Buster Brown: Early Strips in Full Color


By Richard F. Outcault with an introduction by August Derleth (Dover Publications)
ISBN: 978- 0-1-486-23006-1

Richard F. Outcault is credited with being the father (fans and historians are never going to stop debating this one, but Outcault is one of the most prime of all contenders) of the modern comic strip. His breakthrough was a scandalous creation dubbed The Yellow Kid for legendary newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895 (the feature was actually entitled Hogan’s Alley) but the cartoon shenanigans captivated the reading public and even led to the coining of a new term: “Yellow Journalism”.

Outcault was notoriously fickle and quickly tired of his creation, and of the subsequent features he created for William Randolph Hearst in the New York Journal during a particularly grave period of bitter newspaper circulation warfare.

In 1902, he created a Little Lord Fauntleroy style moppet called Buster Brown, but the angelic looks actually acted as camouflage for a little boy perpetually wedded to mischief, pranks and poor decision making. Once again Outcault soon became bored and moved on, but this strip was another multi-media sensation, which captured public attention and spun off a plethora of franchises.

Buster was a merchandising bonanza. By a weird set of circumstances, Buster Brown Shoes became one of the biggest chain-stores in America, and in later years produced a periodical comicbook Premium (a giveaway magazine free to purchasers) packed with some of the greatest comic artists and adventure stories the industry had ever seen. Outcault may have dumped Buster, but the little devil darling never quit comics…

Way back in 1974 Dover Publications released this facsimile reproduction of an earlier collection from 1904, then entitled Buster Brown and his Resolutions, featuring fifteen glorious full-colour strips from the first two years of the run, and it’s about time they thought about doing it again – or even of publishing a far more comprehensive edition…

Until then however, let’s re-examine what we have here and meet the cherubic Hellion and his faithful dog Tige, and see that if indelicate or untoward happenstance doesn’t create another round of chaos in the ordered and genteel life of the well-to-do Mr. and Mrs. Brown, then little Buster is always happy to lend a hand.

Each lavish page, rendered in a delightfully classical, illustrative line style – like Cruickshank or perhaps Charles Dana Gibson – ends with a moral or resolution, but one that is subversively ambiguous.

As Buster himself is wont to comment, “People are usually good when there isn’t anything else to do.”

Historically pivotal, Buster Brown is also thematically a landmark in content, and a direct ancestor of the mischievous child strip that dominated the family market of the 20th century. Could Dennis the Menace (“Ours” or “Theirs”), Minnie the Minx or Bart Simpson have existed without Buster or his contemporary rivals The Katzenjammer Kids?

It’s pointless to speculate, but it’s no waste of time to find and enjoy this splendid strip.
© 1974 Dover Publications. All Rights Reserved.

American Vampire volume 1


By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Stephen King & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2830-9                  978-1-4012-2974-0 (SC)

In myth, literature and entertainment, there are many sorts of vampires. Here’s one species that’s a superbly grounded counterpoint to the scarlet deluge of lovey-dovey, kissey-poo tales of forbidden love between innocent modern maids and moody, tragic carriers of the Curse of the Night’s Children: one that uses for its themes Darwinian Survival of the Fittest, old-fashioned Revenge and the ultimate grisly example of Manifest Destiny; all played out against the chillingly familiar backdrop of the bloody birth of a modern nation…

In Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque’s first narrative arc, augmented and supplemented here by a stunning sidebar storyline from the functionally mythical Stephen King (who also provides a trenchant Introduction with ‘Suck on This’) – the kind of vampires that you should rightly beware of are introduced and explained, but although there are love stories in this series they’re probably not the sort you want your impressionable kids to read…

The sinister suspense begins with ‘Big Break’ as, in the Hollywood of 1925, struggling but popular and ambitious would-be starlets Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove follow their dream of celluloid stardom, working days as bit-players in movie mogul D. B. Bloch’s latest silent epic.

The girls have only been best friends for a short while but shared hardship makes them closer than sisters even if, too often, Pearl is distracted by itinerant musician Henry Preston and the aggravatingly persistent and obnoxious drifter who hangs out near their Ladies-Only boarding house.

The actresses’ careers seem destined to blossom when leading man Chase Hamilton invites the fame-hungry gamins to one of Bloch’s legendary Producer’s Parties. Despite shaded warnings from their laconic stalker, Pearl and Hattie attend but when the unctuous Chase takes the Jones girl aside to meet D. B. it isn’t the kind of assignation she expects…

Reeling with horror, the feisty actress finds herself a morsel and kickback-offering for a pack of wealthy European money-men who are literally blood-sucking monsters…

King & Albuquerque then take us back to the hoary days of 1880 and Sidewinder, Colorado, as veteran wordsmith Will Bunting relates the true story behind his novel ‘Bad Blood’ to a group of eager fans and historians…

The ancient scribbler recounts the fantastic yet apparently non-fictional tale of outlaw Skinner Sweet, a remorseless thief frustrating progress, killing good folks and stealing funds from sun-shy, Euro-trash millionaire railroad speculator Mr. Percy. When the psychotic bandit is finally captured by Pinkerton agent Jim Book and deputy Felix Camillo, the triumphant banker lays on a special train for a gaggle of journalists to record the victory of civilisation over lawlessness…

As the killer’s gang subsequently derails the train and massacres everyone who survived the crash, Skinner cruelly and casually takes time out to reveal how he killed Book’s wife…

Sweet then guns down Book and overwhelms Camillo, but is utterly unprepared for the attack of effete-seeming Percy who shrugs off fusillades of bullets before slaughtering them all. Skinner won’t die easily though, and in close combat with the fanged, gore-guzzling horror blows the European monstrosity’s eye out, consequently taking its blood into his own body before at last expiring…

Unknown to all, Bunting has seen everything and, as fully-healed Percy tends to Book and Camillo, wisely decides to say nothing of the horror he’s witnessed…

The Hollywood story then resumes with ‘Morning Star’ as Hattie and Henry discover Pearl is missing. Driving to the isolated mansion they discover her; ravaged, chewed to ribbons as if by some animal, yet inexplicably clinging to life.

Pearl wakes in the Morgue, having been visited by her mysterious stalker. Skinner Sweet has shared his unique blood with her and now, as the once-deceased actress listens in astonishment, the smirking ghoul explains some facts of life – and death – to her.

Like himself she has been attacked by ancient, old-world vampires, and by sharing their blood – accidentally in his case but quite deliberately when Sweet bestowed his own kiss upon her – Pearl has become a new kind of hybrid-bloodsucker, perfectly evolved to inhabit the New World, with completely different weaknesses to the old guard and, hopefully, sharing Sweet’s lust for revenge, taste for chaos and hunger for life…

After giving her a quick lesson on the differences between the European nosferatu who have carved themselves an almost unassailable position of closeted wealth and power in the young nation and the new American Vampires (now numbering two), the morally bankrupt wanderer takes off, leaving his hungry offspring to sink, swim or stand on her own shape-shifting, taloned feet…

He does leave a present, however: locked in her closet, Chase Hamilton quickly realises he is about to pay for all his many sins…

‘Deep Water’ finds author Will Bunting also in 1925, talking about the re-issue of his fantastic novel to a store full of avid fans. The tale, describing the iconic life of heroic Jim Book and his battle against vampire outlaw Skinner Sweet, resumes at the point when the infected owlhoot wakes up in his own grave. Far above him the cabal of expatriate vampires secretly dominating America’s nascent financial system continue accruing wealth and power and insouciantly turn the entire town of Sidewinder into Colorado’s latest reservoir and boating lake…

For nearly thirty years Book continues with his peacekeeping profession and eventually Camillo is elected Mayor of new town Lakeview. More worryingly Bunting had turned the tale of Sweet and the vampires into a popular dime-novel so sensation-seekers and treasure-hunters regularly dredge the man-made mere for souvenirs of the infamous outlaw…

One day in 1909 a couple of them unearth the now legendary badman’s buried, sunken coffin and unleash a rabid horror unlike anything ever seen in the world before: a leech unaffected by running water, stakes or sunlight. Hungry for revenge and sustenance Skinner Sweet emerges into a new America and starts hunting old “friends” he owes a debt to…

In Tinsel Town meanwhile, Pearl returns to her lodgings and tells shell-shocked Hattie to flee before continuing her own quest for vengeance in ‘Rough Cut’. The immortal Euro-cabal are, as usual, discussing what to do about their personal nemesis Sweet and his protracted annoyance, unaware they have a far more pressing problem. That all changes after the unstoppable and infinitely superior Pearl butchers three of them. Without knowing what could kill this New World species of vampire, the clique resorts to age-old stratagems even as Miss Jones – resuming mortal form – turns to Henry for a little comfort and support…

Just then the phone rings and Bloch demands that she surrender herself or Hattie will die horribly…

Back in 1909 Sweet’s ‘Blood Vengeance’ eliminates every human in Lakeview and proclaims his intentions to a horrified coterie of haughty, privileged, old-world bloodsuckers who previously believed themselves the planet’s apex predators. Even so, the resurgent outlaw has more pressing business. Before the last man in town died, Sweet made him send a telegram to Jim Book…

‘Double Exposure’ sees Pearl desperately negotiating for Hattie’s life, knowing surrender only leads her to becoming the cabal’s eternal, experimental lab rat. She is utterly unaware she has already been betrayed by someone close to her: someone pitifully greedy and unable to resist the subtle pressures and obvious blandishments of the European ancients.

However, even bushwhacked, mysteriously weakened and brutally assaulted, Pearl, with the aid of her last true friend, turns the tables and even destroys Bloch’s fortress before escaping to prepare for one last showdown…

The writer’s tale is also approaching a climax as ‘One Drop of Blood’ finds Book, Felix, the young Bunting and Camillo’s daughter Abilena hunting Sweet through the hellish ruins of Lakeview just as the bloodthirsty travesty discovers that his powers and energies are unaccountably waning. Watching unsuspected from a distant position of seclusion, “Euro-Vamps” bide their time and witness the shocking finale as the valiant comrades use dynamite to bury the debilitated devil in a deep mine-shaft under tons of unyielding rock – but not before the sadistic Skinner deliberately infects Book with his own tainted, mutagenic blood…

Pearl’s story in this first stunning volume concludes in a sustained spray of scarlet gore as she climactically confronts Bloch and his surviving comrades only to face one final tragic betrayal in ‘Curtain Call’ whilst ‘If Thy Right Hand Offend Thee…’ discloses Book’s climactic battle with the cursed thirst Sweet had inflicted upon him, even as unstoppable Skinner enjoys one last chat with the Euro-leech who created him…

The time-distanced yet parallel tales then coincide and conclude with a hint of foreboding; presaging more horrors in the days and decades to come…

This initial creepy, compelling chronicle also includes a pithy Afterword from Snyder, a welter of variant covers by Albuquerque, Jim Lee, Bernie Wrightson, Andy Kubert, JH Williams III and Paul Pope, a feature on the script-to-art process and 6 pages of designs and sketches by the supremely skilled and multi-faceted Albuquerque to delight and impress all fans of truly mature supernatural thrills and chills.

Far more True Blood than Twilight and substantially closer to Sam Peckinpah than John Ford or Tod Browning, this lightning-paced, sardonically gory excursion into blood and sand and love and death is a spectacular, absorbing thrill-riot by two of the industry’s best talents, backed up and covered by an absolute master of tone and terror, combining to craft a splendid, sordid, sexy and utterly spellbinding saga, riddled with far deeper metaphors than “unrequited love sucks”.

American Vampire offers solid screams and enchantingly fresh ideas all fear-fiends will find irresistible, making this modern classic an absolute “must-have” and a certain reminder that there are such things as monsters and some beasts just should not be tamed…
© 2010, Scott Snyder and Stephen King. All Rights Reserved.

Comanche Moon


By Jack Jackson (Rip Off Press Inc./Last Gasp)
ISBN: 0-89620-079-5

One of post war America’s earliest graphic novels, Comanche Moon was originally published during the 1970s as interlinked comicbooks White Comanche, Red Raider and Blood on the Moon. The forward-looking publishers were Last Gasp; a regular packager of work by underground cartoonists such as Jackson. This reworked and augmented edition appeared in 1979. So far as I know it’s not currently in print, although it’s another masterful graphic epic which really should be – even if only as a digital edition….

The collection details the astounding story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah and the course of their lives among Texas Comanches and her own – white European – people. It all begins whilst the Parkers are eking out a living on the Southern Plains of Texas in 1836, when their homestead is attacked by a Comanche raiding party. Little Cynthia Ann and her younger brother are carried off and, separated from him, she is raised as a squaw, eventually marrying a sub-chief and birthing a son.

The folksy, unvarnished matter-of-fact story-telling reinforces the powerful truth of this documentary of the final downfall of the Plains Indians under the relentless expansionist pressure of the new Americans.

Quanah grew to be the last chief of the Comanches and as the old ways died he was responsible for winning all the meagre concessions his people managed to gain from the unstoppable white men. Quanah Parker was a Judge, a Sheriff, a huckster for Teddy Roosevelt and ultimately died a loved and respected political figure among both the Comanches and the settlers.

Tragically, my dry précis does nothing to capture the mesmerising skill of Jackson as he makes these little moments of history come alive. Comanche Moon reads as easily as the best type of fiction but never strays from the heartbreaking truth that underpins it and it is all the more potent for that.

Jack Jackson’s work is powerful, charming, thoroughly authentic, astoundingly well-researched and totally captivating. If only all history books could be his good. If only all comics this good were accessible to all…
© 1979 Jack Jackson. All rights reserved.

Indian Summer


By Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt, translated by Jeff Lisle (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-030-2-8

Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15th 1927-August 20th 1995) was one of the world’s paramount comics creators, and his enthralling graphic narratives inventions since ‘Ace of Spades’ (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts) in 1945 were both many and varied.

His signature character – based in large part on his own exotic early life – is the mercurial soldier (perhaps sailor would be more accurate) of fortune, Corto Maltese.

After working in both Argentinean and English comics for years Pratt returned to Italy in the 1960s. In 1967 he produced a number of series for monthly comic Sgt. Kirk. In addition to the Western lead character, he created pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, detective feature Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea).

The magazine folded in 1970, but Pratt took one of Ballata’s characters to the French weekly, Pif, before eventually settling into the legendary Belgian periodical Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career…

However, a storyteller of such vast capabilities as Pratt was ever-restless, and as well as writing and illustrating his own tales, he scripted for other giants of the industry. In 1983 he crafted a steamy tale of sexual tension and social prejudice set in the New England colonies in the days before the Salem Witch Trials. The tale is timeless, potent and – naturally – out of print in the English language. In a world of digital publishing I find that utterly incomprehensible…

Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana (released and known as Indian Summer – although a more appropriate and illustrative translation would be “All things begin again with an Indian Summer”) was brought to stunning pictorial life by fellow Italian graphic raconteur Milo Manara.

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is best known for his wry, controversial erotica – but that’s more an indicator of the English-speaking comics market than any artistic obsession. The compelling creator is an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his erotic career illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape – a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King) was released.

By the end of the decade he was working for the Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as a first-rank creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman – which initially saw print in A Suivre.

The “HP” of the title is his good friend Hugo Pratt…

New England in the 17th century: The Puritan village of New Canaan slowly grows in placid, if uneasy, co-existence with the natives who have fished and hunted these coastal regions for centuries. When young Shevah Black is raped by two young Indians, outcast Abner Lewis kills them both. Taking the “ruined” girl back to his mother’s cottage in the woods, he introduces her to the entire family – mother Abigail, siblings Jeremiah, Elijah and Phyllis – a whole brood of damned sinners banished by her uncle the Reverend Pilgrim Black.

The mother was once a servant in the Black household, but has lived in the woods for twenty years, ever since Pilgrim Black’s father raped her. When Abigail fell pregnant she was cast out for her sin and her face still bears a sinner’s brand. Aided by the Indians the reluctant mother built a cabin, and over the years had three further children.

Her progeny are all wild creatures of nature; healthy, vital and with many close ties both to the natives (from choice) and the truly decadent Black family (by sordid, unwelcome history and association)…

Now blood has spilled and passions are roused: none of those ties can prevent a bloodbath, and as the day progresses many dark secrets come to light as the intolerance, hypocrisy and raw, thwarted lust of the upstanding Christians leads to an inexorable clash with the Indians – by far the most sensible and decent individuals in the place – with the pitifully isolated, ostracized and alienated Lewis clan stuck in middle and betrayed by everybody…

Beautiful, disturbing and utterly compelling, this thoroughly adult examination of sexual tension, attitudinal eugenics and destructive, tragic love is played out against the sweltering seductive heat and primitive glories of a natural, plentiful paradise which only needs its residents to act more like beasts and less like humans to achieve a perfect tranquillity.

Sadly, every Eden has serpents and here there are three: religion, custom and pride…

Pratt’s passion for historical research is displayed by the graphic afterword in which he not only cites his extensive sources – including a link to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter – but adds some fascinating insights and speculations on the fates of the survivors of the New Canaan massacre…

Although there is a 1994 NBM edition available, I’m reviewing from my 1986 Catalan copy principally because I own that one, but also because the Catalan copy has a magnificent four-page foldout watercolour cover (which I couldn’t fit onto my scanner no matter how I tried) and some pretty amazing sketches and watercolour studies gracing Javier Coma’s insightful introduction.

This is a classic tale of humanity frailty, haunting, dark and startlingly lovely. Whatever version you find, you must read this superb story and if any print or digital publisher is reading this, you know what you should do…
© 1986, 1994 Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All rights reserved.

Los Tejanos


By Jack Jackson (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN

I’m reading lot of graphic novels digitally these days, and what strikes me most is just how much superb classic material – especially genre works with war and western themes – still isn’t available. You try tracking down a The Haunted Tank or Joe Kubert Sgt. Rock and see what joy you get…

Known as ‘Jaxon’ in his underground commix days, Jack Jackson’s infectious fascination with the history of Texas was seeping through into all his work even from those early days. Portions of Los Tejanos first appeared as comicbooks Recuerden el Alamo and Tejano Exile, originally published by Last Gasp in the mid-1970s, which the author dutifully and effectively fleshed out for this extremely early prototype of the modern graphic novel.

Drawn in a captivating, cross-hatched style evoking plate-etching that simply screams “true story”, Los Tejanos delivers a breathtaking wealth of information, social texture and sheer entertainment. It will even teach you a little history you might not have known.

Los Tejanos tells the story of Juan Nepomuceno Seguin, a “Texian” of Mexican birth who sided with rebels fighting for independence. Before becoming part of the United States of America, Texas was briefly a nation unto itself, having won its freedom from a Mexican empire that was bloated, corrupt and in decline.

How Seguin turned his back on one culture, only to be eventually betrayed by another during a period when Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures constantly battled for hegemony in continental America, seems to echo even now with relevance. If you listen to politicians, that battle still isn’t over…

The eventual fate of Juan N. Seguin makes for powerful reading, rich in fact, well-paced as narrative, and even delivering the occasional solid horse-laugh. But the true measure of a history book – and this most wonderful tome is certainly that – is how the material impacts on the contemporary. Here it also succeeds. The issues were germane in 1840, they were just as much so in 1982, and they still are now.

Why this epic isn’t required reading for every US history or sociology course I’ll never understand. Why it isn’t universally available is even more baffling…
© 1982 Jack Jackson. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 7: Lead Poisoning


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, Rafa Garres, David Michael Beck, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2485-1

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti reinvigorated modern Western legend Jonah Hex they deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period. They also had the services of extremely talented people such as colourist Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh and the pick of top artists such as European maestro Jordi Bernet who illustrates fully half the gritty tales in seventh trade paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) compilation from 2009. The contents comprise issues 37-42 of the superb and much-missed iteration…

I first recognised Jordi Bernet’s work on The Legend Testers. By “recognised” I mean that very moment when I actually understood that somebody somewhere drew the stuff I was adoring, and that it was better than the stuff either side of it.

This was 1966 when British comics were mostly black and white and never had signatures or credits so it was years before I knew who had sparked my interest…

Jordi Bernet Cussó was born in Barcelona in 1944, son of a prominent and successful humour cartoonist. When his father died suddenly Jordi, aged 15, took over his father’s strip Doña Urraca (Mrs. Magpie).

A huge fan of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and particularly expressionist genius Milton Caniff, Bernet yearned for less restrictive horizons and left Spain in the early 1960s to chance his hand at dramatic storytelling.

He worked for Belgium’s Spirou, Germany’s Pip and Primo, before finding work on English weeklies. Bernet toiled on British publishers between 1964 and 1967, and as well as the Odhams/Fleetway/IPC anthologies Smash, Tiger and War Picture Library he also produced superlative material for DC Thomson’s Victor and Hornet.

He even illustrated a Gardner Fox horror short for Marvel’s Vampire Tales #1 in 1973, but mainstream America was generally denied his mastery (other than some translated Torpedo volumes and a Batman short story) until the 21st century reincarnation of Jonah Hex.

His most famous strips include thrillers Dan Lacombe (written by his uncle Miguel Cussó), Paul Foran (scripted by José Larraz) the saucy Wat 69 and spectacular post-apocalyptic barbarian epic Andrax (both with Cussó again).

When General Franco died Bernet returned to Spain and began working for Cimoc, Creepy and Metropol, collaborating with Antonio Segura on the sexy fantasy Sarvan and dystopian SF black comedy Kraken. His other job was collaborating with Enrique Sánchez Abulí on gangster and adult themes tales that have made him one of the world’s most honoured artists, and which culminated on the incredibly successful crime saga Torpedo 1936

The rawhide dramas commence with Bernet in top form as Hex tangles and torridly tussles with a trio of female former circus performers who take up bounty hunting and prove that ‘Trouble Comes in Threes’, after which ‘Hell or High Water’ finds the gritty gunslinger enduring horrific tortures at the hands of a sheriff he once shamed.

The brutal psychopath has no idea what real vengeance feels like until Jonah gives him a fast and final lesson…

Baroque stylist Rafa Garres supplies art and colours for a grim parable examining ‘Cowardice’ wherein a rookie sheriff gets life lessons in doing his job after Hex tracks murderous escaped convicts to a quiet country backwater, after which David Michael Beck depicts a gruesome two-part tale of savage madness.

When Hex and sometime ally/constant foil Tallulah track a serial-killing civil war surgeon teaching other perverts his bloody discoveries, the red-handed butcher displays enough body-shredding acumen to almost end them both. However, even his gory assaults and inclinations to devil-worship of the ‘Sawbones’ are no match for Jonah Hex in a mood to display his all-consuming displeasure and irritation…

Bernet wraps things up in inimitable blackly comedic style as ‘Shooting the Sun’ offers a shocking glimpse at the bounty hunter’s formative years with parental sadist Woodson Hex

Apparently, the abusive behaviour made Jonah the man he is: someone able to turn an inescapable death-trap into a private shooting gallery offering the added attraction of long-deferred vengeance on the bullies who garnished little Jonah’s hellish childhood with extra misery…

With captivating covers from Bernet, Garres and Beck, Lead Poisoning is another explosively grim, yet bleakly hilarious outing for the very best Western anti-hero ever created: an intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or cream-of-the-crop comics magic will want to miss.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doug Wildey’s Rio: The Complete Saga


By Doug Wildey (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-210-2                  eISBN: 978- 1-62302-476-5

There have been a lot of Western comics over the years created by Americans and other nations. Most were banged out as commercial fodder to feed fashion during periods when more mainstream media celebrated a periodic re-emergence of the genre. Rio is most definitely not one of those.

Working at his own pace for his own pleasure over many long years and virtually isolated from the mainstream comics world, the late Doug Wildey – famed animator (Johnny Quest) and comic strip artist (his Outlaw Kid strips for Marvel were a rare high-point during the 1950’s Western boom following the rise of TV ownership in the USA) – produced an iconic and elegiac immortal character.

After a meandering trail of appearances at Eclipse, Comico and Marvel, the wanderer most recently settled at IDW for this glorious collection: far more a serious art book than simply collection of wondrous comics storytelling.

Almost the entirety of this stupendous compendium is shot from Wildey’s immaculate multi-media original art with corrections, amendments and every instance and evidence of the creator’s interaction with the page left for aficionados to enjoy. No flattening bowdlerisation of the print process here: Think of it as a gallery visit in your own hands…

The content is all Wildey’s published stories, one entire unpublished tale and a final almost-complete saga the artist was working on when he died. As he was a rather mercurial cove Wildey skipped about a story, wrapping up pages as the whim took him, so the missing parts are there in spirit too: as roughs, sketches, pencils or script and layout designs. It’s a fascinating glimpse of a born raconteur and relentless perfectionist plying his trade…

Also included are dozens of sketches, pin-ups and other associated images all given weight and context through a loving appreciation by Mark Evanier in his Introduction. What more can a fan want?

Well, obviously, a damned fine read…

An old gunfighter and badman in the heydays of the Wild West, Rio is rangy loner wandering the country just ahead of creeping civilisation, trying to live the rest of his life as best he can as the end draws near.

The saga began as a serial in the early 1980s in Eclipse Monthly, during the early days of American Comics’ Direct Market revolution before being collected into an album-sized compilation and assorted reprints since.

In ‘The Hide Butchers’ the iconically world-weary “tall rider” is engrossed on a tricky and dangerous mission. Offered a full pardon by President Ulysses S. Grant in return for stopping the decimation of the Buffalo herds by “Sporting Specials”, Rio is in Wyoming Territory vainly attempts to reason with the Railway boss Dorsey.

These train excursions, wherein customers could slaughter the animals from the comfort of their seats, nearly wiped out the Buffalo, and consequently almost starved the Indians who lived off them to their own extinction.

Deemed a threat to profits, the loner is promptly framed for murder by the bigwig’s hirelings – the Grady Parrish gang – and must hunt down a small army of gunmen before he can know any real peace…

That hunt begins in ‘Satan’s Doorstep’ wherein the trail leads into Apache country and a doomed clash with a cavalry troop led by a glory-obsessed fool who thinks he’s the next Napoleon Bonaparte…

Sole survivor of that desert confrontation, Rio picks up his quarry’s trail in Endsville, Wyoming and quickly crosses the border to an enslaved Mexican town turned into a ‘Robber’s Roost’ by the bandits he’s chasing.

To pass the time the sadistic brutes play a murderous hunting game with the citizens, however when Rio is captured he finds a way to turn the tables against them…

Wildey was a master storyteller and a Western Historian of some note. His art graced many galleries and museums, but his greatest achievements can be seen here, where his artistry brings that lost and fabled world briefly back to vibrant life, in spirit as well as look.

Wildey switched over to colour in his own unique style and a more luscious and painterly colour palette, transferring his iconic lone rider from the wilderness to the very borders of the creeping Civilisation he so patently abhorred in a sequel to his original tale of ‘Mr. Howard’s Son’

Now finally pardoned by President Grant, Rio is invited to become sheriff of Limestone City, a burgeoning metropolis less than 100 miles from Kansas City yet somehow a town with no crime! Whilst considering the offer, he finds old friends already living there; two of the most infamous outlaws in history who – with their families – are living quietly as respectable, if incognito, citizens of the progressive paradise.

However, after a botched kidnapping and speculative bank raid exposes the retired outlaws, human nature and petty spite quickly lead to disastrous chaos and a spiral of bloody tragedy which the new lawman is ill-equipped and much disinclined to help with…

Next up is ‘Hot Lead for Johnny Hardluck’ as Rio meets a young Dutch kid hardened by exploitative mine work who has chanced upon a fortune. After winning a huge diamond at poker the boy heads for San Francisco, unaware that the sore loser has hire a pack of thieves to restore the stone at all costs…

Happily, Rio is working as stagecoach guard on the route the kid follows but even after the fireworks are over, the danger and bloodshed isn’t…

Another brush with famous gunmen informs ‘Red Dust in Tombstone’ as Rio meets up with Doc Holliday and his pals the Earp brothers. Trouble is brewing in town and tensions are high but Wildey smartly shows us a telling side of all concerned that movies have not…

Wrapping the narratives up with the tantalising promise of what might have been, ‘Reprisal’ is an unfinished masterpiece of cowboy lore as the lone rider saunters into a brewing crisis on the border. Bandits are raiding ranches but when the wanderer uncovers a scam with soldiers selling gunpowder to the outlaws the situation quickly escalates into savage tragedy…

The wagon train of wonders closes with an epic visual treat as ‘Doug Wildey’s Rio Gallery’ re-presents covers, evocative colour illustrations, sketches and model sheets to delight every fan of the genre or just great illustration.

Gripping, authentic, and satisfyingly mythic, these tales from a master of his subject and his craft are some of the best westerns America has ever produced and some of the most sublime sequential art every set to paper.
© 2012 Ellen Wildey. All Rights Reserved. Introduction © 2012 Mark Evanier.

The Bluecoats volume 7: The Blues in the Mud


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-183-9

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to comic rival Pilote. His rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more edgy and realistic – although still broadly comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and – after studying Fine Art in college – joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy; hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war).

All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, feigning death and even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other, easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Blues in the Mud was first seen on the continent in 1978 as 13th album Les Bleus dans la gadoue, and opens here with our surly stalwarts on patrol. Riding through glorious autumn countryside, they stop at a lake to wash off the dust and find another Union soldier already indulging. However, closer scrutiny soon reveals that this young man is actually a woman…

She tearfully shares her shameful secret with them. Dear brother John vanished soon after enlisting and – terrified that he has deserted and besmirched the Cassidy honour – she has secretly taken his place to search for him…

Although Blutch thinks she’s crazy, the tragic tale goes right to Chesterfield’s head and heart. He promises that they will look out for her as she looks out for her brother but, after teaching her a few tricks to avoid getting killed by Confederate gunfire or her own commanders’ idiotic orders, Blutch starts to wonder about their winsome protégé…

As the weather turns foul and torrents of rain turn battlefields into swamps and skirmishes into messy, inconclusive mud-baths, Chesterfield’s overprotective nature starts men and officers talking – particularly about how the grizzly non-com keeps making the new recruit cry…

Platonically besotted, the Sarge doesn’t notice how “Private Cassidy” keeps disappearing, and when Blutch testily points it out, only assumes she’s looking for that missing brother and her nervousness is just fear of being caught…

Alas for all concerned, the little corporal soon determines, any fear of being caught is due to the fact that she’s a spy who has the Sarge wrapped around her little finger…

Finally, however even Chesterfield has to face facts and in his righteous indignation makes Blutch help him ride right into the Confederate camp to arrest her…

After that gallant gesture goes horribly wrong the Bluecoats manage to get back to their own lines only to find that they’ve been charged with desertion and are being fitted up for a firing squad…

Is there anything or anyone that can possibly save them?

Another hugely amusing, savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences, this tale is particularly trenchant on the pointless nature of the conflict, with a large portion of the tale devoted to depicting the grim hilarity of soldiers unable to stand in a constantly-shifting morass doing their utmost to kill their equally enmired opponents, even if they can’t actually tell friend from foe anymore…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1978 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 6: Bullets Don’t Lie


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paulo Siqueira, Jordi Bernet, Darwyn Cooke, Mark Sparacio, J.H. Williams III, Rafa Garres & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2157-7

Always savvy enough to apply a broad variety of experimental approaches to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled string of all-star artists working with scripters Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti on this incarnation of Jonah Hex deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period.

In this sixth paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) collection, reprinting issues #31-36 of the comic book series from 2006, these six stand-alone sagas serve to show the ravaged and determinedly dissolute bounty hunter yet again facing the worst that humanity can offer… or sink to…

Coloured by Rob Schwager and Dave Stewart, the six-gun sextet starts with a wry and devious manhunt illustrated by Paulo Siqueira & Amilton Santos wherein the greatest bounty hunter in the west is hired to bring in infamous outlaw ‘The Red Mask’.

Sadly, the entire affair is a set-up from start to finish – a fact Hex is aware of almost from the start…

Murder-mystery gives way to exotic macho mayhem and a deft tribute – limned by the legendary Jordi Bernet – to Sergio Leone’s signature “Spaghetti-Westerns” as Jonah is enticed to visit Mexico by a rich man who wants him to kill ‘The Matador’ who seduced his wife.

Having made the mistake of refusing the job, Hex endures the millionaire’s sadistic displeasure before uniting with his original target to hand out some US-style retribution…

Much-missed hyper-stylist Darwyn Cooke illustrates the shocking trials of sub-arctic survivalism as ‘The Hunting Trip’ takes Hex deep into Canada and up against vicious, corrupt Mounties, inadvertently teaching a young orphan boy the cruellest facts of life…

Even a cold-hearted killer like Jonah Hex has a breaking point and ‘Outrunning Shadows’ – with rather stiff and static painted art by Mark Sparacio – sees the bounty killer turn his back on slaughter to peacefully settle down.

Sadly, greed and human nature never change and before long he’s forced to drop his dreams and pick up his guns again…

After another particularly bloody job, Hex lets his guard down enough to accept the hospitality of the local lawman. After envying the childless couple’s domestic bliss, Jonah’s refusal of ‘A Crude Offer’ on their part leads to a situation gunplay won’t fix in a tense thriller pictured by J.H. Williams III.

Wrapping up the hard-hitting feast of thrills is a grimly uncompromising examination of racism and self-loathing illustrated by Rafa Garres. Wearing Confederate grey in the aftermath of the war always brought Hex trouble but never as much as this time when the sight of him terrifies a young negro girl into killing herself.

When the appalled, guilt-ridden gunslinger is lynched by her outraged kin and friends, Hex is saved by the recently-convened Ku Klux Klan who also attribute far too much to the clothes he wears and not the beliefs he holds…

After dealing with the white marauders in a manner they so richly deserve, Hex makes the sole survivor dig ‘Seven Graves Six Feet Deep’

With captivating covers from Richard Corben, Bernet, Cooke, Andy Kubert & Pete Carlsson, Williams III and Garres, Bullets Don’t Lie is an explosively grim, yet blackly comedic collection starring the very best Western anti-hero ever created: doling out a fabulously intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or top-notch comics magic will want to miss.
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Loxleys and Confederation

New Revised Review

By Mark Zuehlke, Alexander Finbow, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Claude St. Aubin, Christopher Chuckry & Todd Klein & (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921-5089-1

The Dominion of Canada officially came into existence on July 1st 1867. With the 150th anniversary looming imminent, what better time to revisit how that happy circumstance came to be, especially as the fine folk at Turnaround Distribution have just sent me a splendid full-colour hardback book all about it…

As you’d expect from the residents of the largely sensible portion of the North American continent, the residents of Canada have been planning their celebrations for some time now. A few years ago, a superb graphic novel was produced by an independent creative outfit called Renegade Arts Entertainment which commemorated the anniversary and captivatingly explored how America and the British colonies clashed. The book was The Loxleys and the War of 1812: a welcoming fictionalisation of history for youngsters, examining the facts of the clash through the eyes and experiences of one extended family caught up in the conflict. You could read our review but you’d be far better off getting the book itself.

After enjoying great success the story was followed this magnificent sequel which recapitulates the fateful first European incursion into the vast northern regions, the (mostly) shameful interactions with the native peoples there and the complex, dramatic campaign which resulted in a disparate aggregation of fiercely independent colonies finally accepting that they were all stronger together…

Written by Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke, with story contributions from Alexander Finbow and scholar, commentator, author, and advocate on Indigenous Issues Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, this compulsively engaging story is illustrated with captivating veracity by Claude St. Aubin with colours courtesy of Christopher Chuckry and lettering from Todd Klein.

The show opens with a character gallery of both the fictitious Loxleys and notable historic personages of the period and includes an impassioned Foreword by co-writer Finbow, before the graphic elucidation begins with a Prologue set in 1534.

In that landmark year French explorer Jacques Cartier sails up what will be later be called the St. Lawrence River. Sadly the “civilised” trailblazer then acts rather rudely towards the natives he finds there…

After that rather inauspicious start, grudging trades are made but when Cartier finally leaves he takes with him the two sons of local chief Donnacona. The Frenchman still wants treasure and insistently urges the native boys to direct him to a priceless valuable they call “Kanata”…

Skipping ahead to 1864 we find the Loxley clan has grown in numbers, prosperity and influence. It is August 1st and 13-year old Lillian is recording in her journal the event of the family’s first great gathering in years.

Amidst the usual chatter of aging, absences and ailments, the elders are preoccupied with a thorny political problem. The United States has been at war with itself for four years but that struggle is almost over and the local consensus is that many Yankee warhawks are eager to continue fighting; using their deplorable political tenet of “Manifest Destiny” to conquer and possess the entire continent, not only from East to West but also from South to North…

The only bulwark against such unvarnished empire-building is a unified nation to resist them rather than the loose association of independent British colonies that now exists. While talk of Confederation has been in the air for quite a while, little headway has been made in each colony’s obstinate, insular ruling assemblies…

Now, with invasion from the USA a serious prospect once more, and economic pressures also working against the disunited and isolated enclaves, the move towards a grand union of the regions and territories is more vital than ever and politicians are actually talking to each other and making progress.

The prospect is of particular interest to young Lillian, who is subsequently invited to accompany her illustrator mother and journalist grandfather as they journey first to Prince Edward Island, then Quebec and eventually all over and around the scattered colonies and even to England itself: following the prominent political movers and shakers seeking to build a safe, strong and resilient nation.

As the little group follows the torturous efforts to unify the imperilled regions, drama (and romance in the case of Lillian) is never far off. The debates perpetually appear to take one step forward and two back as regional issues and grudges always hold back the urgent drive to combine even as the outer world constantly impinges on what might seem to be a strictly colonial issue.

The Loxleys are in Washington and actual witnesses to the assassination of President Lincoln – the strongest voice against an invasion of Canada. They later witness for themselves the extent of anti-Canadian feeling which exhibits as the annulment of trade deals in the Capitol, and demagogic aggression and bombast in New York which results in a brutal raid on neighbouring cross-border township New Brunswick. The invasion is carried out by radical activist Fenians who believe they can parley such attacks on British possessions into independence for Ireland…

Of course, such an incursion can be seen only one way by the colonies previously holding out against an official union…

Thus unfolds an amazingly compelling lesson which traces a largely marginalised section of history, couched in absorbing human terms and rendered totally irresistible for being seen through the lens of an idealistic child’s eyes: a girl becoming a woman whilst her little bailiwick became a mighty nation…

Also woven into the tale – thanks to the input of Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair – is a telling examination and assessment of the shameful Official Policy of assimilation which legitimised the maltreatment of indigenous people throughout Canada’s history: a trend more fully probed in the Afterword: Looking for Kanata.

That sobering discussion follows further historically pertinent extracts ‘From the Dairy of Lillian Stock 1867’ which encapsulate events personal and national following the establishment of Canada as a nation-state.

Informative, engaging, even-handed and intensely gripping, this account of ordinary people at the core of grand historical accomplishments is an astonishingly readable chronicle which again proves one of my most fervently held beliefs: comics are the perfect means to wed learning with fun and a well-made graphic treatise is an unbeatable mode with which to Elucidate, Educate and Enjoy.

So buy this and do so…
The Loxleys and Confederation © 2015 Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.