Spidey volume 1: First Day

By Robbie Thompson, Nick Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9675-4

Since its earliest days the company now known as Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are on the wane and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In the 1980s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and in 2003 the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and mixed it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time.

In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: First Day – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by looking back and succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey #1-6 (originally released from February to July 2016), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem commences with a fresh introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourists Jim Campbell & Rachelle Rosenberg

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still (or rather once again) a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between classes. He’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media when he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor.

Not only is she the hottest girl in school but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

Things really kick off later, on a field trip to techno-industrial wonderland Oscorp, when a madman calling himself Doctor Octopus busts in and the neophyte Spider-Man is compelled to intervene and drive the maniac away.

That’s when uber-creepy Norman Osborn introduces himself to Peter, predicting big things for Peter…

The really smart trick in this series is that battles with other supervillains such as Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio are backdrop: referenced simply as having occurred in other moments, allowing Peter Parker’s life and character room to develop, with only new battles dictating how certain villainous players have evolved from standard Spider-Man mythology…

A month later Peter is still coming to terms with his double life when ‘Enter the Sandman’ finds him battling a grittily shapeshifting bank robber, after which New York is overrun by tiny reptiles as old ally Dr. Curt Connors is once again tragically transformed into the ravenous ravening Lizard

In Spidey #4 André Lima Araújo assumes the art duties with ‘Doomsday Off!’ as Peter stumbles into an art robbery. He might even have stopped the thief… if the bad guy hadn’t been Doctor Doom! Tracking down the ultimate villain does no good and Spidey is once again soundly thrashed, but after the Amazing Arachnid gets a pep talk from a little kid, he tries again and achieves a partial victory…

‘Dead End’ (with Java Tartaglia joining the colouring squad) sees the first inconclusive confrontation with a major nut job called the Green Goblin after which the ebullient effervescent escapades conclude with a first team-up in ‘Making the Grade’, as the mysterious Spider-Man intervenes when flying felon The Vulture burgles Stark Industries.

The Invincible Iron Man shows up but naturally gets the wrong idea – as does SHIELD agent Phil Coulson – before the situation is straightened out. One crisis over and feeling cocky, the very junior hero – smitten with Gwen Stacy – even asks the Armoured Avenger for dating tips but that doesn’t go so well…

Featuring a covers and variants gallery by Bradshaw, Lima Araújo, Skottie Young, Humbert Ramos & Edgar Delgado, Oliver Coipel, Julian Totino Tedesco and Gyimah Gariba, this a sublimely refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon offering an intriguing and certainly more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists

By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-80-7

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 famous personages from the past are 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 thoughtfully themed collection opens with another scene-setting chat from your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) before we get to know a serried selection of “dead brilliant scientists” in what might well be their very own – post-mortem – words…

In order of date of demise our funny, fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon interviews in a tutorial from ‘Aristotle: Philosopher 384-322BCE’, supplemented by an in-depth peek into the world-changer’s educational practices in ‘School of Life’ after which noted streaker ‘Archimedes: Mathematician 287-212BCE’ shares his version of the infamous “eureka moment” and ingenious military inventions. The most lethal of these then get special attention in sidebar feature ‘Calculated Aggression’.

Muslim scholar ‘Al-Haytham: Natural Philosopher 965-1040’ discusses his service with the Caliph of Egypt and discoveries in optical science, and his greatest invention is examined in follow-up feature ‘Camera Obscura’. Tragic Italian genius ‘Galileo Galilei: Astronomer 1564-1642’ recounts his star-gazing triumphs and the response of the Catholic Church – augmented by a rapturous spread depicting ‘Secrets of the Solar System’ – and a grossly misused scientific pioneer who founded the principles of entomology (before being written out of history by male historians and scientists) tells her story in ‘Maria Sibylla Merian: Entomologist 1647-1717’ and describes the linked ‘Circle of Life’ she discovered by observing caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies…

Noted egomaniac ‘Isaac Newton: Natural Philosopher 1642-1727’ has his say next, with ancillary features on ‘Laying Down the Laws’ and ‘Newton’s Three Laws of Motion’, culminating in the instructions on how to make ‘A Home-made Hovercraft’

‘Edward Jenner: Physician 1749-1823’ describes how his observations led to the eradication of smallpox (with the process broken down into grotesquely captivating ‘Vaccination Stations’) after which forgotten woman ‘Mary Anning: Palaeontologist 1799-1847’ reveals the true history of fossil hunting and evolutionary observation – including a quick tour of ‘The Jurassic World’ – before ‘Lovelace & Babbage: Mathematicians 1815-1852 & 1791-1871’ delves deep into the lives of computer visionaries Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, who devised calculating machines and systems long before science and engineering had the facilities to construct them. Unable to physically enjoy the fruits of their labour, the dead clever thinkers can at least play here with a modern version of ‘The Difference Engine’ since built to honour them at London’s Science Museum….

‘Von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist, Geographer, Etc… 1769-1859’ was a true Renaissance man and master of many disciplines, which he used in his five-year voyage of scientific discovery. As well as the 3500 species of flora and fauna he catalogued in one trip he also formulated the concept of ‘Habitat Zones’ (perfectly explained here in graphic terms following his “piece to camera”).

You may have heard of revolutionary medical reformer ‘James Barry: Doctor 1790s-1865’ but did you know that she was actually Margaret Anne Bulkey, a young woman who refused to let her gender hinder her dreams in an exclusively male-dominated world. Her innovations and changes in military hospitals saved millions of soldiers and civilians, and her influence is celebrated in sidebar feature ‘A History of Infection’. Meanwhile, the world-shattering observations of ‘Charles Darwin: Naturalist 1809-1882’ whilst aboard HMS Beagle are interpreted in the savant’s own individualist manner, with a follow-up detailing his theories through ‘Darwin’s Finches’.

Russian superstar ‘Dmitri Mendeleev: Chemist 1834-1907’ outlines his epic struggle to classify, decipher and order the elements, complete with a fully-updated version of his ‘Periodic Table’ before the profound discoveries – and their personal cost – of ‘Marie Curie: Chemist & Physicist 1867-1934’ bring us into the modern age of intellectual endeavour, via a chilling warning of the repercussions of her ‘Killer Research’.

Born a slave and self-taught, ‘George Washington Carver: Botanist & Inventor 1860s-1943’ transformed America and the world with his discoveries in Agriculture. His astounding life is précised here and validated in supplemental feature ‘Nuts About Nuts!’ sharing the secret of making peanut butter…

Apparently the closest thing to an actual Mad Scientist the world has ever known, ‘Nikola Tesla: Inventor 1856-1943’ tries to clear his name and reputation whilst latterly describing his battle with his greatest rival in ‘Edison vs Tesla in… the War of the Currents’ after which the Digital Age begins thanks to the efforts of ‘Alan Turing: Computer Scientist 1912-1954’. His wartime work with decoding and cipher chasing is then commemorated in ‘An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery’ giving us all a chance to tinker with our own (simplified) Enigma Machine…

Last Big Brain in the box, ‘Albert Einstein: Physicist 1879-1955’ then gleefully explains one of his most universally misunderstood theories and laments the misuse of his work through his own personal history and ends the scientific history lessons on a high note with another in ‘It’s All Relative…’

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great 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 consult with any of the clever cadavers in question…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2017. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists will be released on 7th September 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Tiny Titans volume 1: Welcome to the Treehouse

By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2207-5

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

For quite some time at the beginning of this century, DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and worked to consolidate that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and many other video favourites.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of the publisher’s proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the line’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at early-readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily all mooshed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (all together now: “erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…”) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the far greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks – and eventually the entire DC Universe – to little kids and their parents/guardians in a wholesome kindergarten environment.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with multi-layered in-jokes, sight-gags and the beloved yet gently mocked trappings and paraphernalia generations of strip readers and screen-watchers can never forget….

Collecting issues #1-6 (April-September 2008) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this debut volume begins after an as-standard identifying roll-call page at ‘Sidekick City Elementary’ where new Principal Mr. Slade is revealed to be not only Deathstroke the Terminator but also poor Rose’s dad! How embarrassing…

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with the assorted characters getting by and trying to make sense of the great big world while having “Adventures in Awesomeness” like Beast Boy getting a new pet and becoming Man’s Dog’s Best Friend’

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

Back in class Robin and Kid Flash tease a fellow student in ‘Speedy Quiz’ even as ‘Meanwhile in Titans Tower’ (the treehouse of the title) finds Wonder Girl, Bumblebee, Raven and Starfire discussing whether to let Batgirl Barbara Gordon join their circle…

Later they all meet up and help scary blob Plasmus cope with an ice cream crisis but shocks still abound at school. Raven’s dad is an antlered crimson devil from another universe but his most upsetting aspect is as the class’ new substitute teacher!

Happily, however, at the treehouse the kids can forget their worries, as Wonder Girl Cassie’s new casual look – after initial resistance – wins many admirers among the boys…

The original comics were filled with activity pages, puzzles and pin-ups, so ‘Help Best Boy Find his Puppy Friend!’ and awesome group-shot ‘Awwwww Yeah Titans!!!’, offers an artistic break before the shenanigans resume with ‘Ow’ as new girl Terra persists in throwing rocks at the boys but knows just how to make friends with the girls…

Not so much for the little lads though: they’ve got into another confrontation with mean kids Fearsome Five. Is the only way to determine who wins to keep ‘Just a-Swingin’’ and ignore those bullies…?

After teeny-weeny Little Teen Titan Kid Devil finds a delicious new way to use his heat power, Beast Boy becomes besotted by Terra in ‘Shadows of Love’, even though his obvious affection makes him act like an animal. While ‘Easy Bake Cyborg’ saves the day at snack time, the lovesick green kid follows some foolish advice and transforms into a ‘Beast Boy of Steel’,

At least Kid Devil is making friends by providing ‘Charbroiled Goodness’ for a local food vendor, just as the Fearsome Five show up again…

Following a pin-up of the bad kids and a brainteaser to ‘Match the Tiny Titans to their Action Accessories!’ a new school day finds science teacher Doctor Light losing control in ‘Zoology 101’ thanks to Beast Boy’s quick changes, after which ‘Sidekick’s Superheroes’ debate status and origins whilst Rose’s ‘Li’l Bro Jericho’ causes chaos and closes school for the day.

When Robin brings some pals home Alfred the Butler is reluctant to let them check out the ‘Batcave Action Playset’. He should have listened to his suspicions: that way there wouldn’t be so much mess or so many penguins…

After Aqualad’s suggestion ‘Let’s Play: Find Fluffy!’ the Boy Wonder has a strange day, starting with ‘Robin and the Robins’ and culminating in a new costume. Before that though, you can see ‘Beast Boy at the Dentist’, Wonder Girl enduring a ‘Babysittin’ Baby Makeover’, meet ‘Beast Boy’s Prize’ and experience hair gone wild in ‘Do the ‘Do’’.

Eventually, though, ‘It’s a Nightwing Thing’ revisits the exotic yesteryears of disco mania as Robin’s new outfit debuts to mixed reviews and reactions…

Once done testing your skill with the ‘Tiny Titans Match Game!’ and admiring a ‘Little Tiny Titans Bonus Pin-up’ there are big thrills in store when ‘Playground Invaders’ introduces annoying Titans from the East side of the communal games area…

Sadly, the Fearsome Five are still around to tease the former Robin in ‘Nightwing on Rye’ even whilst continuing epic ‘Enigma and Speedy’ sees the Boy Bowman trapped in a very one-sided battle of wits with the Riddler’s daughter…

Robin’s costume crisis continues to confuse in ‘May We Take a Bat-Message?’, resulting in a kid capitulation and ‘Back to Basics’ approach to the old look, after which ‘Tiny Titans Joke Time!’ and a ‘Tiny Titans East Bonus Pin-up’ segues neatly into ‘Meet Ya, Greet Ya’ with newcomers Supergirl and Blue Beetle turning up just ahead of a host of wannabee Titans (Power Boy, Zatara, Vulcan Jr., Hawk & Dove, Li’l Barda and Lagoon Boy)…

With the riotous regulars away camping, Raven opens her eyes to a potential daybreak disaster as ‘Home with the Trigons’ finds her dressed by her dad for a change. Meanwhile, ‘Let’s Do Lunch’ finds Blue Beetle losing a very public argument with his backpack and when the kids bring their super-animal pals in, it all goes horribly wrong. At least they decide that the “First Rule of Pet Club is: We Don’t Talk About Pet Club”…

This insanely addictive initial collection then wraps up with visual and word puzzles ‘How Many Beast Boy Alpacas Can You Count?’ and ‘Blue Beetle Backpack Language Translation!’, a huge and inclusive Pin-up of ‘The Tiny Titans of Sidekick City Elementary’ and a hilarious ‘Tiny Titans “Growth Chart”’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts or The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure American comic-bookery – are outrageously unforgettable yarns and gags no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating.
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures: Sheriff of Bullet Valley (Gladstone Comic Album #5)

By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-04-4

From the 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion, writing and drawing a brilliantly timeless treasure trove of comedic adventure yarns for kids, building a splendidly accessible Duck Universe filled with memorable – and highly bankable – stars such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose and Magica De Spell to augment the stable of cartoon properties from the Disney Studio. His most exciting works inevitably involved the rowdy, know-it-all nephews of Donald Duck: Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Although catalysts of comedic chaos in other situations when the mallard miser was around, the devilishly downy ducklings’ usual assigned roles were as smartly sensible, precocious and a just a little bit snotty kid-counterfoils to their “unca”, whose irascible nature caused him to act like an overgrown brat most of the time.

Nevertheless, all too often the kids reverted to type and fell prey to a perpetual temptation to raise a ruckus…

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material and a selection of other Disney comics strips in the late 1980s and this – still readily available – paperback album is another of the very best.

Whilst producing all that landmark comics material Barks was just a working guy, drawing unforgettable covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and infallibly contributing perfectly formed tales to the burgeoning canon of Donald Duck and other Big Screen characters. Barks’ output was incredible both in terms of quantity and especially in its unfailingly high quality.

Printed in the large European oversized format (278 x 223mm), this terrific tome reprints the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics Series II #199 (October 1948) and draws much of its unflagging energy and trenchant whimsy from Barks’ own love of cowboy fiction – albeit seductively tempered with his self-deprecatory sense of absurdist humour. For example, a wanted poster on the jailhouse wall portrays the artist himself and offers the princely sum of $1000 and 50¢ for his inevitable capture…

Titular lead Donald Duck is also an expert on the Wild West – after all, he’s seen all the movies – so when he and the boys drive through scenic Bullet Valley, a wanted poster catches his eye and his imagination.

Soon he’s signed up and sworn in as a doughty deputy, determined to catch the rustlers who have been plaguing the locals. Unfortunately for him, the good old days never really existed and today’s bandits use radios, trucks and tommy-guns to achieve their nefarious ends. Can Donald’s impetuous boldness and the nephews’ collective brains and Junior Woodchuck training defeat the ruthless high-tech raiders?

Of course they can…

Also included here is a delightful comedy of farmyard errors from Daisy Duck’s Diary (Dell Four Color Comics Series II, #1150 December 1960), pitting the well-meaning old fussbudget against luck-drenched Gladstone Gander and consequently suffering from ‘Too Much Help’.

Donald and the nephews then return, finding themselves at odds with the self-same fowl of fabulous good-fortune in an untitled yarn from Walt Disney Comics & Stories #212 (May 1958), wherein our hard-luck hero and Gladstone race around the world in rocket-ships, cheerfully provided courtesy of that feathered modern Edison Gyro Gearloose. The diminutive ducky lads can only watch in nervous anticipation of inescapable disaster catching up to the feuding “adults”…

Even if you can’t find this specific volume (and trust me, you’ll be glad if you do) Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets and every one of his works is well worth reading. No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced his captivating magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine.

Always remember, a fan’s got to do what a fan’s got to do…
© 1988, 1960, 1958, 1948 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Quick & Flupke: Under Full Sail

By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4743-6

Once upon a time in Belgium and many other places, the adventures of two mischievous young scallywags rivalled the utterly irresistible adventurer Tintin in popularity. It wasn’t that big a deal for Hergé and his publishers as Quick & Flupke was being produced by the young master and his studio team in conjunction with the dashing boy reporter.

In fact the strip probably acted as a test lab for the humorous graphic elements so much a part of the future world classic and the little terrors even cameoed frequently in the star vehicle…

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky Tintin and his entourage of iconic associates, but the hero was by no means his only creation. Among the best of the rest are Jo, Zette and Jocko and the episodic all-ages – and in the majority criminally unavailable – comedy gems highlighted here today.

On leaving school in 1925 Hergé worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A dedicated boy scout himself, Georges produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 the artist was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

Hergé was unhappily illustrating L’Extraordinaire Aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (The Extraordinary Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonnet) – scripted by the staff sports reporter – when Abbot Wallez tasked him with creating a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues and rubbishing contradictory philosophies and ideologies?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi wanted to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He would create a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.

The strip generated a huge spike in sales and Wallez allowed Hergé to hire Eugène Van Nyverseel and Paul “Jam” Jamin as art assistants. Naturally the Editor wanted to see a return in terms of more product, and – according to Remi’s later recollections – he returned from a brief well-earned vacation to find his staff had played an office prank by announcing that he was about to launch a second weekly strip…

Briefly flummoxed, he rapidly concocted a strip starring a little rascal over a few days, based largely on his own childhood and French film Les Deux Gosses (The Two Kids), and the impertinent pair (or at least one of them) premiered in the Le Petit Vingtiéme for January 23rd 1930. The strip would become Quick & Flupke when, three weeks later, a pint-sized partner in peril debuted, initially answering to “Suske” before soon evolving into Flupke (which is Flemish for “little Phillip”)…

Unleashed in weekly 2-page monochrome exploits, two working class rapscallions in Brussels played pranks, got into mischief and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism in the kind of yarns that any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar. Readers everywhere loved them…

The strip was immensely successful, although Hergé paid it little heed and frequently only began each week’s episode a day or even mere hours before press-time. The fare was rapid-fire, pun-packed, stand-alone and often fourth-wall breaking which – as eny fule kno – never gets old…

Despite being increasingly sidelined after Hergé began The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko for Cœurs Vaillants at the end of 1935, our likely lads larked about for over a decade, becoming more an artefact of the assistants (and latterly artist Johan de Moor) until the war and the pressure of producing Tintin meant they had to go.

Quick & Flupke were rediscovered in 1985 and their remastered, collected escapades ran for 12 full-colour albums in Europe and India until 1991.

As English translations, we only ever saw a couple of volumes such as this oversized (221 x 295 mm) hardcover compendium from 2009: delighting us with nearly two dozen sparkling romps for laughter-starved lovers of classic comics comedy.

Hopefully, now we’ve got a burgeoning digital reading base, they will all be available for folk too lazy to learn French (or Dutch or German or…) as digital editions. These lost classics are certainly long-overdue for rediscovery and are perfect light reading for kids of all ages.
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1986. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The Lair of Wolf Barker – Gladstone Comic Album #3

By Floyd Gottfredson & various(Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-903-7

Some of the most potent, effective and long-lived comics strip material in world history is not self-originated but actually comes from spinning-off existing properties. This is never more evident than with animated characters such as Betty Boop, Felix the Cat or assorted Walt Disney silver screen stars.

Cartoons starring cartoon stars became a huge circulation-booster in the decades following the First World War. Translated into newspaper strips – and later comicbooks – gags and continuity adventures of celluloid sensations reached and affected untold millions of readers around the globe, making household names of many characters and, occasionally, the writers and draughtsmen who crafted them.

Usually though, recognition was for the property owner and the unsung, pencil-pushing maestros who turned silver-screen gems into polished gold remained largely anonymous.

One of the most talented was Floyd Gottfredson; a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Walt Disney animation factory before being diverted to become a narrative groundbreaker as influential as Herriman, McCay, Segar or his old work associate Carl Barks.

Gottfredson took company icon Mickey Mouse from his wild and anarchic animated rodent roots and slap-stick beginnings, through to the gently suburbanised sitcom gags of a newly middle-class America that syndicate policy eventually forced upon him. The gradual daily and weekly metamorphosis was accomplished via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history, with the Mouse playing detective, explorer, aviator and cowboy. Along the way he produced some of the most engrossing amusing and unforgettable comics the industry has ever seen.

In 1905 Arthur Floyd Gottfredson first greeted the world in Kaysville, Utah: one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, the lad whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City news periodical the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California, and after a shaky start found work in April 1929 as an In-Betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios. As the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the newborn and ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and often script the strip for the next forty-five-and-a-half years.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the feature but was swiftly replaced by Win Smith. The strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next five decades. On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he contiguously handled until 1938, and then almost continually until his retirement.

At first he did everything, but in 1934 relinquished the scripting role, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing with dialogue. Collaborating scripters included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. Gottfredson briefly used inkers such as Al Taliaferro, but re-assumed full art chores in 1943.

Partially scripted by Ted Osborne and inked by Al Taliaferro & Ted Thwaites, the main story in this superb – and still readily available – compendium collects the very first extended Mickey Sunday colour epic which originally ran from January 29th to June 18th 1933.

Lurking behind a cover by Daan Jippes, ‘The Lair of Wolf Barker’ is a rip-roaring comedy western featuring the full wide-screen repertory cast: Mickey, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and the prototype Goofy, who used to answer to the moniker Dippy Dog.

The gang head west to look after Uncle Mortimer’s sprawling ranch and stumble into a baffling crisis since the cattle are progressively vanishing, with the unsavoury eponymous villain riding roughshod over the assorted characters and stock figures, before his ultimate and well-deserved come-uppance. This is action comics on the fly, with plenty of rough and tumble action, twists turns and surprises always alloyed to snappy, fast-packed gags.

Rounding out this full-colour, album-sized paperback book is an early Mickey gag – ‘Spring S’prise’ from 1932 and tragically uncredited – plus another landmark Sunday strip tale. ‘Mickey’s Nephews’ introduced rascally prank-plying Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse in a short romp (September 18th to November 6th 1932) full of waggish behaviour and wicked japery.

This sequence was inked by Al Taliaferro, who recalled the story five years later when he and scripter Ted Osborne needed a quick plot for their latest assignment. That job was the new Donald Duck strip and their response was the infamous ‘Donald’s Nephews’ which introduced Huey, Louie and Dewey to the world…

Gottfredson’s influence on not just the Disney Canon but graphic narrative itself is inestimable: he was one of the first to produce long continuities and (relatively) straight adventure stories; he pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business. When Disney killed the continuities in 1955, dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gags, Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the voluble appreciation of his previously unsuspected horde of devotees led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died on July 22nd 1986.

This huge untapped well of work is only available in tiny snippets like these old Gladstone albums, but hopefully now that Disney own a major comics company some bright spark will realise the potential of the artistic treasures they’ve been sitting on and we’ll soon seen a Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Epic Collection even if only as digital editions.

And since we’re wishing I’d still like World Peace, total parity and equality between all ages, races, genders and outlying pigeon holes but especially that Red Ryder 200 Shot BB Gun I didn’t get when I was eight…
© 1987, 1933, 1932 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?

By Tome & Janry translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-355-0

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention came at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and frequently surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969, and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio or perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed fourteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. Who Will Stop Cyanide? is the twelfth English-language release and officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 35th collected collaborative caper; originally published continentally as Qui arrêtera Cyanure? in Spirou #2427-2448 in 1984 before being subsequently released as Tome & Janry’s third album a year later.

Funny, frenetically-paced and potently sinister when most appropriate, the tale leans heavily on science fiction paranoia and opens as photojournalist Fantasio tries to return a defective new camera. After some truly appalling customer service he is fobbed off with a bizarre bucket of bolts which seems to be a semi-sentient little robot that takes polaroid snaps…

The “screwball gizmo” is a mischief-maker with a mind of its own and finds a kindred spirit in Spirou’s pet squirrel Spip, but that doesn’t stop it making a cunning bid for freedom at the first opportunity. In hot pursuit, the adventuresome lads frantically trail the demented droid out to worryingly familiar territory: the far from peaceful hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. However, this time it’s not the mushroom-mad Count who’s behind an increasingly nerve-wracking situation…

Following a stern warning from the harassed Mayor – already well-acquainted with the kind of chaos that follows in Spiro and Fantasio’s wake – the jaunty journalists find the little gizmo at the dilapidated railway station. A furtive search through dank back rooms soon exposes an horrific scene: a beautiful woman tied to a chair and hooded.

The outraged heroes free the distressed damsel and are immediately attacked; both by her and a number of ordinary mechanical objects suddenly imbued with terrifying, violent animation…

After the former captive explosively escapes, the stunned lads meet dowdy Stationmaster Catenaire and hear an incredible story…

The little man is something of an unsung scientific tinkerer and when railway cutbacks left him with time on his hands he started dabbling in robotics. Firstly, he built the little droid – dubbed “Telesphore” – but eventually, craving a more exotic and comforting companion, moved on to formulate a comely android for his personal use.

Sadly, the Marilyn Monroe doppelganger he crafted gained instant sentience and an abiding abhorrence for humankind.

Calling herself Cyanide she played vicious jokes on people and even attacked them. When she started possessing machinery, Catenaire was forced to shut her down. Now, thanks to the gallant impulses of Spirou and Fantasio, she’s free and determined to make all meat-things pay…

And so unfolds a splendidly compelling and frantic game of cat-&-mouse as the lads chase the wicked automaton and she – thanks to the recent unwelcome advent of a huge fully-automated factory in the village – unleashes an army of mechanical monstrosities to crush them before expanding her horizons to encompass the village and eventually the rest of humanity…

Fast-paced and exuberant, Who Will Stop Cyanide? is a funny, thrilling rollercoaster romp easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Bluecoats volume 8: Auld Lang Blue

By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-245-4

Les Tuniques Bleues began in 1968; an occasional comedy western strip created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The feature was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic lone gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to comic rival Pilote.

His rapidly-rendered replacements swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée stars on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement – Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte – gradually moved to a more edgy and realistic (although still broadly comedic) illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and studied Lithography before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: amassing more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War.

That origin was discarded and rewritten a decade later, finally and canonically describing how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war and appears here as Auld Lang Blue: Cinebook’s 8th astoundingly attractive Bluecoats album.

All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, feigning death and even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other, easier, option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; an apparently ideal career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

But as this witty yarn elaborates, such was not always the case…

Les Tuniques Bleues: Blue rétro was first seen on the continent in 1980, serialised in Spirou #2222-2232. It was the unlikely lads’ 29th adventure, and became the 18th best-selling collected album a year later (of 58 and counting, thus far).

It opens here as dutiful son Cornelius is awakened by his doting but domineering mother. She’s thoroughly excited by her boy’s upcoming nuptial merger with butcher’s daughter Charlotte Graham. Bewildered Cornelius still can’t work how, let alone why, he’s all-but-inescapably betrothed to his boss’ far from comely child…

The boy’s rowdy, wheelchair-bound dad Joshua Chesterfield is less cheery. He fondly remembers his military years and, as a proud survivor of the Alamo, wishes his son had more gumption and get-up-and-go…

There’s no winning against his mother though, so Cornelius heads for the butchers’ shop, arriving just in time to deftly avoid Charlotte by delivering a large order to the new Pacific Bar that has just opened on Main Street. The little guy behind the gleaming bar is a bit of an annoyance but young Chesterfield’s initial distaste is soon swallowed up by the chatter of the patrons discussing the Secession War.

The Northern States are taking a terrible beating on all fronts, but neither butcher’s boy or barman care all that much about a subject so far removed from their own lives…

That quickly changes after Army Recruiters proudly parade their latest crop of raw material down the thoroughfare. Diminutive, canny Blutch is bemused, but Cornelius sees glory, adventure and escape from matrimonial servitude in the gleaming column of callow blue boys…

All the same, mother and Mr. Graham have Cornelius’ life utterly mapped out, and despite his fervent desires, soon after Cornelius M. Chesterfield is all dandied-up and despatched to make a formal proposal to Charlotte. Unwilling, unhappy and contemplating years of being bossed around by women, Cornelius stops off at the Pacific Bar to intestinally fortify himself before the ordeal.

Being a comradely, consoling type, barman Blutch keeps him company in a tot or two and they are both extremely amenable when – some hours later – the Army Recruiters enter the bar. Joining the festivities, the soldiers soon realise that their still woefully-unfilled quotas might benefit from a bit of blather and a couple of hastily modified application forms…

And so it begins: by the time they are conscious again our two new warriors are well on the way to becoming infantrymen: each adapting to the appalling situation in their own unique manner as they reluctantly adjust to the daily madness of army life.

However, even before basic training is over, they both realise their lives are now governed by elitist idiots who don’t care if they live or die. Unable to avoid being cannon-fodder, they conspire to transfer into the far safer and more glamorous cavalry. All they need to do now is learn to ride before anyone finds out they don’t know one end of a horse from the other…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

This particular tome is heavy on comedy too: a fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable yarn to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1981 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey Book 4

By Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-79-1

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not so they do. The latest of these is a fourth fabulous paperback-bound bout of ongoing conflict gripping a once-chummy woodland waif and interloping, grandeur-hungry hairy-brained simian…

Concocted with feverishly gleeful inspiration by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap vendetta between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

Book Four boldly delves deep into the pasts of the uncanny assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise – and not before time – as the rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a motorway through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

Sadly all the tail-biting tension does nothing to derail the ongoing but so-far localised war of wits and wonder-weapons which began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry.

Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

These collected volumes dispense disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment and this book describes Year Two: July-December after another vivid Contents page and character catch-ups and score-cards, plus a double-page spread pinup…

The already fraught atmosphere of the forest gets another unnecessary shot of adrenaline as ‘A New Challenger Appears’ in the fuzzy form of The Maniacal Badger, resolutely challenging resident reprobate Skunky (a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-themed atrocity-weapons and a secret agenda of his own) for the title of top mad scientist, after which Monkey wrecks a playground but loses face once Bunny gets him to share a ‘See-Saw!’

Skunky horrifies blithering innocents Weenie Squirrel and Pig when his ‘Grav-O-Box’ sets the river running backwards but when co-conspirator Monkey ruins the test flight of his Hot Air Balloon Jet Engines and propels them ‘Around the Woods in 80 Seconds’ the malcontents themselves are the only ones to suffer…

Sinking into over-indulgence the simian stinker has to take drastic action after becoming a ‘Fat Monkey’ before stealing some building machinery from the Hyoomanz in ‘Monkey at Work’

Skunky upsets the balance of nature – and value of custard – after creating aberrant lifeform ‘The Wobbles!’ before every animal pulls together when a Hyooman wanders in and Bunny orders ‘Battle Stations’. Skunky then stupidly makes things so much worse by splicing Science to Nature and releasing ‘The Vines’

An annoying game of ‘Poink!’ drives everybody bonkers but welcome terror returns after the colossal ‘Monkeytron!’ rampages through the trees, just in time to greet rocket scientists searching for a test monkey they lost in the very first episode…

Pig’s origin is revealed in the cleverly obfuscatory (not!) ‘A Pig on the Range’ after which Park Ranger Derek P. Brigstocke has a close encounter with a net and ‘A Bear Bum!’ and irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile ‘The Incredible Metal Steve’ undergoes a ferocious metal-morphosis even as ‘Bunny Vs. Monkey!’ finds our notional stars getting back to bruising basics in their never-ending struggle…

After a troop of Hyooman cub scouts fail to ‘Catch That Bunny’ Pig and Squirrel dig up ‘Worms’ and take the slimy earth-movers fishing, but not in any way you’ve seen before, whilst ‘Goodbye, Bunny’ finds our pacifist protagonist plunging deep into the distant city in search of his origins even as Pig becomes a dragon-slaying knight in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

…And none too soon as it happens, since with snow falling the Maniacal Badger returns to worry the woodland folk with ‘The Thing!’ he’d stolen from the Hyoomanz Building Site, prompting a desperate search for natural leader Bunny: a trail that takes them to a comfortable suburban hutch and ‘A Place Where You Belong’

Reunited with the Crinkle Woods critters, Bunny finds a time machine and – by accidentally visiting ‘Once Upon a Time’ – discovers the true secret of Skunky’s vast and evil intellect in an extra-long extravaganza which segues straight into the formation of sadly deficient superhero team the Rather Good Squad in ‘Choose Your Side!’

With Christmas fast approaching, festivities are briefly disrupted by marauding ‘Snow Meanies’ before the Builders try secretly bulldozing the Woods only to be stopped by Monkey, gleefully brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver and ‘The Real Santa!’

The madcap mayhem concludes with a portentous epilogue as ‘Door B’ opens to reveal the ultimate triumph of the ultimate villainous mastermind, but that’s…

To Be Continued

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is well on the way to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, brilliant invention and superb cartooning: an utterly irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2017. All rights reserved.

Bunny Vs Monkey Book Three will be released on 6th July 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

The Complete Dickie Dare

By Milton Caniff (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 0-93019-322-9 (HB)                ISBN: 978-0-93019-321-8 (PB)

Despite being one of the greatest and most influential cartoonists in world history, Milton Caniff wasn’t an overnight sensation. He worked long and hard before he achieved his stellar status in the comic strip firmament, before Terry and the Pirates brought him fame, and Steve Canyon secured his fortune. The strip which brought him to the attention of legendary Press Baron “Captain Joseph Patterson” – in many ways the co-creator of Terry – was an unassuming daily feature about a little boy who was hungry for adventure…

Caniff was working for The Associated Press as a jobbing cartoonist when a gap opened in their strips department. AP was an organisation which devised and syndicated features for the thousands of regional and small-town newspapers which could not afford to produce the cartoons, puzzles, recipes and other fillers that ran between the local headlines and the regional sports.

Over a weekend Caniff came up with Dickie, a studious lad who would read a book and then fantasize himself into the story, taking his faithful little white dog Wags with him. The editors went for it and Dickie Dare premiered on July 31st, 1933.

Caniff would write and draw the adventures for less than eighteen months before moving on, although his excellent but unappreciated replacement Coulton Waugh steered the series until its conclusion two decades later.

The first day-dream was with Robin Hood, followed by a frantic, action-packed visit with Robinson Crusoe and Friday, battling hordes of yelling savages and scurvy pirates. Rugged combat gave way to fantastic mystery when the scholarly tyke studied Aladdin, resulting in a lavish and exotic trip to the fabled Far East. This adventure closed near Christmas, and when his father read Dickie the story of the Nativity, Caniff began his long tradition of creating seasonally topical strips.

The visit to Bethlehem ended on Christmas morning, and one of Dickie’s Christmas presents then triggers his next excursion, when he starts reading of General George Armstrong Custer

King Arthur is next, followed by Captain Kidd the Pirate, but by then Caniff was chafing under the self-imposed limitations of his creation. He believed the strip had become formulaic and there was no real tension or drama in mere dreams. In a creative masterstroke, he revised the strip’s parameters, and by so doing produced the prototype for a masterpiece.

On 11th May, 1934, Dickie met a new uncle: a globe-trotting author and two-fisted man-of-action dubbed Dan Flynn, and one week later the pair embarked on a Round-the-World trip. Caniff had moved swiftly, crafting a template that would become Terry and the Pirates.

The wide-eyed, nervy All-American Kid with the capable adult pal and ultra-capable adventurer, whilst a subject of much controversy and even ill-advised and outright scurrilous modern disparagement, was a literary archetype since before Treasure Island and adapting the relationship to comic-strips was commercially sound: a decision that would hit a peak of popularity with the horde of sidekicks/partners that followed in the wake of Robin the Boy Wonder six years later.

No sooner have Dickie and Dan taken ship for Africa than the drama begins, as the restless kid uncovers a hidden cargo of smuggled guns. Aided by feisty Debutante Kim Sheridan and sailor Algy Sparrow, our heroes foil the scheme, but not before Dickie is captured by Kuvo, the Arab chieftain awaiting the guns.

Pursued by the French authorities, Kuvo retreats to a desert fortress where Kim, disguised as a native slave-girl, rescues the lad, only to be caught herself. The full-tilt action comes to a splendid conclusion before the boys, with Algy in tow as butler, head for Tunis where they stumble across a plot to use a World War I U-Boat for ocean-going piracy….

This long adventure (beginning September 13th) is a thoroughly gripping yarn which encompasses much of the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as the boys escape the pirates and aid the Navy in hunting down the villains. There’s loads of action and an astonishing amount of tension but the tale ends a tad abruptly when Caniff, lured away by Patterson, simply drops the feature and Coulton Waugh takes over the storyline from the next Monday (3rd December).

With no break in the tale Waugh rapidly (14 episodes) wraps up the saga, and even has Dickie home by Christmas.

From the New Year the strip would chart new waters with Waugh at the helm, aided (and briefly replaced) by assistant and spouse Odin Burvik, whilst he wrote his seminal book on Comics and also when he was producing the strip Hank for the New York magazine PM. Dickie Dare eventually ended its run in October 1957 with the now adult adventurer beginning a new career as a US Navy Cadet.

Although usually dismissed as a mere stage on the road to his later mastery, and certainly long before Milton Caniff – and sometime studio partner Noel Sickles – made the chiaroscurist breakthroughs in line-art that revolutionised the form, these tales of Dickie Dare delighted and enthralled readers and deserve to be appreciated on their own merits. Full of easy whimsy and charm, the strip evolved into a rip-roaring, all-ages thriller, full of wit and derring-do, in many ways an American answer to Hergé’s Tintin. It’s long overdue for rediscovery by the mass-market, and while we’re at it, let’s see some of the work that the criminally under-valued Waugh originated too.
Artwork originally © 1933-1934 The Associated Press. Other contents this edition © Richard Marschall All rights reserved.