The Co-operative Revolution – A Graphic Novel


By Polyp, with Paul Monaghan, Rachel Vorburg-Rugh, Gillian Lonergan, Ed May and Ian Nixon (New Internationalist on behalf of the Co-operative Group)
ISBN: 978-1-906523-19-0

You might not be aware of it but 2012 is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives – which I’ll define here as people working in community rather than competition, and applying that fundamental principle to the world of business.

Today Co-operative societies and groups have spread to every corner of the globe and proved a successful and frequently innovation-friendly alternative model to straight consume-expand-or-die Capitalism in commercial arenas as varied as wholesale and retail, agriculture, journalism, banking, car-making, textiles, construction, hotel management, all sorts of service industries and even Healthcare provision.

The potential of the simple notion of working together for mutual benefit seems to terrify some people – let’s call them greedy and selfish – but since the successful experiment of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 the philosophy has grown and blossomed and provided decent livelihoods for generations of workers and enabled them to provide increasingly better lives for their children.

Co-operation isn’t a tactic or model but rather a philosophy that encourages people to take full responsibility and reward for the fruits of their labours, which necessarily makes all their endeavours operate on a human scale and with a face anonymous corporate production finds impossible to match or emulate. The modern, thriving international movement grew from an impassioned but measured response to the worst excesses of the Commercial Age and is deftly recounted in the first section of this compelling and informative graphic history.

During the early years of the Industrial Revolution it was standard practice for the owners of British factories and industrial works to pay appalling wages to their workforces and simultaneously run the only shops where those meagre remunerations could be spent. Usually the bosses also owned the houses where workers lived: another method of ensuring the monies they paid out coming back into their own coffers.

As you’d expect such a closed system was easily prone to abuse: sales to the labourers – food, candles, clothes and every other household need – were rife with shoddy, cheap workmanship, with debased and adulterated food frequently sold in short measures and priced in such a way as to keep workers alive but with no hope of improving themselves or escaping the system. Credit was always extended – with no real intention of ever collecting on it – and workers were trapped forever in an inescapable spiral of debt to the company. It was pure economic feudalism and little better than slavery.

Many times before, workers had attempted to address the problem by uniting to buy goods in bulk and distribute them communally, but always the enterprises had failed. However on December 21st 1844 in Rochdale, a small band of working men – weavers, colliers, woolsorters and cloggers – pooled their small cash reserves and opened a rough-and-ready general store selling flour, sugar, butter and candles, promising “unadulterated wares in honest weights and measures”.

Instead of mutually ruinous credit, The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers offered all members of their collective enterprise a dividend – a fair and regular redistribution of profit after working costs were covered.

As the chapter ‘Yesterday’ details, despite fierce and unscrupulous opposition from established businessmen and authorities terrified of revolution by the lower class, the Co-operative movement endured and grew. When farmers and companies were squeezed to stop them providing produce to the Pioneers, the Society simply went further afield and even began sourcing or making their own items – a process and solution repeated over and again through nearly 170 years of continued existence and growth.

The burgeoning movement was a constant force for social mobility and improvement: in their first rented premises in Toad Lane, the upper floor swiftly became meeting rooms and a free Library, with not just books but microscopes, globes and all modern scientific instruments where the poor could educate themselves to eventually escape the trap of ignorance and poverty the wealthy created for them…

The slow but solid growth and geographical expansion of the radical movement is charted against the changing social and cultural climate in a beguiling and elegiac potted history after which ‘Today’ recounts many examples of successful Co-operative practice currently improving lives better all over the world.

One of the movement’s greatest successes was the establishment of Fair-Trade farms, plantations and other businesses around the globe, from Canada where more than a third of the World’s Maple Sugar is produced by Co-ops, to the USA where 900 rural Co-ops produce 42% of the nation’s electricity distribution, covering 75% of the landmass.

In India – where 239 million people belong to a Co-operative society – a tribe of hereditary snake-catchers even transformed their unique, traditional but dying trade into a thriving repurposed business.

Closer to home, when I first started freelancing as an artist/graphic designer, I belonged to a loose association of specialists who shared or traded jobs according to our specialities and particular strengths…

Almost as soon as they were published, Darwin’s discoveries regarding the fundamental evolutionary principle described as “Survival of the Fittest” were co-opted by Capitalists, hungry to justify their appalling excesses. Here ‘Always’ focuses on the plenitude of scientific discoveries which counter those spurious commercial notions and act as a happy rebuttal to the spurious commercial mantra of an utterly unchecked free market which continuously permits greedy and cavalier bankers to bankrupt economies and nations, whilst rapacious rampant tycoons and corporations create Crash after Recession after Depression, over and over again and with no thought of redress or reparations to the billions of people they impoverish…

‘Tomorrow’ takes a speculative look at how Co-operation could take us to even greater communal achievements by following a really good day in 2044 when the happy partners of the Rochdale Aerotech Co-op celebrate their contribution to the mission which is landing men on Mars…

This alluring and pleasingly education chronicle concludes with an absorbing ‘Timeline’ following the progress of “Co-operation Through History” by tracking changes in politics and culture promoted, prompted and provoked by the movement from the very first recorded 1769 bulk purchase scheme of the Fenwick Weavers to the 2012 UN declaration of the International Year of Co-operatives…

Since its creation, the Co-operative movement has promoted education for the poor, social equality, universal health, and equanimity in farming, banking, manufacturing and production. By making simple retail fair it has freed society’s least advantaged from de facto slavery, shaped political and social reform across the world and offered true opportunity for improvement and a better life for all people.

This wonderful book – hopefully destined for every school library and history syllabus – using all the force and power which only comics narrative can provide, is a sterling example of what people can do when working together and in unity and one no fair minded individual should miss.

© The Co-operative Group. All rights reserved.
Radical cartoonist and activist Polyp has worked with campaigning organizations around the world for over fifteen years. He lives and works in a co-operative housing complex inManchester,England.

Young Witches


By Francisco Solano López &Barreiro (Eros Comic/Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-202-0

This book is intended to excite adults whilst simultaneously making them laugh, think, and hopefully feel frisky. If the cover image hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that the book contains nudity, images of sexual intimacy but, oddly, not the sort of language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom (and playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present). If this sort of thing offends you, read no further and don’t buy the thing. The rest of us will just enjoy one of the best graphic novel experiences ever created without you.

Whilst prolific scripter Ricardo Barreiro prefers to quietly let his prodigious works speak for him, his inimitable partner in this and many other comics classics is an unmistakable part of three generations of kids’ lives.

For British and Commonwealth comics readers of a certain age, the unmistakable artistic style of Francisco Solano López always conjures up dark moods and atmospheric tension because he drew such ubiquitous boyhood classics as Janus Stark, Adam Eterno, Tri-Man, Galaxus: The Thing from Outer Space, Pete’s Pocket Army, Nipper, The Drowned World, Kelly’s Eye, Raven on the Wing, Master of the Marsh and a host of other stunning tales of mystery, imagination and adventure in the years he worked for Britain’s Fleetway Publications.

However the master of blackest brushwork was not merely a creator of children’s fiction. In his home country ofArgentinahe was adjudged a radical political cartoonist whose work eventually forced him to flee to more hospitable climes and far less dangerous times.

Francisco Solano López was born on October 26th 1928 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and began illustrating comics in 1953 with Perico y Guillerma for the publisher Columba. With journalist Héctor Germán Oesterheld (a prolific comics scripter “disappeared” by the Junta in 1976 and presumed killed the following year) Solano López produced Bull Rocket for Editorial Abril’s magazine Misterix.

After working on such landmark series as Pablo Maran, Uma-Uma, Rolo el marciano adoptivo and El Héroe, López joined Oesterheld’s publishing house Editorial Frontera and became a member of the influential Venice Group which included including Mario Faustinelli, Hugo Pratt, Ivo Pavone and Dino Battaglia.

López alternated with Pratt, Jorge Moliterni and José Muñoz on Oesterheld’s legendary Ernie Pike serial but their most significant collaboration was the explosively political and hugely popular allegorical science fiction thriller El Eternauta which began in 1957. By 1959 the series had come to the unwelcome attention of the authorities inArgentina andChile, forcing López to flee toSpain. Whilst an exile there he began working forUK publishing giant Fleetway fromMadrid andLondon.

In 1968 he returned to Argentinaand with Oesterheld started El Eternauta II for new publisher Editorial Records, produced sci-fi series Slot-Barr (written by Barreiro) and period cop drama Evaristo with kindred spirit Carlos Sampayo. In the mid-1970s López was once again compelled to flee his homeland, returning to Madrid where he organised the publication of El Eternauta and Slot-Barr with Italian magazines LancioStory & Skorpio.

He never stopped working, producing a stunning variety of assorted genre tales and mature-reader material and erotica such as El Instituto (the subject of this review under its American title Young Witches), El Prostíbulo del Terror (also by Barreiro) and full colour male-fantasy strip Sexy Symphonie.

More serious works included the bleak thrillers Ana and Historias Tristes with his son Gabriel and he also illustrated Jim Woodring’s adaptation of the cult movie Freaks. In recent times, safely home in Argentina he continued to work on El Eternauta with new writer Pablo “Pol” Maiztegui.

López even found time for more British comics with strips such as ‘Jimmy’, ‘The Louts of Liberty Hall’, ‘Ozzie the Loan Arranger’ in Hot-Shot and Eagle as well as ‘Nipper’ and ‘Dark Angels’ for Roy of the Rovers.

Francisco Solano López passed away in Buenos Aireson August 12th 2011.

Latterly his most famous English-language series (six volumes of stunning, shocking erotically charged graphic novels at the last count), The Young Witches debuted in the USA as a 4-issue miniseries from Fantagraphics’ Eros Comics imprint in 1990, the contents of which form the majority of this superbly seductive compilation.

In the winter of 1866, after a troubled labour which took her mother, Lillian Cunnington was born into a minor aristocratic house. When her father, barely married seven months, realised how he had been cuckolded and subsequently took his own life, the baby was sent to live with her maternal aunts Jessica and Agnes Moore inCoventry.

Lilian’s life was harsh and bizarre, growing up with the draconian spinsters who revelled in the era’s taste for corporal punishment and had an entirely unnatural and abiding affection for each other which they frequently indulged, uncaring if impressionable eyes were watching…

In the Spring of 1881 the wilful, self-reliant child was bundled off to a finishing school where she discovered the truth about her past and the secret history of the world…

The Institute was a forbidding edifice set in vast, isolated grounds that took only the most select young girls. After passing a terrifying and shockingly intrusive entrance exam, young Lilian discovered that the school was a haven and training ground for the last remnants of an ancient sub-race of humanity: women with astonishing supernatural abilities…

The other girls were alternately hungry to meet her and resentful – especially as her mother fled the order and abandoned their millennial principles – but when they forcibly subjected her to their own disturbing initiation rites Lilian repulsed them all with an explosive display of unsuspected arcane power…

In her decidedly unconventional classes she learned the history of her kind: how in time-lost Sumer the cult of Ishtar, the Female God was first born, a religion for women which bestowed great power and knowledge on its adherents.

As Aphrodite in Greece and Venus in Rome, the faith continued until the rise of monotheistic Male Christianity sought to enslave and humble women and wipe out the powerful, wanton deviants they termed witches…

Driven into hiding the witches were almost eradicated by the 18th century, when the solitary prophetess Diana had a revelation and began seeking out sister-survivors, believing them by the very fact of their continued existence to be superior beings, honed to a Darwinian fitness.

Drawing them together she devised a plan of conquest to take control of the world by manipulating men of power, wealth and influence, using their addiction to pleasure and the witches’ divine gifts. Through careful planning, judicious infiltration and sublime seduction, the women would subjugate their cruel oppressors…

The work of the institute was to train girls to be the perfect wives of the world’s rulers, using sex as a weapon and clandestinely controlling from the bedroom. Meanwhile the ultimate goal was to produce ever-more powerful witches by only breeding daughters. To accomplish their sacred plan however, the institute harboured two horrific secrets: a thriving trade in selling ideal brides to the debauched scions of theBritish Empire- and the lesser World – and a hideously inbred brood-male who covertly inseminated every girl before her wedding night, ensuring that wherever they ended up Ishtar’s bloodlines remained pure…

Lilian was a problem however. Although the daughter of a failed traitor to the cause, she was also the most powerful witch the school had ever encountered and her rebellious nature was seemingly impervious to reason, discipline or correction.

Moreover she was unwholesomely attracted to young men such as the gardener rather than her own sisters and kind, with no machinations the girls or their grotesquely conniving headmistress could devise able to dissuade her from her disobedient path…

Events came to a cataclysmic head when her rival and classmate Agatha was betrothed.

Ready to go forth and do the Cult’s bidding as bride of aged Lord Wellington, the dutiful disciple was appalled at her impregnation ceremony when confronted by the Institute’s shambling, brutish imbecilic stud male. Agatha baulked and broke down, refusing to commit the act and the enraged Headmistress compelled her with all the violence and brutality she has claimed to be the province of their male oppressors…

Lilian exploded in a display of outrage and indignation and with all the power of the elements the Young Witch lashed out against a lifetime of control, virtual slavery and injustice resulting in a deadly duel of magical will and an apocalyptic conflagration…

In the aftermath Lilian and Agatha fled the shattered Institute forever…

Let’s not stray from the point – these tales are primarily designed to honestly titillate and excite and there’s a huge amount of lavishly rendered nudity, love-making and fetishism on display here. However there is also a strong story, terrific suspense and a heartfelt attempt to say something about gender politics too, and all in a well-researched historical context.

