Rocky volume 2: Strictly Business


By Martin Kellerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-852-7

It’s too rare to see contemporary comics material from anywhere but the English-speaking or Japanese markets, so seeing the second volume of Martin Kellerman’s self-confessed “Fritz the Cat knock-off” is in itself a delight, but once again I fear a lot of the Swedish nuance and integral humour has been lost in a poor translation (I don’t speak the tongue – I’m simply taking the word of those who do).

Rocky is a cartoonist (and a dog) in a world of anthropomorphic animals acting out the parts of young folk in modern Stockholm: drinking, swearing, playing computer games, sleeping around and generally wondering what it’s all about while living pointless generation zero lives. Since Rocky is a cartoonist slowly getting established with his autobiographical strip, most of his friends, acquaintances and dalliances end up on public view in his work…

The strips are meticulous and rendered in a scratchy line very reminiscent of the US underground scene. In fact much of the narrative furniture of the strip is indistinguishable from America, with US movies, hip-hop/rap music and even fast food franchises being far more common than native Scandinavian references. I fear that’s the result of Cultural Imperialism rather than translation though: an awful lot of the world looks like Main Street, nowadays.

Which is a pity since, although the strips and Sunday pages here range from competent to riotously funny, the ones that stand out are invariably those where hints of local politics, socially distinct themes and home-grown issues still flavour the gags, quips and brickbats.

Although aiming at twenty-somethings also interested in getting laid, getting wasted and getting rich, Kellerman nonetheless manages to move beyond the ever-fertile grounds of the battle of the sexes, bodily functions and morning-after guilt-trips to produce a lot of work that is truly fresh, funny and uniquely personal. As his strip takes off, his first book collection is released and he takes a room-mate, a number of trips, and a succession of generally disappointed bed-partners…

Less raucous and more considered than the first collection (Rocky: the Big Payback ISBN-13: 978-156097-679-0) there’s the same cast of ne’er-do-wells, unattainable women, slackers of both sexes, salty language and cartoon humping, but the best moments are those where his cronies all seem to be actually settling down. Heck, best bud Manny even has a kid now and his own biological clock seems to be ticking a little louder…

Observational humour can be hit-or-miss at best and I’m decidedly uncomfortable with the translated dialogue, but despite all that there’s still lot to recommend this book, and I’m sure the next one will be even better…
All characters, stories and artwork © 2008 Martin Kellerman, Homework. This book © 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

The Order of the Black Dragon – a Bob Wilson Adventure


By Griffo & Marcus (Deligne)
ISBN: 2-87135-023-X

Here’s another oddity from the experimental 1980s when a number of European publishing houses had a concerted go at cracking the highly resistant US comicbook market. The Bob Wilson in question is not the revered Arsenal and England goalkeeper, nor the character in the Fatal Fury videogame, but rather a two-fisted adventurer and Soldier of Fortune.

The series debuted in 1982, in Le Journal Illustré le Plus Grand du Monde as ‘L’Ordre du Dragon Noir’, written by Marcus (nom de plume for Danny de Laet) and drawn by the esteemed Werner “Griffo” Goelen, whose works include ‘Modeste et Pompon’, ‘S.O.S. Bonheur’, ‘Munro’ and, with Jean Dufaux, ‘Béatifica Blues’, ‘Samba Bugatti’ and ‘Giacomo C’ as well as many others, all of which really should be available in a language I’m actually conversant with or fluent in.

Bob Wilson is a period thriller, and this volume, set during the days of Prohibition, follows him and his pal Dashiel Hammett as they battle the Chinatown Tongs to thwart the plans of the insidious oriental mastermind Black Dragon, before the hero sets out to track the villain all the way back to his lair in war-torn, civil-war China.

Wilson sports a grand line of brothers-in-arms as his protracted war takes him across the globe alongside such historical figures as Aristotle Onassis, John Flanders (one of many pen-names for Belgian writer Jean Ray) and Chiang Kai-shek, as well as the odd fictional character such as Buddy Longway (a popular continental Western hero).

It’s an infectious blend of all-action, gritty adult pulp-fiction, highly cinematic, fabulously exotic and very, very stylish in the manner those darned Europeans have made all their own, and I would dearly love to see the publishers give it another go in these days of global, not national, market-places…
© 1885 Editions Michel Deligne S.A. and Griffo & Marcus. All Rights Reserved.

Miss Don’t Touch Me


By Hubert & Kerascoet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN:  978-1-56163-544-3

This slim tone contains a superb period murder mystery from creators probably best known in the English speaking world for working on Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series of fantasy books. Here fin de siècle Paris is being plagued by its very own Jack the Ripper – a knife wielding maniac dubbed “the Butcher of the Dances” because he picks his victims from the lower class girls who frequent suburban Tea-dances where young people gather.

Blanche is a maid in a fine house; pious, repressed and solitary, but her sister Agatha, also a maid in service in the same residence is fun-loving and vivacious. Together they share the attic room at the top of the house. When Blanche sees “the Butcher” at his bloody work through a crack in the wall, he also sees her. A few nights later she to finds Agatha dead, as if by her own hand, but Blanche knows what must really have happened…

Anxious to avoid scandal the mistress of the house dismisses her. Forced to fend for herself on the inhospitable streets, by a combination of detective enquiry and sheer luck Blanche finds a lead to the killer and secures a position in The Pompadour, one of the most exclusive brothels in the city. Catering to the rich and powerful elite, here she will find the Butcher and exact her revenge…

Originally published in France as La Vierge du Bordel and Du Sang sur le Mains this witty, knowing and hugely engaging adult murder-mystery cleverly reveals its layered secrets as our heroine finds a way to turn her virginal state and overwhelming frustration to her advantage amidst the decadent rich and sexually bored of Paris. She maintains her virtue against all odds, discovers the other side to a world she previously despised and valiantly achieves her goal even though it threatens to topple two empires…

Feeling much like an adult version of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s 1905 novel A Little Princess, this is a saucy confection from writer/colorist Hubert and delightfully realized with great panache by Kerascoet which will delight a wide variety of grown-up readers.
© 2007 Dargaud by Kerascoet & Hubert. All Rights Reserved. Translation © 2007 NBM

The Art of Segrelles


By Vicente Segrelles (NBM)
ISBN: 0-918348-39-0

Born in Barcelona in 1940 Vicente Segrelles Sacristán is the creator of one of the world’s most popular fantasy graphic novel series, as well as a renowned illustrator of magazines and book covers on three continents. His first comics album ‘El Mercenario’ (The Mercenary) was released in 1980, the tale of a knight fighting his way through a fantastic world of science and sorcery. Rendered in lush oil-paints, the tales blend visual realism and accuracy with fable, myth, historical weaponry, contemporary technology and classical science fiction themes. There have been twelve more since.

Hugely in demand for his painted covers since the 1970s, he has produced book covers for the works of such authors as H, Rider Haggard, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, G. F. Unger, Andre Norton, Joel Rosenberg, Charles DeLint, C.H. Guenter, Jason Dark, Terry Pratchett and a host of others. European readers may also know him as the cover artist of Italian Science Fiction magazine Urania.

This lavish oversized edition published in the late 1980s reproduces 32 of his very best covers ranging from his own Mercenary covers to paperback commissions from around the world, and includes a very brief note from the artist on his work method. Although sometimes considered a little static his vibrant, classical realism has inspired many modern narrative painters and this is a lovely book to dip into and admire.
© 1987 Vicente Segrelles, controlled by NORMA. All Rights Reserved. English Translation © 1987 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures Of Buck Danny: Mission ‘Apocalypse’ Part 1


By Jean-Michel Charlier & Francis Bergése (Amusement International Limited)
No ISBN

In advance of the imminent release of a fully translated series from Cinebooks I’m highlighting this brave oddity from the late 1980s; one of many attempts to bring the fabulous wealth and variety of European comics to the infamously resistant New World.

The strip was actually created by Georges Troisfontaines and drawn by drawn by Victor Hubinon (who worked on it until his death in 1978) before being handed to Jean-Michel Charlier, then working as a junior artist. Troisfontaines was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency. Charlier’s fascination with human-scale drama and rugged realism had been seen in such strips as L’Agonie du Bismark (‘The Agony of the Bismark’), a “true-war” tale published in Spirou in 1946.

As well as going on together to create Tarawa Atoll Sanglant (‘Tarawa, Bloody Atoll’ 1948-1949), Charlier devised such landmark features as ‘Tanguy and Laverdure’ (with Uderzo and later Jijé), ‘Barbe-Rouge’ (with Hubinon) and ‘Jacques le Gall’ (with MiTacq).

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

His greatest triumph is the iconic Western series Blueberry (created in 1963 with Jean Giraud/Moebius). Four years before his death in 1989 Charlier expanded the feature by developing with artist Colin Wilson ‘La Jeunesse de Blueberry’ which explored the boyhood of Europe’s most memorable cowboy. He 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 American Air Ace.

Buck Danny premiered in the legendary magazine Spirou in January 1947 and continues to this day. The strip describes the improbably long and historically pivotal career of the eponymous US Navy pilot and his two comrades 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.

Operation ‘Apocalypse’ (the first of two parts – although I’m unsure if the second was ever published in English) is a fast-paced yarn of terrorism and intrigue with a fiendish plan initiated to use hijacked atom bombs and a flight of stolen Grumman F-14 Tomcats to destroy Western Civilisation. Like all the Danny tales it is awesomely authentic: a breezy and compelling action thriller and although this particular edition suffers from a rushed and ill-favoured translation and poor hand lettering the vivacity and power of the artwork is quite stunning.

Hopefully the new edition from Cinebooks will correct all these minor glitches, bur since Operation ‘Apocalypse’ is the 40th of the 51 albums published to date it may be awhile before we see it in restored glory even if the company starts from the present and works its way back to WWII…
© 1988 Novedi, Brussels. All Rights Reserved.

THE CABBIE

The Cabbie
By Marti Riera (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-042-1

Dick Tracy is one of the most well-known strips in the world and his contributions to the art form are many and indisputable. They occurred over many decades and the medium of graphic narrative grew up with it. Imagine the effect instant exposure – almost over exposure – to such an uncompromising, bombastic, iconic property on the artists of a nation where free-expression and creative autonomy was suppressed for generations.

That’s what happened when the death of General Franco (who held Spain in a fascistic time-warp from his victory in October 1936 until his death in November 1975) instantly opened-up and liberalized all aspects of Spanish life. As Art Spiegelman says in his introduction ‘decades of political and social repression gave way to a glorious eruption of creativity that allowed a full-fledged counterculture to come to life at just about the same time that America’s “Love Generation” gave way to what Tom Wolfe labeled the “Me Generation.”’

How odd yet fitting then that an American symbol of “the Establishment” so enchanted and captivated the young cartoonist Marti Riera that he assimilated every line and nuance to create this dark and angry homage concerning the tribulations of a seedy, desperate taxi-driver trapped in a vanished past and prey to a world at once free and dangerous, ungoverned and chaotic.

Driving the seedy part of town our hero picks up a high-rolling gambler who’s just won big, but his night goes horribly wrong when a knife-wielding thief hijacks the cab and robs his passenger. Luckily the Cabbie can handle himself and he quickly, brutally subdues the thug.

He’s a decent, hard-working man who lives with his ailing mother, humouring her talk of a mysterious inheritance, and allowing her to keep the embalmed cadaver of his father in the spare bedroom, but he’s tragically unaware that his citizen’s arrest will have terrible repercussions for them both.

When the son of the thief he captured is released from prison he immediately begins a grim campaign of retribution against the Cabbie that creates a maelstrom of tragedy, degradation and despair.

This is a harsh and uncompromising tale of escalating crime and uncaring punishments: bleakly cynical and populated with a cast of battered, desolate characters of increasingly degenerate desperation. Even the monsters are victims. But for all that the Cabbie is an incredibly compelling drama with strong allegorical overtones and brutally mesmerizing visuals. Any adult follower of the art form should be conversant with this superb work and hopefully a complete translated edition will emerge one day…
© 1987 Marti Riera. Introduction © 1987 Art Spiegleman. English language edition © 1987 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Bosnian Flat Dog

Bosnian Flat Dog

By Max Andersson & Lars Sjunnesson

(Fantagraphics Books)

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

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

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

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

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

HWY.115

HWY.115

By Matthias Lehmann

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-733-7

This stirring and deeply disturbing, psycho-thriller employs the form of a road/buddy movie as hardboiled private detective René Pluriel hits the highways of France in pursuit of the deadly “Heimlich Killer”. He hasn’t gone far when he picks up the flamboyant hitch-hiker Agatha, who reveals that she too is a detective on the trail of the notorious serial murderer.

As they wend their way through the back roads and, at times, history of France, interviewing the killer’s associates and survivors, they build a tense picture not just of the quarry but also of each other, and realise that the conclusion of the quest won’t be happy for everybody.

Lehmann’s dark voyage is gripping and often surreal, and the tension is augmented by the spectacular, moody art, stylishly etched in a powerful scraperboard style. The narrative is blistered with flashbacks, literary diversions and hallucinogenic asides that amplify the dissociative feel of this ostensibly simple tale. This is the author’s first original graphic novel and it is a bravura performance that will be very hard to top; I eagerly await the attempt.

Characters, stories & art © 2006 Actes Sud. All Rights Reserved.
This edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books.