The Adventures of Red Sonja volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Bruce Jones, Frank Thorne, Dick Giordano, Esteban Maroto, Neal Adams, Ernie Chan & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-93330-507-3

Once upon a time, girls expertly wielding swords and kicking butt were rarer than politicians who respected personal boundaries. These days, though, it seems no lady’s ensemble is complete without a favourite pig-sticker and accompanying armour accessories. You can probably trace that trend back to one breakthrough comics character…

Although Diana Prince, Valkyrie and Asgardian goddess Sif all used bladed weapons none of them ever wracked up a bodycount you’d expect or believe until ‘The Song of Red Sonja’ (Conan the Barbarian #23, February 1973, drawn, inked and coloured by Barry Windsor-Smith) introduced a dark-eyed hellion to the world.

The tale became one of the most popular and reprinted stories of the decade, winning that year’s Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards in the Best Individual Story (Dramatic) category.

Although based on Robert E. Howard’s Russian warrior-woman Red Sonya of Rogatine (as seen in the 16th century-set thriller The Shadow of the Vulture, with a smidgen of Dark Agnes de Chastillon thrown into the mix) the comicbook Red Sonja is very much the brainchild of Roy Thomas.

In his Introduction ‘A Fond Look Back at Big Red’ he shares many secrets of her convoluted genesis, development and achievements as part of this first archival collection (available in trade paperback and digital editions) of her Marvel Comics appearances.

Released at a time when the accepted wisdom was that comics starring women didn’t sell, Marvel Feature (volume 2) was launched to capitalise on a groundswell of popular interest stemming from Sonja’s continuing guest shots in Conan stories. This initial compilation collects issues #1-7 (November 1975-November 1975) and opens with a then scarce-seen reprint…

Sonja graduated from cameo queen to her first solo role in a short eponymous tale scripted by Thomas and illustrated by Esteban Maroto, Neal Adams, Ernie Chan in the first issue of the black-&-white, mature-reader Savage Sword of Conan magazine cover-dated August 1974. Colourised (by Jose Villarrubia) and edited, it filled out the premier generally-distributed Marvel Feature, revealing in sumptuous style how the wandering mercenary undertook a mission for King Ghannif of Pah-Dishah: a task which led to her first meeting with Conan and one for which she was promised the potentate’s most treasured gift. When that turned out to be a position as his next wife, Sonja’s response was swift and sharp…

That captivating catch-up yarn leads to ‘The Temple of Abomination’ (Thomas & Dick Giordano) as the restless warrior stumbles upon a lost church dedicated to ancient, debauched gods and saves a dying priest of Mitra from further torture at the hands of monstrous beast-men…

MF #2 saw the last piece of Red Sonja’s ascendancy fall into place when Frank Thorne signed on as illustrator.

Thorne is one of the most individualistic talents in American comics. Born in 1930, he began his comics career drawing romances for Standard Comics beside the legendary Alex Toth before graduating to better paid newspaper strips. He illustrated Perry Mason for King Features Syndicate and at Dell/Gold Key he drew Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and The Green Hornet, as well as the first few years of seminal sci-fi classic Mighty Samson.

At DC he produced compelling work on Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk before being hired by Roy Thomas at Marvel to illustrate his (belated) breakthrough strip… Red Sonja. Forever-after connected with feisty, earthy, highly sexualised women, in 1978 Thorne created outrageously bawdy (some say vulgar) swordswoman Ghita of Alizarr for Warren’s adult science fantasy anthology 1984/1994 as well as such adult satirical strips as Moonshine McJugs for Playboy and Danger Rangerette for National Lampoon.

He has won the National Cartoonists Award for comic books, an Inkpot Award and a Playboy Editorial Award.

Applying his loose, vigorous style and frenetic design sense to a meticulously plotted script from Bruce Jones, Thorne hit the ground running with ‘Blood of the Hunter’ wherein Sonja tricks formidable rival Rejak the Tracker out of a mysterious golden key. She has tragically unleashed a whirlwind or torment, however, as the hunter remorselessly stalks her, butchering everyone she befriends and driving her to the brink of death before she finally confronts him one last time…

Issue #3 reveals the secret of the golden key after Sonja takes some very bad advice from an old wise-woman and reawakens a colossal death-engine from an earlier age in ‘Balek Lives!’, after which the mercenary’s endless meanderings bring her to a village terrorised by a mythological predator. However, when she looks into the ‘Eyes of the Gorgon’ she discovers that the most merciless monsters are merely human…

That same lesson is repeated when ‘The Bear God Walks’, but after joining a profitable bounty hunt for a marauding beast, Sonja and her temporary comrades soon find that fake horrors can inadvertently summon up real ones…

With Marvel Feature #6, Roy Thomas returned as scripter and immediately set up a crossover with Conan and his then-paramour pirate queen Bêlit.

Although the concomitant issues of Conan the Barbarian (#66-68) aren’t reproduced here the story is constructed in such a way that most readers won’t notice a thing amiss…

Thus, ‘Beware the Sacred Sons of Set’ finds Sonja – after routing a pack of jackal-headed humanoid assailants – commissioned by Karanthes, High Priest of the Ibis God, to secure a magical page torn from mystic grimoire the Iron-Bound Book of Skelos in demon-haunted Stygia. She is barely aware of an unending war between ancient deities, or that old colleague and rival Conan is similarly seeking the arcane artefact…

After clashing repeatedly with her rivals and defeating numerous beasts and terrors, Sonja believes she has gained the upper hand in ‘The Battle of the Barbarians’, but there is more at stake than any doughty warrior can imagine…

To Be Continued…

Topped off with a full colour-remastered cover gallery by Gil Kane and Frank Thorne, this is a bold and bombastic treat for fantasy action fans of all ages, genders or persuasions.
RED SONJA® and related logos, characters, names and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Red Sonja Corporation unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.

Temperance


By Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-323-1

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a charismatic leader drags an entire nation into a phony war, manipulating facts, twisting good people’s lives, destroying their innocence and fomenting an atmosphere of sustained paranoia and unthinking patriotism – if not literal jingoistic madness.

Then he shuffles out of the picture and lets his – generally incompetent – successors deal with the mess he’s created: those remnants divided equally into well-meaning but clueless ditherers and now-fanatical disciples who think only they can run the show…

The land is in turmoil. Pa is raising a ruckus trying to get his monstrous ark built before the ruthless invaders begin the final attack. Eldest girl Peggy and little Minerva follow as he carves a wake of destructive energy through the landscape. Pa has galvanised the local villagers and they await his command to enter the fortress-city within the monolithic edifice, dubbed “Blessedbowl.”

When Pa begins once more to assault his oldest lass, only hapless Minerva and the trees are witness to the unleashed savagery. Suddenly, a young man rushes to Peg’s rescue, captivating forever the cowering Min. His name is Lester, but despite a terrific struggle the rescuer is no match for Pa’s maniacal vigour. The young man is left brain-damaged and maimed.

Pa bids Min see to Lester. The Doomsayer is lost in his preparations again. The Crisis has arrived…

Three decades pass. Min has married Lester and a thriving community exists within Blessedbowl, a permanent subsistence/siege economy built on paranoia: isolated and united by a common foe that has never been seen and is therefore utterly terrifying.

