Sleaze Castle: Directors Cut (Part #0)


By Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley with various (Cosmic Ray Gun Incorporated/Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-905692-93-4                  978-1-62098-068-2

I’m old, me. I’ve been around for a bit and met a few folks. So, as occurs when I’m reviewing something by people I’ve gone drinking with, I feel compelled to admit to potential conflicts of interest such as here.

The Society of Strip Illustrators/Comics Creators Guild used to meet on the last Thursday of every month in London. In highly refined and dignified surroundings old lags and aspiring talents rubbed scruffy, grimy, dandruffed – occasionally scrofulous – shoulders, talking comics old and new whilst showing off what we were up to.

Always a fun, laid-back evening, those occasions when the laconic Terry Wiley would turn up from Points North with copies of the latest self-published issue of Tales From Sleaze Castle were especially un-memorable: a combination of subsidised booze and the fact that most folks immediately buried their heads in the mesmerising, transcendentally British, trans-dimensional, time-busting kitchen sink comedy/drama/nostalgic fantasy buddy-movie of a comic and lost all power of speech until they’d finished…

It’s just that good – probably the very best home-grown comic saga you’ve never read – and it also holds strong claim to probably exploiting the very best and most appalling literary puns in all sequential narrative.

Scripted by the equally demi-mythical Dave McKinnon, the epic adventure is rendered pretty straightforward but also nearly indescribable. The story unfolds in a progression of mini-chapters and vignettes which act as diary and six-month countdown to an inescapable, predestined event…

After a rather bemused Introduction from author McKinnon, this edition of the monochrome masterpiece of wacky understatement starts with ‘Another Earth, Another Dimension, Another Reason to Go Shopping’ and a brace of ‘Prologues’ in which we meet incomprehensibly ancient Pandadomino Quartile, puissant albino Empress of another Realm of Reality and undisputed dominant resident of the incredible, infinite domicile dubbed Sleaze Castle.

Also brought to our attention are the thoroughly grounded though no less implausible Dribble family of Earth; mother Poppy, younger daughter Petra and her older sister Jocasta, befuddled student and co-star of our show…

As post-grad Jo returns to college in the astonishingly attractive if uncivilised Northern wilds of England and her ongoing M.A. in Televisual Studies, far away in soft, cosmopolitan London, the Queen (not ours, the other, alien one) goes shopping. It is ‘Sep. ’86: Castaway’ and there’s about to be a small hitch…

When the time/space door malfunctions Pandadomino is annoyingly stranded here. Establishing shaky communications with home she is assured that things will be fixed but it will take six months to retrieve her. Moreover, the portal will only appear in another location…

An incoming call then gives further details and instructions. It’s from herself who has literally just returned to Sleaze Castle and she has some advice for her younger, stranded self. It’s quite bizarre, paradoxical and tediously specific instructions on what to do for the next 178 days so she’d better get a pencil…

Jocasta Dribble is on ‘Autopilot 11:23’ as she makes her way from the railway station to her room in the Ethel Merman Hall of Residence at the University of Novocastria.

As usual the trip is fraught with wool-gathering and petty weirdnesses but eventually she slumps onto her term-time bed and makes the acquaintance of her new neighbour.

The oddly naive girl with the shock of black hair, exotic face and too much eye makeup is from Thailand.

Sandracall me PandaCastle has absolutely no idea about living in England so Jo takes her under her maternal wing, blithely oblivious that her new friend is an unwilling extraterrestrial immigrant, used to commanding vast armies and geniuses of various species, cunningly disguised with dyes and contact lenses. Moreover, the strange stranger has used all her wiles to cheat her way into the room next door which will, some months’ distant, very briefly become an inter-dimensional gateway before snapping shut forever…

And thus begins the gentle and seductively enchanting story of the growing relationship between two of the most well-realised women in comics. As geeky outsider Jo at last blossoms into a proper grown-up – she even finds a boyfriend, more than a decade after her precocious schoolgirl sister Petra – her instruction of the oddly sophisticated “Thai” into British civilisation and college life is simultaneously heart-warming, painful, hilarious, poignant and irresistibly addictive to watch.

It’s also deliciously inclusive and expansive: packed with what 21st century consumers apparently call “Easter Eggs”. These hidden nuggets of in-jokes, wry observations and oblique cultural and comics references are witty and funny enough in their own right, but if you were in any way part of the comics scene in the late 1980s they are also an instant key into golden times past, packed with outrageous guest-appearances by many of the upcoming stars and characters of the British cartooning and small press movement.

(Whilst the absolutely riveting scenes of Jo and Panda trying out both Novocastria’s Women Cartoonist Society and all-male Komik Klub are timeless slices of shtick to you lot, they were a solid reminder of times past and people I still owe Christmas cards to…)

Panda spends her first Christmas ever with the Dribbles and their ferociously Italian extended family but, as the days are counting down, the displaced millennia-old queen is beginning to wonder what will happen once she leaves…

Astoundingly there are people and places and things and people and one person in particularly who is apparently unique and irreplaceable even in the unending pan-cosmic Reality she owns. There’s this friend she’s really can’t bear to lose…

Beautifully scripted, alluringly paced and exquisitely rendered, this book would be paralysingly evocative for any Brit who went to college between 1975 and 1990, but what makes it all so astonishingly good is the fact that this delightful melange of all the things that contributed to our unique culture are effortlessly smooshed together as mere background for a captivating tale of two outsiders finding friendship through adversity and by perpetually lying to each other…

There have been comparisons to Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets but they’re superficial and unfair to both. I will say though that both are uniquely the product of their own time and regional geography…

This collection also includes a cover gallery and pin-ups as well as the additional plus of ‘And Finally… Three Lost Tales’ which features an aspect of the business I really miss.

