Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-60-9

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down – or rather digs up – famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this timely themed collection is dedicated to quizzing a selection of famous, infamous and “why-aren’t-they-household names?” women from history in what would probably be their own – post-mortem – words…

Be warned, as we celebrate 100 years of female suffrage and you absorb these hysterical histories, you may say to yourself again and again “but… that’s not FAIR…”

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Hatshepsut: Pharaoh 1507-1458 BCE’, tracing her reign and achievements and why her name and face were literally erased from history for millennia.

As ever, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a crucial aspect of their lives such as here where ‘Temple Complex’ diligently details the controversial pharaoh’s astounding and colossal “Holy of Holies”: the Djeser-Djeseru Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician & Philosopher 360s-415’ sketches out the incredible accomplishments, appalling treatment and tragic fate of the brilliant teacher and number-cruncher, and is supplemented here by a smart lesson in the almost-mystical concept of ‘The Golden Ratio’.

Throughout all civilisations, (mostly male) historians have painted powerful women with extremely unsavoury reputations and nasty natures. Just this once, however, the facts seem to confirm that ‘Irene of Athens: Empress of Byzantium 752-803’ was every bit as bad as her detractors described her. Her atrocious acts against friends, foes and her own son Constantine are offset in the attendant fact-feature ‘Spin Class’ revealing how Irene employed religious industrial espionage to break China’s millennial monopoly on silk production, complete with detailed breakdown of how the Byzantine silk trade worked…

Every comic reader or fantasy fan is familiar with the idea of women warriors but the real-life prototype for them all was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. ‘Khutulun: Wrestling Princess 1260-1300s’ refused to be married off unless a suitor could defeat her in the Mongolian grappling martial art Bökh. So effective a fighter, archer and strategist was she, that the Khan appointed her his Chief Military Advisor and even nominated her his successor on his deathbed – an honour and can of worms she wisely sidestepped to become a power behind the throne.

Her incredible account is backed-up by an in-depth peek into the ferocious wrestling style she dominated in ‘Mongolian Moves’ after which ‘Joan of Arc: Saint 1412-1431’ explains how it all went wrong for her in asks-&-answers ‘How Do You Become a Saint?’

On more familiar ground, ‘Elizabeth I: Queen of England 1533-1603’ recounts her glorious reign and explains the how and why of her power dressing signature appearance in ‘A Killer Look!’ whilst transplanted near-contemporary ‘Pocahontas: Powhattan Princess 1596-1617’ shares the true story of her life before ‘Sad Ending, Continued…’ discloses the ultimate fate of her tribe at the hands of English Settlers.

Another astonishing character you’ve probably never heard of, ‘Julie D’Aubigny: Swashbuckler 1670-1707’ was a hell-raising social misfit who scandalised and terrorised the hidebound French Aristocracy. The daughter of a fencing teacher, she fought duels, broke laws, travelled wherever she wanted to, enjoyed many lovers – male and female – and even sang with the Paris Opera (now that’s a movie biopic I want to see!). What else could she offer as a sidebar but a lesson on duelling for beginners in ‘Question of Honour’?

‘Granny Nanny: Resistance Fighter 1686-1755’ started life as an Ashanti Princess, but after being taken to Jamaica s a slave, organised the ragtag runaways known as Maroons into an army of liberation. The workings of her rainforest citadel Nanny Town (now Moore Town) is explored in ‘Fortresses of Freedom’ after which a more sedate battle against oppression is undertaken with the interrogation of ‘Jane Austen: Novelist 1775-1817’, complete with cartoon precis of her subversive masterpiece ‘Pride & Prejudice (The Corpse Talk Version)’

‘Ching Shih: Pirate Queen 1775-1844’ tells of another woman who beat all the odds and has since faded from male memory: a young girl kidnapped by China Seas pirates who rose to become their leader. Ravaging the Imperial coast, she created an unshakable pirate code that benefitted the poor, outsmarted the Emperor and ultimately negotiated a pardon for herself and all her men and lived happily ever after! That salty sea saga is accompanied by the lowdown and technical specs on ‘Punks in Junks’ and followed by another bad girl with a good reputation.

‘Princess Caraboo: Con-Artist 1791-1864’ was never the Malayan royal refugee British High Society was captivated by, but rather a Devonshire serving maid who made the most of outrageous fortune and quick wits. Her story is backed up by a delightful opportunity to forge your own faux identity with ‘Caraboo’s Character Creation Course!’

