Ordinary Victories Complete Set


By Manu Larcenet, colours by Patrice Larcenet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Complete Set ISBN: 978-1-56163-600-6.  Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1-56163-423-1 Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1-56163-

One of the very best European comics series of recent times is now available as a complete bargain-priced banded set.

Ordinary Victories examines the introspective and incidental life of neurotic, left-leaning, change-dreading Marco Louis in the years before the conservative/centrist Sarkozy government came to power. In mesmerising, eulogistic and winningly comedic narrative and alternating modes of illustration ranging from brashly big-foot to sensitively realistic, the soul-searching isolationist examines himself, his past, his art and his family and consequently finds a future he can at least settle for…

The four albums released in France translate to two solidly satisfying tomes here and opens with Marco, who has been subject to devastating panic attacks for years, not getting through to his therapist before giving up visiting his happy, married and well-adjusted brother to get high, chill out and reminisce.

Marco is just the kind of guy who lets life get to him. Visiting his over-protective mum and frail dad only heightens his general tension, but he does get a hint of parts of his father’s life he never before knew.

Returning to his isolated rural cottage and Adolf, his maniacal cat, Marco tries to get back to his photo-journalism job, but the despair and hatred he feels for the whole rat-race won’t go away. Wracked by anxiety and nightmares Marco takes his cat for walks in the woods where he encounters an abusive, trespass-obsessed farmer and a wise old gentleman.

When Adolf is savaged by a dog Marco meets a charming vet who inexplicably likes him, but life compensates for the nice event by getting Marco fired…

Unemployed but obsessed with his art, Marco still resists change: Emily is making noises about moving in together but the potential commitment terrifies him. He certainly can’t handle her outright demands for a baby…

The country seems to be heading for outright fascism too, his neighbour is a maniac and when he visits the old gentleman Marco discovers an unsettling connection to his dad’s mysterious war service. His paranoia goes into overdrive when he finds out what kind of a soldier old man Mesrin was and with his world spinning the angst-wracked artist is compelled to change or die…

The second part of volume 1 is ‘Negligible Amounts’ and sees the now officially-paired couple Emily and Marco visiting his parents where the son learns some unpleasant truths about his father’s health. The once vigorous and sharp-witted ship-worker is fading…

Marco’s shots of the dying Shipyard win him a Paris gallery show, but meeting his artistic and creative heroes proves a painful experience. Still the promise of a book might boost his reputation and save his dad’s old work comrades from redundancy, even if some of them are already talking of closures, unemployment and even changing their political allegiances…

With Right-wing radicalism in the streets and racism in the air Marco and his brother are pretty glum and soon after pretty drunk. When another panic attack hits hard the photographer only narrowly avoids an extended stay in a psychiatric unit… and then he gets the phone call about his father…

Volume 2 of Ordinary Victories opens with the eponymous ‘What is Precious’ as Marco slowly adjusts to his father’s death, getting even closer to Emily… at least when her incessant demands for a baby aren’t freaking him out.

With a book deal and a new analyst, things seem to be progressing but the contents of his dad’s diary provides fresh material for passive hysteria, as does his previously indomitable mother’s new attitude. Unable to stand the strain any longer, Marco confronts Mesrin and demands to know just what ghastly atrocities the old man and the deceased ship-builder actually committed…

The final chapter ‘Hammering Nails’ opens with new mum Emily and their delightful daughter Maude providing new and different anxieties for Marco, especially since he finally agreed to move the family into a bigger house…

The Shipyard is in its final days and as Marco photographs the resigned but striking workers his thoughts are more confused than ever. Everybody else either accepts or fights life’s vicissitudes: why can’t he do either?

There’s yet another election coming and everybody thinks a great change is coming – but for Marco that’s never been a comforting notion…

This is a subtle, funny and deeply contemplative tale, deftly understated and compellingly seductive. A commonplace guy handles nothing we blokes haven’t all faced and reacts pretty much as any guy would: astonished to make it safely through another day, always astonished that our partner seems to love us, claims to know us and yet stays anyway. Ordinary Victories is about frustration, loss, disappointment, and yes, occasional triumphs. These books are wonderful, sublime, magical comics and you really should read them…

© Dargaud 2005, 2007, 2008 by Larcenet. Translation © 2005, 2008 NBM.

Dungeon Quest Book 2


By Joe Daly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-436-8

Cartoonist and animator Joe Daly has come a long way and won a lot of friends with his eccentric, eclectic comics narratives since he broke into the American market with the beguiling and memorable Scrublands in 2006. British born and raised in South Africa, Daly quirkily blends elements as diverse as drug-culture, dead-pan comedy, penetrating soul-searching, the irrepressible ebullience of youth, and wry social commentary in a dreamy primitivist manner reminiscent of the truly great Underground Commix (and, for me at least, captivating touches of Bryan Talbot in his Brainstorm Comics days) and absurdist art and music.

His latest, award-winning, on-going project Dungeon Quest is a delightful combination of nerdy discipline and pharmaceutical excess wherein a group of stoner Dungeons and Dragons disciples actually undertake a fantasy voyage to realms fantastical, dangerous and excessively violent.

Now with volume 2, the prime mystical quest to find and reassemble the incredible Atlantean Resonator Guitar takes Millennium Boy (the smart one), Steven (the capable one), Lash Penis (the steroid-fuelled warrior) and Nerdgirl (who doesn’t talk much) through the spider-haunted Fireburg forest to a hidden Masonic temple filled with fresh weapons, cosmic mysteries and even a few rewards and answers – at least to their secondary sub-quest: finding the gender ambiguous prophet-poet Bromedes and returning his magnificent penis-sheath…

Overcoming hunger, privation, a lack of latrines, ancient puzzles, river trolls, a sea of vegetable detritus and a giant leaf monster whilst taking every possible opportunity to get brain-bustingly wasted, the post-modern Argonauts make great strides in their mission and eventually achieve their secondary goal. Nevertheless, there are still miles to go and much to see, snort or kill before they quest is over…

Happily marrying the sensibilities of post-grunge, teenaged waste-lads as typified by Jay and Silent Bob, Harold and Kumar or the assorted boy loons in films like Without a Paddle or even Dude, Where’s My Car? with the meticulous and finicky obsessions of role-playing gamers and the raw thrill of primal myths, this captivating and wittily indulgent yarn is enchantingly rendered in solid, blocky friendly black and white and garnished with lashings of smart-ass attitude.

Strength: vulgar. Intelligence: witty. Dexterity: compelling. Mana: absolutely. Status: unmissable.

© 2011 Joe Daly. All rights reserved.

Celeb


By Charles Peattie, Mark Warren & Russell Taylor (Private Eye/Corgi)
ISBN: 0-552-13858-4

In terms of taste, as in so many other arenas, our modern world seems to be heading for Heck in a hand-basket, so  I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a little lost gem of British cartooning delight that’s increasing re-relevant in these appalling days of fame campaigns and dodgy talent show democracy.

Celeb was a strip which ran in that evergreen gadfly Private Eye, beginning in May 1987, created by Mark Warren and the team of Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor (who were simultaneously crafting the abortive first iteration of greed-glorifying mini-classic Alex for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News).

For years credited to the pseudonymous “Ligger”, the pithy and hilarious episodes followed the day to day life of Swinging Sixties survivor and disgracefully declining rock-legend Gary Bloke as he dealt with a changing world, thinning hair, parenthood and inexorable middle age.

These days with 24/7 reality shows, desperate celebrities enduring career-resuscitating humiliations in locked houses and jungle clearings and a host of other self-inflicted, double-edged B-list exposé freak-shows everywhere, the outrageous pronouncements and antics of Gary seem pretty tame but in the days before Ozzy Osbourne became more famous for parenting and not singing whilst footballers’ performance off the field took precedence over goals scored on it, the sozzled, crass, befuddled, and pitifully pompous cocky cockney-boy-made-good was the very epitome of affably acceptable, ego-bloated, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandizing, drug-fuelled idiocy.

Within this collection from 1991 the legendary “Man of the Peeple” distributes kernels of hard-won wisdom to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Clive James, Cilla Back, Ruby Wax, Barry Norman, Anne Diamond, Selena Scott, Michael Aspel and other interviewers of lesser longevity, tackles world poverty and the environment head-on (and eyes tight shut), learns how to cope with those new-fangled rock videos, adapts to the needs of his burgeoning family and, of course, consumes a phenomenal quantity of recreational pharmaceuticals…

Including a selection of interviews from the Sunday Times (October 1989), The Sun (Wednesday August 3rd 1988) and candid shots of Gary with Bob Geldof and George Michael at Live Aid, the collection concludes with the infamous days during which Gary was dead of an overdose and met both God and Elvis, plus the sordid truth behind his numerous brushes with the law, leading to his 18-month stretch At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and subsequent key role in a terrible prison riot for better conditions and macrobiotic food…

The heady cocktail of drink, sex, drugs, money, sport, music, adoration and always-forgiven crassness is perhaps the reason so many folks are seduced by celebrity. If you want to see another side to the fame-game and have a hearty laugh into the bargain Gary Bloke is your man…
© 1991 Peattie, Taylor & Warren. All Rights Reserved.

Max


By Giovanetti (Macmillan, New York)
No ISBN

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II and one look at his work will instantly show you why. Born in 1916 in Switzerland, this doyen of brilliant penmen launched his most famous character in Punch in April 1953 – from whence most of these scintillating escapades sprang (the remaining pieces are courtesy of Nebelspalter and Glamour).

Max is a small, round furry creature most likened to a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were both cute and whimsical – as well as trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride brought low and pomposity punctured, but he did. The weekly incidents were also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality; a funny animal for adults and children.

Max was syndicated across the world, (known as Mr. Makkusu-san in Japan) numbering such diverse luminaries as Jason Robards and Charles Schulz as fans and even lending its image and cache to the British Navy and Swiss Air Force as mascot and figurehead.

There were four collections between 1954 and 1961: this one, Max Presents, Nothing But Max and the Penguin Max. Like these, two other collections, Beware of the Dog and Birds without Words, are also criminally out of print.

In this initial 96 page hardback the hairy hero happily demonstrates the challenges inherent in assorted musical instruments, ink-pens, all kind of cooking, drink, hats, hobbies and a host of other occupations and interests…

For all his trenchant ability to convey meaning and offer salutary warnings without uttering a sound, Max’s origins – and indeed species – was a subject of much dispute in the four corners of the globe until Clive King and Giovanetti revealed all in the magical children’s book Hamid of Aleppo, (written in 1958) which delightfully revealed the little wonder’s true origins, antecedents, taxonomy and species: Max is a Syrian Golden Hamster!

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see and the fact that his work should be forgotten is a travesty and a crime. If you ever find a collection of his work do yourself the biggest favour of your life and grab it with both hands.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Just as it finally provided me with a book I’d been hunting out for decades it also revealed that I’d been a short-sighted idiot for not looking further afield – or indeed across the Channel.

A French edition was released in 2003 (ISBN-13: 978-2-21107-074-4) because our Gallic cousins have a far more informed opinion of comics and cartooning than us Anglos – and since all these glorious cartoons are wordless masterpieces that shouldn’t hinder anybody wishing to make the acquaintance of this magical superstar of yesteryear – and, hopefully tomorrow…
© 1954 Pericle Luigi Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Jak volume 13 (1981)


By Jak (Express Newspapers)
ISBN: 0-85079-117-0

I reviewed one of Jak’s earliest collections a few years back and churlishly bemoaned the lack of contextual grounding, utterly forgetting that a brief time later the editors of the series began doing just that so here’s another bite of a superb cartoon cherry that’s still not impossible for the determined fan to find.

The truly sad if not terrifying thing about rereading topical news cartoons years if not decades later is how distressingly familiar the subjects and hot topics are.

For example this volume taken from 1981 features an impending Royal Wedding, bombings in Ireland, nuclear contamination, BP cocking up the planet, banking scandals, insane cuts in military spending, increased unemployment – especially for school and college leavers, brutal spending cuts, a chancellor who couldn’t add up (Geoffrey Howe back then), cynical disinformational bitching about overpaid Council and public sector workers plus a Tory government falling apart and attacking itself and its partners.

However, that time the Government saved itself by fighting a war with somebody thousands of miles away over oil, but there’s no chance of that happening aga…

Hey, wait a minute…

Even the quirky “silly season” stories seem afflicted by generational déjà vu then and now: ITV’s breakfast show was suffering a star-strapped meltdown, the space shuttle was big news (the first not last ever flight into orbit), Prince Andrew was embarrassing us in the eyes of the world, a major acting star went spectacularly off the rails and we were “all in it together” with even rich people cutting down on luxuries (slightly) and England had an appalling football team…

This compendium even closes with the threat of impending war in Libya…

Sometimes our industry is cruel and unjust. This collection of cartoons by Raymond Allen Jackson, who, as Jak, worked for thirty years as political cartoonist for London Evening Standard – renamed by this time as The Standard – is one of many that celebrated his creativity, perspicacity and acumen as he drew pictures and scored points with and among the entire range of British Society.

His gags, produced daily to a punishing deadline as they had to be topical, were appreciated, if not feared, by toffs and plebs alike and were created with a degree of craft and diligence second to none. Even now, decades later, they are still shining examples of wit and talent. Most of them are still scathingly funny too.

Artists like Jak who were commenting on contemporary events are poorly served by posterity. This particular volume (re-presenting a selection of single panel-gags from September 5th 1980 to October 19th 1981), like all of these books, was packaged and released for that year’s Christmas market, with the topics still fresh in people’s minds. Thirty years later – although the drawing is still superb – although the minutiae might escape a few – the trenchant wit, dry jabs and outraged passion which informed these pictorial puncture wounds is still powerfully present. And clearly human nature never changes…

It’s just a huge shame that the vast body of graphic excellence that news cartoonists produce has such a tenuous shelf-life. Perhaps some forward looking university with a mind to jazzing up their modern history or social studies curricula might want to step up and take charge of the tragically untapped and superbly polished catalogue of all our yesterdays…
© 1981 Express Newspapers Limited.

Unlovable: the complete Collection


By Esther Pearl Watson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-397-2

I first encountered Unlovable when volume 2 turned up unannounced in my review mail-pile last year. I had never heard of the strip nor the magazine Bust where it had run for years, but I’m always in the market for a new graphic experience, so I dutifully sat down and lost myself in the world of a Texas Teen from a long, long time ago…

Ostensibly based on an actual schoolgirl diary the artist found in a gas-station restroom in 1995, these two volumes – as translated and reconfigured by cartoonist Ester Pearl Watson – reveal the innermost thoughts, dreams and experiences of a dumpy, utterly ordinary American girl of the tastelessly intoxicating Eighties – surgically displayed for our examination in a catchy, breathless, effusive warts ‘n’ all style.

In the course of these garish and oddly compulsive tomes we follow the titular “Tammy Pierce” as she goes through the unrelenting daily rollercoaster ride of hormones, social pressure and the twin drives to both stand out and fit in.

From my vantage point twenty years in the future it is crushingly funny and achingly sad. Volume 1 plunges the reader straight into a new term as Tammy goes back to school on August 29th 1988 and is instantly swallowed up by the bizarre and overwhelming world of boys, pimples, a torrent of clothing brands, big-hair bands, adolescent poetry, prank calls and perpetual humiliation from friends and enemies alike – plus the oblivious nature of parents – who just have no clue…!!!

And her obnoxious little brother “Willis the Shrimp” is a complete tool…

The second volume dishes out more of the same as the increasingly sophisticated and mature (I’m pretty sure they’re the words I’m looking for) Miss Pierce endures and survives her Sophomore year of High School, from Christmas Eve 1988 to the Summer of 1989.

When you’re a teenager some things are truly timeless and universal: parents are unreasonable and embarrassing, siblings are scum and embarrassing and your body is shamefully finding new and horrifying ways to betray you almost daily… Your friends can’t be trusted, you’re attracted to all the wrong people and sometimes you just know that no one will ever love you…

Drawn in a two colour, faux-grotesque manner (you can call it intentionally primitive and ugly if you want) the page by page snapshots of a social hurricane building to disaster is absolutely captivating. Although this is a retro-comedy experience, behind her fatuous obsession with fashion, boys, shoplifting, music, curling hair, peer acceptance and traitorous bodily functions, Tammy is a lonely bewildered child that it’s hard not to feel sorry for. Actually it’s equally hard to like her (hell, its difficult to curb the urge to slap her at times) but that is the point after all…

If you live long enough you’ll experience the pop culture keystones of every definitive era of your life at least twice more. The base, tasteless and utterly superficial aspects of 1980s America are back for a new generation which is too young to remember them – but you and I can get all nostalgic for the good bits and blithely ignore all the bad stuff.

Both these big little hardbacks (over 400 pages each and about 15x15cm) comprise a delightful and genuinely moving exploration of something eternal given extra punch with the trappings of that era of tasteless self-absorption, and like those other imaginary diarists Nigel Molesworth, Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole Tammy Pierce’s ruminations and recordings have something ineffable yet concrete to contribute to the Wisdom of the Ages.

Modern and Post-Ironic, Unlovable is unmissable; and now that the entire sorry saga is available in this superb and substantial collectors boxed set, you have the perfect opportunity to discover the how and why of girls and possibly learn something to change your life.

Now please excuse me, I’ve got to turn over my pink vinyl Debbie Gibson Springsteen covers picture disc…

© 2009, 2010, 2011 Esther Pearl Watson. All rights reserved.

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats: Archie & Friends All Stars Series volume 8


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-61-0

MLJ were a publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders, beginning in November 1939 with Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were nudged aside by a far less imposing hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. The six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, a chain of restaurants and in the swinging sixties a pop hit as “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show) became a global smash. Their wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

With such a successful format, naturally the company tried to add supplemental stars to their four-colour firmament, Wilbur Wilkins (1994), Suzie (1945), Ginger (1951) and Seymour, My Son (1963), with varying degrees of success. However another 1963 debut did catch and hold the readers attention. Her name was Josie and she was created by Dan DeCarlo as a veritable female clone of Archie.

With issue #45 (1967) the titian-haired ingénue and her best friend Melody formed a band and the title was changed to Josie and the Pussycats. Fame, stardom, a TV cartoon series, a major motion picture and two soundtrack albums later the band were only occasional visitors in the Archie universe until someone had a cunning idea…

Most of her supporting cast was introduced in the first issue, including best friend Pepper, boyfriend Albert… and Melody. Spoiled rich kids Alex and Alexandra Cabot soon joined the cast and the book changed its name with issue #45, and that it remained until the final issue in 1982.

One other fact about Archie’s publisher’s is that they certainly know how to create different publishing events that capture the attention of the general public – as anybody who saw the 1994 Archie Meets the Punisher inter-company crossover will attest…

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats collects a storyline from 2009-2010 wherein ‘It Starts with a Kiss!’ as the two clean-living bands are signed to tour together, and our red-headed star and the Pussycats’ African-American bassist Valerie are drawn irresistibly together.

After a stolen kiss during a late-night song-writing session the attraction grows stronger in ‘More Than Words’ as hapless Archie tries to concentrate on his daily life – and Betty and Veronica – but can’t get Val off his mind. Moreover, the normally “sensible one” in Josie’s band is similarly distracted…

Luckily for all the tour soon ends and the girls are bound for Europe and a series of solo gigs, but the tearful farewell proves the attraction has grown into something far more serious. All the while the Pussycat’s rat-bag manager Alex Cabot has been trying to scotch the situation and now goes into overdrive in his scheming.

The 2-part ‘Love Smackdown!’ follows the separated and lovelorn Archie and Valerie as distance, daily drudgery, temptation and Alex all operate to keep them apart. After a misunderstanding leaves the couple acrimoniously separated forever events a new combined tour seems destined to rekindle the fire – but do Betty and Veronica want Archie for themselves or do they want him to be happy…?

Moreover, what’s the deal with Valerie’s old flame Declan McCord? He says he’s just a fill-in musician, but does the charismatic Celtic pop-star have plans to win Valerie back for himself…?

Star-crossed love and nigh-torrid melodrama combine with classic Riverdale slapstick in this delightful young romance that shows a burgeoning slice of maturity in the world’s favourite teenager (and don’t quibble: Justin Bieber has a limited shelf-life but Archie has been a teen heartthrob for seven decades) and the tale ends on a fascinating and intriguing open note…

This snazzy tome also has some impressive extra features including writer Dan Parent’s ‘Liner Notes’, full background and histories for The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, and ‘Once More With Feeling’, 8 pages of penciller Bill Galvan’s art and unused covers reproduced before inkers Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash worked their own particular magic upon them.

All the world loves a lover, and this satisfyingly enticing down-to-earth comedy-drama is a solid example of the kind of comics there just aren’t enough of these days. Remember, “Superheroes aren’t the only fruit” – despite all the tights and stuff…

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Betty and Veronica Storybook: Archie & Friends All-Stars Series volume 7


By Dan Parent, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-60-3

Archie Andrews has been around for nearly seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty Cooper the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is a rich, exotic and glamorous debutante who only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Despite their rivalry, Betty and Veronica are firm friends. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones 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 triangle (+ one) has been the foundation of decades of cartoon magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this collection, reprinting tales from 1995-2009, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writer/artist Dan Parent reinterprets classic fairytales and popular classics like a New World Crackerjack Christmas Panto (and boy, will that reference baffle anybody not British and/or under thirty), providing wry and often outright hilarious takes on the eternal nature and magic of young love…

Dotted with funny fashion page pin-ups such as ‘Storybook Style’ and ‘Bewitching Beauties’, lovely cover reproductions and behind-the-scenes commentaries, the wild whimsy begins with ‘Betty in Wonderland’ (inked by Jim Amash) wherein the ever-helpful Miss Cooper gives up a date with Archie to babysit for a neighbour in need. Letting her imagination run wild, her bedtime reading of the Lewis Carroll classic repopulates the tale with some very familiar faces…

Especially effective are science nerd Dilton as the sagacious caterpillar and Jughead and mean Reggie as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. However picturing Veronica as the vicious Blood-red Queen of Hearts might have been a little too close to the truth…

‘Sleeping Betty’ is another enchanting retelling as baby Princess Betty is cursed by the evil fairy Veronica to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday. To thwart the hex the little princess was sent away to be raised in secret, but Veronica’s reach is long… Luckily there’s a red-headed prince hanging around…

‘There’s No Place Like… Riverdale’ (inked by Rich Koslowski) transports Betty and her little cat Carmel to a fantastic land over the rainbow where she lucks into some highly desirable Ruby Sneakers. To get home she needs unconventional help in the unappealing shapes of Archie the Scarecrow, Tin Man Jughead and the Cowardly Reggie, so it’s a good thing that Veronica is less a Wicked Witch and more a sorcerous spoiled brat…

The last tale in this collection is ‘Cinderellas’ (Amash inks again) as both girls find themselves helpless drudges working for an evil new mom and dreaming of a prince to whisk them away. Despite the sabotaging antics of mean stepsister Cheryl Blossom and a pretty second-rate Fairy Godmother, Cideronica and Cinderbetty overcome all odds and go to the Ball. In the slipper-sampling aftermath, thanks to some deft plotting, both girls get a happy ending…

Charming and clever, these tales are a marvellous example of why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre; providing decades of family friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment. Moreover, aspiring creators will also delight in the closing Sketch Book section of this collection which provides a fascinating glimpse of Parent’s original pencilled art in 9 pages culled from the preceding stories.

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Twilight of the Assholes: Cartoons and Essays


By Tim Kreider (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-398-9

This book is intended to make adults laugh and think. If the title isn’t clue enough, please be warned that these pages contain nudity, sexual imagery, intentionally insulting images of political figures and rational opinions clothed in harsh language and thought-provoking political comedy.

If that sort of thing offends you or you believe that blasphemy is a sin and/or a crime, read no further and don’t buy this book. The rest of us will just have to manage without you.

The early years of the 21st century were plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated by a hideous global proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid rulers and governments who finally elevated politicians to that phylum of useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by lawyers.

Since then bankers, astrologers, wedding planners, doorstep evangelists, celebrity gossip columnists and all types of psychics have joined their rarefied ranks and I’m thinking I need to cut down on coffee or tighten my critical parameters…

When George Dubya Bush acceded to the throne of America there were a lot of apologetic liberals and whooping goons. There was also cartoonist Ted Kreider.

Born in 1967 and raised on comicbooks whilst actually paying attention in school, Kreider is an erudite and passionate man with thoughtfully reasoned opinions on politics, religion and the human condition among many other things. He is also an extremely gifted writer and cartoonist who began self publishing in 1994.

By 1997 The Baltimore City Paper had picked up his deliciously polemical panel strip-with-accompanying essay ‘The Pain – When Will it End?’ and they were closely followed by the Jackson Planet Weekly, Illinois’ Indy in Bloomington-Normal, The New York Press, The Stranger, Philadelphia Weekly plus other independent and alternative papers. In September 2000 Kreider began releasing the material as a webcomic.

Although a self-confessed left-leaning Democrat, that hasn’t ever stopped him punishing his own camp’s many gaffes, goofs, lies, embarrassments and ideological idiocies. Like our own Gerald Scarfe and Steve Bell with Margaret Thatcher, Kreider was lucky enough (if you discount elevated blood-pressure, maxed-out sense of disbelief and perpetually outraged moral compass) to have been given the gift of a perfect incumbent target in the Bush administration of 2000-2008 and the greater, right-wing anti-intellectual, Christian-fundamentalist crusade/pogrom that brought them to power.

Along the way Kreider also managed to incense other churches and faiths from Catholics to Moslems, all manner of bigot from racists to homophobes and outrage proponents of all those other aspects of modern US society that makes all us non-Americans nervous and giggly in equal measure.

Subtitled ‘Volume II of the Chronicles of the Era of Darkness 2004-2009’ this weighty and hilariously biting collection of gags and commentaries covers the – to Kreider especially – incomprehensible re-election and second term of the Republican Saviour and his dark apostles Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and the rest, whilst still finding room and Reasonable Cause to pictorially pummel Chinese expansion, assorted religions’ definitions of life and attitudes to sex, aspects and definitions of Freedom, geopolitics and Big Oil, Intelligent Design, the new Russian Empire, Secret Fantasies of the rich and statesmanlike, Crackpot Theories and all sorts of Science: from the author’s spirited defence of Pluto’s planet-hood to Human-Animal Hybrids, Parallel Universes and new roles for the Giant Squid…

With stunning examples of the cartoonist’s eternal roles as social conscience, intellectual champion, puncturer of pomposity and lampooning last bastion of grace under oppressive political pressure, Kreider boldly kicks the shins of the smug over-class and stamps on the toes of all the entrenched whited sepulchres and obnoxiously applied shibboleths that made him annoyed and ashamed of huge swathes of his fellow Americans. Not that Britain or any other colonial power has any moral high-ground to sneer down from…

The work covers the period November 4th 2004 to October 29th 2009 and includes the shocked rapture of a Democratic win and the nation’s first non-white president – and ends with a shaky dawning suspicion that all politicians might just be the same…

Particularly effective are ‘Jesus vs. Jeezus’, ‘The Conservative Christian’s Guide to Compassion’, ‘I “heart” Saddam’, ‘The War on Christmas’, ‘Americans vs. ‘Muricans’, ‘What is Freedom?’, ‘Me & George, We Got Problems’, ‘Silver Linings of the Holocaust’, ‘What You Can Do to Fight the War on Sex’, ‘Everything I Know I Learned from the Bush Administration’, ‘Secret Vices of the Liberals’, ‘Republican Sex Toys’, ‘God: Republican or Democrat?’, ‘After All the Money’s Gone’, ‘We Even Yet?’ and the 5-part ‘Contributions of the World’s Religions’ but there’s guaranteed to be something to shock  or offend everybody here – you might even be compelled to think for yourself and question a little bit more…

Excoriating, withering humour and viciously necessary satire tellingly rendered and savage yet personable and winningly intimate reportage make this one of the best cartoon coshes ever applied to the politics of this century.

His previous collections include The Pain – When Will It End? (2004) and Why Do They Kill Me? or: Scream, Honkey, Scream (2005), and I look forward to more from Kreider in the sorry certainty that people won’t get less stupid, rulers can’t change their spots and religions will never stop dictating what their followers can think or feel…

Cartoons and text © 2011 Tim Kreider. All rights reserved.

Will Eisner’s New York the Big City


By Will Eisner (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 0-87816-020-5  Hardcover: 0-87616-019-1

William Erwin Eisner was born in 1906, on March 6th in Brooklyn, and grew up in the ghettos of the city. They never left him. After time served inventing much of the visual semantics, semiotics and syllabary of the medium he dubbed “Sequential Art” in strips, comicbooks, newspaper premiums and instructional comics he then invented the mainstream graphic novel, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics.

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in comics form released in a single book, A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. All the tales centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue, a 1930’s Bronx tenement, housing poor Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever. Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 further masterpieces opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funnybook and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

Eisner was constantly pushing the boundaries of his craft, honing his skills not just on the legendary Spirit but with years of educational and promotional material. In A Contract With God he moved into unexplored territory with truly sophisticated, mature themes worthy of Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald, using pictorial fiction as documentary exploration of social experience.

Restlessly plundering his own childhood and love of human nature as well as his belief that environment was a major and active character in fiction, in the 1980s Eisner began redefining the building blocks unique to sequential narrative with a portmanteau series of brief vignettes that told stories and tested the expressive and informational limits of representational drawings on paper.

In New York the Big City he took nine themes pertaining to life in the Big Apple and pictorially extemporised combining drama, comedy, politics, adventure and fantasy: producing urban art-music from Blues to Punk, Soul to Ragtime and Gospel to sweet, hot Jazz – all with a pencil and brushes.

Many of these enticing, entrancing micro-plays are silent; but whenever necessary and apropos Eisner’s ear for idiom and inflection made miracles and his affection for the ambient sounds of the streets always underscores the harsh, happy and wholly immersive experience of living for The City.

Delivered in monochrome line and seductive grey wash tones the impressionistic voyage begins with The Treasure of Avenue ‘C’ which explores the all-encompassing maw that is a street grating with ‘The Ring’, ‘The Money’, ‘The Weapon’, ‘The Key’ and the connective punch-line ‘The Treasure’. ‘Stoops’ similarly examines the lives that pass before the ubiquitous front steps of tenements, beginning with ‘Witnesses’, ‘Supper Time’ and ‘Home’ before concluding with a description of ‘Stoopball’.

Each individual section is preceded by a moving and expressive tone-painting of the unmistakable cityscapes, and none more powerful than the view from an “El” train that introduces ‘Subways’. Included are ‘An Affair on the BMT Local’, ‘Theater’, ‘Art’, ‘Night Rider’, ‘Blackout’ and ‘The Last Man’. Wherever people congregate there is ‘Garbage’ and Eisner’s sly, witty but compulsively human commentary comprises a look at ‘Cans’, ‘Trash’, ‘The Source’ and ‘Waste’ whilst ‘Street Music’ more closely scrutinises the makers of the messes in ‘Love Song Fortissimo’, ‘Pianissimo’, ‘In Concert’, ‘Opera’, ‘Aria’, ‘Decibel’ and the hilarious ‘Rhythm’.

‘Sentinels’ tackles the monuments of street furniture with ‘Hydrant’, ‘Wayside’, ‘Fountainhead’, ‘Fire Alarm’, ‘Mailbox’, ‘Dead Letter’, ‘Last Minute Mail’, ‘Signal’, ‘Lamppost’, ‘Ringeleivio’, ‘Sewers’ and ‘The River’ whilst ‘Windows’ uncovers all the world’s secrets with ‘A View of Life’, ‘Crows Nest’, ‘Observer’, ‘Fire Exit’, ‘Privacy’, ‘Disposal’, ‘Peeper’, ‘Prisons’, ‘Worm’s Eye View’ and the powerfully evocative ‘Sermonette’.

‘Walls’ are everywhere and here they describe ‘Space’, define ‘Freedom’, delineate a ‘Maze’ and ‘Man’s Castle’, act as a ‘Bulletin Board’ and offer ‘Enclosure’ and ‘Escape’. Moreover ‘Walls Have Ears’, promote another kind of ‘Privacy’ and provide a unique ‘Backdrop’, before re-enacting ‘Jericho’ and becoming ultimately the ‘Last Frontier’.

In NYC everything revolves around ‘The Block’; it is ‘The Old Neighborhood’, home of the ‘Neighborhood Girl’ from ‘Our Block’ on ‘The Good Street’ where ‘Aliens’ get a particular welcome. Eventually though, the homeliest slum inevitably becomes a ‘High Rent District’ and even ‘The Belmont Avenue Gang’ has to yield to the inexorable force of ‘Gentrification’

Eisner’s elegiac fascination with city life, deep empathy with all aspects of the human condition and instinctive grasp of storytelling produced here another magnificently mortal and compellingly mundane melodrama, moving and uplifting and funny and deeply, wistfully true.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be amazed…

As ever the Medium is the Message, especially when the artefact is such a substantially solid tome delivering comics gold in beguiling, incisive black and white – and once again I’m smugging it up because my hardcover with tipped in illustrative plate has proved to have been well worth the initial investment as Will Eisner’s New York the Big City is a veritable cartoon touchstone of all that’s best about the art of cartooning.

Whether it’s your first or ten thousand and first time of reading, this is a tome every comics aficionado will treasure forever, so any edition you can get, you really, really must…

Art and story © 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986 Will Eisner. © 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. All Rights Reserved.