The True Death of Billy the Kid


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-134-5

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 tales and wry oddments, 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.

For these illustrious venues 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 or Trotsky and his multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed 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 scours 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, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback or accessible eBook editions, his latest fact-finding expedition (originally released in 2014 as an extremely limited run private publication) diligently sifts fact from mythology to detail the demise of perhaps the most legend-laden outlaw in modern history.

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.

“Being an Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in his Brief And Turbulent Life”, The True Death of Billy the Kid brings the last days of the killer alternatively known as Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, William H. “Billy” Bonney or “The Kid” vividly into focus, beginning with ‘Chapter One: The Prisoner’ wherein the subject of our scrutiny languishes in cells of the Lincoln County Courthouse of the New Mexico Territory in April 1881.

Destined for the noose on May 13th, the prisoner provides reveries to encapsulate his sorry, short and blood-soaked life to date. Billy’s actions always seemed justified to him – and many others, both friends, comrades-in-arms and supporters – but nonetheless, his doom is assured.

With that thought ever foremost, The Kid determine not to die easy…

Much of the outlaw’s fame stems from the ‘His Greatest Escape’; broken down with mesmerising meticulousness in the Second Chapter and still a remarkable and spectacular feat of sheer bravado to this day, after which ‘Chapter Three: On the Dodge’ depicts his flight across vast tracts of wilderness before arriving in the rural enclave of Fort Sumner: a settlement well-known to Billy and one where he has many admirers…

In the meantime, veteran career lawman Pat Garrett reads reports and ponders before setting out to the one place he suspects his quarry will eventually hole up…

Events move inexorably in ‘Chapter Four: Death at Fort Sumner’ as Garrett and his handpicked deputies traverse the Pecos, arriving clandestinely in the peaceful hamlet on July 14th to begin surveillance before the last confrontation…

As ever supported by clear, informative maps, portraits of all major players and a copious index of sources consulted, this is a beguiling display of seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing which makes for an unforgettable read.

Geary’s superb storytelling is a perfect exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. His murder masterclasses should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector, and part of every school syllabus.
© 2014 Rick Geary.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Wyf of Bath (The Wife of Bath)


By Geoffrey Chaucer, illustrated by Greg Irons (Bellerophon Books)
ISBN: 978-0-88388-023-4

Perhaps I’m just showing off now, but this lost treasure, published in conjunction with a colouring book (The Chaucer Coloring Book, which collected the original woodcut illustrations from Caxton’s 1484 edition of The Canterbury Tales) is a terrific and logical blending of High Art and Our Art and one so very worthy of being republished.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as being a venerable and lauded landmark of English literature, was a ribald, earthy, popular and much-loved concatenation of short story character sketches, full of humanity’s every foible and peccadillo. It was rude, crude, action-packed, jammed with incredible situations and even had talking animals…

Thematically, how much closer can you get to the general opinion and popular conception of the comicbook?

Marry that with the art of the irreverent, subversive aesthetic and attitude of the San Francisco underground movement of the early 1970’s and you have a brilliant slice of pop-art history that actually possesses lasting social relevance and educational value.

The text of the Wife of Bath is typeset and in the original continental accentual-syllabic metre which Chaucer used to champion the London-dialect dominance of Middle English.

That means this will make a lot more sense if read aloud phonetically (the book, not my review, and perhaps in a northern English/Manchester accent). Or you could simply look at the stonkingly brilliant and funny, ribald pictures drawn by the astounding Greg Irons.

Although the original softcover is still available through some online retailers, surely some college or publishing house simply has the wherewithal to get this magical book back into print?
Artwork © 1973 Greg Irons. All rights reserved.

The World of Pont


By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning, he channelled his artistic proclivities into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother: training as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Perpetually dogged by ill-health, Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for The Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. By August of that year he had sold his first cartoon to that most prestigious bulwark of British publishing: Punch.

Laidler was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place the artist began travelling the world. On the way he drew funny pictures, mostly of “The English” both at home and abroad, eventually generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other exotic, exceedingly not British places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus” or “Pont” to the likes of you and me…

His greatest gift was an almost-surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which he disingenuously translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and genteel, baroque and subtle picture-plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humourist and draughtsman can still be felt in many areas of comedy and cartooning.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format, Pont’s true mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His carefully crafted images exemplified the British to the world at large and – most importantly – to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight far-too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St. Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell, Ronald Searle or Flanders and Swann, you won’t regret the effort.

Incomprehensibly, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive archival collection of Pont’s work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out slim tomes such as The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont or this particularly rare magical compendium.

The World of Pont is the perfect primer of his historical hilarity; sampling the best of Laidler’s drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’; ‘The British at War’; ‘Popular Misconceptions’; ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love great drawing and excoriating observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.

Smilin’ Jack: The Classic Aviator


By Zack Mosley (Classic Comic Strips)
No ISBN

Here’s another forgotten birthday boy seriously in need of an archival revival…

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips. These pictorial features were – until relatively recently – hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no social media or television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most poor or middle-income folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers.

“The Funnies” were the most common and an almost communal recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount – hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics” – and from these gag and stunt beginnings came mutants and hybrids like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs. Comedic when it began in 1924, it gradually moved from mock-heroics to light-action and became a full-blown, rip-roaring adventure series with the introduction of prototype swashbuckler Captain Easy in 1929.

From there it wasn’t such a leap to full-on blockbusters like Tarzan (which began on January 7th 1929) and Buck Rogers (the same day); both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties, but the majority of drama strips that followed were original productions.

The tidal-wave began in the early 1930s when an explosion of action and drama strips (tastefully tailored for a family audience and fondly recalled as “Thud and Blunder” yarns) were launched with astounding frequency and rapidity. Not only strips but entire genres were created in that decade which still impact on not just today’s comicbooks but all our popular fiction. Still most common, however, were general feel-good humour strips with an occasional child-oriented fantasy.

Arguably the most popular of the new adventure genres was the Aviator serial. With air speed, distance and endurance records bring broken every day, travelling air-circuses barnstorming across rural America and real-life heroes such as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart plastered all over the front pages and in movie newsreels, it wasn’t difficult to grasp the potential of comics-pages analogues.

The first was Tailspin Tommy – by Glenn Chaffin & Hal Forrest – the story of boy pilot Tommy Tompkins. It ran from May 21st 1928 (almost exactly one year after Lindbergh’s epic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis) until 1942, and was swiftly followed by both Lester J Maitland & Dick Calkins Skyroads and John Terry’s Scorchy Smith (see Scorchy Smith: Partners in Danger) 1930 -1961. Close on their high-flying heels came such late-arriving classics as Flyin’ Jenny, Buz Sawyer and even Steve Canyon.

Zack Mosley was an enterprising young cartoonist who assisted Calkins on both Skyroads and the legendary Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. He was also a keenly dedicated pilot and flying enthusiast, and when he heard that Captain Joe Patterson (influential editor of the Chicago Tribune) was taking lessons, Zack swiftly pitched a series to the kingmaker of comic strips.

On the Wing debuted as a Sunday page on October 1st 1933, but the name never gelled and with the December 31st episode the series was more snappily re-titled Smilin’ Jack. Apparently, Moseley was surreptitiously known as “Smiling Zack” around the Tribune office…

The page steadily gained interest and syndication subscribers and, on June 15th 1936, was augmented by a monochrome daily strip.

Jack Martin was a nervous student pilot, and the series originally played safe by vacillating between comedy and hairsbreadth thrills as he and his fellow sky novices and unqualified pilots learned the ropes. Never a top-tier series, Smilin’ Jack nevertheless always delivered terrific entertainment to the masses, moving and morphing with the times into a romance, war-feature, crime thriller (complete with Dick Tracy style villains) and even a family soap opera.

More importantly, the strip progressed in real time and when it closed on 1st April 1973, Jack was a twice-married air veteran with a grown son and a full cast of romantic dalliances in tow. It wasn’t lack of popularity that ended it either. At 67 years of age, Mosley wanted to spend his final years in the air, not crouched over a drawing board…

This fabulous (and shamefully scarce) collection gathers a delightful selection of rousing romps, beginning with that name-changing first episode from December 31st 1933, before concentrating on some classic sequences from the roaring thirties.

