Metropolis


By Thea von Harbou, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta (Donning/Starblaze)
ISBN: 0-89865-519-6

People who work in comics adore their earliest influences, and will spout for hours about them. Not only did they initially fire the young imagination and spark the drive to create but they always provide the creative yardstick by which a writer or artist measures their own achievements and worth. Books, comics, posters, even gum cards (which mysteriously mutated into “Trading Cards” in the 1990s) all fed the colossal hungry Art-sponge which was the developing brain of the kids who make comics.

But by the 1970s an odd phenomenon was increasingly apparent. It became clear that new talent coming into the industry was increasingly aware only of comic-books as a source of pictorial fuel. The great illustrators and storytellers who had inspired the likes of Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, Mike Grell, and a host of other top professionals were virtually unknown to many youngsters and aspirants. I suspect the reason for this was the decline of illustrated fiction in magazines – and general magazines in general.

Photographs became a cheaper option than artwork in the late 1960s and as a broad rule populations read less and less each year from that time onwards.

In the late 1980s publisher Donning created a line of oversized deluxe editions reprinting “lost” prose classics of fantasy, illustrated by major comics talents who felt an affinity for the selected texts. Charles Vess illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, P. Craig Russell created magic for The Thief of Bagdad and Mike Grell depicted the word’s greatest archer in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Arch period stylist Mike Kaluta worked on something a little more exotic; illustrating the original film scenario (a broad shooting script used by movie-makers in the days before dialogue) written by Thea von Harbou after her husband returned from a trip to America.

Herr “von Harbou” was German expressionist genius Fritz Lang, and his account of his fevered impressions, responses and reminiscences became the ultimate social futurist fiction film Metropolis – possibly the most stirring, visually rich and influential movie of the silent era – and officially the most expensive film ever made during the pre-talkies era.

If you haven’t seen the film… Do. Go now, a new re-re-restored version was released in 2010 – the most complete yet. I’ll wait…

The plot – in simple terms – concerns the battle between proletarian workers and the rich, educated elite of a colossal city where workers toil in hellish, conformist subterranean regiments to provide a paradise for the bosses and managers who live like gods in the lofty clouds above.

It would be the perfect life for Freder, son of the grand architect Joh Fredersen, except for the fact that he has become besotted with Maria, an activist girl from the depths. The boy will move Heaven and Earth to have her love him. He even abandons his luxuries to become a worker near her…

Distraught Fredersen renews his tempestuous relationship with the crazed science-wizard Rotwang, once ally and rival for the love of the seductive woman Hel.

Rotwang offers his aid but it is a double-edged sword. He kidnaps Maria and constructs an incredible robotic replacement of her, to derail her passive crusade and exact his own long-deferred revenge…

This “novelisation” – for want of a better word – is as engrossing as the film in many ways but the story is elevated by the incredible illustrations produced by Kaluta -5 full page artworks in evocative chalk-and-pastel colour, two incredible double-page spreads in black line plus 32 assorted monochrome half-frames and full pages rendered in black & white line, grey-tones, charcoal, chalk monotones and pastel tints – an absolute banquet for lovers of art deco in particular and immaculate drawing in general.

Whilst no substitute for the filmic experience, this magnificent book is a spectacular combination of art and story that is the perfect companion to that so-influential fantasy masterpiece beloved by generations of youngsters.
© 1988 by the Donning Company/publishers. Art © 1988 Michael W. Kaluta. All rights reserved.

Buck Danny volume 1: Night of the Serpent


By Francis Bergése, colours by Frédéric Bergése translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-905460-85-4

I’ve finally picked up some of the newest translated versions of a favourite continental classic serial, courtesy of the wonderful Cinebooks; a fine publishing outfit dedicated to bringing more of the fabulous wealth and variety of European comics to the infamously resistant English-speaking World.

All-American Naval Aviator Buck Danny was created by Georges Troisfontaines and drawn by Victor Hubinon before being handed to Jean-Michel Charlier, then working as a junior artist. Troisfontaines was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency whilst Charlier’s fascination with human-scale drama and rugged realism had been seen in such “true-war” strips as L’Agonie du Bismark (‘The Agony of the Bismark’– published in Spirou in 1946).

With fellow master-storytellers Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, Charlier formed the Édifrance Agency, which promoted and specialised in communication arts and comics strips. Charlier and Goscinny were editors of Pistolin magazine (1955 to 1958) and created Pilote in 1959.

