Young, Talented… Exploited!


By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus, this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

In this case however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and sharing her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: An Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learned anything useful.

Such positions are unpaid and eventually most employers realised that they could get free low-grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses. Even those employers who originally played fair had to change at some stage, because the exploitative tactics gave business rivals an unfair financial advantage…

I used to know of only one large company where interns were paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted. When he retired and the company was sold the intern program quickly shifted to the new normal…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks one exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, zero thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via vivid and memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great Because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons compiled here we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this beguiling collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but, tellingly not Job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Originally collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations were published in English a few years ago (so are long overdue for a new edition) and make for fascinating reading.

Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Bread & Wine – an Erotic Tale of New York


By Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-632-4

The demands of drama dictate that true love never runs smooth but that’s not the case in real life. The trade-off is that those actual romances which stand the test of time and tedium are painfully devoid of the remarkable circumstance and miraculous “gosh-wow” moments of fiction.

But this remarkable account proves That Ain’t Necessarily So…

In 1999 independent publisher Juno released a small graphic novel memoir, written by Samuel R. Delaney and illustrated by Mia Wolff (Catcher), which recounts how a celebrated gay black literary giant, college professor and social theoretician with a mantelpiece crowded of awards, and a teenaged daughter in tow, met and romanced one of society’s most outcast and forgotten souls.

At the time of publication, they had been a couple for some years and they are together still, more than 25 years later. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t be in this movie and not a single dragon or muscle car had to die…

Following an Introduction from Alan Moore, this welcome and long-overdue new edition reveals how “Chip” Delaney took a walk on New York’s Upper West Side, bought a book from homeless Dennis and struck up a conversation with the kind of person most people refuse to acknowledge the very existence of…

In seamlessly seductive understated style the words and pictures detail how gradually, gently, unsurprisingly they became first friends and then lovers.

In the manner of all lasting true romances, this is the history of two full equals who accidentally find each other, not some flimsy rags-to-riches Cinderella tale of predestination and magical remedies. The brilliance and position of one is perfectly complemented by the warmth, intelligence and quiet integrity of the other, and although far from smooth – or rose scented – their path to contentment was both tension-fraught and heart-warming.

Oh, and there’s sex: lots of rapturously visualised sex, so if you’re the kind of person liable to be upset by pictures of joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, then go away and read something else.

In fact, as I keep on saying, just please go away.

And that’s all the help you get from me. This lyrical, beguiling tale is embellished throughout with interwoven extracts from the poem Bread and Wine by German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin and illustrated in a mesmerising organic monochrome variety of styles by artist and Delaney family friend Mia Wolff, and you really need to have it unfold for you without my second-hand blether or kibitzing…

This is one of the sweetest, most uplifting comics love stories ever written: rich with sentiment, steeped in literary punch and beautiful to behold. Moreover, this lavish, stout and steadfast hardback (also available in digital formats) also includes a celebratory commentary by Chip, Dennis and Mia and other protagonists in the Afterword, plus a sketch-packed, earnest and informative interview with the creative participants.

Strong, assertive, uncompromising and proudly unapologetic, this is love we should all aspire to, and Bread & Wine is another graphic novel every adult should know.
Introduction © 2013 Alan Moore. Contents © 2013 Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Transposes


By Dylan Edwards (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-9845940-8-5

I don’t hold many unflinching beliefs; but one of the few is that I, you and certainly no church, government or pressure group has any damn right to dictate what consenting adults do with or to their bodies. And yes, that includes parents, families and partners. Discuss, debate, disagree but never, ever demand…

I may reserve the right to privately snigger at some of the more ambitious or physically-ill-judged things consenting adult people get up to in order to get their rocks off, but I can’t help that: after all I’ve lived through Flower Power, Free Love, New Men, flared jeans (twice!) and an era when both religions and politicians tolerated gays and evolution, and believed women were (in principle, at least) equal to men.