Meet here or be reintroduced to Jack, comedy foil Rufus Jimpson (a hillbilly mechanic), eye-candy air hostess and love interest Dixie Lee (subject of an extended romantic triangle), Latin spitfire (the curvy sort, not the fighter plane kind) Bonita Caliente and numerous spies, thugs, imbecilic passengers, South American revolutionaries and even a foreign Legion of the Skies with an eerily prescient stiff-necked Prussian flyer named Von Bosch whose type would soon be plastered all over the strips and comic books after WWII broke out…

This kind of strip is, I suspect and fear, an acquired taste today like Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder or George Cukor films, requiring the contribution of a little bit of intellectual and historical concentration from the reader, but the effort is absolutely worth it, and if this kind of stuff is good enough for the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg it’s perfectly good enough for you and me…

A grand adventure and one you should undertake at your leisure…
© 1989, 2009 Chicago Tribune Syndicate. All Rights Reserved. (I’m going on best evidence here: if somebody else actually owns the rights now, let me know and I’ll happily amend the entry).

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-161-9

Amongst the many cartoon and comics anniversaries this year there are household names still with us (albeit in exceedingly altered forms) and tragically masterpieces of the form that have faded from popular memory, even though their influence remains in every panel we might peruse…

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

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

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

Debuting on April 21st 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day vehicle not much different from family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed).

When it premiered in 1924, Tubbs was a diminutive and ambitious young shop-clerk, but gradually the strip moved into mock-heroics, then through cosy, non-confrontational action, only to become a full-blown, light-hearted, rip-roaring adventure series with the introduction of ancestral he-man and prototype moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

As the tales became evermore exotic and thrill-packed, the globe-trotting little dynamo clearly needed a sidekick who could believably handle the strenuous combat side of things, and thus – in the middle of a European-set war yarn – Wash liberated a mysterious fellow American from a jail cell and history was made.

Before long the mismatched pair were travelling companions, hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a bevy of startlingly comely maidens in distress…

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

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

Tubbs and Easy were as exotic and thrilling as the Ape-Man, but rattled along like the surreal and tempestuous Popeye, full of vim, vigour and vinegar, as attested to by a close look at the early work of the would-be cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity: Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially young Joe Shuster…

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane bowed to the inevitable and created instead a full-colour Sunday page dedicated to his increasingly popular hero-for-hire.

Captain Easy debuted on 30th July 1933 (happy 85th Cap!), in wild and woolly escapades set before his first fateful rendezvous with Tubbs.

This first sublime archival volume begins with the soldier of fortune undertaking a mercenary mission for the Chinese government to spy on the city of ‘Gungshi.’ In the heyday of popular exploration and aviator exploits, the bold solo flight over the Himalayas to Chinese Turkestan was stirring enough but when Easy then infiltrates a hidden citadel it heralded the beginning of a rollercoaster romp with sword-wielding Mongols, sultry houris, helpless dancing girls, fabulous beasts and wicked bandits. The heady, intoxicating dramatic brew captivated entire families across the planet, week after addictive week…

With an entire page and vibrant colours to play with, Crane’s imagination ran wild and his fabulous visual concoctions achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art.

The effect and influence of Crane’s pages can be seen in so many strips since; especially the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé and giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz.

These pages were a clearly as much of joy to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was the controlling NEA Syndicate abruptly demanding that all its strips be henceforward produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate them being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

Crane just walked away, concentrating on the daily feature. In 1943 he left the Syndicate to create the aviation adventure strip Buz Sawyer.

At the end of the initial blockbuster epic Easy is a hero to the people of Gungshi, if not the aristocracy, who plot to oust him via the subtlest of means. The second adventure ‘The Slave Girl’ opened on 21st January 1934, depicting the occidental hero bankrupted in saving the beautiful Rose Petal from the auction block: a chivalrous gesture leading to war with the rival city of Kashno, and a brutally hilarious encounter with South Sea pirates…

In an era where ethnic stereotyping and casual racism were commonplace and acceptable – if not actually mandatory – the introduction of a vile and unscrupulous Yank as the exploitative villain was and remains a surprising delight.

