Krazy & Ignatz 1935-1936: “A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-690-5

The Krazy Kat cartoon strip is, for many of us, the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early comics industry to become an undisputed treasure of world literature. It’s 105 years old and should be known and loved by far more folk than it is. Also worth remarking is that it may be the strangest and most authentic love story in comics history…

Krazy and Ignatz, as Fantagraphics designated its sequence of glorious archival tomes, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. The feature evolved a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – to deal with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it baffled far more than a few…

Never a strip for dull or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or the seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing, it’s still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when the cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his ever-evolving, outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature.

Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and hands-on interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and others) all adored the strip, most local and regional editors did not; many taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section whenever they could.

Eventually the Kat found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by Hearst’s heavy-handed patronage, Krazy flourished, unharmed by editorial interference and fashion. One way or another and by hook or by crook Krazy ran – generally unmolested – until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The core premise is simple: Krazy Kat is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious, thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse.

Ignatz is a truly unreconstructed and probably irredeemable male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always abusively responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly). The smitten kitten invariably misidentifies these assaults as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is local cop Offissa Bull Pupp; a figure of honesty and stolid duty completely besotted with Krazy. Ever vigilant, he is professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma and has cast him eternally into what we now call the “Friend Zone”…

Crowding out the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as Joe Stork (dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies); hobo Bum Bill Bee; unsavoury conman trickster Don Kiyoti; self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge; fussbudget busybody Pauline Parrot, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mokk Dukk; dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal krackers, all equally capable of stealing the limelight or even supporting their own strip features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based on the artist’s Coconino County, Arizona vacation retreat) where absurdly surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of both flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art: wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo and Mexican art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language.

Those bizarre balloons and chaotic captions are crammed with florid verbiage: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“l’il dahlink”, “You is inwited to a ketnip potty or “so genteel, so riffime, so soba”)…

Yet for all that, these adventures are lyrical, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing all aspects of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops and other stars of silent slapstick comedies…

Krazy Kat’s resurgence started in the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This top notch tinted tome – offering material from 1935-1936 – luxuriates in the switch to full colour (after decades of monochrome mirth and madness) under the sheltered safe-haven of a nationally-controlled Hearst comics insert package and manifests as a comfortably tactile paperback or eBook edition.

It was the first collection “Coalescing the Complete Full-Page Comics Strips, with the usual extra Rarities” such as candid photographs, contemporary press articles, toys, merchandise and even a 1916 original Krazy Kat page sublimely hand-tinted by Herriman to open this volume…

The precarious history of how these ultra-rare later strips were preserved and returned to print once more are detailed in Bill Blackbeard’s Introduction ‘Autumn Leaves: Herriman’s Klosing Kat Pages Revel in Fine Syndicate Kolur (But with a Briefly Blue Ignatz)’: supplemented by an examination of Herriman’s unclear – if not positively murky – past, potential ethnicity and the strip’s treatment of race issues in Jeet Heer’s article ‘The Kolors of Krazy Kat’.

Augmenting the journalism and sociology are a number of early strips plus a few magnificent painted pieces from the maestro, as well as a selection of merchandising treasures to ogle over and lust after…

The actual strip pages resume with June 1st 1935 – the colour provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – and pretty much pick up where the black and white feature left off.

We do, however, meet some new characters: perambulating elephants; an entrepreneurial cow; a Mocking Bird called Moggin Boid; doleful doggie and tax-dodging calf L’il Thinn Dyme and dismal dodo Dough Dough amongst others.

The most significant debuting presence is a thoroughly brutal bad guy dubbed “the Growler”. This deplorable mutt adds a frisson of dangerous gangsterism to the aura of domestic dispute and romantic disharmony. Although the surly bandit easily outmatches and cows Offisa Pupp, he is clearly no match for the tangled trio working what we’ll kindly designate as “together”…

Despite having to split his time between watching the mouse, confronting the Growler, administrating tax and dole crises and freeing the county of generalised sin and depravity, the lawdog soon settles into a comfortable pattern of wishful monitoring in these strips as Ignatz and Krazy perpetuate their bizarre romantic ritual. The Mouse constantly innovates in his obsessive desire to bean the Kat’s bonce: generally ending up in the cells whether successful or otherwise.

The Kat kontinues to await bad love’s brainbusting kiss, joyous of every kontusion and konkussion and deflated and woeful every time fate, cruel misfortune or the konstabulary aborts that longed for high-velocity assignation…

Pupp still proactively stalks and thwarts Ignatz, but as always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice and the perfect ambush spot hogs most pages, leading to many brick-based gags and increasing frustration amongst all involved.

The county lock-up remains a key component as escalating slapstick silliness frequently concludes with Ignatz in the dog’s “house”. Naturally, that just means the malign Mus Musculus maximising his malevolent efforts; regularly taking to the air or adopting uncanny disguises to achieve his aims…

New topics of interest and comedic provenance include the arrival of novel and challenging foodstuffs to the region – tortillas, water-melons and an assortment of fast foods. Also numbering amongst new arrivals and fresh phenomena are a film crew lensing authentic and reasonable romantic encounters, ghost sightings, unoccupied top hats, overly-effective hair restorers, a smoking ban, trick photography, beauty salons for pelt/skin tone reassignment procedures, boomerangs and strange lights in the sky…

Worst of all, with 1936 a Leap Year, the populace all seem to lose their bearings and become marriage mad even as Joe Stork – whose delivery of unexpected babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to all – expands his remit by becoming a self-appointed truant officer to Ignatz’ many progeny …

The region abounds with a copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow weekly – but a new addition is a clique of nouveau riche billionaires and trillionaires seeking to increase their short-term assets before the year ends with a nasty outbreak of election fever and bogus prognostication…

As always there is a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora – especially the viciously ferocious coconuts and various cacti – for humorous inspiration, and bizarre weather plays a greater part in inducing anxiety and bewilderment. Strip humour was never more eclectic or indefinable…

Supplementing the cartoon gold and ending this slim tome is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed before the collection closes with a fabulous photo feature on possibly the very first Krazy Kat stuffed toy and a selection of pinback buttons (we Brits call them badges) from the 1910s-1930s.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature nothing has been seen like these comics which shaped our industry and creators: inspiring auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, all whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans on a daily and weekly basis.

If, however, you’re one of Them and not Us, or if you yet haven’t experienced this gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon concocted by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a supremely effective and accessible way to do so.
© 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-60-9

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down – or rather digs up – famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this timely themed collection is dedicated to quizzing a selection of famous, infamous and “why-aren’t-they-household names?” women from history in what would probably be their own – post-mortem – words…

Be warned, as we celebrate 100 years of female suffrage and you absorb these hysterical histories, you may say to yourself again and again “but… that’s not FAIR…”

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Hatshepsut: Pharaoh 1507-1458 BCE’, tracing her reign and achievements and why her name and face were literally erased from history for millennia.

