Comics at War


By Denis Gifford (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-96824-885-6

Very often the books we write about our comics are better than the stories and pictures themselves: memorable, intensely evocative and infused with the debilitating nostalgic joy that only passing years and selective memory bestows.

That’s not meant in any way to denigrate or decry the superb works of the countless -generally unrecognised and generally unlauded – creators who brightened the days of generations of children with fantastic adventures and side-splitting gags in those so flimsy, so easily lost and damaged cheap pamphlets, but rather because of an added factor inherent in these commemorative tomes: by their very existence they add the inestimable value and mystery of Lost, Forgotten or Buried Treasures into the mix.

A perfect example is this copious chronicle released as an anniversary item in 1988 to celebrate the wartime delights rationed out to beleaguered British lads and lasses, compiled by possibly the nation’s greatest devotee and celebrant of childish pastimes and halcyon days.

Denis Gifford was a cartoonist, writer, TV show deviser and historian who loved comics. As both collector and creator he gave his life to strips and movies, acquiring items and memorabilia voraciously, consequently channelling his fascinations into more than fifty books on Film, Television, Radio and Comics; imparting his overwhelming devotion to a veritable legion of fans.

If his works were occasionally short on depth or perhaps guilty of getting the odd fact wrong, he was nevertheless the consummate master of enthusiastic remembrance. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to pure masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of sharing – infecting almost – a casual reader with some of that fierce wistful fire.

With hundreds of illustrative examples culled from his own collection, this volume was released to commemorate the outbreak of World War II and revels in the magnificent contributions to morale generated by a battalion of artists and (usually anonymous) writers, covering the output – in breadth if not depth – of an industry that endured and persevered under appalling restrictions (paper was a vital war resource and stringently rationed), inciting patriotic fervour and providing crucial relief from the stresses and privation of the times.

Abandoning academic rigour in favour of inculcating a taste of the times, this book reprints complete sample strips of the period beginning with the affable tramps and Jester cover stars Basil and Bert (by George Parlett), covering the start of the war in four strips from January to November 1939, before dividing the collection into themed sections such as Be Prepared: with examples of Norman Ward’s Home Guard heroes Sandy and Muddy from Knock-Out and John Jukes’ Marmaduke, the Merry Militiaman from Radio Fun.

At War With the Army displays the ordinary Englishman’s perennial problem with Authority – with episodes of Koko the Pup and Desperate Dan (respectively by Bob MacGillivray and Dudley Watkins from D.C. Thomsons’ Magic and The Dandy); Weary Willie and Tired Tim (from Chips and superbly rendered by Percy Cocking), as well as stunning two-tone and full colour examples from Tip-Top, The Wonder and others.

Tanks a Million! offers selections from the height of the fighting, and brings us head-on into the controversial arena of ethnic stereotyping. All I can say is what I always do: the times were different. Mercifully we’ve moved beyond the obvious institutionalised iniquities of casual racism and sexism (maybe not so much on that last one though?) and are much more tolerant today (unless you’re obese, gay, a smoker, or childless and happy about it), but if antiquated attitudes and caricaturing might offend you, don’t read old comics, or watch vintage films or cartoons – it’s your choice and your loss.

The strip that sparked this tirade is an example of Stymie and his Magic Wishbone from Radio Fun (a long-running strip with a black boy-tramp in the tradition of minstrel shows) from a chapter highlighting the comic strip love-affair with armoured vehicles and including many less controversial examples from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, Knock-Out, Chips and The Dandy, featuring stars such as Our Ernie, Our Gang, Stonehenge, Kit the Ancient Brit and Deed-A-Day Danny.

…And if you think we were hard on innocent and usually allied non-white people just wait till you see the treatment dealt to Germans, Italians and Japanese by our patriotic cartoonists…

At Sea with the Navy! highlights nautical manoeuvres from Casey Court (Chips, and by Albert Pease); Rip Van Wink (Beano, James Crichton); Lt. Daring and Jolly Roger (from Golden by Roy Wilson; Billy Bunter (Knock-Out by Frank Minnitt); Hairy Dan (Beano, Basil Blackaller) and Pitch and Toss (Funny Wonder, Roy Wilson again) whilst Sinking the Subs takes us below the surface with Our Ernie, Desperate Dan, Koko, Pansy Potter, Alfie the Air Tramp and Billy Bunter.

Britain’s fledgling flying squad takes centre-stage with In the Air with the R.A.F. featuring Freddie Crompton’s Tiny Tots, Korky the Cat from Dandy, The Gremlins (Knock-Out, by Fred Robinson) and yet more Koko the Pup.