A few of the self-publishing community cameoed in the Women Cartoonist Society and elsewhere – in a spirit of communal tit-for-tat – collaborated on side-bar stories featuring Panda, Jo and the rest during the comic’s initial run. With commentary from McKinnon they are happily re-presented here, so even after the cliffhanger story-pause you can still have a laugh with ‘The Rules of the Game part I’ by Lee Kennedy, ‘The Rules of the Game part II’ by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and what I’ll call ‘An Idea in a Book is Worth Two in the Head’ by Jeremy Dennis.

You’ll need to buy this book to realise why…

Made even better by a gallery of gripping covers, calendar art and more, this a superb collation by lovers of comics for lovers of comics, and now that I’ve read this brand-new e-Edition with its remastered pages and fresh snippets of original material I’m going to forgo re-reading the next three volumes in those well-worn Gratuitous Bunny Editions I bought years ago in favour of these safely unwrinkled-able, spunkily perky digital tomes too.

And if you have your own temporal retrieval system or a computer and a credit card – you can do likewise…
Sleaze Castle is ™ & © 1992, 2012 Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley. This edition ™ & © Dave McKinnon, Terry Wiley and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved. Three Lost Tales © 1996, 2012 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Lee Kennedy and Jeremy Day.

Krazy & Ignatz 1929-1930: A Brick, A Mice, A Lovely Night


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-529-8

Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; an immensely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz (as it is in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over delicious decades of abstracted amazement the series developed a unique language – both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for unimaginative people who won’t or can’t appreciate complex multi-layered verbal and/or pictorial 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 thriving cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his whacky domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat officially debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct intervention and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

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

Eventually the feature found a home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama sections of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is a rather effeminate – not to say gender-indeterminate – dreamily sensitive and romantic feline hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which our smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

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

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, 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 Kokonino (based 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, 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 (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This captivating chronicle – covering 1929-1930 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover tome – as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats. Here Ben Schwartz critically appraises the exalted eccentric content of the material in ‘The Court Jester: Hearst, Herriman, and the Death of Nonsense’ whilst the much-missed Bill Blackbeard delves deeper into the feature’s background in his Introduction essay ‘The Man Behind the Pupp Behind the Mouse Behind the Kat: George Herriman, 1880-1944’; paying particular attention to the sublime scribbler’s relationship with other cartoonists of the era such as Jimmy Swinnerton, Tad Dorgan and a young upstart named Elzie Segar…

On to the strips then: within this strange brew of eccentric emotional overload, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with one major evolution as Herriman begins to indulge in extended storylines and continuing continuity…

The emphasis is strongly on bricks and how to get them in the early episodes with the law mostly having the upper paw. The mouse regularly ends up banged up in the county hoosegow as Krazy pines for passionately propelled portions of brick-shaped symbolism even whilst further pursuing that dream of a singing career.

Ignatz, as ever, hunts for the perfect projectile – heavy, accurate and of negligible cost – but hasn’t learned that nothing comes for free as he regularly falls prey to mountebanks, charlatans and fortune tellers…

Brickmaker Kolin Kelly gets into a shooting war with the region’s other baker – bread pundit Kikkero Kooki – and their search for ammunition leads to much more projectile peril.

Bull Pupp is wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi these days, prompting Ignatz to take to the skies in a variety of unlikely aircraft and as always there are strictly visual pun sessions to play well against the numerous slapstick antics, as Ignatz devises ever-more complex schemes to bounce his earthen wares off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions as ever add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws constantly making their invisible presences felt…

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As 1930 dawns change is in the air and – after a series of wintery japes and a surprise eruption of local volcano Agathla – strange yet comfortably unchanging Kokonino get its biggest shake-up of all when amorous predator Monsieur Kiskidee Kuku hits town and make a determined play for the sentiment-starved Kat…

Having made allies of Ignatz and Offisa Pupp, the rascally gallic rogue turns the heads of many of the female inhabitants incurring the ire of many males, but the bounder is also an expert fencer so reprisals are grudging and muted…

Before long one of those troublesome continental ménage-triangle deals is in play and fireworks start brewing before the affairs of dishonour are all settled…

…And always irresistible mischief truly rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed) plus a foray of final fillip offering an example how certain papers played with the layout of the strip to enhance its popularity and a genuine historical find: the sheet music to 1911’s Krazy Kat Rag

Herriman’s masterpiece is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips. If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companionable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2003, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

I Hate Fairyland volume 2: Fluff My Life


By Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-887-1

Fairy tales are so ubiquitous that you could – inaccurately (Go, Pedants!!) – describe them as part of our DNA. Some people claim to have grown out of them whilst others take them to heart and make them an intrinsic aspect of their lives, but we can all feel them (the stories, not the readers) lurking in our subconscious, sharpening axes, heating up steel dancing shoes or honing Great Big Teeth…

Well, maybe some of the readers…

There’s this guy… Skottie Young?

