Hey Wait…


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-641-7

It’s usually a cheap cop-out by tired or hackneyed critics but some creators’ work comes close to defying description. That’s never more true than when reviewing another brilliant graphic exposition by Jason.

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 cartoon cognoscenti, Jason has earned many major awards from all over the planet. His work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, utilising the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist and storyteller he is…

The stylised static-seeming artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick outlines and settings of seductive simplicity – often augmented by a deft and subtle use of flat colour which enhances his hard, moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing Cinema-inspired world.

The superbly understated art acts in concert with his dead-on, deadpan pastiche repertoire of scenarios which dredge deep from our shared experience of old film noir classics, horror and sci fi B-movies and other visual motifs which transcend time and culture, and the result is narrative dynamite. His preferred oeuvre mixes such fantasy elements with a deep and overwhelming inquiry into why bad stuff happens to ordinary “people”…

A compact (176 x 254mm) monochrome paperback, Hey Wait… is just such a confection: an eerie and glorious paean to boyhood friendships with young Bjorn and Jon enjoying a life of perfect childhood of collecting comics, watching movies and gadding about until a tragic accident – perhaps the result of boon companions egging each other on a little too much? – ends the idyll forever.

Life, however, goes on (and on and on and on) for one of the inseparable childhood comrades but it has become a life sentence…

The survivor’s existence becomes populated from then on with mundane encounters, tedious assignations, failed aspirations and the usual parade of ghosts and visions, but then again so is everybody else’s tedious day to day progress to the end …

Hey Wait… resonates with Jason’s favourite themes and shines with his visual dexterity and skewed sensibilities. disclosing a decidedly different slant on secrets and obsessions. Primal art supplemented by sparse and spartan dialogue, enhanced to a macabre degree by immaculate cartooning and skilled use of silence and moment utilised with devastating economy, affords the same quality of cold, bleak yet perfectly harnessed stillness which makes Scandinavian crime dramas such compelling, addictive fare.

This comic tale allows us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes but never sugar-coats what’s there to see…
© 1998, 1999, 2001, 2005 Jason. Translation © 2001 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don’t Read the Newspapers


By Aaron McGruder (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-0609-7

Unlike editorial cartooning, newspaper comic strips generally prosper by avoiding controversy. Other than a few notable exceptions – such as the mighty Doonesbury – daily and Sunday gag continuities aim to keep their readers amused and complacent.

Such was not the case with Aaron McGruder’s brilliant and much missed The Boondocks.

The strip ran from February 8th 1996 and ended – despite promises of a swift return – with the February 28th 2006 instalment. You might have seen the adapted and animated version on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim a few years ago…

The feature was created for pioneer online music website Hitlist.com and quickly began a print incarnation in Hip-Hop magazine The Source. On December 3rd, the feature began appearing in national periodical The Diamondback but, after an editorial bust-up, McGruder pulled the strip in March 1997.

Nevertheless, it thrived as it was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate. Launched nationally, The Boondocks had over 300 client subscribers, reaching – and often offending – millions of readers every day. Such was the content and set-up that the strip was regularly dropped by editors, and complaints from readers were pretty much constant.

What could possibly make a cartoon continuity such a lightning rod yet still have publishers so eager to keep it amongst their ever-dwindling stable of strip stars?

The Boondocks was always fast, funny, thought-provoking, funny, ferociously socially aware and created for a modern black readership. And Funny.

The series never sugar-coated anything – except harsh language – whilst bringing contemporary issues of race to the table every day. This was a strip Afro-American readers wanted to read… even if they didn’t necessarily agree with what was being said and seen…

The narrative premise is deceptively sitcom-simple but hides a potent surprise in its delivery. Huey Freeman is an incredibly smart and well-informed black youngster. He spent his formative years on Chicago’s South Side, immersed in black history, the philosophy of power, radical and alternative politics and The Streets.

His little brother Riley is mired in Hip-Hop and the trappings of Gangsta Rap. Yet suddenly one day they are both whisked out of their comfort zone as their grandfather Robert assumes custody of them and moves the entire family to the whiter-than-white suburb of Woodcrest in semi-rural Maryland.

It’s mutual culture shock of epic proportions on both sides…

Huey (proudly boasting that he’s named for Black Panther co-founder Dr Huey Percy Newton) perpetually expounds his radical rhetoric and points out hypocrisy from the well-meaning but inherently patronising all-Caucasian township but saves equal amounts of hilarious disgust and venom for those overbearing, overhyped aspects of modern Black Culture he regards as stupid, demeaning or self-serving…

Riley mostly likes scaring the oh-so-polite white folks…

In this initial monochrome paperback collection – re-presenting material from April 19th 1999 to January 29th 2000 – includes a potent Foreword from Hip-Hop Activist and Media Assassin Harry Allen on the way we’ve all managed to stop actual progress on the issues of race by politely agreeing not talk about them – the property values start to wobble just a bit when Huey and Riley arrive in Woodcrest.

The place really freaks them out: the air is clean, there are no tagged walls or take-out stores and old white people keep coming up to say hello…

Th first semblance of normality occurs when another new family moves in next door. Thomas and Sarah Dubois are woolly liberals: yuppies and lawyers and Woodcrest’s first interracial couple, and – although she doesn’t understand any of the stuff Huey taunts her with – their daughter Jazmine is the suburb’s third black child… ever…

She never thought of herself as any colour, but Huey is determined to raise her consciousness… when he’s not taking her establishment-conditioned dad to task on what colour he actually is…

Huey’s far less keen on the attentions of Cindy McPhearson, the little girl from school who has fully embraced TV’s version of Black Culture. She wants to meet – or be – Snoop Doggy Dogg. She hasn’t heard the term “Wigga” yet and Huey ain’t doing nothing but avoiding her: a tricky proposition as she sits behind him in class asking dumb questions.

The boys enrolling at Edgar J. Hoover Elementary School caused few sleepless nights for Principal Williams but he cleverly borrowed a few videos (Menace II Society; Shaft’s Big Score) to get him up to speed on the special needs of “inner city ghetto youth” and is confident his terrified teachers can handle any possible hurdles the variance in backgrounds might cause…

Don’t go away under the misapprehension that The Boondocks is a strident polemical diatribe, drowning in its own message. First and foremost, this is a strip about kids growing up, just like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. Some of the most memorable riffs come from the boys’ reactions to the release of the Star Wars: Episode 1 (although admittedly, Jar Jar Binks gets a fully-deserved roasting for his ethnic Minstrel performance), the worthlessness of high-priced merchandise and the insipid, anodyne street names. At least here, Riley and his paint spray cans can help out…

As the year progresses we also see outrageous takes on Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as the boys’ investigation of the Santa Clause and Kwanza scenarios and their own hysterical Inner City, Keepin’ It Real alternative to all those manufactured holidays and causes…

Smart, addictive and still with a vast amount to say The Boondocks is a strip you need to see if you cherish speaking Wit as well as Truth to Power…
The Boondocks © 2000 by Aaron McGruder. All rights reserved.

Plastic Man Archives volume 6


By Jack Cole & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0154-8

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

“Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian was a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he was saved by a monk who nursed him back to health and proved to the hardened thug that the world was not just filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolved to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with.

Creating a costumed alter ego, he began a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopted the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks was a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who accidentally saved a wizard’s life and was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature would henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces felt like it.

After failing to halt the unlikely superman’s determined crime spree, Plas appealed to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repented, was compelled to keep him around in case he strayed again. The oaf was slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembled, Winks was the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who got all the best lines, possessed an inexplicable charm and had a habit of finding trouble. It was the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

This sublimely sturdy sixth full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #5 and 6 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics #59-65, covering October 1946 to April 1947. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Michael T. Gilbert offers an appreciation of Cole and his gift for concocting uniquely memorable characters in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of his fifth solo-starring vehicle commences with ‘They Call Him Weapons’ as a seemingly innocuous gunsmith graduates from selling his ordnance innovations to criminals to becoming a bandit himself. His bloody trail leads Plas and Woozy to a house the tinkerer has tricked up into an inescapable death trap…

Cole’s constant and ever-growing pressure to fill pages led to his hiring artists to assist in the illustration of his madcap scripts. Alex Kotzky pitched in for ‘The Mysterious Being Called Hate’ as our chameleonic crime-crusher faces sorcerous neophyte Mr. Giglamp after the infernally inquisitive fool finds himself a satanic sponsor and becomes a demonic danger to society.

Woozy had his own back-up solo feature in Plastic Man and here the Stalwart Simpleton inspires a down-at-heel gangster to modify a heroic legend to his own unscrupulous ends in ‘Robin Hood Returns’ (drawn by Bart Toomey), after which prose puzzler ‘Snig River’ sees a simple fishing trip prank land a basket full of fugitive crooks. A baffling mystery then confounds the populace in ‘The Evil of Moneybags’. When millionaire Aloysius P. Japers starts giving away all his money only the stretchable sleuth notices that all the beneficiaries start turning up dead and penniless…

In Police Comics #59 Woozy and Plas are helpless before ‘The Menace of Mr. Happiness’ (Cole & Andre LeBlanc) as a drug store clerk accidentally invents a serum which paralyses victims with joy whilst #60 invoked the author’s fascination with mad scientists in ‘The Man Who Built Himself a Body’ (Cole & LeBlanc) as weedy Professor Spindrift constructs a series of robot suits so that he can muscle his way to the top of the underworld…

A million-dollar bounty on Plastic Man leads to ‘A Bundle of Trouble’ (Cole & LeBlanc) in Police #61, culminating in a baby-sized assassin infiltrating the hero’s home as a heavily armed foundling, before Plastic Man #6 opens with criminal genius Scientific Sherman stealing the astronomical discoveries of ‘The Moon Wizard’ and seemingly stranding Plas and Woozy on the distant lunar orb.

‘The Crimes of Mother Goose’ features a crook committing fairy tale-inspired thefts to bewilder the Ductile Detective and his partner after which Woozy hunts alone for ‘The Zwili Cat’ (Cole & Kotzky) obsessing crooks and bad-men all over town, before text tale ‘Scarlett Goes Straight’ finds our hero helping an ex-con capture his former unrepentant associates.

To close the issue, a common jewel thief gains incredible leaping powers and becomes costumed crook ‘The Grasshopper’ (Cole & Kotzky) but is ultimately unable to escape the relentless and remarkable reach of his pliable pursuer.

Police Comics #62 finds flashy socialite Leda Van Doom interviewing prospective husbands only to lose one in suspicious circumstances in ‘The Cupid’s Bow Murder’.

After solving that thorny mystery Plas and Woozy combat a macabre gambling boss moonlighting as a marine marauder dubbed ‘The Crab’ in #63 and paint a ‘Bulls-Eye on Crime’ a month later as they expose a candy factory operating as a clearing house for stolen gems before wrapping up this compendium of comedic crime-busting by helping homeless newlyweds find a place to live.

Sadly, that task entails evicting and arresting a house full of deadly spies and clearing all the death traps out of ‘The Apartment of Dr. Phobia’

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious covers, this is another unmissable masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating more than seventy years after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans would be crazy to avoid.
© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy and Ignatz 1927-1928: Love Letters in Ancient Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-507-6

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

Krazy and Ignatz (as it is dubbed in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over its many years of abstracted amazement the series gradually developed a unique language – at once 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 dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and 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 successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat 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 influence 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 safe haven in the Arts and Drama section 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 an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender 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 the 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 aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from removing his diabolical and un-reconstructable 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 tantalising tome – covering 1927-1928 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover edition as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his puckish Introduction essay of short informational snippets ‘Pilfering Mrs. Kwak-Wak’s Good Old Goods and Goodies Bag’

Here press clippings of a near-death experience for Herriman and fellow strip man Jimmy Swinnerton are re-presented beside early gag pages such as Embarrassing Moments and excepts from Hearst Joke Book editions of The Dingbats. Also included are a wealth of strips by Herriman’s contemporaries, rivals and plagiarists…

On to the strips then: within this compelling chronicle of undying amours utterly unhorsed by smirking Fate, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing weeks’ worth of seasonal disorders and sartorial shenanigans as Krazy further pursues that dream of a singing career. Ignatz, meanwhile, hunts for the perfect projectile which over and again draws him into the clutches of mountebanks, charlatan and magicians…

That search for ammunition leads to many more brick-based broadsides but these days Bull Pupp is far wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi…

An occasional strictly visual pun session plays well against the numerous slapstick antics, even as Ignatz devises ever-more convoluted ways to bounce his bricks off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions increasingly add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws making their invisible presences felt…

Recurring cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird pop up to muddy the romantic waters, whilst Kat and Mouse frequently indulge in the growing freedom of the skies and waterways via balloon and other aeronautical apparatus or maritime machine.

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of (generally unwanted) 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 the years progress Ignatz spends ever-longer periods in jail yet seldom fails to find a way to deliver the punishing skull blows Krazy yearns for…

Many cast members become obsessed with being struck by lightning and other electrical intercessions, but the biggest surprise is undoubtedly a time-warping origin sequence which carries us back to the obscure infancies of Krazy, Ignatz and Bull…

There are more wandering wonderments as certain elephantine geological features again take up unescorted perambulation and the county even catches a touch of meteor fever as the landscape is beset by falling stars and fiery flotsam from space.

The year again concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills as Kokonino is subjected to squalls of snow but worst of all is a plague of politicians, prophets and preachers all proselytising on the path to peace, forcing the residents make their feelings acrimoniously clear…

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

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is a peek at one of the earliest and rarest of merchandising items – a 1920s wooden Ignatz doll – as well as another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed). One final fillip is a selection of out-of-sequence replacement pages plus a sequence of pertinent daily strips which tie into the regular run of Sundays collected here…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspiring auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

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 companiable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? – A Comic by Liz Prince


By Liz Prince (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-89183-072-3

There’s an irrepressible rumour going about that Love makes the world go round. My grasp of physics isn’t strong enough to confirm or deny that hypothesis but I have read enough comics in my time to spot a magical and unmissable celebration of the all-consuming emotion when I see one.

Liz Prince originally hailed from Sante Fe, New Mexico before heading across county in an Eastward direction to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire).

She is a cartoonist – one of many – who thankfully opted to create a visual journal of her life and saw that one subject kept monopolising her attention. She is also an inspired raconteur who knows how to spin a graphic yarn in adroitly truncated form. Thus this slim collection which gathers a whole bunch of sublimely intimate, hilariously real moments spent with and apart from her equally fascinating man Kevin and the awesome force which is their cat Science.

Contained in this marvellous monochrome paperback posy are vignettes exploring the giddy silliness of fresh physicality, quirkily adorable breaking of bathroom taboos, the agony and relief of momentary solitude, incidents of intimate accommodation and lots of lovely eternal challenges that test every couple… especially the often bloody traumas of explaining to the incumbent household pet that they are not necessarily “Number One” any more…

Fronted by a suitably droll but downbeat pictorial Introduction ‘On Liz Prince’ by legendary lovelorn doodler Jeffrey Brown, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is thankfully still available – and instantly so if you opt for one of the downloadable versions (Kindle, Comixology etc.), or preferably direct from Top Shelf Productions – so if you want to share some romantic fellow feeling or just need to see that there’s still hope for all the lonely hearts, this a graphic gem you should promptly treat yourself to.
© & ™ Liz Prince 2005. All rights reserved.

Now Who Do We Blame?


By Tom Toles (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5558-3

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been bravely scurrilous, boldly impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all the iniquities they were held responsible for.

These devils with pens and brushed pictorially harangued the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Truth be told; before printing these astute arty types probably scrawled their picture-perfect opinions upon cave walls in moose blood…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

Unlike the “scritti politici” of radicals and revolutionaries, with this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial pest’s mill. That has never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

As it’s still too soon for a collection of cartoons about the 45th President (is it? Is it really?), here’s a superb collection from possibly the greatest modern gadfly of the Land of Free Speech and drawing: a period when George W. Bush was popularly regarded as the worst President in US history…

Thomas Gregory Toles was born in October 1951 and attended the University at Buffalo; The State University of New York where he graduated magna cum laude just as the social unrest of the early 1970s began to engender dangerous responses from the powers that be.

A progressive thinker, Toles worked as a writer for The Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo News and The Washington Post and also created such strips as insomnia-inspired feature Randolph Itch 2 AM, and kids comic Curious Avenue.

In 2002 Toles was invited by The Post to replace their veteran and venerable star cartoonist Herblock, and his work now appears in over 200 papers throughout America and is syndicated internationally by Universal Press Syndicate

His cartoons are stark simply-rendered, diabolically ingenious and include a commentary doodle in the bottom corner to punctuate and reinforce his often excoriating and frequently crushing message: a potent Greek Chorus of worldly-wise disapproval…

Toles has been awarded a National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award, a Herblock Prize and a Pulitzer (he’s also been a runner up numerous times) but received a cartoonist’s ultimate accolade from the Pentagon in 2006 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff uniformly protested in writing to one of his panels. As always in these cases, they seemed to have missed the point of the cartoon comment entirely…

As previously stated, this slim guided missile of satire skewers the last Republican recumbent Incumbent, but the devastating delivery and incisive inscribed insights are still in operation today, notching up WMDs (Witticisms of Mirthful Demolition) against the current White House Boarders and it surely can’t be too long before I’m reviewing something a little more contemporary in an embarrassing shade of orange…

For your delectation and deliberation, here are stinging pinpricks and blistering broadsides handily grouped into easily assimilated sections beginning with ‘Politics and the Election’ with Potus and Co. feeling the full weight of the cartoonist’s surreal wit whilst true bile and outrage are saved for a selection of gags outing the imbecility of prejudice regarding ‘Gays and Religion’.

‘Laws and Regulations’, ‘Press and Media’, ‘Health and Education’, ‘Science and the Environment’ and ‘Social Security’ are all fully investigated and deconstructed next, forcing me to wonder if these categories and the stupidities and venalities lampooned in them will also appear in any book featuring Prez 45…

Especial bile and vindictiveness is saved for the experts infesting ‘The Economy and Budget’ chapter but the best is left for last as ludicrous excuses for the timorous and shameful atrocities perpetrated by the nation’s self-proclaimed guardians and defenders are brought under the pen-&-ink microscope focused on ‘Security’ and ‘WMD and Beyond’

Funny, angry, gleefully cynical and Really Angry but Funny, Now Who Do We Blame? is a perfect example of the cartoonist as social commentator – if not actual reformer – and Tom Toles is a truly insightful and gifted gentleman whose work you should familiarise yourself with right now, if not sooner.
© 2005 Tom Toles. All rights reserved.

Red Moon


By Carlos Trillo & Eduardo Risso, translated by Zeljko Medic (Dark Horse/SAF Comics)
ISBN: 978-1616554477(HC)             eISBN: 978-1-62115-916-2
Dimensions: 221 x 22 x 283 mm

If you like a whiff of tongue in cheek whimsy with your fantastic fairytales you might want to take a look at this superb treat from prolific and much-missed Argentinean journalist/comics writer Carlos Trillo (Topo Gigio, Alvar Mayor, El Loco Chávez, Peter Kampf, Cyber Six, Point de rupture) and terrifyingly versatile illustrator Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets, Jonny Double, Parque Chas, Fulù, Simon, Boy Vampire), starring an affable boy acrobat and a tempestuous little princess.

Los misterios de la Luna roja was originally released as a quartet of comics between 1997 and 1998 by Ervin Rustemagić’s Balkan publishing powerhouse Strip Art Features and appears compiled in this stunning translated hardback thanks to Dark Horse Comics.

Kicking off with scene-setting epic ‘Bran the Invisible’ the supremely wry and deftly comedic action opens as junior tumbler Antolin and his showbiz mentors Crocker and Theo fetch up their travelling show in the extremely depressed and downhearted land of Burien.

Unable to raise a single smile or any approbation the lad soon learns that the kingdom is in mourning. Burien’s Lord and defender has been stricken with grief since his wife Tyl died. Moreover, their daughter Moon is both bonkers and prone to violence. She also talks to (shouts at and fights with) an invisible friend…

However after encountering the red-haired daughter of the despondent widower, Antolin is quickly forced to conclude that she’s not crazy at all…

His first clue is that unseen Bran apparently predicted the acrobat’s arrival and that the orphan boy would help Red Moon save the land. The clincher, though, is that something undetectable keeps hitting him.

There’s no time to waste since the marauding armies of cruel yet cowardly Lord of Leona are already making their uncontested way over the now-undefended borders…

And thus begins an epic confection with crucial quests, astounding odysseys, barbaric villains, fairy queens, witches, dragons and monsters as the valiant children and Bran flee the invasion, uncover the incredible truth of Tyl’s fate and seek to amass a meagre but prophesied army of incredible individuals to rescue Burien and restore Moon’s father to his previous competence and glory…

The saga concludes as Antolin and Red Moon return to the troubled land accompanied by their implausibly unbeatable ‘Attack Circus’ and a few useful Fairy trinkets, resolved to repel the vile invasion and deliver to the sadistic Leona his just deserts. However, that inevitable prospect provides no Happy Ever After for Antolin, who learns in the throes of triumph for Burian that his beloved mentors Theo and Crocker were sent to certain doom by the invaders…

Thus he sets off again, following their trail into ‘The Never Kingdom’ and is soon delighted to see Moon and (not see) Bran have followed their former partner-in-peril. Braving icy wastes, horrific beasts and a population of magically-mutated monsters, the kids challenge the power of wicked crone Panta and consequently discover that the malevolent sorceress and cannibal might perhaps be the long-lost mother of foundling Antolin…

Family feeling doesn’t count for much in Panta’s world, so there are few regrets after Moon discovers the secret of reversing the witch’s transformation spells and starts putting the Never Kingdom to rights…

The fabulously engaging, deliciously trenchant frolics then wrap up with the introduction of insalubrious junior jester Patapaf – and his ventriloquistic stick Pitipif – who play a critical role in the search for ‘The Book of All Dreams’.

With peace and joy restored to his subjects, the widowed Lord of Burian remarries but his new bride is almost immediately abducted by invulnerable ogre Lamermor de Granf to ensure that her husband will duel him for the right to rule Burien…

Outraged Moon can do nothing until she enjoys a fairy-sent dream and learns the smug giant has a hidden weakness. Setting off with Patapaf to find wandering showman Antolin and talking cat Blas Pascual de la Galera the little heroes invade Witch Queen Yaga’s fortress and subconscious to ferret out the long-occluded means to destroy Lamermor and accidentally acquire an unlikely ally who will ensure their victory and a Happy Ending at last…

Fast, funny and filled with family-friendly action and thrills, Red Moon is a delirious double-edged delight, with knowing sophistication for adult readers working side-by-side with gloriously inventive takes on traditional tale-telling, all adeptly visualised by Risso’s magnificently surreal illustration.

Ideal bedtime reading for anybody and any time.
Red Moon™ & © 2005, 2006, 2014 SAF Comics. All rights reserved.

Stark Plug Book.com


By Chap (Rolling Tire Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-3-7 (PB)              eISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-2-0

One of my greatest joys is reading work by creators who clearly get off on the sheer joy of cartooning and that is definitely the case in this outrageously addictive tome offering “A Nice Alternative to Television”…

Obviously and enticingly inspired by the graphic absurdity of Gilbert Shelton and his Fabulous Furry partners Dave Sheridan and Paul Mavrides, Wisconsin-based printmaker and illustrator Steven C. Chappell has concocted a delicious dose of warmly witty strips combining keen observational humour and slapstick shenanigans with splendidly surreal visual hijinks and capers featuring life-battered wage-slave everyman Stark Plug.

The artist then generously gathered them all in a wonderfully engaging softcover album – mainly black and white, but with judiciously and mischievously applied spot and full-colour sections – and self-deprecatingly allowed the material to do its job… to the delight of anyone savvy enough to read it.

Following a handy pictorial introduction to ‘The Primary Cast of Characters’, all manner of wry and supremely engaging jollity commences with ‘Another Day… at the Job’ as overstretched screen-monkey Stark is informed by his bullying boss that he now has to do the work of three for the same wage and resoundingly assured yet again “no raise for you!”.

Inundated with tedious repetitive keyboard-tapping, Mr. Plug’s mind starts to wander into realms both bizarrely graphical and enticingly metaphysical…

Another day brings oversleeping, fresh anxiety and a mad dash through Madison’s snowbound streets – past local ambulatory busking landmark Bernie the Banjo Bum – and culminates in a close shave with icy death, before the tedious toil resumes. At least Stark can enjoy official breaks with co-worker Stacy whilst expounding on the joys of the “Fry It Diet”…

He may consume copiously and unhealthily, but our man keeps fit, as seen in the purely visual, rainbow-hued and wildly experimental peregrination ‘Stark Walks’, after which ‘Power Outage!’ sees office and city plunged into stygian gloom, giving the workers license to get a bit daring with their habits and clothing…

Whilst out with his dog Dioji, Stark’s mind is set to wandering after overhearing ‘Jump Rope Jabber with Those Crazy Kids!’ before taking in an extensive tour of life’s finer things during ‘A Day at the City Gallery’. After enjoying the colour-enhanced delights of an entrancing Wood Block Print Show he consequently descends into a ‘Mid-Life Crisis…’ which entails quitting his doleful, penurious job to become a cartoon character in newspaper strip Memphis and Harry, playing straight man to a weirdly-drawn cat…

When the strip is cancelled due to catnip-fuelled excess, it’s back to the terminal grind of his old job where the pressure can only be relieved by frenetic dancing in ‘Stark Raving Mad’

A much needed ‘Coffee Break’ leads to Stark learning more than he ever wanted to about Stacy and her friend Rita so he indulges himself by devising ‘The Most Hilarious Comic Strip Ever!’ – a potentially lethal stunt involving fake moustaches, male nudity, bicycles, flying, the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol and an army of gun-happy cops – which can only be balanced by a moment of ‘Stark Meditation ’ before the madcap buffoonery concludes in mellow contemplative manner as Stark Plug and Dioji indulge in a gentle nocturnal ‘Moon Walk’

The entire experience is then topped off with quirky Ads for ‘Stark Plug Schwag’ (I got a cool bunch of stuff with my review copy – yay! – so I can thoroughly recommend this bit) bringing to a close the funniest book I’ve read this year… and it’s already March…
© 2017 Steven C. Chappell (Chap). All rights reserved.

For further information check out the book’s title, or if that’s too much work type this – starkplugbook.com – into a computer.

Your Favorite… Crab Cakes – A Crankshaft Collection


By Tom Batuik & Chuck Ayers (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-2666-8

Although in a sharp decline, extended-narrative comics strips still have a place in modern cartooning. Indeed in the case of creators like Tom Batuik the slide into continuity is almost inescapable.

Thomas Martin Batuik was born in Akron, Ohio in March 1947 and attended the famous (for all the wrong reasons) Kent State University. He graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) and became a Junior High School art teacher. This endeavour soon inspired the creation of his legendary newspaper strip Funky Winkerbean.

The long-lived (originally gag-a-day) school-based strip launched on March 27th 1972 and over the years developed strong soap opera tendencies and a potent attention to contemporary social issues to compliment the humour.

It also spawned two separate spin-off strips: John Darling (1979-1990) and today’s star turn Crankshaft which began in 1987 and is still going strong seven days a week, with syndication in more than 300 newspapers across the world.

Batuik scripts and fellow scion of Akron Chuck Ayers illustrates the ongoing saga of a curmudgeonly senior citizen barely getting by in a rapidly-changing modern world. Ayers has also contributed cartoons to the Akron Beacon Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes and others and illustrated a number of school textbooks.

Deeply invested in nostalgia, family and day-to-day existence, the strip details how crusty old fart Ed Crankshaft grows ever older disgracefully and with great discontent. Ed has a job driving a school bus and derives much delight from annoying parents by driving off without their kids, reversing over mailboxes and holding up traffic whenever he can. In fact, these are all popular sports every school board bus driver indulges in…

Ed’s supporting cast include his wilful cat Pickles, two adult daughters Chris and Pam, son-in-law Jeff and grandchildren Max and Mindy, and, whereas the kids get to see him at his gruff sentimental best, the grown-ups usually get the raw edge of his confusion and ire with the increasingly chaotic state of contemporary life…

Ed was once a pro baseball player and in many episodes his skill in throwing missiles generates lots of laughs, but that eccentric career also provided one of the series’ most rewarding themes of social interest. Ed never learned to read and very late on began adult literacy classes, highlighting an issue that impacts a vast number of older readers.

Of equal import and power is a long running storyline with Crankshaft regularly accompanying old pal Ralph to the Sunny Days Nursing Home where Ralph’s wife Helen is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease. Even here there’s a regular fount of golden-aged humour since Ed is a constant target for the amorous attentions of the institution’s army of love-starved widows…

This particular collection of strips – they’re all equally enjoyable and praiseworthy – spends a great deal of time depicting the road-raging joys of the School Run, explores Ed’s ongoing war with the newspaper delivery girl, his literal penny-pinching, a spate of funerals and weddings, the always-inclement Mid-Western weather and the coffee made by bus depot secretary Lena. Rumours are that it might well be considered a weapon of mass destruction…

Justice and Due Process take a holiday when Crankshaft serves on a jury, but those outbursts are balanced by wry reminiscences when Ed takes Max and Mindy on an extended tour of his scrapbooks…

Ed declares a vendetta on the mailbox of neighbour Mr. Keesterman, gleefully operates a bug-zapper that can be seen from space and proudly, loudly makes a spectacle of himself at doctor, dentist, barber, opticians and supermarket, but shows his softer side in visits with Ralph to Sunny Days a well as a school trip to the National War Memorial in Washington DC. Another milestone is reached when he wins a certificate for his reading proficiency but that only leads to more grief as he’s then expected to start using the Library computer…

…And then there are the kids who manage – despite all his efforts – to board Ed’s bus every morning. They may have the numbers, but he has experience, ruthlessness and a working knowledge of terror-tactics to keep the little monsters in line if they do get into his big yellow fortress…

He must love the little perishers really: after all, in vacation time he drives an ice cream truck to take the edge off the searing heat… if they can catch him…

Gently funny, powerfully engaging and offering some of the best zingers and put-downs in the comedy business, the assorted chronicles of Crankshaft are a family treat to shared and compared by all fans of cartooning excellence.
© 2002 Media Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero {with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Evil Cat’s cousin Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. With the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.