Far more potent and worthy exemplars, ‘Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist 1822-1913’ ferried more than 300 of her fellow slaves from Southern oppression to freedom in America and what we now call Canada, supplemented here by a detailed breakdown of ‘The Underground Railway’ before emancipation martyr ‘Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragette 1872-1913’ shares her brief troubled life and struggle to win women the right to vote and participatory roles in society, backed up by an absolutely unmissable graphic synopsis of the long struggle in ‘A Brief History of Women’s Rights’

Someone who made every use of those hard-won concessions was ‘Nellie Bly: Journalist 1864-1922’, whose sensational journalistic feats and headline-grabbing stunts made her as newsworthy as her many scoops. One of the most impressive was beating Jules Verne’s fictional miracle of modernity by voyaging for ‘72 Days Around the World’ – as seen in the gripping sidebar spread – whereas the career of ‘Amy Johnston: Aviator 1903-1941’ was cut tragically short by bad luck and male intractability. Her flying triumphs are celebrated through a fascinating tutorial on her preferred sky-chariot the ‘De Havilland Gypsy Moth’.

The short and tragic life of ‘Anne Frank: Journalist 1864-1922’ follows, complimented by a detailed breakdown of the secret hideout and necessary tactics employed to conceal Anne, her family and friends in ‘The Secret Annex’.

Thankfully closing on an emotional high note, the rags to riches, riches to rags to riches life of dancer, comedian, freedom fighter and social activist ‘Josephine Baker: Entertainer 1906-1975’ details the double rollercoaster life of a true star and closes this book with her teaching the secrets of how to ‘Dance the Charleston’.

Clever, moving, irreverently funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, spiritualist or dearly departed go-getter…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Women will be released on 1st March 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Jonah Hex volume 9: Counting Corpses


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paul Gulacy, Darwyn Cooke, Dick Giordano, Jordi Bernet, Billy Tucci, Dave Stewart, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2899-6

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti revived DC’s western wild-man Jonah Hex, they cunningly incorporated an even more mordant, blackly ironic streak of wit than that pioneered by the lone gunman’s originators John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga to amplify the already sanguine view of morality and justice that permeates the feature. The gritty – often outright chilling – narratives thus result in some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction ever.

The writers also had the services of extremely talented people like colourists Dave Stewart, Paul Mounts and Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh plus a virtual Who’s Who of top artists to lend veracity, authenticity and sheer style to the always uncompromising tales such as those populating this ninth trade paperback (or eBook) compilation from 2010.

The contents comprise issues #43 and 50-54 of this much-missed iteration of the greatest gunman of all time: a perambulation passel of potent one-shot yarns to entice and bedazzle one and all…

The suspense-drenched action opens with ‘The Hyde House Massacre’ with art by Paul Gulacy & Schwager from issue #43 (July 2009). Hired to rescue a kidnapped hotelier and his daughter from an army of bandits, the bounty killer is only half successful, and makes the painful and foolish error of trying to negotiate with the clients about how much of his fee he actually deserves…

‘The Great Silence’ crafted by Darwyn Cooke & Stewart for anniversary issue #50 (February 2010) is a milestone of action and tragedy as Hex contracts to hunt down fifty outlaws even as old hunting ally and sometime dalliance Tallulah Black moves into a quiet little town to secretly bring her baby to term.

Of course, villains and mad killers can be found everywhere and when Hex’s surviving quarry lay a trap, grim fate intervenes to destroy his last hope for happiness before he even knows it exists…

Dick Giordano & Schwager then offer up a lush and sultry tale of grifters and men of faith when Hex is hired to track down bandits who murdered a prominent citizen of a frontier town. More importantly, those road agents also stole the ‘Divining Rod’ the victim used to ferret out gold, silver and water for the newly established boom town-to-be, and his decent god-fearing widow, the creepy preacher and the shocked citizens all seem more concerned with the theft than the killing.

Hex soon smells a rat but he’s underestimated quite how many…

A double bill for illustrator Jordi Bernet & Schwager opens with ‘Too Mean to Die’ (#52, April) as a gravely-wounded Jonah stumbles upon a cabin in the swamp and a mother nursing her infant. When she offers assistance and he accepts neither realise the family bonds of blood and vengeance they’re breaking… until the shooting (and stabbing and punching and drowning and…) starts…

Never one to make big plans, Hex plays against type and concocts a cunning trap to drawn in a gang of train robbers, before learning again that you can’t trust anybody – especially gorgeous, crafty saloon girls and actresses – before the dust settles in ‘“You’ll Never Dance Again”’, as limned by Billy Tucci & Mounts.

