Benny Breakiron volume 1: The Red Taxis

By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-409-4

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics in Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After some time toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 he joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – who now used the nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as the Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960 Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman (check out that cover, fanboys!), the wry bucolic adventures star a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little French – or maybe Belgian? – town.

Quiet, well-mannered, gentle and a bit lonely, Benny is also the mightiest boy on Earth; able to crush steel or stone in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his only real weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches cold…

Benny never tries to conceal his powers but somehow the adults never catch on. They usually think he’s telling fibs or boasting and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles…

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a balloon and a shrug can topple trees...

Well-past it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing champion appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoît as the years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, François Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in and Jean Roba created many eye-catching Spirou covers, but by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all consuming and all the studio’s other strips were dropped.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down though, and, after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford and cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and his team between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, these gloriously genteel and outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers again, both as robust full-colour hardbacks and eBooks, and this initial exploit begins in the sedate city of Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the sweet kid goes about his rather solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can.

However, his sense of fair play is outraged when aging taxi driver Monsieur Dussiflard becomes the target of a dirty tricks campaign by new company Red Taxis. When he and the incensed cabbie challenge the oily company CEO in his flashy high-rise office, Benny is shooed away and the elderly driver later vanishes.

Suspicions aroused, the boy investigates and is attacked by a gang of thuggish Red Taxi employees. Only after thrashing and humiliating the goons does Benny realise that he still doesn’t know where Dussiflard is, so he throws the fight…

Just as he is imprisoned with his fellow abductee, the worst happens and the bombastic boy comes down with a stinker of a cold! As helpless as any other eight-year old, Benny is stuffed in a crate with the codger cabbie and loaded onto a freighter headed to the Galapagos Islands…

With all opposition ended, the boss and his Red Taxi stooges begin the final stage of their devilish plot, utterly oblivious to the dogged determination of Benny who must escape the ship and an alluring tropical paradise and impatiently wait for his cold to clear up, before setting off on a race against time, the elements and his own woefully-lacking knowledge of geography if he is to stop the ruthless criminals…

A superbly genteel spoof and fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, The Red Taxis offers a distinctly Old World spin to the concept of superheroes and provides a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Hellboy in Mexico

By Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Mick McMahon, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-897-0 (TPB)       eISBN: 978-1-63008-217-8

Happy Dia de los Muertos!

Let’s wind down our own Halloween celebrations and enjoy the more life-affirming Day of the Dead with a fabulously pertinent tome, formatted for your edification in both trade paperback and digital editions…

Towards the end of World War II an uncanny otherworldly baby was confiscated from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers moments after his eldritch nativity on Earth. The good guys had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates who were waiting for Hell to literally come to Earth…

The heroic assemblage was stationed at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when the abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in an infernal fireball. “Hellboy” was subsequently raised by Bruttenholm, and grew into a mighty warrior engaged in fighting a never-ending secret war against the uncanny and supernatural. The Prof assiduously schooled and trained his happy-go-lucky foundling whilst forming and consolidating an organisation to destroy arcane and occult threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began hunting down agents of the malign unknown, from phantoms to monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. Hellboy rapidly became its top operative; the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As decades passed, Hellboy gleaned snatches of his origins and antecedents, learning he was a supposedly corrupted beast of dark portent: a demonic messiah destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil.

It is a fate he despised and utterly rejected…

This eerily esoteric collection of tales concocted by Mike Mignola and friends re-presents a selection of short stories as originally published Hellboy In Mexico, Dark Horse Presents Volume 2 #7, 31-32, Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler, Dark Horse Presents Volume 3 #7, and Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, collectively spanning 2010 and 2015. The premise is that in 1956 Hellboy was working south of the border and, thanks to booze and an unspecified crisis, went way, way, wa-aay off the reservation…

With each piece preceded by some informative commentary from Mignola, the arcane action begins with ‘Hellboy in Mexico or, A Drunken Blur’, (May 2010) illustrated by Richard Corben with colourist Dave Stewart & letterer Clem Robins applying their own seamlessly fitting contributions to the mix…

In 1982 Hellboy and amphibious ally Abe Sapien are winding down after a strenuous mission in Mexico. Looking for a quiet drink they amble into a ramshackle cantina and discover a sort of shrine comprising a Holy Virgin statue and hundreds of faded photos, posters and tickets for luchadors (masked wrestlers).

One of them features Hellboy and three grinning, hooded grapplers…

Shocked and stunned, Hellboy’s mind drifts back to a barely-recalled drunken binge three decades ago…

And thus is revealed an untold tale of sterling comradeship and collaborative chaos-crushing, as the Demon Detective joins a trio of fun-loving masked brothers who combined their travels on the wrestling circuit with a spot of monster-hunting and devil-destroying. Sadly, Hellboy also remembers how it all fell apart after young Esteban succumbed to the deadly embrace of vampiric bat-god Camazotz

With the golden times over, Hellboy indulged in an epic, memory-eradicating booze-bender until months later BPRD agents found, dried out and brought home their errant top gun…

Of course, since he was missing for months, there might be other exploits still unrecalled…

From Dark Horse Presents Volume 2 #7 (December 2011) – and fully crafted by Mignola – ‘Hellboy versus the Aztec Mummy’ returns to that lost time in Mexico as the powerfully pixilated paranormal paragon hunts down a devil-bat only to find himself overmatched in a clash with godly Quetzalcoatl, after which marvellous Mick McMahon picks up the illustrator’s brushes to render Mignola’s outrageous drunken tall tale ‘Hellboy Gets Married’ (DHP #31-32, December 2013 to January 2014).

This time the demon drink led to the infernal gladiator falling into an unlikely matrimonial match with a ghostly shapeshifter. Their wedding night was the stuff of nightmares…

Relentlessly following on is ‘The Coffin Man’ (by Mignola and Fábio Moon from March 2014’s Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler). Here another cantina night was interrupted by a little girl whose recently interred uncle was being pilfered by a sinister Brujo (witchman). Hellboy’s best attempts to take back the beloved cadaver were insultingly inadequate…

The sequel ‘The Coffin Man 2: The Rematch’ was illustrated by Moon’s twin brother Gabriel Bá and first appeared in Dark Horse Presents Volume 3 #7 (February 2015). A fortnight after that initial encounter the still smarting AWOL B.P.R.D. agent went looking for the corpse-stealer and yet again came off embarrassingly second-best…

‘House of the Living Dead’ originally emerged as an eponymous one-off graphic novel crafted by Mignola, Corben, Stewart & Robins. It was devised as loving tribute to the golden age of Universal monster movies, their Hammer Films descendants and legendary actors Boris Karloff, Glenn Strange, John Carradine & Lon Chaney Jr.

The saga starts during that hazy sun-drenched fugue season with Hellboy still revelling in the heady thrills of the travelling wrestling ring. That only makes him a target for a cunning plan that begins with the offer of a lucrative private bout. After refusing, our soused champion is convinced to comply when the stranger shows him the photo of the girl who will be killed if he doesn’t fight…

Soon he is reluctantly entering a dilapidated hacienda and climbing into a ring to clash with a mad doctor’s recently animated corpse-monster. And then vampires show up and the rising full moon bathes the deranged genius’ manservant…

A light-hearted romp with a potent twist and dark underpinnings, it’s no wonder Hellboy carried on drinking after all the grave dust settled…

Moderated and annotated by editor Scott Allie, the ‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ closes this festive fear fiesta, revealing story-layouts, doodles, roughs, designs and pencilled pages accompanied by creator comments and garnished with a full cover gallery.

Delivered as a succession of short, sharp shockers of beguiling wit and intensity, this potent piñata of horror history is a perfect example of comics storytelling at its very best: offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action and momentous mystical suspense – something every fear fan and adventure aficionado will enjoy.
™ and © 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

The Baker Street Peculiars

By Roger Langridge, Andrew Hirsh & Fred Stresing (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1608869282 (PB)             eISBN: 978-1-61398-599-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fresh New Romp to Enjoy Forever After… 9/10

Roger Langridge is a very talented gentleman with a uniquely beguiling way of telling stories. He has mastered every aspect of the comics profession from lettering (Dr. Who) to writing (Thor: The Mighty Avenger) to illustration (Knuckles the Malevolent Nun, Zoot!).

When he combines them (Fred the Clown, Popeye, Abigail and the Snowman), the approbation, accolades and glittering prizes such as Eisner and Harvey Awards can’t come fast enough.

He is also a bloody genius at making folk laugh…

The Baker Street Peculiars started life as an all-ages comicbook miniseries before being gathered in a titanic detective tome and craftily references a glittering reservoir of cool concepts encompassing the mythology of Sherlock Holmes, 1930s London, cosy crime mysteries, kid gangs and rampaging monster movies. Moreover, thanks to Langridge’s keen ear for idiom and slang, every page resonates with hilarious dialogue any lover of old films or British sitcoms will find themselves helplessly chortling over – if not actually joining in with…

Blimey, Guv’ner!

Illustrated by Andy Hirsch (Science Comics: Dogs, Varmints, Adventure Time, Regular Show) and coloured by the inestimable Fred Stresing, ‘The Case of the Cockney Golem’ opens in foggy old 1933 London Town, which is currently enduring an odd spot of bother. Exceedingly odd…

‘A Beast in Baker Street’ reveals that famous statues are going missing. Now, as one of the bronze lions in Trafalgar Square comes to life and bolts away down Charing Cross Road -unlike the crowds rushing about in panic – three wayward children (and a dog) chase after it. Soon they are embroiled in the story of a lifetime… perhaps several lifetimes…

Tailor’s granddaughter Molly Rosenberg, orphan street thief Rajani Malakar and neglected filthy rich posh-boy Humphrey Fforbes-Davenport (and his canine valet Wellington) are all out long after bedtime and keen on a spot of adventure.

Having individually chanced upon the commotion, they spontaneously unite to doggedly track the animated absconder to Baker Street where they enjoy a chance encounter with a legendary investigator…

Molly is especially intrigued: she has read all the exploits of the famous consulting detective. When he rubbishes their claim of moving statues – and claims to be too busy with other cases – she angrily suggests they act as his assistants. The detective complies, but is actually hiding an incredible secret not even his fanciful new deputies could ever imagine…

As Molly’s grandfather suffers another visit from thugs running an extortion racket for the nefarious Chippy Kipper “the Pearly King of Brick Lane”, the kids’ bizarre quest continues in ‘The Lion, the Lord and the Landlady’ after the junior sleuths meet up at 221B Baker Street. Although consoled with a fine meal, they are disappointed to find their hoped-for mentor absent.

Receiving further instructions from the great detective’s elderly cook Mrs. Hudson, the youthful team learn that Mr Holmes believes the statues are simply being stolen and that he wishes the dauntless children to post guard on Boadicea at Westminster Bridge and Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square…

Their sentinel duty bears strange fruit, however, as East End thugs perform a strange and dangerous ritual and the beloved tourist attractions come to menacing life. As the kids follow the ambulatory landmarks back to Kipper’s hideout, Molly strives to recall a story her grandfather used to tell her: a fable about a Rabbi in old Prague who used a scroll to bring a giant avenging clay statue to life…

As the colossal Chippy shares his own unique origins with his army of thugs and sculptures the youngsters sneak in but are quickly captured. Stuck in a cell they can only watch in horror as Kipper uses ancient magic to make a new kind of monster…

‘The Old, Hard Cell’ brings the plot to a bubbling boil as the terrified tykes swallow simmering resentments and work together to escape their predicament, even as elsewhere, other, more mature truth-seekers are forced to change their stubbornly-held opinions…

Someone else with a keen eye and suspicious mind is enterprising lady journalist Hetty Jones of The Mirror. Her own patient, diligent enquiries have brought her to Baker Street in time to collaborate with the aged detective-in-charge. With all eventualities except the impossible exhausted, the grown-ups must accept the truth and soon track down the missing lion. It’s probably too late though, since an army of animated marble and bronze artefacts are rampaging through London towards the East End, with only three kids (and a dog) ready to confront them…

With Chippy Kipper in the vanguard, the chilling regiment invades Molly’s home turf but ‘The Battle of Brick Lane’ is no one-sided affair. The plucky tyke has remembered the secret of the Rabbi’s Golem and has conceived a daring stratagem to immobilise the monstrous invaders. As for Kipper’s human thugs, they’ve underestimated the solidarity of hundreds of poor-but-honest folk pushed just a bit too far…

And when the dust settles, Sherlock Holmes has one last surprise for his squad of juvenile surrogates…

Adding to the charm and cheer is a cover-&-variants gallery by Hirsch and Hannah Christenson, sketch and design feature ‘Meet the Peculiars’ and a delicious sequence of all-Langridge strips starring his unique interpretation of the Great Detective in ‘The Peculiar Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’.

Reverently refencing and spoofing beloved old films and our oh-so-idiosyncratic manners and parlance with a loving ear for an incongruous laugh, The Baker Street Peculiars is a sheer triumph of spooky whimsy, reinventing what was great about classic British storytelling.

Fast, funny, slyly witty and with plenty of twists, it is an absolute delight from start to finish and another sublime example of comics at its most welcoming.

Don’t be surprised if it turns up as a movie or BBC TV special one of these days…
™ & © 2016 Roger Langridge & Andrew Hirsch All rights reserved.

Buster Book of Spooky Stories 1976

By various (IPC Magazines)
ISBN: 85037-199-6

Considering that Halloween is a still a children’s festival (tabloid press and TV reports of bingeing adult excess notwithstanding) I thought I’d re-review this delightful package that epitomises the veritable End of Days of the traditional post-war English Comics industry.

By 1975 the Halcyon era of the children’s periodical publishing business was swiftly fading. Accepted Wisdoms dictating that comics were only read by children who would eventually move on to better and more acceptable forms of entertainment (and these were opinions held by the monolithic managements which produced them!) were gradually being eroded by more creative types within the industry. They still saw potential in the medium and were backed up by an increasingly vocal fan movement which kept on buying and reading the iniquitous, garish little pamphlets even after they had all “grown up.”

Fleetway was an adjunct of the IPC (at that time the world’s largest publishing company) and had, by the early 1970s, swallowed or out-competed all other English companies producing mass-market comics except the exclusively television-themed Polystyle Publications. As it always had been, the megalith was locked in a death-struggle with Dundee’s DC Thomson for the hearts and minds of their assorted juvenile markets – a battle the publishers of the Beano and Dandy would finally win when Fleetway sold off its diminishing comics line to Egmont publishing and Rebellion Studios in 2002.

In 1974 Fleetway’s hidebound, autocratic bureaucracy still ruled the roost, even though sales had been steadily declining in all sectors of the industry (Pre-school, Juvenile, Boys and Girls, Educational) since the end of the 1960s, and increasingly the company were sanctioning niche products to shore up sales rather than expand or experiment.

A dashing young sub-editor on Buster, Dez Skinn – who would go on to produce a number of successful independent publications such as Starburst, House of Hammer and Warrior as well as partially reviving the fortunes of the moribund reprint house Marvel UK – proposed a kids horror comic called Chiller to fill a perceived gap in the market, even preparing new and revised reprint material to show the “higher ups.”

His always reactionary and overly cautious bosses nixed the idea but decreed that the prepared material would be used in one-off annuals as part of occasional themed series “The Buster Book of …”

These one-offs had begun in 1970 with “Gags” and provided cost-effective, profitable items with a longer shelf-life for the lucrative Christmas and summer holiday markets.

Of course, I knew none of this when I picked up this second Buster Book of Spooky Stories in 1975 (UK annuals are forwarded-dated), a period when I was far more interested in girls and beer than funnybooks.

It was a remarkable experience: instant, brand new nostalgia…

Behind its gaudy, soft card covers lay a delightful blend of novel and comfortably familiar; comedy strips, fact-features and scary adventure yarns that had been the stuff of my formative Christmas experiences throughout the 1960s.

The jollity commences with a Reg Parlett ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’ 2-page howler, teasing essay ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ and more ghost gags before the first lengthy scare-fest begins…

‘The Ghostly Guardian’ follows the trials and tribulations of young Jim Frobisher who escapes the home of his abusive foster-uncle and takes up residence with a stray dog and his own deceased ancestor – 17th century freebooting pirate Firebrand Frobisher.

This is a resized weekly serial collected from I know not where, but is still resonates with thrills, spills and comedy chills, delivered in beautiful moody monochrome as rendered by the Solano Lopez studio (sadly these credits are mostly guesswork as the work was deliberately un-attributed at the time).

Our eponymous star contributes the first of two ‘Buster’s Dream World’ episodes, followed by a Ken Reid ‘Face Ache’ yarn, the first of numerous ‘Spooky Scrapbook’ fact-files and a short tale of ‘Horace the Hopeless Haunter’ before the real gem of the book begins: the first of two paranormal exploits featuring Cursitor Doom; jazzed up for the sinister seventies by re-jigging them as cases of Curtis Bronson: Ghost Hunter.

Cursitor Doom first appeared in the revamped Smash in 1969, created by Ken Mennell and illustrated by the indescribably brilliant Eric Bradbury, an elderly mystical troubleshooter (Doom not Bradbury) who hires burly he-man Angus McCraggan to be his agent on the physical side of an eternal battle against manifest evil.

Here Angus has been redrawn to resemble contemporary anti-hero Charles Bronson and in ‘The Phantom Friar’ goes solo to defend a couple of damsels in distress from a spectral monk and greedy relative.

The next comedy tranche comprises ‘Angel Face and Dare Devil’, ‘The Creepy Crawleys’, ‘Whacky Waxworks’, ‘Chilling Chuckles’, an extended jape ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ and ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, neatly bisected by terse text terrors ‘Ghost Stories of the Sea’ and another ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ article before the original spooky thrill-fest resumes with ‘The Ghost of Gaunt Manor’ and a suitably themed ‘Puzzle Page’.

Stalking another ‘Spooky Scrapbook’, Ken Reid returns with an hilarious ‘Davy Jones Locker’ gag-strip before nefarious Buster regular Charlie Peace debuts in a Victorian shocker ‘The House of Thrills’.

Then tyrannical 15th century warlord Ungar the Merciless comes a cropper when he tries to steal ‘The Mystic Fountain’, after which ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’, ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, ‘Whacky Waxworks’ and yet another ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ precede the second and final instalment of ‘The Ghostly Guardian’.

More ‘Angel Face and Dare Devil’, ‘Puzzle Page’ and ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ swiftly follow and a ‘Creepy Cackles with ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, after which ‘The 13th Man’ – a brief western terror-tale – provides some all-new thrills, balanced by more ‘Davy Jones Locker’, ‘Horace the Hopeless Haunter’, ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’, ‘The Creepy Crawleys’, ‘Face Ache’ and ‘Ghost Stories of the Sea’

The serialised Mummy’s Curse then concludes as the final section opens with a last witchly romp for ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’ whilst ‘Curtis Bronson meets The Snake Mummy’: a Bradbury drawn drama which tingles with menace in which Cursitor Doom makes a telling appearance, albeit in the trendier guise of with-it witch man Septimus Drood.

Just to ensure there’s not too many nightmares ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’, ‘Spooky Scapbook’ and the other ‘Buster’s Dream World’ take their last bows before the book ends with an activity page, the ‘Haunted House Escape Game!’

In 1984 Fleetway released the short-lived Scream!, an excellent weekly kids horror anthology modelled on the inexplicably (to management, at least) successful 2000AD, but the supernatural zeitgeist of the 1970s was long gone and the comic foundered and was cancelled after four months, which probably means something, but I’m too polite to say what…

This book is a delightful monster-mish-mash and one that will delight older fans and deliver lots of laughs and shivers to the young. Well worth tracking down and rapturously reading over and over again.
© 1975 IPC Magazines. All rights reserved.

Monsters! and Other Stories

By Gustavo Duarte (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-309-8 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-62115-886-8

In comics, Less Is More.

There are already pictures. They should be clearly understood. Deathless prose so often just gets in the way…

This stunning compilation of Brazilian graphic raconteur Gustavo (Bizarro, Guardians of the Galaxy) Duarte’s earlier works is a sublime masterclass in cartoon humour: three engrossing mini-epics hallmarked by breakneck pace, captivating atmosphere, escalating surreality, inspired sight-gags and superb drawing.

Following an effusive Introduction extolling the virtues of pantomimic comics and the sheer wonder of silent comedy from indisputable maestro Sergio Aragonés, the twisted triptych of hilarious terror tales opens with ‘Có!’ (2009): a sardonically sinister saga of pig and chicken rearing practises, alien abductions, existential confrontation and the unmitigated horror of extraterrestrial metamorphoses…

Moodily unfolding next, ‘Birds’ (2011) pecks at the cutthroat business world. A sinister murder mystery ensues, swiftly degenerating into a bloodbath where only Death holds true dominion…

Concluding this quiet extravaganza is the bombastic ‘Monsters!’ (2012): a manic celebration of Kaiju (that’s city-stomping, rampaging giant beasties to you and me) as a recreational angler reels in a colossal lizard to tear up the town. As the creature inevitably attracts gargantuan rivals ashore for a showdown and the human populace panic, an elderly gentleman patiently gathers ingredients for a very ancient and special potion…

This manic, mostly monochrome tome is the acme of artistic thrills and chills, perfectly capturing the addictive wonderment of monster stories.

Less is More. Silence is Golden. Read this Book.
™ & © 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 Gustavo Duarte Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 2: 1953-1954

By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-032-8 (Canongate):        978-1-56097-614-1 (Fantagraphics)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The ultimate Family Treat… 9/10

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. He published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, dying from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived, and showed that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a moving reminiscence from legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, this second gargantuan (218 x 33x 172 mm) landscape hardback compendium (also available in digital formats) offers in potent monochrome the third and fourth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving procession of insight and hilarity in still-fresh episodes seldom seen or reprinted once the strip had achieved its global domination.

Here a still rather outgoing and jolly Charlie Brown and high-maintenance – but essentially dog-like – mutt Snoopy interacted with bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty all out doing kid things. Now, however, the supporting cast had expanded to include Violet, Beethoven-obsessed musical prodigy Schroeder, obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy, and infant addition Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant.

They are memorably joined in this volume by human dust storm Pig-pen as well as the invention of a certain mystic tranquiliser dubbed the Security Blanket…

By the end of 1952 the daily diet of rapid-fire gags had evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically barbed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, and even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought

The relationships, however, were increasingly evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continued to develop. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, such as Snoopy’s extended cold war with baby Linus over treats, or Lucy’s hidden talents for golf and skipping…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, learning to read, the new domestic sensation of television, coping with kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown begins and his feelings of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the star here, with episodes seeing her expelled from Kindergarten as her insufferable know-it-allness grows. There’s also repeated evidence of what passes for her softer side too, as her fascination with Schroeder develops into a true crush, but, oh!, what she does to her little brother when nobody’s watching…

The first hints of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and, as previously mentioned, the uncleanable kid Pig-pen arrives and shakes up everybody’s world…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

By the end of this book Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’ rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1953-1954 (Volume Two) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2004 Walter Cronkite. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths

By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)

Omnibus ISBN: 978-1-44400-423-6

Individual Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5: 978-0-75286-613-0 & 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export.

The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France…

In eager anticipation of the publication of the 37th Asterix volume next month, here a little refresher course for the classicist cognoscenti and a gentle but urgent plea to the uninitiated to get their collective fingers out and get au fait with one of Earth’s genuine comics phenomenons…

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977, and Uderzo no longer crafts the comedic chaos, the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

In 1945 while working as junior illustrator in an ad agency his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time Rene created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo René generated Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, and even illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny clearly patented the 40-hour day. Using the nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet, Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, as well as the fabulous and funny adventures of the inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) plus a little something called Asterix the Gaul, inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien Alberto dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic. He showed artistic flair from an early age and became a French citizen when he was seven. At 13 years old he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region was the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year later, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a little something called Asterix

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first ancient world adventure was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate dropped from two per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the perfect partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the world-beating Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus, fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen, sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable resistors take the infiltrator in and, dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, the Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case and breaks into Compendium determined to teach the Romans a lesson. After driving them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale.

Be warned, however, that if pure continuity matters to you, only most recent British publisher Orion has released 36 albums in chronological order – and in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely artistic note, some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather unconventional approach to colour that might require you to wear sunglasses and put blinkers on your pets and staff…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there, Metallurgix the Smith, he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and tavern serving roast boar…

There is a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing…

Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format and the next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of Rome – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar.

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic duo track the kidnappers but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the permanent and imposing threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “obsessive”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British comic weekly Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) plus early issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232: 25th June 1966).

Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was a quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a rather radically altered state.

In these translations Asterix was “Beric”, Getafix the Druid “Doric” and Obelix was dubbed “Son of Boadicea”. More jingoistically, the entire village was editorially transported to England where a valiant population of True Brits never ever surrendered to the Roman Occupation!

Similar intellectual travesties occurred during two abortive early attempts to introduce the gutsy Gauls to America as a heavily re-edited family newspaper strip…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Dracula Marries Frankenstein! – An Anne of Green Bagels Story

By Susan Schade & Jon Buller (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-62991-815-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Those Who’ve Been Extra Good This Year… 9/10

Based in New York, Papercutz are a company committed to publishing comics material for younger readers, combining licensed properties such as The Smurfs and Nancy Drew with intriguing and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and this tasty tantalising gem, released just in time for Halloween.

In her first adventure – where she found her long-missing dad – Anne Blossom and her family moved to the sleekly antiseptic metropolis and model community of Megatown. It was initially an uncomfortable fit. On her first day at school the other kids dubbed her Anne of Green Bagels because of the health-food spirulina lunch her grandmother had baked…

Eventually, however, she settled in, the town grew more human, she made some friends…

In this follow-up tale she and one of those pals – Otto Immaculata – decide to make a movie, and, being fans of spooky stories opt for a thriller-feature starring Frankenstein and Dracula.

As is always the way in these ventures, whilst scouting shooting venues, the plot evolves and by the time they have convinced the exceedingly eccentric owner of gothic mansion Herringbone Hall (which actually predates the entire city of Megatown) the project has morphed into a comedy romance entitled Dracula Marries Frankenstein.

The project proceeds apace but when the usually sweet dowager Augusta Herringbone realises the kids are contemplating and condoning “same-sex marriage” she reacts in a most peculiar and astounding manner!

And when her over-the-top response goes viral, Herringbone Hall suddenly catches fire! Has the kid’s innocent summer-fun project unleashed a wave of hatred and intolerance in Megatown, or is there an even more incredible secret to be exposed? Maybe this ill-starred tale is a horror story after all…

Smart, funny and warmly inclusive whilst tackling adult issues in an accessible manner, Dracula Marries Frankenstein blends mystery, laughs and adventure in the grand style, all delivered by creative – and wedded – couple Susan Schade & Jon Buller in their hybrid graphic novel (alternating illustrated text chapters with cartoon strip episodes, in the manner of our own Rupert Bear Annuals) format.

An excellent children’s romp for modern times and forward-thinking families.
© 2017 Susan Schade & Jon Buller.

Basil Wolverton’s Culture Corner

By Basil Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-308-8

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist, and – unlike most cartoonists of his time – preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929 but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk for Target Comics and RockmanUnderground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Seemingly tireless, Wolverton also produced an apparently endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as superman/boxing parody ‘Powerhouse Pepper’ to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as ‘Bedtime Bunk’, ‘Culture Quickie’ and ‘Bedtime Banter’.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp of Li‘l Abner fame to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton had been a member of Herbert W. Armstrong’s (prototype televangelist of a burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement) Radio Church of God since 1941. In 1956, he illustrated the founder’s pamphlet ‘1975 in Prophecy’ and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled ‘The Bible Story: the Story of Man’ which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. In many ways, these religious works are his most moving and powerful – and will the subject of a forthcoming review…

In 1973 he returned to the world of comic books, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In 2010 Fantagraphics collected a spectacular haul of Wolverton’s very best gag features in a uniquely informative hardback which is now also available in a fancy-shmancy sci fi digital edition.

Culture Corner ran as a surreal and sublimely screwball half-page “advice column” in Whiz Comics as well as The Marvel Family and The Daisy Handbook from 1946 to 1955, when publisher Fawcett sold off its comic division to Charlton Comics – including the very last unpublished strips. The hermit-cartoonist was clearly a meticulous creator, and his extensive files have bequeathed us a once-in-a-lifetime insight into his working practice and the editorial exigencies of the period.

Wolverton sent a fully pencilled rough of each proposed episode to Will Lieberson and Virginia Provisiaro (Executive editor and Whiz Comic’s editor respectively) who would comment, then commission or reject.

The returned pencils would then form the skeleton of the instalment. This marvellously madcap tome re-presents the full-colour strips with (almost) all of the original pencil roughs, – diligently stored by Wolverton for decades – as counterpoint and accompaniment, revealing the depth not only of Wolverton’s imagination at play but also his deft facility with design and inking.

Also included are some extra roughs and all the extent rejected ideas – still some of the most outrageous tomfoolery ever unleashed even after all these years.

Basil Wolverton was something of an inventor and DIY maestro, according to his son Monte’s illuminating introduction, and turned the family home into a dream-house Rube Goldberg or our own Professor Brainstawm would be proud of, and that febrile ingenuity is clearly seen in the advisements of Croucher K. Conk Q.O.C. (Queer Old Coot) as with awesome alliteration and pre-Rap rhyming riffs, the surly savant suggests solutions for some of life’s least tiresome troubles.

Among the welter of whacky wisdoms imparted here, some of the most timelessly true are ‘How to Raise Your Eyebrows’, ‘How to Eat your Spaghetti without Getting Wetty’, ‘How to Clap without Mishap’, ‘How to Stop Brooding if your Ears are Protruding’, ‘How to Bow’ and ‘How to Grope for Bathtub Soap’: prominent amongst more than a hundred other sage prescriptions, so whatever your age, alignment or species this crazy chronicle has something that will change your life – and often for the better!

Graphically grotesque, inveterately un-sane and scrupulously screwball, this lexicon of lost laughs is a must have item for anyone in need of certifiably classy cheering up.
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Eagle Classics: Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent

By John Ryan (Hawk Books -1990)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-822-1

The son of a diplomat and irrefutable True Gent, John Ryan was born in 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a teaching post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to comics such as Girl and legendary weekly comic The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a glossy new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Mesmerised children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day as well as a plethora of strips illustrating some of their favourite radio shows.

The Eagle was a tabloid sized paper with full photogravure colour inserts alternating with text and a range of other comic features. Tabloid is a big page and you can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome folio was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash, the story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many sticky ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran until issue #19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship as Ryan had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent which began as a full page (tabloid, remember – an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) in #16.

Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and deftly repositioned as a purely comedic venture. For our purposes and those of the book under review it’s those first three years we’re thinking of.

Tweed was a bluff and blundering caricature of the “military Big Brass” Ryan had encountered during the war. In gentler times the bumbler with a young, never-to-be-named assistant known only as ‘Boy’, solved mysteries and captured villains to general popular acclaim. Thrilling and often macabre adventure blended seamlessly with sly yet cheerful schoolboy low comedy in these strips, since Tweed was in fact that most British of archetypes, a bit of a twit and a bit of a sham…

His totally undeserved reputation as detective and crime fighter par excellence, and his good-hearted yet smug arrogance – as demonstrated elsewhere by the likes of Bulldog Drummond, Dick Barton – Special Agent, or Sexton Blake somehow endeared the arrogant, posturing buffoon to a young public which would in later years take to its heart Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army and, more pointedly perhaps, Peter Sellers’ numerous film outings as Inspector Clouseau.

Ryan’s art in these strips is particularly noteworthy. Deep moody blacks and intense, sharp, edgy inking creates a mood of fever-dream intensity. There are anachronistic echoes and nuances of underground cartoons of more than a decade later, and much of the inevitable ‘brooding, lurking horror’ atmosphere found in the best works of Basil Wolverton. Ryan knew what kids liked and he delivered it by the cartload.

This too-slim, oversized (324 x 234mm x) paperback compilation is all that’s readily available these days, but surely in these days of electronic publishing some enterprising fan with a complete Eagle Collection can link up with a perspicacious publisher someway, somehow and produce a comprehensive compilation of the nation’s most self-lauded sleuth?

I know a lot of aging 10-year olds and their grandchildren who would leap at the chance to see the old team back in action…
Harris Tweed © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.