Clumsy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-97135-976-5

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales and Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the four volume “Girlfriend Trilogy”, comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World For Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching revelation… who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released, quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of non-chronological pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing in no particular order how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively charming art-student meets a girl and tries to carry out a long-distance relationship. Every kid who’s gone to college, got a job or joined the services has been through this, and for every romance that makes it, there a million that don’t.

Drawn in a deceptively Primitivist style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase plus a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and forever-after regretted, this is a skilful succession of stolen moments which establish one awful truth.

We’ve all been there, done that and then hoarded those damned photos we can’t even look at any more…

With titles like ‘My Last Night with Kristyn’, ‘Don’t Touch Me’, ‘I Draw her Naked’, ‘I Farted’, ‘But I Want to Make Love’ and ‘You Can Ask Me’, a mosaic of universal joy and despair forms as we watch Jeff and Theresa meet, blossom, exult, dream, plan and part…

Packed with hearty joyous wonder and brimming with hilarious examples of that continual and seemingly tireless teen-lust us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Clumsy is a magical delight for anybody safely out of their Romeo & Juliet years and a lovely examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2002 Jeffrey Brown.

The Story of My Tits


By Jennifer Hayden (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-054-4

Here’s a short sharp review for an exceedingly weighty and fabulously entertaining tome. If the word “Tits” offends you in any way – GOOD! – that’s partly the point and besides, now that you’ve been sufficiently outraged you might as well read on before dashing off and buying the book…

This huge monochrome tome (198 x 203 x 28 x mm) is an agonisingly hilarious cartoon autobiography by an astonishingly funny, amazingly forthright and relentlessly brave woman dealing with far more than her fair share of misfortune. As her tale captivatingly depicts, Jennifer Hayden (Underwire, Rushes, S’crapbook) came to cartooning late after years muddling through as a commercial writer and children’s book illustrator. Her artistic epiphany came when she was dealing with a ghastly medical diagnosis and stumbled upon a fellow sufferer’s own cancer-narrative graphic journal…

Comprising a breathtaking assemblage of key moments, this quirky quilt of rib-ticklers and gut-punches opens with the author’s early days with ‘No Tits’ describing a life “flat as a board” until biology finally works its inevitable magic. It also introduces her uniquely human and utterly irresistible family…

The amiable amble towards adulthood continues in ‘Still No Tits!’ before ‘What, Tits?’ sees little Jenny’s dreams start to come true after a big change that strangely coincides with an increased awareness of Boys…

As is so often the case, life should come with a warning to be careful what you wish for as ‘What Tits!’ concentrates on college days and boyfriends, eventually introducing musician Jim who will play a major role in the decades to come. More important, however, is his wonderful mother and boisterous brothers…

Real life thunders in with ‘Sick Tits’ when Jennifer’s mum gets a devastating diagnosis and has a mastectomy. Her reaction is far from what her excitable daughter expects or understands…

With the family in turmoil ‘Tits in Philly’ sees Jenny upping stakes to get away; living with Jim until ‘Tits in Jersey’ sees them both move in with his mother. Life goes on and the lovers make a pretty good go of being just like grown-ups. Then once again cancer hits someone they both can’t do without…

‘Tits Al Fresco’ pithily observes the modern trauma of dealing with divorce and the unwholesome fallout of having to handle three “mothers”…

The long-dreaded inevitable finally happens in ‘Tender Tits’ but after the birth of their first child (hah, gotcha!) life gets even more convoluted for Jennifer and Jim with ‘Tits at Dawn’. With the extended family gradually dying away, it’s only after Jennifer’s second child and her development of ‘Mom Tits’ that years of ordinary living narrow down to the moment of her own breast-cancer diagnosis thanks to mammography and ‘Tits on Film’.

Jennifer Hayden was 43 when she made the bold decision which changed and probably saved her, and these scenes and snapshots of her life as it changed to accommodate breast cancer are some of the bravest, most poignant and blackly funniest in this journal. Her world becomes increasingly filled with doctors, counsellors, well-wishers, survivors and fellow patients. Through it all though, that big, big family is there… even if her closest acquaintances aren’t…

‘No More Tits’ shares the days of surgery and beyond, leading to an oddly circular regression to her earliest days whilst coping strategies and mundane daily adjustments vie for attention in ‘Goddess Tits’ before the contemporary world catches up and the tale moves away from us in ‘The End: UnTITled’… (although there is a heart-warming Epilogue sent from idyllic sunny ‘Titaly’

Potent, honest, passionately matter-of-fact and phenomenally entertaining, this is a marvel of philosophical resolve and practical defiance that nobody can read without laughing, crying, getting scared and feeling lucky.
© & ™ 2015 Jennifer Hayden.