Rambling Jack is every inch the greedy “ugly American” of later, more informed decades, and by contrasting Easy’s wholesome quest to make his fortune with the venal explorer’s rapacious ruthlessness, Crane makes a telling point for the folks back home. It also makes for great reading as Chinese bandits also enter the fray, determined to plunder both cities and everybody in their path…

With the help of a lost British aviator Easy is finally victorious, but on returning to his Chinese employers he spots something whilst flying over the Himalayas that radically alters his plans…

‘The Sunken City’ is an early masterpiece of comics fiction, with Easy recruiting comedy stooge ’Arry Pippy, a demobbed cockney British Army cook, to help him explore a drowned city lost for centuries in a hidden inland sea, and one he had he had spotted from the air only through sheer chance.

However, simply to get there the pair must trek through wild jungles, survive blowpipe-wielding cannibals and the greatest threat our valiant rogue has ever faced…

If I’ve given the impression that this has all been grim-‘n’-gritty turmoil and tension thus far, please forgive me: Roy Crane was an utterly irrepressible gag-man and his enchanting chapter-play serial abounds with breezy light-hearted banter, hilarious situations and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors plunder to this day.

Easy is the Indiana Jones, Flynn (the Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton of his day and inarguably blazed the trail for all of them.

Using a deep-sea diver’s suit, Easy and ‘Arry explore the piscine wonders and submerged grandeur of the lost city, encountering some of the most magical and fanciful sea beasts ever recorded in comics before literally striking gold. Typically, when the cannibals attack those dredged up treasures are lost and Easy finds himself captive and betrothed to the most hideous witch-hag imaginable…

Risking everything the desperate treasure-seekers make a break for it only to re-encounter ‘The Pirates’ (April 14th – July 7th 1935), but before they get too far the husband-hungry sorceress and her faithful cannibals come after him, leading to a brutal, murderous conclusion…

After years in the Orient Easy and Pippy then succumb to a hankering for less dangerous company and make their way to Constantinople and Europe, but trouble is never far from the mercenary and in ‘The Princess’ (14th July – December 1st 1935), the Captain’s gentlemanly instincts compel him to rescue a beautiful woman from the unwelcome attentions of munitions magnate Count Heyloff, a gesture that embroils our hero in a manufactured war between two minor nations.

This tale addressed the contemporary American sentiment that another world conflict was brewing and it’s obvious that Crane’s opinion was the deeply held common conviction that the whole international unrest was the result of rich men’s greedy manipulations…

Dark, bittersweet and painfully foreboding, this yarn sees Easy become the focus of Heyloff’s vengeance, and the sum total air force for the tiny underdog nation of Nikkateena in their bitter struggle for survival against the equally-duped country of Woopsydasia.

Crane kept the combat chronicle light but on occasion his true feelings showed through in some of the most trenchant anti-war art ever seen.

This superb hardback and colossal initial collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer. The huge pages in this volume (almost 14½ by 10½ inches, or 210 x 140 mm for the younger, metric crowd) also contain a fascinating and informative introductory biography of Crane by historian Jeet Heer; a glowing testimonial from Charles “Peanuts” Schulz; contemporary promotional material, extra drawings and sketches plus a fascinating feature explaining how pages were coloured in those long-ago days before computers…

This is primal comics storytelling of the very highest quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside the best of Hergé, Tezuka and Kirby, and led inexorably to the greatest creations of all of them. Now that you have the chance to experience the strips that inspired the giants of our art form, how can you possibly resist?
Captain Easy Strips © 2010 United Features Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Willie and Joe: the WWII Years


By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-838-1 (HB)                                978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back.

During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News, as well as Yank and Stars and Stripes: the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” (a term he popularised) giving their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the pointiest of Sharp Ends. Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually revealed in all ways and manners the upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front – 1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945 a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and despite being a War Hero his increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour and those efforts are the subject of companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. Mauldin only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts, from1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink Root Beers and tell war stories with an old pal.

