The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective


Written and compiled by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-170-1

Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency if not fame and fortune and died far too young (March 15th 2002). Now this superb retrospective compilation and biography, featuring scads of sketches, reproductions of drawings, cartoons and the paintings he created in his later life are preserved with a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and soon to be devotees.

As usual I’ll deliver here my warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex and unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this graphic novel review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

Rand Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta (yes, in Canada). After a rather remarkable early life (no clues from me – the whole point is to get you to buy this book) which included honing his prodigious artistic talent by absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first profession sales for Help! magazine) and most especially Wally Wood, he became a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator at The Georgia Straight in 1969, one of the many youth-oriented counter-culture or “underground” newspapers that blossomed during the period.

Whilst there he created his signature character Harold Hedd which ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into a hilarious adults-only comic-book The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd. A second volume followed a year later. Married young and always restless, Holmes generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, appearing in White Lunch Comix, All Canadian Beaver Comics, Slow Death, Fog City Comics, Gay Comics, Dope Comics and Snarf among many others.

He was by inclination a totally liberated sexual and political satirist, and his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured or masked powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. He produced strips for Rolling Stone and Cheri magazine. In the 1980s he worked briefly in the mainstream comics market when the Direct Sales revolution first flourished, producing EC flavoured yarns for Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds and reuniting with long-time publishing collaborator Denis Kitchen for horror anthology Death Rattle and the fabulous mini-series Hitler’s Cocaine: the hip, trippy, spectacular return of Harold Hedd (included in its entirety in this volume).

He had married a second time in 1982 and moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island and increasing concentrated on a self-sufficient life-style, with oil-painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. He built, with other creative hermits, an art centre that has become his monument.

He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book is the result of the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.

As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history this volume contains all manner of artworks from early doodles to teen cartoons, illustrations and covers from his commercial art days, sketches, paintings, fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics work.

Those last include many ‘Out to Lunch’ hotrod strips, early Harold Hedd pages from the Georgia Straight, sexy horror yarn ‘Raw Meat’, assorted ultra-nasty Basement Man tales, ‘Nip an’ Tuk Those Cute Little Fuzzy Mices’, Harold Hedd in ‘Wings Over Tijuana’ and an unfinished story, as well as the aforementioned ‘Hitler’s Cocaine’ saga, ‘And Here He Is… the Artist Himself’, ‘Killer Planet’, ‘Junkyard Dog’ (written by Mike Baron), ‘Mean Old Man’ (written by Rob Maisch) – a powerful yarn that smacks of autobiography and the artist portion concludes with a gallery of the stunning paintings that filled his later days.

Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the world and mostly produced work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This book is a wonderful tribute and one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.

© 2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, with the exception of the Rand Holmes diary entries which are © 2010 Martha Holmes. All artwork © 2010 Martha Holmes. Individual comic stories © their respective writers. All rights reserved.

The Groo Adventurer


By Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier & Stan Sakai (Epic/Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-703-8

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely more strenuous field of gag-cartooning Sergio Aragonés has produced vast volumes of excellent work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and grasp of the cosmically absurd, wedded to a totally unique drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline have made his (usually) silent doodles a vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and a picture is worth a thousand words.

After working for years for Mad Magazine and DC’s horror titles on gag features and the occasional full comic strip in 1981, with writer and associate Mark Evanier, Aragonés produced a madcap four-page parody of the Sword-and-Sorcery genre as a contribution to the Creators Rights benefit comicbook Destroyer Duck published by Eclipse Comics.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5) Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke I’ll explain later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first created his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he sold all rights – an almost universal situation in the industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

This volume collects the first four (of 120) issues from the Epic incarnation (March-April 1985) and reintroduces readers to the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest itinerant mercenary in the world. Luckily he’s also the best swordsman in creation and too thick to be harmed. The unstoppable brain-donor has since moved on to Image and Dark Horse Comics, but they haven’t completely gone belly-up yet…

Groo is always hungry and wanders because most places he stops at burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after he gets there. He loves to fight and the entire world trembles at the mention of his name. They do the same when they smell him too…

Produced in unique fashion by Aragonés, wordsmith Evanier, letterer Stan Sakai (creator of Usagi Yojimbo) and colourist Tom Luth, the idiot’s adventures form one of the longest running humour comicbook series in America and this volume is merely one of 27 to date.

