The Best of Archie Comics Book 3

By Bob Montana and many & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-61-7

For most of us, comicbooks mean buff men and women in capes and tights hitting each other, lobbing trees and cars about, or stark, nihilistic genre thrillers aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm for nearly twenty years.

However, over the decades since the medium was created in 1933, other forms of sequential illustrated fiction genres have held their own. One that has maintained a unique position over the years – although almost now completely transferred to television – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped wholeheartedly onto the superhero bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the accepted blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield – the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag – but generally MLJ were followers not innovators

That all changed at the end of 1941. Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights phalanx, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December of that year the action strips were joined by a wholesome, ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had human-scaled adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman lad, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

It all started with an innocuous 6-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Forsythe P.Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

It was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 the feature graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began an inexorable transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over and, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age, the company renamed itself Archie Comics, becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Tomorrow’s, forced a change in the content of every other publisher’s titles and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Over the decades those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion but Archie Comics now seem content to specialise in what they do uniquely best.

The eponymous Archie is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty – the pretty, sensible, devoted girl next door, with all that entails – loves the ridiculous redhead. Veronica is spoiled, exotic and glamorous and only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This never sordid eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charmingly raucous, gently preposterous, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution.

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up American.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. There’s even a scurrilous Tybalt figure in the Machiavellian shape of Reggie Mantle who first popped up to cause mischief in Jackpot comics #5 (Spring 1942).

This beguiling triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside the bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix with the editors tastefully confronting a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years.

The cast is always growing and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of like spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contribute to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Of course such a wealth of material has provided for a splendid library of trade paperbacks and collected editions since the dawn of the Graphic Novel market at the beginning of the 1980s. In recent years the company has found many clever ways to repackage their irresistible product such as a series of reprint volumes examining the progress decade-by-decade.

This particular iteration of The Best of Archie Comics tweaks that idea by providing a sampling from each era in one big book, with the further fillip of the tales being favourites personally selected by editorial staff like Editor in Chief Victor Gorelick and Ellen Leonforte, creators – vintage and current – like J. Torres, Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz or avowed celebrity fans such as Kyle Gass (Tenacious D), Joel Hodgson (Science Mystery Theater 3000), Tom Root (Robot Chicken) and Stan Lee.

Archie in ‘The 1940s’ is superbly represented by a wealth of wry and riotous slapstick shenanigans beginning with ‘The 3-11 Club’ (by Bob Montana from Pep #36, 1943) which finds the young sap drawn into a duel with a Prep School cadet after taking haughty, fickle Veronica to a swanky night spot.

Co-creator Montana supplied most of these early episodes, such as the medieval fantasy-fest ‘Sir Archibald of the Round Table’ (Archie #2 1943) and the delightfully heart-warming tale of a boy and his dog – and the ten puppies which resulted when everybody misapprehended the gender of ‘Oscar’ (Pep #37 1943)…

Ed Goggin, Harry Sahle – and his favourite inker “Ginger” – captured the contentious boisterousness of ‘Spring Fever’ (Archie #2 1943), after which the red menace got another irksome pet in ‘Monkey Shines’ (by Montana from Archie #6, 1945), before a broken School clock made ‘Time for Trouble’ (Sahle & Ginger, Archie #7, 1945), with the decade closing for us with a catalogue of calamity in the Goggin/Sahle/Ginger exposé ‘Camera Bugs’ from Pep #48, 1946.

An era of conformity, stability and expansion, ‘The 50s’ open with ‘The Cook-Off’ (Little Archie #2, 1956) as Bob Bolling expertly extrapolates on the grade school years of that eternal love triangle and the boy learns early the wages of “sin” is bewilderment and a headache. Teen Veronica then takes centre stage in ‘Poor Little Rich Whirl’ by George Frese & Terry Szenics (Archie Annual #8, 1956-1957) flaunting her wealth to poor little Betty, and the section concludes with a rare full-length 5 part yarn from Jughead #1, 1957.

Here the ravenous nonconformist discovers the downside of becoming a global singing sensation in ‘Jughead’s Folly’ by the amazing Joe Edwards.

‘The 1960s’ were a time when youth culture took over everything and ‘Over-Joyed’ by Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey & Marty Epp (Archie #123, 1961) begins a second Golden Age for laughter as the carrot-topped Lothario endures a self-inflicted barrage of silent comedy catastrophes, before ‘Hi-Jinx and Deep Divers’ (by Bob White from Life with Archie #16, 1962) cleverly changes tack for a sub-sea science fiction adventure which finds Messrs. Andrews and Mantle battling mermen at the bottom of the sea…

In Archie’s Pals and Gals #29, 1964 Doyle, the brilliant Samm Schwartz & Epp superbly spoofed the British Pop Invasion by having the disgruntled lads of Riverdale form their own mop-top band in the still-hilarious ‘Beetlemania’, after which ‘The Hold Up’ by Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick & Vince DeCarlo offers a sharp and silly pre-Pussycats tale from She’s Josie #19, 1966.

In it rich brat Alexander Cabot III expends insane amounts of energy trying to get robbed because he hates anybody thinking he might be poor…

Apparently the most disturbing thing about Jughead is that he prefers food to girls – a situation the torrid teen temptresses of Riverdale High attempt to correct through modern technology in ‘Pardon My Computer’ by George Gladir, Schwartz & Epp (Jughead #119, 1966), after which the lad proves his love for cunning pranks in ‘Voice Control’ (Doyle & Schwartz from Jughead #120, 1966).

Practical jokes are an Art form in Riverdale – as seen in ‘Stick with It’ (Archie #178 Doyle, Lucey, Bill Yoshida & Barry Grossman) and the kids played with reality itself in ‘Visit to a Small Panic’ (Everything’s Archie #1 Gladir, Lucey, Epp & Yoshida) when they all visited the Hollywood animation studios then creating their Saturday Morning Cartoon Show.

A time of style-challenged sensuous silliness and ethical questing, ‘The ‘70s’ is represented here with ‘The Bye Bye Blues’ (Laugh #276, 1974, Doyle, Lucey, Yoshida & Grossman) wherein the kids practise their life-governing philosophies to great effect, whilst Reggie’s adoption of the wrong spirit after watching ‘Kong Phoo’ (Archie at Riverdale High #18, 1974) by Doyle & Lucey only leads to personal pain and sorrow…

‘Minding a Star’ (Archie #264, 1977, by Doyle, Dan & Jim DeCarlo & Grossman) finds our brick-topped hero babysitting a TV celebrity chimp, whilst the Star Wars phenomena hit mean Mantle hard in ‘Costume Caper’ from Reggie and Me #104 (1978, Doyle, Dan DeCarlo Jr., Jim DeCarlo, Yoshida & Grossman).

The girls had their own pet passions as seen in the superb spoof ‘Melvin’s Angels’ (Betty & Veronica #277, 1979) from Doyle, Dan & Jim DeCarlo, Yoshida & Grossman.

‘The ‘80s’ are still with us, of course, so the green message of ‘Verve to Conserve’ (by Gladir, DeCarlo Jr., Lapick & Yoshida from Archie # 292, 1980) retains much of the original merit and mirth, whilst Josie’s ongoing war with the Cabot clan on Sports Day results in ‘Scratch One Clown’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #86, 1982, by Dan DeCarlo Jr., Jim DeCarlo & Yoshida).

Parental control and filial responsibility result in upset and big laughs in ‘Saturday’s Child’ (Archie #331, 1984 Doyle, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jim DeCarlo), whilst ‘The Plight of the Perilous Pike’ by Bolling, Bob Smith & Yoshida from Archie and Me #144 offers another view of the kids – one that displays their warmth, generosity and good hearts.

Around the same time that DC were first rationalising their sprawling universe, after years of unqualified success Archie Comics similarly undertook a massive gamble in the MTV, computer-game, reading-reduced decade by rebooting and updating the entire franchise.

Betty’s Diary #1, 1987 saw ‘The Art Lesson’ – by Kathleen Webb, Dan & Jim DeCarlo & Yoshida – in which the wholesome blonde showed her character by refusing an award she felt she hadn’t earned. Then ‘Back from the Future’ (Archie Giant Series #590, October 1988, by Rich Margopoulos, Rex Lindsey, Jon D‘Agostino, Yoshida & Grossman and supplemented here by the cover) offers a fanciful comedy drama as the Jones boy is deputised by pretty red-headed, be-freckled mystery girl January McAndrews into the Time Police.

She believes that the slovenly moocher is the only one who can help her save history from malignant chronal crooks. Scary…

‘The ‘90s’ section begins with the uncanny ‘Mystery of the Mummy’s Curse’ (New Archies Digest #10, 1990, by Mike Pellowski, Henry Scarpelli, Yoshida, Grossman, Nanci Tsetsekas & Gregg Suchow), a caper very much in the manner of TV’s Scooby Doo – but with the kids as pre-teens. Next, fame chasing Cheryl Blossom (#15 1995 by Dan Parent, D’Agostino, Yoshida & Grossman) takes time off from trying to steal Archie from Betty and Veronica to briefly pursue a life in reality TV by organising ‘Cheryl’s Beach Bash’

That Scooby Gang motif was a popular one. In ‘The 2000s’ ‘A Familiar Old Haunt’ (Archie’s Weird Mysteries #6, 2000 by Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz, Rick Koslowski, Vickie Williams & Rick Taylor) found the teenaged Riverdalers exposing charlatan monster-hunters, whilst a manga-style re-imagining of Sabrina (#70, 2005 by Tania Del Rio, Jim Amash, Jeff Powell, Ridge Rooms & Jason Jensen – and see Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Magic Within Book 1) – found the student sorceress dealing with both mundane and mystical school tests in ‘Spell it Out’

This marvellous meander down memory lane concludes with ‘2010 and Beyond’ and ‘Something Ventured, Something Gained’ (from Jughead #200, 2010 by Tom Root, Lindsey, Jack Morelli, Parent & Rosario “Tito” Peña) which sees young Forsythe sell his most unappreciated, vital characteristic to a conniving witch and only survive due to the self-sacrifice of his friends…

Also on show are some thoroughly modern spoof and pastiche ‘Variant Covers’ by Andrew Pepoy, Fiona Staples, Ramon Perez & Phil Jimenez from 2012-2013, before everything ends on a delirious dilemma in ‘The Great Switcheroo!’ (Archie #636, 2012 by Del Rio, Gisele, Koslowski, Morelli & Digikore Studios) as well-intentioned magic turns the town into in Reverse-dale and all the boys and girls unknowingly swap genders and problems…

Spanning the entire history of comicbooks and featuring vintage yarns, landmark material and up-to-the-minute modern masterpieces, this is a terrific tome for anybody looking for light laughs and the acceptable happy face of the American Dream.
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

When I Was a Kid – Childhood Stories by Boey

By Cheeming Boey (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-785-3

The ability to go back into our childhoods and relive those bizarre, baffling and brilliantly fierce thoughts and every brand-new-day discoveries is a wondrous mixed blessing, but being able to share those recaptured experiences with jaded world-weary adults is a truly miraculous gift and thus utterly evergreen.

A recent admission to the select but august crowd of halcyon salad-days wranglers is Malaysian animator, illustrator, educator, video game developer and cartoonist Cheeming Boey – who also produces gallery art on Styrofoam coffee cups and draws an autobiographical webcomic about his life in America, entitled I Am Boey.

You should really check it out…

As a kind of prequel to his blog – if indeed growing up can be considered an introduction to a main event – Boey has collected a huge number of visual memoirs and epigrams about his im-maturing years in Asia, bundling them up in a beguiling paperback that emphasises both the exoticism of life in Malaysia and the universal similarities and solidarities of being a kid.

Warm, sensitive, intimate, uproarious, disarmingly honest as well as on occasion brutal, shocking and sad, these 103 visual monologues (with heart-warming family photos scattered throughout) are invitations into a world of wonder, rivalry, confusion, punishment, resentment, humiliation, anticipation, frustration, greed, glee and always the security of family.

They all begin with “When I was a kid…” and prove that, apart from the odd surface detail, every happy, loving childhood is identical…

The stand-out incidents include such salutary universal reminiscences as ‘My First Pet’, ‘Baby Powder’, ‘Bedtime Stories’, ‘Bad for your Eyes’, ‘Grandma’s Leg’, ‘Nasal Noodles’, ‘R-Rated’, ‘Stealing Money’, ‘Sunday Cartoons’, ‘Not a Genius’ and of course ‘Failing Math’ but with such a wide catalogue to choose from, every little cartoon episode will resonate with somebody. Especially you…

© 2011, 2013 Cheeming Boey. All rights reserved.

…And remember to visit
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a total treat for the big kids paying for all the presents this year and every year… 9/10

Last of the Mohicans: Ten-Cent Manga Series volume 1

Freely adapted from the novel by James Fenimore Cooper by Shigeru Sugiura, edited & translated by Ryan Holmberg (PictureBox)
ISBN: 978-0-985195-6-6

Those of us in the know tend to believe that Japanese comics began with Osamu Tezuka in the years following the end of World War II – and indeed in most ways that assessment is reasonable.

However, as the superbly informative article bolstering this superb and timely translation attests, there has been a thriving manga business operating in Japan since the 1930s, and one of its greatest proponents was artist and author Shigeru Sugiura.

This superb black and white hardback volume re-presents one of his greatest triumphs as the initial volume in a proposed series of “Ten-Cent Manga” collections translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg which will highlight lost works displaying not simply indigenous Japanese virtuosity but also the influence of cross-cultural contact and pollination with other countries such as America.

In his erudite and lavishly illustrated essay and appreciation ‘Shigeru Sugiura and his Mohicans’ Holmberg describes in fascinating and forensic detail the origins of the project, the state of play in Japan pre-and-post WWII and the absorbing life and career of an artist who began as a jobbing strip cartoonist yet elevated himself to the status of Psychedelic, Surrealist Pop Art icon – one utterly addicted to American movies and comicbooks.

The treatise is fully supported by documentary excerpts from the 1950s magazines and strips Sugiura scrupulously homaged and swiped from: Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan, Alex Toth’s Johnny Thunder, and particularly Fred Ray’s Tomahawk being the most common amongst a wealth of graphic treasures synthesised and transformed into something fresh, vibrant and, most crucially, relevant to the entertainment-starved kids of occupied Japan.

Also included is an article by the artist himself, written in 1988 and describing his life-long passion for and debt of influence to American cinema – most especially ‘Silent Movies’

However, although scholarly and revelatory, the text portions of this delightful tome pale beside the sheer exuberant energy and B-movie bravura of James Fenimore Cooper’s text…

Shigeru Sugiura (1908-2000) studied painting before becoming an art assistant to comics pioneer Suihō Tagawa. By 1933 he was creating his own strips for the gags and boys’ own adventure style comics that proliferated prior to the war. He returned to the industry when hostilities ended, producing more of the same but now influenced far more by the ubiquitous comicbooks of the occupying G.I.s than the silent Westerns and baggy-pants comedies he had voraciously consumed in his youth.

His blended comedy/action stories for children achieved great success throughout the 1950s, based on well known characters such as the ninja Sasuke Sarutobi or Chinese classics like Journey to the West, and he adapted modern themes like wrestling, science fiction and even Gojira/Godzilla to his fun-filled weekly pages in a most prolific and influential career.

…And Westerns; he did lots of rootin’ tootin’ shoot ‘em up cowboy stories…

He very loosely adapted Last of the Mohicans in 1953 (when it was already a very familiar tale to Japanese readers) for Omoshiro Manga Bunko – a line of books presenting world classics of literature in comics form – albeit not exactly in any form recognisable to literary purists…

He retired in 1958 but returned in 1970, reworking old stories and creating new pieces from the fresh perspective of a fine artist, not a mere mangaka earning a precarious living.

In 1973 he was already refining and releasing his classic tales for paperback reprints when he was approached by Shōbunsha to update another. The 1953 Mohicans became the latest re-released tale, slyly reworked as a wry pastiche which kick-started Sugiura’s second career as a darling of the newborn adult manga market…

One word of warning: This is not your teacher’s Last of the Mohicans, any more than The Shining resembles Stephen King’s actual novel or the way the musical South Pacific could be logically derived from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific – or indeed how anything Alan Moore wrote could be found in films like From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sugiura’s updated 1973-74 iteration forms the majority of this chronicle; a fast-paced story of non-stop adventure, greed, pride, tragedy and whacky humour where both the heroic frontiersman Leatherstocking and noble savage Chingachgook are re-imagined as bold young lads in bad times, their desperate quest punctuated with weirdly clashing moments of slapstick, creative anachronism, cross-cultural in-jokes and plain outright peculiarity…

It all works impossibly well, beginning with the introduction of Hawkeye, ‘La Carabine Kid’: a young but doughty colonial scout and spy for the British.

The Empire is at war with the French for possession of the New World, and the Kid and his companions have suffered many reverses at the brutal hands of the Mingos – a tribe allied to France and responsible for reducing the mighty Mohicans to two survivors; Chief Chinga and his son Uncas

The plot thickens when the Mingo Chief and his manic son Magua threaten to abduct Cora and Alice, daughters of British Colonel Munro, in an attempt to force the soldier to surrender his command East Fort to the French.

After a savage assault, Hawkeye, the Mohicans and dashing Major Duncan decide to escort the girls to the safety of Fort Henry, with the hostiles close behind…

En route they pick up itinerant preacher Father Gamut, before fighting their way on through wilderness and repeated Mingo attacks, always one step ahead of ‘Magua’s Pursuit’.

The struggle is not one-sided. The wily fugitives manage to blow up a French fort and even link up with a war party of Delas who subsequently reduce the ravening Mingos to scattered remnants – but not before the pursuers succeeding in carrying off ‘The Abducted Sisters’

The scene is set for the heroes to rescue the girls and end Magua’s threat forever – but the showdown is costly and there is a high price to pay in ‘The Sad Ending’

Sheer graphic escapism, spectacular storytelling and a truly different view of a time-honoured masterpiece make this an unmissable treat for all lovers of world comics.

This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

© 2013 the Estate of Shigeru Sugiura. Translation and essay © 2013 Ryan Holmberg. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An ideal present for comics connoisseurs… 8/10

Nudnik Revealed!

By Gene Deitch (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-651-5

Kim Deitch has been one of the leading lights of America’s Comix Underground since its earliest days. He probably got his artistic acumen, narrative know-how and skewed raconteur’s view from his dad…

Eugene Merril “Gene” Deitch was born in 1924 and began his astounding career as a graphic designer and art director before eventually moving into animation. Over a 65-year career working as producer, scripter, artist, designer and Director for UPA/Columbia Pictures, MGM, Terrytoons/20th Century Fox, King Features and Paramount Pictures, he created cartoons for both movie audiences and television consumption.

In 1961 his cartoon feature of Jules Feiffer’s Munro won the Oscar® for Animated Short Film, and he numbers Tom Terrific, Tom and Jerry, Popeye and Krazy Kat amongst his other major successes. Deitch directed Alice of Wonderland in Paris, adapted the animated feature of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and is credited with the first ever Tolkien film adaptation with The Hobbit in 1966.

Gene Deitch has resided in Prague for decades where he established a long and fruitful working relationship with Krátký Film s.r.o. studios. This partnership led, in 1964-1965, to a uniquely personal and brilliant run of movie cartoon shorts starring the latest in a shabby yet unbroken line of good-natured, ingenuously bumbling, impoverished cinematic victims of cruel circumstance.

The very first Nudnik cartoon garnered Deitch another Academy Award® nomination and led to the commission of 11 more shorts starring the luckless loafer, conceived and mapped out by Deitch to be constructed by his Iron Curtain cousins …and delivered just as the American tradition of preceding main movie blockbusters with brief cartoons was ending….

Now with those lost classics restored and collected on a commemorative DVD, Deitch has also compiled a glorious oversized (310 x 236mm) full-colour hardback compendium detailing the history and genesis of Nudnik as an accompaniment.

Dedicated to and enamoured of the hallowed concept of the lonely loser, Deitch famously got the idea for his favourite creation after a piece of office machinery tried to kill him. From there the concept of a down-and-out hobo who was a magnet for ever-increasing disaster just seemed to gel…  

Liberally illustrated throughout with original art and documents scrupulous hoarded by Deitch, the disclosures begin in the introductory ‘Here’s Nudnik’ after which the physical genesis of the character is revealed in ‘Nudnik, Master of Failure’

In ‘What’s a Nudnik?’, Deitch traces the development of his ultimate baggy-pants clown, revealing his personal empathy with his creation, after which ‘The Nudnik Plot’ examines the narrative thrust of the two brief series.

Historical antecedents, poster art and some of the merchandising intended to supplement the character launch all contribute to the story of ‘The Nudnik Look’ before the real meat of this tome begins with Production Scrapbook – Capturing Ideas on Paper’.

This vast collection of utterly fascinating development sketches, preparatory roughs, scene layout drawings, models sheets, animation tests, character designs, episode models, gags, pictorial story snippets and even a complete 1967 “flip-book” adventure (‘The Cut Finger Fumble’ produced for the Montreal World’s Fair) plus more merchandise prototypes all show just how much work goes into making animation.

Then Film Setups – Some actual camera setups, cels, and backgrounds’ reproduces many actual finished scenes from the cartoons whilst Gags – Nudnik gag sketches, some of which were produced as 30-second “blackout” gag films’ reprints whole raw story sequences which show just how similar cartons and comics strips truly are.

At the time, Deitch was still learning how to work with his Czech team and thus his visual instructions were often excessively detailed.

The next section fills out the book with a magical treat for fans and students of the medium: three complete production storyboards, exactly as the actual animators received them and which they used to turn Deitch’s script, ideas and drawings into six minutes of slapstick action and outré sound effects.

The actual tales are all 18 to 20 pages of nine frames each, ‘Home Sweet Nudnik’ (episode 7), ‘Welcome Nudnik’ (episode 3) and ‘Good Neighbor Nudnik’ (episode 11), and work perfectly as comics even as they reveal the secret of animation magic…

This terrific tome then closes with additional features ‘To Russia With Love’ featuring a modern performer celebrating the cartoon clown’s shtick, a salutary example of the unwanted influence of Studio bosses in ‘Peeing in the Soup’ and a warm plug for that aforementioned DVD collection in ‘Nudnik Lives Again’

Long regarded as a lost masterpiece of the art form, Nudnik Revealed! is a wonderful visual memoir which offers stunning insights into the history of cartoon creation and the mind of a brilliantly imaginative creative force.

Nudnik Revealed! is © 2013 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2013 Gene Deitch. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 5: Happy Hippy Comix – New Edition

By R. Crumb & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-930193-92-8

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.

Really. I’m not kidding…

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotic introspections, his pictorial rants and invectives, unceasingly picked away at societal scabs and peeked behind forbidden curtains for his own benefit, but he has always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who takes the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the nigh-impossible task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output and those critically important volumes are now being reissued.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a functionally broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

As had his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip masters such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google), De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs…

From this point onwards, the varied and exponentially impressive breadth of Crumb’s output becomes increasingly riddled with his often hard-to-embrace themes and declamatory, potentially offensive visual vocabulary as his strips grope towards the creator’s long-sought personal artistic apotheosis, and this third volume covers material created and published between 1960-1966 as the self-tormented artist began to find a popular following in a strangely changing world.

Escaping his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. It is from this period that the engrossing, amazing and still shocking strips in this book stem…

He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised. A few truly dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, publishing on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This particular collection covers the period when the insular, isolated Crumb first began to make a name for himself with a flood of gags, posters, commercial art jobs, short strips and longer material popping up seemingly everywhere. All are faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for a rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (trust me) the pictorial output is both engrossing and legendary.

Actually, don’t trust me: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a photo and cartoon-stuffed (from 1968 sketchbooks) Introduction from the old scallywag himself, praising the effects of mind-altering chemicals and recalling the first heady days of Counter-Culture celebrity, the wave of visual excess and literary freewheeling begins with ‘The Old Pooperoo Pauses to Ponder’: a baroque procession of his fun-loving characters rounded off with a micro strip at the bottom, revealing Eggs Ackley’s opinion that ‘This Kid’s a Scream!’, after which Mr. Natural, Angelfood McSpade and all the rest are reassured that ‘You’re Gonna Get There Anyway’ (all from East Village Other December 1-16, 1967).

Next ‘Mr. Natural, the Man from Affiganistan’ shares more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont (EVO December 15-30 1968), after which a rush of shorts from EVO January 12-17 begins.

‘Sky-Hi Comics’, ‘Then on the Other Hand…’ are followed by ‘Nuttin’ but Nuttin’, ’Here She Comes! It’s Hippy!’ and ‘Junior High & his Sidekick Judy Holiday’ from the January 19-25 edition whilst ‘Those Cute Little Bearzy Wearzies/George Gwaltny’ (EVO January 26-February 1 1968) precedes Natural’s inevitable return to act as guru to ‘Schuman the Human’ from EVO February 9-15th.

The Wise one continues in revelatory style when ‘Mr. Natural Meets God’ (supplemented by) ’Gail Snail and The Walkie Talkies’ from EVO February 16-22, whilst the next weekly issue described how ‘Mr. Natural Gets the Bum’s Rush’, and Schuman declared ‘Let’s Be Honest’ before Crumb confronted the period’s racism head on with customary shocking frankness in ‘Mr. Natural Repents’, ‘Hey, Mom!’ and attendant strip ‘Let’s Have Nigger Hearts For Lunch’ (EVO March 1-7 1968).

Zap #2 June 1968, then provided wry ‘Hamburger Hi-Jinx’ with Cheezis K. Reist and shockingly introduced iconic Bête Noir ‘Angelfood McSpade’ before closing with a warning to avoid cheap imitations from ‘Mr. Natural’.

Bijou #1, from Summer 1968, then supplies a wealth of intriguing, astonishing fare leading with ‘Neato Keano Time!’ before ‘The Big Little Boy’ and ‘Bo Bo Bolinski, He’s a Clown!’ went through their paces. Following that ‘Mr. Spiff’ makes a call and ‘Here They Are! Puppets of your favourite cartoon characters!’ provides paper-dolls of Angelfood and Mr. Natural. The harsh, ironic hilarity all ends with a laidback Bijou Funnies Ad

The inescapably controversial Ms. McSpade and friends then cropped up in ‘All Asshole Comics’ (Chicago Seed, July 1968), after which covers for ‘Nope #6’ and ‘Nope #7’ (both 1968) are followed here by ‘The Zap Show’ – a captivating art jam with Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso & S. Clay Wilson.

A ‘Fritz the Cat title page’ then acts as prologue to an outrageous tale of student terrorism and teen licentiousness in ‘Fritz the No-Good’ (taken from Cavalier, September/October 1968), after which you’ll need to rotate the book to be shocked by the interiors of digest-sized Snatch #1 (October 1968): rude and raunchy spoofs such as ‘The Adventures of Andy Hard-on’, ‘Krude Cut-Ups’ and ‘The Fight’ plus assorted gags like ‘Jailbait of the Month’, ‘Hi, Swingers’ and much more…

A rather lovely ‘Janis Joplin: original cover for Cheap Thrills (1968) is followed by

‘The Phonus Balonus Blues’ and ’Where the Action Isn’t’ (EVO September 27 1968) as well as the cover of that issue – ‘Can the Mind Know it?’

From the October 11 issue of East Village Other comes a barrage of strips: ‘Sleezy Snot Comics’, ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Booger Buddies’ and more plus an ‘Ad for Head Comix’ whilst the October 18th edition provided both ‘Angelfood McSpade’ and ‘Cum Comix’, and October 25th a ‘Mr. Natural, disguised as a vacuum cleaner salesman, talks to the Housewives of America’ cover.

‘Edgar and Maryjane Crump’ and ‘Crime in the Streets’ both originated in EVO November 1) after which an ‘alternate cover for Zap #3’ segues into the infamous ‘Dirty Dog’ strip from Zap #3 (December 1968).

That underground classic also premiered ‘Mr. Goodbar “Off his Rocker”’, an astounding

‘Atomic Comics Jam’ with S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso & Rick Griffin, grotesque shorts ‘Let’s Eat’ and ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Hairy’ and ‘Street Corner Daze.’

Another digest-sized landscape section next reproduces the XXX-rated contents of Snatch #2’ (January 1969) including ‘Look Out Girls!! The Grabbies are Coming’, ‘Down on the Farm’, ‘The Family that Lays Together Stays Together’ and far more before an ‘ad for San Francisco Comic Book Company’ from Bogeyman #2, 1969, leads seamlessly into ‘Don’t Gag On It… Goof On It!’ (Gothic Blimp Works, Ltd. #1, March 1969).

The April 1969 ‘cover for Creem #2’ precedes a stunning spoof of Romance comics with ‘The Bleeding Heart Syndrome’ (Tales from the Ozone #1, 1969) before ‘Shoo Shoo Baby’ and ‘The Pricksters’ (GBW #2, 1969) suspends the black and white barrage to briefly usher in a spectacular ‘Color Section’

The polychromatic madness begins with ‘Head Comix covers’ (front and back and 1968), keeping up the pressure with the Zap Comix #2 covers’ from December, as well as a ‘Fritz the Cat cover’, the ‘Cheap Thrills’ record cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company and the December 1968Snatch #1 covers’.

The ribald rainbows end with Snatch #2 covers’ (January 1969) before ‘Flower Children on Broadway’ from Bijou #2 (1969) return us to monochrome merriment, ‘Nutsboy’ (Bogeyman #2, 1969) presages today’s teen obsession with “Slasher-flicks” and ‘Mr. Know-It-All and his pal Diz in What the Fuck’ (with S. Clay Wilson from GBW #3, 1969) continues the dark and bloody mood.

This landmark compilation concludes with Crumb’s contributions to Motor City #1 (April 1969) starting with ultra-independent femme fatal ‘Lenore Goldberg and her Girl Commandos’, after which cool dude ‘The Inimitable Boingy Baxter’ turns Detroit on its head, and mini-mystic Savannah Foomo explores reality with ordinary folk and ‘The Desperate Character’ in ‘Deep Meaning Comics’ and ‘More Deep Meaning Gommigs’, leaving good old Eggs Ackley to wrap thing up in macabre style with ‘Eyeball Kicks’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his most hidden depths and every perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and riotous rumination, and this chronicle begins to show his growing awareness of where to look.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1989, 2004, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft

By various, edited by Scott Allie (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-108-0

Scary stories have always been a staple of comics, and anthology collections invariably offer fearsome fun and the biggest Boo for your buck so I’m taking a skittish peek at one that has definitely stood the test of time.

Following a bucolic Introduction by series Editor Scott Allie, this glorious hardback grimoire of ghoulish delights and funny fables opens with an illustrated extract from ‘Macbeth’ (guess witch bit) chillingly adapted by Tony Millionaire, after which comics and movie fans get a treat all their own.

This captivating “Book of…” mystery compilation is part of a series that spun out of Dark Horse Comics’ legendary monster-hit Hellboy, and ‘The Troll Witch’ by Mike Mignola presents a terrific vignette of the hulking demon foundling who visits Norway in 1963 and has a tense conversation with a very peculiar Wise-woman.

Next up is a classic prose short story by Weird Tales horror star Clark Ashton Smith. Illustrated by Gary Gianni, ‘Mother of Toads’ offers the chilling and ghastly feudal tale of a lusty peasant, love philtres and the consequences of cavorting with strange women who live far off the beaten track…

Editor Scott Allie and artists Paul Lee and Brian Horton briefly abandon their Devil’s Footprint series to recount the chilling choice of ‘The Flower Girl’ who, pushed to the limits by her diabolically spoiled and obnoxious little sister, is offered a vile solution by a neighbour with very dark secrets of her own…

Set in Louisiana in 1838 ‘The Gris-Gris’, by Jim & Ruth Keegan, blends the rich dark earth of voodoo with the theme of witchcraft as a cowardly Southern Gentleman picks the wrong crone to trifle with when trying to cheat his way out of a duel of honour, after which 1938 Mississippi hosts the ‘Golden Calf Blues’, by Mark Ricketts & Sean Phillips, exploring the power of an accursed guitar and the Devil’s Music to seduce the supposedly righteous…

‘The Truth About Witchcraft’ is an extended and fascinating interview with attorney, advocate and Wiccan High Priestess Phyllis Curott, after which the comics wonderment resumes with a stunning tale from the height of the infamous “Witch Trials” in ‘Salem and Mary Sibley’ by Scott Morse, before everything ends in an engaging and hilarious romp wherein the neighbourhood mutts and a deeply confused cat join forces to thwart the Forces of Darkness and the local coven of Crones in ‘Unfamiliar’, scripted by Evan Dorkin and magnificently rendered by Jill Thompson.

As anthologies go, horror and mystery are never out of style and collections like this serve as the ideal vehicle for pulling resistant readers into our world of comics. When they can be this diverse whilst maintaining such a staggering level of craft, variety and quality, they should be mandatory for any proselytizing fan, and hold pride of place on any aficionado’s bookshelf
Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft ™ and © 2004 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All interior stories and features © their respective copyright holders.

Archie 1000 Page Comics Digest

By many and various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-50-1

There’s an American TV show which embraces everything about the culture. It’s called Man vs. Food and in it a roguishly charming gentleman travels the nation, sampling the fare of many wonderful and beguiling independent eateries. The climax to each episode occurs as the narrator pits himself against a speciality dish: one either vast in volume, toxically spicy or in some other way simply too much good stuff for any individual to handle safely in one sitting…

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers that jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly adding Top-Notch and Pep Comics to their bill of fare. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming but crowded market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were nudged aside by a far less imposing hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed boy showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Inspired by the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

The six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the idyllic small-town utopia of Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of stinking rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (the aforementioned Man of Tomorrow being the first).

By 1946 the kids had totally taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring most of its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

Its success, like Superman’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles and led to a multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when “Sugar, Sugar” – a song from their animated TV show – became a global smash. The wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

Archie is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door – with all that entails – who loves the ginger goof in spite of everything, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (antagonist Reggie Mantle, boy genius Dilton Doily and school jock Moose amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the American Cultural landscape.

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of ever-changing youth culture, the army of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing those core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (over the years the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

And here’s where I’m going to throw in the towel…

This current sublime confection of Man vs. Comics is just too much for even me to consider listing here – and I’m one of the most tedious, picky and longwinded comics-bores still regularly dog-earing pages…

So brace yourself for an abbreviated review: there are more than 100 stories in this mammoth, meaty, mirth-filled monolith and by mentioning some it will seem as if some are better than others. That’s not the case. They’re uniformly fabulous but there are only 24 hours in a day and my hands are getting tired…

Amongst the torrent of long tales, short stories, half and single page gags, fashion pages, puzzles and so much more comedies, fantasies, love stories and even crime capers: such outrageous episodes as ‘The Nature of the Beast’, ‘Bee Well?’, ‘Shirting the Issue’, ‘Testy Taste’, ‘Babyproofed!!’, ‘She’s Too Bossy’, ‘It Takes Two to Tangle!’ and ‘How to Meet Boys!’

Moreover you’d be amazed at the antics of ‘Blade Bummer!’, ‘Flick Pick!’, the dubious ‘Genius of Love’ or ‘The Big Chance’ and suffer from ‘Virtual Frivolity’, ‘The Dance Flaw!’, ‘Spring Fever’ or ‘Telling it Like It Is!’.

Especially cool are such sharp parodies as ‘The Puff Piece’ (a la the Powerpuff Girls) and numerous keep fit fad lampoons like ‘High Impact Shopping!’

With contributions from Bob Bolling, George Gladir, Bill Vigoda, Bill Golliher, Stan Goldberg, Frank Doyle, Jon D’Agostino, Fernando Ruiz, Bob Smith, Al Milgrom, Henry Scarpelli, Al Hartley, Kurt Schaffenberger, Barbara Slate, Mike Esposito, T & Pat Kennedy, Paul Kupperberg, Holly G!, Chic Stone, Dan Parent, Jeff Shultz, Rudy Lapick, Kathleen Webb, Jim Amash, Mike Pellowski, Rich Koslowski, Craig Boldman, Rex Lindsey, Steven Butler, Doug Crane, Dick Malmgren, a dynasty of DeCarlos and many more, this is a true gem of perfectly crafted all-ages fun.

Featuring vintage stories (including much spectacular and formative material from Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #2, 3, 4, 6 and 13 from 1952-3) and up-to-the-minute modern mini-masterpieces, this is an ideal book for kids or grandparents on the beach or in the car this summer – and once they’re playing in the surf or snoozing in the sun you can snaffle it for yourself…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sleaze Castle – the Directors Cut Part #0

By Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley with various (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-905692-93-4

I’m old, me. I’ve been around for a bit and met a few folks. So, as occurs when I’m reviewing something by people I’ve gone drinking with, I feel compelled to admit to potential conflicts of interest such as here.

The Society of Strip Illustrators/Comics Creators Guild used to meet on the last Thursday of every month in London. There old lags and aspiring talents rubbed scruffy, grimy, dandruffed – occasionally scrofulous – shoulders, talking comics old and new whilst showing off what we were up to.

Always a fun, laid-back evening, those times when the laconic Terry Wiley would turn up from points North with copies of the latest self-published issue of Tales From Sleaze Castle were especially un-memorable – a combination of subsidised booze and the fact that most folks immediately buried their heads in the mesmerising, fundamentally British, trans-dimensional, time-busting kitchen sink comedy/drama/nostalgic fantasy buddy-movie of a comic and lost all power of speech until they’d finished.

It’s just that good – probably the very best home-grown comic saga you’ve never read – and it also holds strong claim to probably the very best and most appalling literary puns in all sequential narrative.

Scripted by the equally demi-mythical Dave McKinnon, the epic adventure is pretty straightforward but also nearly indescribable. The story unfolds in a progression of mini-chapters and vignettes which act as diary and six-month countdown to an inescapable, predestined event…

After a rather bemused Foreword from author McKinnon, this latest edition of the monochrome masterpiece of wacky understatement starts with ‘Another Earth, Another Dimension, Another Reason to Go Shopping’ and a brace of ‘Prologues’ in which we meet incomprehensibly ancient Pandadomino Quartile, puissant albino Empress of another Realm of Reality and undisputed dominant resident of the incredible, infinite domicile dubbed Sleaze Castle.

Also brought to our attention are the thoroughly grounded though no less implausible Dribble family of Earth; mother Poppy, younger daughter Petra and her older sister Jocasta, befuddled student and co-star of our show…

As post-grad Jo returns to college in the Northern wilds of England and her ongoing M.A. in Televisual Studies, in London the Queen (not ours, the other, alien one) goes shopping. It is ‘Sep. ’86: Castaway’ and there’s about to be a small hitch…

The time/space door malfunctions and Pandadomino is stranded here. Establishing shaky communications with home she is assured that things will be fixed but it will take six months to retrieve her. Moreover the portal will appear in another location…

An incoming call then gives further details and instructions.

It’s from herself who has literally just returned to SleazeCastle and she has some advice for her younger, stranded self. It’s quite bizarre, paradoxical and tediously specific instructions on what to do for the next 178 days so she’d better get a pencil…

Jocasta Dribble is on ‘Autopilot   11:23’ as she makes her way from the railway station to her room in the Ethel Merman Hall of Residence at the University of Novocastria.

As usual the trip is fraught with woolgathering and petty weirdnesses but eventually she slumps onto her term-time bed and makes the acquaintance of her new neighbour.

The oddly naive girl with the shock of black hair, exotic face and too much eye makeup is from Thailand.

Sandra “call me PandaCastle has absolutely no idea about living in England so Jo takes her under her maternal wing, blithely oblivious that her new friend is an extraterrestrial immigrant, used to commanding vast armies and geniuses of various species, cunningly disguised with dyes and contact lenses. Moreover the strange stranger has used all her wiles to cheat her way into the room next door which will, some months’ distant, very briefly become an inter-dimensional gateway before snapping shut forever…

And thus begins the gentle and seductively enchanting story of the relationship between two of the most well-realised women in comics. As geeky outsider Jo at last blossoms into a proper grown-up – she even finds a boyfriend, more than a decade after her precocious schoolgirl sister Petra – her instruction of the oddly sophisticated “Thai” into British civilisation and college life is simultaneously heart-warming, painful, hilarious, poignant and irresistibly addictive to watch.

It’s also deliciously inclusive and expansive: packed with what 21st century consumers now call “Easter Eggs”. These hidden nuggets of in-jokes, wry observations and oblique cultural and comics references are witty and funny enough in their own right, but if you were in any way part of the comics scene in the late 1980s they are also an instant key into golden times past, packed with outrageous guest-appearances by many of the upcoming stars and characters of the British cartooning and small press movement.

(Whilst the absolutely riveting scenes of Jo and Panda trying out both Novocastria’s Women Cartoonist Society and all-male Komik Klub are timeless slices of shtick to you lot, they were a solid reminder of times past and people I still owe a Christmas card…)

Panda spends her first Christmas ever with the Dribbles and their ferociously Italian extended family but, as the days are counting down, the displaced millennia-old queen is beginning to wonder what will happen once she leaves…

Astoundingly there are people and places and things and people and one person in particularly who is apparently unique and irreplaceable even in the unending pan-cosmic Reality she owns. There’s this friend she’s really can’t bear to lose…

Beautifully scripted, alluringly paced and exquisitely rendered, this book would be paralysingly evocative for any Brit who went to college between 1975 and 1990, but what makes it all so astonishingly good is the fact that this delightful melange of all the things that contributed to our unique culture are effortlessly squooshed together as mere background in an captivating tale of two outsiders finding friendship through adversity and by perpetually lying to each other…

There have been comparisons to Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets but they’re superficial and unfair to both. I will say though that both are uniquely the product of their own time and regional geography…

This collection also includes a cover gallery and pin-ups as well as the additional plus of ‘And Finally… Three Lost Tales’ which features an aspect of the business I really miss.

A few of the self-publishing community cameoed in the Women Cartoonist Society and elsewhere – in a spirit of communal tit-for-tat – collaborated on side-bar stories featuring Panda, Jo and the rest during the comic’s initial run and with commentary from McKinnon are re-presented here, so even after the cliffhanger story-pause you can still have a laugh with ‘The Rules of the Game part I’ by Lee Kennedy, ‘The Rules of the Game part II’ by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and what I’ll call ‘An Idea in a Book is Worth Two in the Head’ by Jeremy Dennis. You’ll need to buy this book to realise why…

This a book by lovers of comics for lovers of comics and now that I’ve read this brand-new edition with its remastered pages and fresh snippets of original  material I’m going to re-read the next three volumes in the Gratuitous Bunny Editions I bought years ago. Unless you have your own temporal retrieval system you’ll just have to wait for the next volume…
SleazeCastle is ™ & © 1992, 2012 Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley. This edition ™ & © Dave McKinnon, Terry Wiley and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved. Three Lost Tales © 1996, 2012 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Lee Kennedy and Jeremy Day
This book is available for download on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iBooks and on your computer with iTunes. Books must be read on an iOS device.

Young, Talented… Exploited!

By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

This time however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog ( about and share her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: an Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learning anything.

These positions are unpaid and in recent times most employers realised that they could get free low grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses…

I know of only one large company where Interns are paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks the exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of Interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, no thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but not job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations have recently been published in English and make for fascinating reading. Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Barnaby volume 1: 1942-1943

By Crockett Johnson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-522-8

This is one of those books that’s worthy of two reviews, so if you’re in a hurry…

Buy Barnaby now – it’s one of the most wonderful strips of all time and this superb hardcover compilation has lots of fascinating extras. If you harbour any yearnings for the lost joys of childish glee you would be crazy to miss this book…

However, if you’re still here and need a little more time to decide…

As long ago as August 2007 I whined that one of the greatest comic strips of all time was criminally out of print and in desperate need of a major deluxe re-issue. So, as if by the magic of a fine Panatella… Cushlamocree! Here it is…

Today’s newspapers have precious few continuity drama or adventure strips. Indeed, if a paper has any strips – as opposed to single panel editorial cartoons – at all, chances are they will be of the episodic variety typified by Jim Davis’ Garfield or Scott Adams’ Dilbert.

You might describe these as single-idea pieces with a set-up, delivery and punch-line, all rendered in a sparse, pared-down-to-basics drawing style. In that they’re nothing new.

Narrative impetus comes from the unchanging characters themselves, and a building of gag-upon-gag in extended themes. The advantage to the newspaper is obvious. If you like a strip it encourages you to buy the paper. If you miss a day or two, you can return fresh at any time having, in real terms, missed nothing.

Such was not always the case, especially in America. Once upon a time the Daily “funny” – comedic or otherwise – was a crucial circulation builder and preserver, with lush, lavish and magnificently rendered fantasies or romances rubbing shoulders with thrilling, moody masterpieces of crime, war, sci-fi and everyday melodrama. Even the legion of humour strips actively strived to maintain an avid, devoted following.

And eventually there was Barnaby which in so many ways bridged the gap between then and now.

On April 20th 1942, with America at war for the second in 25 years, the liberal New York tabloid PM began running a new, sweet little kid’s strip which was also the most whimsically addicting, socially seditious and ferociously smart satire since the creation of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner – another complete innocent left to the mercy of scurrilous worldly influences…

The outlandish 4-panel Daily, by Crockett Johnson, was the product of a man who didn’t particularly care for comics, but who – according to celebrated strip historian Ron Goulart – just wanted steady employment…

David Johnson Leisk (October 20th 1906-July 11th 1975) was an ardent socialist, passionate anti-fascist, gifted artisan and brilliant designer who had spent much of his working life as a commercial artist, Editor and Art Director.

Born in New York City and raised in the outer borough of Queens when it was still semi-rural – very near the slag heaps which would eventually house two New York World’s Fairs in Flushing Meadows – Leisk studied art at Cooper Union (for the Advancement of Science and Art) and New York University before leaving early to support his widowed mother. This entailed embarking upon a hand-to-mouth career drawing and constructing department-store advertising.

He supplemented his income with occasional cartoons to magazines such as Collier’s before becoming an Art Editor at magazine publisher McGraw-Hill. He also began producing a moderately successful, “silent” strip called The Little Man with the Eyes.

Johnson had divorced his first wife in 1939 and moved out of the city to Connecticut, sharing an ocean-side home with student (and eventual bride) Ruth Krauss, always looking to create that steady something when, almost by accident, he devised a masterpiece of comics narrative…

However, if his friend Charles Martin hadn’t seen a prototype Barnaby half-page lying around the house, the series might never have existed. Happily Martin hijacked the sample and parlayed it into a regular feature in prestigious highbrow leftist tabloid PM simply by showing the scrap to the paper’s Comics Editor Hannah Baker.

Among her other finds was a strip by a cartoonist dubbed Dr. Seuss which would run contiguously in the same publication. Despite Johnson’s initial reticence, within a year Barnaby had become the new darling of the intelligentsia…

Soon there were hard-back book collections, talk of a Radio show (in 1946 it was adapted as a stage play), rave reviews in Time, Newsweek and Life. The small but rabid fan-base ranged from politicians and the smart set such as President and First Lady Roosevelt, Vice-President Henry Wallace, Rockwell Kent, William Rose Benet and Lois Untermeyer to cool celebrities such as Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, W. C. Fields and even legendary New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

Of course the last two might only have checking the paper because the undisputed, unsavoury star of the show was a scurrilous if fanciful amalgam of them…

Not since George Herriman’s Krazy Kat had a piece of popular culture so infiltrated the halls of the mighty, whilst largely passing way over the heads of the masses and without troubling the Funnies sections of big circulation papers.

Over its 10-year run from April 1942 to February 1952, Barnaby was only syndicated to 64 papers nationally, with a combined circulation of just over five and a half million, but it kept Crockett (a childhood nickname) and Ruth in relative comfort whilst America’s Great and Good constantly agitated on the kid’s behalf.

This splendid collection opens with a hearty appreciation from Chris Ware in the Foreword before cartoonist and historian Jeet Heer provides a critical appraisal in ‘Barnaby and American Clear Line Cartooning’ after which the captivating yarn-spinning takes us from April 20th 1942 to December 31st 1943.

There’s even more elucidatory content after that, though, as education scholar and Professor of English Philip Nel provides a fact-filled, picture-packed ‘Afterword: Crockett Johnson and the Invention of Barnaby’, Dorothy Parker’s original ‘Mash Note to Crockett Johnson’ is reprinted in full, and Nel also supplies strip-by-strip commentary and background in ‘The Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society: a Handy Pocket Guide’

The real meat begins with ‘Mr. O’Malley Arrives’ which ran from 20th-29th April 1942, setting the ball rolling as a little boy wished one night for a Fairy Godmother and something strange and disreputable fell in through his window…

Barnaby Baxter is a smart, ingenuous and scrupulously honest pre-schooler (four years old to you) and his ardent wish was to be an Air Raid Warden like his dad. Instead he was “adopted” by a short, portly, pompous, mildly unsavoury and wholly discreditable windbag with pink wings.

Jackeen J. O’Malley, card carrying-member of the Elves, Gnomes, Leprechauns and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society – although he hadn’t paid his dues in years – installed himself as the lad’s Fairy Godfather. A lazier, more self-aggrandizing, mooching old glutton and probable soak (he certainly frequented taverns but only ever raided the Baxter’s icebox, pantry and humidor, never their drinks cabinet…) could not be found anywhere.

Due more to intransigence than evidence – there’s always plenty of physical proof whenever O’Malley has been around – Barnaby’s father and mother adamantly refused to believe in the ungainly, insalubrious sprite, whose continued presence hopelessly complicated the sweet boy’s life.

The poor parents’ greatest abiding fear was that Barnaby was cursed with Too Much Imagination…

In fact this entire glorious confection is about our relationship to imagination. This is not a strip about childhood fantasy. The theme here, beloved by both parents and children alike, is that grown-ups don’t listen to kids enough, and that they certainly don’t know everything.

Despite looking like a fraud – he never uses his magic and always has one of Dad’s stolen cigars as a substitute wand – O’Malley is the real deal: he’s just incredibly lazy, greedy, arrogant and inept. He does sort of grant Barnaby’s wish though, as his midnight travels in the sky trigger a full air raid alert in ‘Mr. O’Malley Takes Flight’ (30th April-14th May)…

‘Mr. O’Malley’s Mishaps’ (15th-28th May) offer further insights into the obese elf’s character – or lack of same – as Barnaby continually failed to convince his folks of his newfound companion’s existence, and the bestiary expanded into a topical full-length adventure when the little guys stumbled onto a genuine Nazi plot with supernatural overtones in the hilariously outrageous ‘O’Malley vs. Ogre’ which ran from 29th May to 31st August.

‘Mr. O’Malley’s Malady’, 1st-11th September, dealt with the airborne oaf’s brief bout of amnesia, but as Mum and Dad thought their boy was acting up they took him to a child psychologist. However ‘The Doctor’s Analysis’ (12th-24th September) didn’t help…

The war’s effect on the Home Front was an integral part of the strip and ‘Pop vs. Mr. O’Malley’ (25th September-6th October) and ‘The Test Blackout’ (7th-16th October) saw Mr. Baxter become chief Civil Defense Coordinator despite – not because – of the winged interloper, and suffer the usual personal humiliation.

There was plenty to go around and, when ‘The Invisible McSnoyd’ (17th-31st October) turned up, O’Malley got it all.

The Brooklyn Leprechaun, although unseen, was O’Malley’s personal gadfly, always offering harsh, ribald counterpoints and home truths to the Godfather’s self-laudatory pronouncements, and ‘The Pot of Gold’ (2nd-20th November) with which he perpetually taunted and tempted JJ provided a wealth of laughs…

When Barnaby won a scrap metal finding competition and was feted on radio, O’Malley co-opted ‘The Big Broadcast’ (21st-28th November) and brought chaos to the airwaves, but once again Mr. Baxter wouldn’t believe his senses. Dad’s situation only worsened after ‘The New Neighbors’ (30th November-16th December) moved in and little Jane Shultz also started candidly reporting Mr. O’Malley’s deeds and misadventures…

Barnaby’s faith was only near-shaken when the Fairy Fool’s constant prevarications and procrastination meant Dad Baxter’s Christmas present arrived late. The Godfather did accidentally destroy an animal shelter though, so ‘Pop is Given a Dog’ (17th-30th December) concluded with a happy resolution of sorts…

A perfect indication of the wry humour that peppered the feature can be seen in ‘The Dog Can Talk’ which ran from 31st December 1942 to 17th January 1943. New pooch Gorgon could indeed converse – but never when the parents where around, and only then with such overwhelming dullness that everybody listening wished him as mute as all other mutts…

Playing in an old abandoned house (don’t you miss those days when kids could wander off for hours unsupervised by eagle-eyed, anxious parents – or even able to walk further than the length of a garden?) served to introduce Barnaby and Jane to ‘Gus, the Ghost’ (18th January-4th February) which in turn involved the entire ensemble with ration-busting thieves when they uncovered ‘The Hot Coffee Ring’ (5th-27th February). Barnaby was again hailed a public hero and credit to his neighbourhood, even as poor Dad stood back and stared, nonplussed and incredulous.

As Johnson continually expanded his gently bizarre cast of Gremlins, Ogres, Ghosts, Policemen, Spies, Black Marketeers, Talking Dogs and even Little Girls, all of whom could see O’Malley, the unyieldingly faithful little lad’s parents were always too busy and too certain that the Fairy Godfather and all his ilk were unhealthy, unwanted, juvenile fabrications.

With such a simple yet flexible formula Johnson made pure cartoon magic.

‘The Ghostwriter Moves In’ (1st-11th March) found Gus reluctantly relocate to the Baxter dwelling, where he was even less happy to be cajoled into typing out O’Malley’s odious memoirs and organising ‘The Testimonial Dinner’ (12th March-2nd April) for the swell-headed sprite at the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society clubhouse and pool hall…

With the nation urged to plant food crops, ‘Barnaby’s Garden’ (3rd-16th April) debuted as a another fine example of the things O’Malley was (not) expert in, whilst ‘O’Malley and the Lion’ (17th April-17th May) found the kid offering sanctuary to a hirsute circus star even as the conniving cheroot-chewing cherub contemplated his “return” to showbiz, after which ‘Atlas, the Giant’ (18th May-3rd June) wandered into the serial. At only 2 feet tall the pint sized colossus was not that impressive… until he got out his slide-rule and demonstrated that he was, in essence, a mental giant…

‘Gorgon’s Father’ (4th June-10th July) turned up to cause contretemps and consternation before disappearing again, after which Barnaby and Jane were packed off to ‘Mrs. Krump’s Kiddie Kamp’ (12th July-13th September) for vacation rest and the company of normal children.

Sadly, although the wise matron and her assistant never glimpsed O’Malley and Gus, all the other tykes and inmates were more than happy to see them…

Once the kids arrived back in Queens – Johnson had set the series in the streets where he’d grown up – the Fairy Fool was showing off his “mechanical aptitude” on a parked car with its engine wastefully running and broke the idling getaway car just in time to foil a robbery.

Implausibly overnight, he became an unseen and reclusive ‘Man of the Hour’ (14th-18th September) and preposterously translated that into a political career by accidentally becoming a patsy for a corrupt political machine in ‘O’Malley for Congress!’ (20th September-8th October).

This strand gave staunchly socialist cynic Johnson ample opportunity to ferociously lampoon the electoral system, the pundits and even the public. Without spending money, campaigning – or even being seen – the pompous pixie won ‘The Election’ (9th October-12th November) and actually became ‘Congressman O’Malley’ (13th-23rd November) with Barnaby’s parents perpetually assuring their boy that this guy was not “his” Fairy Godfather’…

The outrageous satire only intensified once ‘The O’Malley Committee’ (24th November-27th December 1943) began its work, by investigating Santa Claus, despite the newest, shortest Congressman in the House never actually turning up to do a day’s work…

Raucous, riotous sublimely surreal and adorably absurd, the untrammelled, razor-sharp whimsy of the strip is always instantly captivating, and the laconic charm of the writing is well-nigh irresistible, but the lasting legacy of this ground-breaking strip is the clean sparse line-work that reduces images to almost technical drawings, unwavering line-weights and solid swathes of black that define space and depth by practically eliminating it, without ever obscuring the fluid warmth and humanity of the characters.

Almost every modern strip cartoon follows the principles laid down here by a man who purportedly disliked the medium…

The major difference between then and now should also be noted, however.

Johnson despised doing shoddy work, or short-changing his audience. On average each of his daily encounters, always self-contained, built on the previous episode without needing to re-reference it, and contained three to four times as much text as its contemporaries. It’s a sign of the author’s ability that the extra wordage was never unnecessary, and often uniquely readable, blending storybook clarity, the snappy pace of “Screwball” comedy films and the contemporary rhythms and idiom of authors such as Damon Runyan.

He managed this miracle by type-setting the dialogue and pasting up the strips himself – primarily in Futura Medium Italic but with effective forays into other fonts for dramatic and comedic effect.

No sticky-beaked educational vigilante could claim Barnaby harmed children’s reading abilities by confusing the tykes with non-standard letter-forms (a charge levelled at comics as late as the turn of this century), and the device also allowed him to maintain an easy, elegant, effective balance of black and white which makes the deliciously diagrammatic art light, airy and implausibly fresh and accessible.

During 1946-1947, Johnson surrendered the strip to friends as he pursued a career illustrating children’s book such as Constance J. Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money, but eventually he returned, crafting more magic until he retired Barnaby in 1952 to concentrate on books.

When Ruth graduated she became a successful children’s writer and they collaborated on four tomes, The Carrot Seed (1945), How to Make an Earthquake, Is This You? and The Happy Egg, but these days Crockett Johnson is best known for his seven “Harold” books which began in 1955 with the captivating Harold and the Purple Crayon.

During a global war with heroes and villains aplenty, where no comic page could top the daily headlines for thrills, drama and heartbreak, Barnaby was an absolute panacea to the horrors without ever ignoring or escaping them.

For far too long Barnaby was a lost masterpiece. It is influential, ground-breaking and a shining classic of the form. You are all poorer for not knowing it, and should move mountains to change that situation. I’m not kidding.

Liberally illustrated throughout with sketches, roughs, photos and advertising materials as well as Credits, Thank You and a brief biography of Johnson, this big book of joy is a long-overdue and very welcome addition to 21st century bookshelves – especially yours…

Barnaby and all its images © 2013 the Estate of Ruth Kraus. Supplemental material © 2013 its respective creators and owners.