Kelly Green Book 1: The Go-Between


By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 2-205-06574-2

After years of superb – if thematically anodyne – wholesome family comic strips, two of America’s most gifted graphic storytellers were given the chance to work on a more adult and potentially controversial feature with no creative restrictions; and the result was the second best female adventurer series in comics history.

Leonard Starr was born in 1925 and began his long and illustrious creative career in the Golden Age of American comic-books, before working in advertising and settling in the challenging arena of newspaper strips. He worked on Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch and the immensely popular but now all-but forgotten Don Winslow of the Navy during the 1940s, drew love stories for Simon and Kirby’s landmark Romance line and crime stories for EC, and freelanced extensively for ACG and DC Comics until he left the industry for Madison Avenue. He returned to graphic narrative in 1955 when he ghosted Flash Gordon.

In 1957 he created ‘On Stage’, a soap-opera strip starring aspiring actress Mary Perkins for the Chicago Tribune. He left the globally syndicated feature in 1979 to revive Harold Gray’s legendary Little Orphan Annie (which he continued until his retirement in 2000), simultaneously creating the series ‘Cannonball Carmody’ for Belgium’s Tintin magazine. An experienced TV scripter since 1970 Starr worked as head writer on Thundercats, and briefly returned to comic-books in the 1980s. He received the National Cartoonist’s Society Story Comic Strip Award for On Stage in 1960 and 1963, and their Reuben Award in 1965.

Stan Drake (1921-1997) was another vastly experienced cartoonist who began work in the 1940s. His two most famous series are the superbly compelling romantic drama-strip ‘The Heart of Juliet Jones’ (co-created in 1953 and initially written by Elliot Caplin) and the iconic ‘Blondie’ which he took over illustrating in 1984. He began his drawing career in the pulps, specifically Popular Detective and Popular Sports, before moving on to newly formed Timely Comics and The Black Widow. In 1941 he enlisted in the US Army. After the war he too worked in advertising until 1953 and Juliet Jones. In 1956 he narrowly survived the road accident that took the life of Alex Raymond, and was quickly back to work.

In the late 1970s he began Pop Idols – a syndicated series of celebrity biographies – whilst still working on Juliet Jones (which he left in 1989) and Blondie (which he drew until his death in 1997). During that incredibly productive time he still found the odd moment to work on Kelly Green – from 1982-1988 – and do the occasional job for Marvel Comics. To relax, he painted portraits of his cartoonist friends (now on display in the Comic Artist’s Museum in Sarasota, Florida). He received the National Cartoonists Society Story Comic Strip Award for 1969, 1970, and 1972 for The Heart of Juliet Jones.

Brave, competent, sexy, and divinely human, Kelly Green debuted in 1981 as a black and white serial in the legendary French magazine Pilote; a boldly contemporary antiheroic drama, with a deft, light tone and grimly mature themes. Within a year colour albums were flying off shelves across Europe, and eventually in the English speaking world, too.

Kelly Green is a stunning red-head who escaped a traumatic and mysterious past when she married Dan Green, a respected New York cop. But her comfortable world comes crashing down when he’s set-up by one of his own superiors and killed during a high-profile raid. Devastated, Kelly is pulled out of a suicidal depression by Spats Cavendish, Jimmy Delocke and the man-mountain called “Meathooks”; three career felons the straight-shooting cop had not only busted but then successfully rehabilitated.

Owing their new lives to the dead hero, the trio of honourable rogues take the widow under their collective wing, teaching her all the tricks of survival in a dirty world and even finding her a new occupation.

Hating the criminals that Dan fought and who finally got him, but despising more the corrupt police force that orchestrated his death, the grieving woman becomes a professional “Go-Between”, a paid intercessionary liaising between crooks and victims who don’t want police involvement. Apparently the job is completely legal and there’s never a shortage of clients…

This first case involves paying off a blackmailer and safely retrieving his damaging “evidence” for a prominent Miami millionaire, but in a dazzling blur of twists and counter-twists the job leads to the murderer of her beloved husband in a tense, terse thriller full of drama and action, and brimming with humour and good old fashioned style.

This beautifully executed crime thriller is still powerful, gritty stuff, and strictly for adults (it was made for France so there’s lots of lovingly rendered nakedness and nudity and even some unclothing), with copies of all volumes still readily available (if fetching rather high prices), so the persistent rumours of a full revival of the character next year are most welcome – and eagerly anticipated.
© 1982 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

The Lindbergh Child


By Rick Geary (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-530-6

Combining his unique talents for laconic prose, incisive observation and detailed cartooning with his obvious passion for the darker side of modern history, Rick Geary turns his forensic eye to the last hundred years or so as his ‘Treasury of Victorian Murder’ series of graphic novels examines the landmark global sensation that was the Lindbergh Kidnapping.

