Thelwell Goes West

By Norman Thelwell (E P Dutton/Magnum/Eyre Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-87690-189-2 (HB)                  978-0-41701-110-3 (PB)

Norman Thelwell was and remains one of Britain’s greatest cartoonists. His genteel yet rowdily raucous artistic endeavours combined Bigfoot abstraction with a keen and accurate eye for detail, not just on the horse-riding and countryside themes that made him a household name, but on all the myriad subjects he turned his canny eye and subtle brushstrokes to.

His wittily wry observations and gloriously rendered pictures are an immaculate condensation of a uniquely unchanging United Kingdom – everything warmly resonant, resolutely Post-War and Baby-Boomingily British, without ever being parochial or provincial – starring a dangerous realm where all animals and inanimate objects loathe humanity and will go to any extreme to vex or even harm us…

His work has international implications and scope, neatly distilling and presenting us to the world. There were 32 collections of his work during his lifetime and every aficionado of humour – illustrated or otherwise – could do much worse than own them all.

From 1950 when his gag-panel Chicko first began in the Eagle, and especially two years later with his first sale to Punch, Thelwell built a solid body of irresistible, seductive and always funny work. His canny cartoons appeared in a host of magazines, comics and papers ranging from Men Only to Everybody’s Weekly. His first curated cartoon collection – Angels on Horseback – was released in 1957 and in 1961 he made the rare return journey by releasing a book of all-original gags that was subsequently and rapturously serialised in the Sunday Express.

His dry, sly, cannily observed drawings were a huge success and other books followed to supplement his regular periodical appearances. He is most famous for his countryside and equine subjects. The phrase “Thelwell Pony” is an instant verbal shortcut to a whole other world of adroit, goblin-like little girls constantly battling malevolent, chubby mini-horses gifted with the guile of Machiavelli, the mass and temerity of a deranged mule and the cheery disposition of Bill Sikes.

The artist’s fascination and endless reservoir of dressage drollery originated with a pair of short obnoxious muses in the field next door to his home, where also roamed two shaggy ponies. They were, in his own words “Small and round and fat and of very uncertain temper” – and apparently owned by “Two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few ounces themselves….”

“As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their ample hindquarters and give a few lightning kicks which the children would side-step calmly as if they were avoiding the kitchen table, and they had the head-collars on those animals before they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away; but they were planning vengeance – you could tell by their eyes.”

His observations were best depicted in the classic Penelope and Penelope Rides Again, but in this particular instance, the master of the hounds and hilarious horseflesh cast his gaze a little further afield for a wickedly insightful and memorable draughtsman’s discourse, acutely weighing the benefits and pitfalls (oh, so very many painful falls) of Brit and Yank riding preferences and techniques.

After his introductory comparison/blueprint ‘The English Rider’ and ‘The Western Horseman’ Thelwell pits cocky little Cowboys against surly Show-jumping Schoolgirls in such compelling, picture packed chapters as Western Riding, What to Wear, Western Horses, Quick on the Drawl, How to Understand Your Horse, On the Trail, How to Manage a Mean Horse, How to Cross Water and Rodeo Dough before ending with a comprehensive Western Quiz.

So, which is best: East or West?

The answer, of course, is simple: Best to avoid all close encounters of an equine kind and read this book instead.
© 1975 Norman Thelwell.

Beware of the Dog

By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L              BOO3UHYGAA

Pericle Luigi Giovannetti was a brief but transcendent star of the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages.

Born of Italian extraction on June 22nd 1916 in Basel, Switzerland, he was a talented draughtsman and painter who achieved vast fame after debuting – in April 1953 – his most beloved character in Britain’s most prominent satire periodical Punch.

Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster – or maybe a marmot – whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal icon for adults too: even stiff, ultra-reserved post-war Brits.

Imagine then how such a cartoonist’s observational acumen would bloom when he turned his dry, wry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend?

Luckily you don’t have to as this 1958 hardcover is still readily available from a number of on-line vendors: a fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn, rendered and limned in a variety of styles, captioned in two separate languages (French and English) and, thanks to your pedigree guides and contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, curated in three separate comedic styles!

After enduring being a sensation on a number of continents Giovannetti all but vanished at the end of the 1950s. Unknown to most of his fans he had returned to Switzerland and retired to the artists enclave of Ascona where he spent the remainder of the century painting. Apparently, he was pretty damn good at that too, but being extremely reclusive, only purchasers would know as he never exhibited his work.

According to some reports, he never sold or showed his work to anyone, preferring to discuss his other hobbies such as homeopathy, astrology and UFOlogy.

