‘There’s a Lot of it About’


By Geoffrey Dickinson (Columbus Books)
ISBN: 978-0-86287-253-3

Since we’re well into the snot and sniffles season I thought I’d cheer myself up with this handy handbook of ailments and medical mis-practice from one of Britain’s best and most influential cartoonists Geoffrey Dickinson, a veteran mainstay of Punch, Time, The Financial Times and many others. This is probably his best collection of gags but his second opinion on medical matters ‘Probably Just a Virus’ is almost as good but a lot harder to find these days…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities and feeding our fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our rocky relationship with the beloved yet dreaded agents of the National Health Service.

Award-winning cartoonist Geoffrey Samuel Dickinson was born on May 5th 1933 inLiverpool and studied at Southport School Art (1950-1953) before graduating to the Royal Academy Schools. Set on a career as a landscape painter he taught art in Croyden, atTavistockBoysSchool and theSelhurstGrammar School until 1967.

To supplement his income he freelanced as a graphic designer and animator for the BBC and began selling gags to Punch as early as 1963.

In 1966 his famous cover for the April 15th issue of Time Magazine was deemed to have officially launched “the Swinging Sixties” and London as the capital city of cool, and a year later he took a staff position with Punch as Deputy Art Editor under the legendary Bill Hewison, but still found time to freelance, working for Reader’s Digest, Which?, Esquire, Highlife, Hallmark Cards and many more.

In 1984 Dickinsonleft the humour standard to take up a position at the Financial Times, drawing cartoons for the daily and producing illustration material for the weekend supplement. He died far too young in 1988.

Within the pages of ‘There’s a Lot of it About’ – and following a pithy introduction from much-missed master of acerbic wit Alan Coren – the fit, the fat, the festering and the foolish will all learn the truth about the health of the nation in such chapters of chilling encounters and dodgy diagnoses as ‘The Waiting-Room’, ‘In the Surgery’ and ‘Sharp Practice’, before meeting stroppy secretaries, seen-it-all sawbones and formidably starched matrons as well as the puling punks, cadaverous clerks and clerics, cocky kids, goofy old gaffers, loony little old ladies, brusque businessmen and other tedious time-wasters all abusing valuable visiting hours ‘On the Touchline’, ‘At the Barbers’ and ‘At the Dentist’

Moreover, as well as warning of ‘Student Doctors’, ‘Showbiz Doctors’ and the ‘Bogus Doctor’, we follow fully-rounded physicians into their private lives ‘On Holiday’, ‘At the Wheel’, in the garden with ‘Doctor Greenfinger’, at the ‘Doctor’s Wedding’, over ‘The Festive Season’ and on ‘The Morning After’, before examining doctors in love undergoing ‘Affairs of the Heart’

These kinds of cartoon collections were once ubiquitous best-sellers available everywhere, but these days are perennial library and jumble sale fare – in fact I actually found this brilliant cure-all for the blues at a Hospital charity shop – but if you ever see a Dickinson (or indeed, any cartoon collection) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a healthy horse-laugh with these all-but-forgotten masters of illustrative mirth.

They’re really good for what ails you…
© 1985 Geoffrey Dickinson. 1933-1988

Lat’s Lot- the Second Collection


By Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid AKA “Lat” (Berita Publishing)
No ISBN:

Mohammad Nor Khalid is probably Malaysia’s most beloved and prolific cartoonist, having begun his professional career aged 13 and working continuously in comics, strip illustration and journalism as well as the editorial and political works that have made him a household name in Asia.

Born in 1951 the son of a government clerk in the Malaysian military, the artist spent his early life in a rural village (superbly captured and eulogised in his graphic recollection Kampung Boy) before moving to the city in 1962 – with those later autobiographical reminiscences and observations recalled in cartoon sequel Town Boy. As early as 1960 the precocious nine-year old was selling his drawings – or trading them for cinema tickets.

Exposed to a steady diet of music, films and imported comics such as Beano and Dandy, as well as home-grown material such as the bombastic adventure strips of Raja Hamzah, within two years Khalid was supplementing the family income with his edgy, exuberant and sublimely inclusive drawings.

Mentored by senior cartoonist Rejab bin Had (known nationally as “Rejabhad”) the boy sold his first comicbook series Tiga Sekawan (Three Friends Catch a Thief) to Sinaran Brothers Publishers who believed the postal submissions came from an adult professional. Khalid, saddled with his baby nickname “bulat” – which means “round” – from an early age, turned the moniker into the diminutive and distinctive pen-name Lat by which a goodly portion of the world now knows him…

In 1968, he began the weekly strip Keluarga Si Mamat (Mamat’s Family) for Berita Minggu, the Sunday edition of national newspaper Berita Harian. The series ran for 26 years.

On leaving school, Lat became a crime reporter for Berita Harian in the capital Kuala Lumpur, but in 1974 switched to drawing full-time after a cartoon feature in Hong Kong paper Asia Magazine (on the Malaysian circumcision ceremony Bersunat) brought him to the attention of editor-in-chief Tan Sri Lee Siew Yee of the New Straits Times. Unaware that the artist was already an employee, the big boss promptly commissioned a series of cartoons entitled Scenes of Malaysian Life. The paper thereafter also dispatched Lat on a four-month sabbatical toEngland where he studied atSt. Martin’sCollege ofArt inLondon. Whilst there, Lat was exposed to such varied and iconoclastic draughtsmen as Gerald Scarfe, Frank Dickens and Ralph Steadman…

On his return, the inspired young craftsman totally transformed Scenes of Malaysian Life and in 1975 was made chief editorial cartoonist with absolute carte blanche to draw whatever he liked…

Working for such prominent national newspapers Lat blended astute observation, palpable honesty, utter neutrality and a superbly self-deprecating ironic gentility with a keen sense of what ordinary Malaysians knew, felt and were interested about.  In 1978 his first compilation book was released and, ever-bolshie, I’ve decided to review the second one, which was rushed out a few months later to cope with the frantic demand for more, more, more…

Ceaselessly working, Lat has published more than 20 books and cartoon collections and branched out into animation, design, merchandising and even theme-park creation. He’s also produced an animated feature (‘Mina Smiles’) promoting literacy for Unesco.

