The Juggler of Our Lady – the Classic Christmas Story


By R. O. Blechman with a Foreword by Jules Feiffer and Introduction by Maurice Sendak (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80030-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A truly immaculate confection… 10/10

Christmas is not just about shiny new toys and sparkly knitwear. It’s just as much about unearthing or revisiting old, beloved and almost totally forgotten treasures.

Here’s a superb case in point – a magnificent hardback picture-perfect gift that’s still readily available – thanks to the perspicacious souls at Dover Books…

Oscar Robert Blechman is a glittering star in America’s graphic arts firmament and an international superstar. Brooklyn-born in 1930, he has excelled as cartoonist, illustrator, author, animator/Director, editorial cartoonist, Editorial Director and ad-man.

He’s won awards for his commercials and TV specials and been venerated in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. His anti-Vietnam cartoons graced The Village Voice through the early 1970s whilst his cartoons and illustrations appeared in such prestigious vehicles as Punch, The New Yorker, Trump, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Show, Theater Arts and Humbug.

He’s also produced fascinating graphic narratives such as Georgie and can reasonably claim to have produced one of the very first English-language Graphic Novels… and thus beginneth today’s lesson…

In 1952 Blechman used his groundbreaking and soon-to-be phenomenally influential minimalist line-style – deftly augmented with judicious watercolours – to make a much-told tale all his own.

The Juggler of Our Lady was his first book: initially published by Henry Holt, and superbly fetishized and commemorated through brother-cartoonist Maurice Sendak’s fondly emotional Introduction in this sublime new pocket hardback edition. The slim tome became a landmark in graphic narrative and is beloved by generations.

Anatole France’s 1892 tale Le Jongleur de Notre Dame is probably the most widely accepted version of the original medieval religious-miracle legend but there have been so many others that the story is as much part of most people’s seasonal landscape as Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Blechman’s reinvigoration retains all the awe and wonder, whilst adding such a potent blend of wry humour, pitiful humility and gentle hope to the mix that it can make a grown man weep. In 1958 his book became an animated Terrytoons TV short with a huge impact when it was adapted by Al Kouzel & Gene Deitch and narrated by that legendary Spirit of Christmas Fun Boris Karloff…

You know the story: Cantalbert is an itinerant juggler who loves his work. He feels that if more people juggled there would less time for war and misery and folk would act better, feel better and be better.

Nobody, however, will listen and the despondent performer – hungry for spirituality – joins a monastery. Even here he does not fit in and is saddened by his lack of suitable talents to venerate The Lord and especially The Virgin Mary…

Everything comes to a head on Christmas Eve when the monks all display the magnificent presents they have made for the Madonna and poor Cantalbert has nothing worthy to give.

Later, when all is quiet, the sad juggler offers the only thing he knows and loves to the statue of The Virgin and something wonderful happens…

Deftly deconstructed and wondrously appreciated in a Foreword by Comics and Cartooning Titan Jules Feiffer, The Juggler of Our Lady is a masterpiece of graphic dexterity and an utterly beguiling experience no lover of the storytelling arts should be without.

Text and illustrations © 1997 R. O. Blechman. Foreword © 1997 2015 Jules Feiffer. Introduction © 1980 Maurice Sendak. All rights reserved.
Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comic or bookshop.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil



By Jeff Smith, coloured by Steve Hamaker (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1466-1 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0974-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Fight ‘n’ Tights Fiction for the Whole Family… 10/10

Superhero comics don’t get better than this.

No soft-soap, no easing you in. Jeff Smith (in a tale originally published as a 4-issue prestige format miniseries in 2007) came the closest yet to recapturing the naive yet knowing charm that made the World’s Mightiest Innocent far and away the most successful super-character of the Golden Age in this reworking of one of his greatest adventures.