He died in Ascona, aged 85 on August 10th 2001.

As a cartoonist, Giovannetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book of doggy delights would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing but Max, The Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – but not one of these fabulous graphic gems is currently in print! Surely in this age of digital archives, the maestro’s mastery can all be collected, collated and brought back for a new generation of fans and aficionados?

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons

By many & various, edited by Craig Yoe (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-150-3

After watching far too much news, I dug this book off my shelves. It seemed somehow appropriate…

You’ll hear a lot about the pen being mightier than the sword regarding The Great Anti-War Cartoons, but sadly it’s just not true.

Nothing seems able to stop determined governments, outraged religions and/or rich, greedy – and apparently duly elected, raving mad – bastards from sending the young and idealistic to their mass-produced deaths, especially those innocents still afflicted with the slightest modicum of patriotism or sense of adventure.

Our own currently escalating and deteriorating global situation (but isn’t it always?) proves that mankind is always far too ready to take up arms, and far too reluctant to give peace a chance, especially when a well-oiled publicity machine and vested media interests gang up on the men and women in the street going “yeah, but…”

We’re all susceptible to the power of a marching beat played on fife and drum…

At least here amongst these 220 plus cartoons and graphic statements we see that rationalism or conscientious objectivity or pacifism or even simple self-interested isolationism are as versed in the art of pictorial seduction as the power and passion of jingoism and war-fever.

All art – and most especially cartooning – has the primitive power to bore deep into the soul, just as James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam poster “Your Country Needs You” so effectively did to millions of young Americans during the Great War.

How satisfying then to see his is the very first anti-war cartoon in this incredible compilation of images focusing on the impassioned pleas of visual communicators trying to avoid body-counts or at least reduce bloodshed.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons gathers a host of incredibly moving, thought-provoking, terrifying, but – I’m gutted to say, ultimately ineffective – warnings, scoldings and pleas which may have moved millions of people, but never stopped or even gave pause to one single conflict…

Editor Craig Yeo divides these potently unforgettable images into a broad variety of categories and I should make it clear that not all the reasons for their creation are necessarily pacifistic: some of the most evocative renderings here are from creators who didn’t think War was Bad per se, but rather felt that the specific clash in question was none of their homeland’s business.

However with such chapters as Planet War, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, The Gods of War, Profiteers, Recruitment and Conscription, The Brass, The Grunts, Weapons of War, The Battle Rages On, The Long March, Famine, The Anthems of War, The Horrors of War, The Suffering, The Families and Children of War, The Aftermath, Victory Celebration, Medals, Disarmament, Resistance and Peace we witness immensely talented people of varying beliefs responding on their own unique terms to organised slaughter, and for every tut-tut of the Stay-at-Homers there are a dozen from genuinely desperate and appalled artists who just wanted the horror to end.

With incisive examinations of shared symbology and recurring themes, these monochrome penmen have utilised their brains and talents in urgent strivings to win their point (there is also a fascinating section highlighting the impact and energy of the Colors of War) but the most intriguing aspect of this superb collection is the sheer renown and worth of the contributors.

Among the 119 artists include (120 if you count Syd Hoff and his nom-de-plume “Redfield” as two separate artists) are Sir John Tenniel, Caran d’Ache, Bruce Bairnsfather, Herbert Block, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ron Cobb, “Ding” Darling, Billy DeBeck, Jerry Robinson, Albrecht Dürer, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Rube Goldberg, Honore Daumier, Goya, George Grosz, Bill Mauldin, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Thomas Nast and most especially the incredibly driven Winsor McCay.

I’ve scandalously assumed that many of the older European draughtsmen won’t be that well known, despite their works being some of the most harrowing, and their efforts – although perhaps wasted on people willing to listen to reason anyway – are cruel and beautiful enough to make old cynics like me believe that this time, this time, somebody in power will actually do something to stop the madness.

A harsh, evocative and painfully lovely book: seek it out in the hope that perhaps one day Peace will be the Final Solution.

The time has never been more right for cynics like me to be proved wrong…
The Great Anti-War Cartoons and the digitally remastered public domain material are © 2009 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.


By Jules Feiffer (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-56097-835-0

Jules Feiffer has always been much more than “just a comic-book guy” even though his credits in the field sound and are suitably impressive. As well as working with Will Eisner on The Spirit, he created his own Sunday strip ‘Clifford’ (1949-51) before eventually settling at the The Village Voice.

Novelist, playwright, animator, children’s book creator (why isn’t there a single-word term for those guys?) and screenwriter, he turned his back on cartooning in 2000, but the 42-year run of his satirical comic strip in The Village Voice ranks as some of the most telling, trenchant, plaintive and perspicacious narrative art in the history of the medium.

The strip, originally entitled Sick, Sick, Sick, and later Feiffer’s Fables, before simply settling on Feiffer was quickly picked up by the Hall Syndicate and garnered a devoted worldwide following.

Over the decades the strip has generated many strip collections – the first book was in 1958 – since premiering. The auteur’s incisive examination of American society and culture, as reflected by and expressed through politics, art, Television, Cinema, work, philosophy, advertising and most especially in the way men and women interact, informed and shaped opinions and challenged accepted thought for generations. They were mostly bloody funny and wistfully sad too – and remain so even today.

Fantagraphics Books began collecting the entire run in 2007 and this first volume of 568 pages covers the period from its start in October 1956 up to the end of 1966. As such, it covers a pivotal period of social, racial and sexual transformation in America and the world beyond its borders and much of that is also – sadly- still painfully germane to today’s readers…

Explainers is a “dipping book”. It’s not something to storm your way through but something to return to over and again. Feiffer’s thoughts and language, his observations and questions are fearsomely eternal – as I’ve already mentioned, it is utterly terrifying how many problems of the 1950s and 1960s still vex us today – and the Battle of the Sexes my generation honestly believed to be almost over still breaks out somewhere every night.

Best of all, Feiffer’s expressive drawing is a masterclass in style and economy all by itself.

If you occasionally resort to Thinking and sometimes wonder about Stuff, this book should be your guide and constant companion… and it will make you laugh.
© 2007 Jules Feiffer. All Rights Reserved.

Footrot Flats volume 1

By Murray Ball (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-85286-335-7

You may or may not have heard of Footrot Flats. Created by Murray Ball on his return to his homeland of New Zealand, it ran from 1975 to 1994 in newspapers on four continents, yet for one of the most successfully syndicated strips in the world, it seems to have passed from common memory with staggering rapidity.

Once the series concluded, Ball – whilst running his own farm – continued to release books of new material until 2000, resulting in a total of 27 daily strip collections, 8 volumes of Sunday pages and 5 pocket books, plus ancillary publications such as calendars.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and a truly superb animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tail Tale.

A well-travelled wanderer, Murray Ball moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch as well as drawing (ostensibly) children’s strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway as well as a more adult-oriented strip in Labour Weekly. Eventually home called and the artist headed back South. Resettling in New Zealand in 1974, Ball became busier than ever.

He bought a smallholding on the North Island and farmed in his spare time (for anyone not brought up in the country, that last bit was “sarcasm”). This inevitably led to the strip in question. Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling heights, the peripatetic artist promptly gave up sleeping altogether to craft these wickedly funny yarns about an oaf and his dog, and I for one will be eternally grateful. You might be old enough to remember it being syndicated here in the Today newspaper…

Then again, you might not be old enough to remember newspapers.

Wallace Footrot Cadwallader is a big, bluff farmer. He’s a regular bloke, likes his food; loves his Rugby. He owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) best described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass, and a sheepdog who calls himself “Dog” Wal makes a living and is his own boss. Dog is the star (and narrator) of most of the strips: a cool know-all and blowhard, he’s utterly devoted to his scruffy, no-nonsense master – unless there’s food about or Jess (the sheepdog bitch from down the road) is in heat again.

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, the humour comes from the perfectly realised characters – human and otherwise – the tough life of a bachelor farmer and especially the country itself.

The cartooning is absolutely top-rate. Ball is one of those gifted few who can actually draw funnily. When combined with his sharp, incisive writing the result is pure magic. But be warned. Ball can also break your heart with a few terse words and the right confection of tightly-inked lines.

I’m reviewing the 1990 Titan Books edition, but the same material is readily available from a number of publishers and retailers although none of the varied volumes are particularly cheap. If any cartoon feature ever needed compiling in a comprehensive digital edition it’s this superb series.

Until then, If I’ve convinced you to give the Dog a go, your favourite search engine will be all the help you need…

Go on. Fetch!
© 1990 Diogenes Designs Ltd. All rights reserved.

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero

By Siegel & Joe Shuster with Thomas Andrae, Mel Gordon & Jerome (Feral House)
ISBN: 978-1-932595-78-9

The comics industry owes an irredeemable debt to two talented and ambitious Jewish kids from Cleveland in the right place at the right time who were able to translate their enthusiasm and heartfelt affection for beloved influences and delight in a new medium into a brand-new genre which took the world by storm.

Writer Jerome Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were a jobbing cartoonist team just breaking into the brand-new yet already-ailing comicbook business with strips such as ‘Henri Duval’, ‘Doctor Occult’ and ‘Slam Bradley’. When they rejigged a constantly rejected newspaper strip concept for a new title they manifested the greatest action sensation of the age – if not all time…

Superman captivated depression-era audiences and within a year had become the vanguard of a genre and an industry. In those early days, the feature was both whimsical and bombastic – as much gag strip as adventure serial – and it was clear the utterly inspired whiz kids were wedded to laughs just as much as any wish-fulfilling empowerment fantasies.

As even the most casual scholar knows, Siegel & Shuster were not well-served by their publishers and by 1946 no longer worked for National Periodicals (today’s DC Comics). In fact, they were in acrimonious litigation which led to the originators losing all rights to their creation and suffering years of ill-treatment until an artist-led campaign at the time of the 1978 Superman movie shamed the company into a belated reversal and financial package (consisting mostly of having their names returned to the character’s logo and company medical benefits).

Long before this however, the dynamic duo produced an abortive “Last Hurrah”: another unique character based on early influences, but one who sadly did not catch the public’s attention in those post war years when the first super-heroic age was ending.

Based broadly on Danny Kaye, Funnyman was a stand-up comedian who dressed as a clown and used comedy gimmicks to battle criminals, super-villains and aliens: first in six issues of his own comic-book and then as a Daily and Sunday newspaper strip.

A complete antithesis to the Man of Steel, Larry Davis was a total insider, no orphan or immigrant, but a wealthy, successful man, revered by society, yet one who chose to become a ridiculous outsider, fighting for not the common good but because it gave him a thrill nothing else could match.

The series was light, beautifully audacious, tremendous fun and sank like a concrete-filled whoopee cushion.

In this smart paperback compilation – also available as a digital or perhaps hee-heBook (sorry, simply couldn’t resist. Should have, but couldn’t…) – social historians Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon carefully re-examine the strip in the much broader context of Jewish Identity and racial character, with particular reference as it applies to Jewish-Americans, and make some fascinating observations and postulates.

Following an intriguing preface by author, writer, editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth, this book assiduously dissects the history and psychology of the Judaic experience in a compelling series of astoundingly illustrated essays gathered under the umbrellas of Gordon’s ‘The Farblondjet Superhero and his Cultural Origins’ and Andrae’s ‘The Jewish Superhero’.

The former (and Farblondjet translates as “mixed up” or “lost”) probes ‘The Mystery of Jewish Humor’, ‘The Construct of Humor in Everyday Jewish Life’, ‘The Old Theories: ‘Laughter-Through-Tears’; ‘A Laughing People’; ‘Outside Observer’ and ‘The Badkhn Theory’ (Badkhn being performers hired to insult, offend and depress guests and celebrants at social gatherings such as weddings or funerals).

‘Characteristics of Modern Jewish Humor’ are subdivided and explored in ‘Aggression’, ‘The Yiddish Language’, ‘Self-Mockery’, ‘Inversion and Skepticism’, ‘Scatology’, ‘Gallows Humor’ and ‘Solipsism and Materialism’ before Gibson’s compelling, contextual potted-history concludes with ‘American-Jewish Comedy Before 1947’ (the year Funnyman debuted),‘Weber and Fields’, ‘On the Boards’, ‘The Borscht Belt’, ‘Cartoons and Jokebooks’ and ‘Hollywood Talkies and Syndicated Radio’.

Then, in ‘The Jewish Superhero’ Andrae examines Siegel & Shuster’s possible influences; everything from German expressionist cinema masterpiece ‘The Golem: How He Came into This World’ to real-life strongman Sigmund Breitbart, a Polish Jew who astounded the world with his feats in the early 1920s. On his American tour Sigmund appeared in Cleveland in October 1923. Siegel, a local resident, would have been nine years old which as everyone knows is the real “golden age of comics”…

‘Funnyman, Jewish Masculinity and the Decline of the Superhero’ explores the psychology and landscape of the medium through the careers and treatment of Siegel & Shuster in ‘The Birth of Funnyman’, ‘The Body Politic’, ‘The Schlemiel and the Tough Jew’, ‘The Decline of the Superhero’ and ‘Comic Book Noir’ before going on to recount the story of the newspaper strips in ‘The Funnyman Comic Strip’ and ‘Reggie Van Twerp’ (a last ditch attempt by the creators to resurrect their comic fortunes) before the inevitable axe falls in ‘End Game’

Thus far the engaging tome acts as a compulsive and hugely informative academic work, but in ‘Funnyman Comic Book Stories’ the resplendent fan fun truly takes hold with a full colour section reproducing a selection of strips from the 6-issue run.

‘The Kute Knockout!’ (Funnyman #2, March 1948) pits the Hilarious Hero against a streetwalker robot built to seduce and rob Johns after which ‘The Medieval Mirthquake’ (Funnyman #4, May 1948) propels the Comedy Crusader back to the time of Camelot. From the same issue comes ‘Leapin’ Lena’ as Funnyman tackles a female bandit who can jump like a kangaroo and #5 (July 1948) has him chasing a worrying new crime gimmick in ‘The Peculiar Pacifier’.

Also included are the striking covers of all six issues, the origin of Funnyman from #1, lots of splash pages and a selection of Shuster’s Superman art, but the most welcome benefit for collectors and collectors is a detailed précis of the entire run’s 20 tales.

The same consideration is offered for the newspaper strips. As well as similar synopses for the Sundays (12 adventures spanning October 31st 1948 to the end of October 1949) and Dailies (another dozen larks spanning October 18th 1948 to September 17th 1949), there are11 pages of full-colour Sunday sections and the complete black and white ‘Adventure in Hollywood’ (December 20th to January 12th 1949) to adore and marvel over.

Like Funnyman himself, this book is an odd duck. Whereas I would have loved to see the entire output gathered into one volume, what there is here is completely engrossing: a wonderful appreciation and compelling contextualization of genuine world-altering pioneers. This is a fabulous package with an appeal that ranges far beyond its possibly limited comic-fan audience.
Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman © 2010 Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon. All rights reserved.

The Perishers Omnibus volume 1

By Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins (Daily Mirror Books)
ISBN: 0-85939-031-4

Although written almost entirely by Maurice Dodd throughout its 48-year history, the National Treasure that is (are? am?) The Perishers was actually created in 1957 by artist Dennis Collins, writer Bill Witham (who went on to huge success with uniquely innocent everyman Useless Eustace) and cartoon editor Bill Herbert.

The daily tribulations, ruminations, exploits and misadventures of a bunch of typical kids (for the latter half of the 20th century at least) was first published in the Manchester edition of the Daily Mirror in February 1958. but after only a couple of frankly mediocre months the wacky adventures of Maisie and Marlon were withdrawn and retooled.

Jack-of-all-trades, budding artist and advertising whiz-kid Dodd was then approached by ex-paratrooper service comrade and drinking buddy Herbert. The freelance designer jumped at the chance to reinvent the characters in what was a meandering but beautifully illustrated, all-ages feature simply stuffed with untapped potential.

Drawing on his own life (he would describe it as shamelessly pilfering), Dodd created a plethora of new characters, animal and human – although with this strip the distinctions are loose and hard to defend – and rescued an early 1958 casualty in the unkempt and ill-maintained person of laconic orphan and philosophical dilettante Wellington.

This bewildered and anxious symbol of the post-war era was a street urchin who lived on his wits but still attended school and endured all the daily trials and indignities of British youth.

Relaunched in October 1959 in the London and national editions, the revamped Perishers strip quickly caught on and became a morning mainstay for generations of Britons, blending slapstick and surreal comedy with naive charm, miniaturised modern romantic melodramas (Maisie loves Marlon, Marlon loves fashion and “inventing”, and Wellington loves sausages), liberally laced with sardonic cultural commentary – especially a continuing and wonderfully twisted faux misperception of contemporary politics and the burgeoning advertising and commercial media.

Even in its earliest days the strip was superbly illustrated, conjuring up in a few judicious lines and cannily applied grey tones a communal urban wonderland we all knew as kids: a familiar post-war wonderland of shops and streets, building sites and overpasses, alleys and parks and fields where we could get on with our adventures and no adults could interfere or spoil the fun. The unsavoury old git in me still hungers in absentia on behalf of the youth of today who will never experience such freedom without being labelled “neglected” …or possibly “feral”.

The major protagonists of the series are Wellington and Boot, his old English Sheepdog (sort of: the wily, hairy chancer and raconteur considers himself a Manorial Milord “sufferin’ under the curse of a Gypsy wench”). They are ably unsupported by the formidable Maisie, a thoroughly modern miss torn between her self-delusion (for the utterly non-existent) boy of her dreams); sweets, an unsurpassed capacity for greed and unrelenting violence and a tremendous unslaked passion the aforementioned Marlon, who she thinks is what she wants.

Cool, suave and debonair are just three of the many, many words Marlon doesn’t know the meaning of, but lots of the girls at school fancy him anyway. If he grows up he wants to be a brain surgeon or a bloke wot goes down sewers in great big gumboots…

Being on his own, Wellington takes every opportunity to support himself with sordid scavenging and shoddy schemes – usually involving selling poorly constructed carts and buggies to Marlon who has far more money than sense: to be honest Marlon has more noses than sense…

Maisie is a shy beautiful maiden waiting for her true beloved to sweep her off her feet – and if he doesn’t, she gives him a thorough bashing up and nicks his sweets…

Other unreasonable regulars introduced here include Baby Grumplin’ – Maisie’s toddler brother and a diabolical force of nature, Plain Jane – a girl who asks too many questions, and the dapper Fiscal Yere: smugly complacent go-getting son of a millionaire and another occasional sucker for Wellington’s automotive inexpertise. Kids like him are what made today’s world what it is…

On the anthropomorphic animal front the extremely erudite Boot regularly encounters stroppy ducks, militant squirrels, socialist revolutionaries Fred the Beetle and his long-suffering wife Ethel, Asiatic bloodhound journalist B.H. Calcutta (Failed) and, latterly, a nicotine-addicted caterpillar who stunted his growth and became Fred’s inseparable comrade in the struggle against canine oppression. The little Trot is also an implacable rival for any food or dog-ends the Bolshevistic bug might find…

Notable events in this madcap melange include: Wellington gentrifying out of the large concrete pipe that he used to live in to take up residence in an old railway station abandoned after the Beeching Cuts decimated the train infrastructure, and the first couple of kids-only, unaccompanied camping holidays to the seaside (such innocent times).

Here they encounter sun, surf and the rock-pool crabs who worship the uncannily canine “Eyeballs in the Sky” which annually manifest in their isolated “Pooliverse”…

Utterly English, fabulously fantastical and resoundingly working-class, the strip generated 30 collections between 1963-1990, 4 Big Little Books, 5 novels and 2 annuals as well as an audio record and an immensely successful animated TV series.

The tome under review here was released in 1974; the first of a series of extra-sized recapitulations, and containing most of the contents of the first four Perishers collections (covering 1959-1965). It superbly sets the scene for newcomers with a glorious extravaganza of enchanting fun and frolics, liberally annotated by Dodd himself.

Dennis Collins magnificently and hilariously illustrated the feature until his retirement in 1983, after which Dodd himself took up the pens and brushes.

Eventually artist Bill Melvin took over the art chores whilst Dodd scripted until his death in 2006. Once the backlog of material was exhausted The Perishers finished on June 10th 2006.

Soon after, The Mirror began reprinting classic sequences of the strip to the general approval of everyone, so perhaps it’s not too much to hope that eventually – or even SOON – all the classic collections will once more be freshly available to one and all – even if it’s only on that new-fangled, never-gonna-last interwebtoobs…

Quite frankly, it’s what we need and what I deserve…
© 1974 IPC Newspapers Limited.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac…

By Andrew Weldon (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-7971-8

Chocolate might be fattening but there’s no conclusive data one way or the other on scoping out hilarious cartoons. Ergo… with all those anti-social sweeties swamping the house during the holiday, why not hedge your bets and balance calorific over-indulgence with a little light reading?

I love cartoons. Not animated films, but short, visual (although most often text-enhanced) stylised drawings which tell a story or potently and pithily express a mood or tone. Most people do. That’s why many historians and sociologists use them as barometers of a defined time or era.

For nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were a universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence and ferocious power, 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…

Humorous cartoons remain 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, sticky-beak holdouts proudly boasting they 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…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections (and also in eBook editions) like this mean, mirth-filled monochrome paperback to enjoy over and over again…

The Dutch reputedly discovered Australia in the 17th century (although as the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett pointedly pointed out, the indigenous natives had been doing so on a daily basis for thousands of years prior to the white chaps sailing up), before Captain Cook famously stuck a flag in the place and drew some maps in 1770.

Now it’s a place of amazing contradictions and boasts a sense of humour uniquely its own.

A prime example of that can be seen in this collection of gags from the observationally adrift and slightly warped Andrew Weldon, who sagely abandoned the disciplined world of architecture in Melbourne to apply his astute, irreverent imagination to scrawling wickedly barbed graphic questions and comments on whatever catches his attention for venues as widespread as various greetings cards as well as in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Big Issue, Tango, The New Yorker, The Spectator and Private Eye.

Diversifying into children’s books, Weldon has written and illustrated The Kid with The Amazing Head and Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions, and this book and his other gag compendium – I’m Sorry Little Man, I Thought You Were a Hand Puppet – were published in Britain by Allen & Unwin.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac… first surfaced in 2009 but is still fresh, strange and engagingly twisted enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

The 232 deranged doodles explore not just the peculiarly inclusive arena of looking for love in all the wrong places but also includes fervent peeks and prognostications on perils of growing old disgracefully, the foibles of fashion and dieting, tattoo troubles and – because it’s Australia – observations of criminal conduct and the consumption of alcohol…

There are many mind-bending interactions with telephones, technological innovations and examinations to Tung Shui and other oral aids, visits to the horrific inner world of children and animals and a great line in ads for stuff that should exist but mercifully doesn’t yet…

You can gain new appreciation for the contributions to society of teachers, cops, doctors housewives – of either gender – and soldiers, experience a different view of drugs, bugs, music and goldfish, reconsider the pros and cons of beards, work and sport and learn far more than you’ll ever need to about genetic engineering…

Bringing up babies plays hard and heavy here, as does the satirical side of toilet paper, pets, tax claims and Christmas. And then there’s sex, religion, disease and death…

Outrageous, outspoken and uproarious, this is a tome to tickle the funny-bone and giggle glands of anyone prepared to plunge down under and view the world from a southern prospect…
© 2009 Andrew Weldon. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 1

By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-557-8                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-264-8

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the saga of Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. It even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s tragic and far too premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip as the animated features brought Popeye to the entire world. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his supplies – introduced the kid to the master who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, Sagendorf took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf took over, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years. He died in 1994 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards he wrote and drew Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone.

Naturally, as his popularity grew Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are the first four 52-page quarterly funnybooks produced by the Young Master spanning February/April 1948 to November 1948/January 1949.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Introduction‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe and a fabulous collation of candid photos and letters plus strip proofs, original comicbook art and commissioned paintings, an Activity Book cover and greetings card designs contained in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. The initial instant episode finds mighty muscled, irrepressible “infink” Swee’ Pea enquiring ‘Were there ever any pirates around here?’ before doing a bit of digging, after which the full-coloured fun begins with ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’

The salty swab earns a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter and here upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing Olive Oyl President of the fake Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. That only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Swee’ Pea then stars in ‘Map Back! Or Back Map!’ as sinister unprincipled villain Sam Snagg tattoos an invisible secret diagram onto the baby’s body but falls foul of the boy’s garrulous guardian when trying to reclaim the kid and divine the location of Spinachovia’s hidden treasures…

Wrapping up the full-length action is ‘Spinach Revolt’ as Popeye’s pater Poopdeck Pappy kicks up a fuss about constantly having to eat healthy food.

As the first Superman of comics, Popeye was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority, he was uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him); an aggressive troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society… and he wouldn’t want to be.

Time changed Popeye and made him tamer, but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed, so in 1936 Segar brought it back again…

A memorable and riotous sequence of Dailies introduced ancient, antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy. The elder mariner was a hard-bitten, grumpy lout quite prepared – even happy – to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line. He was Popeye’s prodigal dad and once that old goat was firmly established Segar set Olive and her Sailor Man the Herculean task of “Civilizing Poppa”. At the time of this tale that’s still very much a work in progress …

Fed up with eating spinach, Pappy hides his meals and steals the wherewithal to secretly subsist on a diet of candy, cakes and sodas. He even inveigles the lad next door into being the mule in his scurrilous scheme but cannot evade the digestive consequences of his acts…

The premiere outing ends with a brace of single pagers detailing how Swee’ Pea deals with persistent salesmen and a day’s fishing before issue #2 commences…

Master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy again has cause to declare ‘Sir! You are a cheapskate!’ before Swee’ Pea and Popeye are swept up in a controversial debate. In ‘That’s What I Yam!” or ‘I Yam! I Yam’ the sailor believes his baby boy tough enough to wander around town unsupervised but has reasons to revise his opinion after the kid vanishes. Moreover, when he does resurface, the tyke is subject to strange transformations and behaviours. It’s as if a class of trainee hypnotists have all been using the kid as a practise subject but forgot to bring him out of his trance afterward…

Pappy stars in ‘Easy Money’, with the greedy reprobate realising how much cash his sterling son earns for each boxing bout. Determined to get on the gravy train too, the oldster shaves off his beard and impersonates Popeye. By the time he catches wise, Pappy has conned Olive and Wimpy into his scheme and set up a punishing bout with a huge purse, so somebody is going to have to fight…

The issue ends with a two-tone short showing the hazards of bathing Swee’ Pea and another full colour back cover gag with a bullying neighbour realising the folly of trying to spank Popeye’s boy…

Popeye #3 leads with an epic 32-page spooky maritime epic as the superstitious sailor reluctantly agrees to transport 250 “ghosk” traps to ghastly, radish – and phantom – infested ‘Ghost Island’: a cunning yarn of mystery and over-zealous imagination starring many cast regulars and preceded by a hilarious map of the route replacing the inside-front cover gag…

Following up is an implausible account of Popeye apparently becoming a violent bully, beating up ordinary citizens in ‘Smash! or You Can Tell She’s My Girl, Because She’s Wearing Two Black Eyes!’ Happily, a doctor at the sailor’s trial is able to diagnose the incredible truth before things go too far, after which Swee’ Pea indulges in too much sugar in the red and black bit and learns the manly way to play with dolls on the colour back cover…

The final inclusion in this outrageous compilation begins with Wimpy up to his old tricks whilst Popeye hunts ducks before another extended odyssey finds the sailor and hangers-on Swee’ Pea, Olive and Wimpy heading West on safari to capture a rare Ipomoea from sagebrush hellhole ‘Dead Valley’

It’s a grim wilderness Popeye has endured before: an arid inferno no sane man would want to revisit unless a scientist hired him to. Sadly, that’s not the opinion of local bandit boss Dead Valley Joe who assigns all his scurvy gang the task of dissuading or despatching the uppity easterners before they uncover the region’s incredible secret…

Back home again, Olive Oyl receives a surprise ‘Gift from Uncle Ben!’ Sadly, the strange flying beast called a Zoop prefers Swee’ Pea’s company and her warm generosity in donating the beast takes a hard knock when a stranger offers a million dollars for it…

One final brace of Swee’ Pea shorts then sees the wily kid orchestrate free baseball views for his pals before indulging in food politics to win over a stray cat and wrap up in amiable style these jolly, captivating cartoon capers.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye Classics volume 1 © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2013 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People – A Close to Home Collection

By John McPherson (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5365-7

One of the best and most consistently amusing gagsters around these days is John McPherson who created Close to Home in 1992, after spending many years as a mechanical design engineer. For years prior to the career jump, he had kept hold of his particularly skewed interpretation of sanity by working as a part-time cartoonist: spending the time regular folks use for sleeping in moonlighting by selling cartoons to periodicals as prestigious and varied as The Saturday Evening Post, Campus Life, Yankee, Christianity Today and others.

Delivered in the manner and style of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, McPherson’s daily cartoon panel was originally released through Universal Press Syndicate to 50 client papers, which has grown to 700 since the syndicate merged with online provider Uclick in 2009. The new entity – Universal Uclick – consequently absorbed United Feature Syndicate to become America’s largest Press Syndicate; marketing original print, online and mobile device material including lifestyle/opinion columns, strips, cartoons, puzzles and other content.

McPherson’s signature feature derives its name and content from a broad band of themes and subject matter, casting a barbed and wickedly humorous eye on those perennial travails which perennially hit “Close to Home”: evergreen topics like marriage, kids, employment, domestic duties, school life, sports and health.

Because he’s been around for a while now, McPherson’s also perfectly familiar with how often life devolves into the bizarre, absurd and macabre…

In this particular volume – one of dozens including Dangerously Close To Home, The Silence of the Lamberts and The Scourge of Vinyl Car Seats – the portmanteau pictorial delights are augmented by behind-the-scenes essays offering an insight into the creator’s world.

In ‘Ideas’ McPherson focusses on the old “where do you get your ideas” question, giving his spin on the issue with plenty of outrageous examples ranging from zoo japes to the religious fervour engendered by golf…

‘Angry Letters’ are just that: a candid peek at actual correspondence from the public in regard to specific cartoons, what the artist did in response, and often how he would have preferred to have acted…

Best of all for people like me, however, is ‘Killed by the Editor’ with tales and many examples of gags and cartoons which could never pass muster for a daily family feature…

Chockful of chuckles about relationships, cars, food, surgery, travel, gardening, pets, recreational sports and hobbies, insurance, husbands and wives, geriatric friskiness, cops and robbers and everything else, When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People is another splendidly gripping, impressively grotesque, irrepressible sly selection of laugh-out-loud jests and quips: a solid and rewarding example of an art form that we must not lose and one guaranteed to deliver delight over and over again.
© 2005 by John McPherson. All rights reserved.