Charles Lindbergh became the most famous man in the world when he crossed the Atlantic in the monoplane Spirit of St. Louis in May 1927. Six years later his son Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped from the family home at Hopewell, New Jersey. The boy disappeared on the night of February 29th 1932.

An intense and hysterical search went on for months as a number of bogus kidnappers, chancers, grifters and intermediaries tried to cash in before the toddler’s decomposed body was discovered in desolate woodlands on Thursday 12th May. The three-year old had been dead for months, possibly even dying on the night he was taken…

What followed was one of the most appalling catalogues of police misconduct, legal malfeasance and sordid exploitation (from conmen trying to profit from tragedy) in modern annals as over the next few years a suspect was caught, convicted and executed in such slapdash fashion that as late as 1981 and 1986 the conviction was appealed and a large number of individuals have claimed over the decades to actually be the real junior Lindbergh.

Geary presents the facts and the theories with chilling precision and captivating clarity, presenting one of crime’s greatest unsolved mysteries with a force and power that Oliver Stone would envy. This first volume in ‘A Treasury of XXth Century Murder’ is every bit as compelling as his Victorian forays and a brilliant example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy and entertainment.
© 2008 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: A Trilogy of Crime


Adapted by various (iBooks)
ISBN: 978-0-7434-7489-4

If you’re going to adapt classic, evocative crime stories into graphic narrative there really isn’t any better source material than Raymond Chandler. This follow-up to the graphic novel interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Little Sister (ISBN: 0-684-82933-9) was also packaged by comics visionary Byron Preiss and adapts three short tales from the master of hard-boiled fiction, rendered in a variety of unique and impressive styles.

Opening the show is ‘Goldfish’, first published in 1949, the writer’s ninth short story sale and preceding his first Marlowe novel by three years. Adapted by Tom DeHaven and lettered by Willie Schubert, it’s stylishly illustrated by British designer and artist Rian Hughes in muted colour tones that have only the merest hint of hue to them; the effect is powerfully evocative and atmospheric.

When ex-cop Kathy Horne sidles into the tough guy’s seedy office she brings a tale of lost pearls, an absconded convict and a huge reward just waiting to be claimed. Dragged far out of his comfort zone and sent up and down the Pacific Seaboard, the world-weary gumshoe is just steps ahead of the sadistic and casually murderous Carol Donovan and her gang of thugs in a superb thriller of double-cross and double-jeopardy.

Next up is ‘The Pencil’, scripted award-winning mystery novelist Jerome Charyn, brilliantly rendered by British comics legend David Lloyd in moody, dry-brush black and white, and lettered by long-term collaborator Elitta Fell. This was Chandler’s twenty-first – and final – Marlowe adventure, published in 1959, shortly after the author’s death. You might know it as Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate’, ‘Wrong Pigeon’ or even ‘Philip Marlowe’s Last Case’.

Hollywood 1955: Ikky Rossen was a bad man, a career gangster and mob leg-breaker. When he crossed his bosses he thought Marlowe could get him safely out of the City of Angels before The Organization’s East Coast Button Men could send him to Hell. Marlowe knew that these were people who should be avoided at all costs and only one thing is always true: everybody lies…

Closing the book and woefully misplaced is ‘Trouble is My Business’ by James Rose, Lee Moyer and Alfredo Alcala, with Schubert again filling the word balloons.

This weak tale of vengeful Harriet Huntress who intends to destroy two generations of wealthy socialites mixed up in the gambling rackets is from 1939: a rather tame and straightforward yarn in comparison to the other stories here, not to mention the landmark first full novel The Big Sleep, also published in that year. Moyer and Alcala do a solid job of illustrating the plot (although it’s a little pretty for my tastes) but the cynical edge that is the hallmark of this brilliant crime creation is muted if not actually extinguished here.

Despite a disappointing end this is a great book of crime comics that any fan will delight in, and the incredible Steranko cover alone is well worth the effort of tracking it down.
Adaptations and illustrations © 2003 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Original stories “Goldfish” and “Trouble is my Business” © 2003 Philip Marlowe BV (Estate of Raymond Chandler) All Rights Reserved. “The Pencil” © 1971 Helga Greene, Executrix, Estate of Raymond Chandler. All Rights Reserved.

SILVERFISH


By David Lapham (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-600-9 (trade paperback)

David Lapham returned to the genre that elevated him to comics’ top rank (for the superb crime-thrillers Stray Bullets and Murder Me Dead) with this all-original yarn for the creator-owned Vertigo imprint, tailor-made to become a major motion picture.

Troubled teenager Mia Fleming doesn’t like her new stepmom, Suzanne. That’s not uncommon. However when she steals Suzanne’s diary, makes prank calls and snoops in her closet, she sets in motion a storm of bloody violence and terrifying consequences for her friends, her family, and ultimately the entire town of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

Lapham has a chillingly direct line to contemporary America and his skill in exploring and exhibiting the simmering violence in that too-often dysfunctional society is put to efficient and engrossing effect in this fascinating blend of psycho-thriller and teen-Slasher tale, drawn with simple, provocative, clarity in moody, powerful black and white tones.

If you’re a comics missionary this a perfect book to recommend to crime-fans, thriller-aficionados, and all other acquaintances. You’ll also want a copy for yourself.

© 2007 David Lapham. All Rights Reserved.

Trailers

Trailers 

By Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau

(NBM/Comics Lit)  ISBN 1-561636-445-X

Josh Clayton is a good kid, pretty much. Sure, he lives in a trailer park, and, yes, his mother’s a bit of a tramp, but Josh has never been in any kind of real trouble…

Back from school, Josh is stuck tending to his baby brother again when Ma gets into another screaming match with her drug-dealer boyfriend. This time it doesn’t play out as usual though, and she kills him. When she comes out of the bedroom and tells Josh that he’s got to get rid of the body before his other brother and sister return, his life changes forever.

It’s hard enough being a sensitive teenager in America these days, especially if you’re dirt-poor. High-school is hell and life generally sucks. If you add to that the fact that the body just won’t stay buried, it all adds up to a miserable time for Josh. So when pretty Michele makes a play for him the pressure and confusion reaches fever pitch. And still his inevitable slide into a life just like his mother’s seems to suck him further and further down. Can Josh keep his family together, get the girl, survive school and ever sleep without screaming? Can he break out of this grim, dark spiral, or is he fore-doomed and fore-damned?

The answer makes for a superb slice of modern fiction that should tickle the palate of all those ‘mature’ comic fans in need of more than just a flash of nipple and sprinkle of salty language in their reading matter. Neece and Collins-Rousseau (employed at the faculty of Sequential Art, Savannah College of Art & Design), have created a real story of realistic young people in extraordinary need. This is the kind of book fans need to show civilians who don’t “get” comics. Sit them down, put “Born to Run” on the headphones and let them see what it can be all about.

© 2005 Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau. All Rights Reserved

Bosnian Flat Dog

Bosnian Flat Dog

By Max Andersson & Lars Sjunnesson

(Fantagraphics Books)

ISBN-10: 1-56097-740-X
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-740-7

A startling and powerful excursion into the ‘collective unconsciousness of the Balkans’ results in this surprisingly compelling and funny tale from two of Sweden’s finest comic makers (it originally appeared in Death & Candy #2-4 in a somewhat less effective manner). Ostensibly, this is story of a journey by the creators to Slovenia and an alternative cartoonists convention that spirals into a manic road-movie quest. When they decide to reimburse an old friend for a story they “borrowed” for their comic, an out-of-control ice cream truck begins shooting at them. Amongst the debris they find an engraved grenade shell with the word Sarajevo on it. They take this as a sign that they must do the right thing and embark on a Kafka-esque trip to the troubled Balkans.

Along the way they encounter zombies, mummies, war atrocities and the man who has the corpse of Marshal Tito in a refrigerator in his car. Not to mention that rare breed of hound: The Bosnian Flat Dog…

More treatise than adventure, and savagely underpinned by the appalling realities of the Sarajevo crisis, this thought-provoking psycho-comedy has compelling pictures, dark whimsy and enough fourth wall contravention to supply the reader with much metaphysical and social meat to digest long after they’ve finished reading. As surreal as it seems, though, there is still a distressing amount of truth to be found amid the icons of the fantasy world. This is a damned compelling book if you want a read that will wake you up and not lull you to sleep.

© 2006 Max Andersson & Lars Sjunnesson. All Rights Reserved.

The Case of Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith 

By Rick Geary

NBM/Comics Lit ISBN 1-561636-467-0

This eighth volume in master cartoonist Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series focuses on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk and Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. The slow poisoning of one of these mismatched lovers led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody.

Geary’s captivating storytelling and audacious drawing give this tale a compelling dash and verve that makes for an unforgettable read.

Find out more about this series HERE

© 2006 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved