Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: “A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-789-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: En Ebsoloot Epitome of Graphic Wundah… 10/10

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip Krazy Kat is – for most cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, the Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. And by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in bouncing a brickbat off the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“you sim to be cuttin’ a mellin”, “or “it would be much mo’ betta if it was a pot of momma lade or eppil butta”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid madness is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of production techniques in ‘Kat of a Different Color’ before the jocularity resumes with January 1st 1939 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with a subtle shifting of emphasis as an old face gains far greater presence and impact whilst the one significant new face seems to be a scene-stealing rival for our fuzzy feline ingenue…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen continue to feature, but the eternally triangular confusions and contusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes around the cast…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary… which is expanding in personnel, if not wisdom…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, and introduces mechanised, radiophonic and robotic policing, and sundry innovations in incarceration architecture…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags but now the mouse is often the receiver of painful retribution. His brief preoccupation with hornet’s nests ultimately proves to be a painful dead end though…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

A flurry of telescope buying adds an of nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, with spying as big a hobby for all citizens as stargazing and gossip used to be. At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics in town…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

A big shift in status comes to old busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk as she assumes a role akin to wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too…

The big change comes on July 7th 1940. Pupp is startled to see Ignatz going back to school and thinks it’s so he can ambush the Kat. That’s until he too meets the new teacher. Miss Mimi is French…

Soon class attendance is at record levels and the males are all making komplete fools of themselves…

This antepenultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2007, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Sailor Twain or, The Mermaid in the Hudson


By Mark Siegel (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-636-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime and delightful… 10/10

Even after decades in the business every so often something comes along that makes me feel like a drooling delirious fanboy again. It still does.  This superb hardback compilation of a fabulous weird tales webcomic is a certifiable classic that it’s never too late to enjoy.

Mark Siegel was born in Michigan and raised in France; one of those story-obsessed prodigies who began drawing wonders as a kid and never grew out of it… only better at shaping them.

After a childhood concocting yarns, comics, cartoons, posters and animated films he returned to the USA to study Creative writing and Fine Arts at Brown University. Upon graduation he stayed stateside, tentatively beginning life as a jobbing designer/illustrator.

He got his big break with the award-winning strip-book Seadogs, written by Lisa Wheeler. This was followed by Long Night Moon, To Dance, Boogie Knights and more.

Increasingly intrigued and fascinated by the history and geography of the Hudson River Valley where he lives with wife and creative collaborator Sienna Cherson Siegel, the artist began to craft a lyrically beguiling mystery tale from the glittering, sophisticated and callous brutal days of the Riverboats which once plied their glamorous trade along that famed and fabled watercourse. This he published online at sailortwain.com.

Rendered in mercurial melancholic charcoal tones, Sailor Twain tells the tale of a poet who has lost his muse and becomes a riverboat captain to pay for his invalid wife’s medical treatment.

It’s also the tale of French wastrel Dieudonné who inherited his entrepreneurial older brother’s exclusive, high society river boat business when the inspirational Jacques Henri de Lafayette had a breakdown and vanished…

…And finally, it is the sad and sobering tale of a lady who could not accept her place or fate in a savagely proscribed and repressionistic masculine culture…

Set in the transitional era of 1880s New York where and when science and rationality began at last to supersede wonder, mystery and romance, and specifically during the months May to December 1887, the story opens with an enigmatic meeting in ‘Overture’ before ‘Part I: Twain’s Secret’ begins with ‘The Frenchman’s Steamboat’ as the diligent captain of the luxurious Lorelei recalls how the dissolute young European assumed control of a hugely profitable touring business after the elder Lafayette vanished. Also introduced are below-decks crew Horatio and Aloysius, Negro engineers who know more of the route’s peculiar history than they’re willing to share in ‘An Unlikely Survivor’

The new owner seems a bad sort. In ‘A Prayer Down Below’, he demonstrates an indecent and almost unhealthy interest in bedding women, but after Twain rescues ‘The Mermaid in the Hudson’ and secretes her battered and wounded body in his cabin the trusty salt’s judgemental world is forever changed.

‘Beaverton’s New Book’ introduces another intriguing strand as a publicity-shy yet popular author’s latest sensational publication offers to reveal the “Secrets and Mysteries of the River Hudson” – everything from love-sick ghosts to the cure for a mermaid’s siren song – to both Twain and his increasingly odd employer.

The Captain, obsessed with ministering to the silent, wounded creature hidden in his cabin, is amazed when he is asked to post ‘Lafayette’s Letter’ to the enigmatic author, whilst in ‘South’s Promise’ Lafayette’s debauched dalliances multiply manically as Twain remembers his far-off wife and how her beautiful voice was stilled by disease. Nevertheless ‘Pearl’s Song’ is slowly being forgotten as the seaman becomes increasingly closer to the mythical beauty recovering in his bunk…

The lascivious Frenchman is rapidly losing touch with reality, constantly throwing messages in bottles to the murky roiling river waters as ‘Three Prisoners’ sees the now voluble sea-woman eagerly communicating with Twain just as Lafayette takes him into his confidences over his amorous actions…

Inspired again to write, Twain’s fevered imagination is sent reeling when he realises his employer is seeking ‘The Cure for Mermaids’ and, thanks to the Beaverton book, discovers his uncanny charge’s origins in ‘South of the North River’

Entranced in a way no other man has been, the worthy Captain is utterly unaware of how the situation is spiralling madly in ‘The Missing Muse’ after which ‘Part II: Camomille’ takes a closer look at the louche Lafayette when ‘The Beaverton Revelation’ exposes the author’s shocking identity and New York Society gathers itself to take its chilly revenge in ‘Ink Stains’

Lafayette’s carnal campaign hits a strange snag in ‘“The Dame’s Audacious”’, leading to most peculiar dinner conversation in ‘Eclipse’ and the culmination of long-laid plans in ‘Sevening’, all whilst Twain finds to his horror that his submersible companion has vanished in ‘Enticement’.