Charlier’s greatest triumph is the iconic Western Blueberry (created in 1963 with Jean Giraud/Moebius). Charlier wrote Buck Danny until his death whereupon his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took sole charge of the adventures of the Yankee Air Ace.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his early twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A , Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. When Charlier died Bergése took over the writing too and even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He retired in 2008, passing on the creative chores of Buck Danny to illustrator Fabrice Lamy and scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Buck Danny premiered in Spirou in January 1947 and continues to this day. The strip describes the improbably long and historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and Jerry Tumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.

Like all the Danny tales this premier edition is astonishingly authentic: a breezy and compelling action thriller – originally published as Buck Danny #49: La nuit du serpent in 2000 – with colouring by Frédéric Bergése (I’m assuming that’s his son, but I’m not certain) which blends mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old fashioned blockbuster adventure.

At Kunsan Airbase, South Korea a veteran American pilot goes on dawn border patrol only to be hit by an uncanny light which blinds him and seems to negate all his F-16’s guidance systems. Despite his best efforts the jet crashes in the De-Militarized Zone and the North Koreans claim a flagrant breaking of the truce and a huge publicity coup.

Strangely though, the downed Colonel Maxwell is still missing. The Communists don’t have him and the pilot’s tracking devices indicate he’s still out there somewhere: lost in the No Man’s land between North and South.

The American military swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds either a tangible or political victory. Danny, Tumbler and Tuckson are at a Paris air show when they get the call and are soon en route to Korea for a last-ditch face-saving mission.

However as the trio prepare to join the covert rescue mission, evidence emerges which casts doubt on the authenticity of the alleged super-weapon. Meanwhile Colonel Maxwell has stumbled into a fantastic secret under the DMZ…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension and spectacular action, this is a classically designed thriller which effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense before its captivating conclusion.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enthralling tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Bon chance, mes braves…

© Dupuis, 2000 by Bergése. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Stigmata


By Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-409-2

In his latest magnificent endeavour, European giant of graphic narrative Lorenzo Mattotti (see Fires) has teamed with novelist and screenwriter Claudio Piersanti to produce one of the most powerful and evocative examinations of religious experience in recent times with their evocative collaboration Stigmata.

This impressive hardback describes the Job-like trials and tragedies of a brutal, alcoholic shipwreck of a man pushed beyond the brink of tolerance and sanity who finds a kind of peace and resolution, but unlike his Old Testament antecedent the protagonist here begins in misery with nothing before losing even those graces and by the end of his travails has found precious little knowledge or understanding but a sort of peace…

Drunken, brutal, dissolute, middle-aged and heading nowhere, the last thing he needed was holes in his hands that bled but wouldn’t heal. Already despised and feared, the lonely bum worked at a bar, but the wounds and the blood were upsetting even those gin-soaked sots. Moreover people were following him, thinking he possessed some divine secret or power to heal…

Eventually he snapped, wrecking the bar and confronting the vicious gangster who ran it… Some folks were calling him “the Saint”. He didn’t think it was funny…

As the city becomes even more savage and ugly he takes off; tracking down his uncle who worked in a carnival. When he finds the travelling show his uncle is gone – arrested for stealing – but the Carnies accept him and he strikes up a romance with the vivacious Lorena. Even working as a handyman his bleeding hands interfere, but the canny show-people turn it their advantage and set him up in a booth dispensing piety and miracle from his shabby, tawdry “House of Blessings.”

Travelling from town to town he finds a kind of peace but the Carnies’ secret sideline of burglary brings police attention. When his old gangster boss tracks him down and delivers a hideous punishment he destroys the Stigmatic’s last shred of hope and Lorena’s life forever…

And then the storm hits… a tempest of Biblical proportions that changes everything…

Stunning and evocative and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny which asks uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. Are these trials, so like Job’s cruel yet purposeful tests, the tough love of a benevolent father, the whims of a despicable devil or the random vagaries of an uncaring fate?

Emotive, shocking and utterly compelling, Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight.

© 2010 Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti. All rights reserved.

Salvatore volume 1: Transports of Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of the Flies Volume 2: The Origin of the World


By Mezzo & Pirrus, translated by Helge Dascher with Dag Dascher & Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-390-3

Scary stories are everywhere, even in the most ordinary of suburban paradises: when DC Comics started calling Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories “Sophisticated Suspense” in the 1980s, to differentiate them from the formulaic “Set ‘em up and then go Boo!” traditions of the horror comics medium, this kind of subtle, disorienting, creeping disturbia is exactly what they were aspiring to. Cleverly constructed, laconically laid out in the classic nine-panel-grid picture structure and rendered in comfortingly mundane style a la Charles Burns, King of the Flies is a landmark in metafictional mystery tales.

In volume 1, noted crime comics creators Pascal (Mezzo) Mesenburg and Michel Pirus introduced readers to the community of Hallorave and the eponymous Eric, a very troubled young man with a predilection for donning a gigantic Fly mask. A budding sociopath, the lad is into drugs, sex (consenting and otherwise), booze, introspection and instant gratification… but in that he’s not much different from the other residents of this little slice of Heaven. He also sees dead people occasionally – and again, he’s not the only one.

The book unfolded in seemingly unconnected vignettes narrated in the first person by a broad cast of unhappy campers and this second volume of three continues the tradition, but with the disparate threads increasingly overlapping and interlocking: the inevitable denouement seemingly inescapable and darkly bloody…

‘The Origin of the Species’ opens with Eric idly daydreaming of killing his mom’s new man Francis before heading out for Marie’s place. She isn’t Eric’s girlfriend really but she is sweet and easy and despises her parents too. Things kick off when gangster reprobate Ringo shows up and tells them to look after a bag he’s carrying.

Eric is cool but Marie takes a peek, finding bundles of cash and a bowling pin inside. Later that day Eric saves an old guy from drowning because he fancied the geezers young girlfriend Karine: once again his uncontrolled desires are screwing up his life…

‘Departures/Arrivals’ follows Karine, showing her dysfunctional relationship with her bitch of a mother and how her aged lover Becker dies of a heart attack in an airport. Karine is pregnant and Eric sees opportunity…

In ‘Come Back’ we see that Damien has no luck. Not only is he killed by a genuinely remorseful drunk driver, but his last mortal sight is the three thugs who chased him to his demise and his girl screwing his best friend Eric. He’s far more mellow as a ghost though, pitying his killer and hanging out with Becker, just as dead but far less sanguine about Eric, who’s now moved on to Karine… Damien’s ex-girl Sal was always wild and she too is making use of Eric’s hound-dog ways…

‘Flesh Safari’ returns the spotlight to Eric. His stepdad is wise to him but Marie’s father still trusts him to look after his little girl. When the youngsters go to a rich kid’s party at Coralie’s place, Fly boy is set up and humiliated, but does meet a new friend in the outcast intellectual David, before spitefully punishing Marie by sleeping with his host’s mother…

‘Maternal Damage’ shows the turmoil afflicting Marie’s mother and just how close to the breaking point she is, whilst ‘Superhero’ follows Eric as Sal leads him into trouble and somebody administers a particularly efficient punishment beating. Moreover, even though Eric has done with Marie he can’t bear her seeing a new guy and inflicts some rough injustice of his own.

We learn some intriguing and unsavoury insights about David in ‘Robin Redux’ before the focus switches to Ringo: a full-throttle psychopath who isn’t happy at all when he asks for his bag back and Eric discovers somebody’s taken it…

Ringo sees ghosts too, but they are no help when his Boss Ramos gets heavy. Eric and Marie are in deep trouble until somebody intercedes from ambush and there’s one more phantom in the cast…

‘Crazy Horse’ finds Eric still haunting Karine until he has a strange and disturbing encounter with Marie’s dad and this intermediate book ends on a foreboding spiritual high note with ‘2,969 Light Years From Earth’ as Damien takes steps to protect his loved ones from an angry spirit and each other. Meanwhile, the bag thief is revealed and the repercussions of all the messed up crap the residents have been inflicting on each other is coming to a head. The doorbell rings…

…And readers will have to wait for the concluding book to discover how this stunning, mesmerising amalgam of Twin Peaks, Desert Palms, Peyton Place, The Omen and Blue Velvet plays out. A stylish and magical portmanteau saga of a community cursed with an excess of human frailty – lust, rage, greed, despair and especially shallow selfishness – this is a story that will surprise, compel, distress and haunt anybody with even half an imagination.

Darkly addictive, casually violent and graphically sexual, King of the Flies is “adults only” and well worth waiting until you’re 18 for…
© 2005 Glenat Editions/Drugstore. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Butterscotch (The Flavour of the Invisible)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.