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland


By Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-091-9

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping the truly creative individual: lots and lots of critical acclaim, and occasional heart-breakingly close brushes with super-stardom (which everyone except him felt he truly deserved) without ever actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

In the 1970s whilst palling around with Robert Crumb, Pekar began crafting compelling documentary narratives of ordinary, blue-collar life – primarily his own – and over the following decades invented “literary comics”. Despite negligible commercial success, the activity fulfilled some deep inner need and he persevered in his self-publishing and soul-searching.

One of those aforementioned brushes with the Big Time came in the 1980s with the release of two compilations by mainstream publisher Doubleday of selected strips from his American Splendor comicbooks. To this day those tomes remain some of the most powerful, honest and rewarding comics ever seen.

By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying (out of his meagre civil service wages and occasional wheeler-deal) any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards Pekar soldiered on, inadvertently creating the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives whilst eking out a mostly solitary, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, knowledge-hungry, self-educated, music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life for the “ordinary Joe” is a magical journey into the plebeian far better read than read about, so go do that if you haven’t already.

Life picked up late for Harvey Pekar – mostly through an award-winning movie of his career and the publication of Our Cancer Year (a stunning documentation of his and third wife Joyce Brabner’s response to his disease). This all led to an elevated and celebrated intellectual status, allowing him to the opportunity to produce even more personal and compelling tales such as The Quitter, The Beats and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me. Harvey Pekar died in 2010, aged 70.

For all of that time he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and the city is as much a character in all his autobiographical works as the man himself. This book was his last, published posthumously and offering in his own simple, informative, plain spoken words – beguilingly illustrated by the inspirationally diligent Joseph Remnant (Blind Spot) – the history, geography and cultural lowdown of the legend-laden conurbation alternatively dubbed the “the best location in the nation” and “the mistake by the lake”…

An irrepressible autodidact in the truest sense of the term, Pekar made it his business to learn everything about anything he was interested in… and he could be initially interested in everything.

Keeping his mercurial engaged attention, however, was a far harder task. One thing which held his attention on many levels – from first breath to last – was the city he was born in.

Cleveland is an erudite, eyes-wide-open appreciation, encompassing the shrinking metropolis’ creation, rise, fall, descent into mediocrity and position as media whipping-boy as well as the truth behind all the myths.

Walking through town pictorially and in full avuncular academician mode, Pekar shares facts, opinions and judgments with equal passion and force: detailing simultaneously both treasures and flaws like a man happily married to the same bride for seven decades. The result is magical…

There’s the expected and welcome incisive examination of socio-political changes, employment and race issues, a broad inclusion of the author’s love of sporting achievement and his obsessive collecting: startling moments of intimate revelation and, as ever, his miraculous gift of sharing his passions as he blends historical insights, family milestones and oddments of existence with deft dexterity.

Harvey Pekar was called the “poet laureate of Cleveland” and this superb paean to the home he never abandoned is a graphic delight to equal any literary travelogue commemorating Defoe’s London or Damon Runyon’s New York.

Remnant’s monochrome line-work is remarkably effective: mixing reportage with architectural acuity and wrapping it all in a fulsome vivacity reminiscent of the best of underground art. These pictures pop; whether illuminating the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 victory over the Boston Braves, city landmarks like the Terminal  Tower and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; depicting gang fights in Woodhill Park or young Harvey’s first Chocolate Frosty Malt and first marital mismatches …

With an effusive and lyrical Introduction by Alan Moore and closing with ‘A Pal’s Goodbye’ from Harvey’s friend, associate and fellow Clevelander Jimi Izrael, this wry, witty, enchanting atlas of Middle America Then and Now is a book you must see if you love the art form of comics and magic of storytelling.
© & ™ 2012 Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded


By Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1893-9

After decades of cruel injustice and crushing, sidelining silence, British mathematician Alan Turing – one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century – is at last becoming the household name and revered figure he deserves to be.

As well as books and films describing the amazing achievements and appalling way this brilliant, tormented man – arguably the creator of the modern world we inhabit – was treated by society, there’s now a new graphic novel delineating the factual stuff whilst trying to get beneath the skin of a most perplexing and unique individual.

It’s only fair to warn you: this is categorically not an adaptation of the 2014 film.

Spellbindingly scripted by Jim Ottaviani (who has similarly eulogised and dissected quantum physicist Feynman and primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas in Primates) and compellingly effective art by Leland Purvis (Vox, Pubo, Vulcan & Vishnu and Suspended in language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – a previous collaboration with Ottoviani), this full-colour hardback biography divides Turing’s life into three broad sections, incisively and winningly reviewed as if in a documentary.

Events from his turbulent life are cleverly mixed with “interviews” and candid disclosures from those who knew him – his mother, the computing girls at Bletchley Park, fiancée Joan Clark, Professor Max Newman, engineer and lab partner Bayley and the weak, shady rent-boy who brought about Turing’s eventual downfall and death…

‘Universal Computing’ covers the difficult, solitary boy’s childhood and college years, with plenty of revelatory scenes showing how smart, obsessed and just plain different Turing was.

Top Secret Ultra’ focuses on the war years that made Turing’s reputation as a cryptographer and inventor at the “non-existent” base where the Enigma Code was cracked and the battle against fascism won.

The most painful and potent moments are seen in the post-war years at Manchester University, trying to beat the Americans in the race to build Thinking Machines and coming under increasing stress as his open homosexuality – accepted as fact and ignored at Bletchley – came to overtake and destroy the life of the mis-socialised simple genius whose thoughts and writings resulted in the breakthroughs everybody now knows as ‘The Imitation Game’

Rounding out the cruelly educational experience is a poignant and challenging ‘Authors Note’ touching on the still unresolved mystery of Turing’s death, a vast ‘Bibliography and Recommended Reading’ list and a bewilderingly comprehensive ‘Notes and References’ section, covering everything from the panel structures to the mathematics involved in and comprising much of the book’s subtly beguiling make-up.

This is an astoundingly inviting way to take in a true story of incredible accomplishment, dedicated passion and terrifying naivety, ending in a horrific loss to us all and forever-unanswered sentiments of “What If?” and “If Only”…
Text © 2016 Jim Ottaviani. Illustrations © 2016 Leland Purvis. All rights reserved.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded will be released on March 22nd 2016.

Persia Blues volume 2: Love and War


By Dara Naraghi & Brent Bowman (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-977-9

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Iranian ex-pat Dara Naraghi far more so than most. As well as his own celebrated Big City Blues comic he’s been responsible for adapting to comics such licensed properties as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press.

His breakthrough graphic anthology Lifelike set new standards for expressive exploratory tale-telling and he was a founding member of comics creators collective PANEL. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomics.

Artist and illustrator Brent Bowman has created art for the Age of Empires collector card game and worked at Caliber Press and Image Comics. He too is a member of PANEL, devoted to pushing the envelope (probably after covering it with doodles and sketches) of graphic narrative.

Together they have conceived a trilogy of graphic novels cunningly blending real-world reportage with fantastic fantasy in a mythic manner both intriguing and captivating. Initial outing Persia Blues: Leaving Home won the 2014 Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo prize for Best Graphic Novel.

That tome introduced spirited young woman Minoo Shirazi who had a history of troublemaking and parental issues in two very different worlds dubbed for discomfort “There” and “Here”…

Far away and long ago a bold warrior woman with an inexplicable incendiary power in her hands battled beside her lover Tyler against brigands and worse to retrieve a holy book in the heyday of the Persian Empire. We’ll call that “Here”…

Over “There” in our world, a forthright, independent Iranian architecture student named Minoo was seen at various moments of her life, constantly challenging the authority of her father and the far more dangerous agents of the theocracy…

In Ancient Persia the war-woman painfully and at first-hand learned of the eternal struggle between the light of Ahura Mazda and dark evil of demonic Ahriman, before becoming embroiled in the struggle – as did her scholarly lover – when a priest was slaughtered by the devil-lord Himself.

A giant, wingless talking griffon then despatched them to distant Persepolis to meet her long-lost mother. The divine messenger also decreed Minoo the Warrior would play a crucial role in the battle between good and evil and must accept her fate…

En route, they encountered famed and legendary Anusiya battling an horrific army of scorpion men and other beasts. Dashing to join the hard-pressed Persian Royal Guard, they turned the tide and the grateful soldiers escorted them to an audience with the Emperor…

In modern times when word of Minoo’s latest brush with the authorities reached her father, once-eminent history professor Bijan Shiraz took unwelcome and unwanted steps to protect the last member of his family.

For years he had been a thorn in the side of the religious fundamentalists rewriting and revising the grand and glorious history of Persia to suit the self-serving demands of a theocratic, clerical dictatorship and consequently his entire family had suffered…

Bijan and his wife Manijeh argued for years. She wanted the family to leave but the scholar refused to leave the proud history of Persia in the hands of revisionists. Minoo often listened, terrified her parents were divorcing, but older brother Ramin was always there to calm her fears…

Three years ago Minoo and her father discussed her recent graduation. Her prospects had long been a brittle bone of contention, and she would not accept the aging intellectual’s argument that she should pursue a Master’s Degree. Not in a country that openly suppresses choice and opportunity for women…

She was utterly astounded when he reveals he had changed his mind and would use all his resources, contacts and waning influence to secure her a University place outside Iran…

And in Persepolis the supreme ruler is revealed as Empress Purandokht, Queen and Protector of the Persian Empire who greets her wandering daughter but does not recognise her…

This is a tale of interconnected contrasts, with the modern scenes – deliberately convoluted by mixing the chronological sequence of flashback events – rendered in stark black line whilst the exotic and thrilling Persian adventure is presented as lush, painterly pencil-grey tones.

Moreover, although the general dialogue and idiom of the ancients is what you’d expect in an historical drama, Tyler and mystic Minoo speak like American 20-somethings, eventually admitting to Purandokht they are from somewhere called “Columbus”…

Following a graphic reintroduction to the major players and a quick recap in ‘Our Story Thus Far’ the twin-tracked tale-telling recommences over “There” in Tehran eleven years ago as young teenager Minoo goes ski-boarding for the first time and meets a boy. Over-protective Ramin’s response is not what she anticipated…

Way back “Here” Tyler and Minoo soon get bored cooling their heels in the palace and – avoiding Purandokht’s hyper-maternal oversight – sneak out to find the nation’s ultimate hero Rostam who might be the only hope to defeat Ahriman’s converging dark forces…

Modern Minoo meanwhile is still settling in at the University of Ohio in America. It is one year ago…

Her fellow Students are all very welcoming but the culture is so different in its minutiae and daily details. However, when she introduces herself to her father’s old friend Professor Yazdi she finds him with a charming young man discussing his Graduate Degree. His name is Tyler Clarke and he is obsessed with the culture and history of Iran. Even more so apparently, after meeting Minoo…

In the wilds of Persia, a wild ride and valiant quest at last leads the strange warriors to mighty Rostam and his wonder steed Rakhsh. Finishing off the demon he has been toying with the heroic marvel joyously accompanies them back to embattled Persepolis…

In Columbus as Tyler and Minoo get better acquainted, the scene suddenly shifts to Iran twelve years previously. The Shiraz family are fragmenting and the kids are dealing with Bijan and Manijeh’s divorce very differently. Jumping ahead seven years, the dutiful daughter is still arguing with dad after he’s been beaten up… again…

Rostam’s tumultuous return to Persepolis is none too soon: his glorious welcome parade is barely begun when the monster armies of Ahriman turn up…

Ten years ago in Tehran, Minoo finally gets to watch football-crazy Ramin play, even if the trip nearly gets her arrested. It’s the best game of his life and the last time she will ever see him…

The battle for Persepolis is long and hard and only the direct intervention of Ahura Mazda saves overmatched Minoo when her flame powers fail…

In America six months ago Tyler took Minoo camping and learned a lot about her, such as her family history and troubles and the fact that she is a demon with a game console…

“Here” as Persepolis reels from the catastrophic assault, “There” in Tehran twenty-one years ago another parental clash left Minoo alone with Daddy, who proudly read his little girl the far-from-bedtime story of the Seven Labours of Rostam

Although forced from the battlefield Ahriman is undeterred and directly attacks Purandokht in the palace. Although her formidable daughter is in time to drive the devil off, the queen is stricken by the beast’s poisons…

In Tehran eleven years ago the fractured family gather at the hospital. Manijeh’s chemotherapy has failed and surgery is now the only option. Minoo cannot comprehend her father’s reactions…

As before, glimpses of a greater truth come from a brace of Epilogues. The first sees Minoo in Columbus three months ago: Skypeing with the dad she still doesn’t trust but blithely unaware of the trouble he’s in, whilst the second focuses on Persepolis where a distraught daughter is confronted by the all-wise Griffon. He challenges the warrior woman’s understanding of her strangely incomplete existence and asks difficult questions about the father she cannot remember…

To Be Concluded…

Gilded with excerpts of classical poetry by Rumi (13th century Persian poet, jurist, scholar, theologian and Sufi Mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī AKA Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī or simply “our master”: very cool and totally worthy of your further attention…), this is a smart and subtle melding past and present, fact and fiction, revelling in exploiting reader expectation and confusion whilst crafting a beguiling multi-layered tale of family, responsibility, guilt, oppression and the hunger for independence which carries the reader along, promoting wonder and second-guessing whilst weaving a tantalising tapestry of mystery.

Engaging, rewarding and just plain refreshingly different, Persia Blues looks set to become a classic for all time…
© 2015 Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman.