Before the tragedy moves towards the impossible endgame, she suddenly returns to assuage ‘The Strains of Absence’ prompting fantastic delirium when ‘Twain Dreams’

‘Part III: World’s End’ moves fully towards otherworldly experiences ‘In the Other Realm’ of ghosts, drowned men and stranger things where the desperately querulous Twain finds ‘The Lost Brother’, learns of ‘A Lady Beguiled’ and discovers the power of ‘The Chained Heart’ as his tumultuous affair ploughs on to an astonishing denouement…

It all comes crashing down in stormy disaster as ‘Part IV: The Twain Shall Meet’ delivers another dreadful blow to the Captain’s divided heart as he and Lafayette mutually incur and endure ‘The Siren’s Wrath’

…And with the world reshaped and set to (some sort of) rights, an evocative ‘Coda’ lends fruitful finality to the fearsomely fantastic proceedings…

Intoxicatingly complex, expansive and enchanting, seditiously, scarily seductive, the supernatural odyssey of the Lorelei and its doom-gripped crew is a gloriously baroque and simultaneously gothic epic of unnatural desire and supernal suspense that absolutely unwrites the twee, safely sexy modern mythology of marine maidens and restores to them the dolorous drama of sinister, implacable, irresistible sirens.

A perfect fantasy fable for adults, Sailor Twain is a truly graphic novel that every devoted dark dreamer must read.

© 2012 Mark Siegel.  All rights reserved.

Prince Valiant volumes 1-3 Gift Box Set


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1 68396-072-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Ideal for anybody who ever dreamed or wondered… 10/10

Rightly reckoned one of the greatest comic strips of all time, the majestic and nigh-mythical saga of a king-in-exile who became one of the greatest warriors in an age of unparalleled heroes is at once fantastically realistic and beautifully, perfectly abstracted – an indisputable paradigm of adventure fiction where anything is possible and justice will always prevail. It is the epic we all want to live in…

On one thing let us be perfectly clear: Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is not historical. It is far better and more real than that.

Possibly the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived, Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday 13th February 1937, a glorious weekly, full-colour window not onto the past but rather onto a world that should have been. It followed the tempestuous life of a refugee boy driven by invaders from his ancestral homeland of faraway Thule who persevered and, through tenacity, imagination and sheer grit, rose to become one of the mightiest heroes of the age of Camelot.

As depicted by the incredibly gifted Foster, this noble scion would, over the years, grow to mighty manhood helming a heady sea of wonderment; roaming the globe and siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes whilst captivating and influencing generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, cartoon series and all manner of toys, games and collections based on the feature – one of the few newspaper strips to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (well over 4000 episodes and counting) and, even in these declining days of newspaper cartooning, it still claims over 300 American papers as its home.

Foster produced the strip, one spectacular page a week until 1971, when, after auditioning such notables as Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, Big Ben Bolt artist John Cullen Murphy was selected to draw the feature. Foster carried on as writer and designer until 1980, after which he fully retired and Murphy’s son took over scripting duties.

In 2004 Cullen Murphy also retired (he died a month later on July 2nd) but the strip soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz and latterly Thomas Yeates, conquering one more exotic land by making it onto the world wide web.

The first three exquisite oversized hardback volumes (362 x 268mm) are available as a monumental gift set nobody could resist. They reprint in glorious colour – spectacularly restored from Foster’s original printer’s proofs – the princely pristine Sunday pages cumulatively spanning February 1937 to 20th December 1942: six years of formative forays of an instantly impressive tale which promised much and delivered far more than anybody might have suspected during those dim and distant days…

 

Volume 1 opens with editor Brian M. Kane’s informative picture and photo-packed potted history of ‘Harold Rudolf Foster: 1892-1982’ after which Fred Schreiber conducts ‘An Interview with Hal Foster’ – as first seen in Nemo: The Classic Comics Magazine (1984).

Moreover, after the superb Arthurian epic exploits of the quintessential swashbuckling hero which follows, this initial collection is rounded off by Kim Thompson’s discourse on the many iterations of reprints over the years and around the world in ‘A History of Valiants’

The actual action-packed drama then commences in distant Scandinavia as the King of Thule, his family and a few faithful retainers dash for a flimsy fishing boat, intent only on escaping the murderous intentions of a usurper’s army.

Their voyage carries them to the barbarous coast of Britain to battle bands of wild men before securing a safe retreat in the gloomy fens of East Anglia. After many hard fights they reach an uneasy détente with the locals and settle into a harsh life as regal exiles…

The young Prince Valiant is but five years old when they arrive and his growing years in a hostile environment toughen the boy, sharpen his wits and give him an insatiable taste for mischief and adventure.

He befriends a local shepherd boy and together their escapades include challenging the marauding ancient dinosaurs which infest the swamp, battling a hulking man-brute and bedevilling a local witch. In retaliation the hag Horrit predicts that Val’s life will be long and packed with incredible feats… but always tainted by great sorrow.

All that, plus the constant regimen of knightly training and scholarly tuition befitting an exile learning how to reclaim his stolen kingdom, make the lad a veritable hellion, but everything changes when his mother passes away. After a further year of intense schooling in the arts of battle, Valiant leaves the Fens and make his way in the dangerous lands beyond…

Whilst sparring with his boyhood companion, Val unsuspectingly insults Sir Launcelot who is fortuitously passing by. Although the noble warrior is sanguine about the cheeky lad’s big mouth, his affronted squire attempts to administer a stern punishment and is rewarded with a thorough drubbing. Indeed, Launcelot has to stop the Scion of Thule from slitting the battered and defeated man’s throat.