Bernet then shuts down the show in ‘Shooting Stars’ (#54, June) as Hex links up again with the one outlaw he won’t hunt to confront a lawman and his deputies who are far worse than any bandit, owlhoot or renegade…

With covers and variants by Gulacy, Cooke, Giordano, Bernet and Tucci, these smart, fast-paced, deliciously convoluted and compellingly gritty stand-alone sagas provide maximum bang for your buck and a front row seat as the darkest knight of the Wild West proves over and again why he’s the greatest antihero in comics.
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Garth: The Women of Galba


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-90761-049-6

It’s a big anniversary for Britain’s greatest comic strip adventurer this summer, but other than a few old collections and the online reprints, nobody seems much moved to celebrate the event or revive a genuine original of cartoon entertainment. Here however, with our eyes firmly set on great comics of every era and at least one and a half feet firmly planted in the past, we’re not going to let him slip by without any fanfare at all…

Garth was created in response to America’s publishing phenomenon Superman and debuted in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell. His comic strip page mates at that time were regular features Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and the irrepressible, morale-boosting glamour-puss Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was, just in time to save the entire populace from a tyrant. Boshell never actually wrote the series, so Dowling, who was also producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a writer could be found.

Successful candidate Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 to January 20th 1946); introducing studious jack-of-all-scientific trades Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the hero back through his past lives.

In sequel tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946-July 20th 1946) his origin was finally revealed. Found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands, baby Garth was adopted by a kindly old couple and grew to vigorous manhood. On reaching maturity he returned to the seas as a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943.

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland until Peter O’Donnell took over in 1953. O’Donnell wrote 28 adventures before resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own Modesty Blaise feature. His place was taken by Jim Edgar; who also scripted western strips Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

In 1968 Dowling retired and his assistant John Allard took over the drawing until a permanent artist could be found. Allard had completed ten tales when Frank Bellamy came on board with the 13th daily episode of ‘Sundance’ (reprinted in Garth: The Cloud of Balthus). Allard remained as background artist and general assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

Professor Lumiere had discovered something about his patient which gave this strip its unique and distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance: Garth was blessed – or cursed – with an involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives.

This concept gave the strip infinite potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble origins as a US mystery-man knock-off.

This second (1985) Titan Books collection of the Frank Bellamy era spans the period from 7th September 1972 to 25th October 1973 with the artist at the absolute peak of his powers. It opens here with eerie chiller ‘The People of the Abyss’ wherein Garth and sub-sea explorer Ed Neilson are captured by staggeringly beautiful naked women who drag their bathyscaphe to a city at the bottom of the Pacific. These undersea houris are at war with horrendous aquatic monstrosities and urgently need outside assistance, but even that incredible situation is merely the prelude to a tragic love affair with Cold War implications…

Next up is eponymous space-opera romp ‘The Women of Galba’ wherein an alien tyrant learns to rue the day he abducted a giant Earthman to fight and die as a gladiator. Exotic locations, spectacular action and oodles more astonishingly beautiful females make this an unforgettable adventure…

‘Ghost Town’ is a western tale, and a very special one. When Garth, vacationing in Colorado, rides into abandoned mining outpost “Gopherville”, he is irresistibly drawn back to a past life as Marshal Tom Barratt who lived, loved and died when the town was a hotspot of vice and easily purloined money. When Bellamy died suddenly in 1976 this tale – long acknowledged as his personal favourite – was rerun until Martin Asbury was ready to take over the strip.

The final adventure re-presented here – ‘The Mask of Atacama’ – sees Garth and Lumiere in Mexico City. Whilst sleeping the blonde colossus is visited by the spirit of beautiful Princess Atacama who escorts him through time to the vanished Aztec city of Tenochtitlan where, as the Sun God Axatl, Garth attempts to save their civilisation from the voraciously marauding Conquistadores of Hernan Cortés. Tragically, neither he nor the Princess have reckoned on the jealousy of the Sun Priests and their High Priestess Tiahuaca

Adding extra value to this volume are a draft synopsis and actual scripts for ‘The Women of Galba’, liberally illustrated, of course. There has never been a better comic adventure strip than Garth as drawn by Bellamy, combining action, suspense, glamour, mystery and the uncanny in a seamless blend of graphic wonderment. In recent years, Titan Books has published a superb line of classic British strips and comics and I’m praying that with Modesty Blaise and James Bond now completed, they’ll return to Garth (and while I’m dreaming, Jeff Hawke too) on the understanding that it’s up to us to make sure that this time the books find a grateful, appreciative and vast audience…
© 1985 Mirror Group Newspapers/Syndication International. All Rights Reserved.

In the Pines – 5 Murder Ballads


By Erik Kriek (Canongate Books)
ISBN: 978-1-8689-214-0

If you don’t know what a murder ballad is you should start this sublime hardcover anthology by reading Jan Donkers’ superb background essay at the back of the book before treating yourself to the grim graphic glories crafted by Dutch artisan and illustrator Erik Kreik.

In ‘Murder Ballads’ you will learn the history of the ancient musical sub-genre as well as the direct genealogy of the quintet of sordid, sorry sagas adapted from sound to stunning words and pictures here…

However – and just because it’s you – the term generally applies to folk music story-songs from many countries dealing with love, crime, sex, social transgressions and unnatural death…

In 2016 Erik Kreik (creator of silent superhero spoof Gutsman; Little Andy Roid; Het Onzienbare/From Beyond) – adapted a number of vintage and modern Murder Ballads into strip format. A huge fan of all forms of popular Americana, he also covered the songs with his band The Blue Grass Boogiemen on a CD naturally entitled In the Pines – 5 Murder Ballads.

The book won Germany’s 2016 Rudolf Dirks Award and the spin-off garnered Album of the Year 2017 from Dutch Comics.

Amsterdam-born Kriek is a graduate of the Rietveld Academy for Art and Design and a hotly in-demand illustrator of books (including Holland’s Tolkien and Harry Potter editions), magazines, apparel, skateboards, et cetera and can turn his hand to many styles and disciplines. Gutsman was reconceived as a soundless mime ballet in 2006 and his collection of Lovecraft adaptations Het onzienbare, en andere verhalen H. P. Lovecraft has been republished in many languages…

He has just released first children’s book Mika, the Little Bear That Didn’t Want to Go To Sleep

Now a multi-national phenomenon, In the Pines delivers its moody messages of ill-starred love in dreamy, two-coloured episodes. American fans will recognise the drawing style as echoing the very best EC horror tales by “Ghastly” Graham Ingels or the early Bernie Wrightson. The concert of terror opens with ‘Pretty Polly and the Ship’s Carpenter’: a much-covered traditional ditty (The Byrds; Judy Collins; The Stanley Brothers) rendered here in green and black on white crisp white pages. It details the doomed fate of a young man who fled to sea to escape his sins, only to see them resurface in death for his shipmates in a seemingly supernatural storm…

Tinted in sepia, ‘The Long Black Veil’ is a relatively modern song: composed and written by Marijohn Wilkin & Danny Dill in 1959 and most notably recorded by Lefty Frizzell, The Band, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Nick Cave and many others. It reveals how a farmer is faced with a staggering choice: hang for a murder he did not commit or betray the confidence of the adulterous women who is his only alibi…

Racially-charged and rendered in tones of muddy ochre, ‘Taneytown’ was originally written by Steve Earle: a synthesis of so many lynching incidents that shame and blight the history of early 20th century America. Here a young black man, sick of the life he’s subjected to in rural Maryland, takes the knife his negro war hero father used in the trenches of the Great War and heads for trouble in the whitest part of town…

Written by singer Gillian Welch, ‘Caleb Meyer’ is adapted in tones of chilling aquamarine and presents a young wife betrayed, terrorised and assaulted who wins for herself a potent dose of ironic retribution…

Closing the graphic grimoire in tones of watered down blood, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ is based on the song created by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds for their 1996 album Murder Ballads. Sung as duet with Kylie Minogue, the song was based on traditional air Down in the Willow Garden.

The story seen here presents a complex web of trauma and tension involving a murderous escaped convict, a gang of hidden outlaws, lost treasure, a solitary house in the deep woods and a protective mother conveniently absent.

