Scary Godmother


By Jill Thompson (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-589-6

The Eisner-Award winning Scary Godmother started life in 1997 as a full-colour, strip-format children’s book before evolving into a comicbook series, hit stage show and brace of Cartoon Network animated specials.

The original fully-painted picture book spawned three equally captivating annual sequels from Indie publisher Sirius Entertainment and all four of those astoundingly enthralling, wickedly hilarious books were resurrected in 2010 by Dark Horse as a stunning all-ages trade paperback collection just in time for Halloween.

And now it’s that time again…

Created by the terrifyingly multi-talented Jill Thompson (The Sandman, The Invisibles, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, The Little Endless Storybook) these stories offer comfortably spooky chills frosted with cracking comedy whilst proudly defending the inalienable right to be different…

Debut volume ‘The Scary Godmother’ introduced little Hannah Marie who is frantic to start her first ever Trick or Treat night, and only the teensiest bit disappointed that she has to go with her older, rather mean cousin Jimmy and his friends.

Naturally the big kids aren’t that keen on taking a baby along as they desperately try to score vast amounts of candy and cake, so as the evening progresses they try all they can think of to ditch the wide-eyed waif. It’s Jimmy who has the idea to scare Hannah by taking her to the old Spook House…

As they all nervously enter the ramshackle, abandoned old mansion, Jimmy tells Hannah Marie that the new kid has to give the monsters in the house some candy or they will eat all the children in the world, but he has severely underestimated his cousin’s grit. Although scared, she enters the dilapidated pile and the gang have no choice but to follow her inside…

As she looks for the horrible creatures Hannah Marie starts to cry and her sobs cause a strange thing to happen: someone joins in with sobs even louder than hers. And that’s how she meets the twisted fairy called Scary Godmother and befriends all the actual magic monsters who live in the weird midnight realm known as the Fright Side…

Scary Godmother is the Ambassador of Spooky and pretty much runs Halloween. After being introduced to the bats and beasts and boggles, Hannah Marie is no longer afraid and her new friend even has some ideas on how to teach Jimmy and his pals how to be less mean…

One year later ‘The Revenge of Jimmy’ finds the nasty boy deeply traumatised by his most memorable encounter with actual monsters last year. Now settled on the notion that if he sabotages Halloween, the horrors, haunts and horrible things won’t be able to come back to the real world for a second chance at him, Jimmy sets out on a mission of sabotage…

Across the dark divide the inhabitants are all gearing up for their night of fun in the real world and perplexed that something is gumming the works. The magic bridge that forms to carry them over is only half-formed, strange webs bar their path and other peculiar events temporarily hamper their preparations for the special night.

It’s all Jimmy’s fault but every time one of his cunning schemes looks like scuttling the town’s forthcoming festivities, some busybody or other finds a way to turn his sneaky dirty work into an exercise in ingenuity. With nothing apparently stopping Halloween coming and the Fright Siders crossing over, Jimmy steps up his campaign, unaware that all that meanness and loose magic is causing a rather strange transformation in Jimmy…

Nevertheless his most appalling act of sabotage almost succeeds until little Hannah Marie sees an upside to his horrible acts.

Halloween is saved but Jimmy almost isn’t… until one bold monster steps up to set things right…

Another year rolls by and Hannah Marie is preparing for a Halloween block party. As Mum and the other parents toil to make all the seasonal treats, the little girl is writing invitations to all the monsters in Fright Side. Hannah Marie has learned how to cross over to the nether realm, but when she gets there Scary Godmother is also busy, ensuring the night will be suitably spooky and wonderful.

As Hannah Marie distributes the invitations, a strange thing occurs: Scary Godmother gets a different invitation. It’s unsigned but from a Secret Admirer begging her attendance on ‘The Mystery Date’

Captivated by the notion, Hannah Marie and little vampire Orson start canvassing all the likely candidates on the Fright Side – causing no end of trouble and embarrassment for Halloween’s startled and bemused Ambassador – before they all shamefully cross over to the real world where a real romantic surprise awaits the Scary Godmother…

The final book of the quartet was ‘The Boo Flu’ wherein our magical mystery madame succumbs to the worst of all eldritch aliments at the least favourable time, compelling Hannah Marie to step up, put on the big magic hat and ride the broomstick to marshal the monsters and take charge of all the necessary preparations if All Hallows Eve is to happen at all this year…

That’s a big ask for a little human girl, but help soon comes from all sorts of unexpected directions…

Almost as soon as the first book was released, Scary Godmother started popping up in comics too. Most of those tales are collected in a companion volume to this gleeful grimoire but there’s room here for one cheeky treat as ‘Tea for Orson’ (from Trilogy Tour Book) focuses on the vampire boy’s attempts to crash a girls-only soiree at Scary Godmother’s house. Harry the Werewolf also wants in – but more for the food than the company – and the banned boys’ combined, increasingly outrageous, efforts to gatecrash make for a captivating lesson in being careful what you wish for…

Wrapping up the tricks and treats is a liberal dose of ‘More Art’ in a huge and comprehensive ‘Scary Mother Sketch Book’ section; comprising roughs, designs, character development drawings, working paintings, promotional art and comic ads, design, background and model sheets and, for the animated specials, original book covers and rejected pages and scenes.

Still readily available – and now as a digital download too – Scary Godmother is a magical treat for youngsters of any vintage and would make a perfect alternative treat to candy and cakes…
Text and illustrations of Scary Godmother © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2010 Jill Thompson. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 3 1922-1924: “At Last my Drim of Life Has Come True”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-477-1

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these glorious commemorative collected tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. It developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly however it baffled far more than a few…

It was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and, largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference, gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and later Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

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

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by smiting the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably deems tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an animalistic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is blithely oblivious of Pupp’s dilemma…

Also populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

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

The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “l’il dahlink” “is it pussible?” or “It aint kendy afta all – it’s a brick”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience. This third volume – covering 1922-1924 in a reassuringly big and hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – completes the controversial, tempest-tossed feature’s run of full-page comic strips and also includes a legendary run of full-colour extra pages Herriman produced in a last-ditch attempt to escape a largely intellectual ghetto and break into the lives of John Q. Public.

The colour works – intense, expansive but never dumbed down – are some of Herriman’s very best and most inspired, but they still failed to hit with the bustling hoi polloi way back then…

Context, background and possible explanations are delivered by Bill Blackbeard in his effusive essay ‘A Kat of Many Kolors: Jazz Pantomime and the Funny Papers in 1922’ describing the creation of the rainbow-hued Saturday specials – which ran for 10 Saturdays from January 7th to March 11th 1922 – and the text feature also covers the tragically lost modern dance ballet created by composer John Alden Carpenter.

After this comes samples of an earlier Herriman strip ‘Little Tommy Tattles’ from 1903 and Michael Tisserand’s scholarly expose ‘Better Late Than Never: Herriman’s First Daily Strip Finally Unearthed!’ describing – with a vast hoard of compelling examples of ‘Mrs. Waitaminnit – the Woman Who is Always Late’ – how funny business got done in the days before newspaper photography, powered flight, laugh tracks or emojis…

The prose section then ends with a moving tribute In Memoriam to Bill Blackbeard ‘The Man Who Saved Comics’ and who, like Moses, toiled long and hard but never got to see his great work completed…

On to the strips then: within this magical atlas of another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions. We open with 1922 where, following traditional jests about New Years and voluntary behaviour modifications, the acutely surreal colour pages rub shoulders with the regular monochrome masterpieces, tackling such issues as the growing of breadfruit, jailing “elefints” and door mice and the doors they carry about with them at all times.

