The Last Musketeer


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books) ISBN: 978-1-56097-889-3

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature and pulp fiction all feature equally with no sense of hierarchy and his puckish mixing and matching of his inspirational sources always produces a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a beguiling palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours. This delicious caper is one of his best yarns ever and even spawned a prequel…

The Last Musketeer is an epic gem rife with his signature surreality; populated with his quirkily quotidian cast of darkly comic anthropomorphic regulars, and downplaying his signature themes of relationships and loneliness to produce a wild action-adventure for a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps to romp through…

The brief full-colour thriller opens with a drunk in a Paris bar. He claims to be the musketeer Athos, still alive after four centuries… and he is.

The contemplative warrior dreams of past glories and inseparable old comrades but things aren’t just the same anymore…

As he muses on a bench, destructive balls of energy rain down on the city and Athos realises he is needed again and might just have one last adventure in him…

Despite failing to get the old gang back together, he persists in his quest and, after fighting a couple of green-skinned invaders, induces them to take him to their world…

All too soon he is making friends, battling the flamboyantly evil King of the Red Planet, helping a Princess of Mars foment an Earth-saving revolution and encountering an enemy from home he had long forgotten…

And we’re all still here so he must have triumphed in the end…

Outrageously merging the worlds of Alexander Dumas with Edgar Rice Burroughs whilst gleefully borrowing Flash Gordon’s props and work ethic, The Last Musketeer is a superbly engaging pastiche that is pure nostalgia and pure Jason.

Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Jason. All rights reserved.

Sshhhh!


By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-497-0

Jason is John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won Norway’s biggest comics prize: the Sproing Award.

He won another in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. A global star among the cognoscenti, he has many more major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

All his tales brim with bleak isolation and are swamped with a signature surreality; largely pantomimic progressions populated with cinematically-inspired, darkly comic anthropomorphs ruminating on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and cartoon critters.

A perfect example of his oeuvre is ‘Sshhhh!’: a deliciously evocative, extended romantic melodrama created without words; the bittersweet tale of boy-bird meeting girl-bird in a world overly populated with spooks and ghouls and skeletons but afflicted far more harshly by loneliness and regret. Of course, it’s not just that. It’s also boy-bird loses girl-bird to death, other men, his own inadequacies and the vagaries of parenthood. It’s about how money fixes nothing and how Death is ever at your elbow and can be – quite frankly – a bit of a pest…

It’s sex and death and discontentment and bloody ungrateful kids; aliens, being invisible, miserable vacations, disappointing locations, guys who are sexier than you and The Devil… and birds-nests…

The enchantingly formal page layouts are rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style: solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here, his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily display the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This comic tale is best-suited for adults but makes us all look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. Don’t even wait for a physical copy, buy a digital edition ASAP, just so you can see immediately what all the fuss is about…
All characters, stories and artwork© 1998, 1999, 2008 Jason. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1929-1930: A Brick, A Mice, A Lovely Night


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-529-8

Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; an immensely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz (as it is in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over delicious decades of abstracted amazement the series developed a unique language – both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for unimaginative people who won’t or can’t appreciate complex multi-layered verbal and/or pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a thriving cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his whacky domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat officially debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct intervention and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and others) all adored the strip, many regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama sections of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is a rather effeminate – not to say gender-indeterminate – dreamily sensitive and romantic feline hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which our smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally cognizant of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his diabolical and irredeemable rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Kokonino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This captivating chronicle – covering 1929-1930 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover tome – as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats. Here Ben Schwartz critically appraises the exalted eccentric content of the material in ‘The Court Jester: Hearst, Herriman, and the Death of Nonsense’ whilst the much-missed Bill Blackbeard delves deeper into the feature’s background in his Introduction essay ‘The Man Behind the Pupp Behind the Mouse Behind the Kat: George Herriman, 1880-1944’; paying particular attention to the sublime scribbler’s relationship with other cartoonists of the era such as Jimmy Swinnerton, Tad Dorgan and a young upstart named Elzie Segar…

On to the strips then: within this strange brew of eccentric emotional overload, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with one major evolution as Herriman begins to indulge in extended storylines and continuing continuity…

The emphasis is strongly on bricks and how to get them in the early episodes with the law mostly having the upper paw. The mouse regularly ends up banged up in the county hoosegow as Krazy pines for passionately propelled portions of brick-shaped symbolism even whilst further pursuing that dream of a singing career.

