The Thief of Bagdad

By Achmed Abdullah, illustrated by P. Craig Russell (Donning/Starblaze edition)
ISBN: 978-0-89865-523-0

This is a tenuous entry for a graphic novel listing, and potentially a controversial one, but other than all publishers’ motivation to turn a profit, these editions of the late 1980s had a worthy purpose and an admirable intention.

Donning’s Starblaze Editions began as a way of introducing lost classics to a new audience, by reproducing them with illustrations provided by some of the most respected names in comics. Their other selections were the silent film icon Metropolis by Thea von Harbou and illustrated by Michael Wm. Kaluta; Charles Vess’ illuminated A Midsummer Night’s Dream and most contentiously, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle with new artwork by Mike Grell replacing the author’s own groundbreaking illustrations. These are all household names but also tales that very few could admit to have ever actually read.

The Thief of Bagdad (and that’s how the West spelt it back then) began as a film by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924, with a screenplay by Elton Thomas, accompanied by a short story written by Lotta Woods. The fantastic and exotic tale of a common vagabond who wins a Princess was an eye-popping, swashbuckling blend of magic, adventure and romance which captivated the viewing public, leading to what was probably the World’s first ever novelisation of a movie.

Achmed Abdullah (1881-1945) was actually Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, a prolific English author whose father was Russian Orthodox whilst his mother was a Muslim. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he joined the British Army, serving in France, India and China before becoming a jobbing writer of Crime, Adventure and Mystery tales, many apparently based on his own early life.

He was also a screen-writer, with his most well-known success being the 1935 film Lives of a Bengal Lancer (very loosely based on the novel by Francis Yeats-Brown).

As a book this is a cracking, literally spellbinding read and the illustrations are Russell at this flamboyant best. There are five vibrant full-colour plates plus an additional ten large black and white line drawings combining the artist’s clean design line with a compositional style that owes much to the works of Aubrey Beardsley.

Whilst not technically a graphic narrative, this book features all the crucial antecedents of one with the additional virtues of being a hugely entertaining concoction garnished with some of the best art ever produced by one of the industry’s greatest stylists. Believe me, you really want this book and I really want some modern publisher to revive this tome and its companions, even if only in eBook format…
© 1987 the Donning Company/Publishers. Art © 1987 P. Craig Russell. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: “Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty”

By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-734-6

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and 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 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 – at once both visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it did go over the heads and around the hearts of 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 multi-layered 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 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 spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and latterly 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 fulsome colour, the Kat 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 of indeterminate gender, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true 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.

Smitten kitten Krazy always misidentifies these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him/her in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final 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 permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s 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 conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, 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 (“why dollin is you in pritzin?”, “l’il dahlink” or “I are illone”).

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 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, examples of contemporary merchandise, memorabilia and some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions featuring the cast and settings, the splendid madness resumes with January 3rd 1937 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – we can now set off on another odyssey into the heartlands of imagination.

Within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, with even more new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire.

Newcomers include a family of kangaroos who provide a unique form of locomotion for the traditional cops and boppers chases, a pale equatorial bear of mixed origins (Mama from the south Pole and Papa from the North), a tightrope walker of surly demeanour and unlikely antecedents, a gang of morally ambiguous pelicans and the much-travelled odd cove calling himself D.B. Platypus…

Of especial note can be observed a marked increase in the (temporary) triumphs of Offissa Pupp who now regularly locks up the brick-bunging little brigand. Oddly, that in turn leads to a spike in jail breaks…

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…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, including a formidable moat around the county jail as well as art installations and an early example of conjugal visitations

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow by the week. Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the notable innovations this time is an increase in road traffic as America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine takes hold of the cast (after a bevy of wandering car salesmen arrive in town). Alternatively the entire cast spend a lot of time in one spot stargazing and attempting various form of flight – usually before coming back to earth with a bump.

Topics of civic conversation and favoured pastimes include a serious lack of good gossip, the proposed smashing of the atom by audacious “sign tisks”, insomnia, radio talk shows and movie-making, a seasonal but wholly unexpected cold snap, astronomy and misunderstood planetary phenomena, fishing and water sports and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene…

One tireless constant is the growing instability and trustworthiness of supreme comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose increasingly hooch-affected delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to denizens of the county.

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.

Following another personalised birthday card, the cartoon gold is topped off by another 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 comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, and engendered 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.
© 2006, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings and Other Royal Rotters

By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-032-4

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The fabulous and effective conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down (or rather digs up) famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books), this regally-themed recollection is dedicated to not-so-private audiences with a succession of famous, infamous and utterly unforgettable royal rogues and rapscallions in what would almost certainly not be their own words…

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Ramesses II: Pharaoh of Egypt 1303 BCE – 1213 BCE’, who preferred to be called ‘Ramesses the Great’. Our intrepid interviewer incisively traces the “accomplishments” and gift for self-promotion of the dusty legend.

As always, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a key aspect of their lives such as here with ‘How to Make a Mummy’ scrupulously and systematically revealing the secrets of interring the definitely departed, after which we refocus on the ancient orient to quiz ‘Qin Shi Huang Di: Chinese Emperor 259 BCE 210 BCE’ on his reign and once more sifts truth from centuries of post-mortem PR briefings.

Backing up the inquiry ‘The Emperor’s Tomb’ details the layout of the vast City of Death Qin was buried in, as well as the Palace of Shadows and its terracotta army and the treasures it guarded…

‘Cleopatra: Pharaoh of Egypt 69 BCE – 30 BCE’ then outlines her incredible life, whilst ‘Barging In’ examines her astounding gold sea-craft and how it brought her to the attention of back-up lover/sponsor Mark Anthony.

A thankfully thoroughly sanitised account of the sordid exploits of ‘Nero: Roman Emperor 37-68’ is backed up by an exploration of one of his feasts in ‘Café Nero’, after which ‘Justinian II: Byzantine Emperor 669-711’ explains how his guile and determination enabled him to rule, lose, recapture and retake control of the mighty late Roman Empire. The impenetrable defences of 8th century Constantinople are then dissected in ‘The Walled City’

As well as a bit about burned cakes, ‘Alfred the Great: King of Wessex 849-6899’ reveals the remarkable military and civilising feats of the learning-obsessed ruler and expands the knowledge base by defining the fractured kingdoms of ‘The Dark Island’ of Britain at the time.

The Norman conquest is unpicked from the (one-eyed) view of the losing contender in ‘Harold Godwinson: English King 1022-1066’ accompanied by an extended look at the historical source document in Born on the Bayeaux’ whilst the first English civil war is remembered by formable Angevin matriarch ‘Empress Matilda: English Queen 1102-1167’. This is followed by a detailed deconstruction of the sturdy castle defensive system in The Old Bailey’.