The perils of smoking are visually exposed, as are the surprising perils and problems of coconuts, telephone reception in Coconino County and jail overcrowding. Things even get weirdly self-referential when Krazy discovers he’s the star of a newspaper comic strip…

Herriman continues to divide his efforts between beguiling word plays and stunningly smart silent slapstick sequences. Whilst dreaded stork Joe’s natal missions go into overdrive and increasingly awry, disease, despair and sporadic brick provision also provides plenty of drama for Ignatz, Offissa Pupp and the motley irregulars

As the Jazz Era further unfolds through 1923 and 1924, technological advancements such as aeroplanes, radio, motion pictures, flashlights, electrical gimmicks and radium shampoo increasingly offer plenty of fodder for foolish thoughts and deeds.

Seasonal landmarks – New Years, St. Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – take on a greater relevance but the old standbys remain paramount: Prohibition sidestepped; pomposity punctured and penny-pinching money-making schemes from the town’s great and good always coming to nothing…

Also unchanging but infinitely fresh are instances of weather which thinks it’s a comedian, the endless pursuit of hyperactive jumping beans, the street value of the common house brick and a certain foul mouse’s attempts to murder, marmelise and maltreat the Kat, which grow ever more intricate, but are always met with the same unshakeable gratitude and unswerving devotion…

New hobbies are tried: astronomy, inventing, driving automobiles; and Krazy tries to barter a unique singing voice into a career in the entertainment arts.

…And sometimes plain mischief rules such as when Herriman puckishly reverses plot, pictures and dialogue just to see what will happen…

At the nether end of this tome the scholarly amongst you can enjoy some full-colour archival illustration as Jeet Heer discusses ‘The Domestic Herriman: “Us Husbands”’: a strip the tireless artist created as a populist family comedy which ran in Sunday papers for most of 1926. It’s represented here by 48 pages complete with alternating “topper” strips ‘A Big Moment in a Man’s Life’ and ‘Mistakes Will Happen’.

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another batch of erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Pages’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed and one last surprise – a lost Krazy Kat page never published before…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a remarkable achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious compendium is the most accessible way to do so. Don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 2 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent and Amiable Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-364-4

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these glorious commemorative collected tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. It developed its own unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foible and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without every offending anybody.

Sadly however it baffled far more than a few…

It was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Some brief background then: Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse that had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and mainly by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

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

Eventually the feature found a home in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

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

Ignatz is muy macho; drinking, stealing, neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by smiting the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brickmaker Kolin Kelly). A third element completing an animalistic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, utterly besotted with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet bound by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is blithely oblivious of Pupp’s dilemma…

Also populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as deliverer of babies Joe Stork, hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, pompous Walter Cephus Austridge, Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features. The exotic quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based of the artist’s vacation retreat Coconino County Arizona) where the surreal playfulness and fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous slapstick.

There have been an absolute wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the fondly remembered strip was generally rediscovered by a far more accepting audience and this particular compendium continues a complete year-by-year series begun by Eclipse and picked up by Fantagraphics when the former ceased trading in 1992. This specific and fabulous monochrome volume – A Kind, Benevolent and Amiable Brick – re-presents the years 1919-1921 in a reassuringly big and hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition.

Within this magical atlas of another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions, such as recurring tribute’s to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” as we discover how the Kookoo Klock works, why bananas hang around in bunches and why Lightning Bugs light up.

Joe’s natal missions go increasingly awry, disease, despair and dearth of alcoholic imbibements take their toll in the years of Prohibition, the weather thinks it’s a comedian and the value of the common brick rollercoasters from low to high and back again.

We also meet a few trans-species alternates of our triangular stars and even peer into the misty past to see Kwin Kleopatra Kat and Marcatonni Maus whilst exploring the ever-changing seasons in a constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve…

Frontloading Added Value to the romantic tribulations are fascinating articles and background features such as ‘A Mouse by any Other Name: Krazy and Ignatz’s Early Life Under the Stairs’ by Bill Blackbeard, intimate photo portraits and the mesmerisingly informative ‘Geo. Herriman’s Los Angeles’ by Bob Callahan.

At the far end of the tome you can enjoy some full-colour archival illustration and another batch of erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Pages’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a remarkable one-off: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious compendium is the most accessible way to do so. Don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland


By Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-091-9

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping the truly creative individual: lots and lots of critical acclaim, and occasional heart-breakingly close brushes with super-stardom (which everyone except him felt he truly deserved) without ever actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

In the 1970s whilst palling around with Robert Crumb, Pekar began crafting compelling documentary narratives of ordinary, blue-collar life – primarily his own – and over the following decades invented “literary comics”. Despite negligible commercial success, the activity fulfilled some deep inner need and he persevered in his self-publishing and soul-searching.

One of those aforementioned brushes with the Big Time came in the 1980s with the release of two compilations by mainstream publisher Doubleday of selected strips from his American Splendor comicbooks. To this day those tomes remain some of the most powerful, honest and rewarding comics ever seen.

By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying (out of his meagre civil service wages and occasional wheeler-deal) any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards Pekar soldiered on, inadvertently creating the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives whilst eking out a mostly solitary, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, knowledge-hungry, self-educated, music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life for the “ordinary Joe” is a magical journey into the plebeian far better read than read about, so go do that if you haven’t already.

Life picked up late for Harvey Pekar – mostly through an award-winning movie of his career and the publication of Our Cancer Year (a stunning documentation of his and third wife Joyce Brabner’s response to his disease). This all led to an elevated and celebrated intellectual status, allowing him to the opportunity to produce even more personal and compelling tales such as The Quitter, The Beats and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me. Harvey Pekar died in 2010, aged 70.

For all of that time he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and the city is as much a character in all his autobiographical works as the man himself. This book was his last, published posthumously and offering in his own simple, informative, plain spoken words – beguilingly illustrated by the inspirationally diligent Joseph Remnant (Blind Spot) – the history, geography and cultural lowdown of the legend-laden conurbation alternatively dubbed the “the best location in the nation” and “the mistake by the lake”…

An irrepressible autodidact in the truest sense of the term, Pekar made it his business to learn everything about anything he was interested in… and he could be initially interested in everything.

Keeping his mercurial engaged attention, however, was a far harder task. One thing which held his attention on many levels – from first breath to last – was the city he was born in.

Cleveland is an erudite, eyes-wide-open appreciation, encompassing the shrinking metropolis’ creation, rise, fall, descent into mediocrity and position as media whipping-boy as well as the truth behind all the myths.

Walking through town pictorially and in full avuncular academician mode, Pekar shares facts, opinions and judgments with equal passion and force: detailing simultaneously both treasures and flaws like a man happily married to the same bride for seven decades. The result is magical…

There’s the expected and welcome incisive examination of socio-political changes, employment and race issues, a broad inclusion of the author’s love of sporting achievement and his obsessive collecting: startling moments of intimate revelation and, as ever, his miraculous gift of sharing his passions as he blends historical insights, family milestones and oddments of existence with deft dexterity.

Harvey Pekar was called the “poet laureate of Cleveland” and this superb paean to the home he never abandoned is a graphic delight to equal any literary travelogue commemorating Defoe’s London or Damon Runyon’s New York.

Remnant’s monochrome line-work is remarkably effective: mixing reportage with architectural acuity and wrapping it all in a fulsome vivacity reminiscent of the best of underground art. These pictures pop; whether illuminating the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 victory over the Boston Braves, city landmarks like the Terminal  Tower and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; depicting gang fights in Woodhill Park or young Harvey’s first Chocolate Frosty Malt and first marital mismatches …

With an effusive and lyrical Introduction by Alan Moore and closing with ‘A Pal’s Goodbye’ from Harvey’s friend, associate and fellow Clevelander Jimi Izrael, this wry, witty, enchanting atlas of Middle America Then and Now is a book you must see if you love the art form of comics and magic of storytelling.
© & ™ 2012 Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 1 1916-1918: Love in a Kestle or Love in a Hut


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-60699-316-3

I must admit to feeling like a fool and a fraud reviewing George Herriman’s winningly surreal masterpiece of eternal unrequited love. Although Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and a paragon of world literature, some readers – from the strip’s earliest antecedents in 1913 right up to five minutes ago – just cannot “get it”.

All those with the right sequence of genes (“K”, “T”, “Z” and “A”, but not, I suspect “Why”) are lifelong fans within seconds of exposure whilst those sorry few oblivious to the strip’s inimitable charms are beyond anybody’s meagre capacity to help.

Still, since every day there’s newcomers to the wonderful world of comics I’ll assume my inelegant missionary position once more and hope to catch and convert some fresh souls – or, as today’s indisputable pictorial immortal might put it, save some more “lil Ainjils”…

Krazy Kat is not and never has been a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Think of it as a visual approximation of Dylan Thomas and Edward Lear playing “I Spy” with James Joyce amongst beautifully harsh and barren cactus fields whilst Gabriel García Márquez types up the shorthand notes and keeps score…

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

Krazy Kat the strip debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on October 28th 1913 and, mainly by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence, spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (which included Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) utterly adored the strip, many local editors -ever-cautious of the opinions of the hoi-polloi who actually bought newspapers – did not, and took every career-threatening opportunity to eject it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s vast empire of periodicals. Protected by the publisher’s patronage, the strip flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise of the eccentric enterprise is simple: in an arid, anthropomorphic region of America bordering the mighty Rio Grande dwells Krazy; an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender, in uncompromising total love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous, married-with-children (so very many children) bad boy Ignatz Mouse.

Ignatz is a real Man’s Muridae; drinking, stealing, cheating, carousing, neglectful of his spouse and progeny. He revels in spurning Krazy’s genteel advances by regularly, repeatedly and obsessively belting the cat with a well-aimed and mightily thrown brick (obtained singly or in bulk, generally by legitimate purchase from noted local brickmaker Kolin Kelly).

The third member of the classic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, hopelessly in love with Krazy, well-aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but bound by his own timidity and sense of honour from removing his rival for the cat’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious of Pupp’s true feelings and dilemma…

Also populating the dusty environs are a stunning supporting cast of inspired anthropomorphic bit players such as Joe Stork, (deliverer of babies), the hobo Bum Bill Bee, larcenous Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, Walter Cephus Austridge, Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based of the artist’s vacation retreat Coconino County, Arizona) and the surreal playfulness and fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscapes are perhaps the most important members of the cast.

These strips are a masterful mélange of wickedly barbed contemporary social satire, folksy yarn-telling, unique experimental art, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous and compellingly musical (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”), yet for all that these adventures are timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic and utterly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous silent-movie slapstick.

The Krazy & Ignatz series of collected Sunday pages was originally contrived by Eclipse Comics and the Turtle Island Foundation and taken over by Fantagraphics when the first publisher succumbed to predatory market conditions in the 1990s. Through diligence and sheer bloody determination matching Hearst’s own, the series was finally completed in 2015.

After years of scarily hand-to-mouth publishing, the entire Katty canon of magnificent Sunday pages has been collected in fabulous compilations and this first colour and monochrome volume opens with ‘And the First Shall Be the Last: A History of Kat Reprints’ and A Word from the Publisher by Kim Thompson delineating at length the eccentric orbit which finally resulted in Herriman’s masterpiece being collected in a complete, uniform, visually stunning 13 volume edition.

That’s followed by ‘The Kat’s Kreation’ from series Editor Bill Blackbeard; a fulsome, fascinating and heavily illustrated history tracing the development of the frankly freakish feline as briefly outlined above, and ‘Before He Went “Krazy”: George Herriman’s Aughts’, offering a liberal sampling of examples of the cartoonists many pre-Coconino strips and features such as ‘Lariat Pete’, ‘Bud Smith, the Boy Who Does Stunts’, ‘Rosy’s Mama’, ‘Zoo Zoo… (Goes Shopping, Entertains, And the Christmas Pie)’, ‘Alexander’ and ‘Daniel and Pansy’, spanning 1903 to 1909, with many sporting a certain prototype mad moggy in the corners…

From there it’s a short hop to the first cautious yet full-bodied escapades from 1916, delivered every seven days from April 23rd to December 31st.

Within that first year, as war raged in Europe and with America edging inexorably closer to the Global Armageddon, the residents of Coconino sported and wiled away their days in careless abandon but totally embroiled within their own – and their neighbours’ – personal dramas.

Big hearted Krazy adopts orphan kitties, accidentally goes boating and ballooning, saves baby birds from predatory mice and rats, survives pirate attacks, constantly endures assault and affectionate attempted murder and does lots of nothing in an utterly addictive, idyllic and eccentric way.

…And gets hit with bricks. Many, heavy and always evoking joyous, grateful raptures and transports of delight from the heart-sore hard-headed recipient…

In 1917 (specifically January 7th to December 30th), the eternal game played out as usual and with an infinite variety of twists, quirks and reversals. However there were also increasingly intriguing diversions to flesh out the picayune proceedings, such as recurring explorations of terrifying trees, grim ghosts and obnoxious Ouija Boards, tributes to Kipling as we discover why the snake rattles, meet Ignatz’s aquatic cousin, observe an invasion of Mexican Jumping Beans and a plague of measles, discover the maritime value of “glowerms”, learn who was behind a brilliant brick-stealing campaign of crime and at last see Krazy become the Bricker and not Brickee…

Fully in control of his medium, Herriman switched into poetic high gear as America finally entered the Great War in 1918.

With strips running from January 6th to December 29th, uncanny brick apparitions scotched somebody’s New Year’s resolutions, cantankerous automobiles began to disrupt the desert days, fun of a sort was had with boomerangs and moving picture mavens began haunting the region. There were deeply strange interactions with weather events, whilst music was made and occasional extended storylines began with the saga of an aberrant Kookoo Klock…

Surreal voyages were undertaken but over and again it was seen that there is literally no place like Krazy and Ignatz’s home. There was only one acknowledgement of Kaiser Bill and it was left to the missile-chucking mouse to deliver it…

And then it was Christmas and a new year and volume lay ahead…

To complete the illustrious experience and explore the ever-shifting sense of reality amidst the constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve this big, big book (305 x 230 mm and superbly designed by Chris Ware) ends with rare and informative bonus material such as ‘A Genius of the Comic Page’: a contemporaneous appreciation and loving deconstruction of the strip – with new illustrations from Herriman – by the astoundingly perspicacious and erudite critic Summerfield Baldwin taken from Cartoons Magazine and an oddly enigmatic biography of the reclusive creator in ‘George Herriman 1880-1944’ by Bill Blackbeard.

‘The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ then closes the show, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a genuine Treasure of World Art and Literature. These strips shaped our industry, galvanised comics creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, sculpture, dance, animation and jazz and musical theatre whilst always delivering delight and delectation to generations of devoted, wonder-starved fans.

If however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious parade of cartoon masterpieces are your last chance to become a human before you die…

That was harsh, I know: not everybody gets it and some of them aren’t even stupid or soulless – they’re just unfortunate…

Still, There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay if only you try to see…
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Groo: Friends and Foes volume 1


By Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai & Tom Luth (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-814-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A welcome wave of nostalgic nonsense and comic craziness… 8/10

Groo is the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest, unluckiest mercenary in the world – but he’s also the best swordsman in creation and far too stupid to be harmed. He is always hungry and wanders because most places he pauses in burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after his arrival.

He loves to fight and entire nations and navies reel at the mention of his name. Of course they do the same when they stand downwind of him too…

Produced in a unique traditional fashion by storyteller Sergio Aragonés, wordsmith Mark Evanier, colourist Tom Luth – with assistance from Michael Atiyeh – and letterer Stan Sakai (yeah, that Usagi Yojimbo guy), the Itinerant Imbecile’s adventures form one of the longest running comicbook humour series in America and there seems to be no chance of stopping his creators as long as we keep buying these incredible, hilarious sagas…

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely tougher field of gag-cartooning, Aragonés has produced vast volumes of incomparable work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and instinctive grasp of the cosmically absurd, wedded to his anarchically meticulous drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline, have made his pantomimic doodles vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and one picture is worth a thousand words.

In 1981, after years working for Mad Magazine whilst also producing gags for DC’s horror titles (plus the occasional full strip), he joined with Mark Evanier (who writes lots of stuff and Writes it Good), Sergio crafted a madcap 4-page parody of Sword-&-Sorcery yarns as a contribution to Eclipse Comics’ Creators Rights benefit comic Destroyer Duck.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5), Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke you’ll understand later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first devised his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he surrendered all rights – an almost universal situation in the comics industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

With ownership issues settled to his maker’s satisfaction, Groo bedded in for an uproarious 120 issue run at Epic – resulting in loads of graphic novel compilations – until the imprint died, after which the witless wonder moved on to Image and Dark Horse Comics. They haven’t sunk yet…

In fact, the latter (gluttons for punishment) have even let the bumbling bladesman loose with new 12-issue miniseries Groo: Friends and Foes; each issue revisiting one of the silly saga’s regular cast who had inconceivably escaped being slaughtered by the star. This tawdry tome is but the first of four trade paperback collections and this first compilation collects issues #1-4, finding the perpetually puzzled peripatetic poltroon meeting again merchant mariner Captain Ahax, who has good reason to dread the consequences…

That sinking thing? Among his other lack of abilities Groo cannot travel by ship. He’s not sea-sick or anything, it’s just that his mere physical presence on a nautical apparatus of any sort causes it to founder and plunge into the fearsome fathoms below. Knowing that fact and unable to get rid of the affable oaf, Ahax surrenders to fate and opts to replace the crew with drunks, sell his ship and even his clients’ cargoes. Then he over-insures the vessel, confident that at least this time when she goes down he’ll actually profit from it.

But this time his ship comes in, despite Groo constantly waving sharp objects about, an attack by pirates and Ahax’s own increasingly desperate efforts to scuttle his livelihood. Perhaps it’s the calming influence of the sweet little girl who befriends the woeful warrior’s adoring dog Rufferto? She’s a fellow passenger all alone, searching for her long-lost father…

As disaster finally strikes – far too late for Ahax – the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest mercenary in the world shambles off and soon encounters a band of gypsies who seem familiar. They ought to: they’re led by his calculating grandmother Granny Groo. How fondly the weary wanderer remembers the way she used to beat him and his sister Grooella before selling him. Of course, being the kind of kid he was, Granny had to sell him many times before it finally stuck…

Now that he’s become the most terrifying person on Earth, however, she decides on a different plan to get rid of him before he brings calamity upon them all: raffling him off to greedy villagers who think they might profit from “controlling” the most dangerous man alive…

Baffled Rufferto gamely sticks with his master and soon discovers that the little girl from the ship has joined the gypsies too…

When that brief debacle ends as all Groo gigs do, the dog and his hero head further inland and soon encounter a magic-blighted region controlled by old enemies and devilish witches Arba and Dakarba.

The female fiends have good reason to fear the innocently intruding idiot and decide to get their retaliation in first by conjuring up the scariest thing they can think of to destroy him. Sadly, a marauding 50-foot Groo – even backed up by a hundred normal-sized facsimiles – are no match for the sheer force of destructive stupidity the real McCoy can muster and the witches inevitably fail, leaving their noodle-nosed nemesis to saunter off accompanied by a little girl he thinks he might have met before…

Groo’s initial outings end after a frantic reunion with Legendary Hero and shameless fraud Arcadio whom our pack of peregrinators stumble across as he tries to train a brace of dragons. The crafty champion plans on using them to gull villagers into hiring him, but when good-natured Groo offers his help, the plan – and the villagers – soon go up in smoke…

Closing this inaugural volume is a quartet of wordless strips starring Rufferto and a captivating cover-gallery by Aragonés adding to the wonderfully wonky misshapen madness and grand display of confusions, contusions, conflagrations, conflicts, pratfalls, pitfalls, punch-lines and punch-ups…

These are true masterpiece of mirth comedy addicts will love and the great strength of the series is that new readers can start practically anywhere – and still be none the wiser…
© 2015 Sergio Aragonés. Groo, all related characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Sergio Aragonés. All rights reserved.

Barefoot Gen volume 10: Never Give Up


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-601-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 10/10

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, Barefoot Gen is the quintessential anti-war tract and message of peace for humanity. It is angry, uncompromising and never forgives those who seek to perpetuate greed, mendacity and bloody-handed stupidity.

After many years of struggle the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen (One Day, Suddenly).

The scattered tales eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still generally prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Just like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the newly-constituted Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas; all spreading the message across every continent and all generations.

This concluding volume brings the story of irrepressible, ebullient Gen and his friends to a close, once again pitting the forceful vitality of a select band of bomb survivors against the constant shadow of tragedy which implacably dogs them in the city slowly recovering from nuclear conflagration.

Here the indomitable idealistic individualist, having finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which lets Atom bombs fall and is seemingly incapable of learning from its mistakes, at last strikes back at the demagogues and monsters who still keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Barefoot Gen: Never Give Up begins following the inspirational ‘Gen’s Message: A Plea for Nuclear Abolition’ by the Translators and Editors and, as always, the other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

The graphic manifesto resumes in March 1953 as Gen prepares for his school graduation ceremony, despite seldom attending the hidebound institution for the past few years. Fellow bomb orphans Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi – who have shared his shabby shack for years – are also in high spirits. They have been constantly selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcast Katsuko on Hiroshima’s rebuilt street corners, diligently saving the proceeds until she has enough money to open a shop. Now the manager of one of the big stores wants to buy all the clothes they can manufacture to sell in his fashionable venues…

At the Graduation Ceremony Gen once again loses his temper when the faculty begin memorialising the past and celebrating the failed regime of the empire. Later, his savage confrontation with teachers and visiting dignitaries sparks a minor student revolution. For many of the juvenile delinquents it also presents an opportunity to inflict some long-delayed retribution on the educational bullies who have beaten them for years…

Encouragingly, however, not all the parents and attending adults take the teachers’ side and a potentially murderous confrontation is (rather violently) defused by Gen…

The boy’s life then changes forever when he bumps into a young woman and is instantly smitten. His pursuit of lovely Mitsuko will bring him into conflict with her brutal father, former employer and unrepentant war-lover Nakao; now a highly successful businessman going places in the reconstructed city…

Gen has been studying with elderly artist Seiga Amano, learning the skills his own father would have passed on had he not died in 1945. The mentor/father-figure encourages his protégé to pursue Mitsuko and it costs them both their jobs…

The seeming setback is in fact liberating and before long the star-crossed youngsters are in a fevered euphoria of first love. So engaged is Gen that he is not there when stolid Musubi is targeted by a cruel Yakuza honey-trap who addicts him to drugs and fleeces him of all Katsuko’s hard-earned savings…

With a happy ending so close he can touch it Gen is dragged back down to earth by a trio of tragedies which leave him near-broken and all alone. The legacies of the bombing have again cost him almost everything…

After a horrendous bout of death and vengeance-taking, Gen seems to have nothing to live for, but the despondent young man is saved by aged Amano who rekindles his spirit and wisely advises him to get out of Hiroshima and start his real life in the world beyond it…

Keiji Nakazawa’s broad cartoon art style has often been subject of heated discussion; his simplified Disney-esque rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

The style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young illustrator. Even at its most bleak and traumatic the epic never forgets to shade horror with humour and counterpoint crushing loss with fiery idealism and enthusiasm.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses but never dilutes the horror of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

Bleak and violent but ultimately impossibly uplifting, Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is without peer and its legacy will be pervasive and long-lasting. So now you’ve been warned, buy this book. Buy the entire series. Tell everyone you know about it. Barefoot Gen is an indisputable classic and should be available to absolutely everyone… © 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

Barefoot Gen volume 9: Breaking Down Borders


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-600-9

I first found the Educomics magazine I Saw It! in 1982; initially seduced by a garish cover and the Chester Gould-like illustrations. There was precious little translated manga around then and the magazine was lumped in with the wild, wacky and often salaciously outrageous “Underground Comix” on the racks of my regular comics shop, across the road from Goldsmith’s College from where I had just graduated before starting as tea-boy on iconic Warrior magazine.

I was cocky, big-headed and, I thought, extremely well versed in all aspects of comics but still utterly gobsmacked after I read it…

In England we’ve had educational comics for decades, but this was something completely new to me. There was no tasteful distancing here; just an outraged scream of defiance and a direct plea to make things right. This was history and politics and it was deadly serious, not played for laughs or to make points as British cartooning traditionally did.

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, I Saw It! became Barefoot Gen, and now the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen, (One Day, Suddenly).

These eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still often prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the original Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author at long last completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas.

Undoubtedly mirroring Nakazawa’s own creative journey, this penultimate volume shares the moment it all changed for a hardy, forward-looking and indomitable idealist and individualist who finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which had let Atom bombs fall, and at last challenge those pedagogues and self-seekers who chose to keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Possibly the most inspirational volume of Keiji Nakazawa’s graphic masterpiece, Barefoot Gen: Breaking Down Barriers begins following ‘Some Thoughts About Keiji Nakazawa’ by Project Gen Editor Alan Gleason, who has been with the grand design since 1977 – practically from inception – and offers here telling insights and historical perspective. The other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

This stunning graphic manifesto resumes with an ancient history lesson as fearful peasants are told their precious rice paddies are to be destroyed by the local military in order to make a road for troop movements. As one bold serf dares to protest and suffers grievously for it, Gen awakes in the communal shack he and his friends cobbled together out of rubble and scavenged debris of Hiroshima. He shares it with other “bomb-orphans” and, until this morning, his last surviving family member.

Now however older brother Koji Nakaoka is moving out to get married, but at least rambunctious Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi are staying put. The former reform school kids have become super-salesmen, selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcasts Natsue and Katsuko on Hiroshima’s gradually restored and rebuilt street corners. The long-term goal is typically ambitious: the girls will sew and the boys will sell until they have saved enough money to open their own shop.

Today however Ryuta is in an excitable state. He’s the most devoted follower of the city’s woefully sub-par baseball team the Hiroshima Carp and is sharing his hopes and fears for the new season with any highly amused passer-by he can corral…

By the time the hapless sports fan returns to uncharacteristically gloomy Gen at the shack another crisis has arisen: a horde of military types are besieging the hovel intent on tearing it down to make way for a proposed “Peace Memorial City” and they don’t care that the kids have lived there for years and have nowhere else to go.

Gen and Ryuta’s vigorous, violent and initially successful “Dirty Protest” defence of their home is savage and disgusting but ultimately doomed to failure…

When the little war is finally lost Gen is painfully marked for life and carries another burden of stored anger, but at least ailing Natsue is not present to see the loss of their home. She is in the mountains, completing a ceramic urn to contain her ashes after she dies…

Gen has known her since the earliest aftermath of the bomb: a young dance student he twice saved from her own fatalistic intent, but recently she has been physically failing. Never quite recovering from appendix surgery, she is now convinced her remaining days are few and is preparing for the end…

Forcibly relocated to a tiny riverside shack, the disparate band gather to celebrate surviving another day, but when exhausted Natsue finally joins them and proudly shows off her beautiful funerary urn Gen “accidentally” shatters it. Next morning, increasingly furious Ryuta attacks his best friend for his clumsiness and apparent lack of remorse in upsetting Natsue and learns the true depth of Gen’s compassion. As their brutal clash accidentally envelopes and infuriates a haughty street fortune teller, Gen reveals he acted deliberately to shock Natsue out of her pervasive death-spiral, believing he can keep her alive by sheer anger. Eying the enraged seer screaming at them, he then concocts an even bolder plan to reinvigorate her vanished will to live…

When Ryuta later leads the entire gang past a heavily-bearded prognosticator-for-hire, the oracle predicts long life and a fabulous future for the fatally-depressed girl but can’t resist also having a hilarious pop at her mouthy Carp-loving companion. The session works splendidly however and Natsue agrees to return to hospital for doctors to treat her still unhealed surgical wounds. Sadly not even unflagging optimism and Gen’s guile can fix everything…

In the tragic aftermath fresh horror emerges as two pious gentlemen intrude upon the youngsters’ grief, offering to arrange a splendid funeral for Natsue. Gen however is not fooled and realises they are simply clever “Vultures” working for the Americans…

In occupied Japan news media was absolutely forbidden from discussing or reporting the effects of atom bombs and the populace had no knowledge of exactly what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, amidst the rubble of the destroyed cities, most of the 300,000 terrified, bewildered survivors had no idea what was happening to their bodies – or that they were not unique or even isolated cases – but were consoled by the seemingly-benign and tireless humanitarian efforts of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

These were officials employed by the US Occupation forces, tasked with acquiring – even often buying – bodies of recently deceased bomb survivors for scientists to examine. The bomb-makers were hungry for information on the after-effects of their hell-weapons and apparently did not see victims as human. They simply dissected bodies, harvested organs and collated facts: always hungry for more data. Gen had dealt with them before, when they stole the fresh corpse of his little sister Kimie

The ABCC even pay for teams to go into schools to regularly examine the health of children, working to a hidden agenda aided by local Japanese doctors bribed to send everyone they could to the Americans. For each referral they were rewarded with fancy drugs, many sold for profit to the black market. No one with bomb-related symptoms was treated or cured; just tested and catalogued.

Now with the knowledge enflaming him, Gen responds with brutal violence, beating and driving off the Vultures before he and his friends steal Natsue’s body…

She had died on the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War just as General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and de facto Emperor of Japan) convinced US President Truman to announce the deployment of atomic weapons for that conflict too. Thankfully, concerted global outcry convinced them to withdraw the threat…

In January 1951, Gen, Ryuta, Musubi and Katsuko are on a pilgrimage to inter their lost friend’s ashes above the city on Mount Hiji, but are thwarted by the discovery that the ABCC have built a vast complex on the once-beautiful site. After displaying their disdain in the approved scatological manner, the weary mourners decide to place the urn Gen worked so long and hard to reconstruct within the Nakaoka family grave, but as they trudge to the cemetery their precious cargo is stolen by a street urchin.

Giving ferocious chase they corner the little thief and administer the customary beating, leading to a confrontation with an old man who would change Gen’s life forever…

At first artist Seiga Amano cannot believe his grandson Tatsuro would stoop so low, but when he realises why the boy has turned to thievery, his proud heart almost breaks…

Eventually everybody calms down and Gen gives the old painter art materials he has stored ever since an old, dying man briefly stayed at their shack, sharing with the grateful painter the knowledge that his own father was also an artist before the bomb. Their riverside conversation inspires a life-changing aspiration within the lad that turns his life to a new path. Gen begs the elder to teach him everything he knows so that he can prove his new, all-consuming mantra “Art Has No Borders”…

The next lucky happenstance occurs when Gen stumbles onto a sign painter producing a cinema poster for a Kurosawa Double Feature. Toro Otsuki boasts he is the greatest exponent of his craft in Hiroshima, a claim brutally backed up by his thuggish assistant Kurosaki who foolishly attacks the loud-mouthed young gawker only to be soundly trounced for his temerity.

Sadly in the melee the painting is wrecked and honourable, guilt-struck Gen swears to make amends to the artist and his sadistic boss Nakao; an unrepentant former-soldier now bullying his way into civilian life…

When Seiga Amano and grandson Tatsuro pass by and see Gen enduring savage abuse in his attempts to atone, another fight begins and Otsuki breaks an arm, compelling Amano to step in and complete the poster. The rapidly-completed masterpiece instantly mollifies the militant Nakao who sees another business opportunity…

The constant stream the Boss provides is the making of Gen who serves as assistant and willing, eager student to Seiga, rapidly learning the basics of a discipline which will change his life.

As spring arrives more change is in the air. General MacArthur is summoned home and older conservative citizens begin to panic as their surrogate Emperor deserts them. Ryuta is typically scathing of the nervous old farts and isn’t there when a band of thugs target Gen, seeking to chop off his arm. The plucky little scrapper quickly ends their threat and knows jealous Kurosaki is behind the scheme, but after taking a measure of vengeance Gen surprises himself by getting to know his enemy and learning the horrific story of the abuse his fellow bomb orphan suffered at the hands of priests who were supposed to be protecting the lost children of Hiroshima…

With a deeper understanding but no real resolution to their stalled conflict, Gen returns to his diligent studies but his peace of mind will soon be shaken by the return of an old enemy…

Militaristic elements of Japan were deftly re-establishing themselves as the city grew again: attempting to whitewash their pasts for the New Japan. When ardent – and genuine – anti-war protestor Gen sees a poster announcing Denjiro Samejima, running for political office, claiming he opposed the war and was a “soldier for Peace”, Gen boils over at the villain’s hypocrisy and reacts with his usual earthy passion…

During the war that wily demagogue was a secret Black Marketeer who denounced Gen’s father – a genuine anti-war dissident – and led a hate-campaign that tormented the entire Nakaoka family. Now the rogue is profiting by stealing and feigning his beloved father’s ideals and dreams, just like so many other criminals who would deny history and the truth in search of self-advancement…

The scathing insights into the sordid character of political opportunists are potent reminders of why society never changes, reminiscent of George Orwell’s polemics, and by seemingly moving slightly off-message Nakazawa actually drives home his points with far greater force. Barefoot Gen is positively Reithian in its ability to Educate, Inform and Entertain and its legacy will be as pervasive and long-lasting…

And yet even at its most bleak and traumatic Keiji Nakazawa’s magnum opus never forgets to be funny, compelling and enjoyably Human. The broad cartoon style of Keiji Nakazawa’s art has often been the subject of heated discussion; the Disney-esque, simplified rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

Mister Nakazawa’s style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young boy.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses, but never dilutes, the terrible facts and scenes of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose the drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

So now you’ve been warned, buy this series. Better yet, agitate your local library to get a few sets in as well. Barefoot Gen is a world classic and should be available to absolutely everyone…
© 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

Ofelia – A Love and Rockets Book


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-806-9

Please pay attention: this book contains stories and images of an extremely adult nature, specifically designed for consumption by mature readers as well as the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such things will offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll do something with violence and explosions, so come back then.

In addition to being part of the graphic literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly compulsive tales of Palomar gained vast critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Grip and Girl Crazy, all marked by his bold, instinctive, simplified line artwork and a mature, sensitive use of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Love and Rockets – by Gilbert and his brothers Jaime and Mario – was/is an anthology comics publication featuring slick, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks, heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasies, manic monster stories and bold experimental comic narratives that pretty much defy classification. To this day the synthesistic Hernandez boys continue to captivate with incredible stories that sample a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers.

Created for extended serial Heartbreak Soup, Palomar was a conceptual playground and cultural toybox; an impoverished Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life, death, adultery, alien infiltration, magic making, hauntings, serial-killing and especially gossip happened in its meta-fictional environs as Gilbert plundered his own post-punk influences – comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics – in a style informed by everything from Tarzan strips to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

Beto, as he signs himself, returns to Palomar constantly, usually with tales involving the formidable matriarch Luba, who ran the village’s bath house and cinema, acted as Mayor and sometimes law enforcer – as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Conchita.

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you want to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will certainly notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit, and appalling violence is also never far from the players lives.

Luba’s story is about Life, and sex and death happen, constantly and often, usually to and with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you, don’t read these tales; but it is genuinely your loss.

Throughout all those eventful years, normally always in the background and frequently sidelined, was Luba’s cousin Ofelia; babysitter, surrogate mum, confidante, family conscience and keen – if not so detached – observer…

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and editions which I really must get around to reviewing), the first incarnation of Love and Rockets ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which concentrated on her moving to the USA and reuniting with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra Martinez. The tone and content ranged from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in these pages.

Although in an ideal world you would read that aforementioned older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and memory are as much a part of this potent passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter.

Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as coarse and earthy any as any of Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare.

This latest monochrome family album sees sidebar “sister” Ofelia notionally promoted to headliner, compiled from assorted material first seen in Luba #3-9, Luba’s Comics and Stories #2-5 and Measles #3 and, following a crucial pictorial reintroduction to ‘Luba’s Family’, the ever-unfolding saga resumes with ‘Remember Me’ as the youngest kids swap tales about the fathers they have never known.

After ‘Luba and the Little Ones’ finds the ferocious matron calming down her very excitable progeny, ‘Socorro…’ details that girl’s educational problems. Apparently she is too smart and the teachers want her transferred to a special school…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part One’ sees Luba and her mute, maimed and possibly ex-gangster husband Khamo reeling from the news that their faithful major domo is considering writing a book based on her cousin’s drama-drenched life. With friction mounting, the frustrated author and perennial babysitter casts her mind back to Palomar where she sacrificed her relationship with lover Rico (“call me Ooli”) to raise a wild toddler called Luba.

Back in the now, wise-beyond-her-years Casimira knows her quiet guardian is in contact with an old flame on the internet…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part Two’ expands on the theme as the prospective writer recalls the years of fighting with her wilful almost elemental charge whilst pondering a too-long deferred decision…

‘Spot Marks the Ex’ then exposes more family scandals as entrepreneur Pipo tries to get rid of her former husband Gato and deal with the ongoing problems caused by Luba’s daughter Doralis.

The teen-star of Pipo’s popular Spanish-language kid’s show plans to come out as a lesbian, much to the sponsors’ horror; someone at the studio is giving the newspapers salacious scandals for their holier-than-thou gossip pages and her beloved son Sergio Jimenez (a soccer superstar and celebrity bad boy) is having an affair with Fritz Martinez – the very woman Pipo cannot get out of her own oversexed mind…

Fritz is a terrifyingly complex creature, a psychiatrist, therapist, B-Movie actress, belly dancer, amorous drunk, gun-fetishist, sexually aggressive and a manipulative serial spouse. Beautiful, enticingly emotionally damaged, her “high soft lisp” more likely an affectation than genuine speech impediment, she sashays from crisis to triumph and back again, and almost everybody who wants hers can apparently have her – except increasingly impatient Pipo…

Moreover, as strident accountant Boots signs on to save Pipo’s company, the stressed and busy businesswoman begins to suspect Sergio and his stepfather Gato have some strange connection and are up to no good…

‘El Show Super Duper Sensacional Fantastico de Doralis’ reveals the controversial gay star’s story of the irresistibly beguiling merfolk who live in secret amongst us, after which ‘Snail Trail’ introduces a well-meaning young man named Hector who rescues Socorro and Joselito after they steal and crash a car.

He sees and is instantly enchanted by their Tia (that’s Aunt in Spanish, hombre) Fritz in ‘Bromear’ and in ‘Meeting Cute, Fucking Cuter’ falls hopelessly for the sexual predator: so much so, in fact, that he agrees to her request to date her quirky, buff, bodybuilding older sister Petra, thus leaving Fritz free for a sordid secret affair with toyboy acquaintance Sergio…

Sadly, whipped Hector finds he has more in common with Petra’s little daughter Venus. They both love the same comicbooks, movies and music and she doesn’t make him do things he’d rather not…

A garden party bids ‘Buen Viaje, Socorro’ and sees the smart girl’s last family fun before heading off to smart kid boarding school, after which ‘Luba One’ finds the downhearted mum dragged to fetish party by Fritz and Pipo where she finds blonde sex god Fortunato: a man no woman can resist and a perfect lover who derives no joy from his amatory conquests…

Boots, mindful of the merman legend, speculates on his origins in ‘The Fortunato Files’ after which ‘The Goddess and the Goof’ finds Hector finally capitulating to pressure and taking gloriously gorgeous, Amazonian Petra out only to discover she is every inch as bewitching and satisfying as her sister. Conflicted by a surfeit of physical riches he ponders a big decision…

After a little dance madness in ‘El Biale’, Venus and Doralis share a moment with one of the fallen star’s fans in ‘The Glamorous Life’ whilst ‘Boots Takes the Case’ has the tenacious little accountant assume a larger role. With Gato exposed as the source of the leaks and sorrowfully reaping his reward in ‘And So…’, Boots then proceeds to worm out more secrets in ‘Kisses for Pipo’; appraising key moments since the entrepreneur entered America as a teen, disclosing her past interactions with Sergio, Gato (and his current wife Guadalupe), Fortunato and Pipo’s latest fling Igor

‘In Bed With Pipo’ targets her bizarrely twisted relationship with gun-obsessed Fritz, the men they occasionally share and a terrifying past experience when both were stranded in a country in the midst of an anti-Christian genocide…

Revelations include the horrific tale of how High-School junior Rosalba fell into an abusive relationship with a middle-aged cop, offering telling insights for her modern personas…

‘Luba Two’ delves deep into Khamo’s off-kilter arrangements with both cops and drug dealers whilst – after surreal sight-gag ‘Uno Dos Tres’‘The New Adventures of Venus’ proves that the latest generation can be just as determined and violently forceful. When the little comics lover discovers her best friend is a potential romantic rival, Venus takes excessive punitive action on the soccer field…

With the entire world on tenterhooks as a colossal meteor heads towards Earth, Fritz’s exploitative ex-husband Scott gets up to his old tricks in ‘The Beloved and the Damned’. He couldn’t have expected the savage beating a mysterious stranger delivers after ripping off kickboxing Petra’s baby sister though.

Unfortunately the Avenger in question gets a taste for vigilantism and begins looking for other jerks in need of straightening out…

Khamo’s underworld connections then lead to a disquieting abduction and ‘Luba’s Science Lesson’ before ever-more conflicted Hector returns, still unable to choose between Petra and Fritz but currently distracted by his ex-girlfriend taking him to court as part of a whacko ploy to get him back in ‘And Justice for Some’.

That plan goes badly wrong when a stranger beats her to a pulp in the parking lot of the strip club she works at…

Boot’s ongoing investigations resurface as she explains ‘The Tao of Doralis’ before a very stoned ‘Hector’ rescues non-English-speaking Luba from a bar, leading into flashbacks of ‘Khamo’ and her early days. That long, weird walk home also delivers more revelations about the enigmatic Fortunato before Luba and her taciturn husband at last reconcile in ‘Lovers and Hector’

Events then take a dark turn in ‘Sergio Rocks’ as the wild child is targeted by gangster gamblers even as belly-dancing novice ‘Guadalupe’ strives to escape the overwhelming influence of her charismatic Tia Fritz…

Receding Ofelia resurfaces in ‘Luba Again’ as the cousins bitterly and violently argue over the proposed warts-and-all book and, after visual aside ‘Click!’, the determined author visits Socorro in ‘La Luba’ whilst long ostracised Maricela has a rather one-sided chat with step-dad Khamo in ‘Burning for You’

‘Pipo’s Burden’ revisits her still-growing obsession with Fritz whilst ‘Of Two Minds’ highlights Hector’s suspicions when he attends one of Petra’s boxing bouts and Fortunato works his magic on schoolteacher Guadalupe and Ofelia in ‘But the Little Girls Understand’ after which ‘Luba Three’ ushers in the beginning of the end of this family’s affairs…

‘Fritz and Pipo, Sittin’ in a Tree’ finds Sergio growing aggressively intolerant of his mother’s dilemma whilst still making casual use of Fritz himself. Soon the still-active vigilante has hospitalised the entrepreneur, and more tragedy strikes when Ofelia has a heart attack in ‘God Willing’

Once the violence begins it seems impossible to stop and in ‘Luba Four’ the so-dysfunctional family splinters even further when an abduction and punishment beating goes too far…

I’m certainly more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was all about the force of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally. Palomar is about love. Not the sappy one-sided happy-ever-after stuff in chick-flicks, but LOVE, that mighty, hungry beast that makes you instinctively protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life. The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words. A Love that can hurt and even kill…

A bit like the love of a great comic…

Funny, deeply moving, compelling and deftly capable of delivering shock after breathtaking shock, Ofelia is remarkable and unmissable: no true fan of the medium can afford to forego this treat.
All contents © 2015 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 7


By The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-770-3

Years pass like centuries when you’re waiting for a wonderful treat but at long last here’s the latest annual instalment of Love and Rockets: New Stories. So life is once more challengingly complete …

Now solidly in its fourth decade as a transcendent and transformative force shaking up the American comics industry, Love and Rockets was originally an anthology magazine featuring amongst other gems and joys the slick, intriguing, sci-fi-tinged hi-jinx of punky young things Maggie and Hopeylas Locas – and a series of heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera epics set in a rural Central American paradise called Palomar.

The Hernandez Boys (three guys from Oxnard, California: Jaime, Gilberto and Mario), gifted synthesists all, captivated the comics cognoscenti with incredible stories sampling and referencing a host of influences – everything from comics, TV cartoons, masked wrestlers and the exotica of everything from American Hispanic pop culture to German Expressionism.

There was also a perpetual backdrop displaying the holy trinity of youth: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – also alternative music, hip hop and punk.

The result was dynamite then and the guys have only got better with the passing years. Mario only officially contributed on rare occasions, but Jaime’s slick, enticing visual forays explored friendship and modern love by destroying stereotypes of feminine attraction through his fetching coterie of “Gals Gone Wild”, whilst bro Gilberto created a hyper-real and passionately poignant landscape and playground of wit and venality for his extended generational saga Heartbreak Soup: a quicksilver chimera of breadline Latin-American village life with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast.

The shadows cast by Palomar still define and inform his latest tales both directly and as imaginative spurs for ostensibly unaffiliated stories.

Fully evolved into an annual omnibus compendium of wonders, Love and Rockets: New Stories features one-off vignettes supplementing a string of contiguous and continuing story strands, opening here with Beto’s ‘Killer in Palomar’.

After having apparently quitting her blossoming cinema career Doralis “Killer” Rivera headed back to Palomar to visit her distanced family. She was fleeing rumours of pregnancy and just wanted some peace and a normal life. At least that’s what she told herself…

Now she’s reeling from the horror of a deranged stalker-fan who murdered people in her name, but new friend Theo is more worried about her strange reaction to a copycat stripper/double appropriating her reputation to become a porn star. And to make things even more complicated Killer is chatting to dead Tia Doralís again…

Jaime then returns to his singularly aging signature characters as Maggie and Hopey ditch their significant others for a weekend to attend an Eighties-Friends reunion in ‘Do I Look at the Camera, Or Do I Look at Me?’

The devout pals and former lovers may have moved on, but there’s still some spark of the old wild couple in play – especially the constant bickering – and eventually the ladies at leisure settle on watching a movie Maggie’s boyfriend Ray recommended coincidentally  running at the Indie cinema that used to be the girls’ teenage hangout…

Metafiction and magical realism have always played a large part in the Hernandez Boy’s tales and as Maggie and Hopey settle in for a weird screen experience, elsewhere in time and space star of the film Maria Rodriguez is showing it to her baby daughter Fritz/Rosalba (for further details and family indiscretions best check out High Soft Lisp or Luba)…

Blending a bizarre B-movie fantasy with more telling insights into three generations of powerful and beautiful women, Gilberto’s story segues into Killer’s time as a toddler – and the mistakes all the women in her family seem condemned to repeat – before ‘Daughters and Mothers and Daughters’ flashes back to more revelations, inter-cut with her playing her own grandmother in scandalous biopic Maria M

Jaime’s vignette ‘You and Hopey’ focuses on poor abandoned Ray and how he spends his time as a weekend-widower, after which the artist switches track to follow frustrated teen wrestling hopefuls in ‘Our Lady of the Assassinating Angels’ before returning to Ray for ‘The Cody Pendant’ and an evening alone, coincidentally watching the same movie as Maggie and Hopey…

Beto steps in for a fantastic slice of hokey fantasy as ‘Magic Voyage of Aladdin’ offers an incredible genre mash-up with the legendary boy adventurer and his astoundingly pneumatic patron Circe battling witches, monsters, aliens and bat-people in three anarchic cine-plays, beginning with ‘Chapter 1: the Electrical Brain’ moving on to ‘Chapter 2: the Cave of Bats’ and calamitously concluding with ‘Chapter 3: the Living Corpse’

Jaime tags in to continue the travails of young Tonta Agajanian in ‘If It Ain’t Fixed, Don’t Break It!’ as the troublesome teen escapes her scandalous family (murdered step-father and her far-from-sane mother still prime suspect even after being cleared by DA’s office) for a comicbook party.

After another fine moment annoying the rich kids, Tonta and gullible associate Gomez suddenly find themselves pulled over by the cops…

The dirty doppelgangers poaching the reputation of Killer’s dynasty of sexy starlets make their unseemly entrances in Gilbert’s ‘Meet Fritz Jr.’ and unwittingly offer tantalising glimpses of unsuspected family connections, after which Jaime turns up the filmic fantasy dial with the hilariously scary sci fi classic ‘Princess Animus!’ wherein a beautiful cannibal gains the power to dominate the universe…

However when the film breaks at the best bit Maggie and Hopey are left at a loose end and unwisely head back to the motel early…

Beto closes down this annual affair (bracketing an untitled Jaime two-pager highlighting las Locas’ morning-after) with another outrageous grindhouse movie pastiche in ‘The Golem Suit Starring Killer’ before a painful day for Fritz and her copyright infringing facsimile meeting fans at a convention as ‘Talent’ wraps things up for another too-long wait until next time…

Warm-hearted, deceptively heart-wrenching, subtly shocking, challenging, charming and irresistibly addictive, Love and Rockets: New Stories is a grown up comics fan’s dream come true and remains as valid and groundbreaking as its earlier incarnations – the diamond point of the cutting edge of American graphic narrative.
© 2015 Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.