frederick Theodore Rall III is interested and engaged and knows the risks.

Born in 1963, he is a respected and despised columnist, freelance editorial cartoonist, graphic novelist and war correspondent who homes in like a laser-sight on social ills, cultural stupidity and the venality of power elites – celebrities, businesses, organisations, religions and especially political demagogues. He is always accused of being a Liberal, and always hated (and probably feared) by whoever is in Office at the time…

Although his work has been seen in numerous publications such as Rolling Stone, Time, Fortune and the New York Times, this particular collection features cartoon panels and strips taken from a range of syndicated sources as well as publications such as the Charleston City Paper, Gear, Men’s Health, The Village Voice and Mad magazine amongst others: all crafted during the last Republican incumbency: a time of madness, war, terror, torture, hypocrisy and sheer greed.

It’s an era the new American president promises to in large part restore…

This sublime Weapon of Mass Deliberation comes as square, monochrome paperback (224 x 224 mm) and variable-sized eBook (now that’s democracy for you!) fronted by an evocative Foreword from our own pen-pushing one-man protest movement Steve Bell before Rall’s Prefaceincluding a Behind the Scenes Look at my Most Controversial Cartoons – offers background, context, reasons for his artistic decisions.

This includes intimate details and a truly terrifying selection of death threats, internet abuse messages and apologies from folks who were enraged at Rall’s screed du jour. Other inclusions show that many thought they were mad at him only to discover how they’d been misled, massaged or merely lied to by the mainstream commercial news outlets.  Surely not…?

Ted Rall pulls no punches and that attitude has won him a raft of awards, the loathing of fanatics of every stripe and persuasion plus lots of apologies whenever his peculiar passion – seeing all sides of issues which are almost never binary equations – is finally accepted by a public which usually only hears about his cartoons from agenda-based media outlets such as Fox News or New York Daily News.

This collection actually lets you see what trolls, drones and professional complainers are so disgracefully quick to react to: representing some of Rall’s most potent, memorable and effective graphic broadsides and strip scalpel-slashes from the war years of the G. W. Bush Administration. These include but are far from restricted to pithy exposés of media-hungry ‘Terror Widows’, ruminations over ‘The War on Judgment’ and explanation of resource-management in ‘Here’s Where We’ll get More Troops’

Some of the compulsive commentator’s most life-endangering panels are included here too. ‘Reagan in Hell’ generated an appalling storm of poison for the artist, as did ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabinet or, Black Man’s Burden’ and ‘Appropriate Punishments for Deposed Bushists’, but the most important thing to remember throughout this collection is that the picture and words result from genuine concern from a very smart, talented and INFORMED individual who actually bothers to check facts before sounding off…

Also making this final cut are such slyly fervent strips as ‘Free Speech Maniacs’, ‘Just Get Over It!’, ‘Let’s Meet Other Heroic Government Workers’, ‘Proxy Politics’, ‘Republicans on the Rampage!’, ‘Why we Spy on Americans Instead’ and ‘Ordnance sans Frontières’; satirical assaults like ‘Special Privileges for Blacks’, ‘Society at a Glance’, ‘The Left Gets Organized’, ‘Jury Selection Made E-Z’ and ‘Understanding Editorial Cartoons’ as well as less-emotionally charged, surreal snipes and contemporary cultural critiques including ‘Enroll in School of Bodily Fluid Arts’, ‘Jihad Slacker’, ‘Sometimes Love is Not Enough’ and ‘Freedom Marches On’

Presumably just to prove he’s not always proselytising, there are also splendid selections of comics on life-style, work and relationships from Men’s Health and outrageously strange strips from Mad focusing on high school (7 Periods) and superheroes (The Adventures of Fantabulaman) to keep you laughing when you’re not shouting or crying.

This is a superb slice of “Look Back in Anger” by an immensely talented proponent of the art, dedicated to the most revered principles of cartoon dissent and journalistic calling-to-account. His recent stuff is even better. As a new era dawned in US politics he released a “manifesto to topple Trumpism”. I can’t wait to see that as a graphic novel…
© 2006 Ted Rall. All rights reserved.

Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7413-3                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-7927-5

Cats rule the world. Just ask the internet.

Those of us with moggies also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

However, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her indolent furry overlords earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively and interminably poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling series of strips detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

The history and development of the feature is covered in Dunn’s Introduction (which you can read if your own claw-pawed companions give you some time off) before this superbly engaging full-colour digest-sized (165 x 203 mm) paperback concentrates on crucial domestic and foreign issues.

Drawing attention on the home front are items such as ‘Everything is Broken and We Don’t Know Who Did It’, ‘The Food Bowl is Still Empty’, ‘The People Bought Some Stupid-Looking Thing For the Dining Room’, ‘The Woman is Cooking Bacon’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Use a Laptop’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Make the Bed’ and ‘The People Bought a Different Kind of Kibble’ whilst long-range outside broadcasts confirm ‘The Man is in the Backyard’, ‘The Neighborhood is Under Attack’ and ‘The Trees are Falling Apart’

The rolling news is backed up by In-Depth packages devoted to ‘The People Are Going Insane’ (moving house to us two-foots) and the entire team undertake a dedicated series on a lengthy brush with maternity (‘The Woman is Feeling Under the Weather’, ‘The Spare Room is Filled With New Cat Furniture’, ‘The Woman has a Hair Ball’ and ‘The People are Awake in the Middle of the Night’) to prove that cats don’t just want vapid snippets of information for mayfly attention spans but can also handle complex issues with no simple solutions…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh.
© 2016 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Abigail and the Snowman


By Roger Langridge, with Fred Stresing (Kaboom!)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-900-8 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-61398-571-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Seasonal Spectacle to Enjoy Over and Over Again… 10/10

Cartoonist Roger Langridge is a very talented man with a uniquely beguiling way of telling stories. He has mastered every aspect of the comics profession from lettering (Dr. Who) to writing (Thor: the Mighty Avenger) to illustration.

When he combines them (The Muppet Show Comic, Zoot!, Fred the Clown, Snarked), the approbation, accolades and glittering prizes such as Eisner and Harvey Awards can’t come fast enough.

He is also a bloody genius at making folk laugh…

Abigail and the Snowman started life as an all-ages comicbook miniseries before being gathered in one single sensational package just in time to become a Christmas favourite.

When nine-year-old Abigail and her father move to a British seaside town just before her birthday she’s not expecting much. Things have been tough lately. It’s just her and Dad now and he’s having job troubles whilst the prospect of starting a new school fills her with dread and resignation…

It goes just like she expected. Whilst the hard-pressed Man of the rented, box-filled House frantically scrabbles for work to make ends meet, she gets the cold shoulder from her new classmates at Shipton-On-Sea Primary School.

At least she’s still got imaginary friend/invisible dog Claude to play with and her dead mum to talk to…

And that’s when things get really strange as Abigail stumbles across a hulking, nattily-dressed and well-spoken Yeti hiding in the playground. He was kidnapped as a baby by a shady department of the government who want to abstract and duplicate the Abominable Snowmen’s ability to cloud men’s minds. He’s just escaped and been on the run for ages…

Thankfully Yetis can walk about unseen in the midst of men, but it quickly becomes apparent that the trick doesn’t work on humans who haven’t endured puberty yet…

Pretty soon the affable giant is a shared secret amongst the kids and weirdo newcomer Abigail is the most popular kid in school. Sadly, the Yeti – who happily adopts the name Claude – has been followed since his escape.

British Shadow Men equipped with special goggles to track him are hard on his hairy heels, and soon trace the snowman to Abigail’s bedroom where he’s comfortably hiding…

When the kid conspirators satisfactorily deal with them, however, the clandestine organisation calls in its biggest gun: a gung ho, total maniac dubbed Mr. Fix-It who never fails and considers collateral damage or civilian casualties as fringe benefits…

With the net closing in, it’s clear that Claude has to leave, but even as Abigail executes a heartbreaking and devilishly clever plan to sneak Claude out of the country and back to the Himalayas, the ruthless, relentless Ministry monster-hunter strikes and, despite the surprising assistance of a few former enemies, Claude has to find a new and lasting solution to all his problems…

Drenched in wit and warmth, this is a hilariously fun and fast-paced adventure romp, loaded with spectacle and action yet concealing plenty of twisty surprises to enthral young and old alike.

In an age of bonuses and extras this slim tome also offers a cover-&-variants gallery by Sonny Liew, Langridge and his faithful colourist Fred Stresing, plus a quartet of mostly monochrome mini-exploits of the shadowy Ministry Men in their alternative career as ‘The Zookeepers’ of the clandestine and fabulous Crypto-Zoo…

An utter delight from start to finish, this yarn is a perfect example of comics at its most welcoming, and don’t be surprised if it turns up as a movie or BBC TV special one of these days…
™ & © 2014, 2015 Roger Langridge. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will laugh out loud and want more.

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

Don’t.

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

Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: a Keepsake Garland of Classics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last strip appeared on September 23rd 2012.

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

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

So What’s Going On Here…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovers’ Lane – the Hall-Mills Mystery


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author is a unique talent not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology in the telling of his tales. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

Seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing give these tales an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading, and such superb storytelling is an ideal exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. These merrily morbid murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.
© 2012 Rick Geary.

Murder by Remote Control


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

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

Can I at least muddy the waters a little more?

Yes I Can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be (hopefully) Continued…

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

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

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