Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Trips

Adapted by Jill Thompson, Jamie Tolagson & Amy Kim Ganter (Graphix/Scholastic)

ISBN: 978-0-439-85780-2

How to get children reading has been a desperate quest of educators and parents for decades and the role of comics in that drive has long been a controversial one. Excluding all the arguments over whether sequential narrative hinders, harms or perhaps helps, the only other option was to produce material youngsters might actually want to read.

Enter R.L. Stine in 1992, who wrote sixty-two light-hearted, child-friendly supernatural horror thrillers over the next five years that took the world by storm, spawning movies, TV shows, games and a host of imitators, reconfiguring the iconography of the classic tales of mystery and imagination into modern romps to engage youngsters in the greatest thrill of all – total absorption in the magic of stories. In its various incarnations and reboots Goosebumps has sold more than 300 million copies.

In 2006 Scholastic began a series of themed graphic novel adaptations, using top comicbook and manga talent to convert three books per volume into hip and striking cartoon yarns. I’ve picked the second “Goosebumps Graphix” edition for no other reason than my complete devotion to the work of one of the artists involved (eventually I’m sure I’ll get around to the others…)

Terror Trips leads off with ‘One Day at Horrorland’ (the sixteenth novel in the prose series) adapted and illustrated by the utterly superb Jill Thompson, who despite her incredible body of work, ranging from Sandman to Wonder Woman and her fabulous Scary Godmother books and films is some how still not a household name.

When a day-trip to Zoo Gardens with their parents goes awry, Lizzy, brother Luke and their friend Clay find themselves lost and alone in the best – or perhaps worst – scary theme park ever. If she wasn’t such a big girl now and didn’t know better, Lizzy might almost believe all those monsters and death-traps were real…

Multi-media artist Jamie Tolagson (The Crow, The Dreaming, Books of Magic) translated the truly creepy ‘A Shocker on Shock Street’ (novel #35) with stunning effect. Under-aged horror movie mavens Erin and Josh think they’ve seen everything, but when Erin’s movie director and FX designer dad invites the pair to the studio to see the new “Shock Street” theme park they’re in for the most startling surprise of their young lives – and so is the reader…

The third and final jaunt into jeopardy is ‘Deep Trouble’ (novel #19) adapted by Amy Kim Ganter, manga and webcomic artist (see Sorcerers & Secretaries for a delightful example of her firm grip on fantasy). Here she relates the time William Deep Jr. accompanied his marine biologist father on an expedition to discover if mermaids actually existed. Unfortunately, the worst beasts in the oceans are usually greedy humans, but the sea still had a few undiscovered horrors of its own lying hidden beneath the surface…

This splendid selection is delivered in a variety of black and white styles, and each tale is augmented by a feature explaining the working process of the artists as they translated the story into comics form. Both the novels and comic books are readily available so why not save yourself the cost of outrageous dental bills this Halloween by stocking up on comic chillers such as this and handing out stuff to chew over rather than simply swallow – and remember, if used correctly books are not fattening…?

© 2007 Scholastic Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon volumes 1 & 2

By Wang Du Lu, adapted by Andy Seto (ComicsOne Corp.)
ISBN’s: 978-1-58899-999-3 and 978-1-58899-175-1

Hong Kong comics are beautiful. They’re produced using an intensive studio art-system under the aegis of a master storyteller acting like a tactician and commanding general; which means any individual page might be composed of numerous graphic styles and techniques: literally anything that will get the job done.

And that job is to enhance not nuances of plot but rather details of the dynamic action and poetic mysticism/philosophy of Kung Fu that my western sensibilities just aren’t attuned to. They are astounding to look at, but I don’t expect them to make much sense.

However in this series, adapting an earlier part of the epic tale (a mere part of which inspired the phenomenal Ang Lee movie) the non-stop kinetic hurly burly is nicely tempered by a more universal narrative form that shouldn’t deter even the most hidebound Gwailo like me.