Although he has no arms, armour, steed or money, Valiant swears that he too will be a Knight…

Luck is with the Pauper Prince. After spectacularly catching and taming a wild stallion, his journey is interrupted by gregarious paladin Sir Gawain, who shares a meal and regales the boy with tales of chivalry and heroism. When their alfresco repast is spoiled by robber knight Sir Negarth who unfairly strikes the champion of Camelot, Val charges in. Gawain regains consciousness to find the threat ended, Negarth hogtied and his accomplice skewered…

Taking Val under his wing, wounded Gawain escorts the boy and his prisoner to Camelot, but their journey is delayed by a gigantic dragon. Val kills it too – with the assistance of Negarth – and spends the rest of the trip arguing that the rogue should be freed for his gallantry…

Val is still stoutly defending the scoundrel at the miscreant’s trial before King Arthur, and is rewarded by being appointed Gawain’s squire. Unfortunately, the lad responds badly to being teased by the other knights-in-training and quickly finds himself locked in a dungeon whilst his tormentors heal and the remaining Knights of the Round Table ride out to deal with an invasion of Northmen…

Whilst the flowers of chivalry are away, a plot is hatched by scheming Sir Osmond and Baron Baldon. To recoup gambling debts, they capture and ransom Gawain, but have not reckoned on the dauntless devotion and ruthless ingenuity of his semi-feral squire.

Easily infiltrating the bleak fortress imprisoning the hero, Val liberates his mentor through astounding feats of daring and brings the grievously wounded knight to Winchester Heath and Arthur…

As Gawain recuperates, he is approached by a young maiden. Ilene is in need of a champion and – over his squire’s protests – the still gravely unfit knight dutifully complies. Val’s protests might have been better expressed had he not been so tongue-tied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen…

The quest to rescue Ilene’s parents is delayed when an unscrupulous warrior in scarlet challenges them, intent on possessing the lovely maiden. Correctly assessing Gawain to be no threat, the Red Knight does not live long enough to revise his opinion of the wild-eyed boy who then attacks him…

Leaving Ilene and the re-injured Gawain with a hermit, Valiant continues on alone to Branwyn Castle, recently captured by an “Ogre” who is terrorising the countryside. Through guile, force of arms and devilish tactics the boy ends that threat forever.

This is an astonishing tour de force of graphic bravura that no fan could ever forget. Aspiring cartoonist Jack Kirby certainly didn’t: he recycled Val’s outlandish outfit used to terrorise the Ogre’s soldiers as the visual basis for his 1970s horror-hero Etrigan the Demon

Having successfully routed the invaders and freed Ilene’s family, Val begins earnestly courting the grateful girl. His prophecy of lifelong misery seems assured however, when her father regretfully informs him that she is promised to Arn, son and heir of the King of Ord

Even before that shock can sink in, Valiant is called away again. Ailing Gawain has been abducted by sorceress Morgan le Fey, who is enamoured of the knight’s manly charms…

When Val confronts her, she drugs him with a potion and he endures uncounted ages in her dungeon before escaping. Weak and desperate, he makes his way to Camelot and enlists Merlin in a last-ditch ploy to defeat the witch and save his adored mentor…

In the meantime, events have progressed and Val’s bold plans to win Ilene are upset when invitations to her wedding arrive at Camelot. Initially crushed, the resilient youth determines to travel to Ord and challenge Prince Arn for her hand.

Their meeting is nothing like Val imagined but, after much annoying interference, he and the rather admirable Arn finally engage in their oft-delayed death-duel, only to be again distracted when news comes that Ilene has been stolen by Viking raiders…

What follows is another unparalleled moment of comics magnificence as Valiant sacrifices everything for honour, gloriously falls to superior forces, wins possession of Flamberge (the legendary Singing Sword which is brother to Excalibur), is captured and then reunited with Ilene… only to lose her again to the cruellest of fates…

After escaping from the Vikings and covering himself with glory at the Lists in Camelot – although he doesn’t realise it – the heartsick, weary Prince returns to his father in the melancholy Anglian fens, again encountering ghastly Horrit and nearly succumbing to fever.

When he recovers months later, he has a new purpose: he and his faithful countrymen will travel to Thule and rescue the nation from the cruel grip of usurper Sligon. Unfortunately, during the preparations Valiant discovers his region of Britain has been invaded by Saxons and is compelled by his honour to race to Camelot and warn Arthur…

To Be Continued…

(Volume 1: All comics material © 2009 King Features Syndicate except Tarzan page, © 2009 ERB Inc. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 2 reprints in the perfectly-restored Sunday pages from January 1st 1939 to 29th December 1940, following Sir Gawain’s extremely capable squire as he rushes to warn Camelot of invasion by rapacious Saxons via the vast Anglian Fens. Here the Royal Family of Thule have hidden since being ousted from their Nordic Island Kingdom by the villainous usurper Sligon.

After a breathtaking battle which sees the Saxons repulsed and the battle-loving boy-warrior knighted upon the field of victory, Valiant begins a period of globe-trotting through the fabled lands of Europe just as the last remnants of the Roman Empire is dying in deceit and intrigue.

Firstly, Val returns to Thule and restores his father to the throne, narrowly escaping the alluring wiles of a conniving beauty with an eye to marrying the Heir Apparent. Soon bored with peace and plenty, the roving royal wildcat then encounters a time-twisting pair of mystical perils who show him the eventual fate of all mortals. Sobered but not daunted, he makes his way towards Rome, where he will become unwittingly embroiled in the manic machinations of the Last Emperor, Valentinian.

Before that however, he is distracted by an epic adventure that would have struck stunning resonances for the readership at the time. With episode #118 (14th May 1939) Val joins the doomed knights of mountain fortress Andelkrag, who alone and unaided hold back the assembled might of the terrifying hordes of Attila the Hun currently decimating the civilisations of Europe and now gathered to wipe out its last vestige.