Beginning with ‘The Song of Groo’ which introduces a wandering minstrel to the insane cast of a mediaeval wonderland of kingdoms, villages and provinces roughly mirroring Earth circa 1000AD, wherein the peripatetic poltroon botches a simple guard’s job and precipitates an international war, whilst ‘Dragon Killer’ allows him the opportunity to slay a beast, wipe out a paradise and blow up an entire country.

‘The Medallion’ is a safe-passage token that proves to be the most fray-provoking, schism-inducing peace symbol in the world and this chronicle concludes with ‘World Without Women!’ as the ever-eager hero-in-his-own-mind rescues helpless wives and maidens from zeppelin-riding pirates who keep them in utter luxury, returning the frail, fragile creatures to their rightful lives of dirt, drudgery and husbandly domination…

A magically cynical and silly comedy of errors Groo is the comic that people who hate comics read: brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, sharply sarcastic and devastatingly self-deprecating. An irresistible humour tour-de-force astoundingly scribed and illustrated by jesters who don’t know when – or how – to stop. New readers can start practically anywhere – and still be none the wiser…

Oh yeah, that sinking thing: among his other lack of abilities Groo cannot travel by ship. He’s not sea-sick or anything – it’s just that his mere presence on a maritime vessel causes it to sink…
© 1985, 1990 Sergio Aragonés. All Rights Reserved.

Betty Boop volumes 1-3


By Bud Counihan (Blackthorne Publishing/Comic Strip Preserves)
ISBNs: 0-932629-33-4, 0-932629-47-4 and 0-932629-69-5

Betty Boop is one of the most famous and long-lived fictional media icons on the planet and probably the one who has generated the least amount of narrative creative material – as opposed to simply merchandise – per year since invented.

She was created at the Fleischer Cartoon Studios either by Max Fleischer himself or cartoonist and animator Grim Natwick – depending on whoever you’ve just read – and debuted in the monochrome animated short feature ‘Dizzy Dishes’ the sixth “Talkartoon” release from the studio, screening for the first time on August 9th 1930.

A deliberately racy sex-symbol from the start she was based on silent movie star Clara Bow, “the It-Girl” (as in “she’s got…”) albeit anthropomorphosised into a sexy French Poodle; voiced in those pioneering days of “the talkies” by a succession of actresses including Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild and Mae Questel who all mimicked Bow’s soft and seductive (no, really!) Brooklyn accent.

Betty had become a fully human if wickedly distorted human girl by 1932’s ‘Any Rags’ and had co-opted and monopolised the remaining Talkartoons, graduated to the ‘Screen Songs’ feature and then won her own animated cartoon series, becoming “The Queen of the Animated Screen” until the end of the decade.

A Jazz Age flapper in the Depression Era, the delectable Miss Boop was probably the first sex-charged teen-rebel of the 20th Century yet remained winningly innocent and knowledgably chaste throughout her career. Thus she became astoundingly, incredibly popular – although her appeal diminished appreciably when the censorious Hayes Production Code cleaned up all the smut and fun coming out of Hollywood in 1934 – even though the Fleisher Studio was New York born and bred…

Saucy singer Helen Kane, who had performed in a sexy “Bow-esque” Brooklyn accent throughout the 1920s and was billed as “The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl” famously sued for “deliberate caricature” in 1932, ultimately failing in her suit, but even Betty couldn’t withstand a prolonged assault by the National Legion of Decency and the Hayes Code myrmidons. With all innuendo removed, salacious movements restricted and wearing much longer skirts Betty gained a boyfriend and family whilst the scripting consciously targeted a younger audience. Her last animated cartoon stories were released in 1939.

The one advantage to Betty’s screen neutering and new wholesome image was that she suddenly became eligible for inclusion on the Funnies pages of family newspapers, alongside the likes of Popeye and Mickey Mouse, and in 1934 King Features Syndicate launched a daily and Sunday newspaper strip drawn by Bud Counihan, a veteran ink-slinger who had created the ‘Little Napoleon’ strip in the 1920s before becoming Chic Young’s assistant on Blondie.

The Betty Boop strip never really caught on and folded early in 1937, which leaves us with these three rather charming and wistfully engaging volumes collected and edited by comics aficionado and historian Shel Dorf as part of Blackthorne’s low-budget 1980s reprint program, alongside other hard-to-find classics like Tales of the Green Berets and Star Hawks, and one possibly never to be collected elsewhere…

There was a brief flurry of renewed activity during the 1980s, which led to a couple of TV specials, a comic-book from First Comics ‘Betty Boop’s Big Break’ (1990) and another newspaper strip ‘Betty Boop and Felix’ by Brian Walker (son of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois creator Mort Walker) which she shared with fellow King Features nostalgia icon Felix the Cat (see Nine Lives to Live: a Classic Felix Celebration) which ran from 1984-1988 but that’s still a pretty meagre complete canon for a lady of Betty’s longevity and pedigree.

As stated, the collected strips in these Blackthorne editions feature the freshly-sanitised, family-oriented heroine of the later 1930s, but for devotees of the era and comics fans in general the strip still retains a unique and abiding charm, and to be honest, Counihan’s Betty is still oddly, innocently coquettish: a saucy thing with too-short skirts and skimpy apparel (some of the outfits – especially bathing costumes – would raise eyebrows even now), and although the bald innuendo that made her a star is absent, these tales of a street-wise young thing trying to “make it” as a Hollywood starlet are plenty racy enough when viewed through the knowing and sexually adroit eyes of 21st century readers…

Book 1 of this cheap ‘n’ cheerful black-and-white series opens with an extended sequence of gag-a-day instalments that combine into a epic comedy-of-errors as Betty’s lawyers do litigious battle with movie directors and producers to arrive at the perfect contract for all parties – clearly a war that rages to this day in Tinseltown – whilst labouring under the cost restrictions of what was still, after all, The Great Depression.

The full page Sunday strips are presented in a separate section but even with twice the panel-count the material was still broadly slapstick, cunning wordplay, single joke stories, but one of these does introduce the first of an extended cast, Betty’s streetwise baby brother “Bubby” a rapscallion to act as a chaotic foil to the star’s affably sweet, knowingly dim complacency.

There’s a succession of romantic leading men (usually called “Van” something-or-other) but none stick around for long as Betty builds her career, and eventually the scenario changes to a western setting as cast and crew begin making Cowboy Pictures, leading to many weeks’ worth of “Injun Jokes”, but ones working delightfully counter to old and unpleasant stereotypes, and the first collection concludes with the introduction of fearsome lower-class virago Aunt Tillie; chaperone, bouncer and sometime comedy movie extra…

Book 2 (Adventures of a Hollywood Star) continues in the same vein with lawyers, entourage and extras providing the bulk of the humour and Betty increasingly becoming the Straight Man in her own strip except in a recurring gag about losing weight to honour her contract (which stipulates she cannot be filmed weighing more than 100 pounds! Geez! Her head alone has got to weigh at least… sorry, I know… just a comic, …).

Like many modern stars Betty had a dual career and there’s a lot of recording industry and song jokes before the Native Americans return to steal the show some more. Book 3 continues in what is now a clear and unflinching formula, but with Bubby, Aunt Tillie and her diminutive new beau ‘Hunky Dory’ increasingly edging Betty out of the spotlight and even occasionally off the page entirely…

By no means a major effort of “the Golden Age of Comics Strips” Counihan’s Betty Boop (like most licensed syndicated features the strip was “signed” by the copyright holder, in this case Max Fleischer) is still a hugely effective, engaging and entertaining work, splendidly executed and well worthy of a comprehensive and complete compilation.

With the huge merchandising empire built around the effervescent little cartoon Gamin/Houri, (everything from apparel to wallpaper, clocks and blankets) surely it isn’t too much to expect a proper home for all the wicked little japes, jests and junkets of her sojourn in sequential art?

Additionally the second and third books also contain a selection of Paper Doll Bettys with outfits to cut out and colour, designed by Barb Rausch (Neil the Horse, Katy Keene, Barbie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast among many others) a traditional “added-value” feature of the earliest comic strips that still finds irresistible resonance with much of today’s audience. Just remember, now we can make copies without cutting up those precious originals…
© 1986, 1987 King Features Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Forever Nuts: Happy Hooligan


By Frederick Burr Opper (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-542-1

Frederick Burr Opper was one of the first giants of comic strips, a hugely imaginative, highly skilled and well-regarded illustrator and political cartoonist who moved into the burgeoning field of newspaper cartooning just as the medium was being born, and his pictorial creations (and even more so his dialogue) have enriched western culture and the English language.

Born in 1857 the son of Austrian immigrants, Opper grew up in Madison, Ohio, and at age 14 joined the Madison Gazette as a printer’s apprentice. Two years later he was in New York. Always drawing, he worked briefly in a store whilst studying at Cooper Union independent school before obtaining a position as student and eventually assistant, to illustration colossus Frank Beard.

Opper sold his first cartoon to Wild Oats in 1876, swiftly following up with further sales to Phunny Phellow, Scribbner’s Monthly, Harper’s Weekly, The Century, St. Nicholas Magazine and Frank Leslie’s Weekly, before joining the prestigious Puck in 1880, drawing everything from spot illustrations, gags, political cartoons and many of the new, full-colour, Chromolithographic covers. He was also a book illustrator of major renown, an incisive humorist, poet and creator of children’s books.

Clearly a forward-looking and perspicacious creator Opper first dipped his toe in the world of newspaper strips with an abortive and short-lived feature in the staid New York Herald in 1897, but after making few inroads he returned to magazine illustration. Undeterred by the failure and after 18 lucrative, influential and solid, steady years, Opper was finally lured away by William Randolph Hearst, joining his growing stable of bold comics pioneers in 1899.

Starting on the New York Journal’s Sunday Color Supplement, he created a wealth of different features beginning with Happy Hooligan which first appeared on 11th March 1900. Although not a regular feature at the start – many cartoon strippers of the fledgling art form were given great leeway to experiment with a variety of ideas in those early days – before too long the feature became simply too popular to miss and Opper settled into a stable tenure that lasted until 1932 when the artist’s failing eyesight led to his retirement and the tramp’s demise. Opper passed away at the end of August 1937.

Opper never used assistants but his imagination and unsurpassed creativity made Hooligan and his other creations household favourites around the world, appealing equally to Presidents and public alike. His next strip Mister Henry Peck (1901) was followed by the highly popular Alphonse and Gaston (1901-1904), Our Antediluvian Ancestors (1903-1904) and the astoundingly madcap Mule strip And Her Name was Maud which began in 1904.  It continued intermittently for decades and on May 23rd 1926, Maud became the regular “topper” to Happy Hooligan, running above the strip until both concluded on October 14th 1932 with the artist’s retirement.

Other strips followed, The Red Rig-a-Jigs (1906), Adolf from Hamburg (1906), King Jake (1907-1908), His Name is Ebenezer/His Name is Smith (1908), Ship Ahoy! (1908), Howsan Lott (1909-1914), Is Boggs Cheerful? He Is! (1908), Scuse Me, Mr. Johnson (1909), The Swift Work of Count DeGink (1916) and The Dubb Family/Down on the Farm (1918-1919, 1921-1923, 1925-1927), but none had the appeal or phenomenal staying power of Happy – or Maud – and had perforce to be abandoned.

Happy Hooligan is an affable, well-meaning but bumbling tramp who wears an old tin-can for a hat. Always ready and eager to assist and wishing nobody ill, this gentle vagrant was usually the inadvertent tool of far more fortunate folk who should know better, or cops a little too fond of the truncheon and nightstick, and generally the harsh, unforgiving cosmos of ill-fortune. It is a strip brimming with invention, pathos, social commentary, delightful wordplay and broad, reckless slapstick. More than one source cites Happy as having a profound influence on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in both content and tone…

This classy hardback presents a selection of strips from 1902-1913 in the varying forms of colour (two, three and full colour depending presumably on the budget of the local papers these rare survivors were culled from) compiled and edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt with a fascinating introduction/biography from Allan Holtz who, with collector Cole Johnson, provided the majority of the strips included here.

The strips themselves range from June 8th 1902 to September 7th 1913 and although by no means complete or comprehensive afford a tantalizing glimpse at this iconic, influential and groundbreaking feature. Many of the reprints come from the highly productive and hilarious “Grand Tour” years of 1904 and 1905, (see also Happy Hooligan 1904-1905)

and follow the simple sad-sack across after many abortive, knockabout attempts, across the sea to England and then on to the unsuspecting continents of Europe and Africa before returning to America in 1906.

With brothers Montmorency and Gloomy Gus, plus a burgeoning family of nephews and hangers-on, this too-slim tome ends with some of the optimistic poltroon’s foredoomed attempts to woo Suzanne, the patient and amazingly egalitarian daughter of the Duke of Cabaret. As always these hysterical, rowdy escapades are often exacerbated by occasional visits from the ultra-polite Alphonse and Gaston, Opper’s legendary French gentlemen of extreme etiquette elitism…

Crossovers were not Opper’s only innovation. Happy Hooligan is considered to be the first American strip to depend on word balloons rather than supplemental text, and the humble, heartwarming hobo was also the first strip character to jump to the Silver Screen in six movie shorts from 1900-1902. He was also probably the first mass-market merchandising comics star…

Sadly Opper and his creations become less well-known with each passing year, but the quality of the work can never fail to amuse and inspire. Hopefully this superb graphic appetiser will lead to further collections, and as this book also contains a healthy selection of Opper’s other works from the early Wild Oats and Puck to the aforementioned Gallic gadabouts and the mulish Maud, perhaps we can also look forward to a compendium of his other seminal sketches and comedy classics…

Published in 2009 by NBM. © not invoked.

Happy Hooligan 1904-1905


By Frederick Burr Opper (Hyperion Press)
ISBN: 0-88355-658-8

While I eagerly await the arrival of my copy of the recent “Forever Nuts” hardback collection of Happy Hooligan I thought I’d dip again into the first collection of the eternal indigent that I ever saw: long ago whilst still a spotty, mildly angry punk art student…

Frederick Burr Opper was one of the first giants of comics, a hugely imaginative and skilled illustrator who moved into the burgeoning field of newspaper strips just as they were being born, and his pictorial creations (and even more so his dialogue) have forever changed the English language…

Born in 1857 the son of Austrian immigrants, Opper grew up in Madison, Ohio, and at age 14 joined the Madison Gazette as a printer’s apprentice. Two years later he was in New York. Always drawing, he worked briefly in a store whilst studying at Cooper Union (The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was and is a magnificent experiment in education and excellence: look it up and be amazed…) before linking up as student and eventually, assistant, to illustration giant Frank Beard.

Opper sold his first cartoon to Wild Oats in 1876, swiftly following up with further sales to Scribbner’s Monthly, St. Nicholas Magazine and Frank Leslie’s Weekly, before joining the prestigious Puck in 1880, drawing everything from spot illustrations, gags, political cartoons and many of the new, full-colour, Chromolithographic covers. He was also a book illustrator of major renown, an incisive humorist, poet and creator of children’s books.

After 18 lucrative, influential – and steady – years, Opper was drawn away to join William Randolph Hearst’s growing stable of comics pioneers in 1899, joining the New York Journal’s Sunday Color Supplement, where Happy Hooligan first appeared on 11th March 1900. Although not a regular feature at the start – many cartoon strippers of the fledgling art form were given great leeway to experiment with a variety of ideas in those early days – before too long the feature became simply too popular to play with and settled into a stable tenure that lasted until 1932 when the artist’s failing eyesight led to his retirement and the tramp’s demise. Opper passed away at the end of August 1937.

Opper never used assistants but his imagination and unsurpassed creativity made Hooligan and other major features Alphonse and Gaston and the astoundingly madcap Mule strip And Her Name was Maud household favourites around the world, appealing equally to Presidents and public alike. As the feature became ever more popular experimental and lesser strips such as Howsan Lott and Our Antediluvian Ancestors had perforce to be abandoned.

Happy Hooligan is an affable, well-meaning but bumbling tramp who wears an old tin-can for a hat. Wishing nobody ill, this gentle vagrant is usually the inadvertent tool of better bred folks who should know better, cops a little too fond of the truncheon and nightstick, and harsh, unforgiving cosmic ill-fortune. It is a strip brimming with invention, pathos, social commentary, delightful wordplay and broad, reckless slapstick. More than one source cites Happy as having a profound influence on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in both content and tone…

This black and white volume, compiled and edited in 1977 by unsung hero of American comic strips Bill Blackbeard, with a fascinating introduction from historian Rich Marschall, reprints the entire continuity from 1904 and 1905, and follows the simple sad-sack across the USA and, after many abortive and hilarious attempts, across the sea to England. After weeks of raucous calamity trying to see the King and falling foul of the equally high-handed British constabulary, Happy, with brothers Montmorency and Gloomy Gus (yep that’s one of Opper’s…) in tow, the clan Hooligan then proceeded to make themselves unwelcome throughout Europe. These hilarious, rowdy escapades are often exacerbated by occasional visits from the ultra-polite Alphonse and Gaston, Opper’s legendary duo of etiquette elitism…

Crossovers were not Opper’s only innovation. Happy Hooligan is considered to be the first American strip to depend on word balloons rather than supplemental text, and the humble, heartwarming hobo was also the first strip character to jump to the Silver Screen in six movie shorts between 1900-1902. He was also probably the first mass-market merchandising comics star…

Both Opper and his creations become less well-known by the year, but the quality of the work can never fail to amuse and inspire. If I could have only found a way to play bass and keep that tin can on me head back then, you might be buying my comeback album about now rather than reading a recommendation to track down one of the very best cartoon masterpieces of all time…
© 1977 Hyperion Press. All rights reserved.

The World of Ginger Fox


By Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell (Comico)
ISBN: 0-938965-02-6

Let’s all pop back to the ever-so-now 1980s with this stylish and radically different kind of graphic novel that pretty much typified and encapsulated the dichotomies of the age of Big Hair and Brash Money.

Peppertree Studios used to be one of the biggest players in Hollywood, until the somber 1970s saw ill-conceived, big, worthy movies almost bankrupt the company. Now the dissolute boys-club of greedy old men who own the company are so desperate that they hire a woman to save or kill the studio. After all, they have nothing to lose…

Amidst a welter of rumour, innuendo and open hostility, Ginger Fox blows into town and into a storm of trouble as she drags the company kicking and screaming back towards profits and safety. Along the way she encounters psychotic, crazed art-house directors, rowdy martial-arts prima donnas, drugs and thugs and sabotage from within by two-faced back-stabbers who don’t like taking orders from a pretty young woman and especially not a single-mom, Hollywood outsider…

The tale takes a swift side-step into the weird – and lavishly violent – when a Martial Arts secret society threatens to kill anybody connected with the new movie that inadvertently reveals their sacred Negative Kung Fu technique to anybody and everybody with the price of a movie ticket.

Despite warnings from cops and Hong Kong action-star Jason Wu, Ginger refuses to worry – at least until the “accidents” start to happen and the bodies start to pile up. Meanwhile, one of her own directors is trying to oust her and Peppertree’s biggest remaining star is spiraling out of control on addictive binges…

This mélange of glamour, fashion, excess and sheer over-the-top style is an unbelievably heady and enticing brew, especially thanks to the sleek, beautiful, high-end art and design of O’Connell; a canny cultural scavenger whose slick blend of caricature, pop iconography and surreal whimsy elevate this tale to unprecedented heights of verve and dash.

Sexy, cinematically violent and wickedly tongue-in-cheek, this adult comics caper is markedly different from almost anything you’ve ever seen and thoroughly deserves another bite of the graphic novel cherry. If they’re bringing back the ‘80s, you’re going to need this to remind you that it wasn’t all dreadful…
Story © 1986 Mike Baron. Artwork © 1986 Mitch O’Connell. All rights reserved.