This glorious over-sized 144 page monochrome masterpiece features 74 of his very best strips and panels, covering all aspects of the Malaysian experience both at home and abroad – even the experiences and emotions of Lat’s ‘Trip Across U.S.A.’ so eerily echo my own ( or indeed anyone’s) first trip to the Big Country…

The full page cartoon statements on ‘Going to Work’, ‘The Long Wait’, ‘Married Life’ and longer pieces dedicated to such diverse topics as Elvis impersonators, ‘Penang Revisited’, ‘Police Force: the Way We Were’ and the Tamil/Bollywood romance of ‘Velappan and Minachi’ display the author’s wickedly sly sense of the absurd, and there’s a stinging selection of political scoops such as ‘Hussein and the Pay Rise’, ‘Pay Claims’, ‘Endau – Rompin Summit’, ‘Asri’s Story’ and ‘Visitor from Japan’ to smirk over.

Poignant childhood memories such as ‘Football in the Kampung’, ‘Life with Dad’, ‘Football Fever’, ‘Exam Time’, ‘Hostel Life’, ‘Metrication Woes’, ‘Our First Woman Soccer Referee’ and ‘Down Negri Way’, the hidden depths of sardonic surreality in ‘My Ardent Fan’, ‘Let’s Do the Bump’ or ‘My Fair Body’ sit happily beside razor-sharp commentaries about ordinary folk in ‘The Male Look’, ‘The Short Cut’, ‘Panorama’ and many more to tickle the fancy.

Moreover the bustling multi-national, multi-faith, complicated but wonderfully functional melting pot is superbly celebrated in such strips as ‘In an Indian Restaurant’, ‘The Hawkers’, ‘At the Tea Stall’, ‘Fasting Time Again’, ‘A Hakka Wedding’, ‘The Orang Putehs’ and so many others which make this book above everything else a perfect advert for an exotic land and welcoming society we should all have on our “must see” list…

In 1994 Lat was awarded the honorific “Datuk” (equivalent to our own Knighthood) by the Sultan of Perak, recognising the cartoonist’s contribution to promoting social harmony and understanding through his years of artistic endeavour.

Referencing recognisable dashes of Searle’s unsavoury oik Nigel Molesworth with an amazing aura of madcap cartoonist Sergio Aragonés, these superb specimens display the vibrant life of a completely different culture – so comfortingly like to our own – but are, most impressively, a brilliant and uniquely personal peek into the mind and heart of a perfect artistic ambassador: one we should all be far more aware of.
© 1978 Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd. All rights reserved.

Bad Girls


By Steve Vance, Jennifer Graves, Christine Norrie, J. Bone & Daniel Krall (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2359-5

Ever since English-language comics “grew up” and proclaimed they weren’t “just for kids anymore” the industry and art form has struggled to produce material that would appeal to young consumers and a general teen readership.

And Girls. We’ve never been able to keep enough girls reading comics – or even talking to us, if I’m brutally honest…

Haunted by a terrifying suspicion that the core buyers were a specific hooked generation who aged with the passing years and would die out without renewing or replenishing the buying base, mainstream companies have, since the 1990’s, frantically sought ways to make the medium as attractive to new and youthful buyers and potential fans.

Fighting a losing battle on format – it’s always going to be sequential pictures, whether on a screen or in some kind of book or pamphlet, requiring a basic ability to read – and never able to combat the vibrant, bells-and-whistles immediacy of TV, DVDs, streamed video or games consoles, comic producers, apparently distrusting the basic innate strengths of our medium, could only repeatedly attempt to appeal to young consumers’ other sensibilities and interests.

Leaving aside the obvious – and ancient – failed tactic of making comicbook iterations out of their perceived rival entertainments, the only other way to entice newbies into our playground has been to widen the genre divides and offer fresh or imported ideas, stories and art styles that (like manga) might appeal to people who don’t normally think of comics as entertainment.

Sadly most of those – good, bad or indifferent – went unread anyway, because they were only advertised in comics and retailed through dedicated in comicbook stores – infamous as impenetrable girl-free zones…

One such delightful lost experiment was released by DC as a 5-part miniseries in 2003. Author Steve Vance’s best comics work is child-accessible, with long and intensely enjoyable runs on the animation-inspired Adventures in the DC Universe and Simpsons Comics (among others) and in this witty blend of high school comedy and science fiction conspiracy movie, he and artist co-creator Jennifer Graves had a huge amount of sly fun producing what could still be a perfect Teen Movie in the manner of Heathers, Bring It On, Mean Girls, John Tucker Must Die or even Teen Wolf.

As a comicbook, however, it just never found the wide audience it deserved, so kudos to DC for reviving it as a graphic collection in 2009. After all, it’s never too late …

Almost every American kid endures the savage crucible of organised education, and the youthful attendees of San Narciso High are a pretty typical bunch. Even in a brand new institution opening for its very first day, there are the faceless majority and nerds and jocks and the popular ones: all part of the mythically perennial melting pot.

… And then there’s Lauren Case, a forthright, sensible young lady who has changed schools many, many times.

In ‘Girl Power’ she starts off well-enough, safely lost in the crowd, but before the first morning is over, an acrobatic and painful encounter with science geek Ronald Bogley leads to a face off with the community’s ultra-spoiled princesses Tiffany, Brittany, Destinee and Ashley.

Ms Case suffers the hallowed punishment of a crushing snub from the haughty Mean Girls whilst the Jock Squad – ever eager to impress the de facto rulers of the roost – treat poor Ronald to the traditional watery going-over in the restrooms. However a dunking in the oddly purple toilet water results, for just a split second, in the nerd gaining the strength to smash walls in his bare hands. Alert to all sorts of possibilities, Ronald fills a drinking bottle with the lavender lavatory liquid for testing in his lab…

Later in science class Lauren is partnered with Ronald and inadvertently blows up the lab, but at least she makes friend out of quick-thinking Simone who puts out the resultant conflagration.

At the end of a very trying first day Lauren offers a hand of peace and guiltily patronising friendship to the bespectacled geek – who is utterly smitten with her – when the Princess Pack turns up, intrigued that the new girl’s propensity for mischief and mayhem might make her eligible for their condescending attention. She might even, with a lot of hard work, become one of them…

Knowing anything they want is theirs by divine right, the girls drink the strange purple juice Ronald left and invite Lauren to join them at a club that night…

With their departure Ronald comes out of hiding and shows her his science project; lab mice Snowie and Doodles who are demonstrating increased vitality after drinking the purple potion he “discovered”…

Hating herself, Lauren joins the Popular People at Club Trystero and strikes up a conversation with Simone, but quickly drops her when the anointed ones show up. Soon she is lost in the swirl of drink, music and attentive, fawning, testosterone-fuelled boys but gets a severe unreality check when the spoiled ones abruptly begin demonstrating super-powers (Brittany – shape-shifting, Destinee – invisibility, Tiffany – flight and Ashley – super-strength), trashing the place with sublime indifference and their usual casual disregard to consequences.

Knowing that the insanely entitled girls will be more vile and malicious than ever, she tells Ronald, who reveals that after closely observing his beloved mice, he’s discovered that the liquid only imparts permanent abilities to females.

He then suggests that Lauren become a superhero to battle Tiffany and her terrible tarts, but naturally she hotly rejects his insane suggestion. Realising only he can now stop the bad girls, Ronald rushes to the toilets for more of the purple water only to find a repair crew fixing the damage he caused and the water there is fresh, clear and very, very, normal…

In ‘Party Girls’ (illustrated by Christine Norrie & J. Bone) the Petty, Pretty Things are going firmly off the rails, with stealing test answers and framing others for indiscretions – just because they can – quickly graduating to raiding ATMs, purloining booze and shop-lifting.

Meanwhile Ronald accidentally stumbles upon the true source of the purple power juice and begins more testing, unaware that a Federal investigation team is covertly examining the damaged washroom and other odd occurrences in San Narciso…

At an unsanctioned party the girls go wild, at last realising that their incredible abilities can make them… celebrities!

In her egomaniacal smugness Tiffany causes one boy severe injury but when the police arriveBrittanyturns into a cop and “escorts” her sinister sisters out of custody…

Narrowly escaping arrest herself, Lauren awakes the next morning feeling awful and gradually realises that she can read minds…

With her new cacophonous and distracting ability it doesn’t take long to discover that Ronald has dosed her with the mystery fluid, but ‘Mindfield’ offers temptation beyond endurance, as her power – once she gets the hang of it – makes Lauren’s life so much easier. Still a probationary member of Tiffany’s clique, she also becomes privy to the terrified intimate thoughts of Destinee, Ashley and Brittany, and what they really feel about themselves and their self-obsessed leader. Aware of how close to the dark side she has drifted, Lauren confides everything to Simone. Meanwhile Agents Osgood and Buckner are keenly watching the Bad Girls’ every move and when Destinee is caught shoplifting again a frantic chase results in the invisible girl’s death…

‘Girl, Intercepted’ (art by Norrie & Daniel Krall) opens at the funeral with Destinee, Ashley and Tiffany far more concerned about how they’re dressed than the fate of their departed… associate… uncaring of the rumours now circulating. Lauren decides to use her power to surreptitiously help her school mates and teachers – although for some reason she cannot read science teacher Mr. Heisenberg’s mind – but Ronald has his own problems: Snowie and Doodles have broken free of their cage and escaped…

At least that’s what Heisenberg wants the geeky kid to believe…

Events come to an unbelievable head after the girls finally discover Lauren’s sneaky secret power and throw her out of a skyscraper, before going on one final petulant rampage. In a torrent of frantic revelation the agents’ true aims are exposed, the origin of the power-potion disclosed, Heisenberg’s schemes are uncovered and a few more astounding surprises unleashed in ‘All Bad Things Must Come to an End’: a thrilling and cynically satisfying conclusion that will delight fun-loving readers and viewers alike.

This fabulous engaging tome also includes the gallery of spiffy covers by Darwyn Cooke and a Sketches section of Jennifer Graves’ production designs.

By the Way: DC are currently offering a swathe of games-based adaptations specifically aimed at their more mature consumers whilst simultaneously winding down the Cartoon Network comics division which has always produced superb introductory strip material for those pre-school and very young readers who must surely be the industry’s best hope for a new generation of potential life-long fans.

I’m Just Saying…
© 2003 Steve Vance and Jennifer Graves. All Rights Reserved. Cover, text and compilation © 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Judge Dredd: the Complete Case Files 01


By John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-90426-579-0

Britain’s last great comic icon could be described as a combination of the other two, combining the futuristic milieu and thrills of Dan Dare with the terrifying anarchy and irreverent absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s also well on the way to becoming the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD – and now that the Dandy’s slated for cancellation, veterans Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan might one day be overtaken in the comedy stakes too…

However with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections and even two rather appalling DC Comics spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print.

Bolland by his own admission was an uneconomically slow artist and much of his Dredd work appeared as weekly portions of large epics with other artists handling other episodes,

Judicial Briefing: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One – originally it was to be a 21st century New York – were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others, but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner, who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own and several pseudonyms.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans, and jobs are both beloved pastime and treasured commodity. Boredom has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away mental meltdown. Judges are peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate…

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future (In)Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs. The Eastern lawmen are militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards – so just imagine what they’re actually like…

They are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Such was not the case when the super-cop debuted in 2000AD Prog (that’s issue number to you) #2 (March 5th 1977), stuck at the back of the new weekly comic in a tale finally scripted after much intensive re-hashing by Peter Harris and illustrated by Mike McMahon & Carlos Ezquerra.

The blazing, humourless, no-nonsense (all that would happily come later) action yarn introduced the bike-riding Sentinel of Order in the tale of brutal bandit Whitey whose savage crime spree was ended with ferocious efficiency before the thug was sentenced to Devil’s Island – a high-rise artificial plateau surrounded by the City’s constant stream of lethal, never-ending, high-speed traffic…

In Prog 3 he investigated The New You in a cunning thriller by Kelvin Gosnell & McMahon wherein a crafty crook tried to escape justice by popping into his local face-changing shop, whilst #4 saw the first appearance of the outcast mutants in The Brotherhood of Darkness (Malcolm Shaw & McMahon) when the ghastly pariahs invaded the megalopolis in search of slaves.

The first hints of humour began in Prog 5’s Krong by Shaw & Ezquerra, with the introduction of Dredd’s Italian cleaner Maria, wherein deranged horror film fan and hologram salesman Kevin O’Neill – yes it’s an in-joke – unleashed a giant mechanical gorilla on the city. The issue was the first of many to cover-feature old Stone Face…

Frankenstein 2 pitted Dredd against an audacious medical mastermind hijacking citizens to keep his rich aging clients in fresh, young organs, after which #7 saw ruthless reprobate Ringo’s gang of muggers flaunting their criminality in the very shadow of The Statue of Judgement until Dredd lowered the boom on them…

Charles Herring & Massimo Belardinelli produced the Antique Car Heist in #8, which first indicated that the super-cop’s face was hideously disfigured, when the Judge tracked down a murderous thief who stole an ancient petrol-burning vehicle, after which co-creator John Wagner returned in Prog 9 to begin his staggering run of tales with Robots, illustrated by veteran British science fiction artist Ron Turner, which set the scene for an ambitious mini-saga in #10-17. The gripping vignette was set at the Robot of the Year Show, and revealed the callous cruelty indulged in by citizens upon their mechanical slaves as a by-product of a violent blackmail threat by a disabled maniac in a mechanical-super chair…

Those casual injustices paved the way for Robot Wars (alternately illustrated over the weeks by Ezquerra, Turner, McMahon & Ian Gibson) wherein carpenter-robot Call-Me-Kenneth experienced a mechanical mind meltdown and became a human-hating steel Spartacus, leading a bloody revolution against the fleshy oppressors. The slaughter was widespread and terrible before the Judges regained control, helped in no small part by loyal, lisping Vending droid Walter the Wobot, who became at the epic’s end Dredd’s second live-in comedy foil…

With order restored a sequence of self-contained stories firmed up the vision of the crazed city. In Prog 18 Wagner & McMahon introduced the menace of mind-bending Brainblooms cultivated by a little old lady career criminal, Gerry Finley-Day & John Cooper described the galvanising effect of the Muggers Moon on Mega-City 1’s criminal class whilst Dredd demonstrated the inadvisability of being an uncooperative witness…

Wagner & McMahon introduced Dredd’s bizarre paid informant Max Normal in #20, whose latest tip ended the profitable career of The Comic Pusher, Finley-Day & Turner turned in a workmanlike thriller as the super-cop tackled a seasoned killer with a deadly new weapon in The Solar Sniper and Wagner & Gibson showed the draconian steps Dredd was prepared to take to bring in mutant assassin Mr Buzzz.

Prog 23 launched into all-out ironic satire mode with Finley-Day & McMahon’s Smoker’s Crime when Dredd trailed a killer with a bad nicotine habit to a noxious City Smokatorium, after which Malcolm Shaw, McMahon & Ezquerra revealed the uncanny secret of The Wreath Murders in #24. The next issue began the feature’s long tradition of spoofing TV and media fashions when Wagner & Gibson concocted a lethal illegal game show in You Bet Your Life whilst #26 exposed the sordid illusory joys and dangers of the Dream Palace (McMahon) and #27-28 offered some crucial background on the Judges themselves when Dredd visited The Academy of Law (Wagner & Gibson) to give Cadet Judge Giant his final practical exam. Of course for Dredd there were no half measures or easy going and the novice barely survived his graduation…

With the concluding part in #28, Dredd moved to second spot in 2000AD (behind brutally jingoistic thriller Invasion) and the next issue saw Pat Mills & Gibson tackle robot racism as Klan-analogue The Neon Knights brutalised the reformed and broken artificial citizenry until the Juggernaut Judge crushed them.

Mills then offered tantalising hints on Dredd’s origins in The Return of Rico! (McMahon) when a bitter criminal resurfaced after twenty years on the penal colony of Titan, looking for vengeance upon the Judge who had sentenced him. From his earliest days as a fresh-faced rookie, Joe Dredd had no time for corrupt lawmen – even if one were his own clone-brother…

Whitey escaped from Devil’s Island (Finley-Day & Gibson) in Prog 31, thanks to a cobbled-together device that turned off weather control, but didn’t get far before Dredd sent him back, whilst the fully automated skyscraper resort Komputel (Robert Flynn & McMahon) became a multi-story murder factory that only the City’s greatest Judge could counter before Wagner (frequently using the pseudonym John Howard) took sole control for a series of  savage whacky escapades beginning with #33’s Walter’s Secret Job (Gibson) as the besotted droid was discovered moonlighting as a cabbie to buy pwesents for his beloved master.

McMahon and Gibson illustrated the two-part tale of Mutie the Pig: a flamboyant criminal who was also a bent Judge, and performed the same tag-team effort for The Troggies, a debased colony of ancient humans living under the city and preying on unwary citizens…

Something of a bogie man for wayward kids and exhausted parents, Dredd did himself no favours in Prog 38 when he burst in on Billy Jones (Gibson) and revealed a massive espionage plot utilising toys as surveillance tools, and tackled The Ape Gang in #39 (19th November 1977 and drawn by McMahon), seamlessly graduating to the lead spot whilst shutting down a turf war between augmented, educated, criminal anthropoids in the unruly district dubbed “the Jungle”…

The Mega-City 5000 was an illegal and murderously bloody street race the Judges were determined to shut down, but the gripping action-illustration of the Bill Ward drawn first chapter was sadly overshadowed by hyper-realist rising star Brian Bolland, who began his legendary association with Dredd by concluding the mini-epic in blistering, captivating style in Prog 41.

From out of nowhere in a bold change of pace, Dredd was then seconded to the Moon for a six-month tour of duty in #42 to oversee the rambunctious, nigh-lawless colony set up by the unified efforts of three US Mega-Cities there. The place was as bonkers as Mega-City One and a good deal less civilised – a true Final Frontier town…

The extended epic began with Luna-1 by Wagner & Gibson, with Dredd and stowaway Walter almost shot down en route in a mysterious missile attack and then targeted by a suicide bomb robot before they could even unpack.

‘Showdown on Luna-1’ introduced permanent Deputy-Marshal Judge Tex from Texas-City whose jaded, laissez-faire attitudes got a good shaking up as Dredd demonstrated he was one lawman who wasn’t gong to coast by for the duration of his term in office. Hitting the dusty mean streets, Dredd began to clean up the wild boys in his town by outdrawing a mechanical Robo-Slinger and uncovering another assassination ploy. It seemed that reclusive mega-billionaire Mr. Moonie had a problem with the latest law on his lunar turf…

Whilst dispensing aggravating administrative edicts like a frustrated Solomon, Dredd chafed to hit the streets and do some real work in #44’s McMahon-limned ‘Red Christmas’. An opportunity arose when arrogant axe-murderer Geek Gorgon abducted Walter and demanded a showdown he lived to regret, whilst ‘22nd Century Futsie!’ (Gibson) saw Moonie Fabrications clerk Arthur Goodworthy crack under the strain of over-work and go on a destructive binge with Dredd compelled to protect the Future-shocked father’s family from Moonie’s over-zealous security goons.

The plotline at last concluded in Prog 46 with ‘Meet Mr. Moonie’ (Gibson) as Dredd and Walter confronted the manipulative manufacturer and uncovered his horrific secret. The feature moved to the prestigious middle spot with this episode, allowing the artists to really open up and exploit the colour centre-spread, none more so than Bolland as seen in #47’s Land Race as Dredd officiated over a frantic scramble by colonists to secure newly opened plots of habitable territory. Of course there’s always someone who doesn’t want to share…

Ian Gibson then illustrated 2-part drama ‘The Oxygen Desert’ in #48-49, wherein veteran moon-rat Wild Butch Carmody defeats Dredd using his superior knowledge of the airless wastes beyond the airtight domes. Broken, the Judge quits and slides into despondency but all is not as it seems…

Prog 50 saw the debut of single-page comedy supplement Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd – but more of that later – whilst the long-suffering Justice found himself knee-boot-deep in an international interplanetary crisis when ‘The First Lunar Olympics’ (Bolland) against a rival lunar colony controlled by the Machiavellian Judges of the Sov-Cities bloc escalated into assassination and a murderous politically-fuelled land grab. The issue was settled in ostensibly civilised manner with strictly controlled ‘War Games’ yet there was still a grievously high body-count by the time the moon-dust settled… This vicious swipe at contemporary sport’s politicisation was and still is bloody, brutal and bitingly funny…

Bolland also illustrated the sardonic saga of ruthless bandits who were up for a lethal laugh in #52’s The Face-Change Crimes, using morphing tech to change their appearances and rob at will until Dredd beat them at their own game, before Wagner & Gibson crafted a four-part mini-epic (Progs 53-56) wherein motor fanatic Dave Paton’s cybernetic, child-like pride-and-joy blew a fuse and terrorised the domed territory, slaughtering humans and even infiltrating Dredd’s own quarters before the Judge finally stopped Elvis, The Killer Car.

Bolland stunningly limned the savagely mordant saga of a gang of killer bandits who hijacked the moon’s air before themselves falling foul of The Oxygen Board in #57, but only managed the first two pages of 58’s Full Earth Crimes leaving Mike McMahon to complete the tale of regularly occurring chaos in the streets whenever the Big Blue Marble dominated the black sky above…

It was a fine and frantic note to end on as with ‘Return to Mega-City’ Dredd rotated back Earthside and business as unusual. Readers were probably baffled as to why the returned cop utterly ignored a plethora of crime and misdemeanours, but Wagner & McMahon provided the logical and perfect answer in a brilliant, action-packed set-up for the madcap dramas to come.

This first Case Files chronicle nominally concludes with Wagner & McMahon’s Firebug from Prog 60 as the ultimate lawgiver dealt with a crazed arsonist literally setting the city ablaze and discovered a venal motive to the apparent madness, but there’s still a wealth of superb bonus material to enjoy before we end this initial outing.

Kicking off proceedings and illustrated by Ezquerra is the controversial First Dredd strip which was bounced from 2000AD #1 and vigorously reworked – a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have been, followed by the first Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd stwips (sowwy – couldn’t wesist!) from 2000AD Progs 50-58.

Scripted by Joe Collins, these madcap comedy shorts were an antidote to the savage and brutal action strips in the comic and served to set the scene for Dredd’s later full-on satirical lampoonery.

Tap Dancer was illustrated by Ian Gibson and dealt with an embarrassing plumbing emergency whilst Shoot Pool! (Gibson) saw the Wobot again taking the Judge’s instructions far too literally…

Brian Bolland came aboard to give full rein to his own outrageous sense of the absurd with the 5-part tale of Walter’s Brother, a bizarre tale of evil twins, a cunning frame-up and mugging that inevitably resulted in us learning all we ever needed to know about the insipidly faithful and annoying rust-bucket. Dredd then had to rescue the plastic poltroon from becoming a prate of the airwaves in Radio Walter before the star-struck servant found his 15 seconds of fame as the winner of rigged quiz-show Masterbrain, and this big, big book concludes with a trio of Dredd covers from Progs 10, 44 and 59, courtesy of artists Ezquerra, Kev O’Neill and McMahon.

Always mesmerising and beautifully drawn, these short punchy stories starring Britain’s most successful and iconic modern comics character are the constantly evolving narrative bedrock from which all the later successes of the Mirthless Moral Myrmidon derive. More importantly, they timeless classics that no real comic fan can ignore – and just for a change something that you can easily get your hungry hands on. Even my local library has copies of this masterpiece of British literature and popular culture…

© 1977, 1978, 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved. Judge Dredd & 2000AD are ® &™ Rebellion A/S.

Both


By Tom Gauld & Simone Lia (Bloomsbury)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-065-2

Tom Gauld is a Scottish cartoonist whose works have appeared in Time Out and the Guardian. He has illustrated such children’s classics as Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man and his own books include Guardians of the Kingdom, 3 Very Small Comics, Robots, Monsters etc., Hunter and Painter and The Gigantic Robot.

At the prestigious RCA he met fellow genetically-predisposed scribbler Simone Lia – author of Please God, Find me a Husband! and Fluffy (a Bunny in Denial), kids books Billy Bean’s Dream, Follow the Line, Red’s Great Chase and Little Giant and she produced the strips ‘Sausage and Carrots for The DFC and ‘Lucie’ for Phoenix Comic as well as the Guardian and Independent.

Clearly comics kindred spirits, Gauld and Lia formed Cabanon Press in 2001and began self-publishing quirky, artily surreal strips and features. Their first two publications enigmatically entitled First and Second were collected in 2002 as Both and serve as a shining example of the kind of uniquely authorial/literary cartoon creativity and wonderment British pen-jockeys excel at.

Likened to the works of Edward Gorey, their studied, intense tirades, animorphic escapades and meanderingly perambulatory excursions are more Stream of subtly steered Consciousness than plotted stories: eerily mundane progressions mesmerisingly manufactured and  rendered in a number of styles to evoke response if not elicit understanding.

Which is a long-winded and poncey way of saying: “This stuff is great! You’ve got to see this…”

Within these digest sized, hard-backed monochrome pages you will encounter a talking table lamp, sensitive sentient food, quarrelsome knights, and socially inept and incompatible astronauts, and discover the human tragedy of contracting ‘Road Leg’.

There are of course bunnies, big bugs, sheep, steamrollers, the frustrations of ‘Outside’, love poems, comedy feet and a belligerent, outraged sweetcorn kernel, plus vignettes like ‘I’m in Love’ before the low-key domestic serial ‘End of Season Finale’ introduces off-duty Mexican Wrestlers, as well as political insight from the ‘Bread and Bhagi Show’ and psychological thrills courtesy of ‘Monkey Nut and Harrowed Marrow’. There are, however, no ducks…

Some comics pretty much defy description and codification – and a good thing too.

The purest form of graphic narrative creates connections with the reader that occur on a visceral, pre-literate level, visually meshing together on a page to produce something which makes feelings – if not necessarily sense.

When creators can access that pictorially responsive area of our brains as well as these two by ricocheting around the peripheries of the art form with such hilariously enticing and bizarrely bemusing concoctions, all serious fans and readers should sit up and take notice.

No more hints: go find this fabulously funny book now.

© 2003 Tom Gauld and Simone Lia. All rights reserved.
You can see more of their work at www.tomgauld.com and simonelia.com

Captain Pugwash and the Quest of the Golden Handshake


By John Ryan (Fontana Picture Lions/Puffin)
ISBN: 0-00-662253-4 (Fontana 1985)   978-0-14055-486-1 (Puffin 1997)

Paperback: 32 pages

I recently reviewed an old John Ryan kid’s book and enjoyed it so much that I simply had to share another all-ages masterpiece with you…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and, after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48), took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955. It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally gleamed with light and colour with which avid children were soon understandably enraptured; blown away by the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day and a host of other spectacularly illustrated stories strips and features.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an eight panel strip entitled ‘Captain Pugwash – The story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him’ delivered with dash and aplomb by John Ryan.

The indefatigable artist’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week and he also regularly produced ‘Lettice Leefe, the Greenest Girl in School’ for Eagle’s distaff companion comic Girl.

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 the incomparable and brilliantly mordant ‘Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent’ a full page (tabloid, remember, upwards of twenty crammed and meticulously detail stuffed panels a page, per week) from The Eagle #16 onwards.

Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I’m referring to Horatio Pugwash, but it could so easily be Ryan: an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, he still found time to be head cartoonist at the Catholic Herald for four decades) made the jump to children’s picture books and animated features for television.

A Pirate Story was the first Pugwash chronicle (originally published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin) and the first of a huge run of children’s books on a number of different subjects. Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated series Ark Stories, as well as Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comic world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

When A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968, which were reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high-quality animations to a tight deadline. Naturally he began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Pirate Baranabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – all dim) instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Pugwash strip in the Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and Sir Prancelot as well as adaptations of some of his many children’s books. In 1997 an all new CGI-based Pugwash animated TV series began.

John Ryan returned to pirate life in the 1980s, drawing three new Pugwash storybooks: The Secret of the San Fiasco, The Battle of Bunkum Bay and today’s riot of scurvy delights The Quest of the Golden Handshake

There was even a thematic prequel in Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash, in which it is revealed that the not-so-salty seadog had a medieval ancestor who became First Sea Lord, despite being terrified of water…

In the Golden Handshake the Querulous Captain finds a genuine treasure map at an auction but a bidding war with nefarious nemesis Cut-Throat Jake turns into a full-blown riot in which the coveted chart is torn in half.

Never knowingly daunted, Pugwash and company steal Jake’s half of the map that night but on returning to the safety of the Black Pig are horrified to discover that their rival has had the same idea…

Luckily the brilliant cabin boy had anticipated the move and has already copied their portion of the priceless document. Heartened and enraptured by thoughts of vast wealth, the crew hastily set sail for South America, determined to plunder the Lost Treasure of the Stinkas

However Jake is a brilliant rogue and smuggles himself and two burly accomplices aboard, planning to let Pugwash do all the heavy lifting and await his moment to claim his revenge and the gold…

Packed with in-jokes, glorious tom-foolery and daring adventure, the voyage to the New World in a “haunted” ship culminates in a splendid battle of half-wits before Tom, as usual, saves the day in his quiet, competent and deucedly clever way…

The first Pugwash was very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations that illuminated a particular moment. But by 1982 the entire affair became a lavishly painted comic strip, with as many as eight panels per page, with standard word balloons. A fitting circularity to his careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

The most recent edition of A Pirate Story (2008 from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list (I think) of the good(?) Captain’s exploits: Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991), but quite frankly read any Pugwash pirate publication and you’ll be we’ll and truly hooked…

This magical, wry and enchantingly smart yarn is one of Ryan’s very best and long overdue for re-issue – as are they all – and a sure winner with fans of all ages if you can find it (talk about real buried treasures…).

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary adult fan’s soul, you will too…

© 1984, 1997, 2012 John Ryan and presumably the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Crockle Saves the Ark


By John Ryan (Hamlyn)
ISBN: hardback 600-754022   paperback: 978-0-60030-461-6

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955. It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid 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. The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an eight panel strip entitled Captain PugwashThe 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 throughout the comic every week and he produced ‘Lettice Leefe, the Greenest Girl in School’ for Eagle’s distaff companion comic Girl.

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 the incomparable and brilliantly mordant ‘Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent’ a full page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty crammed and meticulous panels a page, per week) from The Eagle #16 onwards. Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I’m referring to old Horatio Pugwash, but it could so easily be Ryan: an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, he still found time to be head cartoonist at the Catholic Herald for four decades) made the jump to children’s picture books. Ryan also drew a weekly Pugwash strip in the Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and Sir Prancelot as well as adaptations of some of his many children’s books and the item on offer today.

In the late 1970’s Ryan wedded his love of maritime adventure, devout faith and facility for telling engaging tales to the young to re-examine the Biblical story of Noah in another delightful animated series.

The Ark Stories comprised a selection of delightful cartoon books in the style of Pugwash (eleven in total, I think) initially released by Beaver Books in 1979, which were translated into a series of ten-minute animated TV shorts, written, made by and presented by Ryan himself with voices by famed animal-imitator Percy Edwards. The show was produced for Trident/ITV by Yorkshire Television in 1980, after which Hamlyn re-released them in both hardback and softcover editions.

Crockle Saves the Ark is my favourite; whimsical, charming, superbly illustrated and just plain funny. In the days just before the big flood, as Noah and family were filling the Ark with animals, two by two, the youngest son Jaffet brought his best friend Jannet along.

The little lad and lass brought with them a pet baby crocodile and for forty days and nights Noah turned a blind eye whenever he counted all his animals since the giant vessel already had its full compliment of reptiles…

The reason was simple: just when the deluge began and the waters started to cover the land, the fully-laden ark had not risen. Indeed the bottom of the boat began to fill up and all the water-loving beasts thought that they had their own indoor pool.

Luckily little Crockle – for that was the scaly tyke’s name – was small enough to explore the hull of the rapidly-filling vessel until he found the leak and smart enough to fix it, after which the rest of the creatures all pitched in to bale out the water…

This magical, wry and enchantingly smart yarn is one of Ryan’s very best and long overdue for re-issue – as are they all (and the original 1981 video collection too please!) and a sure winner with fans of all ages if you can find it.
© John Ryan and presumably the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Hewligan’s Haircut


By Peter Milligan & Jamie Hewlett (Fleetway Publishing/Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-85386-246-5, Rebellion HC 978-1-90426-506-1, SC 978-1-90673-598-2

Since its inception in 1977 the weekly science fiction anthology comic 2000AD has been a cornucopia of thrills, chills, laughs and anarchic, mind-boggling wonderment as well as springboard for two generations of highly impressive creators.

Beside such “A-List” serial celebrities as Judge Dredd, Slaine, Rogue Trooper and their ilk, the quirky, quintessentially British phenomenon has played host to a vast selection of intriguing yarns with much less general appeal and far more discerning tastes.

Or, to put it bluntly, strips with as many foes as friends amongst the rabidly passionate audience.

Just one such was this outrageously tongue-in-cheek, fantastically surreal and absurdist love story from the era of Rave Parties and Acid Houses from Peter Milligan and Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett which originally ran in #700-711 of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, from 13th October to December 1st 1990.

The story is told in “Eight Partings”, commencing in black and white with the introduction of style-starved psychiatric patient Hewligan, about to be booted out of Five Seasons Mental Hospital.

In ‘Donald, Where’s Your Troosers?’ the hapless innocent spruces up his copious coiffure and accidentally carves a transcendental cosmic symbol into his bedraggled barnet. Suddenly everything that previously made no sense in his bemused and befuddled life instantly makes even less – but now it’s all in full, effulgent dayglo colour…

‘Under a Bridge with Dick and Harry’ finds the latest victim of “Don’t Care in the Community” undergoing even crazier visions and hallucinations than the ones which got him sectioned in the first place and also the subject of a bizarre police – and animated everyday objects – manhunt, until a wall tells him of a safe haven in ‘Don’t Put your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington’

Giving Consensual Reality the old heave-ho, the tonsorial target meets the effervescent trans-dimensional gamin and pulchritudinous know-it-all Scarlett O’Gasometer, who offers companionship and the secret of what’s really going on. Still pursued by every cliché in British popular life the pair soon fall victim to a barrage of Art Attacks (Cubism and Warholian Pop) from unsanctioned Pirate Dimensions in ‘A Man , A Plan, Canal Panama’ but as Scarlet reveals the true nature of Everything and the pair leak into cult TV shows in ‘Oh Danny Boy Oh Danny Boy!’ Hewligan begins to understand why his entire life has been plagued with odd voices and images of giant stone heads…

The dashing due take a bus to Easter Island where ‘I Know a Fat Old Pleeceman’ finds them in a position to save all creation in ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’ before the sweet sorrowful monochrome parting of ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ wraps it all up with one last surprise…

Light, frothy, multi-layered with cultural time-bombs and snarky asides; this is a fun-filled, occasionally over-clever, but always magically rendered and intoxicatingly arch, quest-fable that no jaded Fantasy Fashionista or cultural gadabout could resist. However there’s not a tremendous amount of gore, smut or gratuitous violence but I suppose you can’t have everything…

This a gloriously silly piece of pure contemporary Albion perfectly captures a unique period in time and offers a pungent and memorable dose of New Age Nostalgia and there shouldn’t be any trouble finding this is tall, slim tale since it was re-released in a collectors hardback in 2003 and a paperback edition in 2010 by current 2000AD custodians Rebellion.

Coo! What larks…
© 1991 2000AD Books, A division of Fleetway Publications. © 2003, 2011 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 3: Starring Fritz the Cat


By Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-93019-375-1

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in the world of cartooning with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotic introspections, 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 many of those engrossing compendia are now being reissued.

With the material in this third volume the isolated and secretive artist began to break into the wider world as his first great creation escaped from Crumb’s self-published minicomics and into regular paying venues…

Once again, if intemperate language, putative blasphemy, cartoon nudity, fetishism and comedic fornication are liable to upset you or those legally responsible for you, stop reading this review right here and don’t buy the book.

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’ shattering problems and comics were always paramount amongst them.

As had his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the strips and cartoons of the day; not simply reading but feverishly creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also newspaper artists like 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 and introspective, young Robert pursued art and slavish self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy constantly warred with his body’s growing needs…

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. In 1967 Crumb relocated 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, Devil Girl and the star of this particular show, the utterly amoral, unpredictable, almost human Fritz the Cat

The rest is history…

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.

The mercurial pictorial parade is preceded by another fascinating reminiscence from life-long friend Marty Pahls describing ‘The First Girl That Came Along’

Crumb’s early artistic style was utterly transformed by the introduction of Rapidograph mapping pens and ‘Fritz the Cat, Ace Salesman’ (August 1964) has a raw, mesmerising scratchy linearity that belies the subversive sexual undercurrent of the piece, after which the feline philanderer went hard-core in ‘Fritz Comes on Strong’ (published in satire magazine Help! #22, January 1965). From the same issue ‘Harlem: a Sketchbook Report’ displayed the artist’s gift for visual reportage.

Fritz appeared in the silent and extremely trenchant bobbysoxer strip ‘Fred, the Teen-age Girl Pigeon’ (Help! #24, May 1965), whilst ‘Fritz Bugs Out’ (Cavalier, October 1964-February 1965) found the cat misbehaving in a Bohemian college setting before setting out on an extended hippie-style vision-quest whilst three dumb-show episodes of ‘The Silly Pigeons’ (November 1964-March 1965) perfectly display the creator’s hardwired slapstick roots.

‘Bulgaria: a Sketchbook Report’ (Help! #25, July 1965) saw the artist turn his probing pens on a Cold-War alien culture after which ‘Fritz the Cat, Special Agent for the CIA’ (March-May 1965) perfectly parodied the political scene and the planet’s fascination with suave super-spies. Next up are three more, increasingly surreal, snippets from ‘The Silly Pigeons’ (Spring 1965) and a swift swipe at the modern working woman in ‘Roberta’ (Spring 1965). Working in the production department of a vast greetings card company gave the insular Crumb access to new toys and new inspiration and he would return repeatedly to the white-collar world to for inspiration and pictorial spleen-venting…

‘Fritz the Cat, Magician’ (Summer 1965, and published in Promethean Enterprises #3, 1971) is a sweetly seductive puff-piece whilst the exigencies of earning a little extra cash clearly influenced the speculative pieces ‘Guitar Models of the Future’ (Yell #3, September 1965), Topps Promotional Booklet ‘The Road to Success’ (Fall 1965), ‘Illustrations for Nostalgia Enterprises’ (Fall 1965), ‘The Heap Years of the Auto’ (intended for Nostalgia Illustrated, Fall 1965) and ‘The Small Small Businessman’ (again intended for Nostalgia Illustrated, Fall 1965): all showing Crumb’s versatility, passion for the past and imagination.

‘Punchlines for Color Cards’ features the interior messages for the artworks amongst the large Colour Section which opens here with a spectacular succession of sketches designated ‘Letter to Marty Pahls’ (covering April 4th, June 3rd, October 30th 1960, May 28th and November 5th 1961), after which two ‘Cards to Mike Britt’ (December 1963-January 1964) are followed by the wonderful covers for ‘Fritz Bugs Out’ (February 1965), ‘Agent of the CIA’ (March 1965) and ‘Roberta’ (Spring 1965).

Swiftly following are the aforementioned ‘Selected Topps Monster Greetings Cards’ (Fall 1965) and general ‘Cards for American Greetings’ (1964-1966) which close the rainbow section. Back in black and white another ‘Card to Mike Britt’ precedes the ‘Cover for Fug #1’ (Fall 1965) and the untitled group sex-romp ‘Fritz the Cat’ intended for that debut Fug, before a copious collection of ‘Greetings Cards for American Greetings’ (1964-1966) and the ‘Cover for Gooseberry’ #2 (Fall 1965) complete this meander through the Master’s formative years.

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 been 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 these books and the other fifteen as soon as conceivably possible…
Introduction © 1988 Marty Pahls. Greetings cards © 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1988 American Greetings Corporation. Monster Greetings trading cards © 1965 Topps Bubble Gum, Inc. All other contents © 1964, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1988 Robert Crumb. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volumes 1 and 2


By Robert Crumb and Charles Crumb (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBNs: 0-930196-43-1(hb)   & 978-0-930193-62-8

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in the world of cartooning with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotic introspections, 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 many of those engrossing compendia are now being reissued.

These earliest volumes have been constantly described as the least commercial and, as far as I know, remain out of print, but contrary as ever, I’m reviewing them anyway…

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’ shattering problems and comics were always paramount amongst them.

As had his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the strips and cartoons of the day; not simply reading but feverishly creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also newspaper artists like 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 and introspective, young Robert pursued art and slavish self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy constantly warred with his body’s growing needs…

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. In 1967 Crumb relocated 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. The rest is history…

Those tortured formative years provide the meat of the first volume The Early Years of Bitter Struggle which, after ‘Right Up to the Edge’ – a comprehensive background history and introduction from lifelong confidante Marty Pahls – begins revealing the troubled master-in-waiting’s amazingly proficient childhood strips from the self-published Foo #1-3 (a mini-comic project passionately produced by Robert and his older brother Charles from September to November 1958).

Rendered in pencils, pens and whatever else was handy; inextricably wedded to the aforementioned funnybooks, strips and animated shorts cited above, the mirthful merry-go-round opens with ‘Report From the Brussels World’s Fair!’ and ‘My Encounter With Dracula!’: frantic and frenetic pastiches of the artists’ adored Mad material, with Robert already using a graphic avatar of himself for narrative purposes.

Closely following are the satirical ‘Clod of the Month Award’, ‘Khrushchev Visits U.S.!!’ and ‘Noah’s Ark’.

From 1959 comes ‘Treasure Island Days’: a rambling gag-encrusted shaggy dog Russian Roulette experiment created by the lads each concocting a page and challenging the other to respond and continue the unending epic, after which ‘Cat Life’ followed family pet Fred’s fanciful antics from September 1959 to February 1960 before morphing, or perhaps “anthropomorphing” into an early incarnation of Fritz the Cat in ‘Robin Hood’

That laconic stream of cartoon-consciousness resolved into the raucous and increasingly edgy saga ‘Animal Town’ followed here by a very impressive pin-up ‘Fuzzy and Brombo’, before the central full-colour section provides a selection of spoof covers.

Four ‘R. Crumb Almanac’ images – all actually parts of letters to Pahls – are complemented by three beautiful ‘Arcade’ covers, swiftly followed by a return to narrative monochrome and ‘A Christmas Tale’ which saw Crumb’s confused and frustrated sexuality begin to assert itself in his still deceptively mild-mannered work.

A progression of eleven single-page strips produced between December 1960 and May 1961 precedes three separate returns to an increasingly mature and wanton ‘Animal Town’ – all slowly developing the beast who would become Crumb’s first star until Fritz bows out in favour of ‘Mabel’ – a prototypical big and irresistible woman of the type Crumb would legendarily have trouble with – and this initial volume concludes with another authorial starring role in the Jules Feiffer (see Explainers) inspired ‘A Sad Comic Strip’ from March 1962.

 

The second volume Some More Early Years of Bitter Struggle continues the odyssey after ‘The Best Location in the Nation…’ – another Pahls reminiscence – describes the swiftly maturing and deeply unsatisfied Crumb’s jump from unhappy home to the unsatisfying world of work.

‘Little Billy Bean’ (April 1962) returns to the hapless, loveless nebbish of A Sad Comic Strip whilst ‘Fun with Jim and Mabel’ revisits Crumb’s bulky, morally-challenged amazon after which the focus shifts to her diminutive and feeble companion ‘Jim’. Next, an almost fully-realised ‘Fritz the Cat’ finally gets it on in a triptych of saucy soft-core escapades from R. Crumb’s self-generated Arcade mini-comic project.

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.

His most intimate and disturbing idiosyncrasies regarding sex, women, ethnicity, personal worth and self-expression all start to surface here…

Therefore, if intemperate language, putative blasphemy, cartoon nudity, fetishism and comedic fornication are liable to upset you or those legally responsible for you, stop reading this review right here and don’t buy the book.

Working in the production department of a vast greetings card company gave the insular Crumb access to new toys and new inspiration as seen in the collection of ‘Roberta Smith, Office Girl’ gag strips from American Greetings Corporation Late News Bulletins (November 1963-April 1964), followed here by another Fritz exploit enigmatically entitled ‘R. Crumb Comics and Stories’ which includes just a soupcon of raunchy cartoon incest, so keep the smelling salts handy…

A selection of beautiful sketchbook pages comes next and then a full-colour soiree of faux covers: letters to Pahls and Mike Britt disguised as ‘Farb’ and ‘Note’ front images as well as a brace of Arcade covers and the portentously evocative front for R. Crumb’s Comics and Stories #1 from April 1964.

The rest of this pivotal collection is given over to thirty more pages culled from the artist’s sketchbooks; a vast and varied compilation that ably displays the artist’s incredible virtuosity and proves that 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.

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 been an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and riotous rumination, and these two tomes are the secret to understanding the creative causes, if not the artistic affectations of this unique craftsman and auteur.

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 these books and the other fifteen as soon as conceivably possible…

Report From the Brussels World’s Fair!, My Encounter With Dracula!, Clod of the Month Award, Khrushchev Visits U.S.!! & Noah’s Ark © 1980 Robert and Charles Crumb. Other art and stories © 1969, 1974, 1978, 1987, 1988 Robert Crumb. All rights reserved.