As You Were volume 4: Living Situations


By various, compiled and edited by Mitch Clem & Avi Ehrlich (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-822-5

Speaking as a doddering survivor of the first Punk Uprising, I admit to still hankering for those frenzied days of youthful indiscretion, impatient passions, a sense of being completely tangential to most folk around me and a clear idea of who “The Enemy” was.

At least I’m still utterly angry and discontented over inequality, political arrogance, corporate smugness, bigotry of every type and the First World’s poisonous assumption  that we all adhere to their vile philosophy of I’m-all-right-Jackery…

So it’s bloody wonderful to see some of those attitudes still surviving into this century: even if the issues are more about personal liberty and freedom of expression and lifestyle, rather than Fighting the Power or just being listened too…

As You Were is a periodic collection of strips by contemporary cartoonists who self-identify as “punk” and this fourth instance is dedicated to the precarious prospect of daily existence, gathered under one cardboard roof by Mitch Clem (creator of Nothing Nice to Say – arguably the first online punk comic) and Avi Erlich, designated adult of San Franciscan arts collective Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, who worked in conjunction with Last Gasp to produce this starkly monochrome digest-sized anthology collection.

Behind the Kriss Stress cover and following a fabulously illuminated contents section embroidered with a border by Autumn Ballard, the domestic diatribes (produce of more than one country) open with a frenetic depiction of ‘Tuesday Night at the Rad House’ from Liz Suburbia after which Ben Passmore details the fantastic rules controlling all dealings with ‘The Punklord’ and Shannon Knox examines the lives of the poor, abused cleaning utensils so seldom used by any house occupant in ‘Takes from the Kitchen Sink’.

‘I Grew Up in a Haunted House’ relates Liz Prince’s odd preoccupation with one room in a certain home after which James the Stanton visually and viscerally recalls a party which was out of this world in ‘Gnartoons’, Brad Dwyer and his partner find some ‘Common Ground’ in the raising of their kids and Evan Wolff vs Campus P.D. finds the author not-so nostalgic about college housing and student crash-pads in ‘One Time at the Hot Tub House’

Wondering if it’s booze or Ska music making everything so swirly in Mel’s ‘This Only Works When Everyone is Drunk’, we stagger on to enjoy Jim Kettner’s gleefully elegiac ‘Tales from the Bookhouse’, recounting the unique selling points of past temporary dwellings before Meg Has Issues realises ‘All Roommates are Asshole’ and Chris (Comics of Mass Distraction) Mindtree details a happy ending resulting from ‘2 Guys 1 Apartment’

‘Homecore’ by Josh PM Frees reveals the trials of two gentle scholarly souls searching for shelter whilst Andra Passen exposes herself in ‘Crowded thoughts and crooked teeth’ before the perennial new-student dilemma (no contraceptives!!!) surely evokes pained, fond memories for many of us as Steve Thueson remembers ‘July 2009’

Sam Grinberg shares a rowdy party experience in ‘Quiet’ before Rick V hilariously ‘Draws A Comic About Every Human He Has Lived With’ and Nomi Kane totally steals the show with ‘Nightmare on Milwaukee Avenue’ as the housemates have to deal with “that guy”: the lazy, shiftless one who has problems with the very concept of menstruation and other girl stuff…

Steve Larder offers a uniquely British outlook whilst recalling his time staying in ‘The Hippy House’ and Emily “Buckwheat” Timm scales flights of fantasy in ‘A Girl Can Dream’ with Joshum sustaining the escapism in fabulous pantomimic sci fi fable ‘Coming Home’.

World traveller Aimée Pijpers thoughtfully details her ‘Living Arrangements: a Timeline’ before true Brit Rob Cureton amuses and outrages with his ‘INFOMERCIAL’ for a very special old folks home after which Alex Barrett exposes the idiocy of the Tallahassee cops in ‘GCF’ and Rachel Dukes depicts a moment of pure romance in ‘Good Morning, Dracula’

Alex Krokus then shares a ‘House Meeting’ like so very many others and Sarah Graley intimately recalls ‘Elly’s Room’ after which Wyeth Yates gloriously predicts a happy future in the ‘Horse Latitudes’ before Ben Snakepit apologises for his many sins as a ‘Roomate from Hell’

‘Buying the Baron’s House’ is Erin K. Wilson’s silent tale told in two timeframes, relating the history of a home and its fate today whilst ‘There and Back Again’ finds Carolina Porras daydreaming as she packs up for another move. After Andy Warner graphically catalogues a ‘House Party’, Will Laren recapitulates a modern manifesto with ‘The People’s System’ before Lindsay Anne Watson pantomimically advocates that we ‘Settle Down’ to close this conference of cartoons.

With a full biography/contact section (for when you want to see more… and where) this is a wonderful collaborative colloquium of cartoon free expression to delight lovers of the comics game, but if your new to all this, British and of a certain age or maybe simply a devotee of anarchic comedy, the (long and disinfectant-dosed) handle you’re reaching for regarding much of this material is Mayall & Edmonton’s The Young Ones or Bottom, possibly by way of John Belushi in Animal House

However, whatever your age, stance or orientation, this splendid collection of funny, raucous, whimsical and thought-provoking graphic narrative is a delicious way of seeing how those kids you claim not to understand think – and surely that’s no bad thing?
Collection © 2015 Silver Sprocket. Contributions © 2015 by the individual authors.

Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics/Lit)
ISBN: 978-1561639861

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that Gay (or more contemporarily LGBTQ) comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still exists.

As far as I can see though it’s actually true; an artefact, I suppose, of a society which seems determined to demarcate and separate sex and love as two utterly different – and even opposite – things.

I’d prefer to think that here in the 21st century – or at least in the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown the juvenile, judgemental, bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception, but that battle’s still not completely won yet. Hopefully, thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid that transition…

Californian Patrick Atangan (Songs of Our Ancestors, Invincible Days) is a multi-talented Filipino-American creator with many strings to his creative bow: as deft and subtle in his computer-generated comic tales and retellings of Asian myths as with the tools he uses to craft high-end designer furniture.

Now he’s added a wry, charming yet deeply moving collection of short intimate musings and recollections on his “romantic gaffes and failures” to his printed canon for youngsters and the results are enough to make the toughest cookie crumble…

Posited as if “Sex and the City had been created by a gay Charlie Brown” these utterly compelling, seditiously humorous slices of a life lived a little too much inside one’s own head kick off with chronological logic with the still-closeted Patrick attending his ‘Junior Prom’ as escort to obsessive beard Mildred, whose attention to detail and determination to make the event absolutely perfect cannot help but fail. At least the string of disasters the fervent Prom-zilla endures take the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the liberation of college as the introvert resolves to reinvent himself and begins an ongoing process of Outing which gradually encompasses friends, family and everybody new in his life. Sadly that in turn leads to a sort-of romance with Calvin who never really comes to terms with his own sexual identity…

On leaving academe, another character-building debacle involves ‘Gary’; someone our author considered far too lovely for a dweeb like him – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ finds Patrick coolly contemplating the now-annual forest fires threatening Los Angeles whilst foolishly attempting to rekindle or reinvent the three-year relationship he has just ended with Roger

Eschewing his usual ‘New Year’s Eve’ ritual, the narrator attends a big party and suffers inebriation, gastric trauma and the humiliation of mistakenly putting the moves on a chain-smoking straight guy whilst ‘APE Shit’ reveals the sorry fallout of a trip to San Francisco to attend his first Alternative Press Expo in a decade: a concatenation of domestic disasters comprising old friends with new children, commuter congestion and a total change in the way Indy comics are sold. At least he connects with the gorgeous, seemingly ideal Bryan – before Fate and Patrick’s own conscience play a few pranks to spoil what might have been a perfect moment…

More notionally self-inflicted grief comes out of ignoring the custom of a lifetime and attending a wedding as a ‘Plus One’. Naturally he didn’t mind his “date” Julia going off with a guy, but when Patrick zeroes in on wonderful, apparently available Peter, events and the author’s own treacherous tuxedo conspire to make the soiree memorable for all the wrong reasons.

A heartbreakingly harsh assessment of Patrick’s failings then lead him to the dire conclusion that he is ‘Nobody’s Type’ before the excoriating romantic recriminations end with another ill-fated, self-sabotaged first date that founders because of too much introspection and an accumulation of ‘Baggage’

Insightful, penetrating, invitingly self-deprecating, guardedly hopeful and never afraid to be mistaken for morose when occasion demands, this collection of misjudged trysts and missed chances offers a charming glimpse at the eternally hopeful way most folks live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

Atangan has stated that he is contemplating quitting comics, but after seeing this beguiling confection I’m sure a legion of fans hungry for more of his slick, stylish and earnest entertainments will be determined to change his mind…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist


By Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-895-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Awesomely Educative Treat for Mystery Lovers… 8/10

Starting life as an underground feature in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society Zippy the Pinhead has grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises and ridicules. What I never suspected before and – according to the revelations stunningly catalogued and depicted in this powerful and absorbing Graphic Memoir, nor did he – was the subtle influence the gods of cartooning had been constantly exerting upon his family’s lives for generations…

As much a detective yarn and memorial to simpler (but just as complex) times as a straight biography, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist reveals how the cartoonist and social commentator (already long-schooled in the proud achievements of artistic ancestor and photographic pioneer William Henry Jackson) latterly uncovered further pictorial predecessors and briefly became an impassioned genealogist and investigator after an elderly uncle decided it was time to pass on a boxful of dusty family memorabilia.

An uneventful yet evocative journey from Connecticut to North Carolina – miles slowly passing as the traveller is immersed in internet research – starts memories flowing and when Uncle Alan then hands over a historical treasure trove the naturally contemplative cartoonist’s childhood memories are triggered and his instincts for a good story are piqued…

Bill’s thoughts continually return to his own childhood in Levittown when he and his passionate, beautiful, aspiring-author mother regularly posed for neighbour and legendary pulp illustrator Ed Emshwiller’s many magazine covers, and by the time the voyager stops discussing the past Bill is powerfully aware of just how real and earthy and fallibly human his relatives were.

As yet however the discourse still offers no insight into why his own cold, abusive father turned out the way he did…

Meticulous Alan is a mine of useful minutiae with his catalogue of familial foibles and passed-down stories, but even he is un aware of Barbara Griffith (nee Jackson)’s greatest indiscretion: a fifteen year, full-on tempestuous love affair with cartoonist, cartooning-teacher, publisher, comicbook pioneer, crime-writer and indefatigably restless entrepreneur Lawrence Lariar: an innocuously smooth operator who, although moderately successful for his entire life, was in many ways the Forgotten Man of Comics.

With the flow of information now going both ways, Bill shares the day in 1972 when word came of his dad’s imminent death and of how, in a moment of overwhelmed, grieving guilt and with the family gathered at the hospital, his mother the widow of mere minutes confessed that she had been wife in all but name to another man since 1957…

As Bill further re-examines his own memories, cross-referencing with pictures, diaries and his mother’s epic unpublished novel which clearly and cleanly transfers her complicated life into the refuge of putative fiction, a series of pictures starts to form…

Startlingly frank, scrupulously detailed, diligently analytical and brilliantly reconstructed using a variety of styles, this is a fact-filled, graphic tour de force which elevates the players to the rank of perfect archetypes whilst still leaving them authentic, living creatures we are convinced we know.

Superbly applying the techniques of fiction to the discipline of documentary, Invisible Ink is a wonderful leap forward in the growing genre of comics memoirs and one no serious reader can afford to miss.
© 2015 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

Chicago – a Comix Memoir


By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Momentous reading for Mature Minds… 9/10

One of the things comics can do better than almost any other medium is autobiography. Words are immensely potent but when wed to the images a confessor wants you to see and has devised especially for that purpose, the response is always immediate, visceral and permanent.

Cartoonist, illustrator and editor Glenn Head (Hot Wire, Snake Eyes, Weirdo) studied under Art Spiegelman at the School for Visual Art in the early 1980’s but has bided his time in commercial illustration for publications like Advertising Age, Screw, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal and with comix such as Guttersnipe and Head Shots before releasing his first graphic novel.

It was worth the wait…

In monochrome hardback Chicago Head has turned a harsh, stark spotlight on his own life, literally baring all as he details how a troubled teenaged virgin from New Jersey turned his back on the American Dream – as well as his own personal hopes and aspirations – touching bottom and courting madness before reaching his current (still tenuous) state.

Following an incisive Introduction from Phoebe Gloeckner, the history lesson begins in a graveyard in the Garden State. “Glen” is nineteen and troubled, but not necessarily unhappy: he’s just painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in.

It’s the summer of 1977 and he’s obsessed with the cartoons and paraphernalia of the hippie Counterculture which is experiencing its death-throes. Dad works on Wall Street and desperately wants to understand why his son seems at such a loss. The boy doesn’t even seem that happy to be going to Art School in Cleveland, even though he claims that’s what he wants…

What Glenn wants most, however, is Sarah: his best friend and a girl appallingly emotionally scarred by the treatment she has receive from her Holocaust-Survivor parents. She’s already well down the road to dissolution though: pregnant, a runaway and being used to turn tricks by her latest scumbag boyfriend…

The season turns and Glen reluctantly reports to the Cleveland Institute of Art, his intolerant, abrasive attitude winning him few friends amongst staff or students. There’s something indefinably wrong inside his head and before long he drops out and begins panhandling to survive. A casual conversation with another student attains the status of a sign from God and Glen – who we’re starting to think might suffer from manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder – abruptly hitchhikes to Chicago, determined to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine…

And thus begins an intense period of privation, hallucination, harassment by hustlers, constant danger and creeping horror, all punctuated by unexpected kindnesses from strangers, rejections, connections and moments of incomprehensible good fortune as chance meetings with Muhammad Ali and Robert Crumb begin to turn the street kid’s life around…

‘Decompression’ sees Glen back in comfortably suburban Madison, N.J. in January 1978, thanks to his amazingly understanding yet still-uncomprehending father, but although the threat of imminent starvation and murder have faded, the boy is still at risk – from his own actions after a telephone conversation with ideal inamorata Sarah’s manic mother and his own father’s poorly hidden handgun…

The final section of this diary occurs in 2010 as Brooklyn-dwelling single-dad Glen gets an email one morning. Sarah, the one that got away, the great missed opportunity, has tracked him down and wants to meet up. Is this his chance to stop being that painful, pathetic, unresolved 19-year old virgin at last?

Breathtakingly candid, intoxicatingly forthright and irresistibly visually exhilarating, Chicago is a stunning examination of the power of obsessions and memories and potential roadmap to finding your own identity as long as you have the nerve and stomach to try…
Chicago © 2015, Glenn Head. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Barefoot Gen volume 10: Never Give Up


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-601-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 10/10

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, Barefoot Gen is the quintessential anti-war tract and message of peace for humanity. It is angry, uncompromising and never forgives those who seek to perpetuate greed, mendacity and bloody-handed stupidity.

After many years of struggle the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen (One Day, Suddenly).

The scattered tales eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still generally prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Just like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the newly-constituted Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas; all spreading the message across every continent and all generations.

This concluding volume brings the story of irrepressible, ebullient Gen and his friends to a close, once again pitting the forceful vitality of a select band of bomb survivors against the constant shadow of tragedy which implacably dogs them in the city slowly recovering from nuclear conflagration.

Here the indomitable idealistic individualist, having finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which lets Atom bombs fall and is seemingly incapable of learning from its mistakes, at last strikes back at the demagogues and monsters who still keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Barefoot Gen: Never Give Up begins following the inspirational ‘Gen’s Message: A Plea for Nuclear Abolition’ by the Translators and Editors and, as always, the other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

The graphic manifesto resumes in March 1953 as Gen prepares for his school graduation ceremony, despite seldom attending the hidebound institution for the past few years. Fellow bomb orphans Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi – who have shared his shabby shack for years – are also in high spirits. They have been constantly selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcast Katsuko on Hiroshima’s rebuilt street corners, diligently saving the proceeds until she has enough money to open a shop. Now the manager of one of the big stores wants to buy all the clothes they can manufacture to sell in his fashionable venues…

At the Graduation Ceremony Gen once again loses his temper when the faculty begin memorialising the past and celebrating the failed regime of the empire. Later, his savage confrontation with teachers and visiting dignitaries sparks a minor student revolution. For many of the juvenile delinquents it also presents an opportunity to inflict some long-delayed retribution on the educational bullies who have beaten them for years…

Encouragingly, however, not all the parents and attending adults take the teachers’ side and a potentially murderous confrontation is (rather violently) defused by Gen…

The boy’s life then changes forever when he bumps into a young woman and is instantly smitten. His pursuit of lovely Mitsuko will bring him into conflict with her brutal father, former employer and unrepentant war-lover Nakao; now a highly successful businessman going places in the reconstructed city…

Gen has been studying with elderly artist Seiga Amano, learning the skills his own father would have passed on had he not died in 1945. The mentor/father-figure encourages his protégé to pursue Mitsuko and it costs them both their jobs…

The seeming setback is in fact liberating and before long the star-crossed youngsters are in a fevered euphoria of first love. So engaged is Gen that he is not there when stolid Musubi is targeted by a cruel Yakuza honey-trap who addicts him to drugs and fleeces him of all Katsuko’s hard-earned savings…

With a happy ending so close he can touch it Gen is dragged back down to earth by a trio of tragedies which leave him near-broken and all alone. The legacies of the bombing have again cost him almost everything…

After a horrendous bout of death and vengeance-taking, Gen seems to have nothing to live for, but the despondent young man is saved by aged Amano who rekindles his spirit and wisely advises him to get out of Hiroshima and start his real life in the world beyond it…

Keiji Nakazawa’s broad cartoon art style has often been subject of heated discussion; his simplified Disney-esque rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

The style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young illustrator. Even at its most bleak and traumatic the epic never forgets to shade horror with humour and counterpoint crushing loss with fiery idealism and enthusiasm.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses but never dilutes the horror of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

Bleak and violent but ultimately impossibly uplifting, Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is without peer and its legacy will be pervasive and long-lasting. So now you’ve been warned, buy this book. Buy the entire series. Tell everyone you know about it. Barefoot Gen is an indisputable classic and should be available to absolutely everyone… © 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.