With Hitler and Mussolini hogging the headlines and Modern European war seemingly inevitable, Val shares the Battle of Decency and Right against untrammelled Barbarism. His epic struggle and sole survival comprise one of the greatest episodes of glorious, doom-fated chivalry in literature…

After the fall of the towers of Andelkrag, Valiant made his way onward to diminished Rome, picking up a wily sidekick in the form of cutpurse vagabond Slith. Once more he is distracted and delayed by dastardly Huns. The indomitable lad resolves to pay them back in kind, gathering dispossessed victims of Hunnish depredations and forging them into a resistance army of guerrilla-fighters – the Hun-Hunters…

Thereafter he liberates the vassal city Pandaris, driving back the invaders and their collaborator allies in one spectacular coup after another.

Valiant eventually reunites with equally action-starved Round Table companions Sir Tristram and Sir Gawain to make fools of the Hun, who have lost heart after the death of their charismatic leader Attila (nothing to do with Val, just a historical fact). When Slith falls for a beauteous warrior princess, the English Knights leave him to a life of joyous domesticity and move ever on.

An unexpected encounter with a giant and his unconventional army of freaks leads to the heroes inadvertently helping a band of marshland refugees (from Hunnish atrocity) before establishing the nation-state of Venice until at long last – after a after a side-trip to the fabulous city of Ravenna – the trio cross the fabled Rubicon and plunge into a hotbed of political tumult.

Unjustly implicated in a web of murder and double-dealing, the knights barely escape with their lives and split up to avoid pursuit. Tristan goes back to England and a star-crossed rendezvous with the comely Isolde, Gawain takes ship for fun in Massilia and Valiant, after an excursion to the rim of fiery Vesuvius, boards a pirate scow for Sicily and further adventure.

To Be Continued…

(Volume 2: Prince Valiant © 2009 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 3 of the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived offers the Sunday pages from January 5th 1941 to 20th December 1942, but only after erudite foreword ‘Modestly, Foster’ by Dan Nadel.

The action opens in the shadow of fiery Vesuvius as Val’s vessel is attacked by self-proclaimed Sea-King Angor Wrack. Even our fierce warrior-prince’s martial might is insufficient against insurmountable odds and the young Lord is captured and enslaved, his fabled Singing Sword confiscated by the victorious pirate.

Thus begins an astonishingly impressive chapter in the hero’s history. Val becomes a galley slave, escapes and washes up, starving and semi-comatose on the lost shores of the Misty Isles. Delirious, he glimpses his future wife Queen Aleta when she re-provisions his boat before casting him back to the sea’s mercies.

The Misty Isles are secure only because of their secret location and the noble girl has broken a great taboo by sparing the shipwrecked lad. Replenished but lost, Val drifts helplessly away but resolves that one day he will discover again the Misty Isles and the enigmatic Aleta…

Eventually he is picked up by more pirates, but overwhelms the captain and takes charge. Finding himself in the island paradise of Tambelaine courting the daughters of the aged King Lamorack, Val encounters Angor Wrack once again, but fails to recover the Singing Sword, precipitating an extended saga of maritime warfare and spectacular voyaging across the Holy Land from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The vendetta results in both Angor and Val being taken by Arab slavers, but the boy nobly allows Wrack to escape whilst he battles the Bedouin hordes…

Enslaved in Syria, Val’s indomitable will and terrifying prowess are insufficient to his need so he seduces his owner’s daughter to effect an escape, only to stumble into a marital spat between the region’s greatest necromancer and his tempestuous bride.

Reaching Jerusalem, Val finally regains his beloved sword and settles all scores with Angor Wrack before determining to return to the hidden Misty Isles, but once again falls afoul of the pirates infesting the region. After incredible hardships, he is reunited with Aleta but fate drags them apart once more and he departs alone and despondent.

Not for long though, as on reaching Athens he meets the far-larger-than-life Viking Boltar: a Falstaff-like rogue and “honest pirate”. Together they rove across the oceans to the heart of the African jungles…

Securing a huge fortune, their Dragonship reaches Gaul and Val is finally reunited with Gawain. After settling a succession of generational feuds between knights and defeating a seductive maniac, the paladins at last return to Britain courtesy of Boltar, just in time to be dispatched by Arthur to the far North to scout Hadrian’s Wall and see if it can still keep the belligerent Picts out.

Unfortunately, libidinous Gawain abandons Val and the lad is captured by Caledonian wild-men and their new allies – a far nastier breed of Vikings intent on conquering England. Tortured almost unto death, the Prince is saved by the ministrations of Julian – a Roman warrior who has seemingly safeguarded the wall for centuries…

When he is recovered, Prince Valiant begins to inflict a terrible and studied revenge upon his tormentors…

To Be Continued…

Rendered in an incomprehensibly lovely panorama of glowing art, Prince Valiant is a lyrical juggernaut of stirring action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending realistic fantasy with sardonic wit, and broad humour with unbelievably dark violence (the closing text feature ‘Too Violent for American Dog Lovers’, reveals a number of censored panels and changes editors around the world inflicted upon the saga during this period).

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, Foster’s magnum opus is a World Classic of storytelling, and this magnificent collection is something no adventuresome fan can afford to be without.

(Prince Valiant volume 3 © 2011 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2011 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved).
Gift Set © 2017 King Features Syndicate. Published by Fantagraphics Books.

Thor: Tales of Asgard


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Roussos, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, Vince Colletta & Bill Everett, with Matt Milla & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5189-0

The Mighty Thor was the comic series in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s examination of space-age mythology began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

That debut tale closes out this selection of mythic masterpieces collectively culled from Journey into Mystery #83, 98-125, and Thor #126 to 145 (August 1962 to October 1967), and available to you in trade paperback and digital formats and all fully recoloured and moodily remastered by hues-master Matt Milla.

Journey into Mystery #97 (October 1963) saw the launch of a spectacular back-up series to the ever-unfolding Thor sagas. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends.

Initially adapting classic fables of the Elder Eddas but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, the King built his own cosmos and mythology to underpin the company’s entire continuity. This first yarn, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the trans-dimensional World Tree Yggdrasil.

The next issue proclaimed ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’: a short, potent fantasy romp laying more groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come, inked with brittle mastery by Don Heck.

The next peek at primordial prehistory details Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Paul Reinman inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a Tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 shows Kirby & Roussos in epic form for another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action whilst introducing a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Troll King Geirrodur.

This is followed by a macabre Reinman-inked mood piece wherein ‘Death Comes to Thor!’, with the turbulent teen facing his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life debuted in this brief 5-pager; young goddess Sif and fearsome Hela, Queen of the Dead.

Kirby & Chic Stone next revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir!’; disclosing how the gods created mankind. That led one month later to a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking a dramatic recap of the sentinel’s astounding gifts…

Having set up the scenario, ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) expanded the legend before ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical legends kids had to plough through in schools.

Then, next issue the seductive Norn Queen debuted as a reluctant ally to evil Asgardian Loki, in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

‘Trapped by the Trolls’ showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates enslaved Asgardians from subterranean bondage.

In #109 the Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ was an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort as Odin and Thor enacted a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

The sequel was crafty vignette ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ with an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes, after which another short fable co-opts a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd’ by Lee, Kirby & Colletta …

With Colletta firmly ensconced as inker, Journey into Mystery #112 offered an eagerly anticipated origin with ‘The Coming of Loki’, retelling Marvel-style how Odin came to adopt the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King of Jotunheim. One month later the creators exposed ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’: a pensive, brooding foretaste of a villain in the making.

JiM#114 adapted another Asgardian parable – ‘The Golden Apples’ – by way of a certain European fairy tale whereas #115’s back-up mini-myth detailed ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ as young Loki clandestinely cements relations with the sinister Storm Giants – sworn enemies of the Gods….

These one-off yarns are followed by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’ in which Asgardian cabin-fever develops into an extended quest to ferret out a threat to the mystic Odinsword, the unsheathing of which could destroy the universe…

In Journey into Mystery #118 the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ before ‘Gather, Warriors!’ heralds the arrival of a band of hand-picked Asgardian “Argonauts” enlisting aboard Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall apparently-imminent Ragnarok…

The next instalment of the godly sky-sailors’ voyage sees them all boldly ‘Set Sail!’, only to encounter an uncanny ‘Maelstrom!’ before ‘The Grim Specter of Mutiny!’ (invoked by seditious Loki) is quashed just in time for valiant Balder to save them all from ‘The Jaws of the Dragon!’

Issue #125 was the last Journey into Mystery: the following month saw the title transformed and re-titled The Mighty Thor. The Tales of Asgard carried on regardless as fresh chapters saw the Questers homing in on the cause of all their woes.

‘Closer Comes the Swarm’ pits them against the flying trolls of Thryheim, whilst ‘The Queen Commands’ finds Loki captured until Thor answers ‘The Summons!’ and promptly returns his crew to Asgard to be shown ‘The Meaning of Ragnarok!’

In all honesty these mini-eddas were, although still magnificent in visual excitement, becoming rather rambling in plot, so a narrative reset was neither unexpected nor unwelcome…

Before the next serial started Kirby pulled out all the creative stops to depict the ‘Aftermath!’ of Ragnarok: for many fans the first indication of what was to come in the King’s landmark Fourth World tales half a decade later…

The assembled Asgardians next faced ‘The Hordes of Harokin’ as another multi-chaptered classic began, after which ‘The Fateful Change!’ reveals how the young Thunderer trades places with similarly-visaged, Genghis Khan-like Harokin…

Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends and love of fantasy movies by providing complete vignettes or lengthy serialised epics – in every sense of the word. Initially adapted myths, these back-up yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe wherein The King built his own cosmos and mythology, which would ultimately become a keystone of the company’s entire continuity.

Now, as a band of assembled Asgardians face Harokin’s all-conquering army, Thor is exposed even as his colossal comrade Volstagg steals the enemy’s apocalyptic wizard-weapon ‘The Warlock’s Eye!’, heralding the eerie arrival of ‘The Dark Horse of Death!’

The apocalyptic steed is looking for its next doomed rider and will not leave until it carries him on one last ride to ‘Valhalla!’

Back in Asgard and some undefinable time agone, ‘When Speaks the Dragon!’ and ‘The Fiery Breath of Fafnir!’ then pit Thor and his Warriors Three comrades Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg against a staggering reptilian monstrosity: a threat finally quashed in #136’s ‘There Shall Come a Miracle!’

By this time the Tales of Asgard feature was winding down and wrapping up, but it still offered Kirby a place to stretch his creative muscles. ‘The Tragedy of Hogun!’ grants revelations concerning the gripping and tragedy-drenched history of the dour eastern warrior in an Arabian Nights pastiche which also introduces sinister sorcerer Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

‘The Quest for the Mystic Mountain!’ finds Hogun and his comrades edging closer to victory and vengeance, culminating in a truly stunning Kirby spectacle in Thor #139 as the wandering warriors discover ‘The Secret of the Mystic Mountain!’ and are attacked by a devastating giant Jinni

In ‘The Battle Begins!’, Hogun and company defeat the mystic monster only to encounter ‘Alibar and the Forty Demons!’ before Kirby’s seamless melange of myth and legend leap into overdrive as ‘We, Who are About to Die…!’ depicts young Thor and the Warriors Three facing all the magical menaces mastered by Mogul.

Issue #143 (inked by the magnificent Bill Everett) declared ‘To the Death!’ as comic relief Volstagg takes centre-stage to seduce Mogul’s sinister sister only to be interrupted by Mogul triggering ‘The Beginning of the End!’ before wrapping up in spectacularly cataclysmic fashion with ‘The End!’.

The feature was replaced in the next issue with short tales of The Inhumans – but that’s a subject of a separate volume…

Filling out this mythic missal is the groundbreaking debut tale from anthological Journey into Mystery #83, which saw a boldly costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

That initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and all that infectious enthusiasm showed over the following months and years.

Also on show are a wealth of hidden gems: 50 pages of “factual” detail material including maps and historical essays about Asgard; biographies of numerous Asgardian cast-members, infographics of The Nine Worlds; a gallery of the Eternal Realm’s greatest foes, an incredible double-page pin-up of downtown Asgard plus a cover gallery by Kirby and Walter Simonson, remastered by Milla.

The bonus bonanza doesn’t end there but also offers a selection of variant covers and a breakdown of the Thor: Tales of Asgard Cover Process from Olivier Coipel’s initial pencil sketches to published art, as well as a vast character key.

These early sidebar tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes Marvel’s most mythic superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rip M.D.


By Mitch Schauer, Mike Vosburg, Michael Lessa, & Justin Yamaguchi (Lincoln Butterfield/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-369-9

Here’s a dark gem that sadly got missed by the greater reading public when it first came out in 2010, but as it’s the season for revenants and resurrections…

Ripley Plimt is a bright lad with a hobby. Ever since he can remember he has adored classic monster movies. He’s an absolute expert on trivia, minutiae and lore. Now he’s eleven and all grown up he’s come to one inescapable conclusion… it’s all true!

When the kind-hearted lad mends a little bat’s broken wing one night it changes his life forever. Bitten by the fixing bug (but not the bat – that would be ungracious) little Rip applies his unsuspected new skills to repairing the mouldering zombie corpse that shows up later – with the understanding and grudging approval of his parents and Uncle Will.

Soon needy werewolves, protoplasmic blobs and ghost cats are all turning up to complicate the creepy kid’s life…

The only real flies in the ointment are repulsive mortal kids Pretoria and Stanley DeMann, who used to live in Rip’s house and are prepared to go to extraordinary, murderous lengths to force the easy-going Plimpt family out…

Their millionaire dad is even worse, orchestrating a campaign of very human terror to get his way, almost driving Rip to abandon his unconventional dreams. However, the unscrupulous autocrat has some dark secrets of his own and Limbo the dead cat and a pretty little vampire girl know how best to exploit them…

Writer, artist, producer, designer and Emmy® Award-winning animator Mitch Schauer (creator of Angry Beavers and Freakazoid!, and supervising director of the Super Hero Squad Show) is a founding member of Lincoln Butterfield, an independent animation company also comprising Robert Hughes and painter Michael Lessa.

Comics veteran Mike Vosburg, who inked Schauer’s pencilled art here, has a glittering prize or two himself: as well as his funnybook career (Savage She-Hulk, G.I. Joe, Lori Lovecraft), he won his own Emmy® for directing Spawn cartoons and was chief storyboard artist for the Narnia movie franchise as well as dozens of movies and shows you’ve loved over the years.

Co-producing this snazzy graphic novel with electrically eclectic comics publisher Fantagraphics Books is LB’s first foray into print – but hopefully not their last.

With painted colour effects from Lessa & Justin Yamaguchi and including a wonderful developmental art section, this spectacular, spooktacular romp is a fabulously punchy, action-packed, wickedly funny treat for kids of all ages that will leave every reader voraciously hungry for more…
© 2010. All Rights Reserved. A joint production between Fantagraphics Books and Lincoln Butterfield.

Gillbert volume 1: The Little Merman


By Art Balthazar (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0144-4 (HB)                    978-1-5458-0145-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating and Charming Cartoon Wonderment… 9/10

Art Baltazar has come long way since his self-published The Cray-Baby Adventures. Along the way he has crafted – singly or in conjunction with similarly fun-loving artisans – a veritable storm of books and comics for kids: magical and award-winning, sublimely strange, instantly engaging tomes and series such as Tiny Titans, Itty Bitty Hellboy, The DC Super Pets, Action Cat, Adventure Bug and so many more.

Throughout all the multicoloured madcappery, he has remained a dedicated and passionate advocate of children’s literacy and adhered to a set of unswerving principles: keep it fun, keep it funny and keep it accessible.

That’s certainly the case in this new venture with family publisher Papercutz. Gillbert, The Little Merman introduces a charming wide-eyed little prince about to embark on his initial learning experience…

After opening a bottle floating in the ocean, Gill finds a message from the surface world and wants to read it. None of his finny, scally, gelid or amphibian friends can help him, so he returns home to Atlanticus to consult his mum and dad, Queen Niadora and King Nauticus. They however, expect him to wait until later…

Impatient and overexcited, Gill is soon lured away by an enigmatic mermaid who says she can help. Before long Anne Phibian is escorting him to many new and thrilling places such as submerged party house Wewillrocktopolis and the Sub-Atomic Awesomator, but all the while Gill is blithely unaware that his world is increasingly imperilled by a swarm of Fiery Pyrockians: blazing meteor creatures with a grudge against his father…

Anne and her allies are on the ball though: they have unsuspected connections to the royal family and are taking steps to ensure everything will be okay, especially with Gill’s help…

Available in hardback, soft cover and digital formats, Gillbert offers a rapturous escapade of thrills and frolics to delight any imaginative reader of any vintage.

My copy even includes a tantalising free glimpse at another all-ages star with captivating cartoon pages from the upcoming Gumby: 50 Shades of Clay release. So I’ll bet yours will, too…
© 2018 Art Baltazar. All Rights Reserved. All other material © 2018 Papercutz.

Gillbert volume 1: The Little Merman will be released on October 30th 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Lola – a Ghost Story


By J. Torres & Elbert Or (Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-934964-33-0 (HB)                    978-1-93266-424-9 (PB)

These days young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.

In times past the commercial comics industry thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets subdivided into a range of successfully, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.

Such eye-catching items generated innumerable tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Kindergarten, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens, but today the English-speaking world can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry, licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.

Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive games media.

Happily, old-school prose publishers and the burgeoning graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, so magazine makers’ surrender has become their window, as solid and reassuringly sturdy Comic Books increasingly buck the pamphlet/papers trend.

Some of the old-fashioned publishers even evolved to join the revolution…

Independent comics mainstay Oni deftly made the switch to sturdy stand-alone one-offs at the end of the last century, publishing a succession of superb illustrated tales splendidly pushing the creative envelope whilst providing memorable yarns that irresistibly lure young potential fans of the form into our world…

That looks quite creepy in type-form but that’s okay – this is a beguilingly spooky story and you should be on your guard…

Aimed at readers of seven and above, Lola – a Ghost Story follows young Canadian Jesse as he returns to the rural Philippines farm where his parents grew up. It’s not his first visit, but it is the saddest. They’re going back for the funeral of his grandmother…

In the native Tagalog language Lola means “grandmother” and Jesse’s was pretty scary. She was old and ugly, had a hump on her back and – he thinks – she tried to drown him when he was a baby…

Grandma Lola also saw dead things and monsters and the future… just like Jesse does.

Despite all this he loved her very much and really doesn’t want to accept that she’s gone forever.

After hours of exhausting travel into the forbidding wild region Jesse and his folks at last arrive at the old farmhouse which has seen so much tragedy. The little visitor fulsomely greets his uncle and cousin Maritess, but won’t acknowledge her brother JonJon. That kid’s acting like a jerk as usual, and besides he’s been dead for over a year and no-one else can see him…

Soon the family are gathered together: eating, memorialising the departed and telling stories of Lola – like the time she saw the giant devil-pig and saved the entire family from financial ruin. Despite the convivial atmosphere, Jesse is still ill at ease. Even though everyone here believes his grandmother had second sight and blessed gifts, the sensibly modern boy can’t bring himself to believe the things he sees are real…

Maritess believes though, and she suspects what Jesse won’t admit even to himself…

After JonJon teases him some more and taunts him with the giant bestial, cigar-smoking Kapre lurking at the window, Jesse finally drops into an exhausted, nervous slumber.

The funeral next day is horrible. Everybody is sad, the church is filled with so many shockingly damaged spirits and Jesse is afflicted with a vision of being trapped and burning which makes him run screaming from the ceremony.

Still traumatised that evening, he finds JonJon’s old toybox on his bed and Maritess guesses what has happened.

She tells her cousin the story of the bloodsucking Manananggal which attacked Lola’s mother, causing her unborn daughter’s hump-back and magical sight. Such gifts and curses usually skip a generation and Maritess always assumed she’d be the one to get the sight, but now that it’s clear Jesse is the one to inherit the power, she’s determined to give him all the help he needs.

The box is full of JonJon’s toy cars, and after playing with them Jesse and the dead boy romp over by the farm wall – the one where nobody is allowed to go anymore…

Jesse’s uncle isn’t doing very well: all the tragedies have made him very sad and he’s drinking an awful lot.

There are other problems bothering Jesse. The entire family have stories about his grandmother and it’s clear that she was brave and determined and fought monsters all her life: is that, then, why she tried to drown him when he was a baby?

Maritess tells her Canadian cousin about the time little Lola saved her school friends from a predatory Tiyanak – a baby-shaped carnivorous monster – and he readies himself to ask her if she thinks he might be evil. Just then her father comes in very drunk and shouts at him for leaving JonJon’s cars in the garden.

They are all he has left to remember his son and the boy’s favourite one is already missing. Jesse knows which one it is… the striped one JonJon calls “Zebra” which he wouldn’t share with him last night by the wall…

Uncle Tim hates the wall. It had something to do with his son’s death and Jesse knows he’ll get into trouble if he goes over it. But Uncle is so sad. He misses his boy and really wanted to bury Zebra with JonJon, but it’s gone and the man is so drunk and angry all the time now…

Jesse’s fear that Lola saw something evil in him is assuaged by Maritess who thinks he should use his gift to help people – just like just their grandmother used to – so when JonJon appears again, Jesse climbs the hated wall and vanishes into the wild unknown beyond…

With Jesse’s first good deed successfully accomplished, JonJon can rest and Uncle Tim is at peace. The troubled psychic is even a little less disturbed by his power and his apparent destiny, but that all changes on the trip back to the airport when Jesse sees something utterly horrifying…

Evocative, compelling, gently enthralling and with a genuinely scary shock ending, this superb kid’s chiller is filled with a fascinating new bestiary of monsters and bogey-men to bedazzle Western eyes and imaginations, but mostly relies on captivating art and top-notch storytelling to draw readers in.

I loved it and so will you…
Lola is ™ & © 2009 J. Torres. All other material © 2009 Oni Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey Book 5: Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories


By Jaime Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-055-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Never-Ending Mirthful Madness… 9/10

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not, so they do. The latest of these is a fifth fractiously frenetic paperback bout of ongoing conflict troubling a once-chummy woodland waif and interloping, grandeur-hungry, hairy-brained simian…

Concocted with feverishly gleeful inspiration by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the very first issue: recounting a madcap vendetta between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories sees the war of nerves and mega-weapons intensify as the unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise shift and twist into ever-more unstable factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that the rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a motorway right through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

All that tail-biting tension began when an obnoxious monkey gatecrasher popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry.

Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – lab animal Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

All these collected volumes dispense disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment and this book describes Year Three: January to June as transcribed on another vivid Contents page and commencing after a glorious poster-style spread of our bestial Dramatis Personae page…

This tranche of turbulent two-page episodes begins with tiny terror Monkey manifesting more mayhem and almost turning his own stomach inside out whilst attempting to weaponize some very nasty stuff he finds under his feet in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey then finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and latterly set back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a seemingly new menace manifests to worry the woodland folk in the dark guise of evil arch-villain ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up, Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo until the devilish pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’ whilst the debut of cyborg bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life eventually slows down our friends so they convince Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’ just in time for the awful ape to celebrate (or desecrate) Easter by eating all ‘The Wrong Eggs!’

The wee woodlanders then face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to infiltrate Skunky’s new high-tech HQ ‘The Temple!’, just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom.

Sadly, the only one to make the grade is meek misfit Pig in his new gruesome guise of ‘Pigulus!’

History horrifically repeats itself when another crashed space capsule ejects an even more destructive newcomer in ‘The Evil Monkey!’ Sadly, that only incites the previous incumbent to up his aggravating game…

When the genteel inhabitants of the wood start enjoying ‘Picnics!’ they have no conception that the day will end in chaos after Skunky’s escaped Grasshopalong induces the science maverick to attempt recapture with a giant Tarsier…

Sometime ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleash a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ quickly proves to be the real superspy deal after which Monkey’s latest property deal lands bunny with an obnoxious ‘Bad Neighbour!’ in the form of musician Bert Warthog. But not for long…

When Skunky unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, the unthinkable occurs as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-machine’s demise but by the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for the skunk’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself…

More mad science sees the launch of a weather station and an unseasonal snow barrage, but Skunky’s malignant fun is ruined after Weenie Squirrel demonstrates astounding piste pizazz in ‘Ski-Daddle!’, before a lost little skunk destabilises the wicked stinker.

Thomas is unmoved by monster robots like the rampaging Octobosh and truly gets to the emotional soft side of his newfound ‘Uncle Skunky!’

Perhaps that episode is what prompts his invention of ‘The Truthometer!’, but when Skunky hears what the woodlanders actually think about him, he soon regrets ever thinking of it…

The Quantum Bibble Fobbulator also goes wrong, tearing ‘Wormholes!’ in the forest fabric, but somehow the woodland residents still make the best of the situation, whilst the skunk’s size-changing ray only makes his victims too tall to tackle in ‘The Embiggening!’

The rural riot concludes with a frankly disturbing insight into our simian star’s softer side as he administers first aid to an ailing Bunny and subsequently descends into megalomania as the truly terrifying ‘Nurse Monkey!’

To Be Continued…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is sheers bonkers brilliance and well past definitely on the way to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, insane invention and captivating cartooning. This is another utterly irresistible package of total delight for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2018. All rights reserved.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel


By Eoin Colfer &Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano with colour by Paolo Lamanna (Puffin Books)
ISBN: 978-0-141-32296-4

In an age when the boundaries of good guys and bad guys are constantly blurred and redefined, it’s well to keep your options open. One admirable player for the other side (mostly) is the captivating Artemis Fowl II. A criminal mastermind, scion of Ireland’s greatest family of rogues and villains, he is probably the greatest intellect on the planet.

The wee lad inherited the family business when his father mysteriously vanished on a caper, a loss from which Artemis’ mother has never recovered.

This Machiavellian anti-hero is a teenager so smart that he has deduced that fairies and mystical creatures actually exist and thus spends this first book stealing their secrets to replenish the family’s depleted fortunes and fulfil his greatest heart’s desire…

His greatest ally is Butler, a manically loyal and extremely formidable hereditary retainer who is a master of physical violence…

The first of the eight novels (with four so far making the transition to sequential narrative whilst production of the Disney movie nears completion) is here adapted by the author and Andrew Donkin; illustrated in a kind of Euro-manga style that won’t suit everybody but which nevertheless perfectly captures the mood and energy of the original.

This lavish adventure is also interspersed with comprehensive and clever data-file pages (by Megan Noller Holt) to bring everybody up to full speed on this wild, wild world…

Fowl is utterly brilliant and totally ruthless. Once determining that the mythological realm of pixies, elves, ogres and the like are actually a highly advanced secret race predating humanity and now dwelling deep underground, he “obtains” and translates their Great Book and divines all their secrets of technology and magic.

Artemis has a plan for the greatest score of all time, and knows that he cannot be thwarted, but he has not reckoned on the wit, guts and determination of Holly Short, an elf who works for the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Force.

She is the only female LEPRecon operative allowed to work on the world’s surface and has had to prove herself every moment of every day…

Combining sinister mastery, exotic locales, daring adventure, spectacular high fantasy concepts and appallingly low puns and slapstick, this tale has translated extremely well to the comics medium (but that’s no reason not to read the books too, especially as they’re all available in paperback and digital formats), offering a clever plot and characters that are both engaging and grotesquely vulgar – and thus perfect fare for kids.

I especially admire the kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggum, whose species’ biological self-defence mechanism consists of overwhelming, explosive flatulence…

Farting, fighting and fantasy are pretty much the perfect combination for kid’s fiction and boys especially will revel in the unrestrained power of the wicked lead character. This is a little gem from a fabulously imaginative creator and an unrelentingly rewarding publisher. Long may you all reign…
Text © 2007 Eoin Colfer. Illustrations © 2007 Giovanni Rigano. All rights reserved.

Pride of Baghdad


By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB)

It would be far beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all ever came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion, but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad at least offers a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of that bloody mistake.

Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combining the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell, reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions who are unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and then left to run loose in the deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts are scared, hungry, under attack and convinced that everything will be great now that they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful, tale with characters who you will swiftly come to love. And they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy a confusing and wondrous experience and Vaughan’s script could make a stone, and perhaps even a Republican, cry.

Derived from a news item which told of the lions roaming the war-torn Baghdad streets, here we are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and government spin-doctors, and hopefully can use those different opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, sad book: a modern masterpiece which shows why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types.

Read this book. Maybe not to your kids, or not yet, but read it.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.