I’m more than happy for anybody to assert, clarify or reassign their gender identity or lack thereof as they see fit, and as for when “Life begins” and what you’re born as, I’m far more concerned by the fact that the most vocal advocates “know” exactly when, what and how it begins whilst it’s inside a human yet feel no compunction or duty of care or wellbeing for any baby – or mother – as soon as the (still developing until age 30 years or more) agglomeration of cells is out of the womb and into the world…

Whilst we’re sharing, I also feel we should probably all pass an exam before we’re allowed to vote or voice an opinion; and require every person seeking office to endure weekly sobriety tests, financial background checks and regular psychiatric evaluations, but maybe that’s just me…

There are a lot of acronyms in today’s book and I’m not going to play translator or decoder interminably, so if we miss linking any just use that search engine OK? This is comics, not University Challenge…

LGBT comics have long been the best place in the graphic narrative business to portray real romance: an artefact, I suppose, of a society that seems determined to simultaneously establish sex and love as two utterly separate beasts and exactly the same thing.

I’d still love to think that in the 21st century we’ve all outgrown the juvenile, judgemental bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving and funny comics about people of all sorts without any kind of preconception…

Unless we’re talking girl/vampire/werewolf menageries à trois: that stuff is just plain wrong…

The very fact of being adjudged “different” now seems to be an increasingly common badge of courage in a world where fanatics and bigots become daily more rabid, and actual religious leaders can claim with straight faces that God so hates homosexuals and fornicators (or atheists or scientists or ginger-haired, left-handed people or…) that in His wisdom He sends fires and floods or tornados and tsunamis every year to wreck the homes of the faithful and worshipful – presumably because they ain’t doin’ nothin’ ‘bout it…

Dylan Edwards, AKA NDR, is a graphic artist, cartoonist and sculptor: author of Politically InQueerect, sports strip The Outfield and many others, plus the creator of really cute monsters – as seen on his Feeping Creatures site. In Transposes he masterfully employs comics to celebrate the history of seven ordinary souls just living their lives as FTMs (Females Transitioning to Males).

Dylan – who extensively interviewed each star before crafting these elucidating mini-epics – encapsulates their unconventional existences for the wider world with disarming candour and certified charm. Of course, all the “hot button issues” touted by a hypocritically moralising media (coming out, bullying, role models, gay identity, promiscuity vs. monogamy, childhood sexual abuse, risky sex and/or partners, STIs, parental approval and rejection) are present here – which only goes to show just how widespread and universal these perennial difficulties are…

Regardless of that, this collection comes off as a wonderfully positive and affirming chronicle celebrating determination and difference and, after an effusive and informative Introduction by Alison Bechdel (cartoonist, author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother? and inadvertent deviser of the truly transformative Bechdel Test), there’s an engaging comic strip Foreword by storymaker Dylan Edwards explaining the process that led to the impressive pictorial reportage that follows.

Delivered with jokey aplomb, this savvy and smart ice-breaker gently eases the uninitiated into issues of transgender, cisgender and that subset-within-a-subset defined here as “queer-identified female-to-male-transpersons” before the terrific tale-spinning begins…

Over coffee ‘Cal’ tells of his trip to physically hook-up with an adventurously like-minded internet contact and how it all led to a few surprises, a whole new set of skills and a great story to dine off for months to come…

The gloriously hilarious ‘Henry’ scrupulously – perhaps even compulsively – recorded every aspect of his satisfyingly unconventional life and was quite content to share insights and horror stories from the astounding Museum of Natural Henry…

Confusion and insecurity were a way of life for ‘Adam’ until he met Marni, who, after an intense and nurturing time, helped her beau discover that she really wasn’t the girl for him, whilst for ‘Blake’ an intoxicating brief encounter led to unexpected and life-long repercussions.