He’s someone with feet firmly planted in all camps and well able to alternatively embrace the enchantment of imagination and give it a hilariously iconoclastic, mean-spirited boot in the backside at the same time.

Surely, you’ll have seen his glorious, multi-award winning interpretation of Baum’s Oz books produced for Marvel, his spectacular run on Rocket Raccoon (and Groot) or at least chuckled over his outrageous funny baby superhero covers…

Maybe you’re aware of his collaboration with Neal Gaiman on Fortunately the Milk.

If not, there’s so much more in store for you after enjoying this second collected slice of mirthful mythic malevolence and mayhem…

I Hate Fairyland is a truly cathartic little gem: a mind-buttering romp of deliciously wicked simplicity and one I heartily recommend as a palate-cleanser for anyone overdosing on Princess Parties, cotton candy and glitter…

Once upon a time little Gertrude wished she could visit the wonderful world of magic and joyous laughter and her wish was inexplicably granted. There she met happy shiny people, fairies, elves, giants, talking animals and animated trees, rocks, stars, suns and moons and just loved them all.

Resplendent Queen Cloudia made her an Official Guest of Fairyland and invited her to play a game. When she wanted to go back to her own world the six-year-old simply had to find a magic key and open the door to the realm of reality. The fabulous Fairy Queen even bestowed upon Gertrude a quaint talking bug as guide and helpmeet. Oh, and a magic map of all the Known Lands…

That was nearly thirty years ago and although Gert’s body didn’t age a day her mind certainly did. In fact, it got pretty damned pissed-off at the interminable, insufferable chore that looked like never ending…

As an Official Guest of Fairyland, Gert was not allowed to die and took to expressing her monumental frustration in acts of staggering violence and excess as she hunted for that fluffer-hugging key…

With no other choice, Gert and dissolute death-craving intellectual insect Larrigon Wentsworth III toiled ever onward in search of the way home, enduring horrific – but never permanently fatal – injuries and venting their annoyance (and other creatures’ vital fluids) on whoever got in the way.

Eventually even Queen Cloudia had enough but could do nothing whilst Gert maintained her Official Guest of Fairyland status… a privilege that could not be revoked…

Covertly commissioned barbarians, assassins and evil witches all filed to remedy the situation. Between the protection spell and Gert’s own ingrained propensity for spectacular bloodletting, nothing in the incredible kingdoms could stop her…

And then, just when a truly amazing idea got hatched… it got even worse.

Due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control Cloudia’s rule ended and Gert was stuck ruling the saccharine-sweet hellhole she so despised…

As we resume cartoon communication Queen Gertrude has been in charge quite long enough. Even wanton slaughter in her personal gladiatorial games and random acts of magic-fuelled drive-by exterminations cannot offset the unending tedium of the paperwork necessary to run the Realm and ‘Gert of Thrones’ is desperately looking for a way out of the endless responsibilities of rule. And then, for the first time in decades, fate falls her way and Gert is offered a way out…

It doesn’t end well for her subjects, though…

On the loose again, Gert returned to her former anti-social ways unaware that destiny was shaping a really big metaphysical cowpat for her to step in. It begins sometime in the real world she so wants to rejoin where a little kid in a dragon costume finds himself in dire need of a pitstop. Tragically for Duncan and Fairyland, that rush to the outhouse results in a little unwanted trans-dimensional tourism. Gert meanwhile has put out feelers (and many other strange critters) to locate a way back to earth. The most likely method involves the urine of mighty flying saurians but as that is the rarest thing in the Realm, it pretty fortunate that Duncan still frantically trying to unzip his costume materialises just then and learns the downside of ‘How to Drain your Dragon’

Desperate enough to consult a soothsayer, Gert later learns of a possible escape route but glazes over the bit where the future-reader says Duncan will be the greatest monster the Realm ever saw. Eager for release – any form of release – the ex-queen finds herself fighting a chilling army of videogame foes in the oddly electronic ‘Tower of Battle’ and handed the drubbing of her unending life. The victorious games-master gives her high heave-ho but keeps little Duncan…

After losing a high stakes card game Gert then has to enter her own infinitely capacious magical Hat of Holding in search of an item to pay off her debts. Unfortunately, thanks to her slovenly habits, that means dealing with the infestation of marauding Lynts which has built up amidst the decades of “acquired” artefacts, treasures and people who have annoyed her resulting in a pretty messy case of ‘Splat in the Hat’

Closing up shop for the nonce is a tale of salutary warning as Gert and Larry enter a mystic manse to be confronted by a choice of two portals, one leading to her heart’s desire and the other to an outcome of horrific consequences. Never big on thinking things through, Gert is stymied…

You’d think she might listen to her shattered and battered future-self, suddenly come back from a apocalyptically hell-shocked dystopian tomorrow with a message of warning and explicit instructions. You would? Then you really haven’t grasped the gist of this savagely surreal saga, have you?

And yet… somehow… To Be Continued…

Collecting issues #6-10 of I Hate Fairyland, (from March-October 2016) the sublimely subversive saga continues courtesy of Young, colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and letterer Nate Piekos of Blambot®: a cornucopia of cartoon ultra-violence and side-splitting mythic irreverence hilariously utilising the most imaginative and inspired use of faux-profanity ever seen in comics. There’s even a bunch of variant covers to drool over, if your nerves and stomach can stand it…

This is an unmissable wakeup call for everybody whose kids want to be little princesses and proves once and for all that sweet little girls (and probably comics artists) harbour hidden depths of depravity and barely-suppressed aggression…
© 2016 Skottie Young. All rights reserved.

Krazy and Ignatz 1927-1928: Love Letters in Ancient Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-507-6

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz (as it is dubbed in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over its many years of abstracted amazement the series gradually developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody… except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial 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 cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

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

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

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

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, 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 Kokonino (based 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, 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 (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This tantalising tome – covering 1927-1928 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover edition as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his puckish Introduction essay of short informational snippets ‘Pilfering Mrs. Kwak-Wak’s Good Old Goods and Goodies Bag’

Here press clippings of a near-death experience for Herriman and fellow strip man Jimmy Swinnerton are re-presented beside early gag pages such as Embarrassing Moments and excepts from Hearst Joke Book editions of The Dingbats. Also included are a wealth of strips by Herriman’s contemporaries, rivals and plagiarists…

On to the strips then: within this compelling chronicle of undying amours utterly unhorsed by smirking Fate, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing weeks’ worth of seasonal disorders and sartorial shenanigans as Krazy further pursues that dream of a singing career. Ignatz, meanwhile, hunts for the perfect projectile which over and again draws him into the clutches of mountebanks, charlatan and magicians…

That search for ammunition leads to many more brick-based broadsides but these days Bull Pupp is far wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi…

An occasional strictly visual pun session plays well against the numerous slapstick antics, even as Ignatz devises ever-more convoluted ways to bounce his bricks off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions increasingly add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws making their invisible presences felt…

Recurring cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird pop up to muddy the romantic waters, whilst Kat and Mouse frequently indulge in the growing freedom of the skies and waterways via balloon and other aeronautical apparatus or maritime machine.

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of (generally unwanted) babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As the years progress Ignatz spends ever-longer periods in jail yet seldom fails to find a way to deliver the punishing skull blows Krazy yearns for…

Many cast members become obsessed with being struck by lightning and other electrical intercessions, but the biggest surprise is undoubtedly a time-warping origin sequence which carries us back to the obscure infancies of Krazy, Ignatz and Bull…

There are more wandering wonderments as certain elephantine geological features again take up unescorted perambulation and the county even catches a touch of meteor fever as the landscape is beset by falling stars and fiery flotsam from space.

The year again concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills as Kokonino is subjected to squalls of snow but worst of all is a plague of politicians, prophets and preachers all proselytising on the path to peace, forcing the residents make their feelings acrimoniously clear…

…And always plain mischief rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is a peek at one of the earliest and rarest of merchandising items – a 1920s wooden Ignatz doll – as well as another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed). One final fillip is a selection of out-of-sequence replacement pages plus a sequence of pertinent daily strips which tie into the regular run of Sundays collected here…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspiring auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companiable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Blood & Valour – Legends of the Knight Sir Bevis


By Matt Beames, Marcus Pullen, Guy Stauber & various
ISBN: 978-0-99575-110-1

As well as being a monumentally terrific way of entertaining yourself, comics are a supremely efficient means of bringing history and literature to life. That in no way means they are a substitute for the original source matter, although in this instance I can forgive anybody not immersing themselves in the texts that inspired this trusty monochrome paperback celebrating the adventurous life of an all-but forgotten mythic warrior every bit the equal of King Arthur, Robin Hood or Beowulf…

Boeve de Haumtone or Bevis of Hampton is an Anglo-Norman and later Middle English Metrical romance saga about a classic warrior hero which spread across Europe during the middle ages and is still held in high regard in most of the world but here.

As a mediaeval prose epic, it was translated into French, Dutch, German, Italian, Irish, Venetian and Welsh. From there the tale migrated ever eastward, becoming part of many national mythologies through translations into Old Norse, Yiddish, Polish, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Belarusian and Russian. This is a champion with a truly international pedigree.

To celebrate the 600th anniversary of Agincourt, The Digital Art Program of Eastleigh Borough Council and the Eastleigh Tech Hub in conjunction with the Agincourt 600 Programme conceived a series of projects to mark the occasion and advertise the key role the town which would eventually become the Port of Southampton played in those epochal days.

One such is the comics series this tome is the first compilation of: an adaptation of the life and adventures of a legendary chivalric local hero inextricably linked to the area.

Written and adapted by Matt Beames with illustration by Marcus Pullen and colour-insert photo splash-pages by Guy Stauber, this initial volume only opens the epic account, detailing Bevis’ childhood and novice warrior training before closing with the dark betrayal that sets him upon his savage life’s path…

Sir Guy, Earl of Hampton was a mighty warrior who came late to marriage. His bride was the daughter of the King of Scotland and by no means a willing partner in the arranged match. Rumours abounded that the Countess already had a lover, German prince Conrad. She was also a witch, but Guy seemed oblivious to his wilful young wife’s faults. He truly loved her, even though she took no pains to hide her aloof hostility to him or his southern demesne.

Even the birth of their son Bevis did not soften her. She rejected the child at the moment of his birth, leaving him to be reared by wetnurses, nannies and latterly the Earl himself with his trusted battle-comrade and brother Sir Saber. By the time he was ten years old, Bevis was a master of sword and lance: a truly formidable fighter awaiting only the full strength of his maturity…

As the boy grew, his mother increasingly chafed at her fate and resolved to be happy again, whatever the cost. Thus she plotted with old lover Conrad to murder her husband, using corrupt knight Sir Murdour as her go-between and emissary to Germany.

Through vile treachery Sir Guy was ambushed and butchered by Murdour and an army of Teutons before Conrad installed himself as the new Lord of Hampton beside the willing and murderous Countess who was the architect of all their woes.

When Bevis challenges his mother, she banishes him to the sheep flocks and the custody of his Uncle Saber but later decides it would be best if the lad died after Bevis attempts to re-enter the family castle to exact revenge…

When Conrad baulks at the thought, she blackmails Saber to accomplish the vile task but he too cannot descend to so low a deed and instead fakes the boy’s murder before sending Bevis away from England to grow into the mighty man he must be to avenge his sire. However, before leaving the boy begins to balance the scales of justice by despatching Sir Murdour…

To Be Continued…

With a Foreword by Dr Cheryl Butler and contextualising Afterword by Dr Lynn Forest-Hill, plus a behind-the-scenes section detailing the entire creative process from script and visual design to finished art by way of a photo-reference shoot, this bold revival of a mythic British hero is heavy on action and suspense and affords a most engaging introduction to one of our most slighted icons.
Story & scripts © 2016/2017 Matt Beames. Panels © 2016/2017 Marcus Pullen. Covers & splash pages © 2016/2017. Guy Stauber. All rights reserved.

Red Moon


By Carlos Trillo & Eduardo Risso, translated by Zeljko Medic (Dark Horse/SAF Comics)
ISBN: 978-1616554477(HC)             eISBN: 978-1-62115-916-2
Dimensions: 221 x 22 x 283 mm

If you like a whiff of tongue in cheek whimsy with your fantastic fairytales you might want to take a look at this superb treat from prolific and much-missed Argentinean journalist/comics writer Carlos Trillo (Topo Gigio, Alvar Mayor, El Loco Chávez, Peter Kampf, Cyber Six, Point de rupture) and terrifyingly versatile illustrator Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets, Jonny Double, Parque Chas, Fulù, Simon, Boy Vampire), starring an affable boy acrobat and a tempestuous little princess.

Los misterios de la Luna roja was originally released as a quartet of comics between 1997 and 1998 by Ervin Rustemagić’s Balkan publishing powerhouse Strip Art Features and appears compiled in this stunning translated hardback thanks to Dark Horse Comics.

Kicking off with scene-setting epic ‘Bran the Invisible’ the supremely wry and deftly comedic action opens as junior tumbler Antolin and his showbiz mentors Crocker and Theo fetch up their travelling show in the extremely depressed and downhearted land of Burien.

Unable to raise a single smile or any approbation the lad soon learns that the kingdom is in mourning. Burien’s Lord and defender has been stricken with grief since his wife Tyl died. Moreover, their daughter Moon is both bonkers and prone to violence. She also talks to (shouts at and fights with) an invisible friend…

However after encountering the red-haired daughter of the despondent widower, Antolin is quickly forced to conclude that she’s not crazy at all…

His first clue is that unseen Bran apparently predicted the acrobat’s arrival and that the orphan boy would help Red Moon save the land. The clincher, though, is that something undetectable keeps hitting him.

There’s no time to waste since the marauding armies of cruel yet cowardly Lord of Leona are already making their uncontested way over the now-undefended borders…

And thus begins an epic confection with crucial quests, astounding odysseys, barbaric villains, fairy queens, witches, dragons and monsters as the valiant children and Bran flee the invasion, uncover the incredible truth of Tyl’s fate and seek to amass a meagre but prophesied army of incredible individuals to rescue Burien and restore Moon’s father to his previous competence and glory…

The saga concludes as Antolin and Red Moon return to the troubled land accompanied by their implausibly unbeatable ‘Attack Circus’ and a few useful Fairy trinkets, resolved to repel the vile invasion and deliver to the sadistic Leona his just deserts. However, that inevitable prospect provides no Happy Ever After for Antolin, who learns in the throes of triumph for Burian that his beloved mentors Theo and Crocker were sent to certain doom by the invaders…

Thus he sets off again, following their trail into ‘The Never Kingdom’ and is soon delighted to see Moon and (not see) Bran have followed their former partner-in-peril. Braving icy wastes, horrific beasts and a population of magically-mutated monsters, the kids challenge the power of wicked crone Panta and consequently discover that the malevolent sorceress and cannibal might perhaps be the long-lost mother of foundling Antolin…

Family feeling doesn’t count for much in Panta’s world, so there are few regrets after Moon discovers the secret of reversing the witch’s transformation spells and starts putting the Never Kingdom to rights…

The fabulously engaging, deliciously trenchant frolics then wrap up with the introduction of insalubrious junior jester Patapaf – and his ventriloquistic stick Pitipif – who play a critical role in the search for ‘The Book of All Dreams’.

With peace and joy restored to his subjects, the widowed Lord of Burian remarries but his new bride is almost immediately abducted by invulnerable ogre Lamermor de Granf to ensure that her husband will duel him for the right to rule Burien…

Outraged Moon can do nothing until she enjoys a fairy-sent dream and learns the smug giant has a hidden weakness. Setting off with Patapaf to find wandering showman Antolin and talking cat Blas Pascual de la Galera the little heroes invade Witch Queen Yaga’s fortress and subconscious to ferret out the long-occluded means to destroy Lamermor and accidentally acquire an unlikely ally who will ensure their victory and a Happy Ending at last…

Fast, funny and filled with family-friendly action and thrills, Red Moon is a delirious double-edged delight, with knowing sophistication for adult readers working side-by-side with gloriously inventive takes on traditional tale-telling, all adeptly visualised by Risso’s magnificently surreal illustration.

Ideal bedtime reading for anybody and any time.
Red Moon™ & © 2005, 2006, 2014 SAF Comics. All rights reserved.

Solomon Kane volume 2: Death’s Black Riders


By Scott Allie, Mario Guevara, Juan Ferreyra & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-590-2

Following on from their revitalisation – if not actual creation – of the comicbook Sword and Sorcery genre in the early 1970s with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel Comics quite naturally looked for more of the same, and found ample material in Robert Ervin Howard’s other warrior heroes such as King Kull, Bran Mac Morn and dour Puritan Avenger Solomon Kane.

The fantasy genre had undergone a global prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s resurgence of two-fisted action extravaganzas by such pioneer writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber. This led to a generation of modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-starting their literary careers with contemporary interpretations of man, monster and mage. Without doubt, though, nobody did it better than the tragic Texan whose other red-handed stalwarts and tough guys such as El Borak, Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino excelled in a host of associated genres and like milieux.

As a prose paragon, Solomon Kane debuted in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales in a gripping tale of vengeance entitled “Red Shadows”; thereafter making seven more appearances before abruptly vanishing in 1932 as his creator concentrated on the far more successful Conan.

Three more tales, some epic poems and a few unfinished ideas and passages remained unpublished until 1968 when renewed interest in the author’s work prompted publishers to disinter and complete the yarns.

Apart from two noteworthy 4-colour exceptions, during the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel was content to leave Solomon Kane to monochrome adaptations of canonical Howard stories in Dracula Lives, Savage Sword of Conan, Monsters Unleashed and other older-reader magazines, but with his 21st century transfer to the Dark Horse stable, the Holy Terror has flourished in broader, lavishly-hued and much-expanded interpretations of the short stories and assorted unfinished snippets left when the prolific Howard took his life in 1936.

Beginning in 2008 and released as a succession of miniseries, these almost-new adventures offer modern fans a far darker and more moody iteration of the driven, doom-laden wanderer. This second volume features as graphic narrative short story Rattle of the Bones combined with a mere fragment of recovered prose latterly dubbed Death’s Black Riders, with scripter Scott Allie fleshing out the meagre fare for modern audiences. The strips were originally published in 4-issue miniseries Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders and are supplemented here by an all-new short continued saga which originally ran online in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #27 and 28.

For the uninitiated: Kane is a 17th century disenfranchised English soldier-of-fortune on a self-appointed mission to scour the Earth doing God’s Work. He interprets that to mean punishing the wicked and destroying devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever onwards towards trouble…

The drama opens here where the previous collection left off. Having survived epic clashes with demon wolves, devilish pagans and satanic thralls, the surly pilgrim is still lost in Germany’s vast and foreboding Black Forest and eager to find his way out.

Sadly, his wanderings merely lead to more conflict as he encounters the remains of a band of slaughtered gypsies where an extremely capable Frenchman named Gaston battles against a vile pack of voracious double-mouthed, distressingly equine talking horrors.

Joining the fray, the chilling churchman kills three of ‘Death’s Black Riders’, but not in time to save any but Gaston from the beast’s butchery…

Although something about the Frenchman disturbs and unsettles him, Kane accompanies the sole survivor as they make their way on foot through the benighted forest, eventually coming upon a lonely inn, blithely unaware that the hostelry is afflicted by ‘The Rattle of Bones’

The deeply suspicious landlord is far from welcoming but the wanderers’ misgivings are offset by inclement weather and the fact that the four-legged devils are still at large and probably close at hand. Despite gaining entry behind the stout walls and sturdy doors the travellers are cautiously on guard as they assess their temporary dwelling, especially after discovering their room cannot be secured from the inside…

Searching for bars and barricades, they come upon a room with a skeleton chained to a wall and Gaston – in an act of courage-bolstering bravado – smashes the aged links with his sword. Not long after, the Frenchman makes his long-delayed move, ambushing Kane and attempting to steal his purse. Too late the puritan recognises infamous bandit Gaston the Butcher, but before he can save himself the demented innkeeper strikes…

This madman had been preying on visitors for years, despatching those unfortunate enough to share his hospitality. The lunatic even managed to kill a travelling sorcerer and was wise enough to chain up his corpse so that the enchanter could not strike back at from beyond the grave…

Thus, although recently added to the murderer’s tally, Gaston’s revenge comes as the skeleton prowling the inn finds the target it has waited decades to meet again, and in the gory aftermath the aghast Kane prepares to take his chance with the forest when a pounding comes upon the door. It is a terrified Catholic priest and at his heels is a pack of ravening horse-like monsters…

The terrifying tension rises to fever pitch as ‘The Black Riders Return’ to lay siege to the inn with puritan and priest trading doctrinal sallies whilst battling the bludgeoning beasts outside and evading the unquiet sorcerer’s unburied corpse within the house…

As a shattering storm rages, the war of Good and Evil reaches an appalling crescendo, and when day breaks only one man walks away…

A non-stop parade of peril and explosive action, the art here is both beguiling and emphatically evocative with Mario (The Lone Ranger and Tonto) Guevara’s pencils ably augmented by the potent palette of colourist Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi), but the tone changes utterly as Guy Davis assumes the illustration chores for Allie’s eerie follow-up ‘All the Damned Souls at Sea’

Here the exhausted, world-weary horror hunter takes ship for his long-missed England, intent on seeing once more his beloved childhood haunts of Devon.