The original saga forms a sequence of five “Wuxia” novels by author Wang Du Lu known as the Crane-Iron Pentalogy which Andy Seto adapted into a twelve volume series of graphic novels. Wuxia is generally translated as “martial arts literature” with Xia denoting “honorable” or “chivalrous” and wu “soldier”, “warrior” or “military.” The film mostly worked from the fourth novel, so this interpretation could be construed as a prequel of sorts.

Chinese languages are hard to master because the tongue is filled with willful ambiguity. Almost pun-like, one translation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is “dangerous or talented individuals concealed from view” and the names of the lead characters are also coded symbols for their symbolic characteristics… Don’t let that deter you though, this is classical storytelling winningly wedded to non-stop crackerjack action, magnificently illustrated.

In the first volume masked thieves steal the mighty Green Destiny sword from the palace in Beijing despite the best efforts of master guard Yu Gan Cheung – called “Golden Spear”. Tasked with retrieving the invaluable blade Golden Spear prevaricates. His wife Jeng Ho has called him to help her finally avenge the slaying of her father…

Meanwhile in Hebei Province aged Master Grand Yu knows his prowess is failing, but is proud that his beautiful daughter Yu Shu Lien will soon be an even greater Kung Fu practitioner than he ever was. Whilst travelling to a festival the family is attacked by Jeng’s siblings the Ho brothers, determined to have vengeance for the death of their sire at Grand Yu’s hands.

Elderly and overmatched, Yu is saved by the fantastic fighting skills of his daughter, but the Ho clan are determined to destroy the old Master, if not with Kung Fu then by bribing the corrupt local judges…

Meanwhile Wudan disciple (if regular Shoalin Kung Fu concentrates on outer or corporeal strength Wudan teaches the harnessing of inner strength – Chi: nobody messes with Wudan Masters…) Li Mu Bai is looking for a wife and an emissary tells him of Grand Yu’s accomplished young daughter…

Travelling to Hebai Li challenges Shu Lien to a spectacular duel and finds her satisfactory, but although he would be welcome as a son-in-law Grand Yu has to decline the marriage offer as the girl is already betrothed to another. Decent and honorable Li Mu Bai decides to wander the world alone but the Ho brothers scurrilous plans to destroy the Yu clan draw him inexorably back to the girl he desires above all others…

Volume 2 finds Li following a gang of riders. His sensitive nature instantly knew they planned evil and his honorable spirit drove him to help whomever they wished to harm. Grand Yu’s family are being attacked again by the murderous Ho brothers and Shu Lien has her hands full battling the deadly Jeng Ho when Li arrives to turn the tide.. The combat abruptly ends when the local authorities arrest everybody.

Old Yu is severely drained by the conflict and fares badly under questioning. Moreover the corrupt officials seem to favour the bigger bribes of the Ho faction. Things look bleak for the Yu clan, and Li volunteers to bring more money but before he can leave the old Master passes away.

Although he desperately wants Shu Lien for himself Li promises to convey the girl and her mother to the arranged husband Master Yu picked for her, but when the party arrives more trouble awaits. Shu Lien is betrothed to Chou Mong, the son of a wealthy lord, but the bridegroom-to-be has gone missing. A troublesome son, he was always getting into shameful situations and has now vanished…

Honouring their obligation, the Mongs welcome Shu Lien and her mother into the household until the groom’s whereabouts can be established. The noble Li determines to find the wastrel and return him to his intended bride: the honour-bound but extremely reluctant Shu Lien…

Li’s search takes him to Biejing where the Wudan adept encounters and trounces a terrifying gang of bandits who are holding to ransom all roads into the city…

These digest-sized tomes pack a lot into their pages. As well as the lush and lovely, if panoramically rambling, tale and non-stop breathtaking fight scenes there are also enticing previews of other oriental epics, creator profiles, biographies, art and information pages on the character’s weapons, honorariums from the author’s widow and even Andy Seto’s diary.

Superhero fans might be amazed at the variety of powers a lifetime of knuckle push-ups and bowing can produce, but these tales are wedded to the concept of training and will creating miracles. They are, however, irresistibly exuberant, beautifully illustrated and endlessly compelling. If you’re an open-minded fan, you may find yourself carried away on an incredible tide of non-stop action, apparently shallow characterisation (at least to Western eyes – for the target market the pictures are everything: how a participant looks is his/her interior and exterior) and immense scope of this colossus of a tale.
© 2002, originated by Seto Kim Kiu. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard volume 7

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-583-2

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by truly wicked monsters with properly evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy was in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with stunning humanity when necessary. So it’s a huge pity that, for the moment at least, the delightfully outrageous cast of Boneyard are going on indefinite hiatus.

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – after years of crappy living and poor fortune finally had a lucky break. Not only did he inherit property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow were desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. When he took possession he found once more that if anything looks too good to be true There’s generally a sound reason for it.

The property was a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls was content to stay dead. Firstly there’s Abby, a beautiful, lovely, pretty and so very capable vampire chick, as well as a sex-starved, foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a James Dean, a witch, a hulking Frankensteinian monster and even smart-ass talking gargoyles over the gate. Most worrying of all: There’s even the voluptuous, married amphibian who adds worlds of meaning to the phrase “man-eater.”

The place is a refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow they all seem more human and friendly than the off-kilter townsfolk and the succession of unpleasant characters, supernatural and otherwise, determined to close down the corpse-filled playground.

Overcoming all odds – including the devil himself – and surviving the cosmic embarrassment of ruining the formal ball of the supreme Over-God of the universe

Paris and Abby are seconds away from taking their painfully coy and cautious relationship to another level – maybe even “the next one” – when the imaginary playmate from his lonely childhood appears.

It appears that not only is Lita real, real cute and a princess of Faerie, but since her dad has ordered her to wed the evil Dark Prince of the Unseelie Court, she wants sanctuary and to marry the one being that really loved her.

Of course Paris was only eight then…

When the Faerie warriors turn up thing get rather nasty and Paris and Lita are captured and imprisoned in the Elvin Kingdoms, and Abby and her Boneyard helpmates have to rescue him – Lita too, if he asks nicely – but first they’re going to need a few allies of their own…

This seventh and momentarily final volume reprints the final issues of the independent comic book in stunning black and white as this charming, sly and irresistibly addictive series comes to a natural pause (one day to return in all its warm-hearted, comedy-of-terrors glory: I wish, I hope, I pray…) but until then Boneyard remains a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind.

One the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s, this touching and wickedly funny epic should grace every fan’s bookshelf.

© 2010 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Set to Sea

By Drew Weing (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-368-2

Sometimes it’s terribly easy to review a new graphic novel. Sometimes they’re simply a good strong tale, beautifully told and universally appealing.

One such is the delightful, genuinely stirring saga of an indigent poet and aspiring barfly with a taste for maritime verse, whose lack of true inspiration is cured when he is press-ganged aboard a Hong-Kong Clipper and forcibly learns the true life of a mariner.

Initially resistant to a life afloat, a terrifying brush with death opens his eye and he accepts the only life he could ever truly enjoy, and even manages, whilst traversing the world for joyous, raucous decades, to satisfy his artistic leanings into the bargain…

Magically circular in structure and beautifully drawn in a homagic blend of Elzie Segar, traditional woodcut prints and, I suspect, a touch of the wonderful Tony Millionaire (see E.C. Segar’s Popeye and Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury) this superb rough ‘n’ tumble black and white hardcover collects the impressive online comic into a salty, panel-per-page paean to the gaining of true experience over romantic fantasy, and even manages to be a telling examination of the role of the arts in life.

What more do you need to know? Any lover of a dream-life and fresh yet solid entertainment simply must read this book… Captain’s Orders…

© 2010 Drew Weing. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by Guido Crepax (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-079-6

Guido Crepax was born in Milan in 1933, the son of a noted cellist, and grew up in an atmosphere of art and music (his closest childhood friend was the noted musician and conductor Claudio Abado). Inevitably the boy Crepax became a creative artist in his own right. Whilst studying architecture in the 1950s he freelanced as a graphic designer, illustrator and printmaker, producing book, medical texts and magazine covers, posters and record sleeves most notably for Classical and Jazz musicians ranging from Charlie Parker and Fats Waller to Domenico Modugno.

He won acclaim and advertising awards throughout the 1950s, but was driven to do still more. In 1963 he began drawing comics, and two years later created his most famous character Valentina for the second issue of Linus. She was initially the lead character’s girlfriend, but whereas superhero Neutron soon lost the interest of readers, the sexy, psychedelic, culturally bold and accessible distaff evolved to become an evocative, fantastic, sophisticated, erotic zeitgeist of the 1960s and far, far beyond. He passed away on July 31, 2003.

Although noted – if not always revered – for his strongly erotic female characters, Crepax was an astute and sensitive tale-teller and examiner of the human condition, and all his varied works vibrate with strong themes of charged sexuality and violence, none more so than his chilling, oppressive adaptation of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

As Editor Maurice Horn points out in his introduction, Stevenson’s novella – first published in January 1886 by Longmans, Green & Co. – has never been as faithfully adapted in any other medium: the tale being constructed and narrated as a recap within a flashback, and almost utterly devoid of any relevant female characters. The story revolutionised not only fiction, but also modern sensibilities, cementing an entire concept of human behaviour into the modern lexicon and becoming a keystone of two separate literary genres, science fiction and horror, whilst maintaining for almost its entire duration the semblance of just another tale of mystery and detection. What it must have been to get to that final chapter and discover an entirely new kind of ending! We simply cannot imagine…

For most readers of the text, rather than viewers of the impossibly large number of film, television, radio and stage productions, the brief morality play is clearly a metaphor (I, for example, have always felt it addressed social repression via an examination of addiction) and Crepax has chosen to interpret the issue here as one of unleashed sexual license…

Narrator Gabriel John Utterson is friend and legal representative to Gentleman Scientist Henry Jekyll, a brilliant, upstanding man obsessed with his image and standing in a rich and excessively reputation-driven society. When the wizened, disreputable Edward Hyde appears and begins to exert some inexplicable, overwhelming hold upon the genteel Jekyll, even keeping him from seeing his friends, Utterson is driven to investigate and uncovers a horrendous, unimaginable catalogue of the dwarf’s excesses, ranging from brutal violence, sexual bondage, blackmail and even murder…

Crepax retained the unique narrative structure, dialogue and even chapter headings of the original text, but peppered his visual interpretation with the highly charged, sexually explicit imagery he was – and is – notorious for in such a manner that their sybaritic inclusion made perfect sense. Following the eerie unraveling of the saga in  ‘Story of the Door’, ‘The Carew Murder Case’, ‘The Letter’, ‘Incident at Dr. Lanyon’s’, ‘The Window’, ‘The Last Night’, ‘Dr Lanyon’s Account’ comes the revelatory, post-mortem disclosures of  ‘Henry Jekyll’s Confession’ and Utterson’s shocked realisation of the pressures of English society and the forces they contain and conceal within every man…

Stark, shocking, convulsively claustrophobic in its public scenes whilst indolently free and spacious for the unleashed hedonistic, yet curiously idyllic and lyrical depictions of debauchery, Crepax’s artistic stylisations are as always cannily calculated to work on the reader’s subconscious and bestow an unrelenting power and oppressive inevitability to the tragedy.

Here is a powerful saga magnificently retold using the language and terms of the British Empire, but this highly adult interpretation is also unflinching in its sexual imagery, so if such visual candour depicted in a truly unique style and manner is going to offend you don’t seek out this superb tale.

Everybody else with their senses of drama, history and perspective intact should go ahead and enjoy a brilliant tale stunningly interpreted: another classic graphic novel desperately in need of reprinting…
© 1989 Olympia Press, Italy, Luca A Staletti, agent. English translation © 1990 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Frog Volume 1

By Mine Yoshizaki, translated by Yuko Fukami (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 978-1-59182-703-0

Another monumentally popular manga saga of recent years is this broad, archetypically Japanese fantasy comedy with all the prerequisite elements for success. Keroro Gunsō, Sergeant Keroro or here Sgt. Frog is the mildly malevolent destabilising element that disrupts the life of schoolboy Hinata, just as he’s making the thoroughly distressing move from Elementary to Middle School.

As leader of the school’s Occult club Fuyuki is open to most new and fantastic experiences but even he is given pause when he and his obnoxious “oh-so-perfect” older sister Natsumi accidentally capture a frog-like alien hiding in their house. The revelation panics the orbiting Keronian battle fleet and sends it scuttling away in panic, abandoning all their hidden operatives and leaving them to fend for themselves.

Leader of an elite platoon of infiltrators Keroro offers his surrender but doesn’t really mean it, intending to overcome the primitive earthlings or “Pokopenians” when their guard is down. But as the days pass the little monster gradually “goes native”, succumbing to the constant mental abuse of Natsumi, the grinding drudgery of imposed household chores and the addictive delights of television, the internet, pop music and Gundam model kits. Besides, Fuyuki confiscated his all-purpose Kero Ball super-weapon and the Pokopenians’ mother Aki is a super-hottie MILF who edits manga comics…

A lot of the added-value, in-joke pop-references will have been lost to most English-speaking readers: casualties of both the translation process and the passage of time, but some of the Frog’s wider word-play and constant harping on Bandai model kits, Gundam, Space Battleship Yamato, Dragon Ball, Neon Genesis Evangelion and other ubiquitous elements of modern Japanese fan-culture will still resonate I’m sure…

A further complication occurs when wealthy Mimoka Nishizawa, a shy classmate of Fuyuki’s – who secretly has the biggest crush on him – is found to be in possession of another abandoned platoon member, the highly devoted and incredibly destructive Private Tamama. Mimoka is unable to tell Fuyuki of her feelings and her frustrations usually manifest in psychotic, explosives rages and ultra-violent tantrums…

This first volume features the first dozen episodes or “encounters” and follows the gradually unfolding epic as Keroro’s glittering past and future plans are exposed, with loads of the brutal slapstick, dire puns, situational embarrassments and social gaffe ironies beloved of Manga humour books, but there’s also some touching moments and poignant touches as the ever-expanding cast (which includes ghosts and ancient gods of destruction) go about their lives unaware that everybody’s playing a double game…

Debuting in boys weekly Shonen Ace to immediate success, naturally the series has made the jump to television, movies, computer and even role-playing games. The collected, translated volumes number 18 and counting, comprising an exceedingly engaging light and fluffy concoction that will charm and delight genre fans and casual reader equally.

This book is printed in the ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

© 1999 Mine Yoshizaki. English text © 2004 TokyoPop Inc.

Hunter x Hunter Volume 1: The Shonen Jump Advanced Edition

By Yoshiro Togashi (Viz)
ISBN:  978-1-59116-753-2

It’s been a while since I reviewed manga graphic novels in any breadth or depth so I’m going to start again, but as there’s simply so much new material around I’ve opted to concentrate more on older series with a few volumes under their belts, occasionally leavened with whatever new material catches my eye – or that publishers send us.

Moreover, I’m no expert, so these will be thoughts restricted to the simple perspective of an interested casual collector, and measured against all other illustrated stories and not other manga/anime. There are plenty of specialist sites to cater for that and they’re there at the touch of a search engine…

Hantā Hantā (which I translate as either Hunter times Hunter or Hunter Versus Hunter; someone who actually speaks Japanese may not concur) first appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump in March 1998, before exploding into 27 volumes of manga, an anime series and three cartoon movies (so far) and primarily tells the extremely engaging and phenomenally extended tale of young Gon Freecss; a gifted twelve-year-old lad abandoned by his father, who dumped the kid on an aunt in the agrarian backwater of Whale Island before disappearing.

Gon is an exceptional child with a restless nature, big dreams and some uncanny abilities. In the alternate world of fantastic creatures that Gon inhabits the best job in the world is that of the Hunter: incredible Renaissance Men who combine the talents of detectives, treasure hunters, archaeologists, assassins, bounty hunters and repo-men with astounding physical prowess, travelling the world for profit or sheer scientific curiosity. If somebody wants something Hunters will get it.

One day Gon meets a hunter who reveals something the lad had already deduced. His missing father Ging was one of the greatest Hunters of all, and is still alive somewhere. Gon immediately resolves to become a Hunter too, but things are not that simple…

Hunters must pass a horrendous exam, and just getting to that exam is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. Undeterred, Gon says his goodbyes to Aunt Mito, not realising his assessment has already begun. Taking ship to the mainland he joins dozens of other candidates including enigmatic orphan Kurapika and brash Leorio, the only two hopefuls not to fall at the first hurdle.

Reaching Dolie Harbour the three would-be Hunters endure a number of tests and challenges just to find the Examination site: and that’s where the real testing of their worth and character begins…

Nearly 50 million copies of Hunter x Hunter have been sold thus far, and it’s no surprise. This is a perfect example of the “young hero’s path to destiny” fantasy adventure that Japanese creators do so very well, blending action, humour, unashamed sentiment and wondrous imagination into a seamless, supremely readable confection that is impossible to put down and always leaves the reader hungry for more. Gon and his comradely rivals strive to overcome all obstacles, each blessed with their unique talents and motivations and the tale fairly rattles along until the abrupt cliffhanger end hits like a thunderbolt.

Superbly entertaining, you’re best advised to read this gem a half-dozen volumes at a time.

This book is printed in the ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

© 1998 POT (Yoshiro Togashi). All Rights Reserved.

Hotwire Comics volume 3

By various, edited by Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-288-3

The third magnificent, oversized compendium of cutting edge cartooning and alternative artistic visions has finally arrived and once more combines famed and possibly less well-known creators in a bold, brassy high-quality, giant-sized (9×12 inch or 230x304mm) full colour and black and white anthology of new tales and concoctions. There’s even a multi-page psychedelic, phantasmagorical fold-out ‘The Magnificent Pigtail Show’ from the incredible Steven Cerio.

Beginning with art-pieces – David Sandlin’s ‘Studio of Sin’ and Tim Lane’s ‘Greetings From Hotwire USA’ – the sequential narratives launch with Michael Kupperman’s ‘Meet McArf!’, a decidedly smooth shaggy dog story, the eerie childhood reminiscence ‘Car-Boy’s Family’ from Max Andersson and ‘Bottomless’ a salutary tale of excessive appetite from Eric Watkins and Chadwick Whitehead.

The first of a series of ‘Feral Spheres’ – monochrome artworks by David Paleo – is followed by ‘Denial’ and ‘The Bully’, two moody introspections from Jayr Pulga and Sam Henderson’s gross-out gag-strip ‘At a Frat Party or a Sports Game or Something Like That’, before editor Glenn Head enthrals with the cheery chiller ‘Candyland Clinic.’

After Paleo’s second ‘Feral Sphere’ the always fascinating Mary Fleener describes how and why she bought a gun in ‘The Judge’ and Rick Altergott reveals the sordid saga of a sweet young thing who was just too ‘Keen on a Clown!’, after which sordid shocks Head returns with some  ‘Psychedelic Smut’.

Onsmith’s beguiling ‘Dispossession by Tornado’ is followed by another ‘Feral Sphere’ and Mark Dean Vega reinterprets some of our most beloved comics characters in his mouth-watering ‘Popeyeconography’ before Doug Allen’s grotesquely funny ‘Hillbilly’s Dun Gawn Ta College’ and the ever offensive Johnny Ryan provides insight to life with ‘The Cockhorns’.

Following the aforementioned Cerio foldout section Tim Lane crafts a chilling tale of hobos riding the rails in ‘Spike’, Danny Hellman illustrates a truly lovely clash in ‘Alice Versus the Sandman’, R. Sikoryak retells the story of Hamlet using Hank Ketcham’s oddly appropriate cartoon cast in ‘The Menace of Denmark’ and Mack White provides a surreal and terrifying glimpse into ‘Roadside Hell.’

Another ‘Feral Sphere’ precedes, for my money, the very best piece in this collection. The darkly mannered tale entitled the ‘Passion of Atte’ by Matti Hagelberg is a complex, brooding tale of vanishment and suicide – or is it?

‘Infernal Combustion’ is a bold, old-fashioned paranoid nightmare by David Sandlin, followed by one last ‘Feral Sphere’ and Danny Hellman’s delightful ironic parable ‘Tales of the Sodom Ape Men and the Electronic God’, Stephane Blanquet provides so much more than just a ‘Drawing’, Karl Wills delivers a punchy space fable in ‘Connie Radar’ and Mats!? chills and thrills with his deeply disturbing discourse ‘Sleep Walker.’

The final tale is the classy history of an unsung hero from another, more wicked time:  Glenn Head relates the rather sad and nasty tale of ‘Vulvina, the Ventriloquist’s Dummy Daughter!’ which closes another startling, offensive, compelling and thoroughly wonderful box of cartoon delights for brave, hungry souls in search of different kicks. Strictly for those of you over voting age, this is a treat no real comics aficionado can afford to miss.

All artwork and stories © 2010 the respective creators. All rights reserved.

Artichoke Tales

By Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-344-6

Megan Kelso has been producing unique, idiosyncratic, thought-provoking comics stories for more than twenty years; the very best of which can be seen in her award-winning collections Queen of the Black Black and The Squirrel Mother. She works far too slowly for my greedy nature to be completely happy with, but as the results are always superb I’m just going to have to “Man Up” and count myself lucky whenever something new hits the bookshelves…

Artichoke Tales is a generational saga which recounts, like film run backwards, the aftermath, events of and build-up to a tragic and devastating civil war on a serene, stable agrarian culture: a land of farmers, foragers and fisher-folk who all look like they’re sporting vegetable hair-dos. Don’t be fooled though – despite the stalks sprouting from their skulls these are not Arcadian vegetable characters dreamily dwelling in their own sylvan Pogle’s Wood: these are people, gullible, fallible and intensely complex.

Kelso first created her artichoke people for a short tale in the anthology comic Girlhero, and began working on this longer story in 1999, citing such thematic influences as the Little House on the Prairie books, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and Anthony Minghella’s movie Cold Mountain for this gently compelling, beguiling story of the Quicksand family, apothecaries to the village of Ladle and how an insane and unwelcome split between North and South sorely wounded not only the nation but three generations of women caught up in it…

Young Brigitte was gathering herbs for her grandmother when she once more met the charming soldier Adam. Military types weren’t particularly welcome and Northerners even less so, despite all the years that had passed since the War, but young hormones and the promise of something fresh and exotic have always won out over common sense…

Torn between newborn passion, a sudden hatred for her boring old life and fear of the unknown Brigitte forces Grandma Charlotte to tell the previously unspoken history of the conflict and how it shaped the Quicksand family: a tale of pride, high-handedness and avoidable mistakes that led to those bitter prejudices which still scarred people on every side.

Told in a stunning minimalist manner which demands the reader’s closest scrutiny and collaboration, the refined and simplified drawings unfold story within story, like the skin of an onion, as the truths peels away to reveal some depressingly universal truths about families, society and the use of power. Despite the engagingly simple art and storytelling style this is not a book for younger readers, so parents read this beautiful parable before you let your kids at it…

Those of you without impressionable progeny can just go right ahead and dig in: Artichoke Tales is truly magical and is waiting for your avid, appreciative attention and consumption…

© 2010 Megan Kelso. All Rights Reserved.


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 jingoistic madness. Then he shuffles out of the picture and lets his 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 might just be the best thing I’ve read this year. Created during America’s longest-running war (9 years and counting…) this multilayered, incisive parable examines how families and countries can be twisted by love, fear and leaders’ lies yet still seemingly prosper. As much mystical generational fantasy as veiled allegory this enchanting story 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 “Temperance”…

Mythical, mystical, metaphorical, lyrical, even poetic, here is a literal epic which blends Shakespearean passions with soft Orwellian terrors. King Lear and 1984 are grandparents to this subtly striking tale of freedoms and honour – personal and communal – 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.