By Giovanetti (Macmillan, New York)

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II and one look at his work will instantly show you why. Born in 1916 in Switzerland, this doyen of brilliant penmen launched his most famous character in Punch in April 1953 – from whence most of these scintillating escapades sprang (the remaining pieces are courtesy of Nebelspalter and Glamour).

Max is a small, round furry creature most likened to a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were both cute and whimsical – as well as trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride brought low and pomposity punctured, but he did. The weekly incidents were also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality; a funny animal for adults and children.

Max was syndicated across the world, (known as Mr. Makkusu-san in Japan) numbering such diverse luminaries as Jason Robards and Charles Schulz as fans and even lending its image and cache to the British Navy and Swiss Air Force as mascot and figurehead.

There were four collections between 1954 and 1961: this one, Max Presents, Nothing But Max and the Penguin Max. Like these, two other collections, Beware of the Dog and Birds without Words, are also criminally out of print.

In this initial 96 page hardback the hairy hero happily demonstrates the challenges inherent in assorted musical instruments, ink-pens, all kind of cooking, drink, hats, hobbies and a host of other occupations and interests…

For all his trenchant ability to convey meaning and offer salutary warnings without uttering a sound, Max’s origins – and indeed species – was a subject of much dispute in the four corners of the globe until Clive King and Giovanetti revealed all in the magical children’s book Hamid of Aleppo, (written in 1958) which delightfully revealed the little wonder’s true origins, antecedents, taxonomy and species: Max is a Syrian Golden Hamster!

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see and the fact that his work should be forgotten is a travesty and a crime. If you ever find a collection of his work do yourself the biggest favour of your life and grab it with both hands.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Just as it finally provided me with a book I’d been hunting out for decades it also revealed that I’d been a short-sighted idiot for not looking further afield – or indeed across the Channel.

A French edition was released in 2003 (ISBN-13: 978-2-21107-074-4) because our Gallic cousins have a far more informed opinion of comics and cartooning than us Anglos – and since all these glorious cartoons are wordless masterpieces that shouldn’t hinder anybody wishing to make the acquaintance of this magical superstar of yesteryear – and, hopefully tomorrow…
© 1954 Pericle Luigi Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 5: Wha’s a Jeep?

By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-404-7

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The senior artist introduced him around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916. In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York headquarters of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of Movie features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies with a repertory cast to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for vast daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15; a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of thrilling mystery-comedies which followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. This fifth huge volume also contains an insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall ‘Character and Personality in Thimble Theatre’ a captivating article of the period (‘Segar’s Hobbies Put Punch in Popeye Comics’) reprinted from Modern Mechanix and Inventions and a fascinating end-piece covering the assorted original art teasers editors used to promote upcoming tales in the magical days before television or viral ad campaigns over and above the increasingly incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The black and white Monday to Saturday section opens this volume, (covering July 25th 1935 to December 12th 1936) and encompassing one-and-a-half major storylines, beginning with the long-awaited conclusion of ‘Popeye’s Ark’ wherein the bold sailor-man carried out an ambitious plan to set up his own country of Spinachova. The incredible scheme was funded by misogynist millionaire Mr. Sphink who insisted that the new country be absolutely without women – and Popeye went along with it, recruiting a host of disaffected guys looking for a fresh start…

Soon however the thousands of able-bodied men populating the country were starving for any kind of female companionship – even Olive Oyl – who was currently exiled on an island of her own. Things got very strange when the lonely Spinachovans discovered a tribe of mermaids frolicking off the coast, but romance was soon forgotten when Brutian despot King Zlobbo decided the new nation must be his in ‘War Clouds’.

To scout out the potential opposition Zlobbo dispatched the beautiful spy Miss Zexa Peal, but as the most beautiful woman in the country – and indeed 50% of Spinachova’s female population – she wasn’t exactly inconspicuous…

When war broke out it resulted in Popeye’s greatest victory – with just a little excessively violent help from feisty “infink” baby Swee’ Pea…

By the conclusion of that epic tale all the players had returned to America, just in time for the introduction of the star of this tome. ‘Eugene the Jeep’ was introduced on March 20th 1936, a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers that Olive and Wimpy used to get very rich very quickly, only to lose it all betting on the wrong guy in another of Segar’s classic and hilarious set-piece boxing matches between Popeye and another barely human pugilist…

This was an astonishingly fertile period for the strip. On August 4th Eugene was instrumental in kicking off another groundbreaking and memorable sequence as the entire ensemble cast took off on as haunted ship to undertake ‘The Search for Popeye’s Papa’.

When Popeye first appeared he was a shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society…and he wouldn’t want to be.

Popeye was the ultimate working class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves but not necessarily “good” and a man who takes no guff from anyone. As his popularity grew he somewhat mellowed. He was always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed by 1936 – so Segar brought it back again…

This memorable and riotous tale introduced the ancient and antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy and his diminutive hairy sidekick Pooky Jones during another fabulous voyage of discovery. The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line… Once that old goat was firmly established Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean task of ‘Civilizing Poppa’ which is where the monochrome adventures conclude…

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume span April 4th 1935 to September 13th 1936, and see the bizarrely entertaining Sappo (and Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip gradually diminish to allow the Popeye feature even more room to excel and amaze. Eventually Sappo became a cartooning tricks section which allowed Segar to play graphic games with his readership and Popeye’s Cartoon Club also disappeared, as the focus inexorably shifted to Popeye and Co. in alternating one-off gag strips and extended sagas. However the Sailor-Man had to fight for space with his mooching co-star J. Wellington Wimpy…

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive Oyl with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

The engaging Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman was first seen on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s regular boxing matches. The scurrilous but polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, eager to take a bribe and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘let’s you and him fight’ Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero and often stole the entire show.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money for food were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the cast’s Gold prospecting venture to  the inhospitable western desert of ‘Slither Creek’ (April 14th – August 25th 1935) and the sequel sequence wherein the temporarily wealthy but eternally starving Wimpy buys his own diner – the ultimate expression of blind optimism and sheer folly…

The uniquely sentimental monster Alice the Goon returned to the strip on February 23rd 1936, permanently switching allegiance and becoming the nanny of the rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea and a cast regular by the end of April.

August 9th saw Eugene the Jeep make his Sunday debut and demonstrations of the fanciful beast’s incredible powers to make money and cause chaos fill out this fifth fantastic tome…

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. However with only one more volume of Elzie Segar’s comic masterpiece to come – starring the very best Popeye of them all – don’t you think it’s about time you sampled the original and very best?

© 2011 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Betty and Veronica Storybook: Archie & Friends All-Stars Series volume 7

By Dan Parent, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-60-3

Archie Andrews has been around for nearly seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty Cooper the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is a rich, exotic and glamorous debutante who only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Despite their rivalry, Betty and Veronica are firm friends. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (+ one) has been the foundation of decades of cartoon magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this collection, reprinting tales from 1995-2009, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writer/artist Dan Parent reinterprets classic fairytales and popular classics like a New World Crackerjack Christmas Panto (and boy, will that reference baffle anybody not British and/or under thirty), providing wry and often outright hilarious takes on the eternal nature and magic of young love…

Dotted with funny fashion page pin-ups such as ‘Storybook Style’ and ‘Bewitching Beauties’, lovely cover reproductions and behind-the-scenes commentaries, the wild whimsy begins with ‘Betty in Wonderland’ (inked by Jim Amash) wherein the ever-helpful Miss Cooper gives up a date with Archie to babysit for a neighbour in need. Letting her imagination run wild, her bedtime reading of the Lewis Carroll classic repopulates the tale with some very familiar faces…

Especially effective are science nerd Dilton as the sagacious caterpillar and Jughead and mean Reggie as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. However picturing Veronica as the vicious Blood-red Queen of Hearts might have been a little too close to the truth…

‘Sleeping Betty’ is another enchanting retelling as baby Princess Betty is cursed by the evil fairy Veronica to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday. To thwart the hex the little princess was sent away to be raised in secret, but Veronica’s reach is long… Luckily there’s a red-headed prince hanging around…

‘There’s No Place Like… Riverdale’ (inked by Rich Koslowski) transports Betty and her little cat Carmel to a fantastic land over the rainbow where she lucks into some highly desirable Ruby Sneakers. To get home she needs unconventional help in the unappealing shapes of Archie the Scarecrow, Tin Man Jughead and the Cowardly Reggie, so it’s a good thing that Veronica is less a Wicked Witch and more a sorcerous spoiled brat…

The last tale in this collection is ‘Cinderellas’ (Amash inks again) as both girls find themselves helpless drudges working for an evil new mom and dreaming of a prince to whisk them away. Despite the sabotaging antics of mean stepsister Cheryl Blossom and a pretty second-rate Fairy Godmother, Cideronica and Cinderbetty overcome all odds and go to the Ball. In the slipper-sampling aftermath, thanks to some deft plotting, both girls get a happy ending…

Charming and clever, these tales are a marvellous example of why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre; providing decades of family friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment. Moreover, aspiring creators will also delight in the closing Sketch Book section of this collection which provides a fascinating glimpse of Parent’s original pencilled art in 9 pages culled from the preceding stories.

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman Beyond

By Hilary J. Bader, Rich Burchett, Joe Staton & Terry Beatty (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-604-0

The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and also led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the tie-in monthly printed series. With the Dark Knight’s small screen credentials firmly re-established, follow-up series began (and are still coming), even recently feeding back into the overarching DCU continuity.

Following those award-winning cartoons in 1999 came a new incarnation set a generation into the future, featuring Bruce Wayne in the twilight of his life and a new teenaged hero picking up the eerily-scalloped mantle. In Britain the series was inspirationally re-titled Batman of the Future but for most of the impressed cognoscenti and awe-struck kids everywhere it was Batman Beyond!

Once again the show was augmented by a cool kid’s comicbook and this collection re-presents the first 6-issue miniseries in a hip and trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for fans and aficionados of all ages. Although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

All stories are written by Hilary J. Bader and the book opens with a two part adaptation of the pilot episode, illustrated by Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty. ‘Not On My Watch!’ offers brief glimpses of the last days of Batman’s crusade against crime before age, infirmity and injury slow him down to the point of compromising his principles and endangering the citizens he’s sworn to protect.

Years later Gotham City in the mid-21st century (notionally accepted as 2039AD – 100 years after the comic book debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27) is a dystopian urban jungle where angry, rebellious school-kid Terry McGinnis strikes a blow against pernicious street-punks The Jokerz and is chased out of the metropolis to the gates of a ramshackle mansion.

Meanwhile his research-scientist father has discovered too much about the company he works for…

Wayne-Powers used to be a decent place to work before old man Wayne became a recluse. Now Derek Powers runs the show and is ruthless enough to do anything to increase his profits… Outside town Terry is saved from a potentially fatal encounter with the Jokerz by a burly old man who then collapses. Helping the aged Bruce Wayne inside the mansion Terry discovers the long neglected Batcave before being chased away by the surly Wayne but doesn’t really care until he gets home to find his father has been murdered…

A storm of mixed emotions, he returns to Wayne Manor…

The concluding chapter ‘I Am Batman’ sees McGinnis attempt to force Wayne to act before giving up in frustration and stealing the hero’s greatest weapon; a cybernetic bat-suit that enhances strength, speed, durability and perception. Alone, untrained and unaided the new Batman sets to exact justice and revenge…

In the ensuing clash with Powers the unscrupulous entrepreneur is mutated into a radioactive monster named Blight before Wayne and Terry reach a tenuous truce and understanding. For the moment Terry will continue to clean up the Dark Knight’s city as a probationary, apprentice hero…

With issue #3 Bader, Burchett & Beatty began to tell original stories in the newly established future Gotham, commencing with ‘Never Mix, Never Worry’ wherein Blight returns to steal a selection of man-made radioactive elements which can only be used to cause harm… or can they?

Joe Staton took over the pencilling with #4 as a schoolboy nerd freed a devil from limbo and old man Wayne introduced the cocksure Terry to parapsychologist Jason Blood and his eldritch alter ego Etrigan the Demon in the spooky shocker ‘Magic Is Everywhere’, a sentiment repeated when a school-trip to the museum unleashed ancient lovers who fed on the life energy in the delightfully comical tragedy of ‘Mummy, Oh! and Juliet’

This captivating compendium of action and adventure ends in another compelling and edgy thriller as Terry stumbles into a return bout with a shape-shifting super-thief in ‘Permanent Inque Stains’, only to find that there are far worse crimes and far more evil villains haunting his city…

Fun, thrilling and surprisingly moving, these tales are magnificent examples of comics that appeal to young and old alike and are well overdue for re-issue. And once that’s done, there’s still another 24 issues from the 1999-2001 run plus a Return of the Joker one-shot to collect in spiffy graphic novel compilations…

In 2000 Titan Books released a British edition re-titled Batman of the Future (to comply with the renamed UK TV series) and this version is a little easier to locate by those eager to enjoy the stories rather than own an artefact.
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Junior Woodchucks

By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #18)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-18-4

Amongst the other benefits to derive from the radical shake up of the American comics industry in the 1980s (specifically the creation of a specialist retailing sector that ended the newsstand monopoly by sale or return distributors) was the opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. A plethora of companies with new titles quickly came and went, but there was also the chance for wiser or luckier heads to get their product seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Disney strips in oversized albums based on a format popular for decades in Scandinavia and Europe. Reintroduced to the country of their birth the archival material quickly led to a rapid expansion and even resulted in new comicbooks being created for the first time since Dell/Gold Key quit the comics business.

Carl Barks was born in Oregon in 1901 and reared in the wilder parts of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He had many jobs before settling into storytelling with pen and brush. He drifted into cartooning in the 1930s, joining the Disney animation studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the fresh field of comicbooks.

Destiny called when he and studio partner Jack Hannah (also an occasional strip artist) adapted a Bob Karp script for a sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell Four Color Comics #9). Although not Barks’ first published work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From the late 1940’s to the mid-1960s Barks beavered away in seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedy-adventures for kids, based on and expanding Disney’s Duck characters stable. Practically single-handed he built a cohesive feathered Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) and the great granddaddy of all money-spinners Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck Yule yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

Throughout his working career Barks was blissfully unaware that his efforts (uncredited by official policy as was all Disney’s comicbook output), had been singled out by a discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated devotees finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s-1960s, particularly on the exploits of the hilariously acerbic boy-scouting skits featuring Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – capable members of the unflappable “Junior Woodchucks”…

This irrepressible catalogue of delight opens with ‘Operation Rescue Saint Bernard’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #125 February 1951) in which the kids, ever-hungry for Woodchuck merit badges and the concomitant glory they bestow, decide to train Donald’s useless, snow-fearing couch-potato dog in the fine art of Alpine Rescue. It would have gone so well if only Donald had not decided to take charge of the program…

Barks’ inestimable and lasting influence was felt around the globe, as the next tale, produced by the criminally anonymous Scandinavian-based Gutenberghus Group laconically reveals.

In ‘Protective Cacophony’ Woodchuck Supremo S.Q.U.A.C.K.B.O.X. (a running feature of the ersatz scout tales was outrageously faux titles and obscurely verbose acronyms for assorted ranks; thus Subliminal Quieter of Unctuously Athletic Caterwaulers and Kiboshers of Bombastic Oratorializing Xenophobes) orders the lads to ensure that a rare bird nesting in Duckberg remains undisturbed. However, when sometime twitcher (that’s birdwatcher to you and me) Donald insists on helping, his overenthusiastic participation almost gives the nervous avian a coronary.

Fun, fast and fanciful, this fable is a perfect example of the Barks method in action…

From Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #132 (September 1951) comes another memorable Barks original. ‘Ten-Star Generals’ is a wry and raucous romp wherein the rank-hungry duck boys attempt to win even more badges and attain high status among their fellow wilderness pioneers. Donald, whose own boyhood scout troop “the Little Booneheads” were far less stringent and ethical, wants to aid them in any way possible, even cheating on their behalf, but decency and Woodchuck moral fibre wins out in the end – as Donald learns to his cost…

The highly competent Gutenberghus Group also crafted ‘Course Play’ as the boys seek the admiration of their diminutive peers in a pathfinder competition only to once more suffer for Donald’s less than scrupulous meddling. As always, however fair play and quick wits win the boys their undeniable due in the end.

After a sharp single-page entrepreneurial gag starring the nephews from Donald Duck’s appearance in Four Colour Comics #408 (July-August 1952) this jolly jamboree ends in a classic confrontation in the eternal battles of the sexes.

‘The Chickadee Challenge’ (from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #181, October 1955) finds the lads and the entire Woodchuck troop compelled to defend their prowess, pride and manly craft skills after an insulting dare from the rival Little Chickadee Patrol. Bristling under the implied insult of being challenged by mere girls the Woodchucks haughtily accept but nothing goes right for them…Donald, as always, thinks it best if he lends a surreptitious underhanded hand…

As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and the comicbooks which grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny all-ages yarns ever concocted.

Dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and one of the most important anthropomorphic storytellers in fiction. No matter what your vintage or temperament if you’ve never experienced the captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?

© 1989, 1955, 1952, 1951, 1950 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Archie American Series: Best of the Eighties volume 2

By Frank Doyle, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-58-0

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm of late.

For many years however, other forms and genres have waxed and waned, but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost now completely transferred to television – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped wholeheartedly onto the superhero bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s First Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the action strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

It was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, and the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense, Betty the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is rich, exotic and glamorous and only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

This second 1980s compendium collects a few further gems from the Era of Excess: Big Hair, make-up for Men, synth-pop music, Fashion Victims and Fad madness all playing heavily to the crowd and playing very funnily indeed. After an introduction from Glenn Scarpelli, (son of comic artist Henry and himself a recovering child-star of an Eighties sit-com) the merriment commences with ‘Health Nuts’ (from Betty & Veronica #302, February 1981) by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick wherein spoiled Veronica pops into the new ultra-swish Health Club to be stylish, but receives a rather destabilising shock after which ‘A Zest for the West’ (Pep #374, June 1981, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg & Bill Yoshida) finds school principal Mr. Weatherbee railing in vain against the inexorable tide of cowboy fashions following America’s rediscovery of all things Country and Western…

Video games and especially Mall Games Arcades began seducing kids at this time and ‘Test Zest’ (Betty & Veronica #312, December 1981 by Gladir & Dan DeCarlo Jr.) found Archie ignoring both his dream-dates for the bleeping boxes. However, where Ronnie spits and pouts, Betty found a way to turn the situation to her advantage, whilst Jughead proved that old-fashioned cunning beats speed, coordination and practise every time in ‘Game Acclaim’ from Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #162 (January 1983 by Gladir, Goldberg & Rudy Lapick).

Another modern mainstay just beginning to proliferate was computers and Mr. Weatherbee made a grave mistake in ‘Input and Output’ (Archie & Me #140, August 1983, Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Jimmy DeCarlo) when he let that Andrews boy program the school’s first ever bit of kit…

Stories regularly spoofed popular movies, TV shows and bands and in ‘Scheme Scamp’ (Archie #327, January 1984, by Gladir & DeCarlo Jr.) our hero and scurvy rich-kid rival Reggie battled long and hard to secure an interview for the school paper with hot girl band “the Ga-Ga’s” (don’t make me feel even older by having to explain the pun…)

After ‘Krazy Knits’ a pin-up of the Boys of Riverdale modelling chunky sweaters by Dan Decarlo Jr., ‘Cable Caboodle’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #171, September 1984, Gladir & Goldberg) described the joys and pitfalls of the cable TV revolution, and the subsequent ‘A Flair for Wear’ from Everything’s Archie #116, March 1985 by Gladir & Goldberg, found occasional bubblegum pop-stars The Archies (remember the global hit “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969 – well that was technically them) making their first promotional video…

Still focusing on the music scene the Archies support King of Pop Jackie Maxon (think about it: he has sparkly clothes and weird pets) and end up trying to keep his diary out of the hands of sleazy reporters in ‘The Book’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #100, April 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) whilst ‘Fashion Frolic’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #176, July 1985, Gladir, Hy Eisman & Jon D’Agostino) saw Mr. Weatherbee trying to quell the outrageous clothes the kids in the cliques were wearing to class.

‘Dimrider’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #102, August 1985) by Ed Berdej, Dan & James DeCarlo lambasted action blockbusters with chilling accuracy whilst ‘Delightful Dilemma’ (Archie Giant Series #550, August 1985 by Gladir, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & James DeCarlo) returned to the basics of Betty and Veronica duelling over their oblivious “Archie-kins”.

‘Rock ‘n’ Rassle’ from Everything’s Archie #120 (November 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Sal Trapani) referenced the revitalised, ultra-glamourised “sport” of televised wrestling and Punk hit Riverdale High hard in ‘Out of the Ordinary’ (Archie #354, January 1988 by Nate Butler, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jim DeCarlo) when our feckless star fell for leather-studded bad-girl Tina, leading to a startling new look for the freckle-faced fool…

Movie madness once more inspired mockery and mirth in ‘Robo-Teen’ (Laugh #13, April 1989, Gladir, Rex Lindsey & D’Agostino) as Archie suffered a tragic ski-boarding mishap before ‘Shlock Rock’ (Everything’s Archie #143, June 1989 by Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) wraps up the reminiscent drollery with a barbed satire on the budding MTV generation.

These are some of the most effective and impressive stories from that brutal, bizarre decade, and by always concentrating on fashions, fads, and the eternal divide between rebellious teens and fun-thwarting adults achieves a kind of timeless permanence. Then is still now, due in large part to the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art, which will always captivate any audience of any age.

This is gentle fun and charming nostalgic delight for all ages so what are you waiting for? It’s not like it costs “Loadsamoney!”

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rip M.D.

By Mitch Schauer, Mike Vosburg, Michael Lessa, & Justin Yamaguchi (Lincoln Butterfield/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-369-9

Here’s a post-Christmas cracker that will delight monster-fans of all ages and signals a welcome return to upbeat and clever kids’ fiction.

Ripley Plimt is a bright lad with a hobby. Ever since he can remember he has adored classic monster movies. He’s an absolute expert on trivia, minutiae and lore. Now he’s eleven and all grown up he’s come to one inescapable conclusion… it’s all true!

When the kind-hearted lad mends a little bat’s broken wing one night it changes his life forever. Bitten by the fixing bug (but not the bat – that would be ungracious) he applies his unsuspected new skills to repairing the mouldering zombie corpse that shows up later – with the understanding and grudging approval of his parents and Uncle Will – and soon needy werewolves, protoplasmic blobs and ghost cats are all turning up to complicate his life.

The only real flies in the ointment are repulsive mortal kids Pretoria and Stanley DeMann, who used to live in Rip’s house and are prepared to go to extraordinary, murderous lengths to force the easy-going Plimpt family out…

Their millionaire dad is even worse and orchestrates a campaign of very human terror to get his way, almost driving Rip to abandon his unconventional dreams. However, the unscrupulous autocrat has some dark secrets of his own and Limbo the dead cat and a pretty little vampire girl know how best to exploit them…

Writer, artist, Producer, designer and Emmy® Award-winning animator Mitch Schauer (creator of Angry Beavers and Freakazoid!) is a founding member of Lincoln Butterfield, an independent animation company also comprising Robert Hughes and painter Michael Lessa. Comics veteran Mike Vosburg, who inked Schauer’s pencilled art here, has a glittering prize or two himself: as well as his funnybook career, he won his own Emmy® for directing Spawn cartoons and is chief storyboard artist for the Narnia movie franchise. Co-producing this snazzy graphic novel with electrically eclectic comics publisher Fantagraphics Books is LB’s first foray into print – but surely not their last.

With painted colour effects from Lessa and Justin Yamaguchi and including a wonderful development art section, this spectacular, spooktacular romp is a fabulously punchy, action-packed, wickedly funny treat for kids of all ages that will leave every reader voraciously hungry for more…

© 2010. All Rights Reserved. A joint production between Fantagraphics Books and Lincoln Butterfield.

Walt Disney’s Donald and Daisy

By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #12)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-112

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, reared in the rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him: storytelling with a pen and brush. After a succession of professions Barks drifted into cartooning and joined the Disney studio as an animator before quitting in 1942 to work in the newborn field of comicbooks.

His life-path gelled when, with cartoon studio partner Jack Hannah (himself an occasional strip illustrator) Barks adapted a Bob Karp script for an sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (published as Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 in October of that year). Although not his first published comics work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s Barks worked in self-imposed isolation seclusion, writing and drawing a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers, creating a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose, Magica De Spell, the Beagle Boys and his greatest creation – the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad Quinquillionaire Scrooge McDuck to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. Although equally revered for his astonishingly impressive adventure sagas, slapstick romps and punchy page-gags he was just another cog in a big machine and diligently toiled on whatever his editors asked him to.

A solid example of how well he worked on characters he wasn’t invested in and scripts he hadn’t concocted is this Gladstone album co-starring Donald Duck’s occasional paramour Daisy…

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s and 1960s wherein Daisy and her nieces The Little Chickadees, freed from the social constraints of the 1950s and 1960s, finally came into their independent own…

During this period “ladies” were not brash or forceful or potent – whether by Disney dictat, Dell editorial policy or simply in deference to the tone of the times is unclear – unless they were fallen or wicked, such as Bark’s own darker dames like Glittering Goldie (see Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike) or sinister sorceress Magica De Spell, and as such were relegated to sternly disapproving partners or maternal role models. Even under these conditions however, Barks occasionally managed to inject a little spark into the distaff ducks…

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material and a selection of other Disney comics strips in the 1980s and this intriguing tome is among the best – as they all seem to be. As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and comics books that grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny yarns ever concocted.

As discussed in Geoffrey Blum’s introduction Barks considered Daisy a “diluting influence” and often had to rewrite her parts, if not actually kill stories in which she played a stronger woman, but even on these terms the five short yarns here, one scripted by an anonymous writer but most by the master himself, are a striking example of triumph under adversity…

Daisy is little more than a bit-player in the untitled first tale (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #101, February 1949) in which Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie take a series of extreme measures to cure nightmares, whilst in the second ‘The Daisy Hunt’ she becomes an unwilling prize in a romantic duel for her affections between Donald and aggravatingly lucky rival Gladstone Gander (first seen in untitled Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #117, June 1950).

She plays a far more forceful but still ferociously domestic role in the untitled housecleaning yarn from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #213, June 1958 wherein she mercilessly hunts Donald down after he breaks a promise to help her spring clean the house.

As the 1960s advanced and women became less fragile flowers and more potent partners Daisy had a short run of her own title under the umbrella of the Four Colour Comics tryout title. From #1055 (November 1959) of Daisy Duck’s Diary comes ‘The TV Babysitter’ (illustrated but not written by Barks) in which she ultimately fails to keep control of the nephews even with the help of Gyro Gearloose’s latest surveillance technology, whilst in ‘Donald and Daisy: The Beauty Business’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #308, May 1966) her feminine insecurity almost ruins Donald’s latest career as a glamour beautician…

Even though not up to his usual uniquely high standards, it’s fascinating to see what Barks could do with stories that didn’t engage him 100% – and this collection is magnificent proof of his overwhelming creative and work ethic – as these stories all still contain the dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch that made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and the most important anthropomorphic storyteller since Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling.

No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced this captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?
© 1988, 1966, 1959, 1958, 1950, 1949 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my own self-created Christmas tradition here’s another selection of British Annuals that contributed to making me what I am today, selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because they are still eminently palatable and worthy of your attention, even under here in the disconcertingly futurist 21st Century.

After decades when only American comics and nostalgia items were considered collectable, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in home grown product. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume, I hope my words can convince you to acquire it. However, if I can also create a groundswell of publishers’ attention, maybe a lot of magical material out there in print limbo will resurface in affordable new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. On one level the tastes of the public have never been more catholic than today and a sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base. Let’s make copyright owners aware that there’s money to be made from these slices of our childhood. You start the petition… I’ll certainly sign it.

Hanna-Barbera’s The Impossibles Annual

By various (Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co.)

British Comics have always fed from other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Much of this stuff wouldn’t even be as popular in the USA as here, so whatever comic licenses existed usually didn’t provide enough material to fill a hardback volume ranging anywhere from 64 to 160 pages. Thus many Annuals such as Champion the Wonder Horse or Lone Ranger and a host of others would require original material or as a last resort, similarly themed or related strips. The Impossibles Annual was one of these and used both solutions…

Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles debuted in America in Fall 1966, an early entry in Hanna-Barbera’s line of spoof superheroes cartoons (preceded by Atom Ant and followed by the likes of Captain Caveman and Hong Kong Phooey) and led to a string of straight adventures heroes like Birdman, Johnny Quest and the magnificent Alex Toth-designed Space Ghost.

Frankenstein Jr. was an affable giant robot built by the rather recondite Professor Conroy who went crimefighting with his builder’s spunky son Buzz, whilst The Impossibles were a trio of superheroes who travelled the world defeating evil at the behest of their mysterious handler “Big D”. Their cover was a pop group of the same name, and, since television and comics producers love to hedge their bets, Multi Man Fluid Man and Coil Man bore a more than coincidental resemblance to a certain band from Liverpool who were currently taking the world by storm…

The show ran for two seasons, but Hanna-Barbera’s comicbook connection Gold Key only ever released one issue of Frankenstein Jr. (which included an Impossibles back-up) and the contents of that are all included here, so the British publisher found themselves having to reprint other H-B adaptations as well as paying for new material – in the traditional form of text stories and features.

With typical British eccentricity the B-feature got top billing here so the titular stars don’t actually appear too often in this 64 page nostalgia goldmine, which opens with just such an illustrated prose story (sadly uncredited and anonymous). ‘The Impossibles Cure a Doctor’ is an impressively clever duel with a mad scientist, promptly followed by a Gold Key strip ‘The Impossibles vs. The Mirror-Man’ (probably drawn by unsung genius of cartoon comics Pete Alvarado – but I’m only guessing).

Next up is the first associative fill-in; one of two rewritten strips featuring future family The Jetsons. ‘Auto-Pappy’ (and the subsequent ‘How to Mine a Moon!’ might actually be The Rogue Robot and The Wild Moon Chase from #22 of their own Gold Key comic series, but again I’m positing not positive), after which Big Franky and little Buzz tackled ‘The Image Invasion’.

Next up is a stunning show-stealer from artist Dan Spiegle whose Space Ghost thriller ‘Zorak’s Revenge’ blew my mind over forty years ago and still does the business now. It originally appeared in a one-shot from Christmas of 1966 (cover-dated March 1967, because that’s the way the Americans did things). The all-out action against aliens and monsters is followed by another comedy romp when ‘Frankenstein Jr. Meets the Flea Man’ and that aforementioned Jetsons retread, after which a crossword featuring those fabulous future folks gives us all pause for thought.

The Impossibles Annual ends as it began with another prose piece, but one starring Franky and the boy Buzz as they faced ‘A Spook in his Wheel.’

A lost bauble probably only recalled by increasingly doddery dotards, this book is packed with solid family entertainment from simpler times – and possibly created for simpler kids – but I’d love to be proved wrong..

All other material ™ and © 1968 Hanna Barbera Productions Inc. The Jetsons ™ 1968 Screen Gems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Comic Annual 1969

By various (World Distributors, Ltd.)

When Stan Lee rejuvenated the American comic-book industry in the early 1960s, his biggest advantage wasn’t the small but superb talent pool available, but rather a canny sense of marketing and promotion. DC, Dell/Gold Key and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses (usually in dedicated black-and-white anthologies liked the much beloved Alan Class Comics such as Suspense) but Lee – or his business managers – went further, sanctioning Marvel’s revolutionary early efforts in regular British weeklies like Pow!, Wham!, Smash! and even the venerable Eagle.

There were two wholly Marvel-ised papers, Fantastic! and Terrific! which ran from 1967 to 1968. These slick format comics featured a number of key Marvel properties, and, appearing every seven days, soon exhausted the back catalogue of the company.

After years of being a guest in other publications Marvel finally secured their own UK Annuals through the publishing arm of World Distributors and this sparkling collection is one of the very best. Completely gone are the text pieces, quizzes and game pages that filled out British Christmas books, replaced with cover-to-cover superhero action produced by the emergent House of Ideas at the very peak of their creative powers and even includes a few almost Golden Age classics. Moreover it’s in full colour throughout – almost unheard of at the time.

A closer look by Marvel scholars would ascertain that all of the strips published here were actually taken from the wonderful 25¢ giants (Marvel Tales, Marvel Collectors Item Classics and Marvel Superheroes) released during the previous year, perfectly portioned out to fit into a book intended for a primarily new and young audience.

Behind the delightful painted cover the enchantment commences with a John Romita drawn Captain America tale from 1954, as the Sentinel of Liberty and Bucky lay waste to a scurvy gang of Red Chinese dope smugglers in ‘Cargo of Death’, promptly followed by a spectacular Thor saga from Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone as the Thunder God tackled ‘The Cobra and Mr. Hyde’ complete with cameo from the mighty Avengers.

The first of two Hulk shorts comes next, another commie-busting classic with science fiction overtones Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers’s ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space’ is a terrific all-action mini-blockbuster, perfectly complimented by the superbly Lee & Steve Ditko sinister crime Shocker wherein Spider-Man finds himself trapped between ‘The Goblin and the Gangsters!’

Unsung genius Bill Everett provided two superb Sub-Mariner tales, both from the fabulous 1950s, and the secret origin saga ‘Wings on his Feet’ is the first and undeniable best of these, his magical line-work wonderfully enhanced by the bold colour palette and crisp heavy white paper of this comfortingly sturdy tome.

He is followed by a masterful clash of titans as ‘Iron Man Faces Hawkeye the Marksman’ by Lee & Don Heck, before ‘The Hulk Triumphant’ (concluding chapter of the very first appearance wherein the Green Goliath ended the menace of Soviet mutation The Gargoyle) and this Annual ends with an enthralling Everett Sub-Mariner epic as the Prince of Atlantis defeated mad scientists and monsters ‘On a Mission of Vengeance!’

These oft-reprinted tales have never looked better than on the 96 reassuringly solid pages here: bold heroes and dastardly villains running riot and forever changing the sensibilities of a staid nation’s unsuspecting children. Magic, utterly Marvellous Magic!
© 1969 Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation, Marvel Comics Group. All rights reserved.

The Dandy Book 1968

By various (D.C. Thomson & Co.)

For many British fans Christmas means The Beano Book (although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every December 25th magical) but I’ve done one of those so this year I’m concentrating on a another Thomson cracker that made me the man wot I am. As usual my knowledge of the creators involved is woefully inadequate but I’m going to hazard a few guesses in the hope that someone with better knowledge will correct me when I err.

The Dandy comic actually predated the Beano by eight months, completely revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and most importantly how they were read. Over the decades it too produced a bevy of household names that delighted generations and the end of year celebrations were bumper bonanzas of the comic’s weekly stars in brief and extended stories.

The action here begins on the inside front cover as seminal star Korky the Cat (by Charles Grigg?) got the ball rolling – wrapped up the show at the end – before unique cowboy superman Desperate Dan suffers a prank from his equally rambunctious nephew and niece which literally brings the house down and hard-pressed squaddie Corporal Clott (by Dennis the Menace originator Davy Law or possibly his successor David Sutherland) finds guard duty in the snow a little chilly, taking ludicrous steps to warm up. He was equally ill-considered in his other two appearances this year…

D.C. Thomson were extremely adept at combining anarchic, clownish comedy with solid fantasy adventure tales such as ‘The Island of Monsters’ (illustrated by Paddy Brennan or perhaps Ron Smith) a thrilling castaway yarn as two boys find themselves marooned on a tropical paradise where all the animals suddenly grow to incredible size. He/they might also be the artist on the other science fiction thriller in this volume. ‘Captain Whoosh’ was a jet-pack wearing thief constantly foiled by plucky paperboy Terry Ball who here foils the rocket rogue’s attempts to plunder Moortown’s extremely well-stocked Art Gallery and museum. These picture thrillers usually came in the old-fashioned captioned format, with blocks of typeset text rather than lettered word balloons.

These annuals were traditionally produced in the wonderful “half-colour” that many British publishers used to keep costs down whilst bringing a little spark into our drab and gloomy young lives. This was done by printing sections of the books with two plates, such as blue/Cyan and red/Magenta: The versatility and palette range this provided was astounding. Even now this technique screams “Holidays” to me and my contemporaries, and this volume uses the technique to stunning effect.

The Smasher was a lad from the same mould as Dennis the Menace and in the four episodes here (by Hugh Morren) he carves a characteristic swathe of anarchic destruction, whilst a great deal of material was based on school as seen by both teachers and pupils. ‘Greedy Pigg’ (by George Martin), featured a voracious teacher always attempting to confiscate and scoff his pupils snacks. He fails miserably three times in this book… After a giant rebus crossword quiz by Eric Roberts (or perhaps Tom Williams), Dan returns only to fall foul of tomato growers, whilst Korky accidentally talks himself into a duel and ends up soundly thrashed. The immortal cat fares far better in his spats with be-kilted Highland strongmen, a beach inspector and in an angling competition but comes painfully second to boxing organisers when he tries to view without paying…

There’s one more extra-long Desperate Dan tale (wherein he paints the town red, but not in a good or gentle way) at the end of the book, but before then the magnificent Eric Roberts does double-duty this year with five strips starring perennial bath-dodger Dirty Dick and an extended seasonal saga of Boarding School bright-spark Winker Watson, and still found time and energy to illustrate five giant puzzle-spreads, whilst the inevitable outcomes of the four clashes between Bully Beef and Chips (drawn by Jimmy Hughes) invariably found the underdog’s brain always trumps brutal brawn.

This book is not short on drama or comedy adventure either. ‘Spunky and his Spider’ is the delightful rustic tale of an affable, truanting kid and his devoted, amiable apple-loving, giant antediluvian arachnid by the fabulous Bill Holroyd, who also crafted a hilarious school Christmas party romp starring schoolboy Charley Brand and his robotic pal ‘Brassneck’ and a cheeky sci fi giggle-fest starring alien visitor ‘Super Sam’ and his humongous minder Big Boris on a fact-finding mission to a town near you… As with the thrillers these yarns also came typeset, allowing more of the fabulous artwork to shine through.

‘Randall’s Vandals’, by an artist I don’t recognise, is the story of a canny gamekeeper’s son seeing off a bunch of rowdy big city poachers and everybody’s favourite sheepdog Black Bob tugs at the heartstrings in the book’s only prose story as a wilful lad playing with fireworks renders the legendary Border Collie a (temporarily) ‘Blind Bob!’ The beautiful illustrations are, as ever, by the great Jack Prout.

Stuffed with activity and gag-pages, and bursting with classic kid’s comedy and adventure this is a tremendously fun book, and even in the absence of the legendary creators such as Dudley Watkins, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, there’s still so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this book is over four decades old. If ever anything needed to be issued as commemorative collections it’s such D.C. Thomson annuals as this…

© 1968 D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

By Dr. Seuss (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-00736-554-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for everybody…  10/10

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield Massachusetts on 2nd March 1094, the son of a wealthy beermaker of German origins. He attended Dartmouth College, where he edited the college magazine, graduating in 1925 despite a few narrow escapes from the college authorities. Geisel liked to party and preferred drawing to his studies. It was apparently how he got his penname: after the Dean banned him from drawing after a particularly raucous binge, the young artist took pains to sign his work only with his middle name…

He studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1927, where he met his first wife Helen. When they returned to America he became a cartoonist and illustrator, doing spot gags, political panels and covers for a variety of publishers. He produced a weekly strip Birdsies and Beasties in prestigious humour magazine Judge and his work also appeared in Life, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, PM among others. He even briefly produced a newspaper strip ‘Hejji’ (1935) and tried his hand at animation and advertising. During World War II Geisel turned to political cartooning, advocating a strong response to the Fascist threat and in 1943 enlisted as a lead animator and director for the United States Army, winning an award in 1947 for the documentary Design For Death which explored Japanese cultural history.

He published his first poem/cartoon book ‘And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street’ in 1937 but really gradually became immortal after the war when news reports about the relative illiteracy and lack of vocabulary in young children (particularly a damning report in Life, May 1954) led him to create his easy-reading masterpieces ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’, ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ and 38 others before his death in 1991.

In 1957 he released the now-legendary ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’, a Yuletide evergreen, immortalized in a brilliant Chuck Jones animated short in 1966 and a so-so big budget movie in 2000. Over and above both of these the actual book still towers as a masterpiece of cartoon fiction and one I beg you to read if you already haven’t.

If you’re one of the three westerners who still don’t know the story…

The Grinch is a mean hermit who for no special reason loathes everything about the whole Christmas Season. So one X-Mas Eve he creeps into Who-houses and nicks every trinket that Christmas espouses. No Trees, Tinsel, Presents or Taste Treats are left: the nasty old codger has left Who-ville bereft.

But just at the moment when his triumph is paramount the Grinch sees what Christmas is actually all about. Heart bursting with joy and good feelings re-surging Grinch returns all the treats he was wickedly purging and joins Who-ville’s people in their grand feast – and even shares some of their glorious Roast Beast!

Seriously though; the simple heartwarming tale of the old monster – and his trusty, illogically faithful hound – as they fail to ruin Christmas, his miraculous change of heart and eventual redemption is the perfect examination of what the Season should mean. Moreover it’s written in a captivating manner with bold rhyme and incredibly enthralling artwork that embeds itself within every reader. Wily, wise and wonderful, ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is absolutely the best kid’s Christmas book ever created and one you simple have to read.

Don’t make me put coal in your socks…

© 1957, 1985 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved.