By Lorenzo Mattotti (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-064-2

Lorenzo Mattotti was born in Brescia 1954, and after studying architecture became a comics storyteller before graduating into a second career as a designer and illustrator. As well as the book under discussion here, his most well-known work is probably his 2003 Eisner award-winning adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His stunning illustrations have graced magazines as varied as Cosmopolitan, Le Monde, Vogue and The New Yorker.

Initially working in a stylish but standard manner he gradually became obsessed with expanding the traditional comics form; capturing the power of light, hue and motion on the page and exploring the inner world of the characters populating it, beginning with the seminal Il Signor Spartaco in 1982.

With all his successive works from Murmur, the semi- autobiographical ‘The Man in the Window’ (where he applied the same creative questioning doctrine to line-drawing as he had to paint, pastel and chalk colour), the historical Caboto and others he pursued a technique of offering multiple meanings and interpretations to the reader…

Fires was released in 1986, and details the experience of a navy officer seduced by the magical nature of a tropical island. Either that or a classic case of a sensitive nature driven to madness by the regimentation of militarism…

When the warship Anselm II drops anchor in the bay of the paradisiacal islet of St. Agatha to investigate the growing loss of merchant shipping, junior officer Lieutenant Absinthe is troubled by the stunning natural beauty of volcanic atoll. The government of the new super-state of Sillantoe has dispatched the dreadnought to explore the place, and if populated, civilise or pacify the natives.

On the night before Absinthe and a landing party are dispatched, blazing fires can be seen brilliantly lighting up the dark and the Lieutenant thinks he sees strange creatures invading the ship. When the away team trudges through the foliage the next morning, he thinks he sees them again, but for some inexplicable reason cannot bring himself to report the sighting.

The officer is increasingly disturbed by the joyous, dancing flickering figures, and even though he says nothing the crew knows something is happening to him. Absinthe only feels happy or at peace on the island, and one night he goes AWOL. Seeing islanders all the time now he goes fully native, reveling in the spectacular blazes that roar and dance every time darkness falls.

Eventually the sailors recapture their “hallucinatory” comrade and the order comes to bombard this isle of the damned until it is razed of all possibility of life.

And now the nightmare truly begins…

This examination of technology vs. nature, freedom challenging duty and man against civilisation is rendered in a euphoric blaze of expressionistic colour and frantic movement reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia and bolder abstract experimental animations, with forms and actors reduced to primal shapes surging across the landscape of a page. Mattotti’s questing style blends the colour philosophy of Fauvism with the stripped-down forms and perfect structures of Italian Futurist painters such as Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni and Russian Natalia Goncharova whilst the story itself has the brooding, paranoiac, inevitable-descent-into-madness feel of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its filmic avatar (Coppola’s) Apocalypse Now.

Astounding, compelling and deeply moving this book (there’s also a 1991 British edition from Penguin – ISBN 978-0-14013-889-4 available) is a mesmerising classic and high point of our art-form and one any serious devotee of sequential narrative would be proud to own.
© 1986-1988 by Editions Albin Michel S. A. English language edition © 1988 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Wanted: Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil

By Jonathan Maberry & Janice Gable Bashman (Citadel Press)
ISBN: 978-0-8065-2821-2

Although out of my usual comfort zone and possibly beyond my usual purview, when this fascinating item thunked onto my doormat I confess I was intrigued enough to stretch a point and review it here – especially with Halloween looming large on the horizon.

Written in a wonderfully accessible style this series of essays, liberally illustrated with both colour and monochrome images, examines the concept of evil monsters and how to fight them in fact and fiction; real life and all the myriad media forms that comprise our global entertainment landscape: books, films, television and comics.

Jonathan Maberry is an award-winning factual and fiction writer with a few comicbook credits to his name and Janice Gable Bashman is a successful thriller author, and together they examine the nature of Darkness as a theoretical and philosophical concept in their introduction ‘That Whole “Good and Evil” Thing’ before moving on to recount ‘The Roots of Good vs. Evil’ and listing the prerequisites for survival in ‘Heroes and Villains’.

Vampires, how they’re interwoven into all the world’s cultures and, of course, how to combat them comes to the fore in ‘It Didn’t Start With Van Helsing’ whilst ‘Hunting the Fang Gang’ provides a comprehensive list of traditional and fictional Nosferatu-killers ranging from Bataks and Dhampyrs to Bram Stoker’s seminal crew and Buffy’s far-ranging friends and descendents…

‘Fangs vs. Fangs’ delineates the monsters who fight for Good – or at least against Greater Evils – and ‘Legendary Heroes’ recounts the brave and the bold of myth, history and fiction who have battled demons, devils and beasts, as well as far more intangible horrors. Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Rocky Balboa, Jack (“24”) Bauer, Emmeline Pankhurst and Mother Theresa are among the many examples that define this pinnacle of human-ness and the chapter also lists the worst monsters ever recorded.

‘Did You Use Protection?’ covers weapons, charms, talismans and practices that assist and arm the devil-slayers, ‘A Priest and a Rabbi Walk into a Crypt’ examines the role of various religions and belief systems and ‘Who You Gonna Call?’ takes a peek at the role of ghosts in history and entertainment.

‘Pulp Friction’ relates the growth of popular entertainment forms and how they have handled heroes and monsters(human, supernatural and even super-scientific) and the comicbook superhero phenomenon gets the same treatment in ‘Spandex to the Rescue’.

The effects of these concepts on discrete sections of the public goes under the microscope in ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things’; examining conventions, fan groups, games, tattoos and skin art, Role Playing (both RPGs and LARPs) and Cosplay before the really scary section tackles ‘Real Evil’ with a comprehensive listing of Serial Killers which makes all the preceding fictional Psychos and Mass Murderers look tame and insipid by comparison…

Topped off with the Online Film Critics Society Top 100 Villains of All Time, a list of Spirit Superstitions and the Top 10 Vampire, Werewolf, Demon and Ghost Movies of all time, this superb compendium is a sublime delight for fans and thrill-seekers to dip into over and again.

Stuffed with interviews and commentary from across the spectrum of popular media including Stan Lee, John Carpenter and a host of artists, creators and designers this is a delight no fantasy fan should dare to miss.

© 2004, Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman. All rights reserved. An extended edition of this volume is also available as an ebook.

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.