Ignatz, as ever, hunts for the perfect projectile – heavy, accurate and of negligible cost – but hasn’t learned that nothing comes for free as he regularly falls prey to mountebanks, charlatans and fortune tellers…

Brickmaker Kolin Kelly gets into a shooting war with the region’s other baker – bread pundit Kikkero Kooki – and their search for ammunition leads to much more projectile peril.

Bull Pupp is wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi these days, prompting Ignatz to take to the skies in a variety of unlikely aircraft and as always there are strictly visual pun sessions to play well against the numerous slapstick antics, as Ignatz devises ever-more complex schemes to bounce his earthen wares off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions as ever add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws constantly making their invisible presences felt…

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As 1930 dawns change is in the air and – after a series of wintery japes and a surprise eruption of local volcano Agathla – strange yet comfortably unchanging Kokonino get its biggest shake-up of all when amorous predator Monsieur Kiskidee Kuku hits town and make a determined play for the sentiment-starved Kat…

Having made allies of Ignatz and Offisa Pupp, the rascally gallic rogue turns the heads of many of the female inhabitants incurring the ire of many males, but the bounder is also an expert fencer so reprisals are grudging and muted…

Before long one of those troublesome continental ménage-triangle deals is in play and fireworks start brewing before the affairs of dishonour are all settled…

…And always irresistible mischief truly rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed) plus a foray of final fillip offering an example how certain papers played with the layout of the strip to enhance its popularity and a genuine historical find: the sheet music to 1911’s Krazy Kat Rag

Herriman’s masterpiece is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips. If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companionable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2003, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half-World


By Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, Al Gordon, Milgrom & various (Marvel)
No ISBN:

You can’t have failed to notice that the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie has thundered into theatres this season, so in a spirit of mirror-image opportunism I’ll be shuffling in short reviews of some of the many tie-in books the House of Ideas has kindly dashed out to celebrate the filmic franchise in the hope of making a few more readers out of viewers…

Tales from Half-World came out in 2013 (and is still readily available in both printed and digital formats) and provides a cheap and cheerful way to see the militant mystery mammal’s first scene-stealing starring role.

Rocket Raccoon was a throwaway character who first appeared in backup serial ‘The Sword in the Star’ in Marvel Preview#7 in 1976. In 1982, his originator Bill Mantlo brought him into the mainstream Marvel Universe with a guest-star role in Incredible Hulk #271 (May). Like the Punisher and Wolverine in previous years, the hairy iconoclast then simply refused to go away quietly…

A few years the furry force of nature popped up again in a new-fangled format for comicbooks: a miniseries…

The 4-issue Rocket Raccoon Limited Series was cover-dated May to August 1985 and crafted by Mantlo, then neophyte penciller Mike Mignola, and inkers Al Gordon & Al Milgrom and presented a bizarre and baroque sci-fi fantasy blending the charm of Pogo with the biting social satire of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (and vice versa): all whilst ostensibly describing a battle between Good and Evil in a sector of space crazy even by funnybook standards.

Rocket was one of many sentient and dedicated talking animals in the impenetrable, inescapable Keystone Quadrant: a Ranger in charge of keeping the peace in a troubled atmosphere where robots and anamorphic beasties went about their ordained task. That was caring for the distinctly odd and carefree humans known as The Loonies on their idyllic, sybaritic planet Halfworld.

Sadly, the critters were too much like their human charges.

When a brutal shooting war between voracious apex toymakers Judson Jakes and Lord Dyvyne leads to Rocket’s girlfriend Lylla Otter being kidnapped, the entire planet goes crazy wild, or perhaps more appropriately… ‘Animal Crackers’

In rescuing her, Rocket and faithful deputy Wal Rus have to contend with a murderous army of mechanised Killer Clowns, face an horrific, all-consuming bio-weapon at ‘The Masque of the Red Breath’, and even team up with arch-foe and disreputable mercenary bunny Blackjack O’Hare in ‘The Book of Revelations!’ before finally uncovering the horrendous truth behind the mad society they so unquestioningly defend…

The final chapter shakes everything up as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ sees the shocking end of The Loonies, allowing the Raccoon and his surviving companions to escape the confines of the eternally segregated Keystone Quadrant into the greater universe beyond…