Scholarly, happily-in-control ‘Avery’ learned his greatest lessons early from an intolerant father and the wise, understanding and joyously gay uncle the family had ostracised, after which the cavalcade of human drama ends with a gloriously moving, entwined tale of two young outsiders simply destined for each other in the parallel-lives journey of ‘Aaron & James’; ending our odyssey on a fabulous, happy high note…

We are then comfortingly caught-up by a brief Epilogue in which all the participants are revisited and updated on life since their interviews to re-emphasise that feeling of pleasing continuance…

Comics as a medium is already a symbolically intensive one; honed and irresistibly one-step-removed from the mundane faux reality of film or photography. As such its powers to skin away confusing or misleading surface and reveal unalloyed intent and meaning are without parallel.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out any political caricature by Hogarth, Scarfe or Steve Bell…

It’s an admission of annoying embarrassment to me that I’ve felt compelled to put in so much equivocating background and bumph before coming to the meat of this review. In the final analysis Transposes is a subtly sensitive, evocative, romantic and humorously rewarding collection of “people stories” which any open-minded fan will adore.

There’s not much fighting, but plenty of punch, and in an ideal world, this book would be readily available in every school library for any confused kid in need of inspiration, comfort, understanding, encouragement and hope.

Sadly, because it deals openly and frankly with sex and gender, it’s probably banned in more than half of the United States and still pilloried in our free and impartial Press…

Well, if nothing else this meagre, reminding poke will garner some publicity and be useful in ensuring that folk who need to can still find it…
© 2012 Dylan Edwards. All rights reserved.

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life


By Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-101-7

Ellen Forney was born in 1968 and has dealt with Bipolar Disorder for most of her adult life (even though she only got her official diagnosis in 1998).

At college she majored in Psychology and she now works as an illustrator, teacher and educator, but is best known as a (mostly autobiographical) cartoonist responsible for the strip ‘I Was Seven in ‘75’ and anthologies Monkey Food, I Love Led Zeppelin and Lust.

In 2012 she published cartoon memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me, relating her historical and ongoing experiences living with Bipolar Disorder. It’s an amazing piece of work and one I must get around to reviewing soon.

Don’t wait for me though, get your own copy and start reading…

Today though, we’re looking at a superbly uplifting follow-up from Forney. Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life is a graphic manual and almanac for living on an even keel from someone who has clearly experienced the best and worst the condition can offer.

Divided into logically-ordered chapters and subdivided into easily-absorbed learning moments and teaching points the book offers astoundingly down-to-earth, practical coping tools and hard-earned advice and is prefaced with a most engaging Introduction providing history and context for what follows.

The sharing session begins with Chapter 1: Basics; Wide-ranging but Totally Doable, Whats & Whys, all split into soundly-sensible swiftly-disseminated routines for staying well-fed and exercised, fully rested and on top of medication. That may sound rather superfluous to some, but let’s face it nobody likes taking drugs unless they’re expensive and recreational…

There’s also advice on developing routines, seeing doctors and maintaining support networks.

Winningly visualised and formulated, the tips and hints are expanded in Chapter 2: Therapy; Navigating your Many Options, 3: Coping Tools; Strategies & Techniques for Steadying your Mind & Body and 4: Insomnia; Going to Bed, Getting to Sleep & Sleeping All Night.

As a private aside here, I must say that I’ve only ever known well two people with BP (as far as I know) so the efficacy of much that’s here falls in the range of “bowing to experience”, whereas the section dealing with sleep disorders and getting enough rest is something I have first-hand experience of. There’s stuff here I fully intend to try myself at my earliest convenience…

Moving on to Chapter 5: Dealing with Meds; At Home, While Traveling, & Side Effects, there’s plenty of useful stuff here and in the next chapter Chapter 6: The Danger Zone; Identifying your Warning Signs & How to Deal with Them – especially if you have someone in your life coping with depression or anxiety disorders.

Wrapping up on a high note (gosh, that looks in poor taste when read back!) Chapters 7 & 8 take us on to an uplifting and hopeful conclusion with : You Have Company; Finding Like-Minded People; Getting Beyond Stigma, & Knowing for sure that you’re not alone and :You Rock; It’s a lot of stuff but you got this! Which stress the benefits of sharing thoughts and feelings and keeping those close to you in the loop…

The information included is delivered in a bright, breezy but never trivialising manner and Forney’s cartooning is warm, clear and deliciously accessible. It’s also fabulously funny – a remarkable achievement in itself considering the subject matter…

What shines through most brilliantly however is the artist’s deep desire to share and help fellow sufferers and those all who live with and around them.

Cartoons have long been one of humanity’s most powerful and enduring teaching tools. This superb tome is another magnificent example of how and why.
Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life © 2018 Ellen Forney. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

It’s A Bird…


By Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0109-8 (HB)                    :987-1-4012-7288-3 (TPB)

Since his debut in June 1938 Superman has proven to be many things to billions of people, to the point of even changing their lives and shaping their actions.

It’s a Bird… was originally released in 2004 (and recently re-released in a new edition): offering something of a departure from typical Superman graphic novel fare with author Steven T. Seagle working through his understandable angst about writing the ongoing adventures of the Man of Steel without simply rehashing what has gone before.

Seagle (whose other comics work includes Uncanny X-MenSandman Mystery Theatre and Big Hero 6, and is part of TV cartoon creation collective Man of Action) actually scripted Superman #190-200 – published between April 2003 and February 2004.

The intriguing, demi-therapeutic exercise revealed in this slim and beguiling pictorial introspection deals with the author’s misgivings about contributing to the canon of an eternally unfolding legend.

However, underpinning what might so easily become a self-gratifying ego-stroke is a subtle undercurrent of savvy verity which strikes a chord with many creative professionals and insightful consumers as the professional writer finally finds the themes he needs to explore to be satisfied with his commission.

Let’s be honest here, every comic fan, indeed every twitcher and hobbyist, looks for a way to present and explain their particular passion to the “real” world and not feel like an imbecile in the process…

“Steve” is a writer working through some emotional baggage. He is still coming to terms with his family’s gradual disintegration – mental, physical and spiritual – from hereditary genetic disease Huntington’s Disease (Chorea, as was).

In everyday life, his father has gone missing, his mom and partner are making the “let’s have kids” noises whilst Steve’s waiting for the hammer to fall regarding his own potential prognosis with a condition that cannot be beaten…

He never wanted to write comics – even though he’s successful at it – and now his editor wants him to write Superman. He’s never had any feeling for the character or the medium and his damned editor just keeps on and on and on about… You get the picture?

It’s a Bird… is slow and lyrical in its deconstructive self-absorption as Steve makes his choices, and Teddy Kristiansen’s range of enticing drawing styles is a marvel and won him the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior).

If you feel the urge to go beyond the panel borders of your private obsession, this one is well worth a look.
© 2004, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doing Time


By Kazuichi Hanawa (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
ISBN: 978-8493340902

Something of an obscure recommendation, this, but I wanted to highlight something different in manga, as I’m a little burned out with big eyes, big explosions, and big hair at the moment.

Doing Time doesn’t fall into any generally perceived Western stereotype of Japanese comics. For a start it’s an autobiography and bleak admonitory documentary. It’s a journal along the lines of Samuel Pepys’ with disquietingly intimate revelations calmly and casually rolled out at every available juncture. The account is also a moving insight into the psychology of the Japanese culture and mind-set as the pages unfold in relentless understatement with a complete lack of flash, dazzle or grand showmanship.

Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1947, Kazuichi Hanawa began creating manga in 1971, generally specialising in historical tales, Buddhist legends and fantasy subjects. A keen collector of imitation firearms, in 1994 Mr. Hanawa was caught firing a remodelled pistol in an isolated wooded area. The creator then served three years in prison for possessing and using replica guns, which seems pretty stern to me, but clearly retribution he feels he deserved every moment of…

At the risk of being accused of racism, I cannot imagine the thoughts here portrayed coming from an individual of any other culture. Mr. Hanawa constantly and genuinely bemoans the quality and quantity of the food. It’s too good for the miserable likes of him…

“Is it right for us to live so well in spite of having perpetrated such misdeeds?” he asks. The attention to detail and meticulous cataloguing of minutiae almost makes this a cookbook and journal planner. The narrative structure is so fluid that all one comes away with is a fine pattern of detail and no big picture… probably just like being banged up in jail…

On its release AX Magazine in 1998 and in 2000 as collected book Kemusho no naka (In Prison), the visual and philosophical diary swiftly garnered domestic and international acclaim and was made into a live action movie All Under the Moon.

I have to admit that I was bewildered and captivated in equal measure with this collection of strips drawn with astounding veracity and authenticity. Japanese prisons – at least at that time – apparently allow no records of any sort (including drawings) to be kept by inmates, so the chilling pages here were produced from memory, and to my mind read like moments you’d prefer to forget, but if you’re of an adventurous mien this may brighten your jaded day and will certainly open your eyes to the power and potential of the comics medium.
© 2000, 2004 Kaziuchi Hanawa & Ponent Mon.

Unlikely


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-89183-041-4                  978-1-89183-041-9

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 PrincessStar Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange TalesIncredible 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 BigheadLittle ThingsMome, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the second), comprising ClumsyUnlikelyAEIOU 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 integrity 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. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

A little later – and in the same vein – he produced Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) – a True Love Story.

In both paperback and digital formats it describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy as “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively average film-fan art-student – and long-overdue virgin – cautiously navigates his first fully-sexualised relationship with a girl.

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and charming – or at least overlook-able – but which soon becomes a major sticking point. More telling, however, is what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process…

Every young man who’s gone gagging for it, gone for broke when the opportunity arose, and gone off to college or elsewhere to lick his amorous wounds has been through this, and for every inflammatory romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is a potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. This is Not The One…

We’ve all been there, done that and then relentlessly reviewed and revised in our heads and wished we’d done it all differently…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like ‘Things of Mine She Still Has’‘I’d Do Her’‘No, This is Jeff’‘Virgin Alert’‘Talking and, Talking’, ‘All Nighter’, ‘I Had a Weird Dream’, ‘Will you Still’, ‘Sex’, ‘Sweetness Frustration’, and ‘The Last Time’: a web of triumphant relief, fractious accommodation and eventually, inevitably disappointment and fresh awareness for Jeff and Allisyn …

Brimming with portentous discovery, hopeful revelation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Unlikely is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones and intimate physical contact with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2007 Jeffrey Brown.

Willie and Joe: the WWII Years


By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-838-1 (HB)                                978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back.

During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News, as well as Yank and Stars and Stripes: the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” (a term he popularised) giving their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the pointiest of Sharp Ends. Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually revealed in all ways and manners the upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front – 1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945 a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and despite being a War Hero his increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour and those efforts are the subject of companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. Mauldin only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts, from1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink Root Beers and tell war stories with an old pal.

When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin even drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense mostly monochrome compendium (with some very rare colour and sepia items) comes in hardback, softcover and even as an eBook: collecting all Mauldin’s known wartime cartoons and featuring not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and gave a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals such as George Patton, who was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world.

Fortunately, Supreme Commander Eisenhower, if not an actual fan, at least recognised the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness whilst highlighting the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of the ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Moreover, Mauldin never patronises the civilians or demonises the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Let’s just hope that in these tense, “ten-seconds-to-doomsday” times the latest batch of brass-hats and political ass-hats keep that in mind and remember what’s always at stake here…

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distanced leaders send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume (and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home) we should finally be able to restore Mauldin and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, his message is never going to be out of date…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Portugal

By Cyril Pedrosa with additional colour by Ruby; translated by Montana Kane (NBM/Fanfare)

ISBN: 978-1-68112-147-5 (NBM)                 978-1-91209-703-6 (Fanfare)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Family Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some books are awful, many are pedestrian and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that kerfuffle is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Cyril Pedrosa was born in Poitiers in 1972, a child of Portuguese extraction. After pursuing science jobs and a career in animation (at Disney he worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules), in 1998 he moved into the world of comics with Ring Circus, following up with Les Aventures spatio-temporelles de Shaolin Moussaka, Three Shadows, Equinoxes and much more…

Since 2008 Pedrosa has devoted much of his time to fictionalised autobiography, beginning with with Autobio in Fluide Glacial, and that fresh string to his bow is at play in this newly translated, magnificently oversized (312 x 234 mm) hardcover (or digital edition): a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life…

Through the vehicle of artistic analogue Simon Muchat, Pedrosa revisits a moment of his own history when he had lost the taste and verve for creative expression. In France, Simon’s relationship with his partner is breaking down; he’s living through a crippling writer’s block – and doesn’t care. Muchat makes a pittance teaching art or disconsolately doing little ad or design jobs. There seems no point to anything, but then he grudgingly attends a minor comics convention in Portugal and is suddenly reawakened to the intoxications of Existence…

Uncontrollably subject to recurring memory-snatches of childhood visits to his ancestors’ homes, Simon inexplicably beguiles himself into staying. His interest in storytelling is revived through one-sided conversations (he can’t remember much of the language) and before long he’s relocated to the sunny land of shiny, happy people…

Divided into three acts – ‘According to Simon’, ‘According to Jean’ and ‘According to Abel’ – the euphoric images cascade through picturesque hamlets and towns, country scenes and beaches – and bars of all types – as the gentle pace of life and friendly folk break down Muchat’s crust of indifference.

He even loses sight of his own troubles after gradually immersing himself in the cacophonous hurly-burly of his large extended Portuguese family and becomes increasing absorbed in discovering how and why his father moved to France.

That taciturn, work-obsessed worthy is still around (albeit, only in brief, breathless bursts between meetings) but has never and will never provide Simon with the answers he craves more than food or air…

And then, just when he thinks he’s made his peace with that onion-skin enigma, Simon finds another, deeper, more insoluble mystery to gnaw on…

This a truly breathtaking venture, a book full of humour, warmth and conflict, but one where nothing really happens. It does, however, happen with such joyous and compelling style and amiability that you cannot help but be swept along in its wake…

Enchanting, redemptive and captivatingly rewarding, Portugal is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.

© Dupuis 2011 by Pedrosa. Dupuis 2015 for the English translation.

Portugal will be released on December 1st 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

A UK edition from Fanfare will be available from November 30th.

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

Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea


By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-22407-990-7

The world is always on the brink of extinction. That’s just the way it is. However, it’s perhaps comforting to be reminded that even the most demonised of boogeymen are fundamentally human too. So let’s take a peek at some graphic reportage from a temporary insider once au fait with and allowed access to a nation currently running equal first in the highly-competitive “Earth’s craziest ruler” stakes…

The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and television, so this engaging book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of inveterate traveller and Canadian animator Guy Delisle, who, whilst possessing a French work-permit, was invited behind what was once dubbed “the Bamboo Curtain” to train and supervise Korean artists as a film production supervisor.

Cheap animators, as you are probably well-aware, are one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West – well, at least at the time this anxious odyssey was recorded…

What Delisle discovered and illustrates here both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty.

Using a simplified, utilitarian style he depicts and deconstructs an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar to ourselves, even though the citizens do their utmost not to let it show. Pyongyang is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.

Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone and genteel accessibility of the illustration accentuates an oddly-strictured, constantly buttoned-down sense of foreboding.

Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, Orwell’s 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and a CD Walkman (as personal radios are banned) Delisle’s airport interrogation is sheer mental torture.

Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and experienced the personal foibles of the limited number people he is allowed to meet does the placidly compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by rashly smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!

Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.

In this period of heightened thermonuclear tensions, this is a tale more timely than ever.
© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.