Moses-like, Pa remained behind when the ark was sealed, to fight a rearguard action. Min is now his regent, efficiently running the closed ecology and economy, bolstered by the devoted attention of Lester, the amnesiac war-hero who lost so much when the invisible enemy launched their final assault…

Min controls the community through reports from the distant front and Lester guards the city within Blessedbowl’s hull. But now his befuddled memory is clearing, and Min, hopelessly in love with him, faces the threat that all that has been so slowly built may come crashing swiftly down…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a vast story that – despite being almost a decade old – could well be the best thing you’ll read this year. Created during America’s longest-running war (9 years and by some assessments still running but with another name…) this multi-layered, incisive parable examines how families and countries can be twisted by love, fear and the craziest lies leaders can concoct and yet still seemingly prosper.

As much mystical generational fantasy as veiled allegory, Temperance will open your eyes on so many levels. As events spiral beyond all control the astounding outcome, whilst utterly inevitable will also be a complete surprise… and just wait until you discover the identity of the eponymous narrator…

Mythical, mystical, metaphorical, lyrical, even poetic, here is a modern, timeless tuned-in epic blending Shakespearean passions with soft Orwellian terrors. King Lear and 1984 are grandparents to this subtly striking tale of freedom and honour – personal and communal – foolishly but willingly surrendered to a comfortable, expedient slavery.

Combining trenchant social commentary with spiritually uplifting observation, illustrated in the softest pencil tones – reminiscent of English World War II cartoons (particularly Pont and Bateman, but also the animations of Halas and Batchelor) – this is joy to read, a delight to view and a privilege to own.

We must all do so …
© 2010 Cathy Malkasian. All right reserved. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Satania


By Vehlmann & Kerascoët, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-143-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of Life… 9/10

Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. As Fabien Vehlmann, he entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include amongst others Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major league property Spirou and Fantasio.

Since then his star has grown brighter and brighter, especially on his collaborations with husband-&-wife team Kerascoët: Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, who work in advertising, animation and fashion when not rendering such glorious comics treats as Beauty, Beautiful Darkness, Miss Don’t Touch Me and the epically expansive Dungeons franchise of inter-linked albums.

Their most recent joint escapade is Satanie, translated into English as the equally disquieting Satania. A seemingly bright and shiny bauble, the tale offers a dark glimpse into inner worlds both physical and psychical as troubled Charlie convinces a disparate band of potholers to help her find her missing brother Christopher.

Rendered in a captivating primitivist style that conceals a potent emotional punch, the unfolding saga finds young Charlotte, elderly priest Father Monsore, Mr Lavergne, Legoff and a handful of other intrepid souls delving deep beneath a mountain in search of the young scientist.

Scientist Christopher held radical evolutionary theories positing that Hell is real and exists far beneath the earth, populated by corporeal beings adapted over eons of natural selection to their harsh subterranean existence. The devils and demons of history and superstition are simply fellow creatures awaiting our discovery and classification and extended arms of friendship and welcome…

However, when a flash flood fills the caverns and forces the explorers deep into uncharted regions, an incredible series of tribulations and revelations begin. A fantastic underground odyssey with lost human civilisations, incredible monsters and unimaginable macro-organisms is boldly undertaken, but as ill-fortune and death constantly dog the party, the survivors quickly realise that although the fantastic creatures they encounter may not be supernally evil, the god-fearing humans have brought their own demons with them into a fresh kind of hell …

An astounding voyage of discovery with breathtaking vistas and inventions, Satania explores the human condition in ways both uncomfortable and wondrous.
© Editions Soleil/Vehlmann/Kerascoët 2016. © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Mercenary – The Definitive Editions volume 1: The Cult of the Sacred Fire


By Vicente Segrelles, translated by Mary McKee (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-124-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mythic Masterpiece Returns… 9/10

Born in Barcelona in 1940, Vicente Segrelles Sacristán is a renowned illustrator of magazines and book covers on three continents and the creator of one of the world’s most popular graphic novel series.

His first comics album ‘El Mercenario’ (The Mercenary) was released in 1982; the tale of an itinerant knight-for-hire fighting his way through a fantastic world of science and sorcery, often on the back of a flying dragon.

Rendered initially in lush oil-paints (before graduating to creating art digitally from 1998 onwards), the epic tales blend visual realism and accuracy with fable, myth, historical weaponry, contemporary technology and classical science fiction themes. All these fantastic scenes are screened through the visual lens of a natural architect and engineer. Fourteen albums were released between 1982 and 2003, most of them seen by English-language readers through the auspices of publisher NBM.

Hugely in demand for his painted covers since the 1970s, Segrelles has created book covers for the works of such authors as H, Rider Haggard, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, G. F. Unger, Andre Norton, Joel Rosenberg, Charles DeLint, C.H. Guenter, Jason Dark, Terry Pratchett and a host of others.

European prose readers may also know him as the cover artist of Italian science fiction magazine Urania.

The artist came to comics relatively late in his career and the reasons for that can be learned in a prodigious “behind-the-scenes” section at the back of this stunning hardcover (and eBook) remastered reissue entitled ‘Meet Vicente Segrelles’, relating his life and career and breaking down his working methodology. That includes how this volume and the Mercenary series came into being, augmented with a wealth of illustrations from the artist’s early days, discarded paintings and drawings plus many detail-shots taken from the story that precedes it.

Originally serialised in Spanish magazine Cimoc in 1980, El Mercenario was one of the earliest European series NBM published in English and to celebrate forty years in business the company have finally rereleased the series in fabulous oversized (314 x 236 mm) remastered hardcover albums to once more set the world alight. If you prefer, you could instead pick up a thoroughly modern digital edition.

What’s it about?: in the mediaeval world, a region of Central Asia lies all but undiscovered. The Land of Eternal Clouds is an isolate region where life has taken a different turn at the highest mountain levels. Here reptilian fliers dubbed dragons abound and the outposts of humanity have turned them into beasts of burden. This setting is the backdrop to introduce a nameless action hero and problem-solver who is engaged in this premier tome by the puissant potentate of one super-cumulus city-state to rescue his queen from vile abductors…

Riding a gigantic bat-winged lizard, The Mercenary plucks the unfortunate lady from peril and defeats the dragon-riding guards who give chase but only at great personal and financial cost…

Happily, the wary warrior has made prior contingency plans and – even after they go awry following a clash with a predatory beast – is smart enough to build a mechanical flyer to replace the ones he has lost to this ill-fated mission…

This initial yarn is actually a tryptic of three interrelated vignettes, and the second begins once the hero-for-hire returns the comely bride to her rich but old and flabby husband. Safely re-ensconced in the lap of luxury, she repays her dutiful saviour for spurning her amorous attentions by accusing him of assaulting her…

Although the Mercenary escapes to his hastily constructed contraption, it is not enough to keep him airborne and slowly he plunges into the swirling cloud mass from which no man has ever returned…

Crashing to earth he finds a whole new and undiscovered world, and an old sage with a handy potion that soothes his wounds and allows him to breathe better in air that cloys like soup. He soon returns the favour when the oldster shares his woes: the family have also suffered a recent kidnapping.

This time a young woman has been taken by a mystery group demanding as ransom all the alcohol the village contains…

Soon the tireless adventurer has broached the cage in which she hangs above certain death only to find himself also a captive: this time inside a colossal and all but invisible floating city ruled by mysterious cloaked figures claiming to be the Cult of the Sacred Fire…

Before long the doughty champion has discerned the incredible rational secret behind all the seemingly magical phenomena and set the city on a course of appalling destruction and personal vengeance…

To Be Continued…

Although sometimes considered a little static, Segrelles’ vibrant, classical realism set a benchmark for illustrative narrative that has inspired generations of artists and millions of readers. This landmark series is a long overdue and welcome returnee to our bookshelves and seems certain to garner a whole new legion of fans and admirers.
© 2015 Vicente Segrelles. English Translation © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Jack Kirby’s Spirit World


By Jack Kirby with Mark Evanier, Steve Sherman, Sergio Aragonés Vince Colletta, Mike Royer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3418-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Imagination Wrapped In Perfect Pictorial Plumage… 10/10

Jack Kirby is the master imagineer of American comics and his collected works provide a bundle of astounding narrative delights for any possible occasion. One ideal and seasonably timely tome is this magnificent hardback compendium re-presenting the complete “King’s Canon” of one of his least known, most misunderstood and mishandled DC creations.

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack “King” Kirby was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, gangsterism, the Depression, World War II and the rise and fall of the Space Age.

He had seen Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject.

On returning from service in World War II, Jack – reunited with long-term creative partner Joe Simon – began producing genre material for older audiences. They famously invented Romance comics, and amongst that dynamics duo’s other concoctions for Prize/Crestwood Publications was a noir-ish, psychologically underpinned supernatural anthology reflecting the tone and trends of those changing, globally Post-Traumatic times.

Black Magic (and its short-lived but fascinating companion title Strange World of Your Dreams) eschewed traditionally gory, heavy-handed morality plays and simplistic cautionary tales seen in other comics and concentrated on deeper, stranger fare. They were – until the EC comics line hit their peak – far and away the best mystery titles on the market.

Changing tastes and an anti-crime, anti-horror witch-hunt quashed the comics industry, so under a doctrinaire, self-inflicted conduct code, publishers stopped innovating and moved into more anodyne areas. This established holding pattern persisted until the rebirth of superheroes.

Working at a little outfit that used the name “Atlas”, Kirby partnered with Stan Lee and, when superheroes were revived, astounded the world with a salvo of new concepts and characters that revitalised if not actually saved the comics business.

Kirby understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and always toiled diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the type-and-picture medium – especially from insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies’ world” they felt trapped in.

However, after a decade or so, costumed characters again began to wane. Public interest in the supernatural was once more peaking, with books, television and movies all exploring the unknown in gripping and stylish new ways. The Comics Code Authority was even ready to slacken its censorious choke-hold on horror titles to save the entire industry from implosion as the 1960s superhero boom fizzled out.

Experiencing increasing editorial stonewalling and creative ennui at Marvel, in 1970 Kirby accepted a long-standing offer from arch rival DC Comics…

Promised freedom to innovate, one of the first projects he tackled was a new magazine format carrying material targeting adult readerships. For the full story of how that worked out, you can read Mark Evanier’s acerbic article at the centre of this glorious and oversized (282 x 212 mm) hardback compilation. He was there and knows a lot of the secrets…

Reflecting the mature experimentation of Black Magic in a superb but poorly received and largely undistributed monochrome magazine, Spirit World #1 – and only – launched in the summer of 1971, but as happened all too often, editorial cowardice and back-sliding scuppered the project before it could get going.

At least when the original 1940s-1950s Black Magic was revived as a DC reprint anthology in 1973, it got a couple of years to properly test the waters…

Material from a second, never-to-be published, Spirit World issue eventually appeared in colour comicbooks but with most of his ideas misunderstood, ignored or side-lined by the company, Kirby opted to return to more traditional formats.

Never truly defeated though, he cannily blended his belief in the marketability of supernature with flamboyant super-heroics to create another unique and lasting mainstay for the DC universe: one that lesser talents later made a pivotal figure of the company’s continuity: Etrigan the Demon. There’s a complete Kirby compendium of the Hellish hero’s adventures out there too if you’re interested…

This eclectic, long-awaited Spirit World collection, however, eschews costume continuity in favour of plot and mood-driven tales, opening with the published premier issue which combined primarily comics stories (because DC wouldn’t spring for colour photography) with prose and monochrome “Foto-Features”, all deliciously driven by the King’s hungry, questing imagination and unique perspective…

Printed in eerie blue monotones, the arcane explorations unfold with Kirby & Vince Colletta’s pictorial investigation into the power of precognition. Preceded by a stunning 3-page Kirby collage, ‘The President Must Die!’ – narrated by erudite host and parapsychologist Dr. E. Leopold Maas – recounts and interprets the chilling dreams of an unnamed woman in the days leading up to the assassination of JFK.

Again sporting a collage intro, ‘House of Horror!’ grippingly relates what happened when Dr. Maas was invited to visit the phantom-plagued Calder House

Children of the Flaming Wheel!’ is a fumetti-work (photographic comic strips big in Europe and an area of storytelling The King was desperate to develop) depicting the astral journey of a supposed modern cultist, after which the tireless Dr. Maas shares his discoveries on the nature of reincarnation by opening ‘The Lorca File!’

As “transcribed” by Kirby’s editorial assistants Steve Sherman & Mark Evanier, ‘The Spirit of Vengeance!’ relates in a terse prose piece Maas’ interaction with a most unquiet and petty revenant before Kirby & Colletta illuminate the astounding accomplishments and warnings of ‘Nostrodamus!’ – including all those predictions still pending confirmation…

The issue was concluded with a page of ‘Weird Humor’ strips by Sergio Aragonés (and possibly Dave Manak) plus a free wallposter, included here for veracity’s sake and because they’re still pretty cool…

Following that tell-all article from Evanier, the greater contents of the proposed second issue then follow in standard black-&-white. The strips are taken from their eventual last resting place in DC’s anthologies Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #6 and Weird Mystery Tales #1-3, and still have insets and copy from other hosts such as Destiny of the Endless, but the art, plots and most of the scripting is all Kirby…

With Mike Royer inking all these later yarns, ‘Horoscope Phenomenon or The Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria’ opens the fearsome festivities as a bizarre regal apparition visits many modern men and women and changes their fates forever, after which the lugubrious Dr. Maas probes a primordial artefact and speculates upon the barbaric life and cataclysmic demise of ‘Toxl, the World Killer’ – a rousing fantasy warrior yarn co-plotted and scripted by Evanier.

Accompanied by photomontage inserts, ‘The Burners’ pits Maas against a sudden spate of deaths by spontaneous combustion – and possible alien incursion – before the mystery and imagination culminates with uncanny cases of ‘The Psychic Bloodhound’.

Co-plotted by Evanier & Sherman, this graphic fictionalisation of a detective with extra-sensory perception is probably based on the exploits of controversial Dutch celebrity sleuth Peter Hurkos)…

Jack Kirby always was and remains a unique and uncompromising artistic force of nature: his words and pictures are an unparalleled, hearts-&-minds grabbing delight no comics lover could resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American scene and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations. He’s still winning new fans and apostles, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. In this, his centenary year, Jack’s work is still instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep whilst simultaneously mythic and human.

Wherever your tastes take you, his creations will be there ready and waiting. So, if fear and mystery are your meat, you can wonderfully upset your complacent equilibrium with this classy classic…
© 1971, 1972, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Complete Collection volume 1 1962-1972


By George Gladir, Frank Doyle, Dick Malmgren, Al Hartley, Joe Edwards, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick, Vince DeCarlo, Bob White, Bill Kresse, Bill Vigoda, Mario Acquaviva, Jimmy DeCarlo, Chic Stone, Bill Yoshida, Stan Goldberg, Jon D’Agostino, Gus LeMoine, Harry Lucey, Marty Epp, Bob Bolling, Joe Sinnott & various (Archie Comic Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-94-5

Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch debuted in Archie’s Mad House #22 (October 1962), created by George Gladir & Dan DeCarlo as a throwaway character in the gag anthology which was simply one more venue for comics’ undisputed kings of kids comedy. She soon proved popular enough to become a regular in the burgeoning cast surrounding the core stars Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge and Jughead Jones.

By 1969 the comely enchantress had grown popular enough to win her own animated Filmation TV series (just like Archie and Josie and the Pussycats) and graduated to a lead feature in Archie’s TV Laugh Out before finally winning her own title in 1971.

The first volume ran 77 issues from 1971 to 1983 and, when a hugely successful live action TV series launched in 1996, an adapted comicbook iteration followed in 1997. That version folded in 1999 after a further 32 issues.

Volume 3 – simply entitled Sabrina – was based on new TV show Sabrina the Animated Series. This ran for 37 issues from 2000 to 2002 before a back-to-basics reboot saw the comicbook revert to Sabrina the Teenage Witch with #38, carefully blending elements of all the previous print and TV versions.

A creature of seemingly infinite variation and variety, the mystic maid continued in this vein until 2004 and issue #57 wherein, acting on the global popularity of Japanese comics, the company boldly switched format and transformed the series into a manga-style high school comedy-romance in the classic Shōjo manner.

A more recent version abandoned whimsy altogether and depicted Sabrina as a vile and seductive force of evil (see Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)

This no-frills massively monochrome trade paperback (or digital download) gathers and represents all her appearances – even cameos on the covers of other Archie titles – from that crucial first decade and kicks off with an informative and educational Introduction courtesy of Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick before chronologically unleashing the wonderment in a year-by-year cavalcade of magic mystery and mirth.

Clearly referencing Kim Novak as seen in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, ‘Presenting Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ (by George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick & Vince DeCarlo from Archie’s Mad House #22) debuted a sultry seductress with a wicked edge prankishly preying on mortals at the behest of Head Witch Della, whilst secretly hankering for the plebeian joys of dating…

Leading off the next year’s chapter, the creative team reunited for Archie’s Mad House #24 (February 1963), with ‘Monster Section’ depicting Sabrina bewitching boys the way mortal girls always have, whilst ‘Witch Pitch’ sees the young beguiler ordered to ensorcel the High School hockey team… with mixed results…

Archie’s Mad House #25 (April) focuses on the supernatural clan’s mission to destroy human romances. In ‘Sister Sorceress’ Della orders Sabrina to split up dating duo Hal and Wanda – with catastrophic results – before ‘Jinx Minx’ (AMH #26, June) finds Sabrina going too far with a love potion at a school dance…

Bob White’s Archie’s Mad House #27 cover (August 1963) leads into #28’s ‘Tennis Menace’ (inked by Marty Epp) with Sabrina’s attempts to enrapture a rich lad going infuriatingly awry. AMH #30 (December) offers pin-up ‘Teen-Age Section’ drawn by Joe Edwards, with Sabrina comparing historical ways of charming boys with modern mortal methods…

The 1964 material opens with a love potion pin-up ‘Teen Section’ by Edwards (from Archie’s Mad House #31, February) before Gladir & Edwards’ ‘Ronald the Rubber Boy Meets Sabrina the Witch Queen’ finds the magic miss disastrously swapping abilities with an elastic-boned pal.

Issue #36 (October, by Edwards) sees her failing to jinx her friends’ recreational evening in ‘Bowled Over’, after which (AMH #37, December) Gladir is reunited with Dan & Vince DeCarlo for a spot of ‘Double Trouble’ as gruesome Aunt Hilda tries to fix Sabrina’s appalling human countenance, only to become her unwilling twin…

In 1965 Sabrina’s only appearance was in a Harry Lucey-limned ad for Archie’s Mad House Annual, whereas the following year saw her triumphant return with illustrator Bill Kresse handling Gladir’s scripts for ‘Lulu of a Boo-Boo’ (Archie’s Mad House #45, February 1966). Here the witch-girl’s attempts to join the In Crowd constantly misfire whilst ‘Beach Party Smarty’ (#48, August) confirms this new trend as her spells to capture a hunky lad go badly wrong…

For ‘Go-Go Gaga’ (AMH #49, September) Gladir & Kresse pit the bonny bewitcher against a greedy entrepreneur planning to fleece school kids in his over-priced dance hall, whilst in #50 ‘Rival Reversal’ finds her failing to conjure a date and ‘Tragic Magic’ proves even sorcery can’t keep a teen’s room clean…

Art team Bill Vigoda & Mario Acquaviva join Gladir for 1967’s first tale. ‘London Lore’ (Archie’s Mad House #52, February) with Sabrina transporting new boyfriend Donald to the heart of the Swinging Scene but ill-equip him for debilitating culture-shock, after which ‘School Scamp’ (Gladir and Dan, Jimmy & Vince DeCarlo, from AMH #53, April) again proves magic has no place in human education…

In issue #55 Gladir, Dan DeCarlo & Lapick reveal how Sabrina’s wishing to help is a doubly dangerous proposition in ‘Speed Deed’ whilst in #58 (December and illustrated by Chic Stone & Bill Yoshida) the trend for ultra-skinny fashion models leads to a little shapeshifting in ‘Wile Style’

1968 opens with Gladir, Stone & Yoshida exploring the down side of slot-car racing in ‘Teeny-Weeny Boppers’ (AMH #59, February) after which ‘Past Blast’ (#63, September by Gladir, Stan Goldberg, Jon D’Agostino & Yoshida) sees the mystic maid time-travel in search of Marie Antoinette, Pocahontas and Salem sorceress Hester.

The year wraps up with ‘Light Delight’ (Gladir, White, Acquaviva & Yoshida: Archie’s Mad House #65, December) as Sabrina’s aunts Hilda and Zelda try more modern modes of witchly transport…

With the advent of Sabrina on television, the end of 1969 saw a sudden leap in her comics appearances to capitalise on the exposure and resulted in a retitling of her home funnybook.

Again crafted by Gladir, White, Acquaviva & Yoshida, ‘Glower Power’ comes from Mad House Ma-Ad Jokes #70 (September) with Sabrina duelling another teen mage before the cover of Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #1 (December: rendered by Dick Malmgren & D’Agostino) leads into ‘Super Duper Party Pooper’ and the instant materialisation of a new sitcom lifestyle for the jinxing juvenile.

Sabrina yearns to be a typical High School girl. She lives in suburban seclusion with Hilda and Zelda and Uncle Ambrose. She has a pet cat – Salem – and is tentatively “seeing” childhood pal Harvey Kinkle. The cute but clueless boy reciprocates the affection but is far too scared to rock the boat by acting on his own desires.

He has no idea that his old chum is actually a supernatural being…

This opening sally depicts what happens when surly Hilda takes umbrage at the antics of Archie and his pals when they come over for a visit, whilst ‘Great Celestial Sparks’ (pencilled by Gus LeMoine) reveals what lengths witches go to when afflicted with hiccups…

A full-on goggle-box sensation, Sabrina blossomed in 1970, beginning with a little flying practice in ‘Broom Zoom’, boyfriend trouble in ‘Hex Vex’, fortune-telling foolishness in ‘Hard Card’, amulet antics in ‘Witch Pitch’, and kitchen conjurings in ‘Generation Gap’: all by Gladir, LeMoine, D’Agostino & Yoshida from Mad House Ma-Ad Jokes #72 (January).

The issue also offered sporting spoofs in ‘Bowl Roll’ (drawn by Dan DeCarlo).

The so-busy cover of Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #2 (March 1970) segues into Gladir, Dan D, Lapick & Yoshida’s ‘A Plug for The Band’ with Sabrina briefly joining The Archies’ pop group, whilst LeMoine contributes a brace of half-page gags ‘Sassy Lassy’ and ‘Food Mood’ and limns ‘That Ol’ Black Magic’ wherein the winsome witch’s gifts cause misery to all her new friends in Riverdale…

Dan DeCarlo & Lapick’s June cover for Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #3 leads into Malmgren-scripted ‘Double Date’ with hapless Harvey causing chaos at home until Ambrose finds a potential putrid paramour for Aunt Hilda.

Dan D & Lapick then launch an occasional series on stage magic in the first of many ‘Sabrina Tricks’ pages, before single-pagers ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’, ‘The Hand Sandwich’, ‘The Sampler’, ‘Never on Sundae’ and ‘Finger Licken Good’ reveal a growing divide between house-proud Hilda and accident-prone, ever-ravenous Harvey.

Interspersed with three more ‘Sabrina Tricks’ pages, the mystic mayhem continues with mini-epic ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (Malmgren, LeMoine, D’Agostino & Yoshida) as our witch girl disastrously attempts to make Jughead Jones more amenable to Big Ethel’s romantic overtures.

Then the food fiascos resume with the LeMoine-limned ‘Good and Bad’ as Sabrina’s every good intention is accidentally twisted to bedevil her human pals

Taken from Mad House Glads #74 (August 1970), Gladir & LeMoine’s half-page chemistry gag ‘Strange Session’ is oddly balanced by the painterly ‘Blight Sight’ of long-forgotten never-was Bippy the Hippy, but we’re back on track and at the beach for Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #4 (September, Gladir, Vigoda, Lapick & Yoshida).

In ‘To Catch a Thief’ Sabrina again assists Ethel in pinning down the elusive and love-shy Jughead, and rounding out the issue are single page pranks ‘Beddy Bye Time’ (DeCarlo & Lapick), another ‘Sabrina Tricks’ lesson and seaside folly ‘In the Bag’ from LeMoine & D’Agostino.

ATVL-O #5 (November) then offers up Gladir, Vigoda & Stone’s ‘I’ll Bite’ as Sabrina’s hungry schoolfriends learn the perils of raiding Hilda’s fridge and Gladir, DeCarlo & Lapick’s ‘Hex Vex’ as Della storms in, demanding tardy Sabrina fulfil her monthly quota of bad deeds…

Sabrina is an atypical witch: living in the mundane world and assiduously passing herself off as normal and 1971 opens with DeCarlo & Lapick’s cover for Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #6 (February) and ‘Match Maker’ by Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey & Marty Epp as Hilda tries to get rid of Harvey by making him irresistible to Betty & Veronica. No way that can go wrong…

Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch’ (Gladir, LeMoine, D’Agostino & Yoshida) then uses her powers openly with some kids and learns a trick even ancient crone Hilda cannot fathom. Bolstered by a ‘Sabrina Tricks’ page, ‘Carry On, Aunt Hilda’ (Malmgren, LeMoine & Lapick) hilariously depicts lucky stars shielding Harvey from the wrath of irascible Aunt Hilda…

Bowing to popular demand, the eldritch ingenue finally starred in her own title from April 1971. Dan DeCarlo & Lapick’s cover for Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch #1 hinted at much mystic mirth and mayhem which began with ‘Strange Love’ (Doyle, Dan D & Lapick), revealing the star’s jealous response to seeing Harvey with another girl. This is supplemented by ‘Sabrina and Salem’s Catty Quiz’ before hippy warlock Sylvester comes out of the woodwork to upset Hilda’s sedate life in ‘Mission Impossible’ (Malmgren, LeMoine & D’Agostino).

Another ‘Sabrina Puzzle’ neatly moves us to Doyle, Dan D & Lapick’s ‘An Uncle’s Monkey’ with Harvey and a pet chimpanzee pushing Hilda to the limits of patience and sanity…

The cover of Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #7 (May) precedes a long yarn by Doyle, Bob Bolling & D’Agostino as ‘Archie’s TV Celebrities’ (the animated Archies, Sabrina and Josie and the Pussycats) star in ‘For the Birds’ with a proposed open-air concert threatened by the protests of a bunch of old ornithology buffs.

The celebrity pals then tackle an instrument-stealing saboteur in ‘Sounds Crazy to Me’ (Malmgren, LeMoine & D’Agostino), after which Sabrina cameos on the cover of Jughead #192 (May, by Dan DeCarlo & Lapick) before heading for the cover of her own second issue (DeCarlo & Lapick, July). Within those pages Malmgren scripts ‘No Strings Attached’ as the Archies visit their bewitching buddy just as Hilda turns hapless Harvey into an axe-strumming rock god…

‘Witch Way is That’ sees Hilda quickly regret opening her house to Tuned In, Turned On, Dropped Out Cousin Bert, after which Malmgren, Lucey & Epp show Archie suffering the jibes and jokes of ‘The Court Jester’ Reggie – until Sabrina adds a little something extra to the Andrews boys’ basketball repertoire..

At this time the world was undergoing a revival of supernatural interest and gothic romance was The Coming Thing.

In a rather bold experiment, Sabrina was given a shot at a dramatic turn with Doyle, Bolling, Joe Sinnott & Yoshida cooking up ‘Death Waits at Dumesburry’: a relatively straight horror mystery with Sabrina battling a sinister maniac in a haunted castle she had inherited…

Rendered by LeMoine & D’Agostino, the cover of Jughead’s Jokes #24 (July 1971) brings us back to comedy central, as does their cover for Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #8 (August) and Malmgren’s charity bazaar-set tale ‘A Sweet Tooth’, with the winsome witch discovering that even her magic cannot make Veronica’s baked goods edible…

Dan DeCarlo’s cover for ‘Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch #3 (September) foreshadows a return to drama but in modern milieu as ‘House Breakers’ (Malmgren, DeCarlo & Lapick) finds Harvey and Sabrina stranded in an old dark mansion with spooks in situ, after which ‘Spellbinder’ (Doyle, Al) sees Hilda cringe and curse when human catastrophe Big Moose pays Sabrina a visit.

Hartley & D’Agostino fly solo on ‘Auntie Climax’ as irresistibility spells fly and both Archie and Hilda are caught in an amorous crossfire before Malmgren, Bolling & Lapick show our cast’s human side as Archie, Jughead and Sabrina intervene to help a juvenile thief caught in a poverty trap in ‘The Tooth Fairy’

A trio of DeCarlo & Lapick covers – Archie’s TV Laugh Out #9 (September), Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals #66 (October) and Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch #4 (October) lead into the teen thaumaturge’s fourth solo comicbook, where Doyle, Goldberg & D’Agostino set the cauldron bubbling with ‘Hex Marks the Spot’ as Aunts Hilda and Zelda nostalgically opine for their adventurous bad old days but something seems set on thwarting every spell they cast, after which ‘Which Witch is Right?’ (pencilled by LeMoine) finds obnoxious Reggie Mantle uncovering Sabrina’s sorcerous secrets.

Goldberg & Sinnott illustrate ‘Switch Witch’ as officious Della suspends Sabrina’s powers as a punishment and can’t understand why the girl is delirious instead of heartbroken whilst Hartley & Sinnott contribute a run of madcap one-pagers by Gladir & Malmgren Doyle with clue-packed titles such as ‘Out of Sight’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘The Teen Scene’, ‘So That’s Why’ and ‘Time to Retire’.

Wrapping up the issue is ‘The Storming of Casket Island’ by Doyle, LeMoine & D’Agostino, blending stormy sailing with sinister swindling skulduggery and menacing mystic retribution…

More covers follow: Archie #213 and Archie’s TV Laugh Out #10 (both November and by Dan DeCarlo & Lapick) and Archie’s Christmas Stocking #190 (Hartley & D’Agostino, December) which latter also contributes Hartley & Sinnott’s ‘Card Shark’, with Sabrina joining Archie and the gang to explore the point and purpose of seasonal greetings postings before DeCarlo & Lapick’s cover of Betty and Me #39 brings the momentous year to a close…

The last year covered in this titanic tome is 1972 and kicks off with DeCarlo & Lapick’s cover for Archie Annual #23, before their Sabrina’s Christmas Magic #196 cover (January) opens the book on a winter wonderland of seasonal sentiment. It all starts with ‘Hidden Claus’ (by featured team Hartley & Sinnott) as Sabrina ignores her aunt’s mockery and seeks out the real Father Christmas – just in time to help him with an existential and labour crisis…

‘Sabrina’s Wrap Session’ offers tips on gifting and packaging whilst ‘Hot Dog with Relish’ sees the witch woman zap Jughead’s mooching canine companion and make him a guy any girl could fall for.

Then Doyle, Goldberg & Sinnott concoct ‘The Spell of the Season’, depicting our troubled teen torn between embracing Christmas and wrecking it as any true witch should. Guess which side wins the emotional tug-of-war?

More handicraft secrets are shared in ‘Sabrina’s Instant Christmas Decorations’ before Hartley & Sinnott craft ‘Sabrina Asks… What Does Christmas Mean to You?’ and ‘Sabrina Answers Questions About Christmas’, after which cartoon storytelling resumes with ‘Mission Possible’ as Hilda and Zelda find their own inner Samaritans.

Despite a rather distressing (and misleading) title ‘Popcorn Poopsie’ reveals way of making tasty decorative snacks whilst ‘Sabrina’s Animal Crackers’ tells a tale of men turned to beasts before a yuletide ‘Sabrina Pin-Up’ and exercise feature ‘Sabrina Keeps in Christmas Trim’ returns us to the entertainment section.

An all Hartley affair, ‘Sabrina’s Witch Wisher’ examines what the vast cast would say if given one wish, after which Doyle, Goldberg & Sinnott conclude this mammoth meander down memory lane by revealing how an evil warlock was punished by becoming ‘A Tree Named Obadiah’. Now – decked out in lights and tinsel – he’s back and making mischief in Veronica’s house…

An epic, enticing and always enchanting experience, the classic adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch are sheer timeless comics delight that no true fan will ever grow out of…

© 1962-1972, 2017 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Et Cetera volume 1


By Tow Nakazaki (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59532-130-5

Western adventures and cowboy escapades are very much in the eye of the beholder. Many global cultures offer a unique spin on the already vastly protoplasmic genre and this tragically out-of-print series features one of the most engaging treatments I’ve ever seen.

As created by Tow Nakazaki, Etosetoro was originally released in Japan as nine volumes between February 1998 and January 2001 before being translated into French by Glénat and English by TokyoPop, to entertain and delight between August 2004 and April 2007. The exceedingly eccentric series is long overdue for revival…

An irreverent, genre-bending hilarious western pastiche, this delightful romp is not for you if history and logic are personal bugbears, but if it helps think of it all happening on an alternate Earth…

The story sees star-struck teenaged girl Mingchao quit her mountaintop shack and wild west roots to travel in search of the American Dream: that means a glitzy showbiz career in Hollywood.

With her she takes the fantastic Eto Gun built by her grandfather. This one-of-a-kind pistol fires the spirits of the (Japanese) Zodiac with fantastic bullets manifesting in the form of animate animal ghosts.

Naturally it takes a while – and lots of trial-and-error – for her to discover how it works. This eventually resolves into dipping the gun in the “essence” of a specific totem animal. That could mean food or clothing made from them but more often as not it demands dealing with their droppings…

Happily, the trouble she inevitably finds herself in is best dealt with by Mingchao’s innate feistiness and ingenuity. And along the trail to fame long she is been befriended by a mysterious, young and good-looking “Preacher-Man” named Baskerville.

As they make their way to far-distant California the ever-growing band of pilgrims encounter many of the icons of the untamed bad-lands, such as cowed townsfolk, villainous outlaws, evil cattle-barons, cows, ornery ol’ coots, cow-punchers, distressed widow-wimmin’, cows…

This light-hearted meander through the iconography of a million cowboy movies is fast paced, occasionally saucy and laugh-out-loud funny, and offers the inestimable benefit of sheer freshness afforded by seeing such old clichés through differently-conditioned Eastern eyes.

The first volume also includes a number of themed puzzle pages for anyone wanting to take a deeper dip into the legends that underpin the animal ammo…

Beguiling and irresistibly enticing, Et Cetera is a slice of marvellous mirth and magic for jaded fans and tops my list of Manga series in urgent need of contemporary revisiting and re-release
© 1998, 2005 Tow Nakazaki. All Rights Reserved. English script © 2005 TokyoPop Inc.

Iznogoud Volume 1: The Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud


By René Goscinny & Jean Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-46-5

Lots of folks believe today’s unlucky! Bosh and tarradiddle! Let’s look at a really unfortunate comics icon and the genius who conceived him…

René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, and therefore remains one of the most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Paris-born – in 1926 – the immortal scribe was actually raised in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age the lad showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts. He graduated in 1942.

While working as a junior illustrator in an advertising agency in 1945, an uncle invited Goscinny to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France, young René settled in Brooklyn and pursued an artistic career. In 1948 he became an assistant for a little studio that included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”, with whom he produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977). Also temporarily in-house were Joseph Gillain (Jijé) and Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company providing comics for French magazine Spirou

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and ‘Jerry Spring’ Goscinny was made head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his life-long creative partner Albert Uderzo (Jehan Sepoulet, Luc Junior) as well as creating Sylvie and Alain et Christine (with “Martial”- Martial Durand) and Fanfan et Polo (drawn by Dino Attanasio).

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, creating magazines for general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and himself wrote and illustrated Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny seems to have invented the 9-day week. Using the pen-name Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 he began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing stories for many illustrators including Dino Attanasio, (Bob De Moor), Maréchal, Tibet, André Franquin and Berck, as well as crafting Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo.

Goscinny also wrote strips for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured his and Uderzo’s magnum opus Asterix the Gaul, and he also re-launched Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet whilst debuting Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard).

When Georges Dargaud bought out Pilot in 1960, Goscinny remained as editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television and in his spare time created a little something entitled Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962), illustrated by a Swedish-born artist named Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud after it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died in November 1977.

Jean Tabary was born in Stockholm, and began his epic comics career in 1956 on French mainstay Vaillant, illustrating Richard et Charlie. He graduated to the hugely popular boy’s adventure strip Totoche in 1959. The engaging head of a kid gang, Totoche spawned a spin-off, Corinne et Jeannot, and as Vaillant transformed into Pif, the lad even got his own short-lived comic; Totoche Posche.

Tabary drew the series until 1976, and has revived it in recent years under his own publishing imprint Séguinière /Editions Tabary.

In 1962 the illustrator teamed with René Goscinny to produce imbecilic Arabian potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was the villainous foil – power-hungry vizier Iznogoud – who stole the show… possibly the little rat’s only successful plot.

With the emphasis shifted to the shifty shrimp, the revamped series moved to Pilote in 1968, evolving into a huge fan-favourite, spawning 30 albums to date, a long-running TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. Following their success, Goscinny & Tabary collaboratively created Valentin, and Tabary also wrote Buck Gallo for Delinx to draw.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary took over writing Iznogoud, moving to book length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short stories that typified their collaborations.

So, what’s it all about?

Like all the best comics it works on two levels: as a comedic romp of sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and translated here with the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the conniving little shyster has loftier ambitions – or as he is always shouting it – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”

The vile vizier is “aided” – and that’s me being uncharacteristically generous – in his schemes by bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf, and in this first album (available in paperback and eBook formats) they begin their campaign with ‘Kissmet’, wherein pandemonium ensues after a talking frog is revealed to be an ensorcelled Prince who can only regain human form if smooched by a human being.

Iznogoud sees an opportunity if he can only trick the simple-minded Caliph into puckering up; unfortunately but typically, the little rotter forgets that he’s not the only ambitious man in Baghdad…

‘Mesmer-Eyezed’ then finds him employing a surly stage hypnotist to remove the Caliph whilst ‘The Occidental Philtre’ sees him employ a flying potion obtained from a lost, jet-lagged western sorcerer, each with hilarious but painfully counter-productive results.

Tabary drew himself into ‘The Time Machine’ as a comic artist desperate to meet his deadlines who falls foul of a mystical time cabinet, but when he meets the vizier, that diminutive dastard can clearly see its Caliph-removing potential – to his eternal regret…

Soon after in ‘The Picnic’ Iznogoud takes drastic action, luring Haroun Al Plassid into the desert, but as usual his best-laid plans really aren’t, and the book then concludes with ‘Chop and Change’ as our indefatigable villain gets hold of a magic goblet which can switch the minds of any who drink from it, forgetting that Caliphs are important people who employ food-tasters…

Snappy, fast-paced slapstick and painfully delightful word-play abound in these mirthfully infectious tales and the series has become a household name in France; said term has even entered French political life as a description for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and usually short in stature…

Eight albums were originally translated into English during the 1970s and 1980s without really making any little impact here, but since Cinebook’s revival the vile Vizier has finally caught on in a superb sequence of gloriously readable and wonderfully affordable comedy epics that found an appreciative audience among British kids of all ages.

Surely you and yours should number amongst them?
© 1967 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Thorgal volume 4: The Archers and Alinoe


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-067-0

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison became chief scribe. In 2016, he and Rosiński released the 35th epic-album Le Feu écarlate.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985 American publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover book translations (that’s where I first encountered The Archers) but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgium series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fourth double-album edition (comprising 7th saga Alinoë and 8th epic Les Archers from 1985 and 1986 respectively) finds Thorgal Aegirsson and his new family trying to rebuild their lives in splendid – and secure – isolation…

What Has Gone Before: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne. For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety…

Alinoe opens on those idyllic shores as Thorgal notices his rapidly growing boy Jolan has somehow learned how to write the runes of the Viking people. The lonely lad has been growing increasingly strange of late, relating things he cannot possibly know, and the parents are painfully aware that the blood of alien supermen runs in his veins…

Short on supplies, Thorgal ships off to the mainland for a few days intense trading, leaving Aaricia and Jolan to fend for themselves, and almost immediately strange events begin to trouble the apprehensive mother…

Firstly, Jolan claims he has been playing with a strange, green-haired boy named Alinoe. Aaricia is prepared to chalk that up to a life starved of companionship, but the new, strangely inscribed bracelet her son wears is certainly real enough, and when Jolan suddenly changes his story she begins to fear the worst…

Carefully spying on her boy, she soon discovers that Alinoe is a solid breathing boy, but a mute, mysterious and increasingly menacing one…

After cornering the green-haired stranger, she is horrified to see the stranger commit suicide and utterly terrified when Alinoe returns and attacks her in the homestead. Slowly the realisation creeps in that the demon child is a manifestation of Jolan’s latent telepathic powers, but things rapidly escalate when the creature grows beyond the boy’s conscious and unconscious control, manifesting as a real and present danger to both mother and child…

A classic horror yarn with a startling and stunning conclusion, Alinoe neatly segues into a bold action romp as The Archers switches to the mainland where bold bandits Kriss of Valinor and Sigwald the Burnt swipe a holt relic from a Caledonian tribe before heading south.

Thorgal meanwhile is again making a supply run from his island home but has the dire misfortune to encounter a savage squall…

Close to drowning, Thorgal is saved by a bombastic youth who braves the storm to guide him to land. Tjall the Fiery is a likable rogue who takes the stranded, suddenly impoverished viking to see his uncle Argun; a brilliant weapon-smith and armourer known to all as Tree Foot.

A master maker of unique arrowheads and other clever gadgets, the old man has a potential solution to Thorgal’s plight. An archery contest in nearby Umbria offers enough gold to buy a new, weapons and supplies. With nothing to lose, the shipwrecked mariner considers the proposition but only agrees after sinister Sigwald and Kriss drop by Tree Foot’s forge in search of fresh weapons.

The bandits make a big impression on Thorgal, but Kriss makes an even bigger one on lusty, impressionable young Tjall…

Later, after setting off for Umbria, the archers encounter the bandits once more: captives of a band of vengeful Caledonians seeking redress for a stolen religious relic. Thorgal’s scheme to free them is almost flawless, and only founders because outraged, liberated Kriss demands reparations in blood…

Following an utterly unnecessary slaughter the thieves and heroes have a falling out over Kriss’ mad behaviour…

The tournament in Umbria is a masterclass in martial skill, competitor-skulduggery and regal cruelty with the local king delighting in humiliating and endangering his contestants in equal measure. However, after days of competition the purse is finally awarded collectively to Tree Foot, Thorgal, Tjall and Kriss, but the bandit – never a fan of sharing – quickly absconds with it all…

Unsurprised but resolute, her fellow champions set off in pursuit only to find their quarry and Sigwald have been cornered by another, far larger band of Caledonians. The barbarians only want their holy gem back and a rightful measure of retribution: All Thorgal and his companions have to do is ride away…

How can they choose any other course but the most sensible one?

Fierce, funny and phenomenally gripping, this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant hero.

Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1985 Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard). English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Lyrical Comics of Dillies Set: Betty Blues; Bubbles and Gondolas; Abelard


By Renaud Dillies & various translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Pack ISBN: 978-1-68112-106-2

Renaud Dillies belongs to that cool school of European artists who are keenly aware of the visual power imbued by using anthropomorphic characters in grown up stories – a notion we’ve all but lost here in Britain, and one primarily used for kiddie comics and pornography in the USA and Asia.

Dillies was born in Lille in January 1972, the inveterate dreamer, artist and storyteller in a brood of five kids. Music was a big part of his parents’ lives: British Pop – especially The Beatles and John Lennon – and Jazz: mostly Big Band, Swing and Satchmo. The impressionable lad listened, learned and inwardly digested…

After college – studying Humanities, Graphic and Decorative arts at Saint-Luc School of Fine Arts in Tournai – Dillies began his comics career, like so many others, at Spirou. He drew backgrounds for prolific cartoonist Frédéric Jannin (Rockman, Germain et Nous and many more) whilst also inking Frédéric “Clarke” Seron on sublime sorceress comedy Mélusine.

The young creator soon blended his twin passions for comics and music in his first solo work. Betty Blues – published by Paquet in 2003 – consequently took the “Best Debut” award at that year’s Angoulême Comics Festival.

He followed up with Sumato, Mister Plumb (with Régis Hautière) and Mélodie du Crépuscule (Melody of Twilight) before switching to publisher Dargaud in 2009. Here he devised Bulles et Nacelle ably assisted by colour artist Christophe Bouchard (available in English and reviewed below as Bubbles and Gondola) and, in 2011, created Abélard (again with Hautière and also available in translation from NBM/ComicsLit, as well as part of this gift-set package.

During this period Dillies still toiled as a jobbing Bande Dessinée creator. Under the pen-name “Jack” he drew comedy sports features Les Foot Maniacs and Tout sur le Rugby for Bamboo and illustrated some of Arboris’ erotic short stories for the series Salut les coquinas.

With three of the very best of these eccentrically exotic confections now available in a supremely economical shrink-wrapped gift-set, you’d be crazy to not make the acquaintance of such a scintillating scribe/scribbler…

Betty Blues
Coming from the same dark place and cultural wellsprings as Benoît Sokal’s wry, bleak and witty Inspector Canardo detective duck tales, Betty Blues is both paean and elegy to the unholy trinity of Modern Cool and Shattered Idealisms: Noir, Jazz and Lost Love, all focused through the mythologising lens of cinematic Fifties Americana.

The tragic, flawed star of this intoxicating fable is Little Rice Duck, possibly the greatest bird ever to blow a trumpet in the seedy clubs and wild environs of the West Wood. Starring at the nightspots and making music are his life, but his hot girlfriend Betty is getting pretty tired playing second fiddle to his art.

She’s a pretty bird who needs lots of Loving Attention, the Good Life and Expensive Champagne, so on yet one more tedious night when Rice is deep in the spotlight blowing hot and loud, she calamitously listens to an unctuous, sleazy fat cat at the bar who offers her plenty of all three before sneaking off with him…

Her disappearance hits Rice as hard as he subsequently hits the bottle, and his all-too-late regrets shake him to the core. Going downhill fast, the despondent and always-angry little guy throws his magnificent trumpet – the thing which has cost him true love – off a high bridge and hops a train heading “anywhere but here”…

The hurtling horn hits a boat-riding sap and thus begins to affect the lives of a succession of other poor schnooks whilst, elsewhere uptown, Betty begins to reconsider her hasty decision as the downsides of being a rich guy’s trophy – or pet – start becoming apparent…

For Rice, the end of the line finds him deep in a forested nowhere-land dubbed “Kutwood” where he is befriended by the owl Bowen who is both lumberjack and radical environmental terrorist.

Slowly the broken musician is drawn into the affable agitator’s world of violence, sabotage and anti-capitalist polemic, but all he is really thinking about during so many late-night conversations is the tatty old trumpet nailed high up out of reach on Bowen’s cabin wall…

And Jazz: sweet, hot Jazz music…

Back in the city Betty starts to fear for life, soul and sanity on the chubby arm of her mercurial plutocrat-cat, as the portentous trumpet begins to reshape the lives of many ordinary folk innocent and venal. And then one day Betty meets an old friend of Rice’s who tells her he’s gone missing…

Sad, grim, brooding and surprisingly suspenseful, this captivating riff on complacency, ill-considered aspirations and lost chances is beguilingly constructed and subtly realised, with a smart undercurrent of bleakly cynical humour counter-pointing the Noir flavour and motif of inescapable doom.

Betty Blues will delight mature readers with a well-honed sense of the absurd and an abiding taste for the dark…

Bubbles and Gondola
A penetrating examination of the creative urge and the price of following a muse, Bubbles and Gondola follows the strivings of a mouse named Charlie who is gripped by an insatiable hunger to write great things. To better accomplish this, the mouse resides in a bleak windy garret in splendid isolation, ignoring the distractions of the world, and spending his brief moments of down-time strumming his guitar.

He constantly reminds himself that “solitude is cool” but as a crippling writer’s block increasingly torments him and the outside world insufferably impinges on his tortured brooding, Charlie’s views begin to imperceptibly shift.

That sense of change intensifies after a small blue bird named Mister Solitude starts to repeatedly show up uninvited. The debilitating ennui seems to abate – just a bit – and the author even leaves his lonely den on occasion just to watch a festival or dine with family… However, the unwanted but comforting creature eventually becomes a casualty of the writer’s creative frustration and vanishes after a bitter clash in the attic. Conflicted and inexplicably bereft, Charlie seeks help for his avian companion, but cannot find his solitude anymore. The mouse is compelled to search high low for his supposedly unwanted comrade, embarking on a life -changing odyssey…

A beguiling argosy and visual tour de force allegorically challenging preconceptions about work-life balance and simple human companionship, Bubbles and Gondola is a delicious treat tinged with bittersweet revelation.

Abelard
Far more poignant and concealing a far more painful message, Abelard is ostensibly a simple fable of unrequited love in simpler times. The eponymous hero is an impressionable young chick living in a swampy backwater. He has a hat which grants him a prophetic epigram every day, but other than that he is quite unremarkable.

The little lad’s life changes forever when a group of rich city types in search of good fishing briefly vacation in the morass he calls home. Although she barely notices him, Abelard’s meeting with the so-sophisticated Eppily sets the poor young fool on a path he cannot escape…

Her companions seal his fate by trying to let the lovesick fool down easily. Fyodor warns the chick that girls like Eppily can only be seduced by those who offer her the moon or suchlike. Abelard has never heard of a metaphor…

Determined to win his true love, buy unable to supply the goods, the little dreamer hears the older swamp inhabitants discussing the news from America. Two ingenious fellows have invented a flying machine. That’s Americans for you: before long they’ll be wanting to go to the moon…

With love as his spur and a suitably encouraging message from his hat, Abelard turns away from the swamp and starts walking westward…

His patient peregrinations bring him into the company of a band of gypsy performers and he shares their life and the painful prejudice they endure. Eventually he leaves them, unwilling to accept the reading of the heartbroken fortune-teller who peers into his tomorrows…

A lonely nomad, he goes into a bar and meets a bitter, broken, belligerent bear. Foul-mouthed surly scrapper Gaston has seen it all, hates everyone and has nothing but bile for the entire world.

He, too, once knew an Eppily…

Against all odds the old warrior and untutored waif implausibly unite and head for America together, taking ship on a migrant vessel where fate plays the cruellest trick on them…

Ultimately both travellers get to fulfil their dreams, but not in way they ever expected or wanted…

Beautiful, moving and eternally optimistic in the face of crushing experience, Abelard philosophically examines the unrelenting trials of life and demonstrates the power of hope and poetic idealism against insurmountable odds.

This trio of anthropomorphic tales comprise a masterclass in graphic narrative used to explore the nature of humanity: offering pride, wonder, resilience and heart as an antidote to the worst reality can challenge us with. They are also stunning lovely to look at and every fan of art or storytelling should see so for themselves.

Betty Blues © 2003 Editions Paquet. English translation © 2013 NBM.
Bubbles and Gondola © 2009 by Dillies – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2011 NBM.
Abelard © – 2011 Dillies – Hautière – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2012 NBM.