In later tales Lilian and Agatha have encounters with iconic historical and literary figures including Robert Louis Stevenson, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Dr. Henry Jekyll (plus one), Jack the Ripper, Dorian Grey, Sherlock Holmes and others…

This deliciously saucy and salacious sex-and-horror yarn combines the bawdy, breezy, haunted ambiance of classic Hammer Films with sultry, lascivious supernatural suspense in a stunning black and white confection far more enchanting and compelling than any number of shades of grey, and this torrid tome also includes a luscious, full-colour extra erotic charge in the form of a silent, sexy Silly Symphony from Solano López…
© 1990, 1991, 1992Barreiroand F. Solano López. All rights reserved.

Dee Goong An – Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee


Translated and with an Introduction and Notes by Robert van Gulik (Dover Press)
ISBN: 978-0-486-23337-5

I’m straying a little far from my customary path today and reviewing a prose book with traditional Chinese illustrations (only nine, but they are eerily effective) that impressed me mightily when I picked it up. That happy event was itself inspired after seeing the Hark Tsui movie Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame on television – so don’t believe people when they say there’s nothing good on the box…

Both film and book are based on the fictionalised exploits of a genuine crime-fighter named Ti Jen-chieh (or maybe Di Renjie – we inexplicably called their capital city Peking for centuries so us westerners are playing safe these days with anglicised names…) who lived between 630-700AD during the early days of China’s Tang Dynasty (approximately 600-900AD).

The role of Regional Magistrate then encompassed the roles and duties of intelligence-gathering detective, enforcing policeman and prosecuting attorney as well as judge – although he was by no means the final arbiter, as all legal pronouncements had to be ratified by the Imperial Court and legislature – and this seemingly impossible conflict-of-interest and apparent rat’s nest of a legal system is engagingly and elegantly addressed in the ‘Translator’s Preface’ by Sinologist, diplomat, historian, musician, researcher and latterly dramatist Robert Hans van Gulik, who even provided the majority of the illustrations in this volume.

Van Gulik (1910-1967) was born in the Netherlands and, as the son of an Army medical officer, spent most of his early life in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia). Growing up in Batavia (modern Jakarta) he learned Mandarin as well as many other languages and after graduating from the University of Leiden in 1935 joined the Dutch Foreign Service, and was posted to Japan, China and other Far-Eastern nations. His studies at Leiden (1929-1934) encompassed Dutch Indies Law and Indonesian Culture, and the tireless young man was awarded a Doctorate for his dissertation on the “horse cult” of Northeast Asia, and even whilst working as a junior civil servant continued his researches, publishing privately and becoming an acknowledged European authority on Chinese Jurisprudence.

Van Gulik was actually in Tokyo when Japan formally declared war on the Netherlands in September 1941 and, after a brief period of diplomatic internment, was evacuated in 1942, spending the remainder of the war in South-West China as part of the Dutch Mission to the Chinese Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, based at Chongquing.

The scholar married Shui Shifang, daughter of an Imperial Mandarin of the Manchu Dynasty, and once the war ended lived with her and their four children as Dutch diplomatic personages in locales as varied as Washington DC, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Beirut.

In 1965 he became Dutch Ambassador toJapan, a post he held until his death.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also found the time to resurrect a venerable Chinese hero, reinvigorate a nearly lost art-form and create a fascinating cross-cultural genre…

Judge – or variously and as often, DetectiveDee’s Tang Period exploits were recounted and largely fictionalised by many later Chinese authors (as were quite a few other historical figures), particularly during the Ming Period (1368-1644), and many of Dee’s cases – real and made up – were still being bastardised and rewritten as late as the 1920s, but he got his shot at global stardom thanks to the Second World War.

The conflict erupted through the Pacific East (beginning either withJapan’s invasion ofChinain 1931, its attack on French possessions in September 1940 or the infamous bombing ofPearl Harborin 1941, depending on which historian you read) and after Van Gulik’s detention and reposting toChinaserious research was impossible.

Constantly on the move during the war years yet with plenty of time on his hands, van Gulik famously began translating an old copy of Dee Goong An he had found in a second-handTokyo bookshop. The task occupied much of his time between 1941-1945 and, after privately publishing the result in 1949, the translator became deeply enamoured of the character and the potential of combining the deeply disparate disciplines of Western and Eastern crime fiction.

Fuelled by inspiration, he determined to combine the two poles-apart forms into something fresh, ancient and truly magical.

Soon van Gulik’s wholly original stories began appearing, starting with The Chinese Maze Murders in 1951 (originally only published for Japanese and Chinese speakers), promptly followed by The Chinese Bell Murders and The Chinese Lake Murders. Sales were strong and in 1957 the novels were at last released in English and thereafter English editions of successive books preceded Oriental iterations.

There were six more novels and a collection of short stories until his untimely death from cancer cut short the mythical mystery tour, but his hybridisation of Eastern and Western detection fiction into a wholly new species of story continues to capture the attention and imagination of readers everywhere…

The cases in this initial groundbreaking volume are historical ones – if not perhaps actual exploits – of the flesh-and-blood Imperial Magistrate of Chang-Ping, whose many brilliant successes led to his promotion to the Emperor’s Court, where Dee served as a valued and esteemed statesman for the remainder of his days. Thus, Van Gulik spends a generous amount of time setting the scene and providing invaluable background on the incredibly complex but astoundingly bureaucratic and hierarchical feudal society which Dee moves amongst, aided only by his crack team of servant/investigators, all fully described in the ‘Dramatis Personae’ section, as are the suspects, witnesses and guilty parties, whilst the ‘Translator’s Postscript’ at the back provides all the specific detail an enquiring mind could possibly need to know…

So as to the meat of the matter: the esteemed adjudicator Dee is a perfect servant of the Emperor: dutiful, diligent, hardworking and honest, spending his days keeping the complex human machinery of civilisation constantly working. His task is to settle disputes, root out endemic corruption at both humble and high levels and, when necessary, vigorously enforce the State’s laws, operating as both reactive Judge and proactive Agent of Enquiry. Some glaring differences you’ll need to know from the start: torture is legal and encouraged, no one can be convicted unless they confess, and evidence obtained from ghosts, magic or dream premonitions is usually true and fully admissible in court…

The drama, involving three separate cases which somehow become infuriatingly interwoven, begins with a ‘Double Murder at Dawn’ wherein two travelling silk merchants’ bodies are discovered and an innkeeper is framed for their deaths.

After some preliminary investigations it is found that one of the corpses is neither of the merchants but a complete stranger, leading to a vast manhunt across some of the region’s roughest territory…

Adopting a disguiseDeethen accidentally uncovers another killing: one which nobody even realised had been committed…

At almost the same time a prestigious retired Prefect seeks retribution for the motiveless assassination of ‘The Poisoned Bride’ on her wedding night, but the most troubling dilemma involves the formidable widow Mrs. Djou whose husband passed away from a mysterious malady a year previously. Dee is convinced a murder has been committed even though his own coroner can find no sign or means of murder upon ‘The Strange Corpse’ and the arrogantly wilful woman refuses to confess even under the most stringent interrogation. It will take guile, dedication and heavenly intervention to prove motive, means and opportunity, but Dee is prepared to sacrifice his own life, soul and honour to finally bring justice to a forgotten dead man …

Exotic, intriguing and absolutely addictive, these preliminary adventures of Judge Dee are a sheer delight that no fan of comics or fantasy fiction should miss…
© 1949, 1976 Robert van Gulik. No modern copyright invoked for this 2003 Dover Book Edition.

Steve Canyon


By Milton Caniff & Dick Rockwell (Tempo Books/Grosset & Dunlap)
ISBN: 0-448-17058-2-150

Here’s another early attempt to catapult comics off the spinner racks and onto proper bookshelves; this time from 1979, part of populist publisher Grosset and Dunlap’s attempt to carve themselves a slice of the burgeoning cartoon and comic strip mass market paperback boom. Other company sorties had included Krazy Kat, Broom Hilda and a host of DC character collections ranging from Superman to Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman to the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Steve Canyon began on 13th January 1947, after a canny campaign to boost public anticipation following Milton Caniff’s very conspicuous resignation from his previous masterpiece Terry and the Pirates.

Caniff, master of suspense and well versed in the art of shaping reader attention, didn’t show his new hero until four days into the first adventure – and then only in a ‘file photograph’. The primed-and-ready readership first met Stevenson Burton Canyon, bomber pilot, medal-winning war-hero, Air-Force flight instructor and latterly, independent airline charter operator in the first Sunday colour page, on 19th January 1947.

Almost instantly Caniff was working at the top of his game, producing material exotic, familiar and – as always – dead on the money in terms of the public zeitgeist and taste.

Dropping his hero into the exotic climes he had made his own on Terry, Caniff modified that world based on real-world events, but this time the brooding, unspoken menace was Communism not Fascism. Banditry and duplicity, of course, never changed, no matter who was nominally running the show…

Caniff was simply being contemporary, but he was savvy enough to realise that with the Cold War “hotting up” inKorea, Yankees were going to be seen as spies in many countries, so he made that a part of the narrative. When Canyon officially re-enlisted, the strip became to all intents and purposes a contemporary War feature…

Over the decades the Steve Canyon strip honestly embraced the philosophy of America as the World’s policeman, becoming a bastion of US militarism and remaining true to its ideals even as the years rolled by and national tastes and readership changed…

Steve foiled plots and chased his true love Summer Olsen around the globe for thirty years – continually frustrated that fate cruelly kept them unhappily apart – until they finally wed in 1970. Steve had stayed a far-ranging agent of Air Force Military Intelligence even though by this time the Vietnam War had made the Armed Forces an extremely contentious issue…

Even after Mr. and Mrs. Canyon finally tied the knot, their lives were never easy. At the time of the two rather severely abridged tales in this digest-sized monochrome collection (spanning 1978-1979), Summer was missing, having inexplicably vanished from the family home without a trace. The stunned and heartbroken Steve spent even more restless years searching for her…

The action begins as the aging agent spots Summer in a newspaper photo showing survivors of a volcanic eruption and earthquake in distant far-eastern country Langapora. Almost immediately Canyon’s accommodating superiors have him on a plane to the hostile Asian nation and Steve’s own network of grateful friends and associates are ready to pitch in. Dissolute reporter Johnny Mink is waiting when he lands in the anti-American state, having made a number of discreet inquiries and told a few necessarily fantastic lies…

The National Office of Information has denied any disaster has occurred and there were certainly no blonde American women in that part of the country. Mink is unsurprised and has a cunning plan, blinding the starstruck government flack in charge of the Bureau with tales of secretly researching locations for a majorHollywoodmovie. It is a ploy that instantly beguiles the glamour-starved official, who clearly envisions a major role for herself…

Carrying spare papers and a passport for Summer, “film director”SteveCanyonromances the junior minister and by sheer chance spots a blonde in the back of a heavily fortified car…

Tracking down the vehicle Steve and Johnny get tantalisingly close but are rebuffed by private security guards belonging to a local ganglord. The woman is American but belongs to the truly baroque and deadly Ah Nu Mero Uno – a movie-mad warlord especially obsessed by Yul Brynner in The King and I

After overcoming immense and utterly bizarre obstacles the determined Americans broach the walls and discover there is indeed a woman from Steve’s chequered past held captive therein, but it’s certainly not Mrs. Canyon…

Of course the gallant Steve has to quash his own desperate needs to rescue his old comrade in distress, countering staggering odds and deadly dilemmas before surrendering those fake papers to save the mystery miss, narrowly escaping in a fast commercial jetliner.

The rescued stray repays Steve generosity of spirit by leaving the plane – without those vital passport papers – at a stopover inSingapore, leaving Canyon free to continue searching for Summer. Disembarking atHong Kong, however, Canyon stumbles into a deadly comedy of errors when he is mistaken by Red Chinese agents for a Russian super-spy.

At that time tensions were high between the Soviets and their notional communist allies and Caniff, always up to the minute in terms of global geopolitics, saw a perfect opportunity to add a few funny thrills to the mix of tense soap-opera pathos as Steve searched for his missing mate…

Abducted, drugged and tortured, Canyon is only saved by the impressionable young female translator Comrade Jo, who sees the unconscious man as her ticket to a glamorous life as a Russian Spy-Queen. Of course the only reason he is unconscious is because Jo’s attempt to thwart the chemical interrogation and brutal torture have left a broken acupuncture needle in Steve’s brain, plunging the “Russian” spy into a deep coma…

On the run with the inert and hulking Steve, little Jo flees her masters only to be understandably rejected by the Soviet Trade Delegation who fear she might be a trap set by their own untrustworthy Party bosses. Soon everybody thinks it best if Jo and her mystery-man disappear quietly and forever, but luckily Steve has an enigmatic if mute guardian angel in the sinister shape of espionage legend Charlie Vanilla and his trusty band ofHong Kong gutter urchins and wharf rats…

Packed with wry action, pure belly laughs and terrific tension, this last tale proves again Caniff’s sheer bravura boldness and invention as the entire epic takes place with new and walk-on characters carrying the tale whilst the veteran lead spends the greater part of the as a mere prop and maguffin…

Steve Canyon is comic storytelling at its best. Beautifully illustrated, mesmerising black and white sagas of war, espionage, romance, terror, justice and cynical reality: a masterpiece of graphic narrative every serious fan and story-lover should experience. Most cartoonists – or workers in any field of artistic endeavour – go to their graves never attaining the giddy heights wherein they are universally associated with a signature piece of unequivocally supreme work. How incredible then when somebody achieves that perfect act of creation, not once but twice – and does so seven days a week for 64 years? …And that’s not to in any way disparage the astounding artistic contributions of Dick Rockwell who began assisting with the artwork in 1952 and, as Caniff’s health gradually failed over the years, invisibly assumed more and more of the strips visual aspect.

When Caniff passed away in 1988 Rockwell continued and concluded the final adventure ‘The Snow Princess’ before the series was finally retired with honour on Sunday, June 5th 1988.

Enticing, enthralling, exotic, action-packed and emotionally charged, Steve Canyon is a slice of the purest popular Americana and masterpiece of graphic narrative: a full-immersion thriller and a passport to the halcyon best bits of another age. Comics just don’t get better than this.

Moreover, I’ve always delighted in the particular buzz these paperback pioneers of the comics biz seem to instantly generate. If you’re in any way of similar mien, I can thoroughly recommend the sheer tactile and olfactory high that only comes from holding such a dinky digest item in your own two hands…
© 1978, 1979, Field Newspaper Syndicate.  All rights reserved.

Fallen Words


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Jocelyne Allen (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-074-4

After half a century of virtual obscurity, crafting brilliantly incisive and powerfully personal tales of modern humanity on the margins and on the edge, Yoshihiro Tatsumi found “overnight success” with his glorious autobiographical work A Drifting Life in 2009.

To describe his dark, bleak vignettes of raw real life, Tatsumi devised the term Gekiga or “dramatic pictures”, practically if not actually inventing the genre of adult, realistic, socially aware and literary comics stories in Japan. He began his career at a time when sequential narratives or “manga” literally meant “Irresponsible” or “Foolish Pictures”; a flashy and fanciful form of cheap, escapist entertainment targeted specifically at children – and the simple-minded – in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

His tales have continued, in a never-ending progression, to detail the minutiae and moment of Japanese popular culture and, with his star assured in the manga firmament, have turned to a far older aspect of his country’s artistic heritage for this project.

The traditional performance art of Rakugo seems to combine many elements British observers would quickly recognise: reverentially combining familiar tales told many times over such as morality or mystery plays with instructive fables and especially shaggy dog stories and, just like Christmas pantomimes, the art derives from how the story is revamped, retold and expressed – but the ending is sacrosanct and must always be delivered in its purest, untrammelled form…

Developing out of the far older Karukuchi and Kobanashi shows, Rakugo first appeared as a discrete performance style accessible to the lower classes around 1780 during the Edo Period, establishing itself as a popular entertainment which still thrives today, regarded as a type of intimate comedy drama act in Vaudeville theatres.

As with all Japanese art-forms and disciplines Rakuga is highly structured, strictured and codified, with many off-shoots and sub-genres abounding, but basically it’s a one-man show where a storyteller (Rakugoka or Hanashika) relates a broad and widely embellished tale of Old Japan, acting all the parts from a sitting position, with only a paper fan (Sensu) and hand-cloth (Tenegui).

Equal parts humorous monologue, sitcom and stand-up act (or more accurately “kneel-down comedy”, since the Rakugoka never rises from the formal Seiza position) the crucial element is always the delivery of the traditional ochi or punch-line; inviolate, eagerly anticipated and already deeply ingrained in all audience members…

As is only fitting these tales are presented in the traditional back to front, right to left Japanese format with a copious section of notes and commentary, plus an ‘Afterword’ from Mr. Tatsumi, and I’d be doing potential readers an immense disservice by being too detailed in my plot descriptions, so I’ll be both brief and vague from now on…

‘The Innkeeper’s Fortune’ relates the salutary events following the arrival of an immensely rich man at a lowly hostel, and what happens after, against his express desires, he wins a paltry 1000 ryo in a lottery whilst the ‘New Year Festival’ only serves to remind one reluctant father what a noisome burden his rowdy ungrateful son is…

An itinerant young artist can’t pay his inn bill and, as a promissory note, paints a screen with birds so lifelike they fly off the paper every morning. The populace are willing to pay good money to see the daily ‘Escape of the Sparrows’, more than the bill ever came to. And then one day another far more experienced artist wishes to see the screen…

When a dutiful merchant succumbs to the temptations of his trade and engages a mistress she soon consumes all his attention, leading to his neglected wife trying to kill the home-wrecker with sorcery. Soon both women are dead and the merchant is plagued by their ‘Fiery Spirits’, whilst ‘Making the Rounds’ details one night in a brothel where four clients are becoming increasingly impatient and incensed by the non-appearance of the woman they’ve already paid for…

‘The Rooster Crows’ details the fate of a proud and puritanical young man tricked into visiting a brothel by his friends whilst a poor and untrained man becomes an infallible doctor after entering into a bargain with ‘The God of Death’ and this superb book of fables concludes with the sorry story of a lazy fishmonger who loved to drink, but whose life changed when he found a wallet full of money whilst fishing on ‘Shibahama’ beach

– or was it just a dream?

With these “Eight Moral Comedies” Tatsumi has succeeded – at least to my naive Western eyes – in translating an phenomenon where the plot is so familiar as to be an inconvenience but where an individual performance on the night is paramount into a beguiling, charming and yes, funny paean to a uniquely egalitarian entertainment, proving himself to be a true and responsible guardian of Japanese culture, ancient or modern …

Art and stories © 2009, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Johnny Hazard: Mammoth Marches On


By Frank Robbins (Pacific Comics Publications)
No ISBN

Johnny Hazard was a newspaper strip created in answer to and in the style and manner of Terry and the Pirates, but in many ways the steely-eyed hero most resembles – and indeed presages – Milton Caniff’s second magnum opus Steve Canyon.

Unbelievably, until last year this stunningly impressive and enthralling adventure strip has never been comprehensively collected in graphic novels – at least in English – although selected highlights had appeared in nostalgia magazines such as Pioneer Comics and Dragon Lady Press Presents.

However, sporadic compendiums of the full-colour Sunday pages have popped up over the years, such as this glorious and huge (340 x 245mm) landscape tabloid produced by re-translating a collected Italian edition back into English, courtesy of the Pacific Comic Club.

Frank Robbins was a brilliant all-around cartoonist whose unique artistic and lettering style lent themselves equally to adventure, comedy and superhero tales and his stunning cunning storytellers mind made him one of the best writers of three generations of comics.

He first came to fame in 1939 when he took over the Scorchy Smith newspaper strip from the legendary Noel Sickles and created a Sunday page for the feature in 1940. He was offered the prominent Secret Agent X-9 but instead created his own lantern jawed, steely-eyed man of action. A tireless and prolific worker, even whilst producing a daily and Sunday Hazard (usually a separate storyline for each) Robbins freelanced as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life and a host of other mainstream magazines.

In the 1960s and 1970s he moved into comicbooks, becoming a key contributor to Batman, Batgirl, Detective Comics (where he created Man-Bat with Neal Adams), The Shadow and DC’s mystery anthologies before settling in as an artist at Marvel on a variety of titles including Captain America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Morbius, Human Fly, Man from Atlantis, Power Man and The Invaders, which he co-created with Roy Thomas.

When the strip launched on Monday June 5th 1944, Johnny Hazard was an aviator, in the United States Army Air Corps and when hostilities ceased became for a while a freelance charter pilot and secret agent before settling into the bombastic life of a globe-girdling troubleshooter, mystery-solver and modern day Knight Errant babe-magnet.

The strip ended in 1977: another victim of diminishing panel-sizes and the move towards simplified, thrill-free, family-friendly gag-a-day graphic fodder to wrap around small-ads.

With the release at long last of a dedicated collection of the black and white Daily strips, I thought I’d spotlight a few of those fabulous landscape tomes which kept Johnny Hazard alive in fans hearts during years after it ceased publication beginning with the thoroughly captivating Mammoth Marches On and subsequent sequences which first appeared in American Sunday Supplements between January 27th 1952 to April 12th 1953.

In the steaming jungle heat of French Indo-China the pilot is transporting famed Movie Director Grippman of Mammoth Studios, and his star attraction Cerise to the heart of the rain forest on a location-shoot is stricken with malaria. Forced to land at a Military field they make the fortuitous acquaintance of our hero and his friends Brandy and Blitz Martin; all currently without a plane of their own…

Also in tow are an entire film crew, assorted extras and a baby Elephant, all destined for a distant abandoned temple and village of unsuspecting natives. Short of cash and with nothing to do, Johnny lets himself be talked into taking the pilot’s place whilst wandering journalist Brandy agrees to act as the haughty Cerise’s stand-in and body double… to limit the star’s exposure to sun, insects and peasants…

Amidst all the drama and passion such events always generate, Johnny warily keeps aloof. The big scene involves an ancient idol for which Grippman has brought a fist-sized hunk of glass to replace the legendary lost diamond eye it boasted until white explorers first appeared a century ago…

When Cerise makes a play for Hazard and is rebuffed she storms into the temple and falls into a secret chamber, finding the genuine lost sparkler. In a fit of greedy pique she replaces the fake with the real thing…

The trained baby elephant Mammoth has seen it all and Cerise determines to get rid of the four-footed witness in an increasing dangerous series of arranged accidents…

Things come to head when the monsoon hits early and disaster strikes for the greedy starlet…

The strip then effortlessly segues into blistering criminal action with ‘The Hunted’ as Johnny ferries the film crew on to Tokyo where old pal Blitz buys a souvenir samurai sword from a street vendor. Of course nobody realised that the katana was a thousand year old relic most recently owned by Baron Takana: a big shot in the recent war and a fugitive war criminal ever since.

When the sword is stolen and a venerated historical expert murdered, suspicion rests equally on the elusive Takana and Hazard’s sexy femme fatale foe Baroness Flame, but as the hunt continues the drama escalates into full-blown crisis when the fugitive Baron is cornered and threatens to detonate a stolen atomic weapon…

The fabulous frantic fun and thrills conclude with ‘Scavengers’ as Johnny is asked by his old boss Lisbeth Manning to investigate a series of mysterious plane crashes and cargo thefts. With typical savvy Hazard deduces the method and tracks the gang of highly sophisticated bandits to a deadly confrontation in the jungles between Vietnam and Cambodia, before this stunning old-fashioned romp ends with the thieves in custody and the tantalising opening pages of the next mind-boggling yarn ‘Ceiling Zero-Minus’.

To be continued…

These exotic action romances perfectly capture the mood and magic of a distant but so incredibly familiar time; with cool heroes, hot dames and very wicked villains decorating captivating locales and stunning scenarios, all peppered with blistering tension, mature humour and visceral excitement.

Johnny Hazard is a brilliant two-fisted thriller strip and even if you can’t easily locate these fantastic full-colour chronicles, at least the prospect of an eventual new Sunday strip collection is a little closer at last…
© 1952-1953 King Features Syndicate. © 1979 Pacific C.C.

Zorro in Old California


By Nedaud & Carlo Marcello (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-89172-920-1 hardcover,   978-0-91303-512-2 paperback

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite “El Zorro, The Fox”, originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ and debuting in All-Story Weekly from August 6th to 6th September. The tale 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 ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be 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 re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation. The Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be people by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 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 began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 the comics series was redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various areas of the world. This classy tome collects half of the dozen stories produced for a French iteration which originally ran in Le Journal de Mickey, by veteran Italian artist Raphaël Carlo Marcello and relative enigma Nedaud, of whom I sadly know very little.

The celebrated and supremely stylish Marcello (1929-2007) moved to Paris in 1948 and began his long and prestigious career drawing Loana et le Masque Chinois in Aventures de Paris-Jeunes and Nick Silver for Collection Victoire before switching to newspaper strips for Opera Mundi in 1950, illustrating La Découverte du Monde and L’Histoire de Paris before adapting Ben Hur, Jane Eyre and the Bible.

In 1952, he joined Héroic, working on Oliver Twist, Gil Blas and Bug Jargal, then began a 15-year run on Le Cavalier Inconnu (1955-1970) in Pépito. His maintained ties to newspapers throughout and continued general interest literary adaptations for Mondial-Presse.

In 1956, he contributed Bob Franck to Bugs Bunny magazine and numerous strips to Lisette, Monty, Mireille, L’Intrépide/Hurrah and Rintintin. He moved to Pif Gadget in 1970, collaborating on his signature series Docteur Justice with prolific scenarist/writer Jean Ollivier as well as Amicalement Vôtre (a TV adaptation scripted Spanish by the legendary Victor Mora), Taranis (scripts by Ollivier & Mora), Tarao (by Roger Lécureux) and La Guerre du Feu.

Never stopping for breath Marcello illustrated John Parade, Patrouilleur de l’Espace, in Le Journal des Pieds Nickelés, the Larousse series L’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées, La Découverte du Mond and L’Histoire du Far West until 1985 when he joined Le Journal de Mickey to create Le Regard du Tigre, Le Club des Cinq and the subject of this collection.

Solidly based on the 1950s TV series Zorro ran for a year (1985-1986): 12 stirring fast-paced, swashbuckling romps, the first half of which are collected in this slim, full colour European-format album. After these thundering epics Marcello carried on improving, drawing sci fi extravaganza Cristal, epigrammatic short stories Voulez-vous de Nos Nouvelles?, Michael Jackson, Wayne Thunder, L’Épopée du Paris Saint-Germain and mature-reader series Nuit Barbare and Amok. In 1991 he returned to his hometown of Vintimille where he ended his days drawing episodes of iconic Italian series’ Tex and Zagor for Il Giornalino and Bonelli publishing.

Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a noble house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Zorro the Fox to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of Capitan Monastario, his bumbling sergeant Garcia and the despicable Governor determined to milk the populace for all they had. In his crusade Diego was aided by Bernardo (the deaf-mute manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and the good-will of the oppressed and overtaxed people of Los Angeles.

Whenever Zorro appeared he left his mark – a bold letter “Z” – carved into walls, doors, curtains, but never, ever faces…

Written for an all-ages audience these stories, each around ten pages long, play out an exotic eternal, riotous game of tag, beginning with ‘Wanted!’ as a huge reward galvanises the town to hunt the Fox, until Zorro turns the tables by capturing the Capitan and ransoming him back, thereby emptying the military coffers…

Next, in ‘The Assassins’ bandits posing as patriotic rebels capture the masked hero as part of their plan to murder the Governor and loot the ever-growing township, whilst ‘Double Agent’ sees Monastario blackmail a girl into betraying the wily avenger, but again misjudges Zorro’s ability to connect with the downtrodden Californians…

‘The Scarecrow’ finds the hero thwart a plot to discredit the reputation of Zorro when the unscrupulous Capitan employs a murderous masked impostor, after which ‘Tight as a Noose’ sees Monastario arrest Diego’s father Don Alejandro for treason to entrap the mysterious vigilante, and this rip-roaring rollercoaster ride concludes with ‘The Winds of Rebellion’ as the latest illegal tax rouses the town council against the Capitan and Zorro gets involved to prevent bloodshed…

Full-bodied, all-action and beautifully realised these classy adventures of a global icon are long overdue for a comprehensive and complete re-release, but until then at least this terrific tome is still readily available in both hardback and softcover through many online retailers.
® and © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Zorro – the Masters Edition volume 1


By Johnston McCulley (Pulp Adventures Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-89172-920-1

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite “El Zorro, The Fox”, originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ and launched in prose magazine All-Story Weekly beginning in with the August 6th edition and concluding with 6th September).

The tale was subsequently collected as a novella and 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 ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly whilst on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the rights for the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro movie was a global sensation in 1920 and for years after, so a second prose serial was understandably commissioned from McCulley. ‘The Further Adventures of Zorro’ ran in All-Story Weekly from May 6th to June 10th 1922, but the magic thunderbolt didn’t strike twice and the Swashbuckling Señor wasn’t seen again until revived in the 1930’s pulps as part of a boom in extraordinary, more-than-merely-mortal adventures.

New York based McCulley was clearly no fool and had re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation, making Zorro more a prototypical superhero than the broad Scarlet Pimpernel knock-off he had begun as (although many fictive historians prefer the idea that the character was based on real-life bandit Joaquin Murrieta, the “Mexican/Chilean Robin Hood”, whose life was fictionalized by John Rollin Ridge in 1854), so the Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Weekly Argosy Magazine featured the four-chapter serial ‘Zorro Rides Again’ from October 3rd – 24th 1931 and a year later began a succession of complete novellas which ran between 1932 and 1935 and these are all reprinted in this glorious, album-sized volume.

McCulley produced a further chapter-novel ‘The Sign of Zorro’ for Argosy in 1941 (following the 1940 Rouben Mamoulian movie The Mark of Zorro) before switching to the monthly West Magazine in 1944. The first two of the 52 short stories produced between then and 1951 are also included, closing out this initial collection.

The author wrote two further stories ‘Zorro Rides the Trail’ for the May 1954 Max Brand Western Magazine and another, different version of ‘The Mark of Zorro’ which was published in Short Story Magazine in April 1959, the year after McCulley’s death and just as Disney’s epochal Zorro TV show was ending its three year run..

This wonderful monochrome celebration opens with an introduction from Don McGregor, who scripted comicbooks and a newspaper strip about the character, after which the stirring prose exploits begin…

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega was 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 for all they had.

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

By the time of ‘Zorro Saves a Friend’ (Argosy November 12th 1932) he had become simply Don Diego Vega, and had a whole support structure in place. His stiff-necked Hildalgo father knew his secret, as did his two assistants Bernardo (the deaf-mute manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acted as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also employed a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

It is the pirate who warns the seemingly effete nobleman that his young comrade Don Carlos Cassara, amongst others, has been especially targeted by military overseer Capitán Torello. That cunning strategist had hired a professional gambler and card-sharp to ruin the wealthy grandees who constantly resist the Governor’s political schemes, intending to humiliate or even cause the suicide of a generation of rich men…

Forewarned, The Fox took action as only he could…

‘Zorro Hunts a Jackal’ first appeared in April 1933, and detailed in stirring fashion how Torello hires a horse-breaker to abuse and cheat the natives in a plot to draw out Zorro and expose him as Don Diego. However, the mercenary has a darker secret of his own, but all his machinations are as nothing against the wiles of The Fox…

New Army chief Marcos Lopez was an even more cunning opponent. In ‘Zorro Deals With Treason’ (August 1934) the Capitán employed an impostor Zorro to foment rebellion among the Indians, but was soon made painfully aware of the regard and trust they placed in the genuine masked marvel…

The lengthy novelette which follows was first published in two parts in the Argosy issues for September 21st and 28th 1935, and is here presented as an interrupted saga of grand romance and spectacular action as Don Diego and Bernardo travelled to distant San Diego de Alcála to escort his father’s greatest friend, his entire wealth and his beautiful daughter Carmelita to a new life in Reina de Los Angeles.

Major headaches along the way include astute new military commander Capitán Carlos Gonzales, assorted bandits, murderous rogues Pedro Pico and Valentino Vargas and an enigmatic mastermind building a criminals’ army known only as the ‘Mysterious Don Miguel’

The last two tales come from West Magazine: a brace of short stories from July and September 1944. The first ‘Zorro Draws His Blade’ finds Don Diego contacted by the Friars of the local Mission – who also aware of his other identity – to clear the name and save the life of a peasant who has been framed for murdering a landowner. Of course the task is accomplished with cunning and devastating panache before the adventure concludes with ‘Zorro Upsets a Plot’ as the dashing Night-rider is forced to clear his name and confound another military frame-up when a masked and cloaked figure boldly and conspicuously abducts a beautiful maiden…

These are classic Blood-and-Thunder tales chock-full of fights and midnight chases, with scurvy blackguards maimed or slaughtered according to their crimes and station in life and dastardly plots unravelled with great style.

The more observant will note that as the years went by the rate of wounding decreased whilst the body-count steadily rose: a sure sign of the changing times and one which was repeated decades later in the superhero comics this series is such a clear template for…

The volume also contains a complete checklist of the prose canon and is liberally sprinkled with spot illustrations and full-page plates by Joel F. Naprestek, Franklyn E. Hamilton, Glen Ostrander, Mark Bloodworth and Randy Zimmerman as well as all the (sadly unattributed) illustrations which accompanied the original incarnations, as well as the painted magazine covers of those issues.

This edition and its successors apparently retail for staggering prices, but since there’s only one Rights owner and the character is so unbelievably popular, surely there’s a publisher out there willing and able to produce decent new collectors editions of these timeless tales along the sturdy, standard B-format paperback lines of Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes or The Casebook of Sexton Blake?

I want more and surely there are hordes of others ready and eager to spend £s and $s for more “Z”s?
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. All Rights Reserved. This edition © 2000 Pulp Adventures, Inc. All rights reserved.

Add Toner – a Cometbus Collection


By Aaron Cometbus (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-753-2

Before the advent of computers and the internet gave everybody with a keyboard and an ounce of determination the ability to become writers and publishers, only those truly dedicated, driven or Full-On Compulsive individualists self-published.

…Or those with something to say.

Aaron Cometbus (not his real name: use your search engine if you absolutely must find out about the man, but the best route would be to read his wonderful work) has been a drummer, roadie, author, designer, traveller, raconteur, social historian, bookseller and cultural anthropologist of the American Punk movement from long before he began his hugely acclaimed and long-running ‘Zine Cometbus in 1981.

In the decades over which his hand-crafted publication has been released (as photocopy pamphlet, offset magazine and even audio-mag) his writing and art have covered every aspect of the life of the contemporary outsider from self-exploratory introspection, reportage, criticism, oral history, music journalism, philosophical discourse and even unalloyed fiction – from epigram to novella, news bulletin to chatty remembrance – usually in a distinctive hand-lettered style all his own, augmented by cartoons, photo-collage, comics and a dozen other monochrome techniques beloved of today’s art-house cognoscenti.

Cometbus tells stories and has been doing so since the first death of the Punk Rock movement at the end of the 1970s, but the material is and always has been about real, involved people, not trendy, commercialised bastardisations.

In 2002 Last Gasp released Despite Everything, a 600+ page Omnibus distillation of the best bits from the first 43 issues (and still available) and now, with the publication of Cometbus #54,a second compilation has been released.

Add Toner, which samples issues #44-46, 46½, and 47-48 is a far more comprehensive collection with stories, reminiscences, interviews, artworks and added features such as the novella ‘Lanky’ and a selection of previously withheld and self-censored pieces which simply captivate and enthral.

Particularly informative and moving for me are the collected illustrated interviews with the “staff” and patrons of punk watering hole and communal meeting space Dead End Café from #46 (gloriously redolent and evocative of my own art-school punk band hang-out The Horn of Plenty in St. Albans) and a fabulous three-chapter oral history examination of the post-hippie “Back to nature” movement divided into interviews with ‘The Kids’, ‘The Adults’ and an appreciation of ‘Back to the Land’: a fascinating period in American history neglected by just about everybody, probably since most of those flower-power Arcadians and disenchanted just-plain-folks grew more pot than potatoes…

With graphic contributions and supplementary interviews from Phil Lollar, Nate Powell, Katie Glicksberg, Idon, Lawrence Livermore & Michael Silverberg, this is a gloriously honest and seditiously entertaining view of life from the trenches: happy, sad, funny and shocking…

Eccentric, eclectic and essentially, magically picayune, Add Toner is a fabulous cultural doctorate from the Kerouac of m-m-my generation…

© Aaron Cometbus. All rights reserved.

The Sky Over the Louvre


By Bernar Yslaire & Jean-Claude Carrière, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-602-0

A few years ago the prestigious Louvre gallery in Paris began an intriguing and extremely rewarding collaboration with the world of comics, and their latest beguiling translated bande dessinée is now available in English courtesy of those fine folks at NBM.

The Sky Over the Louvre is a lush and beautiful, oversized hardback graphic novel which explores the very origins and philosophical underpinnings of France’s national art collection whilst peeling back the motivations and ambitions of the twisted visionaries who steered – or perhaps simply rode – the human wave of Chaos deemed “the Terror” of the French Revolution… catalyst for the gallery’s very existence.

As always, these tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Musée du Louvre, but this is no gosh-wow, “Night-at-the-Museum”, thinly-concealed catalogue of contents from a stuffy edifice of public culture. Rather, here is a gripping, intense, informative and insightful glimpse into the price of art as engine of change and agent of obsession.

Jean-Claude Carrière was born in 1931, studied at the École normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud and wrote a novel before becoming an actor and one of France’s greatest screenwriters. He worked with Luis Buñuel for 19 years, scripting such classics as Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire and many more.

Other notable credits include working with directors such as Milos Forman, Louis Malle, Andrzej Wajda, Nagisa Oshima and others on iconic films like The Tin Drum, Danton, The Return of Martin Guerre, Max, Mon Amour and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, although three generations of British television viewers will probably revere him most for his adaptation of the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (starring Robert Hoffmann and featuring that iconic theme-tune) which ran on BBC1 at tea time from 1965 to about twenty minutes ago….

Belgian artist Bernar Yslaire (Bernard Hislaire) began his career in 1978 drawing kiddie’s strip ‘Bidouille et Violette’ for Spirou before creating the historical epic ‘Sambre’ in 1986 (still going strong) and was one of the first creators to fully embrace the potential of the internet with his online strip ‘Memories of the XXth Sky’. In 2006 he produced the moving doomed romance ‘Sky over Brussells’.

The Sky Over the Louvre compellingly blends history and drama by focussing on the revolutionary artist Jacques-Louis David and close associate Maximilien de Robespierre (who called himself “The Incorruptible”) as they planned how to replace religion, monarchy and the Old Art with something unique and truly worthy of their revolution. David and his School (Drouais, Greueze, Girodet and students Serangeli and Gérard) have taken residence in the old Louvre Palace where past kings left their grandiose aggregation of treasures when they vacated Paris for Versailles. Here the Revolutionary council aspires to create a new aesthetic and new thought for their New Society…

Jules Stern is a 13-year old wanderer from the Black Sea, roaming the dangerous streets of Paris seeking his mother and claiming to have an appointment with David. On the 15th Fructidor, Year 1 (8th August 1793 for those of us not wedded to the Republic’s new calendar) the angelic lad confronts the artist whilst he inaugurates the Louvre as the first Museum of the Nation, dedicated to public ownership of art and the notion of beauty as a revolutionary ideal. Later they meet again and Robespierre forms a hostile opinion of the child, although David is clearly fascinated by the headstrong, beautiful boy…

As the high-minded idealism of the Revolution’s early days dissolves into factional in-fighting Robespierre and David become increasingly concerned with the spiritual and aesthetic, determined to excise and replace every vestige of the old regime and society. They seek images and concepts to embody their cause and plan a festival to the concept of Reason but across France backsliding and foreign invasion threaten their progress. In September 1793 the Convention (ruling body and parliament of the Republic) decrees “Terror to be the order of the Day”…

Blood, betrayal and horror rule the streets as David, from his apartments in the Louvre, begins work on a brace of pivotal works: The Supreme Being and The Death of Joseph Bara. It is difficult to assess which caused him the most grief and triggered his ultimate downfall…

The Incorruptible is becoming more arrogant and ruthless, desperate for revolutionary images that will fire and inspire the masses. He presses David to produce the ultimate physical representation of the conceptual spirit of the New France – a Supreme Being – but as time goes by and no image emerges, one too many people are whispering that what Robespierre actually requires is a portrait of himself…

Far less troublesome should be The Death of Joseph Bara; a boy who became the first martyr of the Revolution and one scheduled to become the nation’s uniting icon. However, David’s obsession with Jules Stern brings more trouble when Robespierre objects to the boy being selected as the model for Bara the Myth…

Nobody baulks The Incorruptible for long, but the obsessive nature of the creative impulse is insurmountable and eventually Robespierre can only achieve his ends by sending Jules to the guillotine. Incredibly, not even death separated the artist from his model…

Set solidly in the very heart of a moment of epochal historical importance, this is a stunning and utterly compulsive tale of humanity at its wildest extremes when grand ideals wedded themselves to the basest on bestial impulses, yet from that Yslaire and Carrière have crafted a magnificently realised tale laced with staggering detail and addictive emotion.

With extra features including biographies and a listing of the actual artwork woven seamlessly into the narrative, this is a truly magical book that no aficionado of the medium can afford to miss…

© 2009 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. © 2011 NBM for the English translation by Joe Johnson. All rights reserved.