So, with the latest screen interpretation set to bust blocks next year it’s well past time to take another look at the glorious beast – especially as its also available in assorted digital formats too. Now all we need is a sure-fire way to give eBooks as proper gifts…

Following an adulatory Introduction from Alex Ross, the trip back to our communal childhoods kicks off with a scene of appalling deprivation and terror…

Billy Batson is a little homeless kid with a murky past and a glorious destiny. One night he follows a mysterious figure into an abandoned subway station and meets the wizard Shazam, who gives him the ability to turn into a full-grown superhero called Captain Marvel. Gifted with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, the lad is sent into the world to do good.

Accompanied by verbose tiger-spirit Mr. Tawky Tawny, Billy sets out to find a little sister he never knew he had, and even parlays himself into a job as a source for TV reporter Helen Fidelity

He sets to, fighting evils big and small, but at his heart he’s still just a kid. When he impetuously causes a ripple in the world’s magical fabric it causes cosmic conniptions that endanger the universe. When he finally tracks down his little sister, he accidentally shares his powers with her and suffers the ignominy of having her be better at the job than he is…

He also encounters evil genius Dr. Sivanna, US Attorney General and would-be ruler of the universe, and the deadly and hideous minions of the mysterious Mr. Mind, whose Monster Society of Evil is dedicated to wiping out humanity! Can he make amends and save the day…? Maybe, if Mary Marvel helps…

The original saga this gem is loosely based on ran from 1943-1946 in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46: a boldly ambitious and captivating chapter-play in the manner of the popular movie serials of the day, and still regarded as one of the most memorable achievements of Golden Age comicbooks. It’s fairly safe to say that this reworking is going to stay in people’s hearts and minds for a good long time, too. It certainly spawned an excellent spin-off series which I’ll be covering next year some time, just to cash in on the movie…

Jeff Smith has accomplished the impossible here. He has created a superhero tale for all ages and hopefully returned some part of the genre to the children for whom it was originally intended. Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil is exciting, spectacular, moving and unselfconscious; revelling in the power of its own roots and the audience’s unbridled capacity for joy.

If you can track down the hardback volume, it’s stuffed with added features. The dust-jacket opens into a truly magical double-sided poster, there are sketch and script pages for the reader with industry aspirations, biographies and historical sections, a lavishly illustrated production journal, puzzles and even a modern version of the secret code used as a circulation builder in the 1940s. Most important though, and irrespective of what iteration you get, it is the mesmerising quality of the story and artwork that you’ll remember, forever.

Words are cheap and I’ve used enough: now go get this is a truly magical, utterly marvellous book.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-808-6 (HB)                    : 978-0-31619-876-9 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comics and Presents don’t get better than this… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to straight daily newspaper. He diligently continued producing strips for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

With this tale we enter the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is tangible.

His homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, and Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when he was called up, but the swift fall of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before the year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to the unfinished ‘Black Gold’, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

Initially Le Crabe aux pinces d’or featured in children’s supplement Le Soir Jeunesse, from October 17th 1940 to September 3rd 1941, when increasing paper shortages resulted in the kid’s section being axed. The strip continued in parent paper Le Soir (Belgium’s premiere French-language newspaper and a most crucial tool for the occupiers to control minds if not hearts) until conclusion on 18th October 1941: the first of six extraordinary tales of light-hearted, escapist thrills, with strong plots and deep characterisation that created a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life then and remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day.

On completion it was collected as a monochrome book in 1941 and later serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (from June 21st 1942), before being re-released as a full colour volume in 1943. Its success sparked a flurry of reissues of earlier albums – all but Tintin in America and The Black Island, both set in countries Germany was still at war with…

This remastered edition of The Crab with the Golden Claws was modified by Studio Hergé and released in 1953: revised to accommodate the wishes of publishers in the US and UK. It opens with Snowy getting his head caught in an empty crab-meat can whilst scavenging in a trash bin. When Tintin meets the detectives Thompson and Thomson, they discuss their latest case and he sees that a vital piece of evidence is a scrap of label from a crab-meat tin – and it matches the torn label on the can he so recently extricated his bad dog from!

And so begins a superb mystery adventure as Tintin follows his lead to the sinister freighter “Karaboudjan” where he uncovers a sinister criminal enterprise and is nearly murdered before the diabolical first mate Allan (last seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh) shanghaies him.

It is whilst a prisoner that the boy reporter meets a drunken reprobate who would become his greatest companion: The ship’s inebriated Master, Captain Haddock.

Escaping together, they eventually reach the African Coast, with Haddock’s dipsomaniac antics as much a threat to the pair as the gangsters, ocean storms, and deprivation. These trials are masterpieces of comedy cartooning that have never been surpassed.

Despite all odds the heroes survive sea, sands and scoundrels to link up with the military authorities. Making their perilous way to Morocco, battling Berber desert raiders and Haddock’s ongoing hallucinations, the plucky pair – and Snowy – track down the criminals to reveal a huge opium smuggling operation. A fast-paced tour-de-force of art and action, liberally laced with primal comedy and captivating exotic locales, this is quite simply mesmerising fare.

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Indiana Jones romp, this is classic adventure to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly as the world experienced a new Dark Age, Hergé was concentrating on the next -Golden – one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
The Crab with the Golden Claws: artwork © 1953, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Father Christmas


By Raymond Briggs (Puffin)
ISBN: 978-0-24135-153-6 (HB)                    : 978-0-72327-797-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Proper Christmas Tradition Revisited… 10/10

“BLOOMING CHRISTMAS, HERE AGAIN!”

Our industry seems to cheerfully content to neglect Raymond Briggs’s graphic narratives, which have reached more hearts and minds than Dennis the Menace or Judge Dredd ever will, yet his books remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field. This one for instance was awarded The Library Association’s Kate Greenaway Medal.

Father Christmas is a slim, slight children’s book from Briggs that has become a perennial delight. With its animated adaptation and book sequel (and there are editions available with both tomes combined into one package) it reveals a warm-hearted yet crustily-curmudgeonly Santa who is gruff, plebeian, curt, complaining, competent, dedicated, and reliable – in fact the very image of the British worker from a time long gone by.

Released in 1973, in the last moments of Britain’s post-war recovery, and before the infamous “Winter of Discontent” permanently tainted the image of the working man, this typical granddad mutters and putters but still gets the job done right and on time. The old duffer wakes up, realises the date, feeds the animals (dog, cat, chicken, reindeer); has a spot of breakfast and resolutely gets down to it.

He lives alone in a brick two-up, two-down, (with attached stables, naturally – and apparently based on Brigg’s childhood home) and once the sleigh is loaded up, he’s away!

Grumbling about the weather he drops off all the presents, stopping for a packed lunch – at the appropriate time, of course – and when his day is done heads home, nodding off a bit, with frozen feet, job sorted for another year.

The bright expansive and welcoming art is a seductive device that keeps this fantasy day-in-the-life thoroughly grounded in the everyday, and the total lack of saccharine and schmaltz is still a refreshing antidote to the paternalistic, condescending oaf today’s Christmas Industry foists on us.

A true classic, the book was remastered and released this autumn in a splendid mini-hardback (178 x 146 mm) gift pack and includes a letter from Briggs himself, but if you can’t find that the somewhat larger (232 x 285 cm) 40th anniversary paperback edition from 2013 is still readily available

This is such quirky, deceptively subversive and beautifully understated fun that you must deck your shelves with this cracker.
© 1973 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures in Cartooning Christmas Special!


By James Sturm, Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (First Second Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-730-2

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: Truly Interactive Option for Parental Peace and Quiet – and no batteries! … 9/10

There are a host of books both academic and/or instructional, designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives. Precious few that do it with such style, enthusiasm and cunning craft as the far-too-occasional releases by the meritorious masters of the Adventures in Cartooning crowd.

Prolific and prestigious James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing, Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules) has created a wealth of superb comics and graphic novels, worked for Raw, founded alternative news-mag The Stranger and established his own publishing house – Bear Bones Press.

In 1997 he became a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. In 2004, with Michelle Ollie, he set up the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont; an educational institution dedicated to excellence in the narrative arts and custodian of The Schulz Library (an American repository of rare comics, strips, books graphic arts and cartoons honouring the legendary creator of Peanuts).

In 2009, with Center graduates Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost, Sturm began a series of captivatingly bright and breezy books, cunningly contrived to lure youngsters into a life of line-drawing and full-colour story-telling by making the lessons part-and-parcel of a fabulous magical excursion.

Now with the season of giving and kids bored-to-death-by-lunchtime upon us again, the quick-on-the-draw Cartoon Elf, his fractious friend the Princess Knight, their dragon and an overly-sturdy steed return to help out Santa Claus in his darkest moment of existential doubt…

The stout Samaritan is wistfully pining for the good old days as his legion of diminutive helpers switch from crafting trusty toys and good old gadgets to writing code and packaging the electronic games, video clips, digital downloads and ubiquitous iWants Apps that modern children keep crying out for.

Convinced that this modern fascination is insubstantial and insufficient, Santa seconds the Magical Cartooning Elf and together they craft and construct a solid storybook for children to enjoy over and over again.

The crafty contributors assemble a torrent of tales all in rhyme, so readers will have the best of times.

There’s a snowman abominable and that valiant knight, plus kids who are giants and their tree of great height.

There’s a trip into space to capture a star and secrets of printing and distributing afar…

Once Santa’s happy that the book’s in the bag, he assembles his team but hits a great snag.

Since the Yule’s now electric the Reindeer have retired, until enter the Dragon and that tubby old nag…

Zapped with Elf magic they deliver the books which are greeted with wonder not petulant looks.

All over the world kids are engrossed, and soon send their own comics back to Santa by post…

Seriously though: this book does include a handy “how-to” section, a selection of youngsters’ own creations and readers and purchasers are invited to send their works to Kris Kringle’s newest recruits in Vermont at the Center for Cartoon Studies…

Aimed at ages 6 and up, this delightful, inspiring, inclusive and just plain fun book is a cheap, cheerful and potentially life-altering tome (still readily available for parents and other gift-challenged adults) that could stop your youngsters from scribbling on walls and redirect that raw creativity onto safe, rewarding pages where we can all enjoy the fruits of their labours…
© 2012 James Sturm, Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost. All rights reserved.

Billy and Buddy volume 6: Buddy’s Gang


By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Ferri; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-314-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Childhood Capers for Young and Old Alike… 8/10

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Journal de Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality and becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a huge hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as some early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 37 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel, before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip had returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

This edition is the second translation to feature “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel. The kit and paraphernalia might be marginally updated, but the warmth and humour remain timelessly faithful. Just like a pet, in fact…

Originally released in 2005, La bande à Bill was the 30th European collection, completed by Verron and his team, and even adding a soupcon of continuity (via a few returning circus cronies as seen in the previous volume): admirably resuming in the approved manner and further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire, single-page gags with titles like ‘Of Mice and Shame’, ‘Tailspin’ and ‘Peek-a-Bone’, visual puns, quips and jests abound: confirming that the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

The inseparable duo indulge in spats with pals, play pranks, encounter other unique pets, dodge baths, hunt and hoard bones, rummage in bins, misunderstand adults, cause accidents and cost money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above. This time, however, the capacity for chaos is radically increased as an entire menagerie of circus beasts pop up whenever it’s most comedically expedient and young Billy is becoming awkwardly, painfully aware of girls. One girl in particular, actually…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2005 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

William the Backwards Skunk


By Chuck Jones (Crown Publishers Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0517560631

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Classic Yarn Reeking of Sheer Quality… 10/10

There have been a few modern geniuses who wield a pencil and paintbrush. We tend not to notice them in the world of comics, which I suppose would explain why so many of our contemporary artists work in animation these days. I don’t know if Charles Martin Jones ever worked in comics – or even if he ever wanted to – but as ‘Chuck’ he produced some of the greatest and funniest animated cartoons the world has ever seen.

Chuck (September 21st 1912-February 22nd 2002) was filmmaker, screenwriter, animator, cartoonist, author and artist who worked for Warner Bros., MGM and others, ran his own studio – Chuck Jones Enterprises – and made billions of people laugh. His Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies and Tom and Jerry short films are unmistakeable and he probably wrote, produced and directed your favourite Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons and hundreds of others besides.

He was nominated for 8 Oscars and won three, and received an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for his lifetime contributions.

During World War II he worked with Theodore Geisel – who abandoned cartooning and animation for a career in kid’s books as the legendary Dr. Seuss – on a series of educational cartoon features for the US Army featuring Private Snafu. That relationship would eventually and circuitously lead to the animated TV classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (accept no live-action or computer-animated substitutes!).

Way back in 1986 Chuck Jones topped a career of astounding creativity and uproarious humour with this picture-book for the very young. William is a skunk with a little problem. The Usual Skunk not only has that potent chemical weapon we all know and dread, but they also have a beautiful bold stripe on their backs so as to give any big animal sneaking up on them a fair chance to change their minds. Sadly, William’s stripe is on his front, which causes problems for every animal in the forest.

This charming little fable about cooperation is a sweet delight and the art is utterly joyous. This is a man who knew “Cute” and how to milk it, and more importantly, when to lampoon it.

His critters positively drip with Attitude, and any child’s delight could only be marred if the adult reading this aloud is unable to stifle their own knowing chortles.

Jones’ work informed generations of kids and creators in comics as well as cartoons. His legacy can be found in titles as varied as Dell’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies comics, or the timeless Bugs & Daffy iterations still wowing contemporary kids in DC’s WB comicbooks.

Track down this fabulous hardback and you could be carrying on that tradition to the next generation…
© 1986 Chuck Jones Enterprises. All rights reserved.

DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know


By Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, Stephen Wiacek & many and various (Dorling Kindersley)
ISBN: 978-0-24131-424-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fact-packed, Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

Some reviews are way harder to write than others and occasionally not for the reasons you’d expect. My other job is being a writer for money and, despite having typed whole bunches of stuff pertaining to comics, I’ve never before had the slightest inclination to review anything with my name on it. It’s unnecessary, arrogant and just not done…

Nevertheless, I’m publicly humiliating myself by baldly stating that this book is one of the best and most engaging comics primers for kids on the market, especially if you have nippers you want to introduce into comics.

A bright, bold, reassuringly oversized (235 x283 mm) hardback perfectly conceived for gift-wrapping, DC:AEYNK (as we called it while hammering away at a tight deadline) culls and distils the coolest, daftest, most thrilling and funniest factoids from more than 80 years of comics published by the makers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Kamandi, Captain Carrot, Zatanna and countless others.

As logged and related by Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, me and especially our long-suffering editor and design team, this fabulous full-colour tome divides up into accessible categories such as Characters: Super Heroes and Super-villains; Teams (goodies & baddies) and Science and Magic whilst latterly offering snippets of forbidden knowledge regarding DC geography in From Here to Eternity and taking you on a quick tour of The Multiverse

Augmented by the best clipped art money can license, this bumper compendium appeals equally to neophyte youngsters and the most nit-picky of aging fanboys by providing a fast and furious flow of smart examples and exemplars even whilst answering such pertinent questions as “where can you go if Heaven and Hell exclude you?”, “what’s the hardest job in Central City?” or “what is the most powerful weapon in existence?”

Jam-packed with art by generations of DC contributors, the infographic-inundated double-page features provide a nostalgia-tinged fresh look at the DC Comics Universe, its astounding diverse characters, fantastic weapons, uncanny technology, strange planets, exotic places and parallel worlds through breezy, accessible text, teeming with key data, fun facts, lists, quotes and stats.

An ideal gift, DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know is wholehearted and wholesome funnybook joy and, as there’s also a Marvel edition, you ought to get that one too.
© 2018 DC Comics. All related characters and element are © and ™ DC Comics.

90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd 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 newspaper 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.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent 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 half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create the magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.