As ever, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a crucial aspect of their lives such as here where ‘Temple Complex’ diligently details the controversial pharaoh’s astounding and colossal “Holy of Holies”: the Djeser-Djeseru Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician & Philosopher 360s-415’ sketches out the incredible accomplishments, appalling treatment and tragic fate of the brilliant teacher and number-cruncher, and is supplemented here by a smart lesson in the almost-mystical concept of ‘The Golden Ratio’.

Throughout all civilisations, (mostly male) historians have painted powerful women with extremely unsavoury reputations and nasty natures. Just this once, however, the facts seem to confirm that ‘Irene of Athens: Empress of Byzantium 752-803’ was every bit as bad as her detractors described her. Her atrocious acts against friends, foes and her own son Constantine are offset in the attendant fact-feature ‘Spin Class’ revealing how Irene employed religious industrial espionage to break China’s millennial monopoly on silk production, complete with detailed breakdown of how the Byzantine silk trade worked…

Every comic reader or fantasy fan is familiar with the idea of women warriors but the real-life prototype for them all was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. ‘Khutulun: Wrestling Princess 1260-1300s’ refused to be married off unless a suitor could defeat her in the Mongolian grappling martial art Bökh. So effective a fighter, archer and strategist was she, that the Khan appointed her his Chief Military Advisor and even nominated her his successor on his deathbed – an honour and can of worms she wisely sidestepped to become a power behind the throne.

Her incredible account is backed-up by an in-depth peek into the ferocious wrestling style she dominated in ‘Mongolian Moves’ after which ‘Joan of Arc: Saint 1412-1431’ explains how it all went wrong for her in asks-&-answers ‘How Do You Become a Saint?’

On more familiar ground, ‘Elizabeth I: Queen of England 1533-1603’ recounts her glorious reign and explains the how and why of her power dressing signature appearance in ‘A Killer Look!’ whilst transplanted near-contemporary ‘Pocahontas: Powhattan Princess 1596-1617’ shares the true story of her life before ‘Sad Ending, Continued…’ discloses the ultimate fate of her tribe at the hands of English Settlers.

Another astonishing character you’ve probably never heard of, ‘Julie D’Aubigny: Swashbuckler 1670-1707’ was a hell-raising social misfit who scandalised and terrorised the hidebound French Aristocracy. The daughter of a fencing teacher, she fought duels, broke laws, travelled wherever she wanted to, enjoyed many lovers – male and female – and even sang with the Paris Opera (now that’s a movie biopic I want to see!). What else could she offer as a sidebar but a lesson on duelling for beginners in ‘Question of Honour’?

‘Granny Nanny: Resistance Fighter 1686-1755’ started life as an Ashanti Princess, but after being taken to Jamaica s a slave, organised the ragtag runaways known as Maroons into an army of liberation. The workings of her rainforest citadel Nanny Town (now Moore Town) is explored in ‘Fortresses of Freedom’ after which a more sedate battle against oppression is undertaken with the interrogation of ‘Jane Austen: Novelist 1775-1817’, complete with cartoon precis of her subversive masterpiece ‘Pride & Prejudice (The Corpse Talk Version)’

‘Ching Shih: Pirate Queen 1775-1844’ tells of another woman who beat all the odds and has since faded from male memory: a young girl kidnapped by China Seas pirates who rose to become their leader. Ravaging the Imperial coast, she created an unshakable pirate code that benefitted the poor, outsmarted the Emperor and ultimately negotiated a pardon for herself and all her men and lived happily ever after! That salty sea saga is accompanied by the lowdown and technical specs on ‘Punks in Junks’ and followed by another bad girl with a good reputation.

‘Princess Caraboo: Con-Artist 1791-1864’ was never the Malayan royal refugee British High Society was captivated by, but rather a Devonshire serving maid who made the most of outrageous fortune and quick wits. Her story is backed up by a delightful opportunity to forge your own faux identity with ‘Caraboo’s Character Creation Course!’

Far more potent and worthy exemplars, ‘Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist 1822-1913’ ferried more than 300 of her fellow slaves from Southern oppression to freedom in America and what we now call Canada, supplemented here by a detailed breakdown of ‘The Underground Railway’ before emancipation martyr ‘Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragette 1872-1913’ shares her brief troubled life and struggle to win women the right to vote and participatory roles in society, backed up by an absolutely unmissable graphic synopsis of the long struggle in ‘A Brief History of Women’s Rights’

Someone who made every use of those hard-won concessions was ‘Nellie Bly: Journalist 1864-1922’, whose sensational journalistic feats and headline-grabbing stunts made her as newsworthy as her many scoops. One of the most impressive was beating Jules Verne’s fictional miracle of modernity by voyaging for ‘72 Days Around the World’ – as seen in the gripping sidebar spread – whereas the career of ‘Amy Johnston: Aviator 1903-1941’ was cut tragically short by bad luck and male intractability. Her flying triumphs are celebrated through a fascinating tutorial on her preferred sky-chariot the ‘De Havilland Gypsy Moth’.

The short and tragic life of ‘Anne Frank: Journalist 1864-1922’ follows, complimented by a detailed breakdown of the secret hideout and necessary tactics employed to conceal Anne, her family and friends in ‘The Secret Annex’.

Thankfully closing on an emotional high note, the rags to riches, riches to rags to riches life of dancer, comedian, freedom fighter and social activist ‘Josephine Baker: Entertainer 1906-1975’ details the double rollercoaster life of a true star and closes this book with her teaching the secrets of how to ‘Dance the Charleston’.

Clever, moving, irreverently funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, spiritualist or dearly departed go-getter…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Women will be released on 1st March 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Marsupilami volume 1: The Marsupilami’s Tail


By Franquin, Batem & Greg; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-363-5

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handled the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant André Franquin who took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own. He increasingly included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until he resigned in 1969…

Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four” who subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 but was now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to on his departure – is Marsupilami, which in addition to comics tales has become a star of screen, toy store, console and albums.

Franquin, plagued in later life by bouts of depression, passed away on January 5th 1997 but his legacy remains, a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin kept the rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist and illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of comedy tales. Now numbering 30 albums (not including an all-Franquin short story collection volume #0), the first of these was La Queue du Marsuplami, released in 1987 and translated here as The Marsupilami’s Tale.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia, and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Into that teeming life-web of the Palombian rainforest comes dissolute riverboat captain Bombonera and his idiot boilerman Innadeiz. They are ferrying impatient and irascible great white hunter Mr. Bring M. Backalive up the inaccessible Rio Huaytoonarro so that he can be the first to capture and exhibit the legendary long-tailed monkey to an unbelieving world.

