The Bluecoats volume 6: Bronco Benny


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-146-4

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was an absolute devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even to colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

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 Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and 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 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 he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series 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 Wild West 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, 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…

Bronco Benny is the sixth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 16th French volume) and opens with our surly stalwarts waiting at a rail depot for much-needed fresh materiel…

As usual the war has stalled due to lack of crucial resources. This time the dearth is horses to ride, but when the train carrying the replacement mounts unloads, what Chesterfield and Blutch find is a shambles which makes them want to laugh and cry…

The smugly-isolated General Staff quickly retire to their comfortable residence and are soon back in high-level conference. Callously obnoxious Young Turk Captain Stillman posits a most practical – if appallingly unethical – solution to the equine stalemate: don’t pay the soldiers until after the forthcoming battle and use the money to purchase mounts from horse traders beyond the western mountains. To make sure the sale and transport goes according to plan the Captain intends sending the smallest military detail possible, but they will be accompanied by Bronco Benny, the greatest horse-breaker in the world…

Next day, luckless Blutch and Chesterfield set out on the suicide mission they have been volunteered for with strong, silent Benny in attendance. They are astounded by how easily they pass through Confederate pickets and defences. They also have no idea that the enemy is well aware of the plan and is allowing them expedited passage…

Travelling the arid rocky region to the traders’ ranch our heroes are surprised when a band of Indians attack. The Bluecoats only escape through sheer dumb luck and after rendezvousing with the mustang-hunters discover the natives are in uproar because the horsemen have captured a magnificent white stallion the Indians revere as a god…

It’s love at first sight for Benny. He is utterly smitten with the mustang dubbed “Traveller” and the next few days fade to a bruised blur as he strives to break the mighty wonder horse. Sadly, after he does, the true nature of the horse-traders is exposed and Blutch and Chesterfield realise they’ve been suckered yet again…

However, even after being deprived of cash, horses and dignity and left to die at the hands of the furious Indians, Sarge has a plan to fix things and, whilst it doesn’t exactly work as expected, it does get him and his pals back to Union lines in time to witness one more horrific, pointlessly stupid battle and subsequent slaughter with no apparent winner…

This is another hugely amusing savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. 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 1980 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Fresh Romance volume 1


By Kate Leth & Arielle Jovellanos, Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson, Marguerite Bennett & Trungles, Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie & various (Rosy Press/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-346-3                  eISBN: 978-1-62010-347-0 (Kickstarter exclusive)

Once upon a time romance comics were the backbone of the comicbook industry, selling in the millions and capturing the crucial yet elusive and fickle women’s market where war, westerns and superhero titles just couldn’t get a foothold.

Times passed, fashions changed and the genre all but vanished in comics form, to occasionally resurface in rare re-emergences filled with quality writing and art but still unable to justify the expense of a regular print slot.

Thankfully the internet changed all that, with devotees able to create, disseminate and consume articles of visual amour free of draconian and tawdry business pressures. One such enterprise was anthological enterprise Fresh Romance from Rosy Press which offers startlingly uncompromising modern love stories in a broad variety of styles and themes and tones from simple person-meets-person encounters to classical pastiches to rom-com rollercoaster rides.

So well-received were these tales that in partnership with Oni Press the stories have made the retrograde jump back into physical form such as this initial collection…

Supplemented throughout with round-robin discussions and commentaries from the creators involved the wide-eyed wonderment opens with a no-holds-barred, ferociously contemporary spin on the coming-of-age ritual known as Prom Night…

‘School Spirit’ by scripter Kate Leth, illustrator Arielle Jovellanos, colourist Amanda Scurti and letterer Taylor Esposito details the build up to that very special occasion, focussing on unwitting chick-magnet Miles, haughty queen-bee Justine, moody Corrine and eager-beaver over-achiever Malie.

None of their peers are privy to their true natures, though. Miles’ reputation is largely bogus, allowing him to act as a beard for two of the girls whilst the lass he really likes has a secret she joyously shares with him alone: she’s a witch with fantastic powers she’s just desperate to exercise even though her dads forbid her getting intimate with mortals…

Pressure mounts as the Prom approaches and all four are reaching emotional crisis points: all they want to do is be themselves and be done with secrets…

But when the subterfuge falls apart just before the big event all the quartet can do is make it a night everybody will remember…

In stark contrast ‘Ruined volume 1’ by Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle (lettered by Ryan Ferrier) serves up a heaping helping of stolid and claustrophobic Regency romance in the manner of Jane Austen as young Catherine dolorously acquiesces to parental pressure and marries a man she does not know. As her parents constantly remind her, it’s the best she can hope now that her reputation has been so utterly despoiled by her recent indiscretion…

Her marriage into the prestigious but impoverished Davener family was never going to be a famous love match but after being packed off to his decrepit and distant estate Catherine’s slow acceptance of her taciturn, inscrutable husband is constantly impeded by one inescapable quandary. If no decent man would want her in her present state, why has Andrew Davener made her his bride?

Does he want her? Is he, in fact, a decent man?

A beguiling and compelling take on the traditional gothic novel – complete with troubled sister-in-law and antagonistic elder dowager in residence – Ruined does not conclude in this volume and leaves the reader hungry for a resolution…

From staid conformity to wild abandon as ‘The Ruby Equation’ by Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson (coloured by Savanna Ganucheau and lettered by Steve Wands) pursues wild whimsy in a little coffee shop which serves as a dating drop-in centre run by extra-dimensional super-entities masquerading as baristas and waitresses.

These wondrous creatures are intent on helping their unwitting human clients find true happiness, but impatient young operative Ruby can’t wait to finish this dumb assignment and progress to missions of truly cosmic importance.

Sadly for her, Ruby can’t close the deal with prospective happy couple Josh and Megan, and she’s the only one who can’t see that they are not perfect soul-mates. Not when one of them is actually the only being Ruby could ever love…

A dark reinterpretation of a very familiar fairytale, ‘Beauties’ by Marguerite Bennett & Trungles – lettered by Rachel Deering – sees a beautiful beast captured and enslaved by a callous prince and his cruel daughters, only to win over one of his tormentors and trigger an uncanny transformation. With love triumphing over every adversity the liberated lovers must then seek escape or death together whatever the ultimate cost…

As icing on the cake this collection closes with a delightful bonus vignette by Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie. ‘First, Last and Always’ slyly reveals the cautious, cunning politics that underlie that initial brushing of lips that presages the start of everything…

Powerful, charming, engaging and endearing, these yarns of yearning and fulfilment are superb examples of how varied comics can be. Why not let a little romance into your heart today?
Fresh Romance volume One © 2016 Rosy Press. All individual stories are the property of and © their respective creators. All rights reserved.

Dreams in Thin Air


By Michael Magnus Nybrandt & Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen translated by Steffen Rayburn-Maarup (Conundrum Press)
ISBN: 978-1-77262-010-8

Fantastic battles against overwhelming odds and magnificent, unlikely victories are the lifeblood of graphic narratives – and most of our popular fiction these days, I suppose – but seeing such triumphs in our own mundane mortal coil is barely credible in the real world.

Happily, miracles do occur, and one such forms the basis of this stunningly engaging chronicle of a good heart and love of sport defeating the political skulduggery of an oppressive yet publicity-shy superpower.

Delivered as a sturdy and compelling full-colour landscape format hardback, Dreams in Thin Air details the struggle of a young Danish man whose life was changed by a pre-college visit to Tibet: the things he saw and the people he met…

To make the story even more accessible, the man at the centre of events tells his own story, teamed here with Danish comics superstar and educator Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen (Wizards of Vestmannaeyjar, Einherjar) who adds zest, verve and spectacular imagination to the already heady mix…

Following a Foreword by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the story opens near the end as impassioned, frustrated Michael Magnus Nybrandt paces outside the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen. We don’t know it yet but Michael has gambled years of hard work, devious conniving and soul-destroying dedication on a true long shot…

‘Chapter 1: Towards Tibet’ then takes us back to 1997 when Michael and his friend Thomas land at Lhasa Airport and are only saved from disaster by the quick thinking of Tibetan guide Jamphel Yeshi, who rescues the idealistic Scandinavians from a potentially lethal encounter with bribe-seeking Chinese Guards.

As they ride away from the airport the Europeans observe over and again the brutal results of China’s annexation and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture begun in the aftermath of the 1950 invasion. Of course, the gun-toting occupiers called it an act of “liberation”…

The white boys’ feelings as they contrast the broken relics of a glorious past with the urbanised concrete wastelands inflicted by two generations of self-serving Chinese occupiers are obvious and exceedingly painful, and before long they check out of their state-sponsored hotel and go on a trans-Tibetan tandem ride, looking for the real country…

In ‘The Easy Way’ that joyous if exhausting excursion brings them into constant contact with the earthy, gregarious Tibetans and solidifies a feeling in Michael that he must do something to help them. The revelation of exactly what that might be comes after they arrive at a shattered temple and meet Lama Tsarong.

During their stopover, the Europeans meet young monks in training and discover the Tibetans’ abiding passion for football – the proper “beautiful game” and not the dandified Rugby played by Americans…

Later, Michael endures a bizarre dream in which he is the coach of a Tibetan National Team. That’s clearly an impossible notion. Thanks to China’s political clout and annexation policy, there is no such nation as Tibet, only outlaw enclaves of dispossessed Tibetans living as exiles in well-wishing countries such as India and Nepal.

No politically expedient government on Earth recognises the annexed but unforgotten land and it has no official national standing in any arena… even sports…

In August 1997 Nybrandt returns to Denmark and resumes his education in Aarhus. He is part of the landmark radical education initiative dubbed Kaospilot, but despite all his studies cannot shift his focus away from that vivid dream…

At that time privately-sponsored Kaospilot trained less than 40 students per year in leadership, business design, process design and project design. The private school’s educational philosophy stresses personal development, values-based entrepreneurship, socially-responsible innovation and – above all else – creativity.

Although Michael strives to adapt to the program, eventually he gives in to his obsession and retools his lessons and educational modules to the ultimate goal of creating a Tibetan National Football team and getting them international matches…

And that’s when his problems really begin, as the full political might of the People’s Republic is brought to bear, not just on him but also on Denmark itself. In ‘Dharamsala’ that subtle, silent opposition becomes far more overt, even as Nybrandt tirelessly works with Tibetan bigwigs – in the conquered mountain country itself and throughout the rest of the world.

Undaunted, he sources players, finds sponsors bold enough to buck the Chinese government; sidestepping petty-minded obfuscations like visa-sabotage and rescinded travel permits and even terrifying physical assaults from thinly-disguised political bully boys in China’s pay…

The tide starts to turn in ‘Dharma Player’ after a meeting with the Dalai Lama and the arrangement of an international fixture against Greenland’s national team. With the threat of public legitimisation of a “non-country”, China begins turning the geo-political screws: threatening economic sanctions that might bankrupt Denmark and even more dire unspecified consequences…

On the brink of defeat, Michael thinks furiously and realises that although the prestige of international sport has caused all his problems, it has also provided a once-in-a-lifetime possible solution. All he has to do is confront the Chinese ambassador and not blink first…

The result was a milestone in the modern history of oppressed, subjugated Tibet and resulted in ‘Ninety Minutes of Recognition’ as China was forced to climb down and allow the match to take place…

Being a true story, this gloriously inspirational tale can also offer a photo-reportage-packed ‘Epilogue by the Author’, geographical and socio-political synopsis on the country at ‘The Roof of the World’ and a heartfelt ‘Acknowledgments’ section dedicated to the brave souls who made the miracle happen and brought this book into print.

Compelling, hugely entertaining and astoundingly uplifting, Dreams in Thin Air is a wonderful tribute to the power of sport and the resolve of good people. Don’t wait for the inevitable feelgood movie: read this magnificent graphic testament right now and experience the all-too-rare joy of good intentions triumphing over smugly overwhelming ensconced power…
English Edition © Michael Magnus Nybrandt, Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen and Conundrum Press 2017.

Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise


By John Albano, Michael Fleischer, Tony DeZuñiga, Doug Wildey, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2757-9

Western stories are shaped by an odd duality. The genre can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.

That kind of cowboy tale- grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer which gradually made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Jonah Hex is the USA’s greatest example of the latter sort…

DC (or National Periodicals as it then as) had generated a stable of clean-cut gun-slingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and highly readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed insatiable in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end, and by the early sixties the sagebrush stalwarts had dwindled to a few venerable properties.

As the 1960s closed, thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second super-hero sundown in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, filled with Pow-Wow Smith reprints and became an all-new anthology with its second bi-monthly issue. The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the real hit genre-type that saved comics in those dark days: horror comics…

It wasn’t until the tenth issue and introduction of a grotesquely disfigured, irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the garish gunman’s early appearances has been around for a few years, with no apparent sign of a sequel yet, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and more interest…

Our star is the very model of the modern anti-hero. Jonah Hex first appeared in All-Star Comics #10, a coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in shabbily battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat, half his face lost to some hideous past injury; a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted – and certainly a man to avoid…

Collecting key stories from All-Star Western #10, Weird Western Tales #14, 17, 22, 26, 29, 30 and Jonah Hex #2 and 4 (ranging from March 1972 to September 1977), the grisly gunplay begins with Albano & DeZuñiga’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ which introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic western “Shane” cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first bullets blazing, blistering set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. With the next issue the comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and the adventures continually plumbed the depths oh human malice and depravity…

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue or Little Big Man or familiar with Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as whole lost its social and political innocence…

From Weird Western #14, ‘Killers Die Alone!’ – by Albano & DeZuñiga – is a vicious tear jerker of a tale where Hex’s only friend valiantly dies to save him the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty hunter for their brother’s death. There is then a reckoning that is the stuff of nightmares…

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ (WWT #17) is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead before meeting an ending both ironic and much-deserved…

It was left to new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) to reveal Hex’s secrets, beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’. A chance meeting in a stagecoach put a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their ex-comrade for some unspecified earlier betrayal and it inevitably ended in a six-gun bloodbath, whilst creating an ominous returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

Train-robbers were the bad guys in the superb traditionally-informed caper ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’ scripted by Fleischer and illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey, after which more details of Jonah’s chequered past are revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’ limned by Noly Panaligan. It was the first chapter of a two-part extravaganza that gorily concluded in #30 in ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by George Moliterni) as a battalion of Confederate veterans and former comrades-in-arms passed judgement on the man they believed to be the worst traitor in the history of the South…

Eventually Hex graduated from Weird Western Tales into his own solo title and the final brace of tales in this primal primer are both drawn by the magnificent José Luis García-López. In ‘The Lair of the Parrot!’, Fleischer has the doom-drenched wanderer sucked into a scheme designed by US Secret Service agent Ned Landon to infiltrate the gang of flamboyant Mexican bandit and border raider El Papagayo. Hex is none to happy when he finally realises Landon has been playing both sides for personal gain and left the bounty hunter to the brigand’s tender mercies after framing him for murder in Texas…

The tale continues in ‘The Day of the Chameleon!’ as a disguise artist steals Hex’s identity to perpetrate even more brazen crimes at the behest of a rich and powerful man determined to destroy bounty hunter at all costs…

Happily Jonah has unsuspected allies determined to save him from the villain and his own prideful stubborn nature…

With a cover gallery by DeZuñiga, Luis Dominguez and García-López, this splendid selection of uncanny exploits proves Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics: darkly comedic, riotously rowdy, chilling and cathartically satisfying. His saga is a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1972-1975, 1977, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blue


By Pat Grant (Pat Grant/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-153-4

As far as the global mass-market is concerned, Australia doesn’t do comics. There’s no home-grown Oz equivalent to Beano or Spirou or 2000 AD, no Akira or Batman to enthral the entire nation.

You don’t hear about their industry bashes such as OzComic-Con and nobody applauds if you say you’ve been nominated for a Stanley Award…

Yet Australia harbours an incredibly potent and dedicated cartooning community, quietly turning out a broad and utterly beguiling range of strips and features from kiddie-comics to strictly adult fare that we seldom get to enjoy in the Northern climes (just check out UK ex-pat Eddie Campbell’s work or Neomad: Space Junk or the precious few titles from Gestalt Publishing that have made it to Britain to see what I mean…).

One of the most enticing and rewarding releases in decades recently came courtesy of cartoonist and passionate surfer Pat Grant. In 2012 his debut graphic novel Blue set tongues wagging not just down under but all over: a superbly realised amalgam of graphic autobiography, socially-relevant historical treatise and fantasy-tinged cautionary tale…

Like so much Australian graphic narrative, Blue owes more to the underground and alternative comics movements than to mainstream. The art is rendered in a muted, limited-colours palette in a style vaguely reminiscent of Peter Bagge, but the storytelling is all original; mixing memories of growing up in small remote company-town with themes of alienation as filtered through a lens of constant, unwelcome change, incipient onrushing maturity and impending humdrum crushing responsibility.

Blue is seductive, familiar, scary and also punishingly funny where it’s most inappropriate…

Bolton is a town by the sea, built a generation ago by the company to house its work force. Years passed and the town stopped being shiny and new. The workers had kids and the kids grew bored. They had school and surfing and no prospects. And then the aliens started turning up. Unwelcome, unwanted, probably illegal and so clearly unwilling to mix. Soon they were everywhere, spoiling everything…

Christian never made it out. He’s a burn-out these days, sucking down bevies when not coasting a dead-end painting gig – and boozing on the job too if no one’s watching – so he’s got time to tell you about those days when he was a kid and lived for surfing…

The day he remembers most vividly is when him and Verne and Muck skipped school to chase a truly massive wave and decided to go see the body of a bloke who died on the railway tracks the night before…

Graphically imaginative, boldly experimental and gratefully expressing his debt of inspiration to the film Stand By Me, Grant has woven here an intoxicating web of intrigue and memory which resonates with the mythic image we all have of life in Oz and the knowledge of what kids ought to be like.

However, the most powerful sense is one of constant motion, bolstered by stunning, nigh-abstract seascapes and wave fronts, as his actors move raucously, rowdily and rapidly through their scenes propelled by bad instincts and inexpressible desire for something different…

Although you may not share Grant’s personal background, readers cannot help but be swept away by the author’s utterly convincing immersion in the minutiae of nostalgia and poignant bewilderment in how we all got to here and now…

With an introduction by Dylan Horrocks and text feature ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images Memory and Australia’s Surf Comics’ – an erudite and fascinating extended essay by Grant detailing the history of the nation’s board bound phenomenon – this enchanting hardback tome is a total treat for comics connoisseurs indoors or outside.
© 2012 Pat Grant. All rights reserved.

Galveston


By Johanna Stokes, Ross Richie, Todd Herman & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-93450-668-4

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Lafitte was a French privateer based in New Orleans – and later Barataria Bay – who famously turned down a huge bribe from the British and instead stood beside the Americans during the War of 1812. His alliance with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans is the stuff of American mythology.

When the victorious Americans then started cracking down on piracy, Jean and his older brother Pierre became spies for the Spaniards during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), relocating to Galveston Island, Texas and continuing their trade as freebooting privateers targeting Central American ports.

They established a pirate colony called Campeche to facilitate their maritime activities. Jean died – or at least dropped from sight – sometime around 1823.

Jim Bowie is more myth than man. Born in Kentucky around 1796, he was pioneer, frontiersman, law officer, land speculator and quintessential warrior. After accruing wealth and a certain reputation in New Orleans, he eventually relocated to Texas (whilst it was still part of Mexico), married and settled down.

Of all the legends surrounding him the two truest are his proficiency with the lethal “Bowie knife” (created from the fearless fighter’s design by bladesmith James Black) and that he died in Texas at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

With such a historic pedigree and so little verifiable fact, it’s perfectly natural that somebody should place these two bellicose American icons together, and that’s exactly what scripter Johanna Stokes (with input from Ross Richie, Tom Peyer & Mark Rahner) and illustrator Todd Herman – ably assisted by colourists Digikore Studios and Andres Lozano and letterer Marshall Dillon – have done in this light-hearted action-romp which is as much buddy/road movie as pirate yarn or western…

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries in 2009, Galveston begins in the Gulf of Mexico in 1817, where the infamous Jean Lafitte’s crew are trying to kill him. It’s not personal: they simply heard that he’s hidden a huge stash of gold donated by the Emperor Napoleon for helping him escape from France.

Lafitte’s only ally is a wiry American he’d recently befriended: a man named Bowie…

The greed-inciting gold story was circulated by Cyrus Wesley, an old acquaintance from New Orleans and no friend of the pirate captain…

After escaping certain doom through quick-wittedness and a certain amount of chicanery, Lafitte brings Bowie to the prate colony he built in Galveston, introducing him to the glories of the Maison Rouge and the light of his life: a fiery tongued and ferociously independent woman named Madeline Ragaud

She seems welcoming but also brings news of a ship full of spies masquerading as traders. All too soon Bowie is experiencing first hand how his pirate pal deals with real threats to his people…

A bigger worry is Wesley. Acting on behalf of vengeful Louisiana Governor Claiborne, the old enemy has brought a small army of bought-&-paid-for “lawmen” into the shady new town, ready to deal with Lafitte on the slightest pretext. A man of absolutely no principles, Cyrus is, however, quite prepared to let the mission slide… if Lafitte gives him Napoleon’s gold…

It would be a sound bargain if there actually was any bullion, but Lafitte swears all he got for his services was a couple of ornamental cannon. They don’t even work…

Temporarily escaping his problems, the wily pirate accompanies Bowie on his own mission to set up trading ties with the Commanches, but Cyrus’ threat to harm Madeline lingers, prompting Jean to bicker with his buddy and storm off in a fury. By the time Jean gets back to Galveston the settlement is in flames and Wesley is ensconced aboard a warship in the bay…

It’s time for old war-hero Lafitte to rally his piratical troops for a showdown, but he might be less fired up if he knew that his aggravating paramour has despatched a message to even the odds. Hopefully Madeline’s young courier can find Bowie and his Indian friends before it’s too late…

Culminating in a classic and epic underdog vs. bad guys showdown and delivering a marvellously traditional twist in the tale, this rowdy, raucous riot of fun is a sheer delight all lovers of straightforward, no-nonsense matinee thrills.
© 2009 Boom Entertainment Inc. and Johanna Stokes. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip


By Jerome Charyn & François Boucq (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80872-7

Some creative teams spend all their time collaborating: crafting works that constantly remind us why we are wise to await their every effort. Other artisans only link up at agonisingly rare intervals, and when their newest works are finally finished we hungry lovers of their art can only breathe a huge sigh of relief and release.

A sublime case-in-point are the all-too-rarely seen concoctions of American crime author and graphic novelist Jerome Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, I Am Abraham, Citizen Sidel, Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories) and French illustrator François Boucq (Bouncer, Sente, Jérôme Moucherot, Bouche de diable) who together created Femme du magicien/The Magician’s Wife and Billy Budd, KGB: uniquely compelling graphic novels which have won popular acclaim and numerous awards all over the world.

Now their latest dark masterpiece – published in French in 2014 – is at last available in a remastered English translation by Charyn himself.

A ferocious and captivating blend of bleak reverie, coming-of-age drama, noir thriller and supernatural vengeance tale, the action opens in New York City in 1970 where tattooist Pavel plies his trade under the admiring gaze of fascinated teen Azami.

She too is enslaved to the act of drawing, and wants to know everything: how to mark the skin, the secrets of adapting a past design, where and how the master got his own skinful of stories…

The city is in a growing panic. A serial-killing rapist dubbed Bad Santa is terrorising the night; targeting late working women such as Azami’s mother, so Pavel is keeping a quiet eye on them both. He’s actually far more informed than most citizens, as his uncanny ability to draw likenesses from the barest of witness accounts makes the old man a crucial component of the cops’ war on crime.

This almost magical ability has been consistently failing in regard to the Bad Santa killings, however, and the tension makes Pavel dream of his own appalling childhood…

Just after WWII ended, his artist father emigrated from Washington Heights, USA to the Soviet Union to work with legendary film-maker Sergei Eisenstein.

In those constrained environs Pavel absorbed a love of drawing and hunger for creative expression that was not crushed even when a political shift in climate saw him and his family arrested as spies and shipped off to the horrific Siberian gulag of Kolyma.

The daily casual atrocities of the corrupt guards were worse than what the boy experienced at the hands of the rival criminal gangs who actually ran the prisons. Soon he was alone, but his instinct for survival and gifts as an artist set him upon a new path, creating the sacrosanct, almost-holy tattoos the inmates used to define, embolden and characterise themselves.

It was not the only art Pavel learned. As he grew older he became the top gladiator of his gang: a fast deadly warrior with a blade in pitch darkness or broad daylight…

As the wave of killings continue in the blighted Big Apple, Pavel’s thoughts keep returning to the unceasing stream of hardships and atrocities he experienced in the camp. Slowly a grim conclusion comes to him about the nature of the Bad Santa… but too late for him to save the people nearest and dearest to him…

Bleak, uncompromising, seductive and painfully authentic whilst tinged with a smear of supernatural mystery, the story of Little Tulip is an unforgettable peek into the forbidden and the profane that will take your breath away.

Also included in this album-sized (280 x 210 mm) full-colour paperback is a glorious selection of sketches and working drawing in an entrancing display of ‘Artwork by François Boucq’ to inspire you to making your own meaningful marks on paper – or any preferred medium…
© 2014 Jerome Charyn and François Boucq. © 2014 Le Lombard. Lettering © 2016 Thomas Mauer. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip is officially released January 27th 2017 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist government still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994. As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips starring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and with Juan Miguel Aguilera devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

His earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history (El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 – his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali – and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro).

These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles, which was adapted into an equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie.

More astounding stuff you’ll definitely want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from newspaper Las Provincias or El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and understanding of human nature, Roca can be found making animated films and hosting his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime and elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – which magically celebrates the solace of imagination and recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

As the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and the wounded youngster has no intention of being interned or worse.

After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and after passing out finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, he finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The old man’s good humour is infectious and gradually even infects battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and begins to share Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting: supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, sketches and production art – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and would be the perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

The Lighthouse will be published on February 17th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Zorro: Matanzas


By Don McGregor, Mike Mayhew, Sam Parsons & John Costanza (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-147-2

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in All-Story Weekly for August 6th, running until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the serial in All-Story on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure as the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961), the ongoing comicbook series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it. The media corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This series and later iterations also resulted in comics and strips all over Europe from Disney and Marvel in the USA. During the 1990s, Topps Comics spearheaded Zorro’s return courtesy of Don McGregor & Mike Mayhew which led to a short-lived newspaper strip (illustrated by Thomas Yeates) and also incidentally and memorably introducing a salacious “bad-girl” sidekick in the unwisely-clad form of Lady Rawhide

And there were more movies, this time with an actual Spaniard playing the lead role (Antonio Banderas, in case you were wondering…)

In 2008 Dynamite Entertainment reintroduced the Fox in new yarns by Matt Wagner and as part of the package excavated this lost tale from the Topps iteration: an unpublished adventure by McGregor & Mayhew, with colours by Sam Parsons and letters by industry veteran John Costanza.

Zorro: Mantanzas has a chequered history. Part of a longer storyline begun during McGregor & Mayhew’s run on the Topps Comic in the 1990s, the tale was only completed in 2010 for the Dynamite run and released as 4-issue miniseries before being collected as a trade paperback and later an eBook. For all that, however, the lost episode offers a passionate and sophisticated portrayal of the quintessential champion risking his own security and happiness to thwart a macabre and complex villain: a struggle rendered even more appealing by the magnificent illustration of Mayhew and Parsons.

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace of the growing township of Los Angeles for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

Diego has a whole support structure in place. Although in this iteration his stiff-necked Hildalgo father is unaware of his double life the secret hero has a number of assistants who do. The most important is Bernardo (a deaf-mute manservant) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acts as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also occasionally employs a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

The settlement is basking in unaccustomed liberty after Zorro’s overthrow of the military governor, unaware that their new Regency Administrator Lucien Machete is a sadistic fiend with a nasty line in prosthetic weapons nursing a rabid grudge against Zorro – the man who made his replacement limb necessary…

The villain has struck up a friendship with Diego’s father Don Alejandro; an increasingly frustrated grandee who finds his son’s unseemly and unmanly behaviour more and more inexplicable and intolerable.

Infuriatingly, Machete is not talking advantage of the familial rift as ploy; he just likes the old man whilst despising his foppish son, blithely oblivious that the soft poltroon is the black-clad avenger who has thwarted his previous malevolent depredations…

Zorro knows – but cannot prove – that Machete’s credentials are forged and his claims to act as the Spanish King’s official representative are false. The Fox urgently seeks to expose the impostor before whatever vile plot he fosters can be completed. Thus he cannot let anything distract him…

The drama unfolds after Don Alejandro and Lucien attend the Matanza: an annual festival where the young men show off their strength and manhood by ceremonially butchering cattle and other livestock in a gory display of horsemanship and bloodletting. Diego has naturally declined to attend or participate, preferring to surreptitiously watch Machete.

He is wise to do so, for the maniac has malicious plans to sabotage the event with a new addition to his arm’s arsenal…

Taking up position above the killing grounds, Zorro and Bernardo have a perfect position to observe proceedings but their keen surveillance is disrupted by a huge bear attracted to the site by the smell of blood.

Its attack is devastating and leaves the secret champions battling for their lives. By the time they can again turn their attention to the Matanza, Lucien has done his dirty work: good men are dead or maimed and an horrific stampede is underway. Moreover, in the chaos personal tragedy has struck at the De La Vega household and Machete seems to be getting away with murder again, whilst El Zorro is painted as the blackest of monsters…

A simple tell well-told and lavishly illustrated, Zorro: Matanzas is packed with spectacular action and diabolical intrigue in the grand manner and incidentally offers a potted origin and discreet peek at the fabulous subterranean citadel covertly crafted by Diego and Bernardo to facilitate the Fox’s war on injustice.

Although more incident than main feature, this is a blistering romp every lover of human-scaled adventure will adore…
Zorro®: Matanzas, Volume One © 2014 Zorro Productions, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Cravan – Mystery Man of the Twentieth Century


By Mike Richardson & Rick Geary (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-291-9                  eISBN: 978-1-62115-198-2

The old cliché about truth being stranger than fiction seemingly has a lot more force these days than it used to have. Moreover, everybody is captivated by an unsolved mystery, aren’t they?

That was clearly the case when occasional writer and full-time publisher (of Dark Horse Comics) Mike Richardson discovered he shared a small obsession with cartoonist and true crime raconteur Rick Geary…

That story is intriguing enough in itself but only constitutes a minor footnote at the back of this fascinating appraisal of one of the most infamous self-aggrandizers of the early 20th century and a man all but forgotten today.

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, National Lampoon, RAW and High Times, honing a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky plus the multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder/Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

Here, in this captivating monochrome tome, he and Richardson weave the scanty facts, some solid supposition and a bit of bold extrapolation into a mesmerising treatise about a precursor to Jimmy Hoffa and Lord Lucan – with a hefty dose of Shergar, D.B. Cooper, Ronnie Biggs and Forrest Gump thrown in for good measure…

Arthur Cravan was but one of the names used by serial fraudster and inveterate troublemaker Fabian Lloyd, a nephew of Oscar Wilde who, after being expelled from the last of many good schools in 1903, began – at the tender age of 16 – a short and sparkling career seeking the limelight.

In a scant few years he became a star of the art world: a noted poet, Bohemian, journalist, art critic, painter, publisher, author, performer and pugilist (through a string of uncanny flukes he became Lightweight Champion of France without throwing a punch…) whilst simultaneously admitting to being a thief, forger, deserter, confidence-trickster, political subversive and agitator…

A man of many identities – for most of whom he created impeccably-crafted forged papers – Cravan numbered Jack Johnson, Leon Trotsky, Marcel Duchamp and other stellar luminaries of the Edwardian and pre-Great War era as friends. Even after admitting to manufacturing undiscovered works by Manet, Dante and his uncle Oscar whilst assiduously avoiding any involvement in the global conflagration, he was feted by America’s intellectual elite whilst being hounded by the US Secret Service…

In 1918, with the American authorities making his life miserable, he set sail from Mexico to join poet Mina Loy – wife and mother of his unborn daughter – in Buenos Aires, but was lost at sea and never seen again.

At least that’s the official version. Searches found nothing and eventually he was declared dead and mostly forgotten, but stories and sightings persisted, as they always do…

And here’s where Richardson and Geary boldly imagine and draw some admittedly convincing conclusions about Cravan’s possible fate, linking it to the short but fabled career of reclusive author B. Traven: most well known today as the enigma who penned Death Ship and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Beguilingly speculative and ringing with authenticity if not indisputable veracity, this fictive biography is a superb exercise in historical exploration and one packed with wholehearted fun and mercurial love of life.
©2005 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.