Typically, however, Kane clashes with a witch before boarding and, as he reminisces during the crossing of his previous voyages battling the Spanish navy, an uncanny transformation grips the ship, remaking it into a predatory beast hungry for sailors’ souls…

As always, this turbulent battle-scarred tome is packed with fascinating artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses such as a gallery of covers and art pieces from Mike Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander and Darick Robertson plus creative insights via ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches, designs, process art and commentary by Guevara, Davis, Chad Vaughn and Allie.

Powerful, engaging and sumptuously spooky, this fight-filled fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and all lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers.
© 2009 Solomon Kane Inc. (“SKI”). Solomon Kane and all related characters, names and logos are ™ and ® SKI.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero {with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Evil Cat’s cousin Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. With the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Red Baron volume 3: Dungeons and Dragons


By Pierre Veys & Carlos Puerta, translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-252-2

The sublimely illustrated, chillingly conceived fictionalised re-imagination of the latter days of legendary WWI German Air Ace Manfred von Richthofen apparently concludes in stunningly scary form with this latest uncompromising episode from Pierre Veys & Carlos Puerta.

Baron rouge: Donjons et Dragons premiered Continentally in 2015 and here resumes its fascinating, faux-autobiographic course as notionally described by the titular flier in a beguiling album-sized tome from Cinebook …

Scripted with great style and Spartan simplicity by prolific bande dessinée writer Pierre Veys (Achille Talon, Adamson, Baker Street, Boule et Bill, les Chevaliers du Fiel), the drama is illustrated with mesmerising potency by advertising artist and veteran comics painter Carlos Puerta (Los Archivos de Hazel Loch, Aeróstatas, Tierra de Nadie, Eustaquio, Les Contes de la Perdition) in a hauntingly potent photo-realistic style.

In the premiere volume we saw how young military student Manfred discovered he had an uncanny psychic gift: when endangered he could read his opponents’ intentions and counteract every attack. Immediate peril seemed to trigger his gift and after crushing and terrifying a brutal Junker Prince and his bullying cronies, Manfred subsequently tested the theory by heading for the worst part of town to provoke the peasants and rabble.

He never questioned how or why the savage exercise of savage violence – especially killing – made him feel indescribably happy…

As a cavalry officer when the Great War began, Manfred found further proof of his talent when he casually acted on a vague impulse and avoided a lethal shelling: a threat he could neither see nor anticipate…

He could never convince his only friend Willy of this strange gift, even after he transferred to the Fliegertruppen (Imperial German Flying Corps) as gunner in a two-man reconnaissance craft …

The saga continued in a second volume wherein Von Richthofen barely survived his first taste of sky-borne dogfighting and resolved immediately thereafter to learn how to fly properly. Never again would he trust his life to someone else’s piloting skills…

A poor natural pilot, only persistent hard work allowed him to qualify as a flier and, even after his first kill, Manfred could not stop his elite comrades laughing at his pitiful landings…

Things changed after he modified his two-man Albatross C.111 so that he could fire in the direction of his flight rather than just behind or to the sides. Now a self-propelled gun, Von Richthofen took to the skies and scored a delicious hit on a hapless British pilot…

Days later his joy increased when Willy was assigned to his squadron.

Sharing the spoils of occupation life, Von Richthofen related his earlier war exploits and shared again the secret of his uncanny gift with his unconvinced comrade. An opportunity came to prove his boasts at an enlisted men’s boxing match where Lieutenant Von Richthofen systematically demolished a hulking brute who was German national champion before hostilities started.

As Willy watched his slightly-built school chum avoid every lethal blow and methodically take his opponent apart, he finally believed… and began to fear…

The story recommences here with Manfred revelling in the murderous and destructive excesses of his new killing proficiency. His successes bring him and wingman Willy to the attention of national hero and top air ace Oswald Boelcke who invites him to join his new fighter squadron…

Manfred’s gory glee is only barely dimmed by the discovery that among his new comrades is old school arch-enemy Prince Friedrich who – complete with new coterie of sycophantic hangers-on – promises vengeance for past indiscretions…

Manfred’s gift for killing continues to grow, especially after being assigned a string of increasingly more efficient flying machines. However, after a close call against a calmly methodical British pilot, von Richthofen realises a way to enhance his psychic advantage in the air and paints his ships blazing scarlet to unsettle and terrify his airborne opponents…

A less easily handled problem is Friedrich and his gang. Thanks to his gift Manfred knows they intend to murder him and takes swift, merciless action to end their threat. However, even after ruthlessly eliminating his supposed comrades, the Red Baron’s problems do not end despite his daring and bravado seeing him triumph over every burgeoning horror and mechanical innovation of the War To End All Wars: tanks, submarines and even naval destroyers…

A net of evidence is closing in around Manfred and despite his insouciance he feels something is coming on the sunny morning he joins the flight to escort a German Zeppelin safely home. His arrogant overconfident cockiness proves to be his ultimate downfall that day…

A sharp mix of shocking beauty and distressingly visceral violence, Dungeons and Dragons blends epic combat action with grimly beguiling suspense. The idea of the semi-mythical knight of the clouds as a psychic psycho-killer is not one many purists will be happy with, but the exercise is executed with implacable authenticity and Puerta’s illustration is both astoundingly lovely and gloriously enthralling.

A decidedly different combat concoction: one jaded war lovers should definitely try.
Original edition © Zephyr Editions 2015 by Veys & Puerta. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Fresh Romance volume 1


By Kate Leth & Arielle Jovellanos, Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson, Marguerite Bennett & Trungles, Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie & various (Rosy Press/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-346-3                  eISBN: 978-1-62010-347-0 (Kickstarter exclusive)

Once upon a time romance comics were the backbone of the comicbook industry, selling in the millions and capturing the crucial yet elusive and fickle women’s market where war, westerns and superhero titles just couldn’t get a foothold.

Times passed, fashions changed and the genre all but vanished in comics form, to occasionally resurface in rare re-emergences filled with quality writing and art but still unable to justify the expense of a regular print slot.

Thankfully the internet changed all that, with devotees able to create, disseminate and consume articles of visual amour free of draconian and tawdry business pressures. One such enterprise was anthological enterprise Fresh Romance from Rosy Press which offers startlingly uncompromising modern love stories in a broad variety of styles and themes and tones from simple person-meets-person encounters to classical pastiches to rom-com rollercoaster rides.

So well-received were these tales that in partnership with Oni Press the stories have made the retrograde jump back into physical form such as this initial collection…

Supplemented throughout with round-robin discussions and commentaries from the creators involved the wide-eyed wonderment opens with a no-holds-barred, ferociously contemporary spin on the coming-of-age ritual known as Prom Night…

‘School Spirit’ by scripter Kate Leth, illustrator Arielle Jovellanos, colourist Amanda Scurti and letterer Taylor Esposito details the build up to that very special occasion, focussing on unwitting chick-magnet Miles, haughty queen-bee Justine, moody Corrine and eager-beaver over-achiever Malie.

None of their peers are privy to their true natures, though. Miles’ reputation is largely bogus, allowing him to act as a beard for two of the girls whilst the lass he really likes has a secret she joyously shares with him alone: she’s a witch with fantastic powers she’s just desperate to exercise even though her dads forbid her getting intimate with mortals…

Pressure mounts as the Prom approaches and all four are reaching emotional crisis points: all they want to do is be themselves and be done with secrets…

But when the subterfuge falls apart just before the big event all the quartet can do is make it a night everybody will remember…

In stark contrast ‘Ruined volume 1’ by Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle (lettered by Ryan Ferrier) serves up a heaping helping of stolid and claustrophobic Regency romance in the manner of Jane Austen as young Catherine dolorously acquiesces to parental pressure and marries a man she does not know. As her parents constantly remind her, it’s the best she can hope now that her reputation has been so utterly despoiled by her recent indiscretion…

Her marriage into the prestigious but impoverished Davener family was never going to be a famous love match but after being packed off to his decrepit and distant estate Catherine’s slow acceptance of her taciturn, inscrutable husband is constantly impeded by one inescapable quandary. If no decent man would want her in her present state, why has Andrew Davener made her his bride?

Does he want her? Is he, in fact, a decent man?

A beguiling and compelling take on the traditional gothic novel – complete with troubled sister-in-law and antagonistic elder dowager in residence – Ruined does not conclude in this volume and leaves the reader hungry for a resolution…

From staid conformity to wild abandon as ‘The Ruby Equation’ by Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson (coloured by Savanna Ganucheau and lettered by Steve Wands) pursues wild whimsy in a little coffee shop which serves as a dating drop-in centre run by extra-dimensional super-entities masquerading as baristas and waitresses.

These wondrous creatures are intent on helping their unwitting human clients find true happiness, but impatient young operative Ruby can’t wait to finish this dumb assignment and progress to missions of truly cosmic importance.

Sadly for her, Ruby can’t close the deal with prospective happy couple Josh and Megan, and she’s the only one who can’t see that they are not perfect soul-mates. Not when one of them is actually the only being Ruby could ever love…

A dark reinterpretation of a very familiar fairytale, ‘Beauties’ by Marguerite Bennett & Trungles – lettered by Rachel Deering – sees a beautiful beast captured and enslaved by a callous prince and his cruel daughters, only to win over one of his tormentors and trigger an uncanny transformation. With love triumphing over every adversity the liberated lovers must then seek escape or death together whatever the ultimate cost…

As icing on the cake this collection closes with a delightful bonus vignette by Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie. ‘First, Last and Always’ slyly reveals the cautious, cunning politics that underlie that initial brushing of lips that presages the start of everything…

Powerful, charming, engaging and endearing, these yarns of yearning and fulfilment are superb examples of how varied comics can be. Why not let a little romance into your heart today?
Fresh Romance volume One © 2016 Rosy Press. All individual stories are the property of and © their respective creators. All rights reserved.