When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin even drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense mostly monochrome compendium (with some very rare colour and sepia items) comes in hardback, softcover and even as an eBook: collecting all Mauldin’s known wartime cartoons and featuring not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and gave a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals such as George Patton, who was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world.

Fortunately, Supreme Commander Eisenhower, if not an actual fan, at least recognised the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness whilst highlighting the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of the ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Moreover, Mauldin never patronises the civilians or demonises the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Let’s just hope that in these tense, “ten-seconds-to-doomsday” times the latest batch of brass-hats and political ass-hats keep that in mind and remember what’s always at stake here…

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distanced leaders send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume (and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home) we should finally be able to restore Mauldin and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, his message is never going to be out of date…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

The Snowman – 35th Anniversary Edition


By Raymond Briggs (Puffin)
ISBN: 978-0723297420 (HC)            978-0723275534 (PB)

Released to celebrate 35 years since the debut of the perennial children’s favourite in 1978, and with the 40th anniversary swiftly bearing down on us, it’s a fitting time and the right season to re-examine this wonderful book, free of the huge ancillary industry and multi-media branding that’s grown around it, strictly in terms of pure graphic narrative.

Despite being repackaged as numerous book spin-offs, and dogged by impact-diluting sequels, animated films and even a stage musical, The Snowman started out as a slim (32 page) picture book: A lyrical tale of forgotten winter joy.

I can’t remember the last time we had enough snow to even baffle my cat (if you’ve never seen a pampered house-moggy’s first response to solid-seeming-cold-wet-white-stuff, then you’ve never laughed so hard the cocoa came out of your nose) let alone coat the world in a clean blanket of wonder, but that’s what happens here.

This is a subtle and compelling story. A young boy awakens to a heavy snowfall. Dressing, he dashes outside and romps among the falling flakes. He spends all day building a snowman, and even when he he’s snugly back inside, he can’t stop looking at his magnificent creation. Happy and exhausted he goes to bed.

When everybody’s asleep he invites the now-animate icy golem indoors where they play, share a meal, and – naturally – do the washing up when they’ve finished. Outside the skies are clear and the white flakes no longer fill the heavens. Having seen the boy’s world, the Snowman offers to show his own, and the pair soar aloft on a wondrous voyage over land and sea where the snows are falling still.

On eventually returning to the mundane Earthly home, they say goodnight. The boy goes reluctantly back to bed and the frosty sentinel takes up his abandoned position in the garden. In the morning the boy dashes out, but only heartbreak and disappointment await, for the new morning has melted his midnight companion.

This truly beautiful tale is no cheery, mawkish fantasy; it is an examination of the intense nature of a child’s life and the poignancy of change. We never know if the adventure was simply a dream or an actuality, but the knowledge that such all-encompassing wonder is fleeting is a lesson we all learn as we grow.

The ability to recapture such a lesson – both its joys and its pains – is a rare and awesome thing, and what a tribute to Raymond Brigg’s abilities that we don’t hate him for making us enjoy re-experiencing it.

Utterly wordless, in panels deprived of dark borders and hard edges, Briggs spins a delicate web of magic. Using the child’s own creative tools of pencil and crayon he crafts lyrical pastel picture-poems that are truly evocative and spellbinding. Despite being co-opted by the Christmas Industry this isn’t merely a seasonal tale but a timeless one. There’s no Bright Red or Holly Green to dazzle and break this charm: Briggs, as always uses presentiment and understatement as his basic tools.

Our industry seems to wilfully neglect this creator whose graphic narratives have reached more hearts and minds than Spider-Man, The Spirit or Spawn ever will, yet his works remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field. The Snowman, despite my pompous pontificating, remains a work of sublime and simple universal beauty. Get it for your kids, get it for yourself, but when the cartoon comes on again this Christmas, don’t watch that, Read This.
© 1978 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

Red Ranger Came Calling – A Guaranteed True Christmas Story


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co.)
ISBN: 0-316-10881-2 (HB)                978-0316102490 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: To Be Read Every Christmas Until the Stars Grow Cold… 10/10

After a surprisingly brief and deservedly glittering career as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (so often the exact same function) Berkeley Breathed retired Bloom County and its successor Outland and took up a new career as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. He lost none of his perception or imagination, and actually got better as a narrative artist. He also didn’t completely abandon his magical cast of unique characters.

