Hey Wait…


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-641-7

It’s usually a cheap cop-out by tired or hackneyed critics but some creators’ work comes close to defying description. That’s never more true than when reviewing another brilliant graphic exposition by Jason.

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels.

A global star among the cartoon cognoscenti, Jason has earned many major awards from all over the planet. His work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, utilising the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist and storyteller he is…

The stylised static-seeming artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick outlines and settings of seductive simplicity – often augmented by a deft and subtle use of flat colour which enhances his hard, moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing Cinema-inspired world.

The superbly understated art acts in concert with his dead-on, deadpan pastiche repertoire of scenarios which dredge deep from our shared experience of old film noir classics, horror and sci fi B-movies and other visual motifs which transcend time and culture, and the result is narrative dynamite. His preferred oeuvre mixes such fantasy elements with a deep and overwhelming inquiry into why bad stuff happens to ordinary “people”…

A compact (176 x 254mm) monochrome paperback, Hey Wait… is just such a confection: an eerie and glorious paean to boyhood friendships with young Bjorn and Jon enjoying a life of perfect childhood of collecting comics, watching movies and gadding about until a tragic accident – perhaps the result of boon companions egging each other on a little too much? – ends the idyll forever.

Life, however, goes on (and on and on and on) for one of the inseparable childhood comrades but it has become a life sentence…

The survivor’s existence becomes populated from then on with mundane encounters, tedious assignations, failed aspirations and the usual parade of ghosts and visions, but then again so is everybody else’s tedious day to day progress to the end …

Hey Wait… resonates with Jason’s favourite themes and shines with his visual dexterity and skewed sensibilities. disclosing a decidedly different slant on secrets and obsessions. Primal art supplemented by sparse and spartan dialogue, enhanced to a macabre degree by immaculate cartooning and skilled use of silence and moment utilised with devastating economy, affords the same quality of cold, bleak yet perfectly harnessed stillness which makes Scandinavian crime dramas such compelling, addictive fare.

This comic tale allows us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes but never sugar-coats what’s there to see…
© 1998, 1999, 2001, 2005 Jason. Translation © 2001 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure


By Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman & various (It’s Alive!/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1631409943

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, nearly all of fiction was engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic popular phenomena – for example the Swinging Sixties’ Superspy and Batmania booms or the recent trend for Vampire and/or Werewolf Boyfriends – there was a tremendous amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few irrefutable gems that would affect public tastes from then on.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out there’s also generally a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

Following World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by the antiseptic anodyne branch of Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comicbooks had encompassed Western heroes from the very start – there were cowboy crusaders in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-slinging idols to replace the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, for the longest of times Cowboy comics largely vanished from our funnybook pages: seemingly unable to command enough mainstream commercial support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive futurescapes.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world…

Happily, however, an American revolution in comics retailing and print technologies at the end of the 20th century allowed fans to create and disseminate relatively inexpensive comicbooks of their own and, happier still, many of those fans are incredibly talented creators in other genres. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure originally published by independent creator-led outfit Mojo Press.

The brainchild of Richard Klaw (publisher, reviewer, essayist, writer, historian and self-confessed geek maven), the little outfit published some amazing and groundbreaking horror, fantasy, science fiction and Western graphic novels and prose books between 1994 and their much-lamented demise in 1999.

As revealed in Klaw’s informative Introduction ‘When Old is New and New Old’, Red Range was probably their most controversial release: an uncompromising adventure tale and deftly-disguised (a tad too much so, apparently) attack on contemporary racism and institutionalised bigotry astoundingly approached as an ultra-violent cowboy revenge yarn.

Originally published in stark black and white in 1999, Joe E. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s amazing unfinished odyssey has been remastered and adapted to full-colour (courtesy of Jorge Blanco & Jok and letterer Douglas Potter) and given a new lease of life in this sublime hardcover edition, just as America’s latest President seems set to return the nation to those days of implicit supremacism, casual segregation and wealth-based Jim Crow laws…

A Word of Warning: if your sensibilities and senses are liable to freak out at profoundly yet historically accurate scenes of violence or repeated use of the “N” word as used by drawn representations of murdering racist bastards in white sheets, don’t buy this book. Actually, do buy it; just don’t whine that you weren’t warned…

In Texas in the late 19th century a band of Klansmen are brutally torturing a black family who have had the temerity to buy land and plant crops. The ignorant butchers’ repugnant fun is mercilessly interrupted when a masked negro vigilante known as The Red Mask attacks, killing many of them and driving off their leader Batiste.

The unlikely avenger is too late to save the parents but does take their son Turon under his wing. As they ride to his hideout, the lone rider confides in his youthful new companion.

Caleb Range’s story is appallingly similar to the boy’s own recent tragedy. It’s probably one repeated hundreds of times every day in America since the Black Man was emancipated…

Back in town, Batiste recruits a specialist tracker and plenty more white men eager to teach coloureds their rightful place. Hunting down Red Mask the bigot again underestimates his quarry’s determination and facility with weapons…

Angry, frustrated and humiliated, Batiste gathers yet more men and sets out to end his nemesis forever. The relentless pursuit leads into the desert wastes and straight out of any semblance of rationality as Caleb and Turon survive one more cataclysmic battle before falling into a lost world of ancient tribes and ravenous dinosaurs with Batiste and his few surviving killers hard on their heels…

In this place however, the so-superior white men are seen as less than human by the indigenous humans: nothing more than prey and provender. Regrettably, they hold pretty much the same opinion regarding Caleb and Turon, who quickly discover they might not just be lost in space but also time…

To Be Continued…

Vivid, shocking, staggeringly exciting, ferociously uncompromising and yet often outrageously, laugh-out-loud funny, Red Range has both message and moral but never for a moment lets that stand in the way of telling a great story. Hopefully, this long-overlooked gem will get fair shake this time around…

Adding value and enlightenment, this opening chapter in a hopefully longer saga is augmented by ‘Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters: (A Sort of) Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette’ which offers some historical and social context to the proceedings and inside gen on creators Lansdale and Glanzman, as well as a potted history of the role of black people in western movies from 1920s star-turn Bill Pickett to Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.

The bonus goodies continue with a silent monochrome masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour in ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ (first seen in Wild West Show, 1996), with the artist displaying a firm grip of both killer slapstick and grim irony as Cowboy, Indian and other beasts go in search of meal, before Bissette rides us into the sunset with an erudite and fascinating trip down memory lane for “Pop Culture Cowpokes and Carnosaurs” with ‘A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs’

These fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon…

What more could you possibly ask for?
Red Range: A Wild West Adventure © 1999-2017 Joe R. Lansdale. “I Could Eat a Horse” © 2017 Sam Glanzman. “When Old is New and New Old” © 2017 Richard Klaw. “Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters” and “A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs” © 2017 Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure is scheduled for publication June 28th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Stark Plug Book.com


By Chap (Rolling Tire Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-3-7 (PB)              eISBN: 978-0-329-9759318-2-0

One of my greatest joys is reading work by creators who clearly get off on the sheer joy of cartooning and that is definitely the case in this outrageously addictive tome offering “A Nice Alternative to Television”…

Obviously and enticingly inspired by the graphic absurdity of Gilbert Shelton and his Fabulous Furry partners Dave Sheridan and Paul Mavrides, Wisconsin-based printmaker and illustrator Steven C. Chappell has concocted a delicious dose of warmly witty strips combining keen observational humour and slapstick shenanigans with splendidly surreal visual hijinks and capers featuring life-battered wage-slave everyman Stark Plug.

The artist then generously gathered them all in a wonderfully engaging softcover album – mainly black and white, but with judiciously and mischievously applied spot and full-colour sections – and self-deprecatingly allowed the material to do its job… to the delight of anyone savvy enough to read it.

Following a handy pictorial introduction to ‘The Primary Cast of Characters’, all manner of wry and supremely engaging jollity commences with ‘Another Day… at the Job’ as overstretched screen-monkey Stark is informed by his bullying boss that he now has to do the work of three for the same wage and resoundingly assured yet again “no raise for you!”.

Inundated with tedious repetitive keyboard-tapping, Mr. Plug’s mind starts to wander into realms both bizarrely graphical and enticingly metaphysical…

Another day brings oversleeping, fresh anxiety and a mad dash through Madison’s snowbound streets – past local ambulatory busking landmark Bernie the Banjo Bum – and culminates in a close shave with icy death, before the tedious toil resumes. At least Stark can enjoy official breaks with co-worker Stacy whilst expounding on the joys of the “Fry It Diet”…

He may consume copiously and unhealthily, but our man keeps fit, as seen in the purely visual, rainbow-hued and wildly experimental peregrination ‘Stark Walks’, after which ‘Power Outage!’ sees office and city plunged into stygian gloom, giving the workers license to get a bit daring with their habits and clothing…

Whilst out with his dog Dioji, Stark’s mind is set to wandering after overhearing ‘Jump Rope Jabber with Those Crazy Kids!’ before taking in an extensive tour of life’s finer things during ‘A Day at the City Gallery’. After enjoying the colour-enhanced delights of an entrancing Wood Block Print Show he consequently descends into a ‘Mid-Life Crisis…’ which entails quitting his doleful, penurious job to become a cartoon character in newspaper strip Memphis and Harry, playing straight man to a weirdly-drawn cat…

When the strip is cancelled due to catnip-fuelled excess, it’s back to the terminal grind of his old job where the pressure can only be relieved by frenetic dancing in ‘Stark Raving Mad’

A much needed ‘Coffee Break’ leads to Stark learning more than he ever wanted to about Stacy and her friend Rita so he indulges himself by devising ‘The Most Hilarious Comic Strip Ever!’ – a potentially lethal stunt involving fake moustaches, male nudity, bicycles, flying, the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol and an army of gun-happy cops – which can only be balanced by a moment of ‘Stark Meditation ’ before the madcap buffoonery concludes in mellow contemplative manner as Stark Plug and Dioji indulge in a gentle nocturnal ‘Moon Walk’

The entire experience is then topped off with quirky Ads for ‘Stark Plug Schwag’ (I got a cool bunch of stuff with my review copy – yay! – so I can thoroughly recommend this bit) bringing to a close the funniest book I’ve read this year… and it’s already March…
© 2017 Steven C. Chappell (Chap). All rights reserved.

For further information check out the book’s title, or if that’s too much work type this – starkplugbook.com – into a computer.

Solomon Kane volume 2: Death’s Black Riders


By Scott Allie, Mario Guevara, Juan Ferreyra & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-590-2

Following on from their revitalisation – if not actual creation – of the comicbook Sword and Sorcery genre in the early 1970s with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel Comics quite naturally looked for more of the same, and found ample material in Robert Ervin Howard’s other warrior heroes such as King Kull, Bran Mac Morn and dour Puritan Avenger Solomon Kane.

The fantasy genre had undergone a global prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s resurgence of two-fisted action extravaganzas by such pioneer writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber. This led to a generation of modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-starting their literary careers with contemporary interpretations of man, monster and mage. Without doubt, though, nobody did it better than the tragic Texan whose other red-handed stalwarts and tough guys such as El Borak, Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino excelled in a host of associated genres and like milieux.

As a prose paragon, Solomon Kane debuted in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales in a gripping tale of vengeance entitled “Red Shadows”; thereafter making seven more appearances before abruptly vanishing in 1932 as his creator concentrated on the far more successful Conan.

Three more tales, some epic poems and a few unfinished ideas and passages remained unpublished until 1968 when renewed interest in the author’s work prompted publishers to disinter and complete the yarns.

Apart from two noteworthy 4-colour exceptions, during the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel was content to leave Solomon Kane to monochrome adaptations of canonical Howard stories in Dracula Lives, Savage Sword of Conan, Monsters Unleashed and other older-reader magazines, but with his 21st century transfer to the Dark Horse stable, the Holy Terror has flourished in broader, lavishly-hued and much-expanded interpretations of the short stories and assorted unfinished snippets left when the prolific Howard took his life in 1936.

Beginning in 2008 and released as a succession of miniseries, these almost-new adventures offer modern fans a far darker and more moody iteration of the driven, doom-laden wanderer. This second volume features as graphic narrative short story Rattle of the Bones combined with a mere fragment of recovered prose latterly dubbed Death’s Black Riders, with scripter Scott Allie fleshing out the meagre fare for modern audiences. The strips were originally published in 4-issue miniseries Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders and are supplemented here by an all-new short continued saga which originally ran online in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #27 and 28.

For the uninitiated: Kane is a 17th century disenfranchised English soldier-of-fortune on a self-appointed mission to scour the Earth doing God’s Work. He interprets that to mean punishing the wicked and destroying devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever onwards towards trouble…

The drama opens here where the previous collection left off. Having survived epic clashes with demon wolves, devilish pagans and satanic thralls, the surly pilgrim is still lost in Germany’s vast and foreboding Black Forest and eager to find his way out.

Sadly, his wanderings merely lead to more conflict as he encounters the remains of a band of slaughtered gypsies where an extremely capable Frenchman named Gaston battles against a vile pack of voracious double-mouthed, distressingly equine talking horrors.

Joining the fray, the chilling churchman kills three of ‘Death’s Black Riders’, but not in time to save any but Gaston from the beast’s butchery…

Although something about the Frenchman disturbs and unsettles him, Kane accompanies the sole survivor as they make their way on foot through the benighted forest, eventually coming upon a lonely inn, blithely unaware that the hostelry is afflicted by ‘The Rattle of Bones’

The deeply suspicious landlord is far from welcoming but the wanderers’ misgivings are offset by inclement weather and the fact that the four-legged devils are still at large and probably close at hand. Despite gaining entry behind the stout walls and sturdy doors the travellers are cautiously on guard as they assess their temporary dwelling, especially after discovering their room cannot be secured from the inside…

Searching for bars and barricades, they come upon a room with a skeleton chained to a wall and Gaston – in an act of courage-bolstering bravado – smashes the aged links with his sword. Not long after, the Frenchman makes his long-delayed move, ambushing Kane and attempting to steal his purse. Too late the puritan recognises infamous bandit Gaston the Butcher, but before he can save himself the demented innkeeper strikes…

This madman had been preying on visitors for years, despatching those unfortunate enough to share his hospitality. The lunatic even managed to kill a travelling sorcerer and was wise enough to chain up his corpse so that the enchanter could not strike back at from beyond the grave…

Thus, although recently added to the murderer’s tally, Gaston’s revenge comes as the skeleton prowling the inn finds the target it has waited decades to meet again, and in the gory aftermath the aghast Kane prepares to take his chance with the forest when a pounding comes upon the door. It is a terrified Catholic priest and at his heels is a pack of ravening horse-like monsters…

The terrifying tension rises to fever pitch as ‘The Black Riders Return’ to lay siege to the inn with puritan and priest trading doctrinal sallies whilst battling the bludgeoning beasts outside and evading the unquiet sorcerer’s unburied corpse within the house…

As a shattering storm rages, the war of Good and Evil reaches an appalling crescendo, and when day breaks only one man walks away…

A non-stop parade of peril and explosive action, the art here is both beguiling and emphatically evocative with Mario (The Lone Ranger and Tonto) Guevara’s pencils ably augmented by the potent palette of colourist Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi), but the tone changes utterly as Guy Davis assumes the illustration chores for Allie’s eerie follow-up ‘All the Damned Souls at Sea’

Here the exhausted, world-weary horror hunter takes ship for his long-missed England, intent on seeing once more his beloved childhood haunts of Devon.

Typically, however, Kane clashes with a witch before boarding and, as he reminisces during the crossing of his previous voyages battling the Spanish navy, an uncanny transformation grips the ship, remaking it into a predatory beast hungry for sailors’ souls…

As always, this turbulent battle-scarred tome is packed with fascinating artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses such as a gallery of covers and art pieces from Mike Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander and Darick Robertson plus creative insights via ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches, designs, process art and commentary by Guevara, Davis, Chad Vaughn and Allie.

Powerful, engaging and sumptuously spooky, this fight-filled fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and all lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers.
© 2009 Solomon Kane Inc. (“SKI”). Solomon Kane and all related characters, names and logos are ™ and ® SKI.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters


By Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-959-2

Once upon a time, comics were ubiquitous and universal and scorned by most people.

Gradually people came to realise that there were gems amongst the dross, and a critical arena grew where graphic novels could be judged on their own intrinsic merits and afforded serious consideration as Art.

Every so often an example of purely perfect sequential narrative emerges which reshapes the Artform and forces the entire world to sit up and take notice: Maus, Persepolis, American Splendor, Watchmen

I’m pretty certain as I read my review copy (for the third time in two weeks) that My Favorite Thing is Monsters is soon going to be automatically added to that list of ground-breaking, world-shaking graphic masterpieces whenever people talk about the absolute best that sequential graphic narrative has to offer…

Crafted over decades, this massive onion-skin of tales-within-tales ostensibly details a murder mystery, but conceals within its astoundingly illustrated layers a “you-are-here” historical perspective of the social chaos resulting amongst the impoverished and disenfranchised after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a crushing examination of child abuse, an impassioned discourse on the nature and role of Art, a chilling coming-of-age experience, a telling testament of the repercussions of survival for Holocaust victims and a mesmerising trek through the psyche of a very troubled little girl on the cusp of leaving the security of childhood forever…

The viper’s nest of stories is delivered through the beguiling conceit that we are reading the diary of an extremely intelligent, artistically gifted little girl who has inscribed and illustrated in her spiral-bound notebook the far-from-mundane recent events of her life: an unedited, unexpurgated stream-of-consciousness account, just as the events happened…

Karen Reyes sees monsters. She sees them everywhere but that’s okay because most of them are her friends or at least not overly hostile and besides, she’s a monster too…

In 1968 Chicago, our 10-year-old protagonist/narrator is obsessed with movie and comicbook creature features, to the point of seeing herself as a cute werewolf (much in the mould of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things).

She is also worldly-wise beyond her years perhaps blessed with synaesthesia: able to smell colours, taste the tone or character of places and enter the many paintings her artist brother takes her to see at the gallery…

The single-parent family lives in Chicago in 1968 in a tenement owned by local gangboss Mr. Gronan. The mobster’s wife is one of the many women Karen’s brother Deeze regularly shares his bed with, not the wisest of things to admit to…

Despite his social shortcomings Deeze is a brilliant artist who has always shared his passion with his gifted sister, but as the story opens he is keeping a secret from Karen. Their adoring mother is dying…

Karen’s cool reserve is frequently tested. Many kids at school bully and abuse her whilst their parents scorn and despise her. At least she has a few trusted outcast associates in her corner. It’s no wonder though that she prefers the clannish world of screen and comicbooks to what reality offers up daily…

Blithely unaware of how painful the world can be, the dutiful daughter’s world shifts from filmic fantasy to real life tragedy when troubled tenant Anka Silverberg dies. Karen, who has shared a special relationship with the concentration camp survivor for years, realises it must be murder, not the inevitable suicide most of the adults say it was.

The Werewolf-girl thus resolves to use her gifts to find the killer and embarks on an horrific voyage of discovery. With the unwittingly aid of befuddled sot Sam Silverberg and her own uncanny, wise-beyond-her-years instincts, Karen stalks her elusive prey, slowly gaining an understanding of the real-world atrocities Anna endured before reaching America and her inescapable date with doom…

Moreover, as Karen continues to investigate the life and death of Anka, the increasingly violent real world gets a stronger hold on her inner landscape, distracting the monster girl from her self-appointed mission…

Astoundingly complex and multi-layered, and accessing a phenomenally intricate interior landscape blending the shocking squalor, deprivation and social unrest of mid 1960’s Chicago with the thoughts and impression of a brilliant child and natural outsider, My Favorite Thing is Monsters offers a stunning examination of loss and what it means to be human. Moreover, the barrage of intertwined stories never obfuscates, but always offers some snippet of revelation and does so with warmth, humour, great heart and inspirational passion.

Best of all, this tome is only the beginning and the story will continue in a sequel…
© 2016 Emil Ferris. All rights reserved.

Seekers Into the Mystery – the Complete Collection


By J. M. DeMatteis, Jon J Muth, Glenn Barr, Michael Zulli, Jill Thompson & various (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80843-7

Isn’t everybody looking for ultimate truth and a bit of personal revelation?

That spiritual quest for enlightenment has moved millions of souls, thousands of philosophers, thinkers and mystics and – at conservative estimates – hundreds of writers and artists over the centuries.

At the dying fringes of the 20th century spiritually invested thinker and writer J. M. DeMatteis convinced a high-powered publishing company to let him look for Revelation in the pages of a comicbook.

As detailed in his Introduction ‘And Ye Shall Find’ – which details the origins and simultaneously troubled yet blessed release of the tale as a periodical publication from DC Comics’ creator owned Vertigo imprint – his story concerned a modern man lost and yearning for something greater than his sorry self and pointless, dead-end existence.

In the nature of such things, the series briefly blossomed and – like so many spiritual moments – tragically faded before a clean, clear-cut culminating finish.

However, viewed as an instructional excursion in this new complete compilation from Dover Books, Seekers into the Mystery is a superb fantasy-drenched magical mystery tour that asks big questions with no real answers through a cast of utterly amiable characters you’ll wish were real.

DeMatteis, whose other works include long runs on numerous mainstream costumed champions such as Justice League, Defenders and Spider-Man, introspective, genre-warping serials such as Moonshadow and a string of uniquely quirky graphic novels such as Blood: A Tale, The Last One, Brooklyn Dreams and Greenberg the Vampire, is a smart scribe with a solid appreciation of the light side of life as well as comics’ usual trendy angst-driven nihilism.

Thanks to that broad vision, SITM abounds with human warmth, sentimental uplift and wild whimsy to counterbalance the horrific sight of a man who slowly drives himself through hell and madness in pursuit of a dream…

This is not a book you want me to be too specific about. Like the adage goes, it’s all about the journey, but here at least are few directions you might appreciate…

Seekers into the Mystery gathers all fifteen episodes of the Vertigo series, subdivided in a sequence of self-contained Books which open with ‘The Pilgrimage of Lucas Hart’ as a washed up, crashed-&-burning Hollywood screenwriter begins to see that he is not just destroying himself, but also taking with him his devoted girlfriend, ex-wife and daughter as well as everyone who ever knew or cared about him.

And then the universe reaches out to him, in the form of visions and visitations: bombarding Hart with every kind of hint and message and above all else a recurring image of a gentle beatific man all the new age weirdoes suddenly afflicting him refer to as “The Magician”. More obnoxious and certainly most noisome is the recurring appearance of a foul, homeless lunatic dubbed Charlie Limbo who might just be God’s agent on Earth…

Illustrated by Glenn Barr with an Epilogue Chapter crafted by Jon J Muth, the horrors and wonders Lucas experiences inescapably lead to a shocking revelation that his memories of an idyllic childhood are all false: his formative years were actually the stuff of nightmare he has forgotten that he forgot, leading him to make a leap of faith and search out a woman who actually knows the Magician…

Michael Zulli (with Muth again contributing an Epilogue segment) beatifically illuminates the next stage of our suffering pilgrim’s progress as ‘Falling Down to Heaven’ traces the writer’s search for Absolute Truth and the elusive Man Who Knows Everything; encompassing encounters with psychics and mediums, confrontations with Angels, Aliens, Elves and Demons, and a shocking revelation that Lucas’s daughter Aimee has been seeing all theses impossible visitors since the day she was born…

The journey culminates with Hart reaching a tipping point in his own re-creation, but that only gives rise to his greatest challenge yet in Book Three as ‘God’s Shadow’ (art by Jill Thompson) makes her presence known.

Maya, the malevolent Spirit of Illusion, is determined to derail Lucas’ evolution towards enlightenment and employs torment and seduction in equal measure to achieve her aims. She has not, however, fully appreciated the power her intended victim’s loved ones still exert over him and his own desire for ultimate clarity and truth…

When all the illusions are at last undone, Lucas is in possession of the totality of his occluded memories for the first time in decades, but one last horrifying recollection indicates that there is only one possible outcome which manifests in ‘Finale: The Death of Lucas Hart’. As is normal for this story that does not mean what you think it means…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Barr, Muth, Zulli and John Bolton, plus a large selection of Character Sketches from the series’ artic originator Glenn Barr, this monumental voyage of miasmic self-discovery is a weird, thrilling, disquieting, scary, enlightening and magnificently engaging walk on the astral wild side: one that readers in search of a different comics experience will be well-rewarded by…
© 1996, 1997, 2017 J. M. DeMatteis. Introduction © 2017 J. M. DeMatteis. All rights reserved.

Seekers Into the Mystery will be released February 24th 2017 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

Stuff about Sex for Guys Who Are Not Like, Total Idiots


By David Mellon (Top Shelf Productions)
ASIN: B01BMV519A

Whilst not actually a graphic novel, I couldn’t resist adding this outrageous little comicbook essay to my St. Valentines Day celebrations, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any oldster who likes a gentle, knowing laugh or any young man in need of a little understanding pep talk before setting out to find a mate – either for a night, a while or a lifetime…

In the manner of a relatively non-judgemental older sibling, David Mellon talks frankly and in the most simple of terms on how to start having sex and the onset of adult relationships; dispelling myths, addressing if not positively coddling neuroses and especially bestowing actual useful advice (yes, really! Wash often and wear clean clothes!) to help nervous neophytes meet women and not nauseate them…

Beautifully rendered in accessible monochrome cartoons, Mellon takes us through the initial obstacle of ‘Shame!’, arguing that ‘It’s the Same for Everybody’ and claiming ‘Everybody Wants to Drop that Mask!’

Nothing is held back as the author sensibly deals with ‘Personal Hygiene’ and tackles issues such as ‘Premature Ejaculation’, ‘Masturbation’, the pros and cons of ‘Virginity’ and even asks the big question… ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’

Even the great imponderables get a look in as we examine ‘Normal’ and discuss ‘What Women Want’

Smart, sensible, unflinching but never harsh or mean, Mellon’s mature approach to an age-old traumatic experience and rite of passage should be mandatory reading in schools (but won’t be because of all the naked men and women he’s drawn here) as a serious aid to sex education.
Stuff about Sex ™ & © 2012 David Mellon. All rights reserved.

Fresh Romance volume 1


By Kate Leth & Arielle Jovellanos, Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson, Marguerite Bennett & Trungles, Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie & various (Rosy Press/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-346-3                  eISBN: 978-1-62010-347-0 (Kickstarter exclusive)

Once upon a time romance comics were the backbone of the comicbook industry, selling in the millions and capturing the crucial yet elusive and fickle women’s market where war, westerns and superhero titles just couldn’t get a foothold.

Times passed, fashions changed and the genre all but vanished in comics form, to occasionally resurface in rare re-emergences filled with quality writing and art but still unable to justify the expense of a regular print slot.

Thankfully the internet changed all that, with devotees able to create, disseminate and consume articles of visual amour free of draconian and tawdry business pressures. One such enterprise was anthological enterprise Fresh Romance from Rosy Press which offers startlingly uncompromising modern love stories in a broad variety of styles and themes and tones from simple person-meets-person encounters to classical pastiches to rom-com rollercoaster rides.

So well-received were these tales that in partnership with Oni Press the stories have made the retrograde jump back into physical form such as this initial collection…

Supplemented throughout with round-robin discussions and commentaries from the creators involved the wide-eyed wonderment opens with a no-holds-barred, ferociously contemporary spin on the coming-of-age ritual known as Prom Night…

‘School Spirit’ by scripter Kate Leth, illustrator Arielle Jovellanos, colourist Amanda Scurti and letterer Taylor Esposito details the build up to that very special occasion, focussing on unwitting chick-magnet Miles, haughty queen-bee Justine, moody Corrine and eager-beaver over-achiever Malie.

None of their peers are privy to their true natures, though. Miles’ reputation is largely bogus, allowing him to act as a beard for two of the girls whilst the lass he really likes has a secret she joyously shares with him alone: she’s a witch with fantastic powers she’s just desperate to exercise even though her dads forbid her getting intimate with mortals…

Pressure mounts as the Prom approaches and all four are reaching emotional crisis points: all they want to do is be themselves and be done with secrets…

But when the subterfuge falls apart just before the big event all the quartet can do is make it a night everybody will remember…

In stark contrast ‘Ruined volume 1’ by Sarah Vaughn & Sarah Winifred Searle (lettered by Ryan Ferrier) serves up a heaping helping of stolid and claustrophobic Regency romance in the manner of Jane Austen as young Catherine dolorously acquiesces to parental pressure and marries a man she does not know. As her parents constantly remind her, it’s the best she can hope now that her reputation has been so utterly despoiled by her recent indiscretion…

Her marriage into the prestigious but impoverished Davener family was never going to be a famous love match but after being packed off to his decrepit and distant estate Catherine’s slow acceptance of her taciturn, inscrutable husband is constantly impeded by one inescapable quandary. If no decent man would want her in her present state, why has Andrew Davener made her his bride?

Does he want her? Is he, in fact, a decent man?

A beguiling and compelling take on the traditional gothic novel – complete with troubled sister-in-law and antagonistic elder dowager in residence – Ruined does not conclude in this volume and leaves the reader hungry for a resolution…

From staid conformity to wild abandon as ‘The Ruby Equation’ by Sarah Kuhn & Sally Jane Thompson (coloured by Savanna Ganucheau and lettered by Steve Wands) pursues wild whimsy in a little coffee shop which serves as a dating drop-in centre run by extra-dimensional super-entities masquerading as baristas and waitresses.

These wondrous creatures are intent on helping their unwitting human clients find true happiness, but impatient young operative Ruby can’t wait to finish this dumb assignment and progress to missions of truly cosmic importance.

Sadly for her, Ruby can’t close the deal with prospective happy couple Josh and Megan, and she’s the only one who can’t see that they are not perfect soul-mates. Not when one of them is actually the only being Ruby could ever love…

A dark reinterpretation of a very familiar fairytale, ‘Beauties’ by Marguerite Bennett & Trungles – lettered by Rachel Deering – sees a beautiful beast captured and enslaved by a callous prince and his cruel daughters, only to win over one of his tormentors and trigger an uncanny transformation. With love triumphing over every adversity the liberated lovers must then seek escape or death together whatever the ultimate cost…

As icing on the cake this collection closes with a delightful bonus vignette by Keiron Gillen & Christine Norrie. ‘First, Last and Always’ slyly reveals the cautious, cunning politics that underlie that initial brushing of lips that presages the start of everything…

Powerful, charming, engaging and endearing, these yarns of yearning and fulfilment are superb examples of how varied comics can be. Why not let a little romance into your heart today?
Fresh Romance volume One © 2016 Rosy Press. All individual stories are the property of and © their respective creators. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip


By Jerome Charyn & François Boucq (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80872-7

Some creative teams spend all their time collaborating: crafting works that constantly remind us why we are wise to await their every effort. Other artisans only link up at agonisingly rare intervals, and when their newest works are finally finished we hungry lovers of their art can only breathe a huge sigh of relief and release.

A sublime case-in-point are the all-too-rarely seen concoctions of American crime author and graphic novelist Jerome Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, I Am Abraham, Citizen Sidel, Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories) and French illustrator François Boucq (Bouncer, Sente, Jérôme Moucherot, Bouche de diable) who together created Femme du magicien/The Magician’s Wife and Billy Budd, KGB: uniquely compelling graphic novels which have won popular acclaim and numerous awards all over the world.

Now their latest dark masterpiece – published in French in 2014 – is at last available in a remastered English translation by Charyn himself.

A ferocious and captivating blend of bleak reverie, coming-of-age drama, noir thriller and supernatural vengeance tale, the action opens in New York City in 1970 where tattooist Pavel plies his trade under the admiring gaze of fascinated teen Azami.

She too is enslaved to the act of drawing, and wants to know everything: how to mark the skin, the secrets of adapting a past design, where and how the master got his own skinful of stories…

The city is in a growing panic. A serial-killing rapist dubbed Bad Santa is terrorising the night; targeting late working women such as Azami’s mother, so Pavel is keeping a quiet eye on them both. He’s actually far more informed than most citizens, as his uncanny ability to draw likenesses from the barest of witness accounts makes the old man a crucial component of the cops’ war on crime.

This almost magical ability has been consistently failing in regard to the Bad Santa killings, however, and the tension makes Pavel dream of his own appalling childhood…

Just after WWII ended, his artist father emigrated from Washington Heights, USA to the Soviet Union to work with legendary film-maker Sergei Eisenstein.

In those constrained environs Pavel absorbed a love of drawing and hunger for creative expression that was not crushed even when a political shift in climate saw him and his family arrested as spies and shipped off to the horrific Siberian gulag of Kolyma.

The daily casual atrocities of the corrupt guards were worse than what the boy experienced at the hands of the rival criminal gangs who actually ran the prisons. Soon he was alone, but his instinct for survival and gifts as an artist set him upon a new path, creating the sacrosanct, almost-holy tattoos the inmates used to define, embolden and characterise themselves.

It was not the only art Pavel learned. As he grew older he became the top gladiator of his gang: a fast deadly warrior with a blade in pitch darkness or broad daylight…

As the wave of killings continue in the blighted Big Apple, Pavel’s thoughts keep returning to the unceasing stream of hardships and atrocities he experienced in the camp. Slowly a grim conclusion comes to him about the nature of the Bad Santa… but too late for him to save the people nearest and dearest to him…

Bleak, uncompromising, seductive and painfully authentic whilst tinged with a smear of supernatural mystery, the story of Little Tulip is an unforgettable peek into the forbidden and the profane that will take your breath away.

Also included in this album-sized (280 x 210 mm) full-colour paperback is a glorious selection of sketches and working drawing in an entrancing display of ‘Artwork by François Boucq’ to inspire you to making your own meaningful marks on paper – or any preferred medium…
© 2014 Jerome Charyn and François Boucq. © 2014 Le Lombard. Lettering © 2016 Thomas Mauer. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip is officially released January 27th 2017 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

The Shadow volume 3: The Light of the World


By Chris Roberson, Giovanni Timpano & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-461-9

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved Americans their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero under discussion here.

Radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky-toned narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he highlighted.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, began starring in his own printed adventures, written by the incredibly prolific Walter Gibson under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comicbooks, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped the world, generating reprinted classic yarns and a run of new stories as paperback novels.

In graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary reworking in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and Paul Reinman. In 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic sagas unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature for an audience at last acknowledged as grown-up enough to handle more sophisticated fare.

This led to further, adult-oriented iterations (and even one cracking outing – Hitler’s Astrologer – from Marvel) before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment secured the option in 2011 and, whilst reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

Set in the turbulent 1930s and war years that followed, these were crafted by some of the top writers in the industry, each taking their shot at the immortal legend, and all winningly depicted by a succession of extremely gifted illustrators.

This third volume – collecting #13-18 of the monthly comicbook from 2013 – comes courtesy of author Chris Roberson (House of Mystery, iZombie, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, Superman/Batman) and illustrator Giovanni Timpano, ably abetted by colourist Fabrício Guerra and letterer Rob Steen. This time the Master of the Dark prowls the bloody streets of New York in search of a fantastic vigilante as deadly and remorseless as himself…

The drama begins as yet another rich, powerful man is butchered whilst secretly indulging in sordid pleasures of the flesh. The perpetrator is rumoured to be a ghostly, sword-wielding “lady phantom”…

Very few know that the black-cloaked fist of final retribution known as The Shadow masquerades by day as abrasive, indolent playboy Lamont Cranston. Most are agents in his employ: all aware of his semi-mystical abilities to detect thoughts and cloud the minds of men. They are about to learn that there are other beings blessed with uncanny abilities, relentless determination and unshakeable agendas…

Cranston and his paramour/top operative Margo Lane begin their investigations at the prestigious Cobalt Club: pumping the wealthy patrons and Police Commissioner Weston in the guise of idle gossip-mongering and scandal-seeking…

The authorities, it seems, give little credence to the testimony of prostitutes – the only survivors of the attacks – and have dismissed reports of a vengeful woman as sole perpetrator. The Shadow’s operatives are far more astute and less prejudiced: information is gathered and soon after the Dispenser of Vengeance is on hand when the woman in white confronts her next victim…

As the first of a series of poignant flashbacks begins to reveal the secret of the bizarrely radiant swordswoman, in the modern moment of her confrontation with The Shadow, the Master of Men quickly realises this seeming angel of death is every inch his equal in the arts of combat. In fact, her ability to cast a blinding glow might well give her the edge…

After a brutal duel he manages to drive her off before she can finish off her latest victim, but, before he or the police can get any useful information from the survivor, the maimed man is silently butchered in his locked and guarded hospital room…

And thus the war between light and darkness progresses with The Shadow losing battles but gradually winning the war: inexorably closing in on The Light by pitting all his resources and risking his greatest assets to trap his glowing antithesis who works for the most pure, if misguided, of causes…

Dynamite publishes periodicals with a vast array of cover variants and here that gallery features a wealth of iconic alternate visions by Alex Ross, Francesco Francavilla, Tim Bradstreet, Paolo Rivera and Jason Shawn Alexander to delight any art lover’s eyes and heart.

Moody and brooding, The Light of the World is a solid pulp thriller with an intriguing history and premise for its “player on the other side” scenario, plenty of action and a spectacular cinematic climax at the top of New York’s steel-&-concrete canyons…

This is another superb addition to the annals of the original Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.