This razor-sharp, spectacular slice of riotous star-roving action is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun and blockbuster action: well-tailored, on-target and certain to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comics incarnation.
© 2013 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Yakari volume 14: Lords of the Plains


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-318-5

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre who chose the working name “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari detailed the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man. This year the 39th album was released: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence; at one with nature and generally free from strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can converse with all animals…

Derib – equally at home with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that such groundbreaking strips as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Originally released in 1987, Yakari et les seigneurs des plaines was the 13th European album (and Cinebook’s 14th translated tome), but – as always – the content is both stunningly simple and effectively timeless; offering total enjoyment for a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge…

This tale, however, has a necessarily dark edge as it deals with how the Sioux subsist and how their staple diet feels about it…

Th drama begins with a crucial tradition as the braves hunt buffalo and culminates with doughty Bare Blade killing a beast with a single merciful blow. As the squaws prepare the carcases – utilising every scrap of them – judiciously taken by the men, the aged chief reminds the gathered tribe of the bad old days when their foolish ancestors wastefully slaughtered far more animals than they needed or could use.

Now thanks to their pact with Great Spirit Wacondah, enlightened modern men have learned to respect the buffalo and only take what is needful…

Awed by the history lesson, little Yakari heads for bed and has another of his special dreams. In it he speaks with the gracious spirit of the cow whose skin he sleeps on every night since the day she died and he was born…

Next morning, still gripped by all things to do with the ponderous lords of the plains, Yakari heads his steed Little Thunder into the heart of the endless herd and makes a few new friends. He is astounded to discover the big beasts bear his kind no resentment and accept the role every creature plays in the life of the world…

Happily consorting with the thousands of blockbusting bovines, Yakari learns sage wisdom from the old bulls and wary lookouts, and even frolics with the sprightly calves as they learn to butt heads in the approved manner, before noticing one heavily pregnant cow lagging behind. Herd master Boulder Brow tells the lad that she will soon leave the morass and give birth somewhere quiet and isolated.

Sadly, an old diseased wolf is keenly aware of the fact and hungrily bides his time…

As the afternoon ends, Yakari heads home and sees the new mother and latest addition to the herd. Stopping to pay his respects, he spots an opportunistic predator making his move and instinctively intervenes with a well-aimed rock. Upon realising that mother and child are too weak to catch up with the ever-proceeding herd, the boy resolves to stay with them, lighting a guard fire to keep the still-stalking wolf at bay…

Eventually the hungry canine can wait no longer but his bold dash only leads to a seared tail and a determination to make boy, buffalo and baby pay for his pain and indignation…

As dawn breaks Yakari sees the herd has gone. As he heads home, mother and child follow their vastly extended family, unaware that the lone wolf has found the local pack and, by lying to them, created a vengeful army ready to avenge grievous insults and feast on deserving victims. The deciding argument was that the human cub was planning to wipe out all the wolves…

The sinister scheme might well have worked had not alert Little Thunder spotted the amassed pack and warned Yakari. Instantly understanding what has happened the little boy turns back towards the buffalo stragglers and arrives just in time to set the record straight with the rather reasonable pack and teach the rogue wolf a lesson…

Exotically enticing, entertainingly educational, compellingly dramatic and joyously inventive, this is a tale which allows Derib full rein to display his astounding artistic ability in a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the scale, power and majesty of the hard-headed hairy nomads. This yarn also shows Job’s big-hearted affection for the period and culture: another visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strip every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and the Moomins.
Original edition © Le Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard S. A.) 2000 Derib + Job. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac…


By Andrew Weldon (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-7971-8

Chocolate might be fattening but there’s no conclusive data one way or the other on scoping out hilarious cartoons. Ergo… with all those anti-social sweeties swamping the house during the holiday, why not hedge your bets and balance calorific over-indulgence with a little light reading?

I love cartoons. Not animated films, but short, visual (although most often text-enhanced) stylised drawings which tell a story or potently and pithily express a mood or tone. Most people do. That’s why many historians and sociologists use them as barometers of a defined time or era.

For nearly 200 years gag-panels and cartoon strips were a universal medium to disseminate wit, satire, mirth, criticism and cultural exchange. Sadly, after centuries of pre-eminence and ferocious power, these days the cartoon has been all but erased from printed newspapers – as indeed the physical publications themselves have dwindled in shops and on shelves.

However, thanks to the same internet which is killing print media, many graphic gagsters and drawing dramatists have enjoyed resurgence in an arena that doesn’t begrudge the space necessary to deliver a cartoon in all its fulsome glory…

Humorous cartoons remain an unmissable daily joy to a vast, frequently global readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even that ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Even those stuck-up, sticky-beak holdouts proudly boasting they have “never read a comic” certainly enjoy strips or panels: a golden bounty of brief amusement demanding no commitment other than a moment’s close attention. Truth be told, it’s probably in our genes…

And because that’s the contrary nature of things, those gags now get collected in spiffy collections (and also in eBook editions) like this mean, mirth-filled monochrome paperback to enjoy over and over again…

The Dutch reputedly discovered Australia in the 17th century (although as the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett pointedly pointed out, the indigenous natives had been doing so on a daily basis for thousands of years prior to the white chaps sailing up), before Captain Cook famously stuck a flag in the place and drew some maps in 1770.

Now it’s a place of amazing contradictions and boasts a sense of humour uniquely its own.

A prime example of that can be seen in this collection of gags from the observationally adrift and slightly warped Andrew Weldon, who sagely abandoned the disciplined world of architecture in Melbourne to apply his astute, irreverent imagination to scrawling wickedly barbed graphic questions and comments on whatever catches his attention for venues as widespread as various greetings cards as well as in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Big Issue, Tango, The New Yorker, The Spectator and Private Eye.

Diversifying into children’s books, Weldon has written and illustrated The Kid with The Amazing Head and Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions, and this book and his other gag compendium – I’m Sorry Little Man, I Thought You Were a Hand Puppet – were published in Britain by Allen & Unwin.

If You Weren’t a Hedgehog… If I Weren’t a Hemophiliac… first surfaced in 2009 but is still fresh, strange and engagingly twisted enough to have you clutching your sides in approved cartoon manner…

The 232 deranged doodles explore not just the peculiarly inclusive arena of looking for love in all the wrong places but also includes fervent peeks and prognostications on perils of growing old disgracefully, the foibles of fashion and dieting, tattoo troubles and – because it’s Australia – observations of criminal conduct and the consumption of alcohol…

There are many mind-bending interactions with telephones, technological innovations and examinations to Tung Shui and other oral aids, visits to the horrific inner world of children and animals and a great line in ads for stuff that should exist but mercifully doesn’t yet…

You can gain new appreciation for the contributions to society of teachers, cops, doctors housewives – of either gender – and soldiers, experience a different view of drugs, bugs, music and goldfish, reconsider the pros and cons of beards, work and sport and learn far more than you’ll ever need to about genetic engineering…

Bringing up babies plays hard and heavy here, as does the satirical side of toilet paper, pets, tax claims and Christmas. And then there’s sex, religion, disease and death…

Outrageous, outspoken and uproarious, this is a tome to tickle the funny-bone and giggle glands of anyone prepared to plunge down under and view the world from a southern prospect…
© 2009 Andrew Weldon. All rights reserved.

The Left Bank Gang…


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-742-1

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Now his latest novella is released, rife with his signature surreality; populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and featuring more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps.

In this brief full-colour tract – originally released in France as Hemingway – Jason puts his quirkily-informed imagination into literary overdrive and postulates what might have been at a moment of intense intellectual cross-pollination.

It’s Paris in the 1920s and émigrés F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway are all struggling to make their marks on the world – and most especially on the other artistic Men and Women of Destiny congregated in the enclave of creative excellence that has grown up around the Latin Quarter.

As wannabe cartoonists their own meagre efforts seem paltry and trivial in comparison to the masterful comic books being produced by Dostoyevsky or Faulkner, whilst true artists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Man Ray all seem to have no trouble with their medium or message…

Worst of all Scott thinks something is bothering Zelda: she might even be cheating on him…

The disaffected Young Turks are all plagued by nightmares of the past and frustrated dreams of mediocre futures and everyday life keeps coming at them demanding vile money just to stay alive and keep on fruitlessly toiling. And then Hemingway says it: why not just rob a bank…?

Blending literary pretention and modern creative mythology with the iconography and ironic bombast of Reservoir Dogs is a stroke of genius no one else could pull off.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily depict the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This wry mis-history lesson is strongly suggested for adults but makes us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Editions de Tournon-Carabas/Jason. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 7: Elementary, My Dear Clifton


By Rodrigue & de Groot, translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-198-3

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot for the weekly Tintin. The doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums of strip material – all compiled and released in little more than a year – Macherot defected to arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic British buffoon was benched. Tintin reactivated him at the height of the Sixties’ Swinging London scene and that aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Michel Régnier (code-named Greg to his millions of fans).

Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. They tinkered with the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder man. After ten more tales, in 1984 artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But You Only Die Twice… or thrice, or lots…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton strip returned yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. He became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon, where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Macherot’s moribund spy.

In 1989, de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Michel Rodrigue was born in Lyon in 1961 and really, really likes Rugby. He pursued higher education at the National School of Fine Arts, where he also studied medieval archaeology and from 1983-85 was part of the French Rugby team. In 1987, he designed France’s mascot for the World Cup.

His comics debut came in 1984 with sports (guess which one) strip Mézydugnac in Midi Olympique. After illustrating an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 1986 he and collaborator Jean-Claude Vruble produced a volume of La Révolution Française, scripted by Patrick Cothias.

Rodrigue then joined Roger Brunel on Rugby en B.D., Du Monde dans la Coupe!, Concept, Le Rugby en Coupe and La Foot par la Bande.

For Tintin he drew Bom’s Les Conspirateurs and produced Rugbyman, the official monthly of the French Rugby Federation, amongst a welter of other strips. Along the way he began scripting too, and, after working with de Groot on Doggyguard joined him on the revived Clifton.

He also remains astonishingly creatively occupied, working on Ly-Noock with André Chéret, Brèves de Rugby, La Grande Trambouille des Fées for René Hausmann, Futurama comics, Cubitus with Pierre Aucaigne, and many more…

For Your Eyes Only: Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has great difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting Her Majesty’s Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befits a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the younger generations…

Originally released as Elémentaire mon cher Clifton in 2006 this yarn is a little off the far-from-sedentary sleuth’s beaten paths. As the cover and title might lead you to deduce, Elementary, My Dear Clifton takes its lead from that unflinching bastion of British fiction Sherlock Holmes, but not quite in the way you might imagine…

This rollicking caper begins with the old soldier and his svelte sidekick Jade inspecting a fleet of outrageously expensive luxury cars before getting into a headbanging prang whilst driving home in Clifton’s own stylish sports-roadster.

When he regains consciousness, Jade is missing, abducted by a shadowy figure from the vintage car which forced him off the road…

After another frustrating and infuriating interview with Highway Code martinet and personal gadfly Constable Strawberry, Clifton sets in motion the wheels of protocol that will enable his intelligence community contacts to find the missing assistant, before staggering home to bed and passing out.

Next morning, he finds his multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge chatting with a distinguished gentleman. Clothed in outmoded attire, “the Doctor” claims to know what’s happened to Jade but if Clifton wants to save her he’ll have to return with him to October 7th 1912…

The physician claims that he and his partner – a certain unnamed consulting detective – were on the trail of a nefarious inventor named Professor Hamilton. That villain was nosing about the preparations for the gala celebrations of a Maharaja on the eve of a sumptuous nuptial event when the Doctor fortuitously trailed him to a warehouse and saw him vanish into a bizarre contraption. Having keenly observed, the stealthy stalker then followed and ended up here and now…

Refusing to believe the cock-and-bull story but equally unable to disprove the evidence before him Clifton eventually concedes defeat and follows the crime doctor back in time and into his strangest adventure ever…

What follows is a hilarious and gripping romp with eerie personal echoes and foreshadowings for our temporally-misplaced manhunter: a ripping yarn all devotees of crime capers and time travels will love…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Elementary, My Dear Clifton reveals hidden depths to our Old Soldier whilst playing deliriously fast and loose with history in the grandly enticing manner of Nicholas Meyer’s Time after Time and Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits; a confection guaranteed to astound and delight thrill and laughter-addicts of every age.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 2006 by Rodrigue & De Groot. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

I Killed Adolf Hitler


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-828-2

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. A global star among the cognoscenti, he has won many major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

In this deliciously wry novella his signature surreality is marginally restrained in favour of a shaggy-dog-story plot, although the quirky tale is – as ever – populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and features more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial archetypes and socially-lost modern chumps.

Here he puts his sedately fevered mind to an issue that has perplexed the intellects and consciences of many modern generations and produced – as you would imagine – the very last thing anybody expected…

This post-modern short-and-speculative fable unfolds through the usual beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions he favours but also resonates with the best of B-Movie Sci Fi shtick. The solidly formal page layouts are rendered in Jason’s minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style: solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by Hubert’s enticing but reductive palette of stark pastels and muted hues.

In a world much like our own, but where petty annoyances can be easily eradicated by one of the many contract killers legally plying their trade in shops and cafes, a certain hard-working hitman toils his weary way through the unchanging days.

The murder mechanic’s love life is troubled and the work-life balance tipped too far into the repetitive tedium of the next execution. He barely breaks a sweat as someone fails to erase him, and he’s pretty sure he knows who sent the gunman to kill him whilst he watched TV…

That missing spark rekindles the next day, however, when an old professor comes into the office. This old duffer wants him to kill Hitler and has even built a time machine to accomplish the task.

Soon the assassin is prowling the halls of the Berlin Chancellery but hasn’t reckoned on the fanatical devotion of the Fuehrer’s minions. That crucial first attempt spoiled, the job becomes impossible after Adolf steals the time machine and escapes to the future where he makes the best of his opportunity to start over…

Still, a job is a job and the hunter finds a way to persevere… and that’s when things get really complicated…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and bizarre to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still effectively depicts the subtlest emotions with devastating flair, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This comic tale is best suited for adults but makes us all look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. While you’re at it, make room there for Werewolves of Montpellier, The Left Bank Gang and all the scintillating rest too…
All characters, stories and artwork© 2007 Editions de Tournon-Carabas/Jason. All rights reserved.

When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People – A Close to Home Collection


By John McPherson (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5365-7

One of the best and most consistently amusing gagsters around these days is John McPherson who created Close to Home in 1992, after spending many years as a mechanical design engineer. For years prior to the career jump, he had kept hold of his particularly skewed interpretation of sanity by working as a part-time cartoonist: spending the time regular folks use for sleeping in moonlighting by selling cartoons to periodicals as prestigious and varied as The Saturday Evening Post, Campus Life, Yankee, Christianity Today and others.

Delivered in the manner and style of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, McPherson’s daily cartoon panel was originally released through Universal Press Syndicate to 50 client papers, which has grown to 700 since the syndicate merged with online provider Uclick in 2009. The new entity – Universal Uclick – consequently absorbed United Feature Syndicate to become America’s largest Press Syndicate; marketing original print, online and mobile device material including lifestyle/opinion columns, strips, cartoons, puzzles and other content.

McPherson’s signature feature derives its name and content from a broad band of themes and subject matter, casting a barbed and wickedly humorous eye on those perennial travails which perennially hit “Close to Home”: evergreen topics like marriage, kids, employment, domestic duties, school life, sports and health.

Because he’s been around for a while now, McPherson’s also perfectly familiar with how often life devolves into the bizarre, absurd and macabre…

In this particular volume – one of dozens including Dangerously Close To Home, The Silence of the Lamberts and The Scourge of Vinyl Car Seats – the portmanteau pictorial delights are augmented by behind-the-scenes essays offering an insight into the creator’s world.

In ‘Ideas’ McPherson focusses on the old “where do you get your ideas” question, giving his spin on the issue with plenty of outrageous examples ranging from zoo japes to the religious fervour engendered by golf…

‘Angry Letters’ are just that: a candid peek at actual correspondence from the public in regard to specific cartoons, what the artist did in response, and often how he would have preferred to have acted…

Best of all for people like me, however, is ‘Killed by the Editor’ with tales and many examples of gags and cartoons which could never pass muster for a daily family feature…

Chockful of chuckles about relationships, cars, food, surgery, travel, gardening, pets, recreational sports and hobbies, insurance, husbands and wives, geriatric friskiness, cops and robbers and everything else, When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People is another splendidly gripping, impressively grotesque, irrepressible sly selection of laugh-out-loud jests and quips: a solid and rewarding example of an art form that we must not lose and one guaranteed to deliver delight over and over again.
© 2005 by John McPherson. All rights reserved.