We sneer at sentimentality these days but in the hands of a master storyteller it can be a weapon of crippling power. This glorious fable is purportedly one told every Christmas Eve to the author by his own father before being generously shared with us in mesmerising prose and captivating illustrations.

In 1939 young Red Breathed was well on the way to becoming a snotty, cynical wiseacre. Sent to spend the Holidays with his Aunt Vy, he mooches about all day with her old dog Amelia, while lusting as only a child can after an Official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star Hopper bicycle.

Tweed, of course, is the famous movie serial star “Red Ranger of Mars” and the only thing capable of brightening the benighted life of this woeful, unfairly exiled child. Times are tough though, and Red knows his chances of getting that bike are non-existent, but he just can’t stop himself hoping…

On his way home he sees an odd, pointy-eared little man heading for the ramshackle house of that reclusive old man Saunder Clős. Since he’s a big kid now, Red knows there’s no Father Christmas and none of that hokey magic stuff is true, but even so he finds himself sneaking up to the old house that Christmas Eve night…

This is a gloriously powerful tale that fully captures the magic of believing and the tragedy of realisation, and yet still ends with a Christmas miracle and a truly surprise ending. Get this book for the kids, get this book for yourself, but get this book – and on pain of emotional death, don’t peek at the last page until the time is right!
© 1994 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


By Dr. Seuss (Random House/Harper Collins Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-00717-024-1                  978-0-00736-554-8                 978-0-00717-304-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect. Just Perfect… 10/10

The son of a wealthy beermaker of German origins, Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield Massachusetts on March 2nd 1094. Some years later, he attended Dartmouth College, where he edited the college magazine, before graduating in 1925… despite a few narrow escapes from the college authorities.

Geisel liked to party and preferred drawing to his studies. It was apparently how he got his penname: after the Dean banned him from drawing after a particularly raucous binge, the young artist took pains to sign his work only with his middle name…

Theodore studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1927, where he met his first wife Helen. When they returned to America he became a cartoonist and illustrator, doing spot gags, political panels and covers for a variety of publishers. He produced weekly strip Birdsies and Beasties in prestigious humour magazine Judge and his work also appeared in Life, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, PM among others.

He even briefly produced a newspaper strip – ‘Hejji’ – in 1935 and tried his hand at animation and advertising. During World War II Geisel turned to political cartooning, advocating a strong response to the Fascist threat. In 1943 he enlisted as a lead animator and director for the United States Army, winning an award in 1947 for the documentary Design For Death which explored Japanese cultural history.

He published his first poem/cartoon book And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but only truly and gradually became a literary god after the war when news reports about the relative illiteracy and lack of vocabulary in young children (particularly a damning report in Life, May 1954) led him to create a string of easy-reading masterpieces The Cat in the Hat’, Green Eggs and Ham, Gerald McBoing-Boing, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who! and 38 others before his death in 1991.

In 1957 he released the now-legendary How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a Yuletide evergreen, immortalized in a brilliant Chuck Jones animated short in 1966 and a so-so big budget movie in 2000. Over and above both of these the actual book still towers as a masterpiece of cartoon fiction and one I beg you to read if you already haven’t.

If you’re one of the three westerners who still don’t know the story…

The Grinch is a mean hermit who, for no special reason, loathes everything about the whole Christmas Season. So, one X-Mas Eve he creeps into all Who-houses in the nearby Who hamlet and nicks every trinket that Christmas espouses. No Trees, Tinsel, Presents or Tasty Treats are left: the nasty old codger has left Who-ville bereft.

But just at the moment when his triumph is paramount the Grinch sees what Christmas is actually all about. Heart bursting with joy and good feelings re-surging Grinch returns all the treats he was wickedly purging and joins Who-ville’s people in their grand feast – and even shares some of their glorious Roast Beast!