However, neither the rapidly pursuing posse nor the vile-intentioned villain have any idea what young Elisa is truly capable of, or why her father called her his “wild rose”…

Making something compelling and beautiful from the worst aspects and acts of human behaviour is no mean feat, either in song or pictures, but In the Pines accomplishes the deed with gripping style, vibrant polish and immense charm. This is a book every lover of human foibles will adore: Potent and evocative with a sly gift to captivate and transport the reader just as the music intoxicates the mind’s eye through the ears.

One last note: Kriek relaxes in Irish bars – possibly drinking but mostly singing and playing the banjo – so my hopes are high that he’s got many more songs yet to draw…
© Erik Kriek, 2016. “Murder Ballads” © Jan Donkers. 2016All rights reserved.
In the Pines – 5 Murder Ballads will be published on February 1st 2018.

The Wolverton Bible – The Old Testament & Book of Revelation Through the Pen of Basil Wolverton


By Basil Wolverton with commentary by Monte Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-964-7

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist. Unlike most cartoonists of his time, he preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929. but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk (for Target Comics) and Rockman – Underground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Apparently tireless and blessed with unlimited imagination, Wolverton also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as Superman/boxing parody Powerhouse Pepper to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as Bedtime Bunk, Culture Quickie and Bedtime Banter.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp – of Li‘l Abner fame – to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton became a member of the Radio Church of God in 1941. The organisation was devised by Herbert W. Armstrong: a prototype televangelist of a then-burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement. In 1956, Wolverton illustrated the founder’s pamphlet 1975 in Prophecy and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after, he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled The Bible Story: The Story of Man, which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. His association with the Radio Church of God endured for the rest of his life.

In 1973 the artist returned to comicbooks, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In many ways, his religious works are his most moving and powerful – as you will see in this astounding monochrome hardback or digital compilation. “A Collection of Basil Wolverton’s Artwork for the Worldwide Church of God from 1952 through 1974” gathers all the images the devout but always questioning artist created for Armstrong and offers – after a snazzy sample page of Powerhouse Pepper – history, context and candid illustrations, photographs and disclosures through the Foreword ‘A Shot in the Liver, a Shot to the Soul’ by Grant Geissman, plus an intimate portrait of the man, his devotion and his art courtesy of the Introduction ‘Wolverton and Armstrong’ by Basil’s son Monte Wolverton.

Blessed with a large degree of latitude, the artist was allowed to create his illustrations and accompanying text from his own readings of the biblical text. No matter what your spiritual beliefs might be, the results are frankly astonishing: mute, powerful, forceful even amusing in the appropriate place and – when dealing with wrath of God stuff – absolutely terrifying…

With an overview and commentary accompanying each chapter, the miracles begin with ‘Part 1: From Creation to Noah’ as the World is formed, beasts are born and Adam and Eve are force from the Garden of Eden. Through Cain and Abel, to humanity’s proliferation to the Great Flood, Wolverton’s imagination runs wild, inspirational but never sensationalistic, even at the most dreadful of moments when mankind drowns…

‘Part 2: From Abraham to Joseph’ follows the resurgence of humanity, touching upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Ishmael, the dreams of Jacob, and enslavement in Egypt.

Rendering fascinating maps to pinpoint the areas under scrutiny, Wolverton continues with ‘Part 3: From Moses to Joshua’ (including a complete visual catalogue of beasts considered “clean” or “unclean”), ‘Part 4: From Joshua to Ruth’, ‘Part 5: From Samuel to David’, ‘Part 6: From Solomon to Nehemiah’ before moving on to the most potent and memorable moments as depicted in ‘Part 7: The Apocalypse and Beyond’: an imaginative tour de force that has to be seen to be believed…

But that’s not all. Wolverton was arguably one of the funniest cartoonists ever born and Armstrong tapped his gifts for other aspects of the Worldwide Church of God, The Plain Truth and educational outreach project Ambassador College.

Leavening the apocalyptic warnings, ‘Part 8: Funny Stuff’ gathers spot illustrations for numerous articles and sermons, mastheads for publication features, gags, strips, caricatures faux informational instructions and much more: many of which would just as easily fit into Wolverton’s temporal grotesques-oeuvre in Mad or Plop!

A genuine monument to belief and artistic passion, The Wolverton Bible is a masterclass in the use of pen-&-ink and offers a stunning example of a creator working not just with hands and heart but with heart and soul. A must-have for anyone who ever wanted to draw.
The Wolverton Bible © 2009 the Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved.

