Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Junior Woodchucks


By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #18)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-18-4

Amongst the other benefits to derive from the radical shake up of the American comics industry in the 1980s (specifically the creation of a specialist retailing sector that ended the newsstand monopoly by sale or return distributors) was the opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. A plethora of companies with new titles quickly came and went, but there was also the chance for wiser or luckier heads to get their product seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Disney strips in oversized albums based on a format popular for decades in Scandinavia and Europe. Reintroduced to the country of their birth the archival material quickly led to a rapid expansion and even resulted in new comicbooks being created for the first time since Dell/Gold Key quit the comics business.

Carl Barks was born in Oregon in 1901 and reared in the wilder parts of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He had many jobs before settling into storytelling with pen and brush. He drifted into cartooning in the 1930s, joining the Disney animation studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the fresh field of comicbooks.

Destiny called when he and studio partner Jack Hannah (also an occasional strip artist) adapted a Bob Karp script for a sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell Four Color Comics #9). Although not Barks’ first published work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From the late 1940’s to the mid-1960s Barks beavered away in seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedy-adventures for kids, based on and expanding Disney’s Duck characters stable. Practically single-handed he built a cohesive feathered Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) and the great granddaddy of all money-spinners Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck Yule yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

Throughout his working career Barks was blissfully unaware that his efforts (uncredited by official policy as was all Disney’s comicbook output), had been singled out by a discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated devotees finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s-1960s, particularly on the exploits of the hilariously acerbic boy-scouting skits featuring Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – capable members of the unflappable “Junior Woodchucks”…

This irrepressible catalogue of delight opens with ‘Operation Rescue Saint Bernard’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #125 February 1951) in which the kids, ever-hungry for Woodchuck merit badges and the concomitant glory they bestow, decide to train Donald’s useless, snow-fearing couch-potato dog in the fine art of Alpine Rescue. It would have gone so well if only Donald had not decided to take charge of the program…

Barks’ inestimable and lasting influence was felt around the globe, as the next tale, produced by the criminally anonymous Scandinavian-based Gutenberghus Group laconically reveals.

In ‘Protective Cacophony’ Woodchuck Supremo S.Q.U.A.C.K.B.O.X. (a running feature of the ersatz scout tales was outrageously faux titles and obscurely verbose acronyms for assorted ranks; thus Subliminal Quieter of Unctuously Athletic Caterwaulers and Kiboshers of Bombastic Oratorializing Xenophobes) orders the lads to ensure that a rare bird nesting in Duckberg remains undisturbed. However, when sometime twitcher (that’s birdwatcher to you and me) Donald insists on helping, his overenthusiastic participation almost gives the nervous avian a coronary.

Fun, fast and fanciful, this fable is a perfect example of the Barks method in action…

From Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #132 (September 1951) comes another memorable Barks original. ‘Ten-Star Generals’ is a wry and raucous romp wherein the rank-hungry duck boys attempt to win even more badges and attain high status among their fellow wilderness pioneers. Donald, whose own boyhood scout troop “the Little Booneheads” were far less stringent and ethical, wants to aid them in any way possible, even cheating on their behalf, but decency and Woodchuck moral fibre wins out in the end – as Donald learns to his cost…

The highly competent Gutenberghus Group also crafted ‘Course Play’ as the boys seek the admiration of their diminutive peers in a pathfinder competition only to once more suffer for Donald’s less than scrupulous meddling. As always, however fair play and quick wits win the boys their undeniable due in the end.

After a sharp single-page entrepreneurial gag starring the nephews from Donald Duck’s appearance in Four Colour Comics #408 (July-August 1952) this jolly jamboree ends in a classic confrontation in the eternal battles of the sexes.

‘The Chickadee Challenge’ (from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #181, October 1955) finds the lads and the entire Woodchuck troop compelled to defend their prowess, pride and manly craft skills after an insulting dare from the rival Little Chickadee Patrol. Bristling under the implied insult of being challenged by mere girls the Woodchucks haughtily accept but nothing goes right for them…Donald, as always, thinks it best if he lends a surreptitious underhanded hand…

As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and the comicbooks which grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny all-ages yarns ever concocted.

Dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and one of the most important anthropomorphic storytellers in fiction. No matter what your vintage or temperament if you’ve never experienced the captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?

© 1989, 1955, 1952, 1951, 1950 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Anarcoma


By Nazario, translated by David H. Rosenthal (Catalan Communications)
No ISBN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Don’t Touch Me volume 2


By Hubert & Kerascoet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN:  978-1-56163-592-4

The first volume introduced innocent housemaid Blanche who one night espied a psychopathic murderer in the house next door. Intending to silence the witness “the Butcher of the Dances” mistakenly killed Blanche’s sister Agatha and her employers sacked her to avoid a scandal, throwing the pious innocent onto the streets of fin de siècle Paris. She found refuge and unique employment within the plush corridors of The Pompadour, arguably the city’s most exclusive and lavishly opulent bordello.

Fiercely hanging on to her virginity against all odds Blanche became Miss Don’t Touch Me, a spirited and energetic proponent of the “English Method” – specifically, she became an excessively enthusiastic flagellating dominatrix beating the dickens out of men who delighted in the exquisite pain and exorbitant cost. The first volume ended with Justice for both Blanche and the Butcher…

This delightfully audacious and risqué sequel opens with Blanche, virtue still infamously intact, as the most popular attraction at the Pompadour, which is undergoing an expensive and disruptive refit. However the girl is unhappy with her life and tries to flee, buy and even blackmail herself out of Miss Don’t Touch Me’s contract. She is made brutally aware of how business is really done in the twilight world of the courtesan-for-hire…

Thoroughly trapped, Blanche loses all hope until she becomes slowly enamoured of the Apollo-like young dandy Antoine, one of the wealthiest men in the country and a man apparently content to simply talk with her… At the same time her unscrupulous, conniving mother returns to Paris and begins to avail herself of her daughter’s guilt-fuelled generosity and social contacts…

Blanche’s velvet-gloved imprisonment seems destined to end when her bon vivant boy begins to talk of marriage, but as suddenly her life at the brothel begins to unravel. Obviously the aristocrat’s dowager mother has no stomach for the match, but social humiliation is not the same as the malicious lies, assaults, attacks and even attempted poisoning that Blanche experiences.

Moreover, the genteel dominatrix’s mother seems to hold a hidden secret concerning Antoine’s family and, if they are to be wed, why doesn’t the prospective groom want his bride-to-be to give up her day – or more accurately – evening job?

Originally published in France as Le Prince Charmant and Jusqu’a ce que la Mort Nous Separe this enticing, knowing and hugely enthralling tale follows the inspired murder-mystery of volume 1 with a classic period melodrama of guerilla Class Warfare that promises tragic and shocking consequences, especially once Antoine mysteriously disappears and the apparently benevolent brain surgeon Professor Muniz begins his terrifying work…

A compelling saga full of secrets, this engagingly sophisticated confection from writer/colorist Hubert, illustrated with irrepressible panache by Kerascoet (artistic collaborators Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) will further delight the wide variety of grown-up readers who made the first book such a popular and critical success.

© 2008, 2008 Dargaud by Kerascoet & Hubert. All Rights Reserved. English Translation © 2010 NBM.

Dungeon: Monstres volume 3: Heartbreaker


By Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim, Carlos Nine & Patrice Killoffer, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-591-7

This slim tome is yet another instalment in the ongoing, eccentric, raucous and addictively wacky franchise that is the best thing to have happened to fantasy storytelling in decades. The Dungeon saga is subdivided into Early Years, Zenith, and Twilight as well as Dungeons Parade and the Monstres of this particular review.

The inhabitants of this weirdly surreal universe include every kind of anthropomorphic beast and bug as well as monsters, demons, smart-alecs and stroppy women-folk. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite strange…

The nominal star is a duck with a magic sword which forces him to channel dead heroes and monsters, but at the time of the first story Herbert of Craftiwich is yet to become Grand Khan and supreme overlord of a dying, burning world. For increased clarity a quick glance at Dungeon – the Early Years (Volume 2: Innocence Lost to be specific) would be beneficial.