Sadly, Backalive has just reached the inescapable conclusion that the bumbling, prevaricating river rogue hasn’t the faintest clue where Marsupilamis dwell…

With his life endangered, Bombonera thinks fast and remembers a native fisherman who might be able to help. Yafegottawurm is up for the change of pace too; anything is better than sitting on a log waiting for the vile and voracious piranha to bite… at least until he realises the crazy white man wants to hunt the infernal, trouble making Marsupilami…

And so begins a madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, crazy plans and close shaves as the humans stalk the unflappable golden monkey (and its unsuspected, equally formidable family), upsetting the rhythms of the jungle and making enemies of not just the beasts but the Havoca natives who should have known better than to ignore their better judgement and join the hunt for the supposedly wonderful tasting Marsupilami…

Fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging, the riotous romps and cataclysmic chases instigated by the mesmerising Marsupilami are big hits and beloved reads of wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Now it’s your turn to join in the fun. Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin, Greg & Batem. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Lucky Luke volume 13: The Tenderfoot


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W Nolan (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-65-6

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having action-packed, light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper, whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures.

His continuing exploits over seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (more than 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (AKA “Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of legend, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Before his untimely death in 1977, Goscinny went on to co-author 45 graphic albums with Morris, after which Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke first amused British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun, and later rode back into comics-town again in 1967, using the nom de plume Buck Bingo in UK weekly Giggle.

In all these venues – as well as in numerous attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and magnificently successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re approaching 70 translated volumes and still going strong.

Lucky Luke – Le pied-tendre was the Dynamite Duo’s 23rd collaboration (available in English on paper and as an e-book as The Tenderfoot): first published in Europe in 1968.

The wryly silly saga details how the “harmless” western tradition of ruthlessly hazing and bullying newcomers for their supposed lack of manliness, strange customs, fancy clothes and good manners is threatened after the fine folk of Dry Gulch bury crusty compadre Ol’ Baddy.

The beloved, centenarian old coot seemed to be truly one of them but when his heir arrives to inherit the spread, the town has to accept that the aged landowner was not only a British émigré named Harold Lucius Badmington but was also shamefully aligned to the snooty, snobbish nobility…

The fun-loving straight-shooters and right-thinkers are appalled at politely unflappable greenhorn toff Waldo Badmington: none more so than saloon owner Jack Ready who had devised his own wicked plans for Baddy’s vacant lands.

When the usual cruel welcoming tactics fail to get a rise out of Waldo, Jack renews his efforts to seize the spread by force, but Baddy’s old Indian retainer Sam and interfering do-gooder Lucky Luke have their own ideas about that…

What neither Waldo nor his own devoted manservant Jasper know is that the wandering troubleshooter has been secretly commissioned by Baddy in a deathbed request to ensure the newcomer keeps hold of his inheritance… but only if Luke judges him worthy of it…

The doughty young worthy certainly seems to cut the mustard at first sight. He manfully ignores being tossed in a blanket, disdainfully accepts being a human target, drinks like a native and joins in with the traditional and frequent bar-brawls. Better yet, he refuses to give in to Jack’s far from subtle pressure to sell up and go back where he came from…

With his greedy plans frustrated, Jack piles on the pressure, hiring gunmen and attacking the Badmington spread, and when that fails, plays his last card: craftily disappearing whilst framing Waldo for his “murder”…

However, the blackguard has not reckoned on Lucky’s determination and detective skills, and when the frame-up is exposed Jack is forced to settle the matter of impugned honour the English way…

Dry, sly and cruelly satirical, The Tenderfoot is a deviously-devised lampoon of classic cowboy movies with plenty of action, lots of laughs and barrel-loads of buffoonery superbly crafted by comics masters: proffering a potent peek into a unique and timeless genre to today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1968 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm


By Norman Hunter, illustrated by W. Heath Robinson (Puffin/Red Fox and others)
ISBNs: PSS33 (1969 Puffin edition)              978-1-86230-736-0 (Red Fox 2008)

In a year packed with anniversaries pertinent to comics and related fantasy entertainments, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the particular delights of this worthy British institution, originally illustrated by a veritable giant of world cartooning and recently the freshly revived star of BBC television.

The venerably traditional illustrated novel used to be a happily inescapable staple of bedtime for generations in this country and this particular example is particularly memorable, not simply because it’s a timeless masterpiece of purely English wit and surreal invention, but also because most editions are blessed with a wealth of stunning pictures by an absolute master of absurdist cartooning and wry, dry wit.

Norman George Lorimer Hunter was born on November 23rd 1899 in Sydenham; a decade after that part of Kent was absorbed by the ever-expanding County of London. He started work as an advertising copywriter before moving into book writing with Simplified Conjuring for All: A collection of new tricks needing no special skill or apparatus for their performance with suitable patter; Advertising Through the Press: A guide to press publicity and New and Easy Magic: A further series of novel magical experiments needing no special skill or apparatus for their performance with suitable patter. They were all published between 1923 and 1925.

Hunter was working as a stage magician in Bournemouth during the early 1930s when he first began concocting the genially explosive exploits of the absolute archetypical absent-minded boffin for radio broadcasts. These tales were read by the inimitable Ajax – to whom the first volume is dedicated – as part of the BBC Home Service’s Children’s Hour.

In 1933 The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was published in hardback, including 76 enthrallingly intricate illustrations by W. Heath Robinson to great success, prompting the sequel Professor Branestawm’s Treasure Hunt (illustrated by James Arnold & George Worsley Adamson) four years later.

During WWII Hunter moved back to London and in 1949 emigrated to South Africa where he worked outside the fiction biz until his retirement. Following the release of Thames Television’s Professor Branestawm TV series (which adapted many of the short stories from the original books in the summer of 1969) Hunter returned to Britain in 1970, and resumed writing: another 11 Branestawn tomes between 1970-1983, plus a selection of supplemental books including Dictionary (1973): Professor Branestawm’s Compendium of Conundrums, Riddles, Puzzles, Brain Twiddlers and Dotty Descriptions (1975); Professor Branestawm’s Do-it-yourself Handbook (1976) and many magic-related volumes.

Norman Hunter died in 1995.

William Heath Robinson was born on May 31st 1872 into something of an artistic dynasty. His father Thomas was chief staff artist for Penny Illustrated Paper. His older brothers Thomas and Charles were also renowned illustrators of note.

After schooling William tried unsuccessfully to become a watercolour landscape-artist before returning to the family trade and, in 1902, produced the fairy story ‘Uncle Lubin’ before contributing regularly to The Tatler, Bystander, Sketch, Strand and London Opinion. During this period, he developed the humorous whimsy and a penchant for eccentric, archaic-looking mechanical devices that made him a household name.

During the Great War William uniquely avoided the Jingoistic stance and fervour of his fellow artists, preferring instead to satirise the absurdity of conflict itself with volumes of cartoons such as The Saintly Hun.

Then, after a 20-year career of phenomenal success and creativity in cartooning, illustration and particularly advertising, he found himself forced to do it again in World War Two.

He died on13th September 1944.

Perhaps inspired by the Branestawm commission, Heath Robinson’s 1934 collection Absurdities hilariously describes the frail resilience of the human condition in the Machine Age and particularly how the English deal with it all. They are also some of his funniest strips and panels. Much too little of his charming and detailed illustrative wit is in print today, a situation that cries out for Arts Council Funding or Lottery money, perhaps more than any other injustice in the sadly neglected field of cartooning and Popular Arts.

The first inspirational Professor Branestawm storybook introduces the dotty, big-domed, scatty savant as a ramshackle cove with five pairs of spectacles – which he generally wears all at once – gadding about with his clothes held together by safety pins …as the constant explosions he creates blow his buttons off.

The wise buffoon spends most of his days thinking high thoughts and devising odd devices in his “Inventory” whilst his mundane requirements are taken care of by dotty, devoted, frequently frightened or flustered housekeeper Mrs. Flittersnoop. Branestawm’s best chum is the gruff Colonel Dedshott of the Catapult Cavaliers, although said old soldier seldom knows what the big thinker is babbling on is about…

The over-educated inspirationalist and his motley crew first appeared in ‘The Professor Invents a Machine’ which featured the debut of an arcane device that moves so quickly that Branestawm and Dedshott are carried a week into the past and accidentally undo a revolution in Squiglatania, upsetting everybody on both sides of the argument.

In ‘The Wild Waste-Paper’ Mrs. Flittersnoop’s incessant tidying up causes a spill of the Professor’s new Elixir of Vitality: with the consequent enlargement and animation of a basket full of furiously angry bills, clingy postcards and discarded envelopes, whilst in ‘The Professor Borrows a Book’ the absent-minded mentor mislays a reference tome and has to borrow another copy from the local library.

A house full of books is the worst place to lose one, and when the second one goes AWOL Branestawm must borrow a third or pay the fine on the second. By the time he’s finished the potty Prof has checked out fourteen copies and is killing himself covertly transporting it from library to library…

When his stuff-stuffed house is raided by Burglars!’ the shocked and horrified thinker concocts the ultimate security system. It is the perfect device to defend an Englishman’s Castle – unless he’s the type who regularly forgets his keys or that he has built and installed an anti-burglar machine…

After losing a day because he hasn’t noticed his chronometer had stopped, the Professor devises a new sort of timepiece that never needs winding and becomes something of a business success. Even the local horologist (look it up) wants one.

Sadly, the meandering mentalist forgets to add a what-not to stop them all striking more than twelve and as the beastly things inexorably add one peal every hour soon there are more dings than can fit in any fifty-nine minutes. ‘The Screaming Clocks’ quickly become most unwelcome and eventually an actually menace to life and limb…

Branestawm often thought so hard that he ceased all motion. Whilst visiting The Fair at Pagwell Green’ Mrs. Flittersnoop and Colonel Dedshott mistake a waxwork of the famously brilliant bumbler for the real thing and bring “him” home to finish his pondering in private. Conversely, the carnival waxworks owner alternatively believes he has come into possession of a wax statue which has learned to talk…

‘The Professor Sends an Invitation’ sees the savant ask Dedshott to tea yet forget to include the laboriously scripted card. By means most arcane and convoluted, the doughty old warrior receives an ink-smudged blotter in an addressed envelope and mobilises to solve a baffling cipher. Of course, his first port-of-call must be his clever scientific friend – who had subsequently forgotten all about upcoming culinary events…

‘The Professor Studies Spring Cleaning’ finds Branestawm applying his prodigious intellect and inventive acumen to the seasonal tradition that so vexes Mrs. Flittersnoop and inevitably perfecting a way to make an arduous labour far worse. He thus constructs a house-engine that empties and cleans itself. Sadly, it can’t differentiate between sofa, couch, cupboard or housekeeper…

‘The Too-Many Professors’ appear when the affable artificer invents a solution which brought pictures to life. Flittersnoop is guardedly impressed when illustrations of apples and chocolates become edibly real but utterly aghast when a 3-dimensional cat and elephant commence crashing about in the parlour.

So it’s pretty inevitable that the foul-smelling concoction be spilled all over the photograph albums…

In a case of creativity feeding on itself, ‘The Professor Does a Broadcast’ relates how the brilliant old duffer is invited to give a lecture on the Wireless (no, not about radio, but for it…). Unaccustomed as he is to public speaking, the tongue-tied boffin has Dedshott rehearse and drill him until he can recite the whole speech in eleven minutes. Unfortunately, the scheduled programme is supposed to last half an hour…

A grand Fancy Dress Ball results in two eccentric pillars of Pagwell Society wittily masquerading as each other. Naturally ‘Colonel Branestawm and Professor Dedshott’ are a great success but when the Countess of Pagwell’s pearls are pinched whilst the old duffers change back to their regular attire nobody notices the difference or believes them…

‘The Professor Moves House’ relates how the inventor is forced to rent larger premises because he has filled up the old one with his contraptions. However, Branestawm’s attempts to rationalise the Moving Men’s work patterns prove that even he doesn’t know everything…

At least the disastrous ‘Pancake Day at Great Pagwell’ rescues his reputation when his magnificent automatic Pancake-Making Machine furiously feeds a multitude of friends and civic dignitaries. The Mayor likes it so much he purchases the chaotic contraption to lay all the municipality’s pavements…

This gloriously enchanting initial outing ends with ‘Professor Branestawm’s Holiday’ as the old brain-bonce finally acquiesces to his housekeeper’s urgent urgings and indulges in a vacation at the seaside. Keen on swotting up on all things jellyfish, the silly savant sets off but forgets to check in at his boarding house, resulting in a desperate missing-persons search by Dedshott, Flittersnoop and the authorities.

Things are further complicated by a Pierrot Show which boasts the best Professor Branestawn impersonator in Britain: so good in fact that even the delinquent dodderer’s best friends can’t tell the difference…

With the actual performer locked up in a sanatorium claiming he isn’t a Professor, it’s a lucky thing the one-and-only wandering wise man is unable to discern the difference between a lecture hall and a seaside show-tent…

As I’ve already mentioned, these astonishingly accessible yarns were originally written for radio and thus abound with rhythmic cadences and onomatopoeic sound effects that just scream to be enjoyed out loud. Augmented by some of Heath-Robinson’s most memorable character caricatures and insane implements, this eternally fresh children’s classic offers some of the earliest and most enduring example of spiffing techno-babble and fantabulous faux-physics – not to mention impressive iterations of the divine Pathetic Fallacy in all its outrageous glory – and no child should have to grow up without visiting and revisiting the immortal, improbable Pagwell Pioneer.

In 2008 a 75th Anniversary edition of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was released by Red Fox but you’re just a likely to find this uproarious ubiquitous marvel in libraries, second-hand shops or even jumble sales, so by all means do…
© 1933 Norman Hunter. All rights reserved.

The Snowman – 35th Anniversary Edition


By Raymond Briggs (Puffin)
ISBN: 978-0723297420 (HC)            978-0723275534 (PB)

Released to celebrate 35 years since the debut of the perennial children’s favourite in 1978, and with the 40th anniversary swiftly bearing down on us, it’s a fitting time and the right season to re-examine this wonderful book, free of the huge ancillary industry and multi-media branding that’s grown around it, strictly in terms of pure graphic narrative.

Despite being repackaged as numerous book spin-offs, and dogged by impact-diluting sequels, animated films and even a stage musical, The Snowman started out as a slim (32 page) picture book: A lyrical tale of forgotten winter joy.

I can’t remember the last time we had enough snow to even baffle my cat (if you’ve never seen a pampered house-moggy’s first response to solid-seeming-cold-wet-white-stuff, then you’ve never laughed so hard the cocoa came out of your nose) let alone coat the world in a clean blanket of wonder, but that’s what happens here.

This is a subtle and compelling story. A young boy awakens to a heavy snowfall. Dressing, he dashes outside and romps among the falling flakes. He spends all day building a snowman, and even when he he’s snugly back inside, he can’t stop looking at his magnificent creation. Happy and exhausted he goes to bed.

When everybody’s asleep he invites the now-animate icy golem indoors where they play, share a meal, and – naturally – do the washing up when they’ve finished. Outside the skies are clear and the white flakes no longer fill the heavens. Having seen the boy’s world, the Snowman offers to show his own, and the pair soar aloft on a wondrous voyage over land and sea where the snows are falling still.

On eventually returning to the mundane Earthly home, they say goodnight. The boy goes reluctantly back to bed and the frosty sentinel takes up his abandoned position in the garden. In the morning the boy dashes out, but only heartbreak and disappointment await, for the new morning has melted his midnight companion.

This truly beautiful tale is no cheery, mawkish fantasy; it is an examination of the intense nature of a child’s life and the poignancy of change. We never know if the adventure was simply a dream or an actuality, but the knowledge that such all-encompassing wonder is fleeting is a lesson we all learn as we grow.

The ability to recapture such a lesson – both its joys and its pains – is a rare and awesome thing, and what a tribute to Raymond Brigg’s abilities that we don’t hate him for making us enjoy re-experiencing it.

Utterly wordless, in panels deprived of dark borders and hard edges, Briggs spins a delicate web of magic. Using the child’s own creative tools of pencil and crayon he crafts lyrical pastel picture-poems that are truly evocative and spellbinding. Despite being co-opted by the Christmas Industry this isn’t merely a seasonal tale but a timeless one. There’s no Bright Red or Holly Green to dazzle and break this charm: Briggs, as always uses presentiment and understatement as his basic tools.

Our industry seems to wilfully neglect this creator whose graphic narratives have reached more hearts and minds than Spider-Man, The Spirit or Spawn ever will, yet his works remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field. The Snowman, despite my pompous pontificating, remains a work of sublime and simple universal beauty. Get it for your kids, get it for yourself, but when the cartoon comes on again this Christmas, don’t watch that, Read This.
© 1978 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

Archie’s Christmas Classics (Archie Classics Series Volume 1)


By Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Bill Vigoda, Tom Moore, Bob White, Al Hartley, Stan Goldberg, Joe Edwards, Bob Bolling & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-78-8

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

As long-term readers might recall, my good lady wife and I have a family ritual we’re not ashamed to boast of or share with you. Every Christmas we barricade the doors, draw the shutters, stockpile munchies, stoke up the radiators and lazily subside with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear.

(Well, I do: she also insists on a few monumental feats of cleaning and shopping before manufacturing the world’s most glorious and stupefying meal to accompany my reading, gorging and – eventually, inevitably – snoring…

Oh, so much snoring!!!)

The irresistible trove of funnybook treasures generally comprises older DC’s, loads of Disney’s and some British annuals, but the vast preponderance is Archie Comics.

From the earliest days this American institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” through a fabulously funny, nostalgically charming, sentimental barrage of cannily-crafted stories capturing the spirit of the season through a range of cartoon stars from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say “comicbooks” people’s thoughts turn to steroidal blokes, anthropomorphic animals and even women in garish tights hitting each other, bending lampposts and lobbing trees or cars about.

That or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans…

Throughout the decades though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned. One that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television these days – is the genre of teen-comedy begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following-up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. Content was the standard blend of costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make a little history with its first lead feature The Shield, who was the American industry’s first superhero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

After initially revelling in the benefits of the Fights ‘N’ Tights game, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, duh!) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 their stable of costumed cavorters and two-fisted adventurers were gently nudged aside – just a fraction at first – by a wholesome, improbable and far-from-imposing new hero; an unremarkable (except, perhaps, for his teeth) teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular Andy Hardy movies, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. Their precocious new notion premiered in Pep #22: a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde girl next door.

An untitled 6-page tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid and his pals won a title of their own.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began a slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead Jones and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a multi-media brand which encompasses TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global pop smash. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

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

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

This eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends… (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly re-imagining its core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and, over the decades, the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner always both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom have contributed to a wide and appealingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie easily cleared the American industry’s final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream Kids’ comics.

One of the most effective tools in the company’s arsenal has been the never-failing appeal of seasonal and holiday traditions. In Riverdale it was always sunny enough to surf at the beach in summer and it always snowed at Christmas…

The Festive Season has never failed to produce great comics stories. DC especially have -since their earliest days – perennially and effectively embraced the magic of the holiday with a decades-long succession of stunning and sentimental Batman thrillers, as well as many other heroic team-ups incorporating Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Sgt. Rock and all the rest…

Archie also started early (1942) and kept on producing memorable year-end classics. The stories became so popular and eagerly anticipated that in 1954 the company created a specific oversized title – Archie’s Christmas Stocking – to cater to demand, even as it kept the winter months of its other periodicals stuffed with assorted tales of elves and snow and fine fellow-feeling…

Seasoned (see what I did there?) with covers and pin-ups, this splendidly appealing, full-colour celebration – recently re-released as an eBook – gathers a superb selection of Cool Yule extravaganzas from those end-of-year annuals and other sources.

Without preamble the jolly japes commence with a selection from Archie Giant Series #6: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1959.

‘Slide Guide!’ by the irrepressible team of Frank Doyle & Harry Lucey highlights Reggie and Archie’s bid to out-do each other impresses a pack of youngsters of the danger of sledding, after which ‘Snow Mistake!’ (Doyle & Bill Vigoda) sees the rivals unite when Veronica dates another boy. Their scheme to set ever-enraged schoolmate Big Moose on the new kid goes agonisingly amiss though…

‘Fire Bugged’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) then reveals how helpful Archie’s attempts to prove Christmas trees are a fire hazard enflames and enrages Ronnie’s dad, whilst ‘Come Onna My House’ (Doyle & Vigoda) details the minor spat of BFFs Betty and Veronica as they decide who will host Archie on Christmas morning…

Tom Moore reveals untrammelled greed in one-pager ‘Archie’s Pal Jughead in Shocking Stocking!’ before – following a racy Veronica the X-Mas elf pin-up – ‘Not Even a Moose’ (Doyle & Vigoda) leads off topical tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #10, 1961.

Here Reggie plays foolish pranks on the naïve giant and discovers the danger of telling people there is such a man as Santa whilst ‘Those Christmas Blues!’ (Bob White) sees Archie’s parents lament that they’ve been side-lined in favour of the girls in their boy’s life but have a wonderful surprise awaiting them…

Two half-pagers ‘A Head Start’ and ‘Reggie: Generous to a Fault’ segues into Betty and Veronica’s Coloring Page (not so engrossing if you’re reading the eBook edition!) after which a bad cold afflicts a close friend and causes a catastrophic case of Chinese Whispers in regard to gift-giving in ‘Archie’s Pal Jughead: “Code Three”’ (Doyle & Vigoda).

Archie’s job as guardian of the year’s presents results in a catastrophic mess in ‘Gift Collection’ after which Betty and Veronica experience a just comeuppance for calling the boys slobs in ‘Do No Evil’ (Doyle & DeCarlo: Archie Giant Series #6: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1959)

Following a suitably seasonal Mr. Weatherbee Pin-up Page and Jughead single-page gag ‘More Pull than Talent!’, Archie and Reggie clash over a present for Veronica in ‘Go for Broke’ (from Archie Giant Series #4: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1957) after which ‘Boxed In’ sees the red-headed fool outsmart himself in his quest for the perfect present…

Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica: ‘R is for Rooked’ (DeCarlo from Archie Comics Digest #3, December1973) sees reluctant go-between Jughead botch a spy mission to find out what Ronnie’s buying Archie whilst ‘Black Book Bonanza’ (same guy, same source) discloses how Moose comes to believe he’s now one of Santa’s official helpers…

Skulduggery and intrigue inform Doyle & Bob White’s ‘A Christmas Tale’ (Life with Archie #33, January 1965) as Ronnie promises a month of dating exclusivity to whomever chops down the biggest charity Christmas Tree. When Archie and Jughead team up to ensure the Andrews boy wins, Betty and Reggie unite to scotch their plans…

Archie Giant Series #150: Archie’s Christmas Stocking January 1968 supplies single page Veronica gag ‘Prize Surprise’ (by George Gladir & Al Hartley), leads into ‘Treed’ (Doyle & Hartley) as mystic Xmas elf Jingles helps Archie survive Reggie’s latest campaign of Christmas terror after which Archie and the Gang Make their Christmas Wish’ (Hartley) and

Christmas Pin-up (DeCarlo) bring us to ‘Wanted: Santa Claus’ (Life with Archie #26, February 1969) with Mr. Weatherbee in a turmoil because he thinks the Andrew’s boy has usurped his annual role as the school Kris Kringle…

A ‘Merry Christmas Dear Reader’ ensemble pin-up leads into sentimental tearjerker ‘It’s Not the Gift’ as Archie saves a young kid from a tragic Christmas before Doyle, Lucey & Mario Acquaviva reveal how garage-band The Archies appal and offend the older generation with their ‘Ode to Santa’ (from Laugh Comics #215 February 1969) after which Archie Giant Series #150 provides DeCarlo’s ‘Christmas Fashions for Betty and Veronica’.

‘Temptation’ (Doyle, Lucey & Chic Stone; Archie #232 February 1974) then proves Jughead very wise indeed after he argues that even Reggie can’t resist the good feelings of Christmas and – following an Archie Pin-up ‘Shopper Comes a Cropper’ (Gladir, Lucey & Stone) finds Archie in the same old bind after double-booking Christmas shopping with both Betty and Ronnie…

Doyle, DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick examine the bleaker side of the season in ‘The Greatest Gift’ (Life with Archie #154, February 1975) as the gang befriend a lonely and embittered old shopkeeper, whilst – after a Lucey Archie’s Coloring Page – Betty and Ronnie declare war on each other’s trimming and decorating taste in ‘Tree Spree’ (Archie Giant Series #242: Archie’s Christmas Love-In: January 1976).

‘Spirit Sprite’ (Archie Giant Series #454: Archie’s Christmas Love-In: January 1977) sees the Riverdale kids working to get Jughead and Big Ethel together under the mistletoe before Betty and Archie overcome exorbitant prices and circumvent ‘Tree Travail’ with a public display of seasonal cheer whilst Mr. Lodge counters his own financial worries by joining Santa’s ‘Aid Parade’

Wrapping up the festivities is prose yarn “Christmas Jeer” (Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #16; January 1955) as the friendly rivals’ clash over duplicate dresses threatens to derail the big Christmas party…

These are joyously effective and entertaining tales for young and old alike, crafted by some of Santa’s most talented Helpers, epitomising the magic of the Season and celebrating the perfect wonder of timeless all-ages storytelling. What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their kids’ stocking (from where it can most easily be borrowed)?
© 2011 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 4


By Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Kelley Puckett, Alan Grant, Dan Raspler, Ty Templeton, Ronnie Del Carmen, Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett, Dev Madan, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri, Butch Lukic & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6061-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Ideal Gift for Young, Old and Especially Yourself… 10/10

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This fourth, final and Seasonally sensitive compendium gathers issues #28-36 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from January-October 1995) plus The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 and The Batman Adventures Annual #2: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy that celebrates traditional values such as gift-giving, crime-crushing, mistletoe-related smooching, world conquest, forgiveness, and all out action in uncanny and outlandish places…

The merriment and mayhem open with the varied contents of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1: and a moody ‘Intro’ from Dini & Dan Riba before grossly uncivilised cop Harvey Bullock and his so very long-suffering partner Renee Montoya go undercover as Department Store Santa and Elf in ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ (Dini & Timm).

The apparently invisible thief plundering the store was expecting cops – but not Batgirl – but the assembled embarrassed heroes never contemplated having to battle a seriously-slumming super-villain exposed by the police action…

Next shiny bauble is ‘The Harley and the Ivy’ wherein Dini & Ronnie Del Carmen depict the larcenous ladies going on an illicit shopping spree after kidnapping Bruce Wayne, thanks to a dose of Ivy’s mind-warping kisses…

Slightly darker and far colder, ‘White Christmas’ by Dini & Glen Murakami then pits Batman against the increasing bereft and deranged Mr. Freeze who tries to turn Gotham City into a vast snow-globe as a tribute to his dead wife before The Joker enquires ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ (Dini & Timm, Kevin Altieri & Butch Lukic) whilst attempting to kill every reveller in Gotham Square at the stroke of midnight…

Having saved the city yet again old comrades Batman and Jim Gordon then get together for a spot of breakfast and moment of quiet contemplation in ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’ (Dini & Riba) to wrap up this potent parcel of Christmas cheer.

Like the show, most Batman Adventures stories were crafted as 3-act plays and the conceit resumes here with issue #28 (January 1995) as Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett celebrate the holidays with ‘Twelve Days of Madness’ It opens with ‘What Child is This?’ as escaped loon Harley Quinn misses her Mistah J and drops him a note in Arkham Asylum.

As a strange outbreak of lunacy suddenly grips the city, ‘God Rest Ye Psycho Councilmen’ finds esteemed psychologist Dr. Heimlich visit the institution and recommending making the Joker direct a little Christmas theatre for the inmates…

Happily, the Dark Knight is on hand to expose shocking charlatanry and handle the ‘Asylum Fideles’ threatening to upset he mental applecart…

Batman Adventures #29 finds Bruce Wayne again hunting Ra’s Al Ghul as ‘Demonseed’ (Dev Madan & Burchett), opens with ‘Secret Hopes, Secret Fears’ and the in-mufti manhunter trailing a deadly Tesla Device aLl over the world, with former beloved Talia trying to kill him at every opportunity.

‘Wayne: Bruce Wayne’ sees the ex-lovers reunited to stop a third party purloining the menacing mechanism before facing inevitable and ultimate betrayal in ‘Till Death Do You Part’

It’s a spotlight on bad guys as Puckett, Burchett & Murakami reveal the story of a ‘Natural Born Loser’ in #30.

In-joke Triumvirate of Terror Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser (who bear litigiously remarkable resemblances to DC editors Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Dennis O’Neil) return in a tryptic of origin tales beginning with ‘Waiting for the Dough’ as yet another criminal mastermind breaks into their prison in search of a treasure map.

Sadly, those individual confrontations – continued in ‘The Dark Nice Returns’ and concluding with ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Pearl’ – only prove that the top dog in Gotham is actually the Bat…

Alan Grant scripts #31 for Madan & Burchett to illustrate as youthful ideologue ‘Anarky’ convenes ‘The People’s Court’ to judge rich businessmen such as Bruce Wayne for their money-grubbing acts. With his mentor captured, teen wonder Robin becomes the key ‘Witness for the Defense’ and combines ‘The Gentle Art of Philosophy’ with his usual derring-do to win the argument and save the day

Dan Raspler, Parobeck & Burchett reveal ‘A Soldier’s Story’ in #32 as ‘Into the Valley of Death’ sees criminals wage war in Gotham dressed as rival armies from history. Crazed rival millionaires playing games from their childhood have sponsored this chaotic ‘War and Remembrance’ but it’s Batman who wins ‘The Last Battle’

Batman Adventures #33 covers ‘Just Another Night’ (Ty Templeton, Madan & Burchett) as a movie night with single mum Veronica Thomas and her son Justin spirals into terror when they are mugged by a gunman on the way home. Paralysed by traumatic ‘Deja Vu’, Bruce goes on a maddened rampage of childish revenge leading to a justice and a ‘Dark Victory’ of sorts, but ‘At What Cost…’?

The first volume of the series wraps up with a 3-issue epic starring one of the Dark Knight’s most insidious enemies. It begins with ‘In Memoriam’ (#34 by Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett) as deranged psychologist Hugo Strange pays ‘Charons Fee’ to exact his vengeful schemes. Later, as Batman pursues super-thief Catwoman, he realises some of his memories have been erased. However, by deductively ‘Filling in the Gaps’ the Caped Crimebuster only allows Strange ‘Total Recall’ to Bruce Wayne’s past…

In #35 ‘The Book of Memory’ (Puckett, Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett) heralds ‘Strange Days’ as Catwoman turns a mindwiped Batman into her perfect acrobatic accomplice. With Gotham’s guardian missing Robin consults Commissioner Gordon and soon ‘The Trap is Set…’.

Elsewhere, as Hugo Strange spirals into breakdown, ‘Uptown, Saturday Night’ reveals how Batman is captured and cured. Or so it seems…

‘The Last Batman Adventure’ appears in #36 as Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett depict Robin and his junior partner, ‘Batman, The Boy Wonder’, still searching for Bruce’s purloined past. Afflicted with the mentality of a child, the hero convinces Catwoman to help him ensure ‘Batman, The Dark Knight Returns’, but they are almost too late to prevent ‘The Unusual Fate of Hugo Strange’ after the tragic madman goes after the true author of all his woes…

This spectacular softcover selection (also available as an eBook) concludes with a high-octane occult romp by Dini, Murakami & Timm first published in The Batman Adventures Annual #2.

‘Demons’ sees Ra’s Al Ghul blow up parts of Gotham to secure a long-lost mystic tablet and win a rare victory over the late-arriving Dark Knight. Overpowered and outgunned, Batman contacts consultant supernatural specialist Jason Blood and discovers the demonologist and the “Demon’s Head” are ancient adversaries…

Surviving drug-induced magical dreams, Batman realises that Al Ghul plans to invoke a demonic entity Haahk in his city and scourge humanity from the Earth. Nevertheless, he heads for a showdown he knows he cannot win, but Blood has one more secret to reveal: his longevity is caused by a demon imprisoned in his body…

Etrigan dwells inside Jason, lives to fight and is ferociously eager to settle score with Ra’s and Haahk…

Epic and electrifying, this rocket-paced tribute to Jack Kirby crackles with kinetic energy and moody menace: a perfect point to end on and one that promises more and greater thrills to come…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Transformers UK Classics Volume One


By Steve Parkhouse, Simon Furman, James Hill, John Ridgway, John Stokes, Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson, Will Simpson, Jeff Anderson & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-943-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Nostalgia-Fuelled Read to Toy With… 8/10

The metal-morphing Transformers toys took the world by storm in the 1980’s and a tie-in monthly American Marvel comicbook was a smash hit. Marvel’s UK division quickly produced their own fortnightly (ultimately weekly) periodical reprinting the US material, but the scheduling disparity soon necessitated the creation of original material.

As you’d expect from a top brand, the supremely popular shiny shapeshifters have been the jewel in the crown of numerous publishers ever since. The license currently resides with IDW and as part of their line, the new guys have kindly added archival editions of past glories to enthral new readers and give inveterate nostalgics a potent reminder of the good old days…

It should be noted that although a toy and cartoon show tie-in, the weekly British comic – when not reprinting US Marvel stories – seemed to pitch their material at a slightly older, if not necessarily more mature, readership…

As well as re-presenting originated material from The Transformers #1-44 (September 20th 1984 – January 18th 1986), this initial hardback/Trade Paperback/eBook archive also includes an erudite and extremely informative introduction – ‘A Complete History of Transformers UK’ – by James Roberts (following his Foreword) – detailing not only the origins and impact of the toys but the nuts and bolts of the creation of the British material. There’s even a list of feature pages, ads and premium give-aways!

Moreover, each episodic strip adventure is preceded by fulsome notes and commentary as well as a complete cover gallery – and that’s a lot of covers!

Following more candid background data the comics magic begins with ‘Man of Iron’ by Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway & Mike Collins; coloured by Gina Hart & Josie Firmin and lettered by Richard Starkings.

The 4-part thriller ran in Transformers #9-12 (January 12th to February 23rd 1985) and revealed that a lost and unknown Autobot had periodically emerged for millennia from a crashed ship buried deep beneath rural England.

A castle built on the grounds provided year of sightings and legends but the era of mystery abruptly ends when both modern-day Autobots and Decepticons zero in on the legendary figure…

Weekly comics are hugely labour-intensive and time-critical, necessitating a vast turnover of staff – all duly recorded here. After the UK’s surprise hit periodical reprinted more US-originated material another Made-in-Britain epic began with the debut of star scribe-in-the-making Simon Furman who wrote ‘The Enemy Within!’ for #13-17 (March 9th – May 4th). Illustrated by Ridgway, Collins, Hart & Starkings, the saga details how rival Decepticons Megatron and Starscream vie for supremacy whilst vile spy Ravage infiltrates the Autobots’ Ark to action a malign mechanoid plan involving framing the Good Robots for an attack on a human military base…

‘Raiders of the Last Ark!’ #18-21 (May 16th – 29th by Furman, Collins, Jeff Anderson, Hart, Starkings & John Aldrich) then finds a Decepticon attempt to seize the Ark derailed when the vast ship’s AI consciousness manifests as a judgemental Auntie who proposes assessing the worthiness of both sides and eradicating those she finds lacking…

Following found text feature ‘Robot War! From Cybertron to Earth: The Story So Far!’ and another tranche of covers ‘Decepticon Dam-Busters’ (#29-30 October 5th – 12th 1985 and by Furman, John Stokes, Steve Whitaker & Starkings) attempts to marry toy, TV and comics universes in a brutal clash of ideologies and metal muscles in a tale adapted from an animated television episode.

Then it’s back to comicbook basics for #31-31 (October 19th – 26th) as Dinobots Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl and Slag face ‘The Wrath of Guardian!’ by Furman, Barry Kitson, Hart & Annie Halfacree as the tragic Autobot turned into a Decepticon slave battles his former allies before eventually succumbing to ‘The Wrath of Grimlock!’ (Furman, Kitson, Mark Farmer, Scott Whittaker & Mike Scott).

Preceded by ‘Robot War II: The Saga of the Transformers!’ and Geoff Senior’s black-&-white try-out art assignment, ‘Christmas Breaker!’ (James Hill, Will Simpson, Hart & Starkings from #41 December 28th) sees human robot hunter Circuit Breaker declare a temporary truce with her quarry to save a child, after which ‘Crisis of Command!’ (#42-44, January 4th – 18th 1986) – written by Collins & Hill, illustrated by Senior & Stokes, coloured by Steve Whitaker, John Burns, Gina Hart & Stuart Place & Starkings, and lettered by Mike Scott – sees burned out Optimus Prime under pressure from his own friends to create Super Autobots. The moral machine is severely embattled but knows becoming worse than Decepticons is no way to win the million-year-war…

Meanwhile, waiting in the shadows, Ravage lurks, ready to exploit the Autobots’ hesitation…

This initial compilation heads toward a conclusion with the all-UK material created for The Transformers Annual 1986; released in Autumn 1985 for the Christmas trade.

After plenty of candid, behind-the-scenes creative secrets shared, the narratives resume with

‘Plague of the Insecticons!’ (Furman, Collins, Anderson, Hart & Starkings) as a new breed of robots are catastrophically unleashed just as the Autobots are invited to the White House for a parley with President Reagan…

Then Tales of Cybertron takes us back eons to the robot homeworld where and when ‘And There Shall Come… A Leader!’ (by Furman, Stokes, Hart & Starkings) reveals the origins of the Autobot leader.

Annuals used prose stories to beef up the content and cut down on illustrating costs and a brace follow here.

Written by Hill with spot illos from Ridgway & Hart, ‘Missing in Action!’ details how neophyte Autobot Tracks gets accidentally involved in a bank robbery whilst ‘Hunted!’ finds Bumblebee battling for his life against Ravage in the Amazon jungle…

Rounding out this procession of childhood delights is a big bunch of ‘Adverts and Ephemera’ reprinting numerous toy infomercials and ‘Interface Fact Files’ offering byte-sized (sorry!) bursts of data on the galvanised Goodies and Baddies…

Fast-paced and furious in intensity, this cosmic drama for all ages still carries a punch today and the early work of modern graphic luminaries is a distinct pleasure for today’s fans to see.

Chock full of high-tech, explosive-but-not-gratuitous action, this book fairly barrels along: A solid read for aficionados and thrill-seeker of all ages.
The Transformers Classics UK vol. 1. Hasbro and its logo TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro and are used with permission. © 2011 Hasbro. Circuit Breaker and all related characters are ™ and © Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries All Rights Reserved.

Red Ranger Came Calling – A Guaranteed True Christmas Story


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co.)
ISBN: 0-316-10881-2 (HB)                978-0316102490 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: To Be Read Every Christmas Until the Stars Grow Cold… 10/10

After a surprisingly brief and deservedly glittering career as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (so often the exact same function) Berkeley Breathed retired Bloom County and its successor Outland and took up a new career as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. He lost none of his perception or imagination, and actually got better as a narrative artist. He also didn’t completely abandon his magical cast of unique characters.

We sneer at sentimentality these days but in the hands of a master storyteller it can be a weapon of crippling power. This glorious fable is purportedly one told every Christmas Eve to the author by his own father before being generously shared with us in mesmerising prose and captivating illustrations.

In 1939 young Red Breathed was well on the way to becoming a snotty, cynical wiseacre. Sent to spend the Holidays with his Aunt Vy, he mooches about all day with her old dog Amelia, while lusting as only a child can after an Official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star Hopper bicycle.

Tweed, of course, is the famous movie serial star “Red Ranger of Mars” and the only thing capable of brightening the benighted life of this woeful, unfairly exiled child. Times are tough though, and Red knows his chances of getting that bike are non-existent, but he just can’t stop himself hoping…

On his way home he sees an odd, pointy-eared little man heading for the ramshackle house of that reclusive old man Saunder Clős. Since he’s a big kid now, Red knows there’s no Father Christmas and none of that hokey magic stuff is true, but even so he finds himself sneaking up to the old house that Christmas Eve night…

This is a gloriously powerful tale that fully captures the magic of believing and the tragedy of realisation, and yet still ends with a Christmas miracle and a truly surprise ending. Get this book for the kids, get this book for yourself, but get this book – and on pain of emotional death, don’t peek at the last page until the time is right!
© 1994 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.