Tex: The Lonesome Rider


By Claudio Nizzi & Joe Kubert. English-language adaptation by Pete Carlsson & Philip R. Simon (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-620-4(HC)                      eISBN: 978-1-63008-169-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure Poetry in Perfectly Rendered Motion… 10/10

One of the most popular western strips ever created, Tex premiered in September 1948, the brainchild of writer Gian Luigi Bonelli and artist Aurelio Galleppini. Very much an Italian synthesis of the classic Hollywood western, the strip is both mythically traditional and unflinchingly dark in a way US material wasn’t until the advent of the filmic “spaghetti westerns” of the 1960s and later. Gosh, I wonder if there’s some kind of connection there?

Bonelli was a prolific writer of books, articles screenplays and comics for more than fifty years and artist Galleppini eventually dropped a prestigious career as a book illustrator to draw approximately 200 issues of Tex and four hundred covers.

Comics featuring Tex Willer and his legendary allies Kit Carson, Kit Willer and Tiger Jack have been translated far and wide for decades, scoring big not only all over Europe but also in Brazil, Finland, Turkey, India and elsewhere. Guest artists for specials have included Ivo Milazzo, Jordi Bernet and the masterful Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America where he grew up a Brooklyn kid. Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious prodigy began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager.

Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943. A canny survivor of the Great Depression, Joe also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets (1965-1968). From then, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks. He also drew his fair share of westerns such as DC’s incarnation of Firehair, Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk. He later created a host of superb. Hard-hitting mature reader graphic novels such as Fax from Sarajevo, Jew Gangster and Yossel: April 1943.

In his quiet moments he also created and ran the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, training and mentoring a host of new funnybook superstars beside many of his fellow comics veterans.

Hugely popular and venerated in Europe, Kubert stretched his wings in 2000 by adding Tex to his list of achievements, written by Claudio Nizzi for Sergio Bonelli Editore’s premier Tex Albo Speciale/Texone imprint. Nizzi began writing comics in 1963, and created many popular series – such as Larry Yuma, Captain Erik and Rosco & Sonny – before moving to Bonelli in 1983 to craft stories of Mr. No, Nick Raider and Tex.

As is the case with all such long-lived action icons, the working premise of the Western Wonder is devilishly uncomplicated. Former outlaw Tex Willer clears his unjustly besmirched name and joins the Texas Rangers. He marries an Indian maiden and becomes an honorary chief of the Navajo (called “Eagle of the Night”) after she dies.

Over the years, Tex travels far and wide to dispense justice and has encountered every kind of peril you might have seen in western films, but like any great comics character also has a few outlandish arch-enemies such as evil prestidigitator Mefisto, piratical foreign prince Black Tiger and master of disguise Proteus.

After being published to great success and acclaim as The Four Killers in Italy in 2001, this particular tale finally became available to English speakers in 2015 as a sturdily redoubtable hardback (and latterly, ephemeral eBook) packing the entire pulse-pounding saga into one fearsome fable of electrifying energy and dogged determination…

Following an informative and appreciative Foreword by co-translator and letterer Pete Carlsson, the drama opens with the aging lawman approaching the remote farm of his old friends the Colters. He will not get there in time…

On finding the slain and defiled bodies of the family, doctored to appear the victims of an “injun” outrage, Tex reads the trail signs and deduces the killers are three white men and a renegade Indian, before setting off to arrest them. At this stage he is ready to let the law judge them. However, after being ambushed and thrown him off a cliff, the miraculously still surviving manhunter is ready to do whatever is necessary…

When the killers split up, the patiently remorseless peacekeeper becomes repeatedly embroiled in the webs of brutal violence the quartet spin around them and many more people will die before justice is finally served…

Raw, primal and visually grandiose, Tex: The Lonesome Rider is a stripped-down epic of the genre in the manner of Unforgiven and Once Upon a Time in the West; a masterclass in civilisation triumphing over chaos and greed, played out in a pitiless arena shaped by Big Sky Country aesthetics with the iconic scenery honed by a matchless craftsman into a major player and contributor to the mood of the story.

This is the genre at its most potent, pure and powerful: perhaps the best and credible cowboy comic you’ll ever see.
© 2001, 2005, 2015 Sergio Bonelli Editore. Licensed through Panini SpA All rights reserved.

Monet: Itinerant of Light


By Efa & Salva Rubio, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-139-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Present for Art and Comics Lovers… 10/10

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most engaging yet; powerfully deconstructing the hard, shockingly unconventional life, artistic torments and eventual triumph of mercilessly driven painter and truth-seeker Oscar-Claude Monet (14th November 1840 – December 5th 1926).

This treatise is crafted by Salva Rubio: an award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist with a penchant for past times and period themes. He is besotted with the work of Monet – as is his collaborator. This is his first graphic novel.

Ricard Fenandez quit school to found the fanzine Realitat Virtual before becoming an animator and freelance illustrator. His prior comics work includes Les Icariades (with Toni Termens in 2001) and self-penned Rodriguez and L’Âme du Vin. He is passionate about art history and signs his many, many works “Efa”.

When you see the name Monet you probably think “Water Lilies”, but there was so much more that went on before those days of placid triumph. Here, with the master’s catalogue of paintings inspiring a vivid and vivacious pictorial biography, the tale of an uncompromising, obsessed genius who battles the haughty, stratified status quo with a small band of fellow world-changers unfolds…

Starting from a point in 1923 when Monet was recovering from eye cataract surgery, the man addicted to “capturing light” casts his mind back: reviewing years of abject poverty and lack of success. Struggling as a despised rebel battling a hidebound artistic intelligentsia to establish a new manner of painting and new way of seeing, suffering heartbreaking loss while raising two families, in conflict with his own allies in the Impressionist Movement as much as the reactionaries of the art world, all Monet wanted was to explain light and colour through paint and canvas.

The obsession cost him friends, family and a fortune; forcing him to move his usually-neglected loved ones from country to country one step ahead of creditors, enemies and even wars…

Despite the human cost, Monet believed it was all worth it. You can make up your own mind after reading this staggeringly lovely, uncompromisingly forthright visual synopsis of his chromatic crusade…

The scintillating history lesson leads off with a Preface from Hugues Gall (Director of the Claude Monet Foundation and the Giverny Museum) and is closed with Rubio’s Afterword ‘Monet’s Mirror: Behind the Canvas’, and additional material includes a Bibliography, Creator Biographies plus a vast illustrated text feature reproducing the dozens of paintings and photographs which informed Efa’s visual odyssey. All scenes are fully annotated and contextualised for greater understanding.

A minor masterpiece and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any art historian studying the Impressionists and modern art, Monet: Itinerant of Light is a magic window into another world and one you should seek out at your earliest convenience.
© EFA/RUBIO/Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S.A.) 2017. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

Monet: Itinerant of Light is published on November 1st 2017 and is available for order now.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Iznogoud Volume 1: The Wicked Wiles of Iznogoud


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths

By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)

Omnibus ISBN: 978-1-44400-423-6

Individual Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5: 978-0-75286-613-0 & 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export.

The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France…

In eager anticipation of the publication of the 37th Asterix volume next month, here a little refresher course for the classicist cognoscenti and a gentle but urgent plea to the uninitiated to get their collective fingers out and get au fait with one of Earth’s genuine comics phenomenons…

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977, and Uderzo no longer crafts the comedic chaos, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

In 1945 while working as junior illustrator in an ad agency his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time Rene created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo René generated Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and even illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny clearly patented the 40-hour day. Using the nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet, Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, as well as the fabulous and funny adventures of the inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) plus a little something called Asterix the Gaul, inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

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

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien Alberto dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. He showed artistic flair from an early age and became a French citizen when he was seven. At 13 years old he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region was the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year later, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a little something called Asterix

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first ancient world adventure was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate dropped from two per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the perfect partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the world-beating Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus, fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen, sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable resistors take the infiltrator in and, dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, the Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case and breaks into Compendium determined to teach the Romans a lesson. After driving them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale.

Be warned, however, that if pure continuity matters to you, only most recent British publisher Orion has released 36 albums in chronological order – and in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely artistic note, some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather unconventional approach to colour that might require you to wear sunglasses and put blinkers on your pets and staff…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there, Metallurgix the Smith, he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and tavern serving roast boar…

There is a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing…

Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format and the next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of Rome – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar.

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic duo track the kidnappers but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the permanent and imposing threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “obsessive”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British comic weekly Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) plus early issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232: 25th June 1966).

Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was a quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a rather radically altered state.