Seriously though; the simple heart-warming tale of the old monster – and his trusty, long-suffering and illogically faithful hound – as they fail to ruin Christmas, the miraculous change of heart and eventual redemption is the perfect examination of what the Season should mean. Moreover, it’s written in a captivating manner with bold rhyme and incredibly enthralling artwork that embeds itself within every reader. Wily, wise and wonderful, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is absolutely the best kid’s Christmas book ever created and one you simple have to read. If your house has kids (or not) but no copy, it must be brought up to code immediately and forthwith.

Doctor’s orders… so don’t make me put coal in your socks…
© 1957, 1985 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved

The Wolverton Bible – The Old Testament & Book of Revelation Through the Pen of Basil Wolverton


By Basil Wolverton with commentary by Monte Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-964-7

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist. Unlike most cartoonists of his time, he preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929. but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk (for Target Comics) and Rockman – Underground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Apparently tireless and blessed with unlimited imagination, Wolverton also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as Superman/boxing parody Powerhouse Pepper to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as Bedtime Bunk, Culture Quickie and Bedtime Banter.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp – of Li‘l Abner fame – to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton became a member of the Radio Church of God in 1941. The organisation was devised by Herbert W. Armstrong: a prototype televangelist of a then-burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement. In 1956, Wolverton illustrated the founder’s pamphlet 1975 in Prophecy and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after, he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled The Bible Story: The Story of Man, which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. His association with the Radio Church of God endured for the rest of his life.

In 1973 the artist returned to comicbooks, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In many ways, his religious works are his most moving and powerful – as you will see in this astounding monochrome hardback or digital compilation. “A Collection of Basil Wolverton’s Artwork for the Worldwide Church of God from 1952 through 1974” gathers all the images the devout but always questioning artist created for Armstrong and offers – after a snazzy sample page of Powerhouse Pepper – history, context and candid illustrations, photographs and disclosures through the Foreword ‘A Shot in the Liver, a Shot to the Soul’ by Grant Geissman, plus an intimate portrait of the man, his devotion and his art courtesy of the Introduction ‘Wolverton and Armstrong’ by Basil’s son Monte Wolverton.

Blessed with a large degree of latitude, the artist was allowed to create his illustrations and accompanying text from his own readings of the biblical text. No matter what your spiritual beliefs might be, the results are frankly astonishing: mute, powerful, forceful even amusing in the appropriate place and – when dealing with wrath of God stuff – absolutely terrifying…

With an overview and commentary accompanying each chapter, the miracles begin with ‘Part 1: From Creation to Noah’ as the World is formed, beasts are born and Adam and Eve are force from the Garden of Eden. Through Cain and Abel, to humanity’s proliferation to the Great Flood, Wolverton’s imagination runs wild, inspirational but never sensationalistic, even at the most dreadful of moments when mankind drowns…

‘Part 2: From Abraham to Joseph’ follows the resurgence of humanity, touching upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Ishmael, the dreams of Jacob, and enslavement in Egypt.

Rendering fascinating maps to pinpoint the areas under scrutiny, Wolverton continues with ‘Part 3: From Moses to Joshua’ (including a complete visual catalogue of beasts considered “clean” or “unclean”), ‘Part 4: From Joshua to Ruth’, ‘Part 5: From Samuel to David’, ‘Part 6: From Solomon to Nehemiah’ before moving on to the most potent and memorable moments as depicted in ‘Part 7: The Apocalypse and Beyond’: an imaginative tour de force that has to be seen to be believed…

But that’s not all. Wolverton was arguably one of the funniest cartoonists ever born and Armstrong tapped his gifts for other aspects of the Worldwide Church of God, The Plain Truth and educational outreach project Ambassador College.

Leavening the apocalyptic warnings, ‘Part 8: Funny Stuff’ gathers spot illustrations for numerous articles and sermons, mastheads for publication features, gags, strips, caricatures faux informational instructions and much more: many of which would just as easily fit into Wolverton’s temporal grotesques-oeuvre in Mad or Plop!

A genuine monument to belief and artistic passion, The Wolverton Bible is a masterclass in the use of pen-&-ink and offers a stunning example of a creator working not just with hands and heart but with heart and soul. A must-have for anyone who ever wanted to draw.
The Wolverton Bible © 2009 the Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved.