The Shadow volume 3: The Light of the World


By Chris Roberson, Giovanni Timpano & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-461-9

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved Americans their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero under discussion here.

Radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky-toned narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he highlighted.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, began starring in his own printed adventures, written by the incredibly prolific Walter Gibson under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comicbooks, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped the world, generating reprinted classic yarns and a run of new stories as paperback novels.

In graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary reworking in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and Paul Reinman. In 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic sagas unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature for an audience at last acknowledged as grown-up enough to handle more sophisticated fare.

This led to further, adult-oriented iterations (and even one cracking outing – Hitler’s Astrologer – from Marvel) before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment secured the option in 2011 and, whilst reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

Set in the turbulent 1930s and war years that followed, these were crafted by some of the top writers in the industry, each taking their shot at the immortal legend, and all winningly depicted by a succession of extremely gifted illustrators.

This third volume – collecting #13-18 of the monthly comicbook from 2013 – comes courtesy of author Chris Roberson (House of Mystery, iZombie, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, Superman/Batman) and illustrator Giovanni Timpano, ably abetted by colourist Fabrício Guerra and letterer Rob Steen. This time the Master of the Dark prowls the bloody streets of New York in search of a fantastic vigilante as deadly and remorseless as himself…

The drama begins as yet another rich, powerful man is butchered whilst secretly indulging in sordid pleasures of the flesh. The perpetrator is rumoured to be a ghostly, sword-wielding “lady phantom”…

Very few know that the black-cloaked fist of final retribution known as The Shadow masquerades by day as abrasive, indolent playboy Lamont Cranston. Most are agents in his employ: all aware of his semi-mystical abilities to detect thoughts and cloud the minds of men. They are about to learn that there are other beings blessed with uncanny abilities, relentless determination and unshakeable agendas…

Cranston and his paramour/top operative Margo Lane begin their investigations at the prestigious Cobalt Club: pumping the wealthy patrons and Police Commissioner Weston in the guise of idle gossip-mongering and scandal-seeking…

The authorities, it seems, give little credence to the testimony of prostitutes – the only survivors of the attacks – and have dismissed reports of a vengeful woman as sole perpetrator. The Shadow’s operatives are far more astute and less prejudiced: information is gathered and soon after the Dispenser of Vengeance is on hand when the woman in white confronts her next victim…

As the first of a series of poignant flashbacks begins to reveal the secret of the bizarrely radiant swordswoman, in the modern moment of her confrontation with The Shadow, the Master of Men quickly realises this seeming angel of death is every inch his equal in the arts of combat. In fact, her ability to cast a blinding glow might well give her the edge…

After a brutal duel he manages to drive her off before she can finish off her latest victim, but, before he or the police can get any useful information from the survivor, the maimed man is silently butchered in his locked and guarded hospital room…

And thus the war between light and darkness progresses with The Shadow losing battles but gradually winning the war: inexorably closing in on The Light by pitting all his resources and risking his greatest assets to trap his glowing antithesis who works for the most pure, if misguided, of causes…

Dynamite publishes periodicals with a vast array of cover variants and here that gallery features a wealth of iconic alternate visions by Alex Ross, Francesco Francavilla, Tim Bradstreet, Paolo Rivera and Jason Shawn Alexander to delight any art lover’s eyes and heart.

Moody and brooding, The Light of the World is a solid pulp thriller with an intriguing history and premise for its “player on the other side” scenario, plenty of action and a spectacular cinematic climax at the top of New York’s steel-&-concrete canyons…

This is another superb addition to the annals of the original Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.

James Bond™ volume 1: VARGR


By Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Guy Major & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-901-0

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

There are also some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never really found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is just one of the most recent, compiling the first six issues of a regular comicbook series from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment and quite possibly one of the top ten Bond adventures ever seen in any medium…

Dumping the decades of gaudy paraphernalia that’s grown around the brand, writer Warren Ellis, illustrator Jason Masters, colourist Guy Major and letterer Simon Bowland have opted for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

It begins after Bond’s return from a personal mission to Helsinki which culminated in the elimination of the assassin who recently killed 008. On returning to MI6, however, the infallible agent is carpeted by M.

With motions in progress to close the Double-O department, Bond is given a simple assignment: “dissuading” a small European drug dealer from distributing his latest recreational designer dope in the United Kingdom.

Of course, no job is ever simple…

The first snag is a new Home Office ruling depriving Bond of his gun whilst within British borders, but at least Q has few treats for him to use once he’s touched down on foreign soil…

Following an impromptu briefing on his contact – the Intel has come via a CIA informant used by old comrade Felix Leiter, so at least that’s reliable – Bond jets off for Berlin Station, only to narrowly escape being murdered by impossibly strong impostor-agent Dharma Reach as soon as he gets out of the airport…

Taking the near-miss in stride, 007 swiftly starts his surveillance by meeting the CIA’s asset, Serbian geneticist and medical pioneer Slaven Kurjak, who has been making astounding breakthroughs in both pharmaceuticals and powered prostheses.

The exceedingly eccentric doctor puts him on the trail of a minor local gang with a new method of processing cocaine, so Bond sets off on the trail of his new target, resolute but clearly suspicious…

Meanwhile in London, drug addicts begin exhibiting strange, horrific and ultimately fatal side-effects after their latest scores…

Kurjac obviously has his own agenda, but the methodical Bond opts to investigate this disquieting informant’s “information” first and is soon in the fight of his life after stumbling into a major drugs operation run by the huge Al-Zein cartel.

On returning – shaken, stirred but largely intact – to the MI6 office, he’s intercepted by Slaven’s most dangerous guinea pig Mr. Masters, moments after the chemically-corrupted killer has depopulated the entire Berlin Station. Attempts to lure Bond into a fresh trap have been anticipated, however, and 007 is more than ready when the killer makes his move. Masters’ agonised last words to Bond are “Vargr. Please. Vargr”…

A frustrating confrontation with Kurjac then reveals the shocking truth about the crazy doctor’s hideous plans for the tainted drugs on Britain’s streets, but ends with apparent defeat and Bond stuck in a seemingly inescapable death-trap…

Through his usual blend of ingenuity and inspired insanity Bond survives and returns to London for debriefing but is again ambushed by Dharma Reach. She inadvertently provides a clue to her boss’ whereabouts before explosively expiring…

With a clear target and destination – and determined to end the bloody shambles at any cost – Bond heads to Norway and a final confrontation with Kurjak. The resolution to the mystery of Vargr is cataclysmic and incomprehensibly bloody…

With a gallery of covers by Dom Reardon and 22 variants from Masters, Glenn Fabry, Francesco Francavilla, Gabriel Hardman, Jock, Stephen Mooney, Dan Panosian, Joe Jusko, Aaron Campbell, Timothy Lim, Dennis Calero, Robert Hack and Ben Oliver plus Concept Art from Masters featuring character designs and model sheets, this elegant espionage episode is fast, furious, dryly witty, superbly smart and impeccably stylish: in short, the perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2016 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Snow


By Benjamin Rivers (Benjamin Rivers Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0-9813495-8-9

Life isn’t drama. Life is ordinary: dull, repetitive, anxiety-provoking, tedious, unsatisfactory and just a bit less good than everybody else’s.

Until it isn’t…

And then we make it a story. In a story you can mould reality into a shape you like and polish it to your own satisfaction. Then again, there are some stories which like to bend their own rules and aspire to being life-like…

If you’re a fan of high-tension thrillers or blockbuster epics, there doesn’t appear to be much going on in Snow: a miniseries-turned-graphic compilation detailing the overlapping and intersection of ordinary people living and/or working on Queen Street West, Toronto.

However, that either means you have a very glamorous lifestyle or you spend too much time submerged in fiction and not enough looking and listening to what’s going on around you…

Crafted by illustrator and games developer Benjamin Rivers (who somewhat shoots my argument in the foot by having turned this comics collation into both an Indy movie and computer game), Snow is delivered in stark, monochrome simplicity, centring on Dana, a rather nervous young woman who works in a bookstore.

Economically, times are tough and she’s fixating on the number of shops and businesses that are closing in the locality.

Dana doesn’t like change and she doesn’t like confrontation.

However, these days there’s an aura of tension everywhere – even in her former comfort zone at the store. Her co-workers are mostly ok, but old Mr. Abberline isn’t looking well and Dana can’t shift the suspicion that soon they’ll all be looking for new jobs. Even best friend Julia doesn’t get it though: it seems so easy for her to shut out such concerns and just party…

As she trudges along snowbound Queen Street to work and back, to the bar or the Laundromat, Dana can’t shift an oppressive sense of impending doom. Things come to a head abruptly when she overhears an argument in a closing-down, already shuttered CD store.

She can just about ignore that and go home, but after hearing a gunshot, Dana, in her unrushed, gradual manner, abandons the instincts of a lifetime and goes to investigate…

What she finds on entering the shop is the trigger to remaking her entire life, but change is so hard and so comes so painfully slowly…

Appearing cautious and careful, this deceptively simple and elegant saga offers a supremely understated exploration of how folk like you and me react to a shocking event and its aftermath: treating the extraordinary with the dismay and respect it deserves when it impinges on real lives.

Most importantly, just like life, although there are always questions asked, we seldom get all the answers we want or need before, in the end, life goes on…

Amongst the Bonus Material included here is the movie poster for the film adaptation, annotated creator’s notes and sketches, concept-&-character designs, an examination of the drawing process which resulted in the book’s signature visual style and the author’s reminiscent Afterword: Is It Still Snowing?, as well as a handy street guide and map of the ‘The World of Snow’.

Just like life, Snow is better experienced than fed to you second-hand or reprocessed, so please read this graphic novel if you’re looking for something a little different from what comics think of as normal…
© 2014 Benjamin Rivers. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 6: Kidnapping


By Turk & de Groot, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-87-8

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly Tintin. Our doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums worth of strip material – all compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic buffoon was benched.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten more tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Never Say Never Again…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Originally released in 1983, Kidnapping was Turk & De Groot’s last collaboration and wrapped up their mock-heroic shenanigans in fine and foolish style…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. As a young man he became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Raymond Macherot’s moribund Clifton.

In 1989 de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Michel Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befit a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the young generation…

This rollicking comedy crime caper begins with the old soldier and his fiery, ferociously competent, multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge preparing for a big camping trip for a motley crew of fresh-faced boy scouts.

Even after his own haphazard preparations are finally completed, Scoutmaster Clifton’s departure is further delayed by the stylishly late arrival of the troublesome son of wealthy and obnoxiously prestigious Sir Abylas Chickenpiece

Finally, however, the troop is under way and before too long they are setting up camp in an isolated patch of woodland. After organising jobs for the lads Clifton begins his own chores, setting tests for the boys trying out to win merit badges and catching a crafty snooze when he thinks nobody is looking…

It’s a very bad move. When the spoiled and appropriately codenamed “Distinguished Peacock” sets off to gather firewood, he’s pounced on by thugs working under the careful instructions of an obsessive porcelain collector who is well aware of the worth of the Chickenpiece Fortune…

A furtive observer to the crime, poor but honest “Thrifty Duckling” sees his companion being abducted and cunningly hides himself inside the getaway car, so when Clifton is made aware of the crisis he feels painfully responsible for the loss of two boys in his care…

Angry and insulted, the irascible Colonel eschews contacting the police and determines to give his remaining charges a lesson in the value of his scouting techniques by tracking the kidnappers to their lair and personally apprehending them.

The only real complication he envisages is apprising the victims’ fathers of the perilous current status of their sons and heirs…

A classic chase, memorable confrontation and Boys Own conclusion is the happy result of Clifton and his diminutive team working together, and when the action ends the reunions and subsequent outdoor celebrations are all any stout-hearted lad could hope for…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Kidnapping shows our Old Soldier in his most engaging and flattering light with this craftily-concocted adventure romp in the grandly enticing manner of Charles Crichton’s Hue and Cry or Launder & Gilliat’s The Belles of St Trinian’s; sufficient to astound and delight devotees of simpler times whilst supplying a solid line in goofy gags for laughter-addicts of every age to enjoy.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 1984 by Turk & De Groot. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 11: The Wrong Head


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-313-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous boy was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials; introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946) and the new guy ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio.

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio over the years.

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Originally serialised in Spirou # 840-869 in 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1957 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 8La mauvaise tête, this sinister yarn begins as Spirou visits his short-tempered pal Fantasio and finds the house a shambles. The intrepid reporter has ransacked his home in search of missing passport photos but his insensate fury abates a bit after Spirou convinces him to come play paddleball.

However, whilst looking for a lost ball in the woods, Spirou finds one of the missing photos but thinks nothing of it…

That evening strange events begin: Spirou sees Fantasio acting oddly in town and when a jeweller is robbed, a brutalised merchant identifies Fantasio as the smash-and-grab thief…

Seeds of suspicion are sown and Spirou doesn’t know what to think when a solid gold Egyptian mask is stolen on live TV. The bandit is clearly seen to be his best pal…

Spirou is still trying to reason with Fantasio when the police arrive and, with nobody believing the reporter’s ridiculous story of being in Paris on a spurious tip, watches with helpless astonishment as the accused makes a bold escape bid…

Still astounded, Spirou wanders to the ramshackle house where he found the missing photo and finds a strange set-up: a plaster cast of Fantasio and weird plastic goo in a mixing bowl…

His snooping is suddenly disturbed by screams and sounds of a struggle. Following the cacophony he finds one man holding the stolen gold mask and another on the floor. The standing man is too quick to catch and drives away with a third stranger, but as Spirou questions the beaten victim he learns that the loser of the fight is a sculptor who was hired to make astounding life-like masks of a certain journalist…

Soon Spirou is hot on the trail of the criminal confederates and uncovers a diabolical scheme to destroy Fantasio by an old enemy they had both discounted and almost forgotten…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, the search for The Wrong Head is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

As if the criminal caper and its spectacular courtroom drama climax is not enough, this tome also includes a sweet early solo outing for the marvellous Marsupilami as ‘Paws off the Robins’ finds the plastic pro-simian electing himself guardian of a nestful of newborn hatchlings in Count Champignac’s copious gardens, resolved to defend the chicks from a marauding cat at all costs…

Stuffed with fabulously fun, riotous chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant tome is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is pure cartoon gold: an enduring comics treat, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1957 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Modesty Blaise: The Murder Frame


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-859-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Derring-do and the Perfect Postprandial Tonic… 9/10

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations heading underworld gang The Network. They then retired young, rich and healthy.

With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies: a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out, they were slowly dying of boredom in England. The wily old bird offered them a chance to have fun, get back into harness and do a bit of good in the world. They jumped at his offer and have been cleaning up the dregs of society in their own unique manner ever since …

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a never-ending succession of tense suspense and inspirational action for more than half a century…

The inseparable associates debuted in The Evening Standard on 13th May 1963 and over the passing decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in approximately three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – a lost strip classic equally deserving of its own archive albums) produced a timeless treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero (and occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin and Pat Wright) assumed the art reins, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has starred in numerous prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

The serial exploits are a broad blend of hip adventuring lifestyle and cool capers; combining espionage, crime, intrigue and even – now and again – plausibly intriguing sci fi and supernaturally tinged horror genre fare, with ever-competent Modesty and Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulously chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate cool trouble-shooters resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood, mystery and mayhem only pausing for effusive Introduction ‘Meeting Modesty’: from crime author Rebecca Chance (AKA Lauren Henderson; Bad Brides, Killer Heels, Jane Austin’s Guide to Dating) who compares the prose perils with the aforementioned strip sagas.

With Chance adding a prologue to each of the stunning strips which follow, the pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Murder Frame’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from January 6th to June 6th 1997), wherein Modesty and Willie are drawn into a Machiavellian war of wits with a psychopathic old adversary who turns Garvin’s very public minor spat with a local property developer into an unassailable case of murder most foul.

Happily, Willie has lots of friends on both sides of the law and the stitch-up unravels after Modesty teams up with police Chief Inspector Brook to see justice done and the real killer caught…

The tone shifts to electrifying espionage and bloody vengeance for ‘Fraser’s Story’ (9th June – November 3rd) as Tarrant’s placidly, unflappable aide goes off the grid in pursuit of a British traitor-turned-Russian Mafia boss hiding out in Panama.

Victor Randle sold out his country and caused the death of 107 British agents – including Fraser’s only love – and is smart enough to know that Fraser is on his trail. In fact he’s counting on it and has creepy brainwashing genius Dr. Yago ready to pick the would-be avenger’s mind dry of every profitable secret it contains – especially as Victor currently possesses the only other thing the British agent still cares about…

He’s also smart enough to have Fraser’s friends Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin murdered before they can interfere, but tragically not efficient enough to double check that his attempts have actually succeeded…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s childhood days underpins ‘Tribute of the Pharaohs’ (November 4th 1997 to April 3rd 1998), also revealing Willie’s ultimate nemesis as the strident martinet who ran the orphanage he grew up in. Their reunion on the burning sands of the Bayouda desert near Khartoum also involves brutal bandit lord Mr. J who believes the draconian Miss Prendergast has knowledge of a vast horde of Egyptian gold…

When he kidnaps and tortures the old biddy, Willie and Modesty teach the sadistic thug a lasting lesson before uncovering a treasure and laying a ghost that has haunted Blaise for most of her life…

Wrapping up this trove of titanic tales is a traumatic exploration of the modern slave trade which sees Willie’s teen protégé Sam head out to Thailand as part of a mixed judo team. Sadly her youth, looks and bearing make her the perfect target for human traffickers Rosie Ling and Mr. Nagle-Green who boldly fake her death in broad daylight before stashing her on their ship full of ‘The Special Orders’ (April 6th to September 4th 1998) for rich and ruthless men…

Having been schooled by Garvin and Modesty, Sam is savvy enough to get off a message to the already suspicious (and en route) duo and takes matters into her own hands to rescue the girls. All she has to do is get them all off the ship, hole up in a suitable defensible position and keep safe until the enraged and remorseless cavalry arrives…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Startling shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, these stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.
Modesty Blaise © 2016 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity


By Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-00-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Boney Fido Mystery Thriller for fans of every stripe… 10/10

Way back in 2012, David Fickling Books launched a weekly comic for girls and boys that rapturously revived the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Still going strong, each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it…

As is the way of modern comics publishing, their greatest serial hits were soon gathered into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations. This splendidly constructed pastiche of detective thrillers is the latest: a winningly authentic murder mystery with anthropomorphic police pooches doggedly sloping through noir nostalgia (for those of us old enough to recognise it) on the seedily sordid streets of Muttropolis in search of killers – and worse – in the canine counterpart to Hollywood…

It’s not the first outing for curious cur Kirk Bergman (who thinks he’s a four-footed Sam Spade) and his beefy, astute and gently gigantic partner Duncan McBoo. They were previously seen in The Phoenix’s predecessor The DFC – by way of The Guardian, no lessand have lost none of their appeal in this further adventure, crafted as ever by Dave Shelton (A Boy and a Bear in a Boat) with sublime skill, seductive illustration, engaging word-play and a keen appreciation of the value of truly appalling puns …

Film freak McBoo is over the moon when their latest case takes them to Wiener Brothers Studios to investigate death threats against movie mogul Sam Weiner but soon sees that there’s nothing but trouble ahead in Tinseltown.

Twin brother Jack Wiener thinks it’s all a lot of hooey, but since Sam is off sick there’s little the police dogs can do except head back to the precinct. That all changes on the way out when a bomb seemingly intended for aging silver screen idol Dunstan Bassett apparently obliterates his stunt double Bump Henderson instead…

And so begins a cleverly constructed yet deadly game of bluff and deception, crammed to the rafters with hot dames, plucky assistants, raucous bar-fights, thrilling car chases, sinisterly suspicious strangers and quirky walk-on characters in a plot which cunningly twists and curves without ever losing itself in unnecessary complexity.

Bergman and McBoo each plays to his own strengths as they hunt a killer only to find that the victim isn’t dead but not all the suspects are necessarily alive…

Moody, suspenseful and outrageous, this yarn remains deliciously funny whilst honouring a deep dept and displaying a definite soft spot for the crime classics of yore, and is a perfect kid’s book every adult in the house will find impossible to put down.

Text and illustrations © Dave Shelton 2016. All rights reserved.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity will be released on November 3rd 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Why not check out the Phoenix experience at https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/?

The Living Mummy and other Stories


Illustrated by Jack Davis, written by Al Feldstein with Ray Bradbury (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-929-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What’s Christmas without Ghost Stories… or vampires or werewolves or mad murderers or… 8/10

Jack Davis is probably one of the few artists better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons have reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., and very few modern comic collectors seem aware of his horror, war and other genre masterpieces for EC, his Westerns for Marvel comics or his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines.

Entertaining Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines – presumably seeing the writing on the wall – sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market.

He augmented his flagship title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History but these worthy projects were all struggling when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

As detailed in the comprehensive closing essay of this superb graphic compilation (‘Crime, Horror, Terror, Gore, Depravity, Disrespect for Established Authority – and Science Fiction Too: the Ups and Downs of EC Comics’ by author, editor, critic and comics fan Ted White), Max’s son William was dragged into the company by unsung hero and Business Manager Sol Cohen who held the company together until initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned dreams of being a chemistry teacher and transformed the ailing educational enterprise into the EC we all know and love…

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments mimicking industry fashions, Gaines took advantage of multi-talented associate Al Feldstein, who promptly graduated from creating teen comedies and westerns to become Gaines’ editorial supervisor and co-conspirator.

As they began co-plotting the bulk of EC’s stories together, they changed tack, moving in a boldly impressive new direction. Their publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field, was to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at older and more discerning readers, not the mythical semi-literate 8-year-old all comicbooks ostensibly targeted.

From 1950 to 1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction and originating an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Feldstein had started as a comedy cartoonist and, after creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman departed in 1956, Al became Mad’s Editor for the next three decades…

This 16th volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library gathers a mind-boggling selection of Feldstein’s stories – mostly co-plotted by companion-in-crime Gaines – and all illuminated by the company’s most versatile illustrator: a young hopeful who literally walked in off the street with his portfolio and walked away with the first commissions of a stellar career.

Davis was to grow into a master of macabre mood, earthy true grit and flamboyantly excessive gallows humour and his work has never looked better than in this stark and lavish monochrome hardcover edition packed with supplementary interviews, features and dissertations.

It begins with historian and lecturer Bill Mason’s Introduction ‘Jack Be Quick’ relating how John Burton “Jack” Davis left Atlanta, Georgia – via the Navy – for a life in art after which the groundbreaking pictorial yarn-spinning commences with ‘The Living Mummy’ (from Haunt of Fear #4, November/December 1950) wherein three unwise scientists soon regret revivifying an ancient mummified cadaver.

Then a dutiful man is forced to confront family tragedy and exterminate a lycanthropic loved one in ‘The Beast of the Full Moon!’ in a potent shocker from Vault of Horror #17 (February/March 1951).

A weary, storm-tossed traveller stumbles into the wrong house in Haunt of Fear #5, (January/February 1951) and become a ‘A Tasty Morsel!’ after completely misdiagnosing the kind of monster he’s trapped with, whilst murder strikes close to home in the tale of a comicbook artist embroiled in a lethal romantic triangle in ‘Conniver!’ from Crime SuspenStories #4 (April/May 1951).

A transplant surgeon survives a crippling car crash and is forced to cry ‘Lend Me a Hand!’ (Vault of Horror #18 April/May 1951) before he can continue his life’s work after which ‘Cheese, That’s Horrible!’ (Haunt of Fear #6, March/April 1951) sees a greedy dairy-factory owner come to regret murdering his finicky, idealistic partner even as ‘Mr. Biddy… Killer!’ (Crime SuspenStories #5, June/July 1951) explores the psychological underpinnings of a murdering maniac…

‘The Jellyfish!’ – from Vault of Horror #19 (June/July 1951) – was based on and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story “Skeleton” and reveals the grisly revenge of a chemist framed by his own brother for adulterating insulin, before regular writers Feldstein and Gaines resume their grisly games with ‘The Basket!’ (Haunt of Fear #7, May/June 1951): a shocking tale of monstrous deformity and murderous misdirection.

Davis’ art had been gradually developing its characteristic loose energy over the months, and with ‘The Reluctant Vampire!’ (Vault of Horror #20 August/September 1951) entered a new stage: perfectly capturing the grisly humour of a bloodsucker who worked nights in a blood bank and took extraordinary measures to keep the place open in the face of economic hardship and a paucity of donations…

‘The Irony of Death!’ (Haunt of Fear #8, July/August 1951) traces the rise and demise – through supernatural agency – of a metal worker who takes over an iron foundry through judicious marriage and murder; ‘Phonies’ (Crime SuspenStories #7, October/November 1951) is a delicious caper of crooks swindling crooks and ‘Trapped!’ (Vault of Horror #21 from the same month) details the final fate of a fugitive killer whose mad dash for safety came to very sticky end.

‘The Gorilla’s Paw’ (Haunt of Fear #9, September/October 1951) is an extremely gory take on the classic tale of wishes granted in the most grudging manner imaginable whilst ‘Gone… Fishing!’ (Vault of Horror #22 December 1951/January 1952) demonstrates arcane tit-for-tat to an angler who revelled in the inherent cruelty of his sport.

Then, a disgraced bullfighter murders his young rival and pays an horrific price for his sin in Bum Steer!’ from Haunt of Fear #10 (November/December 1951) whilst in Crime SuspenStories #9 (February/March 1952), an ambitious stand-in kills the star he doubles for but is tripped up by his own ineptitude in ‘Cut!’

Davis was probably the fastest artist in EC’s stable and versatile enough to cover any genre. For Vault of Horror #23 (February/March 1952) he provided a brace of chillers, beginning with ‘99 44/100% Pure Horror!’ as a soap factory owner is reduced to packets of his own premium product yet still manages to wipe the slate clean by killing his killer, whilst ‘Dead Wait!’ focuses on the distant tropics as an obsessive thief schemes to steal a priceless gem, unaware that he is actually a pearl of equal price to his most trusted and ruthless confederate…

The rest of Davis’ 1952 was equally impressive and wide-ranging. ‘Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow!’ (Haunt of Fear #11, January/February) told of two bonemeal fertiliser salesmen who mistakenly saw a graveyard as a way to cut costs whilst ‘Missed by Two Heirs!’ (Crime SuspenStories #10, April/May) details the sheer dumb luck which plagued two wastrels eager to off their old man and start spending big.

Shady used car salesmen who gleefully sold un-roadworthy vehicles met justice through supernatural intervention and joined ‘The Death Wagon!’ in Vault of Horror #24 (April/May) before ‘The Patriots!’ (Shock SuspenStories #2, April/May) moved from horror and humour to stark social commentary which still resonates today as a crowd of spectators cheering a parade of recently returned soldiers turns on one man not showing the proper respect to the marching military heroes…

A return to baroque grisly giggles is seen in ‘What’s Cookin’?’ (Haunt of Fear #12, March/April) as two greedy partners in a fast food franchise decide to cut the genius who created the phenomenon out of the profit-equation before Davis demonstrates his speed in a new occasional features – “EC Quickies”.

These were linked 4-page tales on a shared theme and begins with a pair from Crime SuspenStories #11 (June/July): an examination of how con men dupe suckers beginning with ‘Two for One!’ as a cash-strapped business opts for a deal which is literally too good to be true whilst ‘Four for One!’ reveals an even more cunning way to embezzle huge sums from banks…

‘Kickin’ the Gong a Round!’ (Vault of Horror #25 June/July) reveals the lethal lengths to which a boxing champion goes to keep his title after which ‘Stumped!’ (Shock SuspenStories #3, June/July) follows fur trappers in the far north who use ferocious bear traps to make a profit – and remove rivals – after which Davis delineates one of Feldstein’s most visceral and innovate tales in ‘Wolf Bait!’ (Haunt of Fear #13, May/June).

Here a sleigh full of desperate men, women and children frantically outrace a pack of starving predators. However, once all the ammunition is expended and they’ve thrown all the food they have at them, what else can be jettisoned to slow the ravenous pursuit?

The cartoon chills build to a crescendo with another double-feature EC Quickie segment – from Crime SuspenStories #12 (August/September) – wherein two friends go hunting in the deep woods: both of them prepared to kill more than moose to secure a woman they both want.

‘Murder the Lover!’ then explores the consequences of one set of circumstances whilst ‘Murder the Husband!’ proffers a grim alternative, but in each example the victorious killer pays a price in pure poetic justice for his crime. The weird wonderment then concludes with sardonic cynical satire in ‘Graft in Concrete’ (Vault of Horror #26 August/September) as the building of a simple road bogs down in layer upon layer of corrupt backhanders and is only expedited by desecration and sacrilege. Of course, certain dead parties take grave offence at the intrusion and make their umbrage known in a most effective manner…

Adding final weight to the tome is an outrageous contemporary caricature of the artist by EC staffer Marie Severin accompanying S.C. Ringgenberg’s biography of the cartoonist who became America’s most popular illustrator in ‘Jack Davis’, plus the aforementioned history of EC and a comprehensive ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ feature by Mason, Tom Spurgeon and Janice Lee.

The short, sweet but severely limited output of EC has been reprinted ad infinitum in the decades since the company died. These astounding stories and art not only changed comics but also infected the larger world through film and television and via the millions of dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales.

The Living Mummy is a superb celebration of the astounding ability of a comics legend and offers a fabulously engaging introduction for every lucky fear fan encountering the material for the very first time.

Whether you are an aging fear aficionado or callow contemporary convert, this is a book you cannot miss…
The Living Mummy and other Stories © 2016 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All comics stories © 2016 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., reprinted with permission. All other material © 2014 the respective creators and owners.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Francis Blake Affair


By Jean Van Hamme & Ted Benoit (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-63-2

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific troubleshooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The story had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin but after the first volume was completed the author simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 before completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

The concluding volume – Mortimer contre Mortimer – was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Balthazar, Barelli and many others) was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio…

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme (Thorgal, XIII, Largo Winch) & Thierry “Ted” Benoit (Bingo Bongo et son Combo Congolais, Ray Banana) which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale also controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation. The story also focused on the cool, suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Professor Mortimer…

It all begins in the highest echelons of the government’s security services as news of a mole reaches the press and creates a scandal. MI5 chief Francis Blake carefully explains how difficult tracking the infiltrator has become, but none of the great men in the room have any patience for excuses…

Blake explains the dilemma to Mortimer at their Club that evening, but events are unfolding which will soon curtail their cosy get-togethers. British surveillance operatives may be slow but they are inexorably steady and when a photograph of a drop-off reveals that Blake himself is the traitor, MI5 moves quickly to arrest their disgraced leader. Unmasked, the spy master only escapes detention through a spectacular fast getaway across London, leaving shocked friends and associates in his wake.

Despite a mountain of damning evidence, Mortimer cannot believe his greatest ally against evil is a money-hungry villain and begins his own investigations, despite also being the subject of an MI5 watch team. The scientist is also keenly aware that in regard of man with all the secrets like Blake, death is preferable to capture as far as his pursuers are concerned.

Ditching his government shadows Mortimer also goes on the run…

Naturally Captain Blake is completely innocent, and has been playing his own deep game. Now, having has shaken loose the real traitor, our cunning hero has gone straight to the mastermind behind the infiltration of the security services. Sadly that human devil has not been fooled for a moment and acts accordingly…

Mortimer meanwhile has trailed his friends through some skilfully laid clues and breadcrumbs; uncovering Blake’s secret army of off-the-books, utterly loyal sleeper agents who render him every assistance as he closes in on Blake and the true masterminds behind an unbelievably bold plot…

With the country in an uproar, Mortimer heads ever-northward, having deduced Blake’s intended final destination and the incredible real motive behind all the cloak-&-dagger skulduggery. He arrives just in time for a grand reunion with his old comrade and a blistering battle against the forces of evil and subversion threatening our way of life…

Strongly founded upon and in many ways a loving tribute to John Buchan’s classic thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, this is a devious and convoluted spook show to delight espionage aficionados and a solidly entertaining addition to the canon of the Gentleman Adventurers.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1996 by Ted Benoit & Jean Van Hamme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Art of Sean Phillips


By Sean Phillips, Eddie Robson and various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-420-6

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: A Magical Trawl through Fan-favourite Moments… 9/10

Sean Phillips started selling comic strips in 1980. He was 15 years old, still at school and for all intents and purposes “living the dream”. He’s been doing it ever since, with dedication, professionalism and ever-increasing proficiency.

This magnificent oversized (234 x 310 mm) hardback reproduces hundreds of comics pages and covers, plus an assortment of out-industry artwork, as accompaniment to an astonishingly forthright extended interview and career retrospective of the phenomenally talented and terrifying dedicated illustrator, covering his earliest cartooning efforts right through to his next big thing. There’s even baby pictures and school work. Of course Sean and his friends did make their first professional strip sale – to the local newspaper – when they were twelve…

Compiled by Phillips and writer and journalist Eddie Robson, with contributions from fellow artists, writers and editors the artist worked with over the decades, the book includes an Introduction from co-conspirator Ed Brubaker and offers many complete strips fans will probably never have seen.

As well as many unpublished works the gallery of visual wonder include early strips on “Girls” comics and Annuals such as Bunty, Judy and Diana For Girls as well as college work, try-out pages and portfolio pieces created with the sole purpose of getting into the cool mainstream…

Phillips is equally adept with paints and pen-&-ink and the book tracks his career as a jobbing artist through Bunty to early “mature reader” title Crisis (Crisis, New Statesmen, Straitgate), 2000AD and The Megazine (Armitage, Devlin Waugh), and that crucial jump to America as part of the “British Invasion”; producing features and one-offs at Vertigo and becoming part of the initial intake who launched and cemented the radical imprint’s look. Of particular interest and strongly emphasised are his runs on Kid Eternity, Hellblazer and The Invisibles.

The longed-for move into super-heroics began with Batman, a sidestep into Star Wars and back to Spider-Man. Early hints of later specialisation can be spotted in Scene of the Crime, Gotham Noir and Sleeper, but he was also busy with Wildcats and X-Men. He truly became a major name through the monumental sensation that was Marvel Zombies, but more attention here is paid to poorer-selling critical hit and career crossroads Criminal.

The parade of pictorial perfection continues with finished pages and original art from many more titles including User, Intersections, Incognito and more, strips and covers for licensed titles such as Serenity, Predator, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower spin-offs and for classic film repackager Criterion. Other non-comics work includes true lost gems such as political strip ‘Right Behind You’ from The Sunday Herald depicting how a certain meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair probably went as a certain invasion was discussed…

The comics conversation concludes with sneaky peeks at then-upcoming projects Fatale and European album Void 01 and we know just how damn good those both turned out…

Also sporting a healthy Bibliography section, heartfelt Acknowledgements and a Biography page, this massively entertaining, vibrant tome is as much an incisive and philosophical treatise on work-ethic as celebration of a stellar career telling stories in pictures: a beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly inspirational compendium for the next generation of artists and writers, whatever their age.

If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this rousing celebration offers all the encouragement you could possibly hope for – and is just plain lovely to look at too.
© 2013 Dynamite Entertainment. All artworks, characters, images and contributions © their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.