In these translations Asterix was “Beric”, Getafix the Druid “Doric” and Obelix was dubbed “Son of Boadicea”. More jingoistically, the entire village was editorially transported to England where a valiant population of True Brits never ever surrendered to the Roman Occupation!

Similar intellectual travesties occurred during two abortive early attempts to introduce the gutsy Gauls to America as a heavily re-edited family newspaper strip…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Barracuda volume 1: Slaves


By Jean Dufaux & Jérémy Petiqueux translated by (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-165-5

Yo Ho-Ho, me Hearties: You know what day it is!

Pirates have been a cornerstone of popular fiction for centuries and these days the very best of the genre can usually be found issuing from European shores. An intriguing twist on the genre – simultaneously traditional and convention-challenging – is Barracuda, told in six volumes by prolific, edgy writer Jean Dufaux (Crusade, Monsieur Noir, Jessica Blandy, Murena) and sublime illustrator/colourist Jérémy Petiqueux (Complainte des landes perdues, Murena, The Knights of Heliopolis).

This first volume – Barracuda 1 – Esclaveswas released continentally in 2010 and translated for the benefit of English-speakers by Cinebook three years later. A lusty tale of barbaric acts by desperate men, Slaves opens as a Spanish vessel transporting gold and nobles of great merit is challenged by the ruthless pirate ship Barracuda. Aboard the raider, captain Blackdog encourages his murderously capable boy Raffy before the bloodletting commences…

Aboard the doomed transport Doña Emelia Sanchez Del Scuebo attempts to protect her children. There is little she can do for pretty Maria, but at least Emilio has a chance of avoiding death, after mother dresses her darling boy in the clothing of a female servant…

When the defenders finally falter, Blackdog finds a moment for sport and entertainment as valiant seaman De La Loya finds himself the last man standing. Refusing to surrender, he is challenged to duel by bold Raffy. The fight is fast and furious but fortune favours the older man and the boy is humiliated by being spared from a noble death in return for the sailor’s liberty and freedom…

Whilst dividing the spoils and heading back to the pirate nest on Puerto Blanco, Blackdog discovers something of great value. The Del Scuebos possess a cursed gem of immeasurable value and his new captive holds a map to its horrific hidden location…

Hunger for the Kasura Diamond grips the pirate captain, and when the Barracuda reaches the hidden haven of the corsairs, he remains aboard ship, consulting with the township’s witch-woman Madame If-No rather than re-immerse himself in the literally cut-throat politics of the island…

Fate has other plans however, and when the captured women reach slave-master Ferrango’s auction block the noble family are bought by agents of three covertly warring factions. The matron is purchased and rescued by the island’s supposedly neutral mission-monks The Companions of the Cross, but her pretty daughter is scooped up by the abusive slave-master himself.

Emilio – still considered by all to be mere maid-in-waiting Emilia – is sold for an astounding sum to the distant and incomprehensibly enigmatic Englishman Mr. Flynn

In the harbour, Blackdog readies to ship out in search of the cursed diamond even as assorted factions act against each other in Puerto Blanco. When a monk-sponsored rescue bid falters a desperate pursuit of little Maria goes brutally awry and Raffy is severely wounded. Although If-No saves his life, the boy is too ill to sail with his father and remains on the island as intrigues and double-dealing seem set to topple Puerto Blanco’s elected Governor.

As a woman in the Pirate Brotherhood, her position has always been precarious, but with rumours abounding of Blackdog’s mystery voyage tension and dissent mount to a deadly pitch.

And then the Barracuda is gone, slipping into the night in search of untold bounty and risking the wrath of hell itself…

To Be Continued…

Lavishly realised and deviously contrived, this carefully considered saga of sinister swashbucklers and fearsome freebooters gradually unfolds with measured pace, carefully nudging its ensemble cast – with not a hero in the bunch – towards an unknown but certainly violent and thrilling conclusion. Along the way the reader can enjoy the juggling of family tensions, wicked ambition, political chicanery, rapacious greed and obsessive vengeance with the spin only sea-action and supernatural terror can provide…

This is pure genre wonderment: unmissable stuff which could only be improved upon by being read on a sandy beach or near rocky caves with lapping surf and constantly crashing waves…
© Dargaud, Benelux (Dargaud – Lombard s. a. 2010 by Dufaux & Jérémy. All rights reserved. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd.