Lucky Luke


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-49-6

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and evergreen comics characters being in any way controversial, but when changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (68 individual adventures totalling more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris himself died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus some spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone…”

Lucky Luke was first spotted in the UK syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun during the late 1950s and again in 1967 in Giggle, where he was renamed Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re well past sixty translated books and still going strong.

Tortillas for the Daltons was the tenth of their 63 albums, now available both on paper and as e-books. As Tortillas pour les Daltons it was first published in Europe 1967: the charming cowboy’s 31st sagebrush foray and Goscinny’s 22nd collaboration with Morris, offering a beguilingly exotic and action-packed visit across the fabled Rio Grande in search of justice and good times…

It all begins in jail as vile owlhoots Averell, Jack, William and their slyly psychotic, overly-bossy shorter brother Joe Dalton are roused from their cosy comfort zone with the shocking news that they’re all being moved to a less crowded penitentiary – one situated near the Mexican border…

The infamous Dalton Gang are incorrigible criminals and no effort is spared to make sure they arrive at their destination. The warden even assigns faithful prison hound Rin Tin Can to the large escort but has apparently forgotten that the vain, friendly and exceedingly dim pooch is utterly loyal to absolutely everybody and no use at all in any kind of crisis…

Parking up for the night by the mighty border, the soldiers and security are sadly unaware that a gang of banditos are eyeing up the iron-studded coach and wondering just what manner of gringo valuables it might contain…

Despite striking with typical dash, verve and flamboyance, the gaudy thieves are ultimately quite disappointed with their haul, but in America the public breathes a huge communal sigh of relief that the Daltons are no longer a menace to their property. Sadly, the Mexican government kicks up such a fuss at the unwelcome additions to their population that the US authorities summon Lucky Luke to Washington DC and beg him to retrieve the contentious criminal tourists…

Not that the Daltons have actually broken any laws yet. They’ve been spending all their time trying to convince bandit supremo Emilio Espuelas that they are as good at being bad as any Mexican.

Whilst he may not accept that, the sinister sombrero-wearer is pretty certain that the odd quartet will be an unnecessary and costly burden. It takes all Joe’s efforts to convince him not to kill them outright. Eventually however, the burly brigand agrees to accept them as apprentice thieves. That tenuous situation almost ends when the assembled scoundrels scout the sleepy village of Xochitecotzingo and Joe a has a fit. The little loon has seen Lucky Luke riding into town with dumb mutt Rin Tin Can in tow.

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in Luke’s adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title. The moronic mutt is in top form here, spreading confusion and mirth far and wide especially after meeting his cross-border counterpart – a clever chihuahua named Rodriguez

Joe Dalton’s devious mind goes into inventive overdrive after spotting his laconic nemesis: determined that Emilio must not learn of the hero’s presence, else he sell the brother back to the emissary of America for a tidy profit…

As Luke avails himself of the local hospitality and acquaints himself with the friendly foreigners’ funny customs, Joe leads the multinational miscreants in a good old US bank raid but has failed to take into account the hamlet’s lack of a proper venue to store money…

As international relations go into a steep decline, the extremely suspicious Espuelas is ready to cut his losses. In town, Lucky is experiencing similar difficulties lost in translation. The local law enforcers have a long tradition of keeping the peace by not asking for trouble by chasing outlaws…

Eventually, however, the canny cowboy drums up a little support, just as Joe convinces Emilio to rob the lavish ranchero of the region’s richest man. Sadly for them, that’s exactly where Lucky and Rin Tin Can are staying…

When noble Don Doroteo announces a grand party, the villains are tempted beyond their ability to resist. Emilio even finds a way for the Daltons to be useful at last. Disguised as a Mariachi band, the gringos can move about the event in preparation for a classic Mexican raid – but only if nobody asks them to play or sing…

Sensibly devolving into total farce and a ferocious gunfight, Tortillas for the Daltons is a wild and woolly comedy romp, offering fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour in another delicious yarn in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Evil Roy Slade, superbly executed by master storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation: © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Plastic Man Archives volume 6


By Jack Cole & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0154-8

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

“Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian was a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he was saved by a monk who nursed him back to health and proved to the hardened thug that the world was not just filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolved to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with.

Creating a costumed alter ego, he began a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopted the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks was a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who accidentally saved a wizard’s life and was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature would henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces felt like it.

After failing to halt the unlikely superman’s determined crime spree, Plas appealed to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repented, was compelled to keep him around in case he strayed again. The oaf was slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembled, Winks was the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who got all the best lines, possessed an inexplicable charm and had a habit of finding trouble. It was the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

This sublimely sturdy sixth full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #5 and 6 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics #59-65, covering October 1946 to April 1947. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Michael T. Gilbert offers an appreciation of Cole and his gift for concocting uniquely memorable characters in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of his fifth solo-starring vehicle commences with ‘They Call Him Weapons’ as a seemingly innocuous gunsmith graduates from selling his ordnance innovations to criminals to becoming a bandit himself. His bloody trail leads Plas and Woozy to a house the tinkerer has tricked up into an inescapable death trap…

Cole’s constant and ever-growing pressure to fill pages led to his hiring artists to assist in the illustration of his madcap scripts. Alex Kotzky pitched in for ‘The Mysterious Being Called Hate’ as our chameleonic crime-crusher faces sorcerous neophyte Mr. Giglamp after the infernally inquisitive fool finds himself a satanic sponsor and becomes a demonic danger to society.

Woozy had his own back-up solo feature in Plastic Man and here the Stalwart Simpleton inspires a down-at-heel gangster to modify a heroic legend to his own unscrupulous ends in ‘Robin Hood Returns’ (drawn by Bart Toomey), after which prose puzzler ‘Snig River’ sees a simple fishing trip prank land a basket full of fugitive crooks. A baffling mystery then confounds the populace in ‘The Evil of Moneybags’. When millionaire Aloysius P. Japers starts giving away all his money only the stretchable sleuth notices that all the beneficiaries start turning up dead and penniless…

In Police Comics #59 Woozy and Plas are helpless before ‘The Menace of Mr. Happiness’ (Cole & Andre LeBlanc) as a drug store clerk accidentally invents a serum which paralyses victims with joy whilst #60 invoked the author’s fascination with mad scientists in ‘The Man Who Built Himself a Body’ (Cole & LeBlanc) as weedy Professor Spindrift constructs a series of robot suits so that he can muscle his way to the top of the underworld…

A million-dollar bounty on Plastic Man leads to ‘A Bundle of Trouble’ (Cole & LeBlanc) in Police #61, culminating in a baby-sized assassin infiltrating the hero’s home as a heavily armed foundling, before Plastic Man #6 opens with criminal genius Scientific Sherman stealing the astronomical discoveries of ‘The Moon Wizard’ and seemingly stranding Plas and Woozy on the distant lunar orb.

‘The Crimes of Mother Goose’ features a crook committing fairy tale-inspired thefts to bewilder the Ductile Detective and his partner after which Woozy hunts alone for ‘The Zwili Cat’ (Cole & Kotzky) obsessing crooks and bad-men all over town, before text tale ‘Scarlett Goes Straight’ finds our hero helping an ex-con capture his former unrepentant associates.

To close the issue, a common jewel thief gains incredible leaping powers and becomes costumed crook ‘The Grasshopper’ (Cole & Kotzky) but is ultimately unable to escape the relentless and remarkable reach of his pliable pursuer.

Police Comics #62 finds flashy socialite Leda Van Doom interviewing prospective husbands only to lose one in suspicious circumstances in ‘The Cupid’s Bow Murder’.

After solving that thorny mystery Plas and Woozy combat a macabre gambling boss moonlighting as a marine marauder dubbed ‘The Crab’ in #63 and paint a ‘Bulls-Eye on Crime’ a month later as they expose a candy factory operating as a clearing house for stolen gems before wrapping up this compendium of comedic crime-busting by helping homeless newlyweds find a place to live.

Sadly, that task entails evicting and arresting a house full of deadly spies and clearing all the death traps out of ‘The Apartment of Dr. Phobia’

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious covers, this is another unmissable masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating more than seventy years after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans would be crazy to avoid.
© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Billy and Buddy volume 4: It’s a Dog’s Life


By Jean Roba & various translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-171-6

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy – the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way and developed a unique style and personality, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

He crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel before eventually surrendering the art-chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, after Roba’s death in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading a lot of American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip has generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Originally released in 1974, Une vie de chien was the 9th European collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless and evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. This time however, we’re left in no doubt as to who is running the show…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in spats with pals, dodging baths, hunting and hoarding bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the Machiavellian mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball. The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

Taking pride of place in this tome are numerous close escapes from kids intent on involving the dog in their crazy games of cowboys, hunting encounters, pranks and practical jokes, strange romantic encounters (with cats and other lower life forms) …

Unwise intrusions onto film sets abound this time and there are more brushes with belligerent birds, adoring girls, impertinent mannequins and voracious fleas (or at least so the humans think), as well as hitchhiking hilarity and an embarrassing almost-accident involving ancient automobiles and crusty dowagers.

The onset of snow season brings fresh confrontations with the neighbour’s cat Corporal and, humiliating ice-capades, skid patches and sliding competitions, snowball wars, indoor blizzards and the unique experience of romantically-inclined sleepwalking tortoises as well as Buddy’s debut as a soccer referee for schoolboy games and more displays of the dog’s social pulling power and food-procuring acumen.

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and slapstick to satire: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2010 by Roba. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd.

Stark Plug Book.com


By Chap (Rolling Tire Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-3-7 (PB)              eISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-2-0

One of my greatest joys is reading work by creators who clearly get off on the sheer joy of cartooning and that is definitely the case in this outrageously addictive tome offering “A Nice Alternative to Television”…

Obviously and enticingly inspired by the graphic absurdity of Gilbert Shelton and his Fabulous Furry partners Dave Sheridan and Paul Mavrides, Wisconsin-based printmaker and illustrator Steven C. Chappell has concocted a delicious dose of warmly witty strips combining keen observational humour and slapstick shenanigans with splendidly surreal visual hijinks and capers featuring life-battered wage-slave everyman Stark Plug.

The artist then generously gathered them all in a wonderfully engaging softcover album – mainly black and white, but with judiciously and mischievously applied spot and full-colour sections – and self-deprecatingly allowed the material to do its job… to the delight of anyone savvy enough to read it.

Following a handy pictorial introduction to ‘The Primary Cast of Characters’, all manner of wry and supremely engaging jollity commences with ‘Another Day… at the Job’ as overstretched screen-monkey Stark is informed by his bullying boss that he now has to do the work of three for the same wage and resoundingly assured yet again “no raise for you!”.

Inundated with tedious repetitive keyboard-tapping, Mr. Plug’s mind starts to wander into realms both bizarrely graphical and enticingly metaphysical…

Another day brings oversleeping, fresh anxiety and a mad dash through Madison’s snowbound streets – past local ambulatory busking landmark Bernie the Banjo Bum – and culminates in a close shave with icy death, before the tedious toil resumes. At least Stark can enjoy official breaks with co-worker Stacy whilst expounding on the joys of the “Fry It Diet”…

He may consume copiously and unhealthily, but our man keeps fit, as seen in the purely visual, rainbow-hued and wildly experimental peregrination ‘Stark Walks’, after which ‘Power Outage!’ sees office and city plunged into stygian gloom, giving the workers license to get a bit daring with their habits and clothing…

Whilst out with his dog Dioji, Stark’s mind is set to wandering after overhearing ‘Jump Rope Jabber with Those Crazy Kids!’ before taking in an extensive tour of life’s finer things during ‘A Day at the City Gallery’. After enjoying the colour-enhanced delights of an entrancing Wood Block Print Show he consequently descends into a ‘Mid-Life Crisis…’ which entails quitting his doleful, penurious job to become a cartoon character in newspaper strip Memphis and Harry, playing straight man to a weirdly-drawn cat…

When the strip is cancelled due to catnip-fuelled excess, it’s back to the terminal grind of his old job where the pressure can only be relieved by frenetic dancing in ‘Stark Raving Mad’

A much needed ‘Coffee Break’ leads to Stark learning more than he ever wanted to about Stacy and her friend Rita so he indulges himself by devising ‘The Most Hilarious Comic Strip Ever!’ – a potentially lethal stunt involving fake moustaches, male nudity, bicycles, flying, the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol and an army of gun-happy cops – which can only be balanced by a moment of ‘Stark Meditation ’ before the madcap buffoonery concludes in mellow contemplative manner as Stark Plug and Dioji indulge in a gentle nocturnal ‘Moon Walk’

The entire experience is then topped off with quirky Ads for ‘Stark Plug Schwag’ (I got a cool bunch of stuff with my review copy – yay! – so I can thoroughly recommend this bit) bringing to a close the funniest book I’ve read this year… and it’s already March…
© 2017 Steven C. Chappell (Chap). All rights reserved.

For further information check out the book’s title, or if that’s too much work type this – starkplugbook.com – into a computer.

The Bluecoats volume 6: Bronco Benny


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-146-4

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was an absolute devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even to colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – although still broadly comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and – after studying Fine Art in college – joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Bronco Benny is the sixth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 16th French volume) and opens with our surly stalwarts waiting at a rail depot for much-needed fresh materiel…

As usual the war has stalled due to lack of crucial resources. This time the dearth is horses to ride, but when the train carrying the replacement mounts unloads, what Chesterfield and Blutch find is a shambles which makes them want to laugh and cry…

The smugly-isolated General Staff quickly retire to their comfortable residence and are soon back in high-level conference. Callously obnoxious Young Turk Captain Stillman posits a most practical – if appallingly unethical – solution to the equine stalemate: don’t pay the soldiers until after the forthcoming battle and use the money to purchase mounts from horse traders beyond the western mountains. To make sure the sale and transport goes according to plan the Captain intends sending the smallest military detail possible, but they will be accompanied by Bronco Benny, the greatest horse-breaker in the world…

Next day, luckless Blutch and Chesterfield set out on the suicide mission they have been volunteered for with strong, silent Benny in attendance. They are astounded by how easily they pass through Confederate pickets and defences. They also have no idea that the enemy is well aware of the plan and is allowing them expedited passage…

Travelling the arid rocky region to the traders’ ranch our heroes are surprised when a band of Indians attack. The Bluecoats only escape through sheer dumb luck and after rendezvousing with the mustang-hunters discover the natives are in uproar because the horsemen have captured a magnificent white stallion the Indians revere as a god…

It’s love at first sight for Benny. He is utterly smitten with the mustang dubbed “Traveller” and the next few days fade to a bruised blur as he strives to break the mighty wonder horse. Sadly, after he does, the true nature of the horse-traders is exposed and Blutch and Chesterfield realise they’ve been suckered yet again…

However, even after being deprived of cash, horses and dignity and left to die at the hands of the furious Indians, Sarge has a plan to fix things and, whilst it doesn’t exactly work as expected, it does get him and his pals back to Union lines in time to witness one more horrific, pointlessly stupid battle and subsequent slaughter with no apparent winner…

This is another hugely amusing savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1980 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Man, I Hate Cursive – Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears


By Jim Benton (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7889-6                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-8414-9

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. In fact 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 the 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…

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

Even those stuck-up holdouts 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 like this one (and also in eBook editions) to enjoy over and over again…

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

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

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded.

This particular collection was released at the end of last year and is still fresh, strange and irreverent enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

Here you will explore the innocently horrific inner world of children and monsters, learn to appreciate anew the contributions to society of teachers and experience Benton’s satirical side as bigots and racists are convicted out of their own mouths.

There are heaping helpings of animal antics – both wryly sardonic and barbarously slapstick – and wicked observations on the dating scene, plus true love pictured in all its infamy, how robots need a little tenderness too as well as the inside track on what it means to be Death…

You’ll see some of the strangest and most disquietingly surreal gags ever penned – such as the dysfunctional band made of animate body parts or the bizarrely extrovert characters comprising ‘The Sideshow’ and even a truly unique take on historical personages and superheroes of the screen and comics pages…

As ever, there are trenchant swipes at the worlds of Art and Big business as well as incisive explorations of the relationship between us and our pets, the perils of inventing stuff and a pants-wetting section on the downside of air travel…

And best of all, the artist sets aside time and space to share with us God’s Plan and proves that the Almighty’s sense of humour is both wicked and petty…

You might discover Not-Facts that will change your life after gleaning Benton’s take on loneliness, fast food, binge eating, farting, periods, disabilities, growing up, Big Pharma, and the business of medicine in single page giggle-bombs ranging from strident solo panels to extended strips; silent shockers to poetically florid and verbose tracts.

There are also loads of jokes about bears….

Another uproarious compilation to make the sourest persimmon laugh as sweetly as pie (there are no joke about pies in this volume)…
© 2016 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Stuff about Sex for Guys Who Are Not Like, Total Idiots


By David Mellon (Top Shelf Productions)
ASIN: B01BMV519A

Whilst not actually a graphic novel, I couldn’t resist adding this outrageous little comicbook essay to my St. Valentines Day celebrations, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any oldster who likes a gentle, knowing laugh or any young man in need of a little understanding pep talk before setting out to find a mate – either for a night, a while or a lifetime…

In the manner of a relatively non-judgemental older sibling, David Mellon talks frankly and in the most simple of terms on how to start having sex and the onset of adult relationships; dispelling myths, addressing if not positively coddling neuroses and especially bestowing actual useful advice (yes, really! Wash often and wear clean clothes!) to help nervous neophytes meet women and not nauseate them…

Beautifully rendered in accessible monochrome cartoons, Mellon takes us through the initial obstacle of ‘Shame!’, arguing that ‘It’s the Same for Everybody’ and claiming ‘Everybody Wants to Drop that Mask!’

Nothing is held back as the author sensibly deals with ‘Personal Hygiene’ and tackles issues such as ‘Premature Ejaculation’, ‘Masturbation’, the pros and cons of ‘Virginity’ and even asks the big question… ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’

Even the great imponderables get a look in as we examine ‘Normal’ and discuss ‘What Women Want’

Smart, sensible, unflinching but never harsh or mean, Mellon’s mature approach to an age-old traumatic experience and rite of passage should be mandatory reading in schools (but won’t be because of all the naked men and women he’s drawn here) as a serious aid to sex education.
Stuff about Sex ™ & © 2012 David Mellon. All rights reserved.

Because I’m the Child Here and I Said So


By Pat Byrnes (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5738-9

A daily chuckle prompted by a wry cartoon seductively rendered remains an unmissable joy to a vast – frequently global – readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even the ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Newspaper cartooning – even its modern online iteration – has always primarily been about family entertainment. As such, kids and their relationships with parents have taken top spot in terms of subject matter whether in one-off gag-panels or serial cartoon strips.

Soon after becoming a parent himself, Pat Byrnes (Monkeyhouse, Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Illustrated Edition), an impressively educated-&-accomplished, award-winning doodler and ad-man seen in The New Yorker and other prestigious magazines, gathered a bunch of his child-related efforts into a follow-up book to the memorable What Would Satan Do? Cartoons About Right, Wrong, and Very, Very Wrong.

He later returned to the all-consuming arena of jovial child-exploitation with Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Subtitled “A Joke Book for Parents (Because You Need a Laugh!)” this brief full-colour tome addresses the bewildering and frankly rather terrifying post-millennial generation: a time of compulsively over-achieving kids and their ferociously competitive Tiger Parents in a society where conspicuous wealth and measurable status are more important than air or food.

To effect a degree of balance and argue that there’s still hope for mankind, there are also wittily acerbic barbs and warm, weird moments to placate the holdouts from simpler times just trying to get by and ensure their spawn learn how to unwind and chill out a bit before that all-important first heart attack…

Following the author’s Introduction the gags come thick and fast: glimpses of households where love is conditional on sporting success, Ritalin has replaced milk as the secret of building better children and duct tape is the solution to so many different emotional meltdowns.

This a society familiar to many oldsters like me where television is a suitable substitute for attention or babysitters; where passive-aggression starts early and becomes a family heirloom and taking pictures is more important than hugs or cuddles, but these cruel observations are marvellously manipulated to make the best kind of jokes: ones with a point and a purpose…

There is also a non-stop string of cracking verbal punch-lines which would make a potent line in slyly sardonic slogan-motif-ed apparel for surly teenagers…

Sharp, smart and shockingly timeless, these gags are a splendid example of the family cartoon at its most engaging and acerbic: a true treat for any adult who’s been there, done that and still has the headaches…
© 2006 Pat Byrnes. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 3: Friends First


By Jean Roba, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-124-2

Known as Boule et Bill on the Continent (the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy – the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way and developed a unique style and personality, becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

He crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his rather clever Cocker Spaniel before eventually surrendering the art-chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, after Roba’s death in 2006.

Jean Roba was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium on July 28th 1930 and grew up reading a lot of American newspaper strip translations and reprints. He was particularly fond of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids and after the War began working as a jobbing illustrator before adopting the loose, free-wheeling cartooning style known as the “Marcinelle School” and joining the Spirou crew.

He followed Uderzo on Sa majesté mon mari and perfected his craft under Franquin on Spirou et Fantasio before launching Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like our Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a big hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip has generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 32 albums to date.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip debuted en Angleterre in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009: introducing a late 20th century-sitcom nuclear family consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble…

Les copains d’abord was the 3rd European 1980s collection, and here simply serves to further explore the timeless relationships for our delight and delectation.

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire gags, quips and jests, the progress and behaviour of seven-year old Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy: indulging in snowball fights, dodging baths, hording a treasure trove of bones, outwitting butchers, putting cats and school friends in their place, misunderstanding adults, causing accidents and costing money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative boy, although he’s overly fond of bones and rather protective of them. He also does not understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

The dog also has a fondly paternal relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this largely winter and Christmas-themed compilation finds her largely absent and probably hibernating) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever dad has one of his increasingly common meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

Also on parade in this tome are brushes with burglars and bandits, fearless fire-fighters and foolish photographers as well a selection of unique displays of Buddy’s social pulling power and money-making acumen. There’s even a greater role for Officer 22; the hard-pressed cop on the corner who always seems to be around during Billy and Buddy’s most egregious excesses and is slowly making himself one of the family…

However, the most important events included here depict the arrival of a new neighbour. Mrs. Stick is an upright, forthright and uptight military widow with definite views on absolutely everything. The most ardently held and expressed of these involve the nature of boys and dogs and how her vile cat Corporal can do no wrong. Oh, if she only knew…

Gently-paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment, these captivating funny pages run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another splendidly enticing and rewarding family-oriented compote of comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Studio Boule & Bill 2008 by Roba. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

Archie’s Classic Christmas Stories


By Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-10-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Those Who’ve Been Extra Good This Year… 9/10

As long-term readers might recall, my good lady wife and I have a family ritual we’re not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we barricade the doors, draw the shutters, stockpile munchies, stoke up the radiators and lazily subside with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear.

(Well, I do: she also insists on a few monumental feats of cleaning and shopping before manufacturing the world’s most glorious and stupefying meal to accompany my reading, gorging and – eventually – snoring…)

The irresistible trove of funnybook treasures generally comprises older DC’s, loads of Disney’s and some British annuals, but the vast preponderance is Archie Comics.

From the earliest days this American institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” through a fabulously funny, nostalgically charming, sentimental barrage of cannily-crafted stories capturing the spirit of the season through a range of cartoon stars from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say “comicbooks” people’s thoughts turn to steroidal blokes – and women – in garish tights hitting each other, bending lampposts and lobbing trees or cars about. That or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans.

Throughout the decades though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned. One that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television these days – is the genre of teen-comedy begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following-up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make a little history with its first lead feature The Shield, who was the American industry’s first superhero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield)

After initially revelling in the benefits of the Fights ‘N’ Tights game, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, duh!) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the costumed cavorters and two-fisted adventurers were gently nudged aside – just a fraction at first – by a wholesome, improbable and far-from-imposing new hero; an unremarkable (except, perhaps, for his teeth) teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular Andy Hardy movies, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. Their precocious new notion premiered in Pep #22: a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead Jones and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a multi-media brand which encompasses TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global pop smash. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The Andrews boy is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming house of luurve (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly re-imagining its core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and, over the decades, the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner always both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom have contributed to a wide and appealingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie easily cleared the American industry’s final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream Kids’ comics.

One of the most effective tools in the company’s arsenal has been the never-failing appeal of seasonal and holiday traditions. In Riverdale it was always sunny enough to surf at the beach in summer and it always snowed at Christmas…

The Festive Season has never failed to produce great comics stories. DC especially have since their earliest days perennially embraced the magic of the holiday with a decades-long succession of stunning and sentimental Batman thrillers – as well as many other heroic team-ups incorporating Santa Claus, Rudolph and all the rest.

Archie also started early (1942) and kept on producing year-end classics. The stories became so popular and eagerly anticipated that in 1954 the company created a specific oversized title – Archie’s Christmas Stocking – to cater to the demand, even as it kept the winter months of its other periodicals stuffed with assorted tales of elves and snow and fine fellow-feeling…

This splendidly appealing, full-colour bonanza (recently re-released as an eBook), gathers and re-presents a superb selection of Cool Yule extravaganzas – many by the irrepressible team of Frank Doyle & Harry Lucey – from those end-of-year annuals, beginning, after a jolly, informative Foreword from Kris Kringle himself with ‘Christmas Socking!’ (Archie’s Christmas Stocking #3, 1956) wherein Betty and Veronica throw a Christmas party and convince shy Midge that she should let other boys kiss her should the mistletoe demand it…

That harmless tradition carries its own perils, however, as her possessive boyfriend Moose tends to pound anybody who even looks at her funny, but the girls think they can keep the jealous lummox leashed. They’re wrong in believing the Jock is as dumb as he looks, though…

Four tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #4 (1957) lead off with ‘I Pine Fir You and Balsam’ as our hero convinces Veronica’s millionaire dad to save a few bucks by cutting down his own tree rather than buy one. Mr. Lodge knows Archie of old so he only has himself to blame for the cascade of costly catastrophes that ensue…

‘Dis-Missile’ then sees Betty & Veronica intercepting their friends’ letters to Santa and unable to resist making some wishes come true whilst ‘Idiot’s Delight’ finds Betty employing devastating strategy to monopolise Archie’s attentions in the run-up to Christmas.

‘Dressed to Kill’ closes that year’s festivities with a rarely seen prose vignette with Archie’s girls hosting rival parties on the same night and re-declaring their ongoing war…

There’s a trio of strip sagas from 1958 too as Archie’s Christmas Stocking #5 provides a superb slapstick ‘Slay Ride’ wherein Archie and a borrowed horse make much manic mischief in the Lodge Mansion after which ‘Ring That Belle’ confirms the perils of eavesdropping when Betty gets the wrong idea about Archie’s surprise for Ronnie…

Following a chronological aberration to review ‘Veronica’s Pin-up Page’ from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #15 (1962) we return to 1958 for a ‘Seasonal Smooch’ crafted by Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo, which sees Reggie abusing mistletoe privileges with Midge and sustaining agonising consequences when Big Moose gets wise…

‘The Feather Merchant’ (Archie’s Christmas Stocking #6, 1959) finds Archie in the doghouse after trying to impress bird-collector Mr. Lodge with a shoddy and shambolic selection of Avian Xmas gifts before ‘Those Christmas Blues!’ leads off a triptych of topical tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #10, 1961.

Here Archie’s parents lament that they’ve been sidelined in favour of the girls in their boy’s life but have a wonderful surprise awaiting them whilst ‘Not Even a Moose’ finds Reggie playing foolish pranks on the naïve giant and discovering the danger of telling people there is such a man as Santa.

Next up is an important milestone in Archie continuity. Jingles the Elf has been a seasonal Archie regular for decades and ‘A Job For Jingles’ in ACS #10 was his debut appearance by Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo with the playful imp – who cannot be seen by adults – spending his day off just like any normal lad schmoozing around Riverdale and checking out the “attractions”…

Christmas with the Andrews boy always leads to disaster and injury for Mr. Lodge so in Archie’s Christmas Stocking #20 (1963) he opts for ‘Escape’ to a sunny resort. Sadly, Archie’s ability to jinx the best-laid plans, like Santa Claus, knows no limits of time or distance…

Closing out this tinsel-tinged tome is ‘The Return of Jingles’ (Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #20, 1963), which sees the workshop elf resurface in Riverdale only to be upstaged by a brace of workbench associates who want to see for themselves how much fun humans have…

These are joyously effective and entertaining tales for young and old alike, crafted by some of Santa’s most talented Helpers, epitomising the magic of the Season and celebrating the perfect wonder of timeless all-ages storytelling. What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their kids’ stocking (from where it can most easily be borrowed)?
© 2002 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.