Culture Corner


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

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind, a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others. Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909 he worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist, and unlike most cartoonists of his time preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

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

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material Wolverton adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, working extensively in the new medium of comic-books, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, the grimly imaginative, (unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk for Target Comics and Rockman, “Underground Secret Agent” for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

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

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

Wolverton had been a member of Herbert W. Armstrong’s (prototype televangelist of a burgeoning fundamentalist movement) Radio Church of God since 1941. In 1956 he illustrated the founder’s pamphlet ‘1975 in Prophecy’. Two years later Wolverton produced a stunning interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last and began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled ‘The Bible Story: the Story of Man’ which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. In many ways these religious works are his most moving and powerful.

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

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

Wolverton sent a fully penciled rough of each proposed episode to Will Lieberson and Virginia Provisiaro (Executive editor and Whiz Comic’s editor respectively) who would comment and commission or reject. The returned pencils would then form the skeleton of the instalment. This lovely madcap tome re-presents the full colour strip with almost all of the original pencil roughs, (diligently stored by Wolverton for decades) as counterpoint and accompaniment, revealing the depth not only of Wolverton’s imagination at play but also his deft facility with design and inking. Also included are some extra roughs and all the extent rejected ideas – some of the most outrageous tomfoolery ever unleashed.

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

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

Graphically grotesque, inveterately un-sane and scrupulously screwball, this lexicon of lost laughs is a must have item for anyone in need of a classy cheering up.

© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Little Nothings volume 3: Uneasy Happiness


By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-576-4

With over 35 books in just about ten years, Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators, a writer for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (‘Le Roi Catastrophe’, Vénézia’), Manu Larcenet (‘Les Cosmonautes du futur’), José Parrondo (‘Allez Raconte’ and ‘Papa Raconte’) and Thierry Robin (‘Petit Père Noël’), the originator of such global hits as the Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot sequence and, with Joann Sfar, the ‘Donjon’ (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: The Early Years) and also a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy.

This third collected volume of his anthropomorphic cartoon blog sees him amicably nit-picking and musing his way through the life of an old comic creator: travelling to conventions, making stories and dealing with the distressingly peculiar modern world.

Evocatively recoloured for book publication these one and two page ruminations and anti-dramas range from his inability to de-clutter (every comic maven’s weakness!), public toilet etiquette, gadgets, marriage, parenthood, mice in the bookshelves, how mad cats are, brilliant ideas that come when you’re asleep, computers and getting old, interspersed with reactions to the many wonderful places he has visited on the comics convention circuit (Venice, Portugal, Fiji, Australia and others in this volume).

I first became aware of Trondheim’s subtly enchanting vignettes in Fantagraphics’ Mome comics anthologies, and it’s a sheer delight to see his cartoon philosophy gathered into such handy tomes for constant re-reading. This is probably the most pleasing graphic novel I’ve reviewed this year, and I’m off now to get the previous two volumes.

I strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical spiritual refreshment you do the same…

© 2010 Trondheim. English translation © 2010 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Old Jewish Comedians

Old Jewish Comedians 

By Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 10: 1-56097-741-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-56097-741-4

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book. But when it’s a series of drawings depicting a procession of Jewish American Comedians in their wrinkly twilight years by the absolute master of pencil rendering and ironic nostalgia I’m prepared to bend whatever rules I need to in order to make more people aware.

Friedman can just plain draw. His caricatures are powerful, resonant and joyful. He at once captures what these wizened laugh-smiths were about, and gives them a beer-goggles beauty that our generation of comedy fans just doesn’t see in recordings of the performers. A book for true art collectors, whatever their particular fascination.

© 2006 Drew Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard, Volume 5

Boneyard, Volume 5

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN 1-56163-479-4

Boneyard goes from strength to strength. This black and white collection (there’s also a line of books collecting these self-same issues of the comic book series in full colour) features the young guy who inherited a cemetery and the extremely engaging gang of goblins, monsters and out and out weirdoes who inhabit it in more sharp, funny and endearing horror comedy for the lost generation.

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by really nasty types who have evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy is in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with genuine humanity when necessary. And he’s disarmingly honest too, apparently, as this book begins with the last chapter of the previous story-arc, which he seemingly “forgot” to include at the end of the previous volume. Doesn’t someone like that deserve your money? Especially if he’s going to plough it back into making more great comic stories?

© 2004, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.