In ‘Heartbreaker’, the lead story in this beautifully exotic compilation, the setting is the debauched, bureaucratised and grimly frenetic urban hellhole of Antipolis wherein serpentine lady-assassin Alexandra reveals her cynically jaded, tragically baroque past in a bizarrely beautiful account of the inescapable corruption at the heart of the city and its Guilds.

Without warning the tale shifts to her betrayal, incarceration and escape from horrendous suffering and her response to a world that could make her the creature she irrevocably is…

Evocatively illustrated by guest artist Carlos Nine the darkly disturbing odyssey is followed by a flamboyantly bright and deceptively garish self-contained undersea saga ‘The Depths’ which looks like the most pleasing kids fantasy ever…

But it most certainly isn’t.

Set decades later when Herbert is the Khan, it focuses on aquatic princess Drowny (who looks like a wide-eyed purple tadpole) as she narrowly escapes death when a gang of assassins mistake her family’s home for their intended target. With her loved ones murdered Drowny hides in plain sight, disguising herself as one of the intruders. Enduring heartbreak and degradation she accidentally rises to a position of power and influence in the invading army which has struck a foul deal with the Khan’s son to conquer the planet and divide the world above and below between them.

Always looking for a way to return to her own people, when her chance comes, Drowny is faced with a crushing revelation…

Superbly realised – the creators have really thought about how characters would act and interact underwater – the lush colour and incredibly imaginative creature designs of Patrice Killoffer add a cartoon fantasy sheen to the proceedings which utterly belies the stark, horrific tale of the depths a decent person will sink to for revenge…

Comprising two translated French albums ‘Creve-Coeur’ and ‘Les Profondeurs’ this is another strikingly surreal, earthy, sharp, mordant, poignant and brilliantly outlandish tome that’s a joy to read with vibrant, wildly eccentric art moody as Sin City and jolly as Rupert Bear.

Definitely for broad-minded grown-ups with young hearts, Dungeon is a near-the-knuckle, over-the-top, illicit experience which addicts at first sight, but for a fuller comprehension – and added enjoyment – I’d advise buying all the various incarnations.
© 2004 Trondheim-Sfar-Nine-Killoffer-Guy Delcourt Productions. English translation © 2010 NBM. All rights reserved.

The Littlest Pirate King


By David B. & Pierre Mac Orlan, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-403-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for bold kids and timid parents…  8/10

Tim Burton has pretty much cornered the market on outlandish spooky fairytales but if you and your kids have a fondness for scary fables and macabre adventure with a uniquely European flavour you might want to take a peek at this impressive yarn of unquiet buccaneers and phantom piracy.

Pierre Mac Orlan was one of the nom-de-plumes of celebrated French author, musician and performer Pierre Dumarchey who between his birth in 1882 and death in 1970 managed to live quite a number of successful, productive and action-packed lives.  As well as writing straight books, he produced a wealth of artistic materials including children’s tales like this one, hundreds of popular songs and quite a bit of outré pornography.

A renowned Parisian Bohemian, he sang and played accordion in nightclubs and cabaret, was wounded in the trenches in 1916, subsequently becoming a war correspondent, and after the conflict became a celebrated film and photography critic as well as one of the country’s most admired songwriter and novelists.

David B. is a founder member of the groundbreaking strip artists group L’Association, and has won numerous awards including the Alph’ Art for comics excellence including European Cartoonist of the Year in 1998. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism visual metaphor, high and low cultural icons, as seen in such landmarks as Babel and Epileptic, are augmented here by a welcome touch of morbid whimsy and stark fantasy which imbues this work with a cheery ghoulish intensity only Charles Addams and Ronald  Searle can match.

Mac Orlan’s tale perhaps owes more to song than storybook, with its oddly jumpy narrative structure, but Davis B.’s canny illustration perfectly captures the spirit of grim wit as it recounts the tale of the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman, damned sailors cursed to wander the oceans, never reaching port, destroying any living sailors they encounter and craving nothing but the peace of oblivion.

Their horrendous existence forever changes when, on one of their periodic night raids, they slaughter the crew of a transatlantic liner but save a baby found on board. Their heartless intention is to rear the boy until he is old enough to properly suffer at their skeletal hands, but as the years pass the eagerly anticipated day becomes harder and harder for the remorseless crew to contemplate…

Stark and vivid, scary and heartbreakingly sad as only a children’s tale can be, this darkly swashbuckling romp is a classy act with echoes of Pirates of the Caribbean (which it predates by nearly a century) that will charm, inspire and probably cause a tear or two to well up.

© 2009 Gallimard Jeunesse. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

What I Did


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-414-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for anybody who wants something a little different in their stocking …  8/10

John Arne Saeterrøy, who works under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and appeared on the international cartoonists’ scene at age 30 with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) subsequently winning Norway’s biggest comics prize, the Sproing Award for 1995.

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his self-generated comic series Mjau Mjau – from which all the tales in this latest magical collection are culled – before turning almost exclusively to producing graphic novels in 2002. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won several major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

This latest hardback compilation gathering ‘Hey, Wait…’, ‘Sshhhh!’ and ‘The Iron Wagon’ first appeared in Mjau Mjau between 1997 and 2001, and the volume opens with an eerie and glorious paean to boyhood friendships as young Bjorn and Jon enjoy a life of perfect childhood until a tragic accident ends the idyll forever. Life however, goes on, but for one of the lads it’s an existence populated from then on with ghosts and visions…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is…

‘Sshhhh!’ is a delightfully evocative romantic melodrama created without words: a bittersweet tale of boy-bird meeting girl-bird in a world overly populated with spooks and ghouls and skeletons but afflicted far more harshly by loneliness and regret.

These comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes. This is especially true of the final tale in this collection – a sly and beguiling adaptation of a classic detective story from 1909, but enhanced to a macabre degree by the easy cartooning and skilled use of silence and moment.

‘The Iron Wagon’ is a clever, enthralling and deeply dark mystery yarn originally written by Stein Riverton, and has the same quality of cold yet harnessed stillness which makes the Swedish television adaptations of Henning Mankell’s Wallander so superior to the English-language interpretations.

Jason’s stylised artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by stunning Deep Red overlays to enhance the Hard Black and Genteel White he usually prefers.

In the coastal retreat of Hvalen a desperate author is haunted by ghosts and nightmares but the townsfolk are all too engrossed with the death of the game warden on the Gjaernes Estate to notice or care. The family seems cursed with troubles. First the old man was lost at sea, now the murder of Warden Blinde just as he was betrothed to Hilde Gjaernes blights the farm. People are talking, saying it’s all the fault of the long dead grandfather who lost his fortune and life dabbling with weird inventions…

Even now sensitive souls still hear his accursed Iron Wagon roaring through the night, presaging another death in the village…

Luckily there are more sensible folk abroad to summon a detective from Kristiania (Oslo), but Asbjǿrn Krag is not the kind of policeman anybody was expecting and as the young writer becomes enmired in the horrific unfolding events he realises that not only over-imaginative fools hear things.

In the depths of the night’s stillness he too shudders at the roaring din of the Iron Wagon…

Moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing this would be a terrific yarn even without Jason’s superbly understated art, but in combination the result is dynamite.

This collection, despite being early works resonates with the artist’s preferred themes and shines with his visual dexterity. It’s one of Jason’s very best and will warm the cockles of any fan’s heart.

© 2010 Jason. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: The Money Well


By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #14)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-914-3

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, growing up in the rural areas of the West where during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks worked as a animator at Disney’s studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the newborn field of comicbooks.

With cartoon studio partner Jack Hannah (himself an occasional strip illustrator) he adapted a Bob Karp script for an animated cartoon short into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (published as Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 in October of that year). Although not his first published comics work, it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s Barks worked in self-imposed isolation seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers, creating a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged septuagenarian and the harassed, hard-pressed star of this show.

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked and contributing story to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and this fabulous and spectacular tome is another of the very best – as they all seem to be.

So potent were his creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s and 1960s.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) -although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and comics books that grew out of these pioneering tomes – and features one of the most madcap and wryly funny yarns Barks ever concocted.

Taken from Uncle Scrooge #21 (March-May 1958) this is one of the most ingenious campaigns by the Beagle Boys to divest the Billed Billionaire of his ocean of cash and  kicks off when the ever-vigilant miser spots the canine crooks attempting to pump his stupendous money-bin dry with oil-drilling technology.

Determined to find a completely secure home for his money Scrooge consults experts and electronic brains but eventually outsmarts himself by hiding the loot in a place where the Beagles can actually take it legally! Happily, Scrooge is mean yet honourable and always ready to take advantage of a situation when the opportunity arises. Therefore he’s able to reclaim his hard-earned horde when the crucial moment comes…

The lead story is balanced by ‘Quest for the Curious Constable’ an anonymous saga produced by Disney’s European packager the Gutenberghus Group and translated and rewritten by Barks historian Geoffrey Blum. Here Donald and the nephews Huey, Dewie and Louie become embroiled in the decades-long rivalry between Scrooge and rival magnate Flintheart Glomgold and find themselves travelling back in time to obtain bragging rights to a lost art masterpiece, courtesy of Über-inventor Gyro Gearloose.

This fast-paced, whacky romp is a fine continuation of and addition to the Barks canon as the ducks rampage in a quest against the clock through the foggy, cobbled meta-fictional streets of 19th century London in search of treasure and adventure. Of course there’s a little sting in this tale too…

Barks’ work – as well as the best of the rest – is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced this captivating magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine.
© 1988, 1958 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Fires


By Lorenzo Mattotti (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-064-2

Lorenzo Mattotti was born in Brescia 1954, and after studying architecture became a comics storyteller before graduating into a second career as a designer and illustrator. As well as the book under discussion here, his most well-known work is probably his 2003 Eisner award-winning adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His stunning illustrations have graced magazines as varied as Cosmopolitan, Le Monde, Vogue and The New Yorker.

Initially working in a stylish but standard manner he gradually became obsessed with expanding the traditional comics form; capturing the power of light, hue and motion on the page and exploring the inner world of the characters populating it, beginning with the seminal Il Signor Spartaco in 1982.

With all his successive works from Murmur, the semi- autobiographical ‘The Man in the Window’ (where he applied the same creative questioning doctrine to line-drawing as he had to paint, pastel and chalk colour), the historical Caboto and others he pursued a technique of offering multiple meanings and interpretations to the reader…

Fires was released in 1986, and details the experience of a navy officer seduced by the magical nature of a tropical island. Either that or a classic case of a sensitive nature driven to madness by the regimentation of militarism…

When the warship Anselm II drops anchor in the bay of the paradisiacal islet of St. Agatha to investigate the growing loss of merchant shipping, junior officer Lieutenant Absinthe is troubled by the stunning natural beauty of volcanic atoll. The government of the new super-state of Sillantoe has dispatched the dreadnought to explore the place, and if populated, civilise or pacify the natives.

On the night before Absinthe and a landing party are dispatched, blazing fires can be seen brilliantly lighting up the dark and the Lieutenant thinks he sees strange creatures invading the ship. When the away team trudges through the foliage the next morning, he thinks he sees them again, but for some inexplicable reason cannot bring himself to report the sighting.

The officer is increasingly disturbed by the joyous, dancing flickering figures, and even though he says nothing the crew knows something is happening to him. Absinthe only feels happy or at peace on the island, and one night he goes AWOL. Seeing islanders all the time now he goes fully native, reveling in the spectacular blazes that roar and dance every time darkness falls.

Eventually the sailors recapture their “hallucinatory” comrade and the order comes to bombard this isle of the damned until it is razed of all possibility of life.

And now the nightmare truly begins…

This examination of technology vs. nature, freedom challenging duty and man against civilisation is rendered in a euphoric blaze of expressionistic colour and frantic movement reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia and bolder abstract experimental animations, with forms and actors reduced to primal shapes surging across the landscape of a page. Mattotti’s questing style blends the colour philosophy of Fauvism with the stripped-down forms and perfect structures of Italian Futurist painters such as Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni and Russian Natalia Goncharova whilst the story itself has the brooding, paranoiac, inevitable-descent-into-madness feel of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its filmic avatar (Coppola’s) Apocalypse Now.

Astounding, compelling and deeply moving this book (there’s also a 1991 British edition from Penguin – ISBN 978-0-14013-889-4 available) is a mesmerising classic and high point of our art-form and one any serious devotee of sequential narrative would be proud to own.
© 1986-1988 by Editions Albin Michel S. A. English language edition © 1988 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Werewolves of Montpellier


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-359-0

Jason, is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Now his latest novella is released, rife with his signature surreality; populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and featuring more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps.

Here he focuses on the hollow life of expatriate Swede Sven, a purposeless artist who has gravitated into a stagnant, romance-lite existence in a provincial French town. Sven fritters away his days just like his close friend Audrey – another listless intellectual looking for the right lady to love.

The only thing that quickens his pulse these days is the occasional nocturnal foray over the rooftops: burglarizing houses dressed as a werewolf. Unfortunately, Montpellier already has a genuine lycanthrope community and they don’t look kindly upon gauche parvenus intruding into their world…

This post-modern short-and-spooky fable unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions and has resonances of Hitchcock’s bubbly comedy-thrillers quirkily blended with Bergman’s humanist sensibilities. The enchantingly formal page layouts are rendered in his minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily depicts the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This comic tale is best-suited for adults but makes us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. While you’re at it, make room there for Werewolves of Montpellier too…

© 2010 Jason. All rights reserved.

Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War


By John Wagner, Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-634-7

Britain’s last great comic megastar might be described as a combination of the other two, combining the fantastic science and adventure of Dan Dare with the unrelentingly seditious anarchy and absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s also well on the way to becoming the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre home-grown comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD.

However with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections and even two rather appalling DC Comics spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print from Rebellion.

One of the most attractive packages and certainly one of the most compelling is this sharply stylish black and white deluxe hardcover collection featuring one of the greatest storylines in the entire canon.

Judicial Briefing: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner, who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own and several pseudonymous names.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans and jobs are both beloved pastimes and treasured commodities. Boredom and madness has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away from mental meltdown. Judges are last-ditch peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and instantly trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate and final…

They are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy leavened with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with Post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs: militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards, so just imagine what they’re like…

In 1981 Progs (that’s issue numbers to you) #236-244 featured a nine-part story ‘Block Mania’ which detailed an all-out war between two colossal habitation blocks in Mega-City One. With weekly instalments illustrated by Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland (who also supplied some incredible covers) the all-out confrontation between Enid Blyton and Dan Tanna Blocks rapidly proliferated, engulfing surrounding Hab-units, spreading like a plague – or a chemical weapon.

Against a backdrop of utter berserker carnage Dredd discovers a plot by Sov agents to destabilise Mega-City One…

For once the Judge is too late and as his city burns the Dictatorat of East-Meg One launch a nuclear strike, following up with a ground-forces invasion. The Judges hit back with their own nukes and terrified of global Armageddon Mega-City Two and Texas City declare themselves neutral. Mega-City One will stand or fall alone…

Over forty years after the Battle of Britain ‘The Apocalypse War’ stunned and delighted readers. This epic tale of dogged resistance and bloody pyrrhic victory is a masterpiece of drama and tragedy, with Carlos Ezquerra drawing all 26 weekly chapters (even some covers!), and three decades later it still ranks as one of the greatest Dredd tales ever published.

Spectacular, violent, epic and leading to almost incomprehensible actions from someone most readers still considered a “hero” and “good guy” this is as powerful an anti-war story as Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War and deserves as much acclaim and respect.

This volume collects the entire saga and its prequel Block War into one mesmerising and compelling work of glittering triumph and dark tragedy, and should grace the shelves of every serious fan of the medium – and the message.
® & © 2003 Rebellion. All rights reserved.