The Crusades are represented rival legends made real. First up is the admirable and noble ‘Saladin: Sultan of Egypt and Syria 1137-1193’, who is bolstered by a catalogue of Moslem contributions to global civilisation in Gifts of Genius’, after which the unhappy truth about ‘Richard the Lionheart: English King 1157-1199’ is laid bare. After debunking centuries of self-aggrandising myths The Siege of Acre’ then traces one of the crusaders’ few actual heroic exploits…

‘Moctezuma II: Aztec Emperor 1456-1520’ relates how his timidity and sense of self-preservation contributed to the destruction of his dominions at the hands of the conquistadores before ‘Temple of Doom’ takes us into the deepest inner workings of the bloodstained ziggurats dedicated to human sacrifice on an industrial scale…

The most complex and contentious period in British history is taken apart by the royals at the heart of it all when ‘Henry VIII: English King 1491-1547’ tries to give us his spin on events leading to the reformation and – following Full Tilt – a History of Jousting’‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ – consecutively Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), Jane Seymour (1508-1537), Anne of Cleves (1525-1557), Catherine Howard (1523-1542) and Catherine Parr (1512-1548) – offer their side of the arguments and events.

Their revelations are augmented by a breakdown of the duties of a Queen’s faithful attendants in The Waiting Game’.

‘Charles II: English King 1630-1685’ relates how he came to power following the Second Civil War and backs up the personal reveries with A Memoir on Monarchy’ running down the changing role of rulers, before we cross the channel to hear how it all went wrong for France’s final female autocrat in ‘Marie Antoinette: French Queen 1755-1793’. Her fall from grace is abutted by a chilling lesson on the guillotine in Decapitation Stations’.

Contemporary cousin ‘Catherine the Great: Russian Empress 1729-1796’ managed to run things largely her own way, but as back-up Tsars in their Eyes’ shows, was plagued by a constant stream of pretenders, all claiming to be true, proper, better qualified and, yes, male contenders for her throne.

South African rebel and strategic genius ‘Shaka Zulu: Zulu King 1787-1828’, recounts how he literally created a mighty nation from nothing whilst The Battle of Isandlwana’ covers how his innovations were used to humiliate the overwhelmingly powerful British Army before the procession of pomp and circumstance closes with ‘Queen Victoria: English Queen 1819-1901’, accompanied by a phenomenally absorbing family tree, branching out and into every royal bloodline in Europe: a true Game of Thrones’

Clever, cheeky, outrageously funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk unyieldingly tackles history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, royal-watcher or republican in waiting…
Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings will be released on 6th September 2018 and is available for pre-order now. Time to start thinking of Christmas Presents yet…?

Star Comics All-Star Collection

By Lennie Herman, Sid Jacobson, Stan Kay, Bob Bolling, Warren Kremer, Howard Post & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4291-1

Once upon a time the American comicbook industry for younger readers was totally dominated by Gold Key with their TV and Disney licenses, and Harvey Comics who had largely switched from general genres to a wholesome, kid-friendly pantheon in the mid-1950s. They totally owned the pre-school sector until declining morals, television cartoon saturation and rising print costs finally forced them to bow out.

Gold Key suffered a slow erosion, gradually losing valuable prime properties like Popeye, Star Trek, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers cartoon stars plus sundry other treasures until parent company Western Publishing called it a day in 1984. Harvey had already shut up shop in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

The latter’s vast archived artwork store was sold off and, with the properties and rights up for grabs, Marvel Comics (who had already secured those lost Star Trek and Hanna-Barbera rights) was frontrunner for licensing the family firm’s iconic characters. These included Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack, Hot Stuff – the Little Devil, Wendy the Good Little Witch and many others.

When the bid failed, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, recognising a huge gap in the market, launched a cloned imprint of the Harvey stable (which would also encompass new TV and toy properties such as Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock, Alf, Madballs, Care Bears, Thundercats, Ewoks and such like) to devise the next generation of worthy, wholesome, entry-level comics for entertainment-hungry young minds and their concerned parents.

Marvel’s Star Comics line launched in 1985, edited by ex-Harvey head-honcho Sid Jacobson, with oddly familiar titles and an incontestably similar look and feel – achieved primarily by hiring former Harvey stalwarts such as Jacobson, Lennie Herman, Warren Kremer, Howard Post and others.

Millionaire prince and all-around good kid Royal Roy especially invoked the ire of the Harvey heirs who sued for copyright infringement of their astonishingly prolific Richie Rich: a glittering prize who had shone in more than 55 separate titles between his debut in 1953 and the bust of 1982.

Roy was cancelled after 6 issues – as were many Star series – in a brutal “Survival of the Funnest” publishing policy – and the suit was quietly dropped.

None of which affects the fact that those Eighties child stars were, in their own right, a superb agglomeration of all-ages fun, excitement and adventure joyously revisited in this sturdy digest collection from 2009: gathering that first wave of titles.

Featuring Planet Terry #1-2, Top Dog #1-3, Royal Roy #1-2 and Wally the Wizard #1-2 in a veritable nova of bubbly contagious thrills and frolics, the eccentric escapades open with a star who was just a little lost boy in space…

Planet Terry was created by Lennie Herman (who passed away just before the big Star Comics launch) and the truly magnificent Warren Kremer – whose animation-based art style became the defining look of Harvey Comics during its happy heyday – and starred a young lad searching the universe for the parents he had never known.

Introduced in ‘The Search’ (Herman, Kremer & Vince Colletta), Planet Terry was something of a nuisance, periodically landing on alien worlds, pestering the inhabitants and asking “Has anyone seen my mother and father?”

Found wandering in a life-pod which raised and educated him, the only clues Terry had to his past is a name bracelet and an empty picture frame…

However, this time when he returns to the obnoxious planet Bznko Terry accidentally drives off a menace which bores folks to death with bad jokes, so the inhabitants give him a junked lady robot as a reward.

This proves to be a blessing in disguise as Robota inadvertently leads the lonely lad to ‘A Clue’ when they all crashland on a mining asteroid and meet aged Enoch Diggs who recognises the life-pod the infant Terry was found in…

‘Some Answers’ are forthcoming as the dithery prospector reveals he once worked on a Confederation Cosmos Cruiser called the Space Warp where the captain’s wife was going to have a baby. Needing a sterile environment for the newborn infant, the crew placed him in the emergency life-boat, but his jubilant father accidentally triggered it whilst celebrating his son’s birth and the baby was rocketed into deep space.

Although they searched everywhere, the heartbroken spacemen never located the pod and assumed baby Terry was lost forever…

Although Enoch can’t remember the names of Terry’s parents he suggests that another old crewman might and the re-energised searchers rush to another asteroid to find him, only to instead encounter ‘The Malt Shop Menace’. Nevertheless, they recruit another voyager when Robota saves the brutish monster Omnus who gratefully joins their decidedly odd family. Little do they know that a sinister conspiracy is at work to keep the whereabouts and secret of the Space Warp lost forever…

Issue #2, by Herman, Kremer & Jon D’Agostino continues the quest as the family of outcasts encounter sabotage and opposition before landing their freshly repaired ship on the lost world of the Gorkels where the trio clumsily fulfil an ancient prophecy in ‘The Saga of Princess Ugly’.

In return for repairing Terry’s downed vessel, he, Robota and Omnus must rescue the abducted Princess by battling hostile jungles, shape-shifting beasts, killer vines, a whirlpool and a volcano – all controlled by arch-villain Vermin the Vile in ‘Too Close (enough) for Comfort’ before saving the girl from ‘The Doom of the Domed City’ and discovering the final resting place of the elusive Space Warp…

Also by Herman, Kremer & D’Agostino, Royal Roy debuted on his birthday in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Crown’ wherein the Prince of wealthy Ruritanian Cashalot discovers that the traditional, venerable Royal Highness Crown has gone missing on the day of his investiture. Whilst King Regal and Queen Regalia understandably panic, super-cool bodyguard Ascot diligently investigates, assorted resplendent relatives dither and interfere, so Roy and his pet crocodile Gummy keep their heads by ‘Picking up the Scent’. They soon expose a supernatural agency at work after ‘A Midnight Visit’ by ghostly ancestor William the Warhorse

Topping off the first issue was a snappy, snazzy short fun yarn starring the reptilian Gummy in ‘Crocadog’.

‘The Grand Ball’, scripted by Stan Kay, occupied most of Roy’s attention in the second issue as the underage but still eligible Prince took a fancy to simple commoner Crystal Clear whilst ambitious and mean social climber Lorna Loot spent all her time – and considerable cash – unsuccessfully attempting to beguile the boy by turning herself into a modern-day Cinderella in ‘A Strange Stranger’

‘Maneuvers!’ sees Roy fulfil his hereditary duties by joining the Cashalot army on dawn exercises, but as ruler-in-waiting of a rich and peaceful nation, the plucky lad isn’t too surprised to find that the entire armed forces consisted of one reluctant prince and a keen but aging general…

Top Dog featured a far more contemporary and pedestrian situation, depicting the lives of average American boy Joey Jordan and the mutt he brought home one day.

‘The Dog-Gone Beginning’ by Herman, Kremer & Jacqueline Roettcher revealed how, whilst looking for a lost baseball, the kid had accidentally seen a dog reading the newspaper and talking to himself. Exposed, the canny canine begged the boy to keep his secret else all the four-footed wonder could expect was a short and painful life being poked, prodded and probed by scientists…

When the lad swears to keep his secret, Top Dog agrees to come live with Joey in ‘House About a Dog, Mom?’, and whilst the boy tries to teach the pooch to bark – one of the few languages he can’t speak! – his accommodating family gradually get used to the seemingly normal dog and his boy.

However, when Mervin Megabucks – the richest and meanest kid in town – overhears the pair playing and conversing, the spoiled brat refuses to believe Joey is a ventriloquist. When the junior Jordan refuses to sell, Mervin steals Top Dog as the perfect addition to his palatial high-tech house.

Even torture won’t make the purloined pooch speak again however, and when Joey stages ‘The Big Breakout’ Mervin’s mega-robots prove no match for dogged determination and the plutocrat brat is left baffled, bamboozled and dog-less…

Issue #2 exposed ‘Spies!’ when the restless dog of a thousand talents appears to harbour a dark side. Going out on nightly jaunts, the marvellous mutt seemingly leads a double life as a security guard in a Defence Plant, triple-crossing everybody by photographing military secrets for a foreign power.

Of course, it is actually a diminutive enemy agent in a dog suit but Vladimir’s handlers hadn’t reckoned on a real dog looking – and speaking – just like their hairy operative. Thus they accidentally give their purloined plans to the chatty all-American canine…

After spectacularly trapping the sinister spies – without revealing his own astounding intellect – Top Dog is framed in #3 by Joey’s best friend Larry who is feeling rejected and neglected since the Brilliant Bow-wow moved in.

With a feral hound dubbed ‘The Mad Biter’ on the prowl and attacking people, it’s simple to send the perspicacious pup to the Pound, where he encounters lots of bad dogs who probably deserve to be ‘Caged’.

However, faithful Joey never gives up and after bailing his canine comrade out, the pair convince the guilt-ridden perjurer to see the light by treating him to an impromptu midnight ‘Ghost Story’

Even with Larry recanting his lies the neighbourhood families don’t trust Top Dog, but that all changes once the maligned mutt tracks down the real Biter and engages him in ‘A Fight to the Finish’

The final initial entry was written and illustrated by veteran Archie Comics artist Bob Bolling (probably most famous for creating and producing the first eight years’ worth of the award-winning Little Archie spin-off series), who concocted a fabulous medieval wonderland for Wally the Wizard to play in.

In #1’s ‘A Plague of Locusts’ mystical Merlin’s older, smarter brother Marlin is having trouble with his stubbornly inquisitive apprentice. Wally wants to know everything now, has no discipline and is full of foolish ideas and misconceptions. As a serious scientist, Marlin has no time for silly superstitions so after the lad accidentally releases a time-travelling demon from an age-old prison the mage refuses to believe him.

Gorg however swears faithfully to repay the favour before disappearing…

Despatched to deliver a potion to King Kodger, Wally also helps a dragon save his hatchling from a deep well, only just reaches the sovereign in time and has a feed on the Royal Barge where he once again fails to impress beauteous Princess Penelope

Meanwhile in distant Bloodmire Castle, wicked plotters Vastar the Vile, his sister Sybilious the Bilious and wicked warlock Erasmo are conspiring to conquer the kingdom by unleashing a gigantic metal locust to consume all in its path…

Even the noble knights led by invincible Sir Flauntaroy are helpless before the brazen beast and Wally realises only Marlin can save them. Unfortunately, the boy gets lost on route to fetch him, but happily for everybody the dragon and demon which the rationalist sorcerer refuses to believe in are ready to pay their debts to the apprentice…

Sid Jacobson, Howard Post & Jon D’Agostino took over for the second issue as Wally enters the annual apprentice’s games with Marlin now suddenly transformed into a traditional magic-making mage. In fact, Marlin, as a three-time champion of ‘The Magic-a-Thon!’ is secretly regretful that Wally is too inexperienced to compete, a fact his disciple discerns and tries to fix…

Desperately cramming for a week and eventually – with the coaching of his proud master -Wally sets off to compete but a lovelorn barbarian accidentally cleaves the kid’s crib notes in twain, leaving the lad able to create only half-spells and materialise semi-monsters…

Undaunted Wally continues and – even after a huge storm deprives him of the demi-directions and his back-up pouch of herbs and potions – perseveres, determined to win using nothing but his wits, guts and unflagging optimism…

This clutch of classic children’s tales also includes the enchanting covers and the original house-ads which introduced the characters to the Kids in America and more than three decades later is still a fabulous blast of intoxicating wonder and entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love…

With contemporary children’s comics on the rise again after too long a fallow period, it’s still sensible and fun to acknowledge the timeless classics we used to draw upon and which drew kids in. Historical compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every funnybook-loving parent and even those lonely couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes…
© 1985 and 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus

By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-126-0

Here’s a rather short but exceedingly heartfelt and enthusiastic review for a mighty big book that’s been a long time coming. Scripter Dave Gallaher (Green Lantern, Box 13) and illustrator Steve Ellis (High Moon) first began their stupendous science fiction saga in 2012.

The series started life as a webcomic before being picked up by Papercutz. The hugely popular comics yarn (multiple reprintings and numerous award nominations) was collected as a quintet of graphic albums – Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet; Beyond Sea and Sky; Once Upon a Time; Through the Murky Deep and To Save a Shattered World – and now the tale is done has been regathered in a bulky paperback (or eBook edition) recounting the complete saga and including fresh material from a Free Comic Book Day tie-in and other sources.

So, what’s it about?

Erik Farrell is 12 years old and scared. That’s why he runs into Central Park at the dead of night in a thunderstorm. In the morning he wakes up in the roots of a tree clutching a little kid’s teddy-bear backpack that, for some inexplicable reason, he must not lose. He’s also lost most of his memory. Even so, he’s pretty sure home never had wild jungles, marauding monsters, talking beasts and bugs or a shattered moon hanging low in the sky…

Chased by howling horrors and dimly aware that the decimated city ruins are somehow familiar, Erik is saved by a green warrior calling herself Morgan Dwar of the Mermidonians, but the respite is short lived.

All too soon they are captured by slaves of diabolical experimenter Doctor Once and taken to his revolting laboratory. It doubles as gladiatorial arena where the scientist’s involuntary body modifications can prove their worth in combat.

Erik’s fellow captives soon apprise him of the state of his new existence. The world is a bizarre of patchwork regions and races, all of them at war with each other and all threatened by monstrous shapeshifting dragon Baalikar. The Doctor seeks the secrets of trans-species evolution and is ruthless and cruel in the pursuit of his goal.

In the arena, however, Erik shows them all the value of cooperation and promptly escapes with Morgan and insectoid Sectaurian Princess Thelandria AKA Thea

Constantly running to survive, the boy slowly uncovers an incredible conspiracy affecting this entire world and even long-gone Earth. The big surprise is an unsuspected secret connection between his own excised past, Doctor Once and the hidden manipulators known as the Consortium. On the way, just like Flash Gordon, Erik somehow inspires and unites strangely disparate and downtrodden races and species into a unified force to save the planet they must all share…

After a heroic journey and insurmountable perils faced Erik’s story culminates in the answers he’s been looking for and a classic spectacular battle where the many races ultimately extinguish the evil of Baalikar.

Sadly though, that just makes room for another menace to emerge…

Adding bonus thrills to the alien odyssey are a complete cover gallery plus two lengthy sidebar tales. ‘Under the Light of the Broken Moon’ and ‘In the Clutches of the Consortium’ focus on the developing relationship between Morgan and Sectaurian Warlord Phaedrus and on the repercussions of failure for failed-tool Doctor Once at the hands of his backers…

Rocket-paced, bold and constantly inventive, The Only Living Boy is a marvellous and unforgettable romp to enthral every kid with a sense of wonder and thirst for adventure.
© 2012-2018 Bottled Lightning LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Only Living Boy Omnibus is scheduled for publication on 25th August 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives volume 1

By Bill Everett and others, edited and complied by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-488-7

Thanks to modern technology and diligent research by dedicated fans, there is a sublime superabundance of collections featuring the works of too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books. A magnificent case in point is this initial chronicle (available in both print and digital formats) revisiting the incredible gifts and achievements of one of the greatest draughtsmen and yarn-spinners the industry has ever seen.

You could save some time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m keen to carp on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to join the books on your “favourites” shelf.

The star of this collection was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake. His tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work – Bill was quite possibly the most technically accomplished artist in US comicbook industry – reveals how a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree was wracked by illness, an addictive personality (especially alcoholism) and sheer bad luck, but nevertheless shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, saved many broken lives by becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous in his later years.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious, he contracted tuberculosis when he was twelve and was dispatched to arid Arizona to recuperate.

This chain of events began a life-long affair with the cowboy lifestyle: a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, tall-tale-telling breed locked in a hard-to-win war against slow self-destruction. All this and more is far better imparted in the fact-filled, picture-packed Introduction by Blake Bell. It covers the development of the medium in ‘The Golden Age of Comics’, the history of ‘Bill Everett the Man’ and how they came together in ‘Centaur + Funnies Inc. = Marvel Comics #1’.

Th essay also includes an astounding treasure trove of found images and original art including samples from 1940s Sub-Mariner, 1960s Daredevil and 1970s Black Widow amongst many others.

Accompanied by the covers – that’s the case for most of the titles that follow: Everett was fast and slick and knew how to catch a punter’s eye – for Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 1 #1, 2, 3a, 3b and volume 2 #2 (August 1938 – February 1939, Centaur) are a quartet of rousing but muddled interstellar exploits starring sci fi troubleshooter Skyrocket Steele.

These are followed by a brace of anarchic outer space shenanigans starring futuristic wild boy Dirk the Demon from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 1 #3a and vol. 2 #3 (November 1938 and March 1939 respectively).

The undisputed star and big draw at Centaur was always Amazing-Man: a Tibetan mystic-trained orphan, adventurer and do-gooder named John Aman. After years of dangerous, painful study the young man was despatched back to civilisation to do good (for a relative given value of “good”)…

Aman stole the show in the monthly Amazing Mystery Comics #5-8 (spanning September to December 1939) as seen in the four breakneck thrillers reprinted here: ‘Origin of Amazing-Man’; an untitled sequel episode with the champion saving a lady rancher from sadistic criminals; ‘Amazing-Man Loose’ (after being framed for various crimes) and a concluding instalment wherein the nomadic hero abandons his quest to capture his evil arch rival ‘The Great Question’ and instead heads for recently invaded France to battle the scourge of Nazism…

As previously stated, Everett was passionately wedded to western themes and for Novelty Press’ Target Comics devised an Arizona-set rootin’ tootin’ cowboy crusader dubbed Bull’s-Eye Bill. Taken from issues #1 and 2 (February and March 1940), ‘On the trail of Travis Trent’ and ‘The Escape of Travis Trent’ find our wholesome but hard-bitten cowpoke battling the meanest and most determined owlhoot in the territory.

Accompanying the strips is an Everett-illustrated prose piece attributed to “Gray Brown” entitled ‘Bullseye Bill Gets his Moniker’.

Thanks to his breakthrough Sub-Mariner sagas, Everett was inextricably linked to water-based action and immensely popular, edgy heroes. That’s why Eastern Comics commissioned him to create human waterspout Bob Blake, Hydroman for their new bimonthly anthology Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics.

Here then (spanning issues #1-5; August 1940 to March 1941), are five spectacular, eerily offbeat exploits, encompassing ‘The Origin of Hydroman’ and covering his patriotic mission to make America safe from subversion from “oriental invaders”, German saboteurs and assorted ne’er-do-wells. after which a Polar Paladin rears his frozen head.

Sub-Zero Man debuted in Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 (July 1940): a Venusian scientist stranded on Earth who, through myriad bizarre circumstances, becomes a chilly champion of justice. Everett is only credited with the episode ‘The Power of Professor X’ (from vol. 1 #5, October 1940) but also included here are the cover of vol. 1 #4 and spot illos for the prose stories ‘Sub-Zero’s Adventures on Earth’ and ‘Frozen Ice’ (from Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 and vol. 2 #3).

The Conqueror was another quickly forsaken Everett creation: a Red, White & Blue patriotic costumed champion debuting in Victory Comics #1 August 1941. Daniel Lyons almost died in a plane crash but was saved by cosmic ray bombardment which granted him astounding mental and physical powers in ‘The Coming of the Conqueror’.

He promptly moved to Europe to “rid the world of Adolf Hitler!” and Everett’s only other contribution was the cover of issue #2 (September 1941).

Accompanied by a page of the original artwork from Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12 (May 1941), The Music Master details how dying violinist John Wallace is saved by mystic musical means and becomes a sonic-powered superman righting injustices and crushing evil…

Rounding out this cavalcade of forgotten wonders are a selection of covers, spot illustrations and yarns which can only be described as Miscellaneous (1938-1942). These consist of the cover to the 1938 Uncle Joe’s Funnies #1; procedural crime thriller ‘The C-20 Mystery’ from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 2 #7 (June 1939) and ‘The Story of the Red Cross’ from True Comics #2 (June 1938).

The cover for Dickie Dare #1 (1941) is followed by a range of potent illustrative images from text tales beginning with three pages for ‘Sheep’s Clothing’ (Funny Pages vol. 2 #11; November 1940), a potent pic for ‘Birth of a Robot Part 2’ from Target Comics vol. 1 #6 (July 1940), two pages from ‘Death in a Box’ courtesy of Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5 (March 1941) and two from ‘Pirate’s Oil’ in Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #13 (July 1942), before the unpublished, unfinished 1940 covers for Challenge Comics #1 and Whirlwind Comics #1 bring the nostalgia to a close.

Although telling, even revelatory and hinting at a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding versatility of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller with the unparalleled ability to make all his imaginary worlds hyper-real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories enthralled and enchanted everybody lucky enough to read them. You should really invite yourself onto that list…
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2011 Blake Bell. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Strange Adventures volume 1

By John Broome, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Joe Samachson, Gardner Fox, Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Harry Sharp, Sid Gerson, Jerry Coleman, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Sid Greene, Murphy Anderson, Sy Barry, Joe Giella, Jerry Grandenetti, John Giunta, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1544-6

As the 1940s closed, masked mystery-men dwindled in popularity and the American comicbook industry found new heroes.

Classic genre titles flourished; resulting in anthologies dedicated to crime, war, westerns and horror amongst most comics publishers. These were augmented by newer fads like funny animal, romance and especially science fiction which, in 1950, finally escaped its glorious thud and blunder/ray guns/bikini babes in giant fishbowl helmets pulp roots (as perfectly epitomised in the uniquely wonderful Golden Age icon Planet Comics) with the introduction of Strange Adventures.

Packed with short adventures from jobbing SF prose writers and offering a plethora of new heroes such as Chris KL99, Captain Comet, the Atomic Knights and others, the magnificent monthly compendium – supplemented a year later with sister-title Mystery in Space – introduced wide-eyed youngsters to a fantastic but intrinsically rationalist universe and all the potential wonders and terrors it might conceal…

This spectacular and economical black-&-white collection (astonishingly, there are still no archival collections of this stuff available to modern readers these days; not even via that future-fangled interweb) re-presents stories from the inception of the self-regulatory Comics Code.

Strange Adventures #54-73 covers March 1955 to October 1956, right up to the start of the Silver Age when superheroes began to successfully reappear, offering beguiled readers technological wonderment and the sure-&-certain knowledge that there were many and varied somethings “Out There”…

On a thematic note: a general but by no means concrete rule of thumb was that Strange Adventures generally occurred on Earth or were at least Earth-adjacent, whilst – as the name suggests – Mystery in Space offered readers the run of the rest of the universe.

Moreover, many of the plots, gimmicks, maguffins and even art and design would be cleverly recycled for the later technologically-based Silver Age superhero revivals…

This mind-blowing, physics-challenging monochrome colossus opens with the March 1955 issue and four classic vignettes, beginning with ‘The Electric Man!’ by John Broome & Sy Barry, wherein a geologist in search of new power sources accidentally unleashes destructive voltaic beings from the centre of the Earth.

As always – and in the grand tradition of legendary pulp sci-fi editor John Campbell – human ingenuity and decency generally solves the assorted crises efficiently and expeditiously…

‘The World’s Mightiest Weakling!’ from Otto Binder, Carmine Infantino & Bernard Sachs, offers a charming yet impossible conundrum after a puny stripling gains incomprehensible mass and density during the course of an experiment, whilst ‘Interplanetary Camera!’ (Binder, Gil Kane & Sachs) grants a photographer a glimpse of the unknown when he finds an alien image recorder and uncovers a plot to destroy Earth.

The issue concludes with another Binder blinder in the taut thriller ‘The Robot Dragnet!’, illustrated by Harry Sharp & Joe Giella, with a rip-roaring romp of rampaging robotic rage.

This tale was actually the sequel to an earlier yarn but sufficiently and cleverly recapped so that there’s no confusion or loss of comprehensibility…

Issue #55 led with ‘The Gorilla who Challenged the World’ by Edmond Hamilton & Barry, wherein an ape’s intellect is scientifically enhanced to the point where he becomes a menace to all mankind. So great was his threat that this tale also carried over to the next issue…

During this period editors were baffled by a bizarre truism: every issue of any title which featured gorillas on the cover always resulted in increased sales. Little wonder then that so many DC comics had hairy headliners…

‘Movie Men from Mars!’ (Hamilton, Sharp & Giella) sees our world the unwilling location for cinematographers from the Red Planet. Unfortunately, they’re making a disaster movie…

‘A World Destroyed!’ by Joe Kubert offered a fanciful yet gripping explanation for how the asteroid belts between Mars and Jupiter were formed and that cataclysm theme is revisited in ‘The Day the Sun Exploded!’ with Broome, Kane & Sachs depicting a desperate dash by scientists to save Earth from melting.

Sid Gerson, Murphy Anderson & Giella then wrap up by revealing the baffling puzzle of ‘The Invisible Spaceman!’

SA #56 opened whimsically with ‘The Fish-Men of Earth!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) as air density goes temporarily askew thanks to invading aliens, before ‘Explorers of the Crystal Moon!’ (Broome, Sharp & Sachs) finds a little boy going for a secret solar safari with visiting extraterrestrials.

Artist Paul Paxton then inadvertently becomes ‘The Sculptor Who Saved the World!’ when future-men ask him to make some highly specific pieces for them: a fast-paced yarn by Broome, Kane & Giella. Penitent Dr. Jonas Mills then corrects his evolutionary error by finally defeating his mutated gorilla in the concluding part of simian saga ‘The Jungle Emperor!’ by Hamilton & Barry.

Broome, Sid Greene & Sachs’ ‘The Spy from Saturn!’ opened issue #57 with a Terran scientist replaced by a perfect impostor, whilst ‘The Moonman and the Meteor!’ (Bill Finger & Barry) posits millionaires and aliens trying to buy or inveigle a fallen star from a humble amateur astronomer for the best and worst of reasons, after which Binder, Kane & Giella proffer ‘The Riddle of Animal “X”’ after a small boy finds a pet like no other creature on Earth…

Broome, Infantino & Giella then reveal an incredible ancient find to a Uranium prospector and some fugitive convicts desperate enough to try any means of escape in ‘Spaceship Under the Earth!’

Issue #58 opens with a police chief’s frantic search for a superhuman felon in ‘I Hunted the Radium Man!’ (Dave Wood & Infantino) whilst ‘Prisoner of Two Worlds!’ – Finger & Barry – sees the long-awaited return of genius detective Darwin Jones of The Department of Scientific Investigation.

Although an anthology of short stories, Strange Adventures featured a number of memorable returning characters and concepts such as Star Hawkins, Space Museum and The Atomic Knights during its run.

Jones debuted in the very first issue, solving fringe science dilemmas for the Federal Government and making thirteen appearances over as many years. In this third adventure he assists alien peace-officers in preventing a visiting extraterrestrial from taking a commonplace earth object back to his homeworld where it would become a ghastly terror-weapon…

‘Dream-Journey Through Space!’ (Broome, Kane & Sachs) depicts an ordinary human plucked from Earth to rescue an ancient civilisation from destruction as well as a humble but cunning ventriloquist who save our world from invasion by invincible aliens in Finger, Greene & Giella’s ‘The Invisible Masters of Earth!’

A young married couple have to find a way to prove they aren’t dumb animals on ‘The Ark from Planet X’ (Broome, Greene & Giella) which opened #59, after which ‘The Super-Athletes from Outer Space!’ came to our world to train in a heavier gravity environment and find the galaxy’s greatest sports-coach in a charming tale by Binder, Kane & Sachs.

Ed “France” Herron & Infantino then explore the domino theory of cause and effect in ‘Legacy from the Future!’ before Broome & Barry delve into ancient history and doomsday weaponry to discover the secret of our solar system and ‘The World that Vanished!’

Strange Adventures #60 featured a light-hearted time-travel teaser by Broome, Jerry Grandenetti & Giella concerning how historians gather together famous historic personages from ‘Across the Ages!’

‘The Man Who Remembered 100,000 Years Ago!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) is a terse, tense thriller as lightning provokes ancestral memories of a previous civilisation just in time for a scientist to cancel his unwitting repeat of the self-same experiment which had eradicated them…

Broome, Greene & Sachs then follow the life of a foundling boy who turns out to be an ‘Orphan of the Stars!’ before the issue concludes with a future-set thriller wherein schoolboy Ted Carter wins a place on a multi-species outing to the ‘World at the Edge of the Universe!’ (Binder & Barry).

In #61, ‘The Mirages from Space!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) are a portal into a fantastic other world and hold the secret of Earth’s ultimate salvation; ‘The Thermometer Man’ – Binder, Greene & Giella – sees a scientist striving to save a stranded Neptunian from melting in the scorching hell of our world and a lighthouse keeper is forced to play smart to counter a Plutonian invasion with ‘The Strange Thinking-Cap of Willie Jones!’ (Herron & Barry).

In conclusion Binder, Greene & Giella’s ‘The Amazing Two-Time Inventions’ finds an amateur inventor making fortuitous contact with his counterparts in 3000AD…

SA #62 introduced ‘The Fireproof Man’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) whose equally astounding dog foils an alien invasion even as an ordinary handyman falls into another dimension to become a messiah and ‘The Emperor of Planet X’ (Broome, Greene & Giella). Binder, Kane & Giella then report an abortive ‘Invasion from Inner Space!’ before ‘The Watchdogs of the Universe!’ recruit their first human agent in a tantalising tale by Binder, Greene & Giella.

Joe Samachson, Grandenetti & Giella start #63 with ‘I Was the Man in the Moon!’: an intriguing puzzle for an ordinary Joe who awakes to find aliens have inexplicably re-sculpted the lunar surface with his face, after which a Native American forest ranger becomes Earth’s only hope of translating an alien warning in The Sign Language of Space!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

‘Strange Journey to Earth!’ by Jerry Coleman, Kane &Giella sees an ordinary school teacher deduce an alien’s odd actions and save the world before the issue ends in ‘Catastrophe County, U.S.A.!’ where Hamilton, Greene & Giella introduce scientists to the Government’s vast outdoor natural disaster lab…

Sales-boosting simians resurface in #64 as Finger, Infantino & Sachs deliver hostile ‘Gorillas in Space!’ who are anything but, whilst a first contact misunderstanding results in terror and near-death for an Earth explorer lost in ‘The Maze of Mars’ (Binder, Greene & Sachs).

Then a technological Indiana Jones becomes ‘The Man Who Discovered the West Pole!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella) and Samachson & Grandenetti craft a canny tale of planetary peril in ‘The Earth-Drowners!’

In #65 (February 1956) ‘The Prisoner from Pluto!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella, features an alien attempting to warn Earth of imminent Saturnian attack and forced to extreme measures to accomplish his mission.

A different kind of cultural upheaval is referenced in the quaint but clever tale of ‘The Rock-and-Roll Kid from Mars!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella). A stage mentalist outfoxes genuine telepaths in ‘War of the Mind Readers!’ by Binder, Infantino & Sachs before a biologist turns temporary superhero to foil an alien attack in ‘The Man who Grew Wings!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella to end the issue.

Issue #66 opens with Broome & Infantino’s tale of ‘The Human Battery!’ as an undercover cop suddenly develops an incredible power, whilst a guy in a diner mistakenly picks up ‘The Flying Raincoat!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) and accidentally averts an insidious clandestine invasion of our world.

Binder, Kane & Sachs then see Darwin Jones solve the ‘Strange Secret of the Time Capsule!’ and the metamorphic ‘Man of a Thousand Shapes!’ (Samachson, Infantino & Sachs) proves to be a being with a few secrets of his own…

‘The Martian Masquerader!’ (Strange Adventures #67, by Broome, Kane & Giella) plays clever games as editor Julie Schwartz (aka “Mr. Black”) is approached by an alien in need of assistance in tracking down an ET terrorist after which Hamilton, Greene & Giella hone in on a subatomic scientist desperate to find his infinitesimal homeworld in ‘Search for a Lost World!’

‘The Talking Flower!’ in chemist Willie Pickens’ buttonhole is a lost alien who helps him save the world in Samachson, Infantino & Sachs’ charming romance, but the time-travelling travails experienced by archaeologist Roger Thorn after he discovers the ‘Gateway Through the Ages!’ (Hamilton, Greene & Giella) lead only to danger and hard-earned knowledge…

Issue #68 starts with ‘The Man who Couldn’t Drown!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs): a tale of genetic throwbacks and unfathomable mystery whilst a ‘Strange Gift from Space!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) results in a safer planet for all, after which a chance chemical discovery produces a happy salvation in ‘The Balloons That Lifted a City!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella) and a common thief gets in way over his head when he robs a laboratory in Samachson, Greene Sachs’ witty ‘The Game of Science!’

SA #69 sees a time-traveller voyage into pre-history and help dawn-age humans overcome ‘The Gorilla Conquest of Earth’ (Broome, Kane & Sachs) whilst the arrival of ‘The Museum from Mars’ (Gardner Fox, Greene & Giella) offers almost irresistible temptation and deadly danger to humanity and ‘The Man with Four Minds!’ (Hamilton & Infantino) sees a man with too much knowledge and power eschew it all for normality. ‘The Human Homing Pigeon!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) then burns out his own unique gift in the service of his fellows…

The Triple Life of Dr. Pluto!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella in #70 deals with the dangers of a human duplicating ray after which Darwin Jones confronts a deadly dilemma when warring aliens both claim to be our friends and ‘Earth’s Secret Weapon!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella).

An early computer falls into the hands of a petty thief with outrageous consequences in ‘The Mechanical Mastermind!’ (Samachson & Infantino) whilst the ‘Menace of the Martian Bubble!’ (Broome, Greene & Giella) is foiled by a purely human mind and the skills of a stage magician.

Issue #71 features ‘Zero Hour for Earth!’ (Broome & Barry) as a scientist at world’s end sends a time-twisting thought-message back to change future history, whilst invisible thieves of the planet’s fissionable resources are thwarted by a scientist with a unique visual impairment in ‘Raiders from the Ultra-Violet!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella. Writer Ray Hollis sees a star fall and encounters ‘The Living Meteor!’ (Fox, Kane & Sachs) whilst a guy with a weight problem discovers he has become ‘The Man Who Ate Sunshine!’ in a clever conundrum from Samachson, Grandenetti & Giella.

Strange Adventures #72 begins with a fabulous, self-evident spectacular in ‘The Skyscraper that Came to Life!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella, whilst a shooting star reveals an ancient ‘Puzzle from Planet X!’ which promises friendship or doom in a classy yarn from Hamilton, Greene & Sachs.

‘The Time-Wise Thief!’ (Gerson & John Giunta) provides a salutary moral for a bandit with too much technology and temptation before ‘The Man Who Lived Nine Lifetimes!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella) is aroused from a sleep of ages to save us all from robot invasion…

The initial flights of fantasy conclude with the contents of issue #73, beginning with ‘The Amazing Rain of Gems!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella, wherein a sentient jewel almost beguiles the entire world, whilst humans are hijacked to attend a ‘Science-Fiction Convention on Mars’ (Fox, Kane & Giella) and ‘The Man with Future-Vision!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sachs) discovers that knowing what’s coming isn’t necessarily enough…

The imaginative inspiration ends with a clever time-paradox fable in Hamilton, Greene & Giella’s ‘Reverse Rescue of Earth!’

Conceived and edited by the brilliant Julie Schwartz and starring the cream of the era’s writers and artists, Strange Adventures set the standard for mind-boggling all-ages fantasy fiction. With stunning, evocative covers from such stellar art luminaries as Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Ruben Moreira, this titanic tome is a perfect portal to other worlds and, in many ways, far better times.

If you dream in steel and plastic and are agonising and still wondering why you don’t yet own a personal jet-pack, this volume might go some way to assuaging that unquenchable fire for the stars…

Then again so might a spiffy new collection as part of DC’s Silver Age archive strand…
© 1955, 1956, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Mirror Classic Cartoon Collection

By Peter O’Donnell, Jim Edgar, Barrie Tomlinson, Steve Dowling, John Allard, Frank Bellamy, Martin Asbury, Reg Smythe, Jim Holdaway, Jack Greenall, Jack Clayton, John Gillatt & various, compiled by Mike Higgs (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-1-89944-175-4

The Daily Mirror has been home to a number of great strips over its long history – beginning with one of the Empire’s greatest successes Tiger Tim, (who debuted there in 1904) and culminating with the likes of the war-winning morale-boosting naive nymph Jane, not to mention The Perishers, Garth, Andy Capp and many others.

Two of the above cited feature in this beautiful compilation from Mike Higgs’ Hawk Books which did so much over the years to keep British cartoon history alive. This particular triumph gathers sample selections from the newspaper’s back catalogue in a spiffy, luxuriously oversized (280 x 180 mm) hardback that is stuffed with fun, thrills and quality nostalgia.

The illustrious Garth is the first star, featured in an adventure from 1957 by series originator and longest serving creator Steve Dowling (1943-1969) – and then succeeded by his assistant John Allard, then Frank Bellamy and finally Martin Asbury.

Garth is a hulking physical specimen, a virtual human superman with the involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits.

‘The Captive’ – written by Peter O’Donnell and illustrated by Dowling and Allard – is a contemporary tale with our hero abducted from Earth as a prize in a galactic scavenger hunt instigated by bored hedonistic aliens who don’t realise quite what they’ve gotten themselves involved with…

A second adventure, ‘The Man-hunt’, is the last that Frank Bellamy worked on. The astounding Bellamy died in 1976 whilst drawing this story of beautiful alien predators in search of prime genetic stock with which to reinvigorate their tired bloodlines. Written by Jim Edgar, the strip was completed by Asbury who took over with the 17th instalment. This tongue-in-cheek thriller is full of thrills and fantastic action, yet never loses its light humorous touch.

Andy Capp is a drunken, skiving, misogynistic, work-shy, wife-beating scoundrel who has somehow become one of the most popular and well-loved strip characters of all time. Created by jobbing cartoonist Reg Smythe to appeal to northern readers during a circulation drive, he first saw the light of day – with long-suffering, perpetually abused-but-forgiving wife Florrie in tow – on August 5th 1957.

This volume reprints 37 strips from the feature’s 41-year run, which only ended with Smythe’s death in 1998, but the sheer magic of this lovable rogue is as inexplicably intoxicating as it always was, defeating political correctness and common decency alike: A true Guilty Pleasure.

Romeo Brown began in 1954, drawn by Dutch artist Alfred “Maz” Mazure, and starred a private detective with an eye for the ladies and a nose for trouble. The feature was a light, comedic adventure series that added some glamour to the dour mid-1950s, but really kicked into high gear when Maz left in 1957 to be replaced by Peter O’Donnell and the brilliant Jim Holdaway, who would go on to create the fabulous Modesty Blaise together. Romeo shut up shop in 1962 and is represented here by a pair of romps from the penultimate year. ‘The Arabian Knight’ and ‘The Admiral’s Grand-daughter’ combine sly, knowing humour, bungling criminality and dazzlingly visuals in a manner any Carry-On fan would die for.

Useless Eustace was a gag-panel (a single-picture joke) that ran from January 1935 to 1985. Created by Jack Greenall, its star was a bald nondescript everyman who met the travails of life with unflinching enthusiasm but very little sense. Greenall produced the strip until 1974, and other artists continued it until 1985. The selections here are from the war years and the 1960s. Another comedy panel was Calamity Gulch, a particularly British view of the ubiquitous “Western” which invaded our sensibilities with the rise of television ownership in the 1950s. Created by Jack Clayton, it began its spoofing and sharp-shooting on 6th June 1960, and you can see 21 of the best right here, Pardner.

A staple of children’s comics that never really prospered in newspapers was the sports adventure. At least not until 1989 when those grown up tykes opened the Daily Mirror to find a football strip entitled Scorer, written by Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Barry Mitchell, and eventually John Gillatt. Very much an updated, R-rated Roy of the Rovers, the strip stars Dave ‘Scorer’ Storry and his team Tolcaster F.C. in fast, hot, sexy tales of the Beautiful Game that owed as much to the sports pages it began on as to the grand cartoon tradition.

‘Cup Cracker’, included here is by Tomlinson & Gillatt from 1994, and shows that WAGS (Wives And GirlfriendS, non-sports fans) were never a new phenomenon.

Not many people know this – or indeed, care – but before I review an old book (which I arbitrarily define as something more than three years old) I try to locate copies on the internet. It’s a blessing then to still see this wonderful and utterly British tome is readily available in France, Germany – most of Europe in fact and even in Britain. Surely that’s a testament to the book’s quality and desirability, and if that’s the case maybe The Mirror Group or some print philanthropist should expedite a new edition – or even a few sequels…
© 1998 Mirror Group Newspapers, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale

By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11 December 1928. After training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. The puppet soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: bluff Thor Nogson, talking green cormorant Graculus and his wife Nooka who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit princess these days).

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

Charming, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin affected generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets and books like these. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Translated by Kent H. Dixon & illustrated by Kevin H. Dixon (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-793-1 (PB)                     : 978-1-60980-794-8 (eBook)

Comics is the most expansive medium we have for extolling heroic deeds, combining a facility for depicting all aspects of character with an unlimited budget for special effects and communicating instantaneous visceral understanding and appreciation to and on the part of the audience.

That was not always the case: once upon a time all we had was words, originally spoken or chanted but eventually translated into permanent marks on long-lasting surfaces.

As of this writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known work of human literature. A truly timeless heroic saga, the work’s earliest incarnation is actually five Sumerian poems lauding the accomplishments of Bilgamesh, King of Uruk, that date from the Third Dynasty of Ur – or about 2100 BC as you or I and modern Mesopotamians would reckon it.

As is so often the case, some smart wordsmith long ago appropriated and reconditioned the snippets into something grander with the saga surviving into our era via a series (still incomplete) of Babylonian tablets. The material is open to frequent interpretation and has been translated into many languages since first discovered.

What source material we have comes from tablets of cuneiform logographs discovered back in 1853 by Hormuzd Rassam amidst the remains of the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh (near modern Mosul in Iraq). In the early 1870s western historian George Smith published his first translation and, after more hands-on study and research, a full and final version in his 1880 book The Chaldean Account of Genesis. The first direct Arabic translation – by Iraqi Taha Baqir – only appeared in 1960.

Many later scholars have had a bash, with 2003’s 2-volume critical work by Andrew George being generally accounted as the most definitive thus far.

I, however, am no scholar (or gentleman, by all accounts) and the graphic novel on point today has my vote for perhaps the most honest and genuine treatment yet…

Gilgamesh is the prototype and template of all modern hero myths, with a demi-god king, alternatively beloved and despised, stricken and emboldened by his own greatness triumphing over all odds and odd monsters, but ultimately brought low by his own humanity.

It’s also a story with creation myth motifs (Man brought forth from clay; god-touched, animal-saving survivors of great floods; resurrection from the dead) that reoccur over and over again in later religions.

This version, though, is replete with earthy humour, casual smut and everyday venality. It feels like despite the mystical trappings, the characters at its heart are all-too human: which is quite cool, as artefacts dating back to 2600 BC have been recently uncovered that indicate the actual existence of some of the actors in this particular passion play…

What also lends this superb monochrome marvel much of its compelling veracity and beguiling attraction is a somewhat unique collaboration. Kent H. Dixon is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, novelist and educator who spends his days teaching and translating literary works from Japanese hibakusha to classics by Rilke and Mallarmé.

Kent H. Dixon is a social activist, underground radio show host and the award-winning cartoonist who created …And Then There Was Rock and subversive milestone Mickey Death in the Winds of Impotence. He might be the only aging rebel in the world happy to work with his dad…

Their slowly-unfolding, decade-long collaboration on The Epic of Gilgamesh caught the attention of top bloke Russ Kick (You Are Being Lied To and Everything You Know is Wrong; and data archive who quickly made it and them a key part of his superb Graphic Canon series.

So, what do you get here that other translations don’t offer? Following Kick’s scene-setting, context-establishing Introduction, Kent Senior’s Translator’s Note relates how the literary wizard retranslated the original tablets – including recently unearthed Tablet 5 – and offers a few hints regarding narrative direction whilst Kevin Dixon’s Artist’s Note spills a few secrets on producing a classic everybody “knows” as an out of sequence part-work…

As for the story: an arrogant hero-king wanders the Earth and realms of gods and monsters. He’s pretty vile to women and beats up whom he pleases until the gods create a perfect enemy who ends up becoming his truest, only friend. And then he dies and Hero defies the universe and challenges Hell to get him back. You’ve heard it all before but you’ve never seen it like this…

Bold and brash, raw and raucous, this inviting interpretation also manages to maintain a graceful poetic rhythm and deftly incorporate the philosophy and instructions-for-living that permeate and underscore the original without missing a beat. A magnificent tale with a big heart and supremely engaging, this funny, scary, action-packed pictorial fable is a brilliant achievement and I for one am hungry for more.

Spenser’s Faerie Queene or Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West anyone?
© 2018 by Kent H. Dixon and Kevin H. Dixon. All rights reserved.