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.

Salvatore volume 1: Transports of Love

By Nicolas de Crécy, colour by Ruby & Walter, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-593-1

Salavatore is a car mechanic: an absolute wizard with all things mechanical but a grumpy sod who dislikes customers so much he built his garage on the peak of a mountain to discourage them. However he is just so good that they come anyway, prepared to put up with the grief and his attitude, if only he would fix their ailing vehicles… and besides, Salvatore has a secret he needs peace and quiet for…

Nicolas de Crécy has released more than thirty albums since he began working in 1990, both one-off books such as Journal d’un fantôme, Escales, Plaisir de myope and La Nuit du grand méchant loup and series/serials such as Léon la came, Monsieur Fruit and Salvatore; the first two of which comprise the artfully arch little romance under review here.

Salvatore is a dog with a lot of pain in his life but has struggled on, buoyed by his artisan’s dedication and sensibility which makes him such an exceedingly good mechanic. One day the tragically short-sighted widow Amandine pulls into his frosty, mountaintop garage with a suspicious knocking in her car engine and his life changes for ever.

As well as practically blind, Amandine is heavily pregnant with twelve piglets (not unknown for a sow of her breed) and something softens within the cold canine. Offering her the unexpected hospitality of his fondue lunch, Salvatore nevertheless succumbs to his one weakness – “borrowing” a surplus part from her vehicle for his great project.

The little dog has a dream and is prepared to sacrifice his principles to achieve it: he once loved and lost a bitch named Julie who moved to South America. Since then he has devoted all his spare time to building a fantastic vehicle to follow her and where undoubtedly, love will reunite them forever…

His super-car is almost ready: the last part necessary can be picked up on the way; all he has to do is reach an understanding with its current owner – a perfectly reasonable bull named Jerome.

Amadine however, has not quite left his life: a practically sightless, heavily pregnant lady should never be trusted to drive a small family runabout down a snow-capped mountain slope…

Her chaotic and magnificently slapstick journey leaves her and the car stranded many kilometres away atop a Parisian rooftop where she prematurely delivers her dozen babies. Horribly one little piggy goes missing on the way to hospital, and one fine day that stray waif will have a huge impact on Salvatore’s fate…

Originally released in 2005 as Transports Amoureux (beautifully coloured by Ruby) ‘Transports of Love’ seamlessly segues here into the second album, Le Grand Départ or ‘The Grand Departure’ with tints and hues provided this time by Walter.

Finally en route to his dream in the almost perfect Julie-Mobile Salvatore has hit a snag. Jerome might be an amenable type but the wife who just divorced him is not. She took the car – including that desperately needed final component – as part of the settlement and had it dismantled as an art installation – or possibly just out of spite.

Amadine meanwhile has broken out of hospital with her eleven piglets, driven by maternal hormones to find her missing baby. The lost cherub has fallen into odd circumstances, amongst sewer scum, political activists and a seductively dark and twisted catwoman siren of the underworld…

Hard-pressed by his defrayed desire for his distant Julie, Salvatore’s ethics have degenerated to the point where he is contemplating fraud and outright theft to get that vagrant last part: luckily he has allied himself with a mysterious and peculiarly moralistic tiny little mute man with a facility for computer science. Perhaps together they can find a way to ease true love’s path…

Surreal and joyously whimsical, but with a delightfully dark edginess, the multi-award winning cartoonist de Crécy has revolutionised French comics with such popular and groundbreaking works as Période glaciaire (released in English as Glacial Period) and this hypnotically addictive sophisticated fable is undoubtedly destined to be just as successful.

Funny, gently adventurous, subversively satirical and yet filled to bursting with empathy and pathos, this beguiling yarn will schmooze itself into your head and make itself too comfortable for you to remove…

© 2005 Dupuis, by de Crécy, Ruby. © 2006 Dupuis, by de Crécy, Walter. English edition © 2010 NBM. All rights reserved.

Fuc_ __u, _ss__le: Blecky Yuckerella volume 4

By Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-415-3

Johnny Ryan is a comedian who uses comics as his medium of expression. Whether in his own Angry Youth Comix, or the many commissions for such varied clients as Nickelodeon, Hustler, Mad, LA Weekly and elsewhere, his job and mission is to make laughter. Depending on your point of view he is either a filth-obsessed pervert smut-monger or a social iconoclast using the same tactics as Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks to assault the worst and/or most hidebound aspects of society.

His wild, loose cartoon drawing style is deceptively engrossing, and his seeming pictorial Tourette’s Syndrome of strips and gags involving such grotesque signature characters as Boobs Pooter (world’s most disgusting stand-up comedian), Loady McGee and Sinus O’Gynus will, frankly, appal many readers, but as with most questions of censorship in a Free Society, they are completely at liberty neither to buy nor read the stuff.

Ryan dubs his stinging graphic assaults on American culture ‘misanthropic comics’ and one of the most effective has been Blecky Yuckeralla. Originally running weekly in The Portland Mercury and Vice Magazine from 2003 before switching to Ryan’s own on-line site the strip was based on traditional, anodyne comics features and referenced many other popular art forms. This fourth bi-annual collection collects the last 99 four-panel pages up to and including the final episode which ran on on 30th July 2010.

Blecky is an ugly, unsavoury, unsanitary and very stupid girl: a cunning reinterpretation of Ernie Bushmiller’s beloved Nancy strip, with plenty of comics, movies and media pastiches thrown in too. There’s Bucksley – a ghastly, grotesque Richie Rich-clone, nerdy “boyfriend” Wedgie, guardian Aunt Jiggles and a host of guest-victims for the shocking puns and fouls antics of the little girl from hell …or maybe it’s New Jersey.

Here you’ll find gross, vulgar and shocking gags about sex, defecation, farting, bodily functions, feminine hygiene, and even the ultimate modern whited sepulchers, TV, money, religion, politics, race and sexual abuse. There are no safe areas or taboo subjects. Blecky and Co are equally free with cute animals, presidents, film stars, assorted Holy Books and even 9-11…

Depending on who you are and your social outlook this final collection is as brilliant or as appalling as the previous three so if you’re prudish, sensitive or concerned about moral standards – don’t buy this book. There’s plenty of us who will…

© 2010 Johnny Ryan. All Rights Reserved.

Butterscotch (The Flavour of the Invisible)

By Milo Manara, translated by Tom Leighton (Eurotica/NBM) or (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-109-4 NBM or 978-0-87416-047-5 Catalan

If the cover images haven’t already clued you in, for some folks the graphic novel under review here will be unacceptably dirty. If that’s you, please stop here and come back tomorrow when there will something you’ll approve of but which will surely offend somebody else.

I’m feeling all grown up and continental today, so here’s a long overdue review of a milder masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest graphic eroticists. Originally translated into English by Catalan in 1987 it was re-released in 2002 under NBM’s Eurotica imprint, but has since languished in that great big limbo-land of the inexplicably Out-of-Print…

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink. He is best known for his wry and always controversial sexually explicit material – although that’s more an indicator of our comics market than any artistic obsession.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his adult career (see what I did there?) illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work, a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King, was released as Lo Scimmiotto (‘The Ape’).

By the end of the seventies he was working for Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as an A-list creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman for A Suivre.

In 1986 he wrote and drew, in his inimitable blend of social satire, bawdy burlesque and saucy slapstick, the incredible tale of the ultimate voyeur’s dream in Il profumo dell’invisibile, translated here as ‘Butterscotch’

The star is a rather brilliant and incredibly innocent nerd-physicist who has invented a lotion which can bend light rays around anything smeared with it. He also has an unnerving and utterly sexless fascination with prima ballerina Beatrice D’Altavilla – which is a pity as she is a heartless, sadistic bitch and the biggest slut in creation.

Honey is Beatrice’s extremely liberated, licentious and hot-blooded associate (Beatrice don’t do “friends”) and when she discovers the naked, semi-invisible man in the dancer’s bedroom she feels it her duty to show the innocuous stalker what his dream girl is really like…

Sadly there are none so blind as those who will not see, especially if we can’t see them either, and her various attempts to open his invisible eyes lead to violence and a bizarre sexual co-dependence (what with Beatrice being far too virginal and perfect for that nasty, dirty stuff…)

As Honey perpetually and ever-more frantically attempts to prove the existence of her invisible man – whose cloaking lotion smells powerfully of Butterscotch – her already low position in the ballerina’s entourage plummets and the abuses intensify.

Finally however, as Honey grows increasingly closer to the omnipresent, unseen (but regularly felt) voyeur, she finally shows him Beatrice’s true nature, leading to a tempestuous climax nobody expected and some might not survive…

Couched in Manara’s beautifully rendered, lavish line-work this highly explicit and sexually charged tale casts fascinating light on what people can’t and won’t see around them. Absolutely for adults only, Butterscotch is a captivating exploration of love, obsession and misperception.

Raunchy, funny and extremely hard to find, this is a book desperately worthy of a new edition.
© 1987 Milo Manara. English Language edition © 1987 Catalan Communications. © 2002 NBM. All rights reserved.

No Need For Tenchi! volume 1

By Hitoshi Okuda, translated by Fred Burke (Viz Graphic Novel)
ISBN: 978-1-56931-180-6

This bright and breezy adventure comedy is a rare reversal of the usual state of affairs in that the TV anime came first and the manga serial was a spin-off.

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki debuted in 1992-1993 as a six-part TV cartoon series (termed an OVA or Original Video Animation in Japan) that proved so blisteringly popular that even before the original season concluded further specials and episodes were rushed into production. Over the next decade or so two more seasons appeared as well as spin-off shows and features (for a total of 98 episodes all told), plus games, toys, light novels and, of course, a comic book series. The translation most commonly accepted for the pun-soaked title is No Need For Tenchi but equally valid interpretations include Useless Tenchi, No Heaven and Earth and This Way Up.

The assorted hi-jinks of the TV show resulted in three overlapping but non-related continuities, with the Hitoshi Okuda manga serials stemming directly from the first season. Okuda eventually produced two comics sagas in this format: Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-oh-ki which began in 1994 and features in this volume under review and the follow-up Shin Tenchi Muyo! which I’ll get to one fine day…

The strip debuted in the December 16th 1994 Shōnen anthology (comics pitched at 10-18 year old males) Comic Dragon Jr. It ran until Jun 9th 2000, generating 12 collected volumes of classic laughs and thrills. The stories are generally regarded as non-canonical by fans of the various TV versions but of course we don’t care about that since the printed black and white tales are so much fun and so well illustrated…

This first volume collects the first seven issues of the pioneering Viz comicbook Tales of Tenchi, which did so much to popularise Manga in the English-speaking world, and opens with a thorough and fascinating recap of that first TV season – from which all the succeeding manic mirth and mayhem proceeds – before cracking on to bolder and better bewilderments starring the entire copious cast on all new adventures and exploits…

Tenchi Masaki is an ordinary boy living peacefully in the countryside with his father Nobuyuki and grandfather Katsuhito, until one day he breaks opens an ancient shrine and lets a demon out. The hell-fiend Ryoko tries to kill him but a magic “Lightning Eagle Sword” helps him escape. The demon follows him though, demanding the sword and things get really crazy when a spaceship arrives revealing Ryoko is in fact a disgraced alien pirate from the star-spanning Jurai Empire.

Starship Ryo-oh-ki is full of attractive, shameless, immensely powerful warrior-women including Princesses Ayeka, her little sister Sasami and supreme scientist Washu. This gaggle of violently disruptive visitors moves in with Tenchi and family, causing nothing but trouble and embarrassment, and soon the boy and his sword are being dragged all over the cosmos in the sentient Ryo-oh-ki (who, when not on duty, prefers the form of a cute rabbit/cat hybrid critter).

Ayeka and Sasami both harbour feelings for the hapless Tenchi but things get really complicated when grandfather Katsuhito is revealed to be Yosho, a noble Prince of the Jurai. It appears Tenchi and those darned space girls are all related…

Tales of Tenchi opened with ‘The Genius’ as the lad, currently studying Jurai warrior training under his grandfather’s diligent tutelage, falls foul of the alien princesses’ growing boredom, until Ryoko attacks again, precipitating a devastating battle that threatens to burn the entire landscape to ashes. But is the aggressor really the demon pirate?

In ‘Double Trouble’ the other Ryoko tries to take Tenchi’s sword – in actuality a puissant techno-artefact known as the Master Key – before being defeated by the original, but at the cost of shock-induced amnesia. ‘Under Observation’ depicts some outrageous and inadvisable potential cures for the distressed Ryoko as the refugees all decompress, but when the defeated doppelganger’s master Yakage arrives the entire extended family are threatened. The terrifying star-warrior challenges Tenchi to a duel…

Part 4 ‘Plunder’ is one colossal hi-energy clash as the boy valiantly demonstrates all he has learned to drive off the intruder, but only after the villain takes Ayeka hostage, demanding a rematch in 10 days time…

Intensifying his training in ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Tenchi prepares for the upcoming battle whilst Ryoko pursues Yakage into space, unaware that super-scientist Washu has hidden herself aboard the pursing ship…

‘A Good Scolding’ reveals some intriguing history regarding the assorted super-girls whilst Tenchi trains for the final confrontation and the concluding chapter ‘Relationships’ brings the initial volume to a spectacular climax whilst still leaving a cliffhanger to pull you back in for the next addictive instalment…

Blending elements of Star Wars: A New Hope with classic Japanese genre favourites (fantasy, action, fighting, embarrassment, loss of conformity and hot chicks inexplicably drawn to nerdy boys), this sensational romp also includes a couple of comedy vignettes starring ‘The Cast of No Need For Tenchi’ in fourth-wall busting asides, to suitably top off a delightfully undemanding fun-fest which will satisfy not just manga maniacs but also any lover of fanciful frivolity and sci fi shenanigans.
© 1994 by Hitoshi Okuda/Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co Ltd., Tokyo. NO NEED FOR TENCHI! is a trademark of Viz Communications Inc.


By Nazario, translated by David H. Rosenthal (Catalan Communications)

Here’s another warning: this book is filled with graphic homosexual acts, full frontal nudity and coarse language: if that causes you any offence don’t buy this book and don’t read this review. The rest of us will manage without you.

You know what it’s like: sometimes you’re just in the mood for something challenging, different or just plain nasty and nothing better sums up that feeling than this startling pastiche of film noir chic transposed into the even grimmer, darker and nastier milieu of the gay-underworld of post-Franco Spain.

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a right-wing general who ruled the country from 1947 until his death in 1975, “on behalf” of a puppet monarchy helpless to resist him. His repressive Christian-based attitudes held the country in an iron time-lock for decades as the rest of the world moved an around him. Vera Luque Nazario was an intellectual, college professor and cartoonist living under the fascist regime, but inspired by the freedom and exuberant graphic license displayed in American underground commix, especially the works of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and possibly Spain Rodriguez.

In an oppressive state that openly advocated the “curing” of homosexuals, Nazario founded an artist’s collective or “contracultural group” in 1971 to produce home-grown underground commix (El Rollo Enmascarado, Paupérrimus, Catalina, Purita and others) often incurring the wrath of the Francoist censors and police. His work received far fairer treatment outside Spain, appearing in such groundbreaking mature magazines as It, Actuel, Oz, Gai Pied, and L’Echo des Savanes.

When Franco died the country opened up and there was a tumultuous cascade of artistic expression. Extremely strident adult material designed to shock began to appear in new magazines such as El Víbora, Cannibale and Frigidaire. After years of comics production multi-talented artist Nazario eventually moved into design and record cover production. In recent years he has concentrated on painting and his first prose novel was released in 2006.

Anarcoma began as strip in a porn magazine, but that quickly folded and the artist transferred the feature to El Víbora in 1979, reveling in homoerotic excess in a magazine with no censorial boundaries. It ran for years and this hardcover translation is but the first collection of many.

Symbols of freedom never came more outrageously formed that Anarcoma; a spectacularly endowed, star-struck transvestite private detective who hangs all-out in the notorious red-light district of Las Ramblas. A stunning blend of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall “she” works as prostitute and club entertainer while pursuing her dream of becoming a real gumshoe like the ones in the American movies she adores…

Life is complicated: ex-army buddy Humphrey is her current her boyfriend, but he won’t leave his wife and kids and Anarcoma’s hobby has won her no friends among both the cops and the criminal gangs run by the ruthless Captain Seahorse. Moreover there are even weirder and more dangerous folk around…

After a series of profound prose appreciations from Alberto Cardín and Ludolfo Paramio and a thoroughly absorbing cartoon cast-list, the ultra-explicit adventure begins…

The city is in turmoil: Professor Onliyu’s latest invention has been stolen. Nobody knows what it does but everybody wants it and Anarcoma thinks she has a lead…

The trail leads through all the sleaziest dives and dens, and implicates almost everybody at one time or another, but when the manic religious order The Black Count and his Knights of Saint Represent and feminist paramilitaries Metamorphosina and her One-Eyed Piranhas start their own conflicting campaigns for the missing machine, Anarcoma is distracted and almost loses her life to a mysterious sex-robot XM2.

Luckily her charms extend and affect even artificial he-men…

Outrageously brutal and sexually graphic, this devastatingly ironic genre mish-mash is audacious and bizarre, but unflinchingly witty as is probes the role of hero in society and eulogises the heady power of liberation.

Anarcoma was first released in 1980, but even by today’s laxer standards the incredibly violent and satirically, staggeringly baroque pastiche is a shocking, controversial piece of work. Raw, shocking and wickedly delightful; the perfect walk on the wild side for people with open minds and broad tastes.
© 1983 by Nazario. English edition © 1983 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures

By Harvey Kurtzman & various (Epic Comics/A Byron Preiss Book)
ISBN: 0-87135-675-9

Creative cartoon genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century. His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking Mad magazine) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was a force in newspaper strips (See Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, a commentator and social explorer who kept on looking at folk and their doings and couldn’t stop creating.

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black and white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while still creating challenging and powerfully effective funny strips such as Little Annie Fannie (for Playboy), The Jungle Book, Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon in 1993.

This intriguing oddment from 1990 saw the Great Observer return to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema and contemporary sentiments in a series of vignettes illustrated by some of the biggest names of the time.

After a captivating introduction from ex-student Art Spiegleman, a stunning pin-up from Moebius and an overview from project coordinator Byron Preiss, the fun begins with a typically upbeat cartoon appreciation from R.Crumb: ‘Ode to Harvey Kurtzman’ which was coloured by Eric Palma, after which the Harvey-fest begins in earnest…

‘Shmegeggi of the Cave Men’ visually revives the author’s legendary Goodman Beaver, dislocating him to that mythic antediluvian land of dim brutes, hot babes in fur bikinis and marauding dinosaurs to take a look at how little sexual politics has progressed in a million years – all exquisitely painted by cartoonist, movie artist and paleontological illustrator William Stout, after which Sergio Aragonés adds his inimitable mania to the stirring piratical shenanigans of the dashing ‘Captain Bleed’ (with striking hues supplied by his Groo accomplice Tom Luth).

Western parody ‘Drums Along the Shmohawk’ is an all Kurtzman affair as the scribe picks up his pens and felt-tips to describe how the sheriff and his stooge paid a little visit to the local tribe…

Cartoonist, fine artist and illustrator Tomas Bunk contributes a classically underground and exuberant job depicting ‘A Vampire Named Mel’ whilst arch-stylist Rick Geary helps update the most famous canine star in history with ‘Sassy, Come Home’.

Limey Living Legend Dave Gibbons utilises his too-seldom-seen gift for comedy by aiding and abetting in what we Brits term “a good kicking” to the superhero genre in the outrageous romp ‘The Silver Surfer’ and the cartoon buffoonery concludes with Kurtzman and long-time associate Sarah Downs smacking a good genre while it’s down and dirty in ‘Halloween, or the Legend of Creepy Hollow’.

But wait, there’s more…

This seductive oversized hardback also has an abundant section devoted to creator biographies supplemented with pages and pages of Kurtzman’s uniquely wonderful pencil rough script pages – almost like having the stories printed twice…

Fun, philosophical fantasy and fabulous famous, artist folk: what more do you need to know…
© 1990 by Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Each strip © 1990 Harvey Kurtzman and the respective artist. All Rights Reserved.