Awful Adolf and his Nasty Nazis! demonstrates and deftly depicts just what we all thought about the Axis nations and even indulges in some highly personal attacks against prominent personages on the other side, beginning with Sam Fair’s riotously ridiculing Addie and Hermy, (Beano’s utterly unauthorised adventures of misters Hitler and Goering), whilst Our Ernie, Lord Snooty, Pitch and Toss, Big Eggo (Beano, by Reg Carter), Plum and Duff (Comic Cuts, Albert Pease) and the staggeringly offensive Musso the WopHe’s a Big-a-Da-Flop (Beano, Artie Jackson and others) all cheered up the home-front with macerating mockery.

Doing Their Bit then gathers wartime exploits of the nation’s stars and celebrities (turning Britain’s long love affair with entertainment industry figures into another True Brit bullet at the Boche. Strips featuring Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Warner, Flanagan and Allen, Haver and Lee, The Western Brothers, Sandy Powell, Old Mother Riley (featuring Lucan & McShane), Claude Hulbert, Duggie Wakefield, Joe E. Brown, Harold Lloyd, Lupino Lane and Laurel and Hardy included here were collectively illustrated by Reg and George Parlett, Tom Radford, John Jukes, Bertie Brown, Alex Akerbladh, George Heath, Norman Ward and Billy Wakefield.

The kids themselves are the stars of Evacuation Saves the Nation! as our collective banishment of city-bred children produced a wealth of intriguing possibilities for comics creators.

Vicky the Vacky (Magic, George Drysdale), Our Happy Vaccies (Knock-Out, by Hugh McNeill) and Annie Vakkie (Knock-Out, by Frank Lazenby) showed readers the best way to keep their displaced chins up before Blackout Blues! finds the famous and commonplace alike suffering from night terrors…

Examples here include Grandma Jolly and her Brolly, Will Hay, the Master of Mirth, Ben and Bert, Barney Boko, Crusoe Kids, Grandfather Clock, Constable Cuddlecock and Big Ben and Little Len after which Gas Mask Drill finds the funny side of potential asphyxiation with choice strips such as Stan Deezy, Hungry Horace, Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, Good King Coke and Cinderella all encountering difficulties with Britain’s most essential useless fashion accessory…

Barrage Balloons! lampoons the giant sky sausages that made life tricky for the Luftwaffe with examples from Luke and Len the Odd-Job Men (Larks and by Wally Robertson), It’s the Gremlins, Alfie the Air Tramp, and In Town this Week from Radio Fun whilst Tuning Up the A.R.P.! deals out the same treatment to the valiant volunteers who patrolled our bombed-out streets after dark. Those Air Raid Precautions patrols get a right (albeit roundly good natured) sending up in strips starring Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, P.C. Penny, Ben and Bert, Marmy and His Ma, Lord Snooty and his Pals, The Tickler Twins in Wonderland, Our Ernie, Tootsy McTurk, Boy Biffo the Brave and Pa Perkins and his Son Percy.

The girls finally get a go in the vanguard with Wow! Women of War! starring Dandy’s Keyhole Kate and Meddlesome Matty (by Allan Morley and Sam Fair respectively); Dolly Dimple (Magic, Morley again), Tell Tale Tilly, Peggy the Pride of the Force, Pansy Potter the Strongman’s Daughter, Big Hearted Martha Our A.R.P. Nut and Kitty Clare’s Schooldays whilst the Home Guard stumble to the fore once more in a section entitled Doing Their Best with examples from Tootsy McTurk (Magic, John Mason), Casey Court, Lord Snooty, Deed-A-Day Danny and Big Eggo.

The peril of imminent invasion was always in the air and the embattled cartoonists sensibly responded with measured insolence. Hop It, Hitler! displays our pen-pushers’ fighting spirit with examples such as Bamboo Town (Dandy, Chick Gordon), Sandy and Muddy, Pansy Potter, the astonishingly un-PC Sooty Snowball, Hair-Oil Hal Your Barber Pal and Stonehenge Kit, before espionage antics are exposed in I Spy Mit Mein Little Eye! in Laurie and Trailer the Secret Service Men plus even more Sandy and Muddy, Herr Paul Pry, Big Eggo and Lord Snooty.

Wireless War! celebrates both radio stars and enemy broadcasts with a selection from Tommy Handley, Troddles and his Pet Tortoise Tonky-Tonk, Happy Harry and Sister Sue, Crackers the Perky Pup, Our Gang and a couple of examples of John Jukes’ sublimely wicked Radio Fun strip Lord Haw-Haw – The Broadcasting Humbug from Hamburg.

To Blazes With the Firemen! is a rather affectionate and jolly examination of one of the toughest of home front duties with a selection of strips including Podge (whose dad was a fire-fighter, drawn by Eric Roberts for Dandy), Casey Court, Pansy Potter and In Town This Week.

Rationing was never far from people’s minds and an art-form where the ultimate reward was usually “a slap-up feed” perfectly lambasted the necessary measures in many strips. Examples here include The Bruin Boy from Tiny Tim’s Weekly; Freddy the Fearless Fly (Dandy, Allan Morley), Cyril Price’s vast ensemble cast from Casey Court (courtesy of Chips), Our Ernie and Dudley Watkins’ Peter Piper from Magic, all in need of Luvly Grub!

Under the miscellaneous sub-headings of Salvage!, Comical Camouflage!, Workers Playtime! and Allies, strips featuring Ronnie Roy the India-rubber Boy, Ding Dong Dally, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy the Clockwork Boy, Big Hearted Arthur and Dicky Murdoch and other stalwarts all gather hopeful momentum as the Big Push looms and this gloriously inventive and immensely satisfying compilation heads triumphantly towards its conclusion.

V for Victory! sees a telling gallery of strips celebrating the war’s end and better tomorrows; featuring final sallies from Casey Court, Weary Willie and Tired Tim, a stunning Mickey Mouse Weekly cover by Victor Ibbotson, It’s That Man Again – Tommy Handley, Laurel and Hardy and – from Jingles – Albert Pease has the last word with ‘Charlie Chucklechops Speaking… About New Uses for Old War materials’

Some modern fans find a steady diet of these veteran classics a little samey and formulaic – indeed even I too have trouble with some of the scripts – but the astonishing talents of the assembled artists here just cannot be understated. These are great works by brilliant comic stylists which truly stand the test of time. Moreover, in these carefully selected, measured doses these tales salvaged from a desperate but somehow more pleasant and even enviable time are utterly enchanting. This book is long overdue for a new edition and luckily for you is still available through many internet retailers.
Text and compilation © 1988 Denis Gifford. © 1988 Hawk Books. All rights reserved.

The Children’s Annual


By Alan Clark (Boxtree)
ISBN: 978-1-85283-212-4

The comic has been with us a long time now and debate still continues about where, when and exactly what constitutes the first of these artefacts to truly earn the title. There’s a lot less debate about the children’s annual, a particularly British institution and one that continues – albeit in a severely limited manner – to this day.

It’s a rare person indeed who never received a sturdily reassuring colourful card-covered compendium on Christmas morning, full of stories and comic-strips and usually featuring the seasonal antics of favourite characters, whether from comics such as Beano, Dandy, Lion, Eagle and their ilk, or television, film or radio franchises and personalities such as Dr Who, Star Wars, TV21, Radio Fun or some hallowed star of a bygone age.

There were even sports annuals and beautifully illustrated commemorative editions of the fact and general knowledge comics such as Look and Learn, and special events such as the always glorious and awe-inspiring Rupert Annuals.

The history and development of this glorious holiday tradition are lovingly shared by the enthusiastic and erudite Alan Clark in this wonderful book. Never lapsing into too much detail, Clark introduces his subject – always lavishly illustrated – offers a tantalising taste and then moves on.

His goal is always achieved. Once you’ve seen, you will want to see more. This kind of nostalgic paean is our industry’s best weapon in the fight to build sales, both of new material and back issues.

When was the last time you bought something old or untried at a comic shop? Give your Nostalgia Vision a workout for a change, and if you’re still a little dubious, this book should be your guide to tip the scales.
© 1988 Alan Clark.

Take That, Adolf! – The Fighting Comic Books of the Second World War


By Mark Fertig and many & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-987-5

Long the bastion of the arcane, historic, esoteric and the just plain interesting arenas of the comics experience, Fantagraphics Books here celebrates the dawn age of Fights ‘n’ Tights funnybooks with a magnificent collection of (mostly) superhero covers culled from the fraught period which most truly defined the comics industry.

Comicbook covers are a potent and evocative way of assessing the timbre of an era and a captivating shortcut into worlds far removed from our own. They are also half the sum total of fun generated by narrative art and arguably an art form all their own.

In this tome, educator, scholar and writer Mark Fertig (Chair of Art and Art History at Susquehanna University, Pennsylvania and revered film noir expert – check out his Where Danger Lives for more populist fun) offers an erudite and wide-reaching essay comprehensively addressing every aspect of the four-colour Home Front’s graphic endeavours in support of America’s WWII war effort.

Detailing how Jewish émigré artists’ and writers’ creative influences advocated America surrender its isolationist stance in ‘Four Color Fantasies’ and ‘Building Towards War’, Fertig then traces the development of ‘Red, White, and Blue Heroes’ such as The Shield and Uncle Sam before ‘The Coming of Captain America’ sparks the invention of ‘An Army of Captains’.

After the USA finally enters the war ‘All-Out Assault: August & September 1941’ is followed by an examination of female masked fighters in ‘She Can Do It!’ and reveals how Wonder Woman became ‘An Amazon for the Ages’.

‘Kids Can Fight Too!’ reveals the impact of junior and under-age crusaders as well as the sub-genre of Kid Gangs whilst ‘Attaboy, Steamboat!’ confronts head-on the depiction of ethnic characters – “evil” and Pro-democracy. From here in the distant future, some of the appalling jingoism and racism is even more disturbing than the tortures, torments and buckets of gore liberally scattered through the images of Evil Nazis and Japs…

Next ‘Into the Breach’ addresses the reasons omnipotent heroes such as Superman and Captain Marvel left the actual fighting in Europe and the Pacific to ordinary mortals before ‘Pulling Together’ details and the promotion of Home Front solidarity munitions manufacture and the arming of the armies of Freedom after which Hitler repeatedly gets his just deserts (in effigy at least) ‘In Der Führer’s Face!’

‘Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines!’ follows the development of more human fictional soldiers and heroes whilst and ‘More Thrilling Than Fiction’ sees the begins of fact-based accounts of true champions such as President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower before ‘Pitch Men’ follows the numerous examples of masked warriors and kiddie-characters inciting readers to help pay for the war through selling war bonds and liberty stamps and ‘On to Victory’ celebrates the end of hostilities and the aftermath.

The fact-packed lecture is also supplemented at the back of the book by creator biographies of industry giants and iconic cover crafters Charles Clarence Beck, Jack Binder, Charles Biro, Hardin “Jack” Burnley, Reed Crandall, Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Irv Novick, Manuel “Mac” Raboy and Alex Schomburg (regarded as the most prolific cover illustrator of the period) but the true merit of this enchanting tome is the covers gathered for your perusal.

Designed to incite patriotic fervour and build morale, the awesome majority of this tome features a potent avalanche of stunning covers from almost every company, displaying not only how mystery men and superheroes dealt with the Axis of Evil in those tense times but also the valiant efforts of “ordinary fighting men” and even cartoon fantasy stars such as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Walt Disney stars such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

Shopping List Alert: skip if you must…

This book celebrates an absolute cascade of spectacular, galvanising scenes of heroes legendary and obscure, costumed and uniformed, crushing tanks, swatting planes, sinking U-Boats and decimating enemy ranks, unleashed before your assuredly goggled eyes by artists long forgotten, and never known as well as more familiar names such as Joe Shuster, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Eisner, Harry G. Peter, Jack Burnley, Frank Harry, Irwin Hasen, Al Avison, Bob Powell, Edd Ashe, Harry Lucey, Paul Gustavson, Bill Everett, Jerry Robinson, Gus Ricca, Al Gabriele, Charles Sultan, Gene Fawcette, Louis & Arturo Cazeneuve, Gill Fox, Sam Cooper, Jim Mooney, Elmer Wexler, Fred Ray, Dan Zolnerowich, Don Rico, Max Plaisted, Howard Sherman, Everett E. Hibbard, Ramona Patenaude, Pierce Rice, Harry Anderson, Lin Streeter, Dan Gormley, Bernard Klein, Stephen Douglas, Martin Nodell, Charles Quinlan, Dan Noonan, Sheldon Moldoff, Henry Keifer, Marc Swayze, Carl Buettner, Charles A. Winter, Maurice, del Bourgo, Jack Warren, Bob Montana, Bob, Fujimori, Vernon Greene, George Papp, John Jordan, Syd Shores, John Sikela, Alex Blum, Ray Ramsey, R. Webster, Harry Sahle, Mort Leav, Alex Kotzky, Dan Barry, Al Camy, Stan Kaye, George Gregg, Art Saaf, George Tuska, alexander Kostuk, Al Carreno, Fred Kida, Ruben Moreira, Sidney Hamburg, Rudy Palais, Joe Doolin, Al Plastino, Harvey K. Fuller, Louis Ferstadt, Matt Bailey, Ham Fisher, Walt Kelly, Wayne Boring, John Giunta, Creig Flessel, Harold Delay, Lee Elias, Henry Boltinoff, L.B. Cole and George Marcoux plus many more who did their bit by providing safe thrills, captivating joy and astounding excitement for millions.

These powerful, evocative, charming, funny, thrilling, occasionally daft and often horrific images are controversial these days. Many people consider them Art with a capital ‘A’ whereas close-minded, reactionary, unimaginative, bigoted die-hard poltroons don’t.

Why not Dig back in time (For Victory!) and make your own decision?
© 2017 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Main text© 2017 Mark Fertig. All comics covers and illustrations herein © 2017 the respective copyright holders All rights reserved.

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking


By Brad Evans, Sean Michael Wilson, Inko, Carl Thompson, Robert Brown, Chris Mackenzie, Michiru Morikawa & Yen Quach (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-318-2                  eISBN: 978-1-78026-319-9

Our particular branch of the arts depends rather heavily on the loving depiction of violence in all its forms, but it’s unlikely that most of us ever give it much rational and cohesive thought. How wonderful then than somebody actually has and kindly put it all together in a series of irresistible comic essay dialectics.

At least in terms of entertainment, there seems to be an unquenchable – almost compulsive – need to see conflicts resolved through force and problems solved by the imposition of will upon dissenters. Justifications for these acts can always be found if one looks hard enough…

Violence isn’t just a perfectly choreographed punch in the jaw or a sublimely balletic spin-kick, it’s also oppression, subtracting choices, dismissing someone’s opinions, denying them education or agency and so many other things we allow our leaders or even our friends and associates to do to – and “for” – us on a daily and incremental basis. The effects, however, are cumulative, vast and lasting…

Here a number of thinkers, theoreticians, activists and educators have their works and key achievements précised and propounded via a series of short strips seeking to highlight different ways to address our species’ second most primal drive.

Adapted and scripted throughout by Dr. Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson, the thought-provocations begin with ‘Brad Evans: Thinking Against Violence’. Illustrated by Inko, they collaboratively restate a conversation between the political philosopher/critical theorist and a journalist as he sought to explain his thesis that the media feeds and is dependent on violence for its own survival.

Chris Mackenzie then limns a visual discourse on how observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann led to a new theory on human nature, the power of delegated authority and impact of surrendered autonomy in ‘Hannah Arendt: The Banality of Evil’, after which ‘Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth’ (with art by Carl Thompson) describes how the psychologist re-examined the effects of colonialism on both masters and subjects.

A landmark shift in critical thinking and educational doctrine is scrutinised in the Inko-illustrated ‘Paulo Freire: The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ before a theoretical icon is revisited and the unshakable link between liberals and State violence is revealed in ‘Michel Foucault: Society Must Be Defended’ (illustrated by Robert Brown).

A Humanist examination of the cultural biases that colour and inform the West’s view of Eastern cultures is disclosed in ‘Edward Said: Orientalism’; with Thompson’s art working to explain the knottier points of history and entrenched racism. Then Inko makes her final artistic contribution in ‘Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others’ as the theoretician deconstructs and adjudicates on the misleading truths and overwhelming potency of carefully selected, deliberately disseminated images utilised by media and governing authorities…

‘Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent’ (Thompson again) explores the misnomer of a “Free Press” and reveals how a commercial media system can only act as a propaganda tool of whoever’s in charge, whilst Michiru Morikawa portrays ‘Judith Butler: Precarious Lives’; explaining how knee-jerk responses to atrocity fail through her theories on Normative Violence, Subversion and Liveable Life, after which Yen Quach depicts the arguments of Italian philosopher ‘Giorgio Agamben: Sovereign Power/Bare Life’ which posit that the job of democratic politics is to prevent the development of conditions which lead to hatred, terror and destruction, not merely to respond to and control them after they’ve occurred…

I’m not smart enough to do much more than parrot the phrases of these brilliant concerned individuals but I strongly urge you to read this collection – especially Henry A Giroux’s Foreword ‘How do we educate about Violence?’ which offers terms of reference, context and chilling insight into the state of play between Us and Them…

Supplemented by ‘Biographical Notes for the Writers and the Artists’ this is a compelling and challenging collection that needs to seen by everybody in power or comfortably submitting to it…
© Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson.

Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution


By Stan Mack (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-697-6

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and training has been the comic strip. Advertising mavens have, for over a century, exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary screeds of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself, back in my freelancing years…

Here the medium has been used by an acclaimed master to comprehensively recapitulate the most pivotal period in the history of democracy in a manner both inviting and astoundingly effective – as is clear by the pages of testimonials from satisfied teachers…

Former art director for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Stan Mack is also a writer, artist and cartoonist with a long history of turning strips into documentary, commentary and reportage: see for example his controversial Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (Village Voice), Stan Mack’s Out-takes (Adweek) and books like Fight for Freedom, Hard Time, Janet & Me, The Road to Revolution, and The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year Adventure.

In 1994 he released a stunningly addictive pictorial treatment of those convoluted times, characters and events which explosively combined to create the libertarian utopia of the United States of America. The recently re-released saga examined background and context, laid out key events and the causes of them: tracing the tricky path from sidelined and dissatisfied colonial possession to new nation and it was done with wit, understanding and a determined effort to demystify and desanctify the affair, undoing two centuries of spin and revisionism…

It all starts with a charming Introduction, explaining the origins of this superb monochrome hardback tome (164 mm x 240 mm) and tale: laying out the ground rules for use and the ethos behind the project.

Thereafter the fact-packed fun unfolds in section one ‘1761-1775 Monarchy and Mobs’ which covers – in smart, snappy, efficiently short and phenomenally memorable vignettes – ‘1761 The Writs of Assistance’ and ‘1763 The Colonies’ setting the scene whilst the heinous money-making schemes of English bean-counting Prime Minister George Grenville (whose swingeing taxes and tariffs kickstart the rebellion) are seen in action through ‘1764 Sugar Act’ and ‘1765 Stamp Act’ before his successor ramped up the grief with ‘1767 Townsend Duties’ resulting in ‘1770 Boston Massacre’

Thus we come to the truth about the ‘1773 Boston Tea Party’, and the ‘1774 1st Continental Congress’ before at last shedding blood at ‘1775 Lexington & Concord’

Throughout the chapter and the book Mack is scrupulous in pointing out that all the talk of equality, liberty and self-determination only applies to white males, not slaves (or freed Africans), Indigenous people and women; the results of which we are still living through and something that still needs addressing…

The second section then counts down ‘1775-1781 Redcoats & Guerrillas’, ‘1775’s ‘2nd Continental Congress’, ‘Bunker Hill’, ‘George Washington’ and the potential escalations at ‘Ticonderoga/Canada’ as well as 1776’s ‘Declaration of Independence’, before following the war from ‘Long Island to Trenton’.

A catalogue of battles follows: ‘1777 Saratoga’ and ‘1778 Valley Forge’; ‘1779 Trouble at Home’, ‘1781 West Point’ before examining ‘1780 War in the South’ and ‘1781 Yorktown’.

The third and final section explores how the war was won but victory led only to factional infighting: a cold war for hearts and minds between Federalists and Constitutionalists such as Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison Jr. on one side and conservative Anti-Federalists on the other. Seeing as all the familiar names are on one side; guess who won?

Apparently each faction was as concerned with wealth as well-being and freedom…

In ‘1782-1789 Profit & Virtue’ explores the changing state of world trade with the new nation, as the architects of America focussed on consolidation in ‘1782 The Confederation’, almost having their work undone by ‘1786 Shay’s Rebellion’ finally leading to ‘1786 Constitutional Convention’ and ultimately the ‘1789 Bill of Rights’

Potently enthralling, beguiling succinct and astoundingly matter-of-fact, Mack offers an eyes-wide-open account of events and motives that make this book an absolute must-have for any student, political exponent or tub-thumping pub expert.

And it’s bloody well drawn and rather funny too…
© 1994, 2012 Stan Mack.

Small Press Sundays

Like so many others I started out in the business making minicomics, collaborating on fanzines and concocting stripzines with fellow weirdoes, outcasts and addicts. Even today, seeing the raw stuff of creativity in hand-crafted paper pamphlets – or better yet professionally printed packages which put dreamers’ money where their mouths are – still gets me going in ways which endanger my tired old heart…

With that in mind here are two more superb offerings from one of my favourite independent publishers of the moment…

Wolf Country #5

By Jim Alexander, Will Pickering, Jim Campbell & Liz Howarth (Planet Jimbot)

Go read this review then come back here.

As well as stunning graphic novels, anthologies and one-shots, independent publisher Planet Jimbot (likely lads Jim Alexander & Jim Campbell) also produce proper periodical comicbooks, and damned good ones. Vying for the accolade of their very best of the moment (neck and neck with GoodCopBadCop, depending on which one I’m actually holding) is their eerie otherworld socio-political saga blending the most evocative and captivating genre tropes of Westerns with supernatural horror stories: Wolf Country.

Complementing the recent release of the first WC trade paperback collection, this latest instalment in the expanding saga returns us to The Settlement where a dwindling congregation of devout vampires prove their faith daily by eking out a peril-fraught existence in the midst of their unnatural, pagan enemies; assorted tribes of bestial werewolves.

The ferocious, uncontrollable Lycanthropes infest the badlands surrounding the enclave as well as the distant city-state carved out by their forward-looking, progressive vampire brethren who are increasing, leaving the faith in favour of temporal comfort and scientific progress. Sides are being drawn in an inevitable clash of belief systems…

The Settlement has just survived the latest full-moon assault by another pack, this time employing a giant monster wolf. They only survived because of the intervention of heavily-armed Kingdom troops who have imposed their own draconian style of martial law. In the days following, brutal Sergeant Urquhart has tortured settler-scout Carmichael, convinced he knows where the missing boy celebrity Luke – famed in the city as the prophesied “Boy Who Killed Wolf” as gone…

Temporary leader Natasha is in turmoil. Her husband Halfpenny would not stand for these atrocities, but he has been spirited away to the Kingdom on some mystery mission for The High Executor

Her tensions only increase after she contacts Luke through dreams and discovers he has discarded all notions of his foretold destiny and made a life for himself amongst the wolves, humans and lycanthropes in the vast unknown wilds…

Halfpenny would be unable to help even if he knew. His time in civilisation has found him used as a Judas Goat to get close to radical, rebel vampires in a no-go zone dubbed Free State. The attempt led to death, a carefully instigated riot and even greater submersion in the fetid swamp of City politics, but also a tantalising glimpse at a true sacrament of faith and mystery that he must pursue…

Back at the Settlement, Natasha does the only thing she can to spare Carmichael’s agonies and offers to lead Urquhart to where the fugitive Luke and his new family enjoy a life of wild freedom…

To Be Continued…

After a thoroughly beguiling and meticulous stage setting and plot seeding process, Wolf Country is gearing up to a fantastic second act that promises drama, action, suspense and even more mystery. Don’t wait for the next book compilation, climb aboard the feral express right now…
Story © 2016 Jim Alexander (story) & Will Pickering (art).
https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/266647799/wolf-country5

The Samurai

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Jim Campbell & Ed Murphy (Planet Jimbot)

Clearly men of broad and wide-ranging tastes in term of comics adventure, Jim Alexander and regular collaborator Luke Cooper have turned their creative juices loose on the venerable sub-genre of itinerant Bushido warriors with this deceptively enthralling one-shot.

A nameless, weary swordsman, The Samurai is first seen returning home after faithful service in the wars against Mongol invaders. Tragically, a longed-for reunion with his family is forever forestalled when he finds their dismembered corpses in his burned-out village. Implacably he begins stalking the vile bandits who killed them…

However, in his righteous rage he underestimates his foes and is nearly despatched to join his loved ones until fate monstrously intervenes…

A broken, brooding nomad, his hunt for the remaining marauders takes him to a wooded region and another ravaged house in a ‘Burning Forest Clearing’. His decision to search the dwelling for survivors is a grave mistake as he is ambushed by diabolical cannibals and left for dead, but when a little girl comes to his aid he finally finds the strength to overcome.

Good thing too, as the flesh eaters have returned for their next meal…

An iconic blend of exotic action and philosophy liberally dosed with classic supernatural elements and overtones, this is a no-nonsense romp to delight the senses and fire the hearts of all lovers of ancient oriental excitement.
© 2016 Jim Alexander (story) & Luke Cooper (art)
https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/273712752/the-samurai

Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: the Art of Alfredo Alcala


By Heidi MacDonald & Phillip Dana Yeh with art by Alfredo Alcala (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80041-7

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: A Perfect, Old-School Craft-Book Prezzie… 9/10

We haven’t covered a “How To” book for ages and this is one of the most intriguing and rewarding I’ve seen in many a year.

There is a host of books both academic and/or instructional designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives.

There are others intended to foster and further the apparently innate and universal desire to simply make art and make it proficiently and well (see for example the superb and lengthy list of Dover Books on Art Instruction and Anatomy at the back of this particular tome).

There are, however, precious few that do it with as much style, enthusiasm or perspicacity as this latest re-release from the culture-preserving heroes at Dover.

As much biography and philosophical treatise on work-ethic as training manual, Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: the Art of Alfredo Alcala resurrects a slim and informative monochrome package from 1994 compiled from the thoughts and especially a vast selection of gorgeous illustrations and examples from one of the most influential and meritorious masters of illustration Comics ever produced.

Following an effusive ‘Introduction by Gil Kane’ and passionate exhortations in ‘A is For Alfredo – a Personal Reminiscence by Roy Thomas’ the real meat of this tome is presented in ‘On the Road with a Real Artist by Phil Yeh’ wherein scribes Heidi McDonald and Yeh repackage the wit, wisdom and sheer gracious enthusiasm of the man we in the English-speaking world think of mostly as a superb inker, but who was so much more.

Alfredo P. Alcala (1925-2000) was born in Talisay, Negros Occidental: part of the chain of islands known as the Philippines. He lived through the Japanese Occupation of WWII (playing a small part in their defeat) and the years following when America supervised the country. An obsessed autodidact and self-taught artistic prodigy, he held a number of creative jobs before joining the extremely popular Philippines “Komiks” industry in 1948.

A phenomenal talent – and lightning fast – he quickly rose to prominence and started his own publishing house. When his period adventure serial Ukala was made into a hugely successful movie he was already at the peak of his powers, but he followed that with the groundbreaking Sword-&-Sorcery series Voltar and became influential on the world stage.

At the beginning of the 1970s horror boom he moved with a number of other Filipino stars to America where their florid illustrative styles and broad genre experience defined the look of US comicbooks for a decade.

Although he was a superbly versatile draughtsman and storyteller, Alcala’s most beloved and well-known contributions were made during sustained runs as inker on Conan, Batman, Swamp Thing and others and, when the industry moved away from the Filipino style, he and his compatriots moved to California and began excelling in the voracious, talent-consuming animation business…

Taken from memories of shared train journeys, this section offers insights and anecdotes interspersed with Alfredo’s real Secret Teachings of How to be an Artist as recalled by fellow traveller and creative fellow spirit Phil Yeh, packed with illustrative examples from published comics as well as intimate sketches and studies from a man who simply never stopped drawing…

The remainder of this evocative bible from a sublimely classicist illustrator and self-made wonder breaks down into a potent series of tutorials beginning with ‘The Art of Observation’ which is neatly subdivided into helpful guides to ‘Discovering Your Style’, the proper use of the correct ‘Tools’, the crucial mastery of ‘Anatomy and Proportion’ and the truth about ‘Composition’, all thoroughly backed up and supported by examples from Alcala’s vast back catalogue.

Next comes a most crucial treatise on the disciplines specific to graphic narrative entitled ‘Thinking About Comics’, again augmented with cogent and beautiful visual back-up and biographical minutiae from ‘Ukala’, ‘Conan’ and the superbly impressive historical commemoration The Gift.

This is followed by an in-depth 20-page reiteration of all that’s gone before, using Alcala’s groundbreaking Voltar as model and exemplar, complete with critical deconstruction by the master himself, and everything wraps up a with quick lesson on ‘Painting’, using one of Alcala’s own murals as the basis for a stringent and informative Q & A session.

This glorious paperback is aimed squarely at the progressing cartoonist, rather than total neophyte, and provides as much a philosophy of creativity as strict instruction, but the sheer profusion of Alcala’s magnificent monochrome will satisfy comics fans as well as budding artists and storytellers.

If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this wonderful celebration will offer a steadying hand and all the support you could dream of.
© 2015 Dover Publications, Ltd. Introduction © 1994 Elain Kane. Introduction © 1994 Roy Thomas. Conan the Barbarian art © 1994 Marvel Entertainment Group. All rights reserved.

Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: the Art of Alfredo Alcala will be released November 27th 2015 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comic or bookshop.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 3: 1983-1984


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-848-9

Another year gone and at long last another spectacularly barnstorming, award-winning comicstrip history lesson from proudly self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber-geek Ed Piskor is here, detailing more secrets about the world’s most explosive musical discipline.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor resumes his astoundingly engaging exploration of the rise of the rhyme-&-rhythm musical art form – all whilst paying equal attention to the symbiotic and parallel growth of graffiti and street art – with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Kicking off with a crucial ‘Rogues Gallery’ of the 80 movers and shakers involved, this latest blockbuster-sized volume begins in 1983 after Hip Hop at last makes the leap from local parks and parties to the club scene and onto vinyl. It also sees the street wisdom that Rap doesn’t work on albums finally disproved forever…

Of course now that the strange noise and weirdly evocative dance moves are a proven commodity, the establishment business sharks begin to circle the pioneering proponents and all their hundreds of hungry wannabe, would-be stars…

‘The Freaks Come Out at Night of the Living Bassheads’ closely studies that inexorable rise, following a few key behind-the scenes-personalities like in-at-the-start devotee Russell “Rush” Simmons, fanatical white-boy Rick Rubin and miracle-working Swiss opportunist Charlie Stettler whose tireless efforts are slowly eclipsed as the movement goes global, tracking the tenuous migration to television via shows such as Graffiti Rock and documentaries Style Wars and Breakin’ and Enterin’ until even whites Rock-only MTV finally capitulates …

Filled with feuds, mash-ups and team-ups of the new talents, highlighting Rubin and Simmons unification as Def Jam and focussing closely on British support from landmark books such as Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Street Art, this titanic tome covers the start of the careers of Whodini, The Fat Boys, Slick Rick, LL Cool J and Doug E Fresh, sees The Beastie Boys adopt rap as their metier and follows Run DMC’s unstoppable rise.

As always the technical and stylistic innovations, musical struggles and physical battles, management shenanigans and recording landmarks are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed as Piskor connects a bewildering number of strands and weaves them into the coolest of tapestries …

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (a tabloid sized 334 x 234 mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Reference’ and ‘Funky Index’, a fun-filled Author Bio and another blazing collection of ‘Pin Ups’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including TLC by Natalie Andrewson, Biz Markie by Miss Lasko Gross, Kool Moe Dee by Jonny Negron, Kool DJ Red Alert by Toby Cypress, Blowfly by Johnny Ryan, Jay Z by Jim Rugg, Wu Tang Clan by Benjamin Marra, Mantronix by Dean Haspiel, Dr. Dre by Jenny Goldstick, MC Hammer by Robert Crumb and Digital Underground by Skottie Young to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive – and only a year until the next one…
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2015 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2015 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.